Role players are an essential element for troops preparing to travel overseas and face-off with the enemy. They provide a cultural boost by immersing troops in the violent world they’re about to deploy to.
They submerge themselves into training scenarios like mock firefights, ambushes, and suicide bombings — all for the benefit of troops heading to combat.
Some role players themselves are refugees turned Hollywood actors.
In this episode of the Mandatory Fun podcast, Blake talks with Kelvin Garvanne about his life as an Arabic/Iraqi role player for U.S. ground troops heading into combat.
For the last nine years, Garvanne has provided Islamic culture and language training to military and civilian personnel deploying overseas.
“A role player is basically there to interact with the battalion’s training,” Garvanne explains. “There are different levels on how you can interact. We were all characterized as ‘meat puppets’ which were basically folks who were just there to do whatever was told of us to do. “
These mock firefights consist of loud gunfire (blanks), firework explosions and a Hollywood makeup team to create realistic blood and guts.
Kelvin Garvanne attended the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service. He is an Emmy award creative artist who is fascinated by the world and enjoys investigating the context of national and world events.
Mr. Garvanne is a native New Yorker who has lived in Washington D.C., Bogota, Colombia, Madrid, Spain, and Los Angeles, CA. He has traveled through several countries including Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Sweden, Denmark, The Netherlands, Panama, Mexico, and Haiti. For the last nine years, he provided Islamic culture and Iraqi and Pashto language training to military and civilian personnel deploying overseas.
Mr. Garvanne continues to develop opportunities to advise and train military and civilians positioned in careers involving global service. He also develops creative projects to expose the human condition.
Last week the U.S. Air Force tweeted to the world that it needs help naming its newest bomber, the B-21 Long Range Strike Bomber. (What could possibly go wrong?) Well … we discuss the possibilities and provide examples where crowdsourcing failed. We also discuss the OV-10 Bronco’s comeback and what it means in the fight against ISIS. And on a lighter note, we talk about which service branch we’d join knowing what we know about the military today.
Eastman is also an accomplished executive and operational professional with over 20-years experience in leading people and various organizations.
Her award-winning book began as a personal memoir for her son. Eastman’s goal was to capture the lessons and inspirations she learned serving beside men and women who represent the very best of what it means to be American — the 1% of the population in the military.
She respectfully identifies this group as the Frontline Generation and notes that it is an untapped reservoir of leaders who have been strengthened by their Post 9/11 service.
Christmas Lights All Year
“Can someone please tell me why in the hell this big-ass box is still cluttering the entryway to the CP?”
It was early in the morning, and I was standing in the front part of my company’s command post (CP), staring at a box that was just over six feet tall (a height I can quickly surmise since I am six feet tall). This designated area was meant for my soldiers, as it was an “orderly mess” of numerous bins, all of which were overflowing with freebies from countless care packages. At any hour of the day, soldiers could stop by and grab extra soap, snacks, toothbrushes—you name it. While deployed, my unit received an abundance of care packages that were crammed with just about anything and everything—and the CP was beginning to be littered with boxes, especially since we were approaching the month of December.
It was Sergeant Marco Vasquez who popped his head over his computer, my quiet, stellar NBC (nuclear, biological, chemical) sergeant who was also my driver on several convoys. He probably was swearing underneath his breath that he was the unlucky one, the only person in the office to answer my cranky question. My headquarters team caught on quickly that I was the most unpleasant after my morning beatings from Battalion, where I had to give my company’s daily battlefield update briefs, and on top of that, I was currently embroiled in an unnecessary battle over my company’s combat patch ceremony.
“Yes, ma’am. I think First Sergeant said it was a care package that was simply addressed to HHC.” Top walked into the CP at that moment, a to-go breakfast plate in hand, not missing a beat. “Good morning, ma’am. Yes, we still need to open it and see if we can identify the individual it belongs to, or if it is just a care package meant for the company.”
I instantly had a flashback of those damn duffels and tough boxes that were left at the reserve center back in Texas—for years! To put it lightly, I was annoyed that it had already sat there for several days. So I grabbed the box, which was leaning against the wall, and I laid it on the ground. With one quick slice along the taped seam from my Benchmade knife, the smell of a fresh evergreen tree burst from the box and engulfed the room.
