“UNREP” (short for “underway replenishment”) is the term used to describe the transfer of fuel, food, ammunition, repair or replacement parts, people and mail from supply ships to combatants like frigates, destroyers, and aircraft carriers.
Simply put, UNREP keeps Navy ships at sea. It’s a dangerous and intense evolution.
UNREP begins by raising the Romeo flag. On the control ship, it means, “I am ready for your approach.” On the approaching ship, it means, “I am commencing.”
One of the most challenging aspects of UNREP is matching the speed of the control ship and steering into position.
Once the ships are on a parallel course, a shotline is sent for the phone and distance (PD) line, which is marked by flags every 20 feet. Once the shotline is fired, sailors on the supply ship catch it like a wedding bouquet.
After the shotline is received, line handlers must haul in the messenger line, which is much heavier.
After the wires and hoses are connected, the teams on deck and in the pump room are ready to begin the transfer of cargo and fuel.
Sailors in the pump room monitor fuel levels…
… while pallets of food, mail, and supplies are transferred topside.
At the same time sailors man the .50 cals, ever-vigilant for threats.
Thousands of pounds of fuel and cargo are transferred between the ships while maintaining the same speed and distance apart.
The exchange can be dangerous for both sides…
Sailors have to watch out for rogue waves.
Helicopters can also be used for resupply …
They call this process “VERTREP,” short for “vertical replenishment.”
Resupplying the ship is an all-hands task. In this photo, sailors and Marines on an amphibious ship form a human chain to transfer packages.
Sometimes ships will tag-team a supply ship to save time. In this photo, two missile destroyers — an Arleigh Burke class and a Ticonderoga class — are attached to the USNS Lenthall (T-AO 189).
Sometimes an UNREP could go well into evening…
… and package distribution could go on for hours after the ships have disconnected.
But, the long hours and hard work pay off when you receive a care package from home; it’s like Christmas.
Parents tend to teach their kids that kindness is one of the greatest traits a human can exhibit. When those kids eventually join the military, they’ll learn that they need to drop the niceties before too long.
Troops should show a general politeness toward their peers — after all, the military wouldn’t function if everyone was truly spiteful toward one another. We’d never recommend that you treat others like dirt, but every service member must obtain a certain level of saltiness in order to get through their career.
In a way, military life is the reversal of civilian norms. In the military, kindness is negatively received; being assertive and salty is the only way to get what you want. We’re not saying this is bad or good — it’s just the weird life that troops live.
That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t help others out.
(Photo by Spc. L’Erin Wynn)
Your kindness will be perceived as weakness
Before any of this gets twisted, kindness isn’t a weakness and showing genuine empathy toward your fellow troop isn’t going to kill you. In fact, showing your brothers- and sisters-in-arms compassion will take you far and may save a life some day.
However, the harsh reality is that there are no brakes on the military train. Slowing down for others and offering a helping hand isn’t always smiled upon. When you pause to help someone who’s stalled, in the eyes of many, there are now two impediments.
It’s not an pleasant circumstance, but that’s how life in the military goes.
(Photo by Staff Sgt. R.J. Lannom)
Your kindness will get pushed to the limits
There’s another side to the compassion coin. Offer your help too readily and others will take advantage. One favor leads to three. “Hey, can you get me…” quickly turns into, “you don’t mind, do you?”
In a perfect world, there wouldn’t be any toxic leadership in the military. Everyone would take unit morale into consideration, do their part, and ensure tasks are completed on schedule. Unfortunately, when people find it easier to get someone else to their job, they’ll take that road.
But they’re not mutually exclusive in combat situations.
(Photo by Cpl. Darien J. Bjorndal)
Your saltiness will get things done
Aggression and anger are not essential traits of great leaders. A first sergeant who never yells still commands the same respect as a first sergeant who barks at everyone. It is entirely possible to be assertive and state your intentions to others without shouting.
…but most people won’t see it that way. The moment you raise your voice, people listen. If you’re of a lower rank, people will assume you’re ready for a leadership position — in actuality, yelling and true leadership skills are apples and oranges.
Troops will rarely give an honest answer if their first sergeant asks them how are they doing, even if it’s meant sincerely.
(U.S. Marine Corps)
Your saltiness won’t ever get questioned
Being nice will cause everyone to question your motives. Other troops will think you’re up to something, trying to work them over. Conversely, there’re almost no repercussions for being a dick to everyone.
The higher your rank, the less people will wonder why you’re grouchy. Everyone just accepts it as normal, everyday life. Niceties at that rank set off alarms in the lower ranks or just confuse everyone.
Nobody wants to hear the phrase, “suck it up, buttercup.” But there’s a reason for it outside of being plain rude. The fact is, there isn’t much to be gained by complaining about something uncomfortable to others that are stuck in the same suck.
Think about it this way: it’s like being stuck down in a well with a few others. What good does it do for anyone if you start whining about how you hate wells?
