Third time's a charm: Twin brothers deploy together again - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY CULTURE

Third time’s a charm: Twin brothers deploy together again

From working at McDonalds, to attending Army Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC), to serving more than 18 years each in the U.S. Army Reserve — identical twin master sergeants are mobilized together for the third time.

Master Sgt. Bryant Howard and his identical twin brother, Master Sgt. Joseph Howard, motor transport operators, 450th Movement Control Battalion (MCB), are currently deployed together to Kuwait — marking the third time they have deployed together.

Bryant decided to join first.


“I was in high school, (and) I was also working at McDonalds, and my mom called me lazy.” he said. “I figured I wasn’t, so I was going to get her mad and join the Army.”

For Joseph, the decision to join the Army was much easier after he found out that his brother was joining.

“I tried joining the National Guard. The recruiter didn’t take me seriously.” Joseph said. “I was going to back out, then I found out my brother was joining the Reserve, so I went ahead and joined too.”

Third time’s a charm: Twin brothers deploy together again

From left to right — Master Sgt. Joseph Howard, S-3 (operations) noncommissioned officer in charge (NCOIC), 450th Movement Control Battalion (MCB), and Master Sgt. Bryant Howard, Trans-Arabian Network (TAN) NCOIC, 450th MCB, stand back to back at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, Oct. 24, 2019.

(Photo by Spc. Dakota Vanidestine)

Once their decision to join was finalized, Bryant and Joseph needed to pass through Military Entrance Processing Stations (MEPS) before leaving for basic training.

“We were still in high school, just turned 18. We were trying to get on the battle buddy system, but something happened at MEPS and Bryant wasn’t able to join the same time I did.” Joseph said. “He had to go back four months later. Because of that, they couldn’t get us to Basic (Training) together, even though we went at the same time. I went to Fort Jackson; he went to Fort Sill.”

Although the buddy system was not possible for Basic Training, the brothers were reunited at Advanced Individual Training (AIT).

“We did go to AIT together at Fort Leonard Wood though. It took the drill sergeants a month to realize there was twins in the unit. They threw a fit because they thought we were just one super high-speed person” Joseph said.

Confusion on the brothers’ identities, like at AIT, has allowed them to play pranks all of their life.

“Our last day of high school, we switched classes.” Bryant said. “We had a different style uniforms in school — I had a pullover, and he had a button up shirt. Joseph’s teacher could tell us apart, even though she didn’t know me — but my teacher didn’t recognize him.”

After high school, the military was not the only time that Bryant and Joseph’s paths have crossed.

“We both worked at one time at Direct TV” Joseph said. “Also, we both had some sort of experience in law enforcement. I became a police officer, he worked in a jail — he was a corrections officer. The weird part about that was if I dropped somebody off at jail, they might run into him and think he was me. We don’t necessarily try to follow each other – that’s just the way things happen. It really is a small world.”

Even today their civilian careers have brought them not only to the same state, but the same location.

“Now were both mill-techs. Joseph works in the RPAC (Reserve Personnel Action Center) and I work for a unit” Bryant said.

Third time’s a charm: Twin brothers deploy together again

From left to right, Sgt. 1st Class Joseph Howard, Sgt. Michael Howard, motor transport operators, 498th Transportation Company, and Sgt. 1st Class Bryant Howard, motor transport operator, 850th Transportation Company, pose for a photo as Bryant prepares to redeploy back to the U.S. at Kandahar Airfield, April. 28, 2014.

“We actually work in the same building — two different units. I work for the 88th Readiness Division, he works for the 383rd Military Intelligence Battalion” Joseph added.

When Bryant and Joseph heard about an opportunity to deploy together with the 450th MCB, they took full advantage.

“We deployed together in 2003 and 2009 to Iraq” Bryant said.

“He deployed to Afghanistan at the end of 2013, and I deployed there in the beginning of 2014 — so we were actually at the same place” Joseph added. “Our older brother actually deployed with me.”

Currently, Bryant is the Trans Arabian Network Noncommissioned Officer in Charge (NCOIC).

“I am the NCOIC over all the movement within Kuwait, Jordan, Oman, and the surrounding locations.” Bryant said.

While Joseph serves as the S-3 (operations) NCOIC by taking care of “the personnel, administrative, and operational aspects.”

Once this deployment is complete, the brothers may finally part ways. Joseph is considering retirement from the Reserve.

“I do want to hit my 20 year mark.” Joseph said. “It’s really hard to keep up with the changing Army — the trends and everything. Depending on what happens when I get to the States, I may stick it out longer, or I may get out.”

“I’m just going to stay in until I can’t stand it anymore” Bryant added.

Together, Bryant and Joseph have dedicated over 37 years of service to the U.S. Army Reserve — both wearing the rank of master sergeant and have seven combined deployments to show for it.

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

MIGHTY TACTICAL

Soldiers light up the sky in night fire exercise

As the sun went down leaving a peach hue above the Baltic Sea, U.S. soldiers, partner, and ally countries prepare weapon systems that would soon be shot off into the night sky.

Soldiers with C Battery, or the “Catdogs”, 1st Battalion, 174th Air Defense Artillery Regiment participated in the multinational air defense night fire exercise June 18, 2019, Utska Poland. The night fire is part of Tobruq Legacy 2019, Tobruq Legacy is a 21-day exercise that focuses on multi-national partnerships with shared understanding and demonstration of Air Defense capabilities by the United States Army and 11 different partner and allied countries.


The silence of night was broken as the Slovakian army fired missiles into the sky leaving behind a trail of fire and smoke. The U.S. Forces waited to the east of the firing line eager to demonstrate the capabilities they bring to the table. During the night fire U.S. soldiers showed mission readiness by demonstrating the AN/TWQ-1 Avenger Missile System and the FIM-92 Stinger Missiles.

Third time’s a charm: Twin brothers deploy together again

U.S. Army Soldiers from C Battery, 1st Battalion, 174th Air Defense Artillery Regiment, prepare to fire the FIM-92 Stinger missile system as they participate in a Short Range Air Defense Night Fire Exercise as part of Tobruq Legacy in Utska, Poland, June 17, 2019.

(Photo by Sgt. Kyle Larsen)

The Avenger Missile System is a rugged camouflaged military vehicle whose stature can be imposing with 4 missile ports in each of the two guns fixed to the turret. The AN/TWQ-1 Avenger Missile System has been around for many years, while the FIM-92 Stinger Missile system is fairly new technology. This was the first live test for the FIM-92 as firing teams took turns engaging moving targets.

Third time’s a charm: Twin brothers deploy together again

U.S. Army Soldiers from C Battery, 1st Battalion, 174th Air Defense Artillery Regiment, radio in that the final missile was fired from the AN/TWQ-1 Avenger missile system as they participate in a Short Range Air Defense Night Fire Exercise as part of Tobruq Legacy in Utska, Poland, June 17, 2019.

(Photo by Sgt. Kyle Larsen)

“Firing the missile is probably the greatest feeling there is,” said Spc. Matthew Lashley, an Avenger crewmember in C Battery. “Once you pull the trigger everything goes away with a loud bang, and it’s just a great experience shooting a live missile.”

