Warrior shares why he stayed in the Army after injury - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY CULTURE

Warrior shares why he stayed in the Army after injury

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

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

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


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

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

(Courtesy photo Maj. Dennis DJ Skelton)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Army CIO G6 photo)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MUSIC

That time James Blunt helped prevent World War III

It’s always going to be a tricky situation when the Russian Army and NATO allied armed forces are in the same fight. In the 1999 Kosovo War, such a situation could have sparked the all-out NATO-versus-Russia war the world had been hoping to avoid for 50-some years at that point. Good thing Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter James Blunt was there to stop all the madness from taking hold over everyone’s better judgement.

Like Kendall Jenner with a Pepsi, except real and not stupid.


No time for Stalin when you’re racing the Russians.

To be fair, he wasn’t yet Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter James Blunt quite yet. In 1999, he was still James Hillier Blount, a Royal Military Academy-trained British Army officer, and he was leading a reconnaissance troop ahead of the coming NATO peacekeeping operation in Kosovo to the airport at Pristina.

He led his armored troop all the way to capital city of Kosovo, only to find Russian troops already already captured the airport.

No one told General Strangelove the Russians weren’t the enemy.

For Russia, the NATO intervention in Kosovo was a stark reminder of how far they had fallen since the end of the Soviet Union. The Balkans were firmly in Russia’s sphere of influence but there was little the Russians could do about the NATO meddling in their backyard — except maybe join them a little.

The Russians sent a small, token unit of peacekeepers to Kosovo and the first thing they did was a capture the airport. When Gen. Wesley Clark, then NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander, found out the Russians had beaten NATO to the punch, you might think his response would be mild, considering they essentially had the same mission and the Russians were no longer the Soviet Union.

He gave an order to retake the airport by force.

General Michael Jackson politely implored General Clark to beat it.

Think, for a moment, what would happen if a NATO armored column completely annihilated a 250-man Russian peacekeeping contingent with 30 armored vehicles over an airport in Kosovo. British General Mike Jackson, the commander of NATO’s Kosovo Force, knew exactly what would happen.

He told General Clark, “I’m not going to start the Third World War for you.”

“Oh look, here come our British Allies, Sergei.”

Instead, the British General flew in to Pristina and shared a flask of whiskey with the Russian general of the small force, even though Clark was also on his way into Pristina. Meanwhile, Russian airbases and paratroopers were getting ready for any escalation that might come next. Thousands of Russian troops were on standby to kick off World War III.

Jackson and Clark met at the NATO headquarters in the capital of neighboring Macedonia. He reminded the Supreme Allied Commander that the Russians helped broker the peace deal that ended the war and would be assisting the peacekeeping afterward.

The British, instead of murdering potential allies, simply used the armor to isolate the airfield but didn’t even block the runway. Blunt, the commanding officer of an armored troop, with a parachute regiment and some SAS in reserve, instead called for instructions and held the position while the generals decided what to do — and what not to do. After a few days without water or food, the Russians offered to share responsibility for the airport.

But even if Jackson wanted to carry out Clark’s orders, Blunt — from a military family with more than a thousand years of service — would rather have taken a court martial than carry them out, starting a world war.

In the end, no one carried out Clark’s orders to recapture the airfield from the Russians by force. In fact, Clark left his posting as NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander a little earlier than expected after the incident. Blunt served two more years in the British Army and recorded his first album just a few months later.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Why the military goes out of its way for certain animals

Troops lose their mind when they have to go to either Fort Irwin or Twentynine Palms. They’re both in insanely hot climates, offer very little to do outside of training, and the living conditions are far worse than what POGs are accustomed to. Despite all that, everything comes to a standstill when a single desert tortoise shows up.

The same thing happens when a red-cockaded woodpecker appears at Fort Benning, Indiana bats at Fort Knox, and piping plovers at RTC Great Lakes. These are all objectively unpleasant military installations that have endemic species of animals that put a stop to training just by showing up.

This causes a headache for many troops in leadership positions and is the butt of many jokes among the junior enlisted. It stops becoming funny, however, when leadership tells their troops that they can’t leave behind even a single breadcrumb that could attract the predators of said animals.

The world’s premiere fighting force is brought to a stand-still because of one, adorable little turtle.
(Fort Drum Garrison Public Affairs)

This is all because the animals listed above are endangered and their safest habitats are on military installations.