Everyone around you is dealing with the same problems. You can either work on improving what you can change, embrace the things you can’t, and joke about the suck with everyone else — or you could just get out. These are the comfort zones you’ll learn to abandon by joining the military.
Nobody wants to wake up early. Nobody. It’s impossible for any human being to willingly enjoy the idea of getting less sleep because they feel the need to get some physical exercise. If that does describe you, I seriously doubt that you’re a human being, but rather some sort of autonomous robot.
We do it because we must.
The human body
Before you know it, you’ll end up in communal showers. There, you’ll see plenty and plenty will see you.
And we’re not talking about exposed genitalia — you’ll get over that real quick. You’ll see sores, fluids, and all sorts of nastiness that some happens to the human body during a deployment. If you’re a medic or Corpsman, expect your friends to randomly ask, “hey, doc, does this look infected to you?”
It’s not just knee and back pain, or “weakness leaving your body” as the PT instructor calls it. That’s guaranteed. Expect an amount of unnecessary physical pain. If your battle buddy is an idiot, expect to get smoked with them. If they have a loud mouth at the bar, expect to get punched in the face at least once throughout your career.
Just get used to waking up in the morning and wondering what happened to your 18-year-old body. Be prepared to ask yourself why you’re complaining about the same pains as your grandmother.
Lack of personal space
If you maintain a personal space bubble and feel awkward when someone comes within a foot of you, curb it. You probably shouldn’t be claustrophobic either.
You won’t have any room to do anything or anywhere to be by yourself.
Sharing personal details
Don’t feel like spending 12 hours at a time with the options of staring at a blank wall or talking with some random person? Too bad. You’re about to turn into Forrest Gump and tell them everything.
Learning you’re not special
Individualism is a blight on the uniformed services. It’s “one team, one fight,” not “everyone plus this guy.” This rule applies to everyone — and not just the person crying because Sergeant gave them a dirty look. Even the troop that is damn-near Captain America is guilty if they start demanding the military start handing out opportunities.
The military doesn’t owe anyone anything unless it’s earned. And even earning something doesn’t mean the door is now open for making more demands.
Squads are the most fundamental part of the military. While you can generally get by with having an issue with someone else in the company, a squad can’t function unless everyone is on the same level.
It takes years to earn someone’s trust to the point of knowing, without a shadow of a doubt, that they have your back. To get the new guys in the squad up to speed, they’ll have to be given a crash course in earning it.
There is a difference between impressing the squad and impressing the platoon sergeant. Choose wisely.
(Photo by Spc. Noel Williams)
PT as well in the morning
the uninitiated may think that the fastest way to earn respect is to out-hustle, out-perform, and outlast the rest. The problem here is that morning PT isn’t designed to improve — it’s for sustaining one’s assumed peak performance. If you’re looking to improve, it’ll probably happen off-duty.
With that in mind, many troops who’ve been in for years won’t be impressed by the new kid smoking everyone on the pull-up bar. They’re probably hungover from drinking the night before. During morning PT, there’s no way to improve your standing with the guys, but making everyone else look bad will definitely cost you some points.
This also means don’t ever miss the 50m target — you will be justifiably ridiculed.
(Photo by Sgt. Maj. Peter Breuer)
Shoot as good at the range
This rings especially true with line units. It’s also assumed that by the time a Drill Instructor hands off a boot to the unit, they’re ready to be hardened killing machines. Taking time to train someone to shoot perfectly is no longer in the training schedule, there’re still guys who’ve been in the unit for ages rocking a “pizza box,” or Marksman badge.
If you can show everyone that you’re not some kid, but rather someone who’s ready to train with the big boys, the squad will take notice and use you to belittle the guy who missed the 50m target. That’s a good thing for you.
Or keep an eye out for staff duty and keep them occupied so they don’t crash the party.
(Screengrab via YouTube)
Party as hard in the barracks
Barracks parties are very tight-knit. There may be some cross-over with other platoons or companies that are cool with whomever is hosting, so don’t fret and be cool. It’s a real sign of trust if someone is willing to show you to the others off-duty.
Chances are that most boots are fresh out of high school. No one wants to party with the kid who’s going to get them arrested by the MPs for underage drinking. For all the legal reasons, you really shouldn’t be drinking if you’re under 21 (even though we all know what happens in the barracks). You can still play a part, however, by being the designated driver or helping others who’ve drank too much by grabbing water, junk food, and sports drinks.
Chances are that the joke, just like your first time, will be quickly forgotten by most people involved.
(Photo by Pfc. Vaniah Temple)
Joke as witty off-duty
As odd as it sounds, the surefire way to make everyone in the squad trust you is to get them to like you. They’ll overlook a lot of your flaws if you’re not quite “grunt enough” if you can make them laugh.
No one wants to be around the guy who’s telling the same unfunny story that ends with getting yelled at by the drill sergeant. No matter how mind-blowing it was to you back then, I assure you that it’s nothing special. Dig deep and find that real humor. Joke about something personal, like the first time you got intimate with someone. There’s definitely an awkward moment in there that’s funny to reflect on.
