New findings in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic reveal millions of women are leaving the workforce after struggling to maintain jobs with increased responsibilities at home.
One in four women are contemplating downshifting or leaving their careers altogether, according to the Women in the Workplace study, with 2.2 million less women in the workplace compared to 2019 data from U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Top challenges cited in the study include burnout, childcare and/or homeschooling responsibilities, mental health, and financial insecurity. Advocates recommend companies focus on key areas to make work more sustainable — an attribute the first female deputy director of the Air National Guard sought when she left active duty.
Maj. Gen. Dawne Deskins, says she transitioned from the Air Force after 10 years of active-duty service to find the stability needed to support a growing family.
“I had been in the Air Force for about 10 years, loved it. I loved the amount of responsibility I had; loved the people who worked with me, served with me, but at that point I also had a family — I had gotten married and had two children, and I really needed something that would allow me more stability because I was having trouble with the work-family balance,” she said.
The ANG was the solution. Deskins says she was able to join a Guard unit, stay in one place, and keep her children close to extended family members “in a very stable environment.”
“It filled the need that I had and it allowed me to continue to serve,” she added.
Deskins initially joined the Air Force to pay for college. She was commissioned through the Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps program at Cornell University in Ithica, New York. Her plan was to serve four years and then move onto her next goal, but her 18-year-old self didn’t account for the possibility that she would find everything she was looking for within the military culture.
“I go back to the people and the professionalism of the people, and that having an organization that is focused on something that is bigger than the individual. Guard members specifically are very focused on being part of a team and being part of something greater and that real sense of service to the community, as well as to the entire country,” Deskins explained.
Deskins made history when she was named the first woman to serve as the deputy director for the ANG and the first non-pilot for the position. In her role, she assists Lt. Gen. Michael Loh, ANG Director, in formulating, developing, and coordinating all policies, plans, and programs affecting more than 107,700 ANG members and civilians in more than 1,800 units, according to her official biography.
After being sworn in in 2020, she outlined the ANG’s main priorities:
1) Maximizing warfighter access to limited ANG resource while minimizing manpower costs
2) Collaborating and working on change as part of the total force with the Air Force
3) Empowering airmen to make the right choices by getting at the layers that get between our airmen and senior leaders
4) Developing future leaders
And she expanded the list to include a personal priority surrounding diversity and inclusion.
“I think certainly we are focused on this priority as a Department of Defense right now. I also think it is an area that the Guard has always been on the leading edge of, in how we recruit and retain a diverse workforce, but at the end of the day we work better, we perform better, when we have people who think differently in our force,” Deskins said.
She has been on the receiving end of that leading edge too. Thirty-six years after she first entered the military, Deskins reflects on the mentors who helped her work to this point in her career today — those she describes as “great, strong male leaders” who she credits with wanting to build a force that would one day provide opportunity to other women, like their own.
The New York native encourages others to seek out ways to build formal and informal mentor relationships, starting with being receptive to input from others.
“I’ll tell you, I try to learn from everything that I do. You can learn more from your failures than your successes, and so I would always sit down with my supervisors and be open to getting feedback. That is the number one thing I would recommend,” Deskins said.
A French air force flying team will roar over the Air Force Academy on April 19 to celebrate the nations’ bonds built in the sky during World War I.
Patrouille de France, that nation’s equivalent of the Air Force Thunderbirds, will arrive over the academy about 11:30 a.m. Wednesday, April 19, for a brief air show. It’s a big flying team with eight Dassault/Dornier Alpha Jets, a twin-engined light attack fighter that’s known for its nimbleness.
“I think folks in Colorado Springs will get a great miniature airshow,” said Lt. Col. Allen Herritage, an Air Force Academy spokesman.
The first Americans to reach the aerial battlefields of France, though, were American airmen of the French air force’s Lafayette Escadrille, a fighter unit with American pilots that was established a year before the United States entered the war.
America’s first flying aces came from the small French unit, including Maj. Gervais Lufberry, who was credited with downing 16 planes before he was killed over Francein 1918.
The relationship built over the trenches between French and American pilots is still celebrated at the Air Force Academy today.
Herritage said the school has a French officer on the faculty and French exchange cadets on the campus. One of the pilots on the French flying team, Maj. Nicolas Lieumont, was an exchange student at the Colorado Springs school.
“We feel lucky to have them stop in Colorado Springs,” Herritage said. “It marks our nation’s longstanding relationship with France.”
The academy is inviting locals to get a better view of the French team. Visitors are welcome at the academy on April 19 and can watch the show from a viewing area near the Cadet chapel.
The military is known for its rules. There are books upon books filled with them. But even when there’s no official documentation to back them up, troops adhere to rules laid out before them (usually). No unofficial rule is followed by as many troops as not walking on grass.
It’s so prevalent in military culture that most NCOs don’t even know why they’re yelling at a private for walking on grass — they just know that first sergeant is looking.
To any civilian or new recruit, it’s mind-blowing. Troops will do PT on the grass in the morning but once they’re told to shower for work call, they’re not allowed back on the grass until the following day (unless they’re cutting it).
But why? A few footsteps aren’t going to hurt anything.
(Photo by C. Todd Lopez)
To be completely straightforward: Your sergeant major doesn’t give a rat’s ass about the grass itself. The grass will still grow all over the world with or without “blood, bright red blood.”
The restriction is symbolic and it’s about not taking literal shortcuts. The idea is that if a troop takes a shortcut once, they’ll see no problem cutting corners the next time.
Since military sidewalks are usually straight lines that intersect each other at 90-degree angles, a young private may save a half of a second by cutting through the grass. If enough troops cut that same corner, then the grass will die and become a path, thus destroying the need for the sidewalk to begin with.