Third time’s a charm: Twin brothers deploy together again

U.S. Army Soldiers from C Battery, 1st Battalion, 174th Air Defense Artillery Regiment, are smothered with smoke as they fire the new FIM-92 Stinger missile system as they participate in a Short Range Air Defense Night Fire Exercise as part of Tobruq Legacy in Utska, Poland, June 17, 2019.

(Photo by Sgt. Kyle Larsen)

The FIM-92 is a handheld weapon system commonly used to engage aircrafts and it proved itself to be an adequate weapon system throughout the day and night, as it was visibly more effective than the Avenger system.

Third time’s a charm: Twin brothers deploy together again

U.S. Army Soldiers from C Battery, 1st Battalion, 174th Air Defense Artillery Regiment, work to fix the missile control apparatus for the AN/TWQ-1 Avenger missile system as they participate in a Short Range Air Defense Night Fire Exercise as part of Tobruq Legacy in Utska, Poland, June 17, 2019.

(Photo by Sgt. Kyle Larsen)

The goal for the exercise is to work side-by-side with partner nations and find a way to utilize all of the technology and fire power available should these countries have to partner to defend against an attack from potential adversaries.

Third time’s a charm: Twin brothers deploy together again

U.S. Army Soldiers from C Battery, 1st Battalion, 174th Air Defense Artillery Regiment, work to fix the missile control apparatus for the AN/TWQ-1 Avenger missile system as they participate in a Short Range Air Defense Night Fire Exercise as part of Tobruq Legacy in Utska, Poland, June 17, 2019.

(Photo by Sgt. Kyle Larsen)

“It should make our potential adversaries nervous,” said Staff Sgt. Andrew Bryan, a 1st platoon squad leader and team chief. “If I saw multiple nations coming together in a huge exercise that was successful such as this one, I would be nervous, because it shows we have the capabilities and firepower to do what we need to do.”

Third time’s a charm: Twin brothers deploy together again

U.S. Army Soldiers from C Battery, 1st Battalion, 174th Air Defense Artillery Regiment, watch as the missile they fired from the FIM-92 Stinger missile system flies towards their target as they participate in a Short Range Air Defense Night Fire Exercise as part of Tobruq Legacy in Utska, Poland, June 17, 2019.

(Photo by Sgt. Kyle Larsen)

The exercise was able to demonstrate how effective and devastating ADA can be as missiles engaged targets hundreds of meters away lighting up the night sky. The final missile burst over the Baltic Sea as the last vehicle for the night drove off the range in the early hours of June 18, 2019, and zipped down the road back to the Logistics Support Area where the vehicles were staged for the next day.

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

MIGHTY TRENDING

Ambush during routine Africa patrol kills 3 Special Forces soldiers

Three US Army Special Forces troops were killed and two were wounded while conducting a patrol with Nigerien troops in southwest Niger on October 5, The New York Times reported.


The wounded Green Berets were reportedly in “stable condition” and evacuated to Niamey, the country’s capital, where they were set to then be transported to Germany.

Third time’s a charm: Twin brothers deploy together again
A U.S. Army Special Forces weapons sergeant observes a Niger Army soldier during marksmanship training as part of Exercise Flintlock 2017 in Diffa, Niger, Feb. 28, 2017. Niger was one of seven locations to host tactical-level training during the exercise while staff officers tested their planning abilities at a simulated multinational headquarters in N’Djamena, Chad. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Klutts/released)

The joint patrol, conducted to train Nigerien troops, was considered routine, according to US military officials cited by Fox News. Eight to 10 US troops were reportedly part of the patrol.

Five Nigerien soldiers were also killed, according to an official for the region of Tillaberi.

“We can confirm reports that a joint US and Nigerien patrol came under hostile fire in southwest Niger,” a spokesman for US Africa Command said. The US military has had a presence in the volatile region for several years.

The military-news site Sofrep cited a source in the Special Operations community as saying the US troops were part of 3rd Special Forces Group, a military detachment that has shifted its area of operations to Africa in recent years. The site also said about 40 enemy combatants carried out the ambush.

In 2013, the US set up a drone base in Niger to combat extremist organizations in West Africa, including the Islamic State, Boko Haram, and an affiliate of Al Qaeda.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Marine sergeant wins international photography competition with stunning photos

Everyone in the Marine Corps has a story. No one knows this better than does Sgt. Dana Beesley, who just earned the prestigious title of 2020 Photographer of the Year from the Military Visual Awards, an international competition showcasing the best of the best in military photography.

Beesley grew up in the small town of Lewiston, Idaho, the daughter of a local journalist. After watching All the President’s Men as a young child, she fell in love with investigative reporting. She fiddled with disposable cameras, took pictures on family camping trips, and pored with wonder over the hundreds of copies of National Geographic Magazine her mother had collected in the basement, looking at only the photos and captions.

After joining the Marine Corps as a combat photographer in 2015, Beesley got serious about photography.

Third time’s a charm: Twin brothers deploy together again
An instructor pushes his students to their limits as he corrects one student, who appears to be struggling, on the proper way to execute a rope climb during class physical training at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, S.C., Oct. 15, 2020. Photo by Sgt. Dana Beesley.

“From there, the adventure began,” she told Coffee or Die Magazine, looking back on her decision to enlist after completing her freshman year at the University of Idaho.

Beesley is based at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, South Carolina, where she chronicles the struggles and successes of the thousands of recruits who undergo recruit training there annually.

“Even though we go through the same training every week, the people themselves are all different,” she said. “They all experience emotions differently. They all experience pain differently. They all experience passion and drive and motivation differently.”

Third time’s a charm: Twin brothers deploy together again
Recruits with Alpha Company participate in the Crucible on Parris Island, S.C., June 14, 2019. The Crucible is a 54-hour culminating event that requires recruits to work as a team and overcome challenges in order to earn the title United States Marine. Photo by Sgt. Dana Beesley.

From the recruit who may be conquering a fear of heights to plunge off a high dive for the first time, to the one who has spent the last of his energy during the crucible, Beesley wants to capture every moment.

Beesley’s portfolio was one of more than 2,000 submissions from US and NATO military members around the world, according to the Military Visual Awards.

Third time’s a charm: Twin brothers deploy together again
Marine Sgt. Dana Beesley is a combat photographer at MCRD Parris Island, S.C. She has been named the 2020 Military Visual Awards Photographer of the Year. Photo courtesy of Sgt. Dana Beesley.

“One of the things that I think separates [Beesley] from a lot of people is there’s an emotional connection she has with a lot of her photos,” Chief Warrant Officer 2 Bobby Yarbrough said. “She gets that emotional connection with people, which makes them more comfortable in front of a camera, but also makes her imagery just stand out and pop.”

Yarbrough’s opinion carries a lot of weight. Like Beesley, he graduated from the Military Photojournalism Program at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University, which is sometimes affectionately described as “the Top Gun” of military photojournalism. The Marines regularly shoot photos together on base, building a competitive camaraderie. Yarbrough was also the runner up in this year’s contest.