Back in 1973, the Endangered Species Act was passed, stating that the government will do its part to protect its endangered animals and prosecute anyone who bring them harm. While it’s easy to issue out fines to anyone who accidentally kills a desert tortoise, it’s even easier (and you know, better) to take preventive measures and keep them alive.

The military does its part in a large way — far larger than most organizations dedicated to saving these species. In 2011 alone, the U.S. military spent $7.6 million on keeping desert tortoises safe — a grand total of over $100.9 million since 1993. That money has gone a long way in keeping these at-risk animals alive for many generations.

In the case of some tortoises, it’s many generations. You know, because they live longer than humans.
(U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Michael Williams)

“But these are just some dumb turtles!” someone in the back of the formation may yell. That class clown might be right — these tortoises could be dumb, indeed — but it doesn’t matter. If you allow one invasive fish, for example, to fade away because of the enormous amount of money required to protect it, then there’s a justification allowing any species to die out, putting the animal kingdom right back where it was in 1972.

Potential dumbness aside, every animal must be treated with the same delicate gloves or we risk losing them all.

And if you’re stationed anywhere in Hawaii, that means hundreds of different species.
(U.S. Army)

The next “good idea fairy” solution is to just move them away from military installations. It should be fairly obvious why taking slow-moving prey away from a habitat where they’re cared for and are kept safe from predators and tossing them into a new, unfamiliar landscape devoid of such protections is a bad idea. If you’re having trouble seeing why that’s a problem, we’ve got an example for you:

They tried this once with the desert tortoises at Fort Irwin in 2008. The logic behind it was that the tortoises would be far safer somewhere where they wouldn’t be accidentally blown to bits by troops in training. The relocation effort cost $50 million and, within a year, about 30% of all the tortoises (who have an average life-span of over 100 years) died before the program was scrapped.

There were many factors that contributed to the dying off of thousands of tortoises. First, being put in an unknown environment meant that they had no idea where the food or water was. This was made worse when packs of predators discovered an enormous buffet of food that couldn’t run or hide.

Turns out suffering theu00a0occasional mortar death is better than being gobbled up by a pack of coyotes.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Heide Couch)

There are over 400 species of endangered animals on military grounds and, even with human intervention, these are the best habitats for them. Each of the species that are protected by the U.S. Armed Forces are all carefully monitored to make sure that no harm comes to them.

It’s not uncommon for troops to incorporate their nesting grounds into their training. While preparing for a mission, their nests are treated in the same way as schools or hospitals in the battlefield. Troops just avoid them at all costs.

The good news is that this ongoing effort to protect them has yielded some very visible results. While there are outliers in the desert tortoise populations (California droughts are partially to blame), animal populations at other installations have all boomed in recent years. Simply adjusting fire from one part of the range to another at Joint Base Lewis-McChord has helped the streaked horned lark population almost quadruple in less than a decade.

Protecting these species requires a little effort and a creates bit of inconvenience, but it’s been proven that the military installations these animals call home are truly the best places for these species to thrive.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Everything you need to know about latest talks in Korea

North Korea and South Korea sent 20 diplomats to the “truce village” on Jan. 9, where the two states, technically still at war since 1953, talked about the coming Winter Olympics.


But early indications show that rising nuclear tensions remained the elephant in the room.

“This winter has seen more snowstorms than ever, and rivers and mountains across the country are frozen,” Ri Son Gwon, the chairman of the North’s Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland, said to open the discussion, according to Reuters.

“It would not be an exaggeration to say that inter-Korean ties were even more frozen, but public yearning for improved relations was so strong that today’s precious event was brought about,” he said.

He also expressed “high hopes” for the dialogue and promised an “invaluable result as the first present of the year” to South Korea.

All eyes on Panmunjom

Panmunjom village, located in the DMZ between ROK and DPRK. (Image from Wikimedia Commons)

In Panmunjom, the village in the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas where an armistice halted fighting in the Korean War, diplomats from the two countries labored while microphones and cameras recorded their every word and move.

Both South Korean President Moon Jae In and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un had access to live streams of the discussions, but no special message was made to either leader, according to reports.

The goods delivered

While many have maligned the talks as a North Korean attempt to drive a wedge between the U.S. and South Korea, the talks resulted in a few tangible results on their first day.

