The very essence of being a Marine Infantryman is being amphibious — it’s the reason we exist as a Marine Corps. However, the last two wars have been fought on land, so it’s understandable that beach assaults have taken a back seat in terms of training goals.
But, with the Marine Corps moving into a peacetime and with sights being set on near-peer rivals, amphibious assault training has resurfaced as pivotal.
Plenty of Marines are excited by this — as they should be — but beach assaults are just one more thing to add to the long list of reasons why the infantry is affectionately called, “the suck.”
1. Sitting in an amphibious assault vehicle for hours.
Have you ever wanted to just lock yourself in a dark, metal box that floats on the ocean for hours? If you answered, “yes,” then you’ll love beach assaults. You get locked inside an AAV while you’re taken from ship to shore. Not only is it really dark and hot, it’s also terribly boring.
2. Diesel fumes.
Remember that thing about being locked in the metal box? Well, that metal box burns diesel and the fumes make their way into where you and your buddies are waiting. Essentially, you just sit there and inhale the fumes until you reach the shore.
3. Your gear gets soaked.
This isn’t true for absolutely everyone as some AAVs are pretty good about staying air-tight, but these are old vehicles and they’re prone to mechanical shortcomings. As many Marines will tell you, be sure to waterproof your gear because, between ship and shore, you’ll often end up in ankle-deep water.
4. The blinding sunlight.
If your assault happens during the day, the moment the ramp drops and you run outside, your eyes are going to have to adjust from the dark, dank interior of the AAV to unrelenting sunlight. For a few seconds, as you run to your position in the attack, you’ll be nearly blind.
5. Your rifle gets extremely dirty.
Between the salt water, sand, and any oil leaks, your rifle is going to get crapped on. Hopefully, you either lubed it up prior to leaving the ship or you did so while sweating your ass off in a cloud of diesel smoke. There’s no way you’ll keep it clean, but this will at least ensure you can shoot your rifle.
It’s rough, it’s coarse, and it gets everywhere. Sand will not only get in every small space on your rifle, it’s going to get into everything you have. Every crack in your gear, uniform, and body. You’re going to have sand in places that didn’t even touch the beach. Once you get back to ship, you’ll have to deep clean everything — including yourself.
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:
A B-52H Stratofortress is parked on the flightline at Minot Air Force Base, N.D., July 31, 2017. The B-52 has an unrefueled combat range in-excess of 8,000 miles.
U.S. Air Force Capt. Kyle Capko, pilot, 19th Operations Group, and Capt. Caitlin Curran, pilot, 61st Airlift Squadron, Little Rock Air Force Base, Ark., land a C-130J Super Hercules on the ramp at Yakima Airfield, Wash., in support of Exercise Mobility Guardian, Aug. 03, 2017. More than 3,000 Airmen, Soldiers, Sailors, Marines and international partners converged on the state of Washington in support of Mobility Guardian.
The exercise is intended to test the abilities of the Mobility Air Forces to execute rapid global mobility missions in dynamic, contested environments. Mobility Guardian is Air Mobility Command’s premier exercise, providing an opportunity for the Mobility Air Forces to train with joint and international partners in airlift, air refueling, aeromedical evacuation and mobility support. The exercise is designed to sharpen Airmen’s skills in support of combatant commander requirements.
U.S. Soldiers assigned to Alpha Battery, 5th Battalion, 7th Air Defense Artillery conducted an M4 Range at the 25 m Range Baumholder Local Training Area, Baumholder, Germany on Aug. 2, 2017.
Paratroopers of Charlie Company, 3rd Battalion, 509th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division, move to a firing position during a live fire exercise at the High Altitude Military Marksmanship Range at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, Aug. 3, 2017.
Fire Controlman 1st Class Zachary Gehrig fires a M240B machine gun on the starboard bridge wing of Whidbey Island-class dock landing ship USS Rushmore (LSD 47) during a live-fire exercise. Rushmore is underway off the coast of Southern California participating in a series of qualifications and certifications as part of the basic phase of training in preparation for future operations and deployments.
Henry J. Kaiser-class underway replenishment oiler USNS Tippecanoe (T-AO-199) (middle) conducts replenishment at sea operations with Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force helicopter carrier JS Izumo (DDH-183) (front) and Takanami class destroyer JS Sazanami (DD-113) July 30, 2017.
