This Army therapist uses video games to help wounded warriors - We Are The Mighty
Military Life

This Army therapist uses video games to help wounded warriors

Army occupational therapist Maj. Erik Johnson will use anything that works to help wounded warriors. One of the big problems he faces is how to get his patients involved in their own therapy.


Therapists have historically used activities like working with leather and copper tooling to engage patients, but that doesn’t appeal to soldiers from the Xbox generation. Johnson, a gamer and former Army rehabilitation patient himself, found a way to incorporate games into therapy.

 

This Army therapist uses video games to help wounded warriors
Army Maj. Erik Johnson plays video games with patients at the Brooke Army Medical Center in Fort Sam Houston, Texas. Photo: courtesy Maj. Erik Johnson

“If I threw, you know, macrame in front of a soldier he might laugh at me,” Johnson said in an interview with WATM. “But if I threw him at a video game, he’d be like, ‘Yeah man. I love this dude. Hell, I’m gonna go like do everything I can to optimize my treatment.'”

The games used in therapy are carefully curated by Johnson who identifies what needs each could fulfill. DJ Hero and Big Brain Academy, for instance, are good for soldiers who have suffered brain traumas.

“One of the biggest things with concussions is that you have what we call executive dysfunction or basically, a big issue with cognition,” Johnson said. “So like, your memory is not as good as it was. Or you have issues with problem solving. Or maybe you have issues with delayed response with your brain thinking to your hands moving.”

So, Johnson can put soldiers recovering from a concussion or another brain injury in front of DJ Hero, which requires that the player keep to a rhythm, watch symbols on a screen, and anticipate the actions of others.

Big Brain Academy allows players to work on memory, statistics, analysis, math. And, it allows them to measure their progress.

“And the thing with Big Brain Academy is that it kept a record of everything you did,” said Johnson. “So, if you built a profile, and you’re like, ‘Okay, yesterday was the very first time I worked on this, I was terrible. Today I’m a little bit better and in a week I’m doing fantastic.’ Even if that’s not standardized, you can still see them improving.”

Big Brain Academy payed off big for Johnson and the soldiers under his care when he was deployed to Afghanistan in 2009 to set up a brain injury program inside a deployed brigade combat team. Stuck on an austere forward operating base, a simple game that could be set up in a hooch was a good tool to help soldiers recovering from a concussion or TBI.

This Army therapist uses video games to help wounded warriors
Photo: Courtesy Army Maj. Erik Johnson

When Johnson got back to the states, systems like the Xbox Kinect and Nintendo Wii allowed him to target physical therapies with video games as well. For amputees who lost one or both legs, cardio is an issue.

“Our lower extremity amputees have a big issue with cardio. They haven’t been able to run, and they start gaining weight and running is a lot more challenging for them. How are we going to engage them in a good cardio regimen?

“One of the things we noticed was we could put them on Wii Boxing and set them up on a therapy ball and they have to balance on the therapy ball which would strengthen their core and then also, they are doing a lot of engagement with  their upper extremities. And, anybody that has played any kind of Wii sport-type game that takes a lot of that effort knows that real quickly it gives you a good workout.”

Amputee patients also got help from Ken Jones, an engineer who runs Warfighter Engaged and builds custom controllers for amputees.

“He’ll modify game controllers or systems so that anybody could play on them,” Johnson said. “Let’s say you lose your left hand, well, he’s going to bring all those buttons on your Xbox controller over to the right side.”

Jones even made a custom controller for a quadruple amputee.

“Just by like pushing switches and big toggles and different elements like that, he basically made it to where anybody could engage in therapy. Well, I call it therapy, they call it gaming.”

Building a gaming center for wounded warriors isn’t easy. Luckily, Johnson got help from Operation Supply Drop, a charity that engages veterans and deployed service members through video games.

Glen Banton, the CEO of OSD, met Johnson and asked for his wish list, everything Johnson would need to create the perfect setup for treating wounded warriors with video games.

This Army therapist uses video games to help wounded warriors
In Operation Supply Drop’s largest single donation, they gave six video game consoles and plenty of other gear to Brooke Army Medical Center. Photo courtesy Operation Supply Drop

“So I started to do a lot more writing down, research on games. I would want this particular game for this application. I would want this for this application. And I started going down this list of different games that would do different things.” 

“So Glen and his team, they came with OSD last week and blew me away,” Johnson said. “I mean, like way more than I had asked for, way more than anticipated. My office is full of gaming stuff right now that I’m now trying to build an entire huge gaming center within out therapy gym so that it’s actually almost a piece of medical equipment, that is its intended use. Before, we had roving televisions and we’d throw a system on it. Now it’s like, I’m going to actually have a specified space where we go and do therapeutic gaming.”

Of course, not all of Johnson’s patients are video gamers. But for the ones that are, they have a therapist who not only wants to engage them with their chosen hobby, but has an awesome suite of tools to do it with.

Lists

5 ways your service animal is trying to talk to you

Over the last several years, we’ve seen a significant increase in the number of veterans looking to service and therapy animals to aid them through daily life. These faithful companions help vets navigate through various environments, provide crucial emotional support, and retrieve beers from the fridge (we wish).

Now, before anything else, let’s answer the important question: Yes, you can still pet these animals as long as the owner gives you permission.

Since our little buddies have thoughts and emotions just like us, they need to find a way to relay information. After a while, humans pick up on the little personality quirks that our furry friends put out there, like tapping the water bowl with a paw when they’re thirty or standing next to the door when it’s time to pee.

These tiny messages are easy to pick up if you’re paying attention, but some other messages are so subtle that you need to be a dog whisperer to understand. So, to help you out, we’ve compiled a brief list of those important messages.

