If there’s one thing military personnel are taught from their time in service it’s to improvise, adapt and overcome.
This mentality keeps our troops flexible and inventive in the absence of modern comforts. But for all their ingenuity, the following five military hacks have no place outside of the military:
1. The “everything” sandwich.
Troops are fast eaters — it’s a habit formed out of necessity. Whether it’s being allotted a few minutes in boot camp to process divisions through the chow hall or out in the fleet with a few minutes between a hectic schedule, troops eat with urgency. Some troops save time by putting everything on their plate between two pieces of bread to make an everything sandwich. Hey, it’s all going to the same place anyways.
2. Cooking with C4.
During the Vietnam war, troops would use C4 explosives to heat their C-rations. In fact C4 is almost harmless without the detonator; you can shoot it, cut it, and light it on fire without it exploding as demonstrated by the guys on Mythbusters. Although warm meals are nice, they still ate their food cold after sunset to avoid being spotted.
3. Filling a mop bucket with a dust pan.
Deck sailors do a lot of swabbing (mopping) but have few options to fill up their water buckets. In most cases they use a shower head, but in situations where there aren’t any around – such as on decks without living quarters – they improvise by using a dustpan to direct water into a bucket.
4. Going commando
Going without underwear is erotic and sexually stimulating to some people, while it’s considered immodest and socially unacceptable to others. Grunts, on the other hand, go without underwear for practical reasons; to increase ventilation and reduce moisture in the crotch area. They also go through long periods of time without being able to do their laundry.
5. Using condoms to protect equipment.
While condoms were invented to prevent pregnancies and STDs, service members also use them to protect equipment. Grunts us condoms to prevent rifle barrels from clogging and flight deck sailors use them to make their radio microphones waterproof.
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.
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.
“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.
“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.
“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.”
While I’d never give up Christmas at home, there are some things I miss about celebrating the holidays with my brothers in arms.
As I sit here comfortably at my desk, nursing a scotch in a plastic cup after my guard unit Christmas party, I can’t help but feel nostalgia for my time spent away from home. While I wouldn’t trade Christmas morning at home with my wife and daughter for anything, I will forever recall those Christmases spent overseas fondly. Surprisingly, the things I miss the most about Christmas in Afghanistan are the same things that I missed when I was stuck there among my fellow Army members.
5. We shared the holidays with our military families.
One of the great things about Christmas overseas is that there are no awkward family interactions, like trying to remember the name of your cousin’s boyfriend or watching Uncle Cletus get drunk and set the Christmas tree on fire. The bond and fellowship that soldiers try to create when they are stuck away from home is a thing of magic. Granted, I’m pretty sure that they either made some barracks hooch or got some stuff in the mail, but in the midst of rural Afghanistan, they found a way to have a good time and take care of each other. I fondly remember watching the original Indiana Jones and Star Wars trilogies back to back while making concept of operations and fragmentary orders in 2010. And though I’m pretty sure my wife won’t let that fly this year, being stuck in a plans cell was halfway nice that day.
4. We gorged ourselves on the food.
The Army always tried hard to get quality food to all locations, even to the most remote bases, on Christmas. Entire missions with combined arms and air support were involved in transporting ham and turkey to all the outposts. At our little base in Kunar, Afghanistan in 2008, our cook and his band of merry Afghan helpers worked two nights to cook enough food for the soldiers at our base and those flown in from a neighboring outpost. The giant cow femur from a bone in roast beef was left for “Pork Chop,” the black and white dog who served as the mascot to multiple outposts in the Kunar River Valley, who would trek from Monti to Fortress south of Asadabad between 2007 and 2009.
It wasn’t the way grandma cooked it, but between the noble efforts of Army cooks and care packages from home, I count it among my favorite meals.
3. We improvised holiday decorations.
(Image from Warner Bros’ National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation)
Clark Griswold from National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation would have been jealous of our Christmas tree. One of the remote outposts in our area of operations, which was under nearly constant attack with over 200 firefights in their six months in position, strung lights up through their base as a message to the Taliban. My wife mailed me a small artificial Christmas tree that I put in our small tactical operations center and gave our soldiers the mission to decorate. Slowly, we fleshed it out with M67 fragmentation grenades and individual ornaments of 7.62 rounds hung with care using the innards of a parachute cord. Lastly, we topped it with a Santa Claus Mr. Potato Head and a claymore at the base. We were full of Christmas cheer, surrounded by emergency munitions.
