It’s a question that has lasted as long as the Selective Service debate: Should every American serve for a year or two before entering the work force or pursuing higher education?
Arguments have been made for both sides of the case since the last draft in 1973, though the pro-service cause may have just found their strongest and most vocal ally yet — former Joint Special Operations Command chief Stanley McChrystal. Though McChrystal has largely stayed out of the spotlight since his retirement in 2010, he has still been very vocal about this concept, recently penning an op-ed for Time Magazine on the value of national service.
In his article, McChrystal says that the time is ripe for the country to come together to institute a mandatory year of paid national service for young Americans aged 18-28 years. A yearlong commitment would not only instill the values of accountability and responsibility towards citizenship, but will also develop character and leadership traits, he argues.
The retired general does stress, however, that national service should not be directed entirely towards the military. He feels that an open choice between different service organizations needs to exist, allowing for hundreds of thousands of young Americans to have a positive impact beginning in their communities, and resulting in progress on a national level.
This is a view seemingly very common among military veterans, a number of whom have gone on record to discuss the merits of a year of service. It also isn’t the first time McChyrstal has promoted a year of compulsory national service. In 2016, he urged candidates participating in the 2016 presidential race to consider making this idea a reality, and in 2012, the former special operations chief gave a speech to Harvard University on the same topic.
McChyrstal himself is no stranger to service, having joined the Army in 1976 after graduating from West Point. Born into a military family, he rose through the ranks, serving with regular infantry units, on a Special Forces “A-Team”, and eventually the 75th Ranger Regiment, prior to taking command of JSOC in 2003.
Described by former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates as “perhaps the finest warrior and leader of men in combat [he] had ever met,” McChrystal is easily a soldier’s soldier, known for his willingness to be on the frontlines instead of an air conditioned office stateside. His career in the Army ended in 2010 with a truncated stint as the command of US and coalition forces in Afghanistan.
A national service commitment isn’t exactly anything new, especially with many European and Asian nations. Israel and Switzerland are two of the most notable examples, with both countries mandating by law that youth of a certain age are required to register with the military or with a civil service body for a predetermined term. In both countries, the commitment ranges from a year to two years, though some decide to stay around and build a career out of their service terms.
Switzerland, in particular, has utilized conscription to staff its military for decades by having conscripts report for a 260-day service period upon reaching the age of majority. Recruits can choose to serve their entire commitment in 300 continuous days, or train in periods throughout the year, somewhat similar to the National Guard and various branch reserves in the United Sates.
However, should a recruit decide that military service isn’t for them, they can elect to join the country’s civil service as a paid employee for a 390-day period.
Currently, the national year of service topic has yet to be brought up by the White House or Congress, though it still remains a talking point for many, including McChrystal and Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain, a retired Navy attack pilot.
Until meaningful discourse on the subject arises, the retired general and the sitting Senator have worked together to sponsor efforts to afford military veterans and civilian volunteers more opportunities to voluntarily serve their countries in various civil organizations.
The 1911 pistol has been around for over 100 years. It is beloved by many for its ergonomics, accuracy and heavy-hitting .45 caliber round. In fact, some versions are still in service with the Marine Corps as the M45.
When something’s been around for so long, it’s also a safe bet that people are tinkering with its design. You can find 1911s in various calibers aside from its original .45 ACO, including 9mm NATO, 10mm Auto, and .22 long rifle.
In an article at PopularMechanics.com, Ian McCollum of ForgottenWeapons.com noted that during World War II, the Office of Strategic Services wanted something that could allow commandos and other secret agents to kill sentries quietly and at a distance.
This is actually very important because if the sentry sees you and sounds the alarm, he’s won. It doesn’t matter if he’s hit the alarm with his dying effort. That alarm could even be him dying very noisily.
The key to this was a two-part system that could be added to just about any M1911 pistol that was called “Bigot.” The rear portion was inserted through the ejection port. It had to be set up right to allow the M1911’s slide to close. Then, the piston would be screwed in. After that, a variety of darts – or even mini grenades – could be inserted for use in silently dispatching a sentry of the two-legged or four-legged variety. The darts and grenades would be fired by a .25 ACP blank.
Tests with a quickly-made reproduction were kind of iffy (only one-third of the darts broke a glass target eight feet away). It’s probably why the Bigot never saw any real action.
Still, if Buffy needed a little extra edge to dust some vamps or if 007 wants a gadget that makes for great cinematic eye candy, it’s probably a good choice. Watch the video below to hear Ian relate what we know about this nifty-looking piece!