You’re welcome, doggos.


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A slow tail wag

We’ve all seen a happy puppy quickly wag their tail when excited to see their owner. On the contrary, when a pup’s tail slows down, it’s not because they’re tired — it’s because you confused the sh*t out of them. They don’t know what you want them to do. Slow down and be clear with your commands.

A tucked tail

While humans show emotion using their eyes, a dog shows it through their tail. If your service animal tucks their tail between their legs, it’s a sign that they’re nervous and afraid of feeling pain.

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“What the hell is this granular substance?”

Ears up or forward

Dogs carefully examine new environments. When they’re settling in and paying close attention, they’ll shift their ears up and forward.

Resting their head on you

Humans require attention from their peers every now and then — your service animal is no different. When your little best friend walks up to you and puts his or her head on you, it’s because they want to be noticed.

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Too cute for words.

One paw up

When your furry friend gets in front of you and raises one of their paws, they’re attempting to ask you something. It could mean they want to go outside and play or they’re simply asking for a treat.

Articles

7 life lessons we learned from the grunts in ‘Platoon’

With so many war movies out there to choose from, not many come from the direct perspective of a man who personally lived through the hell that was Vietnam.


Critically acclaimed writer-director Oliver Stone (an Army veteran) took audiences into the highly political time in American history where the war efforts of our service men and women were predominantly overlooked as they returned home.

The son of a successful stockbroker, Stone dropped out of Yale in the 60s and joined the Army, becoming one of the first American troops to arrive in Vietnam.

Related: 7 life lessons we learned from watching ‘Full Metal Jacket’

Here’s what he taught us:

1. Respect is only earned, never issued.

Chris Taylor, played by Charlie Sheen, just landed in the “Nam” with a fresh shave and a stainless uniform. Before saying a word to anyone, he was automatically picked apart by war-harden soldiers passing by.

In war and in life, it doesn’t matter how you start the game — it’s how you finish it.

“Welcome to the suck, boot.” (Image via Giphy)

2. You have to keep up

Being in the infantry is one of the toughest and most dangerous jobs ever. You don’t have to be the strongest or the fastest, but you need to pull your own weight…literally.

Move it! Move it!  Move it! (Image via Giphy)

3. Staying positive

In the eyes of a “newbie,” the world can seem and feel like one big sh*t show — especially if you’re burning a barrel of sh*t with diesel fuel.

Finding new ways to approach a bad situation can boost morale — especially when you have a lot of time left in the bush.

Negativity can get you hurt, positivity can get you through it. (Image via Giphy)

4. We’re all the same

Regardless of what your race, religion, or education level — when it comes down to being a soldier in a dangerous combat zone, none of those aspects means a thing.

Preach! (image via Giphy)

5. Never quit

Sgt. Elias, by played Willem Dafoe, was intentionally left behind by Sgt. Barnes (Tom Berenger) with the hope the V.C. would kill him off.

Although Elias struggled to stay in the fight, after taking several AK-47’s rounds, he showed the world he’s truly a warrior.

His back must have been killing him. (Image via Giphy)

6. War changes a man

The bright-eyed bushy-tailed boy that showed up in the beginning isn’t the thousand yard staring man who stands in front of you now.

Kill! (image via Giphy)

Also Read: 7 life lessons we learned from Gunny Highway in ‘Heartbreak Ridge’

7. Brotherhood

When you break into the circle of brotherhood, there’s no better feeling.

Safe travels. (Image via Giphy)To all of our Vietnam war veterans, everyone at We Are The Mighty salutes you.

Articles

SAS soldiers wear the ‘Punisher’ skull after they get their first kill

The British evacuation at Dunkirk during WWII was a turning point for the island nation. Unable to go on the offensive against the Germans with their conventional Army, the British turned to more unconventional methods. “Enterprises must be prepared, with specially-trained troops of the hunter class, who can develop a reign of terror down these coasts [of occupied Europe],” stated Prime Minister Winston Churchill in a minute to General Ismay, “first of all on the butcher and bolt policy…leaving a trail of German corpses behind them.” This butcher and bolt policy was carried out by British Commandos, forerunners of the modern Royal Marine Commandos, Special Boat Service and Special Air Service.

This Army therapist uses video games to help wounded warriors
Dealing with Nazis apparently turns you metal as f**k (Imperial War Museum)

The elite soldiers of the SAS are well-known in popular culture thanks to their daring exploits and their depiction in media. SAS soldiers famously ended the Iranian Embassy Siege in London in 1980 and have operated in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other countries during the War on Terror. They have been depicted in video games like Call of Duty and movies like 6 Days. Even the rom-com Love Actually referred to the SAS as, “ruthless, trained kilers,” and so they are.

More so than regular Army units, the SAS is expected to kill, and kill well. Embracing this mission, members of the SAS have taken to donning a Punisher skull badge after their first kill in combat. This affinity for the Punisher skull was allegedly adopted from the U.S. Navy SEALs who wore the symbol extensively whilst operating alongside the SAS in Iraq and Afghanistan. Though the practice is not dissimilar from fighter pilots painting the flag of the enemy on their aircraft after making an air-to-air kill, it came under scrutiny from Army officials.

Chris Kyle donning the cap with the iconic skull

In 2019, it was revealed that Army officials banned the wearing of the Punisher skull. The move was driven by the claim that the symbol was too similar to the Death’s Head symbol worn by Nazi SS soldiers. This order was reportedly issued after a visit to the SAS Regiment’s Herefordshire base by Army chiefs. Unsurprisingly, the change was not received well by the SAS. One source within the regiment noted that the “order to remove it has gone down really badly.” They elaborated on what the symbol means to a soldier when he earns it. “It’s in recognition for the work he has done – it’s not a celebration of taking a life but more to do with putting himself in a position where his own life has been put at risk.”