I’m just sayin’. Nearly every friendship is sealed in the smoke pit.
(U.S. Marine Corps Photo)
Be as loyal when the time comes
There’s no concrete way to know when this time will come, but it will. At some point, everything will be on the line and you need to swoop in with the clutch. When it happens, you’ll know.
This is when you’ll show the squad that you’re one of them — that you value the rest of the guys above your own well-being. It could be as large as saving everyone’s ass from an enraged first sergeant to just bringing an extra pack of cigarettes to the field. Get to know your squad and you’ll know what it takes.
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.
“No one left behind” is a phrase inextricably linked with our military culture. The concept is a pillar that supports the platform of what it means to serve, analogous to “defending those who can’t defend themselves” and “protecting our freedom.” Like all military axioms, no one left behind means many different things, depending on the service member or veteran you ask.
The most prominent examples of this are in the Medal of Honor citations of U.S. troops braving enemy fire to bring a wounded comrade to safety without regard for their own well-being. Not as thoroughly illustrated in Hollywood, however, are veterans who are determined to bring home the remains of U.S. troops lost in foreign wars, or those working to help other veterans with challenges in employment, physical disabilities, and mental health. All of it can be traced back to “no one left behind.”
The time has come for the U.S. to embody this core principle yet again.
Close to 18,000 Afghans (and their 53,000 family members) who provided assistance to the U.S. as interpreters, security guards, contractors and more, now face a future that is uncertain at best. These people who fought alongside our men and women in uniform are running out of time, as the U.S. Department of Defense now estimates its withdrawal from Afghanistan is 95% complete as of July 12th.
One man with a wealth of knowledge and experience on the subject is General Joseph Votel (Retired). The former commander of the US Special Operations Command (SOCOM) and US Central Command (CENTCOM) was one of the first troops on the ground in Afghanistan after 9/11, conducting a rare combat jump with his fellow Rangers on Objective Rhino, near Kandahar.
“I was in the first wave of troops, October of 2001,” General Votel told Sandboxx News. “And I think between 2001 and 2019 — when I actually left service — I’d been to Afghanistan for some part of every year, sometimes just a few days and sometimes for a whole year.”
General Votel’s extensive time spent in theater, dating back to the very beginning of U.S. operations there, makes him as qualified as any expert one could find on the war-torn country and its looming humanitarian crisis.
These thousands of Afghans who aided or sympathized with U.S.-led forces in the 20-year war against the Taliban have been imperiled as the American presence dwindles. The slow trickle of departing troops turned to a hasty exit at the beginning of May, and the U.S. has assumed a much more defensive posture. As a result, the Taliban has seized territory at an alarming rate and now control over half of the districts in the country. There was already plenty of support for their strict interpretation (and enforcement) of Sharia in more conservative, rural areas, but they are now are closing in on major cities that have been more secular and progressive in terms of things like women’s rights.
“I’ve invested a lot of time in this like many have, and I feel like I got to know the Afghan people. I certainly got to know their story quite well. I feel sad that we are not leaving them in a better position,” General Votel said.
The Taliban are determined to improve their image with the U.S. government and avoid any entanglements that would prolong the withdrawal. Multiple Taliban spokesmen have been dismissive of human rights abuses in territories they’ve re-captured, and recently stated that Afghans who worked with the U.S. will not be harmed if they “show remorse for their past actions and must not engage in such activities in the future that amount to treason against Islam and the country.”
Many Afghans put little stock in the statement from Taliban leadership, and have no intention to stay and find out if they keep their word. There are countless stories of retaliation against these Afghans that the Taliban has past referred to as “traitors” and “slaves.” Whether all of the more recent violence has been sanctioned by the Taliban or not, those who fear further reprisals without the U.S. presence do so justifiably.
“These interpreters and others that helped us, they did this at their own personal risk. We recognized this and we set up programs. The Special Immigrant Visa program, SIV program… is specifically designed to give those who’ve spent time with us a leg up in the immigration process — to come to the United States and have an opportunity to become a citizen, because we knew that their jobs — what they were doing for us –would put them in danger down the line.”
The sheer volume of SIV applications coupled with staffing issues and lack of a central database has created an enormous backlog at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul that could take several years to sort through. An outbreak of COVID-19 killed one and infected 114 staffers at the embassy last month, grinding operations to a halt. Further complicating the issue, many SIV applicants do not live in Kabul. Transportation and communication would already be an issue, particularly in rural areas, even without Taliban militants’ ever-increasing presence.
“It’s really important, I think, for us to follow up on that, follow through on our promises and, and do the right thing for these people. It’s literally a life and death situation for many of them,” General Votel explained.
Operation Allies Refuge, announced earlier this week, will begin the massive task of evacuating all SIV applicants out of Afghanistan by the end of the month. When asked at Wednesday’s briefing, DOD Press Secretary John Kirby was non-committal about potential locations for the soon-to-be displaced Afghans while their pending immigration is processed. There is precedent, and therefore hope, for such a large undertaking. CONUS installations have not been ruled out, such as in 1999 when the U.S. airlifted 20,000 Kosovo refugees to Fort Dix, NJ. International U.S. assets like Guam seem more likely, as that is where 130,000 Vietnamese refugees were evacuated to in 1975.