A Marine with 1st Battalion, 25th Marine Scout Sniper platoon from Fort Devens, Massachusetts, participates in battle drills by firing his M4 at a 25 meter target Aug. 3, 2017 in preparation for a training exercise during Northern Strike 17 at the Camp Grayling Joint Maneuver Training Center.
Northern Strike 17 is a National Guard Bureau-sponsored exercise uniting approximately 5,000 service members from 13 states and five coalition countries during the first two weeks of August 2017 at the Camp Grayling Joint Maneuver Training Center and the Alpena Combat Readiness Training Center, both located in northern Michigan and operated by the Michigan National Guard.
Marine Corps Body Bearers with Bravo Company, Marine Barracks Washington D.C., fold the National Ensign during a funeral for Marine Sgt. Julian Kevianne at Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Va., Aug. 3, 2017. Kevianne, 31, was one of the 15 Marines and one Navy sailor who perished when their KC130-T Hercules crashed in Mississippi, July 10, 2017. He was part of the Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 452, Marine Aircraft Group 49, 4th Marine Air Wing, based out of Stewart Air National Guard Base in Newburgh, NY.
The Coast Guard Cutter Healy, a medium icebreaker, sits in the Chukchi Sea off the coast of Alaska during an Arctic deployment in support of scientific research and polar operations, Saturday, July 29, 2107. The Coast Guard’s leadership role in providing a continued Arctic presence is essential to national security, maritime domain awareness, freedom of navigation, U.S. sovereign interests and scientific research.
A U.S. Coast Guard MH-60T Jayhawk Helicopter from Air Station Astoria performs a mock rescue during a search and rescue demonstration with a 45-foot response boat -medium from Coast Guard Station Seattle over Elliott Bay as part of the 68th annual Seafair Fleet Week Aug. 2, 2017. Seafair Fleet Week is an annual celebration of the sea services where Sailors, Marines and Coast Guardsmen from visiting U.S. Navy, Coast Guard and Canadian ships make the city a port of call.
The Sherman tank was a powerful force to be reckoned with on the battlefields in WWII; it was fast and mobile and it shelled out plenty of firepower.
It provided just enough cover for American ground troops as it stomped through the German front lines. The Sherman was designed to patrol over enemy bridges and it was easily transported on railroad cars.
When the U.S. decided to invade Europe, General Patton selected the Sherman as his particular tank of choice and wanted as many to roll off the assembly lines as possible. Nearly fifty thousand were produced between 1942 and 1945.
Weighing in at 33 tons, it sustained a speed of 26 miles per hour and housed 2 inches of armor. Many saw the image of the Sherman tank to be invincible just like the American war effort, but the brave soldiers who served as tank crew members believed that it had too many engineering flaws and was far inferior compared to the German’s Tiger and Panther tanks.
The Sherman tank was equipped with a fully-transversing 75mm turret short barrelled gun that fired a high explosive shell 2,000 feet per second. Compared to the German tanks that shot accurately at 3,500 feet per second, the enemy’s armor piercing ammo was 2-3 times more effective.
It was recommended that to defeat the Germans, the tank crew had to speed up and flank around their battlefield rivalry and get within 600 yards range to be effective.
Captain Belton Y. Cooper, author of Death Traps and a member of the 3rd Armor Division maintenance unit, recounts knowing how inferior the Sherman was after seeing its physical destruction firsthand. He knew it was no match for the Nazi’s arsenal.
“We lost 648 tanks totally destroyed in combat, another 700 knocked out, repaired and put back into action,” Cooper says. “That’s 1,348 tanks knocked out in combat. I don’t think anyone took that kind of loss in the war.”
About a dozen young men and women are gathered at a shopping center, lining up outside Marine Corps Recruiting Sub-Station here, to prepare for the challenges of recruit training at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, South Carolina.
Some recruits are more prepared than others. Some still have ground to cover and goals to obtain, but 17-year-old Demetri E. Ramos has covered more ground than his peers.
Over the past three years he lost about 90 pounds to be eligible to enlist in the United States Marine Corps. He started his journey at 260 pounds and now weighs 170 pounds.