The order received plenty of backlash since its issuance. Former Sergeant and Military Cross (the third-highest British Military Award) recipient Trevor Coult called the move, “politically correct nonsense and ludicrous.” Enough dissension was raised that the Army reversed the decision in May 2021. The reversal also comes with a new Director Special Forces who said that he has no problem with troops wearing the badge. He reportedly wore the Punisher skull himself while operating in Iraq and Afghanistan. The MoD did not comment on the reversal.

This Army therapist uses video games to help wounded warriors
(MoD)

The return of the Punisher skull was welcomed by the SAS. “When the badge was initially banned, there were many in the regiment who thought that the unit was going to fall victim to political correctness. But fortunately, someone has seen sense,” a source said. “The special forces are often sent on very dangerous missions which often involve killing people – that is a fact of life.” The SAS continues to undertake highly classified and extremely dangerous operations around the world.

This Army therapist uses video games to help wounded warriors
Frank Castle approves (Lions Gate/ Marvel)
popular

7 helpful habits that veterans forget

Being in the military requires you to quickly adapt to a very strict code of conduct. The military lifestyle prevents laziness and forces you to maintain a consistent, proper appearance. When troops leave the service, however, their good habits tend to fly out the window.

Now, that’s not to say that all veterans will lose every good habit they’ve picked up while serving. But there are a few routines that’ll instantly be broken simply because there aren’t any repercussions for dropping them.

Of course, this doesn’t apply to everyone. Maybe you’re that Major Payne type of veteran. If so, good job. Meanwhile, my happy ass is staying in bed until the sun rises.


This Army therapist uses video games to help wounded warriors

We’re also probably not going to make our beds with hospital corners any more, either.

(Photo by Cpl. Octavia Davis)

Waking up early is an annoying, but useful, habit

The very first morning after receiving their DD-214, nearly every veteran laugh as they hit the snooze button on an alarm they forgot to turn off. For the first time in a long time, a troop can sleep in until the sun rises on a weekday — and you can be damn sure that they will.

When they start attending college or get a new job, veterans no longer see the point in waking up at 0430 just to stand in the cold and run at 0530. If class starts at 0900, they won’t be out of bed until at least 0815 (after hitting snooze a few times).

This Army therapist uses video games to help wounded warriors

Finding time after work to go to the gym is, ironically, too much effort.

(Photo by Lance Cpl. Dave Flores)

Exercising daily

This kind of goes hand-in-hand with waking up early. The morning is the perfect time to go for a run — but most veterans are going to be catching up on the sleep they didn’t get while in service. Plus, the reason many so many troops can stay up all night drinking and not feel the pain come time for morning PT is that their bodies are constantly working. It’s a good habit to have.

The moment life slows down and you’re not running every day, you’ll start to feel those knees get sore. Which just adds on to the growing pile of excuses to not work out.

This Army therapist uses video games to help wounded warriors

Don’t you miss all that effort we used to put into shaving every single day? Yeah, me neither.

(Photo by Senior Airman Erin Piazza)

Shaving every day, haircuts every week…one of the most annoying good habits

If troops show up to morning formation with even the slightest bit of fuzz on their face or hair touching their ears, they will feel the wrath of the NCOs.

When you get out, you’ll almost be expected to grow an operator beard and let your hair grow. Others skip shaving their chin and instead shave their head bald to achieve that that Kratos-in-the-new-God-of-War look.

This Army therapist uses video games to help wounded warriors

“Hurry up and wait” becomes “slow is smooth. Smooth is fast.”

(Photo by Lance Cpl. Aaron S. Patterson)

15 minutes prior

If you’re on time, you’re late. If you’re 14 minutes early, you’re still late. If you’re 25 minutes early, you’ll be asked why you weren’t there 5 minutes ago. It’s actually astonishing how much troops get done while still managing to arrive 30 minutes early to everything.

Vets will still keep up a “15 minute prior” rule for major events, but don’t expect them to be everywhere early anymore. This habit is one we don’t really miss.

This Army therapist uses video games to help wounded warriors

Civilians also don’t get that when you knifehand them, you’re telling them off. They think you’re just emoting with your hands.

(Photo by Sgt. Bryan Nygaard)

Suppressing opinions is a hard habit to break

Not too many troops share their true opinions on things while serving. It’s usually just a copy-and-paste answer of, “I like it” or “I don’t like it.” This is partly because the military is constantly moving and no one really cares about your opinion on certain things.

The moment a veteran gets into a conversation and civilians think they’re an expect on a given subject, they’ll shout their opinion from the mountaintops. This is so prevalent that you’ll hear, “as a veteran, I think…” in even the most mundane conversations, like the merits of the newest Star Wars film.

This Army therapist uses video games to help wounded warriors

Except with our weapons. Veterans will never half-ass cleaning weapons.

(Photo by Airman Eugene Oliver)

Putting in extra effort

Perfection is key in the military. From day one, troops are told to take pride in every action they perform. In many cases, this tendency bleeds into the civilian world because veterans still have that eye for minor details.

However, that intense attention to detail starts to fade over time, especially for minor tasks. They could try their hardest and they could spend time mastering something, but that 110% turns into a “meh, good enough” after a while.

This Army therapist uses video games to help wounded warriors

In the military, everyone looks out for one another. In the civilian world, it’s just too funny to watch others fall on their face.