2. We had unique Christmas shenanigans.
Santa Claus (Lt. Jon Sunderland) directs aircraft movement during flight operations aboard the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz (CVN 68) Christmas Day. Nimitz Carrier Strike Group is on a routine deployment to the region. Operations in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations are focused on reassuring regional partners of the United States commitment to security, which promotes stability and global prosperity. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class David Mercil / Released).
One of the few days of the year when there was a general consensus for shenanigans to improve morale, the antics throughout were a thing of magic. From the secret targeting packets circulated on Santa Claus to the fellow staff officer that erected an inflatable Christmas decoration on the roof of our building to welcome the commander back from his Christmas tour, the practical jokers of the Army tried their best to make light of an otherwise crap situation being away from home.
1. There were occasional inexplicable Christmas miracles.
Somehow, some way, on Christmas the near impossible happened. It was eerily quiet — maybe because we weren’t out stirring up trouble — the Taliban generally left us alone and we enjoyed it. After weeks of no mail due to weather issues and unknown complications, a Chinook appeared on the horizon bringing hope in the Ring Route. We unloaded several thousand pounds of mail and other goodies on Christmas eve, and though it may seem silly, it was a real miracle to us.
There is a long history of the magic and merriment of Christmas for soldiers at war. From the Christmas Day Truce in 1914 to the ring route miracle of eastern Afghanistan, as I look at more inevitable deployments and more holidays away from home, it makes me cherish what I’ve experienced just a little bit more. As always it reminds me to enjoy this glass of scotch a little bit more for my friends and comrades overseas this season, and to not fear being gone from my family in the future. For those overseas this year, have a Merry Christmas and stay safe, but remember to have some fun while you are there.
Throughout history, women have played pivotal roles in the military. Women have served on the frontlines since the Revolutionary War – Margaret Corbin, famously defended Fort Washington in 1776 – but it wasn’t until 1901 that women were allowed to serve in the military in any official capacity.
“Albeit only in certain branches and typically in wartime,” Captain Veronica Bean, Public Affairs Officer for the 10th Combat Aviation Brigade at Fort Drum, told We Are The Mighty. “Since then, we’ve seen major legislative and institutional changes, including the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act of 1948, which allowed women to serve during peacetime and the Department of Defense’s 2013 decision to allow women to serve in combat roles.”
World War I was the first time the military opened to women on an official level by the Army.
Women were allowed to serve in the military when the need for manpower grew too large to ignore. “The country realized we needed all hands on deck to support the war,” Bean explained. “As women successfully completed their original duties, more and more jobs opened up to them. World War I served as a turning point where the nation saw how valuable women were to the war effort. It set the conditions for WAVES, WAACS and WASPS in World War II and generations of future service.”
Trailblazers from each branch include: Deborah Sampson, U.S. Army; Esther McGowin Blake, U.S. Air Force; Genevieve and Lucille Baker, U.S.Coast Guard; Loretta Walsh, U.S. Navy; Opha May Johnson, U.S. Marine Corps.
“The first women to serve in the armed forces enlisted in the Navy in 1917,” Bean shared. “While the women served stateside, they were afforded the same benefits and pay as their male counterparts. The military was one of the first institutions to offer equal pay between the sexes. This was a groundbreaking social change—remember, this was three years before the U.S. ratified the 19th amendment which grants women the right to vote.”
In January 2013, Secretary of Defense, Leon Panetta, lifted the ban on women in combat roles and gave the military two years to complete integration.
“Limiting the roles in which women could serve in the military effectively capped female career progression,” Bean said. “Take into consideration that the most senior strategic leaders – the chiefs of staff or combatant commanders for example – historically have combat arms backgrounds, which is why these positions were filled only by men until just a few years ago. The Department of Defense’s decision to allow women to serve in all capacities of the military freed women to also serve at all levels of leadership. As women progress up the ranks and fill these senior leader positions, we’re starting to have women, for the first time, impact decisions that ultimately affect the entire force.”
Today, women serve in all facets of the armed services.
“Gender diversity in the military makes us better, because it allows a myriad of experience and perspective to be included in the planning and decision-making process,” Bean explained. “More importantly, allowing women to serve in the same fashion as their male peers breaks down stereotypes about what women can and can not do both physically and professionally.”
Bean told We Are The Mighty that as a woman in the military, there are many women who currently serve or have served that inspire her.
