For most of us, we leave the military wanting desperately to escape. At some point, the majesty and nobility and glamour runs out. The pride has been spent sometime between the incompetent staff-non commissioned officer who yelled at you that last time for something stupid, or CIF giving you a hard time because there is dust on your gear, or S-1 messed up your leave, or you have just done the math and you have only woken up next to your wife 22 of the last 48 months and even more time waking up within arms reach of a rifle. For me, my last year was horrible. I had everything in that year, with some of the worst of it in the last three months.
When it was all over, Jennie and I packed up the truck and left California heading for Oklahoma. Among a sundry of other problems I had lost all love for the military and was now ready to greet the civilian life with open, while completely disenfranchised, arms.
A few months go by and then we try and start our new lives. You get a little fat and you try not to yell at random strangers for wearing flip-flops at the store or walking while holding their phones and then you realize, “Wait… they can do that. I can do that too!” So you just spend a while going full on hippy. You let it all go. Grow your hair, beard and just slum it like the civies for a while. Of course at some point, that wears off too, and you feel disgusted with yourself and find some medium that you are happy with. For me, I don’t work out that much, but I still always keep my high reg haircut.
After this is either college or work. For me, it was college. I would like to share this with you so that you can kind of grasp how we feel.
You have to understand. You are four years older than almost anyone around you. That doesn’t mean much when you’re 30 and they are 26, but it means a lot when you are 22 and they are 18. It especially means a lot to you when have been a Sergeant in charge of a mid sized team of military professionals in combat operations and that other person is just a high school graduate with a newly found sense of unqualified empowerment because he is now an “adult”, which he probably only discovered because his parents told him to get a job and move out of the house. You now question the meaning and subtlities of the word “equality” when your new peers continue to believe their opinions have as much intrinsic value as yours on the now questionable premise of equality. You feel an intense obligation to excel and show up on time. You are appalled by the people who are still mentally in high school who can’t stop acting like children. Worse is that they are all stupid. Perhaps stupid is a strong word… but yeah, I am going to go with it. Stupid.
It isn’t that they are actually intellectually deficient, but they don’t have any sort of world view based on anything more than peace, love, rainbows, hugs and unicorns and the other humanitarian world views propogated by those who have never truly suffered real indignity or desperation. Their opinions lack any sort of wisdom or experience. They have never experienced something like living in a country where there are people quite literally planning your death. How could you blame them?
Also, because of our experiences, people find it very difficult to communicate with us, due perhaps to our brazen animosity and extreme arrogance. In college we also experience a good amount of push back. You need to understand that most young people understand nothing about the wars other than “the evil Bush administration” and “all the stupid soldiers are idiots for being brainwashed into going”. Someone actually said that in a class one day. The professor was kind and asked “What does anyone else think about that?” and he didn’t even interrupt a massive two minute rant where I tore that kid a new one in front of the rest of the class.
That will last for a few years as they mellow out and try to adjust to acting the way that everyone else does. The training and lifestyle they live is hard to get rid of and will always be a part of them. Then there is the job search.
Now what I think was interesting was that as I was looking for a job I faced two different serious issues:
I faced some people who saw my military experience as a problem. I might be too aggressive to work with customers, I have never had a real job, I might have PTSD. Really? These are real discriminations I faced with no actual basis to support them.
Then the others thought I would be a real hard charger, a real go getter. In the worst case, obedient, you know the good little soldier who never questions and will march happily to your every whim. I had a boss like that for a minute. You shouldn’t treat employees like they are just stupid little troops in your service, especially not actual vets, and especially not ones who graduated with honors in business management.
Eventually though I did find work that fit. People still are surprised if you have any intelligence in you at all, in spite of the degree hanging behind your desk, because they will still only hire your military experience. Now I am in a place where my organizational ability and leadership are coming into play, and for many this is exactly the type of role they try and fill. We do have a type of responsibility factor that doesn’t appear except in about 60% of the civilians I deal with and it doesn’t really frighten us to get in someone’s face when they don’t cut it. Of course that isn’t all we do, we did get out after all.
Then there is a point that you get to and you realize that you don’t hate the military anymore. You are just proud. Maybe it is when the people you work with hear you were a Marine and are like “Whoa! Um…Well… OK.” Maybe it is after you get a few handshakes from the old Marines (who had it harder than you, just ask them). Maybe it is in knowing that you are different in a good way than many of the others around you. You have these powerful, sometimes very difficult experiences, that have built in you a character that others respect.
I looked back at my time in and realized eventually that there were parts I really missed. The Marine Corps has a saying that it is a perfect organization made of imperfect people. I definitely didn’t miss some of the people, but there was something important about what we were doing. We also recite this one often.
“Some people spend an entire lifetime wondering if they made a difference. The Marines don’t have that problem.”
PRESIDENT RONALD REAGAN, 1985
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t want to go back. I love waking up next to Jennie every morning. I don’t like the panic that comes with not knowing where your weapon is, because you forgot the deployment is over. I don’t want to worry anymore if that car is going to explode, or if someone I know is going to be hurt or killed. But I definitely have learned to appreciate and love what I was a part of. From time to time I still bad mouth the little things, but now the Corps is like family. I can say whatever I want about it, but you don’t get to. You haven’t earned the right to disrespect her. You don’t question or assume or anything. You don’t muddle my heritage or dishonor the sacrifice of my friends. You respect what we stood for.
And once you reach that point you realize…
You are never going to be able to transition from military to civilian life.
Halloween is coming up, so we hope everyone has a great costume lined up, unlike most years when everyone just trades uniforms with a member of a different service for the night. Soldiers going as airmen, sailors going as Marines. It’s all cutting edge stuff.
Before you head into the housing areas to beg your first sergeants for candy, check out these 13 funny military memes:
These days, tattoos are so commonplace in the U.S. military that every branch has its own policy as part of its uniform regulations, but a few years ago that wasn’t the case. The U.S. Navy, however, has a long tradition of tattoos.
Here’s the meaning behind a few of the classics:
1. Fully-Rigged Ships
A tattoo of a fully-rigged ship from the age of sail means the sailor had been around Cape Horn, the rough, stormy waters around the southern tip of South America. A fully-rigged ship is one with three or more masts, square sails fully deployed.
2. Nautical Star
The star is a symbol of a sailor always to be able to find his way home. The nautical star is a five-pointed star in dark and light shades counterchanged to resemble a compass rose.
3. Shellback Turtle
Sailors can wear the Shellback Turtle when they get initiated into King Neptune’s Court after crossing the equator. If you’re unsure what exactly this means, We Are The Mighty has an explainer for you:
The crossed cannons mean a veteran has seen military service as a sailor.