(Photo by Alan R. Quevy)

Sympathy toward coworkers

A platoon really is as close as a family. If one person is in pain, everyone is in pain until we all make it better. No matter what the problem is, your squadmate is right there as a shoulder to lean on.

Civilians who never served, on the other hand, have a much lower tolerance for bad days. If one of your comrades got their heart broken because Jodie came into the picture, fellow troops will be the first to grab shovels for them. If one of your civilian coworkers breaks down because someone brought non-vegan coffee creamer into the office, vets will simply laugh at their weakness.

Articles

This is how JTACs stay sharp

We all know troops on the ground love their air support — especially from planes like the A-10 Thunderbolt II.


But those planes need to know what to hit. How does that happen?

Well, the Air Force’s Joint Terminal Attack Controllers are who make that happen. JTACs are members of what are known as Tactical Air Control Parties, and their task is to coordinate air support for ground units. Becoming a JTAC isn’t easy. Business Insider has a look at the process of how someone goes from civilian on the street to becoming one of these elite personnel.

In 2015, the Army and Air Force formalized the embedding of Air Force JTACs in Army units down to the company level. These personnel aren’t just good at bringing down firepower, they can even advise ground commanders on how to handle cyberspace operations.

This Army therapist uses video games to help wounded warriors
U.S. Air Force Combat Control JTACs from the 21st Special Tactics Squadron call for close air support from a A-10 Thunderbolt II while attending the Air Force’s JTAC Advanced Instructor Course (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Michael R. Holzworth)

But it’s not just train, deploy, and be done. There’s always a need to refresh skills, and there are always new perspectives. So, recently, some JTACs with the 93rd Air Ground Operations Wing were joined by JTACs from the Royal Air Force. The cross-training helps, primarily by breaking down communications barriers.

“Since we’re going to be working together, we need to practice together before we go do that in the real world,” RAF Flight Sergeant Simon Ballard said. The RAF controllers are familiar with the U.S. Air Force, particularly the A-10s, which they praise effusively.

This Army therapist uses video games to help wounded warriors
A Joint Terminal Attack Controller with U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Special Operations Command communicates with a Navy MH-60S helicopter during takeoff as part of Carrier Airwing training conducted by the Naval Strike and Air Warfare Center aboard Naval Air Station Fallon, Nev., April 7, 2011. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Kyle McNally, released)

“While I was a JTAC in Afghanistan, the vast majority of our aircraft were U.S. aircraft,” British Squadron Leader Neil Beeston said.

The ultimate benefit to this cross-training, though, is that the stakes are lower. Master Sgt. Francisco Corona told the Air Force News Service, “I’d rather integrate in (training) where we can make mistakes and learn from them instead of making mistakes in a deployed location.”

Military Life

5 ways military recruiters can boost their quotas

Being a recruiter is harder now than it was during the surge. Post 9/11 recruiting stations even had to turn people away because every seat was full – plus a waiting list. The challenges of keeping numbers up are influenced by decisions in the Capitol. However, accomplishing the mission at the ground level is paramount regardless of politics. Its your career. Here are 5 ways military recruiters can boost their quotas.

1. Don’t use high pressure tactics

First of all, they don’t work. On the off chance that they do, the effects are only temporary. You’re not the top salesman in Glen Gary Glen Ross. Human beings are complex creatures but once they figure out that you’re attempting to manipulate them – all bets are off. They’re gone forever because, at the center, trust has been betrayed. Every branch has core values. Intimidation and deception are not found in any of them.

This Army therapist uses video games to help wounded warriors
Tech. Sgt. Mubarak Rashid, 319th Recruiting Squadron enlisted accessions recruiter, recruits at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, and has his sights aimed at achieving the highest honor a recruiter can receive in the Air Force: the Gold Recruiter Badge.

These young minds are coming to you, the recruiter, as the first mentor they will ever have in their military career. Your actions will shape the perception they have of your service branch. What you do and say when someone is deciding to sign the dotted line will impact them for the rest of their lives. Your branch and the lifestyle it offers should be enough to get you the troops you need. If someone has been in the service for years, it’s easy to forget that the military is cool. Lean on that.

2. Pedigree is a positive indicator

Communication is key to identifying potential candidates to recruit. When you hear that someone has family ties to the military it is a good indicator that they may have considered following in their footsteps. Tread lightly. Those same family members may be your biggest obstacle because of their experience in the service. For example, with Marines it’s 50/50. You may get someone who’s parent is a motivator and would be proud to have them join the Corps. You may also get hard charger who charged hard so his pups would not have to charge at all. Communicate and find some common ground. Never underestimate the influence of a parent.

3. Make sure they’re looking at the right branch

Of course, rivalries between recruiters is a thing, especially if the offices share a building. The potential recruit may be interested into more high speed, low drag occupation may be better suited in the Marine Corps or the Army. Every branch offers the Post 9/11 GI bill, so, if they’re interested in post service benefits offer an MOS that will help them post college too. The Air Force is highly technical and the Navy is the best branch when it comes to medical fields. Law enforcement and federal agencies love combat related experience or intelligence prior service skills.

Everybody gets out eventually, ask them about the future, and show them how the military can help them get there. Find allies in other recruiting offices and trade candidates when appropriate.

4. Make them study

The ASVAB should not be taken lightly. Let them know that passing is not enough, what if they want to change their jobs later in their career? The hassle of being on active duty and studying after one has been out of school for years is not fun. If you get a good enough score on the ASVAB and GT score off the bat, let them know they’ll never have to worry about it ever again.