Third time’s a charm: Twin brothers deploy together again
A Marine Corps instructor of water survival (MCIWS) instructs recruits with Fox Company, 2nd Recruit Training Battalion, on proper breathing techniques before swim qualification training on Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, S.C., Sept. 29, 2020. Photo by Sgt. Dana Beesley.

“Nothing makes me happier than seeing Sgt. Beesley actually beat me out in the competition,” Yarbrough said. “Being a leader in the Marine Corps, nothing is more humbling than seeing the people below you succeed. And her portfolio was definitely better than mine.”

Beesley herself is incredibly humble, though, crediting her fellow Marines with her success. She leads a 16-person team that specializes in all areas of public communication and digital engagement at MCRD Parris Island.

Third time’s a charm: Twin brothers deploy together again
Recruits with Echo Company, 2nd Recruit Training Battalion, complete the Obstacle Course during the Crucible on Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, S.C., June 12, 2020. Photo by Sgt. Dana Beesley.

“It’s because of the Marines underneath and above me that I’m here today,” she said. “I wish I could give this award to all the Marines at Parris Island. I don’t want to take it for myself.”

Beesley won’t run out of stories to tell on Parris Island anytime soon. In fact, there’s one very specific photo she’s trying to take.

“I’m still waiting for that moment where I capture that complete exhaustion on a drill instructor’s face behind a closed door,” she said.

Third time’s a charm: Twin brothers deploy together again
Staff Sgt. Candace Luna, a drill instructor with Platoon 4032, Oscar Company, 4th Recruit Training Battalion, inspects her platoon as they practice close-order drill movements in the squad bay June 26, 2019 on Parris Island, S.C. Photo by Sgt. Dana Beesley.

Drill instructors are notoriously stoic, and even if their facade slips for a moment, it goes right back up the second they see Beesley’s lens.

“The things that these drill instructors do day in and day out for the betterment of the Marine Corps is absolutely astonishing,” she said. “I wish I could show that in my camera.”

See more of Beesley’s winning portfolio here, as well as powerful photos in other categories, such as news, feature, portrait, and more.

This article originally appeared on Coffee or Die. Follow @CoffeeOrDieMag on Twitter.

Articles

This Iraq War vet counters Trump’s claim that soldiers stole millions

(Editor’s note: We Are The Mighty has no political affiliation. This post is presented solely because of the veteran response in this case.)


Iraq War vet and music journalist Corbin Reiff didn’t take too kindly to Donald Trump’s comments on the campaign trail recently that insinuated that U.S. soldiers stole the money they were supposed to give out for Iraqi reconstruction projects. Reiff took to Twitter with the following burst of tweets, 140 characters per:

MIGHTY CULTURE

4 times the US military messed up on social media

Every day, scores of US military commands reach millions with posts aimed to inform and inspire: videos of valor, motivational photos, and, yes, puppy pics.

The military has codified the rules for managing these official accounts. But sometimes these social-media pros flub it — even the four-star command responsible for the US’s nuclear weapons.

Here’s a blooper reel of some of the military’s most embarrassing and dumb social-media mistakes since 2016.


Third time’s a charm: Twin brothers deploy together again

A still image from a video posted by US Strategic Command.

(US Strategic Command)

1. ‘#Ready to drop something much, much bigger’

US Strategic Command, which oversees the US’s nuclear arsenal, ringed in 2019 with a reminder that they’re ready, at any time, to start a nuclear war.

Playing off the image of the ball dropping in New York City’s Times Square, STRATCOM’s official account posted a tweet that included a clip of a B-2 dropping bombs. The command apologized for the message.

Third time’s a charm: Twin brothers deploy together again

The A-10 Thunderbolt is armed with a 30mm cannon that fires so rapidly that the crack of each bullet blends into a thundering sound.

(US Air Force photo by Senior Airman Corey Hook)

2. #BRRRT

In May 2018, the internet was debating whether the word heard on a short audio recording was “Yanny” or “Laurel.” Then the US Air Force joined the debate, referring to a recent strike on Taliban.

“The Taliban Forces in Farah city #Afghanistan would much rather have heard #Yanny or #Laurel than the deafening #BRRRT they got courtesy of our #A10,” the official US Air Force Twitter account said.

The A-10 gunship carries a fearsome 30mm cannon used to destroy buildings, shred ground vehicles, and kill insurgents. It can fire so rapidly — nearly 3,900 rounds a minute — that the sound of each bullet is indistinguishable from the previous one, blending into a thundering “BRRRT.”

The US Air Force apologized for the tweet and deleted it, acknowledging it was in “poor taste.”

Third time’s a charm: Twin brothers deploy together again

Mindy Kaling’s joke briefly got some props from the US Army.

(imdb.com)

3. ‘I’m like really smart now’

In January 2018, President Donald Trump fired off a flurry a tweets defending himself in response to the headline-grabbing details in Michael Wolff’s book, “Fire and Fury.”

Trump said he was “like, really smart” and “a very stable genius.”

That prompted a tweet from comedian Mindy Kaling from her character in the office, with the caption: “You guys, I’m like really smart now, you don’t even know.”

The US Army’s official Twitter account liked Kaling’s tweet, to which she replied: “#armystrong”

By the following day, the US Army had unliked the tweet.

Third time’s a charm: Twin brothers deploy together again

The US Navy tweeted this image to celebrate its 241st birthday on Oct. 13, 2016, but would later delete it.

(US Navy photo)

4. Tough. Bold. Ready.

In 2016, the US Navy celebrated the 241st year since the date of its creation with a tweet that combined three images into one: a warship, a fighter jet, and a painting of a historic battle.

But the birthday message didn’t go over well with one audience on Twitter: Turks.

The flag in that battle scene closely resembles that of Turkey, a NATO member and US ally, as Muira McCammon detailed in Slate.

The Turkish community on Twitter sharply criticized the US Navy, and the Navy deleted it.

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

MIGHTY TACTICAL

How concertina wire became such an effective defense tool

It doesn’t seem like much. It’s just a spool of metal wiring, dotted with small, sharp, evenly-dispersed bits. If you happened upon some of it strewn across the ground, you could maneuver around the teeth fairly easily and make your way through, unscathed, with ease. It’s more of a flimsy annoyance than a deterrent — but that’s the beauty of it.

Since the turn of the century, troops have implemented it when setting up defensive positions. It’s only ever placed by itself in training situations — since the worst damage it can inflict is a small cut and maybe a tear on one’s uniform — but when it’s used in conjunction with other defensive emplacements, it becomes substantially more difficult to navigate.

Its relatively cheap price tag has made it the perfect option for training scenarios. It’s become so integral to training warfighters that every troop, regardless of branch, occupation, or era, has had to learn to crawl under it at one point or another.


Third time’s a charm: Twin brothers deploy together again

This was also back in the day when C-wire had to be made by hand. Each and every barb was tied on manually. Thank God for mass-production because that must have been one sh*tty detail.

(U.S. National Archives)

Barbed wire was first created in 1876 for ranchers. Ranchers had difficulty keeping their cattle on their land and the big, lumbering cows could just knock over any puny fence. Then, an Illinois cattleman by the name of Joseph Glidden came up with the idea to cut small strips of metal and tie them to his metal fences to poke the cows when they got too close, deterring them from trying to break through barriers.