“What in the hell?” I wondered out loud. With Top and Sergeant Vasquez peering over my shoulder, I unwrapped a live, six-foot-tall Douglas fir Christmas tree. The more and more I breathed in that glorious smell—an absolutely foreign fragrance on Bagram Airfield—I was overcome with joy and peace. I turned around to see that this tree was also having the same effect on Top and Vasquez—both had sloppy grins ear-to-ear.
Once we stood it up, and began to loosen the boughs, a card dropped to the floor. I picked it up, and read, “To the Soldiers of HHC, enjoy this reminder of home during the Christmas season. Take care, (signed) Charles Eastman.” My husband had sent the live Christmas tree, the piece of home, and gifted it to my soldiers. He was wise enough to include a tree stand, tree skirt, and numerous strings of Christmas lights.
Charles knew all too well what it felt like to be deployed over the holidays, considering he had spent the past two Christmases in Iraq. This was our third consecutive Christmas in which one of us was serving in combat; outside of our family and close friends, not many people knew this. Thus, his gesture meant so much more . . .
To read more, you can purchase a copy of The Frontline Generation online at Amazon, Barnes Noble, or signed and personalized copies available at www.thefrontlinegeneration.com.
In this episode of the Mandatory Fun podcast, Blake speaks with Kelvin Garvanne about his life as an Arabic/Iraqi role player who took training U.S. ground troops to a whole new level — even conducting mock kidnapping scenarios.
During these training drills, Marines are “killed” (taken out of play for a period of time) or held hostage by the role players if they’re caught off on their own.
“We kidnapped Marines,” Mr. Garvanne explains. “One of the things we wanted to do in real time was capture a Marine.”
Before U.S. forces deploy to a foreign region like Afghanistan, pre-deployment training is conducted in environments similar to the terrain in which they’ll be exposed.
Since the landscape and elevation of 29 Palms almost mirrors that of Afghanistan, Marines are sent there to partake in Mohave Viper — an intense, five-week long training course. The Marines live there for the scenarios and receive cultural training from experts — immersing themselves in war games against native speaking role players for an all-out showdown.
These highly supervised training scenarios are considered the best exercises troops can receive as they live in enormous MOUT (military operation urban terrain) areas built to reflect life in Afghanistan.
Kelvin Garvanne attended the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service. He is an Emmy award-winning creative artist who is fascinated by the world and enjoys investigating the context of national and world events.
Garvanne is a native New Yorker who has lived in Washington, D.C., Bogota, Colombia, Madrid, Spain, and Los Angeles, California. He has traveled through several countries including Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Sweden, Denmark, The Netherlands, Panama, Mexico, and Haiti.
For the last nine years, he provided Islamic culture and Iraqi and Pashto language training to military and civilian personnel deploying overseas.
Garvanne continues to develop opportunities to advise and train military and civilians positioned in careers involving global service. He also develops creative projects to expose the human condition.
McEwen teamed with Zinke — a former SEAL Team Six Commander and the only US Navy SEAL in Congress — to write a book about the now-politician’s life.
Zinke is also Donald Trump’s pick for Secretary of the Interior.
Zinke’s military career began in 1985 when he graduated from Officer Candidate School and attended SEAL training (BUDS class 136). He was first assigned to SEAL Team One in Coronado, California, then was later selected for SEAL Team Six where he was a Team Leader and a commander.
As McEwen tells it, after a decade of service, Zinke was assigned as Deputy and Acting Commander of Combined Joint Special Operations for Operation Iraqi Freedom where he led a force of over 3,500 Special Operations personnel. In 2006 he was awarded two Bronze Stars.
An author experienced in telling the stories of high-level special operators, McEwen goes on to explain how Zinke retired from active duty 2008 after serving 23 years as a Navy SEAL. Zinke later ran for Congress and was sworn into the House of Representatives on January 6, 2015, and became the first Navy SEAL in the House.
In this episode of the Mandatory Fun podcast, Blake speaks with The Marine Rapper a.k.a. TMR about how he went from wrapping tacos to rapping music lyrics.
“I joined the military because I was working at Taco Bell and ironically as a [taco] wrapper,” TMR recalls. “I wanted more, so I became the manager. I [wanted to go] the same route as the [Taco Bell] founder did and become a Marine.”
If you’ve ever surfed the internet looking for military rap songs, chances are you’ve come across the unique sound of “The Marine Rapper.”