Also advise them to take the SAT for the same reason. When I got out of the service my SAT score from high school was pretty good. I was able to enroll in college because it fell within window that I wouldn’t have to retake it. Their future self will thank them for it – and you too.

5. Be a straight shooter

This Army therapist uses video games to help wounded warriors
Provost recruited Schoon in 2014 and is now his division leading petty officer as a recruiter. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Christopher Lindahl)

You don’t have to say every single pro and con about the branch but at least be straight when it comes to the military occupational specialty. My recruiter told me I would be a better fit in comm due to the fact I was already CCNA certified and had college credits in the field. I pushed for infantry yet he wouldn’t let me sign as an 0311 until I thought about it for a month. I was going to enlist, no doubt about that, but he looked out for me by putting my needs ahead of his own. That’s what Marines do, we look out for each other. At that time I didn’t have my Eagle, Globe and Anchor but I knew that integrity was exactly what I was looking for in the Corps.

Military Life

10 career fields for military spouses that aren’t direct sales

As a military spouse, it can feel overwhelming to try to have a career of your own, and even then, its tough to find one you want that meshes well with the military lifestyle.


Recently I came across an article We Are The Mighty syndicated a few years ago: The 10 coolest jobs for military spouses. The list was filled with things like “be a babysitter!” and “be a dog groomer!” among other things.

I understood the premise behind the article: careers that are mobile. But overall, it was a list of starter jobs that — when you’re in your mid 30s and trying to have a serious career — don’t exactly scream “I am a professional!”

Adulting is hard, but it’s even harder when you’re constantly moving, constantly having to search for a new job, and constantly juggling the responsibilities of parenthood and spousehood and…you get the point.

This made me wonder if typical spouses generally just settle into jobs like babysitting and dog grooming and selling mascara, so I went to a group of military spouses who’ve managed to have successful careers and successful marriages, and I asked them to tell me what they do.

The following careers are all careers that current and former Military Spouses of the Year have, and it just goes to show that being a military spouse does not have to mean you’re doomed to sell makeup or babysit for the rest of your service member’s career (that is, if you don’t want to).

*Note: there isn’t anything wrong with direct sales. In fact, I’ve done direct sales, and a lot of spouses do, because it is extremely mobile. The purpose of this list is to think outside of the “military spouse” box.

Entrepreneur:

  • Brittany Boccher owns an apparel company called Mason Chix
  • Lakesha Cole owns a brick and mortar children’s boutique called SheSwank in Jacksonville, NC
  • Valerie Billau founded a kids consignment shop, which she sold after three years when her husband took orders elsewhere
  • Melissa Nauss owns Stars and Stripes Doulas

Sports:

  • Andrea Barreiro is an agent for professional athletes.
  • Heather Smith is a tennis coach.
  • Ellie OB coached college basketball for 12 years

Physical and Mental Health care:

  • Lisa Uzzle is the director of healthcare operations at a medical facility
  • Melissa Nauss is a certified doula
  • Alexandra Eva is a nurse practitioner who hosts clinics in rural areas of third world countries that don’t have much access to medical care. She has worked in Uganda, South Sudan, DRC, and Mozambique, among others
  • Paula Barrette is a licensed optometrist, though due to the difference in each state’s current licensing laws, she often finds herself volunteering as an optometrist at military clinics rather than getting paid
  • Dr. Ingred Herrera-Yee is a clinical psychologist for the Department of Defense, and the founder of a network for military spouses in the mental health field
  • Amber Rose Odom works as an administrator in a dental office
  • Michelle Lemieux is a registered nurse for adolescent psychiatry
  • Zinnia Narvaez is a medical assistant, and practices OB/GYN at a community health center
  • Stephanie Geraghty became a CNA (Certified Nursing Assistant) in order to provide better care for her son, who has special needs. In some states, the state will pay for up to a certain number of hours per day of in home nursing care, and in Geraghty’s state, immediate family members qualify to provide the care. Geraghty put herself through the schooling and passed the board, and now officially works for her son

Executive:

  • Anna Blanch Rabe is the CEO of a communications company that specializes in service non-profit organizations with high quality communications content, strategic planning, and business advice. She started her professional career as an attorney, but current licensing issues prevent her from practicing in most states her service member gets orders to
  • Erica McMannes is the CEO of an outsourcing and virtual staffing agency for military spouses
  • Amy Hanson is the executive assistant to the Vice President of a “billion dollar company”
  • Lisa Wantuck is the Director of National Sales for an IT staffing company
  • Elizabeth Groover is an executive management specialist for a chemical and biological firm

Non-Profit:

  • Kori Yates and Cassandra Bratcher founded non-profit organizations that involve military spouses
  • Maria Mola is the development director for a non-profit that focuses on providing 24 month transitional housing for homeless veterans and families and formerly incarcerated veterans
  • Erin Ensley, along with her daughter, make and send teddy bears for the Epilepsy Foundation
  • Amy Scick is the Director of Community Relations for a non-profit that focuses on military spouse employment
  • Leslie Brians is a graphic designer and creative director for a military spouse focuses non-profit
  • Mindy Patterson works with an agency that is addressing the need for assisted living for people who don’t qualify for it through other various government programs

Cyber:

  • Jessica Del Pizzo is an account manager for a cyber security firm
  • Alex Brown works in cybersecurity, and notes that analysts, remote support, network security design, consultants, and even administrative database managers are excellent remote positions, and with the need for cybersecurity specialists, most places are willing to work with remote employees

Education and child focused:

