I’ve known for a long time that some men and women really don’t enjoy the holiday season. In recent years I’ve had encounters that really brought home to me how many people there are in this situation, and how deep is their pain.
I’ve been convicted that we – the VA – and we – the community of faith – really should find some way to address this deep, aching need that some of our brothers and sisters feel.
Planning this service brought home to me many reasons why people might suffer during the holidays.
The first one that comes to mind is grief — loss of a loved one or a friend — but it’s not the only reason.
Alienation from family or even geographic distance from them can do it.
Painful memories of events that happened in the holiday season might be a reason.
Some people are experiencing loss of a job or other economic difficulty.
Even good things might make the holidays difficult; think about retirement, empty nest, or moving to a new home.
Any big change that affects a strong part of your self-identity might cause loneliness and feelings of isolation.
Even the loss of what might have been can be so painful.
I’m supposed to say something helpful, here, but I don’t want to offer quick fixes or simple tips; What brings healing is going to be distinctive for each person. Still, there are some principles that can help many.
Chaplain Jonathan Landon.
We may suppress our painful feelings, because we don’t want to burden others, but giving ourselves freedom to acknowledge the pain may be helpful by itself. Concealing those feelings can leave us feeling lonelier, and leaves those who care about us helpless to comfort us. So if you need to cry, then cry. And if you need to be hugged, say that, and let your family members and friends reach out to you and meet your need.
I can’t be so presumptuous as to guarantee it, but if you acknowledge your pain, and people offer space to let it out, and make that giving of mutual support into a time for bonding, maybe you can let the pressure off a little bit. Maybe you can relieve the tension of those who care about you, who are trying to avoid stirring up painful feelings. Then you may just find that there’s some room for laughter, smiles, and enjoyment.
You see, what most of us really need is not the quick fix or the simple solution; it’s caring relationships. One of the key themes of the time leading up to Christmas is the prophecy that foretold the coming of Jesus, giving him the name or title of “Emmanuel”, which means, “God with us.” This Word teaches me that I am never alone in any loss or pain, no matter what my emotions may tell me.
But the message is not only about God being with us; we have the opportunity to show the presence of God to others, by living God’s love in truth and caring for them. Some people came here today because they’re struggling with the holidays. Some people came here because they care about who is struggling with the holidays. Some care because of their faith. Some of them just care because they see a human in pain and they don’t want anyone to suffer alone.
Don’t forget: in the midst of your own pain, you have opportunities to come alongside of others — to be with them, as God is with us.
In this fairly recent tradition, the Blue Christmas service usually happens on or close to the 21st of December, the night of the winter solstice, the longest and darkest night of the year.
It’s an appropriate symbol for a time when many people feel alone, lost and in pain. But that’s not the only meaning of the night of the 21st. Because what happens at sunrise on the morning of the 22nd?
The days begin to get longer. At first, it’s by tiny increments and you hardly notice it, and then it grows faster and faster and you can’t miss it. It’s inevitable. The light returns. That, too is part of the symbolism of this night and this service. The light returns. No matter how long the night will be — or has been — the light returns.
Chaplain Jonathan Landon is the chaplain at the Eugene VA Health Care Center.
A top Pentagon official has said the only sure way of eliminating North Korea’s nuclear weapons capabilities would be by putting US boots on the ground — a move that some worry could prompt Pyongyang to use biological, chemical, and even nuclear weapons against Japan and South Korea.
“The only way to ‘locate and destroy — with complete certainty — all components of North Korea’s nuclear weapons programs’ is through a ground invasion,” Rear Adm. Michael J. Dumont, vice director of the Joint Chiefs of Staff wrote in a blunt assessment to US lawmakers on the realities of reining in Pyongyang’s nuclear ambitions.
Dumont’s letter came in response to questions by US Reps. Ted Lieu of California and Ruben Gallego of Arizona in regards to military planning and casualty estimates in the event of conflict with the nuclear-armed North.
Rear Adm. Michael J. Dumont, pictured above, is convinced that the only way to completely disarm North Korea would be to put Troops in harm’s way. (Photo courtesy of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.)
Dumont said that a detailed discussion of US capabilities “to counter North Korea’s ability to respond with a nuclear weapon and to eliminate North Korea’s nuclear weapons located in deeply buried, underground facilities,” would be best suited for a classified briefing.
The military, Dumont wrote, “would be happy to join the Intelligence Community to address these issues in a classified briefing.”
His letter also noted that the North “may consider the use of biological weapons as an option, contrary to its obligations under the Biological and Toxic Weapons Convention,” adding that it continues to bolster its research and development capabilities in this area.
North Korea, the letter went on, “has a long-standing chemical weapons program with the capability to produce nerve, blister, blood, and choking agents and it likely possesses a CW stockpile.”
The country “probably could employ CW agents by modifying a variety of conventional munitions, including artillery and ballistic missiles, though whether it would so employ CW agents remains an open question,” Dumont said, again noting that a detailed discussion would need to be held in a classified setting.
The Pentagon also said it was “challenging” to calculate “best- or worst-case casualty estimates” for any conventional or nuclear attack, citing the nature, intensity, and duration of any strike, as well as how much advance warning is given.
In a joint statement in response to the letter, 16 US lawmakers — all veterans — called the prospect of a ground invasion “deeply disturbing.”
“The Joint Chiefs of Staff has now confirmed that the only way to destroy North Korea’s nuclear arsenal is through a ground invasion,” they wrote. “That is deeply disturbing and could result in hundreds of thousands, or even millions of deaths in just the first few days of fighting.”
These estimates echoed a report by the Congressional Research Service released late last month that said renewed conflict on the Korean Peninsula could kill hundreds of thousands of people in the first few days alone, a figure that excluded the potential use of nuclear weapons.
Even if North Korea “uses only its conventional munitions, estimates range from between 30,000 and 300,000 dead in the first days of fighting,” the report said, citing North Korea’s ability to fire 10,000 rounds per minute at Seoul.
More pressingly for Japan, the report noted is that “Pyongyang could also escalate to attacking Japan with ballistic missiles, including the greater Tokyo area and its roughly 38 million residents.