Sailors earn a new swallow tattoo for every 5,000 nautical miles traveled, which is about 5,754 regular miles, roughly the distance between New York City and Tel Aviv. The circumference of the earth is 21,639 nautical miles, just about 4.16 sparrows.
A single anchor means the sailor crossed the Atlantic or has been a member of the merchant marine, a fleet of civilian ships that carries military cargo. In wartime, this fleet is mobilized to carry war materiel, including troops and supplies.
During World War II, the Merchant Marine took a beating with high casualties, entering the European war long before the United States itself. Since the U.S. was delivering war supplies to Britain through Lend-Lease, Nazi u-boats targeted U.S. shipping bound for the UK. The Merchant Marine casualty rate was 3.9 percent, whereas the Marine Corps’, the next highest, was only 2.94 percent.
7. Rope on the Wrist
A knot of rope on a sailors wrist identifies him as a deckhand, someone who maintains the hull, decks, superstructure, mooring, and cargo handling. Deckhands are still common in ocean-going vessels, though they’re far less likely to be maintaining wooden ships.
8. Hula Girl
Hula girls signify the sailor has been to Hawaii.
9. Crossed Anchors
Sailors wearing the crossed anchors on the webbing between their thumb and index finger are identifying themselves as boatswain’s mates, the guys who maintain the deck and take care of smaller boat operations and damage control parties.
10. HOLD and FAST
These words are a charm spelled out on the four front-facing fingers on each hand. Sailors hope it brings them good luck while gripping the rigging. Holding fast means the sailor isn’t going to let the line go, no matter what. Sailors were a superstitious bunch and life on a sailing ship was tough (to say the least). Anything that gave them the edge in saving their own lives was worth doing.
11. Pig and Rooster
The foot tattoos of pigs and roosters were worn by sailors in WWII in the hopes it would keep the sailor from drowning. The Navy shipped these animals in crates at the time. When ships went down, the crates floated, and the animals inside would sometimes be the only survivors
12. Compass Rose
Another good luck charm that allows a sailor to find his way home.
Worn on the soles of a sailor’s feet, these are thought to ward off sharks
14. Dagger through a Rose
This tattoo means the sailor is loyal and willing to fight anything, even something as sweet and beautiful as a rose
Wearing a dragon means the sailor has served in China.
16. Golden Dragon
When a sailor crossed the International Date Line, he earns the right to wear the Golden Dragon tattoo. The International Date Line is the imaginary line of longitude that separates two calendar dates. When someone sails from East to West, they set their clock back one hour for every 15 degrees of longitude they pass. When they pass the date line, they’ve gained a full 24 hours.
Sailors tattooed with harpoons were serving or had served in a whaling or fishing fleet.
18. King Neptune
Another badge of honor earned for crossing the Equator.
19. Palm Tree
The palm tree has two meanings, depending on your navy. Sailors in the Royal Navy during World War II could wear it after sailing on Mediterranean cruises. It can also be worn by U.S. sailors who served in Hawaii.
Joe Avella: In the span of three movies the “John Wick” films have racked up a body count of nearly 300. And to do that, you need guns.
John Wick: Lots of guns.
Joe: Meet Taran Butler. He’s a world champion competitive shooter. He’s also the owner of Taran Tactical. They’re responsible for teaching some of Hollywood’s top action stars how to handle firearms for film and television. Today, for the first time ever, I’ll be shooting a pistol, a shotgun, and an assault rifle just to see how Keanu learned to look like an expert marksman for the big screen. What’s the worst that could happen?
Could you imagine if we were doing this with the loaded guns? I would’ve shot all my feet off.
First, the stars of “John Wick” had to learn some basics before they could start shooting like international assassins.
Jade Struck: So we have this thing called 180-degree line. So when you’re the shooter on the firing line, think of it like there’s a force field pulling your muzzle downrange. Never bring the muzzle back past the 180-degree line. Finger off the trigger, unless you’re shooting. And always treat every gun as if though it’s loaded. I’m gonna teach you how to check to make sure that they’re not.
Joe: After getting a feel for the pistol, it was time for the real deal.
How Keanu Reeves Learned To Shoot Guns For ‘John Wick’ | Movies Insider
Taran Butler: So we’ve got the three primary pistols of “John Wick” two and three. This is the gun you were training with with Jade. The gun that you see Keanu training with here on the range with a lot. In “John Wick 3,” Charon suggests, he goes, “John, since you’ve been gone something new has come out. The 2011 Combat Master. Loaded in 9 millimeter major, 125 grain bullet, major business.” So both guns shoot 9 millimeter.
Taran: The difference is, is this gun here can shoot 9 millimeter major. This is the 9 millimeter major, it’s a lot taller ’cause it’s got a lot more powder in it. The only difference is more powder. So, regular 9 millimeter on the left, 9 major on the right.
Joe: Yeah, that was awesome.
Taran: This gun here is Halle Berry’s Glock 19 from “John Wick 3.” So when the shoot-out takes place, she grabs this gun off one of the bad guys. She enjoyed the hard work and training. She had three broken ribs through most of the training here. So she wasn’t at her top. Same with Keanu, getting beat up on the horses. But she just got really good at it, and I’d say, hands down, she’s the best female weapons handler in Hollywood.
Joe: Taran has Hollywood’s action stars start with a small firearm and a simple combo.
Taran: Let’s do something fun and fast first. First off, no surfing, you were laid back like Jeff Spicoli. OK, start on this guy, easiest guy in the world. I’m gonna say, “Shooter ready, stand by.” When you hear the beep, you’re gonna come up, two to the body, one to the head. It’s called the Mozambique.
Joe: Two to the body, one to the head.
Taran: Yeah. Shooter ready, stand by.
Joe: Did I get him? Taran: You got in the head, it counts. Pop the safety on when you’re done. Finger off the trigger. OK, that’s 4:41, let’s destroy that time. Just do one more clean one, no box-offices fiascos. Shooter ready, stand by. Good, OK, that was 1:63.
Joe: Hey, all right!
Taran: You went from 4:41 to 1:63 in a couple rounds.
Joe: Booyah. It’s easy.
The next level is rifle handling. Placement is key, as is learning how to smoothly replace your ammo.
John Wick: I need something robust, precise.
Sommelier: Robust, precise. AR-15. 11.5 inch, compensated with an iron-bonded bolt carrier.
Joe: All right, so it’s, like, here?
Jade: Left hand out farther. Boom boom boom, drop. Yep, you’re good, keep it going.
Joe: As I’m going.
Jade: Watch it go in. Button. Paddle.
Joe: What button?
Jade: It’s this paddle right there.
Joe: Oh, why do I…? Oh, Jesus!
Jade: So, drop the bolt. Drop the bolt, and then you’re back on.
Joe: Gotcha. Boom boom, boom boom. Oh no, I’m out.