  • Jennifer Delacruz is a special education teacher, who also writes children’s books about special education
  • Elizabeth Lowe is a personal in home one-to-one therapy caregiver to a child with severe special needs
  • Brittany Raines is in foster parenting licensing
  • Rebekah Speck is a “parent navigator” for a state run program that provides families of disabled children with an advocate to help them address things like IEPs, etc
  • Courtney Lynn is a 3rd grade teacher

Administrative:

  • Christina Laycock is an accountant
  • Stacy Faris is a business administrator
  • Grace Sanchez is a bookkeeper
  • Kelli Kraehmer is an account manager for a large wireless company
  • Kennita Williams is a legal aid for a DoD Staff Judge Advocate
  • Ashley Ella is an agricultural appraiser
  • Hannah Weatherford is a braille transcriptionist

Independent Consulting and Freelance:

  • Loree Bee is a life coach
  • April Alan is a freelance writer and independent blogger
  • Susan Reynolds insists her official title is “badass”. She is an advocate, a freelance writer, and the hostess of SpouseSpouts
  • Tara Glenn is a freelance writer when she’s not working for the Navy

Others:

  • Tesha Jackson and her children paint, sew, crochet, and knit — among other things — and they sell those projects through Jackson’s website
  • Ann Woyma is a veterinarian
  • Kelly Stillwagon is a paranormal investigator, and when she and her husband are stateside, they run classes on how to become investigators
  • Brian Alvarado is a real estate executive, and the Vice President of Marketing for a real estate brokerage in San Diego
  • Hope Griffin is a pastor, and an author of Christian books
  • Vivian Vralstad is a medical writer for a pharmaceutical company, but she began her STEM career as a neuroscientist
Military Life

6 ways for a POG to be accepted by grunts

The greatest divide in the U.S. Military is between grunts and the POGs. And for as long as this divide has existed, higher-ups have been trying to find ways to close this gap.


Today, we offer some advice from grunts for POGs on how they can earn respect from their infantry counterparts.

Related: The fascinating beginning of the term ‘POG’

6. Don’t act like your job is more important

Everyone’s job plays a role in the grand scheme of things. Everyone is just one piece in the puzzle few of us get to look at.

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Remember: Grunts get dirty so you don’t have to. (image via Terminal Lance)

5. Learn how to wear your gear properly

This is one that will undoubtedly gain some respect from grunts. One common complaint among the grunts is that POGs have no idea how to wear the gear. Magazine pouches don’t go on the back of your plate carrier, and get that first aid kit in a place where you can reach it.

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Exhibit A: Clean gear, magazine dump pouch on the front of the plate carrier, and backwards plate carrier. This is why grunts make fun of you. (Image via United States Grunt Corps)

4. Learn basic infantry tactics

This one almost goes without saying — learn the basics of a grunt’s job and they’ll have no room to talk sh*t.

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Be an asset, not a liability to the infantry.

3. Set yourself to grunt standards

Infantrymen have to be physically fit in order to handle carrying all their gear, and someone else if the need arises. If you can keep up with a grunt or even outperform a few, they’ll treat you like one of their own — especially if you take the advice from point #4.

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If it helps, make faces.

2. Don’t act like your rank gives you experience

The infantry, especially the Marine Corps infantry, is full of E-3s with TONS of experience. One thing that will piss a grunt off more than anything is if an E-4 who only has 6 months to a year of time in tries to act superior to an E-3 with 2 or 3 years of experience (demotions exempt) and deployments under their belt.

If you need to correct an E-3, by all means, do it. But check that ego of yours.

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Remember that prior service thing? (Image via reddit)

Also Read: 6 ways to make money while living in the barracks

1. Take a joke

Grunts talk trash all day, every day, and there is not a single day that goes by in the infantry where they don’t. If you can sh*t talk with a grunt (and if you can do it better) they’ll undoubtedly accept you as one of their own. But make sure you have more in your arsenal than, “Well, you’re just a dumb grunt.”

That one’s been used so many times that people with ASVAB scores of 80 and higher are joining the infantry.

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Make jokes back.

*Bonus* Take pride in being a POG

Grunts feel that POGs often just have an inferiority complex, which results in treating grunts like low-life scum (which isn’t totally wrong). Take pride in the fact that you help grunts bring the fight to the enemy! Grunts actually love cooks and motor-T because otherwise they’re stuck with MREs and long walks.

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Embrace your differences!

Military Life

How to not be a dirtbag CGO

Officers in the military don’t always have the best reputation. Company Grade Officers, or “CGOs,” might have it worse — at least there’s some heft behind a full-bird; lieutenants are like wee babes in the wood.


In the four or five years we’re training and partying at frat houses earning degrees, our enlisted peers go on multiple combat deployments and conduct real mission operations.

Related video:

So when you show up as a brand new elle-tee with them shiny butterbars, that is decidedly not the time to pull rank; it’s the time to earn the respect the rank commands.

Here are a few ways to do that without being a dirtbag:

1. Be cool, man. Just…be cool.

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CGO’s do not need to swagger. You do not need to throw that commission around. If you show up barking orders, you will be resented. The ideal goal is for there to be mutual respect, and it starts with you.

2. Find a mentor.

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Probably someone in the E-4 to E-6 range. These guys know the ropes, they’re experts in their career field, and they’ve been taking care of personnel issues since you were a cadet singing your way to chow.

Learn from them. Take their advice into consideration. Every CGO needs a Yoda.

3. Know your people (and their jobs).

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There’s a fine line between stellar leadership and stalking. (Image via 20th Century Fox)

You should know the name, marital status, secret hopes and dreams, and blood type of everyone you are responsible for. If they have an injury, you need to know it.