Another reason for the rule is that it requires a level of attention to detail. If you’re not capable of noticing that you’re now walking on soft grass instead of the sweat-stained concrete, then this is very likely not the only ass-chewing you’ll see in your career.
Your sergeant major probably isn’t a staunch environmentalist who’s trying to preserve the sanctity of poor, innocent blades of grass. They and the NCOs below them have ten million more important things to do than to knife-hand the fool who’s careless enough to do it — but they will. Stepping on the grass and spending the half-second required to stay on the pavement is symbolic of a troop’s discipline.
H/T to the Senior NCOs at RallyPoint for clarifying this mystery.
The U.S. Army’s upcoming dress uniform switch that’ll put soldiers in updated Pinks and Greens is all but official. The date set for senior leadership to make the final call also coincides with another huge moment for the Army: the 100th anniversary of the signing of the Armistice that ended World War I. It’s also the date of the upcoming (semi-controversial) military parade in Washington D.C.
According to road maps outlined by the Army Times and Marlow White Uniforms, different phases of the uniform’s slow roll-out coincide with the Army’s important historic dates. Over this summer, 150 soldiers from the Northeast Recruiting Battalion will wear the uniform, testing to find any kinks in the prototypes. After that, fielding of the uniform will begin next summer, on June 6th, 2019 — the 75th anniversary of D-Day.
But before that, on November 11th, 2018, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley and Sergeant Major of the Army Dan Dailey will give the official verdict. If you look at their the schedule for that day, you’ll see they’ll be fairly busy with the military parade going on in Washington.
Dailey’s opinion on the Pinks and Greens are well known throughout the Army. He’s worn the uniform at high-profile events and has accompanied himself with soldiers wearing the uniform manytimes.
(U.S. Army Photo)
Take all of this with a grain of salt, as nothing has been officially confirmed nor denied. However, given the Sergeant Major of the Army’s knack for showmanship and the military parade in Washington happening, it wouldn’t be hugely surprising if his official verdict was made clear by him showing up in the new dress uniform.
All of this may sound a little like pure fanboy speculation about a dress uniform, but, in my humble opinion, we shouldn’t be surprised if the Pinks and Greens make their debut at an event that has officially called for troops to wear period uniforms.
The military has very talented photographers in the ranks, and they’re always capturing what life as a service member is like during training and at war. Here are the best military photos of the week:
Lt. Col. Travis Hazeltine and Senior Airman Chas Anderson of the 104th Fighter Wing, Massachusetts Air National Guard taking off in an F-15D Eagle during Checkered Flag 18-1, a large-scale exercise held at Tyndall Air Force Base, Panama City, Florida.
U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Dakota Martin, 1st Maintenance Squadron nondestructive inspection apprentice, inspects cracks under a black light at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va., Nov. 15, 2017. The parts are soaked in liquid penetrant, which seeps into cracks, making them visible during inspection under a black light.
U.S. and Serbian paratroopers descend from the sky during Exercise Double Eagle 2017 in Kovin, Serbia on November 16, 2017. Exercise Double Eagle is a bi-lateral airborne insertion exercise designed to allow U.S. and Serbian forces to work together in areas of mutual interest in securing regional security and peace.
1st Battalion, 87th Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division soldiers conduct M240 marksmanship training at Camp Commando, Kabul, Afghanistan, Nov. 15, 2017. The “Summit” soldiers are deployed in support of the NATO Resolute Support mission.
Sailors observe as an MH-60S Sea Hawk helicopter, attached to the “Sea Knights” of Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 22, transfers cargo from the dry cargo and ammunition ship USNS Robert E. Peary (T-AKE 5) to the Military Sealift Command hospital ship USNS Comfort (T-AH 20) during a replenishment at sea. The Department of Defense is supporting the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the lead federal agency, in helping those affected by Hurricane Maria to minimize suffering and is one component of the overall whole-of-government response effort.
U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Danny Ray Nuñez Jr.
An MH-60S Sea Hawk helicopter, assigned to Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 25, prepares to land during a Landing Signalman Enlisted course. The course is provided by a mobile training team assigned to Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron (HSM) 37, which provides Sailors with the knowledge and skills they need to perform tasks essential to flight deck operations.
A U.S. Marine with the Battalion Landing Team (BLT), 2nd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) provides security while conducting a night raid during Combined Composite Unit Training Exercise (COMPTUEX) at Camp Lejeune, N.C., Nov. 15, 2017. Combined COMPTUEX serves as the capstone event for the ARG/MEU team prior to deployment, fully integrating the ARG/MEU team as an amphibious force and testing their ability to execute missions across a range of military operations.
The U.S. Marine Corps Silent Drill Platoon executes their “bursting bomb” sequence during a Salute to Service halftime show at a Carolina Panthers vs. Miami Dolphins game at the Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, N.C., Nov. 13, 2017. Throughout the year, SDP performs at numerous large-scale events across the country and abroad.
Members of the Pacific Paradise response team work aboard the JW Barnes, a landing craft being used as a work barge, off Kaimana Beach, Nov. 16, 2017. The responders are preparing the Pacific Paradise to be refloated and removed.
Petty Officer 2nd Class Jordan Gilbert, an aviation survival technician at Coast Guard Sector Columbia River, is lowered from an MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter during a search and rescue demonstration at the U.S./China Disaster Management Exchange held at Camp Rilea located in Warrenton, Ore., Nov. 16, 2017.