Jade: Feed, button, on. Good! We’re learning how to manipulate our weapons without ammunition in them so we know all of the functions.
Joe: Could you imagine if we were doing this with the loaded guns? I would’ve shot all my feet off.
Jade: Oh, goodness.
Joe: The true test was a more complicated combo. One similar to the kind Keanu and Halle had to master before hitting the set.
Taran: The director, Chad Stahelski, he wanted everything. He wanted three-gun loading, he wanted all kinds of ways to load the shotgun, all kinds of pistol reload, transitions, rifle, shotgun, pistol, everything.
Boom boom boom, boom boom, boom boom, ding. That’s it.
Joe: All right, this might take a while.
Taran: You can do it, Mr. Wick. Shooter ready, stand by. Faster. Little guy. Good!
Joe: All right.
Taran: Safety on? Joe: Yes, sir.
Taran: You’re at 13:67, a lot better than 27 seconds. You want to do it again?
Joe: Yeah, of course.
Taran: Are you sure you’re not bored yet?
Joe: Yeah, this is awesome.
Taran: Let me fix that one plate so it’s not in your way this time.
Joe: It’s funny, he’s so good with guns, he’s just like, “Let me move that for you,” ba-bam. Now, it was Taran’s turn. Shooter ready, stand by. 5.17, that’s ridiculous. Last but not least, it was time to try out a “John Wick” fan favorite.
Sommelier: May I suggest the Benelli M4? An Italian classic.
Taran: In “John Wick 3,” by far the coolest part was the quad loading with the shotgun. That’s something, no movie would ever have done that. Quad loading is a very difficult thing to learn, and only a few people can do it really good. So we got that going, and towards the end he did amazing.
Joe: Is this thing gonna, like, have a real big kick that’s gonna hurt?
Taran: No, there’s no recoil at all on this one. Good, that guy. Little guy.
Jade: Lean into it.
Joe: Ah, I think I’m out.
Taran: Oh, match saver! Ah, “You set me up!” All right.
Joe: Oh, that’s what that last one was for.
Taran: Yeah, the match saver.
Jade: Good job!
Joe: Thank you very much.
Joe: How come those guys didn’t fall down?
Taran: They did, but they came back up.
Joe: Oh, OK. Thank God.
Taran: I’ll finish them off.
Joe: I love this habit you have of being like, “Let me take care of that,” bang. Are you walking around the house like, “Let me get the lights,” pow pow?
Taran: Pretty much.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
The twin-engine fighter, built by Chengdu Aerospace Corp. for the People’s Liberation Army’s air force, first flew in 2011 and made its public debut in November when the PLAAF showed off two of the aircraft at an airshow over coastal city Zhuhai.
Also in the fall, China downplayed reports that the J-20 was spotted at the Daocheng Yading Airport near Tibet or that it may be deployed near the Indian border.
With a reported top speed of 1,300 miles per hour and the ability to carry short- and long-range air-to-air missiles, the jet is often compared to the twin-engine F-22 Raptor, a fifth-generation stealth fighter made by Lockheed Martin Corp. for the U.S. Air Force.
But the J-20 is believed to be far less stealthy than the F-22.
“The forward-mounted canards, poorly shielded engines and underside vertical stabilizers all limit the amount that its radar cross section — which determines how visible the aircraft is to a radar — can be reduced,” Justin Bronk, a research fellow at the Royal United Services Institute in London, has written.
Even so, the apparent arrival of an operational J-20 highlights China’s growing role as a military power.
The country, the second-largest spender on defense after the U.S., is also developing with private funding the Shenyang FC-31, a twin-engine multi-role fighter that resembles Lockheed’s F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. A production variant of the FC-31 may fly in 2019.
U.S. lawmakers have in the past questioned Pentagon officials why the government hasn’t retaliated against China for copying the designs of its most advanced fighter jets.
“What they’ve been able to do in such a rapid period of time without any RD … I understand there might be some differences as far as in the software and the weaponry and this and that,” Sen. Joe Manchin, a Democrat from West Virginia, asked during a hearing in 2015. “But they’re making leaps, which are uncommon, at the behest of us, and we know this, I understand, but we’re not taking any actions against them.”
Robert Work, deputy defense secretary, at the time acknowledged that the Chinese “have stolen information from our defense contractors and it has helped them develop systems,” but he added, “we have hardened our systems.”
Holding over 12-million gallons of water, the “MASK” — which stands for “maneuvering and seakeeping” — is one of the largest man-made indoor oceans in the world. It is located at the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Maryland.
The massive water containment measures 240-feet wide and 360-feet long and houses the ability to recreate real oceanic-like characteristics to help design future Naval vessels.
The facility can custom manufacture mini-ships for on-site testing. (Images via Giphy)
Living off the grid can feel like a dream. The water is fresh, the grass is green; hard work is rewarding, and mistakes are taken in stride. As the threat of Covid-19 has pushed urban families inside, and made crowded suburbs feel even more crowded, the idea of living on the side of a mountain in the middle of nowhere has taken on new appeal.
My family and I lived off-grid for years, drawing water from a mountain spring, power from the sun, and wood from the forest for heat. Today, our daughter is eight, and we live a little closer to town. We still take in plenty of the raw beauty of the mountain, but we’ve found living off the grid to be a different kind of social distancing. As our daughter aged, we wanted her to have rich friendships, and the long drives became taxing. This is something almost no one thinks about, and we’ve seen it happen to many urban transplants like us, young men and women who forged into the mountains, made love, had kids, then realized they were alone.
Fortunately, we still live in New Mexico, where even the towns are largely populated with wildness. Within a short walk from our door is a protected wilderness with rivers, canyons, forests, and geothermal hot springs. We spend a great deal of time outside, and I even teach a tiny school – an independent group of 1st through 3rd graders – within this wilderness zone. The land is an immense part of our life and education.
When news of the pandemic first struck, and public schools were shut down, many of us were slow to appreciate the impact it would have on rural communities like ours. But the stress quickly caught up with us. As of this writing, we have 31 confirmed cases of Covid-19 in our county and zero deaths. New Mexico as a whole has been a national cool spot, but the impacts of the disease are visible everywhere – from the obvious, like masks and protocols in the grocery store, to the curious, like the out of state cars and vans camped along the river. The impact on our health has been minimal, but the impact on our well-being — and that of our children — has been palpable.
What is it like for families living off the grid in other communities? I recently reached out to my network of off-grid parents across the U.S. to ask how the pandemic is affecting them. This is what life is like for them during Covid-19.
