MIGHTY CULTURE

This Marine Veteran is pioneering a new VA program to help veterans and their families

This post is sponsored by the UCLA/VA Veteran Family Wellness Center (VFWC).

The UCLA/VA Veteran Family Wellness Center is honored to continue to serve and support the military-connected community during COVID-19! For appointments call (310) 478-3711 x 42793 or email info@vfwc.ucla.edu

Every Marine knows the saying, “Pain is Weakness leaving the body.” It’s the motto that drill instructors use to encourage recruits to dig just a little deeper during boot camp and it’s often repeated when physical training takes a turn from hard to brutally hard. The military, especially the Marines, know that pain is the beginning of resilience, our ability to bounce back from difficult situations and complete the mission. But while some pain often prepares our servicemen and women for strength in war, we are often at a loss for what to do when our families or even children are challenged with pain and stress once we return. So when the VA wanted to start helping veteran families they smartly turned to one of the few and the proud.


Marine Veteran Tess Banko is no stranger to pain. By twenty three years old, she had survived homelessness, a massive back injury (for which she was medically discharged) and the suicide death of her husband, also a Marine. When her world seemed to be coming apart, Tess did the opposite of what most of us would do. Instead of allowing her pain to overwhelm her, she fought back. She dug into her pain both physically and mentally. Along the way, she volunteered to empower and assist others, went to college (she was crowned homecoming queen), and ultimately, found the tools inside to help her (and her family). Tess is the epitome of resilience and now she’s bounced back to take on a new mission.

Today, Tess is the executive director of the UCLA/VA Veterans Family Wellness Center, a one of a kind partnership between UCLA and the West Los Angeles VA system. Tess and her team are part of the first VA program specifically designed to help not only veterans, but their families. To support their work, the team is relying on cutting edge research from UCLA just a few blocks from the VA campus. UCLA, the university which revolutionized kidney transplants and invented the nicotine patch, is now offering veterans and their families a state of the art resiliency program. Families Over Coming Under Stress (FOCUS) is a resiliency training regimen for individuals, families with children and couples facing adversity or issues like traumatic stress.

With Tess at the helm, she’s not only pioneering a new way of thinking for the VA, she’s also helping others find their path through trauma. Tess sat down with We Are The Mighty to discuss her work, passion and journey into resilience.

WATM: First things first, thank you for everything you do for military families. How do you describe yourself and your work here at VFWC?

Tess: Well it’s really easy to give a title. I’m the executive director of the UCLA/VA. Veteran Family Wellness Center. But really, I’m a social worker and public administrator.

WATM: And a Marine? What made you join the Corps?

Tess: I think it was really a lot of wanting to be part of something that made a difference. When I was younger I used to go to the [El Toro] airshow with my grandfather and that’s the first time I ever laid eyes on a Marine standing there in the uniform. You know guiding people, I mean it was airshow duty. I didn’t know at the time probably how much fun that wasn’t, but they were motivating and just really interacting with the public, and there were are all these exciting machines and demonstrations. So, it really made an impact on me as a little girl. The wider world was calling.

WATM: Did your family have a history of military service?

Tess: I didn’t find out until many years later that my own grandfather was actually in the Army. He never told those stories to the family because I think he was embarrassed. He said that a lot of his friends were being sent off to war but he served two years in a non-combat role, got out and went into aerospace engineering and he was one of the first Mexican-American designers of bomb and missile systems at White Sands, NM. I personally saw the military as one of the only places that you could go as far as your own two feet would take you basically or your hard work that you put into it. That’s one of the reasons why I was excited to join.

WATM: Wow.

Tess: And I like a good challenge. The Marine Corps seemed like a good fit. So I joined [as] an engineer.

WATM: Did you find the challenge you were looking for? Especially as a female Marine in the engineers.

Tess: When I joined it was very idealistic. I wanted to be just one of the guys and I saw myself in that way. I never saw myself in terms of being a woman, only a Marine and that actually caused a lot of problems and disappointment at the time as we have only just begun to move more fully into gender integration among the services. And it was really challenging for me because as I said I never saw myself as anything other than a Marine. I always just wanted to do my job.

WATM: What made you transition out of the Marine Corps?

Tess: I got hurt.

WATM: You got hurt?

Tess: Yes. We were training and I noticed that there was something wrong with my back because my leg had stopped functioning. I was in my early 20’s and the command atmosphere gave this impression that you had to white knuckle it through anything. I was told, ‘There’s no problem, there’s no problem. You just need to keep going.’ It turned out that I had a herniated disc in my back and it was it was crushing the nerve to the point where it began to permanently kill the nerves. I was standing there on the rifle range and I just fell over on my side because my leg finally gave up. They called an ambulance and rushed me into emergency surgery in Japan.

WATM: Did you feel like you had the resiliency skills that prepared you for that experience?

Tess: My life growing up was challenging. My parents were very young when they had children. I was the only person in my immediate family to successfully graduate from high school. My parents had dropped out at 17, which kind of spells disaster for a young couple with four children. And so it was really a life of learning to adapt, moving from place to place, experiencing homelessness as a child, living between motels and being chased by bill collectors. You know all that bad stuff for [a child] but even from a young age I adopted a viewpoint of life that was more curious than anything. It was less ‘Oh my God, why is this happening to me?’ and more ‘huh this interesting.’ It was just a minor shift of perspective. I developed that curiosity and a different way of looking at problems and I think that’s a key part of resilience.

WATM: Did you know what resilience was growing up?

Tess: I did not. I think it was something that I saw modeled by example. My grandmother was a very kind and giving woman, she taught me so much. She always went out of her way to help people in the community even when she seemed in the midst of a lot of uncertainty in life. So, paying that forward, even on active duty I was volunteering in the local community teaching English to Okinawan children. I’ve always been so curious about other people and their lives. It’s a great education.

WATM: And then you lost your husband (also a Marine). How do you process all of that?

Tess: It was a surreal experience having the casualty assistance team knock on the door. I can remember I opened it a crack. It didn’t make sense in my mind what was happening so I opened the door a crack and a Marine stuck his foot to keep me from shutting it. Then I saw the Colonel. And then it finally hit me that it was real. My husband wasn’t coming home. When you’re actively experiencing shock, pain or trauma it’s less thinking about resilience and more survival mode kicking in. It was one second, one minute at a time. The days blurred together. I mean being emotionally injured is much like being physically injured, it can take a long time to wrap your head around. There’s no linear pathway. Also, processing trauma is not just about moving through pain but about overcoming fear. There’s the fear that you as a person or things in your life will never be the same. Sometimes you don’t know what other people are going to think. Usually some of the fear ties back to being afraid that people are going to judge you if you feel broken. And I think that really was hard for me to overcome, but it was necessary. I think that being gentle with yourself is a skill.

WATM: You not only survived but thrived? You went back to college and grad school and now you literally work with Neuroscientists.

Tess: The science behind the brain fascinates me because people that are in pain sometimes seem to think, ‘I’m damaged forever and I’m never gonna be able to do or be anything. There is no coming back from this.’ I understand where you’re at if it’s crossed your mind, I’ve been there too, but there’s so much possibility. We can’t change what happened but our brain is essentially plastic and able to rewire. The body and mind actively try to repair themselves, and we can support our own process through building resilience. There are a lot of tools for that belt, resilience isn’t just a buzzword.