Related: North and South Korea just took an enormous step back from war

Even better, the highest-level talks between the countries since 2015 did not just focus on the Olympic Games, but veered into other important inter-Korean relations, as U.S. President Donald Trump and many others hoped they would:

  1. North Korea will send performing artists and a taekwondo team to the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in South Korea, as well as possibly a pair of figure skaters who may compete in the games.
  2. The Koreas will reopen a military hotline, according to South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency. Military-to-military hotlines serve as a first line of defense for de-escalation. Having the line in place greatly reduces the chance of accidental military escalation.
  3. Denuclearization came up. Though CNN reports that North Korea’s delegation remained silent and did not respond to the mentions of South Korea’s aim that Pyongyang fully denuclearize, the issue was broached in talks with North Korea for the first time in years.
  4. South Korea mulled relaxing bans on North Korean officials, who have not been allowed south of the DMZ since nuclear tensions ratcheted up. South Korea may also allow North Korean citizens to visit the games.

Additional discussion took place around whether North Koreans could march with South Koreans in the ceremonies around the games and whether families separated by the DMZ could be reunited.

Long-term implications

Kim Jong Un in a nuclear facility in North Korea. (KCNA)

In the short term, South Korea’s Winter Olympics seems to have gained a massive vote of confidence from its often troublesome neighbor.

The presence of North Korean performers, athletes, and citizens at the games all but guarantees that the games will go over without a hitch from Pyongyang.

In the longer term, the situation remains fraught. The US still rejects North Korea’s status as a de facto nuclear nation and refuses to talk without the precondition that Pyongyang must denuclearize.

But the talks have reversed the momentum of a spiraling series of nuclear threats and military escalations.

“Washington should build on what has happened so far to signal to Kim that the diplomatic door is being cracked open,” Joel Wit and Robert Carlin, two former State Department officials with experience with North Korea, wrote in The Atlantic.

Despite the risk that North Korea may be trying to trick the US and South Korea or stall until it can perfect its nuclear arsenal, there are few opportunities for dialogue and even greater risks involved with not talking.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Why the Punisher is so beloved by the military

The Marvel Comics universe has such a wide and diverse assortment of characters that there’s a superhero for everyone. Within that vast collection of characters, there are many heroes who have military backgrounds, each of which represents a different aspect of military service. Captain America, for example, is remisicient the soldier who’s willing to lay down his life for the betterment of mankind. Falcon is the airman who’s always going to help his fellow veteran. Even the Coast Guard gets a champion in Spectrum, who’s always going to protect the homefront.

But you don’t usually see Cap’s shield spray painted by troops onto the sides of Hesco barriers while deployed — but you’ll definitely see the Punisher’s skull. It doesn’t matter which branch a troop serves in; universally, troops find more in common with the vigilante anti-hero whose only real power is shootin’ real good than they do with some morally-unwavering, genetically-enhanced super soldier.


The rest of the heroes can handle all the big superhero fights. The Punisher is after all the scum the caped heroes won’t touch and he’ll make sure they stay down.

(Marvel Comics)

Frank Castle, better known as The Punisher, is a very deep character. In his first appearance in Amazing Spider-Man #129, he was actually an antagonist pitted against our favorite wall-crawler. He’s hired to kill Spider-Man by a villain seeking revenge for the death of Norman Osborn (known as the Green Goblin by most), which was pinned on Spidey. Castle puts up a good fight, but eventually has a heart-to-heart with Parker. He reveals his frustrations with being a vigilante killer, but it’s something, in his mind, that has to be done sometimes.

Many writers have penned fantastic stories for the Punisher since his 1974 debut, but throughout them all, the heart of the character remains the same. He’s a highly-skilled Marine Corps veteran who lost his family to criminals and is forced into taking extra-judiciary measures to ensure the killers can’t strike again. From storyline to storyline, Castle dons his infamous white skull on black gear and puts a bullet into the worst of the worst of the Marvel universe.

He’s not a typical hero — he definitely commits countless crimes for the sake of good — but he’s also not a villain. He will go out of his way to not harm the innocent. He’ll gather information on whoever he’s going after to know if they’re really evil, he’ll spare any low-level bad guy who wants to surrender, and (perhaps the most prominent piece of evidence against villainy) he never enjoys killing.

He’s comfortable with it, and his mind is at ease knowing someone innocent is safe because of his actions, but he has never been shown, in all of his 45-year-long comic history, enjoying the act of killing. That’s what separates him from the psychotic villains he encounters. It’s his duty to protect the innocent. It’s his burden to have to do terrible things to make it so. That’s something many troops can get behind.

