Look, it is easy, and deeply enjoyable, to give Oscar Mike host Ryan Curtis boatloads of crap for the shenanigans and mannerisms (shenannerisms?) he regularly deploys in the line of duty. It’s easy because he’s a good sport. It’s enjoyable because, well:
But credit where credit is due, it is no easy thing to drop in on a recording studio unprepared, be played a brand new beat, compose a non-wack verse and then get into the booth and spit your best whiteboy flow in front of a hot producer and a rapper at the top of his game.
TMR served 10 years in the Middle East as a Marine Corps combat correspondent, ala Joker from Full Metal Jacket. Though he started rapping young, he found he had to put his passion on ice during active duty — no time to think, let alone rhyme.
When he finally left the service, the transition was rough.
“It was a reality shock. I didn’t know where to go. You’re like, ‘I have all this time on my hands,’ and you get to thinking… ‘I was such a super hero in the military, but now I’m just a regular civilian. Nobody cares about me. I’m nothing now. Why should I even live?'”
Finding himself in a dark headspace familiar to many vets exiting the military, TMR did a hard thing: he asked for help.
With the assistance of the VA, he was able to reorient, finding an outlet in his long-dormant passion for rap. He now lives in Hollywood, CA, cutting tracks and shooting music videos to support his budding career as a musician.
And, no joke, in a single day of working together, TMR, producer Louden and the Artist Formerly Known as Ryan Curtis may just have succeeded in dropping the U.S. military’s first ever chart-topping hip hop track:
It’s a lock for New Oscar Mike Theme Song at the very least.
Watch as Curtis looks for lyrics in a Magic 8 Ball and TMR proves there’s no room in his game for shame, in the video embedded at the top.
As the battle against ISIS continues to rage, the various Kurdish militia groups have proven to be the most effective ground force at stemming the militant tide.
Seeking to turn back the jihadists, a small but growing number of US veterans have traveled to Iraq and Syria to join the fight, The Wall Street Journal reports.
Two US veterans that the WSJ identified who fought in Syria and returned are former Army Ranger Bruce Windorski and Marine combat veteran Jamie Lane.
Although Windorski, 40, and Lane, 29, had different reasons for joining the fight against ISIS, they followed a similar route to the front lines.
Both veterans flew into Sulaymaniyah, Iraq via Turkey. Once in Sulaymaniyah, the two veterans met with members of the Kurdish YPG which drove them through Iraqi Kurdistan to a Kurdish military training camp in northern Syria. The YPG, more than any other Kurdish faction, has successfully managed to court foreign fighters for their operations against ISIS.
“The quickest route to the front lines is the YPG, which has drivers in Iraq ready to pick up Westerners,” the WSJ notes.
“Its Lions of Rojava Facebook page, named after a Kurdish region the fighters are trying to claim, appeals: ‘Welcome to our Family Brothers and Sisters. Join YPG…and send ISIS terrorists to Hell and save Humanity.'”
After a brief stint in a military training camp, the YPG proceeded to move Lane and Windorski — along with other foreign fighters from Greece, England, Australia, and France — to the front lines. Before combat, the YPG allowed the fighters to choose their own weapons and ammunition. Although, the WSJ noted that there was a lack of body armor available to any fighters in the organization.
This general makeshift approach to supplies among the YPG was also apparent in the structure of the YPG forces itself. US citizens can fight alongside the YPG as the US government has not designated it terrorist or enemy organization. However, the YPG’s sister organization, the PKK, is a designated terrorist organization and US citizens who fight alongside the PKK can have legal action brought against them upon return to the US.
This legal distinction by the US of the two organizations poses challenges for US citizens fighting in Syria against ISIS.
“There often seemed little to distinguish the ‘terrorist’ PKK and America’s YPG friends, Westerners who fought alongside the Kurds say,” the WSJ notes. “PKK militants would become YPG fighters by changing fatigues.”
Ultimately, after arming and training, Windorski and Lane engaged in a night long battle against ISIS. The two barely survived the encounter and both soon after returned to the US. Although the two took part in the same battle, they differed on their ultimate beliefs about whether US citizens should take it upon themselves to fight ISIS alongside the Kurds.
Whereas Windorsky would encourage willing individuals to join the Kurds, Lane said he would tell others not to go.
“It’s not what you’re thinking,” Lane told the WSJ. “You’re not going to fight ISIS. You’re fighting for the revolution of Rojava.”
Lane’s assessment matches a bitter truth about the YPG on the ground. Although the Kurds have been on a roll pushing back ISIS across swathes of northern Syria, the group has also been accused of seizing non-Kurdish land in an attempt to alter the demography of the area to better suite a future Kurdish state.
Such actions, which the YPG deny, would ultimately only help prolong conflict in the area and could feed into ISIS recruiting strategies.
U.S.-backed forces in northern Syria paused military operations near a dam held by the Islamic State group on March 27 to allow engineers to fix any problems after conflicting reports about its stability.
The decision by the Syrian Democratic Forces came a day after conflicting reports over whether civilians had begun evacuating the nearby city of Raqqa — the extremists’ de facto capital — due to concerns about the Tabqa dam on the Euphrates River.
Some activist groups opposed to IS have said residents are seeking higher ground, fearing that the collapse of the dam could cause severe flooding, while others said people were remaining in place. Conflicting reports are common in areas controlled by IS, which bans independent media.
The SDF, a U.S.-backed and Kurdish-led force, has been fighting IS in the area since Friday in an attempt to capture the dam, one of the main sources of electricity in northern Syria.