There are key distinctions between the names that exist in the plethora of military insults. For example, a “blue falcon” is the buddy f*cker who will intentionally throw their comrade under the bus, while a “sh*tbag” is the troop who will get in trouble and bring everyone else down with them. “Boots” are the young and dumb new troops who haven’t yet learned the ropes.
Then there’s the mix of the three… known only as “that guy.” This is someone who’s been in long enough to know better, screws over their brothers, and is often on the borderline of UCMJ action.
This is a brief guide on how to avoid being that guy.
6. Drop the “Army of One” mentality
For five years, the U.S. Army used the recruitment slogan, “army of one.” It was dropped unceremoniously because it suggested that that guy doesn’t need a battle buddy. The phrase started in the Army, but the mentality is military-wide.
The more accurate-to-military-life phrase is, “one team, one fight.” You don’t need to become best friends with everyone in your unit, but you damn sure need to be able to work with them professionally.
5. Actually know your job
Troops each play a special and vital role in the grander military. Not to sound like a high ranking officer talking to lower enlisted they’ve never met, but it also means that not everyone is going to cover for your ass. They have their own “special and vital role” to worry about.
If you’re an infantryman, know infantry stuff. If you’re a radio operator, know radio stuff. If you’re the only armorer in the unit and it’s time for you to do armorer stuff, know armorer stuff. There’s nothing worse than everyone counting on a single person for a single, specific task when that one person is a complete idiot.
4. Don’t get kicked out of a school
Schools are one of the sweetest rewards a troop can get. When a unit is told that they have a set amount of slots open to attend a school, they’ll go down the roster and see who needs it or earned it. The troops that are selected may have a heavy physical barrier or steep learning curve to overcome. They need to give it their all anyway; the entire unit is counting on them.
It sucks if they fall flat on their face, but it’ll be forgiven if they tried their hardest. Don’t be that guy who gets kicked out for dumb sh*t. For whatever reason units always give that guy a second shot, but if they get kicked out again — that’s the final straw.
3. Don’t do ridiculously dumb things
You can tell how well-disciplined a unit is by the brevity of their safety brief. You know things are good when the First Sergeant just says something to the effect of, “if you drink, don’t drive. If you drive, don’t drink. And never mix sex with either of the two. Fall out!” They’re just checking the box on things they have to say military-wide, and chances are no one has done anything wrong in a while.
When the First Sergeant says something like, “don’t get caught fishing without a license,” that means someone in the unit probably got caught fishing without a license. When they start saying something like, “don’t keep wild animals you found in the barracks,” you know they’re side-eyeing that guy who did.
2. Right time, right place, right uniform
For lower enlisted, there are only three responsibilities to worry about. Be where they were told to be, be there at the right time, and wear the proper uniform.
If the boot who’s only a few weeks removed from living in mama’s basement can follow these guidelines, someone who’s been in the military for a while should know this. Genuine mistakes are made, unforeseen circumstances occur, or words get misinterpreted — sh*t happens. The moment it becomes a pattern instead of a one-time thing…
1. Just say “roger” and move on
Don’t like an order? That sucks. Do it anyways. Is a task inconvenient to your personal schedule? That sucks. Do it anyways. Unless the order is illegal or unsafe, that guy doesn’t have any room to complain. If they cry, “but why do we have to sweep the motor pool?” the only answer they need to be given is, “because it needs to be swept. The broom is over there.”
Nobody likes doing dull and menial tasks. Spoiler alert: Leaders aren’t monsters who enjoy making their troops do dull and menial tasks (if they do, they’re not a leader). You’re being told to do something because the task just needs to be done, it’s an easy task to kill time until CoB, or it’s a creative, corrective punishment. Regardless, crying isn’t going to make the job go faster.
Do you have what it takes to be one of the few, the proud, the danceable? In this classic from a few years back, Marines bust a move when their favorite jam, Carly Rae Jepsen’s ‘Call Me Maybe,’ comes on:
In the military, life is unpredictable. There’s no telling what’s in store service members during a given week. Thankfully, there are photographers among the ranks who have perfected the art of capturing the daily life of troops, both in training and at war.
These are the best military photos from this week:
Lt. Col. Alexander Heyman, Commander, 71st Student Squadron, and 2nd Lt. Mitchel Bie, Vance student pilot, walk out to a T-6A Texan II, March 8, 2018, Vance Air Force Base, Okla. The T-6A Texan II is a single-engine, two-seat primary trainer designed to train student pilots in basic flying skills common to U.S. Air Force pilots.
A U.S. Air Force pararescueman jump master, assigned to the 83rd Expeditionary Rescue Squadron, Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, stands to conduct a drop zone survey before a high altitude, high opening military free fall jump working with a C-130J Super Hercules flown by the 774th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron, Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, March 4, 2018. Guardian Angel Team members conduct training on all aspects of combat, medical procedures and search and rescue tactics to hone their skills, providing the highest level of tactical capabilities to combatant commanders.
Artillerymen with Battery B, Field Artillery Squadron, 2nd Cavalry Regiment, transport and prepare artillery rounds as they await the arrival of their M777 howitzers by a CH-47 Chinook helicopter crew from Company B, 2nd General Support Aviation Battalion, 227th Aviation Regiment, 1st Combat Aviation Brigade, inside of the Grafenwoehr Training Area in Germany, Mar. 8, 2018. Soldiers of both units came together to train and strengthen relationships during an artillery raid training exercise as part of Dynamic Front 18, an annual U.S. Army Europe exercise focused on enhancing interoperability of U.S. Army, joint service and allied nation artillery and fire support in a multinational environment.