It also helps that he truly encapsulates the rest of the minor moments that come with being a veteran. Like his monologue in Daredevil season 2.

For all intents and purposes, Chris Kyle was the real-life Punisher. No ifss, ands, or buts.

Another key element of the Punisher that’s enjoyed by fans is the famous skull logo. You can’t drive around a barracks parking lot without seeing a lifted Ford F-150 with adorned with a Punisher decal modified to have either the U.S. flag pattern or the “Back the Blue” stripe incorporated.

Related: Why death iconography is a beloved part of military culture

Though the skull has its origins in comic book, it’s taken on an entirely new meaning with the troops. It’s now a brand for anyone willing to stand for what’s right. Sure, Captain America’s shield might be a more apt symbol for that, but the Punisher’s skull has more of an impactful meaning easily caught by the viewer.

Chris Kyle explained his use of the skull best in his autobiography, American Sniper:

“Our Comms guy suggested it before the deployment. We all thought what the Punisher did was cool: He righted wrongs. He killed bad guys. He made wrongdoers fear him. That’s what we were all about. So we adapted his symbol  — a skull — and made it our own, with some modifications. We spray-painted it on our Hummers and body armor, and our helmets and all our guns. And we spray-painted it on every building or wall we could. We wanted people to know, we’re here and we want to f*ck with you… It was our version of PsyOps. You see us? We’re the people kicking your ass. Fear us. Because we will kill you, mother f*cker. You are bad — we are badder.
MIGHTY TACTICAL

Russian-backed separatists shoot down OSCE drone

Germany and France say Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine likely shot down a drone being used by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s (OSCE) monitoring mission, demanding that those responsible “be held accountable.”

In a joint statement on Nov. 1, 2018, Berlin and Paris also noted that in recent weeks, the drone had observed convoys entering Ukrainian territory across a nonofficial border crossing from Russia on “multiple occasions” and spotted a surface-to-air missile system before the loss of communication.


Fighting between Ukrainian government forces and the separatists has killed more than 10,300 people in eastern Ukraine since April 2014. Russia has repeatedly denied financing and equipping the separatist forces despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, insisting that the fighting was a civil, internal conflict.

Germany and France, which have been working with Moscow and Kyiv as part of the so-called Normandy Format to bring an end to the conflict, said the drone operated by the OSCE’s Special Monitoring Mission (SMM) disappeared in the early hours of Oct. 27, 2018.

OSCE Permanent Council venue at the Hofburg, Vienna.

The incident occurred while the long-range drone was following a convoy of trucks near the town of Nyzhnokrynske close to the Russia-Ukraine border, an area controlled by the separatists, the statement said.

It said evidence assembled by the SMM “suggests Russia and the separatists it backs bear responsibility” for the downing of the unmanned aerial vehicle.

The “severe” incident “stands in clear violation” of the SMM mandate as adopted by participating states of the OSCE mission, Germany and France said.

The SMM, a civilian mission assigned to report impartially on the situation in Ukraine, has hundreds of monitors in the country’s east where the separatists are holding parts of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions.

The mission said in March 2018 it was reintroducing its long-range drone program more than 18 months after it was halted due to repeated shoot-downs.

Fighting in eastern Ukraine persists despite cease-fire deals reached as part of the September 2014 and February 2015 Minsk accords, and implementation of other measures set out in the deals has been slow.

Featured image: OSCE SMM monitoring the movement of heavy weaponry in eastern Ukraine.

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

MIGHTY TRENDING

Despite protests, Russia delivers advanced weapons to Syria

Russia says it has delivered S-300 surface-to-air missile systems to Syria, despite objections from Israel and the United States that the weapons will escalate the war in the Middle Eastern country.

“The work was finished a day ago,” Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu told President Vladimir Putin during an Oct. 2, 2018 meeting broadcast on state-run Rossia-24 television.

Shoigu said that Russia delivered four S-300 launchers along with radars and support vehicles.


Speaking during a Security Council meeting chaired by President Vladimir Putin, he said it will take three months to train Syrian personnel to operate the system.

He repeated Russian statements that the purpose of the delivery was to protect Russian military personnel in Syria, where 15 Russian servicemen were killed when Syrian forces shot their reconnaissance plane down on Sept. 17, 2018.