“The regime might see such an attack as justified by its historic hostility toward Japan based on Japan’s annexation of the Korean Peninsula from 1910 to 1945, or it could launch missiles in an attempt to knock out US military assets stationed on the archipelago,” the report said. “A further planning consideration is that North Korea might also strike US bases in Japan (or South Korea) first, possibly with nuclear weapons, to deter military action by US/ROK forces.”
US President Donald Trump, who kicked off his first trip to Asia as president with a visit to Japan on Nov. 5, has regularly noted that all options, including military action, remain on the table.
The global community has been ramping up pressure on North Korea after it conducted its sixth and most powerful nuclear test so far on Sept. 3. In September, the UN Security Council strengthened its sanctions, including export bans as well as asset freezes and travel bans on various officials.
For his part, Trump, together with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, has taken an approach of “maximum pressure” in dealing with Pyongyang.
But Trump, known to derisively refer to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un as “rocket man,” has also variously threatened North Korea with “fire and fury” and to “totally destroy” the country of 25 million people if the United States is forced to defend itself or its allies, including Japan.
This possibility of military action has stoked alarm among allied nations and within the US Congress, including questions about planning and the aftermath of such a move.
“It is our intent to have a full public accounting of the potential cost of war, so the American people understand the commitment we would be making as a nation if we were to pursue military action,” the 16 lawmakers wrote in their statement.
The Trump administration, the lawmakers said, “has failed to articulate any plans to prevent the military conflict from expanding beyond the Korean Peninsula and to manage what happens after the conflict is over.”
“With that in mind, the thought of sending troops into harm’s way and expending resources on another potentially unwinnable war is chilling,” they said. “The President needs to stop making provocative statements that hinder diplomatic options and put American troops further at risk.”
The United States has roughly 50,000 troops stationed in Japan and 28,500 based in South Korea.
“Invading North Korea could result in a catastrophic loss of lives for US troops and US civilians in South Korea,” the lawmakers said. “It could kill millions of South Koreans and put troops and civilians in Guam and Japan at risk.
“As Veterans, we have defended this nation in war and we remain committed to this country’s security. We also understand that entering into a protracted and massive ground war with North Korea would be disastrous for US troops and our allies,” they said. “The Joint Chiefs of Staff, it appears, agree. Their assessment underscores what we’ve known all along: There are no good military options for North Korea.”
John Rambo changes lives. Not just in movies, but in the real world. From the flawed antihero of
First Blood to the immortal god of death and destruction in 2008’s Rambo, Sylvester Stallone’s action-hero prototype isn’t just the forerunner of modern, big-budget action stars, he’s a real-life game-changer. A cinematic visit from John Rambo has historically been an omen of big changes to follow in the real world.
Stallone just announced the
production of a new Rambo movie — and it couldn’t come at a better time. He’s definitely going to take on Mexican drug cartels in the film, which is a good move, but there are many other places that need the help. Call it the “Rambo Effect.”
For the uninitiated, Vietnam veteran John Rambo goes off to find some personal peace after the war, meeting up with old Army friends and traveling the world, looking for meaning. What he ends up finding is a personal war everywhere he goes. He fights the bad guys in the movies and wins – but in the real world, something always happens in the country he visits, often within a year of a film’s release, changing them for the better.
Anyone who’s a big fan of Sylvester Stallone’s
Rambo series knows the sequels are a far cry from the story and intent of the first film. In First Blood, he was a flawed Vietnam veteran who became a rallying cry for a generation of vets who were all but ignored by society. Seriously, this is a really great, thoughtful movie with a good message.
The Vietnam War took a toll on America in a way the country still hasn’t fully recovered from. It was the first time Americans learned to distrust the President of the United States and this fostered a general mistrust of the government ever since. First Blood takes America to task about things Vietnam veterans still talk about today: Agent Orange, public indifference toward veterans, public perception of “crazy” Vietnam veterans, veteran unemployment, post-traumatic stress, and more.
The 80s were a crazy time for everyone.
What people really noticed while watching First Blood is how awesome that Green Beret stuff really was, so by the time First Blood Part II came about, Rambo was a full-on action hero — the mold for the Bruce Willises, Arnold Schwarzeneggers, and the Steven Seagals yet to come. The real message was lost amid big-budget explosions and fight sequences.
Crewmen of the amphibious cargo ship USS Durham (LKA-114) take Vietnamese refugees from a small craft, April 1975
(U.S. National Archives)
The second installment of the Rambo series was released almost ten years to the day after the fall of Saigon. In the real-world, reunified Vietnam under Communist rule, chaos ensued. Thousands were herded into reeducation camps, a crippled economy suffered from triple-digit inflation, the state went to war with Cambodia and then China. Thousands of refugees took to fleeing by boat to anywhere else.
Still, some things just don’t age well.
The year after First Blood Part II had Rambo return to Vietnam, the Vietnamese government began implementing massive reforms to move away from the strict Communist structure that dominated it for the previous decade. In the intervening years, the economy began to recover as the government moved to a more socialist form.
In 1988’s Rambo III, John Rambo sets off to rescue Colonel Trautman after he’s taken captive in Soviet-dominated Afghanistan. Of course, Rambo goes right into Afghanistan, destroys every Soviet in his wake and rescues his old friend in a blaze of fiery glory. That same year, the Soviet Union began its final withdrawal from Afghanistan, a war that was a major contributing factor to the fall of the Soviet Union.
Coming to theaters of war near you.
In 2008’s Rambo, the former Green Beret joins a group of missionaries headed to Myanmar. 2008 Myanmar was a brutal totalitarian dictatorship scarred by rampant human rights abuses — both on screen and in the real world. In the film, a warlord is brutalizing the Burmese people and the missionaries become victims. A team of mercenaries goes back into Myanmar with Rambo. Rambo kills everyone who isn’t a good guy.
Two months after the film’s release, the actual Myanmar government suddenly held a real constitutional referendum intended to guide the country down the path away from the military junta and into democratic reforms. By 2010, Myanmar held contested, multiparty elections. The military government was fully dissolved in 2011 and, by 2015, there were serious elections held in the country.