The SDF said in a statement that the cease-fire expired at 5 p.m. local time, after their engineers inspected the structure and found no faults. Photos credited to an embedded freelance journalist indicated they had just inspected the dam’s spillway, which is on SDF-controlled territory. The main dam structure and the gates lie 4 kilometers (2.5 miles) away and are still held by IS militants.
The SDF said the request for a cease-fire was made by the dam’s administrators, without specifying whether they were part of the Syrian government or IS, which operates a quasi-state in the areas under its control.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said technicians inside IS-held Tabqa did not reach the dam during the cease-fire, to reactivate its main power controls. There was no explanation given.
The engineer Ahmad Farhat, who oversaw the mechanical administration of the dam, said that it is “equipped with the necessary precautions for its own protection,” but there needs to be technical personnel on site to engage them. He spoke with The Associated Press from the rebel-held northwestern Syrian province of Idlib.
Engineer Aboud al Haj Aboud who was the head of the electricity division of the dam said on social media that if indeed the control room is busted and the gates of the dam cannot be opened, it will still take at least a month for the waters being held back by the dam to overflow the top of the structure.
The U.S.-led coalition said it is taking every precaution to ensure the integrity of the dam. “To our knowledge, the dam has not been structurally damaged,” it said on its Twitter account.
SDF fighters on Sunday captured a strategically important air base from IS in Raqqa province, marking their first major victory since the United States airlifted hundreds of forces, as well as American advisers and artillery, behind enemy lines last week.
The SDF announced they had captured the Tabqa air base, 45 kilometers (28 miles) west of Raqqa.
On Monday, IS fighters detonated a car bomb on the southern edge of the air base, but it was not clear if it inflicted casualties among SDF fighters, the activist collective Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently and the Observatory reported.
Fighting is ongoing in areas near the air base, both activist groups said. The SDF said in another statement that its fighters captured two villages north of Tabqa on Monday.
Elsewhere in Syria, authorities resumed the evacuation of the last opposition-held neighborhood in the central city of Homs in an agreement to surrender the district to the government.
Opposition activists have criticized the agreement, saying it aims to displace 12,000 al-Waer residents, including 2,500 fighters. The Observatory has called the evacuees “internally displaced” people.
The government has rejected allegations that the Homs deal and similar agreements in other besieged areas amount to the forced displacement of civilians.
On Monday, 667 militants, along with their families, for a total of 2,009 residents, were taken by bus in the direction of the rebel-held city of Jarablus, near the Turkish border, according to an official in the Homs Governorate administration.
The official requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.
Syrian state TV had forecast that some 700 people would leave, far fewer than the final tally.
The evacuation was planned to take place on Saturday, but no reason was given for the delay.
Opposition fighters agreed to leave al-Waer after years of siege and bombardment at the hands of pro-government forces. They were guaranteed safe passage to rebel-held parts of northern Syria.
The evacuations are expected to last weeks, after which the government will be able to claim control over the entire city for the first time in years.
Associated Press writers Albert Aji in Damascus, Syria, and Philip Issa in Beirut contributed to this report.
Violence escalating between Israel and terrorist organizations like Hamas is, unfortunately, all too common. But the fighting over Israel’s holiest sites dates back much, much further than Hamas or even modern Israel. Jerusalem, Israel’s capital city is home to the holiest sites of three major religions: Christianity, Judaism, and Islam.
Jerusalem remains the focal point for much of the conflict that rages between Israel and the Palestinians today – because those holy sites are all within the same square mile.
In his latest Fox Nation special, “Battle in the Holy City,” Fox News correspondent Pete Hegseth takes viewers closer to the powder keg than they’ve ever been. Hegseth is uniquely qualified for the job. He’s been in combat before with the U.S. Army in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Most weekends, Pete Hegseth is in the Fox News studio as a co-host of Fox & Friends Weekend. Not too long ago, however, he was Maj. Pete Hegseth of the Army National Guard. He joined the guard after graduating from Princeton in 2003, serving as an officer with the 101st Airborne Division in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Not long after returning from Cuba, he volunteered to serve in Iraq as a civil affairs operations officer. It was in Iraq where he not only earned a Combat Infantryman Badge, he was also awarded the Bronze Star.
That experience would serve him well when he volunteered for a tour in Afghanistan with the Minnesota National Guard, this time as a counterinsurgency instructor. Two years after returning from the war, Hegseth joined Fox News.
Since then Hegseth has produced a number of thought-provoking specials and reports under his belt. He has interviewed American military veterans from all walks of life on the Fox Nation show “Modern Warriors.” During the Coronavirus pandemic, Hegseth hosted “America Together,” a “living room concert” that raised more than $8 million to support pandemic relief efforts.
Today, his latest special report is one that has suddenly become more important than ever. As the tensions and clashes between Israel and Hamas increase, Hegseth’s “Battle in the Holy City” shows us why so many people are fighting and dying for this small strip of land in the Middle East.
Jerusalem is a much bigger city than the carved stone streets of the old city. The old city is little bigger than a third of a square mile. Between the old city walls, however, the streets and houses are packed with religious and secular people from all walks of life. Jewish and Palestinian muslim familes, Orthodox Christian monks, and even Lutheran bishops are all packed in this small space.
Also inside this space is the Western Wall, the last remnant of the second temple, believed by the Jewish people to be the one place where heaven and earth come together. It is situated next to the Temple Mount, where the golden Dome of the Rock sits.
