5 ways to tactfully square away your superiors - We Are The Mighty
Military Life

5 ways to tactfully square away your superiors

Everyone makes mistakes. Non-commissioned officers and officers have come to expect it from low-ranking privates, but even with over ten years in the service, you’re not exempt from the occasional goof. These accidents range from a mistake in uniform, leaving a CAC in the computer, and anything that falls under the category of “humans making human mistakes.”


Private Joe Schmoe has every right and responsibility to make on-the-spot corrections, even to the Chief of Staff of the United States Army. Leaders worth their weight in salt will take the correction and actually respect the subordinate for making it, but only if the mistake is addressed with tact. If you’re a Private and you interrupt the Command Sergeant Major because you saw him take two steps while he’s on the cell phone — I mean, yeah, you’re not entirely in the wrong, but no one will ever see it that way, especially the Command Sergeant Major.

This list outlines the ways you can tactfully correct your superior, starting with the most subtle methods intended for common mistakes and working its way up to grievous errors, with examples for each. Think of these as an escalation of force appropriate to the situation. With respect to the rank of the person being corrected, you should obviously not reach for the sledgehammer tactic to deal with a thumbtack problem.

5. Quietly point out the mistake

Example: Your superior has their patches on the wrong side.

As odd as it sounds to older Army vets and troops from nearly every other branch, a common mistake soldiers make when dressing in the morning is to put the Velcro “U.S. Army” and name patches on the wrong side. This usually happens when someone is in a rush in the morning and it simply slips their mind.

If your superior’s made this goof, get their attention and point to your own patches. They should (probably) get the hint.

 

5 ways to tactfully square away your superiors
And no one told the Colonel… (Image via US Army WTF Moments)

4. Point out the regulation

Example: Your superior instructs a class incorrectly.

This is best used when they’re so confident, but they’re so wrong. Don’t be a dick about it — you don’t need to do the, “well, actually, Sergeant, according to… you’re wrong!

Only attempt this if you’re absolutely positive that you’re right. If you’re only 99.9% sure, start what you’re about to say with, “Pardon me, sir, I believe it’s…” That way, even if you’re wrong, it gives them the opportunity to learn the proper way and you won’t be completely oblierated.

5 ways to tactfully square away your superiors
Bit of advice: Use Google before you start acting smart. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Aaron S. Patterson)

3. Pull them aside

Example: Your superior is slacking off.

If you need your supervisor to do something, the most effective way to get them off their lazy ass is to convince them that it’s their idea. Use phrases like, “Can you teach me how to…”

Whatever you do, never come at them like you outrank them. You still need to show respect to their rank, even if they aren’t acting like it.

5 ways to tactfully square away your superiors
But if they’re racked the f*ck out and they’re supposed to be on duty, by all means. F*ck with them. You’re in the wrong, but they’re more in the wrong. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Aaron Rosencrans)

2. Inform their peer

Example: Your superior might be drunk on duty.

For better or worse, the military handles issues at the lowest level possible. It’s terrible when that policy covers up something that should probably be addressed, but the consequences are the same and it keeps a clean paper trail.

If there’s an egregious situation at play that your superior won’t or can’t address, inform their peer. Pass the concern up the chain of command to someone more appropriate to handle the situation.

5 ways to tactfully square away your superiors
How it feels dealing with drunk NCOs. (U.S. photo taken by Spc. Joshua P. Morris, U.S. ARCENT PAO)

1. Inform their supervisor (or MP)

Example: Your superior does something that brings discredit upon the armed forces.

These are your heinous acts and criminal offenses. If they are your superior and you are aware that they did something horribly wrong, do not cover for them. The military justice system doesn’t care for the “snitches get stitches” mentality.

If you’re aware of criminal activity and you don’t speak up, you’re guilty as well. All it takes is an open-door counseling to at least one superior to keep you from getting caught up in their crime.

5 ways to tactfully square away your superiors
Only one person needs to make the big rocks smaller. You don’t need to join them. (U.S. Marine photo by Sgt. Jessica Collins)

Articles

15 years later, Pararescueman awarded Air Force Cross for valor

Fifteen years after a 17-hour battle on an Afghan mountaintop, a pararescueman’s extraordinary heroism was recognized with an Air Force Cross, upgraded from a Silver Star, following a service-wide review of medals awarded since 9/11.


5 ways to tactfully square away your superiors
The Air Force Cross is the service’s highest combat medal for valor, second only to the Medal of Honor. (U.S. Air Force graphic by Senior Airman Ryan Conroy)

Then-Tech. Sgt. Keary Miller –against overwhelming odds and a barrage of heavy fire from Al Qaeda militants– dashed through deep snow into the line of fire multiple times to assess and care for critically-wounded U.S. service members, March 4, 2002.

Miller was previously awarded the Silver Star medal for these actions, Nov. 1, 2003. The Air Force Cross is the service’s highest combat medal for valor, second only to the Medal of Honor.

“We are blessed to have Airmen like Keary in the Special Tactics community,” said Col. Michael Martin, the 24th Special Operations Wing commander, who directed training for Miller’s pararescue team before their deployment in 2002. “In an extraordinary situation, Keary acted with courage and valor to save the lives of 10 special operations teammates. This medal upgrade accentuates his selflessness despite an overwhelming enemy force…although Keary may humbly disagree, he belongs to a legacy of heroes.”

Miller was deployed from the 123rd Special Tactics Squadron, an Air National Guard unit based in Standiford, Kentucky. During the mission, he was the Air Force combat search and rescue team leader assigned to a U.S Army Ranger quick reaction force.

Also read: Special tactics airman receives medal upgrade for dramatic rescue

“I would describe Keary as a dedicated pararescueman – dedicated to his craft and dedicated to the motto ‘That others may live.’ That’s how he defined himself and that really defines his actions that day,” said Lt. Col. Sean Mclane, the 123rd STS commander, who was a second lieutenant in Miller’s home unit during that time. “We have a proud legacy and a tradition of valor, and Keary is a big part of that.”

On March 4, 2002, his team was tasked to support a joint special operations team on a mountaintop called Takur Ghar, occupied by Al Qaeda forces– an engagement commonly known as the Battle of Roberts Ridge after the first casualty of the battle, Petty Officer 1st Class Neil Roberts.

One of the most significant events in recent Special Operations history began when a joint special operations team attempted to infiltrate Takur Ghar, which held a well-fortified and concealed force. The ensuing battle would result in the loss of seven special operations team members.

“We were notified there was a missing aircrew and we were launching a team to go find them,” said Maj. Gabriel Brown, a Special Tactics officer, formerly an enlisted combat controller. “It was unknown who exactly was missing, but we loaded up two helicopters full of Rangers and the (combat search and rescue) package, which included me, Senior Airman Jason Cunningham [pararescueman] and Keary, who was my team leader. I trusted him.”

