Every game in the middle of the second inning, Baltimore Orioles’ fans redirect their cheering from the players on the field to the veterans in the stands. Similar ceremonies are projected on Jumbotrons across the country as a small way to publicly recognize those who voluntarily put themselves into harm’s way to protect our nation.
Cynics — including some of my former brothers and sisters in arms — argue that the phrase “thank you for your service” is too casually thrown around by civilians toward the one percent who fought for their country. However, the America I’ve experienced is earnest in its thanks but needs help in directing it in a meaningful way.
That’s why, four years ago, the veterans empowerment organization Got Your 6 and the leading retailer Macy’s began challenging Americans to back up their words with actions at the cash register. As part of the annual “American Icons” campaign before Memorial Day, Macy’s invites its customers to support our veterans by donating $3 at the point-of-sale.
Through those small but meaningful tokens of “thanks,” Macy’s has channeled America’s support of its veterans to the tune of $7.4 million.
Got Your 6 — a name drawn from military slang for “I’ve got your back” — works to empower veterans to lead in their communities. Though the support of partners like Macy’s and their customers, we are helping create real change in towns and cities across America.
Over the past four years, Got Your 6 has provided 37 grants to nonprofit coalition partners such as Baltimore’s 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 provided The 6th Branch a $93,000 grant, which supports a year’s worth of service to transform abandoned lots in Baltimore into urban farms and safe spaces for youth recreation. This past April, The 6th Branch organized a community service event 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.
The good news is that charitable giving for community building organizations at the cash register is thriving. According to a recent report by the nonprofit consulting firm Catalist, within the last two months 66 percent of consumers donated to charity at retail when asked at point-of-sale. Additional studies reveal that consumers are actually grateful when a retailer has offered them the ability to donate to causes in their community in a quick and simple way.
“Thank you for your service” might just be words, but when mobilized they can turn into meaningful results. That’s why we’re once again partnering with Macy’s during its 11th annual Shop For A Cause campaign, which runs today, Friday, Aug. 26 through Sunday, Aug. 28. Visit Got Your 6’s online store to purchase a $5 savings pass to receive 25 percent off in-store Macy’s purchases Aug. 26-18. All of the proceeds of the savings pass will go directly to empowering veterans.
Veterans are leaders, team builders, and problem solvers who have the unique potential to lead a resurgence of community across the nation. Through our continued partnership with Macy’s, Got Your 6 is able to reach millions of Americans, shifting public perceptions so that veterans’ leadership and skills are recognized and utilized at home, just as they were on the battlefield.
We’ve got our veterans’ six. Thanks to all those Macy’s shoppers who also have ours.
Bill Rausch is an Iraq War veteran and the executive director of Got Your 6.
The global COVID-19 pandemic has so far dominated the year 2020. The news cycle is filled with statistics, new restrictions, and a suffering economy. The current pandemic is also causing rising symptoms of depression, anxiety, and feelings of hopelessness. A few women decided to change that narrative. They are encouraging others to live in a space of purpose and love.
Victoria Griggs is an active duty Army spouse living in Seattle, Washington – the area of the United States first impacted by the pandemic. She shared that she has a son with a rare blood disorder which requires frequent hospital visits, despite the shelter in place order. Her mom lovingly made her family masks to utilize during their hospital trips. “I took a quick picture and made a Facebook post thanking my mom for the masks and sharing that more could be made for anyone in need. I never dreamed it would turn into what it did,” said Griggs.
Less than 24 hours later, she was fielding hundreds of requests for masks and offers to help make more. She quickly realized that there would need to be a team to make this work and a nonprofit would need to be formed. Marine spouse Jill Campbell and Army spouse Sophia Eng came on board. Then Becky Blank and Ruthi Nguyen, who are civilians, joined in too. All of them realized they had a unique opportunity to make a difference.
Once established as an official nonprofit, they began receiving monetary donations. All of the money raised goes right into the mask making. They are now supporting multiple groups throughout the country with supplies and shipping costs that are sewing masks. They have made over 7,000 masks to date thanks to the efforts of 400 sewers. We Have Masks also has a group volunteering their time working with 3D printers to make tools for mask makers. Every piece that put We Have Masks together is based on a shared devotion to serving others.
Nurses at Kaiser Redwood City with masks generously donated by We Have Masks
On the other side of the country, Megan Brown was doing the same thing.
Her mask making all started as a way to support her fellow Air Force families at her husband’s base in Georgia. Very quickly it morphed into sewing masks for military families and first responders all over the country. Brown was open in sharing that the original idea for Milspo Mask Makers was Sarah Mainwaring’s and she was “lovingly pushed” into doing it alongside her and then eventually leading the cause. They have now made 1,200 masks to date with no end in sight.
“We are challenging the military community to stand in the gap,” Brown said. She went on to explain that her deep faith pushed her to say yes to this. Brown also shared that she couldn’t just organize this, but believed deeply that she had to be making the masks as well. “True leaders do so from the front,” she said. Brown and all of the Milspo Mask Makers are challenging the military community to make 10,000 masks by the time GivingTuesdayNow rolls around on May 5th, 2020.