U.S. Army paratroops, assigned to the 16th Sustainment Brigade, are preparing for convoy live fire route as part of the Vanguard 360 at Pocek Range in Slovenia, Mar. 06, 2018. Exercise Vanguard Proof is a combined exercise between the 16th Sustainment Brigade and the Slovene Armed Forces focused on enhancing interoperability NATO operational standards and developing individual technical skills.
The amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6) transits Manila Bay following a scheduled port visit. Bonhomme Richard is operating in the Indo-Pacific region as part of a regularly scheduled patrol and provides a rapid-response capability in the event of a regional contingency or natural disaster.
An Ice Camp Skate resident sets up communication equipment for Ice Camp Skate during Ice Exercise (ICEX) 2018. ICEX 2018 is a five-week exercise that allows the Navy to assess its operational readiness in the Arctic, increase experience in the region, advance understanding of the Arctic environment, and continue to develop relationships with other services, allies, and partner organizations.
Marines from Mountain Warfare Training Center, Bridgeport, Calif., prepare to compete in the First Annual International Mountain Warfare Training Patrol Competition at the Chiemgau Arena in Ruhpolding, Germany. The competition is a challenging international competition that focuses on the mountain infantry’s capabilities.
U.S. Marines Corps with India Company, 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, provide suppressive during a live-fire platoon attack at Range G-29 on Camp Lejeune, N.C., March 7, 2018. 2nd Marine Division provided funding and material for the creation of Range G-29 and tasked Marines with 2nd Combat Engineer Battalion to finalize the production of the range.
Coast Guard Sector Boston Response Petty Officers look for damage to shoreside infrastructure March 5 in Swampscott, Massachusetts. A powerful nor’easter hit the area over the weekend causing damage along the shore.
Lt. Joe Brewan, the supply officer and the helicopter control tower operator aboard the U.S.S. Kidd, watches a Coast Guard MH-65 Dolphin helicopter, from Air Station Port Angeles land on the flight deck of the ship, which was transiting the Strait of Juan de Fuca, in order to conduct a medevac of a sick Navy sailor, March 4, 2018. The 23-year-old Navy sailor was transported to Navy Air Station Whidbey Island, Washington in stable condition.
With all the advances in military clothing technology these days, there’s still one glaring holdover from the days of military uniforms gone by: boot laces. We have velcro work uniforms, and velcro body armor, zippers on work pants, and plastic buckles have replaced the old metal clasps on web gear.
Yet, every day, U.S. troops are lacing up their boots just like Arnold Schwarzenegger did in Commando 30-plus years ago. What gives?
The truth is that there’s actually a good reason for all the combat/work uniform gear that American troops wear every day. From the way it’s worn, to what it’s made of, to how it’s worn, it all actually has an operational value to it. The most enduring reason velcro isn’t used as a means to secure one’s boots is that shoelaces are built to last, like most other military-grade gear. Velcro wears out after repeated use and becomes less and less sticky with time.
Another reason for laces securing their boots is that if one of the laces does happen to wear out and snap, a spare boot lace can be secured pretty easily. All a Marine at a combat outpost in the hills of Afghanistan has to do to re-secure his boot is to get a lace and lace it up. If it were secured with velcro, both sides being held together would require a seam ripped out and new velcro patches sewn in its place.
Speaking of austere locations, has anyone ever tried to use velcro when it was soaking wet or caked in mud? For anyone who’s ever seen a recruiting video for any branch of the military (including the Coast Guard), it becomes pretty apparent that mud, water, and lord-knows-what-else are occupational hazards for the feet of the average U.S. troop. Bootlaces don’t need to be dry, clean, or chemical agent-free to work their magic, they just work.
The whole idea behind clothing a capable, combat-ready force is to eliminate the worry about the clothing as long as each individual troop follows the clothing guidelines. Everything about military work gear and combat uniforms is that they can be worn relatively easily and their parts can be replaced just as easily – by even the least capable person in a military unit.
Finally, the most significant reason troops need laced-up boots instead of goofy velcro attachments is the most unique aspect to their chosen profession: the idea that they may be in combat at some point. Military combat medics will tell you that the easiest way to access a wounded foot area is to simply cut the laces away and toss the boot. That’s probably the biggest combat-related factor.
Besides, where would Marines string their second dog tag if they secured their boots with velcro?
The following is an excerpt from the first book by Air Force veteran and Hollywood writer Dan Martin. Titled Operation Cure Boredom, it’s a hilarious collection of short stories chronicling the adventures of Martin’s 1990-1994 enlistment in the world’s best Air Force.
This chapter, called “Guest on the Range,” is about the extraordinary lengths Martin went to in order to qualify on the firing range as a junior enlisted Crew Chief:
One of the things I learned while holding a loaded semiautomatic rifle was that I shouldn’t “goof around.” Apparently it’s distracting and unnerving to the other participants at the firing range. The angry sergeant on duty pointed this out, adding that it was irresponsible and unsafe. But everyone was so serious, so uptight, so concentrated.
Colton continued making the rest of us laugh, lightening the mood. We only managed to annihilate the dirt mounds behind the paper people. At the end of the session, when I learned that I had failed the firing range test and had one more chance to pass it or be discharged from service, I stopped goofing around.
In order to maintain a good standing with the U.S. Air Force, one must complete the annual firing range test. If you fail the retest, pack your bags because you’re heading home on an early discharge. Not wanting to go back to Long Island so soon, I concentrated and passed the retest, barely. For the following annual firing range test, I made arrangements to get help, mostly by ensuring that I was out of the country on assignment, whereupon the test was lost to bureaucracy and ultimately waived. But the year I got married and stopped going on so many TDYs was the year the test came back to haunt me.