As the quick reaction force helicopter made its approach over the landing zone, they were struck by rocket propelled grenades at close range –they returned fire with mini guns, but the helicopter impacted the ground hard, lurching into the snow.

“Once we landed, 7.62mm rounds ripped through the fuselage–the daylight popping through, smoke aglow; then the rotors decelerated to a grinding halt,” Brown said. “Immediately, we had several casualties; I remember seeing two Rangers face down. Keary and I were deep in the aircraft—and we made eye contact and shared kind of a ‘here we go’ moment.”

The team disembarked from the aircraft to combat the blistering fire of a waiting enemy. At great risk to his own life, Miller moved through the snowy terrain, crossing into the line of fire on several occasions in order to assess and care for critically wounded servicemen.

5 ways to tactfully square away your superiors

“I saw Keary taking action on the wounded, worried about collecting the casualties and triaging them,” Brown said, who was in charge of aircraft communications and precision strike. “He was careful in his thoughts and actions, conducting himself calmly and coolly – relaying the casualty information to me all morning.”

As the battle continued, Miller collected ammunition from the deceased to distribute it to multiple positions in need of ammo, moving through heavy enemy fire each time.

“I was listening to the updates as they were coming in; I was so proud because my friends were on that mountain and their future was so uncertain but they were rocking it – they were doing everything right,” Mclane said, who was listening real-time to satellite communications of the battle. “It’s like, these guys might not make it off this mountain, but by God, they’re going down swinging.”

When Cunningham was killed during another attack, the casualty collection point he was at was compromised. Miller assumed Cunningham’s role — providing medical aid under fire to the wounded – and braved enemy fire to move the wounded to better cover and concealment.

Related: 12 Airmen may get Air Force Cross or Medal of Honor upgrades

“I wholeheartedly believe the Air Force Cross accurately represents Keary’s actions that day,” said Brown. “I know those lives were saved that day were because of his efforts within that environment…the steps he took to ensure they made it off the battlefield.”

Miller is credited with saving the lives of 10 U.S. service members that day, and the recovery of seven who were killed in action.

Following his deployment, Miller returned to the 123rd STS as a mentor for the newest generation of operators. The events he experienced helped him to shape tactics, techniques and procedures for years to come.

“Keary was already a mature pararescueman before he went on that mission,” Mclane said. “But, when he returned, he really dedicated himself to improving our body armor, our equipment, our (tactics, techniques and procedures) when under fire – he was driven to be better, and to make his teammates better.”
Articles

This man lost 90 pounds to enlist in the Marines

About a dozen young men and women are gathered at a shopping center, lining up outside Marine Corps Recruiting Sub-Station here, to prepare for the challenges of recruit training at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, South Carolina.


Also read: A retired Navy SEAL commander breaks down his morning fitness routine that starts at 4:30

Some recruits are more prepared than others. Some still have ground to cover and goals to obtain, but 17-year-old Demetri E. Ramos has covered more ground than his peers.

5 ways to tactfully square away your superiors

Over the past three years he lost about 90 pounds to be eligible to enlist in the United States Marine Corps. He started his journey at 260 pounds and now weighs 170 pounds.

His stepfather, Robert Haag, challenged him during his freshman year to turn his life around. Haag noticed his stepson would spend many hours every day playing video games in the basement of his house. Haag approached Ramos and challenged him to earn his place on “the wall.”

“There is a big wall in our house that you have to earn your way [onto],” Haag said. On this wall are photos of six current and former Marines.

Setting a Goal

“My stepfather told me if I go from 260 pounds to 180 pounds, he would buy me an Xbox One,” said Ramos, a Severna Park High School native. At first, Ramos was hesitant about the large amount of weight he would have to lose.

But, he said, after eating healthier and spending long hours in the gym with his stepbrother he accomplished his goal.

After graduating high school this past spring, Ramos’ stepbrother and stepfather, who are both Marines, went with him to visit the local Marine Corps Recruiting Station, a trip that would change his life forever.

Ramos added he always looked up to and admired the Marines in his family because of their character and values they learned.

“To see the dedication he had before talking to [us] was incredible,” said Gunnery Sgt. Jason Irwin, the commander of the Glen Burnie Marine recruiting office. “You can definitely see the commitment he had to make himself eligible for enlistment, and to take the initial steps of becoming a United States Marine.”

“It wasn’t fun being incapable of doing things because of my weight, or being out of shape and not progressing,” Ramos said. “My motivation initially started with these restrictions and it grew more and more when I continued to lose weight and wanted to continue to make myself better as a person.”

Ramos is scheduled to attend recruit training at the end of this year, and according to Irwin, “he is pumped and ready to go.”

“If you never have confidence in yourself, you’re not going to go anywhere,” he said.

Military Life

4 reasons why troops need to be a little salty

Parents tend to teach their kids that kindness is one of the greatest traits a human can exhibit. When those kids eventually join the military, they’ll learn that they need to drop the niceties before too long.

Troops should show a general politeness toward their peers — after all, the military wouldn’t function if everyone was truly spiteful toward one another. We’d never recommend that you treat others like dirt, but every service member must obtain a certain level of saltiness in order to get through their career.


In a way, military life is the reversal of civilian norms. In the military, kindness is negatively received; being assertive and salty is the only way to get what you want. We’re not saying this is bad or good — it’s just the weird life that troops live.

5 ways to tactfully square away your superiors

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t help others out.

(Photo by Spc. L’Erin Wynn)

Your kindness will be perceived as weakness

Before any of this gets twisted, kindness isn’t a weakness and showing genuine empathy toward your fellow troop isn’t going to kill you. In fact, showing your brothers- and sisters-in-arms compassion will take you far and may save a life some day.

However, the harsh reality is that there are no brakes on the military train. Slowing down for others and offering a helping hand isn’t always smiled upon. When you pause to help someone who’s stalled, in the eyes of many, there are now two impediments.

It’s not an pleasant circumstance, but that’s how life in the military goes.

5 ways to tactfully square away your superiors

(Photo by Staff Sgt. R.J. Lannom)

Your kindness will get pushed to the limits

There’s another side to the compassion coin. Offer your help too readily and others will take advantage. One favor leads to three. “Hey, can you get me…” quickly turns into, “you don’t mind, do you?”

In a perfect world, there wouldn’t be any toxic leadership in the military. Everyone would take unit morale into consideration, do their part, and ensure tasks are completed on schedule. Unfortunately, when people find it easier to get someone else to their job, they’ll take that road.

5 ways to tactfully square away your superiors

But they’re not mutually exclusive in combat situations.

(Photo by Cpl. Darien J. Bjorndal)

Your saltiness will get things done

Aggression and anger are not essential traits of great leaders. A first sergeant who never yells still commands the same respect as a first sergeant who barks at everyone. It is entirely possible to be assertive and state your intentions to others without shouting.

…but most people won’t see it that way. The moment you raise your voice, people listen. If you’re of a lower rank, people will assume you’re ready for a leadership position — in actuality, yelling and true leadership skills are apples and oranges.