To muslims, the area overlooking the Western Wall is where the prophet Mohammed ascended to heaven with the angel Gabriel, to pray with Abraham, Moses, and Jesus. It is the third holiest site in the Islamic faith, after Mecca and Medina.
Just a short walk away from the Western Wall and the Dome of the Rock is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, a large church built around the two holiest sites for Christians of all denominations. The first is Calvary, where Christ was crucified and the second is his empty tomb, where he was buried and resurrected.
The Old City of Jerusalem can be a powder keg of tension. When fighting erupts, the results can be catastrophic. On Fox Nation’s “Battle in the Holy Land,” viewers can get glimpses of the holy sites and relics, a closer view than going in person, as Hegseth guides them through the start of the conflict and the reasons it continues to this day.
If you’re in the military or a veteran, you can check out Pete Hegseth and other awesome veterans for a year for free on Fox Nation. Check out the Fox Nation website for more details!
September 11, 2001 means different things for different Americans. For some, the events of that date will forever be seared in their memories. For others, they were too young to know what was going on, yet they sensed something big had happened. For a younger generation, 9/11 is history. They read about it in textbooks that are absent the feelings of fear, anxiety, and stress that plagued so many Americans on that morning and the days following.
But, it’s an important date. It’s a date that represents sacrifice. Many people died, putting the lives of others before theirs. It’s a date that represents unity. Americans came together to offer up support to the families of the fallen. It also represents mistakes. Following the events of 9/11, Muslims and Middle-Eastern Americans had to weather the racial blowback that came from 19 men flying planes into the Twin Towers, the Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania.
What’s important is that we remember. And that our kids know what happened that day, so the sacrifices, the story of Americans coming together, as well as the mistakes we made are not forgotten. And a great way to share memories is through stories. In her debut middle-school novel, Caroline Brooks DuBois gives us The Places We Sleep. It’s a story about a young girl navigating a new school (because her dad is in the Army) during the events of September 11, 2001. I recently interviewed Caroline to learn more about her book.
WATM: This novel touches on so many different themes: 9/11, racism, being a military kid, being a middle schooler, and being a young girl in middle school. Could you talk a little bit about the story you tell in The Places We Sleep?
Caroline: With Abbey, I attempted to create a middle school character who is as multifaceted as the pre-teens and teens I know and teach (and adore). Middle schoolers currently are living through very complex times, yet they are still concerned about their complexion, their hair, what to wear, who said what to whom, getting embarrassed in front of their peers, and so much more. In the story, Abbey navigates challenging world events along with the struggles of middle school and adolescence. Currently, teens and children are facing their own difficult world events, so I hope readers will see how Abbey perseveres and strives to be a good friend, to be kind, and to express empathy and tolerance to others.
Although I did not grow up in a military family, both of my grandfathers served in the military, as well as both of my brothers, my brother-in-law, and my sister-in-law. In the years that followed 9/11, my brothers and my brother-in-law were all called into active duty and deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq. These events were the seed for Abbey’s story. I knew I wanted to write about how world events have rippling effects on individuals and families in unexpected ways. But I also wanted to tell a story about a girl with whom readers could relate. Abbey’s story is about being a military child, but it’s also about identity, loss and grief, creating art in the face of tragedy, and friendship.
WATM: Who should pick this book up? Is this a book a parent could read with their middle schooler to talk about 9/11?
Caroline: Middle grade students I’ve taught have had only a fuzzy understanding of the events of 9/11 and are curious and want to know more. There are several great books for young readers on 9/11 that I’ve incorporated into my teaching over the years, as I’ve found reading stories offers an opening to difficult subjects. I hope The Places We Sleep will spark curiosity in young readers about 9/11 and the monumental lessons we learned and are still learning from that tragedy.
Although the story is written for middle-school age kids, adults have told me the story resonates with them as well. It allows readers to visit, or revisit, 9/11 in the safe space of a story. The current national trauma of the Coronavirus pandemic may have a similar traumatic impact on youth and adults. Reading with a child about a dark time in our history is one way to open up conversation on important topics such as resiliency, strength, attitude, and hope. My hope is that the book will leave readers with a memorable story about a girl who may not be all that different from themselves. If they see Abbey journey through difficult times and come out stronger, they too may be inspired and optimistic in the face of their generation’s own difficult times.
WATM: You chose to tell the story in Verse. Could you talk about that decision and why you think it will appeal to readers?
Caroline: As a teacher and parent, I’ve noticed the appeal of shorter and/or alternative forms of story-telling (e.g., books in verse, flash fiction, graphic novels, epistolaries, etc.), undoubtedly influenced by technology and reading online. Even though I have a love for long form and traditional novels, I’ve noticed how books in verse can create more white space between scenes as well as playful or dramatic visual messages with syntax, punctuation, and form, which can motivate or hook adolescent readers.
Abbey’s story came to me naturally in poetry, perhaps as a lyrical way to process 9/11 and my brothers’ deployment, but also likely because I’d recently completed my MFA in poetry. The snapshots or scenes that poems allow you to write provided me with the perfect medium for Abbey’s story.
Books in verse make great shared read-aloud opportunities. You’re never too old to be read to or to enjoy reading aloud to someone else. Where you may not have time to read an entire chapter with someone, there’s always time for a poem or two.
WATM: On top of all the other crazy events in the book, Abbey also deals with the struggle of puberty. A lot of middle school books gloss over this. But, it’s a main part of Abbey’s story. Could you discuss why you chose to address it in your novel?