We’re Grateful for a Simple Life
“A year before the world changed, we piled our family of five into an RV seeking a simpler life. We eventually settled on six acres in rural New Hampshire — a decision I am profoundly grateful for every day. Once it became apparent that the pandemic would change our lives for the near future, it was easy to make the most of our situation. My husband cut a trail through our wooded lot for nature hikes. It provides ample opportunities for educating our three little adventure seekers. And since we were already homeschooling our eldest before the schools were closed, we were prepared. We’re learning to grow vegetables. Next come the chickens. Every time I run on our dirt road – without a soul in sight – I thank the canopy of trees for cleaning our air and keeping us healthy.”
Katherine, 40, New Hampshire
Forest Kindergarten Made a Difference
“I started a forest kindergarten four years ago, after 25 years in the classroom. I wanted a shift in my life, and also felt the need to reintroduce children to the simple classroom of nature. But when the pandemic hit, it put everything in a new light. The kids and I have been stuck in rain and snow many times, and we have learned to help each other in all manner of circumstances. The children learned how to use what we had, not to wish for what we did not. During the pandemic, the children stayed home, and I sent parents activities, recorded songs and stories.
It has been a challenging time, but at graduation I decided to make individual home visits, outside the house, with social distancing. One girl led me to a stream and we sang a song together to the water, and gave thanks. She proudly showed me her garden. On another visit, we gathered around a fire outdoors and sang a song about the heartbeat of the universe. The child showed me his lost tooth with pride. Another boy met me in the woods where we had gathered before, and led me to a familiar spot. I pretended to have grown old and forgetful. “Don’t worry,” he said, “I will lead you on a good path!” My heart sang. For these children, our connecting point has been nature, and weathering the storm.” — Silke, 54, New Mexico
We Have Not Been Stressed
“We have been working the whole time. We’ve been biking, walking the dogs, playing board games, and cleaning up trash in the forest. We even taught the kids how to cook and bake. We have taken precautions, but rarely wear masks except at our jobs. No, we are not stressed – we’re fortunate. Covid-19 hasn’t impacted us very much.” — Shaniqua, 51, Michigan
It’s Mentally Exhausting
“We haven’t had much impact from the disease itself, but we do have many friends reacting with different levels of precautions. There’s little consistency. We don’t want our daughter to be isolated at home, and we think it’s okay for her to see friends on a one-on-one basis, outside, with basic precautions. Lots of others seem to think so too, but not everyone agrees. Some people laugh at our precautions and want to give us a hug, others think we are far too easygoing. The constant conversation – who is seeing who, on what terms – is mentally exhausting.” — Daniel, 40, New Mexico
We’ve Realized That Parenting Is Never Finished
“Our kids are in their early 20’s. Both lost their jobs and came to stay with us to wait out the most intense phase of the virus. Having them back in our immediate lives has been both glorious and challenging. Unable to be with friends, the four of us have had the chance to live deeply in each other’s lives. Breakfast, lunch, dinner; problems, joys, ideas, blather – we’re all in it together. This often includes sitting endlessly around the kitchen table and discussing current social problems – from this nation’s entrenched racism to how communities can reopen in a safe manner. I love listening to my kids’ insights. Living with them during the pandemic has been a powerful reconnection and important education.” — Paul, 61, New Mexico
We’re Grateful for Our Lifestyle
“Our town was hit with a big wind storm at the beginning of the pandemic, so most of our neighbors went without power for nine days. We had solar and propane appliances. Living off grid during the pandemic has been the same as it always is – a little more tiring and a little more rewarding than “normal” life. Our son is two. We handwash most of his clothes by the river, tend a large garden, and appreciate the house we built together. The only bill we pay is our cell phone bill. I’ll admit that some days I have thought to myself, “you’re insane for doing this,” but the pandemic has made me nothing short of grateful for our chosen lifestyle.” — Ashley, 26, Maine
We’ve Had a Lot More Quality Time at Home
“This pause has given us time to be more firmly rooted in our life off grid in the mountains. Before, we were spending hours in the car driving to town for this or that. Now, we keep looking at each other and wondering how we would have had the time to build the horse corral, expand the garden, mend the fences, and tend to the details of homeschooling 4 children. We had long suspected something like this pandemic was coming, so we were prepared with lots of seeds, a grip of hens, beans, and tons of potatoes. I think we ate 50 pounds of potatoes just in April! The kids got creative with forts, fairy houses, sword fights. They have been reading lots of books and listening to podcasts. We adults have been more challenged. The heavy news in our world is a lot to bear without community. But projects and lots of space has kept us somewhat sane.” — Lindsy, 46, New Mexico
I had life threatening pneumonia in 2002 and was on a ventilator for 3 days. My husband is 75 years old, has muscular dystrophy and diabetes, and is in a wheelchair. We decided our only option was to socially isolate on March 13th. We have cut ourselves off from any personal contacts. Generous friends leave groceries and packages outside our home in an old cooler. We are blessed to have friends like them. Isolation is difficult, but it is easier with my loving companion of 31 years. This time has brought us closer together. Now, we are considering leaving the safety of our home, the safe cocoon we have created. I am scared. How do we negotiate the complexities of social distancing while keeping ourselves safe?” — Lisa, 64, New Mexico
We’ve Been Less Busy and More Playful
“We’ve been less busy due to social restrictions. In the beginning of the pandemic, when we were very strict about isolation, I was my daughter’s only playmate. She turned our hikes into stories and games. Often we were either two Olympic gymnasts taking a walk before our performances, or 2 princesses of different countries chatting about what it means to be a princess. It was a gift to become a more connected part of her play, and get more insight into what types of stories and themes are alive for her.” — Megan, 41, New Mexico
Part of Me Doesn’t Want to Return to “Normal Life”
“My family and I live in the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. We live on two acres surrounded mostly by national forest, and our nearest neighbors are acres away. This pastoral setting has been a tremendous blessing in our lives and especially so since the onset of the pandemic. Needless to say, it is not difficult to social distance here. We spend quite a bit of time outdoors – hiking, biking, playing in our pond, gardening, and eating meals out on our deck. As parents of a six year old boy with lots of energy, the most challenging aspect of the pandemic has been the closure of his school and lack of playtime with other children his age. Since he doesn’t have siblings, his mother and I have become his primary sources of play and social interaction.
While we certainly spend time playing with him under normal circumstances, the amount of time and effort spent trying to keep him engaged in developmentally appropriate activities has increased dramatically and taken its toll on us as parents. On the other hand, the pandemic has had unexpected positive impacts in our daily lives as well. My wife and I are working less, which means we are spending more time at home and less time in town. Being at home allows us to give more attention to our son, the care of our home, and the land. Our garden is much larger this year. Part of me doesn’t want to return to “normal life” and would much rather continue as it is, without the pandemic of course. The question is whether we can take the lessons of this time and redesign our lives with more balance. I have hope that there are many parents out there asking the same questions. After all, crises give rise to new ideas and I know there are grassroots movements sprouting up even as I write this. Change will come.” — Brock, 43, New Mexic0
Pirates have returned to the waters off Somalia, but the spike in attacks on commercial shipping does not yet constitute a trend, senior U.S. officials said Sunday.