“Army Gen (Ret.) Ann E. Dunwoody was the first woman in the military to achieve the rank of general. Needless to say, she was a trail blazer and an inspiration to all the women who have followed in her footsteps,” she said. “More recently, U.S. Army Reservist, LTC Lisa Jaster was the first female reservist to complete Ranger school -and the third of all components. I really admire her for her grit and tenacity, but especially because she took on that challenge – a school whose motto is “not for the faint or weak of heart” – at age 37 after having two children. The average trainee is 23. She’s a reminder that the only limits we have are the one we put on ourselves.”
Although the military has come a long way in equality, there is still work to be done.
“Being a female service member can be a lonely experience,” Bean said. “It’s quite common to sit through a series of meetings in which I am the only woman in the room. But despite this, or perhaps because of this, the bond which is shared between sisters-in-arms is stronger than anything I’ve ever experienced outside of the military. The mentorship and support that military women provide each other aren’t talked about enough.”
Looking toward the future of women in the armed forces, Bean is hopeful.
“Today’s military recognizes that our strength lies in our diversity, and our senior leaders are making significant changes to grooming standards, uniforms, and training programs in order to recruit and retain women,” she said. “I’m excited about what the future holds, and I hope more young women will consider joining the profession of arms.”
Over the past few years, public awareness of veteran suicide has increased and, more importantly, people are more aware than ever before of the resources available to help struggling veterans and active-duty service members. However, in the past year, we’ve noticed a disturbing new aspect of the problem — there have been a number of recent suicides among high-profile veterans who stood as beacons of hope for others in the suicide prevention movement.
At the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS), our Red Team has been reflecting on these losses and their impact on suicide prevention and postvention efforts across the military and veteran community.
The late Pfc. Kevin S. Jacobs, United States Marine Corps infantryman. Pfc. Kevin Jacobs struggled with anxiety, emotional pain, and grief due to his experiences at war. Both he and his brother Bryan Keith Jacobs a veteran U.S. Navy Corpsman suffered from PTSD and emotionally began to drift apart. Kevin’s experiences eventually got the best of him, and on Memorial Day, May 28, 2014, Kevin died by suicide. (Guest Photo by Bryan Keith Jacobs, U.S. Navy Veteran)
If any among us believes that suicide is an act of weakness, we should alter our thinking: even the strongest of us — the fierce tribe of warriors who fight our wars — sometimes die by suicide. A man or woman can be a hero to many, noted for his or her uncommon bravery and unconquerable fighting spirit, and still be at risk. Such a man or woman is a true hero.
A second truth is that death by suicide leaves a wake of loss, risk, and regret that is devastating to our community. Many times, I have witnessed and walked with veterans who are cut to the core by this kind of loss. They often say that they “did not see it coming.” In addition to shock and overwhelming grief, they often feel angry that their brother or sister did not reach out to them. Far too often have I heard, “I would have dropped everything to be there if I had only known.”
Soldiers with 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, behavioral health team, host a Cars Against Suicide Car Show Dec. 1, 2017 at Fort Stewart, Ga. The Cars against Suicide event was hosted by 2nd ABCT in an effort to promote awareness and offer resources to help prevent suicide. (U.S. Army Photo by Spc. Robert Winns)
They also express a deep sense of helplessness, a kind of helplessness that puts them directly at risk for self-destructive actions. And sometimes, when they think of losing a leader among them to suicide, they feel great fear. If this fear had a voice, it might say, “if suicide felt like the only option for a person this strong, what does that mean for me?”
These reactions are the last thing their hero would have wanted them to think and feel.
A family and an entire community can be changed forever based on a decision made in one day of suffocating despair. There is the heroic life lived, but also the death that leaves behind more loss and destruction. How can we make sense of senseless loss?
Based on our work with veterans and military service members over the past ten years, here are 3 things we offer for the community to consider.
3. The tribe is stronger than the power of despair.
To learn to be seamlessly interdependent is to reach the summit of our human potential — it is not a sign of weakness. The lifeblood of those who do battle together is love and trust between those who would lay their lives down for each other.
Connection with the tribe is the protective factor that buffers against despair and disconnection, even in the most extreme situations. This bond of trust is stronger than despair and, when the tribe comes together and locks shields, it has a power that can defeat demons.
2. Balancing legacy and prevention.
Suicidal thinking arises in the context of a perfect storm of events; there’s never just one precipitating event. Self-destructive acts are most often the result of a combination of overwhelming mental anguish, physical pain, a biochemistry altered by chronically poor sleep, and events that create a perception of acute hopelessness. What are we to do if a perfect storm presents itself to us? Here, we can continue to find meaning and hope from the life of a hero and the things that he or she stood for.