I had taken a second job at this point, working in a liquor store not far from the Louisiana Downs racetrack, not because I was saving to buy a house and raise a family, but rather to help pay off all the loans. We had financially backed ourselves into a corner between the cars, furniture, and vacations we simply charged on credit cards. We had to have them because we were a responsible adult married couple. In my third year of military service, now that I was no longer on TDYs, I was unable to escape the firing range.
At the time I had enlisted in the Air Force, it is key to note that nobody, with the exception of the security police, the special ops guys, and maybe a few fighter pilots, had a useful knowledge of weapons, let alone were able to locate the safety. For the rest of us, the firing range seemed to only serve the purpose of reminding us what weapons looked like. I hit my targets by mistake, and self-defense skills were measured by how fast I could run a mile. Although the chow hall on the base displayed a sign upon entering that read “Those Carrying Automatic Weapons May Go to the Head of the Line,” I can guarantee that had my base ever been attacked, it would have been captured within minutes. A massive army of children riding atop Saint Bernards and wielding broomsticks could have charged the main gate and I’d have to think twice about holding my ground. Broomsticks hurt.
Now faced wit having to take the firing range test, I came to the conclusion I needed someone to help teach me how to pass it. Unfortunately, asking for help within the military community was not exactly the option I wanted to exercise. I was all too aware that I had joined the one branch of the military that didn’t require you to use handheld weapons. But asking for help was like a plumber you hired asking you to show him what a pipe fitting looked like.
We were supposed to at least pretend we knew what we were doing. There were a few guys in my squadron who grew up hunting the small animalsI always associated with my local park or the garbage cans on a trash night. But even one of them managed to book himself a trip to the emergency room. Firing a hand cannon with one hand and a large ego, he managed to adorn his forehead with a welt the size of a grapefruit, the recoil smacking him with the pistol hard enough to make him forget the date. Knowing that I was proficient in neither accuracy or emergency room small talk, I decided to search for a teacher who was not in the military.
I knew I could find someone, I had done it before.
My brother piqued my interest in firearms when he shot our father with a flare gun. To be fair, it was a misunderstanding. My father had explained to Peter that he was grounded for some infraction of the rules. Peter said no, then shot him. From the moment my father stepped into his room to confront him, he should have take notes of Peter’s nautical emergency rescue kit, now open on his desk. Normally tucked away on his lobster boat, the flare gun was now strangely instead in Peter’s hand. Moments later, the flare bounced off my dad’s chest and zipped around the carpet, finally coming to a halt near the hamster cage, melting a small hole in the synthetic rug the size of a potato.
The room immediately turned a blindingly bright white color only the Coast Guard could love, and by the time my father regained his vision and looked through the smoke, presumably to grab Peter’s neck and snap it, my brother had used the diversion to jump out the window, eluding punishment for yet another night. Peter was not the best communicator, nor was he ever considered a good candidate for “negotiator,” but I quickly learned by observing his actions that perhaps I didn’t need to learn to communicate with words. Being a shy teenager who was also lacking command of a large vocabulary, talking problems out and reasoning with each other just seemed time-consuming. That night, I came to understand the power of a gun and realized aloud, “Guns are awesome.”
I wanted to test it out for myself. So I found an instructor who chose as my first target the happy, winged creature symbolizing love that perched outside my bedroom window each morning. It was just sitting there on the branch, singing, ruffling its feathers like most swallows do. I was seventeen. My instructor was twelve. The BB gun was pumped with enough pressure to launch a kitten into space. Then I aimed and pulled the trigger, sending the bird reeling over backward in a cloud of feathers and guilt. When it was all over, Jason explained it was normal to feel nauseated:
“It’s okay. You’ll be fine. But I gotta go. My mom’s taking me to see The Little Mermaid.“
That would be the last time I let a twelve-year-old whisper “kill it now” in my ear. While I learned that it was an amazing feeling to hold an object that has the ability to sway opinions, after the incident with the swallow, I decided guns weren’t really for me. Though committing arson on my father’s vegetable garden was acceptable, a gun was just taking things too far.
Now face with the firing range test, my search for a weapons instructor finally came to an end the day I met Barry, the assistant manager fo the liquor store where I worked nights. The day I walked in and inquired about a job, he was sitting behind the manager’s desk. I explained that I was looking for employment. He regarded me for a moment, then asked if I’d mind working with a fat pig name Clarence, pointing to the skinny guy behind the register. I said I thought this would be fine. He then led me on a tour through the massive walk-in refrigerator to show me where all the different beers were stacked. He asked me if I had any back problems preventing me from lifting boxes. I said no, then noticed his back brace and realized this was the best possible answer I could have given. Barry nodded his head up and down, seemingly trying to decide if I was going to work out, then wrenched open a bottle of Boone’s wine and washed down a handful of unknown pills. Needless to say, I was intrigued. Then he pulled a .22-caliber, long-barreled pistol out of his pants. It was fitted with some sort of custom-made silencer and he asked me if I’d ever seen such a thing of beauty. I said I hadn’t. Then he aimed it at a can of Milwaukee’s Best and fired, leaving a fountain of amusement in his wake.
I accepted the job on the spot.
It wasn’t until a week into the job that I learned that Barry hadn’t been the assistant manager at all. He was just an unstable employee whom the actual manager was afraid to fire. He called himself the assistant manager, and nobody argued with him. Although, looking back, it should have occurred to me, since Barry had given me a bonus one day for a job well done with a case of Miller Lite. But this guy could handle a weapon, even while hallucinating and mumbling, so who was I to question it?