I’m not saying John Rambo had anything to do with any of this, all I’m saying is that John Rambo could be the harbinger of positive change in the world. Which is good, because there are a few place that really need a change.
Even though this is hardly the world’s longest ongoing conflict, it has to be one of the most intense and well-attended. Anyone who’s anyone is sending troops to Syria, and soon Germany may even join the party. All joking aside, this is a conflict that has, so far, killed more than a half-million people in seven years by moderate estimates, but no one really knows for sure.
A war this intense should end sooner rather than later. Even though Richard Crenna (the actor who portrayed Col. Trautman) died in 2003, maybe Rambo can be sent to Syria to rescue Trautman’s son? I’ll leave that for Stallone to decide, but he’s got to get Rambo there somehow.
Just one North Korean parade and it’s all over.
2. North Korea
While the intensity of this conflict peaked more than 70 years ago, the ongoing human rights abuses and detainment of North Koreans in prison camps is exactly the kind of thing John Rambo would hate to see.
And if there’s anyone who could reach Kim Jong Un on his own, it’s John Rambo.
Pictured: Rambo sneaking back into Burma.
3. Back to Myanmar
Even though his first visit to Burma (Myanmar) foretold the coming of democratic reforms, an argument could be made that they didn’t exactly reach what anyone would call true quality before the law. In fact, a number of civil conflicts are ongoing in Burma, including the Rohingya slaughter and insurgency read so much about in the news lately, but there are others — at least 18 different insurgent groups operate in Burma to this day.
If ever a war needed to end, it’s the ongoing Saudi-led coalition’s war against Houthi-dominated Yemen. If ever any single country needed a John Rambo to finish things off, it’s this devastating embarrassment. For three years, Saudi Arabia and its 24 coalition partners have been hammering away at little Yemen and the Houthis who took it over, killing tens of thousands of people — many civilians — and are no closer to winning right now than they were three years ago.
Name a more iconic duo. I’ll wait.
5. The Philippines
The Moro people of the Philippines have pretty much been resisting invaders since the beginning of time. For at least 400 years, the Moro have resisted Spanish, American, Japanese, American, and Philippine dominance over their traditional area of the country.
If there’s a world leader that would make an excellent Hollywood villain, it’s Rodrigo Duterte, current president of the Philippines. He’s not crazy, he thinks he’s doing the world a favor, and his methods are shocking. After a few centuries, this conflict should be ready to end and who better to bring that about than Rambo and a giant hunting knife?
Somalia has been in the throes of civil war since the 1980s and it has never even begun anything close to a recovery. After the fall of the Barre dictatorship, no one has held a controlling area of the country, including the United States, the United Nations, and even Ethiopia, who invaded Somalia not too long ago, crushing just one more in a long line of Islamic Insurgents who want to control the Somali people.
More than half a million people from all over the world have died in this conflict and it has displaced more than 1.1 million Somalis. It is time for this conflict to end — that’s your cue, Rambo.
In 1863, Union soldiers attempted to root out deeply entrenched Confederate soldiers at Vicksburg, Mississippi. Repeated assaults failed to breach the defenses, leading to over 100 troops committing acts that would later earn them Medals of Honor for valor — including 78 soldiers who took part in a nearly suicidal attempt to build a bridge under fire.
Gen. Ulysses S. Grant at the Battle of Vicksburg.
(Library of Congress)
Vicksburg was the ultimate target of Gen. Ulysses S. Grant’s campaign down the Mississippi. His assault started with a landing on the shore of the Mississippi on April 30, 1863, and he fought his way south in the battles of Port Gibson to Champion Hill and Big Black River.
Within weeks, Grant was outside Vicksburg, the city President Abraham Lincoln called, “the key to victory” and President Jefferson Davis called the “nailhead that holds the South’s two halves together.” The Confederates pulled back inside the “Fortress City.”
The defenders were crouched in a ring of forts with 170 cannons, many aimed at bottlenecks and approaches to the city. Grant hoped to take the city before the defenders could truly settle in.
“First at Vicksburg” depicts the 1st Battalion, 13th Infantry Regiment which was the only unit to reach the top of the fortifications on May 19, but even they were later thrown back.
He sent his infantry against an earthen fort named Stockade Redan on May 19, but they were repelled with 1,000 casualties. Grant spent the next two days coming up with a new plan.
He once again chose Stockade Redan, but the new plan called for two feats of combat engineering under fire. One feat was quickly erecting scaling ladders against the wall, a challenging but time-tested move. Before the ladders went up, though, a group of volunteers would need to cross a quarter-mile of open ground while under fire and construct a bridge across an 8-foot-wide ditch.
A call went out for 150 volunteers, only single-men need apply. They came and were split into three groups. The first group carried beams to span the gap, the second group carried the planks that would form the rest of the bridge, and the last group carried the scaling ladders.
These men were collectively known as “Forlorn Hope.” Their assault was part of a three-phase operation. First was a four-hour artillery barrage, then the bridge construction and ladder emplacement, and then an assault by a brigade up the ladders.
But Confederate artillery and rifle fire quickly rang out, and an estimated half of Forlorn Hope was hit and down before they reached the ditch. The survivors quickly found that, with so few people still carrying the materials, they did not have enough pieces to construct the bridge.
They scattered, some attempting to take cover in the ditch or against the stockade wall as others ran back across the open field.
The Siege of Vicksburg ends as Confederate leaders, near the center, walk out with a flag of truce to discuss surrender terms.
(Library of Congress)
Grant and his men were forced to conduct a siege that would drag on for six more weeks before the city finally surrendered. In 1894, 53 survivors of Forlorn Hope were awarded Medals of Honor for their heroism at Vicksburg, another 25 soldiers who took part in the failed effort would receive the same award in other ceremonies. Approximately 42 other Medals of Honor were awarded for actions during the siege and assaults, bringing the total to 120.
The Confederate forces had their own Medal of Honor, and Confederate Navy Capt. Issac Newton Brown received the medal for his actions on the CSS Arkansas while trying to fight past the U.S. Navy to relieve the pressure on Vicksburg.