Growing up in St. Paul, Minnesota, General Votel has a personal connection to that operation as well. Many Vietnamese Hmong ended up immigrating to that area, and the connection to the present-day crisis is not lost on him:
“They have integrated so well and they have become a very integrated, important and contributing part of our community right here. And whenever you see Hmong, and the different influence they have in here, it makes you think of America doing the right thing, even in the wake of a disaster like Vietnam was,” he said.
“We did the right thing. We stood by people that stood by us, that were going to be persecuted because of their association and support to us. And we brought them to our country and then made them part of our society.”
While the U.S. government has acknowledged the problem and is putting things in motion to get these Afghans to safety, General Votel said that the American people can also help. No One Left Behind is a non-profit at the forefront of the issue, one that Votel supports himself. They have already raised over $1 million dollars for their cause of evacuating our Afghan allies from Kabul, and now the General is helping to spread the word far and wide.
While Americans can certainly offer their financial support to No One Left Behind, General Votel was just as quick to mention the importance of people using their “time and talent” to help. He says one of the best ways Americans can help right now is to be aware of the problem, make others aware of it, and especially, put pressure on Congress and keep the plight of the Afghans in the public eye and a high-priority for President Biden’s administration.
General Votel’s own experience with interpreters, in particular, speaks to why ensuring the safety of these Afghans is not only a question of American morality and doing the right thing, but also crucial to the safety of U.S. troops and the security of the American people. What interpreters provide troops on the ground is invaluable, and is not just translation of the language (though it is certainly that, as well).
“What I deeply valued was the cultural aspects that I really picked up from them… They understand the country. They understand things that are just so difficult for us as Americans to appreciate that they can share that with us, and they give us an understanding of the society and how things there work.”
The estimated cost of approximately $699 million to execute Operation Allies Refuge is a relatively small price to pay for a mission that will enhance security and save American lives in the future. However, General Votel emphasized to Sandboxx News more than once that there’s also the moral obligation that the United States has to the Afghan people who helped us.
“They become comrades. They begin to appreciate our values, as well, and are really good representatives for our country. So they’re just so much more than somebody that translates words from one language into another.”
Over the years, I’ve had my nerves scraped raw by Americans who flippantly ask the question, “Have you ever killed anyone?” The fact that those who ask completely fail to understand or truly care about the veteran experience has calloused my soul just enough to optimize the efficacy of humor as a deflection device and coping mechanism. Let my pain be your lesson and follow me to disgruntled depths!
Imagine you’ve stopped off at the gas station to grab a pack of smokes and are striking up a casual conversation with the attendant when he suddenly hits you with, “Hey, what was the worst thing you’ve ever experienced? Any recent deaths in the family? Any childhood or sexual trauma? No? Haha. Okay, well Kit-Kats are two for $1 if you’re interested.”
How would you respond to some stranger casually prying into the darkest moments of your life? If your knee-jerk reaction is to rip out their trachea and bugle their death song as they fade into the abyss, you might be a veteran. The first time a sniveling college kid asked if I’d ever killed someone, I completely fumbled my response. It was C-minus at best. I regret it every day. I’m better than that. It was my first time, and I just got a little nervous.
As the bloodthirsty, village-burning, baby-killing assassins that we American veterans (apparently) are, our response to this utterly tone-deaf question is important, and it’s our duty to rise to the challenge and represent our community when the time comes. Fortunately, I’ve worked up 10 responses any vet can use when asked the most astoundingly inappropriate question in the history of traumatic events.
Knock ’em dead!
HOW TO RESPOND TO “HAVE YOU EVER KILLED SOMEONE?”
1. Become visibly nervous, lean forward, and then whisper, “So you see them too?”
2. “Only the short ones.”
3. Note the color or feature of their shirt. “Only people in [insert their shirt color] … There’s just something about that color …” follow with dead silence and a disconnected gaze.
4. “Yup! Wait, you meant like in the war? Haha. Oh no, I was supply.”
5. “Not on purpose.”
6. Pull out a coin and stare at the individual. Actually, you’re not trying to stare at them, you’re staring into them. Gaze deeply into their very soul and hold the coin out until the tension in the room is palpable, then simply ask, “Heads or tails?” Flip the coin, catch it, and intensely stare at the palm of your hand without letting them see the coin. Shake a little bit for dramatic effect if you want. After several moments suddenly change your expression to light and happy, then inform them that they were correct.
7. Really emphasize the word “people” in this one — “What like people? No, I’ve never killed any people.” Do not elaborate. If they persist, make a loose reference to aliens, something like “We don’t know what they were” will work fine. End with “I’ve already said too much,” and walk away.