Known for sporting a red mohawk and wearing an American flag bandana, TMR served 10 years in the Marine Corps as a Combat Correspondent where he earned a Combat Action Ribbon and two Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medals during his service.
After successful tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, TMR left the Marine Corps in February 2014. After entering back into civilian life, TMR began focusing on music as a profession and for cathartic expression.
The Marine Rapper ‘s Action Figure is a bouncy, hyper, fast-paced journey that chronicles the making of his identity. Each song is accompanied by a music video that will be released weekly on YouTube starting Sept. 29.
TMR’s Action Figure will be available for purchase on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, Tidal and everywhere where digital music is sold Sept. 29. In addition, a limited run of signed physical copies and merchandise will be exclusively available on TMR’s website: themarinerapper.com
Check out The Marine Rapper‘s video below for a taste of what you can expect when his record drops Sept. 29 for yourself.
Directed by Nicolai Fuglsig, the film chronicles one of the first Special Forces teams to deploy to Afghanistan after the attacks on 9/11. The SF team joins forces with the Afghan Northern Alliance and rides into battle against the Taliban on horseback.
12 Strong brilliantly captures how difficult it is for ground troops to work and fight alongside Afghan freedom fighters against the insurgents due to the language and cultural barrier.
The film stars WATM friend Rob Riggle, Chris Hemsworth, Michael Pena, and Michael Shannon.
2. The 15:17 to Paris
Directed by Hollywood icon Clint Eastwood, the film focuses on the American soldiers who discover a terrorist plot on a train headed to Paris.
Interesting enough, the three Americans who thwarted a terrorist attack play themselves in the film alongside actress Jenna Fischer — and we like Jenna Fischer.
3. Tough As They Come
Starring and directed by Hollywood legend Sylvester Stallone, the film tracks Travis Mills (played by Marine veteran Adam Driver), a quadriplegic soldier returning from Afghanistan after his horrific injury.
Back in the U.S., Mills has to reconcile with his stepfather while coping with his new life using prosthetic legs and arms.
Directed by Todd Robinson, the film showcases a Pentagon investigator who teams up with a few veterans of “Operation Abilene” to persuade Congress to award deceased Air Force medic, William Pitsenbarger, the Medal of Honor 35 years later.
Pitsenbarger is accredited with saving over 60 ambushed service members in one of the bloodiest campaigns of the Vietnam War.
The film stars Sebastian Stan, William Hurt, and Samual L. Jackson.
Directed by Justin Kurzel, the film chronicles a nameless ex-Nazi captain who navigates the ruins of post-WWII Germany to atone for the crimes he committed during the war by hunting the surviving members of his former SS Death Squad.
Gal Gadot is rumored to have a role, but additional information hasn’t been released.
6. The 34th Battalion
Directed and produced by Luke Sparke, the film follows four friends from Maitland, New South Wales who join the 34th Battalion to serve on the Western Front. The film depicts the experiences of the unit, which was recruited in 1916.
Justin Eggen had some things stuck in his head for a long time during — but especially after — his two deployments to Afghanistan. These thoughts became poems and short stories that reflected his feelings and personal experience as a Marine in Marjah and in Afghanistan’s Sangin Valley. Like so many writing combat poetry, they are Eggen’s way of handling the overwhelming series of emotions from and memories of his time there.
In this episode of Mandatory Fun, We Are The Mighty’s Blake Stilwell talks to Justin Eggen on what it was like to write poetry as a Marine Corps combat veteran — and why every U.S. troop needs some creative outlet for thoughts and feelings like his.
“When I was younger I wrote a bit of poetry,” Eggen says. “And I realized this is a good outlet for releasing a lot of pent up memories and aggression.”
That was then, this is now.
Eggen wrote up a few poems for “shits and giggles” after he returned from his deployments with the Corps, but the response was better than he ever imagined. He sent it to people who said he needed to share his combat poetry with the world.
Initially, however, he wasn’t apt to publish his works and share them with the world. At first, it was just a way to release the mental anguish. Eggen didn’t really take poetry or writing seriously, especially as a way to cope with what he describes as his mind “still living over in Afghanistan.”
“Ten years ago, I didn’t even think I would deploy to Afghanistan,” Eggen says, describing the drawdown of troops in Afghanistan while he was entering the Marine Corps. “When I joined, Afghanistan wasn’t even in people’s minds. Our Drill instructor said if we’re lucky, we’d go to Iraq.”