Back in Seattle, Griggs was watching Brown and her mask makers. She reached out to her on a whim to connect and tell her how much she admired what she was doing. They both discussed their deep desire to bring joy to those in need and a feeling of purpose to those lost. “This is one of the darkest times in our generation. We are all going through what is essentially a group trauma,” Brown shared. Through community building and serving, they both want to help heal that trauma.
So, they’ve joined forces.
We Have Masks will begin to utilize and adopt the hashtag, #MilSpoMaskMakers to help Brown monitor their targeted goal of 10,000 masks. They are actively seeking more people who are willing to sew and support the mask making efforts. Both women encouraged those who can sew to sign up and onboard through the We Have Masks website. Those in need of masks personally or for their community can also utilize the website to request masks. Those who are able to donate to the cause can safely give there as well.
“I can’t wait to model collaboration to this generation of military spouses. It’s about meeting the need together – publicly, lovingly, and well,” said Brown. Griggs echoed that sentiment, explaining that she feels this is such a great space to be in and truly feels like they are making a difference. Together.
In a world currently filled with scenes of loss and unknowns, there can also be deep love and purpose. All it takes is a willingness to serve and the belief in the power of community.
As NASA sets its sights on returning to the Moon, and preparing for Mars, the agency is developing new opportunities in lunar orbit to provide the foundation for human exploration deeper into the solar system.
For months, the agency has been studying an orbital outpost concept in the vicinity of the Moon with U.S. industry and the International Space Station partners. As part of the fiscal year 2019 budget proposal, NASA is planning to build the Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway in the 2020s.
The platform will consist of at least a power and propulsion element and habitation, logistics and airlock capabilities. While specific technical and mission capabilities as well as partnership opportunities are under consideration, NASA plans to launch elements of the gateway on the agency’s Space Launch System or commercial rockets for assembly in space.
“The Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway will give us a strategic presence in cislunar space. It will drive our activity with commercial and international partners and help us explore the Moon and its resources,” said William Gerstenmaier, associate administrator, Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate, at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “We will ultimately translate that experience toward human missions to Mars.”
The power and propulsion element will be the initial component of the gateway, and is targeted to launch in 2022. Using advanced high-power solar electric propulsion, the element will maintain the gateway’s position and can move the gateway between lunar orbits over its lifetime to maximize science and exploration operations. As part of the agency’s public-private partnership work under Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships, or NextSTEP, five companies are completing four-month studies on affordable ways to develop the power and propulsion element. NASA will leverage capabilities and plans of commercial satellite companies to build the next generation of all electric spacecraft.
The power and propulsion element will also provide high-rate and reliable communications for the gateway including space-to-Earth and space-to-lunar uplinks and downlinks, spacecraft-to-spacecraft crosslinks, and support for spacewalk communications. Finally, it also can accommodate an optical communications demonstration – using lasers to transfer large data packages at faster rates than traditional radio frequency systems.
Habitation capabilities launching in 2023 will further enhance our abilities for science, exploration, and partner (commercial and international) use. The gateway’s habitation capabilities will be informed by NextSTEP partnerships, and also by studies with the International Space Station partners. With this capability, crew aboard the gateway could live and work in deep space for up to 30 to 60 days at a time.
Crew will also participate in a variety of deep space exploration and commercial activities in the vicinity of the Moon, including possible missions to the lunar surface. NASA also wants to leverage the gateway for scientific investigations near and on the Moon. The agency recently completed a call for abstracts from the global science community, and is hosting a workshop in late February 2018, to discuss the unique scientific research the gateway could enable. NASA anticipates the gateway will also support the technology maturation and development of operating concepts needed for missions beyond the Earth and Moon system.
Adding an airlock to the gateway in the future will enable crew to conduct spacewalks, enable science activities and accommodate docking of future elements. NASA is also planning to launch at least one logistics module to the gateway, which will enable cargo resupply deliveries, additional scientific research and technology demonstrations and commercial use.
Following the commercial model the agency pioneered in low-Earth orbit for space station resupply, NASA plans to resupply the gateway through commercial cargo missions. Visiting cargo spacecraft could remotely dock to the gateway between crewed missions.
Drawing on the interests and capabilities of industry and international partners, NASA will develop progressively complex robotic missions to the surface of the Moon with scientific and exploration objectives in advance of a human return. NASA’s exploration missions and partnerships will also support the missions that will take humans farther into the solar system than ever before.
NASA’s Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft are the backbone of the agency’s future in deep space. Momentum continues toward the first integrated launch of the system around the Moon in fiscal year 2020 and a mission with crew by 2023. The agency is also looking at a number of possible public/private partnerships in areas including in-space manufacturing and technologies to extract and process resources from the Moon and Mars, known as in-situ resource utilization.
May 2, 2018 – Update
As reflected in NASA’s Exploration Campaign, the next step in human spaceflight is the establishment of U.S. preeminence in cislunar space through the operations and the deployment of a U.S.-led Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway. Together with the Space Launch System (SLS) and Orion, the gateway is central to advancing and sustaining human space exploration goals, and is the unifying single stepping off point in our architecture for human cislunar operations, lunar surface access and missions to Mars. The gateway is necessary to achieving the ambitious exploration campaign goals set forth by Space Policy Directive 1. Through partnerships both domestic and international, NASA will bring innovation and new approaches to the advancement of these U.S. human spaceflight goals.
