These combat camera vets return to train young troops - We Are The Mighty
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These combat camera vets return to train young troops

It’s no longer just the higher-ranking, saltier NCOs and senior NCOs training young troops. In the world of military photojournalism, veterans who have been separated or retired for a decade or more are returning to teach the newest generations to capture stories on the battlefields.


Some of the military’s most surprisingly underreported jobs may be in the visual journalism fields. Every branch of the armed forces of the United States features teams of correspondents, photographers, and even combat artists and graphic designers.

These combat camera vets return to train young troops
Veteran military journalist Paul Watts Jr. mentors a student editor, an active duty combat photojournalist.

They go through the same rigorous news writing and storytelling training as any student in any j-school in America. They learn the potential for every medium in visual journalism at the military’s disposal.

One problem with this is that they also have to focus on the fight. They have to learn small unit combat, urban warfare, close-quarters battle, self-aid and buddy care — the list goes on and on — and drill it into their muscle memory, not to mention learning the particulars of their branch of service.

When these young combat camera troops get into active service, they are thrown into an oft-underfunded world of retirement ceremonies, passport photos, and base change of command ceremonies.

Imagine a potentially world-class photographer working a Sears Photo Studio.

When one of these soldiers, sailors, airmen, guardsmen, or Marines gets to where the action is, they need to be able to adequately show and tell the military’s story. It’s not just for history’s sake, it can literally mean life and death for their subjects.

“I had the honor of photographing the last living pictures of soldiers on the battlefield,” says Stacy Pearsall, an Air Force combat camera veteran, referring to the Army units she covered during the Iraq War. “They are still today, my personal heroes to whom owe my life.”

Military photojournalists have since taken it upon themselves to train their youngest and greenest combat troops in the artistry of visual media. These veterans want to turn every one of the newbies into award-winning multimedia storytellers.

These combat camera vets return to train young troops
Andrew Breese, award-winning producer from Airman mentors a team on site for the Shoot Off competition portion.

It’s not just higher-ranking active duty. Juan Femath is a veteran Air Force aerial videographer. In 2011, he and some fellow Air Force and Army veterans decided to help the military do a better job of telling its own story.

“The photographers in the military have a great culture of older guys coming back to teach the younger troops,” Femath says. “There are so many photography workshops where skilled military photogs come to speak and mentor.”

One such workshop is the D.C. Shoot Off Workshop, run by Navy Veteran and White House news photographer Johnny Bivera.

Bivera uses his professional connections to bring attention to the military photojournalism world, attracting brands like Nikon and Adobe to his training weekends.

These combat camera vets return to train young troops
Military cameramen train incognito on The Mall in Washington, DC.

“The best speakers, mentors, editors and judges throughout the country volunteer for this event,” Bivera says. “These workshops are for all levels and provide professional development, helping to fill training gaps for our military and civil service photographers.

The weekend-long workshop starts with a seminar portion, covering the most important storytelling and production fundamentals used by civilian media today. These lectures are given by some of the media’s most important producers — many of them veterans themselves — from companies like HBO, USA Today, NFL Films, NBC, Canon, and the Washington Post.

These combat camera vets return to train young troops

Participants then break into teams and go out to apply the skills they just learned. Each team produces a two to five minute multimedia piece based on a topic drawn from a hat and are given an expert media producer as a mentor to guide them through the process. There is a hard deadline: work submitted after the deadline will not be eligible for awards.

Final products often reflect the experiences and inherent creativity of military photojournalists from every branch of service. They are thoroughly judged and critiqued by a panel of experts who make themselves available to everyone’s questions.

These combat camera vets return to train young troops
Producers from the Washington Post and NFL Films were among previous judges.

Though the Shoot Off charges an entry fee, the most telling aspect of the Shoot Off is that no one gets paid for their time — not the sponsors, the creators, mentors, or speakers. The fees cover only the overhead costs of running the workshop.

The D.C. Shoot Off Video Workshop, now in its seventh year, will be held May 4-7, 2017. For more information and to register visit dcvideoshootoff.org. It is open to all military, civil service, government, and veteran media producers.

The still photography Shoot Off has multiple dates and is held in Washington, D.C. in the Spring and San Diego in the fall. For more information visit visualmediaone.com.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Bulletproof Motivation: Tips from a Navy SEAL, CIA Officer, and Firefighter

When it comes to motivation, Navy SEALs have plenty to spare, but we know one guy that could even make some SEALs look lazy.


Earning your place among the U.S. Navy’s elite SEAL teams, gathering intelligence for your nation’s security as a CIA officer, or serving as a fire officer for a professional fire department would each be enough to fill most lives, but not for our friend Frumentarius–he’s done all three, and you can call him Fru, for short.

We caught up with Fru recently to talk about motivation, and how young service members can follow in his accomplished footsteps. Of course, Frumentarius isn’t his real name, but it’s not a throw-away pseudonym either. After a career in covert special operations and another in covert intelligence gathering, he’s learned the value in keeping his identity at arm’s reach when it comes to engaging with the public.

These combat camera vets return to train young troops

The Navy SEALs specialize in small unit tactical operations in difficult and dangerous environments.

(U.S. Navy Photo)

I’ve known Fru for a few years now, and can personally attest that the guy practices what he preaches. Keeping your body in good working condition through three of the most physically demanding careers out there is nothing to scoff at, but it’s not his physical fitness that sets Fru apart from the pack; in a lot of ways, it’s his mindset.