5 ways to tactfully square away your superiors

Troops will rarely give an honest answer if their first sergeant asks them how are they doing, even if it’s meant sincerely.

(U.S. Marine Corps)

Your saltiness won’t ever get questioned

Being nice will cause everyone to question your motives. Other troops will think you’re up to something, trying to work them over. Conversely, there’re almost no repercussions for being a dick to everyone.

The higher your rank, the less people will wonder why you’re grouchy. Everyone just accepts it as normal, everyday life. Niceties at that rank set off alarms in the lower ranks or just confuse everyone.

Military Life

The pros and cons of being a military spouse

The title of “Military Spouse” is a descriptor that those married to service members wear proudly — and with good reason. There is a sense of pride in being married to someone who has dedicated their life and career to defending our great nation.


Military life affects the entire family to varying degrees and finding others who can relate to what you are going through is important. So, it makes sense to identify as a “Military Spouse” and be an active part of that community.

5 ways to tactfully square away your superiors
We’re a family and it’s beautiful. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Calvin Shamoon)

But is there a downside?

Maybe.

My husband recently retired from the military after 20 years in the Marine Corps. We were ready for this transition. We knew exactly where we wanted to retire, we had friends and family in the area, and, having already lived in the location in the past, we had a few roots already planted.

I was a very active part of the military-spouse community and, over time, I became very well-versed in making friends and adapting to living in certain areas for only a few years at a time. Even today, we still find ourselves gravitating towards military families when it comes to social gatherings.

But 18 months into this “retirement” phase of our lives together, I am feeling a little bit lost.

It’s not that I’m getting the itch to move — I have jokingly told my husband that I just want to be buried in the backyard because I am not moving again. But I do feel a loss of identity when it comes to friendships.

5 ways to tactfully square away your superiors
No one gets the military community like the military-spouse community. (U.S. Army Photo by Staff Sgt. John Healy)

Making friends with folks who have lived in one area their entire lives is a bit challenging. It’s not because they’re not open to being friends with a newcomer, it’s because I find myself so far out of my comfort zone. The zone where, no matter what, another military spouse and I instantly had at least one thing in common upon first meeting. So I struggle to create long-lasting, meaningful friendships (that are so valuable to my mental health) in a community of people who have been around each other their entire adult lives.

Was there something I wish I had done differently while my husband was on active duty? I’m not sure. I don’t regret the many incredible, life-long friends I made, even if they are spread out across the world. I don’t regret being active in the military-spouse community because I learned so much and grew as a person.

5 ways to tactfully square away your superiors
Military spouses of Combat Logistics Battalion 31 visit local children at the Life is Beautiful Daycare Center in Ishikawa, Okinawa, Japan. (U.S Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Jonah Baase)

But I do wish that I had spent more time making connections with those outside of the community. I had “civilian family” friends, sure, but it feels like a life skill I could have spent more time honing.

Just like active duty service, transition out of military service impacts the entire family. There are many aspects of the transition to be considered, but one that I really wish I had realized was being careful of putting so much stock in my identity as a military spouse, especially when it comes to the friends I made.

I don’t wish that I had spent less time with military friends, I don’t wish that I had shied away from participating in the community, but I do wish I had spent more time thinking of life after my husband’s military service in regards to my own identity.

Military Life

Grunt Style now runs the best air shows in America

The launch of the inaugural 2018 Grunt Style Air Show Majors tour was just announced at the International Council of Air Shows annual convention in Las Vegas. Grunt Style Air Show Majors is a collection of America’s most prestigious air shows: SUN ‘n FUN International Fly-In Expo in Lakeland, Florida, the Bethpage Air Show at Jones Beach, Cleveland National Air Show, and the Commemorative Air Force “Wings Over Houston” Airshow.


The mission of Grunt Style Air Show Majors is to celebrate aviation, honor the military, and increase

mainstream awareness of the air show industry. By becoming an official tour stop, the four selected air shows will receive national promotion through a variety of marketing efforts, visibility for their air show at the other participating air shows, and additional mainstream recognition and benefits through partnering with tour creators, with Red Frog Events, and with the title partner, Grunt Style.

5 ways to tactfully square away your superiors

Grunt Style is a military, patriotic apparel company-meets-lifestyle brand with a perennial goal of instilling a sense of pride in everyone they reach through their products. More than 50% of their employees are veterans and they are known for their strong philanthropic values.

“Partnering with the inaugural Air Show Majors tour was an easy decision for us as our core values are very similar,” says Mike Birt, Chief Marketing Officer at Grunt Style. “We’re looking forward to boosting the aviation industry to a larger demographic and working with the participating shows to continue to honor our military.”

5 ways to tactfully square away your superiors

Red Frog Events, a Chicago-based, large-scale event production company, is the creator and promoter of Grunt Style Air Show Majors. The company’s background in the air show space varies from providing concessions, operational expertise, and ticketing for air shows across the country. They are a supporter and member of the International Council of Air Shows (ICAS) and are well-known for their nationwide Warrior Dash obstacle race series, as well as Firefly Music Festival, the east coast’s largest music festival.

“The launch of the Grunt Style Air Show Majors tour provides an opportunity to showcase the aviation industry and the selected shows to a new and broader audience,” says Scott Howard, Chief Marketing Officer at Red Frog Events, creators of the Grunt Style Air Show Majors tour. “We look forward to collaborating with these established and respected shows, as well as our partners at Grunt Style, for our inaugural year and during the exciting evolvement ahead.”

The four 2017 Grunt Style Air Show Majors shows will attract over 1.3 million total spectators. These shows have demonstrated their commitment to advancing the air show industry by participating in the nationwide tour.

The 2018 Grunt Style Air Show Majors tour dates and locations (in order of occurrence):

  • April 10 – 15, 2018: Sun’N Fun International Fly-In Expo, Lakeland, Florida
  • May 26 and 27, 2018: Bethpage Air Show, Jones Beach, Wantagh, New York
  • Sept. 1 – 3, 2018: Cleveland National Air Show, Cleveland, Ohio
  • Oct. 20 and 21, 2018: CAF Wings Over Houston Airshow, Houston, Texas

For more information on Grunt Style Air Show Majors, visit their website.

Military Life

Report says troops wouldn’t recommend military service to their own kids

5 ways to tactfully square away your superiors
Spc. Yemima Tarber extended her commitment to the Army during a reenlistment ceremony that was presided over by her mother, Capt. Lisa Campbell at Fort Lee, Va. A new survey by military advocacy group Blue Star Families says most service members with multiple deployments wouldn’t want their kids to go through the same hardship. (Photo by Sgt. 1st Class John Brown)

 


A new report from military family support organization Blue Star Families shows more than half of service members would not recommend military service to their own children. Additionally, slightly less than half of the respondents would not recommend it to other young adults who aren’t related to them.