It worked and, in just four short years, the U.S. military caught on. They started using it as a deterrent to enemy forces and, seeing the success, nearly every other military quickly followed suit. Barbed wire saw use in the Spanish American War, the Second Boer War, and the Russo-Japanese War.

The heyday of barbed wire was the First World War, the first time it was spooled for quick transport and deployment. This spooled barbed wire became known as concertina wire, named after the tiny, accordion-like instrument the spools resembled. The wiring spread across the vast battlefield, nearly engulfing the entire Western Front. It’s been said that there was enough concertina wire used in WWI to encircle the globe forty times.

The prevalence of barbed wire made it impossible for infantrymen or cavalry to cross areas with ease. In fact, one of the earliest selling points for WWI-era tanks was their ability to roll over barbed wire unaffected.

Third time’s a charm: Twin brothers deploy together again

From personal experience, I can tell you that the gloves the Army issues to soldiers are garbage when it comes to protecting your hands as you set it up — just throwing that out there.

(U.S. Army photo by Terrance Bell)

Today, concertina wire is much less of a headache to deploy. It comes pre-packaged and simply opening the packaging unravels it from its spool, like a compressed slinky being set free. A single platoon in today’s military can “bounce out” an entire kilometer of concertina wiring in just a single hour — even faster if they unspool it from the back of a vehicle.

You can deploy it in a single row to cover a long distance or place it next to another to create a wider row. Toss a third strip on top in a sort of pyramid shape, anchor it with a post, and, voila, you’ve created and impromptu barrier that no one is getting through any time soon.

Modern concertina wiring is so effective, in fact, that all it takes is eleven rows of it staked down to stop most vehicles.

Sapper Lessons: Counter Mobility – Concertina Wire

www.youtube.com

There are three goals when using concertina wire:

  1. It multiplies the difficulty of crossing a defensive position — this is why you’ll so often see it wrapped along the top of a fence line. A normal fence can be easily climbed, but not when there’re little razor blades at the top!
  2. Even alone, it’s great at slowing down enemy movements. Anyone rushing a concertina wire line will have to slow down and watch their step — all while the guards are lining up their shot.
  3. And, finally, concertina wire adds to an intimidation factor. If you’ve worked with the wire up close, you’re probably not very afraid of it — but from afar, those little metal bits can look pretty mean.

To watch a sapper veteran explain concertina wire, check out the video below:

MIGHTY CULTURE

What next of kin should expect if service member is killed

It’s included in that giant bucket of information dumped on you in briefing after briefing right before deployment:

Exactly what will happen if your service member or another member of his unit is killed? What should you expect? What happens if they are injured?

We get a lot of questions about this at SpouseBuzz. Readers want to know what to expect from the notification process, can’t remember what was said in those briefings or maybe never made it to one. They want to know who will show-up at their door, what they will say and when they will arrive. They want to be empowered with information.


We understand the predeployment mental block on this stuff. While it may be the most important part of any predeployment briefing, it’s probably the part you most want to forget. Who wants to dwell on the possibility that their service member may not come home before he even walks out the door?

But it is so important. And whether this is your first or fifteenth deployment, a refresher from the casualty affairs folks is probably a good idea.

Third time’s a charm: Twin brothers deploy together again

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Adam Dublinske)

But we’re not PowerPoint people here. So instead of making you sit through an acronym riddled briefing the next time we see you, we’ve gone straight to the source at the Pentagon to get you as cut and dry a run down here as we can.

Look at this as a point of reference. Forward it to other members of your unit or include it in your FRG newsletter. And if you have any questions, leave them in the comments and we’ll do our best to get you the official answer and get back to you.

But first, a caveat: The policies and information we’ll talk about below are the Pentagon’s military-wide standard, straight from Deborah Skillman, the program director for casualty, mortuary and military funeral honors at the Defense Department. However, like almost everything else in the military, each service has the ability to change things at their discretion. We’ll note where that is most likely to happen. In a perfect world, though, the below is how things are supposed to be done.

What to expect if your service member is killed:

Two uniformed service members will come to your door to tell you or, in military speak, “notify you.” One of them will actually give you the news, the other one will be a chaplain. Sometimes a chaplain may not be available and so, instead, the second person will be another “mature” service member, Skillman said. If you live far away from a military base there is a chance the chaplain may be a local emergency force chaplain and not a member of the military, she said.

These people will come to your door sometime between 5 a.m. and midnight. This is one of those instances where the different services may change the rule in limited instances. Showing up outside this window is a decision made by some very high ranking people. If it happens it’s because it’s absolutely necessary.

You are supposed to learn about your spouse’s death before anyone else. A different team of notification folks will deliver the news to your in-laws – but only after you’ve been told. Same thing goes for any children your spouse has living elsewhere or anyone else he’s asked be told if something happens.

The news is supposed to reach you within 12 hours of his death. The services use that time to get their notification team together, find your address and send someone to your home. If you live near the base and have all your contact information up to date with your unit, they’ll arrive at your home very quickly. If you’ve moved and live far away from any base, it may take the full 12 hours. If you live in a very remote location (for example our past unit had to send a team to notify in the Philippines) it could take more than 12 hours.

Third time’s a charm: Twin brothers deploy together again

(U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Zachary Hada)

You’re supposed to hear the news first from the notification team. There’s a reason for that, and it’s not just because it’s solemn and respectful. Telling you in person makes sure you are in a safe place to hear such life changing news. And it makes sure that the information they are giving you is accurate, not just a rumor. After they notify you, the team will stay with you until you can call a friend or family member to be with you or until the next official person – the casualty assistance officer – can arrive.

If you hear the news first from someone else, the notification team will still come. In that case instead of delivering notification they will deliver their condolences, Skillman said. Even though the unit goes into a communications blackout after someone dies or gets seriously injured, sometimes word sneaks out anyway through a well meaning soldier or wife who doesn’t know the rules. The team, however, will still come and do their duty.

What happens after notification? You will be assigned a casualty assistance officer who will walk you through all the next steps, including the benefits you receive as a widow. You can read all about those here. That service member has been specially trained for this duty. His or her job is to make sure you get everything you need from the military.

What if your service member is wounded?

The notification process for a injured service member is different but the result is still the same — you are supposed to learn the news before anyone else (other than his unit) stateside. Here’s how it works:

You’ll receive a phone call. If at all possible, Skillman said, the phone call will be from your service member himself. If that’s not possible a military official will call you with as many details as he has and then give you regular updates by phone until they are no longer necessary. If they cannot reach you (let’s say you dropped your iPhone in the toilet again) they will contact your unit to try to reach you through whatever means necessary.

If your service member is severely wounded and will not be transferred stateside quickly, you may be able to join him wherever he is being treated outside the combat zone, often Germany. The official will let you know whether or not this is an option.

You’ll be regularly updated with how and when you will be able to see him. If he is transferred to a treatment facility stateside far away from you, the military will help you arrange travel to wherever he is being sent.

What if someone else in your unit is injured or killed?