I wanted to know what advice Fru had for young service members just beginning their careers in uniform, and like you’d expect from a SEAL, a spy, or a firefighter; he didn’t disappoint.

“Just enjoy the experience as something you’ll miss when it’s over. Always work hard at everything you do so that you become a ‘go-to’ guy or girl when somebody needs something done,” Fru said.

“Don’t get too jaded, but cultivate a sardonic sense of humor and learn to laugh at the sometimes-absurd nature of military life and war. Treat your family as your number one priority throughout so that you have a good support system at home. Have fun because it will be over before you know it!”
These combat camera vets return to train young troops

When this is what you do at work, it pays to have support at home.

(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Kyle D. Gahlau/Released)

Of course, military service isn’t all good days, especially if you want to become a SEAL, Ranger, Green Beret, or any other member of America’s Special Operations units. In order to be successful, you’ve got to learn how to keep your head in the game and stay motivated. I asked Fru what he does when he’s working through exhaustion or high loads of stress.

“Those are the times when you need to be the most motivated,” he told me. “No one enjoys those times, and a true leader (in the sense of someone worth following or emulating) thrives in those difficult moments.”
These combat camera vets return to train young troops

A Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL (BUD/S) student participates in interval swim training in San Diego Bay.

(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Trevor Welsh/Released)

“Embrace the pain and stress and exhaustion and tell yourself those are the moments that make your own life exemplary — they are what make it stand out. They are what in many ways will define your service. You’ll tell the stories of those hard times for decades afterwards. Make them count and be the hero of your own story.”

But even Navy SEALs like to have a good time, and Fru is quick to point out that, while exhaustion and stress are par for the course, it’s still probably one of the coolest jobs on the planet.

“Most people are aware of the camaraderie, the high speed equipment/gear, the missions/operations, and all of that,” Fru explained.”

“They may not be aware that SEALs get paid to work out every single day, to dive and parachute, and to generally do fun stuff as part of the job. There are some sucky parts too, but for the most part, SEALs are paid to do stuff they love to do.”
These combat camera vets return to train young troops

The sort of stuff Navy SEALs do for fun.

(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Apprentice Anthony Harding/Released)

Eventually, Fru left the SEALs to go to work for the CIA. While these two jobs may compliment one another, being a SEAL didn’t guarantee him a spot in America’s most secretive intelligence service. Just like earning his SEAL Trident, Frumentarius had to start from scratch and prove he could hang in the very different world (and culture) that is The Agency. As Fru is the first to tell you, even SEALs can’t rest on their laurels.

“I had an academic background in international affairs that made it an appealing move for me. After getting to the Agency, I then tried to remember that I was in a different culture than the SEALs,” he said.

“Some things I brought over with me, in terms of attitude and drive, but other things I had to leave behind (most of the ‘military’ culture). I ultimately made the transition successfully by working as hard as I could to be an effective CIA officer, knowing that my time in the SEALs was not something I could rest on. I had to earn my way at the CIA like every one else.”
These combat camera vets return to train young troops

(CIA Photo)

I asked Fru what his best tips are for current service members that want to pursue a career in an elite intelligence outfit like the CIA.

“Get a degree in foreign language, economics, chem/bio/nuke, or international affairs/politics. If you can be proficient in a hard language (Chinese, Russian, Arabic, etc), even better.”
Just like being in the SEALs, working for the CIA has its benefits. For Fru, some of the coolest parts of serving in that capacity was getting to see the big picture, and playing a role in how it unfolded. Even so, a job with unique benefits also comes with unique challenges.
“CIA officers have to be choosy in their chosen targets of collection because CIA officers are supposed to acquire intelligence unobtainable through all other means. That’s the real challenge.”
These combat camera vets return to train young troops

Aerial view of the CIA Headquarters, Langley, Virginia

(WikiMedia Commons)

Fru has since left the CIA behind as well, opting to switch to a different sort of service life that allows him to maintain a more regular lifestyle: that of a professional firefighter. Just like his previous gigs, saving lives and putting out fires can be extremely physically taxing. So I wanted to know how Fru had managed to stay so fit, active, and injury free throughout all of his various roles.

“A commitment to self-care — physically, mentally, emotionally, health-wise — is paramount. You have to commit to eating somewhat healthy, taking care of your body through aerobic exercise, weight training, and stretching, and to taking care of your emotional/psychological needs.”

“That means finding something healthy that works as an outlet for you (shooting, slinging weights, running, reading, playing guitar, painting, whatever). You have to keep yourself on an even keel as best as you can because all of those jobs have immense stresses. They’ll occasionally overwhelm you, and you have to just reset yourself and continue to carry on.”
If you want to know more about our friend Fru, or just to give him a shout on social media to thank him for his service, you can find him on Twitter here. Make sure to tell him Sandboxx sent you!

This article originally appeared on Sandboxx. Follow Sandboxx on Facebook.

Articles

The day we saved 2,147 POWs from Los Baños Prison

By February 1945, the cruel and inhumane treatment by the Japanese against their enemies was well known. As the Allies liberated the Philippines, the decision was made to attempt a rescue effort at the Cabanatuan Prison.


This rescue, often referred to as the Great Raid, liberated over 500 prisoners from Cabanatuan on Jan. 30, 1945. These prisoners then described their horrific treatment as well as the atrocities of the Bataan Death March.

These combat camera vets return to train young troops
POWs interned by the Japanese in the Philippines were malnourished and subject to brutal conditions. (Photo: U.S. Army Signal Corps)

This convinced the Allied commanders to attempt more rescue operations in order to save the lives of those held by the Japanese.  