8. If they’re young, say, “Yes, and I was one short of unlocking the Chopper Gunner.” (They’ll get it.)
9. “With what?”
10. “I’ll only answer your awkward question if you answer one of mine first.” Then proceed to ask them one of the following:
Have you ever heard your parents having sex?
In 200 words or more, describe your last shit.
What’s the last thing you cried about?
Can you meet me in the bathroom and tell me if this rash looks serious? I can’t show you here.
11. Bonus answer perfect for post-pandemic dinner parties: “Only when we were hungry.”
Writer and documentary filmmaker Bill Carter was once quoted, saying, “There’s no such thing as bad beer. It’s that some taste better than others.” We couldn’t agree more. Sure, almost anywhere the military sends you, you’re going to be able to find beer. But if you’re like a few of us on the MILLIE team, drinking just any type of beer won’t do.
In the interest of our fellow beer-enthusiast military members, we’ve come up with a list of the top 10 duty stations (or areas with several duty stations) that are your best option for finding a local brewery. Our criteria for selecting these top duty stations were 1) the size of the base or area, and 2) number of breweries in the area. We kept it simple so you can decide on your own which brewery in these areas is “the best.” (This list was originally posted in 2018, so some new breweries may have come along since then!).
Do people in Alaska still enjoy a beer, even when the temperatures are sub-zero? The answer is “yes.” And that goes for folks stationed at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, too! Military families stationed here can enjoy suds from 12 local breweries. A popular option that includes reportedly fantastic food is Midnight Sun Brewing Co., which is located right off the Seward Highway. If you’re looking for something outside the gate (without the notorious reputation), try 49th State Brewing Co. Enjoy one of their eight signature beers or one of their many beers on rotation.
We’ve got a three-way tie for 6th through 8th place between Camp Pendleton, JBLM, and Hampton Roads. We know, we know: Camp Pendleton is so close to San Diego…so shouldn’t it be considered part of San Diego? Maybe. But in all of our research, people stationed at Camp P typically like to stay in the area and avoid the San Diego traffic. So if you’re stationed at this Marine Corps base, you can rejoice knowing there are 20 breweries to enjoy here that aren’t in San Diego. Bagby Brewing Company comes highly rated and is a short ways from Camp Pendleton South. Plus, its only a few blocks from the ocean!
We probably don’t have to tell you there are a lot of breweries in Washington state. But you might not realize there’s a good handful of them right around Joint Base Lewis-McChord! We found a total of 20 local breweries that aren’t in the greater Seattle area. Narrows Brewing Company is right on the waterfront of the Carr Inlet in Tacoma, providing beautiful views while you sip your suds. Top Rung Brewing Company, located in Lacey, is a bit closer to base and has a reputation for being family friendly. Curious what the Pacific Northwest would taste like if it were captured in a bottle? Top Rung offers several beers that capture the essence of the area.
We have another tie, and it’s for 4th and 5th place between Hawaii and Colorado Springs. Aloha beer drinkers! If you’ve received orders to Hawaii, the good news is your options of craft beer won’t diminish when you move to this tiny Pacific island. Right outside of the Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve is the well-known Kona Brewing Co., whose beers you can get in stores across the upper 48. Otherwise you’ll have to venture down into Honolulu to try most of the breweries closest to Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam. But if you’re stationed at Marine Corps Base Hawaii, there are two great little brewing companies nearby, Stewbum & Stonewall Brewing Co., and Lanikai Brewing Company, that come highly recommended.
We certainly shouldn’t have to tell you there are A LOT of breweries in Colorado. But if you’re lucky enough to get stationed in Colorado Springs, you actually don’t have to leave the city to find excellent local breweries. We found 26 breweries in the greater COS area, but that number is growing every day so keep your eyes peeled! As soon as you’re able, head over to Red Leg Brewing Company, which is owned and run by a veteran. The theme is Civil War Battlefields and features brews like Doolittle IPA and Howitzer Amber. It’s not to be missed. But if you’re looking to get away from the military theme, then it’s paramount you visit Bristol Brewing Company. This brewery is located in a renovated school (a local hotspot in the Springs with weekly events and a farmers market) and their flagship brewskis Beehive and Laughing Lab won’t disappoint.
Getting stationed in the Washington D.C. area can bring about a mixture of emotions, but you can relax knowing you have a wide selection of breweries to check out here. Veteran-owned and operated Fair Winds Brewing Company is north on I-95 from Marine Corps Base Quantico and is almost right outside of the gate of Fort Belvoir! (If traffic along I-95 is particularly bad after work, some people stop here for a brew instead of sitting in their car for hours). If you’re a home brewer, this is a great place to bring in the recipe for your latest creation and enter it in a larger competition. Bluejacket is located in a century-old factory and is a stone’s throw away from Fort McNair, Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling and the Washington Navy Yard (we’re serious!). It regularly comes up in lists for “Best Breweries in Washington D.C.” so we recommend checking it out! Two other veteran-owned breweries in the greater D.C. area are Heritage Brewing Company and Honor Brewing Company (both of which are a hike from most area installations, but totally worth the drive).