Historically, the military has relied on clearly defined boundaries of acceptable interaction between the officer and enlisted ranks to maintain good order and discipline.
It is a long-standing custom that dates back hundreds of years and has proven itself effective time after time. But not everyone feels it’s a custom worth holding on to.
“I think there should not be a difference between officer and enlisted ranks,” said former Air Force officer Shannon Corbeil. “I believe we should all reach rank based on experience and accomplishment.”
On the other hand, Chase Millsap — another former officer — believes the military should maintain its course because officers bring leadership experience accomplished through higher learning and training.
Editor’s note: The following is an encore presentation of an Airman magazine story documenting an Operation Pacific Angel mission to build international partnerships. In 2012, an Air Force veterinarian, Lt. Col. Douglas D. Riley, partnered with Mongolian veterinarians to improve the health of the livestock which provides the country with much of its food.
Despite widespread poverty and malnutrition, Lt. Col. Douglas D. Riley believes Mongolia, with its vast amount of livestock, could be Asia’s “protein basket.” Of course to reach its potential and feed the continent’s many hungry people, changes have to be made.
That’s why the Air Force veterinarian has been visiting the country. To date, he’s made four trips to Mongolia, and on his most recent visit, Riley worked with Mongolia’s armed and border forces to show veterinarians how to produce healthier herds.
“What’s really ironic is that Mongolia, being part of Asia, sits in the poorest section of the world with the most malnutrition in the world,” said Riley, who’s assigned to the 13th Air Force Cooperative Health Engagement Division. “Yet Mongolia has the ability, with its livestock alone, to feed the vast majority of Asia through the protein in the animals if the animals and the ground were managed properly.”
The Department of Defense and Air Force interest in humanitarian operations in countries like Mongolia is to foster a more stable country, one more difficult to be infiltrated by terrorists. On the ground in Mongolia, Riley hoped his work assisted this effort.
13th AF/SGK International Health Specialist Lt. Col. Douglas Riley and a veterinarian with the Mongolian Border Forces try to coral a sheep for a hands-on class room exam in northeastern Mongolia near the Russian border.
(U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. Jeremy T. Lock)
“If we can find a way to build partnerships, maybe, just maybe, at the end of the day, we won’t have to worry about country or state-on-state war,” he said.
“Because we are so small a world now, through globalization and the ability to move from point to point, if we don’t find a way to tie ourselves together with an understanding, we are missing an opportunity that is far greater than any weapon we could create. We are missing an opportunity to tie societies together to better each other.”
This article originally appeared on Airman Magazine. Follow @AirmanMagazine on Twitter.
“This is it. Number one on my list of worst days at Ranger School,” 1st Lt. Anna Hodge thought as it started to rain again during day eight of Mountain Phase patrols. The blisters on her feet, the chaffing on her legs, and the prickly heat stung with the rain. She stuffed more pieces of MRE gum in her mouth, biting down hard to keep her mind off the pain.
“Your complaint has been duly noted and will be answered within 24 to 48 hours,” she mentally responded to the pain, imitating an answering machine. “Now back to counting steps, 1,344, 1,345…
“Our Mountain Phase experienced record-high rainfall, and I felt bad for my platoon mates who had chafed in some pretty uncomfortable places,” says Hodge. “My legs looked like road rash; the blood and pus was sticking to my uniform. Shivering at night was the norm; yes, it was cold, but even more because of the pain.”
But Hodge had one advantage some of her friends didn’t. She decided to go to Ranger School without feeling pressured; the pain described above was something she had chosen, all simply to become a better intelligence officer.
“I wanted to focus on tactical intelligence,” says Hodge. “It is impossible to know where the enemy will move, nor how to advise the commander if you don’t know Infantry tactics.” Military Intelligence is an Operations Support branch. If soldiers don’t understand what they are supporting, mission success is unlikely.
“I’ve always had a soft spot for the Infantry, and I learned so much about Infantry tactics at Ranger School,” says Hodge. “After graduating, that respect grew even more.”
Hodge wanted to attend Ranger School dating back to 2010 when she first joined ROTC. “I loved patrolling, working as part of a squad and the challenge of pushing myself to perform on minimal food and sleep. I remember cleaning weapons one day and someone joked that I should shave my head and go to Ranger School. I thought it was funny, and secretly I really wanted to go. But it wasn’t open to females at the time.”
That all changed in 2015 when, for the first time, a female graduated Ranger School.
1st Lt. Anna Hodge proudly displays her Ranger tab on graduation day.
(U.S. Army photo by Capt. Joseph Legros)
The following year Hodge attended the Basic Officer Leadership Course for Military Intelligence. She listened to an instructor who recruited Military Intelligence, or MI, officers for the new 75th Regiment MI Battalion. “The hardest part of Ranger School is deciding to go,” the instructor said.
Hodge remembers thinking, “I’ve always been a religious person and when I heard the instructor, it was like God telling me, ‘you better start preparing because you’re going to go.'”
It wasn’t until she went to 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment, “The Rock,” part of the 173rd Airborne Brigade in Italy, that she got her opportunity.
“Slowly I expressed a desire to attend Ranger School and my chain of command believed in me,” explains Hodge. “They encouraged me and other lieutenants to go; they did an excellent job creating a command climate where mistakes and failure are accepted as long as you try. Leaders can have a profound impact on a unit’s culture and I’m so grateful to serve in ‘The Rock.’ The unit is full of great leaders, past and present, serving as examples for the type of leader I strive to be.”
“There are a lot of things that get you through Ranger School, but two of the most important are ‘wanting to attend’ and ‘not quitting,'” says Hodge’s battalion commander, Lt. Col. Jim Keirsey. “1st Lt. Hodge wanted to go and earned her spot on the order of merit list. Once there, she didn’t quit. Now she is a Ranger qualified ‘Rock’ Paratrooper.”
Hodge trained for Ranger School by herself, facing the difficulty of balancing work and training. Many times she wished she could have trained more, but battalion priorities came first. She was motivated to work out twice a day, doing countless ruck marches. Sometimes she carried a sledge hammer, simulating the weight of machine gun.