A plan was quickly drawn up, this time using paratroopers from the 511th Parachute Infantry Regiment.

The target would be the University of the Philippines campus-turned POW camp at Los Baños. There the Japanese were holding over 2,000 Allied personnel, mostly civilians who were caught up in the Japanese onslaught of late 1941.

The plan was divided into four phases.

The first phase involved inserting the 11th Airborne’s divisional reconnaissance platoon along with Filipino guerrillas as guides.

Prior to the attack they would mark the drop zone for the paratroopers and landing beach for the incoming Amtracs. Others from the platoon would attack the sentries and guard posts of the camp in coordination with the landing of the paratroopers.

The second phase consisted of the landing and assault by the paratroopers. These men were from Company B, 1st Battalion, 511th Parachute Infantry Regiment along with the light machine gun platoon from battalion headquarters company. They were led by 1st Lt. John Ringler.

These combat camera vets return to train young troops
U.S. paratroopers awaiting orders to jump. (Photo: U.S. Army Signal Corps, 1942)

Simultaneous to the landing of the paratroopers, Filipino guerrillas from the 45th Hunter’s ROTC Regiment would attack the prison camp itself.

Together these two groups would eliminate the Japanese within and the Americans would gather them for transport from the camp.

The third phase of the operation would bring the remainder of the 1st Battalion, 511th PIR across the Laguna de Bay in Amtracs. These would then be used to transport the prisoners to safety.

Finally, another 11th Airborne element, the 188th Glider Infantry Regiment, would make a diversionary attack along the highway leading to the camp. The intent would be to draw the Japanese attention away allowing the paratroopers to escape with the prisoners.

All of this would happen nearly simultaneously. The amount of coordination of forces was tremendous.

Everything was set to go off at 7 AM on Feb. 23, 1945.

The first to depart for the mission were the men of the division reconnaissance platoon who set out the night of Feb. 21 in small Filipino fishing boats. Once across the Laguna de Bay, they entered into the jungle and made their way to hide sites to wait for the assault to begin.

On the morning of the 23rd at 0400, the 1st Battalion minus B Company boarded the 54 Amtracs of the 672nd Amphibian Tractor Battalion and set out across the bay toward their landing beach.

At 0530 the men of B Company boarded the C-47’s for the short flight to Los Baños. By 0640 they were in the air toward their destination.

At 0700 on the morning of Feb. 23, 1945, the coordinated assault on the prison camp at Los Baños began.

Lt. John Ringler was the first man out the door of the lead C-47 coming low at 500 feet.

Having already marked the drop zone, the reconnaissance platoon and their accompanying guerrillas, spotting the incoming troop transports, sprung from their hide sites and attacked the Japanese guard post and sentries. Many were quickly overwhelmed.

At the same time, the 45th Hunter’s ROTC Regiment of Filipino guerrillas attacked three sides of the camp. As this was happening, the paratroopers were assembling on the drop zone and the lead elements were breaching the outer perimeter of the camp.

These combat camera vets return to train young troops
Filipino guerrillas worked with the U.S. Marine Corps across the Pacific during WWII. (Photo: U.S. Marine Corps)

The assault had been perfectly timed to coincide with not only a changing of the guard shift but also morning formation for both the prisoners and Japanese soldiers.

Many Japanese were caught in the open, unarmed, preparing to conduct morning physical training. They were cut down by the gunfire of the assaulting forces.

Some Japanese were able to mount a defense but many simply fled in the face of the charging Americans and Filipinos. By the time the balance of the 1st Battalion arrived at the camp in their Amtracs, the fight was all but over.

In very short order the raiding force had overwhelmed and secured the prison.

Out on the highway, the 188th GIR was making good progress against the Japanese and had successfully established blocking positions by late morning. The sound of their battles reminded the men at the camp that time was of the essence — the Japanese were still nearby.

Due to their harsh treatment, many of the prisoners were malnourished and extremely weak. Those that could walk began making their way towards the beach for evacuation. Others were loaded into the Amtracs at the camp and transported back across the lake.

It took two trips to get all the internees across the lake and a third to evacuate the last of the assault troops, but at the end of the day 2,147 prisoners were liberated from the Los Baños prison camp. The cost to the Americans and Filipinos was just a handful of casualties — no paratroopers were killed in the raid.

Among those evacuated was Frank Buckles, a World War I veteran, who would go on to be the last living veteran from the conflict.

“I doubt that any airborne unit in the world will ever be able to rival the Los Baños prison raid,” said Gen. Colin Powell. “It is the textbook airborne operation for all ages and all armies.”

MIGHTY TRENDING

Pentagon: ISIS could return within months of Syria withdrawal

President Donald Trump has declared his intention to reduce U.S. military engagement in Syria, but a new Pentagon report warned that the extremist group Islamic State could then make a comeback in the war-torn country within six to 12 months and “regain limited territory.”

The report issued on Feb. 4, 2019, by the Defense Department’s Inspector General warned that the IS group continues to attract dozens of foreign fighters to Syria and Iraq each month, and maintains a flow of external donations.


IS is “regenerating key functions and capabilities more quickly in Iraq than in Syria,” it also said.

These combat camera vets return to train young troops

President Donald Trump.

(Photo by Gage Skidmore)

In both countries, the Inspector General said, local forces remain heavily reliant on support from the U.S.-led coalition fighting against the IS group.

Trump surprised U.S. lawmakers and international allies in January 2019 by announcing he was withdrawing all 2,000 U.S. troops from Syria.