NASA published a memorandum outlining the agency’s plans to collaboratively build the gateway. Learn more:
During a meeting Wednesday with a number of defense reporters and experts, outgoing Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus defended the Littoral Combat Ship against criticism.
The LCS has been noted for a series of engineering problems that has laid up a number of the early ships. The problems have called the program into question even though the USS Freedom (LCS 1) had a very successful 2010 deployment to Southern Command’s area of operations, while the USS Coronado (LCS 4) successfully defeated a simulated attack by a swarm of speedboats in a 2015 test of the surface warfare package.
Mabus particularly aimed his ire at the Pentagon’s Office of Test and Evaluation, or DOTE, which has been part of an ongoing verbal fight between Pentagon testers and the Navy.
“My reaction is that I’ve been there almost eight years,” Mabus, who was confirmed in 2009, groused to the gathered reporters. “And I’m pretty sure that [DOTE director] Michael Gilmore has never found a weapon system that’s effective, ever.”
“I know what this ship can do. I know what the fleet thinks of it,” Mabus added, citing how the office was also highly critical of the P-8 Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft, claiming it didn’t work or do what the Navy said it would do. The DOTE criticism came even though the plane had already entered the fleet and was drawing rave reviews from operators.
The Littoral Combat Ship covered 20 pages in the DOTE FY2016 Annual Report, which claimed the Navy “has not yet demonstrated effective capability for LCS equipped with the MCM [mine counter-measures], SUW [surface warfare], or ASW [anti-submarine warfare] mission packages.”
The report also cited the 2015 cancellation of the Remote Minehunting System, and even claimed that the USS Coronado had flunked the 2015 test.
“The final thing I’ll say is, it does what we want it to do, not what you think it ought to do which is one of the things [Gilmore] does,” Mabus concluded.
This week, the Pentagon made good on a policy it’s been developing to guarantee the operational readiness of the US military’s 2.1 million service members. The new message, aimed at personnel listed as non-deployable for 12 months or more, is simple: either get ready or get out.
Since the closing months of 2017, as the current administration has struggled to create a working budget and to fund the government through a series of congressional stop-gap agreements, Defense Secretary James Mattis has been fighting a singular crusade: to make the U.S. military “more lethal.”
Having succeeded in securing $700 billion for the DoD in 2018 — a 4.5% increase over President Trump’s proposed $668 billion defense budget — the Pentagon is now turning its attention to increasing operational readiness across all branches.
That includes the much-anticipated policy, released Feb. 14 in a DoD memo, that will begin assessments of and, in many cases, separation procedures for service members who have been non-deployable for the last 12 months or more.
According to Robert Wilke, Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, “about 13 to 14 percent of the force is medically unable to deploy” at any given time. That comes out to about 286,000 of the 2.1 million personnel serving across all branches of the military — active duty, reserves, and National Guard. Some of that number, an estimated 20,000, is sidelined due to pregnancy and over 100,000 are recovering from injury or addressing illness.
U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Christopher Robbins, of the Provincial Reconstruction Team from forward operating base Kalagush, conducts a patrol through the village of Kowtalay in the Nuristan province of Afghanistan June 12, 2007. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Michael Bracken)
But 34 percent of those medically unavailable, some 99,000 personnel are currently non-deployable for administrative reasons, like failing to stay up to date with immunizations or falling delinquent with required medical exams. And that subset of the force is now officially on notice from the Pentagon that they can get ready for deployment or get ready to discharge.
Waivers will be made available on a case-by-case basis, but the DoD seems to expect swift implementation. In the official language of the memo,
Military Services will have until October 1, 2018, to begin mandatory processing of non-deployable Service members for administrative or disability separation under this policy, but they may begin such processing immediately.
Contrary to what some science fiction and superhero movies might have you believe, the KGB – the Soviet Union’s state security and intelligence service – didn’t grow its agents in laboratories. They didn’t have superpowers and they didn’t have supernatural combat training.
What they did have was exceptional intelligence, training, and preparation. Jack Barsky was born Albrecht Dittrich in Soviet-dominated East Germany. He trained as a chemical engineer and chemistry professor before he was recruited by the KGB in 1969. In his book, Deep Undercover, he recalls the process by which he learned to be a KGB “illegal” living in the United States.
While studying for his PhD in chemistry, the KGB sent him to East Berlin to learn to adapt to a new, unfamiliar environment. While there, he decided to join permanently. He left his family behind to learn Morse code, short wave radio, cryptography and a language. Dittrich chose English. While in East Berlin, he also learned how to recognize and ditch a surveillance team.
He was so good at avoiding detection, only one KGB surveillance team ever got the best of him. It led to the new agent’s belief that he was smarter than everyone else in the intelligence organization. He could also decrypt messages at the rate of 100 words per minute.
The KGB also taught him an advanced means of using invisible ink to send letters through the mail. It began with writing an “open letter,” to a false family member or friend. This is the letter one would read upon opening.