His stepfather, Robert Haag, challenged him during his freshman year to turn his life around. Haag noticed his stepson would spend many hours every day playing video games in the basement of his house. Haag approached Ramos and challenged him to earn his place on “the wall.”
“There is a big wall in our house that you have to earn your way [onto],” Haag said. On this wall are photos of six current and former Marines.
Setting a Goal
“My stepfather told me if I go from 260 pounds to 180 pounds, he would buy me an Xbox One,” said Ramos, a Severna Park High School native. At first, Ramos was hesitant about the large amount of weight he would have to lose.
But, he said, after eating healthier and spending long hours in the gym with his stepbrother he accomplished his goal.
After graduating high school this past spring, Ramos’ stepbrother and stepfather, who are both Marines, went with him to visit the local Marine Corps Recruiting Station, a trip that would change his life forever.
Ramos added he always looked up to and admired the Marines in his family because of their character and values they learned.
“To see the dedication he had before talking to [us] was incredible,” said Gunnery Sgt. Jason Irwin, the commander of the Glen Burnie Marine recruiting office. “You can definitely see the commitment he had to make himself eligible for enlistment, and to take the initial steps of becoming a United States Marine.”
“It wasn’t fun being incapable of doing things because of my weight, or being out of shape and not progressing,” Ramos said. “My motivation initially started with these restrictions and it grew more and more when I continued to lose weight and wanted to continue to make myself better as a person.”
Ramos is scheduled to attend recruit training at the end of this year, and according to Irwin, “he is pumped and ready to go.”
“If you never have confidence in yourself, you’re not going to go anywhere,” he said.
Let’s face it, with more women than ever serving in the military, not to mention in combat positions, there’s still a lack of acknowledgment for female veteran service (and quite often this comes from our own brothers-in-arms). Female veterans are in a unique position; the military tends to be associated with the high-and-tight haircut on, well, a man, but modern technology and shifting mindsets mean there are more women serving than ever before.
Still, we all look different, have different grooming habits while out of uniform, and remain subject to stereotypes.
Most of us still encounter the look of surprise when someone realizes we served. Usually, people thank us for our service or ask questions about military life, but inevitably, we also get judgment and assumptions. Here are a few of the worst:
4. Assuming a woman could never have been in the military based on her appearance
The problem female veterans face, during service and when they get out of the military, is that people automatically judge a woman based on appearance.
The reality is veterans come in all shapes, sizes, and genders, but when women decide to reclaim some femininity, they are looked down upon or disregarded as vets. It’s a lose-lose situation when lipstick and colored hair are equated with loss of veteran credibility.
3. Assuming anything about a woman’s mental health status based on gender or career field AFSC/MOS
We all know career fields in the military are not created equal as far as physical stress or deployment tempos go. People may assume that administrative careers in the military, and anything other than combat positions, don’t get exposed to trauma. This simply isn’t true. First of all, you don’t have to go beyond the wire to be attacked, but more importantly, trauma is experienced in many forms — a veteran’s experience is between them and their doctor.
Women of all career fields deploy, and many come home with PTSD from traumatic events they experience during their time overseas — just like men. According to the U. S. Department of Veteran Affairs, “among women Veterans of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, almost 20 of every 100 (or 20%) have been diagnosed with PTSD.”
What these numbers don’t reflect are the women who have not sought help and been diagnosed for their PTSD. Also, these are just the statistics for Iraq and Afghanistan — they don’t mention every other conflict that women served in. Women work, fight, come home, and live with what they experience, exactly like their male counterparts.
Furthermore, it doesn’t take a deployment to be affected by the life-and-death stress situations the military demands.
2. Assuming female veterans are lesbians
Now, this is almost a joke to even mention because it seems so far-fetched, but it is more common than one would think! There is nothing wrong with being a lesbian or any other sexuality, for that matter, but for some reason, when women tell people that they are veterans, many are then met with assumptions about their sexual orientation. Well, I guess since it needs to be said: not all women who serve are attracted to other women.
It doesn’t take a scientist to figure out that military service and sexual orientation are unrelated. Yes, women who have served and are serving need to be able to throw femininity to the side regularly to get the job done, but that doesn’t mean sexuality changes as soon as it’s time to get our hands dirty.