But don’t expect Justin Eggen’s combat poetry to look like anything a stereotypical beret-wearing beatnik might write. Eggen was a .50-cal machine gunner on a route clearance platoon, searching for IEDs in the roads around his area of responsibility.
The enemy was like a ghost: They were very good at making IEDs that were hard to detect because they were composed of very few metal elements. His second book, which is currently being written, will be about fighting such a ghostly enemy.
His first book is about the struggle of having your mind stuck back over there.
“A huge part of being home after the Marine Corps is trying to face what happened,” he says. “You get blown up and you’re never the same, regardless of if you’re in a vehicle or on foot. You hit an IED and that rattles you to an extent and you’re changed for the rest of your life. I have friends who are not the same. I am not the same person.”
For Eggen, writing down a lot of what happened, especially as combat poetry, is a powerful thing. Not just for him but for anyone who is struggling emotionally or mentally from a traumatic experience in their life.
He enjoys his work a lot and even enjoys reading them. Each one tells its own little tale. While the longer stories and poems are deeper to him, he also revives the ancient art of the warrior writing haiku. They’re just as deep, but short and sweet and he loves the challenge of writing them.
“You get 17 syllables to portray a story,” he explains. “if you can build something that makes people think in 17 syllables, that’s a huge challenge. That’s what Japanese warriors used to do after battle, write haikus. That was the first version of “combat poetry.” That’s how they dealt with a battle. So that’s what I did for three weeks straight, counting syllables on my fingers.”
In Army Special Forces parlance, an A-Team is not a fictional squad featuring Mr. T – it’s a real thing. An Operation Detachment-A Team is made of 12 operators, each with a different specialty (but is of course cross-trained to another), to form the core team that makes up the Green Berets.
Greg Stube, a former Green Beret, believes anyone is capable of operating at the Green Berets’ level. His new book shows you how to build an A-Team in your own life to achieve your goals.
Stube enlisted in the Army infantry in 1988. Just four years later, he was reclassing as a Special Force Medical Sergeant. As a Green Beret, his training went much, much further. He learned surgery, dentistry, and veterinary medicine. He also went to dive school and SERE school, and became a master parachutist. Like every Green Beret, he became fluent in a foreign language – his language was Russian.
He was ready to conquer anything. He would have to be in the coming years.
Listen to our interview with Greg Stube on the Mandatory Fun podcast:
His career spanned 23 years and included the end of the Cold War, the Gulf War, and the start of the Global War on Terror. During Operation Medusa in Afghanistan in 2006, Stube and his Green Beret team were outnumbered in the Battle of Sperwan Ghar – a week-long battle against the Taliban. Stube took a hit from a powerful IED, was shot numerous times, and was even on fire. He suffered wounds to his lower body and even nearly lost a leg. But after 17 surgeries in 18 months, Greg Stube miraculously recovered.
In that time, he learned that applying the way Green Berets are taught to accomplish a mission by any means necessary to his personal life he really could overcome any obstacle and any situation. His new book, Conquer Anything: A Green Beret’s Guide to Building Your A-Team, is a leadership book designed to help anyone use that mentality to achieve their personal and professional goals.
Stube’s newest mission is to share what he’s learned and to help make other people’s life a little better through his experiences.
“This is my attempt, from my life and career, to sum up the things I’ve done and witnessed in peace, conflict, and healing,” Stube says. “I just want people to know it’s not reserved for the military or a special forces team. Everything we learn and refine in those desperate situations can be used without all the pressure – without the life and death risk.”
Conquer Anything: A Green Beret’s Guide to Building Your A-Team is available on Amazon and will soon be available as an audiobook download on Audible, read by the author himself.
Audible: For you, the listeners of the Mandatory Fun podcast, Audible is offering a free audiobook download with a free 30-day trial to give you the opportunity to check out some of the books and authors featured on Mandatory Fun. To download your free audiobook today go to audibletrial.com/MandatoryFun.
Green on blue attacks — used to describe attacks by Afghan soldiers on Coalition forces — are one of the many dangers our troops in the Middle East face every day.
These deadly morale-sapping attacks are difficult to predict and leave lasting negative trust issues between the locals — and American forces. As many as 91 incidents resulted in 148 Coalition troops killed and as many 186 wounded between 2008 and 2015.