WATM: Is that thesis behind your team’s work at the VFWC?

Tess: Exactly. The center is a place of hope and healing. We teach tangible skills, identifiable tools, for veterans and their families to be able to overcome challenges and build better relationships. The FOCUS model that’s our cornerstone is pretty incredible.

WATM: Is there anybody else out there that’s focusing on families like this?

Tess: Not in this way. From a wellness-based resilience perspective this is the first center of its kind, especially paired with the VA which traditionally only sees individual veterans. They took a huge step to open their doors to couples and families too. When you think about it, though, our families, friends and communities are on the front lines supporting after military service.

WATM: So this is a groundbreaking VA partnership all based in science?

Tess: Yep. That’s why UCLA is such an amazing partner because the VFWC is just blocks away from world class researchers. The Center falls under the UCLA Semel Institute for Neuroscience and the Nathanson Family Resilience Center which focus on resilience for all families, not just veterans. The research behind our programs is about understanding what drives human behavior and growth. Based on that, VFWC programming is tailored to veterans and their families with really firm research and evidence backing it up.

WATM: Classic, intel drives operations model. But you have specific model for your programs as well. What is FOCUS?

Tess: FOCUS is Families Overcoming Under Stress. It’s a holistic model that was co-created between UCLA and Harvard University and currently in use on over 30 active duty military bases around the world. Our center represents the first wider translation of FOCUS from active duty into the veterans community, which are distinctly different populations. It’s a departure from traditional therapy models.

WATM: What can veterans and their families expect when they come to the center?

Tess: When somebody comes into the center in general we start with a consultation that helps us to really guide veterans and family members to the resources that they might be needing. It’s starting where the individual is. We have individual, couples, early childhood, military sexual trauma, and combat veteran adaptations, plus group sessions and special workshops and events. We keep our doors open for veterans and family members regardless of discharge, benefits or when they got out. The building we’re housed in also offers veterans with VA benefits massage, reiki, mindfulness and yoga. There’s even a drum circle and Taichi.

WATM: And children?

Tess: Especially children. Research that was done as far back as the Holocaust indicates that trauma can be passed down from generation to generation. In cases of post-traumatic stress, suicide and even repeated deployments, the effects of secondary trauma is a very real thing. A lot of the times we see families with children who don’t know how to talk to them about certain issues or there’s not a huge understanding of the developmental piece of what’s behind behaviors. Kids aren’t just mini-adults, the human brain is still developing until the age of 25! So, we support both the parents and children to find a closeness and ability to communicate more as they move through the journey.

WATM: That sounds pretty awesome especially for the VA. How would you describe starting the center?

Tess: It’s been a lot of pioneering. Improvising. Being resilient. There are so many people who care in the VA system and a whole lot of need. Offering another avenue for assistance is important to the team here.

WATM: What is your vision for the center and the future of resilience in the VA?

Tess: I would love to see the VA expand the VFWC’s holistic wellness model to include centers in every facility, especially coupled with a research institution. Veterans and their families would really benefit. Both our families, and wider communities for that matter, are really impactful in our individual wellness. One of the great things about the VFWC is our ability to seek additional community resources. It’s a long table and there is no one size fits all for wellness, reintegration, and healing.

WATM: So now you you’ve gone through your own experience gone through two years here. What does resilience mean to you?

Tess: I think the Marine Corps says it really, well you adapt and you overcome. Sometimes it seems like pull-through comes from out of nowhere because we’re born with it, but sometimes life can bring those levels low. Resilience is that wellspring that allows for course correction and being able to bounce back. Resilience to me also means working on saying, “hey something’s wrong here” and being open to assistance. First step for me personally of breaking the cycle was my own acknowledgment of what I was facing. For instance, I couldn’t talk to my family being sexually assaulted on active duty and I now know that’s common to those who have experienced trauma. I simply didn’t have the vocabulary, I had to organize the words in my own mind. We really need each other to get through hard times, so it’s crucial to develop.

WATM: What does 2019 look like for you and VFWC?

Tess: We’re working on piloting a new transition program, TEAM, for those at any point after active service based on the core FOCUS model paired with the ideas of identity ,mission, meaning and purpose. These are four essential elements of transition. Your perception changes along the transition to civilian life just like my perception changed of myself when I got out of the Marine Corps. It really was a rediscovery of who I was, where I was. I had to find a new mission. For me that happened to be serving people, but it could be different for others. It can be challenging to figure these things our while also providing for yourself or a family. We want to offer veterans and their families the resilience tools before they even need them.

WATM: Do you have any advice specifically to the families

Tess: There is no one size fits all to happiness, health and healing. If one thing doesn’t work, move forward. No matter what you face, keep reaching out and moving forward. Families, you are vital to service. You’re heard and seen. You matter.

Marine Veteran Tess Banko is the executive director of the UCLA/VA Veterans Family Wellness Center (VFWC). To learn more about the center’s work or begin your own resilience training please contact familycenter@nfrc.ucla.edu or Phone 310-478-3711, ext 42793.

MIGHTY HISTORY

4 outstanding things you didn’t know about Dan Daly

If you’ve joined the Marine Corps or if you’ve studied military history, then you’re likely very familiar with the legendary Dan Daly. For the uninitiated, he’s known for being one of the most decorated service members of all time. He coined an expression that will forever live on in books, movies, and among troops,

“Come on, you sons of bitches, do you want to live forever?”

Sound familiar?

Although Marines of all ages are taught many incredible things about the career of this bold war hero, there are few things you probably didn’t know about Sgt. Maj. Daniel Joseph “Dan” Daly.


He wasn’t the bigger guy ever

The New York-native joined the Corps in January, 1899, expecting to see action during the Spanish-American War. Unfortunately for him, the war was over before he had finished his training.

Sgt. Maj. Daly stood 5 feet, 6 inches tall and reportedly weighed about 135 pounds. Regardless of his size, the prideful Marine was well-respected within the ranks and was seen as a tough, fearless man.

U.S. Marine Cpl. Gregg Alvarez takes a drink from devil dog fountain in Belleau, France. The Memorial Day ceremony is held in honor of the 97th anniversary of the Battle of Belleau Wood. More than 1,800 Marines from the 5th and 6th Regiments lost their lives in the 21-day battle that stopped the last German offensive in 1918.

(Photo by Marine Lance Cpl. Akeel Austin)

He earned two Medals of Honor — and almost got a third.

Sgt. Maj. Daly was one of only two Marines to be awarded two Medals of Honor during two separate conflicts. He earned the first one during the China Relief for killing numerous enemy combatants on his own. He received his second for heroic actions done during the invasion and occupation of Haiti. Alone, he crossed a river to retrieve a machine gun while under intense enemy fire.

He almost earned a third for his part in a counterattack against the enemy in the famous Battle of Belleau Wood. Instead, Daly was given the Distinguished Service Cross and, later, the Navy Cross.

Bummer.

He turned down an officer commission

For his outstanding leadership, the Marines offered Daly a commission. He turned it down by saying,

“Any officer can get by on his sergeants. To be a sergeant, you have to know your stuff. I’d rather be an outstanding sergeant than just another officer.”

That’s so badass!

The USS Dan Daly (DD-519)in honor of the Marine Corps legend.

His retirement

On February 6, 1929, Daly hung up his rifle for good and received a hero’s parade that marched from Bedford Ave. to the Williamsburg Plaza in Brooklyn in honor of his decorated military service. From then on, Daly led a quiet life as a guard at a Wall Street bank.

He never married. It just goes to show that if the Corps wanted you to find a spouse, they’d issue one.

Humor

5 reasons why you should’ve enlisted as a ‘Doc’ instead

“Pecker checker,” “silver bullet bandit,” and “devil doc” are just a few of the nicknames used to describe your platoon medic or corpsman.


Most people can’t stomach the thought of sticking a thermometer up someone’s ass to get a core temperature, but that’s one of the many responsibilities of being a “Doc.”

Although that part of the job doesn’t so great, being a doc has tons of advantages, provided you have your sh*t together.

Related: 6 things you didn’t know about sick call

So, check out these five reasons why you should’ve enlisted as a doc.

5. Spread loading out your gear

When you’re serving in a grunt unit, you’re going to have to carry a mobile ER on your back, including all the staples, like I.V. solution, tons of pressure dressings, and splints.

Since the squad wants their doc to be as mobile as possible, we commonly get our brothers to carry some of the additional heavy, situational stuff. That way, we can haul the more critical sh*t, like cans of Rip It and extra packs of smokes.

Thanks for carrying all that, bro. Let me know if you want a sip of this delicious energy drink.

4. The power of negotiation

Good medics are often given a lot of power, and they need to remember to use those perks carefully. We usually obtain the power to give our troops “sick-in-quarters” slips and “light duty” forms without question from our higher command.

This power gives us the leverage to get other troops to do sh*t for us, like taking my next duty or carrying our packs on a platoon hike. It’s a great, low-overhead trade-off.

3. No one (outside of your squad) can f*ck with you

Your squad members will punch out anyone because they don’t want anything to happen to their doc. However, if you want your boys coming to your aid, you need to be good at your job or else you’re f*cked and walking back to base with a bruised eye.

It just wasn’t his day. (Image via GIPHY)

2. You get the best of both worlds

This section is for the Navy Corpsman stationed on the “Greenside.” After you earn the respect of your peers, you can find ways to distance yourself from activities you don’t want to do (hiking), and then volunteer yourself for things you find interesting (kicking door the bad guys’ door in Afghanistan).

Most of the time, we can get out of crappy activities by saying, “Sergeant, I need to run over to the battalion aid station for a few.” It can be that simple.

Also Read: 6 things corpsmen should know before going to the ‘Greenside’

1. The safety vehicle

Remember earlier when I said you could find ways to distance yourself from hikes? The best way to do it is to pull safety vehicle duty and comfortably drive around while watching the others crawl up the mountainside in a full combat load.

The downside? If you need to crawl up a mountainside in Afghanistan and you’ve skipped all the hikes, you’re probably not conditioned enough.

You don’t want to fall out of any hike while on a combat deployment.

Bonus: You get to save lives!

There’s nothing better than that.

This combat medic starts an I.V. on a soldier during training. (Image from Wikipedia Commons)

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is why old armies used to fight in lines

I just discovered The Armchair Historian, a rather endearing YouTuber who created an animated history lesson about why armies used to stand in lines and kill each other. It seems counterintuitive now that we have weapons designed to kill large quantities of people and traditional wars between nations have given way to asymmetrical conflicts.

According to our friendly historian here, there were three main reasons armies used this battlefield formation up until the 20th century:


www.youtube.com

Griffin Johnsen (The Armchair Historian himself) narrates the video and summarizes the effectiveness of line formations succinctly. They were influenced by cavalry, order and communication, and the tactics of the enemy. As warfare technology advanced, so, too, did battlefield tactics. One example Johnson gives is how horses influenced warfighting.

Cavalry was effective against infantry, so the line formation was adopted to defend against cavalry. Once munitions became more accurate and lethal, cavalry became less effective… and the evolution continued.

Line formation warfare was developed during antiquity and used most notably in the Middle Ages, the Napoleonic Wars, and the Battle of the Bastards Battle of Cannae. It was seen as late as the First World War before giving way to trench warfare and specialized units with increased firepower and weaponry.

“Despite the prolific casualties suffered by units in close order formations during the start of the First World War, it should still be understood how effective line formations were in their heyday,” narrates Johnsen.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ToOIvD5mlow

www.youtube.com

But seriously, can we talk about the Battle of the Bastards? Geek Sundry broke down the tactics displayed (omitting the tactics not displayed — SERPENTINE, RICKON, SERPENTINE!!!) in what is arguably one of the most riveting Game of Thrones episodes created.

The Boltons’ tactic of using Romanesque scutums to surround the Stark forces was unnerving and would have delivered a crushing victory without the intervention of the Knights of the Vale.

The probable Bolton trap of allowing the appearance of an escape path (in this case…a mountain of bodies — talk about PSYOPS) effectively tempted their enemy to break formation.

Even commanding archers to volley their arrows into the fray of the battle was a gangster move; it killed Bolton’s own men, but for a man who believes in the ends justifying the means… it was a very lethal means to an end.

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Anyway, I got distracted there for a second. Check out Johnson’s video above to learn more about why armies fought in lines. Shout-out to his segue into sponsor promotion at 6:38. Enjoy.

MIGHTY HISTORY

That time Americans won a battle using only bayonets

The British position at Stony Point, New York was really just an attempt to force George Washington out of the mountains and into a pitched battle – one the British could win. The American War of Independence had been going on for years, and by 1778, the British were languishing in New York City. To get things moving, General Sir Henry Clinton sent 8,000 men north to keep the Americans from using King’s Ferry to cross the Hudson.

But the Americans weren’t stupid. Assaulting a fortified position against overwhelming numbers was a bad call no matter how you try to justify it. So when the British Army left Stony Point with just a fraction of its troops as a garrison, that’s when Washington saw his opportunity.


If there’s anything Washington excelled at, it was picking his battles.

The setup was so grand and well-made, the British began to refer to their Stony Point position as the “Gibraltar of the West.” The fort used two lines of abatements, manned by roughly a third of the total force in each position. To top it all off, an armed sloop, the HMS Vulture, also roamed the Hudson to add to the artillery guns already defending Stony Point. It seemed like a suicide mission.

But when the bulk of the troops left to return to New York, Washington knew his odds were never going to get better than this. The British left only 600-700 troops at Stony Point. The defenses were intimidating, but Washington wasn’t fielding militia; he had battle-hardened Continental Soldiers, and a General they called “Mad Anthony” to lead them.

This is not some tiny stream.

The American plan seemed as Mad as Gen. Anthony Wayne. The Americans discovered that the British abatements didn’t extend into the river during low tide, so they could just go around the defenses if they timed their attack right. They created a three-pronged plan. Major Hardy Murfree would lead a very loud diversionary attack against the British center and create alarm in the enemy camp. Meanwhile, Gen. Wayne and Col. Richard Butler would assault either side of the defenses and flank the British. But they had to do it in total silence.

They unloaded their muskets and fixed bayonets to surprise the British.

They don’t call him “Mad” Anthony Wayne for nothing.

And the British were surprised. They were completely flanked on the sides of their abatements. As Murfree attacked the center, the other Americans completely rolled up the British defenses and cut off the regiments fighting Murfree in the center. They stormed the slopes of Stony Point and completely routed the British positions. They captured almost 500 enemy troops, and stores of food and weapons.

In a dispatch to Washington, Anthony wrote that the fort and its garrison were now theirs and that “Our officers men behaved like men who are determined to be free.”

MIGHTY MILSPOUSE

3 important lessons for navigating marriage after the military

I awake with a start. John isn’t in bed beside me. Throughout his military career, I never could grow used to an empty bed. Unlike before, I hear him breathing. He is in his recliner on the other side of the room. Either insomnia, a migraine or back spasms have pulled him away from me tonight. I ask if he is ok before realizing he is sound asleep. The rhythmic sound of his breath lolls me back to sleep as well.

There was a time, early in our marriage, where we both craved one another’s attention. We never wanted to leave each other’s side. Twenty years later, three kids, two deployments and many many nights apart, we’ve become more accustomed to absence then togetherness.

We are relearning what it looks like to be together, always.


Quarantine and Retirement 

I’ve been hearing from friends whose spouses are either recently retired or working from home currently with no end in sight. The struggles are similar. Our routine at home is now chaotic. It’s similar to the disruption of reintegration but for a much lengthier stretch.

These three hard truths about what marriage is like after the military, apply just as much to what marriage is like during quarantine. But don’t panic! You will get through this, and it is possible to still like one another by the end of this long stretch of too much time together.

Here are a few things I have learned:

1. Be flexible and forgiving

It is extremely difficult to continue forward with the routine when there is a new person in your space. Knowing that your spouse is just one room away while you are trying to get your to-do list complete is frustrating. It would be much more fun to join in watching that movie or whatever else is happening. I mean after all isn’t more time together what you craved during that last deployment?

Look, it’s ok not to want to be together 24/7 even if that’s all you were craving in the normality of 2019. For many of us, 2020 has brought more together time then we could have imagined. It’s ok not to spend every second together. It’s also equally ok to not finish that crazy to-do list and just enjoy some extra time with your soldier.

Drop the guilt. Everyone right now understands the need to focus on mental health. Plus, there’s no need to worry about unexpected guests dropping by, so yes, the dishes and laundry can wait.

2. Find time to be alone, even if you have to hide in a closet 

I am an introvert. I used to wake at 0500 to see John off to PT and soak up the quiet early morning with a book and a cup of coffee before the kids woke up. Our new normal means that this house is never empty. The kids are doing e-learning and even the hobbies that once took John out of the house after retirement have ceased. There is much togetherness going on.

Don’t get me wrong. I love the extra time with one another, but sometimes it can be too much. In those moments, I need a timeout. I need to recharge by being alone.

What does this look like when the whole world is shut down?

Here are a few ways I’ve figured out how to get my alone time.

  • Long drives through backroads with the radio cranked all the way up
  • Walks through the neighborhood
  • Adult coloring books while listening to an audiobook
  • Noise-canceling headphones while writing
  • Longer showers
  • Sitting in the closet with the lights off enjoying the silence

3. Open communication makes all the difference

Communication while in the military had its challenges. We spent ten years learning how to communicate long distance, how to keep the dialogue going across oceans, and then how to understand one another after surviving vastly different challenges. My world of toddlers was not the same as his of war. It took effort to hear what the other was saying and the perspective we each brought to the conversation. The same is true now.

One of the things we’ve learned since retirement is that just because we’ve been married twenty years doesn’t mean we actually know the other person well. We may have been married but we inhabited very different spaces during that time.

All of this togetherness now is giving us the opportunity to get to know one another for who we are today. We are learning how to ask questions and how to listen in new ways. It’s a little like dating, the excitement and frustration are there. The only difference being the commitment to keep doing this, to keep trying, to keep growing together, and to maybe come out of this year closer then we were when it began.

The most important lesson I’ve learned during this time of increased togetherness and struggling to get everything done in the weirdness of 2020 is to be kind to myself. It’s time to drop the guilt because it isn’t mine to carry.

MIGHTY MILSPOUSE

Navy child with leukemia inspires others to be the match

Ailani Myers wasn’t even three years old when she was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), an aggressive cancer of the blood. Although her battle is far from over, she and her family are focusing on something else too: saving other children.

Giggett Johnson is the sister of Ailani’s mom, Princecine Johnson, a 23-year veteran of the Navy.


“Ailani was born without complications and was healthy up until her second year, when they came to visit the family in Texas. We noticed she was acting different. She had a rash and an odd spot on her head so we rushed her to the hospital,” Johnson said.

It wasn’t long after that first hospital visit that Ailani received her diagnosis of ALL. The family quickly dove into treating her cancer and tried desperately to find a blood stem cell donor. But there wasn’t one on the registry. One barrier to finding a match that Ailani and many children like her face is being of mixed race. Her mother is black and her father white, which greatly reduced her chances of finding a transplant match.

Without a readily-available match, the family made the decision to bring Ailani to Johns Hopkins. It is one of the world’s leading experts in treating pediatric cancer and specifically doing haploidentical bone marrow transplants — a half-match transplant usually from a mother or father.In part because of her ethnicity, it was her greatest chance at a cure.

Ailani with her dad.

Ailani’s father, Kurt Myers, is an active-duty chief warrant officer in the Navy. The Navy gave the family orders to Fort Meade, Maryland, to allow the family to be close to the hospital. Ailani received a haploidentical transplant from her father in 2019 which was successful. But three days before her one-year transplant anniversary, a scheduled bone marrow biopsy indicated her leukemia had relapsed. Despite the devastating setback, she and her family remain committed to a cure.

Beth Carrion is the family’s Be The Match representative and she is imploring the public to register to be a possible donor, especially those with diverse ethnic backgrounds.

“We have to end the healthcare disparity and bridge that gap. We need help to do that,” Carrion said.

According to the Be The Match website, for over 30 years it has managed the largest and most-diverse marrow registry in the world. In the years since its founding, the nonprofit has helped lead the way for innovative advancements in transplants — and in the process, saved countless lives. But they need more people to register to donate, as there are thousands of children waiting.

Learn more about joining the bone marrow registry

Only 20% of patients will actually require a marrow transplant, with most of them being children under 10 years old. The rest desperately need parts of your blood for treatment. Unfortunately, medical television shows have dramatized the process and led potential donors away in fear. The donation is not as painful as it is portrayed in television and you are asleep while they do the procedure.

“I think when people hear the word ‘registry’ they think organ donation and that isn’t what it is. This is just a blood product and your body will replenish it,” Carrion explained.

The giving of blood and blood products is lifesaving. Ailani recently underwent a new treatment called CAR-T cell therapy where her own T-cells were filtered from her blood and re-engineered in a laboratory to target her leukemia. She then had to receive extensive chemotherapy to prepare her body to receive those re-engineered T-cells. Through it all, Ailani has remained positive – even as she continued to lose her hair yet again, something that broke her heart the first time she went through it.

If this treatment is unsuccessful, they will be going with another half-match transplant with her mother.

Although all seemed poised to be heading in the right direction, the family had another setback.

“She fell and scraped her knee and because she was immunocompromised from chemotherapy, she ended up with a fungal infection in the scrape. The fungus disseminated throughout her whole body resulting in several major complications. They had to give her white blood cell transfusions, extensive antifungals, and do surgery to clear the infection,” Carrion shared.

According to Ailani’s aunt, she was terrified when she got up from falling.

“When she fell, she said ‘Uh oh, uh oh. I fell I fell.’ She knew that something devastating could come out of a fall,” she said.

But even with the additional challenges Ailani is facing on top of battling her cancer, she hasn’t lost her happy disposition and sweet personality.

“Sometimes when my sister calls me to tell me how Ailani is, I’m at a loss for words. I don’t know what to say other than we’re praying and trying to be strong for her,” Johnson said through tears.

Her family describes Ailani as a fighter, a beacon of light and good. It is their hope that by sharing their story more people will raise their hands and register for Be The Match. Registration is simple, easy and painless. For the potential children matched with prospective donors it’s a scientific miracle. It will also save their lives.

To learn more about how you can register for Be The Match and get your cheek swab, please click here or text “saveailani” to 61474.

This article originally appeared on Military Families Magazine. Follow @MilFamiliesMag on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This was the WWI battle between Mexico and the US

In 1917, British codebreakers intercepted a message from the German Foreign Minister bound for the German Legation to Mexico. The infamous message, now known as the Zimmerman Telegram, offered Mexico the territory it “lost” to the United States if they joined the ongoing World War I on the German side should the Americans join with the British. They very nearly did when one border clash almost sparked a full-scale war.


The U.S. never forgot the message (once the British showed it to them… and it was published in the United States press). It would turn President Wilson’s sentiment against Germany and help lead the Americans into the European war.

At home, it exacerbated tensions in towns on the American-Mexican border, which were already feeling tense because of Pancho Villa’s raids across the border and Gen. John J. Pershing’s “Punitive Expedition” into Mexico.

One border town, in particular, was feeling the tension. Nogales, which straddles the border in the U.S. state of Arizona and the Mexican state of Sonora, was a town where anyone could cross into either country by simply walking across the street – International Street.

Nogales, Sonora, Mexico (left) and Nogales, Ariz., USA in 1899. Arizona was not yet a U.S. state. (National Archives)

In 1918, the U.S. Army’s Intelligence Division began receiving reports of “strange Mexicans” explaining military tactics and movements to the Federal Mexican garrison stationed in and around Nogales. After the publishing of the Zimmerman Telegram, these reports warranted seriously attention.

Even some of Pancho Villa’s former troops, who were disgusted by men they called Germans, addressed crowds and agitated the Mexican populace against the United States. The Army began to suspect German influence was at work and moved elements of the 10th Cavalry – the Buffalo Soldiers – into Nogales.

Nogales, Sonora, Mexico (left) and Nogales, Ariz., USA (right) around 2008.

The tension boiled over on Aug. 27, 1918, when a Mexican carpenter was trying to cross the border. He ignored U.S. customs officials who ordered the man to stop (because he was listening to Mexican customs officials ordering him to continue).

Shots were fired by the Americans. The Mexicans returned fire. The Battle of Ambos Nogales had begun.

Between two and five Mexican customs officers and an Army private were killed (the carpenter was not) as citizens in Mexico ran to their homes to grab their weapons and ammo. Meanwhile, the Buffalo Soldiers arrived and captured the hills overlooking the city. Mexican snipers also began to take shots in the streets of American Nogales.

Mexican troops began to dig trenches as American troops began to move house-to-house. By this time, the American soldiers were taking heavy fire from the Mexicans, both regular troops and citizens. So, American citizens took to their homes – and their guns – to take firing positions near the border. The U.S. 35th Infantry even fired a machine gun into the Mexican positions.

Machine Gun Co, 35th Infantry, Nogales, Ariz. 1917. (Photo courtesy of John Carr)

Suddenly, a lone figure walked among the bodies of Mexicans and U.S. troops in the street, waving a white handkerchief tied to a cane, the mayor of Mexican Nogales tried to de-escalate the situation by pleading with his citizens to put down their arms. He was shot from the Arizona side of the border.

It wouldn’t be until 7:45 that day, after just over three hours of fighting, that the Mexicans waved a white flag from their customs house. American buglers sounded “Cease Fire” and order was, eventually, restored.

In order to prevent such violence from happening again, the town constructed the first-ever border fence between Mexico and the United States.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Spread facts, not fear

This is a moment when words matter.

All of us want answers. Within our hands we hold the gateway to all sorts of answers to every question we could think to ask, and even some questions better left unasked.

Can I gently implore you to resist the urge to spend the day on search engines or scrolling madly through social media as the source of information?


Here is the most important point you need to know today:

This is a dynamic situation.

Facts are evolving daily. Leaders are assessing every situation, every nuance and every facet of this public health situation, hourly.

Consequently, the biggest challenge they face is communicating in a timely manner with as much information as possible, without overstating the concerns and without underestimating the challenge.

If you feel an information delay, do not fill the vacuum with conjecture and hyperbole.

Do not add to the swirl.

Do not repeat as fact something offered as opinion.

Do not accept information from non-credible sources.

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Stick to the facts you know, from sources you trust.

Community Chat pages are not credible sources.

Private Facebook groups administered by private citizens with no official government or health training are not credible sources.

For our military families: Your first and most credible source of information will be official guidance offered through the chain of command – from the SECDEF to the Chief of Staff for your branch of service to MAJCOM to Installation leadership to unit commanders, etc.

It takes time for clear public affairs guidance to be written, approved and disseminated.

As someone who’s been on that side of things in the White House, Department of Homeland Security and the Department of State, trust me when I say: you want ACCURATE information. Be patient.

Trust leadership at all levels of government and your military chain of command to move as swiftly as possible.

As someone married to a senior leader on an Air Force base, I promise you – your leadership knows you want information. Their spouses are probably telling them all the questions they need to answer. Believe me, they know and they are working it. Trust them.

Earlier this week I got a message from a friend on base. Her kids go to school with my kids. Neighborhood conversation caused her to wonder about how the news headlines would impact her family specifically.

I suspect there are many spouses and families with similar questions today: spring break travel plans, pending PCS, active duty members overseas and family members stationed abroad.

Rather than participate in the conjecture or begin worrying about how to plan for all the contingencies, my friend sent me a quick text, asking if I knew how her family situation might be affected.

She texted, “I know better than to simply survey my neighbors about what they’ve heard. I’d rather ask someone I trust, who I know can find out what’s true and what’s just rumor.”

You better believe I messaged her right back.

“I don’t know, but I’ll find out.”

My very next message was to find out.

In the interim, I told her, “I asked leadership. I suspect the initial answer will be something along the lines of: it’s a dynamic situation and we won’t know specific answers for specific cases until closer to that time. But I’ll get you an ‘official’ answer as soon as possible.”

This is my message for you today, too.

If you have specific questions for specific cases, ask credible sources, like those listed below — not social media. When the answer is incomplete, be patient and trust your leadership.

I promise, we’re on your side – it’s our life too.

www.coronavirus.gov is the official government website with up-to-date information from the White House Coronavirus Task Force. The Task Force includes representation from all federal agencies and is coordinating federal, state and local response to this emerging situation.

On that website, hosted by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), you’ll find situation updates as well as symptoms to monitor, answers to common questions and steps to prevent illness, including tips for keeping homes, workplaces, schools or public establishments safe.

You can find DOD specific guidance at https://www.defense.gov/Explore/Spotlight/Coronavirus/

For more information on travel restrictions, visit https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/notices

Look for branch specific and unit specific guidance issued by official public affairs sources. When in doubt, ask your supervisors and let them know you’re willing to wait for official answers. Then trust them to do their job and get you accurate, actionable information.

At a state and local level, official guidance will be offered by official, sanctioned government websites: Governors, Mayors, state and local public health officials. Those individuals and services will likely be pulling their information from this official CDC resource page for state, local, territorial and tribal health departments.
MIGHTY HISTORY

That time Iraqi soldiers surrendered to a hovering Apache

The Apache helicopter was a maligned weapon system in early 1991 as low readiness rates, and worse than expected performance in small conflicts made people wonder if the aircraft’s huge costs were worth it. But the system excelled in the tough environment of the Persian Gulf War, chewing up Iraqi armor, bunkers, and ground troops.


In fact, one Apache crew even accepted the surrender of an Iraqi officer and his driver after the men decided they couldn’t escape the helicopter in their vehicle.

Soldiers receive an escort from AH-64 Apache helicopters in 2004.

(U.S. Army Sgt. Kimberly Snow)

Warrant Officer John Ely was one of the pilots on the attack helicopter, and he would later describe the Iraqis’ actions as a seemingly obvious decision. Ely had been part of a team hunting targets in the desert, and they had already erased a few enemy positions.

Ely had his eye on a Toyota when the driver suddenly stopped the vehicle and hopped out. He opened the door for “a fat Iraqi officer” who exited the vehicle with his hands up and a briefcase raised.

Now, even with the man attempting to surrender, this was a tricky situation. Typically, surrenders are given to “maneuver” forces like infantry or cavalry on the ground, but engineers, artillery, and plenty of other ground troops are quite capable of accepting an enemy surrender.

But Apache crews have a severe weakness in this area. While the helicopter’s lethality is a great reason for enemy troops to throw their hands in the air, how does a four-man team in two helicopters; a common battlefield deployment for the attack helicopters, take custody of prisoners?

How do they search them for intel and weapons? How do they transport them back to a base? Apaches have good armor and redundant systems, but they’re vulnerable if they land. And they have no real passenger space even if they landed.

But as reported in the Chicago Tribune in 1991, Ely figured out a solution.

Look, [if you`re an Iraqi and] you see a guy in this machine hovering 200 feet in front of you, with a gun turret that moves with the nodding and turn of my head . . . I point south, they move south. They`ve just seen their buddies blown away. What would you do?
Enemy Surrenders to Apache

www.military.com

So, yeah, Ely just sent the dudes to some friendly forces so someone on the ground could search and secure them. In a similar situation, Apaches flying with OH-58s had a comparable experience on the “Highway of Death” where Iraqi tank crews surrendered as soon as they saw the helicopters coming in for an attack.

Another event took place in Iraq after Apaches took out artillery positions. The insurgents manning the weapons went to the middle of the field and held their hands up while the Apaches took out the large weapons, and then ground troops moved in to take possession of the prisoners.

But, tragically, that’s not always an option. The 227th Aviation Regiment’s 1st Battalion saw those flags of surrender from Iraqi tankers on the Highway of Death and didn’t engage them, allowing U.S. ground troops to accept the Iraqi surrender in 1991. But in 2007, two Iraqi men jumped out of their truck and attempted to surrender to a 1-227th Apache crew.

The crew held off on attacking, but wasn’t sure what to do. The Iraqis had been firing mortars from the truck, so the unit asked an undisclosed military lawyer for a legal review. His advice was that the Apache crew could not effectively receive the surrender, and so the mortar crew was still a legal target. (This advice has proved controversial since then.)

Meanwhile, the mortar crew jumped back into the truck and drove off with its mortar tube. So it was no longer clear whether they still wanted to surrender. The Apaches re-engaged, but failed to destroy the truck in the next attack. The men abandoned the truck and took shelter in a nearby shack, and the Apaches killed them there with a 30mm gun run.

So, if you ever find yourself trying to surrender to an Apache crew, maybe look around and see if you can find some ground troops to surrender to instead.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Why Russia needs an Iranian presence in Syria

Following their meeting in Helsinki, Donald Trump hailed Vladimir Putin as a potential partner in Syria, who can provide humanitarian relief and preserve Israeli security. But if the United States hopes to deny Iran “open season to the Mediterranean,” as the President previously said, Russia is anything but an ally. Putin has no interest in pushing out the Iranian forces that defend the Assad regime by taking heavy casualties on the ground while Russia fights mainly from the air. Rather, the most recent offensive by pro-regime forces — a sprint towards the Israeli and Jordanian borders — demonstrates that Russia enables Iranian operations in Syria.


In late June 2018, Russia began to unleash hundreds of airstrikes on Deraa, a flagrant violation of the U.S.-Russian ceasefire agreement that Trump and Putin personally endorsed November 2017. While Russia struck from the air, forces nominally under the control of Damascus conducted a major ground offensive.

Closer examination shows that the dividing line between Assad’s military and Iranian-aligned forces has become ever blurrier. Before the offensive began, Lebanese Hezbollah and other Iranian-backed militias staged apparent withdrawals from the region, only to return after donning regime uniforms and hiding their banners and insignia. Tehran is also directly involved. On July 2, 2018, a senior commander of Iran’s elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) died in Deir al-Adas, a village in northern Deraa province along the strategic M5 highway. Persian sources describe him as the commander for Deraa province.

Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps tank in 2012 in Tehran.

Two Iranian-aligned militant groups comprised of Iraqi Shias, Liwa Abu al Fadl al Abbas (LAFA) and Liwa Zulfiqar, have also participated in the offensive. LAFA was one of the original foreign Shia militias to deploy to Syria in 2012, ostensibly to defend the Sayyida Zainab mosque in Damascus, a major Shiite religious site. Since then, however, the group has integrated into the Syrian Republican Guard, even to the point where it openly identifies as a Republican Guard unit. LAFA’s trajectory illustrates how forces nominally under the control of Damascus are permeated with troops that are at least as close to Tehran.

Since the current offensive began, LAFA has posted numerous photos and videos on its Facebook page showing its men alongside regime troops in Deraa. Its leader, Abu Ajeeb, has also been pictured with Syrian military officers in several of the photos. Opposition sources report that a LAFA commander met with Russian military officers in Deraa.

Liwa Zulfiqar has also confirmed its involvement in the offensive, as well as its integration into the regime’s military. The militia, which has been fighting alongside Syrian regime troops since 2013, posted several photos from the town of Busra al Harir in which it asserted it was participating in the offensive. The militia’s leader, Haidar al Jabouri, appeared in a video shot inside the Syrian 4th Division’s military operations command room, demonstrating Zulfiqar’s integration into the Syrian command structure.

Reports have also suggested that other militias, including Lebanese Hezbollah, have been taking part in the offensive, sometimes disguised as Syrian troops. In late June 2018, the Washington Post briefly noted Hezbollah’s participation. Quoting an official in Damascus, Reuters reported that “Hezbollah is a fundamental participant in planning and directing this battle.” Another pro-regime source reportedly confirmed the use of Syrian military uniforms by Hezbollah and other militias to the wire service.

Hizbollah flag in Syria.

It’s also becoming clear that Russian aircraft are supporting the efforts of Iranian-backed units nominally under the control of Damascus. On June 24, 2018, Russian warplanes conducted at least twenty strikes on Busra al Harir, spurring on a stalled regime offensive. Within two days, Liwa Zulfiqar announced its participation in operations there. On July 4, 2018, Russia hit Saida and Tafas, supporting offensives involving Zulfiqar and LAFA, respectively. Russia has also now deployed military police to hold terrain captured by Iranian-aligned forces, demonstrating a level of coordination as well as Russia’s unwillingness to use its forces for more dangerous offensive operations. These terrain-holding forces free up Iran-aligned actors to continue undertaking offensives toward the Golan.

Reported meetings between militia commanders and Russian officers suggest these operations are coordinated. But even without formal coordination, Russian air cover and Iranian ground offensives are mutually dependent and reinforcing. Iran can’t be in the sky, and Russia refuses to put significant forces on the ground, lest too many return home in body bags. Thus, Putin requires Iran’s forces on the ground to secure his ambitions in Syria.

Trump should remain highly skeptical of Putin’s interest and ability to serve as a partner in Syria. The humanitarian relief Putin proposes is designed to fortify the regime, not rehabilitate children brutalized by Assad. Putin also has limited interest in curtailing Iran’s deployment. Russia itself admits that Iran’s withdrawal is “absolutely unrealistic.” Trump should not concede American positions, notably the strategic base at Tanf which blocks Iran’s path to the Mediterranean, for empty promises from Russia. Putin can afford to lie to America, but he can’t afford to control Syria without Iranian support.

This article originally appeared on Real Clear Defense. Follow @RCDefense on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

The Army will spend $500 million training to fight underground

U.S. Army leaders say the next war will be fought in mega-cities, but the service has embarked on an ambitious effort to prepare most of its combat brigades to fight, not inside, but beneath them.

Late 2017, the Army launched an accelerated effort that funnels some $572 million into training and equipping 26 of its 31 active combat brigades to fight in large-scale subterranean facilities that exist beneath dense urban areas around the world.

For this new type of warfare, infantry units will need to know how to effectively navigate, communicate, breach heavy obstacles, and attack enemy forces in underground mazes ranging from confined corridors to tunnels as wide as residential streets. Soldiers will need new equipment and training to operate in conditions such as complete darkness, bad air, and lack of cover from enemy fire in areas that challenge standard Army communications equipment.


Senior leaders have mentioned small parts of the effort in public speeches, but Army officials at Fort Benning, Georgia’s Maneuver Center of Excellence — the organization leading the subterranean effort — have been reluctant to discuss the scale of the endeavor.

(U.S. Army photo by John Lytle)

“We did recognize, in a megacity that has underground facilities — sewers and subways and some of the things we would encounter … we have to look at ourselves and say ‘ok, how does our current set of equipment and our tactics stack up?'” Col. Townley Hedrick, commandant of the Infantry School at the Army’s Maneuver Center of Excellence at Fort Benning, Georgia, told Military.com in an interview. “What are the aspects of megacities that we have paid the least attention to lately, and every megacity has got sewers and subways and stuff that you can encounter, so let’s brush it up a little bit.”

Left unmentioned were the recent studies the Army has undertaken to shore up this effort. The Army completed a four-month review in 2017 of its outdated approach to underground combat, and published a new training manual dedicated to this environment.

“This training circular is published to provide urgently needed guidance to plan and execute training for units operating in subterranean environments, according to TC 3-20.50 “Small Unit Training in Subterranean Environments,” published in November 2017. “Though prepared through an ‘urgent’ development process, it is authorized for immediate implementation.”

A New Priority

The Army has always been aware that it might have to clear and secure underground facilities such as sewers and subway systems beneath densely-populated cities. In the past, tactics and procedures were covered in manuals on urban combat such as FM 90-10-1, “An Infantryman’s Guide to Combat in Built-up Areas,” dated 1993.

Before the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, the mission for taking large, underground military complexes was given to tier-one special operations units such as Army Delta Force and the Navy‘s SEAL Team 6, as well as the Army’s 75th Ranger Regiment.

But the Pentagon’s new focus on preparing to fight peer militaries such as North Korea, Russia and China changed all that.

An assessment last year estimates that there are about 10,000 large-scale underground military facilities around the world that are intended to serve as subterranean cities, an Army source, who is not cleared to talk to the press, told Military.com.

The Army’s Asymmetric Warfare Group — an outfit often tasked with looking ahead to identify future threats — told U.S. military leaders that special operations forces will not be able to deal with the subterranean problem alone and that large numbers of conventional forces must be trained and equipped to fight underground, the source said.

The endeavor became an urgent priority because more than 4,800 of these underground facilities are located in North Korea, the source said.

Relations now seem to be warming between Washington and Pyongyang after the recent meeting between U.S. President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. But in addition to its underground nuclear missile facilities, North Korea has the capability to move thousands of troops through deep tunnels beneath the border into South Korea, according to the Army’s new subterranean manual.

“North Korea could accommodate the transfer of 30,000 heavily armed troops per hour,” the manual states. “North Korea had planned to construct five southern exits and the tunnel was designed for both conventional warfare and guerrilla infiltration. Among other things, North Korea built a regimental airbase into a granite mountain.”

For its part, Russia inherited a vast underground facilities program from the Soviet Union, designed to ensure the survival of government leadership and military command and control in wartime, the manual states. Underground bunkers, tunnels, secret subway lines, and other facilities still beneath Moscow, other major Russian cities, and the sites of major military commands.

More recently, U.S. and coalition forces operating in Iraq and Syria have had to deal with fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria operating in tunnel systems.

Learning to Fight Underground

To prepare combat units, the Army has activated mobile teams to train the leadership of 26 brigade combat teams on how prepare units for underground warfare and plan and execute large-scale combat operations in the subterranean environment.

So far, the effort has trained five BCTs based at Fort Wainwright, Alaska; Schofield Barracks, Hawaii; Camp Casey, Korea; and Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington. Army trainers have a January deadline to finish training 21 more BCTs located at bases including Fort Bragg, North Carolina; Fort Campbell, Kentucky; Fort Drum, New York; Fort Bliss and Fort Hood, Texas, and Fort Richardson, Alaska, the source said.

The 3rd BCT, 4th Infantry Division at Fort Carson, Colorado is next in line for the training.

Army officials confirmed to Military.com that there is an approved plan to dedicate $572 million to the effort. That works out to $22 million for each BCT, according to an Army spokeswoman who did not want to be named for this article. The Army did not say where the money is coming from or when it will be given to units.

Army leaders launched the subterranean effort in 2017, tasking the AWG with developing a training program. The unit spent October-January at Fort A.P. Hill, Virginia, developing the tactics, techniques and procedures, or TTPs, units will need to fight in this environment.

“Everything that you can do above ground, you can do below ground; there are just tactics and techniques that are particular,” the source said, adding that tactics used in a subterranean space are much like those used in clearing buildings.

(U.S. Army photo by Erick Warren)

“The principles are exactly the same, but now do it without light, now do it in a confined space … now try to breach a door using a thermal cutting torch when you don’t have air.”

Three training teams focus on heavy breaching, TTPs and planning and a third to train the brigade leadership on intelligence priorities and how to prepare for brigade-size operations in subterranean facilities.

“The whole brigade will be learning the operation,” the source said.