Putin ordered the military to supply the missiles to Syria after the downing that Russia blamed partly on Israel, which was staging air raids on Iranian targets in Syria at the time.

An Ilyushin Il-20M reconnaissance plane.

The Russian Defense Ministry accused Israeli warplanes of using the Russian aircraft as a cover to dodge Syria’s existing, Russian-provided defense systems.

Israel voiced regret afterward, but blamed Syrian incompetence for the incident and said it would continue bombing Iranian military targets in Syria.

“We have not changed our strategic line on Iran,” Israeli Education Minister Naftali Bennett, a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s security cabinet, said on Oct. 2, 2018.

“We will not allow Iran to open up a third front against us. We will take actions as required,” he told Israel Radio.

In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said she could not confirm that Russia had delivered the systems but added, “I hope that they did not.”

“That would be, I think, sort of a serious escalation in concerns and issues going on in Syria,” she said at a briefing.

Shoigu at the meeting in Moscow also said the Russian military has added equipment in Syria for “radio-electronic warfare” and now can monitor the airspace in the area used for strikes on Syrian soil.

S-300 anti-aircraft missile system.

(Photo by Vitaly V. Kuzmin)

Along with upgrading Syria’s missile defenses, Moscow announced that Russia would begin jamming the radars of hostile warplanes in regions near Syria, including over the Mediterranean Sea, to prevent further incidents that could cause harm to its troops.

A Russian lawmaker said that 112 Russian military personnel have been killed so far in Syria since it stepped up its involvement in the war in 2105, launching a campaign of air strikes and bolstering its military presence on the ground.

Russian and Iranian military support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad have been critical in helping turn the tide of the war in his favor.

Over 400,000 people have been killed in the conflict, which began with a government crackdown on pro-democracy protests in 2011, and millions more driven from their homes.

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

MIGHTY CULTURE

WATCH: As death toll rises, Italian Air Force delivers hope

As haunting images from Italy of overcrowded emergency rooms and horror stories of Coronavirus flood social media, the Italian Air Force flew with a message of strength for her people. It was a reminder of pride for the country, unity in the face of grave danger and a prayer of resilience for a country beleaguered by an enemy we haven’t seen before: COVID-19.

Set to the backdrop of Giacomo Puccini’s ‘Nessum Dorma,’ performed by Luciano Pavarotti, the flyover is beautiful, chilling and more than anything … full of hope. Translated to English, the last lyrics of the song are, “I will prevail. I will prevail. I will prevail.” You will, Italy. And America will, too.

Watch the flyover:


www.youtube.com


MIGHTY FIT

From the football field to the battlefield: 7 vets with NFL ties

The National Football League has been plagued by questions of patriotism in the last few years. But whether or not the NFL kneels or stands this year, it’s important to remember that some of the players and coaches have served, too.


1. George Halas

Halas was instrumental in the creation of the NFL and responsible for founding the team that went on to be the Chicago Bears in 1920. Nicknamed “Papa Bear,” Halas coached the Bears for 40 seasons, leading them to six NFL titles. Halas served in the Navy during World War I and returned to Navy service from 1942-1945.

2. Ralph Wilson, Jr.

Enshrined in the Hall of Fame in 2009, Wilson founded the Buffalo Bills following his service in the Navy during World War II. He was also instrumental in the merger between the AFL and the NFL in 1970.

3. Kevin Greene

Greene retired from the NFL in 1999 and ranks third among all-time sack leaders. He led the NFL twice in that category with an impressive career playing for the Steelers, Rams, Panthers, and 49ers, with five appearances in the Pro Bowl. Greene was a member of ROTC at Auburn and served 16 years in the Army Reserves.

4. Alejandro Villanueva Martínez

Villanueva is an offensive tackle for the Steelers. A veteran Army Ranger, Villanueva was a captain in the Army, served in Afghanistan, and was decorated with a Bronze Star.

5. Tom Landry

Hall of Famer Tom Landry was a coaching phenom for the Dallas Cowboys. He led his team to two Super Bowl titles and had 20 straight winning seasons. Equally impressive was Landry’s service in the Army Air Corps during World War II. The B-17 co-pilot flew 30 missions and survived a crash in Belgium. He passed away in 2000 at age 75 as a legend and a hero.