Caroline: When I was a pre-teen, one of the few sources for making sense of puberty was Judy Blume novels, which we passed covertly between friends (Think: Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret and Then Again, Maybe I Won’t). Changing bodies were cringe-worthy and carried heavy feelings of shame. Not enough has changed since then. I should know: I taught 7th grade for three years recently, and I saw it when girls cornered me at my desk to signal with their eyes they needed an emergency bathroom break, or when boys shut down in class conversations, avoiding branding themselves as not part of the pack. Novels that talk about puberty openly and other difficult issues are lifesavers for youth. Now more than ever, young readers need to be able to see themselves in books. Sometimes it takes a character in a book to show a reader they are not alone. Forewarning, my second reason is a little cerebral and a slight spoiler regarding Abbey’s character arc. Through her journey, Abbey makes a connection between coming of age (a.k.a, getting her period) and possessing the power to create life. She contemplates how the terrorists on 9/11 chose to destroy life. Coming of age brings with it many choices about how to act, and sometimes acting with integrity and authenticity means not following your peers—and that’s a true test of character.
WATM: Outside of classical literature, this is the first time I’ve ever read a novel in verse. Since you got your MFA in poetry, what are some of the must-reads in this genre?
Caroline: In this space, I’ll mainly mention notable middle-grade novelists who write in verse, but there are also numerous young adult novelists who write in verse as well. Disclaimer: These are a few of my own personal favorites and there are many others not included: Kwame Alexander (sports-themed Crossover and Booked), Sharon Creech (Love that Dog and Hate that Cat), Thanhha Lai (Inside Out Back Again), and Jacqueline Woodson (Brown Girl Dreaming). Additionally, Ellen Hopkins is a must-read author of books in verse for young adults; she tackles challenging topics such as drug addiction and mental illness in her unapologetic, in-your-face verse. One of my all-time favorite novels in verse is Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse, which tells the story of 14-year-old Billie Jo, who struggles to help her family survive the Dust Bowl.
Scott Kelly didn’t always know that he was going to be an astronaut. In fact, he wasn’t even a particularly good student.
“As a student, it’s just really hard, especially at first, when you don’t have the habit-patterns to study and pay attention,” Kelly told Business Insider for the podcast “Success! How I Did It.” “But once I got over that, I was able to go from a kid at 18 years old that was always like a very average, underperforming student and then fast forward almost to the day 18 years later, I flew in space for the first time. It was a pretty remarkable comeback, I think.”
Kelly remained an average student until he went to college, where he stumbled across Tom Wolfe’s book, “The Right Stuff.”
“I read this book, and I could relate to a lot of the characteristics these guys had, with regards to their personalities, their risk-taking, their leadership abilities, ability to work as a team. That made me think,” Kelly said.
“I related to a lot of those characteristics with one exception, and that is I wasn’t a good student, especially in science and math,” he continued. Kelly said he then thought, “Wow, you know, if I could fix just that thing, then I could maybe be like these guys.”
“At the time I was thinking you’ve got to be really smart to be an engineer or scientist. What I realized is really what it takes is just hard work, and it’s not any particular gift you might have.”
He continued: “It was the spark I needed to motivate me to do more with my life than I was currently doing.”
You can subscribe to the podcast and listen to the episode below:
“The Right Stuff” inspired Kelly, but it was a phone call from his brother that showed him what hard work really looks like.
According to Kelly, his twin brother Mark, who also became a NASA astronaut, was also a mediocre students — but Mark turned things around in high school, while Scott kept skating by. Mark pinpoints his turnaround to an event Scott doesn’t remember.
“I was this kid that could not pay attention. Was not a good student,” Kelly said. “Always wondering how in the ninth grade my brother went from being like me to getting straight A’s — I never knew how that happened.”
“But apparently, what [Mark] tells me, is that our dad sat us down in like the eighth grade, and said, ‘Hey, guys. You know, you’re not good students, not college material. We’re going to start thinking about a vocational education for you.'” Kelly said. “And my brother thought, ‘Whoa! I want to go to college and do something more.”I, on the other hand, had no recollection whatsoever of this conversation,” Kelly said. “Probably only because there was like a squirrel running outside the window and I was like, ‘Squirrel!’ Otherwise, I probably would have been a straight-A student, too.”
In his memoir “Endurance,” Kelly wrote that his mind began to wander and he lost focus as a student at the State University of New York Maritime College.
His grades had risen above average and he was studying for his first calculus exam. Having decided to take a break, Kelly planned to attend a big party at Rutgers. When Mark found out about his brother’s attempt to forgo more studying for a party, he scolded Kelly over the phone.
“Are you out of your goddamn mind?” Kelly remembered Mark telling him. “You’re in school. You need to absolutely ace this exam, and everything else, if you want to get caught up.”
Scott Kelly buckled down, became a NASA astronaut, and has been to space four times.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Candy is a military working dog with six deployments under her collar, and, on Nov. 9, she was finally able to rest her paws when she officially retired from duty during a ceremony.
Her career, like hundreds of canines before her, serves as a reminder of the power of these four-legged airmen.
For most of these working dogs, it all starts across the Atlantic Ocean. The Military Working Dog Buying Program will travel to European kennels to purchase canines for the Defense Department. In some cases, however, MWDs are born and raised at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, where training occurs for both canines and their aspiring handlers. The way to tell the difference between foreign and domestic canines is in their name. For example, if their title is “MWD Kkeaton” or “MWD Ttoby,” the double consonant will signify they’re a dog raised through Lackland’s Puppy Program. Names without the double consonant are for all other adopted dogs.