He would then use a piece of contact paper and a pen to write the secret message, one that could only be read if someone knew the secret message was there. It was sent to one of many flagged KGB addresses. Only KGB headquarters, called “The Center,” would know how to develop it.
They also taught him how to recruit Americans sympathetic to the Soviet Union.
On top of the spycraft, he also had to learn to adapt to his new environments, wherever they would be, with whatever means he had at his disposal. He learned the nuances of American English watching TV. His “legend” – the background narrative of his American life – said that his mother, an immigrant, spoke German at home, which is why he had a slight German accent.
An American working for the KGB in Moscow blessed his American English well enough that the KGB decided to send him to the U.S. to be an illegal, a sleeper agent living under an assumed identity in the United States.
To enter the United States, he would first have to get a real identity, beginning with a real birth certificate. KGB illegals would use birth certificates from recently deceased Americans who were roughly their same age, requesting the certificates through the mail. Once they had the birth certificate, they could get other legal documents.
Dittrich’s first attempt to enter the U.S. involved getting the birth certificate of an American named “Hank” while posted in Montreal, Canada. He learned a lot of American English while watching U.S. television in Canada, which gave him a more believable American accent. Although that mission was a bust, The Center had an authentic one waiting for him in Moscow.
His new identity was that of American Jack Barsky. Within weeks of obtaining that official document, KGB agent Jack Barsky was living in New York City and had received a library card, a driver’s license and was working as a bike messenger.
The KGB’s biggest goal was an authentic American passport. An illegal with a real U.S. passport would be used to bring the entire system down, Barsky says. But it was not to be. Barsky not only never received a passport, he was eventually recalled to Moscow under the penalty of death.
By this time he had a family in New York (he also had a family in East Berlin). But the birth of his daughter in the United States prompted him to ignore Moscow’s warning. To find out how Jack Barsky managed to stay in New York without retribution from the Soviet Union, read his book, Deep Undercover.
Russia has unveiled a new military base as part of its buildup in the Arctic region, and has provided a tour — albeit a virtual one on your computer.
According to a report from FoxNews.com, the base is located on Franz Josef Land — an archipelago north of Novaya Zemlya that the Soviet Union seized from Norway in 1926 — and is known as the “Arctic Trefoil” due to its tricorne shape.
The base covers roughly 14,000 square miles and can house up to 150 people for a year and a half. The National Interest has reported that Russia has developed new versions of several systems for a cold weather fight, including the SA-15 Gauntlet, the T-72 main battle tank, and an artillery system known as Pantsir-SA. A version of the SA-10 modified for Arctic conditions is also being developed.
The Arctic Trefoil is the second base Russia has opened in the Arctic. The first one, called Northern Clover, is located on Kotelny Island, north of Siberia. According to a 2014 report by the Russian news agency TASS, its runway is capable of landing Il-76 Candid cargo planes, which are comparable to the retired C-141 Starlifter, year-round.
The SA-15 Gauntlet is a short-range, radar-guided missile. According to ArmyRecognition.com, the missile has a maximum range of about eight miles and a speed of Mach 2.8. A version of this missile is also used on Russian naval vessels, like the aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov as a point-defense system.
The Pantsir-SA is a modified version of the SA-22 Greyhound. ArmyRecognition.com notes that this is a truck-mounted system that holds 12 missiles with a maximum range of almost 12.5 miles and two 30mm autocannons that can hit targets 2.5 miles away. The system reported scored its first kill against a Turkish RF-4 Phantom in 2012.
Russia has been pushing to build up its bases in the Arctic in recent years, prompting the United States to carry out a buildup of its own, including the replacement of its aging icebreakers.
Wounded veteran Bryan Anderson didn’t know what swimming would be like missing three limbs. But as is his style, he learned to adapt and overcome and now enjoys hot summer days lounging by the pool and working it with the ladies #BryanStyle.
The military has very talented photographers in the ranks, and they constantly attempt to capture what life as a service member is like during training and at war. Here are the best military photos of the week:
An A-10C Thunderbolt II from the 74th Fighter Squadron taxis down the runway during Green Flag-West 17-03 Jan. 23, 2017, at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev. The 74th FS brought 12 A-10s to GFW in support of a joint, large-force, combat-readiness exercise for close air support integration training.
Two Air Force teams hand off their batons during the mile relay at the 27th annual Air Force Invitational at the U.S. Air Force Academy’s Cadet Field House in Colorado Springs, Colo., Jan. 21, 2017. The Falcons fielded five teams, grabbing the top two positions, with the Colorado Buffs finishing in third place.
U.S. Army and Latvian Soldiers conduct winter survival training during Operation Atlantic Resolve.
Latvian Land Force photo by Normunds Mežiņš, Young Guard and Information Centre
173rd Airborne Brigade and Latvian Soldiers conduct winter survival training during Operation Atlantic Resolve, Jan. 26, 2017.
Latvian Land Force photo by Normunds Mežiņš, Young Guard and Information Centre
PACIFIC OCEAN (Jan. 30, 2017) Capt. Doug Verissimo, commanding officer of the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70), conducts pre-flight checks in an F/A 18E Super Hornet from the Kestrels of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 137. The Carl Vinson Carrier Strike Group is on a western Pacific deployment as part of the U.S. Pacific Fleet-led initiative to extend the command and control functions of U.S. 3rd fleet.