“I really thought I would struggle with the physical aspect, so I trained hard prior to school,” Hodge explains. “But instead, it was the Infantry stuff that was difficult for me. Coming from a Military Intelligence background, I didn’t know the tactics very well, nor how the instructors wanted me to conduct patrols.”
At Ranger School, a student can repeat a phase for patrols, peer ratings or an observation report; this is referred to as “recycling.” If a candidate fails the same thing again, they will be dropped from the course. Her first time through, Hodge was dropped during patrols.
“I was devastated. I didn’t know why I worked so hard only to fail,” shares Hodge. “But ironically, I’m really glad I failed Ranger School my first time. Dealing with failure is one of the most important lessons you can learn.”
Being recycled is not uncommon. According to Ft. Benning, 61.2 percent of graduating Rangers were recycled at least once in 2017. This means less than 39 percent made it through without having to start any of the phases over again. No surprise here: Ranger School is tough.
“I definitely thought about heading home after I failed,” says Hodge. “To start again, it would have been colder, and mentally I was spent.” Despite those thoughts, she stayed.
“I wasn’t ready to give up just yet,” says Hodge.
1st Lt. Anna Hodge.
(Photo By Staff Sgt. Alexander C Henninger)
“I was able to sign up for a Master Resiliency Trainer course in between Ranger classes and it was one of the best decisions I ever made. Thank goodness for resiliency because my second Ranger Assessment Phase week was one of the hardest of my life. It was so cold and miserable that I wanted to quit every day, but I told myself to just quit tomorrow. Before long I made it through the week.”
“The same work ethic and ‘never quit’ attitude that got her through Ranger School is what makes 1st Lt. Hodge an asset to the unit,” adds Keirsey.
In Hodge’s case, it was also helpful to have other female Ranger graduates to follow. She became the fifteenth female throughout the Armed Services to graduate Ranger School and the first Ranger qualified female Sky Soldier. However, this also proved to be challenging.
“I never wanted to be the first female graduate,” says Hodge. “I knew those who went first would deal with criticism and scrutiny. I am very grateful for the 71 females who attended Ranger School before me, the pioneers who overcame prejudice as they pursued their goals. They helped positively change opinions about female Rangers.”
Hodge shares, “I remember reading negative comments about other female graduates, wondering if I would be judged, too. Would they question whether I truly earned my Ranger tab?”
But the length of ruck marches has not changed, nor does the rain fall only on male candidates. Everyone carries their own weight.
“At Ranger School, everyone is held to the same standard,” asserts Hodge.
During one of the phases, she was assigned to carry the machine gun or the radio, the two heaviest items, on a regular basis. The frequent assignments to carry heavy equipment ultimately made her grateful.
“It showed me and others that I could carry the heaviest items and keep up,” says Hodge.
“I was an equal member of the squad, working together with my classmates to accomplish the mission. I formed friendships that will last a lifetime. I am especially grateful to the friends I made in my platoons, my unit and from Ranger Battalion. They taught me so much about the Army and the Infantry.”
“My husband was also very supportive the whole time. He even helped shave my hair and showed me how to do it myself,” shares Hodge.
When asked if she has any doubts of the results, Hodge responds, “After persevering through school, I know, without a doubt, I earned my Ranger tab. It took patience and determination. I put in the effort. I met the standards.”
She also offers the following advice to anyone thinking of attending Ranger School: “Appreciate the little things. You better learn to love patrols. Volunteer for the small, simple tasks that no one wants to do and make them your hobby, like emplacing claymores and camouflaging them. I loved that.”
She adds, “Don’t let little things get to you. Try to see the good. Yes, there were annoying bugs like mosquitos and spiders, but there were also fireflies which were super cool. Yes, it rained, and everyone’s skin was chafed. But the rain also cooled us down.”
The first Ranger qualified female Sky Soldier concludes, “Whatever your goal, take it one step at a time and continue in patience.”
American special operators teamed with Arab fighters in Syria are poised to take a key town north of the Islamic State stronghold in Raqqah. If they succeed it would be an important blow to the Islamic insurgency and assist the government of Iraq in taking back its second largest city.
Since late June, jets from the United States, France, and Australia have been pounding ISIS positions in the city of Manbij, a key northern crossroads town north of the ISIS-held town of Raqqah in Syria. Kurdish and Syrian-Arab fighters who make up the Syrian Democratic Forces, or SDF, are squeezing hundreds of ISIS fighters in the town, said to be a key transit point for bootleg oil and illicit arms for the terrorist group.
“I’ve been extraordinarily pleased with the performance of our partner forces, the Syrian-Arab coalition, in particular,” said Central Command chief Army Gen. Joseph Votel during a press conference at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland.
“This has been a very difficult fight. This is an area that the Islamic State is trying to hold onto,” he added.
Pentagon chief Ash Carter said the campaign in Manbij is part of an effort to squeeze ISIS into Raqqah in Syria and Mosul in Iraq. Defense officials have hinted that a full-on assault on Iraq’s second largest city is imminent, with regional leaders meeting July 20 at Andrews to flesh out a post-takeover plan.
“In play after play, town after town, from every direction and in every domain, our campaign has accelerated further, squeezing ISIL and rolling it back towards Raqqah and Mosul,” Carter said. “By isolating these two cities, we’re effectively setting the stage to collapse ISIL’s control over them.”
Al Jazeera reports that ISIS has lost nearly 500 fighters in Manbij as SDF fighters with American help have squeezed the terrorist enclave. The SDF has suffered less than 100 dead.
Carter said the anti-ISIS coalition, dubbed Operation Inherent Resolve, is looking into the allegations.
“We’re aware of reports of civilian casualties that may be related to recent coalition airstrikes near Manbij city in Syria,” Carter said. “We’ll investigate these reports and continue to do all we can to protect civilians from harm.”
Votel added that Kurdish and Syrian-Arab parters are working to keep the 70,000 civilians in Manbij out of harms way.