Critics have said that a vacuum left by the departure of U.S. troops from Syria, where they are assisting a Syrian Arab and Kurdish alliance fighting against some of the last IS-held areas and other forces, could result in a resurgence of the IS and Al-Qaeda in the country or neighboring Iraq.

This article originally appeared on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Follow @RFERL on Twitter.

Articles

This biplane could be one of the deadliest North Korean weapons

While much of the world’s attention is focused on the effort by North Korea to develop intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) with working nuclear warheads, there is another weapon that is also quite deadly in the arsenal of Kim Jong Un’s regime. Ironically, it is quite low-tech.


That weapon is the An-2 Colt, a seventy-year-old design that is still in front-line service, which means it has the B-52 Stratofortress beaten by about eight years! So, why has this little plane stuck around, and what makes it so deadly in the hands of Kim Jong Un?

These combat camera vets return to train young troops
An-2 Colt on skis. (Photo: Dmitry A. Mottl/CC BY-SA 3.0)

According to MilitaryFactory.com, the An-2 has a top speed of 160 miles per hour, and a range of 525 miles. Not a lot when you compare it to the B-52, which can go 595 miles per hour and fly over 10,000 miles. China is still producing the plane, while upgrade kits are being developed by Antonov. The plane was in production for 45 years, and according to the report from Korrespondent, thousands remain in service.

When it comes down to it, what seem like fatal weaknesses actually make the An-2 deadly in modern combat.

The reason? The plane usually flies low and slow – and as such, it is very hard for modern fighters like the F-22, F-35, and F-16 to locate, track, and fire on. Not only that, the slow speeds and low-altitude operations meant that large portions of the plane can be covered with fabric, according to Warbird Alley. There are also a lot of An-2s in North Korea’s inventory – at least 200, according to a report by MSN.com.

These combat camera vets return to train young troops
A look at the inside of the An-2, showing seats for passengers. Or commandos. (Wikimedia Commons)

While the plane is often used to deliver troops or supplies, the real threat may be the fact that it could carry some other cargo. While North Korea is just now developing nuclear warheads that fit on missiles, there is the frightening possibility that a nuclear weapon could be delivered using an An-2.

That is how this 70-year-old biplane design could very well be North Korea’s deadliest weapon. You can see a video on the An-2 below.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pljj4M8WhYs
Articles

Meet the rebel kids who danced in defiance of the Nazis

These combat camera vets return to train young troops
A propaganda poster for the Hitler Youth Photo: Twitter


The rise of Nazism in Germany was for many Germans a terrifyingly swift deviation in the nation’s moral compass.

The most famous example of Hitler’s attempt to make his plans for the establishment of a master race a little more commercial is undoubtedly the Hitler Youth program. In 1935, over 60% of the country’s young people were involved in the program, and in 1936, all other youth groups were banned, making the Fuhrer’s brainchild the best kids’ club by default. Awesome.

Program membership was mandatory for kids over 17, but Hitler knew that if he wanted to shape the younger generation, he would have to start small. Kids as young as ten years old were encouraged to join the movement, which was similar to Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, except instead of teaching valuable skills about friendship and forest survival, Hitler was making sure the kids became bigoted military minions.

These combat camera vets return to train young troops
The Hitler Youth marches military style Photo: alternatehistory.com

 

These combat camera vets return to train young troops
Young members of the Girls for Germany League, the female equivalent of the Hitler Youth Photo: skimonline.com

An entire generation of  ordinary people was seduced by this mythos, and parents eagerly sent their children to become young men and women of the “Thousand Year Reich“, excited to watch their sons become soldiers and their daughters demure, obedient mothers who would populate the master race.

Not all kids were down with this idea, however. And because the program was compulsory and very restrictive, they had to get creative with their rebellion. Enter the Edelweiss Pirates — a teenage protest group with the classiest rebel name ever.

Comprised mostly of working class boys, the gang was not shy about it’s anti-authority, down-with-Hitler ideologies. The Pirates refused to wear the military-inspired uniforms of the Hitler Youth, opting instead for bohemian ensembles with a ton of fringe and cool-factor. Their defiance extended to all aspects of their lives, and the rebel kids could be heard singing banned songs, playing banned jazz music and dancing with the opposite sex — completely unapproved by the Nazi party.

These song lyrics, which served as the groups anthem, were particularly unwelcome:

Hitler’s power may lay us low,

And keep us locked in chains,

But we will smash the chains one day,

We’ll be free again.

We’ve got the fists and we can fight,

We’ve got the knives and we’ll get them out.

We want freedom, don’t we boys?

These combat camera vets return to train young troops
Members of the Edelweiss Pirates Photo: pinterest.com

At first they were just considered an annoyance that needed to be weeded out and further indoctrinated into the party, nothing a fifteenth reading of “Mein Kempf” couldn’t fix.

Once WWII began, however, the teens started to appear like more and more of a legitimate threat to the state.

In 1942 Heinrich Himmler, the head of SS operations, wrote Reinhard Heydrich to discuss the rebellious boys and “worthless girls” who formed the resistance group:

“The youth should first be given thrashings and then [be] put through the severest drill and set to work. It must be made clear that they will never be allowed to go back to their studies. We must investigate how much encouragement they have had from their parents. If they have encouraged them, then they should also be put into a concentration camp and [have] their property confiscated.”

This didn’t stop the Pirates, but disdain for their antics was not limited to the higher ups of the Nazi regime. The Hitler Youth Patrol Service, made up of the same kids who participated in the Nazi group, were particularly brutal towards these rebellious outliers. The mini-police force, who were literally above the law, raided movie theaters, coffee shops and billiard halls looking to bust the Edelweiss Pirates and beat them up in the streets.