After being adopted, the dogs live with foster families before the initial training regimen, which begins when they are 18-24 months old. Once they enter the training program, the dogs have 120 days to graduate.
Training Dogs, Handlers
During training, they learn all the basics. Basic commands, such as down, sit, and stay, are the starting point. Once they learn these commands, the canines begin learning more advanced techniques, such as patrol work, detection, and more. Successfully completing the four-month program means they’ll graduate and be assigned their base.
Simultaneously, aspiring dog handlers are training nearby. It was an experience that, for Air Force Staff Sgt. Kyle Pethtel, a dog handler with the 27th Special Operations Security Forces, was fun and filled with challenges for both canine and handler.
“It felt hard at times because you didn’t know how much work it takes to become [a handler],” Pethtel said. “I remember how nervous we’d be [when] pulling our first working dog.”
Before they get to handle their first working dog, the handlers must also learn the basics and proper commands. Not only that, they also must learn how to groom the dogs and keep them fit to fight.
When the newly trained dogs arrive at their first assignments, they will be assigned a handler and begin learning more advanced techniques.
From there, it’s all about strengthening the bond between handler and canine. Just like airmen in an office, team chemistry is a vital component for these working dog teams to accomplish the mission. Between base patrols and deployments, the bond only strengthens each time they put their bulletproof armor on.
“When we do convoys, canines lead,” said Air Force Staff Sgt. Paul Little, a 27th SOSFS dog handler. “When we’re downrange, dog teams lead the way. It’s one of the most vital components to any mission they’re involved in.”
It’s an honor that Candy, one of the most experienced and decorated military working dogs in the DoD, had one last time before she traded in those heavy vests for a simple collar and leash. After eight years of service, she received an Air Force Commendation Medal and retired to her new home in Colorado with Air Force Tech. Sgt. Joshua Fehringer, one of her former handlers.
From puppy to airman, the career cycle of these canine service members is long and arduous and requires as much sacrifice as the thousands of human airmen they serve and protect.
How do you get 38,000-plus World War II veterans to Washington, D.C. to see the country’s memorial to their service? Fly them, of course. That’s roughly how many vets and caretakers are on the Honor Flight Network’s waiting list. But United Airlines, American Airlines, and most others aren’t just giving away free seats for veterans. That’s where Honor Flight comes in, but it can’t do it alone. Like any other non-profit, it needs to raise money.
Good thing Honor Flight has the NFL’s most dominant defender at their side. The Houston Texans’ JJ Watt is putting his legendary fundraising skills to work for the 348 World War II veterans who die every day.
On Veterans Day 2019, JJ Watt launched a new shoe line with Reebok, calling it “Valor 2.” The shoe is dedicated to the memory of his late grandfather, who fought in Korea, including at Pork Chop Hill. Most importantly, the proceeds that would normally go to Watt for his work on the shoe will instead go to the Honor Flight Network, along with an additional ,000 kicker from Reebok.
Watt is no stranger to lending his name and time to support great causes. He raised an incredible .6 million to help rebuild Houston after it was devastated by Hurricane Harvey in 2017. Now he’s using his clout and his status to make another miraculous save. This time the beneficiary is the Honor Flight Network, a non-profit whose mission is to take war veterans to Washington, D.C. to visit the memorials dedicated to their respective wars giving priority to World War II vets.
As he mentions in the above video, the Valor shoe Watt produced with Reebok in 2018 was a massive success, benefitting the Navy SEAL Foundation. The shoe sold out three times and Reebok restocked it three times. This shoe, along with the same camouflage pattern, also features the Korean War stripe on the back along with his name tape and unit, right up to the division level. Watt’s younger brother TJ Watt, an outside linebacker for the Pittsburgh Steelers, wore the shoes during the Steelers’ Nov. 10 game against the Los Angeles Rams.
The JJ III, as it’s called on Reebok’s JJ Watt website, retails for 0 for men’s sizes and for boys. If you’re in the market for a new pair, pick up the JJ III and help a World War II or Korean War veteran see the monument to the work he or she did overseas.
The process the President has to go through to launch the U.S.’s nuclear weapons isn’t as simple as pressing a button, but the key component of that process — the codes needed to authorize the launch — are never far from the president.
At least they’re never supposed to be.
According to Gen. Hugh Shelton, who was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from October 1997 to September 2001, the number of redundancies in the nuclear-launch process “is staggering.” All of steps are “dependent on one vital element without which there can be no launch,” he wrote in his 2010 autobiography, “Without Hesitation: The Odyssey of an American Warrior.”
That element, the president’s authorization codes, is supposed to remain in close proximity to the president at all times, carried by one of five military aides, representing each branch of the military. The codes are on a card called the “biscuit” carried within the “football,” a briefcase that is officially known as the “president’s emergency satchel.”
However, around 2000, according to Shelton, a member of the department within the Pentagon that is responsible for all pieces of the nuclear process was dispatched to the White House to physically look at the codes and ensure they were correct — a procedure required to happen every 30 days. (The set of codes was to be replaced entirely every four months.)
That official was told by a presidential aide that President Bill Clinton did have the codes, but was in an important meeting and could not be disturbed.
The aide assured the official that Clinton took the codes seriously and had them close by. The official was dismayed, but he accepted the excuse and left.
When the next inspection took place the following month, that official was on vacation, according to Shelton, and another official was dispatched to the White House. The new official was met with the same excuse — the president is very busy, but takes the codes very seriously and has them on hand.