ATLANTIC OCEAN (Feb. 1, 2017) An E/A-18G Growler assigned to the Lancers of Electronic Attack Squadron (VAQ) 131 launches from the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77). The ship’s carrier strike group is conducting naval operations in the U.S. 6th Fleet area of operations in support of U.S. national security interests.
Marines assigned to Weapons Company, 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, fire a M252A2 81mm mortar system at Range 106 during Integrated Training Exercise 2-17, at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, Twentynine Palms, Calif., Jan. 13, 2017. ITX is a combined-arms exercise which provides all elements of the Marine Air Ground Task Force an opportunity to utilize capabilities during large scale missions to become a more ready fighting force. 1/3 is currently participating as the ground combat element for this exercise.
Marines observe the abilities of military working dog teams during a training exercise in Okinawa, Japan, Jan. 25, 2017. The Marines are dog handlers with 3rd Law Enforcement Battalion, III Marine Expeditionary Force Headquarters Group, III Marine Expeditionary Force.
A 29-foot Response Boat-Small II boat crew from Station Sand Key, Florida, prepares to set a safety zone before the annual Gasparilla boat parade in Tampa Bay, Florida, Saturday, Jan. 28, 2017. The Coast Guard partnered with multiple local agencies to ensure the safety and security of boaters during the event.
An MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter crew flies over the Gasparilla barge, Jose Gaspar, during the annual Gasparilla boat parade in Tampa Bay, Florida, Saturday, Jan. 28, 2017. The Coast Guard partnered with multiple local agencies to ensure the safety and security of boaters during the event.
It was a dynamic, often turbulent, year around the military community. 2015 saw domestic terrorism, growing aggression from former Cold War adversaries, and the Pentagon dealing with unprecedented budgetary and cultural challenges. Here are WATM’s picks for the top 15 stories of the year:
1. The “American Sniper” controversy
The Clint Eastwood-helmed biopic from real-life American sniper Chris Kyle divided the U.S. like a red Starbucks cup. The film earned a whopping $100 million during its opening weekend, but inconsistencies from the book and the depictions of certain onscreen combat actions (like taking aim at a child in Iraq, for example) sparked a few anti-war tweets from actor Seth Rogen and filmmaker Michael Moore. The movie also caused a backlash about how much of a hero Kyle really was, bringing into question whether the all of the events Kyle wrote about really happened.
As much as military experts lauded the film for “getting it right” in terms of technical detail and overall atmospherics (including the challenges of reintegration) “American Sniper” also exposed that the civilian-military divide is alive and well.
2. Troops deployed to fight Ebola outbreak return from West Africa
In 2014, President Obama ordered 2,800 U.S. troops and Department of Defense personnel to West Africa to help combat the Ebola epidemic there. Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea were the hardest hit, with more than 22,000 reported cases and more than 8,000 confirmed deaths from the virus. U.S. troops were vital to the mission to contain the victims and maintain the quarantines. In February 2015, all but 100 of those troops deployed returned home, not a single one infected by the virus.
“Military engineers oversaw the building of new Ebola Treatment Units; military logisticians directed the deployment of life-saving resources from across the globe; and military doctors supported the brave men and women who treated patients every day,” said Rajiv Shah, then-head of the U.S. Agency for International Development.
3. Bowe Bergdahl faces general court martial
The Army, for more than a year, deliberated on just how to deal with the aftermath of the Bowe Bergdahl incident. Though it is clear Bergdahl walked away from his post during his last deployment to Afghanistan in June 2009 and was held until his release in a prisoner exchange with the Taliban in 2014, the Army stated its belief that there is no evidence Bergdahl engaged in any misconduct while held captive by the Taliban and Haqqani Network. The matter was sent before a four-star general to review the facts for a possible court martial.
In March, the Army charged Bergdahl with “desertion with intent to shirk important or hazardous duty” and one count of “misbehavior before the enemy by endangering the safety of a command, unit or place.” Sgt. Bergdahl’s story is now the subject of the wildly popular “Serial” podcast, featuring interviews with those for Bergdahl’s unit, as well as his Taliban captors.
4. Donald Trump blasts Sen. John McCain’s service record
Trump was speaking at the Family Leadership Summit in Iowa in July when moderator Frank Luntz asked the Presidential candidate about an incident where McCain referred to Trump’s supporters as “the crazies.” Luntz referred to the Arizona Senator as a “war hero.”
“He’s a war hero because he was captured… I like people who weren’t captured,” Trump replied and then told the audience that McCain “graduated last in his class at Annapolis (Naval Academy).” After the event, Trump released a statement:
“I am not a fan John McCain because he has done so little for our veterans… I have great respect for all those who serve in our military including those that weren’t captured and are also heroes.”
The statement was condemned by the Republican Party, other GOP hopefuls, and much of the American media. Sen. McCain did not immediately comment. McCain, who was shot down over North Vietnam in 1967, spent the next six years being beaten and tortured as a POW in the infamous “Hanoi Hilton.” He appeared on MSNBC’s Morning Joeshortly after Trump’s remarks, but did not demand an apology.