6. Dick “Night Train” Lane

The Hall of Famer had an incredible 68 career interceptions during his time with the Los Angeles Rams, Chicago Cardinals, and Detroit Lions. For nine straight years (1954-1963), Lane earned first or second-team All-NFL honors. He played in seven Pro Bowls and during his rookie season, had an unprecedented 14 interceptions – a record that still stands today. Lane served in the Army during both World War II and the Korean War.

7. Roger Staubach

Staubach, nicknamed “Captain America,” won the 1963 Heisman Trophy during his time as quarterback at the U.S. Naval Academy. After graduation, Staubach served his commitment in the Navy, which included a tour in Vietnam. Following his service, Staubach joined the Cowboys and played in Dallas for all 11 seasons of his professional football career. During his tenure, the Cowboys won two of their five Super Bowl appearances.

The list of NFL greats who served their country continues with inspiring men like Pat Tillman, George McAfee, Mike Anderson, and so many more. But for every big name in the NFL, there are countless men that gave up their football dreams to serve their country.

You may not have heard of Jack Ankerson, but he only played three NFL exhibition games in 1964 before Uncle Sam called him up to serve his time. By the time his commitment was done, so was his chance to play in the NFL. But Jack, like so many others who chose service above self, is everything that’s right with America and the sports we love to watch.

Whether they’re a hometown hero or a household name, we salute all of our football playing and football-loving veterans.

MIGHTY TRENDING

What veterans can expect when running for office for the first time

Ohio is home for Hillary O’Connor Mueri. She was born in Parma and moved to Painesville at three years old. She’s a graduate of Ohio State University and entered the Navy as a Buckeye ROTC midshipman in 1996.


To her, it made perfect sense to run for Congress at home, in Ohio’s 14th Congressional District. And she believes she has the perfect resume for it.

“This is where I’m from,” she told Military.com. “This is where I call home. My parents still live in the house I grew up in.”

Hillary O’Connor Mueri

But running in her home district also opens her up to intense media scrutiny in front of her lifelong friends and family. With the election still nine months away, she’s already seen her opponent and his allies come out hard against her in local media. Like many veterans, she presses on, confident in her abilities. She never thought this would be easy, she says.

“Growing up, I always thought that politics was something wealthy people did. So it was never, you know, an ambition of mine,” she explains. “And I think we really need to change that narrative. We need to make the House for the people again, to make this something that everyone can aspire to.”

That aspiration is just one reason Mueri, a lawyer and former naval flight officer, decided to run for Congress. She felt a desire to serve early in her adult life, while studying aviation engineering. She wanted to use her love for all things aircraft to serve her country, especially after realizing she’d rather be flying planes than building them, she says.

Her grandfathers were both in the Navy, but they died before she was born. Still, the tradition of service, and the Navy in particular, resonated with Mueri. For her, landing on aircraft carriers meant she could always fly on the cutting edge of aviation technology.

As a naval flight officer, she was the backseater in the F-14D Tomcat, F/A-18 Hornet, F/A-18F Super Hornet and F-16B Fighting Falcon. In the Tomcat, her role was radar intercept officer, but was called weapons systems officer in the other three airframes.

“Tomcats forever. First love,” she says. “All the other aircraft have amazing characteristics, but there’s something about the F-14 that’s just gonna stick with me.”

Her career took her to train in Pensacola and to the carrier Theodore Roosevelt. In 2003, she flew Strike Coordination and Reconnaissance missions supporting ground troops in northern Iraq from the Roosevelt. She later became an instructor at what was then the Naval Strike and Air Warfare Center’s (now known as Naval Aviation Warfighting Development Center) Strike school at Nevada’s Naval Air Station Fallon.

She left the Navy in 2007 with the rank of Lieutenant after getting engaged to her future husband, Simon Mueri. When he was transferred to San Diego, she went too. While there, she struggled with finding meaningful work as a civilian and decided to go to law school. Graduating in 2010, she was hired by the prestigious firm of Perkins Coie in Los Angeles.

Eventually, it was time to move home to be near her family in Ohio. But running for office wasn’t her first thought. She saw an ad for Emily’s List, a reproductive rights organization that supports women running for office. There was something about the idea of running that stuck with Mueri the same way the Tomcat did.

“Watching how chaotic our government has gotten, how it turned from service and lawmaking into partisan bickering, I couldn’t sit on the sidelines anymore,” she said. “In the military, we talk about the Constitution and how service is so valuable. I want to bring that back to the House. The House of Representatives is the people’s house, and I want to be able to affect real change for everyday people.”