Women can be feminine and brave at the same time, and neither of these things has to do with who they’re attracted to.
1. Assuming a woman is the spouse of a veteran and not a veteran herself
Statistically, this at least has a little merit. Nevertheless, showing up to a VA appointment and being asked, “Who’s your husband?” is frustrating. It doesn’t just happen at the VA, but also at Veteran Resource Centers, American Legions, and anywhere where there is an abundance of veterans present.
It might not seem like this is such a big deal, but the assumption behind the question is that women don’t serve in the military — or worse, that we can’t serve. Plus, it gets exhausting trying to explain why we joined and how we fared “in a man’s world.”
Getting assigned to your first unit or transferring to a new unit can be exciting…and unnerving. You want to make a good impression and quickly find your role on the new team, but you know being too much too soon can give off a bad vibe.
First impressions matter, but what matters more is the impression others have of you after your first four to eight weeks. This is the time when you move beyond pleasantries and others will truly see who you are and what you’re like. That’s why if you follow the 4 unwritten rules of joining a new unit, you’ll set yourself up for long-term success.
1) Don’t talk.
When you join a new unit, it’s important to remember others might be skeptical of you and they might not trust you. It has been their unit for some time, and you’re the newbie. You’ll want to lay low when you start out. Keep your opinions about what the unit should be doing to yourself and don’t engage in conversations about controversial issues like politics or religion. Eventually, your unit members will become more comfortable with you, trust you and ask for your opinions. That’s the point when you have the willingness of your teammates to be open to what you think.
While you’re doing a good job keeping your mouth shut, open your ears. As the new unit member, you’ve got a lot to learn, and the only way you can learn by listening. Pay attention and listen to everything and everyone you can—briefings, presentations, off-hand conversations with other unit members, etc. After a while, you’ll get a good sense of how the unit works, who the influencers are and how to get things done.
3) Meet as many people as you can.
Once you report to your unit, you’ll obviously meet with your unit leadership, but make sure you also schedule check-ins with personnel, operations, logistics, plans, communications, training, finance and any other support functions your unit or command has. While it might not be required, it’s a good practice because developing good relationships with officers and enlisted in those functions can help you get things done in the future.
It might be hard to keep track of everyone you meet, so keep notes of who they are and the roles they play. Doing so might be impressive to others and help you build good will early on.
4) Don’t cause any problems.
The last thing you want to do as the newbie to a unit is cause a problem, big or small. Obviously don’t be the one missing your Reveille or muster time, but also don’t be the one leaving dishes in a kitchen sink or leaving extra copies of your documents on a printer. Those little things will be noticed by other unit members and will make it more difficult for you to assimilate with your new group. Remember that the quicker you learn and follow the unit’s unwritten rules, the faster you’ll become one of the team.
In the end, it’s important to prioritize your long-term role in your unit. You can be known as the thoughtful, hard-working, reliable and strategic-thinking teammate, or you can be known as the one who causes problems, talks too much and doesn’t listen. By following these unwritten rules of joining a new unit, your choice will be obvious.
Over the last several years, we’ve seen a significant increase in the number of veterans looking to service and therapy animals to aid them through daily life. These faithful companions help vets navigate through various environments, provide crucial emotional support, and retrieve beers from the fridge (we wish).
Now, before anything else, let’s answer the important question: Yes, you can still pet these animals as long as the owner gives you permission.
Since our little buddies have thoughts and emotions just like us, they need to find a way to relay information. After a while, humans pick up on the little personality quirks that our furry friends put out there, like tapping the water bowl with a paw when they’re thirty or standing next to the door when it’s time to pee.
These tiny messages are easy to pick up if you’re paying attention, but some other messages are so subtle that you need to be a dog whisperer to understand. So, to help you out, we’ve compiled a brief list of those important messages.
We’ve all seen a happy puppy quickly wag their tail when excited to see their owner. On the contrary, when a pup’s tail slows down, it’s not because they’re tired — it’s because you confused the sh*t out of them. They don’t know what you want them to do. Slow down and be clear with your commands.