If Private Jones gets shin splints, don’t make him do parade practice — make him go to the doc. It’s your job to keep your people mission qualified, and to do that, you need to know the best and worst of them.

You also need to know their mission. You’re probably not going to know all the details they know, but you need to understand what they’re doing every day and you need to be able to communicate it up the chain.

4. CGOs- ask questions. Seriously. 

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If you don’t know something, don’t bluff your way through it. Acknowledge the information gap and go find the answer. This demonstrates that you are willing to learn and grow, but more importantly, it demonstrates that you are trustworthy.

5. Be a sh*t shield.

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Back to Pvt. Jones and his shin splints. It’s your job to recognize that Jones’ medical treatment is more important than a Change of Command ceremony — but that doesn’t mean the commander will see it that way.

It’s on you to convey the needs of your people up the chain of command, and to shield those below you from any backlash.

This is rarely a simple task, but luckily you’ve already proven yourself to be true to your word and earnest in your desire to grow (right? RIGHT??) — the commander will see that, too.

Not being a dirtbag is appreciated up and down the chain.

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popular

Why the US military has shoulder pockets

In 2004, the U.S. Army unveiled its new combat uniform, complete with upgrades including wrinkle-free fabric and a digitized camouflage print. The Army Combat Uniform (ACU) had many changes (18, in fact), but one of the troop favorites was the shoulder pocket.


 

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Obviously, pockets themselves weren’t new to military uniforms. The quintessential pant-leg cargo pocket was indispensable in the Korean War; as a result, cargo pockets have adorned military combat uniforms (and military-inspired fashion?) ever since. They were also used on blouses during the Vietnam War, and after 9/11, they got fancy even more utilitarian.

“This isn’t about a cosmetic redesign of the uniform,” said Col. John Norwood, the project manager for Clothing and Individual Equipment. “It’s a functionality change of the uniform that will improve the ability of Soldiers to execute their combat mission.”

One of the favored changes was the addition of the shoulder pocket, which replaced the bottom pockets on the jacket after troops realized they couldn’t access the front of their uniform while wearing body armor. The shoulder, however, was a handy location. These were tilted forward and buttons were replaced with zippers for function and comfort in combat.

Also read: 5 ways US military combat uniforms have changed since Vietnam

Prior to the uniform change, troops in the field had been modifying their gear to include the shoulder pocket for years, including Desert Storm and the early years of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom.

 

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It’s the perfect size for your sanity. (Image via Mil-Spec Monkey)

Regulations around the pocket only dictate that “articles carried in pockets do not protrude from the pocket or present a bulky appearance,” so what’s actually carried in them is up to the individual, but it gets fascinating. Users on reddit list everything from pens and notebooks, U.S. flag patches to hand out to local children, to candy…which got me thinking…

…what did you carry in your shoulder pocket? Leave me a comment and let me know.

Articles

14 photos that show how deployed troops watch the Super Bowl

The military is filled with sports fans, and few days are as important to sports followers as the Super Bowl. So the U.S. military goes to great lengths to ensure that troops around the world are granted the opportunity to watch the big game (as long as they aren’t currently wrapped up in a mission…probably).


Here are 14 photos that show how troops around the world watch the ultimate football game each year:

1. Sports fans around the world watch the game on the Armed Forces Network, a U.S. military satellite channel. Some of these watching parties even allow minor uniform alterations, such as the wear of sports jerseys.

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Capt. Joe Beale, a systems automation officer assigned to the 57th Expeditionary Signal Battalion, cheers as the Seattle Seahawks score a touchdown during Super Bowl XLVIII, Feb. 2, 2014, at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan. (Photo: U.S. Army Cpl. Alex Flynn)

2. The watch parties are held wherever a TV and suitable seating can be set up, including chow halls…

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Sailors watch Super Bowl 50 (fun fact: this was the year the Super Bowl decided to take a break from using roman numerals because the stand-alone “L” raised some confusion) between the Carolina Panthers and the Denver Broncos in USS John C. Stennis’ (CVN 74) mess decks. (Photo: U.S. Navy Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Kenneth Rodriguez Santiago)

3. …theaters or briefing rooms…

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Deployed troops watch the “big game” during a Super Bowl 50 viewing party at Bagram Air Field, Afghanistan, Feb. 8, 2016. The Airmen, soldiers, and civilians enjoyed the game and got to meet Miami Dolphins cheerleaders and former players during the event. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Nicholas Rau)

4. …and even ranges.

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Marines with 3rd Battalion 4th Marine Regiment take a break from their Integrated Training Exercise to watch the Super Bowl at the Combat Center’s Range 215, Feb. 3, 2012.

5. The luckiest viewers get to watch in sports bars on base.

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Community members react to the Super Bowl 50 game with Carolina Panthers versus Denver Broncos Feb. 8 at the CZCC. (U.S. Army photo by Lance Davis)

6. The game-watching parties are usually supplemented with other activities.

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Marines with 3rd Battalion 4th Marine Regiment take a break from their Integrated Training Exercise to watch the Super Bowl at the Combat Center’s Range 215, Feb. 3, 2012.

7. For obvious reasons, football games are a common choice.

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Marines with 3rd Battalion 4th Marine Regiment take a break from their Integrated Training Exercise to watch the Super Bowl at the Combat Center’s Range 215, Feb. 3, 2012.