Part of that dedication to service is why she thinks more veterans should run for office. She believes veterans have a “country first, mission first” outlook that drives them from day to day, regardless of political party.

“It’s about identifying what needs to get done and getting it done,” she said. “So you learn how to work as a team and ignore the distinctions between you. I think having more veterans with that perspective focused on the greater good, instead of about the petty day-to-day things, we’re going to be able to really accomplish a lot that is solely for the benefit of the country.”

But it isn’t easy. Running for office is almost a 24/7 job, with nearly limitless pulls on the candidate’s attention. Being a veteran is also good preparation for those problems, she says. The 24/7 mentality is strong with most military members, and the demands of military life are great practice for balancing priorities. What most veterans probably aren’t prepared for is suddenly being in the spotlight.

“Suddenly, you have to realize that there will be a larger amount of attention paid to what you do, as opposed to going about your everyday life,” Mueri said. “That takes some getting used to.”

In her situation, allegations were made by the Ohio Republican Party that, while she was transitioning to civilian life and moving from Nevada to California in 2008, she requested an absentee ballot from the state of Ohio and voted in two primary elections.

The allegations were debunked in a statement from Ohio’s Lake County Board of Elections, clarifying that, while it mailed her a ballot, she never sent it in. The incident received media coverage in newspapers and television stations from Cleveland to Akron, no small thing when running for office in your hometown.

“You’re very exposed,” she said. “It’s shocking to see that sort of thing sprung on you. In the end, you have to let it roll off your back and keep moving forward as long as you have the truth on your side. And I do, so I just have to carry on being myself.”

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

MIGHTY TRENDING

Why Iran stopped messing with the US Navy under Trump

Iran’s navy made a point of harassing and humiliating the US Navy in 2016 after then-President Barack Obama had sealed the Iran deal, but since August 2017, the US Navy says things have changed.


“It seems like they’ve absolutely made a conscious decision to give us more space,” Navy Cmdr. William Urban recently said. “That is definitely a change in their behavior.”

Iran would charge US Navy ships with fast attack craft, buzz fighter jets with drones, and even shine lasers at helicopters operating at sea during Obama’s presidency.

But the worst, most embarrassing incident occurred in January 2016, when Iran’s navy seized two US Navy riverine boats and the 10 sailors on board after the ship wandered into Iranian waters due to mechanical issues. They broadcast footage of the sailors, crying, in detention, on television across the country. Iran later announced plans to build a monument commemorating the event.

Also read: The US Navy had 90 seconds to defend itself when Iranian-backed militants fired on them off Yemen

Later that year, Iranian ships conducted “unsafe and unprofessional” and often taunting maneuvers around US Navy ships in the Persian Gulf five times in about a month.

In September of that same year, Trump addressed Iran while on the campaign trail. “When they circle our beautiful destroyers with their little boats and they make gestures at our people that they shouldn’t be allowed to make, they will be shot out of the water,” Trump said.

Shortly after Trump’s election, the incidents noticeably stopped, despite Trump’s open hostility towards Iran, compared to Obama’s attempts to appease them.

What happened?

Iran’s fast attack craft, the type repeatedly used to harass US Navy ships. (Photo by Fars News Agency via USNI News)

The US Navy “openly acknowledged there was a shift that happened roughly around the time we had our political transition,” Jonathan Schanzer, vice president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told Business Insider. “There was a status quo and the status quo changed.”

According to Schanzer, the Trump administration gave no official warning to Iran over the naval incidents, but instead, “the unpredictability of Trump has made Iran more reticent to test American red lines.”

Related: Iran threatened the US Navy again

Compared to the US Navy, the best on earth, Iran’s navy just treads water. Iranians, even the hardliners, must know their small attack craft can’t pose a meaningful threat to US ships, and even if they could, US retaliation would devastate the forces.

Instead, rushing US ships and putting them on the defensive, as well as capturing sailors, works mainly for propaganda purposes for Iran, whose authoritarian regime controls the media and pushes a heavily anti-US agenda.

With Trump similarly focused on optics and pledging to revitalize the US military, Iran may have pivoted towards quietly pursuing its foreign policy goals, rather than making a scene that Trump could react to violently.

More: The US Navy unloaded on the Iranians in the most explosive surface fight since WWII

“There’s another side of this,” said Schanzer. “They understood that there was a change in the rules of the risk/reward calculus, but they also seem to understand that there was less of a policy with regard to their regional activity from Yemen to Iraq to Syria.”