Some of the hardest moments you’ll have as a military spouse will be spent wondering if your service member is the one who has been injured or killed. Because the unit downrange goes on blackout until all the notifications stateside are made, you may be able to pretty well guess when something has happened based on a sudden lack of communication. Will it be you? Will the knock be on your door this time?

That can be very a scary time. In my experience, the best thing to do is to choose to not live in fear. When our unit lost 20 soldiers in four months, it became very easy to predict when something had happened and sit in dread in our homes alone — just waiting, watching and praying. However we knew that wasn’t healthy. So instead, a small group of us purposefully spent time together instead.

Third time’s a charm: Twin brothers deploy together again

(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Chris Willis)

Specifically what happens in the unit when a service member is injured or killed probably differs from unit to unit and base to base. But most of the processes look something like this:

The unit goes on blackout. That means that all communication from downrange to families is supposed to abruptly and without warning stop. That blackout will likely last until notification to the families has been made.

You will receive a phone call or an email from your unit that someone has been killed or injured. After all the family has been notified, the unit will let you know who has been killed or injured by either email or phone. If it has been less than 24 hours since the last family member was notified, the message will only tell you that someone was killed or injured — not who. If you are told about it via a phone call, the person making the call — possibly a point of contact from your family group — will likely read you a preset script. An email could look like the below, one of the many our unit received during our 2009-2010 deployment:

Families and Friends of 1-17 IN,

On Sept. 26, 2009, 1-17 IN was involved in an incident that resulted in 1 soldier who was Killed in Action. The soldier’s primary and secondary next of kin have already been notified.

On behalf of the soldiers of 1-17 IN, I send my condolences to the soldier’s Family. We will hold a Memorial Ceremony for this soldier at a time and place to be determined.

Please remember to keep the soldiers of 1-17 IN and all other deployed soldiers in your thoughts and prayers. Thank you for your continuous support.

The Defense Department will release the name of the person killed no less than 24 hours after the family has been notified. That buffer gives the family some private time. However, you may learn who it was before that. The family may choose to tell people. If blackout is lifted downrange, your servicemember might tell you. The most important thing during this time is to respect the family’s privacy. If you do happen to know who was killed before the family or the DoD has released the name, for the love of Pete don’t go blasting it all over town.

You will receive details from your family readiness group on how you can help support the family and when the military memorial will be. Above all us, respect the family’s privacy and needs. Attending the military memorial can be a great way to show that you care without being intrusive.

Also read: This is how the military conducts a ‘death notification’

This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.

MIGHTY CULTURE

6 Things you can do outside while social distancing

One of our biggest saving graces during the pandemic is the opportunity to catch some fresh air! Whether you’re cooped up at home with kids or are working overtime to fill a need for essential employees (or both!), catching that fresh vitamin D is good for the body.

In fact, going outside can boost your mood and jumpstart your immune system; it can reduce pain and all the scents can do wonders for your endorphins. But don’t take these scientific reasons into account all on their own, experience the outdoors for yourself and keep everyone busy during the pandemic.


Here are 6 things you can do while social distancing:

Go on a walk

Simple, easy, and done with minimal planning. Steer clear of any neighbors, of course (especially if you live on post or in tight quarters), but now is the perfect time to get in your steps! Explore your neighborhood and find areas you’ve never visited or just breath in that fresh oxygen while taking a few laps around the block. Repeat as needed.

Third time’s a charm: Twin brothers deploy together again

Have a picnic

You’re eating at home anyway, so why not take the party outside? Lay down a blanket to keep the bugs at bay, then enjoy some fun and breezy meals out in the yard. Repeat as weather allows.

Go on a scavenger hunt

These lists are swarming the Internet, so luckily you won’t have to work hard to find your objectives. Whether you’re taking kids or are looking for a more sophisticated list of items, a scavenger hunt is a great way to get creative outdoors.

Don’t forget the neighborhood bear hunt either.

Third time’s a charm: Twin brothers deploy together again

Bust out the old fashioned games

Tag, Frisbee, wiffle ball and more will turn into family favorites during the pandemic. Your family is already in close quarters, so don’t fret about a few passings of the ball.

However, don’t be afraid to be firm with neighbors and let them know they can’t join. Hellos from a distance remain kosher, but passing objects between households is a strict no-no.

Go for a drive

Weather not going your way? For the days you need a change of scenery, head to the car. This is a great time for an automated car wash (don’t forget to Lysol any buttons that need to be pushed), or a cruise to somewhere new.

Roll down the windows and feel the breeze while everyone jams to favorite tunes.

Third time’s a charm: Twin brothers deploy together again

Sit and talk

Weeks ago this might have sounded boring, but today, it’s a nice change of pace! Sit with your morning coffee, FaceTime a friend, let the kids play and simply enjoy being outside and enjoy the fresh air.

Being outdoors can do wonders for your mood and endorphins. Take advantage of this easy but proven mood booster!

Articles

Russia unveils its newest Arctic base

Russia has unveiled a new military base as part of its buildup in the Arctic region, and has provided a tour — albeit a virtual one on your computer.


According to a report from FoxNews.com, the base is located on Franz Josef Land — an archipelago north of Novaya Zemlya that the Soviet Union seized from Norway in 1926 — and is known as the “Arctic Trefoil” due to its tricorne shape.

Third time’s a charm: Twin brothers deploy together again

The base covers roughly 14,000 square miles and can house up to 150 people for a year and a half. The National Interest has reported that Russia has developed new versions of several systems for a cold weather fight, including the SA-15 Gauntlet, the T-72 main battle tank, and an artillery system known as Pantsir-SA. A version of the SA-10 modified for Arctic conditions is also being developed.

The Arctic Trefoil is the second base Russia has opened in the Arctic. The first one, called Northern Clover, is located on Kotelny Island, north of Siberia. According to a 2014 report by the Russian news agency TASS, its runway is capable of landing Il-76 Candid cargo planes, which are comparable to the retired C-141 Starlifter, year-round.

Third time’s a charm: Twin brothers deploy together again
A Russian Air Force Il-76 Candid. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

The SA-15 Gauntlet is a short-range, radar-guided missile. According to ArmyRecognition.com, the missile has a maximum range of about eight miles and a speed of Mach 2.8. A version of this missile is also used on Russian naval vessels, like the aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov as a point-defense system.

The Pantsir-SA is a modified version of the SA-22 Greyhound. ArmyRecognition.com notes that this is a truck-mounted system that holds 12 missiles with a maximum range of almost 12.5 miles and two 30mm autocannons that can hit targets 2.5 miles away. The system reported scored its first kill against a Turkish RF-4 Phantom in 2012.

Third time’s a charm: Twin brothers deploy together again
A Pantsir-S1 – showing the 12 SA-22 Greyhound missiles and the two 30mm autocannon. A modified version for Arctic operations has been developed by Russia. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Russia has been pushing to build up its bases in the Arctic in recent years, prompting the United States to carry out a buildup of its own, including the replacement of its aging icebreakers.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

How forensics experts help in counterinsurgency warfare

A relatively new weapon to combat the enemy is being used in Afghanistan and Southwest Asia. It’s been around a little more than a decade and fits into the counterinsurgency warfare necessity of being able to identify who the enemy is by person versus just identifying an enemy organization.