“What I’ve been most impressed with is the deliberateness and the discipline with which our partner forces have conducted themselves,” Votel said. “They are moving slowly, they are moving very deliberately, mostly because they’re concerned about the civilians that still remain in the city.”
“And I think that that speaks very highly of their values and it speaks very highly of what they’re about here. We’ve picked the right partners for this operation,” he said.
When you’re sitting by the fire with a cup of cocoa, a white Christmas sounds heavenly. When you’re at war, it’s a different story. During Washington’s camp at Valley Forge, roughly 12,000 continentals wintered in ragged huts. The frigid temperatures resulted in frequent bouts of disease, especially since many of the soldiers were lacking in proper clothing. Some weren’t fit for service at all, their bare feet leaving bloody footprints in the snow. It wouldn’t be the last time that American soldiers battled the elements. During the Civil War, the Union army confronted the Confederates on the Ozark Plateau in the cold of winter. The Confederates retreated, but the Union army gave chase. Mid-pursuit, the weather took a turn for the worst, and both armies were engulfed in a storm of snow and sleet.
So what’s the deal with this fluffy white stuff that can cause so much trouble? How does it work? Interestingly, snow isn’t as self-explanatory as you’d think. Keep reading for some of the most surprising tidbits about nature’s chilliest, prettiest form of precipitation.
The hush of falling snow is a real thing. A blanket of freshly fallen snow actually absorbs sound waves quite effectively, which is why a snowy night seems a little quieter than usual. Strangely, winter weather can also amplify sound, leading to lingering echoes through the treetops. When the snow melts and refreezes, it turns into ice. Instead of absorbing sound like snow, ice reflects it! Pretty cool, huh?
Snow is white…or is it? Snowcapped peaks look pretty darn white, but snow is actually colorless. The clear flakes scatter light in all directions, diffusing the complete color spectrum and making it appear white. That said, snow can take on different hues in different conditions. Environmental pollution and algae can turn snow orange, pink, or even black. Meanwhile, deep snow can absorb more red light than blue, giving it a chilly, bluish tint.
Snow is warm. Sort of. While snow is technically frozen, it traps tons of air as it collects on the ground. 90-95% of fallen snow is actually trapped air, making it a shockingly good insulator. That’s why animals make burrows in the winter, and why igloos aren’t ice cold. The inside of an igloo can stay up to 70 degrees warmer inside than out! Soldiers have also used the insulating power of snow to their advantage. At the Northern Warfare Training Center in Black Rapids, Alaska, the temperatures can reach negative 60 degrees Fahrenheit, but students learn to survive.
Snowflakes form around a nucleus. While snow doesn’t develop like the cells you read about in 7th-grade biology, they do form around a central particle. A speck of dirt or other microscopic debris becomes the center of each snowflake as it freezes, giving it that classic snowflake shape. This is why snow looks different than hail or sleet, which freeze as they fall without the help of a nucleus. If you look at a snowflake under a strong enough microscope, you can see the material that started it all.
There are over 35 kinds of snowflakes. One scientist named Andy Brunning loved snow so much that he identified as many different types of snowflakes as he could. In total, he found 35 types of snowflakes. He organized these into categories, including germs, rimed, plane, irregular, and column. Which is your favorite?
Snowflakes always have 6 sides. The 8-sided snowflake decorations you found at Homegoods are a lie. The geometry of water molecules makes it impossible for anything but a six-sided ice crystal to form. Not five-sided. Not eight-sided. Six. Get it right, Hallmark.
Snowflakes CAN be identical. If you’ve ever told someone they’re as one of a kind as a snowflake, it might be time to come up with a new compliment. While snowflakes do come in a wide array of shapes and patterns, a scientist named Nancy Knight found two snowflakes that were completely identical. I guess the clouds were expecting twins.
The biggest snowflake recorded was bigger than your head. Unless you have a really big head, that is. The largest recorded snowflake was 15 inches wide! It fell during a winter storm in January 1887 in Fort Keogh, Montana. Some ranch owners there claimed the flakes were as big as milk pans!
It once snowed over 100 inches of snow in a single day. If you love snow, Capracotta, Italy is the place for you. On March 5th, 2015, it snowed 100.8 inches in less than 24 hours. That’s more than eight feet! Italy’s not the only place to get great snow, however. In Washington State, Mount Baker saw the greatest recorded snow in a single season, ringing in at 1,142 inches.
Not all snowstorms are blizzards. You know how all squares are rectangles, but not all rectangles are squares? The same goes for blizzards and snowstorms. All blizzards are snowstorms, but it’s the amount of wind that sets blizzards apart. Snowstorms come with plenty of falling snow, but blizzards take it up a notch with sustained heavy winds or frequent gusts of 25 mph or more.
I love a white Christmas as much as the next guy, but if it’s that stormy out I think I’ll stay inside. Cocoa, anyone?
The U.S. Army’s Special Forces soldiers are some of the most capable troops in the world. They might even be the most capable people. Putting on the coveted green beret means being able to handle yourself in almost any situation at any time, and coming out on top.
For those working in Special Forces, it comes with varying degrees of difficulty. Today’s Special Forces soldier works in counterterrorism, counter-narcotics, hostage rescue and other potentially classified operations. But the primary mission of those who wear the green beret is to wage unconventional warfare against a hostile, possibly occupied nation.
This often means turning a population or oppressed minority against its occupiers. They often find themselves training an undermanned, underequipped fighting force. In Vietnam, where the Green Berets cut their teeth, this often meant surviving in the jungles for long periods of time.
In Vietnam, the Military Assistance Command – Vietnam – Studies and Observations Group (MACV-SOG) was a joint CIA-Army operation used to collect intelligence and fight the covert war happening in the dense jungles of the country. The oppressed minority in this case were the Vietnamese tribes of Montagnards.
The Montagnards’ name comes from the French for “mountaineers” and though they live in Vietnam, they are ethnically and culturally different from the Vietnamese. The 30 tribes of Montagnards live off of the land, growing food and hunting for survival. They were looked down upon by the Vietnamese and didn’t trust either the north or the south. Eventually, they cast their lots with the south – and the reason for that was the Green Berets.