So while Iran has dropped the very visible, US-centric naval run-ins, it’s picked up on recruiting militias, deploying its armed forces to Syria, and supplying anti-US and anti-Israel militant groups.

“They realize if they want to actually achieve their objectives across the Middle East, they needed to dial back on the harassment that would needlessly provoke the US,” Schanzer said.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Why a drunk traffic fatality was the last straw for US troops in Japan

Early in the morning of Nov. 19, 2017. an Okinawa-based Marine drove his truck while impaired – at three times Japan’s legal limit. The Marine ran a red light, driving into oncoming traffic and hitting another truck driven by 61-year old, Jun Tamanaha. Tamanaha was killed in the incident.


The Marine is identified as Pvt. First Class Nicholas James-McLean.

“I would like to convey my deepest regret and sincere condolences to the family and friends of the Okinawan man who died as a result of this accident. We are still gathering facts and working with the Japanese authorities who are investigating the accident and its causes,” Lt. Gen. Lawrence Nicholson, commander of Marine Forces Japan and III Marine Expeditionary Force said in an official statement.

Lt. Gen. Lawrence D. Nicholson, listens to questions from Japanese media at Camp Courtney, Okinawa, Japan. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Nelson Duenas)

In response, U.S. Forces Japan commander Lt. Gen. Jerry Martinez ordered all Japan-based troops banned from buying or consuming alcohol until further notice.

“Marines, Soldiers, Sailors, and Airmen must return to quarters and cease consuming alcohol effective immediately,” says the order from III Marine Expeditionary Force. “Off base liberty is NOT permitted in Okinawa. Authorized leave is to be conducted outside Okinawa.”

This was not a knee jerk reaction. Over the years, there have been many incidents involving U.S. troops stationed in Okinawa under the influence of alcohol. This sparked many local Japanese protests against the troops stationed there.

In July 2017, some 25,000 protested after a Marine drunkenly broke into a house and molested a young girl. In June 2016, 65,000 protesters assembled after an American contractor raped and murdered another local woman. One of the largest to date was in 1995, after three service members abducted and raped a 12-year-old girl, causing 85,000 protesters to rally.

Okinawans protesting the 40,000 troops stationed on the island. (Image via YouTube)

MIGHTY TRENDING

President Trump releases PREVENTS roadmap for ending suicide among Veterans and all Americans

On June 17, 2020, President Trump released the President’s Roadmap to Empower Veterans and End a National Tragedy of Suicide (PREVENTS). This landmark nationwide plan engages Americans in a nationwide effort to prevent suicide, connect Veterans and others at risk to federal and local resources, and facilitate coordinated research on suicide prevention.

“My administration is taking steps to ensure that the men and women who bravely fought for us when they were called will be given the care and attention they need during some of their darkest hours,” said President Donald J. Trump.

The roadmap is the result of an Executive Order that President Trump signed on March 5, 2019. It calls for several steps to advance this critical national goal, many of which are already underway:


National Suicide Prevention Activation Campaign

This summer, the PREVENTS Office will launch a nationwide public health campaign aimed at educating Americans that suicide is preventable. It creates awareness of mental health and suicide prevention best practices with a call to action for ALL Americans to take the PREVENTS Pledge to Prevent Suicide.

Improving Suicide Prevention Research

Too often, we focus on a one-size-fits-all approach to suicide prevention that fails to take into account an individual’s specific risk factors. As a key element of the roadmap, PREVENTS will launch the National Research Strategy to accelerate the development and implementation of effective solutions to help prevent suicide among Veterans and all Americans.

Building Partnerships

The PREVENTS Office has built relationships with dozens of organizations across the country. These include Veteran and military service organizations, faith-based groups, universities, non-profits, corporations, small businesses. It also includes state and local governments to share best practices for promoting mental health, to ensure awareness of and access to federal, state, local and tribal resources.

“The release of the PREVENTS Roadmap is a critical step in advancing the national priority of preventing suicide in this nation, but it is only a first step” said PREVENTS Executive Director Dr. Barbara Van Dahlen. “With our Veterans leading the way, we will engage all Americans as we fully implement the PREVENTS Roadmap. Together we will prevent suicide.”

For more on PREVENTS, please visit: https://www.va.gov/prevents/.

This article originally appeared on VAntage Point. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.