The Pirates existed in several different cities under different names, but their desire to undermine the fascism was uniform.

As the war raged on, many of the Pirates, now adults, joined the underground resistance movement. In Cologne, Edelweiss Pirates members offered aid and shelter to Nazi deserters and refugees who had escaped from concentration camps. Members even went so far as to raid military depots and supply reserves, sabotaging war production.  They also continued their usual hi-jinks, graffitiing bridges and walls with the words “Down with Hitler”.

In response, the Nazis intensified their opposition to the fringe group. Pirates who were caught were sent to jail, reform schools, labor camps and psych wards, all in an effort to stamp out resistance. If caught in public, “defectors” were often humiliated in front of a crowd, and were beaten and shaved before being taken away. In 1944 Heinrich Himmler even ordered the public execution of thirteen Pirate members in Cologne, pictured below.

These combat camera vets return to train young troops
Photo: Wikipedia

For the duration of the war these brave young people continued to stand firm in the face of overwhelming resistance and power, and continued to fight for the freedoms they believed in.

NOW: 4 of the weirdest things the Nazis ever did

MIGHTY TRENDING

Montenegro wants to know why Serbia is sheltering coup suspect

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Montenegro has summoned the Serbian ambassador to Podgorica after a suspect on trial over a failed 2016 coup attempt fled to Serbia’s Embassy to avoid detention.

Montenegro’s Foreign Ministry said it requested Serbia’s official position on the matter on Nov. 26, 2018, three days after Branka Milic walked out of the courtroom during a hearing, complaining that her rights had been violated.

Podgorica’s High Court ordered Milic detained, but the accused later surfaced at the Serbian Embassy.


The Montenegrin Foreign Ministry’s statement said Serbian Ambassador Zoran Bingulac confirmed Milic was at the embassy and that Serbia was “aware of the legal procedure and the necessary obligations.”

Milic’s defense lawyer, Jugoslav Krpovic, urged authorities to provide guarantees that the “psychological violence” against her client ends.

“She didn’t escape from the trial. She escaped from abuse” by the court, Krpovic said.

Milic, who holds Serbian citizenship, was detained in October 2017.

She is among 14 suspects on trial for plotting to overthrow Montenegro’s government in October 2016.

Montenegrin authorities say Serbian and Russian nationalists plotted to occupy parliament during parliamentary elections, assassinate then-Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic, and install a pro-Russian leadership to prevent the small Balkan nation’s bid to join NATO.

These combat camera vets return to train young troops

Milo Djukanovic.

The authorities accuse two Russian GRU military intelligence officers of organizing the failed coup plot.

The investigative group Bellingcat and Russian website The Insider said they had identified the two GRU officers allegedly involved.

Moscow denies involvement, however.

Montenegro in June 2017 became the 29th member of NATO, a step that was bitterly criticized by Russia and opposed by some Montenegrins who advocate closer ties with Moscow.

This article originally appeared on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Follow @RFERL on Twitter.

Military Life

Family of fallen soldier encourages others to ‘live like John’

The family of a fallen soldier says his legacy will transcend his life.

Army Spc. John “Alex” Pelham was killed in Afghanistan in 2014. He was 22 years old. Despite the overwhelming grief and devastation that accompanied his loss, his family is committed to inspiring others through an ongoing initiative to live — and give — like John. 

His father, Wendall, had a conversation with his son two days before his death, sharing that after he hung up the phone, he knew he’d never see John again. 

“There are warriors that God put on the earth to take care of us,” he said. “At his funeral I said, ‘John would be bigger in death than he ever was in life,’ and he is … as we come up on seven years since his death, that statement was prophetic.”

These combat camera vets return to train young troops

Described as tall and strikingly handsome, John was a magnet to the people around him. That pull would only intensify after he died. 

“He was the epitome of the Green Beret moto ‘De oppresso liber,’ of freeing the oppressed. John did that all the way through school, taking care of the bullies,” Wendall said with a smile. 

John’s grandfather, a 30-year veteran of the Army, was his idol. Wendall said his son sought to emulate him. Though John was successfully playing college baseball after high school, he left it all behind for a deep conviction to serve. 

In July 2011, John enlisted as an intelligence analyst, leading him to become a coveted soldier with Special Forces. 

John was assigned to 3rd Special Forces Group (Airborne) out of Fort Bragg, North Carolina. His skills as an analyst saved hundreds of lives, long after he was gone, his father said. After an ambush attack, he was killed alongside another soldier. On Feb. 12, 2014, at 4:34 p.m. in Oregon, Wendall’s wife called him at work to say two soldiers in dress blues were on their porch. He knew immediately John was gone.

But to his family, John’s still here. He’s in every facet of what they do and how they approach life. His legacy also lives on at Fort Bragg, with his name inscribed at multiple locations.

“I get to live a part of my son’s life through mine because of his example of what a true servant looks like,” Wendall said through tears. “My son, through his service, has taught me how to be beyonda great leader. My level of empathy and care and love for fellow man is 180 degrees different now.”

Live Like John Military Families Magazine
 
Pictured: The family of fallen soldier John.

After months of healing following John’s death, his family organized a racquetball tournament in his honor. The sport was one of John’s favorite pastimes and something that brought him joy. Wendall realized they needed somewhere to put the money raised, so they formed a nonprofit organization. The name? Live Like John. The mission is to support military charities, veterans, and other Gold Star families. 