There’s a saying in the photography community, first coined by the legendary Robert Capa: “if your photos aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough.” If that’s true, there’s one North Korean photog who has the world’s best photo of a rocket launch. Sadly, no one will ever see it because the photo was burned up along with the man who took it.
The worst part is, the Korean Central News Agency distributed video of his gruesome death for all the world to see.
Ow Ow Ow Ow Ow Ow Ow Ow
No one loves testing missiles and telling the world about it more than North Korea, so it’s likely the photographer was put there on purpose. Whether or not anyone (especially the photographer) knew he was in the blast zone for the Hwasong-15 rocket is anyone’s guess.
“The photographer who stood near Hwasong-15 missile was enveloped by fire,” said one onlooker to the incident. “I was shocked to see officials watching the launch. I did not know whether it was the fault of the cameraman or the control center. But it was impossible for leader Kim Jong-un who was at the site not to have witnessed the incident.”
Kim Jong-un and the Korean People’s Army rejoice at the launch of a Hwasong-15 missile test.
As North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un and his cronies watched North Korea’s largest, most powerful Intercontinental ballistic missile test to date – and cheered on – it’s possible that up to 16 people who were in the test area were burned alive by the missile’s blast. South Korea says the KCNA broadcasts were later edited to remove the toasted photographer.
Britain is charging two Russian men over the poisoning of the former Russian spy Sergei Skripal in Salisbury, England, early 2018.
Prosecutors said they had sufficient evidence to charge two men, identified as Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov, with attempted murder over the attack.
Prime Minister Theresa May on Sept. 5, 2018, added that the two men were officers from the Russian intelligence services, also known as the GRU.
“Security and intelligence agencies have carried out their own investigations,” May told Parliament on Sept. 5, 2018. “I can today tell the House … that the government has concluded that the two individuals named are officers from the Russian intelligence services.”
Surveillance footage shows the two suspects leaving London for Moscow at Heathrow Airport hours after Skripal collapsed on March 4, 2018.
May said authorization for the attack “almost certainly” came from the senior levels of the Russian government. She added that she would push for more European Union sanctions against Russia over the poisoning.
The two men are now believed to be in Russia. Authorities plan to formally request via Interpol that the Russian police arrest them.
The British police also released a detailed description of the suspects’ whereabouts in the run-up to the attack as well as a series of images taken from surveillance footage of the two men in London and Salisbury.
Surveillance camera footage of Petrov and Boshirov in Salisbury, England, on the day the Skripals were poisoned.
(London Metropolitan Police)
Neil Basu, a senior officer with the London Metropolitan Police’s counterterrorism unit, said that the two men most likely traveled under aliases and that Petrov and Boshirov might not be their real names. Both suspects are estimated to be 40 years old.
Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, collapsed in Salisbury in March 2018 after being exposed to Novichok, a military-grade nerve agent that was developed by the Soviet Union during the Cold War. The poison had been applied on Skripal’s front door, police said.
Both father and daughter were eventually discharged from the hospital.
Poison in a perfume bottle
A British couple in Amesbury, a town near Salisbury, was exposed to the poison after coming into contact with a perfume bottle containing it in late June 2018.
Rowley told the police he found a box he thought contained perfume in a charity bin in late June 2018, more than three months after the Skripals collapsed.
The box contained a bottle, purported to be from the designer brand Nina Ricci, and an applicator, and Rowley got some of the poison on himself when he tried to put the two parts together at home.
Tests run by the Ministry of Defense found that the bottle contained a “significant amount” of Novichok, the police said.
“The manner in which the bottle was modified leaves no doubt it was a cover for smuggling the weapon into the country, and for the delivery method for the attack against the Skripals’ front door,” May said.
The police on Sept. 4, 2018, said they thought the two incidents were linked.
Authorities said they believed the couple were not deliberately targeted but “became victims as a result of the recklessness in which such a toxic nerve agent was disposed of.”
Surveillance camera footage of Petrov and Boshirov at a Salisbury train station the day before Skripal collapsed.
(London Metropolitan Police)
The suspects’ whereabouts
The police believe the two suspects were in the UK for just three days to carry out the attack. On Sept. 5, 2018, the force outlined the two suspects’ whereabouts in the run-up to the Skripals’ poisoning in March 2018:
March 2, 3 p.m.: The suspects arrive at London’s Gatwick Airport after flying from Moscow on Aeroflot Flight SU2588.
5 p.m. (approx): They travel by train into Victoria station, central London. They then travel on London public transport.
6 p.m. to 7 p.m.: They spend about an hour in Waterloo before going on to the City Stay Hotel in Bow Road, east London, where they stay for the next two nights.