It surprised us, too, when we learned there are 85 breweries in the greater Tampa area. And many of them are close to MacDill AFB. So there’s no way you won’t find at least one beer you love. If you want to grab a beer right after work off-base, then 81Bay Brewing Company is a great option (it’s right down the road and they offer 25 percent off for military in the tap room!). Their huge space is decorated with eclectic underwater themes, and they regularly have food trucks outside to accompany your beer selection. While stationed at MacDill you must visit one of the oldest and first breweries in Tampa, Cigar City Brewing Company. Their Jai Alai IPA and Cubano-Style Espresso Brown Ale come highly recommended and give you an authentic taste of Florida.
While this list isn’t comprehensive (mainly because there are new breweries popping up all over the U.S. every month) we hope it inspires you to get into your community and try a local ale. Or gun for one of the above places as your next assignment! Cheers!
Being “the best” in the military is a weird paradox. Of course, you should always strive to be the best at whatever you do. But, at the same time, you can’t put others down or set yourself to such a high bar that it screws over everyone else. There is a fine line between giving Uncle Sam the best version of yourself and stepping into “Blue Falcon” territory.
You can be an outstanding troop without brown-nosing. You can be a great leader without throwing your troops under the bus. You can be highly motivated without overdoing it — but it’s a tricky balance to strike.
1. They integrate their military gear into their civilian attire
Ask anyone who’s ever rucked more than 24 miles in a single march: The best feeling ever in the military is, after finishing a grueling ruck, taking your gear off and throwing it across the room as hard as you can. Why in the hell would someone willingly wear their uniform after work hours for any reason outside of sheer laziness?
There are only two types of people who wear combat boots with civilian clothes: FNGs who haven’t had a chance to buy civilian shoes and the overly-hooah.
2. They force everyone to do more PT
Morning PT means its just another day in the military. It’s not designed as much for personal improvement as it is for camaraderie-building and sustainment. If you want to improve, the gym is open after work hours.
Do not get this twisted: Everyone should be sweating with everyone else. But remember, there’s a fine line. When you’re overzealousness legitimately breaks your comrade and they’re now on profile, you’re an ass.
3. They always ask for more work
The one phrase every NCO loves hearing from their troops is, “what else should we do?” It’s also, coincidentally, the last phrase lower enlisted want to hear right before close of business.
If the mission is complete, that’s it — shut up and move on.
4. They step on others to get to promotion points
This applies to boards, schools, certifications, medals, badges, etc. They are all in limited supply and can’t be handed out like candy. Remember, it’s not a competition and your battle-buddies are not your enemies.
These things should go to the best and most deserving — not to the person who made everyone else look like sh*t.
5. They parrot NCO sayings unironically
It’s a little bit funny when it’s coming down outside and an NCO turns to their troops and says, jokingly, “if it’s not raining, we’re not training. Am I right?” When a staff officer peaks their head out from behind their PowerPoint presentation and says it to troops who are soaking wet… not so much.
You need the rank and position to make those kinds of jokes. Otherwise, you’ll be glared at with disdain.
6. They have flaws and overcompensate for them
No one is perfect. We all make mistakes or slip up. Regular troops take the hit on the chin, learn from mistakes, and move on. Ultimately, nobody cares if the mistake doesn’t involve the UCMJ.
You don’t need to lose your mind because you accidentally saluted with the wrong hand. The officer will probably laugh at you for your stupid mistake and forget about it. You don’t need to stand outside their office all day to prove you can salute properly.
Corpsmen and medics carry a mobile emergency room strapped to their backs along with their weapon systems — and it gets heavy. After going through months of intense medical training they can probably apply a wet tourniquet in the pitch black with one hand while under enemy fire.
Truth is, they can’t be everywhere at every moment. Make no mistake, if the medical staff could take care of everybody and send them home in one piece, they would.
During a mass casualty, “Doc” is outnumbered by the number of people he or she needs to care for. Being able to render care swiftly and take them to medical in a blink of an eye would save time and resources.
The 2004 Second Battle of Fallujah will be talked about among Marines for years to come, but for some who fought in those deadly streets and from room-to-room, the battle continues to play out long after they come home.
“The most difficult part of transitioning into the civilian world is the fact that I was still alive,” says Matt Ranbarger, a Marine rifleman who fought in Fallujah, in a new documentary released on YouTube called “The November War.”
The end result of a successful Kickstarter campaign, “The November War” gives an intimate look at just one event that changed the lives of the nearly dozen Marines profiled in the film: An operation to clear a house in the insurgent-infested city on Nov. 22, 2004.
“I remember we got a briefing that morning, and I didn’t like it,” squad leader Catcher Cutstherope says, describing how his leaders told the Marines they could no longer use frag grenades when room clearing. Instead, they were instructed to use flash or stun grenades, and only use frags if they were absolutely certain there was an insurgent inside.