Blue Star Families has compiled the so called “Annual Military Family Lifestyle Survey” reports since 2009, which are widely used by government officials from the White House, Congress, the Department of Defense, and state and local officials to help understand the unique needs and challenges of military families. Data collected from the annual survey often impacts legislation.

This year’s survey respondents consisted of a mixture of 8,390 active duty personnel, military veterans, and military and veteran spouses — a 130 percent increase over last year’s survey.

Of those surveyed, enlisted service members who had been deployed more than three times were the least likely to recommend military service to their own children.

Among officers, those with less than two deployments and an employed spouse were more likely to recommend military service to young people who are not their children, but only if benefits they’d been promised when they commissioned were still in place — and generally only to those who might become officers.

Less than 20 percent of respondents said they would recommend service to anyone if the current trend of cutting benefits continued.

This could be bad news for those who consider military service to be a “family business.”

“The past year has seen new and emerging security threats in numerous regions while Department of Defense budget cuts and personnel downsizing continues,” Blue Star Families said in their summary of this year’s findings. “The resulting operational tempo is very concerning to service members and their families.”

According to the report, almost 60 percent of veterans had at least one parent who served in the military before them, but only 45 percent of currently serving military members had a parent who served prior.

The 2015 report noted that 80 percent of veteran respondents would be “happy” if their children joined the military. While that specific detail about happiness isn’t reported in this year’s survey, when compared to this year’s 67 percent who would not recommend service to their children, it does appear to show a downward pattern of service members who want their children to follow in their footsteps.

“Extended family separations, frequent moves, and outdated expectations that military spouses sublimate their personal, professional, and familial priorities to support their service member’s military service are the most prevalent topics identified as substantially reducing the quality of life and attractiveness of martial service,” Blue Star Families said. “Military families understand that serving may mean making sacrifices in support of service; however, DoD must also examine the military necessity of the burdens it asks military families to bear.”

The survey isn’t all bad news for the family business of military service. Military spouses who are able to maintain a career were 36 percent more likely to recommend it, and a whopping 76 percent of all spouses surveyed who felt that the military had a positive or neutral career impact were likely to recommend service.

There were two surprising findings elsewhere in the report: almost 80 percent of respondents were satisfied with the military lifestyle, and over 80 percent were satisfied with Tricare Standard.

You can view the Executive Summary on Blue Star Family’s website.

 

5 ways to tactfully square away your superiors
Blue Star Families 2016 Military Lifestyle Survey at a glance.

 

“This year’s survey results show a military community at a point of inflection. It shows the country needs to get smarter about what a healthy All-Volunteer Force really looks like—and what it needs it to look like to ensure future success,” Blue Star Families argued. “The All-Volunteer Force was not designed for our current security environment of protracted low-level conflict, nor was it designed for the modern service member—who is better educated, married with children, and living in an increasingly diverse and inclusive society.”

Military Life

‘Operation Cure Boredom’ is a funny, unrepentant look back at life in the 1990s Air Force

The following is an excerpt from the first book by Air Force veteran and Hollywood writer Dan Martin. Titled Operation Cure Boredom, it’s a hilarious collection of short stories chronicling the adventures of Martin’s 1990-1994 enlistment in the world’s best Air Force.

This chapter, called “Guest on the Range,” is about the extraordinary lengths Martin went to in order to qualify on the firing range as a junior enlisted Crew Chief:


One of the things I learned while holding a loaded semiautomatic rifle was that I shouldn’t “goof around.” Apparently it’s distracting and unnerving to the other participants at the firing range. The angry sergeant on duty pointed this out, adding that it was irresponsible and unsafe. But everyone was so serious, so uptight, so concentrated.

5 ways to tactfully square away your superiors

Colton continued making the rest of us laugh, lightening the mood. We only managed to annihilate the dirt mounds behind the paper people. At the end of the session, when I learned that I had failed the firing range test and had one more chance to pass it or be discharged from service, I stopped goofing around.

In order to maintain a good standing with the U.S. Air Force, one must complete the annual firing range test. If you fail the retest, pack your bags because you’re heading home on an early discharge. Not wanting to go back to Long Island so soon, I concentrated and passed the retest, barely. For the following annual firing range test, I made arrangements to get help, mostly by ensuring that I was out of the country on assignment, whereupon the test was lost to bureaucracy and ultimately waived. But the year I got married and stopped going on so many TDYs was the year the test came back to haunt me.

I had taken a second job at this point, working in a liquor store not far from the Louisiana Downs racetrack, not because I was saving to buy a house and raise a family, but rather to help pay off all the loans. We had financially backed ourselves into a corner between the cars, furniture, and vacations we simply charged on credit cards. We had to have them because we were a responsible adult married couple. In my third year of military service, now that I was no longer on TDYs, I was unable to escape the firing range.

At the time I had enlisted in the Air Force, it is key to note that nobody, with the exception of the security police, the special ops guys, and maybe a few fighter pilots, had a useful knowledge of weapons, let alone were able to locate the safety. For the rest of us, the firing range seemed to only serve the purpose of reminding us what weapons looked like. I hit my targets by mistake, and self-defense skills were measured by how fast I could run a mile. Although the chow hall on the base displayed a sign upon entering that read “Those Carrying Automatic Weapons May Go to the Head of the Line,” I can guarantee that had my base ever been attacked, it would have been captured within minutes. A massive army of children riding atop Saint Bernards and wielding broomsticks could have charged the main gate and I’d have to think twice about holding my ground. Broomsticks hurt.

Now faced wit having to take the firing range test, I came to the conclusion I needed someone to help teach me how to pass it. Unfortunately, asking for help within the military community was not exactly the option I wanted to exercise. I was all too aware that I had joined the one branch of the military that didn’t require you to use handheld weapons. But asking for help was like a plumber you hired asking you to show him what a pipe fitting looked like.

We were supposed to at least pretend we knew what we were doing. There were a few guys in my squadron who grew up hunting the small animalsI always associated with my local park or the garbage cans on a trash night. But even one of them managed to book himself a trip to the emergency room. Firing a hand cannon with one hand and a large ego, he managed to adorn his forehead with a welt the size of a grapefruit, the recoil smacking him with the pistol hard enough to make him forget the date. Knowing that I was proficient in neither accuracy or emergency room small talk, I decided to search for a teacher who was not in the military.

I knew I could find someone, I had done it before.

My brother piqued my interest in firearms when he shot our father with a flare gun. To be fair, it was a misunderstanding. My father had explained to Peter that he was grounded for some infraction of the rules. Peter said no, then shot him. From the moment my father stepped into his room to confront him, he should have take notes of Peter’s nautical emergency rescue kit, now open on his desk. Normally tucked away on his lobster boat, the flare gun was now strangely instead in Peter’s hand. Moments later, the flare bounced off my dad’s chest and zipped around the carpet, finally coming to a halt near the hamster cage, melting a small hole in the synthetic rug the size of a potato.