“This comedy of errors went on, without President Clinton’s knowledge I’m sure, until it was finally time to collect the current set and replace them with the new edition,” Shelton writes.
“At this point we learned that the aide had no idea where the old ones were, because they had been missing for months,” he added. “The President never did have them, but he assumed, I’m sure, that the aide had them like he was supposed to.”
Shelton and then-Secretary of Defense William Cohen were alarmed. The problem of missing codes had been resolved by changing the codes, but they quickly acted to change the process itself, mandating that the Defense Department official visiting the White House physically see the codes — waiting there to do so if necessary.
Shelton and Cohen feared the saga would reach the press and become an embarrassing story. But word of the missing codes never made it out, and Shelton’s recounting of it in his 2010 book was, to his knowledge, the first time it had been shared publicly.
“This is a big deal — a gargantuan deal — and we dodged a silver bullet,” Shelton writes, adding: “You do whatever you can and think you have an infallible system, but somehow someone always seems to find a way to screw it up.”
A non-commissioned officer and a lower-ranking enlisted member of the 2nd Battalion, Fourth Marine Regiment at that base pleaded guilty to nonjudicial punishment, instead of going to trial in military court, for comments they made on United States Grunt Corps.
That’s an online community created after Facebook shuttered the Marines United private page following allegations that some members swapped salacious images of female service members — often without the women’s knowledge or consent — and openly derided them.
On April 5, Camp Pendleton officials were alerted that the two Marines in question had used the Grunt Corps site to make contemptuous remarks against a person in their chain of command. The two Marines’ battalion commander, Lt. Col. Warren Cook, initiated an investigation and the pair admitted their guilt.
Both Marines were demoted by one pay grade, sentenced to 45 days of restriction to their barracks and given 45 days of punitive duties concurrent to the other punishments. No other details about the case, such as the two Marines’ names and what they wrote in the online forum, were disclosed.
In a statement released by the Camp Pendleton-based 1st Marine Division to The San Diego Union-Tribune, Cook said the case proved that his unit refuses “to tolerate personal attacks on their Marines, online or elsewhere.”
“This kind of behavior flies in the face of our service’s core values and this organization refuses to condone it. Each member of this battalion is a valued part of a storied and effective combat unit, and our success is based on trust, mutual respect, and teamwork,” Cook said.
The case was first reported on April 7 by the Washington Post.
Since March 22, service members in Marine units worldwide have signed counseling statements — called “Page 11s” — that are then added to their permanent records indicating that they understand and will follow the Corps’ revamped guidelines on cyber bullying.
At its peak in February, Marines United counted nearly 30,000 members — active-duty or reserve Marines and sailors, along with veterans who served in those military branches.
Most of those members didn’t share inappropriate images or cast slurs against female service members; the ongoing criminal investigation has focused on an estimated 500 men who did.
The probe involves the Marine Corps, the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, the FBI, the U.S. Department of Justice and law-enforcement agencies in various states.
During a Pentagon roundtable with reporters on April 7, Gen. Glenn Walters, assistant commandant of the Marine Corps, vowed to continue going after online wrongdoing by Marines while enacting deeper reforms to root out an often toxic culture in the military that vilifies women.
“Our Marines and the American people deserve nothing less. Marines don’t fail. The vast majority of Marines live our ethos, and a part of that ethos is to correct or hold appropriately accountable those Marines who don’t,” Glenn said.
“Marines don’t degrade their fellow Marines. Marines don’t disrespect or discriminate based on gender, religious affiliation, sexuality or race. Semper Fidelis — always faithful — has a deep meaning that we are called to defend. The Marine Corps owns this problem and we are committed to addressing it for the long term.”
Glenn pointed to NCIS innovations that have increased information sharing and streamlined reporting of incidents to track online misconduct. NCIS agents can now ship investigative material on minor offenses or non-criminal actions to a “fusion cell” within the larger task force probing the Marines United scandal.
The info is then routed to local commanders to punish the online scofflaws, such as the two Marines at Camp Pendleton.
Part of the task force, which is led by Marine Col. Cheryl Blackstone, continues to study more than 150 potential changes to the way the Corps recruits, trains, and retains personnel to clean up an institution long deemed by critics to be corrosive to women.
Blackstone has commissioned studies exploring whether to increase the number of events where male and female Marines train together while looking at dozens of recently instituted changes to the training of Marine recruits, Glenn said.
Future revamping could include a “Women in the Marine Corps Advisory Council” and the creation of a forum where current and former female Marines who were victimized in their careers can share their stories without fear of retaliation or reprisal.
Since the Marines United case became public, critics of the Corps’ gender policies have expressed a range of reactions.
Some have conveyed cautious optimism that top leaders of the service, including commandant Gen. Robert Neller, appear to be taking the scandal seriously.
Others had said they can’t trust the Corps to police its own because similar incidents in the past were ignored or minimized.
Still others have given support to the Corps’ current reform efforts but question whether it, NCIS, and other enforcement agencies are nimble enough to pursue violators in the rapidly shifting world of online forums.
The US has stood on the brink of nuclear war with a totalitarian regime in Asia before, and in the end it was economics, not military might, that brought the Soviet Union down.
The US’s nuclear arsenal has failed to scare North Korea away from developing its own nukes, sanctions have failed to restrict its access to markets, and leveraging the US’s relationship with China has failed to starve the country into submission.
But the US’s greatest weapon, capitalism, might just do the trick.
Fitfield’s interviews with North Koreans paint a picture of a state economy which has come to a halt and a growing trend toward capitalism among common people. The market activity brings with it Western information, as North Koreans travel to China for work and come back enlightened to the realities of life outside the Kim regime.