The attacks follow about a five-year respite for the region, where piracy had grown to crisis proportions during the 2010-2012 period, drawing the navies of the United States and other nations into a lengthy campaign against the pirates.
U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told reporters at a military base in the African nation of Djibouti, near the Gulf of Aden, that even if the piracy problem persists, he would not expect it to require significant involvement by the U.S. military.
At a news conference with Mattis, the commander of U.S. Africa Command said there have been about six pirate attacks on vulnerable commercial ships in the past several weeks.
“We’re not ready to say there’s a trend there yet,” Marine Gen. Thomas Waldhauser said, adding that he views the spurt of attacks as a response to the effects of drought and famine on the Horn of Africa.
He said he was focused on ensuring that the commercial shipping industry, which tightened security procedures in response to the earlier piracy crisis, has not become complacent.
Navy Capt. Richard A. Rodriguez, chief of staff for a specially designated U.S. military task force based in Djibouti, said piracy “certainly has increased” in recent weeks. But he said countering it is not a mission for his troops, who are focused on counterterrorism in the Horn of Africa and developing the capacities of national armies in Somalia and elsewhere in the region.
Several other countries have a military presence on or near that U.S. site, including France, Italy, Germany and Japan. This reflects Djibouti’s strategic location at the nexus of the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden.
Mattis made a point of spending several hours in Djibouti during a weeklong trip that has otherwise focused on the Mideast. As a measure of his concern for nurturing relations with the Djiboutian government, he flew four hours from Doha, Qatar, and then flew right back.
At his news conference, Mattis praised Djibouti for having offered U.S. access to Camp Lemonnier shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks.
“They have been with us every day and every month and every year since,” he said.
The U.S. rotates a range of forces through Lemonnier and flies drone aircraft from a separate airfield in the former French colony. U.S. special operations commandos are based at Lemonnier for counterterrorism missions in Somalia and elsewhere in the region.
During Mattis’ visit, elements of the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, including V-22 Osprey aircraft and Harrier attack jets were visible on Lemonnier’s airfield.
The U.S. military presence has grown substantially in recent years, as reflected by construction of a new headquarters building, gym, enlisted barracks and other expanded infrastructure.
Djibouti has a highly prized port on the Gulf of Aden. The country is sandwiched between Somalia and Eritrea, and also shares a border with Ethiopia.
Mattis is using the early months as defense secretary to renew or strengthen relations with key defense allies and partners such as Djibouti, whose location makes it a strategic link in the network of overseas U.S. military bases.
Djibouti took on added importance to the U.S. military after 9/11, in part as a means of tracking and intercepting al-Qaida militants fleeing Afghanistan after the U.S. invaded that country in October 2001.
The U.S. has a long-term agreement with Djibouti for hosting American forces; that pact was renewed in 2014.
Over the past week Mattis has met with leaders in Saudi Arabia, Israel, Egypt and Qatar.
Robert Duvall has had a remarkable career. With iconic roles in The Godfather I and II, Lonesome Dove, The Apostle, Tender Mercies, To Kill a Mockingbird, Apocalypse Now, Days of Thunder, and many more, Duvall is best known for his roles on screen and as an accomplished filmmaker. Perhaps lesser known is that he served in the Army for two years during the 1950s and comes from a military family where his father was a Rear Admiral.
WATM had the opportunity to speak with Duvall to hear about his fascinating life, from growing up as an Admiral’s son to working with some of the greatest minds in entertainment of all time.
WATM: What was your family like and your life like growing up?
We moved a lot because of being in a military family. We lived in San Diego and then Annapolis, MD, at the Naval Academy. I remember seeing a movie when I was really young at Camp Pendleton for a dime back in the 1930s when we lived in Mission Hills in San Diego. Right before WWII started, my dad was transferred from Pacific Fleet to the Atlantic Fleet, which led to our move to Annapolis for eight straight years. My father’s first ship was in the Atlantic. My grandmother lived with us for a while as well back then. As a young boy, I watched athletic events at the Academy and became inundated with their sports as a kid. I remember watching Army and Navy games when Army players such as Doc Blanchard and Glenn Davis were on the field.
My father was a good line officer and had a solid war record where he retired as a Rear Admiral. His first command was in San Pedro which was the USS Clark, which was a minesweeper. He was with destroyers from Europe to North Africa where his last command was USS Juno, which was a light cruiser. My father served on the USS Indianapolis (famous for delivering parts for Little Boy and then being sunk by the Japanese losing a large percentage of the crew to sharks) and carried President Roosevelt’s bags for him while he was on the ship. My father kept quiet about his service in retirement and didn’t go out on ships once retired..
We prayed and did our bit at home while he was abroad fighting in the war. One funny thing was how my father stopped smoking during the war, so we sent him chewing gum instead. My father worked with the British Navy and enjoyed serving with them. He told us how the British Navy would toast the Queen but not the President of the U.S. After they would have dinner and wine, the British would have wrestling matches where it was best two out of three falls. My dad respected the British and Churchill. Thank God for Churchill as he was likely the greatest man in the 20th century.
The USS Indianapolis- U.S. Navy photo 80-G-425615
As a young teen, me and my siblings went out to our uncle Harold Prescott’s 40,000-acre cattle and sheep ranch in Montana for two summers in a row. This happened at the end of WWII. These memories and experiences at the ranch I’ll never forget; they embedded in me a certain culture. We would go there by train on the Empire Builder of the Great Northern. It would take us from Chicago where we took the Baltimore Ohio the first way and my aunt would pick us up when the Empire Builder would stop in the open fields.
We rode horses, cleaned out the chicken coop, went camping in the mountains and fly fishing with my uncle. I met Jimmy Morrison, a great veterinarian and immigrant from Scotland, while at the ranch and learned a lot about handling animals from him. He was just good to be around where we pitched horseshoes every night with him. Jimmy roped a baby coyote from his horse once and he raced full speed on his quarter horse and touched a galloping antelope on the neck.
They would have big dances there in Montana where if you asked the wrong woman to dance the whole place would turn into a gigantic fist fight, thereby ending the dance. My uncle even gave us a salary at the end of the summer for the work we did around the ranch. He told us, “With your father off fighting the war the least I can do is pay you boys something for your work around here.” My uncle Harold fought in WWI in the Battle of Belleau Wood as a Marine.
Empire Builder of the Great Northern. Credit: Great Northern Railway Historical Society.