“We were all pretty much ‘what the f–k are we gonna do with a flash grenade, it’s not gonna do anything,'” Nathan Douglas says. “We were pretty much right on that part.”
With part interview, part battle footage — shot by Marines during the battle with their own personal cameras — the film is unlike other post-9/11 war documentaries. Similar docs give the viewer insight into a full deployment — “Restrepo” and the follow-up “Korengal” are good examples — or a bigger picture look at both the planning and execution of a combat operation, like “The Battle for Marjah.”
“The November War” takes neither of these approaches, and the film is much better for it. Instead, Garrett Anderson, the filmmaker and Marine veteran who also fought in the battle, captures poignant moments from his former platoon-mates years after their combat experience is over. Some describe going into a room as an insurgent fires, while others talk through their thoughts after being shot.
In describing clearing the house — a costly endeavor that resulted in six Marines wounded — the film reveals the part of that day that still haunts all involved: The death of their friend, Cpl. Michael Cohen.
The documentary captures visceral stress among the Marines. Years later, sweat beads off their foreheads. As they speak, they are measured, but their voices are tinged with emotion. Viewers can tell they see that day just as clearly, more than a decade later.
Perhaps the most revealing part of the film is when Anderson asks all his interviewees whether it was worth it. One Marine filmed is offended by the question, answering that of course every Marine would answer yes. But that doesn’t play out onscreen, as two members of the unit express their doubts.
“Losing that many guys, friends … any of them,” says Brian Lynch, the platoon’s corpsman. “I don’t think it was worth it.”
In the end, “The November War” is one of those must-watch documentaries. It gives a look into what it’s like for troops in combat, and beautifully captures the raw emotion that can still endure long after they come home.
“You know how people say ‘freedom isn’t free?'” asks Lance Cpl. Munoz soon after the film opens.
“Well, you, the one watching this at home on TV right now … sitting eating popcorn, or a burger,” he says, pointing to the camera. “Living the high life. And if you’re a Marine watching this sh– and you’re laughing, it’s because you already went through this sh–.”
One mistake that people outside the military make is thinking of our service members as being a homogeneous group. This is understandable. It’s easy to look at a platoon of soldiers in formation and see uniformity — the same haircut and uniform — and register it as sameness.
In fact, the military is an incredibly diverse collection of people. Not only does it draw people from all across our country with many different backgrounds, languages, and regionalisms, but the military is chockfull of different jobs and specializations which appeal to different kinds of people. But for all the jobs the military offers, you probably wouldn’t guess that it would attract an artist.
TSgt Corban Lundborg, 29, has been in the service for 11 years and isn’t planning on going anywhere. For him, being an artist and an Airman are not mutually exclusive. If anything, he’s found his calling as a Combat Cameraman.
The world of the Air Forces Combat Camera is more hardcore than you might think. The Air Force has two Combat Camera Squadrons, and while both are aligned under the Air Force Public Affairs Agency, they are responsible for much more than taking pictures at change-of-command ceremonies and training facilities.
According to the Air Force, COMCAM is responsible for “acquiring still and motion imagery in support of classified and unclassified air, sea, and ground military operations.” The imagery captured by COMCAM is “a fundamental tool of commanders and decision-makers throughout the Department of Defense [and] provides a visual record for use in operational analysis, training, public information, and as a permanent historical record.”
But on our phone call, TSgt Lundborg doesn’t tell me about “visual records” or “operational analysis.” Instead, we talk about composition, creativity, and art. He talks about his work with a kind of reverence that you’d expect from an artist, but replies with short, to-the-point answers you’d expect from a seasoned NCO.
I first discovered Combat Camera and TSgt Lundborg while searching for an image for a story about SERE School. I was tabbing through the Department of Defense archive when I came upon a grainy black and white photo of an airman, head, and neck wrapped against the cold, a cigarette tipped into the corner of his mouth.
All Airmen designated as part of an aircrew are required to attend the Air Force’s Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape school at Fairchild Air Force Base in Washington State. TSgt Lundborg attended the school as part of his training. But like any artist worth their salt, TSgt Lundborg couldn’t leave his camera behind.
In truth, a camera is an authorized item on the packing list for SERE, though trainees are only allowed to use the camera during certain parts of the course. Most use the opportunity to snap a few pics with their buddies, or record parts of their experience for personal use.
Not TSgt Lundborg.
Instead, he went to his leadership and the course cadre and proposed a project: He would bring with him a medium-format film camera and capture moments from SERE school through the eyes of an artist. The project was approved. So as TSgt Lundborg prepared for the training he also did photographic research. He found an inexpensive plastic camera that would be light and easy to carry and lashed it to an old dog tag chain.
“I wanted the imagery to transcend time,” he told me on the phone. “I wanted people to look at the images and not know if it was 1950 or 2020.” (The above photograph is from 2020.)
Capturing the images wasn’t a cakewalk. Evening temperatures dipped into the single digits. The trainees slept in snowbanks. When TSgt Lundborg suffered an injury to one of his eyes, he kept shooting, using the other one to focus and compose the exposures.