“I’m not a hero,” the 78-year-old senator said. “But those who were my senior ranking officers … those that inspired us to do things we otherwise wouldn’t be capable of doing, those are the people I think he owes an apology to.”
“I think he may owe an apology to the families of those who have sacrificed in conflict and those who have undergone the prison experience in serving their country,” McCain added. “When Mr. Trump says he prefers to be with people who are not captured, the great honor of my life was to be in the company of heroes.”
5. Marines who lowered the American Flag in Havana raise it again
In January 1961, three U.S. Marines in Havana, Cuba lowered the U.S. embassy flag for the last time. The day before, President Eisenhower severed diplomatic relations with Cuba after a coup brought dictator Fidel Castro to power. Castro ordered all but 11 U.S. diplomats to leave Cuba.
6. U.S. troops Spencer Stone and Alek Skarlatos prevent terror attacks on a Paris train
In August 2015, a heavily armed Moroccan national was set to shoot up a Paris-bound train, killing as many people as possible. As he exited the bathroom, two Frenchmen attempted to wrest the would-be shooter’s AKM rifle away. One was shot through the neck, the other fell to the floor. At that point three Americans — a civilian named Anthony Sadler, U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Spencer Stone and U.S. Army Specialist Alek Skarlatos — jumped the gunman. Stone put the man in a choke hold, taking repeated stab wounds from a box cutter, while Skarlatos took the attacker’s rifle, beating him in the head until the man lost consciousness.
As others restrained the attacker, Stone (who is an Air Force medic) tended to the wounds of the first passenger, pushing his finger on the neck artery to stop the bleeding. All survived. Sadler, Skarlatos, and Stone were named Knights of the Legion d’Honneur by French President Francois Hollande. Sadler received the Secretary of Defense Medal for Valor (civilian equivalent of the Distinguished Service Cross). Skarlatos received the Soldier’s Medal (the highest non-combat award). And Stone was awarded the Airman’s Medal, and Purple Heart. Stone also received a STEP promotion to staff sergeant after his regular promotion to senior airman.
7. First female soldiers earn Ranger Tabs
The two female officers, Capt. Kristen Griest and 1st Lt. Shaye Haver, became the first women to complete the U.S. Army’s grueling Ranger school at Fort Benning, Georgia amid the ongoing debate about the roles of women fighting in combat. Griest is a military police officer and Haver is an Apache helicopter pilot. Both are graduates of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. The two were among 19 women who started the course. A third woman graduated in October.
8. Russia enters the Syrian Civil War
In September, Russian military aircraft carried out the country’s first airstrikes in support of President Bashar al-Asad’s regime in Syria. Russian President Vladimir Putin maintained his forces were attacking ISIS positions, but there were many reports of Russian forces attacking anti-regime positions. Russia’s support for Syria goes back to the Cold War and the Soviet Union’s support for Asad’s father, Hafez al-Asad who ruled Syria for almost 30 years before his death in 2000. The issue was made even more complicated after Turkey shot down a Russian aircraft for violating Turkish airspace.
9. Marine Corps publishes a study about gender-integrated units
The Marine Corps released a summary of results in September 2015 based on a nine-month study of gender-integrated units in combat situations. Called “Ground Combat Element Integrated Task Force,” the four-page summary described how all-male units performed significantly better on 69 percent of tactical tasks and how female Marines were injured at twice the rate of men. The study also claimed that all-male units were faster, stronger, had less body fat, and were more accurate with every standard individual weapon like M4 carbines and M203 grenade launchers.
The study’s summary did note the performance of female Marines in individual combat situations and in current overall combat operations, saying: “Female Marines have performed superbly in the combat environments of Iraq and Afghanistan and are fully part of the fabric of a combat-hardened Marine Corps after the longest period of continuous combat operations in the Corps’ history.”
10. Training “Moderate” Syrian rebels falls apart
The first round of American-trained “moderate” Syrian fighters made their way into Syria in September 2015. They were quickly routed by or defected to the al-Qaeda affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra Front, a Sunni Islamist group. Al-Nusra stormed the rebel headquarters and took some of the fighters hostage. Later the same month, 75 more American-trained Syrian rebels entered the country via Turkey, where the majority of the training takes place. Almost immediately, those U.S.-backed fighters surrendered to the al-Nusra front. The “vetted” U.S.-backed leader, Anas Obaid, told al-Nusra he intentionally deceived the U.S. to get the weapons.
The U.S.’ $500 million dollar plan to arm and train “moderate” Syrian rebels was a disaster. CENTCOM, which oversees U.S. military operations in the Middle East, reported of the 5,400 rebels planned to be in Syria fighting ISIS this year, there were only “four or five” active fighters in country. The CENTCOM spokesman went on to say there is no way the goal could be reached in 2015. The Obama Administration nixed the plan to train rebels by October 9th.
11. Congress saves A-10 from the Air Force
The A-10 Thunderbolt II is the only aircraft built specifically for a close-air support mission. The signature feature is its 30mm gatling gun, the GAU-8 Avenger. The distinctive sound made by the weapon (the BRRRRRT – created as rounds fire faster than the speed of sound), has been music to the ears of the troops on the ground, so much so that the plane has earned the nickname of “the grunt in the air.” The Air Force wanted to retire the slow-moving but stout plane to make room in their budget for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, which Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh III says is “designed for the whole battlespace.” But critics claim the F-35 ill-suited for the close air support mission.