The room immediately turned a blindingly bright white color only the Coast Guard could love, and by the time my father regained his vision and looked through the smoke, presumably to grab Peter’s neck and snap it, my brother had used the diversion to jump out the window, eluding punishment for yet another night. Peter was not the best communicator, nor was he ever considered a good candidate for “negotiator,” but I quickly learned by observing his actions that perhaps I didn’t need to learn to communicate with words. Being a shy teenager who was also lacking command of a large vocabulary, talking problems out and reasoning with each other just seemed time-consuming. That night, I came to understand the power of a gun and realized aloud, “Guns are awesome.”

I wanted to test it out for myself. So I found an instructor who chose as my first target the happy, winged creature symbolizing love that perched outside my bedroom window each morning. It was just sitting there on the branch, singing, ruffling its feathers like most swallows do. I was seventeen. My instructor was twelve. The BB gun was pumped with enough pressure to launch a kitten into space. Then I aimed and pulled the trigger, sending the bird reeling over backward in a cloud of feathers and guilt. When it was all over, Jason explained it was normal to feel nauseated:

“It’s okay. You’ll be fine. But I gotta go. My mom’s taking me to see The Little Mermaid.

That would be the last time I let a twelve-year-old whisper “kill it now” in my ear. While I learned that it was an amazing feeling to hold an object that has the ability to sway opinions, after the incident with the swallow, I decided guns weren’t really for me. Though committing arson on my father’s vegetable garden was acceptable, a gun was just taking things too far.

Now face with the firing range test, my search for a weapons instructor finally came to an end the day I met Barry, the assistant manager fo the liquor store where I worked nights. The day I walked in and inquired about a job, he was sitting behind the manager’s desk. I explained that I was looking for employment. He regarded me for a moment, then asked if I’d mind working with a fat pig name Clarence, pointing to the skinny guy behind the register. I said I thought this would be fine. He then led me on a tour through the massive walk-in refrigerator to show me where all the different beers were stacked. He asked me if I had any back problems preventing me from lifting boxes. I said no, then noticed his back brace and realized this was the best possible answer I could have given. Barry nodded his head up and down, seemingly trying to decide if I was going to work out, then wrenched open a bottle of Boone’s wine and washed down a handful of unknown pills. Needless to say, I was intrigued. Then he pulled a .22-caliber, long-barreled pistol out of his pants. It was fitted with some sort of custom-made silencer and he asked me if I’d ever seen such a thing of beauty. I said I hadn’t. Then he aimed it at a can of Milwaukee’s Best and fired, leaving a fountain of amusement in his wake.

I accepted the job on the spot.

It wasn’t until a week into the job that I learned that Barry hadn’t been the assistant manager at all. He was just an unstable employee whom the actual manager was afraid to fire. He called himself the assistant manager, and nobody argued with him. Although, looking back, it should have occurred to me, since Barry had given me a bonus one day for a job well done with a case of Miller Lite. But this guy could handle a weapon, even while hallucinating and mumbling, so who was I to question it?

Initially, I was a little nervous about taking a second job because the supervisors in my squadron tended to frown upon moonlighting, even though many of the enlisted guys I knew did it anyway. I had reached out to may coworker Tony Coloccini, who had confided in me that he also had a second job at a liquor store chain and would put in a good word. A week later, I was standing in this rundown liquor store. Needing money, and not wanting to be seen, this was the perfect job. Barry, the firearms expert, was the gift I was looking for.

Barry would walk up and down the aisles with an aimless purpose to do nothing but strut. Occasionally, he’d say he was going to take inventory or stock the shelves. But there was always some condition that prevented him from doing any actual work. He could never bend over to reach the bottom two shelves because of a bad back, nor could he stand on small ladder, claiming he once fell off one and preferred to avoid them. He couldn’t ever read inventory lists or do the ordering because he always forgot his glasses and, I suspect, couldn’t write.

This always left me wondering what Barry’s function in the store actually was until one night some suspicious-looking guys walked in and were greeted by Barry stroking a .44 magnum long barrel. This is a gun more commonly used to take down a helicopter or a Tyrannosaurus Rex, I imagine. They immediately turned and walked out. In short, the story had never been robbed since Barry started working there two years prior. And in a neighborhood where crime seemed to be the gross domestic product, Barry’s value went a long way.

As a result, the place became kind of a safe hangout for Barry’s friends who all lost their money at the track and would come in and shoot the shit with him for a while. This eventually led to the question of could have a bottle of Thunderbird or Mad Dog 20/20 and pay him back tomorrow. Barry always said yes, and, of course, would always forget that he did. In fact, unsurprisingly, Barry forgot a lot of things. He forgot to shower and shave. He forgot that you couldn’t scratch off twenty-five instant-win lotto tickets and not pay for them. And once he even forgot his gun was loaded and shot out his own windshield, or so Clarence, who had witnessed the incident, told me.

The store closed each night at midnight and by the end of the first month, Barry, Clarence, and I found ourselves on the same schedule. We got to know each other pretty well and enjoyed each other’s company and displayed our newfound friendship by developing a routine after locking up every night that involved petty theft, drinking, and soon enough, firearms practice.

Anyone else, I think, would have been alarmed by the double holster he wore to work every day, accompanied by a different set of pistols. Or, perhaps, the cocktail of pharmaceuticals, vodka, belligerence, and the dash of hallucinations that housed this human being. But one night, as we were leaving, he quick-drawed his pistols and unleashed a few rounds on the speed sign on the side of the road, hitting it perfectly without aiming and I knew I found my instructor.

The first problem with asking Barry about being my sharpshooting mentor was just trying to catch him in a moment when he was actually visiting Earth. I timed my approach carefully, since Barry was known to spend the first part of each night shift with his head down on the manager’s desk, occasionally snapping awake with a look of fear behind his milky eyes. Some nights, because the desk was located behind a small wall, his abrupt and frightening rise from the ninth circle of hell would cause a customer to drop a bottle of alcohol.

“Barry, I was wondering if you could teach me to shoot a gun and possibly–”

“Absolutely. Grab a case of beer and meet me at the trunk of my car.”

I can only assume that in the event that the local police force, the National Guard, and the entire US Army found themselves overmatched, Barry was their red phone emergency call. to find that Barry possessed a lot of weapons was not a surprise. To find that each of his weapons came with its own quick-release latch, strapped into the truck of his car, was. Barry, who stood at about five feet, two inches, drove a 1973 four-door Lincoln Continental. I t had a trunk big enough to carry a pond stocked with trout.

What should have worried me most was that somewhere over the course of his life, he came to the conclusion that it was a good idea to haul around enough ammunition to take out Shreveport, just in case he had to. Also worrisome was the stun gun he had as a “back up” in case all else failed. But honestly, what concerned me most was not passing the firing range test.

“What is that?” I asked, pointing at a weapon only Arnold Schwarzenegger could handle.