A tucked tail
While humans show emotion using their eyes, a dog shows it through their tail. If your service animal tucks their tail between their legs, it’s a sign that they’re nervous and afraid of feeling pain.
Dogs carefully examine new environments. When they’re settling in and paying close attention, they’ll shift their ears up and forward.
Resting their head on you
Humans require attention from their peers every now and then — your service animal is no different. When your little best friend walks up to you and puts his or her head on you, it’s because they want to be noticed.
Every week, new service members report for duty at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton located in Southern California. There, they’ll undergo some intense training — but they’ll also have some time off. So, the boots will often ask others what fun stuff is nearby.
You might get a few good suggestions but, for the most part, it’s tough for a newbie to travel around without spending a sh*t ton of cash. So, if you’re “ballin’ on a budget,” we’ve come up with a few places you can visit while on liberty that won’t bleed your wallet dry.
Located in Irvine, this outdoor mall contains of plenty of excellent restaurants, a state-of-the-art movie theater, and a Dave and Busters to help you hone your gaming skills. Just north of Camp Pendleton, the large shopping center has enough to keep you entertained for hours.
Ready for some excellent fish tacos? Well, OC Tavern has great ones alongside a full bar to get you smashed — if you’re of age, of course. This place hosts concerts, has a cigar lounge, and is a great place to play billiards. Since it’s located just a few minutes north of Camp Pendleton, it’s an easy spot to reach on a Friday or Saturday night.
Located in Mission Viejo, this shopping and entertainment area is close to Camp Pendleton and features a Buffalo Wild Wings, a solid movie solid theater, and a gym where real girls go — as opposed to the male-dominated Marine gyms.
Since it’s closer than Irvine Spectrum, the Uber ride will be cheap, which is perfect for junior enlisted who don’t make a lot of cash.
Located just north of Camp Pendleton, Goody’s Tavern is a chill place for great drinks and entertainment. You’ll run into tons of Marines here, so you know you’ll be in good company.
Del Mar Beach
Located near the main gate, the beach in Del Mar has everything you need to blow off steam. There, you can camp and rent small cottages for a few days at a time. These rental areas are so close to the shore that you’ll hear the waves lapping onto the sand as you sleep. There are also BBQ pits available, and you can sneak in a few games of football or volleyball before heading back to the office on Monday morning.
The Veterans Affairs home loan can be incredibly confusing, and it’s easy to get overwhelmed with all of the information found on the VA website. So we have broken it down into six basic questions for you: who, what, when, where, why, and how?
*As always, when making decisions that impact your personal finances, make sure you’re sitting down with a financial advisor. Most banks have financial advisors on staff who are always willing to work with customers.
The VA home loan program is a benefit for eligible service members and veterans to help them in the process of becoming homeowners by guaranteeing them the ability to acquire a loan through a private lender.
Utilizing the VA home loan, lendees do not make a down payment and are not required to pay monthly mortgage insurance, though they are required to pay a funding fee. This fee varies by lender, depends on the loan amount, and can change depending on the type of loan, your service situation, whether you are a first time or return lendee, and whether you opt to make a down payment.
The fee may be financed through the loan or paid for out of pocket, but must be paid by the close of the sale.
The fee for returning lendees and for National Guard and members of the reserve pay a slightly higher fee.
The fee may also be waived if you are:
a veteran receiving compensation for a service related disability, or
a veteran who would be eligible to receive compensation for a service related disability but does not because you are receiving retirement or active duty pay, or
are the surviving spouse of a veteran who died in service or from a service related disability.
Lendees may utilize the loan program during or after honorable active duty service, or after six years of select reserve or National Guard service.
Veterans Affairs helps service members, veterans and eligible surviving spouses to purchase a home. The VA home loan itself does not come from the VA, but rather through participating lenders, i.e. banks and mortgage companies. With VA guaranteeing the lendee a certain amount for the loan, lenders are able to provide more favorable terms.
Eligible lendees should talk to their lending institution as each institution has its own requirements for how to acquire the loan.
The Marine Corps’ last Mounted Color Guard, housed at the Yermo Annex aboard Marine Corps Logistics Base Barstow, launches into the year 2017 and its 50th year of service.