March 3, 11:45 a.m.: They arrive at Waterloo station from their hotel, where they take a train to Salisbury, where Skripal lives.
2:25 p.m.: They arrive at Salisbury. The police believe this trip was for a reconnaissance of the area and do not believe they posed a risk to the public at this point.
4:10 p.m.: They leave Salisbury and arrive at their hotel four hours later.
March 4, 8:05 a.m.: The two men arrive at Waterloo station again to go to Salisbury.
4:45 p.m.: They return to London from Salisbury.
10:30 p.m.: They leave London for Moscow from Heathrow Airport on Aeroflot Flight SU2585.
Skripal and his daughter collapsed on a bench at a Salisbury shopping center at about 4:15 p.m. on March 4, 2018.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
As China banned all mention of Kim Jong Un on its internet during his secretive visit, people on the internet dodged the ban by calling him “fatty on the train” instead.
The North Korean leader made an “unofficial visit” to Beijing late March 2018, China finally announced on March 28, 2018. But while the visit was in progress, nobody would say what was going on, despite huge speculation and the fairly obvious signal of Kim’s personal armored train pitching up in the city.
In an attempt to keep the visit under wraps, China censored the characters for “Kim Jong Un” and “North Korea” from its internet — as well as longstanding nicknames for the North Korean leader, such as “Fatty Fatty.”
To circumvent the ban, some Chinese people picked other unflattering nicknames, like “fatty on the train” and “the obese patient,” Reuters reported. Others used more diplomatic terms, like “the visitor from the northeast” and “the sibling next door.”
The Chinese term they used for “fatty on the train” is pronounced “pang zuo huoche” in Mandarin.
Since the visit ended, references to Kim and North Korea have reappeared on China’s internet.
On March 27, 2018, four of the top 10 blocked terms on the microblogging site Weibo were “Kim Jong Un,” “Fatty the Third,” “North Korea,” and “Fatty Kim the Third,” according to FreeWeibo, a site that tracks censorship on the platform. (The “third” refers to the fact that Kim’s father and grandfather, also surnamed Kim, were also North Korean supreme leaders.)
By choosing the already-fielded Heckler Koch M27 as the new service rifle for Marine Corps infantry squads, the service saved up to $24 million and avoided years of delay, top leaders told a congressional committee early March 2018.
In a hearing on readiness before a panel of the House Armed Services Committee on March 6, 2018, Marine Corps brass defended the service’s decision to publish a request for proposal for more than 15,000 of the M27, which is already serving as the Corps’ infantry automatic rifle.
Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., chairman of the HASC subcommittee on readiness, expressed concern for the U.S. industrial base as the Corps prepares to make the large purchase from German company HK.
“Do you believe the U.S. defense industrial base could support such a request and … do you believe that issuing a sole-source contract for such a large number of rifles from an internationally based company poses any logistical readiness challenge in meeting the demand for not only rifles but supplementary parts?” Wilson asked the three general officers testifying.
Lt. Gen. Brian Beaudreault, deputy commandant for Plans, Policies, and Operations, said the Marine Corps had held an open competition before the M27 was originally fielded in more limited quantities in 2008.
“It would cost probably … I’ve seen a figure as high as $24 million, to go through a recompetition for that weapon,” he said. “There’s no additional requirements, it’s to purchase as-is, and it’s simply an increase in a quantity of a weapon.”
Beaudreault said the Government Accountability Office had also completed a report looking at the Corps’ request and found it “within legal parameters” to pursue the sole-source contract the service wants. He added that the Marine Corps is now in the final stages of setting a price with HK for the lot of M27s.
“Do I think the industrial base could support those types of quantities? Absolutely,” Beaudreault said. “But what we would experience by reopening a competition would be, perhaps not being able to recover the additional money that would go into the [competition] … and probably a two-year delay in fielding that weapon to the rest of the infantry.”
Commandant Gen. Robert Neller confirmed to Military.com in December 2017 that the Corps had committed to purchase the M27 for all members of infantry squads to replace the M4 carbines they currently carry. Weapons experts say the M27 is more accurate and has a longer effective range than the M4, and would place greater combat power and lethality in the hands of infantrymen.
What hasn’t been clear until now is how many of the high-end rifles the Marine Corps planned to purchase. In February 2017, the service published a request for information for 11,000 infantry automatic rifles; then in August 2017, it published a pre-solicitation for up to 50,000 M27s.
Beaudreault told Wilson the request send to industry was for 15,000 rifles, enough to equip squads, with some left over for others as well.
Neller told Military.com he was considering giving the weapon to other ground combat Marines, including artillery forward observers, fire support teams, and even engineers.