“Needed something for a crowd. Made it myself. Fully automatic.”

“Oh.”

We stared by setting up in front of what appeared to be a fenced-off electrical power station. It was located a short distance behind the liquor store and far away from the road. I inquired it if seemed troubling that, essentially, we were shooting at a potential eleven o’clock news story, but Barry explained that it was metal and would not explode, so no need to worry.

“No one’s gonna lose power,” he added.

“I meant the ricocheting bullets.”

“What about them?”

“Won’t they ricochet into us?”

“Unlikely. Now, do you want my help or not?”

Before we began, I tried to explain that there were no moving targets on the firing range, to which Barry explained that I was a woman. I said it wasn’t necessary, but that maybe we should start with something easy like a Coke can. But Barry insisted these were the basics and handed me a contraption that resembled a howitzer. Then he switched it to automatic and yelled, “Pull!”

Clarence lobbed a bottle of Bartles & Jaymes strawberry wine cooler into the sky. The weapon was so heavy that aiming it wasn’t really an option. I just sort of heaved it up, like throwing a heavy rock, and squeezed the trigger as best I could. The recoil forced me to the ground like a cannon blast. All the while, as I kept my finger on the trigger, I could have sworn I heard the faint but distinct sound of my mother crying.

It’s safe to assume that the Air Force was the right branch for me. Placing a wrench or a screwdriver in my hands at least ensures that any pain inflicted will be minimal and blunt and kept within the radius of me. Putting a loaded weapon in my hand is like strapping sharp knives to a small boy and sending him off to play tackle football with the other kids.

As expected, I missed everything, except for the power grid, a line of cypress trees, a storage shed, and the planet below our feet, which really took a kick in the balls that night. Also in the line of fire was human safety.

“F*ck this,” Clarence said, “I’m out of here.”

“Calm down,” Barry yelled. “Just stand behind him.”

“But that’s where the shed was!”

This is how it happens, I thought. This is how morons die. You always read in the paper, or hear on the news, about a couple of friends from a basement in Colorado Springs, just hanging out with a bottle of Jameson when one best friend shoots the other. There’s never any great detail about the incident. One buddy “accidentally” shoots the other. But the news anchor always includes that one fatal clue: “He thought the safety was on,” “He didn’t know it was loaded,” “He didn’t think that doing shots from the barrel was that big of a deal.” As a viewer, you sit eating your bowl of cornflakes at one o’clock in the morning, thinking to yourself, f*cking morons, and then turn the channel back to TMZ to find out what the latest Disney starlet thinks of terrorists.

But there we were, throwing a few back, shooting wildly at fast-moving wine coolers with automatic weapons and talking about how awesome it would be if Lynyrd Skynyrd could come back from the dead and play one more time. We deserved nothing more than a really stupendous obituary in which the editor would mercifully, thinking about our families, substitute the word “manslaughter” for “accidental.” The caption under the picture in the newspaper would read: “One man arrested after shooting his two best friends.” Then I realized the scariest part was that Barry and Clarence would be forever connected to me as “best friends.”

“You know what. I’ve got to get going,” I announced suddenly.

“What? But you haven’t even tried the sniper rifle yet.”

As I drove away from the scene of tomorrow’s headline, I watched Clarence crack open a bottle of something, then rummage through Barry’s trunk, reappear with the stun gun and chase him around the car, laughing.

The following week, I took the firing range test. I was really sweating hard, as this retest was a make-or-break moment – a few misplaced shot was all the difference between being able to stay in the Air Force and pay my bills and a less-than-honorable discharge, leading to financial ruin and divorce. I hit a few dirt mounds but managed to place a few on the paper target. Upon finishing, I approached the sergeant in charge of the scoring. I handed him the paper enemy that had clearly gotten away with only a few scratches.

“Huh,” he said, looking at the target. “Not great,” he observed.

“Yeah.”

I began to panic a little there. I saw my life as it truly was: a meager existence in a sham marriage, depressed and held down at twenty-one years of age by my own rash stupidity. I would have to call my parents and see if they were cool with the Stranger and I living in my old bedroom. I would have to get a minimum-wage job to pay off a mountain of debt. I began hyperventilating, seeing this whole terrible near-future play out when I suddenly heard the sergeant ask me:

“What’s your job again?”

“Crew chief.”

He rolled his eyes, and in a gesture of exasperation, made a check mark next to my name.

“F*ck it. You passed. See you next year.”

––––––––––

“Told in a collection of vignettes, Operation Cure Boredom is a coming of age story in camouflage. From dodging alligators, to surfing the inside of a plane at 30,000 feet, to being taken hostage by a Frenchwoman, and sex education in church, this absurdist portrait of life in the military is both an iconic look at listlessness in wartime, and the whirlwind journey of a young man getting the adventure he didn’t know he needed.” – Amazon

Military Life

How to command troops as a colonial officer

To become an officer in the Revolutionary War you needed to have brass…courage. The initial fervor against England drove men to enlist in droves to fight against tyranny. The British Army was the best trained and equipped army in the world at the time. Congressional leaders urged for bigger enlistment quotas and longer term contracts. However, locals who wanted to join preferred to join militias and elect their own officers.

Similarly to Europe, officers came from the same cloth of the upper levels of society. A gentlemen of warfare, a Colonial Officer is expected to be honorable, self-sacrificing. The fledgling country promised signing bonuses, free land at the end of the war and a lifetime pension to entice them to fight for God and country.

revolutionary
This is just a reenactment, but you get the idea.

Whereas, upon becoming an officer the realities of the war became apparent and they were now your problem. Different states allocated their contributions to the war by varying degrees of dedication. The troops looked to you to provide what the state promised such as adequate food, shelter, clothing, and medical care. It was not always feasible to meet these promises. Officers had the additional burden to restrain their troops because the threat of mutinies was very real.  

Different from their British counterparts, Colored cockades on their hats distinguished officers by their rank; green for lieutenants, yellow for captains, and red for majors, colonels and lieutenant colonels. General officers wore sashes: green foraide-de-camp, pink or red for brigadier generals, purple for major generals, and blue for general and commander-in-chief. Under those circumstances, a competent officer had a secret weapon to turn a rag-tag group of men into a professional army: the first drill manual in American history.

Based on ‘Regulations for the Order and Discipline of the Troops of the United States’ by Inspector General Friedrich Wilhem Von Steuben, an officer now had something to reference on how to manage the men under his command.

Training

Von Steuben recommended patience when training new recruits. They are not the pedigree, standing armies of England. This strategy worked in encouraging the men with positive reinforcement and ‘mildness’ in terms of respect. The term ‘sergeants are the backbone of the army’ comes from this era. Officers trained their Sergeants, in turn, their Sergeants trained the men.

A properly trained soldier could fire three to four shots per minute.