The Afghanistan Captured Material Exploitation Laboratory is aiding combat commanders in their need to know who is building and setting off the enemy’s choice weapon — Improvised Explosive Devices. With this positive identification of enemy personnel, coalition units working within NATO’s Resolute Support mission can then hunt down the enemy for detention or destroy if need be.


“The commanders are starting to understand it more and seeing the capability and asset it provides,” said Kim Perusse, incoming ACME lab manager at BAF.

Perusse said commanders are embracing it and wanting more forensics exploitation.

Personnel from ACME deploy from the Forensic Exploitation Directorate which is part of the Defense Forensics Science Center located at the Gillem Enclave, Forest Park, Ga. DFSC also contains the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Laboratory, and the Office of Quality Initiatives and Training.

Third time’s a charm: Twin brothers deploy together again

Shown is an RFT2 device which consists of a CWC-11 A/0 receiver module with a custom switching circuit. The RFT2 functions as a receiver and switch of IED’s initiators.

(Photo by Jon Micheal Connor, Army Public Affairs)

The DFSC’s mission is to provide full-service forensic support — traditional, expeditionary, and reachback — to Army and Department of Defense entities worldwide; to provide specialized forensic training and research capabilities; serve as executive agent for DOD Convicted Offender DNA Databasing Program; and to provide forensic support to other federal departments and agencies when appropriate, its website stated.

ACME provides forensic/technical intelligence, analysis, and exploitation of captured enemy material. The findings are then provided to coalition forces and the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces to counter the IED threat, attack the counterinsurgent networks, advise the Afghanistan government’s exploitation labs, and provide prosecutorial support to the Afghan justice system, an ACME slide presentation stated.

ACME capabilities include latent print examination; explosive/drug chemistry; electronic engineering; explosive triage; DNA; firearm/toolmark analysis; weapons technical intelligence analysis; and, provide assistance to the Afghan Ministry of Interior, National Directorate of Security, and Afghan National Security Forces.

Third time’s a charm: Twin brothers deploy together again

Triage, the first stop for all evidence, tests an unknown substance on the HazMatID for any hazards.

(Photo by Jon Micheal Connor, Army Public Affairs)

As part of employment with DFSC, FXD, personnel must deploy every 18 months to a deployed lab for six months, as there are currently two, one here and one in Kuwait.

The Forensic Exploitation Laboratory — CENTCOM in Kuwait supports military operations in Iraq and Syria, and is located at Camp Arifjan.

ACME’s primary mission “is to allow the commanders on the ground to understand who’s within the battlespace,” said Lateisha Tiller, outgoing ACME lab manager.

Whether this is people coming onto the coalition locations as part of employment or those building the IEDS, forensics exploitation results in positive identification of such individuals.

“Our mission is to identify nefarious actors that are in the CJOA [Combined/Joint Operations Area] right now,” Tiller said.

“We don’t want them putting IEDs in the road, and blowing up the road, blowing up the bridge. We want that type of activity to stop,” Tiller said. ” ‘How do you stop it?’ You identify who’s doing it; identify the network of people who’s doing it. Eliminate them from the battlespace” as evidence collected is then shared with military intelligence, she said.

Third time’s a charm: Twin brothers deploy together again

X-rays are taken of all evidence in Triage to ensure no hazards such as Trojan horses are observed. This x-ray shows a pressure plate containing a hazard.

(Photo by Jon Micheal Connor, Army Public Affairs)

“It’s never just one person; identify the network,” she said. By taking people out, the network “eventually is going to dismantle itself.”

“The secondary mission is the Rule of Law,” Perusse said. “Helping get the information out to the Afghans to potentially prosecute those nefarious actors that we may identify” through biometrics, chemistry, firearms, and toolmarks.

The conclusive findings and evidence — criminal activity analysis reports — is then shared with the Afghan laboratories as they work to build a case against alleged personnel who could be tried in an Afghan court.

The reports are also shared with military intelligence — U.S. and NATO — and also sent to the Justice Center in Parwan to assist in the prosecution of the enemy. The JCIP is located in the Parwan Province where BAF is located too in east-central Afghanistan.

The justice center was a joint U.S.-Afghan project to establish Afghanistan’s first national security court. Established in June 2010, the JCIP exists to ensure fair and impartial justice for those defendants alleged of committing national security crimes in the Afghan criminal justice system. Coalition forces provide technical assistance and operate in an advisory capacity.

The reports are accepted in the Afghans courts because the Afghans understand and trust the findings of ACME. “Building that alliance is absolutely part of the mission,” Tiller said. “The lines of communication are definitely open.”

Third time’s a charm: Twin brothers deploy together again

The evidence room is the hub of the lab that distributes and stores the evidence while located at ACME.

(Photo by Jon Micheal Connor, Army Public Affairs)

Because of this fairly new application of forensics to counterinsurgency warfare, the Afghans initially didn’t understand it, the lab managers said.

“They didn’t understand forensics. They didn’t trust it,” Perusse said. “Especially DNA, it was like magic to them.”

But as she explained, the U.S. also took a long time to accept DNA as factual and evidential versus something like latent prints. Latent prints are impressions produced by the ridged skin, known as friction ridges, on human fingers, palms, and soles of the feet. Examiners analyze and compare latent prints to known prints of individuals in an effort to make identifications or exclusions, internet sources stated.

“Latent prints you can visualize, DNA you can’t,” she said.

The application of forensics exploitation as part of the battle plan started in the latter years Operation Iraqi Freedom, the lab managers said. OIF began in March 2003 and lasted until December 2011.

This type of warfare — counterinsurgency — required a determination of who — by person — was the enemy in an effort to combat their terrorist acts.

Third time’s a charm: Twin brothers deploy together again

A latent print examiner develops a latent print on the neck of a plastic bottle with Superglue Fuming and Rhodamine 6G processing, then visualized with a forensic laser.

(Photo by Jon Micheal Connor, Army Public Affairs)

“I think there was a point where the DOD realized that they weren’t utilizing forensics to help with the fight,” Tiller said.

The operations in Iraq and Afghanistan were not big units fighting other big units, with mass casualties, but much smaller units engaging each other with an enemy using more terrorist-like tactics of killing.

Forensics told you “who you were fighting. You kind of knew the person in a more intimate way,” Tiller said, adding, it put a face on the enemy.

Forensics exploitation goes hand-in-hand with counterinsurgency warfare, Perusse said. “They’re (Taliban/ISIS) not organized like a foreign military were in the past” but instead have individuals and groups fighting back in a shared ideology, she said.

Because of the eventual drawdown in NATO troop strength in Afghanistan, the ACME labs at Kandahar Airfield, Kandahar Province, and Camp Leatherneck, Helmand Province, were closed and some assets were relocated to BAF’s ACME in 2013.

Third time’s a charm: Twin brothers deploy together again

A DNA analyst prepares DNA samples for analysis on the Lifetech 3500XL Genetic Analyzer.

(Photo by Jon Micheal Connor, Army Public Affairs)

The evidence is collected at the sites of detonation by conventional forces — explosive ordnance personnel, route clearance personnel — through personnel working in the Ministry of Interior’s National Directorate of Security, and other Afghan partners, Perusse said.