A U.S. Marine with Echo Company, 2nd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, fires aanM27 infantry automatic rifle at simulated enemies during an Integrated Training Exercise (ITX) at Marine Corps Air-Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, Calif. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Danny Gonzalez)
“I’m going to wait and see,” he said in December 2017. “It’s not that much [money].”
The Marine Corps does expect to get a good deal on the rifles this time around. At SHOT Show in Las Vegas in January 2018, HK executive Robert Reidsma told Military.com that global demand for the M27 was driving down cost. The larger order the Corps is making will help too.
“Obviously, they want a bigger quantity and the economies of scale have changed,” he said then. “I think it’s one of the most affordable prices I’ve seen for the capability they’re getting.”
On March 6, 2018, Beaudreault emphasized that going with the M27 isn’t just the cheap and fast choice for the Corps. It’s also the best option, he said.
“The Marine Corps looked at some other options, and the M27 outperformed some of the other weapons that we’re also considering,” he said. “So it’s a great weapon, gets great reviews from Marines, and we were very eager to try to get it fielded as rapidly as we could.”
Historian Rick Atkinson has become famous as one of our greatest chroniclers of war with his World War II Liberation Trilogy, and he’s off to a strong start to his Revolution Trilogy with the 2019 best seller, “The British Are Coming.”
More than a decade before he won the Pulitzer Prize for “An Army at Dawn” (Liberation Trilogy, Book 1), Atkinson caught the attention of military history readers with 1989’s “The Long Gray Line,” a chronicle of 25 years in the life of the West Point Class of 1966.Advertisement
The book captures a shift in military culture. These young officers were born in the waning days of World War II and inevitably brought a different perspective that sometimes clashed with senior officers whose experiences were defined by that conflict.
Some of these men didn’t make it back, and others were instrumental in remaking the Army in the years after Vietnam. Atkinson uses their experiences to tell an epic story of how U.S. forces redefined their mission in the late 20th century.
Since the book was published, we’ve lived through a terror attack on U.S. soil and a pair of wars that lasted far longer than the conflict in Southeast Asia. Even though no one profiled in the book nor the author could have imagined what was coming, “The Long Gray Line” nonetheless offers a lot of perspective on why we’ve conducted the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan the way we have.Advertisement
Atkinson’s Army officer father was stationed in Munich when the writer was born there in 1952. He turned down an appointment to West Point himself and built a career as a reporter at The Washington Post, winning a journalism Pulitzer for a series of articles about the West Point Class of 1966. Those articles are the basis of “The Long Gray Line.”
If you weren’t around in 1989 or weren’t listening to audiobooks back then, you probably don’t know that almost anything over 300 pages was abridged for its audio version so that it wouldn’t require too many cassette tapes. CDs helped a bit, but the unabridged audio standard didn’t hit until we started streaming and listening to books on our iPods and phones in the early 2000s.
So, here we are in 2021, and we’ve finally got an unabridged version of “The Long Gray Line.” The full 28 hours include an introduction read by Atkinson and a conversation between the author and Ty Seidule, the former head of the history department at the United States Military Academy. Narrator Adam Barr reads the book for you.
You can listen to Chapter 1 below. It’s only nine minutes long, but you are likely to find yourself hooked before it’s over.
If you’re into reading instead of listening, “The Long Gray Line” is available in ebook or paperback editions.
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On Sept. 6, a US commander apologized for dropping leaflets in Afghanistan that were deemed offensive to Islam.
The leaflets dropped Sept. 4, which encouraged Afghans to cooperate with security forces, included an image of a dog carrying the Taliban flag, said Shah Wali Shahid, the deputy governor of Parwan province, north of Kabul. The flag has Islamic verses inscribed on it and dogs are seen as unclean in much of the Muslim world.
“Local people are very upset with this incident, and they want the perpetrators brought to justice,” Shahid said, adding that demonstrations were expected across the province.
Maj. Gen. James Linder apologized, acknowledging in a statement that “the design of the leaflets mistakenly contained an image highly offensive to both Muslims and the religion of Islam.” He offered his “sincerest apologies for this error.”
Throughout the 16-year Afghan war, US forces have struggled to convince ordinary Afghans to help them defeat the Taliban. Afghanistan is a deeply conservative country and alleged blasphemy has sparked riots.
Elsewhere in Afghanistan, two civilians were killed by a roadside bomb in the eastern Laghman province on Wednesday, according to Sarhadi Zwak, the spokesman for the provincial governor. No one claimed responsibility for the attack, but Taliban insurgents are active in the province.