Initially, I was a little nervous about taking a second job because the supervisors in my squadron tended to frown upon moonlighting, even though many of the enlisted guys I knew did it anyway. I had reached out to may coworker Tony Coloccini, who had confided in me that he also had a second job at a liquor store chain and would put in a good word. A week later, I was standing in this rundown liquor store. Needing money, and not wanting to be seen, this was the perfect job. Barry, the firearms expert, was the gift I was looking for.
Barry would walk up and down the aisles with an aimless purpose to do nothing but strut. Occasionally, he’d say he was going to take inventory or stock the shelves. But there was always some condition that prevented him from doing any actual work. He could never bend over to reach the bottom two shelves because of a bad back, nor could he stand on small ladder, claiming he once fell off one and preferred to avoid them. He couldn’t ever read inventory lists or do the ordering because he always forgot his glasses and, I suspect, couldn’t write.
This always left me wondering what Barry’s function in the store actually was until one night some suspicious-looking guys walked in and were greeted by Barry stroking a .44 magnum long barrel. This is a gun more commonly used to take down a helicopter or a Tyrannosaurus Rex, I imagine. They immediately turned and walked out. In short, the story had never been robbed since Barry started working there two years prior. And in a neighborhood where crime seemed to be the gross domestic product, Barry’s value went a long way.
As a result, the place became kind of a safe hangout for Barry’s friends who all lost their money at the track and would come in and shoot the shit with him for a while. This eventually led to the question of could have a bottle of Thunderbird or Mad Dog 20/20 and pay him back tomorrow. Barry always said yes, and, of course, would always forget that he did. In fact, unsurprisingly, Barry forgot a lot of things. He forgot to shower and shave. He forgot that you couldn’t scratch off twenty-five instant-win lotto tickets and not pay for them. And once he even forgot his gun was loaded and shot out his own windshield, or so Clarence, who had witnessed the incident, told me.
The store closed each night at midnight and by the end of the first month, Barry, Clarence, and I found ourselves on the same schedule. We got to know each other pretty well and enjoyed each other’s company and displayed our newfound friendship by developing a routine after locking up every night that involved petty theft, drinking, and soon enough, firearms practice.
Anyone else, I think, would have been alarmed by the double holster he wore to work every day, accompanied by a different set of pistols. Or, perhaps, the cocktail of pharmaceuticals, vodka, belligerence, and the dash of hallucinations that housed this human being. But one night, as we were leaving, he quick-drawed his pistols and unleashed a few rounds on the speed sign on the side of the road, hitting it perfectly without aiming and I knew I found my instructor.
The first problem with asking Barry about being my sharpshooting mentor was just trying to catch him in a moment when he was actually visiting Earth. I timed my approach carefully, since Barry was known to spend the first part of each night shift with his head down on the manager’s desk, occasionally snapping awake with a look of fear behind his milky eyes. Some nights, because the desk was located behind a small wall, his abrupt and frightening rise from the ninth circle of hell would cause a customer to drop a bottle of alcohol.
“Barry, I was wondering if you could teach me to shoot a gun and possibly–”
“Absolutely. Grab a case of beer and meet me at the trunk of my car.”
I can only assume that in the event that the local police force, the National Guard, and the entire US Army found themselves overmatched, Barry was their red phone emergency call. to find that Barry possessed a lot of weapons was not a surprise. To find that each of his weapons came with its own quick-release latch, strapped into the truck of his car, was. Barry, who stood at about five feet, two inches, drove a 1973 four-door Lincoln Continental. I t had a trunk big enough to carry a pond stocked with trout.
What should have worried me most was that somewhere over the course of his life, he came to the conclusion that it was a good idea to haul around enough ammunition to take out Shreveport, just in case he had to. Also worrisome was the stun gun he had as a “back up” in case all else failed. But honestly, what concerned me most was not passing the firing range test.
“What is that?” I asked, pointing at a weapon only Arnold Schwarzenegger could handle.
“Needed something for a crowd. Made it myself. Fully automatic.”
We stared by setting up in front of what appeared to be a fenced-off electrical power station. It was located a short distance behind the liquor store and far away from the road. I inquired it if seemed troubling that, essentially, we were shooting at a potential eleven o’clock news story, but Barry explained that it was metal and would not explode, so no need to worry.
“No one’s gonna lose power,” he added.
“I meant the ricocheting bullets.”
“What about them?”
“Won’t they ricochet into us?”
“Unlikely. Now, do you want my help or not?”
Before we began, I tried to explain that there were no moving targets on the firing range, to which Barry explained that I was a woman. I said it wasn’t necessary, but that maybe we should start with something easy like a Coke can. But Barry insisted these were the basics and handed me a contraption that resembled a howitzer. Then he switched it to automatic and yelled, “Pull!”
Clarence lobbed a bottle of Bartles & Jaymes strawberry wine cooler into the sky. The weapon was so heavy that aiming it wasn’t really an option. I just sort of heaved it up, like throwing a heavy rock, and squeezed the trigger as best I could. The recoil forced me to the ground like a cannon blast. All the while, as I kept my finger on the trigger, I could have sworn I heard the faint but distinct sound of my mother crying.
It’s safe to assume that the Air Force was the right branch for me. Placing a wrench or a screwdriver in my hands at least ensures that any pain inflicted will be minimal and blunt and kept within the radius of me. Putting a loaded weapon in my hand is like strapping sharp knives to a small boy and sending him off to play tackle football with the other kids.
As expected, I missed everything, except for the power grid, a line of cypress trees, a storage shed, and the planet below our feet, which really took a kick in the balls that night. Also in the line of fire was human safety.
“F*ck this,” Clarence said, “I’m out of here.”
“Calm down,” Barry yelled. “Just stand behind him.”