Army Special Forces soldiers worked with the Montagnards (called “Yards” for short) to form a kind of quick reaction force (QRF) that would defend southern villages from attacking bands of Viet Cong (VC). The highland areas occupied by the Yards were prime real estate for moving men and material to the war zones. Isolated villages were easy pickings for the VC. The Green Berets moved in to advise the Yards.
By the end of 1963, the Yards were organized into a real fighting force of 43,000 men and an 18,000 strong QRF. The Green Berets and the Montagnards gelled instantly. The Yard appreciated the Army’s finest for their help and the green berets appreciated the honest, primal toughness of the Yards – and their resolve to defend what was theirs.
They were a lot alike in that their ways seemed odd to everyone else. The Montagnards would often find food that seemed unwholesome or unsavory to others. The Special Forces knew what that was like. After displaying their survival skills to President Kennedy, skills where they caught and ate snakes, they were stuck with the moniker “snake eaters.”
To the rest of Vietnam, the Montagnards were called savages. The similarities didn’t stop there. The U.S. soldiers loved the Yards prowess in combat. They were natural soldiers, brave and trustworthy. They knew they could count on the Montagnards to watch their flanks.
All good things must come to an end, however. When the United States was forced to leave South Vietnam to its own defense, things didn’t fare so well. The Montagnards fought well, but they couldn’t defend the whole country on their own. When the South Vietnamese government fell, they accepted the result.
But they didn’t fare well. The North Vietnamese did not forget the Montagnards’ work with the U.S. Army Special Forces and the communists made life especially hard for the mountain tribes in the years to come.
A U.S. official says North Korea has conducted its first missile launch in more than two months.
The official wasn’t authorized to speak publicly on the matter and demanded anonymity.
The Pentagon was more cautious, calling it a “probable” missile launch. Col. Rob Manning, a spokesman said, “We detected a probable missile launch from North Korea” at approximately 1:30 p.m. EST. He said the Pentagon is assessing the situation and has no further information to provide, including what kind of missile may have been launched.
It would be the first North Korean missile test since it launched an intermediate-range ballistic missile on Sept. 15 that flew over northern Japan and into the Pacific Ocean.
The White House says President Donald Trump has been briefed on North Korea’s apparent ballistic missile launch.
Press secretary Sarah Sanders says in a tweet that Trump “was briefed, while missile was still in the air, on the situation in North Korea.”
At the time of the launch, Trump was in a meeting with Senate Republicans on Capitol Hill.
A U.S. official says North Korea has conducted its first missile launch in more than two months.
The Pentagon says it detected and tracked a single North Korean missile launch and believes it was an intercontinental ballistic missile.
Pentagon spokesman Col. Rob Manning said Nov. 28 that the missile was launched from Sain Ni, North Korea, and traveled about 1,000 kilometers (about 620 miles) before landing in the Sea of Japan.
Manning says the Pentagon’s information is based on an initial assessment of the launch. He says a more detailed assessment was in the works.
Japan’s chief Cabinet secretary says North Korea has fired a missile that might have landed inside the country’s exclusive economic zone in the Sea of Japan.
Yoshihide Suga says the missile appears to have been fired from North Korea’s western coast and the government is gathering information and analyzing the launch data.
Suga says repeated provocation by the North is unacceptable and Tokyo has lodged a strong protest.
Japan’s U.N. Ambassador Koro Bessho. (U.N. photo by Mark Garten)
Japan’s U.N. Ambassador Koro Bessho says the government has told the North Koreans “that we criticize their behavior in the strongest terms possible” following a new missile launch.
He told reporters Nov. 28 at U.N. headquarters that “we are very concerned and we have condemned them publicly.”
U.N. Security Council President Sebastiano Cardi says he has been in contact with key U.N. members, but no request has been made yet for a meeting.
Cardi says he is scheduled to brief the Security Council on Nov. 29.
Japan’s chief Cabinet secretary says the missile might have landed inside the country’s exclusive economic zone in the Sea of Japan.
Cardi says if it fell in that zone, it would be an “even greater” danger.
President Donald Trump says the United States will “take care of it” following North Korea’s latest missile launch.
Trump told reporters Nov. 28 that “it is a situation that we will handle.”
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis says North Korea is continuing to build missiles that can “threaten everywhere in the world.”
Mattis says a missile that North Korea launched early Nov. 29 local time flew higher than its previous projectiles. He says South Korea has fired pinpoint missiles into surrounding waters to make certain that North Korea understands it can be “taken under fire” by the South.
He says North Korea is endangering world peace, regional peace, and “certainly the United States.”
North Korea ended a 10-week pause in its weapons testing and threatened to heighten regional tensions by launching an intercontinental ballistic missile that landed in the Sea of Japan.
Mattis spoke Nov. 28 during a White House meeting with President Donald Trump and the top Republican congressional leaders.
The U.N. Security Council has scheduled an emergency meeting on North Korea’s latest ballistic missile launch.
Italy chairs the council and its spokesman says the Nov. 29 afternoon meeting was requested by Japan, the U.S., and South Korea.
The Security Council has already imposed its toughest-ever sanctions on Kim Jong Un’s government in response to its escalating nuclear and ballistic missile programs and the U.S. and Japan are likely to seek even stronger measures.
The launch was possibly North Korea’s longest. It is certain to raise tensions in the U.N.’s most powerful body.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in has called North Korea’s latest missile test a “serious threat” to global peace and stressed the need for stronger sanctions and pressure against Pyongyang to discourage its nuclear ambitions.
Moon said Nov. 29 at a National Security Council meeting that the South will not “sit and watch” North Korea’s provocations and will work with the United States to strengthen its security.
Moon says South Korea anticipated the latest North Korean launch and prepared for it.
South Korea’s military conducted its own missile drills that started just minutes after North Korea’s launch was detected.
President Donald Trump is speaking with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe after North Korea launched what the Pentagon said was an intercontinental ballistic missile.