In the 2016 National Defense Authorization Act, Congress ordered the Air Force to produce a reliable, independent study on how they will replace the A-10’s CAS mission while providing the necessary funds to keep the Warthog flying.
12. President Obama extended U.S. military’s Afghan mission into 2017
They won’t have a direct combat role, but U.S. troops will remain in Afghanistan through 2017. When President Obama leaves office in 2017, 5,500 troops will remain in Afghanistan. A resurgent Taliban and a growing ISIS threat will keep the U.S. forces busy as they work to keep the Afghan government in power.
The Obama Administration announced the extension in October. The War in Afghanistan is almost 15 years old and claimed the lives of 2,230 service members and cost more than $1 trillion. The new yearly plan costs upwards of $15 billion per year.
13. ISIS and China hack DoD computers, stealing troops’ personal data
In mid-October, a native of Kosovo was detained in Malaysia and alleged to be the hacker who had forced his way into the U.S. government software that held the personal information of U.S. troops and federal workers. The Kosovar, said to have ties to ISIS, stole data belonging to 1,300 people and gave it to the terror group’s hacking division.
One month prior, Chinese hackers forced their way into the systems of the Office of Personnel Management, and stole 5.6 million fingerprints, which, in turn, affected the compromised the records of 21.5 million Federal employees and applicants. The personal data also potentially contained information about intelligence agents posted overseas. The data included the employees’ biographical forms used when applying for sensitive or classified jobs.
14. All Combat Jobs are opened to women
Secretary of Defense Ash Carter ordered the Pentagon to open all military combat roles to women, rejecting limitations on the most dangerous military jobs. The secretary’s orders gave the branches until January 1st to plan their changes and force those combat roles open to women by April 1st, including infantry, reconnaissance, and special operations forces.
Women already have access to most front-line roles in the Army, Navy and Air Force. Earlier in 2015, women were integrated into the Navy’s Submarine Service. Women have been serving as fighter pilots in the Air Force and Navy since 1993, and the Army has been fighting to open its infantry positions to women since September 2015. The defense secretary’s rationale was simply that any qualified candidate should be allowed to compete for the jobs.
15. U.S. deploys special forces ground troops to fight ISIS
In a departure from the U.S. military’s policy of providing air support and “advisors” to support Iraqi and Kurdish ground forces fighting ISIS (Daesh) in Iraq and Syria, Defense Secretary Ash Carter authorized the deployment of additional special operations forces in Iraq to conduct raids to free hostages, capture Daesh leaders, and gather intelligence.
Earlier in the year, the U.S. deployed 3,300 troops to Iraq in training and advisory capacities, as well as support for air operations. The new standing force will be based in Iraq but conduct operations in Iraq and in Syria. The total special force could number up in the hundreds. In October, U.S. special forces and Iraqi troops conducted a raid on an ISIS compound to free 70 Iraqi prisoners, resulting in the first U.S. castualty in the war against ISIS.
Morale patches are patches troops wear on their uniforms designed to be a funny inside joke, applicable only to their unit or military career field. They are usually worn during deployments, but the wear of morale patches is at the discretion of the unit’s commander.
The patches often (not always) make fun of a depressing, boring or otherwise specific part of the job.
These patches have been around since the military began to wear patches. They are collected and traded by people, both military and civilians, who come across them. Some are more popular than others, but they are usually a lot of fun.
The “Morale Stops Here” patch is pretty popular and is actually repeated by units the world over. It’s really funny the first time you see it.
This is an old one, a throwback to the Air Force’s Strategic Air Command days. “To forgive is not SAC policy” is widely attributed to famed SAC commander Curtis LeMay.
For the benefit of the uninitiated, CSAR stands for Combat Search And Rescue.
Having the Kool-Aid Man as your unofficial mascot is funny enough, but making his hand the lightning-shooting gauntlet in the old SAC emblem is clever.
The JSTARS (or Joint Surveillance and Target Attack Radar System) have a descriptive patch here – as they operate out of trailers at Al-Udeid Air Base, Qatar (in the military, being deployed here is also known as “doing the Deid”).
This is a U.S. Navy patch from Vietnam. The “yacht” is a junk – a historically widespread type of ship used in China and around Southeast Asia. The Tonkin Gulf is where the Vietnam War (or more specifically, the U.S. involvement in it) really ignited.
More from Vietnam. By the end of the 1960’s, the rift between those who served in Vietnam and the perception of the war back home hit its peak.
As the Cold War intensified and the threat of nuclear war seemed more and more unavoidable, the young enlisted and officers whose role in the annihilation of Earth’s population probably felt more than a little stressed.
The tradition continued, well into Desert Storm. If you have morale patches that make others laugh or are highly prized, please post in the comments.
Larry Thorne enlisted in the U.S. Army as a private in 1954, but he was already a war hero. That’s because his real name was Lauri Törni, and he had been fighting the Soviets for much of his adult life.