Though North Korean authorities may punish possessing South Korean media with death, it has become a trend among North Korea’s elite to speak with a South Korean accent, indicating their power, independence from the state, and access to outside information, according to the New Yorker’s foreign correspondent Evan Osnos.
“North Korea technically has a centrally planned economy, but now people’s lives revolve around the market,” a university student who left the country in 2013 told Fitfield. “No one expects the government to provide things anymore. Everyone has to find their own way to survive.”
With state infrastructure no longer supporting people’s livelihoods, fissures between the actual lives of common people and the total loyalty demanded by the state could render the Kim regime out of touch and in danger of disposal.
“Among my closest friends, we were calling [Kim Jong Un] a piece of s—,” another student told Fitfield. “Everyone thinks this, but you can only say it to your closest friends or to your parents if you know that they agree.”
‘Impure’ attitudes among high-rank leaders
South Korea’s National Intelligence Service reports that North Korea recently disciplined two of its highest ranking military officers for having “impure” attitudes, according to the Associated Press. The crackdown on the North Korean military’s second in command comes as international sanctions have weakened the state’s economy more than ever before.
Daily NK, a Seoul-based news website that purports to have a large network of informants within North Korea, reported that US-led sanctions have affected the economy in the country and now citizens may turn on the Kim government.
As a result, Daily NK reported that security has increased at monuments to the Kim dynasty for fear that citizens will vandalize the paintings and sculptures, which the state demands citizens give incredible reverence to.
Thae Yong Ho, a former North Korean diplomat and the highest-level defector of the Kim regime, discussed North Korean youths sneaking in “nose cards,” or small SD cards loaded with South Korean media hidden inside their noses.
“The chasm between the Kim Jong Un regime and the general public is widening every year, and some day, the two sides will ultimately break like a rubber band,” Thae said in August. “I think that day will come within the next 10 years.”
Welcome to the free market, North Korea
Rodger Baker, the lead analyst of the Asia-Pacific region for Stratfor, a geopolitical consulting firm, previously told Business Insider that North Korea’s government might be stronger than defectors are willing to admit.
“A lot of the West’s vision of North Korea is from defector testimony, which is going to have a political bent,” Baker said. He added that the idea that air-dropping South Korean DVDs and music into North Korea would eventually sway the population against Kim “overestimates the draw of material goods over nationalism and national identity.”
But history shines with examples of people refusing to be repressed and finding prosperity one way or another. North Korea cannot stand comparison to the prosperous, democratic South.
Much like how President Donald Trump calls Kim Jong Un’s reign a “cruel dictatorship” and threatens military action against the rogue nation, former President Ronald Reagan called the Soviet Union an “evil empire” at the height of nuclear tensions between Washington and Moscow in 1983.
Though the US and the Soviet Union both held tens of thousands of nuclear weapons and enough troops to start World War III, no fighting came about. Throughout the 1980s and early 1990s, the US enjoyed stellar economic growth while the Soviet Union imploded. In 1997, Mikhail Gorbachev, Reagan’s former communist rival, starred in a commercial for Pizza Hut in Moscow.
The military did not defeat communism in the Cold War, capitalism did. Decades later with North Korea, it may be time for another victory for the free market.
Editor’s note: This is the third in a series of profiles of incredible female veterans that WATM will be presenting in concert with Women’s History Month.
Kayla Williams (right) with unidentified female soldier next to an up-armored Humvee during the initial invasion of Iraq in 2003.
The title of Kayla Williams’ 2005 book, Love My Rifle More Than You: Young and Female in the US Army uses an old marching cadence to seemingly thumb its nose at what some might consider the more antiquated ways of US Army culture, especially when it comes to women. Fifteen percent of the Army is female, but Williams would come to learn during the Iraq War, the only women in the Army the public knew well were Lynndie England and Jessica Lynch… and those were not the people Williams wanted representing women in the Army.
“When I came home from Iraq, I realized people can be ignorant about the role of women in combat,” Williams told me. “Some people asked if I was allowed to carry a gun, some asked if I was in the infantry, even though women still can’t be. I was acutely aware women’s roles were largely unknown to the general public and I wanted to give a nuanced perspective of what women experience in the current conflicts.”
Williams was an Army signals intelligence linguist, specializing in intercept and direction finding. She enlisted in 2000 because she wanted to learn another language. The language the Army chose would dramatically affect the way she looked at her career.
“I got Arabic as opposed to Korean or Chinese,” Williams says. “I was at the Defense Language Institute on 9/11 and it was clear to us then the world had changed.” In 2003, Williams was part of the initial invasion of Iraq with the 101st Airborne Air Assault. Though her primary function was signals intelligence, she found there was a huge need for Arabic translation on the ground. Beyond any of her expectations she found herself doing foot patrols with the Army infantry.
“This was the very early days of the war,” she recalls. “The Iraqi people were still hopeful they would see a better future in the aftermath of the down fall of the regime. I was making a difference in the lives of those Iraqis and in the lives of my fellow soldiers.”
Williams’ work took her all over the American area of responsibility in Iraq. She worked her way North to Mosul, Sinjar, and Tal Afar, and spent a great deal of time on the Syrian border.
“In my experience,” she says, “everyone has to prove themselves in a new unit, male or female. Everyone is going to test you. It’s inevitable. In the combat arms units I was attached to, how they treated me depended on how well I did my job. When they saw me translating for them, they could see I could help them. And when commanders treated me with respect, the troops would too.”