This doesn’t mean follow John’s more than obvious path, which was headed toward completing the “Q” course and becoming a Green Beret. But rather efforts to service others, community, and humanity. 

These combat camera vets return to train young troops

“I learned a long time ago that to be a great leader — you have to be a servant,” Wendall said.

He encourages everyone to engage in a mission of service, but above all else, teach children to do the same. John is described as a loving man, son, brother, nephew, and friend. He was also an American soldier whose life was lived with such honor and dedication that it has had ripple effects far beyond his death.

The foundation has brought immense healing, but there are still hard days for the Pelham family: Memorial Day, Fourth of July, Veterans Day, the holiday season and then, the day John died.

“Your body already knows. It’s already telling me, the day, it’s coming,” Wendall said. 

He adds that for those seeking to say “thank you for your service” to service members and veterans, it should be done with meaning. 

“Those words said repetitiously lose their luster after a while. You can sip a Starbucks on a cold winter day or get a suntan on a beach in Maui while traveling the world with no restriction, because you are a citizen of the United States of America,” he said. “What’s that worth? Do you understand what it is worth to the families who have given their loved ones’ lives for this freedom?” 

Live Like John Military Families Magazine

Fallen soldier highway sign

Spc. John Pelham will be among a group of service members honored this year through The Unquiet Professional’s 2021 Virtual Memorial Mile. Visit www.theunquietprofessional.org/tupmile for updates on how you can support efforts to honor the fallen. 

Articles

5 everyday items with military roots

These items make our lives easier every day, but none of them would exist without their military beginnings.


1. Duct Tape

The miracle tool was invented in 1942 as a way to waterproof ammunition cases. Soldiers fighting World War II quickly realized the tape they used to seal their ammo had a number of other uses.

For better or for worse. And for the record, it was originally known as “duck tape,” because the tape was adhesive stuck to waterproof duck cloth. The strength and durability make it the ideal tape for hilarious pranks.

2. EpiPen

These combat camera vets return to train young troops

The autoinjector pen used to help fight off allergic reactions has its design roots in U.S. military Nuclear-Biological-Chemical warfare operations. The same technology which injects epinephrine into a bee-sting victim was developed to quickly give a troop a dose of something to counter a chemical nerve agent.

3. Beer Keg Tap

These combat camera vets return to train young troops
Tap that. (U.S. Marine Corps photo)

This one is actually kind of backwards. Richard Spikes was an inventor with a number of successful creations by the time he invented the multiple-barreled machine gun in 1940. He invented the weapon using the same principles as his first invention, the beer keg tap.

4. The Bikini

The inspiration for this one is more for the name than the item itself. In the late 1940s, a car engineer name Louis Réard developed a swimsuit he was sure would be the smallest bathing suit in the world. Expecting the spread of his design to be an explosive one, he called the suit the Bikini, after Bikini Atoll, the lonely Pacific Island where the West conducted nuclear weapons tests.

These combat camera vets return to train young troops
The bikini might also be a mind control device to get you to do things you don’t want to do. Like eat lettuce.

5. WD-40

Meaning “Water Displacement, 40th Formula,” WD-40 was first developed to keep the very thin “balloon” tank of Atlas Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles from rusting and otherwise corroding. The tanks had to be inflated with nitrogen to keep them from collapsing.

These combat camera vets return to train young troops

WD-40 remembers its roots: last year the company led a fundraising and awareness campaign, using its can to help fight veteran unemployment through the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Hire Our Heroes initiative to help find meaningful employment for transitioning veterans.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Here’s what those massive NATO war games look like

Around 50,000 troops from 31 nations, including the 29 NATO allies, Finland, and Sweden, are participating in NATO’s largest exercise in decades — Trident Juncture 2018.

More than 250 aircraft, 65 ships, and 10,000 vehicles are taking part in air, land, and sea drills, as well as special operations and amphibious exercises, in and around Norway.

“There’s a strong deterrent message here that will be sent,” Admiral James Foggo, head of US Navy forces in Europe and Africa and commander of Allied Joint Force Command in Naples, Italy, told reporters in October 2018. The Russians, who were invited to observe the drills, “are going to see that we are very good at what we do, and that will have a deterrent effect on any country that might want to cross those borders, but especially for one nation in particular.”

These photos show NATO allies and partners training for an Article 5 scenario, a collective defense situation where land, air, and amphibious assets mobilize to repel an adversary threatening the sovereignty of a NATO ally or partner state.


These combat camera vets return to train young troops

(Photo by 1st German/Netherlands Corps)

These combat camera vets return to train young troops

(Photo by Sergeant 1st Class (OR-7) Michael O’Brien USA-A, JFC NATO PAO)

These combat camera vets return to train young troops

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Menelik Collins)

These combat camera vets return to train young troops

(Photo by Hille Hillinga, Mediacentrum Defensie)

These combat camera vets return to train young troops

(Photo by Hille Hillinga, Mediacentrum Defensie)

These combat camera vets return to train young troops

(Photo by Cpl. Kevin Payne, U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Europe and Africa)

These combat camera vets return to train young troops

(Photo by Hedvig Antoinette Halgunset, Royal Norwegian Navy)

These combat camera vets return to train young troops

(Photo by Cpl. Kevin Payne, U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Europe and Africa)

These combat camera vets return to train young troops

(NATO Photo By WO FRAN C.Valverde)

These combat camera vets return to train young troops

(NATO Photo By WO FRAN C.Valverde)