In a move that almost seems suspiciously logical, Secretary of the Army, Mark Esper, has declared safety briefs no longer mandatory. That means no more long, drawn-out discussions led by the first sergeant about oddly specific incidents. No more sh*tbag “leaders” talking down to warfighters about crimes that they themselves committed. No more checking the box by reminding troops to not drink and drive, beat your spouse, or beat your kids in a monotone, apathetic voice that diminishes the gravity of those serious crimes.
Soldiers are about to get told that this weekend to “be safe” and then to fall out. Some units may try out this thing called, “assuming adults are responsible for their own actions” while others will be stuck in their old ways, discussing a few safety issues out of sheer habit.
For the love of all that is awesome in the Army – do not f*ck this up, troops. If even a single private gets a speeding ticket this weekend, the chain of command will put that incident on a pedestal in order to keep safety briefs. If a single douchebag gets arrested for a DUI and jokes that they weren’t told not to this week, that one asshat will Blue Falcon the entire United States Army.
So, enjoy some memes if it means you’re not out trying to appear on the blotter.
The US Army is finally set to phase out one of the most consistent images of modern American military power: the Humvee.
Earlier this year, the US Army announced the three finalists for the massive contract to replace the iconic Humvee, which has been in service for almost three decades.
Oshkosh Corporation, defense contractor Lockheed Martin, and Humvee-maker AM General each delivered 22 prototypes of their Joint Light Tactical Vehicles (JLVT) to military evaluators, who are running elaborate tests on the vehicles to determine the best fit.
Since the 1990s, AM General’s Humvee has been the US military’s workhorse, first seeing action in the Gulf War.
Despite its ubiquity, the Humvee has caused some serious headaches for American forces. As Wired notes, the Humvee was designed in the 1980s as an off-road carrier to transport troops and equipment quickly across Eastern Europe in a theoretical ground war against the then Soviet Union.
But after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Humvee’s mission changed. It was deployed to the front lines in Iraq and Afghanistan, where US commanders quickly discovered that it was dangerously under equipped to protect troops against close-combat urban fire and improvised explosive devices.
With this problem in mind, the vehicles in this summer’s competition are all far more resistant to explosive blasts. The new vehicles are smaller, so they can be more easily airlifted and transported. They’re also light and better equipped to deal with the urban and off-road patrol duties that the Humvee took on in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The winning payout for the contract will be huge. As the Dallas Morning News reports, the US Army plans to spend billions on at least 20,000 vehicles, and the Marine Corps will likely buy around 5,000. If the vehicle is more successful, it could be an even greater windfall — since the ’80s, the AM General has produced 250,000 Humvees for the US military.
Here are the three vehicles that could replace the Humvee:
Oshkosh’s entry into the competition is the Light Combat Tactical All-Terrain Vehicle.
The company has one advantage. After the Army realized in the early 2000s that the Humvee left troops vulnerable to blasts, the Pentagon ordered thousands of Oshkosh’s Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles for deployment in Iraq and Afghanistan.
As the name suggests, Oshkosh’s MRAP was much better suited to transport troops through these environments. Wired notes that the MRAP was so successful at sustaining blasts that some troops reportedly didn’t realize when they ran over bombs.
Oshkosh’s entry in the JLTV contest attempts to expand upon the MRAP’s success. The L-ATV is a lighter, smaller vehicle than the MRAP and can be more quickly and easily airlifted. This makes the vehicle preferable to the MRAP, which is large and can’t be deployed to areas where it needs to maneuver in crowded spaces.
Oshkosh believes that since the company demonstrated its proficiency with the MRAP, the JLTV is a natural transition.
“The Oshkosh M-ATV is the only vehicle performing the JLTV mission profile in operations today,” Oshkosh Vice President of Business Development Jennifer Christiansen told Business Insider in an email.
“This is where Oshkosh is truly unique because no other company has successfully transitioned more new military vehicle programs into production for the US Department of Defense,” Christiansen said.
The vehicle also has some unique features. If the military wishes to make their vehicles a little greener, Oshkosh threw an optional hybrid-diesel engine into the mix to help increase fuel efficiency.
Lockheed Martin’s JLTV
Designed with anti-guerilla combat in mind, Lockheed is playing on somewhat unfamiliar ground in the ground fight. Oshkosh and AM General both have troop carriers in use by the US military, while Lockheed is still more widely known for its high-tech aircraft and missile systems.
Like the other competitors, Lockheed aimed to make its slightly boxier vehicle lighter and tested it for blast-resistance.
“It can take a soldier everywhere, but can survive everything that they could survive in an MRAP,” Trevor McWilliams, a former soldier whose truck was hit with an IED, said in a Lockheed promotional video.
Lockheed is also hoping that the vehicle’s price tag will persuade the military to adopt its proposal. The defense contractor’s website touts the vehicle’s gas mileage, low production cost, and easy adaptability in case mechanics want to add on or upgrade the car in the shop.
“We are providing the most capable vehicle to our soldiers and our Marines, and we’re going to do it a very affordable cost,” Lockheed Martin program director Katheryn Hasse told Army Recognition in 2014.
AM General’s BRV-O
Though the Humvee itself may be on the way out, the lessons it learned have been passed on to AM General’s 21st century version.
This time around, AM General has built the Humvee’s largest weakness into the vehicle’s name: the Blast-Resistant Vehicle Off-Road. The company is highlighting the renewed safety of their BRV-O, touting its blast-resistant frame and space for amour add-ons.
“The Humvee was not designed for underbody protection, so the BRV-O has a higher ground clearance and is able to apply a protection kit to the bottom of the vehicle,” AM General Vice President of Business Development Chris Vanslanger told CNN in 2012.
According to AM General, the BRV-O is also the only vehicle equipped with a system that allows all passengers to connect to the military’s C4ISR network, which helps troops, aircraft, and commanders link up and coordinate movements on the battlefield.
Both pilots ejected safely and are believed to be alive, The Belgian Air Force confirmed on Twitter, writing: “The pilots left the plane using their ejectable seats.”
Photos posted to social media show what appears to be a pilot hanging from an overhead electrical wire.
A National Police spokeswoman told the AP no injuries were reported among residents in the area. Police have set up a 500-meter security perimeter around the crash site.
The owner of the house damaged in the crash told Ouest-France: “We were in the garden. We heard a great boom and a sound of tearing metal. Moments later, a second explosion and another tearing of scrap metal.”
The F-16 was travelling from an air base in Florennes, near Namur, to the French naval air base at Lann-Bihoué, Morbihan, and was not armed, local officials told French media.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
It’s pouring rain as the photographer and I run through the cobbled streets of Philadelphia. You can see it in the locals’ faces and the Colonial buildings still standing strong just blocks from the Liberty Bell that this city is tough. For over 300 years, Philly has been the home of patriots, presidents and even movie characters such as Rocky Balboa. Yet, there is one theme that continues to define Philadelphians. No matter how much they struggle, get kicked around or scarred, there will be a moment when they rise, gritty and determined, and GO on with their mission.
We arrive at the Union League, a brick and brownstone club, which has supported the military and veterans since 1862. As we pass two statues of soldiers marching off to war, I receive a text, “Finishing a board meeting. Use the side entrance. You won’t be allowed in unless you are in a jacket. Which I assume you are not.” The subject of our next interview is 100% correct and I instantly know we are in the place where Ryan Manion and her team hold court each December.
Ryan is the President of the Travis Manion Foundation, co-author of the Knock at the Door, mother, Gold Star sister and marathon runner. She’s busy. Always on the go, and the second week of December is her Super Bowl.
The night before our interview, she led the annual If Not Me, Then Who gala, which honors fallen heroes, veterans, active-duty troops and military families. Today, she’s leading the TMF board meeting, which includes current CEOs and former generals. Tomorrow, she’ll go on Fox Sports to represent TMF at the Army-Navy game where Navy will take home the win (but we don’t know that yet). Ryan has thankfully given us thirty minutes of her downtime for a one-on-one interview which she tells me is “no big deal” after I thank her again.
The Travis Manion Foundation is a big deal. The non-profit, which started as a small family effort, is now an organization that coordinates thousands of community volunteers across the nation. Ryan, who lost her brother, 1st Lieutenant Travis Manion, and her team are driven by the mission to “empower veterans and families of fallen heroes to develop character in future generations.”
The most amazing thing about Ryan Manion is not only all that she and her team have accomplished since 2007 but the fact that she is still going, and going strong. Ryan, who grew up in the Philadelphia suburbs, is a former smoker who now runs marathons and does ruck marches. She talks fast and moves faster. “Come on, let’s GO,” she tells us when we see her. I follow, knowing without a doubt that Ryan is the next generation of tough as nails leader that Philly is known for.
WATM: How’s your Army-Navy week going?
Ryan’s phone rings. It’s a family call. She answers while we start taking photos. Then she’s back.
Ryan Manion: It’s been a little heavy this week. We started off Tuesday with a meeting for all our senior TMF leadership, which we did for the first time. They flew in from all over the country. Then Tuesday night, we had a huge book event here in Philly, and my son has pneumonia.
WATM: OMG, that is a lot.
Ryan: He’s fine. Home with the family. He had a cold for three days. It didn’t even seem like a big cold. You know, it’s been kind of crazy.
WATM: How do you manage everything on your plate?
Ryan: I love what I do, and I get to work on wonderful things. We’ve been working on a project for tomorrow’s Army-Navy Game. We’re bringing 30 wounded warriors and their families to meet the President during the third quarter.
WATM: Wow, that is amazing. Did you ever see yourself doing this kind of work? Especially leading an organization such as the Travis Manion Foundation?
Ryan: Today, one of our board members said it best, “It all just gets back to Travis, saying, if not me, then who?” And that kind of simplified the journey for me. I thought to myself, ‘Oh my God. I’m sitting here with all these people because of my brother.’
WATM: You and your family established the organization as a way to carry on Travis’s legacy. Does it still feel that way a decade later?
Ryan and her brother Travis at the Army-Navy Game.
Ryan: Last night, somebody at the gala who was a Marine that served with Travis came up to me and said, “You know, I’ve been at this gala for eight years now, and every year gets better and better. It’s unbelievable. But I got to tell you, I was sitting there thinking, these people don’t know who Travis Manion was.”
WATM: How did that make you feel?
Ryan: Travis is my personal driver, but this organization is bigger than one person. I am excited for so many to see the fruits of what he stood for through this organization.
WATM: If Not Me, Then Who?
Ryan: Exactly. My brother wrote those words before he deployed to Iraq, and they represent the character, leadership and selfless service that is the backbone of all our programs. Whether it is our strength-building seminars, expeditions, fitness events or service projects, we unite our volunteers, both civilian and veteran, in the common cause to better their communities by living the mantra of “If Not Me, Then Who…”
WATM: What do you think draws people to the foundation and your work?
Ryan: It’s funny because our board was just asking me the same thing.
Ryan: I have to tell you, the thing about our organization is that it’s like the feeling you get when you’re around your family. It started out as a family affair. It was a small family that was grieving the loss of their loved one. But even as we’ve grown, it doesn’t matter what event you’re at or how many show up. You know, tomorrow there will be a thousand people at our tailgate, everyone’s going to feel like they’re part of a team, a family.
WATM: Was that the plan from the beginning?
Ryan laughs. I’ve been to a few TMF tailgates, and we both know the answer.
Ryan: I can’t articulate in words why that is. But you’ve been around it, you see it, and I don’t know what drives that. We come from a very different place from a lot of other traditional veterans service organizations, especially those in the post 9/11 world. I think they’re all doing great work. They came with an idea, “Ok, this is the problem, and this is how we’re going to solve it.”
We came with, “I just lost my brother, my mom and dad just lost their son. And we want to make sure that we continue his legacy.” So when you come at it from that place, there’s no chance that it’s gonna be anything but super authentic in what you’re doing. Since then, it’s been, “Ok, we’re going to do this. Oh, people are into it. Ok? Let’s keep doing it. Oh, wow. We’re really doing something here now.” That’s the plan.
Ryan Manion with a copy of her book, The Knock at the Door.
WATM: So let’s talk about the book. First of all, congratulations.
Ryan: Thank you. Yes, it’s pretty awesome.
WATM: What’s the feedback you’re getting so far?
Ryan: The feedback has been tremendous. We’ve found that this book, to some degree, breaks down the wedge between the civilian and military worlds because everyone receives some type of knock at the door. We all have challenges that we weren’t expecting to appear in our lives.
The Knock At the Door shows what a military family goes through when they lose someone. But this story doesn’t end there. Our story just begins there. So it’s set in a much different context. The Knock At the Door empowered me and my co-authors into another chapter of our lives. We all had different journeys from shock to finding purpose.
WATM: In the book, you describe how physical fitness helped you find focus. Specifically moving from smoking to running the Marine Corps Marathon?
Ryan: I totally recognize the extreme of it all. Physical fitness is huge both in general and in times of grief. It was truly eye-opening when I discovered the effect it had on my daily psyche. I mean, people say, exercise is a little bit of a drug and they’re right. That’s why I had to write about my physical journey alongside my emotional one. I went through some dark times after I lost my brother. I struggled with anxiety and depression and was ultimately diagnosed with PTSD. It was realization that I was not ok that helped me to pick up the pieces.
WATM: Is there anything that people are really responding to or the people are coming to you afterwards and saying, I love this. That you’re finding people are really resonating with?