While it is important to honor the life lived, it is equally important to balance that message with education, resources, and support around preventing additional suicides. We must think about the message that he or she carried over many years of life, while also understanding the contributing factors of that single, perfect-storm day. What did the person argue for with all of their energies while they were alive? Can their death be used to support the message that was so important during their life? Did this person advocate for turning to one’s tribe, for trusting in one’s community to supply the strength to fight demons? Was this person able to do for themselves what they encouraged in others?
These are the lessons learned on the look back that balance preventing another loss of life with the heroic life lived.
1. Leaders also need the tribe.
Finally, those who stand as a beacon of hope may have some under-appreciated vulnerabilities. Veterans are often driven to find a next mission and derive a great sense of purpose — sometimes even life-saving purpose — from inspiring others to stay in the fight. However, when veterans become caregivers and public examples of strength, there is an additional pressure that is placed on their shoulders as they hold the hope of their brothers and sisters. Veterans have expressed to us that as soon as they became a caregiver of other veterans, they have felt, in some indescribable way, a door is closed to them in terms of seeking help for themselves.
As we work with veteran and military leaders, we have observed that their first instinct is often to isolate in the hope of “getting it together” when their stress feels overwhelming. It runs against their instincts, developed through training and culture, to turn to their tribe when they themselves need support. This does not mean that they do not believe in the value of help-seeking, but may feel shame and guilt when they need it for themselves.
Maybe these leaders and heroes become like a lighthouse, helping keep other people safe, holding strong against the storm. But what happens when the lighthouse itself becomes enveloped by lashing waves and raging seas? How does it signal distress? Who looks out for the lighthouse and how can we make sure that all can turn towards the tribe of those they love and trust to lend them strength to fight their demons? Leaders also need the tribe.
When we’re aware a perfect storm is brewing, one of the best things we can do is connect the person with their tribe and with resources that can help — whether that person is a peer or a leader.
TAPS offers comprehensive, best-practice postvention support services for suicide loss survivors, including the 24/7 Helpline (1-800-959-TAPS), virtual groups and chats for survivors, and on-the-ground events and gatherings.
Veterans and their loved ones can call the Veterans Crisis Line by dialing 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1, chat online, or send a text message to 838255 to receive support 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.
Shauna Springer is the Senior Director of TAPS Red Team within the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors. Dr. Springer is a licensed psychologist with an undergraduate degree from Harvard University and a Doctoral degree from the University of Florida. Known to many veterans as “Doc Springer,” she has helped hundreds of warriors reconnect with their tribe, strengthen their most important relationships, and build lives that are driven by their deepest values. TAPS Red Team provides training and consultation related to suicide prevention and postvention to clinicians, military leadership, policymakers, and organizations.
Well into the attack, the USS Arizona took four devastating direct hits from 800kg bombs dropped from high altitude Japanese planes. One of the bombs ripped into the Arizona’s starboard deck and detonated. The explosion collapsed the ship’s forecastle decks, causing the conning tower to fall thirty feet into the hull.
Due to the events of that traumatic day, 1,177 Sailors and Marines lost their lives, but the numbers of those men buried at the historic site continue to increase.
Master Chief Raymond Haerry (ret), served as a Boatswain’s Mate on the Arizona as it was bombed by enemy forces in the pacific fleet, which threw him from the ship and caused him to land in the oil and fire covered water.
Haerry had to swim his way to Ford Island — then got right back into the fight by firing back at the enemy. He was just 19 years old.
75 years after the attack, Haerry returned; his ashes were laid to rest inside the sunken ship’s hull, rejoining approximately 900 of his brothers. More than 100 people gathered at the USS Arizona Memorial for the symbolic funeral in his honor — a ceremony only offered to those who survived the deadly attack.
The retired Master Chief became the 42nd survivor to be placed at the site out of the 335 men who survived.
The 29th Commandant of the Marine Corps, General Alfred M. Gray Jr., once stated, “Every Marine is, first and foremost, a rifleman. All other conditions are secondary.” The problem here is that being a skilled shooter doesn’t equate to knowing how to handle the job of an infantry rifleman.
To be fair, when the statement was issued, it was probably true. In a type of war where the battlefield is all around you and every soul out there is equally subject to the harvest of death, like the Vietnam War, grunts were taking many casualties on the front lines. The powers that be had to start pulling Marines from POG jobs to be riflemen to fill the ranks.
But, in the modern era, the more accurate statement is, “every Marine knows how to shoot a rifle,” because they’re taught to do so in boot camp. But being a Marine rifleman is so much more than just shooting a gun well.