White House social media director Dan Scavino Jr. tweeted a photo of Trump on Nov. 28 in his office. He says Trump was “speaking with @JPN_PMO @AbeShinzo, regarding North Korea’s launch of a intercontinental ballistic missile into the Sea of Japan…”
Abe says Japan will not back down against any provocation and would maximize pressure on the North in its alliance with the U.S.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in has raised concerns that North Korea’s perfection of an intercontinental ballistic missile would let regional security “spiral out of control” and make the United States consider a pre-emptive strike against the North.
Seoul’s presidential office said Nov. 29 that Moon said during a National Security Council meeting that it would be important to prevent a situation where North Korea miscalculates and threatens the South with nuclear weapons or the U.S. considers a pre-emptive strike to eliminate the threat.
Moon has called for his military to take further steps to strengthen its capabilities following a recent agreement between Seoul and Washington to lift the warhead payload limits on South Korean missiles.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in has told government officials to “closely review” whether the latest North Korean missile launch will affect South Korean efforts to successfully host next year’s Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang.
Seoul’s presidential office reported Nov. 29 that Moon said during a National Security Council meeting that it would be important to find ways to “stably manage” the situation.
South Korean preparations for the February games have been overshadowed by North Korea’s nuclear and missile tests this year. France has said its Olympic team won’t travel to South Korea if its safety cannot be guaranteed.
South Korea has been hoping North Korea takes part in the games to ease concerns, but it’s unclear whether the North will.
North Korea boycotted the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul and has ignored the South’s proposals for dialogue in recent months.
President Donald Trump has spoken with South Korean President Moon Jae-in to discuss the countries’ response to North Korea’s latest missile launch.
The White House says both leaders “underscored the grave threat that North Korea’s latest provocation poses” not only to U.S. and South Korea, “but to the entire world.”
The two presidents also “reaffirmed their strong condemnation of North Korea’s reckless campaign to advance its nuclear and ballistic missile programs, noting that these weapons only serve to undermine North Korea’s security and deepen its diplomatic and economic isolation.”
Trump and Moon spoke at length about the threat posed by North Korea during Trump’s trip to Asia earlier this month.
Comprised of more than 100 islands in the East China Sea, Okinawa is one of Japan’s 47 prefectures with a population of 1.44 million people (as of May 2018).
A year-round warm climate and overall tropical landscape, Okinawa is considered a leading resort destination and home to multiple U.S. military installations. Here are five ways to explore the archipelago.
Eat and drink
There is no shortage of places to enjoy good food in Okinawa and nearly every type of international cuisine is represented.
“You have to try Coco’s Curry House, Arashi, Pizza In The Sky, Yoshi Hachi, Sea Garden, Gen, Thai In The Sky and Little Cactus,” KT Genta, a Navy spouse who was previously stationed in Okinawa shared.
Craving a good cup of coffee? Stop into Patisserie Porushe, and be sure to order a croissant to go with it.
The traditional spirit of Okinawa is Awamori, which dates back to the dynastic era, and is made by combining water, test and rice malt with korokoji mold and steamed rice. Get a free tour and tasting at Chuko Distillery.
Historical sites and landmarks
The history of Okinawa is robust — from dynasties to American rule — and the various historical site and landmarks throughout the prefecture tell the region’s story. Be sure to visit:
Okinawa Peace Memorial Park– Located on Mabuni Hill, Peace Memorial Park was a heated battleground during WWII.
Japanese Naval Underground Headquarters – During WWII, Japanese forces constructed an elaborate series of underground tunnels that were used as military headquarters.
Katsuren Castle Ruins – Just a couple in-ruin walls remain at this UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The Tower of Himeyuri – The emotional monument honors the Himeyuri medical corps of female students who perished in WWII.
Ikema Ohashi Bridge– A 4,675 ft. bridge with panoramic views of the ocean, it connects the islands Miyako-jima to Ikema-jima and was formerly the longest bridge in Okinawa.
Beaches and water sports
Trademarked by cerulean shaded waters, Okinawa’s beaches are world-renowned for enjoying a sun-soaked day on the sand or diving in to admire the marine life. Both public and private beaches pepper the coastline, and with hundreds of beaches to choose from across the main and more remote islands, there is a stretch of sand for everyone to enjoy.
Northern Okinawa Island – Uppama Beach, Kanucha Beach, Ie Beach
Central Okinawa Island – Zanpa Beach, Ikei Beach
Southern Okinawa Island – Aharen Beach, Nishibama Beach
Not only does Okinawa offer residents and visitors pristine beaches, the underwater views are attractive for avid divers and snorkelers. Top spots include Manza Dream Hole, Zamami Island and Kabira Bay.
Okinawa is a destination with deep-rooted cultural history, thus a strong appreciation for traditional and performing arts.
Yachimun – The Okinawan name for pottery is Yachimun and can be traced back to more than 800 years.
Bashofu – Made from the fibers of a Japanese banana-like tree call the Basho, Bashofu is a thin textile that is woven and dyed to make into garments.
Sanshin – The literal translation of Sanshin is “three strings” and is a musical instrument that looks a bit like a banjo.
“There is so much to do,” Genta said. “Head to Cocoks for pedicures, hike Hiji Falls, explore Bise Village, which is a peaceful seaside town with sand roads lined with Fukuhi trees, or just drive and get lost. There are so many hidden gems on the island.”
Other must-see spots include Churmai Aquarium, Pineapple Park, Orion Beer Factory, Urashima Dinner Theater, Kokusai Street and Fukushu-en Garden.
This is just a small sampling of ways to explore Okinawa. It’s important to note that one could live their entire life in Japan’s tropical oasis and not see or do everything, so be sure to make the most of your time and have fun!
Held in Russia and Kazakhstan, this 2-week live-streamed event consists of 23 distinct trials ranging from air, marine, and field operations.
From sniper competitions, tank biathlons, underwater searches, and aircraft ground attacks, over 3,000 servicemembers hailing from 19 different countries will be competing this year.
According to International Business Times , Russia had reportedly invited 47 countries, including the US and other NATO member states; however, the only NATO country that seems to have accepted their offer has been Greece.
Here’s some clips of the International Army Games: