When your reputation as the greatest warrior in Spain precedes you, the sight of your lifeless corpse armored and atop a warhorse at full gallop can be enough to send the enemy running away in terror. Take the case of Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar, for instance.
Díaz de Vivar was born into the Spanish nobility in 1043 and raised in the court of King Ferdinand the Great. He eventually became the standard-bearer of Castile for Ferdinand’s son, Sancho II. He led military campaigns against the younger king’s brothers as well as the Moorish (Muslim) kingdoms in Andalusia was renowned for his military skill and strategy. He never lost a battle and was never beaten in combat.
Rodrigo became legendary in Europe, known by his nickname throughout the Christian and Muslim lands of the Middle Ages. While fighting King Sancho’s brothers, he earned the moniker that would echo through history when the Muslims began referring to him as just El Cid – The Lord.
The battle lines of this time weren’t as easy as Christian vs. Muslim or brother vs. brother. City-states fought one another with Christian and Moorish allies as well as allied city-states. The Iberian “Reconquista” – the series of wars that pushed Muslims out of Spain – was in full swing and the peninsula was full of different tribes, ethnicities, religions, and races, all with different alliances.
El Cid’s future father-in-law slapped around El Cid’s patron – so he took the man’s head and then his daughter.
When King Sancho was assassinated, his brother Alphonso, whom Rodrigo expertly crushed in battle on more than one occasion, came to power in Castile. El Cid suspected Alphonso was responsible and dragged the new king from his bed to the city cathedral. He forced Alphonso to swear he had nothing to do with Sancho’s death. The new king professed his innocence, but never forgot the humiliation.
Regardless of El Cid’s acceptance of Alphonso’s reply, the embarrassing incident didn’t sit well with the new king. Eventually, El Cid found himself exiled and working for the Muslim rulers of Zaragoza. In 10 years serving the Emir of Zaragoza, El Cid built a good life for himself, including owning his own lands. But he was soon called up to serve Spain again.
In 1086, the Almoravids, Muslims from Morocco, invaded Spain and advanced quickly throughout the peninsula. Alphonso was thoroughly beaten while trying to repel the invaders (he wasn’t very good at the whole “war” thing) and begged El Cid to return to meet the Almoravids. El Cid did return, but not for Alphonso – it was time for him to win some glory for himself.
El Cid and his troops struck back, taking the Muslim city of Valencia in 1091 and devastating the Almoravid army. They tried to recapture the city just three years later, but El Cid again sent them packing. Though it took another 400 years of fighting to expel the Muslim invaders from the Iberian Peninsula, they would never advance past Valencia while El Cid was still alive.
Over 6,500 soldiers are already hoping to be part of a new Army esports team that will compete in video game tournaments nationwide in an effort to attract potential recruits.
“It’s essentially connecting America to its Army through the passion of the gaming community,” said Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Jones, NCO-in-charge of the budding team.
About 30 soldiers are expected to be picked for the team and some of the first positions could be filled summer 2019. Only active-duty and Reserve soldiers are currently allowed to apply.
Those chosen will be assigned to the Marketing and Engagement Brigade for three years at Fort Knox, Kentucky, where the Army Recruiting Command is headquartered.
More than 6,500 Soldiers have already applied to join the Army esports team, which was created to boost recruiting efforts in the gaming community.
(Photo by Staff Sgt. Ryan Meaux)
While they will not become recruiters, team members will receive a crash course on Army enlistment programs to answer questions from those interested in learning about the service.
Once built up, the team will fall under an outreach company that will also include an Army rock band and a functional fitness team.
Not everyone on the team will compete. Those who will may train up to six hours per day on video games, Jones said, adding that gameplay sessions would be live streamed or recorded for spectators to watch.
Esports has ballooned in popularity in recent years with millions of followers.
In August 2018, the Washington Post reported that esports could generate about 5 million in revenue this year in North America. In 2017, a major esports tournament in China also drew a peak of more than 106 million viewers — roughly the same number of those who watched 2018’s Super Bowl.
“It’s something really new and it’s been gaining a lot of steam,” Jones said.
While on the team, soldiers will still conduct physical training, weapons qualifications and other responsibilities that come with being a soldier. They will also have to maintain certifications in their military occupational specialty.
“Outside of that, there will be esports training,” Jones said. “So whatever game they’re playing in, they’ll not only be playing it, but be coached in it to get better.”
The team, he said, shares a similar concept to that of other Army competitive teams that continually train, such as the Golden Knights parachute team, World Class Athlete Program and Army Marksmanship Unit.
“Esports is like traditional sports,” he said. “Nobody can just walk in and expect to play at a competitive level.”
The Army, he said, already has talented gamers out there who can compete in events.
in January 2019, a few soldiers competed at PAX South in San Antonio as a way to introduce Army esports to the greater gamer community.
A few Soldiers competed at PAX South in San Antonio as a way to introduce Army esports to the greater gamer community Jan. 18-20, 2019.
(Photo by Staff Sgt. Ryan Meaux)
In one of the events, a Street Fighter V tournament, two soldiers placed first and second.
“This is the perfect opportunity to showcase not only to the Army, but to the civilian populace and the esports industry that we also have what it takes,” Jones said of the events.
Recruiters from the San Antonio Recruiting Battalion also joined them and were able to generate some leads with potential recruits, he added.
There are plans to do the same at the PAX East exposition in Boston in late March 2019.
As a gamer and a recruiter himself, Jones said the team can help bridge the civilian-military gap by breaking down misconceptions some young people may have about the Army.
Being able to play their favorite video games with others who share the same passion is also a bonus.
“For a lot of soldiers, to include myself, it’s like a dream come true,” Jones said. “This is just one of those ways we can start the conversation.”
From working at McDonalds, to attending Army Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC), to serving more than 18 years each in the U.S. Army Reserve — identical twin master sergeants are mobilized together for the third time.
Master Sgt. Bryant Howard and his identical twin brother, Master Sgt. Joseph Howard, motor transport operators, 450th Movement Control Battalion (MCB), are currently deployed together to Kuwait — marking the third time they have deployed together.
Bryant decided to join first.
“I was in high school, (and) I was also working at McDonalds, and my mom called me lazy.” he said. “I figured I wasn’t, so I was going to get her mad and join the Army.”
For Joseph, the decision to join the Army was much easier after he found out that his brother was joining.
“I tried joining the National Guard. The recruiter didn’t take me seriously.” Joseph said. “I was going to back out, then I found out my brother was joining the Reserve, so I went ahead and joined too.”
From left to right — Master Sgt. Joseph Howard, S-3 (operations) noncommissioned officer in charge (NCOIC), 450th Movement Control Battalion (MCB), and Master Sgt. Bryant Howard, Trans-Arabian Network (TAN) NCOIC, 450th MCB, stand back to back at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, Oct. 24, 2019.
(Photo by Spc. Dakota Vanidestine)
Once their decision to join was finalized, Bryant and Joseph needed to pass through Military Entrance Processing Stations (MEPS) before leaving for basic training.
“We were still in high school, just turned 18. We were trying to get on the battle buddy system, but something happened at MEPS and Bryant wasn’t able to join the same time I did.” Joseph said. “He had to go back four months later. Because of that, they couldn’t get us to Basic (Training) together, even though we went at the same time. I went to Fort Jackson; he went to Fort Sill.”
Although the buddy system was not possible for Basic Training, the brothers were reunited at Advanced Individual Training (AIT).
“We did go to AIT together at Fort Leonard Wood though. It took the drill sergeants a month to realize there was twins in the unit. They threw a fit because they thought we were just one super high-speed person” Joseph said.
Confusion on the brothers’ identities, like at AIT, has allowed them to play pranks all of their life.
“Our last day of high school, we switched classes.” Bryant said. “We had a different style uniforms in school — I had a pullover, and he had a button up shirt. Joseph’s teacher could tell us apart, even though she didn’t know me — but my teacher didn’t recognize him.”
After high school, the military was not the only time that Bryant and Joseph’s paths have crossed.
“We both worked at one time at Direct TV” Joseph said. “Also, we both had some sort of experience in law enforcement. I became a police officer, he worked in a jail — he was a corrections officer. The weird part about that was if I dropped somebody off at jail, they might run into him and think he was me. We don’t necessarily try to follow each other – that’s just the way things happen. It really is a small world.”
Even today their civilian careers have brought them not only to the same state, but the same location.
“Now were both mill-techs. Joseph works in the RPAC (Reserve Personnel Action Center) and I work for a unit” Bryant said.
From left to right, Sgt. 1st Class Joseph Howard, Sgt. Michael Howard, motor transport operators, 498th Transportation Company, and Sgt. 1st Class Bryant Howard, motor transport operator, 850th Transportation Company, pose for a photo as Bryant prepares to redeploy back to the U.S. at Kandahar Airfield, April. 28, 2014.
“We actually work in the same building — two different units. I work for the 88th Readiness Division, he works for the 383rd Military Intelligence Battalion” Joseph added.
When Bryant and Joseph heard about an opportunity to deploy together with the 450th MCB, they took full advantage.
“We deployed together in 2003 and 2009 to Iraq” Bryant said.
“He deployed to Afghanistan at the end of 2013, and I deployed there in the beginning of 2014 — so we were actually at the same place” Joseph added. “Our older brother actually deployed with me.”
Currently, Bryant is the Trans Arabian Network Noncommissioned Officer in Charge (NCOIC).
“I am the NCOIC over all the movement within Kuwait, Jordan, Oman, and the surrounding locations.” Bryant said.
While Joseph serves as the S-3 (operations) NCOIC by taking care of “the personnel, administrative, and operational aspects.”
Once this deployment is complete, the brothers may finally part ways. Joseph is considering retirement from the Reserve.
“I do want to hit my 20 year mark.” Joseph said. “It’s really hard to keep up with the changing Army — the trends and everything. Depending on what happens when I get to the States, I may stick it out longer, or I may get out.”
“I’m just going to stay in until I can’t stand it anymore” Bryant added.
Together, Bryant and Joseph have dedicated over 37 years of service to the U.S. Army Reserve — both wearing the rank of master sergeant and have seven combined deployments to show for it.
Not including the Middle East, there were more than 225,000 U.S. military personnel stationed abroad last year. A military career is a great way to learn about different cultures. You’ll also learn some pretty cool (and sometimes strange) things about life in other countries. Here are some interesting facts about some of the countries with large U.S. military populations:
(Marine Corps Photo)
Camp Humphreys is America’s largest overseas base, and it’s located in South Korea. But did you know that South Korea is also home to the world’s best airport? Incheon International Airport has consistently been ranked the best in the world. It has lush gardens, saunas, an ice skating rink, free showers and free massage chairs. It even has craft areas where you can create traditional bags and fans. It’s pretty much a tourist destination in and of itself.
(Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Matt McCoy)
It’s good to be a kid in Germany. In a tradition dating back to the 1800s, every first grader gets a giant cone filled with toys and candy. Today, some kids even get cell phones and video games. When you make it through school, you’ll also get an entirely free college education. But don’t count on standing out among your classmates for your unusual name; the government has a say over what parents name their children, and they reject strange names (including ones where the gender is not obvious).
(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Peter Reft)
Japan is the vending machine capital of the world. In fact, every street in Japan has at least one vending machine (for a total of over 5 million in the country). Umbrella vending machines are helpful when it rains (versus in New York, where you’ll have to grab one from a street vendor). Forgot your tie for work? Buy one in a vending machine. You can buy every kind of food imaginable—including vegetables. There are even vending machines entirely for bananas. And here’s one Americans will love – there are toilet paper vending machines in Japan too.
(U.S. Army photo by Davide Dalla Massara)
The Italians take their ice cream (gelato) very seriously. In fact, there is an even an entire university dedicated to studying it and making it. It’s called Gelato University, near Bologna, and it attracts both Italians and non-Italians wanting to learn the secrets behind making this revered dessert.
(US Army Photo by Sgt. M Benjamin Gable)
Kuwait isn’t a popular tourist destination, but if you do find yourself there, look for Sadu woven textiles. This craft goes back to the country’s nomadic peoples – even though most of the country’s population today are expatriates. Symbolism in the weaving shows the desert landscape and commemorates the nomadic lifestyle.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Michael Battles/Released)
Turkey is the right place if you’ve come to shop. It has one of the world’s largest and biggest shopping centers, called the Grand Bazaar, which dates back to the 1400s. It includes over 3,000 shops taking up over 60 streets. Many of the shops sell traditional Turkish items like ceramics, lamps, spices, rugs, jewelry, and tea.
Paratroopers are a force to be reckoned with. They can slip far behind enemy lines and wreak havoc against an enemy’s support units, making life easier for those in the main assault and striking fear into those who assumed they were safely behind defenses. What’s worse (for the enemy), after the initial airborne assault, you’re left with the famous “little groups of paratroopers” — small pockets of young men brave enough to jump out of an airplane, all armed to the teeth, ready to defend themselves, and devoid of supervision.
But for as daring and lethal as paratroopers are, they’re still, essentially, light infantry once they hit the ground. Light infantry can do a lot of things, but when they’re tasked with hitting prepared positions or facing off against enemy tanks, they tend to take heavy casualties.
So, how do you reinforce troops that drop from the sky? You drop armor out of the sky, too.
The BMD-1 was the Soviets’ answer to the question of bringing armored support to their paratroopers.
In 1965, the Russians began designing an infantry fighting vehicle that could be air-dropped. Eventually, this came to be known as the BMD-1. BMD stands for Boyevaya Mashina Desanta or, in English, “airborne combat vehicle.”
The BMD-1 packs some impressive firepower: it uses the same turret as the BMP-1, packing a 73mm gun, a launcher for the AT-3 Sagger missile, a coaxial 7.62mm machine gun, and a bow-mounted 7.62mm machine gun. This vehicle has a crew of two and carries five infantry. It has a top speed of 40 miles per hour and can go a little over 370 miles on a tank of gas.
The BMD-1 was widely exported. Saddam Hussein’s regime was one of the purchasers.
(USMC photo by LCPL Andrew P. Roufs)
Unlike its American contemporary, the M551 Sheridan, a vehicle designed to support American paratroopers in similar ways, the BMD was exported to a number of Soviet clients. The BMD saw action in the Angolan Civil War, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the Iran-Iraq War, Desert Storm, and fought in the Second Chechen War and the 2008 Russo-Georgian War.
Learn more about this 7.5-ton hunk of metal that’s designed to be dropped from the sky in the video below!
A Washington-based Special Forces soldier has died from wounds caused by an improvised explosive device that detonated near him during a recent combat patrol in Afghanistan.
Sgt. 1st Class Reymund Rarogal Transfiguracion, 36, died Aug. 12, 2018, as a result of injuries he suffered in Helmand province on Aug. 7, 2018, according to an Army news release. Transfiguracion was assigned to 3rd Battalion, 1st Special Forces Group (Airborne), based out of Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington.
He was posthumously promoted to sergeant first class and awarded the Bronze Star Medal, Purple Heart and Meritorious Service Medal, according to the news release. It was Transfiguracion’s second Purple Heart.
No additional information was immediately released about the incident that caused his injuries. It remains under investigation.
Transfiguracion, of Waikoloa, Hawaii, was born in the Philippines. He enlisted as a motor transport operator in the Hawaii National Guard in 2001 and deployed to Iraq from 2005 to 2006.
Purple Heart Medal.
In 2008, Transfiguracion joined the active duty, deploying again to Iraq from 2008 to 2009. From there, he spent six months supporting Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines from 2010 to 2011.
After attending Advanced Individual Training at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, Transfiguracion was sent to Fort Polk, Louisiana, as a horizontal construction engineer. There, he was selected for Special Forces.
After completion of his Special Forces training at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, Transfiguracion joined his last unit as an engineer sergeant. He’s been deployed to Afghanistan since March.
His other awards and decorations include the Meritorious Unit Commendation, Army Achievement Medal (third award), Army Good Conduct Medal (third award), Combat Action Badge, Army Special Forces Tab, Combat Infantry Badge and Air Assault Badge.
This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.
A single man earned the nickname “wilderness ninja” after he successfully evaded more than 1,000 uniformed police officers, helicopters, and vehicles in Pennsylvania – not unlike the character of John Rambo in the movie First Blood. Unlike Rambo, however, Eric Frein wasn’t just minding his own business. He’s a convicted terrorist and murderer who killed a state trooper and wounded another before he was apprehended.
Frein was a war re-enactor who loved the Balkan Conflict.
There’s no mistaken identity in this case. In 2017, Eric Frein was convicted of murdering a Pennsylvania state trooper while wounding another. He was sentenced to die in a decision that was upheld three times. Frein was an avid war re-enactor, self-taught survivalist, and expert marksman who had extensive firsthand knowledge of the Poconos, where he eluded law enforcement officers. He even managed to avoid being tracked with heat-sensitive cameras. The war gamer was driven by his beef with law enforcement, who called in every available agent to assist in the hunt.
U.S. Marshals, the ATF, FBI, and state and local police scoured county after county for the man they say spent years planning the murder of police officers as well as his escape into the forests and hills. Many survival specialists told the media that Rein seemed to be an expert-level survivalist who was likely hiding in caves and below dense underbrush to hide his movement.
U.S. Marshals injured Frein’s face during his apprehension.
But Frein was no genius. On Sept. 12, 2014, he opened up on the Pennsylvania State Troopers Barracks in Blooming Grove, Pa. with a .308-caliber rifle, killing Cpl. Byron Dickson III and wounding Trooper Alex Douglass. He was living in his parents’ home at this time and driving his parents’ Jeep. While speeding away from the scene, he lost control of the vehicle and drove it into a nearby swamp. He escaped and walked home, leaving his Social Security Card and shell casings from the incident inside the Jeep. It was discovered by a man walking his dog three days later.
By then, Frein was long gone.
The shooter escaped into the Poconos of Northern Pennsylvania for nearly two full months, evading capture, leaving booby traps and pipe bombs, and using the terrain to his advantage. He was almost caught on a few occasions, including a visit to his old high school. He managed to stay free until Oct. 30, 2014, when U.S. Marshals chased him down in a field near an abandoned airport.
Frein was arrested with the handcuffs of Byron Dickson, the officer he killed.
Eric Frein, of course, pled not guilty to all the charges slapped on him, including first-degree murder and attempted murder. It didn’t matter though, but after some legal wrangling, Frein was convicted of all charges, including two counts of weapons of mass destruction in April 2017. He was sentenced to die by lethal injection and awaits his sentence to this day.
Ray Mabus, the Secretary of the Navy, addresses Marines and Sailors during his visit aboard the USS Makin Island (LHD 8), moored at Changi Naval Base, Singapore, November 22, 2016.
Former Navy Secretary Ray Mabus said the US fleet is facing an “acute problem” with the coronavirus pandemic and that it needs to make drastic measures to combat the disease.
In a “Pod Save The World” podcast released on Wednesday, Mabus pointed out why Navy sailors and Marines were particularly susceptible to the disease. News of the podcast was first reported on by the Navy Times.
“People do not have any way to social distance on any Navy ship, but particularly a carrier,” Mabus said. “You’ve got almost 5,000 people here. And they literally are on top of each other.”
Mabus said it was “distressing that it doesn’t look like they have a plan” implemented after the political scandal that roiled aboard the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt earlier this month.
As of Wednesday, 615 sailors aboard the ship tested positive. The majority of its crew members have been evacuated to in hotels in Guam, where the ship is in port.
The ship’s commander, Capt. Brett Crozier, was relieved of command on April 2 after he emailed a letter to his colleagues about the urgent situation aboard his ship. The letter was eventually leaked to the San Francisco Chronicle, which published its contents. Crozier was fired for what the then-acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly described as circumventing the chain of command.
Modly later resigned on April 7, after he visited the USS Theodore Roosevelt and delivered a profanity-laced speech about the situation on the ship.
USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71) sails in the US 5th Fleet area of operations.
According to Mabus, Capt. Crozier’s instincts were correct.
“I think what they need to do is bring every ship in,” Mabus said. “Offload, like the captain said, offload most of the crew … a little bit in a rolling fashion … leave a very skeletal force on board, sanitize the ship, quarantine people for two weeks, make sure nobody’s got COVID.”
“And then once they go back on that ship, whether it’s in port or it’s going to sea, they don’t get off the ship until this crisis is mitigated,” Mabus added.
Mabus admitted that the unorthodox approach of calling in every ship in the service was not ideal, but added it was necessary given the spread of the disease.
“It’s going to be hard because they may be inport in Norfolk or in San Diego, and once they go back on the ship and the ship is COVID-free, they’re not going to get off to see their families,” Mabus said. “But if we don’t do that, I think you’re going to see the situation that played out on the [USS Theodore Roosevelt] play out over and over again — not just on those big ships, but virtually every ship that we have in the Navy.”
Mabus’ comments come as the Defense Department reported over 5,000 coronavirus cases. Over 2,800 of the personnel are US service members, 85 of which are hospitalized as of Wednesday. One Navy sailor has died after contracting the coronavirus.
Mabus served as the Navy secretary from 2009 to 2017 and also served in the Navy as a surface warfare officer in the 1970s.
Over the last month, the United States (and parts of the world) erupted in protests after the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmuad Abery. While their deaths drew the ire of many Americans, they set off an angry and passionate reaction to the bigger problem of police brutality and systemic racism.
Unfortunately, protests can be marred by people taking advantage and the marches that have occurred in all 50 states have seen some people take to rioting and looting. While the vast majority of protests have been peaceful, the magnitude of people on the street and looting caused some states to activate their respective National Guard units.
Director and Army Veteran Robert Ham was able to link up with National Guard Chaplain Major Nathan Graeser who was part of a California National Guard Unit that was assigned to downtown Los Angeles. With the noise of protestors in the background demanding reform of police and the end of the systemic racism that plagues this country, Graeser talked about why the National Guard was there and the mood of the troops. When asked about the atmosphere in the area Graeser said, “Seeing this today, I kept thinking to myself… this is what makes America great.”
In addition to being an Army Chaplain in the California National Guard, Nathan is also a social worker. He is an expert on programs and policies that support service members transitioning out of the military. Nathan is an advocate for veterans and leads multiple veteran initiatives in Los Angeles. He has spent thousands of hours counseling veterans and their families to deal with the challenges of service and returning home.
Graeser talks about the disconnections we have with one another, exacerbated by COVID-19 and how those disconnections flared up in the wake of these deaths. He knows, because he sees the same disconnection with his soldiers and with veterans as they themselves struggle to connect to the community they took an oath to serve.
But, Graeser said he sees the similarities between the young soldiers and young protesters, “These 19 year olds,” referring to the guardsmen, he said, “They are thoughtful, they are kind, even their interaction with the looters is as gentle as can possibly be.”
While the riots have been waning, the cries for action have not. What does the future hold for the rest of 2020 and beyond? We can only guess at this time.
But there is hope in what Graeser sees.
“We are out here to see what the next chapter is,” he shared. “One thing I know is wherever we go, we are going to need everybody.”
It’s not an award just for the Space Force but it is something a Space Guardian can wear, if they earn it. The Congressional Space Medal of Honor is awarded to NASA astronauts who “has distinguished himself or herself by exceptionally meritorious efforts and contributions to the welfare of the Nation and mankind.”
The award is a civilian honor reserved for NASA astronauts, but is eligible for wear on military uniforms, considering how many astronauts come from the U.S. military.
Like the Medal of Honor, which is a military award for valor in combat above and beyond the call of duty, the Congressional Space Medal of Honor is a difficult award to earn. Of the 28 astronauts awarded the medal since it was created in 1969, 17 were awarded posthumously.
Posthumous recipients of the Space Medal of Honor include the crews of Space Shuttles Challenger and Columbia. Challenger broke apart during liftoff in 1986 and Columbia broke apart during reentry in 2003. Both crews were killed in the separate incidents.
Astronaut Gus Grissom, a World War II and Korea veteran, was the second American in space. He died during a pre-launch test for the Apollo-1 mission. His crewmates, Naval Aviator Roger Chaffee and Air Force test pilot Ed White also died in the accident. All three received the Congressional Space Medal of Honor.
The recipients who did survive earning the medal performed daring feats of unimaginable bravery in the face of the unknown. John Glenn, the first American in orbit, received the award, as did Neil Armstrong, the first human on the moon. Astronaut Alan Shepard received it as the first American in space.
Air Force test pilot and astronaut Thomas Stafford earned his by commanding the first joint U.S.-Soviet space mission. Naval Aviator Jim Lovell earned his as the commander of the aborted Apollo-13 mission. William Shepherd earned one as commander of the first International Space Station mission.
Civilian astronaut and chemist Shannon Lucid earned the medal while setting the record for longest spaceflight by an American and by a woman. Astronauts Robert Crippen and John Young earned it for their roles in the first launches of the Space Shuttle program. Frank Borman is an Air Force test pilot who earned his as the commander of the first orbit around the moon.
Also receiving the award was Naval Aviator Pete Conrad, who physically pulled apart a jammed solar panel on the ill-fated Skylab 2 mission during a spacewalk. It was the United States’ first space station and Conrad’s effort likely saved the mission and its crew.
Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, Thomas Stafford, William Shepherd, Shannon Lucid and Robert Crippen are the only living recipients of the Congressional Space Medal of Honor. Shepherd, the youngest of the group, is 71 years old.
While the U.S. space programs have been a footnote in recent decades, current efforts to return to the moon, commercialize low-earth orbit and take giant leaps in getting to Mars are underway. It’s likely that American heroics will soon return to space and the Congressional Space Medal of Honor is a way to recognize the brave astronauts who step into the unknown.
While on the campaign trail, President Trump labeled the 2003 invasion of Iraq a “dumb war,” and the “worst decision” in American History. These statements should have received praise from Americans on both sides of the political aisle. Now, however, I’m not so certain that Trump is following through on his promises to avoid the next “dumb” war.
In May 2018, the president announced his intention to pull out of the Iran Deal, or the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). The deal was, no doubt, flawed, but it did provide an inspections regime to limit and delay any Iranian attempts to go nuclear. Perhaps, being a creation of the Obama administration, the JCPOA was doomed from the start.
Iran is a mid-level menace. It aggressively pursues its interests through various proxy forces in the Mid-East — a sign of its weakness as much as power. The Islamic Republic has a burgeoning ballistic missile program (not covered by the JCPOA) and sometimes threatens Israel. This is all cause for concern and requires the U.S. military to balance and, perhaps, contain Iran. However, the Islamic Republic is decidedly not an existential threat to the United States. A more realist foreign policy must take this into account and avoid disastrous war.
Iran is nowhere near able to launch a (non-existent) nuclear weapon at Tel Aviv, let alone New York. Furthermore, as I have previously noted, Iran spends about as much on defense annually as the U.S. does on a single aircraft carrier. Iran’s GDP is about $427 billion, and it spent some $11.5 billion on defense in 2016. U.S. allies, like Saudi Arabia and Israel, spend $66.7 billion, and $19.6 billion, respectively. Standing behind them is the U.S., which plans to spend $716 billion on defense in 2019, or $300 billion more than Iran’s entire GDP.
Moreover, the U.S. military faces two significant problems: Iran presents a formidable obstacle to invasion, and American forces are already desperately overstretched.
Remember back when Americans were assured that the invasion of Iraq would be a “cakewalk?” We all know how that turned out. Iran is larger, more populous, and more mountainous than Iraq. It also has a fiercely nationalistic population, which, not-so-long-ago used human wave attacks to clear Iraqi minefields. Any U.S. invasion of Iran will require more troops and more years of patience than Washington or the populace have on hand.
(Department of Defense photo)
America’s formidable military is already spread thin, deployed in nearly 70 percent of the world’s countries. Our ground and air forces actively engage in combat in Niger, Libya, Somalia, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. The U.S. Army is also busy sending brigades to deter Russia in Eastern Europe and to shore up defenses in South Korea. Meanwhile, the Navy is patrolling the South China Sea, and ensuring access to the Persian Gulf and Red Sea. Bottom line: America’s warriors are quite busy.
The last thing Washington should do is take its eye off the ball in some seven ongoing shooting wars to start a new conflict with Iran. ISIS is not yet defeated, Iraq is far from politically stable, and — despite optimistic pleas to the contrary — the war in Afghanistan is failing. The best bet is for the U.S. military to cut its losses, avoid more counterproductive interventions, and cautiously disengage from the region.
The last thing American servicemen and women need is to fight a new, exhaustive war in Iran, with existing enemies to their rear. That would defy just about every sound military maxim on the books. Worse still, if we think Iran’s proxy forces are a problem now, imagine what will happen in the case of war, when Tehran would undoubtedly unleash them against U.S. bases and supply lines across the region.
Personally, this combat veteran trusts President Trump’s instincts more than those of his advisers. Secretary of State Pompeo and National Security Adviser Bolton are well-known Iranophobes with an ax to grind. Ditching the Iran Deal was definitely a win for these two. Still, scuttling the JCPOA does not have to mean war.
Trump eventually saw the invasion and occupation of Iraq for what it was: an unmitigated failure. Let’s hope he applies that instinct and avoids what promises to be an even more costly war with the Islamic Republic.
Mr. President, hundreds of thousands of us, overstretched veterans of 17 years of perpetual war in the Mid-East, are counting on a new deal.
This week, National Geographic will air the first episode of The Long Road Home. The miniseries is a scripted retelling of the beginning of the U.S. Army’s fight in the Siege of Sadr City of April 2004. What began with an uprising against the U.S. occupation forces in the Shia neighborhood of the capital led to a long protracted siege spanning years.
The Long Road Home is the story of an ambushed Army escort convoy from 2nd Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division. It’s based on the true story of a platoon forced to hole up in a civilian home and await rescue. With eight American soldiers lost in the initial fighting in the Baghdad neighborhood, the battle came to be known as “Black Sunday.”
Adapted from ABC News correspondent Martha Raddatz’ book of the same name, the show meticulously created what might be the most accurate military story in film or television.
1. The show’s military advisors were in Sadr City that day.
Any military show or movie with an interest in authenticity is going to have veteran technical advisors on hand to tell the director when things are wrong. But in The Long Road Home, you can expect more than infantry badges and rank to be in the right place. You can expect the people and vehicles to be in Sadr City in the right places too.
Showrunner Mikko Alanne hired two veterans from Black Sunday – Eric Bourquin and Aaron Fowler – to be the show’s military advisors. If one of the actors needed to know how to wear a patrol cap, the two veterans could show him. But unlike most shows, if the director needed a minute-by-minute breakdown, he could ask the guys who were there.
“Personally, I like it,” says Fowler. “Because I’m a retired Sergeant First Class, so I have the anal-retentive part down. I’ve got lots of notebooks, and I have access to all the guys. If one of the actors had a question, I could get my phone and hand them the person that did the action they had questions about.”
Jeremy Sisto as Sgt. Robert Miltenberger in The Long Road Home. (National Geographic)
“Eric [Bourquin] was in the platoon that was pinned down on the roof and Aaron [Fowler] was among the rescuers,” says Alanne.
“I’m very proud to be a part of what happened and how it’s been handled. I’ve struggled with having to open up, because having such a wide spotlight cast on a pretty intense part of my life,” says Bourquin. “I learned things I didn’t know transpired. Because the whole time, I was stuck on the roof for four hours. People were out there trying to come in, to get us, so I’d been exposed to a lot of things that I wasn’t aware of and that was healing too. This is honoring them. Now everybody’s gonna always know their story. With that being said, how could I not be involved?”
2. Raddatz’ interviewed everyone close to the fighting.
You don’t get to be the Chief Global Affairs Correspondent of a major network without being addicted to the facts. Martha Raddatz, who literally wrote the book on the events in Sadr City that day, was working for ABC News in Baghdad at the time when she heard about what happened. She ended up talking to everyone from 2-5 Cav that was still in country.
“This story came to me,” she says. “I was covering politics and policy when a general told me about this battle. I had to go talk to these guys. We did pieces for ABC News, for Nightline… I was just so stricken by them. I come from a foreign affairs background and I see presidents make policy and then I went over and saw the effects of that policy.”
She was introduced to the families through the soldiers who fought there that day.
“It will be with me forever,” Raddatz says. “It felt like they could all be my neighbors. One day they’re all in minivans with their kids, and in three days they’re in the middle of a battle. These aren’t a bunch of action figures, these are real human beings.”
3. Mike Medavoy is an executive producer.
If the name of a film producer doesn’t excite you, that’s fine. An executive producer’s name likely doesn’t carry a lot of weight with most of America.
In the case of The Long Road Home, however, the addition of Medavoy puts the miniseries in the hands of a guy who helped make the legendary war movies Apocalypse Now, Platoon, and The Thin Red Line (not to mention non-military films Rocky, Raging Bull, and Terminator 2).
4. The Long Road Home’s depiction of Army families is heartfelt and real.
When the cast arrived at Fort Hood and met the families of 2-5 Cav, they got just a taste of what living in a military family is like.
“I took away an incredible sense of community,” says actress Katie Paxton, who plays Amber Aguero, wife to Lt. Shane Aguero. “You felt that community from the soldiers. When you’re in war covering your sector, you’re covering the guy to your left. You’re covering the guy to your right. And those guys are your family. I never really understood that until I talked to soldiers.”
A still from the opening episode of The Long Road Home. (National Geographic)
“I grew up in the city as a city kid, and this totally dispelled all of my ideas of what the soldier was actually like,” says actor Ian Quinlan, who plays Spc. Robert Arsiaga. “There was a very significant through line between these soldiers – a lot of these guys joined after 9/11. It blew me away because as a New Yorker I didn’t know anyone in my immediate vicinity in New York who would ever think of that.”
“Hearing their stories, you just feel the goosebumps,” says Karina Ortiz, who plays one of the Gold Star Wives. “The soldiers leave and everything is fine at first, but then people start hearing things. Rumors. The waiting. The not knowing. I would get teary-eyed and just feel their pain. Or I’d feel their fear.”
The experience of recreating the events of April 2004 even had an effect on its veterans.
“One of the Gold Star Wives came up to me after the Fort Hood premiere and told me thank you,” Eric Bourquin says. “I don’t know why. Her husband died trying to come rescue us guys that were stuck on the roof. But the more I thought about it I realized everyone watching is going to see what the families and everyone involved goes through when shit happens.”
5. The showrunner’s background is in documentary.
“I was very cognizant from the beginning that real life people were going to be watching this,” says Mikko Alanne. “It was my hope that we would be able to use everyone’s real name, and so Martha and I worked very closely on reaching out to all the families.”
The two were very successful. The show originally premiered in Fort Hood’s Abrams Gym. After the show’s Los Angeles premiere, the veterans and Gold Star Families took the stage with their TV counterparts, to a standing ovation from an elite Hollywood audience. But the realism didn’t stop with cooperation.
A still from The Long Road Home. Sadr City was meticulously recreated on Fort Hood for these scenes. (National Geographic)
“So many of the families sent us their photographs, actual photographs used as props, or photographs of their homes for us to recreate,” Alanne says. “And it was very important to me the cast reached out to their real-life counterparts. Bonds were formed between the actors and the real life families, and everyone became infused with the same mission that Martha really started; that these families and these experiences would not be lost to history.”
6. The Fort Hood scenes are really Fort Hood.
When you see Fort Hood, Tex. depicted on screen, you can be sure that’s what Fort Hood really looks like. The show was shot entirely at Fort Hood. The cast even lived in base housing. More important than that, however, is the exact recreation of Sadr City built on Fort Hood that took the veterans on the base back to April 2004.
“The smell was the only thing that wasn’t exactly recreated,” says Fowler. “We veterans and Gold Star Families got to walk back to the streets of Sadr City that we would never get to go. It was an incredibly healing experience. Exposure therapy plain and simple.”
Eric Bourquin agrees.
“Being able to travel back to your battlespace without fear of being captured and ending up in a YouTube video is a gift that can’t be put into words,” he says. “Just like the guys that go back and visit France, or Korea, or Vietnam — it’s become a reality.”
A candid from behind the scenes of The Long Road Home on Fort Hood. (National Geographic)
The Long Road Home starts Tuesday Nov. 7 at 9pm on National Geographic.
Safe House Project co-founders and military spouses, Brittany Dunn and Kristi Wells hosted SHP’s Freedom Requires Action event in January 2020 in Washington, D.C. in order to promote corporate and community awareness of the sex trafficking epidemic.
Founded and led by military families, The Safe House Project (SHP) is a nonprofit dedicated to empowering victims of human trafficking by providing them a place to call home.
The group is focused on the development of safe houses for survivors of sex trafficking. Its 2030 mission is to eradicate child sex trafficking in America by strengthening networks.
“In 2018, there were less than 100 beds in special care homes [in the U.S.],” Brittany Dunn, a Navy spouse and co-founder of SHP, said.
Without a place to go, many victims are turned over to the foster care system, juvenile detentions or mental institutions, with some even electing to return to their captors.
According to the US Department of Justice, finding adequate and appropriate emergency, transitional, and long-term housing is often the biggest service-related challenge that [human trafficking] task forces face.
Dunn, along with SHP co-founders and fellow Navy spouses Kristi Wells and Vicki Tinnel, began researching ways they could fill the gap. Rather than start a small non-profit organization focused on helping their local community, they thought big.
SHP accelerates safe house development through providing education, resources, funding and government contacts to local nonprofits who seek to establish safe houses within their local communities. These individual safe houses provide specialized counseling and resources to help victims get out of the cycle of abuse. By adopting a business-like organizational structure, SHP partners do not have to work in isolation to solve a problem. They are part of a larger network and better able to solve big-picture problems.
“What most people see as a disadvantage, moving around constantly, we’ve been able to use that to our advantage,” Dunn said. “A majority of our volunteers across the U.S. are military families. That creates networks that most people do not have as a natural resource.”
Many survivors find art therapy to be an important part of processingtheir past. Art allows them to express their pain, while also helping them find their wings.
Why is this so hard?
Like other national problems, sex trafficking issues are often complicated by the division of power between local, state and federal government. If a victim is rescued in a state that does not have an active safe house, SHP will attempt to have them transferred to a neighboring state that can provide the resources they need.
While this is the ideal model, according to Dunn, some CPS [Child Protective Services] don’t want to see their dollars flow out of state.
“That is where education and awareness come in,” she said.
Victim reintegration from a stable treatment environment back into the “real world” must be strategic. Without proper planning, victims could easily run into former “johns” and reenter the cycle of abuse. The reason safe houses are so essential is because victims have specialized needs and many shelters do not have the resources or government mandate to help them.
“There is a need domestically for improved victim services, trauma-informed support, better data on the prevalence and trends of human trafficking,” Congressman Richard Hudson, R-N.C., said at a Safe House Project’s Freedom Requires Action event held earlier this year. Hudson, a cosponsor of the 2019 Put Trafficking Victims First Act, hopes this legislation will “provide stakeholders — from law enforcement to prosecutors to service providers to government officials — with the guidance and information they need to better serve victims of trafficking.”
Congressman Richard Hudson, R-N.C. was a guest speaker at the Safe House Project’s Freedom Requires Action event in January 2020 event held in the U.S. Capitol building. Hudson is also cosponsor of the 2019 Put Trafficking Victims First Act
The majority of trafficked children are not victims of a snatch and grab.
“We live under a perception that our kids are safer because they are in a first world country, but they aren’t. It is the harsh reality,” Dunn said. “It just looks different. Instead of having a red-light district in Thailand, you have kids being recruited on Fortnite or being approached peer-to-peer in schools.”
Every time a child is exposed to sexually-explicit content in conversations, on television or online, underage sex becomes normalized. For some, abusive acts do not feel like the crimes and victims do not feel like they are being victimized.
“Child sex trafficking is a difficult subject to talk about but raising awareness and talking about it is the first step in solving it,” Ria Story, Tedx speaker, author and survivor leader, said.
Safe House Project and Coffee Beanery are teaming up to raise awareness in coffee shops across America. Advocates also marked their hands in red to support the #EndItMovement.
See something. Say something. Do something.
According to Dunn, “any epidemic has two sides to eradication. Prevention and treatment.” She encourages everyone to look for the problems that may lie under the surface.
In addition to providing safe houses, SHP has trained over 6,000 military personnel to recognize and report instances of sex trafficking and hope to more than double this number by the end of 2020. And for those who cannot attend an official training, SHP offers online tools (https://www.safehouseproject.org/sex-trafficking-statistics).