“But that’s where the shed was!”
This is how it happens, I thought. This is how morons die. You always read in the paper, or hear on the news, about a couple of friends from a basement in Colorado Springs, just hanging out with a bottle of Jameson when one best friend shoots the other. There’s never any great detail about the incident. One buddy “accidentally” shoots the other. But the news anchor always includes that one fatal clue: “He thought the safety was on,” “He didn’t know it was loaded,” “He didn’t think that doing shots from the barrel was that big of a deal.” As a viewer, you sit eating your bowl of cornflakes at one o’clock in the morning, thinking to yourself, f*cking morons, and then turn the channel back to TMZ to find out what the latest Disney starlet thinks of terrorists.
But there we were, throwing a few back, shooting wildly at fast-moving wine coolers with automatic weapons and talking about how awesome it would be if Lynyrd Skynyrd could come back from the dead and play one more time. We deserved nothing more than a really stupendous obituary in which the editor would mercifully, thinking about our families, substitute the word “manslaughter” for “accidental.” The caption under the picture in the newspaper would read: “One man arrested after shooting his two best friends.” Then I realized the scariest part was that Barry and Clarence would be forever connected to me as “best friends.”
“You know what. I’ve got to get going,” I announced suddenly.
“What? But you haven’t even tried the sniper rifle yet.”
As I drove away from the scene of tomorrow’s headline, I watched Clarence crack open a bottle of something, then rummage through Barry’s trunk, reappear with the stun gun and chase him around the car, laughing.
The following week, I took the firing range test. I was really sweating hard, as this retest was a make-or-break moment – a few misplaced shot was all the difference between being able to stay in the Air Force and pay my bills and a less-than-honorable discharge, leading to financial ruin and divorce. I hit a few dirt mounds but managed to place a few on the paper target. Upon finishing, I approached the sergeant in charge of the scoring. I handed him the paper enemy that had clearly gotten away with only a few scratches.
“Huh,” he said, looking at the target. “Not great,” he observed.
I began to panic a little there. I saw my life as it truly was: a meager existence in a sham marriage, depressed and held down at twenty-one years of age by my own rash stupidity. I would have to call my parents and see if they were cool with the Stranger and I living in my old bedroom. I would have to get a minimum-wage job to pay off a mountain of debt. I began hyperventilating, seeing this whole terrible near-future play out when I suddenly heard the sergeant ask me:
“What’s your job again?”
He rolled his eyes, and in a gesture of exasperation, made a check mark next to my name.
“F*ck it. You passed. See you next year.”
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“It’s a sport of millimeters,” said Specialist Sagen Maddalena of her upcoming Olympic debut.
The seasoned shooter is slated to compete in the women’s 3×40 rifle event – three positions, 40 shots each. That’s standing, sitting, and prone – all at 50-meters away. She also made the Olympic team as an alternate in the air rifle event, pictured above.
“The target isn’t moving, so we try to be as accurate as possible,” she said. Even the slightest change in how she stands, her sights, could throw the shot off by, well, millimeters. And in the 3×40, it’s a change that could make all the difference.
This month, she’ll be representing the U.S. and the Army’s Marksmanship Unit as she heads to Tokyo. Shooting a .22 caliber Bleiker, Maddalena comes prepped with three sights – one set for each position – three rests, and specialty-wear galore. Depending on the position, she also adds various weights and cheek pieces. Because of the length of time it takes to shoot all 120 shots, 3×40 athletes ready their entire bodies with a thick, leather-like suit, shoes with plywood bottoms so the soles are completely flat and visors to block glare.
It’s layers of gear, and a long-lasting event.
“One of the challenges for the sport is that you’re competing against yourself. The mind and the conditions can be huge for handling pressure,” she said.
Adding that keeping up a strict routine is key for her to remain in focus. By getting to the range early, she’s able to set up equipment, practice mindfulness and perform relaxation exercises, all while keeping her mind clear and heart rate down.
Maddalena’s routines aren’t just present on competition day. She trains that way most days of the week. Scheduling her shooting drills, looking at her shot data (yes she tracks where each round lands on target), physical training, carb-loading and icing her muscles — it’s all planned by the day. Much of her shooting, she said, is muscle memory. Maintaining those daily habits allows her body to do what it needs to when it matters most.
“It’s action, perform and do. You have to just do it. You can’t stop and think,” she said. “It’s almost like a dance; I’m in tune with the wind and how it affects the bullet. My mind is sharp and I can adjust. It just flows. To be able to sustain that kind of dance with the mind and the flow of the body, it’s kind of an addiction.”
Maddalena took second in the 2016 Olympic trials, when the U.S. only brought one female air rifle athlete to compete. This time around they’re taking two and she nabbed the top spot.
She began shooting at 13 in her hometown of Groveland, California and went on to compete collegiately with the University of Alaska- Fairbanks, where she also switched specialties. Formerly a service rifle shooter, she transferred to the Smallbore/three-position rifle.
“I got the realization that I could shoot internationally and go further in the sport,” she said. “I had coaches telling me that I had options, and I wanted to travel. I wanted to see new places and see how far I could go.”
A dream which she’s now made a reality. Maddalena has traveled to India, Korea and Europe many times over.
“I think that’s my favorite part of going to these different countries; you’re not just a tourist and you get to become more involved,” she said.
Soon she’ll add one more country to her checklist, as she heads to Japan as an Olympic athlete.
After earning a bachelor’s degree in Natural Resources Management, she enlisted in the Army in 2019 and joined their Marksmanship Unit. She came with an impressive shooting background: an eight-time All-American with the Alaska-Fairbanks Rifle Team, a two-time World Championship team member, and breaking two national records in 2020, at the Blackhawk Championships and the ASSA National Championships.