Now, it’s important to note that there are plenty of POGs who can shoot better than grunts but, if all it takes to be a rifleman is accurately firing a weapon in a comfortable, rested, and stable position, then why have the Infantry Training Battalion?
Why spend so much time and money to teach a Marine to be a rifleman if they learn the skills they need in boot camp? It’s because the job of the rifleman is not so simple. What POGs need to understand is that when they don’t know the fundamentals well enough, they become a liability on patrol.
If you find a desk-bound POG who thinks they’re superior because of their shooting ability, ask them the preferred entry method of a two-story building. Ask them what the dimensions of a fighting hole are and why. Chances are, they’ll try to remember something they learned back in Marine Combat Training, but won’t be able to. This is where the divide is — this is why riflemen are so annoyed with this statement. We know our job is much more complicated.
General Alfred M. Gray Jr.’s iconic statement has become, frankly, kind of insulting to the job of the rifleman at this point. It’s really annoying, as a 21-year-old lance corporal walking around the base in a dress uniform with ribbons from deployment, to pass a 19-year-old POG sergeant with two ribbons that thinks, for some reason, that they’re better than you because of rank.
The rank deserves respect, absolutely, but when you sit there and think you rate because of rank, you’re an arrogant prick and no grunt is going to want to work with you.
The most annoying argument we hear is along the lines of, “I’m better than a grunt because I have to do their job and mine.” First off, it’s flat-out false. You don’t do our job; you do your job and the only time you get anywhere close to ours is the annual rifle range visit. And even then it’s immediately clear who the POGs are (hint: they’re the ones with the messed-up gear, usually no mount for night vision goggles, and rifles that look like they just came out of the box).
Second, if you were better than a grunt, you wouldn’t look so damn lost when you do patrols or any infantry-related tasks.
The statement, “every Marine is, first and foremost, a rifleman,” is an insult to the job of an infantry rifleman. The notion that POGs take away from this statement, that they’re equal just because they know how to shoot a rifle, is absolutely not true.
The new Battle Skills Test is a solid step in the right direction, but POGs need to realize that their job is not more or less important and stop trying to feel better about not being grunts. After all, we’re all on the same team.
Our mothers put up with so much and they never get the credit or recognition they deserve. They carried us for nine months, spent every waking moment of our first few years diligently caring for us, and tried their best to make us our best. Then, after we turn 18, we go to war and we stop calling.
We rarely ask for their advice and often jump face-first into the very potholes they told us to avoid — and still, they couldn’t be any prouder.
This one goes out to all you lovely military moms out there. This is why you’re the best.
The “My child is an Airman/Soldier/Marine/Sailor” bumper sticker is far more impressive than any college.
(Photo by Cpl. Mackenzie Carter)
They’re brought into the military life while stuck with civilians
More often than not, our mothers don’t really get a say on whether we join the military. Sure, she’ll be a little disappointed when it finally sets in that their kid isn’t going to be a millionaire brain surgeon who can afford to buy her a beautiful mansion (sorry, mom, but we both knew that wasn’t going to happen with my high-school grades), but they’re still proud of their baby.
Next, they’re sucked into the military lifestyle and there’s no way of backing out. They’ll try to move on as if everything is normal, but they’ll find that their patience with civilian moms will quickly wear thin.
The pain is all worth it for the moment that plane lands, though.
(Photo by Capt. Richard Packer)
They’re heartbroken almost the entire time we’re gone
Deployments are rough on everyone. In our absence, friends we once knew change entirely and even some lovers fade away. But our mommas will always remain. They’ll never stop thinking of us as their babies.
Sure, most moms can keep their composure in front of others, but there isn’t a moment that goes by that they’re not thinking of us.
They may not get info on the exact moment you’re landing until just hours beforehand, but you can be certain they’ll be there!
(Photo by Tech. Sgt. Lauren Gleason)
They go months without knowing if we’re okay
Communications blackouts are no joke. When something major happens, troops will be told to cut off all communication with the folks back home. These blackouts happen without notice.
Not to make everyone feel horribly guilty, but, uh… sometimes we tend to do this accidentally by using our few phone calls back home to check up on our significant other instead of letting our mothers know that we’re doing fine.
And in return, one of the few gifts we can give back is allowing them to pin rank on our uniforms. It may not seem like much but, to them, it means the world.
(Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Alana Langdon)
They’re always on-point with care packages
Without exception, care packages are loved and appreciated by deployed troops. It’s always nice when schools, churches, and other organizations send out the standard collection of socks, baby powder, and Girl Scout Cookies, but our moms know how to out-do everyone.
Our moms have read through every single article on the internet about care packages and what to put in them. They’ll toss in home-made cookies, personal photos, and things we’ll actually cherish while deployed. After all, mom knows best.
Happy Mother’s Day, everyone!
(Photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Ashley J. Johnson)
They do everything in their power to keep you stress-free
If there’s one skill that every mother learns to master over 18+ years of childrearing, it’s how to handle insane and ridiculous problems. Putting out match-sized fires is nothing when they’ve learned to deal with forest fires.
You might realize it, but our moms are our best friends while we’re deployed. They’re our bakers, our financial advisers, our babysitters, our confidants, our emotional rock, and, if you’re like me and had the pleasure of enduring a deteriorating marriage while deployed, our enforcers (my mom is badass like that).
Above all, your mother is the one woman on this Earth who will love you most.
As a service member, there’s no telling what the week will bring. Thankfully, the ranks are filled with expert photographers who have a keen eye for capturing what military life is like, both in training and at war.
These are the best photos of the week:
A U.S. Air Force pararescueman, assigned to the 83rd Expeditionary Rescue Squadron, performs tactical critical casualty care on several simulated casualties aboard a U.S. Army CH-47F Chinook during a personnel recovery exercise at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, Feb. 27, 2018. While deployed to Afghanistan, the pararescuemen primarily fly their missions on the Chinooks, making the 83rd ERQS the first joint personnel recovery team in Air Forces Central Command.
494th Aircraft Maintenance Unit Airmen work on an F-15E Strike Eagle assigned to the 494th Fighter Squadron at Royal Air Force Lakenheath, England, Feb. 28. Airmen are trained to operate under a variety of different conditions to maintain mission readiness.
Sergeant John Chambliss, crew chief, Alpha Company, “Task Force Voodoo”, 1st Assault Helicopter Battalion, 244th Aviation Regiment, Louisiana National Guard preforms pre-flight inspection of a UH-60M Black Hawk, Camp Buehring, Kuwait, Feb. 27, 2018. The flight featured an all-African-American crew in recognition of Black History Month and the growth that has occurred within the aviation community over time.
U.S. Soldiers assigned to 3rd Squadron, 2nd Cavalry Regiment, detonate a flex linear charge at a range near the Bemowo Piskie Training Area, Poland, Feb. 28, 2018. These Soldiers are part of the unique, multinational battle group comprised of U.S., U.K., Croatian and Romanian soldiers who serve with the Polish 15th Mechanized Brigade as a deterrence force in northeast Poland in support of NATO’s Enhanced Forward Presence.
The official party salute the colors during the change of command ceremony for Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 5 at Naval Air Facility Atsugi. During the ceremony Capt. Forrest O. Young, from Washington D.C. relieved Capt. Michael S. Wosje, from Sioux Falls, S.D., as Commander, CVW-5.
Seaman Zimir Wilkins, assigned to the Harpers Ferry-class dock landing ship USS Oak Hill (LSD 51), stands starboard-forward lookout as the ship transits the Strait of Gibraltar Feb. 28, 2018. Oak Hill, home-ported in Virginia Beach, Virginia, is conducting naval operations in the U.S. 6th Fleet area of operations.
A Marine low crawls through a cement tunnel during the combat endurance course aboard Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, Feb. 28.
U.S. Marines assigned to the Maritime Raid Force (MRF), 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), conduct fast rope training from an MH-60S Sea Hawk, attached to Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 28, aboard the Wasp-class amphibious assault ship USS Iwo Jima (LHD 7), Feb. 26, 2018. Iwo Jima and the 26th MEU are conducting naval operations in the U.S. 6th Fleet area of operations.
Members of a an MH-65 Dolphin helicopter crew, from Coast Guard Air Station/Sector Field Officer Port Angeles, Wash., and emergency medical service personnel move an injured hiker to a stretcher on the air field at the air station, Feb. 24, 2018. EMS personnel then transported the 68-year-old male, who had reportedly suffered shoulder and back injures after a fall, to the Olympic Medical Center.
We all know spending time apart is a reality of military family life. Training, deployments, unaccompanied tours… all of these things result in having to spend long stretches of time away from your spouse. But what about those times when families choose to do so? Commonly called “geo-baching,” some families choose to spend parts of or entire duty station assignments apart, despite military orders allowing the family to stay in one location.
When I was a newer military spouse, this thought seemed crazy to me. Why in the world, with all of the time you are forced to spend apart as a military family, would anyone make this decision? I will freely admit that I, once upon a time, silently judged families who made this choice. No circumstances could ever make me willingly decide to live apart from my husband or have my children be away from their dad.
Until circumstances changed.
For us, it was 100 percent about what was better for our family — specifically our teenage daughter at the time. With a year left until retirement and with my daughter entering high school, we made the tough decision to live apart for a year so that she could start high school in the same location where she would finish.
And we don’t regret that decision one bit. Sure, it was tough to be apart, it always is. But we traveled to see each other whenever time and finances allowed and, as always, communicated the best we could — just like we had with the many separations before. The year flew by with a toddler and teenager at home with me and my husband doing all of the things that come with retirement.
It paid off in a big way for our daughter, who gracefully dealt with life as a military kid her entire life. This time, we could make a decision that would be best for her education and future. The move was a great success and now, with a little over a year left until graduation, she is thriving.
There are other reasons families make this decision, and now I get it. Sometimes, it’s because the spouse wants to retain a career path or complete a degree. Sometimes, it’s so that children may finish out the school year. Sometimes, it’s so a spouse with small children can stay near their family when they know their service member is likely to be frequently deployed. Sometimes it’s to continue living in a home or area the spouse loves if the next duty station is less than desirable.
And all of these decisions are okay, so long as they are made together, as a family, and communication remains strong.
Would you ever consider living apart if you didn’t have to? Why or why not?
If nothing else has made you question your choice to join the infantry before, digging a fighting hole definitely will. It’s always miserable, it’s extremely time consuming, and there’s always a giant rock waiting for you once you’re halfway down. But, once you get that hole dug, it’s smooth sailing. Now, all you have to do is deal with the sleep deprivation and crummy weather.
Defensive postures allow your unit time to “rest” and recover after launching an offensive. Basically, you take some ground from the enemy and then hold it until your unit is ready to continue pushing the enemy back. If you’re not in an urban environment, you’ll have to dig two-person fighting holes in order to hold your ground. The enemy is likely going to return (with reinforcements) to try and retake some real estate — your unit will be entrenched, waiting for them.
Keep in mind that you’ll be in that position for at least 24 hours, so you’ll have lots of time to think about your life from every angle. Here are some of the things that’ll race through your mind during that time:
This is at the top of the list because digging a fighting hole and then sitting in it, deprived of sleep, will make you seriously question why you joined the infantry. You might even think about how much nicer you would’ve had it in the Air Force — or literally anything else that wouldn’t land you in that damned fighting hole.
If digging the hole wasn’t enough, this will definitely bring you back to list item #1.
You’re likely to spend the majority of your time in the middle of the night, which means you’ll likely experience the coldest temperatures that environment has to offer. Joy!
If you don’t it gets cold in the desert or the jungle, you’ll become acquainted real quick. Since God basically hates the infantry, chances are it’s going to rain or, if you’re on a mountain, there will be a blizzard.
If you’re somewhere cold and rainy, you’ll be struggling to remember where you put your warmest layers are and if you can get to it without giving up your security for too long in the process. Chances are, your pack will be too far away and you’re sh*t out of luck.
After this realization, you’ll spend the rest of your watch experiencing every stage of grief.
Since you’ll want to keep your mind off the weather, you’ll spend some time speculating on the fun your friends are having while you suffer. This will lead to thinking about what and who you want to do when you go home next.
Anything is better than what you’re eating out there.
If you didn’t bring snacks, you’ll be hungry on watch. This will lead you to thinking about all the food in the world. You’ll make deals with yourself, promising to eat it all once you get back to civilization.
You’ll figure it out, no problem.
How to get away with smoking
This doesn’t apply to everyone, of course, but it applies to a lot of us. Even if you don’t smoke when you first join, after you dig a fighting hole, you might start considering it. Those that already smoke will be thinking up ways to get away with it. After all, you run a huge risk of compromising your position.
The results showed that U.S. service members have an overwhelmingly negative view of Obama — or a neutral view at best.
Overall, 60.3% of Marines, 53% of the Army, 49.6% of the Air Force, and 45.9% of the Navy said they disapproved of Obama — a plurality in each case. Enlisted soldiers and Marines were more likely than officers to disapprove of Obama, by about 4 percentage points.
In total, 29.1% of soldiers said they had a very unfavorable view of Obama’s leadership, and 18% said they held a very favorable view.
The poll elicited responses from 1,664 participants. The responses were weighted to better reflect the entire military, according to the poll. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 2 percentage points.
Obama sought to reduce the role of the military during his presidency, with drawdowns in Iraq and Afghanistan and a decrease in the overall size of the force.
Troops interviewed by Military Times said those steps possibly made the U.S. less safe, as the last few years of Obama’s presidency have seen the rise of ISIS in Iraq and a resurgence of Taliban aggression in Afghanistan.
Recent investigations show that the Department of Defense has issued thousands of other-than-honorable discharges to veterans with mental health and behavioral health diagnoses.
U.S. Sens. Chris Murphy and Richard Blumenthal and seven other senators introduced legislation to change that.
On April 3, Murphy, veterans, and advocates for veterans held a press conference in Connecticut and called upon Congress to take action.
“I can’t stand the idea of a veteran risking her or his life for this country, suffering the wounds of battle, and then being kicked to the curb as a result of those wounds,” Murphy said. “But that is exactly what has happened to tens of thousands of men and women who have fought and bled for our country.”
“This is common sense,” Murphy added. “We are breaking our promise to those who served.”
Murphy said there is also a stigma that comes with an other-than-honorable discharge that is a heavy burden for veterans to live with. “A lot of these so-called offenses are very minor,” Murphy said.
The legislation Murphy helped introduce would require the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to provide mental health and behavioral health services to diagnosed former combat veterans who have been other-than-honorably discharged. The bill would also ensure that veterans receive a decision in a timely manner and requires the VA to justify to Congress any denial of benefits that they issue to a veteran.
Up until recently, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Murphy said, denied it had the legal authority to provide any care to former combat veterans who received OTH or Bad Paper discharges.
The VA has reversed course on the matter, Murphy said, adding that now it’s time for Congress to act to ensure mental health and behavioral health services are provided to these veterans.
Since January 2009, the Army has “separated” at least 22,000 soldiers for misconduct after they came back from Iraq and Afghanistan, said Murphy.
“These soldiers who fought for our country suffered serious mental health problems or traumatic brain injury as a cost of their service. And we turned our back on them,” Murphy said, adding that they also return home from combat with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
But instead of being directed to the care and treatment they need, they’re being given other-than-honorable discharges or so-called “bad paper discharges,” disqualifying them from VA care, especially the mental and behavioral health services many of them desperately need, said the senator.
Murphy’s strong support for the bill was echoed by Blumenthal, who is a sponsor but was not at Monday’s press conference.
“This bill will make crystal clear that all combat veterans should have access to the full array of mental and behavioral health care they need and deserve,” Blumenthal said. “We cannot wait for a crisis to provide essential mental health to veterans suffering from the terrible invisible wounds of war.”
He said 20 veterans per day are lost to suicide.
One of those in attendance at the press conference Monday was Conley Monk, a Vietnam veteran from New Haven who developed PTSD as a result of his military service.
In 2014, Monk and four other plaintiffs brought a class action lawsuit because they were issued OTH discharges. They won the suit, which was brought on their behalf by the Veterans Legal Services Clinic at Yale Law School and the Pentagon agreed to upgrade their discharges to honorable.
Another veteran to speak Monday was was Tom Burke, president of the Yale Student Veterans Council and a U.S. Marine corps veteran.
In 2009, Burke was a Marine infantryman in Afghanistan.
It was when he was in the Helmand Province that he witnessed deaths of many young children who were killed by an unexploded rocket-propelled grenade. One of Burke’s responsibilities was to cart away the dismembered bodies.
“I began smoking hash,” Burke said, adding that in a matter of weeks he was charged for misconduct for his drug use and was told he would be kicked out of the Marines.
Burke said he “tried to commit suicide a few times.”
He said he was later locked in a psychiatric hospital and subsequently given an OTH discharge later in 2009.
In 2014, Burke said he applied for an honorable discharge, but was denied.
Burke tells his story often, these days, not to elicit empathy for his own case, but to try and draw attention to the bigger issue of the thousands like him who are being denied benefits.
“Veterans are dying,” Burke said. “These aren’t men and women who are trying to take advantage of the system.”
Margaret Middleton, executive director of the Connecticut Veterans Legal Center, said veterans need relief.
Under the current system, a veteran trying to get an honorable discharge often “requires the expertise and cost of an attorney and lengthy research,” something that veterans returning from combat shouldn’t be forced to endure, she said.
Murphy concluded: “Our veterans made a commitment to our country when they signed up. I introduced this legislation to make sure that the VA keeps its commitment to help veterans with mental and behavioral health issues. I won’t stop fighting until they get the care and benefits they deserve.”