Formations

A company is to be formed in two ranks, at one pace distance, with the tallest men in the rear, and both ranks sized, with the shortest men of each in the center. A company thus drawn up is to be divided into two sections or platoons; the captain to take post on the right of the first platoon, covered by a sergeant; the lieutenant on the right of the second platoon, also covered by a sergeant; the ensign four paces behind the center of the company; the first sergeant two paces behind the centre of the first platoon, and the eldest corporal two paces behind the second platoon; the other two corporals are to be on the flanks of the front rank.

Chapter three, Of the Formation of a Company

The term ‘Line Company’ for Company sized elements is still in use in Marine Corps infantry battalions. Modern formations have the officer in the front and the men formed in formation behind them. This is modern formation is used in all branches for ceremonial and accountability purposes.

Commands

There are nine movement related commands and 27 commands for loading and firing a musket. The rate of fire during the first or second minutes of the battle were the most critical. The fog of war would make it difficult for troops to hear commands. Due to the chaos of battle the men would eventually fire at will, an officer had to maintain discipline for as long as possible. A typical drill used at the outset of a battle is dictated in ‘Position of each Rank in the Firings’ of the drill manual.

Front Rank! Make ready! [One motion.]

[Spring the firelock briskly to a recover, as soon as the left hand seizes the firelock above the lock, the right elbow is to be nimbly raised a little, placing the thumb of that hand upon the cock, the fingers open by the plate of the lock, and as quick as possible cock the piece, by dropping the elbow, and forcing down the cock with the thumb, immediately seizing the firelock with the right hand, close under the lock; the piece to be held in this manner perpendicular, opposite the left side of the face, the body kept straight, and as full to the front as possible, and the head held up, looking well to the right.]

Take Aim! Fire!

Rear rank! Make ready! [One motion.]

[Recover and cock as before directed, at the same time stepping about six inches to the right, so as to place yourself opposite the interval of the front rank.]

Take Aim! Fire!

Drill commands still used today

These are the drill commands still in use today in ceremonial drills. Rifle stacks are another method of temporarily storing firearms when not engaged that have also survived to the modern era.

Attention!

Rest!

Attention! To the Left/Right- Dress!

To the Right – Face! Now used as ‘Right/left – Face!’

To the Right about – Face! Now ‘About – Face!’

To the Front – March! Now ‘Forward – March!’

Halt!

Fix- Bayonet!

Shoulder – Firelock! Now ‘Shoulder – Arms!’

Present – Arms!

Make ready!

Fire! Obviously, still in use today.

Military Life

6 things you’ll miss about life in the barracks

Most veterans lived in the barracks (or dorms for you Air Force types) at some point during their time in service. Despite the improvements to military quarters over the years, many people just can’t stand barracks life because of things like buffing hallway floors, the senior leader walkthroughs, and the early morning health and welfare inspections. Bottom line: barracks life is not everyone’s cup of tea.


 

5 ways to tactfully square away your superiors
Marines barracks party in 1967.

 

But be advised: When you finally leave to live off base or finish your term of enlistment, you may come to the realization that ‘barracks life’ wasn’t really all that bad. Here are some things you might actually miss about living in the “Bs”:

1. Free room and board

 

5 ways to tactfully square away your superiors
Airman 1st Class Robert Ruiz, 85th Test and Evaluation Squadron, enjoys the comfort of his dorm room. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman Anthony Jennings)

 

Remember all the money you saved during your time there? No worries about paying a landlord or making mortgage payments. You didn’t have to concern yourself about paying a power or water bill. Although a military lifestyle is tough, this feels like a small pass on adulthood.

2. Being close to PT formation

 

5 ways to tactfully square away your superiors
Soldiers conduct physical training outside new barracks at Fort Bragg, N.C. New barracks include suite-like living quarters for Soldiers, where bathrooms and kitchenettes are shared with only a few others. (Photo Credit: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers)

 

Getting an extra thirty minutes or even an hour of sleep is something you take for granted when living in the barracks. You don’t have to deal with the stress of driving to base and trying to beat the morning traffic to the front gate. Waking up, brushing your teeth, and walking to formation from your room is pretty awesome.

3. It’s easy to borrow things

 

5 ways to tactfully square away your superiors
Inside old school U.S. Navy barracks.

 

Need some shaving cream or laundry detergent? Just ask your buddy next door or on the rack beside you. Someone in the barracks would more than likely hook you up.

4. Living with your battle buddies

 

5 ways to tactfully square away your superiors
U.S. Marines in front of barracks at U.S. Naval Base Key West, FL in 1963

 

Getting to live in the same building with your friends is fun. You can always find someone to watch the game, hang out, or play video games. Barracks life builds great camaraderie among the unit.

5. Barracks grill outs

 

5 ways to tactfully square away your superiors
(U.S. Marine Corps photo)

 

There was nothing quite like those grill-outs in the courtyard on the weekends. If your courtyard had a basketball or volleyball court, it made these events that much better.

6. Barracks parties

Admit it, some of the best parties you ever attended were from the comforts of your building. They were a blast, full of shenanigans, and sometimes unpredictable. Whether you enjoyed your time living there or disliked them, some of your fondest memories in service probably happened in the barracks.

 

5 ways to tactfully square away your superiors
U.S. Soldiers hanging out in a barracks day room in 1968.

What are some of your favorite barracks stories? Tell us in the comments section.

Follow Alex Licea on Twitter @alexlicea82

MIGHTY FIT

This is the ‘stress hormone’ that’s making you gain weight

Testosterone, estrogen, and leptin are just a few of the hormones that our bodies naturally produce. These hormones allow us to grow muscle, regulate our reproductive systems, and boost our metabolisms so we can lose weight. However, the stress generated by deployment cycles and our hectic schedules causes the human body to also produce a complex stress hormone, called cortisol.

This vital hormone is created by the adrenal glands, which are located just above your kidneys.

Cortisol dictates how your body manages the carbohydrates, fats, and proteins that you intake during meals. It lowers the amount of inflammation in your body and is one of the contributing factors to the sympathetic nervous system’s “fight or flight” response.

Experiencing chronic stress makes for increased levels of this powerful hormone. Having too much cortisol results in mood swings, “brain fog,” interrupted sleep patterns, and increased visceral fat (fat stored within the abdominal cavity).

But don’t worry — getting rid of those extra layers on your tummy doesn’t have to be difficult.


5 ways to tactfully square away your superiors
The infamous pinch test.

If you think your body is having trouble regulating cortisol production, you can go to your doctor and request a saliva test that monitors stress and hormone levels. Even if you don’t have stress-induced love handles, this might be a test worth taking. After all, having too little cortisol can also have negative affects on the body. Low cortisol may result in lowered blood pressure, a loss of appetite, and general fatigue.

5 ways to tactfully square away your superiors
Home tests are available,u00a0but a doctor can better explain the all the details.

Maintaining a healthy cortisol level is as easy as working out a few times per week, improving your social life, and finding time to relax whenever possible. Our bodies weren’t designed to endure constant stress, but the occasionally worry sits with us just fine.