On why she chose such a difficult practice, Maddalena said she enjoys the pressure, and improvements over time, even if they are slight.
“I like the progression of it. It slows down incredibly once we get to the top of our game, to see that improvement and progress. It keeps you going back for more,” she said. “When I first started shooting, the scores were not even close to what you needed to win. And now I’m here to test myself amongst the best in the world.”
While you’re deployed, weekends aren’t really a thing and neither are most holidays.
Thanksgiving, however, is one of the few moments throughout the year when the military slows down for the holidays.
It never comes to a stop. It is the military after all, and it’s been moving non-stop since 1775.
Many of the staff here at We Are The Mighty served. A good chunk of us also deployed. Regardless of the branch of service or duty, we can all relate on the little things that shaped the holidays away from home.
Oh man do the cooks go all out. All jokes about the quality of their food get tossed out when you smell that turkey for the first time. In 2015, the Defense Logistics Agency said they shipped out 34,760 pounds of turkey, 32,550 pounds of beef, 21,450 pounds of ham just for one holiday.
The higher-ups serve their subordinates
No matter what unit you’re a part of, or how well the command says they take care of its troops, or how well they actually take care of their troops, the command team should always put their own names on KP duty and do the serving for once.
It’s a sign of respect and has far more of a legacy than a president pardoning a turkey.
Fun and games
Usually in the form of mandatory fun time, troops spend the rest of the day trying to enjoy themselves. What that means is up to command.
Some times, it’s the platoon getting together for games or a movie in the MWR. Sometimes, its a football game. Almost always, its a long-ass run.
“Turkey Shoot” Range Day
But the one things troops get really excited for is a Thanksgiving “Turkey Shoot” range day.
No worries about re-qualifying. No worries about ammo consumption. Just a good ol’ day at the range, playing with all the toys in the unit’s arsenal, and lighting some targets up.
Those suffering from injuries will do and try just about anything to relieve pain. With musculoskeletal injuries being a top health problem for the U.S. Armed Forces, it’s time to prioritize better treatments and solutions.
A recent report by Walter Reed and the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences found that 3/4 of medically non-deployable service members are sidelined due to musculoskeletal injuries, and 68,000 service members fall into that category each year. Studies suggest that non-combat musculoskeletal injuries could account for nearly 60% of soldiers’ limited duty days and 65% of soldiers who cannot deploy for medical reasons.
Throughout my five years working with the military, currently with units from every branch, including Special Operations Command and the Reserve Component, the most common musculoskeletal injuries I see our service members suffer from are lower back pain and lower leg issues, with the former being at the top of the list for the warfighter. Lower leg issues are a close second, with those injuries ranging from shin splints and stress reactions to stress fractures.
These two injuries are the most common across the force, but each branch exhibits certain types more than others. For example, the Air Force tends to suffer from lower back injuries because Airmen are sitting in cramped areas for an extended period. Additionally, they are at an increased risk for spinal injuries, neck, and back. The neck becomes an issue because jets are faster and helmets have more tech, making them heavier. Confined spaces, faster jets, and heavier helmets make a great recipe for spinal injuries.
However, the Army is the best example of lower leg injuries because they tend to cover the most mileage on rugged terrain over long distances.
Although these two branches stand out for certain types of injuries, nearly every service member will suffer from some musculoskeletal injury during their career and seek the best solution for recovery and pain relief.
Whether information is found on the internet or received from a doctor, it is typically seen as the magic cure by the patient seeking help.
While there are certainly good doctors and sound advice online, each injury and individual require specific, personalized treatment. As an expert in using Force Plate Machine Learning™ (FPML™) to identify, prevent and treat musculoskeletal injuries, I encourage military leaders to seek out programs that focus on the individual warfighter’s health and fitness needs. Solutions like FPML™ will allow for early identification of musculoskeletal weakness and help create individualized training programs to prevent future injury.
Practices that utilize evidence-based, individualized solutions are best for preventing injuries and correctly training the body but understanding that this technology is not yet widely used by the Service, I will share some generic at-home remedies for common service member injuries, as well as dispel myths about well-known treatments.
The easiest way to make an injured area feel better is to stimulate or contract the opposite area. For example, if suffering from back pain, a solution can be working your abdominals with exercises like the plank. This is because the human body has antagonistic relaxation – meaning when one muscle group fires, the other is inhibited. Therefore, activating the abdominal muscles will, in turn, relax the back muscles and provide relief.
The quick and easy treatment used by traditional doctors reluctant to adopt more complex solutions is RICE. We’ve all heard it: rest, ice, compression, elevation. Sure, ice is great as an anesthetic (a numbing agent) for short-term pain relief immediately after injury. It will hide the pain and help with performance for about 5-60 minutes post-injury. But after that, ice and RICE will significantly prolong the healing process.
Both RICE and ibuprofen (Advil) actually delay the healing process and can be harmful to the body’s recovery. Many doctors still prescribe the nifty acronym because it’s easy to remember for the physician who is still operating in the 1980s.
RICE exemplifies the power of simplification and reinforces the idea that people will try just about anything – opioids, RICE, or over-the-counter painkillers when in pain.
In reality, movement is the best medicine, with data-driven, individualized movement plans being effective solutions that can help reduce chronic pain and injuries.
Dr. Phil Wagner is a physician, strength & conditioning coach, and expert on using force plates and machine learning to prevent and treat musculoskeletal injuries. He is the founder and CEO of Sparta Science.
Feature image: U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Timothy Moore