These combat camera vets return to train young troops

(Photo by Hille Hillinga, Mediacentrum Defensie)

These combat camera vets return to train young troops

(Photo By WO FRAN C.Valverde)

These combat camera vets return to train young troops

(NATO photo)

These combat camera vets return to train young troops

(Photo By WO FRAN C.Valverde)

These combat camera vets return to train young troops

(NATO photo)

These combat camera vets return to train young troops

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Averi Coppa)

These combat camera vets return to train young troops

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Averi Coppa)

These combat camera vets return to train young troops

(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Jonathan Snyder)

These combat camera vets return to train young troops

(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Jonathan Snyder)

These combat camera vets return to train young troops

(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Jonathan Snyder)

These combat camera vets return to train young troops

(Photo by Hille Hillinga, Mediacentrum Defensie)

These combat camera vets return to train young troops

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by lance Cpl. Margaret Gale)

These combat camera vets return to train young troops

(Photo by Kevin Schrief)

These combat camera vets return to train young troops

(Photo by Kevin Schrief)

These combat camera vets return to train young troops

(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Deanna C. Gonzales)

U.S. Marines with 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit conduct an amphibious landing from ship to shore, carried on a Landing Craft Air Cushion (LCAC), during Exercise Trident Juncture 18 in Alvund, Norway, Oct. 29, 2018.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

This is what happens when the Air Force releases a new plane

Total Force crews delivered the first two KC-46A Pegasus aircraft to McConnell Air Force Base.

The 22nd Air Refueling Wing and 931st ARW marshalled in the newest addition to the Air Force’s strategic arsenal.

“This day will go down in history as a win for Team McConnell and the Air Force as a whole,” said Col. Josh Olson, 22nd ARW commander. “With this aircraft, McConnell will touch the entire planet.”

Since being selected as the first main operating base in 2014, McConnell airmen have been preparing to ensure their readiness to receive the Air Force’s newest aircraft.


Contractors constructed three new KC-46 maintenance hangars, technical training dormitories, an air traffic control tower, fuselage trainer and many other facilities specifically for the Pegasus’ arrival. These projects brought 7 million to the local economy by employing Kansas workers and using local resources.

Aircrew members simulated KC-46 flights, boom operators practiced cargo loading and the 22nd Maintenance Group created a training timeline for the enterprise.

These combat camera vets return to train young troops

A KC-46A Pegasus flies over the Keeper of the Plains Jan. 25, 2019, in Wichita, Kansas.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Joseph Thompson)

Working with aircraft manufacturer Boeing, McConnell maintenance airmen have been developing new technical orders for three years. They streamlined processes and got hands-on exposure to the jet in Seattle.

“Some of us have been involved in this program for years and it has given us time to become experts as far as the technical data goes,” said Staff Sgt. Brannon Burch, 22nd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron KC-46 flying crew chief. “Knowing it is one thing, but having hands-on experience on our flightline is what we all crave. We’re just happy the wait’s over and we finally get to get our hands dirty on the Pegasus — it’s almost surreal.”

The KC-46 team at McConnell AFB is comprised of Airmen with a variety of backgrounds from other aircraft who bring different aspects of expertise to the multifaceted new tanker.

“Every airman who was transferred to the KC-46 team was hand-selected specifically to bring this airplane to the fight,” said Lt. Col. Wesley Spurlock, 344th Air Refueling Squadron commander. “They are versatile maintainers, pilots and boom operators who are prepared for any learning curve that comes with a new aircraft.”

The active duty 344th ARS and Air Force Reserve 924th ARS, will be the first units in the military to operationally fly the KC-46.

These combat camera vets return to train young troops

A KC-46A Pegasus

(Photo by Airman Michaela Slanchik)

“This airplane has a wide variety of capabilities that we haven’t seen here before,” said Spurlock. “We’re going to get our hands on it, then expand on those abilities and see how we can employ them operationally.”

Once airmen in the Total Force squadrons have perfected their craft on the new aircraft, they will pave the way for the entire KC-46 enterprise and other bases receiving the aircraft in the future by developing tactics, techniques and procedures to share with those units.

“I have never been a part of a unit that is more excited about the mission before them and the legacy they’re going to leave,” said Spurlock.

Today, the waiting ends and integration begins for the next generation of air mobility that will be a linchpin of national defense, global humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations for decades to come.

“For those of us who have spent years watching this process happen, it’s enormously humbling to finally see it come to a close,” said Col. Phil Heseltine, 931st ARW commander. “We are grateful to everyone who is joining us as we fulfill the potential of this amazing new aircraft.

“We are honoring the rich culture that we have been gifted by those who came before us,” said Heseltine. “That culture continues today. For example, the forward fuselage section of the KC-46 is built by Spirit AeroSystems right here in Wichita. This aircraft literally came home today.”

With the KC-46 on the ground at McConnell AFB, the Air Force will begin the next phases of familiarization and initial operations testing and evaluation.

“McConnell Air Force Base is ready!” said Olson.

This article originally appeared on the United States Air Force. Follow @usairforce on Twitter.

Articles

Airmen failed fitness tests due to wrong track distances

These combat camera vets return to train young troops
Airmen, sprint during the running improvement program at the track Sept. 28, 2012, at Incirlik Air Base, Turkey. | U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Daniel Phelps


The Air Force says dozens of airmen have failed physical training tests in recent years due to inaccurate track distances.

All bases should measure their running tracks by Oct. 31 to prevent false test scores, the service announced on Thursday.