“In 1966, Lt. Col. Robert Lindsley came to MCLB Barstow (after serving in) Vietnam,” explained Sgt. Terry Barker, MCG stableman.
“At that time a lot of the dependent children from base would take horses from the stables and ride them out in town in parades. Rather than the kids riding in the parades, Lindsley decided that we needed to have the Marines riding with the horses, so in 1967 he stood up the official Marine Mounted Color Guard here.”
The stables were renamed to honor Lindsley as the founder of the MMCG during a ceremony held on base in April of 2010.
Lindsley, a native of Columbus, Ohio, was born into a military family then joined the Marine Corps as an enlisted Marine in December 1941, days after the attack on Pearl Harbor. In 1950, he was commissioned and after several assignments, he was stationed at MCLB Barstow where he was assigned to the Center Stables Committee, which later became the Mounted Color Guard.
Though there were multiple MCGs initially, MCLB Barstow is now home to the last remaining MCG throughout the Marine Corps. They travel far and wide to participate in events from coast to coast.
“Depending on budget and scheduling, we might be in events from California to Louisiana, Florida to D.C., Tennessee to Oregon,” Barker said.
“We cover the four corners of this country.”
There are some events that they never miss, such as the Tournament of Roses Parade held in Pasadena, Calif. every January. In that event, the MMCG always leads the parade and is the only unit to hold the American Flag. As a recruiting tool, the MCG reaches areas of the country where the Marine Corps is not otherwise represented.
“We have big bases in California, North Carolina and Okinawa,” Barker said. “There are states in the mid-west where there are no Marine Corps bases, active or reserve. So, when we participate in rodeos, parades, or monument dedications, we are quite possibly the only Marines in the entire state. Everybody sees Marines on television, or in the news, but they rarely get to stand next to them, shake their hand and talk to them. That’s what we get to do.”
The horses and Marines train together daily, and always travel together.
“We have a truck and trailer, and wherever they go, we go,” Barker said. The Marines often go so far as to sleep in the truck and trailer, rather than reserving hotel rooms, in order to save money and stay as close as they can to the horses to ensure safety.
“Another benefit is we can get them ready earlier,” said Sgt. Jacob Cummins, MCG Stableman. “Also we have to stay with our horses if they are not in a stables area.”
All of the travel can be difficult, but Cummins said it’s nothing like a deployment.
“For me, my wife is pretty conditioned to it,” he said. “It’s the kids that make it hard sometimes. They don’t know why you have to go.”
It helps to come back and get into a regular routine with family, as well as the horses.
“Our daily regimen (at the stables) depends on what’s going on, as far as events,” Barker explained. “We get here at 7 a.m. and feed and water the horses, and muck the stalls out. As Marines, we still have jobs to do as well, plus ground work, saddle training, and ranch maintenance.”
“For our maintenance training and farrier work we have Terry Holliday, a contractor,” said Sgt. Jacob Cummins, MCG stableman. “Each Marine is assigned to two horses to work with daily, and if any Marines are out, we cover their horses, too.”
Much has changed over the years, to include the procurement and initial training practices for the horses. In the early stages, Lindsley went to Utah with $600 to purchase horses for use with the MCG Marines.
“The horses we use today are all obtained through the Horse and Burro Program out of Carson City, Nevada,” explained Barker. “From there, they go through an inmate rehabilitation program, where the inmates get the horses to where they are green-broke, which means you can approach them, touch them, and touch their feet and so forth.”
Some of the Marines assigned to the MCG, such as Barker and Cummins, as well as two other riders, Sgt. Monica Hilpisch, and Lance Cpl. Alicia Frost, have prior experience riding and working with horses. However, most of the riders assigned to the MCG, such as Sgt. Moises Machuca and Sgt. Miguel Felix who are both currently with the team, did not have any experience with horses prior to their arrival. It is Holliday’s task to train the Marines to ride the horses effectively. The Marines learn basics first, such as the use of saddles, rein work, the various types of bridles and their functions, as well as how to make contact with the animals.
“They may come to the MCG without experience, but these are Marines and they’re the best of the best, so they do this like they do everything else,” said Gunnery Sgt. Anthony Atkinson, the staff noncommissioned officer in charge of the Mounted Color Guard. “They work hard and become the best. It’s an honor to represent the Marine Corps in such a manner.”