In this episode of the Mandatory Fun podcast, Marine infantry officer turned Army Green Beret Chase Millsap, and our Navy corpsman smartass Tim Kirkpatrick share their experiences working with the locals. Millsap with the Iraqi Police and Kirkpatrick with the Afghan National Army. As you’ll listen, their experiences differ.
When service members exit the military, they will receive an essential document nearly as important as their birth certificate — the DD-214. Veterans won’t be able to file for any monthly compensation or post-service healthcare until they have the paperwork in hand and are registered at the V.A.
[12:20] Tim’s tip on how to get your medical records current years after getting out of the military.
[15:45] Some quick thoughts on veteran health care.
[18:00] What law would we all love to be exempt from?
Mitch is a Marine Corps veteran that served in Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003. He then started a career in manufacturing before realizing that it sucked. Now, Mitch has found his true calling in acting silly on a stage in front of strangers on a nightly basis.
To follow Mitch or check out one of his shows visit his website: Mitchburrow.com.
In this episode of the Mandatory Fun podcast, we speak with standup comedian turned actor Tone Bell.
Tone isn’t a veteran, but on the Netflix show Disjointed he plays a soldier with multiple combat deployments under his belt who deals with everyday veteran issues like trauma and transitioning out of the military.
You may remember Tone from a few other shows he’s been on like 9JKL, The Flash, Truth Be Told, and Bad Judge with Kate Walsh.
Disjointed’ s producers and creative minds went to great lengths to develop his character and to get the veteran portion right. One of his character advisors on the show is WATM’s resident Green Beret Chase Millsap.
Tone Bell as Carter in Disjointed doing what he does best — create comedy.
In the show, “Carter” works as a security guard in a marijuana dispensary at Ruth’s Alternative Caring owned by Ruth Feldman (played by Kathy Bates).
To play the role, Tone spent countless hours prepping the character by talking with veterans throughout his creative process and combing through the script with Chase.
In the event, Tone reads a portion of the script where he felt the “Carter” character felt synthetic — he’d immediately voice his concerns with the producers.
Tone receives several direct messages daily on social media from veterans who respect how he has portrayed the veterans on the screen. This notion promotes that aspect that showcasing veteran issues in a witty and comedic way is possible without the actor going too over-the-top with their performance.
This unique process of prepping for a military role with the help of veterans will hopefully create a shift throughout the entertainment space that departs from Hollywood’s version of the armed forces.
All of Disjointed episodes are currently streaming on Netflix — so check it out. It’s freakin’ hilarious.
In this episode of the Mandatory Fun podcast, we speak with U.S. Navy SEAL veteran turned entrepreneur, Eli Crane. You may have seen Eli pitch his business, Bottle Breacher, on the hit TV show Shark Tank. Eli’s appearance landed him partnerships with celebrity businessmen Mark Cuban and Kevin O’Leary.
Eli stopped by our show to talk about what military strategies he uses to run his multi-million dollar business.
A lot of the tactics that we use on the SEAL teams actually work really well in business,” Eli Crane states. “When you make some of the correlations — in battle, you have the enemy, in business, you also have an enemy, but we usually call them the competition.
Bottle Breacher is one of the fastest growing veteran-owned and operated businesses in Arizona.
Eli and his wife Jen dove into the Shark Tank with their sole product. A recycled, authentic, decommissioned .50 caliber Bottle Breacher, manufactured in a one-car garage.
Having enticed sharks Mark Cuban and Kevin O’Leary to invest, today they feature an ever-expanding product line, serving customers both domestically and internationally.
Bottle Breachers aims to provide the best handcrafted, personalized gifts and promotional products on the market.
Through their success, Crane’s company has donated to over 200 non-profits in the last year alone. Shopping with Bottle Breacher means supporting military veterans, active military personnel, first responders, children’s foundations, and various other non-profits.
At the end of the day, we do a lot more than bottle openers. What we really specialize in is mens gifts
Eli and his wife on the sandy training grounds of the Navy SEALs. (Source: Bottle Breachers)
As a kid, Eli always looked up to those who served in the military and decided to join a week after the terrorist attacks on 9/11. On his second attempt, Crane graduated BUD/s with class 256 and was later assigned to SEAL Team 3 under legendary American Sniper Chris Kyle.
For the WATM audience, Eli and team outstanding team have decided to give us a 20% discount on all items! Simply use the code WATM20 at checkout.