I went into a small college, Principia College where my military family pushed me into acting. I changed my major to drama after my first A in an acting course and found myself.
WATM: What is the most distinct memory of your mother and your father?
My mother ran the home while my father was away. My father could be gone for eight months and we respected him for his service. He was a good man and taught us work ethic by example. My mother ran a cotillion for dancing as we grew up where we learned social graces and how to interact with people, especially women. She made for us a good and stable home life with great experiences.
The US Naval Academy in the 1940s. Credit:HipPostcard.com
WATM: What values were stressed at home?
We were taught to believe in God, do good for other people and to be patriotic. We were taught to keep positive thoughts even in hard times.
Norman Rockwell’s “Saying Grace” painting. Credit Norman Rockwell.
WATM: What influenced you to join the U.S. Army and what lessons did you take away from your service?
I was drafted and went in for two years where the Army was okay. I did a lot of imitations of people I met in the Army which was shared with my family and friends. One experience really stuck with me was with a fellow soldier nicknamed 3-D, who was like six feet six inches tall and could hardly see. We were marching one night and he disappeared as he had fallen into a fox hole. It struck me as strange that Mickey Mantle was 4F, but that 3-D was considered service worthy. How is a star center fielder for the Yankees not able to serve but this guy is?
I really brought away humor and the ability to tell stories from the Army and served my time. It served me later for playing military roles and allowed me to have a respect for the part. I have a respect for the military, so I played those parts with credence and professionalism.
President George W. Bush stands with recipients of the 2005 National Medal of Arts, from left: Leonard Garment, Louis Auchincloss, Paquito D’Rivera, James DePreist, Tina Ramirez, Robert Duvall, and Ollie Johnston. Credit: White House photo by Eric Draper – whitehouse.gov
WATM: What are the best lessons that Sanford Meisner taught you?
I trained with Sanford on the GI Bill where he taught me how to be as simple as possible in connecting with people. He showed us how to be basic and get to the core of communication. He taught me a legitimate and helpful shortcut in acting. Meisner once said he was easier to please than Lee Strasberg at the Actors Studio. Meisner was friends with Horton Foote, who gave me my first film in “To Kill a Mockingbird.” Horton had seen me in a play that Meisner had directed at the Neighborhood Playhouse and liked what they saw, so from that I got Boo Radley. It was a wonderful part to start off with and Horton really helped me a lot in my career.
A photo of a young Robert. Credit unknown.
WATM: What was it like transitioning from stage actor to Film/TV actor?
I started out in the theatre and did summer stock. The main difference is you just speak up a little more on stage than you do in film and TV. You are still believing in an imaginary set of circumstances and going into an imaginary world. It is you doing it yourself where you are appearing as you are becoming something else as we have only one set of emotions and psyche. One of my favorite stage parts ever, American Buffalo, I did on Broadway, which is the Mamet play, it was the best. You do eight shows a week which can wear you down. I would nap between shows and just get up and stumble on stage from that deep nap. Rest is very important.
And Robert Duvall in the “Miniature” episode of the “Twilight Zone.” Credit IMDB.com
WATM: What are some of your best memories from your early to mid-career working on great shows and films?
There were parts I was able to grow in and was able to get better as I got older. There are always some parts you do better than other parts for whatever reasons. Eastwood was good to work with and I liked working with John Wayne as well. The Duke was just neat to be around. He did some good work and stuck up for me on the set of “True Grit.” I was having struggles working with the director of the film where Duke chimed in to balance the odds.
Ulu Grosbard was a close friend and gave me a lot of help early in my career. He directed me in Broadway and Off-Broadway plays. If I needed something from him, he would help me right away. He was a great guy.
Brando was the great one to work with and was so innovative. A memorable story is where I met a great English stage actor that went to see a Streetcar Named Desire when Brando was in it on Broadway. The English actor got embarrassed because he thought a stagehand had wandered on stage by mistake. The “stagehand” was so natural, but it turned out that it was just Brando on stage. The English actor went to see it seven times. Gene Hackman, Dustin Hoffman and I would meet at Cromwell’s drug store two or three times a week for an hour. We mentioned Brando nearly every day in those conversations. Working with Brando was amazing; he turned the world upside down when he came around.
Jimmy Caan is super funny and an extremely quick wit. James has a lot of talent and is a wonderful actor where we stay in touch with each other. De Niro was wonderful and I did summer stock with Gene Hackman. One note on Gene, when I busted my pelvis on set a long time ago, he offered me his last 0. I didn’t take it but he is a great guy to be around. Gene Hackman was a Marine and played on the USMC Football team with Joe Bartos, a Naval Academy grad and professional football player for the Redskins. Gene also served in Korea and stood duty in the cold there. He used to tell me stories about his time in Korea. Dustin Hoffman was my roommate and was a character where he belongs in the business. I kept in touch with Wilford Brimley as well when he was a bodyguard for Howard Hughes and a Marine.
Robert in his first feature film “To Kill a Mockingbird.” Credit IMDB.com
Francis Ford Coppola, Robert, and Marlon Brando on set for “The Godfather.” Credit IMDB.com
Robert with George Lucas and Donald Pleasance working on “THX 1138.” Credit IMDB.com
Robert and Tommy Lee Jones in “Lonesome Dove.” Credit IMDB.com
Robert Duvall with Clint Eastwood while filming Joe Kidd. Credit IMDB.com
WATM: What was your experience like working on the military films “Apocalypse Now” and “The Great Santini?”
When I went in to read for “Apocalypse Now,” the initial writing for the character I played wasn’t written very well. Colonel Carnage was the original name for LtCol Kilgore and was made more of a caricature of the Army than a realistic portrayal. It was just too much for me. Coppola allowed me to adjust the LtCol for the film and to find the uniform and the hat for the character. Coppola always allowed me to find the character and was very instrumental in my career. He helped me a lot. Coppola and I were so close, we would have arguments on the phone about artistic points, but we had a mutual respect. I really like working for him.
When I did “The Great Santini,” I went down early to location to get settled in Beaufort, South Carolina. I found a place to live and went into a real estate office where they thought I was a Marine. One funny memory was when I went up to a beautiful house on the hill when looking for a place to rent. I went up to the door with the real estate people where this sweet, little southern lady opened it and I asked her if she would allow me to rent the home from her. She had the most honest and funniest response with her draw, “Well where would I go?” I thanked her for her time, and we left.
I would get up at 5:30 in the mornings and go hang out with the drill instructors at MCRD Parris Island. They seemed more beat up and tired than the recruits were. They were hoarse and exhausted from their work training them. I went to the officers and non-commissioned officers’ ball while on base where I had a great time with them. I always try to be as accurate as I can with military parts, especially in “The Great Santini.” Overall, working with the Marines was great! I love Marines!