Ryan: I think for me, people were surprised about how vulnerable I was in the book. You know, I’ve been given the opportunity to run a veteran serving organization that requires a lot of professional appearances and public speaking. People get to meet me as the President of the Travis Manion Foundation, but this book showed a whole different side of me.
WATM: Was it scary to be that vulnerable and open?
Ryan: Yes. You know, the other thing that’s been really great about the book is the response from the Gold Star community. If you would have asked me before I wrote, what’s your biggest fear? It would be that like the Gold Star community doesn’t connect with this. And they have.
Ryan with her TMF GORUCK.
WATM: What do you think Travis would say about all of this?
Ryan: I don’t know what Travis would be doing now. I don’t know if he’d still be in the Marine Corps, if he’d be out and working in corporate America or doing something less traditional. I have no idea. But I know that he would be involved in this world. He would not be the veteran that takes off the uniform, goes away and is unconnected to what’s happening in their community. But would I be connected to this world? Probably not, because my brother would have been. I think he would be proud that I am involved and active with the Travis Manion Foundation, but he would have hated that it’s named after him.
WATM: I think I can understand that.
Ryan: We were years into this thing, and my dad’s like, “I just feel like I don’t think Travis would like that his name is everywhere. It’s nameless, maybe we should change the name?” And my response was something like, “Dad, you’re kidding. We’re in too deep. Travis’s name represents this generation.” And so, that’s my rebuttal. I think Travis would be super proud of what’s happening in his name.
WATM: Is there anything that you’re looking forward to in 2020? Maybe something you’re scared about or something we should keep on our radar?
Ryan: The next big thing I’m doing is going to Puerto Rico at the end of January for one of our service expeditions. We have eight or nine of these service expeditions a year, but this one is special. I will be traveling with a Marine who was with Travis when he was killed. We will be doing rehab projects for veterans’ homes effected by the hurricane a couple of years ago. I am looking forward to that.
WATM: Will you keep us updated on the trip?
Ryan: Of course.
WATM: Last question. Who do you think will win the Army-Navy Game tomorrow?
President Donald Trump on Aug. 13, 2018, signed into law a $717 billion defense spending bill that puts China in the crosshairs of a host of new US Navy missiles and tactics.
Beijing heavily protested it and may have scored some small concessions, but the bill puts nearly $1 trillion behind the idea that great power strategic competition has returned and that the US seeks to win it.
The increase in spending comes as China has increasingly edged out the US Navy’s competitive advantage in open waters. The US suffers a missile gap with both Russia and China, meaning those countries have longer-range missiles designed to sink massively valuable platforms like aircraft carriers before they can get close.
The US drifted from a focus on fighting near-peer adversaries like China and Russia after the Cold War, as military planners banked on continued US supremacy to limit potential adversaries to non-state actors and rogue states.
The aircraft carrier USS Nimitz, the guided-missile cruiser USS Chosin, the guided-missile destroyers USS Sampson and USS Pinkney, and the guided-missile frigate USS Rentz operating in formation in the South China Sea.
Simply put, these missiles would chew up a US carrier strike group, with destroyers and cruisers protecting an aircraft carrier. Launching F/A-18s off a carrier could beat back a Russian or Chinese attack, but the missile gap remains palpable and a threat to the US Navy’s highest-value assets.
US Navy submariners loading a Tomahawk cruise missile onto a sub.
(US Navy Photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Apprentice Samuel Souvannason)
Return to ship-sinking
To regain its status as the world’s premier ship-sinking force, the US has planned a few upgrades and set aside cash for them in the defense bill. It would pay for new long-range missiles for the Air Force and some Navy planes while bringing back a missile abandoned by the Navy after the fall of the Soviet Union.
Today, Tomahawk missiles have a massive range, of about 1,000 miles, but can hit only land targets, as they have in Syria recently. At the height of the Cold War, Tomahawks could strike moving ships, and now the Navy seeks to get that power back.
A modification in the works at Raytheon seeks to deliver 32 maritime versions of the Tomahawks by 2021 that would healthily out-range any Russian or Chinese missiles.
After a successful test of the upgraded Tomahawk in 2015, the deputy secretary of defense at the time, Bob Work, said (according to USNI News): “This is a potentially a game-changing capability for not a lot of cost. It’s a 1,000-mile anti-ship cruise missile.”
“It can be used by practically our entire surface and submarine fleet,” Work added.
But not only will the Navy get increased power to fight adversaries like China — it’s scheduling in some more patrols that could lead to run-ins, as have become increasingly frequent.
With Beijing building up its military presence in the South China Sea and rolling out new warships at a dizzying rate, the US’s return to great power competition will also include training neighboring navies in India and Sri Lanka.