Military Life

Why the US has a base 695 miles north of the Arctic Circle

Every military installation has its ups and downs. You could be assigned to a tropical paradise, but you can’t afford anything off-base. You could be assigned to a breathtaking foreign country, but learning the local language will take some time. Or, you could be assigned to Thule Air Base in Greenland, where there’s literally nothing but ice and rock for 65 miles (and, even then, it’s just a remote Eskimo village).


The multinational team stationed there consists of around 400 Danish troops, 150 American troops, and a handful of Canadians. Team Thule is charged with tracking satellites and orbiting debris using a Ballistic Missile Early Warning System (BMEWS), a remnant from the Cold War by being strategically placed roughly halfway between Moscow and New York City.

5 ways to tactfully square away your superiors

The BMEWS is still manned and operated by both American and Danish troops. Denmark holds territorial claim over Greenland but gave them “Home Rule” in 1979 and Greenlanders voted for self-governance in 2008. Denmark still handles much of the defense of Greenland, however.

Troops at Thule are locked out from the rest of the world by the ice for nine months, so during the three “summer” months, everyone loads up on supplies that’ll last them the rest of the year. Thule is also home to the Air Force’s only Tug Boat, the Rising Star, which it uses for these resupply missions.

5 ways to tactfully square away your superiors
Just an average day at Thule Air Base. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Dennis Hoffman)

The Military One Source Pamphlet hilariously tries to downplay the roughness of Thule while also telling you that there are no ATMs, no commissary, the PX is extremely limited, and there’s all of one bar and a single “base taxi.”

But hey! At least every barracks room comes with free WiFi and it’s kind of accepted that everyone shelters-in-place during the four-month-long Polar Night where winds can reach 200 mph and the temperatures are -28.

Articles

This airman is a survivor — and a leader

Air Force Staff Sgt. Srun Sookmeewiriya — or “Sook,” as many people know him — may seem like a happy and carefree airman at first glance.


The 313th Expeditionary Operations Support Squadron’s noncommissioned officer in charge of reports regularly puts forth an earnest effort here to keep his unit alive and running, so his dark past and his struggle with depression and suicidal thoughts come as a surprise to many.

“He’s like the morale person — that’s what everybody else refers him to,” said Air Force Master Sgt. Melissa Vela, the 313th EOSS NCO in charge of console operations. “He’s so full of energy. He’s so infectious, he makes everybody laugh.”

5 ways to tactfully square away your superiors
Air Force Staff Sgt. Srun Sookmeewiriya, 313th Expeditionary Operations Support Squadron noncommissioned officer in charge of reports, holds a picture of himself with his younger brother, Thana, at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, Feb. 16, 2017. Sookmeewiriya, who attempted to commit suicide twice, said he draws inspiration from his brother to remain resilient and encourages airmen to open up about their struggles. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Joshua Magbanua)

Unknown to many of his wingmen, Sook’s current persona is possible only because he recovered from serious trauma he experienced as a young man. When Sook still lived in his native Thailand, both of his parents committed suicide. He witnessed his mother’s suicide, and he found his father’s body after his father had taken his own life and attempted to kill Sook’s younger brother, Thana.

“I saw him lying there in bed,” he recalled. “I wasn’t sure what happened. I tried to wake him up to see if he was still alive. I thought I was alone, and I didn’t know who I would go to now. My head was just spinning at that point. It was a shock.” Thana survived the gunshot wound, but was never the same, physically or mentally, Sook said.

Suicide Attempts

With his mother and father gone, Thana was the only family Sook had left. He went to a boarding school, where he said depression haunted him and other children bullied him for not having parents. This led to a suicide attempt by ingesting a large amount of over-the-counter medication. He was in a coma for two days.

Sook finished boarding school and eventually immigrated to the United States, where Thana would join him soon afterward. Sook spent his early time in the U.S. with relatives from his father’s first marriage. He would bounce from family to family because of his troubled personality, he said, and he also felt as if he was just an outsider because of his status as a “half-relative.”

“I felt like I didn’t belong, because I wasn’t a part of their family,” Sook said. “I didn’t feel any emotion when I hugged them.”

5 ways to tactfully square away your superiors
Trauma can take many forms; in recent years the military is striving to raise awareness of its symptoms and provide treatment.

The feeling of being an outsider overwhelmed Sook, and he tried to kill himself again.

“I didn’t want to deal with the state I was in: not feeling welcome and not feeling like I was part of the family,” he said. “At that time as a kid, I thought that the best way was to just end it all and leave.”

Sook said he tried to hide his attempted suicide, but his relatives eventually found out and sent him to a doctor to get help. His half-sister, Kim, was especially appalled, and confronted him about what he done. She asked, “What about your brother?”

Also read: 5 things military spouses need to know about PTSD

“When she mentioned my brother, I totally thought, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m leaving him behind,'” Sook said. That’s when he decided to turn around and confront his issues instead of running from them. Sook described his brother as his inspiration in his fight against depression.

“He was the only family I had up to that point. It was me and him. He has been through a lot tougher things than I had. Because of the gunshot wound, he was scarred for life. He didn’t grow up normally, but he never gave up. That’s one reason why I should not and will not give up on him, because he didn’t either.”

Strength in Recovery

As part of his recovery process, Sook found strength in his faith and from Kim, who helped him get back on his feet.

“It took me a while — basically, a couple years,” he said. “I think I’m still bouncing back to this day. I think of this tragedy as a lesson, and that lesson is to not repeat the same thing that [my parents] did.”

Sook joined the Air Force as a civil engineer airman, and cross-trained to be an air mobility controller. He adopted Thana as his dependent, and eventually married and started a family. He noted that although his life still has its ups and downs, he copes by confiding in his wife. He also expressed gratitude for the support his coworkers give him continuously.

“Having a good work center in the Air Force actually helped me out a lot,” he said. “When I have other issues, they continue to help me out.”

Vela described how surprised she was when Sook opened up to her about his past, saying that she would have never guessed that an airman like Sook would have experienced so much trauma.

“I was speechless the whole time he told his story,” she recalled. “I was like, ‘Oh my God, are you OK?’ To me, I can see the strength in his words and his actions. Seeing the strength that he had to come forth and tell his story is amazing.”

Encouragement for Others

Sook shares his story occasionally with the public, hoping to encourage people suffering from depression to seek help and not to try to survive on their own. He said he emphasizes how important it is to open up to people who care, and that many people are standing by at agencies on the base ready to assist in their battle against depression.

“Don’t bottle up those issues,” he added. “If you stress out, talk it out. Find somebody who is willing to listen.”

Sook said he encourages airmen to look for a cause and to do what it takes to survive so they can continue to fight for it.

“Don’t give up. Look for what you’re fighting for,” he said. “I fight for my brother, my wife, and my kids. It’s their future and my future.”

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