Though far from a support structure, Kayla Williams remembers those first days in the Northern areas of Iraq as relatively peaceful. By the time her deployment was over, however, the situation had completely changed. They had electricity and running water in their camp, but now the insurgency had taken root.
“When we drove back to Kuwait at the end of my tour we had to do it at night in a blackout drive.”
Despite personal feelings about the war, Williams approached every mission to the best of her ability. She knew her skill as a translator could be the most necessary help to the war, and thus the troops. She thought at the time though we went to war for the wrong reasons, maybe we still did a good thing. Now, with a Master’s degree in International Affairs with a focus on the Middle East from American University, her observations are more grounded in fact than feeling.
“Maybe in a generation or two the Middle East will be better off,” she says. “But who knows? Who predicted the rise of ISIS? I’m not sure that anyone can predict the long term. It’s the polite way of saying I hope we didn’t fuck it up too bad.”
Williams sees the roles of women in the Armed Forces as a necessary one, especially given cultural sensitivities in predominantly Muslim countries. To her, being able to assign women to combat units will give field commanders better command and control capability without sacrificing readiness or discipline.
“The decision to lift the exclusion policy for women in combat was a validation and vindication of the more than 280,000 women who served in Iraq and Afghanistan,” Williams says. “The former Secretary of Defense made the decision with the unanimous support of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Now commanders will be able to train like they fight and function better as a military by putting the right people in the right jobs.”
American troops have started to draw down from Iraq following Baghdad’s declaration of victory over the Islamic State group last year, according to Western contractors at a U.S.-led coalition base in Iraq.
In Baghdad, an Iraqi government spokesman on Feb. 5 confirmed to The Associated Press that the drawdown has begun, though he stressed it was still in its early stages and doesn’t mark the beginning of a complete pullout of U.S. forces.
Dozens of American soldiers have been transported from Iraq to Afghanistan on daily flights over the past week, along with weapons and equipment, the contractors said.
An AP reporter at the Al-Asad base in western Iraq saw troop movements reflecting the contractors’ account. The contractors spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations and declined to reveal the exact size of the drawdown.
“Continued coalition presence in Iraq will be conditions-based, proportional to the need and in coordination with the government of Iraq,” coalition spokesman Army Col. Ryan Dillon told the AP when asked for comment.
Government spokesman Saad al-Hadithi said, “The battle against Daesh has ended, and so the level of the American presence will be reduced.”
Daesh is the Arabic language acronym for ISIS.
Al-Hadithi spoke just hours after AP reported the American drawdown — the first since the war against ISIS was launched over three years ago.
One senior Iraqi official close to Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said 60 percent of all American troops currently in-country will be withdrawn, according to the initial agreement reached with the United States. The plan would leave a force of about 4,000 U.S. troops to continue training the Iraqi military.
The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media.
A Pentagon report released in November said there were 8,892 U.S. troops in Iraq as of late September.
The U.S. first launched airstrikes against the Islamic State group in Iraq in August 2014. At the time, the military intervention was described as “limited,” but as Iraq’s military struggled to roll back the extremists, the U.S.-led coalition’s footprint in the country steadily grew.
“We’ve had a recent change of mission and soon we’ll be supporting a different theater of operations in the coming month,” U.S. Army 1st Lt. William John Raymond told the AP at Al-Asad.
He spoke as he and a handful of soldiers from his unit conducted equipment inventory checks required before leaving Iraq. Raymond declined to specify where his unit was being redeployed, in line with regulations as the information has not yet been made public.
The drawdown of U.S. forces comes just three months ahead of national elections in Iraq, where the indefinite presence of American troops continues to be a divisive issue.
Al-Abadi, who is looking to remain in office for another term, has long struggled to balance the often competing interests of Iraq’s two key allies: Iran and the United States.
While the U.S. has closely backed key Iraqi military victories over IS such as the retaking of the city of Mosul, Iraq’s Shiite-led paramilitary forces with close ties to Iran have called for the withdrawal of U.S. forces. The prime minister has previously stated that Iraq’s military will need American training for years to come.
The Iraq drawdown also follows the release of the Pentagon’s National Defense Strategy that cited China’s rapidly expanding military and an increasingly aggressive Russia as the U.S. military’s top national security priorities.
“Great power competition, not terrorism, is now the primary focus of U.S. national security,” Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said last month in remarks outlining the strategy.
Iraq declared victory over ISIS in December after more than three years of grueling combat against the extremists in a war Iraqi forces fought with close U.S. support. In 2014, at the height of the Sunni militant group’s power, ISIS controlled nearly a third of Iraqi territory.
While ISIS’ self-styled caliphate stretching across Iraq and Syria has crumbled and the militants no longer hold a contiguous stretch of territory, in Iraq, the group continues to pose a security risk, according to Iraqi and American officials.
ISIS maintains a “cellular structure” of fighters who carry out attacks in Iraq aimed at disrupting local security, U.S. Marine Corps Brig. Gen. James Glynn told reporters during a Pentagon briefing last month.
Glynn pledged continued support for Iraq’s security forces, but acknowledged U.S.-led coalition “capabilities” in Iraq would likely shift now that conventional combat operations against the group have largely ceased.
There were some 170,000 American troops in Iraq in 2007 at the height of the surge of U.S. forces to combat sectarian violence unleashed by the U.S.-led invasion of the country to oust dictator Saddam Hussein. U.S. troop numbers eventually wound down to 40,000 before the complete withdrawal in 2011.