Army combat units train in mock-up towns known as military operations in urban terrain, or MOUT, sites. These training centers often have sewers to deal with rain water, but are too small to use for realistic training, the source said.

The Defense Department has a half-dozen locations that feature subterranean networks. They’re located at Fort Hood, Texas; Fort Story, Virginia; Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri; Camp Atterbury-Muscatatuck Urban Training Center, Indiana; Tunnel Warfare Center, China Lake, California and Yuma Proving Grounds, Arizona, according to the new subterranean training manual.

Rather sending infrastructure to these locations, units will build specially designed, modular subterranean trainers, created by the AWG in 2014. The completed maze-like structure is fashioned from 15 to 20 shipping containers, or conexes, and sits above ground.

Gen. Stephen Townsend, commander of Army Training and Doctrine Command, talked about these new training structures at the Association of the United States Army’s LANPAC 2018 symposium in Hawaii.

“I was just at the Asymmetric Warfare Group recently; they had built a model subterranean training center that now the Army is in the process of exporting to the combat training centers and home stations,” Townsend said.

“I was thinking to myself before I went and saw it, ‘how are we going to be able to afford to build all these underground training facilities?’ Well, they took me into one that wasn’t underground at all. It actually looked like you went underground at the entrance, but the facility was actually built above ground.But you couldn’t tell that once you went inside of it.”

Shipping containers are commonplace around the Army, so units won’t have to buy special materials to build the trainers, Hedrick said.

“Every post has old, empty conexes … and those are easily used to simulate working underground,” Hedrick said.

Specialized Equipment

Training is only part of the subterranean operations effort. A good portion of the $22 million going to each BCT will be needed buy special equipment so combat units can operate safety underground.

“You can’t go more than one floor deep underground without losing comms with everybody who is up on the surface,” Townsend said. “Our capabilities need some work.”

The Army is looking at the handheld MPU-5 smart radio, made by Persistent Systems LLC, which features a new technology and relies on a “mobile ad hoc network” that will allow units to talk to each other and to the surface as well.

“It sends out a signal that combines with the one next to it, and the one next to it … it just keeps getting bigger and bigger and bigger,” the source said.

Off the shelf, MPU-5s coast approximately $10,000 each.

Toxic air, or a drop in oxygen, are other challenges soldiers will be likely to face operating deep underground. The Army is evaluating off-the-shelf self-contained breathing equipment for units to purchase.

“Protective masks without a self-contained breathing apparatus provide no protection against the absence of oxygen,” the subterranean manual states. “Having breathing apparatus equipment available is the primary protection element against the absence of oxygen, in the presence of hazardous gases, or in the event of a cave-in.”

Soldiers can find themselves exposed to smoke, carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, hydrogen sulfide, methane natural gas underground, according to the manual.

Breathing gear is expensive; some apparatus cost as much as $13,000 apiece, the source said.

Underground tunnels and facilities are often lighted, but when the lights go out, soldiers will be in total darkness. The Army announced in February 2018 that it has money in its fiscal 2019 budget to buy dual-tubed, binocular-style night vision goggles to give soldiers greater depth perception than offered by the current single-tubed Enhanced Night Vision Goggles and AN/PVS 14s.

The Enhanced Night Vision Goggle B uses a traditional infrared image intensifier similar to the PVS-14 along with a thermal camera. The system fuses the IR with the thermal capability into one display. The Army is considering equipping units trained in subterranean ops with ENVG Bs, the source said.

Units will also need special, hand-carried ballistic shields, at least two per squad, since tunnels provide little to no cover from enemy fire.

Weapon suppressors are useful to cut down on noise that’s significantly amplified in confined spaces, the manual states.

Some of the heavy equipment such as torches and large power saws needed for breaching are available in brigade engineer units, Hedrick said.

“We definitely did put some effort into trying to identify a list of normal equipment that may not work and what equipment that we might have to look at procuring,” Hedrick said.

Jason Dempsey, an adjunct senior fellow at the Center for new American Security, was skeptical about the scale of the program.

Dempsey, a former Army infantry officer with two tours in Afghanistan and one in Iraq, told Military.com that such training “wasn’t relevant” to fights in Iraq and Afghanistan.

He questions spending such a large amount of money training and equipping so many of the Army’s combat brigades in a type of combat that they might never need.

“I can totally understand taking every brigade in Korea, Alaska, some of the Hawaii units — any units on tap for first response for something going on in Korea,” said Dempsey, who served in the combat units such as the 75th Ranger Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division and the 10th Mountain Division.

“Conceptually I don’t knock it. The only reason I would question it is if it comes with a giant bill and new buys of a bunch of specialized gear. … It’s a whole new business line for folks whose business tapered off after Afghanistan.”

This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @military.com on Twitter.

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Trump’s federal hiring freeze could impact veterans who’ve already been offered a job

President Donald J. Trump arrives at the Inaugural Parade during the 58th Presidential Inauguration in Washington, D.C. Jan. 20, 2017.


In a moved that shook the federal workforce, President Trump ordered a freeze in the hiring process of all executive branch departments, effective at noon on January 22, 2017.

A report from the Office of Personnel Management estimates that veterans made up about 44 percent of new hires in the executive branch during fiscal year 2015. The total number of veterans employed was 623,755, or roughly 31 percent of the entire executive branch.

So what does this mean for veterans now in the process of seeking employment with the government? Unfortunately, even federal employees currently working in the executive branch aren’t sure.

We Are the Mighty consulted with a Division Director at one of the federal departments, who asked to remain anonymous due to the department being ordered to cease all public communications.

“We just don’t have many answers,” the source told WATM. “This is a very different political environment and we don’t know what to expect.”

We Are the Mighty obtained the “Memorandum for Heads of Executive Departments and Agencies,” signed by acting director of Office of Management and Budget Mark Sandy.

Sent to the heads of the departments, the memorandum read, in part, “An individual who has received a job offer/appointment prior to January 22, 2017, and who has received documentation from the agency that specifies a confirmed start date on or before February 22, 2017, should report to work on that start date.”

Individuals who were offered a position before Jan. 22 but do not have a start date (or a date after February 22) may find that employment offer rescinded. According to the Memorandum for Heads of Executive Departments and Agencies, those positions offered will be under review.

Agencies will be tasked with considering “merit system principles, essential mission priorities, and current agency resources and funding levels” when it comes to determining whether job offers should be rescinded.

At this time, the hiring freeze applies to every executive department except for the Department of Defense, and even then, it only allows for recruiting into active duty.

The leadership in any given executive department may grant an exemption to the freeze if he or she believes it to be in the best interest of national security or public safety, according to the press release from the White House.

This public safety exemption rule could be what helps the Department of Veterans Affairs continue to attempt to fill what it might deem necessary positions among the 3,473 jobs listed on its website — though it is unclear exactly how many of those positions could be considered in the interest of national security or public safety.

That same argument can be made for a large number of positions available at the Department of Defense. As DoD employees are directly related to national security, the department seems to have wide latitude over how it will respond to the hiring freeze.

The President has given the Office of Management and Budget 90 days to present a “long-term plan to reduce the size of the Federal Government’s workforce through attrition.” Upon implementation of that plan, the executive order will expire.

This hiring freeze is part of one of the many campaign promises President Trump made last year to drastically shrink the federal government.