From January 2018 to December 2018, the ACME lab was responsible for:

  • 1,145 cases processed based on 36,667 individual exhibits
  • 3,402 latent prints uploaded; 69 associations made from unknown to known
  • 3,090 DNA profiles uploaded; 59 unique identifications made from unknown to known
  • 209 explosive samples, 121 precursors, 167 non-explosives/other, and 40 controlled substances analyzed
  • 55 firearms/toolmarks microscopic identifications

Adding credibility to ACME was that it became accredited by the International Organization of Standard in 2015. Both lab managers said they believe that ACME is probably the only deployed Defense Department lab accredited — besides the FXL-C in Kuwait — in the forensics field.

Third time’s a charm: Twin brothers deploy together again

Forensic chemist conducts a single-step extraction to prepare the samples for analysis by Gas Chromatography Mass Spectrometry.

(Photo by Jon Micheal Connor, Army Public Affairs)

The International Organization for Standardization is an international standard-setting body composed of representatives from various national standards organizations comprised of members from 168 countries. It is the world’s largest developer of voluntary international standards and facilitates world trade by providing common standards between nations. It was founded in 1947.

Tiller and Perusse said this accreditation is quite meaningful, personally and professionally.

Interestingly, both lab managers offer extensive deployment experience to the ACME lab.

Tiller has deployed four times for FXD — three times to Afghanistan and once to Kuwait — for a total of 26 months. Likewise, Perusse has 28 months of deployment experience too with FXD, with now four deployments in Afghanistan and one to Kuwait. And, because of mission requirements, no rest and relaxation periods — vacations — are allowed during their deployments. The reason is because most positions are one-person deep and the mission cannot continue without all sections working collectively, they said.

Currently, there are 17 people working at the BAF ACME lab.

FXD’s mandatory deployment policy can be viewed as positive and negative depending on a person’s particular situation.

Third time’s a charm: Twin brothers deploy together again

An electronic exploitation examiner uses the Advanced Aggregate Data Extractor test equipment to perform testing on an RFT2 device. The AADE produces the following tests: Filter Analyzer, Emissions Analyzer, Peak Harmonic Distortion and Bit Error Rate.

(Photo by Jon Micheal Connor, Army Public Affairs)

As Perusse points out, there are plenty of other places to work that do not require mandatory deployments which require forensic skills such as the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and Department of Homeland Security to name several.

So those who do work at ACME do so because they want to be.

“There is nowhere else in the world where you’re going to get a [final] forensic result of the quality that you’re going to get from the ACME as quickly as you do,” Tiller said, which often brings immediate gratification to one’s work.

Whether it’s producing a DNA profile or finding a latent print on some material, finding this evidence within two days is a big reason why people at ACME find their work rewarding.

“It happens nowhere else,” Tiller said, describing it as the “ultimate satisfaction,” knowing the evidence produced will ultimately save lives.

Third time’s a charm: Twin brothers deploy together again

Shown are incoming ACME lab manager Kim Perusse (left) and outgoing ACME lab manager Lateisha Tiller. Tiller has deployed four times for FXD for a total of 26 months. Perusse has 28 months of deployment experience with FXD, with four deployments in Afghanistan and one to Kuwait.

(Photo by Jon Micheal Connor, Army Public Affairs)

As Perusse put it, there is no place like ACME’s lab in Afghanistan.

“We are in war zone. We are around everything, we get IDFed,” she said, referencing the periodic indirect fire of mortar attacks at BAF. She said it is much different type of deployment than at the Kuwait lab where examiners can “have more freedom to include going into the city and shop at the mall.”

“There’s a reason why we’re doing this,” Perusse said, of identifying the enemy, which leads to saving lives and helping the NATO coalition.

“It’s very powerful to be able to see that and be with the people who are going out the field and risking their lives,” she said of those who look for and submit items for evidence.

As Tiller redeploys back to her normal duty station in Georgia, she knows ACME will continue in experienced hands with Perusse who will now take over as lab manager for a third time.

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

Humor

5 veteran comedians you should look out for

Service members have some of the best humor around; it comes with the job. Our comedy is pretty freakin’ dark when comparing it to the civilian sectors.


They say laughter is the best medicine. In that case, these hilarious veteran comedians should all be damn doctors by now.

Related: 5 military movies you should look out for in 2018

Check out these five military veteran comedians you should look out for in 2018.

5. Mitch Burrow

This Marine veteran served in Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003. Afterward, he started a career in manufacturing, but quickly realized that it sucked. He began his stand-up comedy career after driving down to the Comedy Store in La Jolla, drinking three shots of tequila and a couple of Budweisers, and getting on stage. Later, Mitch was told it went pretty well.

To follow Mitch or check out one of his shows visit his website: MitchBurrow.com.

Third time’s a charm: Twin brothers deploy together again
Mitch Burrow sporting his serious face while doing his monthly workout. (Source: Mitch Burrow)

4. Thom Tran

After enlisting in the Army at 18, Thom spent most of his career as a Communications Sergeant and Civil Affairs Sergeant. Thom decided to become a comedian after sustaining an injury during combat operations.

In 2008, he moved to Los Angeles and soon created The GIs of Comedy tour — a show that travels the world performing for both military and civilian audiences.

Third time’s a charm: Twin brothers deploy together again
The always-hilarious Thom Tran (Source: Thom Tran / IMDB)

3. Isaura Ramirez

After serving 13 years in the Army, this former captain deployed to Iraq for 15 months. When she returned home, Isaura enrolled herself in a comedy class as a form of expression.

Now, this funny girl performs for various venues and has been featured on her very own TED Talk.

Third time’s a charm: Twin brothers deploy together again
Former Army captain and funny girl, Isaura Ramirez.

2. Rocco Stowe

This Philadelphia native joined the Marine Corps at 18, serving as an infantry rifleman (0311) with 3rd Battalion 6th Marines. After leaving the Corps in the mid-90s, Rocco moved to Los Angeles where he’s had luck landing gigs, including headlining his act at several comedy stores throughout the U.S.

Third time’s a charm: Twin brothers deploy together again
This comedian and Marine veteran also serves the community as a knowledgeable yoga instructor

Also Read: 6 reasons why you need a sense of humor in the infantry

1. James P. Connolly

Before James was cracking up audiences with his flawless stand-up routine, he was giving orders while stationed at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton. This former captain served in both Operation Desert Shield and Storm before exiting from the Corps.

Now, he performs wherever he can find work, but you follow him on his website JamesPConnolly.com.

Third time’s a charm: Twin brothers deploy together again
The evolution of James P. Connolly, from boy to man. (Banner art by Michelle Connolly Photography)

They will be here all week and don’t forget to tip your waiter.

Got any vets you think will make us laugh? Leave a comment.

Articles

The fascinating origin of Arlington National Cemetery

The final resting place of presidents, bandleaders, war heroes, astronauts, inventors, civil rights leaders, Pulitzer Prize winners, boxers, Supreme Court justices and sports stars, Arlington National Cemetery stands as a memorial to the melting pot of the United States. With connections to some of our nation’s most influential people and pivotal events, its history is as interesting as its denizens.