TSgt Lundborg is humble and down to earth. He takes his job seriously and loves what he does. But it’s not about glossy photos of the heroics and images for military marketing campaigns.
Airmen serving with Combat Camera also work directly with special operations teams to capture images for their use. Here, TSgt Lundborg gets to practice his art while drawing on his training and experience in the military. “We work directly with the Pentagon and with all the teams. When we’re working with a team, we’re working for that team,” he says. “Unlike a Public Affairs team, we’re there to support these teams with imagery for internal use.”
TSgt Lundborg knows that much of his work will never be viewed by the outside world. “The majority of imagery that we shoot will never see the light of day,” he says. “It will be internal imagery that will live on a hard drive somewhere. To know as a photographer that your best work may never be seen is incredibly hard.”
But TSgt Lundborg is resolute. He’s not here for fame or to launch a personal brand. In fact, he’s planning on serving well past 20 years. For him, looking at the battlefield through the photographic lens is about creating what he referred to as a “through-line for generations.” And much like the famous military photographers who have come before, TSgt Lundborg is ready to take it on.
“It’s difficult and beautiful at the same time,” he tells me.
“It’s an honor to be the one to write that history and capture these moments.”
Spoken like a true artist and a true patriot.
This article was originally published on November 24th, 2020.
It’s no longer just the higher-ranking, saltier NCOs and senior NCOs training young troops. In the world of military photojournalism, veterans who have been separated or retired for a decade or more are returning to teach the newest generations to capture stories on the battlefields.
Some of the military’s most surprisingly underreported jobs may be in the visual journalism fields. Every branch of the armed forces of the United States features teams of correspondents, photographers, and even combat artists and graphic designers.
They go through the same rigorous news writing and storytelling training as any student in any j-school in America. They learn the potential for every medium in visual journalism at the military’s disposal.
One problem with this is that they also have to focus on the fight. They have to learn small unit combat, urban warfare, close-quarters battle, self-aid and buddy care — the list goes on and on — and drill it into their muscle memory, not to mention learning the particulars of their branch of service.
When these young combat camera troops get into active service, they are thrown into an oft-underfunded world of retirement ceremonies, passport photos, and base change of command ceremonies.
Imagine a potentially world-class photographer working a Sears Photo Studio.
When one of these soldiers, sailors, airmen, guardsmen, or Marines gets to where the action is, they need to be able to adequately show and tell the military’s story. It’s not just for history’s sake, it can literally mean life and death for their subjects.
“I had the honor of photographing the last living pictures of soldiers on the battlefield,” says Stacy Pearsall, an Air Force combat camera veteran, referring to the Army units she covered during the Iraq War. “They are still today, my personal heroes to whom owe my life.”
Military photojournalists have since taken it upon themselves to train their youngest and greenest combat troops in the artistry of visual media. These veterans want to turn every one of the newbies into award-winning multimedia storytellers.
It’s not just higher-ranking active duty. Juan Femath is a veteran Air Force aerial videographer. In 2011, he and some fellow Air Force and Army veterans decided to help the military do a better job of telling its own story.
“The photographers in the military have a great culture of older guys coming back to teach the younger troops,” Femath says. “There are so many photography workshops where skilled military photogs come to speak and mentor.”
One such workshop is the D.C. Shoot Off Workshop, run by Navy Veteran and White House news photographer Johnny Bivera.
Bivera uses his professional connections to bring attention to the military photojournalism world, attracting brands like Nikon and Adobe to his training weekends.
“The best speakers, mentors, editors and judges throughout the country volunteer for this event,” Bivera says. “These workshops are for all levels and provide professional development, helping to fill training gaps for our military and civil service photographers.
The weekend-long workshop starts with a seminar portion, covering the most important storytelling and production fundamentals used by civilian media today. These lectures are given by some of the media’s most important producers — many of them veterans themselves — from companies like HBO, USA Today, NFL Films, NBC, Canon, and the Washington Post.
Participants then break into teams and go out to apply the skills they just learned. Each team produces a two to five minute multimedia piece based on a topic drawn from a hat and are given an expert media producer as a mentor to guide them through the process. There is a hard deadline: work submitted after the deadline will not be eligible for awards.
Final products often reflect the experiences and inherent creativity of military photojournalists from every branch of service. They are thoroughly judged and critiqued by a panel of experts who make themselves available to everyone’s questions.
Though the Shoot Off charges an entry fee, the most telling aspect of the Shoot Off is that no one gets paid for their time — not the sponsors, the creators, mentors, or speakers. The fees cover only the overhead costs of running the workshop.
The D.C. Shoot Off Video Workshop, now in its seventh year, will be held May 4-7, 2017. For more information and to register visit dcvideoshootoff.org. It is open to all military, civil service, government, and veteran media producers.
The still photography Shoot Off has multiple dates and is held in Washington, D.C. in the Spring and San Diego in the fall. For more information visit visualmediaone.com.