Born in Finland in 1919, Törni enlisted at age 19 in his country’s army and fought against the Soviet Union in the Winter War of 1939-40, according to Helsingin Sanomat. He quickly rose to the rank of captain and took command of a group of ski troops, who quite literally, skied into battle against enemy forces.
In 1942, he was severely wounded after he skied into a mine, but that didn’t slow him down. In 1944 during what the Finns called The Continuation War, he received Finland’s version of the Medal of Honor — the Mannerheim Cross — for his bravery while leading a light infantry battalion.
Unfortunately for Törni, Finland signed a ceasefire and ceded some territory to the Soviets in 1944 to end hostilities. But instead of surrendering, he joined up with the German SS so he could continue fighting. He received additional training in Nazi Germany and then looked forward to kicking some Commie butt once more.
But then Germany fell too, and the Finn-turned-Waffen SS officer was arrested by the British, according to War History Online. Not that being put into a prison camp would stop him either.
“In the last stages of the war he surrendered to the British and eventually returned to Finland after escaping a British POW camp,” reads the account at War History Online. “When he returned, he was then arrested by the Finns, even though he had received their Medal of Honor, and was sentenced to 6 years in prison for treason.”
He ended up serving only half his sentence before he was pardoned by the President of Finland in 1948.
Getting to America
Törni’s path to the U.S. Army was paved by crucial legislation from Congress along with the creation of a new military unit: Special Forces.
In June 1950, the Lodge-Philbin Act passed, which allowed foreigners to join the U.S. military and allowed them citizenship if they served honorably for at least five years. Just two years later, the Army would stand up its new Special Forces unit at Fort Bragg, N.C.
More than 200 eastern Europeans joined Army Special Forces before the Act expired in 1959, according to Max Boot. One of those enlistees was Törni, who enlisted in 1954 under the name Larry Thorne.
“The Soviets wanted to get their hands on Thorne and forced the Finnish government to arrest him as a wartime German collaborator. They planned to take him to Moscow to be tried for war crimes,” reads the account at ArlingtonCemetery.net. “Thorne had other plans. He escaped, made his way to the United States, and with the help of Wild Bill Donovan became a citizen. The wartime head of the OSS knew of Thorne’s commando exploits.”
A Special Forces legend
Thorne quickly distinguished himself among his peers of Green Berets. Though he enlisted as a private, his wartime skill-set led him to become an instructor at the Special Warfare School at Fort Bragg teaching everything from survival to guerrilla tactics. In 1957, he was commissioned a second lieutenant and would rise to the rank of captain just as war was on the horizon in Vietnam.
But first, he would take part in a daring rescue mission inside of Iran. In 1962, then-Capt. Thorne led an important mission to recover classified materials from a U.S. Air Force plane that crashed on a mountaintop on the Iran-Turkish-Soviet border, according to Helsingin Sanomat. Though three earlier attempts to secure the materials had failed, Thorne’s team was successful.
Thorne quickly made it into the U.S. Special Forces and in 1962, as a Captain, he led his detachment onto the highest mountain in Iran to recover the bodies and classified material from an American C-130 airplane that had crashed. It was a mission in which others had failed, but Thorne’s unrelenting spirit led to its accomplishment. This mission initially formed his status as a U.S. Special Forces legend, but it was his deep strategic reconnaissance and interdiction exploits with Military Assistance Command, Vietnam Studies and Observation Group, also known as MACV-SOG, that solidified his legendary status.
In Vietnam, he earned the Bronze Star medal for heroism, along with five Purple Hearts for combat wounds, War History Online writes. According to Helsingin Sanomat, his wounds allowed him to return to the rear away from combat, but he refused and instead requested command of a special operations base instead.
On Oct. 18, 1965, Thorne led the first MACV-SOG cross-border mission into Laos to interdict North Vietnamese movement down the Ho Chi Minh trail. Using South Vietnamese Air Force helicopters, his team was successfully inserted into a clearing inside Laos while Thorne remained in a chase helicopter to direct support as needed. Once the team gave word they had made it in, he responded that he was heading back to base.
Roughly five minutes later while flying in poor visibility and bad weather, the helicopter crashed. The Army first listed him as missing in action, then later declared he was killed in action — in South Vietnam. The wreckage of the aircraft was found prior to the end of the war and the remains of the South Vietnamese air crew were recovered, but Thorne was never found.
Thorne’s exploits in combat made him seem invincible among his Special Forces brothers, and with his body never recovered, many believed he had survived the crash and continued to live in hiding or had been taken prisoner by the North Vietnamese, according to POW Network.
“Many believed he was exactly the sort of near-indestructible soldier who would have simply walked back out of the jungle, and they found it hard to believe he had been killed,” writes Helsingin Sanomat.
In 1999, the mystery was finally put to rest. The remains of the legendary Special Forces soldier were recovered from the crash site. DNA confirmed the identities of the air crew, while dental records proved Törni had died on that fateful night in 1965, reported Helsingin Sanomat.
“He was a complex yet driven man who valorously fought oppression under three flags and didn’t acknowledge the meaning of quit,” U.S. Army Special Forces Col. Sean Swindell said during a ceremony in 2010.