Third time’s a charm: Twin brothers deploy together again
A serene image of Arlington National Cemetery in the spring. (Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Ingfbruno)

Arlington is situated on 624 acres overlooking the Potomac River directly across from Washington, D. C. Although today it is surrounded by the nation’s capital, at one time, Arlington was a bucolic estate with a neoclassical mansion, Arlington House. Still presiding over the grounds today, the mansion was built by George Washington’s (yes, that Washington) grandson and marks the beginning of the cemetery’s history.

Before she married George, Martha was married to Daniel Parke Custis. After he died and she wed the “Father” of our Country, George adopted her two surviving children. The oldest, John Parke Custis (JPC), died in 1781 while serving with the Revolutionary Army. He left behind four children, the youngest of which, George Washington Parke Custis (GWPC), was born only shortly before his father’s death.

Related: These ladies attend every funeral at Arlington so no one is buried alone

GWPC and one sister went to live with the Washington’s. When he became of age in 1802, GWPC inherited wealth and property from his deceased father (JPC), including the Arlington land. Hoping to build a home that could also serve as a memorial to his grandfather, George Washington, GWPC hired an architect and built a Greek revival mansion believed by some to be “modeled after the Temple of Hephaestus in Athens.”

The home was built in pieces, with the north wing being completed in 1802, and the south in 1804. These two stood as separate buildings until the central section connected them in 1818. During GWPC’s life, a portion of the mansion was reserved to store George Washington memorabilia, which included portraits, papers and even the tent Washington used while in command at Yorktown.

GWPC and his family lived and died on the property, where many of them were buried.

In 1831, GWPC’s only surviving child, Mary, married Robert E. Lee (yes, that Lee). The Lee’s lived on the property with the Custis’s where they raised their seven children. At her father’s death, Mary inherited Arlington. Robert E. Lee loved the property and once described it as the place “where my attachments are more strongly placed than at any other place in the world.”

Prior to the Civil War, Lee had attended West Point (graduating second in his class) and saw service for the U.S. in the Mexican War (1846-1848). A respected and well-liked officer, Lee struggled with his decision to resign his commission of 36 years in order to take command of Virginia’s confederate forces. When he did in April 1861, this choice was seen as a betrayal of the Union by many of his former friends including Brig. Gen. Montgomery C. Meigs.

As Arlington, on high ground overlooking the capital, was critical to either the defense or defeat of D.C., Union leaders were eager to control it. After Virginia seceded in May 1861, Union troops crossed en masse into Virginia and soon took command of the estate. The grounds were quickly converted into a Union camp.

Third time’s a charm: Twin brothers deploy together again
American flags adorn the graves at Arlington. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Patrick Kelley.

By 1862, Congress had passed a law that imposed a tax on the real property of “insurrectionists.” Mary was unable to pay the tax bill in person, and her proxy’s attempt to satisfy the debt was rebuffed. As a result, Uncle Sam seized Arlington, and at its auction, the federal government purchased the estate for $26,800 (about $607,000 today, far below market value).

Not only a good bargain, Union leaders felt that by seizing the estates of prominent Rebels, they would, in the words of Gen. William T. Sherman: “Make them so sick of war that generations would pass away before they would again appeal to it.”

In 1863, after thousands of former slaves, freed by the Emancipation Proclamation, converged on D.C., a Freedman’s Village was established on the estate “complete with new frame houses, schools, churches and farmlands on which former slaves grew food for the Union war effort.”

As one journalist described it:

One sees more than poetic justice in the fact that its rich lands, so long the domain of the great general of the rebellion, now afford labor and support to hundreds of enfranchised slaves.

As Union casualties began to mount in the spring of 1864, Gen. Meigs suggested burying some of the dead at Arlington. The first, on May 13, 1864, was Pvt. William Christman, a poor soldier whose family could not afford the cost of a burial. Soon, many other indigent soldiers were laid to rest on Arlington’s grounds, near the slave and freedman cemetery that had already been established. Realizing the efficacy of this system, Gen. Meigs urged Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton:

I recommend that  . . . the land surrounding Arlington Mansion . . . be appropriated as a National Military Cemetery, to be properly enclosed, laid out and carefully preserved for that purpose.

Serving the dual goals of paying homage to the dead and making “Arlington uninhabitable for the Lees,” Meigs had prominent Union officers buried near Mrs. Lee’s garden. He also placed a mass grave of over 2000 unknown soldiers, topped with a raised sarcophagus, close to the house.

After the war, the Lee’s tried in vain to regain Arlington. Mary wrote to a friend that the graves: “are planted up to the very door without any regard to common decency.” After Robert E. Lee’s death in 1870, Mary petitioned Congress for the return of her family home, but this proposal was soundly defeated.

Shortly after, other monuments and structures honoring the dead were erected including numerous elaborate Gilded Age tombstones and the large, red McClellan Gate at the entrance to the grounds.

The family was not done, however, and in January 1879, following six days of trial a jury determined that the requirement that Mary Lee had to pay the 1862 tax in person was unconstitutional. On appeal, the Supreme Court concurred, so the property was once again in the hands of the Lee family.

Also read: Arlington National Cemetery is running out of room to bury America’s vets

Rather than disinter graves and move monuments, however, the federal government and Mary Lee’s son, George Washington Custis Lee, agreed on a sale. On March 31, 1883, Uncle Sam purchased Arlington from the Lee family for $150,000 (about $3,638,000 today).

Today, Arlington shelters the remains of over 400,000 souls. In addition to its famous sea of somber, beautiful white headstones, Arlington also hosts numerous monuments including the Tomb of the Unknowns, the Rough Riders Monument, the Pentagon Group Burial Marker and two memorials to the Space Shuttle tragedies Challenger and Columbia.

One of the National Cemetery’s most well known gravesites is that of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy with its eternal flame. Two of his children and Jackie Kennedy are also interred there.

Third time’s a charm: Twin brothers deploy together again
The eternal flame at the grave of John F. Kennedy. (Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Wknight94)

William Howard Taft is the only other U.S. President buried on the grounds, and he along with three other Chief Justices and eight associate justices represent the Supreme Court at Arlington.

Of course, war heroes abound and famous generals buried at Arlington include George C. Marshall (father of the Marshall Plan that rebuilt Europe after WWII) and Omar N. Bradley.

Famous explorers interred at Arlington include Adm. Richard Byrd (the first man to fly over both poles) and Rear Adm. Robert Peary (another arctic explorer). John Wesley Powell (of Lake Powell fame) is also laid to rest at Arlington, as are several astronauts including Lt. Col. Virgil “Gus” Grissom and Capt. Charles “Pete” Conrad, Jr. (the third man to walk on the moon).

Other famous Americans buried at the National Cemetery include Abner Doubleday (who, in fact, had nothing to do with baseball contrary to legend), big bandleader Maj. Glenn Miller (who went missing in action on Dec. 15, 1944, so he really just has a headstone there), boxing’s Joe Louis, inventor George Westinghouse and civil rights leader Medgar Evers.

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