If bases determine the tracks are the wrong length, airmen’s scores will be adjusted accordingly, Air Force spokeswoman Brooke Brzozowske told Military.com.

Nearly 60 airmen at Goodfellow Air Force Base, Texas, and Hanscom Air Force Base, Massachusetts, received inaccurate run scores because of the problem, the service said. The test requires airmen to complete a timed 1.5-mile run or a two-kilometer walk if they are exempt from the run.

Officials at Goodfellow determined the outdoor running course was 85 feet longer than required, which may have caused 18 airmen stationed at the base between 2010 and 2016 to fail the fitness assessment, the announcement said. The track was last measured in 2010.

At Hanscom, the track was found to be 360 feet longer than it should be, likely causing 41 airmen stationed there between 2008 and 2016 to fail. The track was last measured in 2008.

“All airmen who should have passed were notified,” Brzozowske said in an email.

“If still on active duty, their fitness scores were adjusted to the correct passing score. If there were any personnel actions taken resulting from the inaccurate [fitness assessment] failures, airmen should work with their chain of command, Force Support Squadron and legal office, and potentially the Air Force Personnel Center to correct records,” she wrote.

The service’s inspector general also plans to include the PT program “as an Air Force inspection requirement on future wing unit effectiveness inspections,” the announcement said.

In addition, each time a base redesigns or modifies a running track, it must measure it as a precaution, it said.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Warrior shares why he stayed in the Army after injury

Taking care of others, and showing love and appreciation for others, is a core reason why retired Maj. Dennis “DJ” Skelton chose to stay in the Army. He continued to serve for 21 years, even after suffering grievous wounds during Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2004.

Skelton told his story to a large crowd of soldiers, veterans, and Army civilians during the “Why We Serve” ceremony hosted by the Army’s chief information officer/G-6, Sept. 5. During the event, 30 young men and women from the Baltimore and Richmond areas raised their right hand to take the Oath of Enlistment.

“I was kind of a punk kid growing up in a small farming community in South Dakota,” he said. “I barely graduated high school and had absolutely no discipline whatsoever, which is why I had a hard time holding down a job.”


Shortly after getting expelled from the University of South Dakota, Skelton eventually found his way to an Army recruiting office. A year later he was sent to training at Monterey, California, to learn Chinese at the Defense Language Institute.

These combat camera vets return to train young troops

Retired Maj. Dennis “DJ” Skelton shared his story to a large crowd of soldiers, veterans, and Army civilians during a “Why We Serve” ceremony, Sept. 5, 2019.

(Courtesy photo Maj. Dennis DJ Skelton)

At one point, two officers pulled Skelton aside and asked him, “‘Why are you here?'” Skelton looked up and couldn’t answer the question, he said.

Instead of turning Skelton away, the two officers decided to take an opportunity to encourage the young private. They encouraged him to become an Army officer.

“That was the first time in my life that I had been pulled aside by someone that looked at me from a distance and chose to spend some extra time with someone they did not know. They saw something in me that I didn’t see,” Skelton said.

Skelton eventually made it to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York. After graduation, he moved to Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington. Not long after his arrival, he was told to prepare for a deployment in Iraq.

“I remember sitting on the tarmac waiting for the plane to load up,” he said. “No one in my unit has ever [deployed] before. I remember standing in front of my platoon — naive — and I looked at those family members and said, “‘I promise you this: I will bring all of your sons and daughters home.'”

Two months later, Skelton was wounded and in a coma. One of his soldiers, “went through a volley of fire to drag my body through the kill zone,” during a battle in Fallujah, Skelton said emotionally.

Battling for his life, Skelton was flown back for treatment at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Maryland.

“This is 2004, and there was no Warrior Transition Unit. West Point professors, [and] enlisted soldiers that I served with found out that I was wounded and showed up at the hospital. They would cook food every night and delivered it to my parents, sister, and loved ones, because I couldn’t do that,” he said with sorrow.

These combat camera vets return to train young troops

Retired Maj. Dennis “DJ” Skelton discusses why he chose to stay in the Army after suffering grievous wounds during Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2004, during a “Why We Serve” ceremony at Fort Belvoir, Va., Sept. 5, 2019.

(Army CIO G6 photo)

A year later, Skelton was out of the hospital, and the Army was quick to start his medical evaluation board process. It was one thing to be injured, but the feeling of rejection and being told he no longer provided value to the Army felt worse, he said.

Skelton eventually convinced the Army to let him stay as he spent the next six years bouncing through various assignments.

“For six years, I did what everyone told me to do: ‘Be resilient.’ And for six years … what I learned is that I hate the word resilient more than any other word in the English language.”

To others, resilience is the measurement of time that it takes to get back to normal, Skelton added.

“For six years, I tried to get back to the point where I had two eyes [and] two limbs so I could go hunting, climbing, and fishing. That was a source of happiness. I want to go back to a time when I was not peppered with shrapnel so that I can look handsome again,” said Skelton, with sadness in his voice.

“The reality is we can’t; these negative things that happen to us are now forever part of us,” he said.

It took time, but Skelton eventually saw his injury as a source of his strength. Through it all, he recognized that each person brings value and worth to a team or organization, he said.

So to answer the question, ‘Why do I serve?’ I made a promise on a tarmac that I bring my soldiers home,” he said.

“Even though it took six years, I finally made my way back into the infantry. And even though it wasn’t [my same] platoon, I got to command the same company in which I was a platoon leader,” he said. “Some of my privates were now my NCOs. And I got to bring them back home.”

This article originally appeared on United States Army. Follow @USArmy on Twitter.

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