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:
Navy veteran and spouse Courtney Suesse and her family live in Stuttgart.
Air Force spouse Jennifer Borkey has left base once this year — to travel to a nearby post for a dental appointment. Borkey, her husband, and two children, ages 10 and 13, have made the most of their time confined to a 1,630-square-foot apartment on Robinson Barracks, one of the five installations that comprise Army Garrison Stuttgart.
Over the past year, the garrison, home to more than 20,000 U.S. military personnel, federal agencies, civilians, and family members, has maintained a variety of restrictive lockdown measures in conjunction with host-nation and Army policies.
During this time, Borkey’s read 30 books, picked up knitting, and refined her sewing skills. Her advice to other families — “If you don’t have a hobby, find one.”
On March 10, 2020, at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Stuttgart closed all non-essential services, including CDCs, gyms, and playgrounds. DODEA schools in the region were closed around the same time.
While a variety of restrictions were lifted in the summer and travel restrictions eased slightly, the situation has remained fluid. New lockdown procedures, including curfews, school closures, and travel restrictions, were put back into place in November and again in December.
Commissaries, exchanges, and the post office have remained open, but nearly all other retail facilities, including most out in town, have remained shuttered.
As of press time, DODEA schools in the region were partially reopened and some restaurants were allowing takeout but the majority of restrictions remain, including in-person gatherings, which are currently limited to 10 people from two households. While residents are allowed to exercise outdoors with a mask, their movements are geographically limited.
For Borkey, one of the biggest differences about being stationed overseas is that rules are not optional. “People state-side might not understand that when we are handed down regulations, we have to follow them,” she said.
“There’s no doubt that the community has had to make a great deal of sacrifices this year, especially with things that you take for granted,” Paul Hughes, public affairs specialist at USAG Stuttgart, said during a phone interview in late February.
With no 4th of July celebration, Halloween canceled, Thanksgiving and the winter holidays limited, and no New Year’s celebration, COVID-19 restrictions have significantly impacted the Stuttgart community, Hughes says.
Still, he praises the dedication during this challenging chapter, including wearing masks and practicing social distancing. “It’s been tough and I think the second lockdown is wearing on people a little,” he said.
Navy veteran and spouse Courtney Suesse says that the lockdown has been a struggle emotionally. Having a 3-year-old at home and balancing a full-time college course load during the pandemic has taken a toll emotionally.
“Everyone has gotten in their feelings and way more personal,” Suesse said, noting that she’s found assistance through a behavioral health licensed counselor on post.
“If you’re struggling like I am, I highly recommend reaching out and finding resources,” Suesse said.
Stuttgart Employee Assistance Program Coordinator Kim Roedl says that the garrison has worked hard to make sure families and service members have access to physical and mental health resources. Her office has ramped up its efforts to connect with families and ensure that they know about their free, confidential, and short-term counseling and referral services.
“We want people to know that we are here for them, and we are always here to listen,” Rodel said in an email.
In addition to mental health services, Suesse says that technology has been a lifeline during the home-bound months. Her daughter has tea parties with her grandparents and playdates with her aunt via Facebook messenger.
The highlight of each week has been an international virtual trivia with family.
“It’s midnight for my sister in Saigon, 6 p.m. for our family in Germany, and noon for my in-laws in the Outer Banks of North Carolina. We make it work across the globe,” she said.
Game nights have been such a success for Suesse that she connected with other spouses to start a local virtual game night. The group, to which Borkey also belongs, has been meeting for over a year. With the restrictions in place, they’ve only met in person once during that time even though they live relatively close.
Suesse says that the game night is a fun release and time to gather. “We commiserate about lockdown and when someone misses a question we tease them saying ‘since you’re a homeschool teacher now, shouldn’t you know the answer?’”
Both Borkey and Suesse are looking forward to getting off post and exploring the surrounding area once restrictions are lifted.
“We are most looking forward to travel, travel, and did I say travel?” Borkey joked.
In the meantime, Suesse is walking the base and nearby areas as permitted and exploring German life as she can.
“There are still trails to walk, architecture to see. . . There’s still an international community you can experience while still being bundled into this military community,” she concluded.