8. But other games are commonly set up.

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Pfc. Oscar Ramero plays pool at a Single Marine Program Recreation Center at Camp Pendleton, Feb. 7, 2016. The center hosted a Super Bowl party which included free food and games for noncommissioned officer ranks and below. Ramero, from New York, is a student with Assault Amphibian School Battalion, School of Infantry – West. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Caitlin Bevel)

9. Some bases will even get special visits from USO tours, like this NFL All-Star Cheerleaders line-up.

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NFL All-Star Cheerleaders perform for the Super Bowl 50 party Feb. 8 at the CZZC. (U.S. Army photo by Lance Davis)

10. Concerts are fairly common as well.

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The Smokin’ Scarecrows play a cover of a song Feb. 7, 2016, in the Ramstein Enlisted Club, at Ramstein Air Base, Germany. The band was part of the pre-game entertainment before the 2016 Super Bowl. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Timothy Moore)

11. Prize giveaways are big at watch parties, especially overseas.

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Vonetta Weatherspoon, community member from Naval Air Facility Atsugi, received the grand prize of two round-trip tickets to the U.S. from United Airlines at the Super Bowl 50 party Feb. 8 in the CZCC. (U.S. Army photo by Lance Davis)

12. Electronics, plane tickets, and other prizes are given out.

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Prizes for the patrons of the Super Bowl 50 Madness party rest on a table Feb. 7, 2016, in the Ramstein Enlisted Club, at Ramstein Air Base, Germany. Prizes included National Football League lawn chairs and money. Club members could also receive furniture, additional cash, LED televisions, and gaming consoles. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Timothy Moore)

13. Of course, no Super Bowl party is complete without snacks.

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Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson chaplains hosted a Super Bowl Sunday Party with a large variety of food and drinks at the Wired Cafe, on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Feb. 1, 2015. The Super Bowl Sunday Party there is an annual tradition. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman Christopher R. Morales)

14. But it is the military, so not everyone gets a party or even a chance to watch the game. Some guys have to pull duty, like these paratroopers getting ready for an airborne operation on Super Bowl Sunday.

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While the rest of the country was watching Super Bowl 50, hundreds of Airborne Artillerymen assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division Artillery rushed down to Green Ramp to conduct sustained airborne training in preparation for a zero-dark-thirty airborne operation the following morning of Feb. 8, 2016., on Fort Bragg, N.C. (Capt. Joe Bush, 82nd Airborne Division Artillery/ Released.)

Military Life

6 important things recruits should do to prepare for basic training

So you want to join the U.S. military and become a flat-bellied, steely-eyed killer of men (or mover of supplies, or photo-taker of soldiers, whatever). That means some trips to the recruiter and boot camp might be in your future. Here are six things to help prepare you for basic training:


1. Work on your physical fitness

 

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(Photo: US Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Mackenzie B. Carter)

Let’s get the most obvious thing out of the way first. You should exercise. A lot. Recruiters can tell you what exercises are most important for your branch and job school since they do differ. In general, future Marines and soldiers should concentrate on overall muscular strength and endurance. Soldiers can be lax about pull-ups but Marines should hit them hard.

Everyone, including sailors and airmen, should build up their endurance by running, biking, and strenuously hiking.

2. Read books from the professional reading list

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Don’t worry, there aren’t this many on the list. (Public Domain photo)

 

Every branch has a professional reading list for their service members. Some are extensive, like the Marine Corps’, which includes a list of required reading for all Marines as well as lists assigned to each pay grade.

Others are shorter with just a few books that focus on future fights, tradition, and military history such as the Coast Guard’s 2015 list, which contained just nine books selected by the commandant and one nominated by Guardians. The Army, Air Force and Navy lists are available as well. The Air Force one even includes must watch Ted Talks and other videos. Get the books from a library if you don’t want to buy them.

3. Actually read those books of information the recruiter gives you

 

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Photo: US Air Force Senior Airman Micky M. Bazaldua

A little more on the topic of reading: Recruiters give new recruits pamphlets, booklets and little primers on military customs and courtesies, rank structure, the phonetic alphabet and other easy to learn and vital bits of knowledge.

Read these. Really read them. Some of them, like ranks and the phonetic alphabet, should be turned into flash cards for studying. The training cadre at basic training units will expect you to know these things. That’s why the recruiter gave you the pamphlets.

4. Study for entrance exams

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If you haven’t been given those pamphlets yet, then you probably haven’t officially joined yet and may still be waiting to take the entrance exams. The most common is the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery, or ASVAB, but some specific jobs have additional testing requirements.

Most of these tests have study guides that can help you prepare for the real experience. The best ones feature questions that were used in previous iterations of the actual test.

5. Practice hiking and navigating by map and compass

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Photo: US Air Force Airman 1st Class William Johnson

Every military branch has access to good, reliable GPS systems, but most units are training members to navigate by map and compass anyway. The seagoing services are even getting back into celestial navigation.

It’s part of a “back to basics” push to keep military operations moving forward if an enemy destroys America’s vulnerable GPS satellites. Luckily for new recruits, it’s a trainable skill that they can practice on their own while getting some of the fitness discussed in number 1 on this list.

But bring a friend, let someone know where you’re going and what time you expect to return, and/or bring GPS with you. After all, it doesn’t help anyone if you end up stranded in the woods.

6. Learn some discipline

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(Photo: US Marine Coprs Staff Sgt. J.L. Wright Jr.)

Seriously, more than anything else, practice taking direction and doing what you’re told without question or argument. The military is full of experienced and smart people who want to show you the ropes and let you develop critical thinking skills, but they need to know that you can take orders quickly so that they can trust you in a potential combat situation.

The first part of that trust is knowing that, if they tell you to spend two hours standing in the sun without moving, you will do it. Basic training cadre members will test this by having you stand for two hours in the sun with an order to not move. Learn to do annoying things without moving, complaining or asking for special treatment.

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