As LtCol Kilgore in “Apocalypse Now.” Credit IMDB.com
Robert Duvall with Francis Ford Coppola on set of “Apocalypse Now.” Credit unknown.
Robert Duvall in The Great Santini. Credit IMDB.com.
WATM: What are your favorite moments from your mid-career to now on such films?
“Tender Mercies” comes to mind where I insisted on Wilford being in the film with me where he had my back in dealing with the director. Wilford helped with the common distance between a foreign director and a native actor, which was taking place in my situation. One of the best memories from that set is when the director, Bruce Beresford, told us to, “pick up the pace,” on set. Wilford responded with, “I didn’t know anybody dropped it.” . Wilford’s retort drew laughter from the cast and crew.
I once walked into the dining room on “Lonesome Dove” and told them, “We were making the Godfather of Westerns.” I really believe that and playing Gus is probably my most favorite part to play overall.
“Days of Thunder” was a lot of fun working with Tom Cruise. Tom Cruise is a good guy to work with and he bought me a ,000 jumping horse. He really is a terrific and very giving guy. It was great to be with him again on “Jack Reacher.” I played a retired Marine in that film with him.
Working on “Falling Down” with Rachel Ticotin was wonderful. She is a smart and fun actress to work with. We had a great time on set for the film.
“The Apostle” was a wonderful film to make. Miranda Richardson was so talented in the film and we had Farrah Fawcett, who was underrated, in it as well. I put my own money in that film and we got it back. Marlon Brando loved it and so did Billy Graham, so I got praise on both sides from the secular and religious. Brando wrote me a letter that is framed on my wall and it still means a lot to me what he wrote.
Hank Whitman is another talented professional to work with where we worked together on “Wild Horses” in 2015. He is a Texas Ranger and served in the Marines. He is a classy guy and a man of his word.
My favorite film to work on recently was “Get Low,” just loved the character. It was just a nice production to work on, especially with Lucas Black who I worked with on “Sling Blade.”
Robert with Tess Harper in “Tender Mercies,” which he won the Oscar for Best Actor in 1984. Credit IMDB.com.
Susan Rinnell, Robert Duvall, Glenn Close, Jason Presson, Gail Youngs and Wilford Brimley in “The Stone Boy.” Credit IMDB.com.
Robert working on “The Natural.” Credit IMDB.com.
Robert with Tom Cruise while filming “Days of Thunder.” Credit IMDB.com.
Robert and Gene Hackman in Geronimo: An American Legend. Credit IMDB.com.
Rachel Ticotin and Robert Duvall in “Falling Down.” Credit IMDB.com.
Robert wrote, directed, produced and starred in “The Apostle.” Credit IMDB.com.
Robert with Nic Cage filming “Gone in 60 Seconds.” Credit IMDB.com.
On set in “Get Low” with Bill Murray. Credit IMDB.com.
WATM: What are you most proud of in your life and career?
I am proud of my wife Luciana and we have a nice relationship. She is a great cook, she is going for her brown belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and is studying Kali which is Filipino knife training. She has a great family she comes from in Argentina where she is the granddaughter of Argentinian aviation pioneer Susana Ferrari Billinghurst. We love our dogs and they are like kids.
Picture of Robert with his wife Luciana at an event for “The Judge.” Credit IMDB.com.
One of America’s longest-serving retailers is filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. While this doesn’t mark the end of the 130-year-old retailer, it doesn’t exactly bode well for its future, either. With 700 just over Sears and K-Mart stores nationwide, the company is bleeding money it doesn’t have. Hopeful sources tell the Wall Street Journal that there will still be upwards of 300 stores open for the coming holiday season, but the company is a shadow of its former self.
The once-dominant retail sales company, first founded as a mail-order catalog in 1891, has been in a slow decline over the past decade.
(Wall Street Journal)
The company once sold everything, from dresses to appliances to even cars at one point. In fact, President Jimmy Carter even grew up in a shotgun-style house his family purchased through a Sears catalog. Hell, the company even sold cocaine and opium at one point. Try getting that on Amazon.
While anecdotes about Sears, Roebuck, and Company selling patent medicine are quaint, this was a company that was — for much of its life — ahead of its time. The story of the rise of Sears is almost the story of the American century — of the American dream.
An automobile offering from a 1909 Sears catalog.
In the months and years after the Civil War, communication and transportation technologies that were developed to help the Union fight and win the war were still on the cutting edge. While working as a railroad agent around the early 1880s, Richard Warren Sears purchased a collection of unwanted watches from a local jeweler and then resold them to his coworkers — picking up a big profit along the way.
He used this experience to start a mail-order watch business with a watch repairman named Alvah Roebuck. The duo moved to Chicago, a rail hub, and expanded their offerings to other jewelry. After selling that business, he moved away to Iowa but came back to the mail-order business shorty after. That’s when Sears and Roebuck founded Sears, Roebuck, Company.
They began to expand into the rest of the postwar United States. Not through brick and mortar stores, rather the company expanded the offerings in its catalog. Most importantly, they began to service the more remote areas of the United States, lending dependability and stability to the supply side of these remote markets — something local stores could not do.
Eventually, the company went public, survived the Great Depression, changes in ownership and direction, and by the 1930s, was opening stores in urban areas to respond to the American population moving closer to those areas and away from rural ones. The company still distributed goods to rural communities from its multi-million square foot warehouse in Chicago. Control over its distribution was one of the stores’ original keys to success.
Fashionable and functional.
Sears was the original “everything” store. Rather than sell the latest fashions or flash-in-the-pan trinkets, the original Sears stores sold reliable consumer staples at a lower cost. Socks and sheets aren’t sexy, but everyone needs them and the Sears Tower, then the world’s tallest building, was built on a foundation of consumer needs.
This is strangely also the foundation of Sears’ downfall. A company that had survived everything from the Panic of 1893 to the Great Depression and two World Wars would begin to lose sight of what once made it great and profitable. While Sears’ dedication to consumer needs helped drive American industry, helped develop suburban areas in the days following World War II, and even drive U.S. companies into Mexico and Canada, it began to lose sight of that foundation.
In the 1980s, the company expanded into credit holdings, stocks and financial products, even real estate. By the 1990s, it was no longer a price leader. Years of inflation in the 1970s and 1980s led to the foundation of similar department stores based on competing with companies like Sears through lower prices. K-Mart, Target, and Walmart fired the first shots that led to Sears’ decline. Amazon just put the nails in the coffin. Allen Questrom, a retired retail executive says 1985 was the year Sears made its first mistake.
“They took their eye off the ball,” Questrom, former head of Sears rival J.C. Penny, told the Wall Street Journal, referring to Sears opening the Discover Card brand. Other industry insiders say it happened earlier, when it purchased brokerage and real-estate firms like Dean Witter Reynolds and Coldwell Banker.
But by the time Sears decided to get rid of its financial holdings, it was too late. It survived the Great Recession, but its last profitable year came in 2010, posting losses of over billion since. Despite a further shedding and sales of unprofitable assets and an increased focus on what does work for the company’s remaining stores, the 70,000 employees left at the once-iconic retailer no doubt wonder if there’s anyone in the wings that could make Sears great again.
Aviation journalist and expert Ian D’Costa shared a video on Oct. 1, 2018, we had to pass on. This Korean news video, originally published on bemil.chosun.com, loosely translated from Korean as “Military News”, is a dignified and heart-wrenching tribute to South Korea’s repatriated fallen soldiers from the Korean Conflict.
On Oct. 1, 2018, South Korean President Moon Jae-in cancelled the traditional South Korean military anniversary parade in favor of holding a ceremony for the arrival of remains of South Korean soldiers killed during the Korean conflict. The remains were repatriated in early 2018 from North Korea, flown to Hawaii’s Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency for DNA identification and, once verified as South Korean servicemen, scheduled to return to South Korea for formal military burial.
D’Costa managed to find the Korean in-flight newsreel video of a Republic of Korea Air Force (ROKAF) F-15K Slam Eagle of the 11th Fighter Wing from Daegu, South Korea joining other aircraft including FA-50 Fighting Eagles of the 8th Fighter Wing at Wonju, South Korea as they escort the remains flight in a ROKAF C-130H transport.
The newsreel video published on bemil.chosun.com shows an F-15K Slam Eagle crew fly right wing formation alongside the remains flight C-130H and, with perfect military precision, render a final in-flight salute before dropping back to fly wedge formation while escorting the aircraft. It’s a heart-wrenching moment to see.
The video goes on to show the precise and reverent loading of the remains onboard the C-130K flight in Hawaii for return to South Korea. The remains repatriation flight was escorted by two ROKAF F-15K Slam Eagles and two FA-50 Fighting Eagles.
The dignified gestures attendant the handling of military remains is an important ritual in observing the personal loss to families of fallen servicemen. In this case, the rituals are also a historic part of the slow healing process between the two fractured Koreas.
The aerial funeral procession in flight near South Korea as it returns from Hawaii.
According to several sources including CNN, South Korea suffered 217,000 military and a staggering “1,000,000” civilian casualties during the entire Korean Conflict which began on June 25, 1950, and continued to varying degrees until April 27, 2018, when talks between North and South Korea brokered by the United States brought an end to the conflict. According to reports, 7,704 U.S. servicemen remain unaccounted for following the end of the Korean Conflict.
Thanks to Ian D’Costa of The Tactical Air Network, Sightline Media Group and We Are The Mighty for letting us know about this story.
Secretary of Defense James Mattis can only raise troop numbers in Afghanistan by approximately 3,900 before having to further consult the the White House, a memo obtained July 6 by The Wall Street Journal revealed.
The memo casts further light on President Donald Trump’s June 2017 decision to allow Mattis to set troop levels in Afghanistan. The decision follows months of deliberations by the White House on the Trump administration’s path forward in Afghanistan.
Mattis is reportedly mulling sending his maximum allotted number of 4,000 more troops, but has publicly insisted that any troop increases will be paired with a broader political strategy to force reconciliation with the Taliban movement, saying “we’re not looking at a purely military strategy.” Reconciliation would entail the Taliban dropping their armed insurrection against the Afghan government and joining the political process.
“We’re talking now about putting what we call NATO air support, down at the brigade level, so when they are in contact, the high ground is now going to be owned by the Afghans. It’s a fundamental change to how we bring our … real superiority in terms of air support to help them. In other words, we’re not talking about putting our troops on the front line,” Mattis explained in mid-June regarding forthcoming changes to the Afghan review.
Both CENTCOM commander Gen. Joseph Votel and US Forces Afghanistan commander Gen. John Nicholson have said that they need a few thousand more troops to more effectively train, advise, and assist the Afghan forces. Nicholson indicated before Congress that more troops would allow him to deploy troops closer to the front lines, and embed advisors at lower levels of the chain of command within the Afghan forces.
Mattis is expected to bring his final proposal for the way forward in Afghanistan in mid-July. In the meantime, the US effort in Afghanistan is not going well. The Afghan National Security Forces are beset by corruption and suffering devastating losses, and it is unclear what additional advisors can realistically do to turn the army into an autonomous fighting force.
The US Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction noted in late April that the security force’s casualties continue to be “shockingly high.” The report highlighted that 807 Afghan troops were killed in just the first six weeks of 2017, and that nearly 35 percent of the force chooses not to re-enlist each year.
To oust a dictator as terrible as Liberia’s Charles Taylor, some warlords committed even more heinous crimes. Taylor is now serving a 50-year sentence in the UK after being convicted of 11 war crimes in the Hague in 2013.
Joshua Milton Blahyi went by a different name when he controlled the streets of Liberia’s capital of Monrovia during its 14-year civil war. Going into urban combat wearing nothing but sneakers and a crazed look, he earned the title “General Butt Naked.”
Warlords in the streets of Liberia from 1989-2003 were given names based in popular culture. It spawned such nicknames as “General Bin Laden” and “General Rambo.”
While “General Butt Naked” may sound laughable as a nom de guerre, the warlord’s methods were anything but funny. Of the 250,000-some Liberians killed in the conflict, Blahyi estimates he is responsible for at least 20,000.
The crimes he freely admits to don’t stop there. He recruited children to act as his street enforcers, teaching them that killings and mutilations were all part of a game. And so they would also fight naked in the streets of Monrovia. Blahyi himself was a teenager when the conflict broke out.
Anecdotal evidence of the atrocities committed by “General Butt Naked” is numerous and graphic.
When Taylor was finally ousted in 2003, the man once known as “General Butt Naked” began a new life as a pastor. These days, when he isn’t preaching, he visits the families of his victims and begs for forgiveness — complete forgiveness. He doesn’t want lip service; he wants the biblical forgiveness that comes from the victim’s heart.
Those victims don’t want any part of it. Only 19 of the 76 families he has visited heard him out. The remainder goes about as well as one might expect.
At least one former soldier will attest to the work of Blahyi’s NGO, “Journeys Against Violence.” Luke Barren told Reuters that he earned his job as a mason because of Blahyi’s effort. Other say Blahyi’s whole enterprise is a farce combined with a cash grab.
The former warlord walks free where Taylor is imprisoned because of jurisdictional rules in The Hague. The court can only prosecute war crimes committed after its founding in 2002. There was never a special tribunal for prosecuting war crimes in Liberia, as there was from Rwanda, Cambodia, and the former Yugoslavia.