This is why so many veterans turn to music after war - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY TRENDING

This is why so many veterans turn to music after war

An increasing number of studies and testimonials suggest that music heals symptoms of trauma, depression, and anxiety. As a result, veterans are being offered more music programs to help with healing after service.


Walter Reed Army Medical Center and at the National Intrepid Center of Excellence have created a music therapy program.

There are music therapists at VA hospitals across the country.

This is why so many veterans turn to music after war
Vietnam War veteran and Guitars for Vets volunteer James Robledo places a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. (Guitars for Vets photo)

And there are non-profit organizations like Guitars for Vets, which provides free guitar lessons — and a guitar — to veterans nationwide.

Vietnam War veteran James Robledo is a graduate of the program and the chapter coordinator at the Loma Linda chapter in California who, as a volunteer, has helped over 180 veterans graduate from the program.

“Playing the guitar takes concentration, it’s a little frustrating, it’s a challenge — but when you’re doing that, everything else disappears,” Robledo told We Are The Mighty.

Guitars for Vets — and its impact — has gained national attention. Robledo was named the 2015 National Humanitarian of the Year by the National Association of Letter Carriers, and he was invited to a music panel at the White House as well as to place a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns.

“There have been students that have come back and said because of the program they no longer have suicidal thoughts. And that’s what we’re about,” added Robledo.

This is why so many veterans turn to music after war
It costs $200 to put a veteran through the program, and all the funding comes from donations. (Guitars for Vets photo)

Ted Peterson, a veteran of the Navy and the Army and another graduate of the program, joined Robledo (and Willie Nelson — maybe you’ve heard of him) at the White House for a panel on music in the military.

He has written songs about the military community, including one that helped provide solace after the loss of loved ones.

“Learning to play guitar has let me reinvent myself. My knees and back are pretty banged up, but I can still impact other peoples’ lives in a positive way,” said Peterson about how he uses music to help others.

To date, Guitars for Vets has administered over 25,000 guitar lessons and distributed over 2,500 guitars to Veterans, and their waiting list keeps growing, which is why We Are The Mighty has partnered up with Base*FEST powered by USAA to donate $1 (up to $10k) every time you vote for one of our veteran artists and Mission: Music finalists until Sept. 23, 2017.

Editors’s Note: Voting is now closed. We reached our goal of donating $10k to Guitars for Vets — thank you to all those who supported this program!

Articles

This could be the next spacesuit American astronauts wear into orbit

Astronauts travelling aboard Elon Musk’s Dragon Capsule will wear form-fitting white-and-black spacesuits that bear little resemblance to their NASA forebears, the SpaceX founder revealed on August 23, a pivotal development in his quest to launch crewed missions to and from the International Space Station and beyond.


Although he offered few details in his sneak-peek Instagram post – “More in the days to follow,” a brief message promises – the tech billionaire, who is also chief executive of automaker Tesla, indicated that his spacesuit is functional and tested to withstand pressure loss while traveling through space. And in a nod to the design, he noted how “incredibly hard” it was to marry aesthetics and survivability.

The unveiling comes as SpaceX and aeronautics giant Boeing each have struggled to meet deadlines for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, a cost-savings partnership between the agency and private industry focused on facilitating travel to the space station. It could be 2019 before either is certified to fly astronauts there, although both hope to conduct their first crewed test flights next year.

 

 

Boeing, maker of the Starliner space capsule, unveiled its minimalist “Boeing Blue” spacesuit in January. Like the new SpaceX suit, Boeing’s product is lighter, and more tailored and flexible than the cumbersome gear NASA astronauts have worn since the 1960s.

That’s because they’re built for a distinctive mission. For commercial flights to and from the space station, these suits will be worn during launch and reentry, or if a problem occurs causing the capsule to depressurize. As Thuy Ong notes for the Verge, this gear is specifically not intended for spacewalks, so it doesn’t need to provide the same bulky protection from dust and debris, or temperature fluctuation.

Photos of the SpaceX suit (or an early incarnation) first surfaced many months ago on Reddit, where observers were struck by its futuristic appearance. Like science fiction, some said.

This is why so many veterans turn to music after war
Early photos of the SpaceX suit. Image from @SpaceX_fanz on Instagram, via Reddit.

Musk might disagree. The image he released August 23 is refined, exhibiting the considerable attention he gives not only to his products’ function but to the sophistication and simplicity of their design.

Consider, for instance, some early feedback on his newest electric car, the Tesla Model 3, in which nearly all functions – from the wiper blades to the air conditioning and stereo – are controlled via a small touch display beside the steering wheel. Musk has called the car “a very simple, clean design.” That’s deliberately so, he said in July, an effort to recognize that “in the future – really, the future being now – the cars will be increasingly autonomous.”

Indeed, after a three-minute test ride in the Model 3, The Washington Post’s Peter Holley observed the following: “It’s not so much that Tesla is ushering in the future… I’m more inclined to think that Tesla is single-handedly pulling the automotive industry into the present.”

This is why so many veterans turn to music after war
SpaceX Dragon commercial cargo craft is grappled by the Canadarm2 robotic arm at the International Space Station. Image from NASA.

The SpaceX Dragon was built to shuttle cargo into space, which it accomplished for the first time in 2012. It can be configured to carry a crew of seven.

Beyond the space station, Musk has said he wants to launch a human mission to Mars by 2025, a much more ambitious schedule than NASA envisions.

Perfecting the spacesuit technology was seen as a vital benchmark.

MIGHTY HISTORY

USS Langley: The United States Navy’s first aircraft carrier

Recently, the United States Navy celebrated the 98th anniversary of the commissioning of its very first aircraft carrier, the USS Langley (CV-1).

CV-1 was named after American aeronautics engineer, Astronomer, aviation pioneer, bolometer, and physicist, Samuel Piermont Langley (the same guy whose name is on a NASA research center, an Air Force base, a mountain, three other ships — two of which are USN ships — and a slew of schools, buildings, labs, and a unit of solar radiation measurement). The USS Langley was converted from the Proteus-class collier USS Jupiter (AC-3), which itself was commissioned in April or 1913.


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(WikiMedia Commons)

As the Langley, she had a full-load displacement of 13,900 long tons, a length of 542ft, beam of 65ft 5in, draft of 24ft, and 3 boilers. This was also the United States Navy’s first tubro-electric-powered ship. She was commanded by Commander Kenneth Whiting, upon commissioning.

The USS Langley saw service as both an aircarft carrier and a seaplane tender. In the seaplane tender role, she was commissioned as AV-3 on 11 April 1937. She served as AV-3 until 27 February 1942, when she was struck by Japanese bombers. She now rests on the seafloor near Cilacap Harbor, Java, Indonesia.

The USS Langley was the first step in what would help the Navy — and the United States — project global reach and force. A unique feature of the Langley (among all USN aircraft carriers) was its carrier pigeon house. USN carriers (and signals) have come a long way since then.

This is why so many veterans turn to music after war

(SDASM Archives Via Flickr)

Since the commissioning of the USS Langley as the first aircraft carrier, the United States Navy has fielded 80 total carriers. There are currently 11 in service. Both of these numbers vastly outcounts every other nation’s number of aircraft carriers. With a current global total of 44 active carriers (some of those are arguable), America owns 25% of those. But the strategic value of those 11 carriers is much more than 25% of that global total.

The first purpose-built aircraft carrier to be commissioned ever, anywhere, was the Japanese Hōshō, which was commissioned two days after Christmas, 1922.

This article originally appeared on Sandboxx. Follow Sandboxx on Facebook.

Articles

Military officials confirm US special operators are fighting in Raqqa

US military advisers are operating inside the city of Raqqa, Daesh’s last major bastion in Syria, a US official said July 12. The troops, many of them Special Operations Forces, are working in an “advise, assist, and accompany” role to support local fighters from the Syrian Democratic Forces as they battle Daesh, said Col. Ryan Dillon, a military spokesman.


The troops are not in a direct combat role but are calling in airstrikes and are working closer to the fight than did US forces supporting the Iraqi military in Mosul.

“They are much more exposed to enemy contact than those in Iraq,” Dillon said, adding that the numbers of US forces in Raqqa were “not hundreds.”

The operation to capture Raqqa began in November and on June 6 the SDF entered the city. With help from the US-led coalition, the SDF this month breached an ancient wall by Raqqa’s Old City, where die-hard militants are making a last stand.

This is why so many veterans turn to music after war
SDF fighters among rubble in Raqqa. Photo from VOA.

Dillon said the coalition had seen Daesh increasingly using commercial drones that have been rigged with explosives. The militants employed a similar tactic in Mosul.

“Over the course over the last week or two, it has increased as we’ve continued to push in closer inside of Raqqa city center,” he said.

The US military is secretive about exactly how big its footprint is in Syria, but has previously said about 500 Special Operations fighters are there to train and assist the SDF, an Arab-Kurdish alliance.

Additionally, Marines are operating an artillery battery to help in the Raqqa offensive.

This is why so many veterans turn to music after war
The United States Marine Corps provide fire support to the SDF during the Battle of Raqqa. Photo from USMC.

The UN said July 12 it is using newly opened land routes in Syria to expand food deliveries to areas around Raqqa.

The new access has allowed the World Food Program to deliver food to rural areas north of the city for the first time in three years.

More than 190,000 people have been displaced from and within Raqqa province since April 1, according to the UN refugee agency. In the past 48 hours, hundreds of civilians managed to flee areas under Daesh control and cross to territory seized by SDF, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. As the map of control changes, so is the access and WFP said it is now delivering food every month to nearly 200,000 people in eight hard-to-reach locations inside Raqqa province as well as other areas in a neighboring province.

This is why so many veterans turn to music after war
USMC photo by Sgt. Justin T. Updegraff.

Prior to the reopening of the road linking Aleppo in the west to Hassakeh in the east, the WFP relied on airlifts.

“Replacing airlifts with road deliveries will save an estimated $19 million per year, as each truck on the road carries the equivalent of a planeload of food at a significantly lower cost,” said Jakob Kern, the WFP country representative in Syria. “With these cost savings and improved access, we are now reaching more families and people returning to their homes who need our help with regular food deliveries.”

One area that is now reachable is the town of Tabqa, which was taken from Daesh by the US-backed SDF in May. WFP said it was able this month to double the number of people it reaches, delivering monthly food rations to 25,000 people, many of whom have returned to their original homes and are now working to rebuild their lives.

In Homs eastern countryside, meanwhile, a Syrian military source said the army recaptured the Al-Hayl oil field, south of Al-Sukhneh city, from Daesh militants, the state-run news agency SANA reported.

This is why so many veterans turn to music after war
SDF in Tabqa. Photo from VOA.

The fight against Daesh is only one facet of the war in Syria, which is now in its seventh year. Six rounds of UN-brokered peace talks in Geneva have failed to bring the warring sides closer to a political settlement.

A seventh round is now underway in the Swiss city, but expectations for a breakthrough are almost non-existent.

July 12, the head of the Syrian opposition delegation accused President Bashar Assad’s regime of refusing to engage in political discussions.

This is why so many veterans turn to music after war
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Photo courtesy of Moscow Kremlin.

Nasr al-Hariri of the High Negotiations Committee also challenged the UN Security Council to “uphold its responsibilities” and maintain pressure on Assad to honor resolutions that the council has passed. He spoke to reporters after emerging from talks with the UN envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, in the latest round of indirect peace talks. Hariri cited the “continuous refusing” of Assad’s government to participate in political negotiations.

Security Council Resolution 2254 from December 2015 called on top UN officials to convene the two sides “to engage in formal negotiations on a political transition process.”

Also July 12, a human rights group said Syrian-Russian airstrikes and artillery attacks on a town in southern Syria last month killed 10 civilians in and near a school. Human Rights Watch said one of the airstrikes hit the courtyard of a middle school in the town of Tafas in the southern province of Deraa, killing eight people, including a child. It says most of those killed were members of a family who had been displaced from another town. It said two other civilians, including a child, were killed an hour earlier by artillery attacks near the school.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Saudi prosecutor indicts 11 in Khashoggi murder, not crown prince

Saudi Arabia is seeking the death penalty for five suspects in the killing of the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

In a Nov. 15, 2018 statement, the Saudi public prosecutor said that 11 suspects had been indicted in Khashoggi’s death and that he had requested the death penalty for five of them. None of the suspects were named.

The spokesman for the public prosecutor said Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had no knowledge of the killing, Agence France-Presse reported. Crown Prince Mohammed functions as an absolute monarch in Saudi Arabia with control over courts and legislation.


The Saudi foreign minister, Adel al-Jubeir, echoed that claim, telling a separate press conference on Nov. 15, 2018: “Absolutely, his royal highness the crown prince has nothing to do with this issue.” He added that “sometimes people exceed their authority,” without naming any names.

The five people who were recommended for the death penalty are charged with “ordering and committing the crime,” the public prosecutor said.

This is why so many veterans turn to music after war

Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi

Khashoggi, a Saudi journalist who criticized the rule of Crown Prince Mohammed in articles for The Washington Post, died inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2, 2018. He held a US green card and lived near Washington, DC, for at least a year before his death.

How Khashoggi died, according to Saudi Arabia

The Saudi deputy public prosecutor, Shaalan al-Shaalan, told reporters on Nov. 15, 2018, that Khashoggi died from a lethal injection after a struggle inside the Saudi Consulate and that his body was dismembered and taken out of the consulate, according to Reuters.

The agents killed Khashoggi after “negotiations” for the journalist’s return to the kingdom failed, Shaalan said.

He added that the person who ordered the killing was the head of the negotiating team that was dispatched to Istanbul to take Khashoggi home.

The whereabouts of Khashoggi’s body are not known, Shaalan added.

Riyadh has changed its narrative of the death multiple times, having initially claimed that Khashoggi safely left the consulate shortly after he entered and then said weeks later that Khashoggi died in a fistfight as part of a “rogue operation.”

Mevlut Cavusoglu, Turkey’s foreign minister, said that the prosecutor’s Nov. 15, 2018 statement was not “satisfactory” and called for “the real perpetrators need to be revealed.”

This is why so many veterans turn to music after war

Minister of Foreign Affairs of Turkey Mevlut Cavusoglu.

Cavusoglu said, according to the Associated Press: “I want to say that we did not find some of his explanations to be satisfactory.”

He added: “Those who gave the order, the real perpetrators need to be revealed. This process cannot be closed down in this way.”

In early November 2018 Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan accused the “highest levels” of the Saudi leadership of being behind the killing.

Saudi officials have repeatedly tried to distance its leadership, particularly Crown Prince Mohammed, from the killing. There is increasing evidence, however, suggesting that people with close ties to the crown prince were involved in Khashoggi’s death.

In his Nov. 15, 2018 statement, the Saudi prosecutor also said the country had detained 21 people over the killing. Riyadh said in October 2018 that it had detained 18 suspects and dismissed a top general.

That general has since been named by The New York Times as Gen. Ahmed al-Assiri, who was promoted to Saudi intelligence in 2017.

Riyadh wants the audio of Khashoggi’s last moments

The Saudi prosecutor on Nov. 15, 2018, added that the office had “submitted formal requests to brotherly authorities in Turkey” for evidence in Khashoggi’s death, including a purported audio recording of Khashoggi’s last moments that Turkish officials have repeatedly mentioned since October 2018.

The prosecutor added that Saudi Arabia was “still awaiting a response to these requests.”

Erdogan said in early November 2018 that he “passed on” the tape to the US, the UK, France, Germany, and Saudi Arabia.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said his country’s intelligence agents heard the recording, but France said it never received it. Britain and Germany declined to comment.

CIA Director Gina Haspel reportedly heard the recording during a visit to Ankara in October 2018 but was not allowed to bring it back to the US.

The audio features Khashoggi telling his killers “I’m suffocating” and “Take this bag off my head” right before he died, a journalist with Turkey’s state-run Daily Sabah newspaper told Al Jazeera.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

MUSIC

Check out this unintentionally hilarious Coast Guard music video

The military is getting into the music video business more and more lately. The Air Force caught a little flak for the video they put together, “American Airman,” featuring one of its bands, Max Impact — mostly because it looks like it cost more than the entire Marine Corps. They even went on to make more music videos.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Army has been in the game all along with its band, called “Pershing’s Own,” and its many iterations — the most notable of which is a bluegrass cover band, dubbed ” “Six-String Soldiers.”

Now Read: Listen to the US Army’s Bluegrass Cover Band

The Navy hasn’t really been in the music video business all that much since Cher decided to show the crew of the USS Missouri what freedom really looked like back in 1989 (hint: it looks like a one-piece swimsuit and sheer catsuit).

The Coast Guard also took a foray into music videos, with this kid’s cover of the 1959 Frankie Ford classic song, “Sea Cruise.” Say what you will, at least the song choice was appropriate.


Veterans

WWII Veteran recalls V-E Day meaning 76 years later

Help capture other WWII Veteran stories


Then-Army Air Forces pilot Warren Halstead flew missions daily out of Coulommiers, France, during World War II. On May 8, 1945, he was at his duty station, on break from dropping supplies and transporting wounded to hospitals in England. The news came in: the war in Europe was over. Seventy-six years later, the retired Air Force colonel still remembers the mixed emotions of Victory in Europe, or V-E, Day.

“My thoughts were just that I did my part to help bring about this day,” Halstead said. “Also, remember, the war was still full on in the Pacific in Japan, so our thoughts were that we were still at war, so V-E Day, although it was important, it was not the end of WWII.”

This is why so many veterans turn to music after war
Then-World War II Army Air Forces pilot Warren Halstead.

D-Day

For the Tulsa, Oklahoma, native, the war had a memorable beginning. His first combat mission came 11 months prior on June 6, 1944, during D-Day.

“Just a few days before D-Day, (Gen. Dwight) Eisenhower visited the Airborne units and pilots designated to drop the paratroopers on D-Day,” Halstead said. “It was very impressive that the commander of all of the Allied Forces wanted to give some words of encouragement before our big mission on D-Day. He knew many of us would not return from our mission. It meant a lot to us to hear words of encouragement from him.”

Halstead’s unit arrived at a training location in Ramsbury, England, in February. They trained constantly from then until June 6. Their training to drop paratroopers consisted of night flying and flying in formation. They also trained on towing gliders stateside before arriving in England.

On D-Day, the 23-year-old piloted his C-47 into the skies in the early hours before daylight. The weather was good upon takeoff, but there were scattered clouds when they arrived in Normandy.

“You could see all of the tracers from the munitions being fired at us from the enemy on the ground,” Halstead said. “They all seemed to be coming right into the cockpit, however, our plane was not hit on that day.”

His mission was to drop the 82nd Airborne Division paratroopers no matter what. Flying in groups of three within a larger formation, he safely dropped the paratroopers. The next day, he towed one glider with troops and equipment to Saint Mare Eglise.

Later service

He also flew in Market Garden and Battle of the Bulge, getting hit during both operations. Halstead also flew in Operation Varsity in March 1945. This was the largest airborne operation in history to be conducted on a single day in one location. He towed two gliders of the 17th Airborne Division at one time across the Rhine River. The enemy shot the rudder of his plane just after he released the gliders. They safely landed.

Following the war, he used the GI Bill to attend the University of Tulsa where he graduated in 1950 with a B.S. in Zoology. The Air Force recalled him to active duty during Korea, where he received a Distinguished Flying Cross during a mission flying a B-26 bomber. He retired in 1973, but continued to fly civilian aircraft. He has over 15,000 hours of flying time as a pilot.

Visiting years later

This is why so many veterans turn to music after war
Warren Halstead at the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C.

Halstead said visiting those countries he fought over decades later brought several emotions.

“I helped them overcome the terrible regimes they were under,” he said. “I am very happy that these countries are thriving today.”

He said thirty years after the war when he was still on active duty, he took his family to visit Germany.

“The country was thriving then,” he said. “The German economy was thriving, and the Germans were all extremely welcoming to the Americans.”

Remembering now

Halstead hopes Americans mark the day honoring Veterans.

“I think the remembrances that the WWII Memorial Foundation conducts at the WWII Memorial are excellent ways to honor our Veterans,” he said. “Additionally, the recognition ceremonies by the various U.S. military services as well as at Arlington Cemetery are very poignant reminders of the sacrifices we as a nation made for world freedom and democracy.”

Halstead’s daughter said listening to stories from the dwindling World War II Veteran population is important.

“Many Veterans, such as my father, do not talk a lot about their experiences,” Gail Capp said. “Just be there for them and be available and ready to listen when they do want to open up. Finally, go to their reunions. You will hear many stories there.”

Help capture history

More than 16 million men and women served during World War II. Today, there’s less than 390,000 still alive.

The National WWII Museum strives to preserve the legacy and lessons of World War II through the stories of those who experienced the war. They accept Oral Histories and memoirs that people have conducted or printed themselves.

Submit written World War II memoirs or stories for the Museum Library by mail to:

The National WWII Museum

945 Magazine Street

New Orleans, LA 70130

attn: Museum Library

Learn more about the museum’s oral history project at https://www.nationalww2museum.org/oral-history-resources.

The Veterans History Project of the American Folklife Center collects, preserves, and makes accessible the personal accounts of American war Veterans so that future generations may hear directly from Veterans and better understand the realities of war.

Learn more at https://www.loc.gov/vets/about.html.

Download a field kit to do interviews at https://www.loc.gov/vets/kitmenu.html.

This article originally appeared on U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.

Articles

The first black fighter pilot was also an infantry hero and a spy

Eugene Bullard was born in Georgia in 1895. He emigrated to France, became both an infantry hero and the first black fighter pilot in World War I, and a spy in World War II.


Growing up in Georgia, Bullard saw his father nearly killed by a lynch mob and decided at the age of 8 to move to France. It took him nearly ten years of working through Georgia, England, and Western Europe as a horse jockey, prize fighter, and criminal before he finally moved to Paris.

Less than a year later, Germany declared war on France, dragging it into what would quickly become World War I. At the time only men over the age of 19 could enlist in France, so Bullard waited until his birthday on Oct. 9, 1914 to join the French Foreign Legion.

As a soldier, Bullard was exposed to some of the fiercest fighting the war had to offer from Nov. 1914 to Feb. 1916. He was twice part of units that had taken so many casualties that they had to be reorganized and combined with others.

This is why so many veterans turn to music after war
Cpl. Eugene Bollard in the French 170th Infantry. Photo: Wikipedia

In Feb. 1916, Bullard was with France’s 170th Infantry at the Battle of Verdun where over 300,000 men were killed with another 400,000 missing, captured, or wounded in 10 months of fighting. Bullard would see only the beginning of the battle. From Feb. 21 to Mar. 5, 1916, he fought on the front where he later said, “the whole front seemed to be moving like a saw backwards and forwards,” and “men and beasts hung from the branches of trees where they had been blown to pieces.”

On Mar. 2, an artillery shell killed four of Bullard’s comrades and knocked out all but four of his teeth. Bullard remained in the fight, but was wounded again on Mar. 5 while acting as a volunteer courier between French officers. Another shell caught him, cutting open his thigh and throwing him across the ground. The next day, he was carried off the battlefield by an ambulance.

For his heroism at Verdun, Bullard was awarded the French Croix de Guerre and Médaille Militaire. Because of his wounds, he was declared unfit for service in the infantry.

While most men would have stopped there to accept the adulation of France, Bullard volunteered for the French Air Force and began training Oct. 5, 1916 as an aerial gunner. After he learned about the Lafayette Escadrille, a French Air Force unit mostly filled with American pilots, he switched to pilot training.

This is why so many veterans turn to music after war
Eugene Jacques Bullard poses with his monkey who sometimes accompanied him on missions. Photo: US Air Force historical photo

As the first black fighter pilot, Bullard served in the Lafayette Escadrille Sep. to Nov. 1917 where he had one confirmed kill and another suspected. When America entered the war, Lafayette attempted to switch to the American forces. American policy at the time forbid black pilots and the U.S. went so far as to lobby for him to be removed from flight status in France. Bullard finished the war with the 170th, this time in a noncombat status.

Between World War I and II, Bullard married and divorced a French woman and started both a successful night club and a successful athletic club.

In the late 1930s, the French government asked Bullard to assist in counterintelligence work to catch German spies in Paris. Using his social position, his clubs and his language skills, Bullard was able to collect information to resist German efforts. When the city fell in 1940, he initially fell back to Orleans but was badly wounded there while resisting the German advance.

He was smuggled to Spain and then medically evacuated to New York where he lived out his life. In 1954, he briefly returned to Paris as one of three French heroes asked to relight the Eternal Flame of the Tomb of the Unknown French Soldier at the Arc de Triomphe.

Now: How a modern battalion of Army Rangers would perform in Civil War combat

MIGHTY TRENDING

This is why Wil Willis was proud to serve

Army Ranger and Air Force Pararescueman Wil Willis is literally an American bad ass, so it makes sense Kid Rock’s epic song would make his Battle Mix playlist.


“Music became sort of this way of marking your time through the military.”

He’s not the only vet to talk about the impact music had on his time in the service. Like others, Willis has specific memories tied to the music he listened to while wearing the uniform, whether he connected with the lyrics or sang the songs to keep the cadence on unit runs.

“When you’re in the Ranger battalion, you’re the tip of the spear. ‘Break glass in case of war. Unleash hell’ — War Pigs is what that’s all about.”

Willis said he fought for family and love and adventure; for him, that was the whole point of service.

Check out the rest of his Battle Mix on Spotify by clicking right here:

MIGHTY TRENDING

SecDef: Soleimani’s killing dealt big setback to Iranian terrorism

Two months after a U.S. drone strike killed a preeminent Iranian general, the Pentagon’s top two military leaders said President Donald Trump made the right decision, one that has deterred Iran’s terrorist activities in the region.


Defense Secretary Mark Esper told members of the Senate Armed Services Committee on Wednesday that it was the right call to kill Iranian Quds Force leader Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani, describing him as a “terrorist leader of a terrorist organization that killed many, many Americans, wounded thousands more.”

This is why so many veterans turn to music after war

Sen. Martha McSally, R-Arizona, said she agreed with the decision to carry out the Jan. 2 missile strike on Soleimani’s vehicle in Baghdad and asked Esper to talk about how the attack has affected Iran.

“It’s now been two months. Can you share at all what you have seen?” McSally asked. “I believe we have heard from you and others that it was a body blow, the impact that that is having on Iran’s terrorist activities.”

Esper said it’s clear that “taking him off the battlefield has set back the [Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps] and the Iranian government with regard to spreading their malign activity through the region.”

“I think at the same action, we have restored deterrence to a degree,” he said. “And so, for all those things, I still believe it was the right call made by the commander in chief.”

Iran retaliated for the death of Soleimani by firing 15 ballistic missiles at Al Asad Air Base, an installation in Iraq that houses U.S. troops. There were no immediate casualties in the attack, but since then more than 100 U.S. service members have been diagnosed with traumatic brain injury from the concussive effects of the missiles.

At the hearing, Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, asked Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley to reflect on the decision to carry out the strike on Soleimani.

This is why so many veterans turn to music after war

“We all know General Soleimani wasn’t in Iraq on vacation,” Sullivan said. “He was there targeting the killing of more American service members, which he has a long history of doing.”

Milley responded by saying, “I believe the intelligence was compelling; I believe it was imminent” of Soleimani’s “command-and-control role and what he was about to do.”

“I believe that I, Secretary Esper, the president and many others would have been culpably negligent had we not taken the action we did … because I think many Americans would have died as a result,” Milley added. “I believe it was the right thing to do then, and I still believe that. And I believe we contributed to reestablishing deterrence of aggressive action from Iran.”

In the aftermath of the Soleimani strike, the Pentagon ordered thousands of soldiers and Marines to the Middle East to prepare for future Iranian aggression.

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

MIGHTY HISTORY

This was the first successful carrier raid

In July 1918, militaries were experimenting with aircraft carriers, especially the American and British navies. But, as far as any of the Central Powers knew, carrier operations were an experiment that had borne only limited fruit. No carrier raids had significantly damaged targets ashore. And that was true until July 19, when a flight of Sopwith Camels took off from the HMS Furious and attacked German Zeppelin facilities at Tondern, Denmark.


This is why so many veterans turn to music after war

The British carrier HMS Furious with its split deck.

(Imperial War Museums)

America was the first country to experiment with aircraft carriers after civilian pilot Eugene Ely flew a plane off the USS Birmingham, a modified cruiser, in 1911. But as World War I broke out, the naval power of Britain decided that it wanted to build its own carrier operations, allowing it to float airfields along the coasts of wartime Europe and other continents.

This required a lot of experimentation, and British aviators died while establishing best practices for taking off, landing, and running the decks of carriers. One of the ship experiments was the HMS Furious, a ship originally laid down as a light battlecruiser. It was partially converted during construction into a semi-aircraft carrier that still had an 18-inch gun, then converted the rest of the way into a carrier.

After its full conversion, the Furious had a landing-on deck and a flying-off deck split by the ship’s superstructure. This, combined with the ship’s exhaust that flowed over the decks, made landing tricky.

The Furious and other carriers and sea-based planes had scored victories against enemies at sea. But in 1918, the Royal Navy decided it was time to try the Furious in a raid on land.

This is why so many veterans turn to music after war

Sopwtih Camels prepare to take off from the HMS Furious to attack German Zeppelin sheds in July 1918.

(Imperial War Museums)

On July 19, 1918, two flights of Sopwith Camels launched from the decks with bombs. There were three aircraft in the first wave, and four in the second wave. Even these takeoffs were tricky in the early days, and the second wave of aircraft suffered three losses as it was just getting going. One plane’s engine failed at takeoff, one crashed, and one made a forced landing in Denmark.

But the first wave was still strong, and the fourth bomber in the second wave was still ready and willing to get the job done.

So they proceeded to Tondern where German Zeppelin sheds housed the airships and crews that bombed London and British troops, and conducted reconnaissance over Allied powers. These airships were real weapons of terror against Britain and its subjects, and the military wanted them gone.

This is why so many veterans turn to music after war

Building housing German Zeppelins burns at Tondern in July 1918.

(Public domain)

Hitting Tondern was especially valuable as it was a convenient place from which to attack London. So the four remaining pilots flew over German defenses and attacked the Zeppelins there, successfully hitting two sheds which burst into flames.

Luckily, each of those housed an airship at the time, and the flames consumed them both. They were L.54 and L.60. The Zeppelin L.54 had conducted numerous reconnaissance missions and dropped over 12,000 pounds in two bombing missions over England. The Zeppelin L.60 had dropped almost 7,000 pounds of bombs on England in one mission.

While the destruction of two Zeppelins, especially ones that had already bombed England and so loomed in the British imagination, was valuable on its own, the real victory for England came in making exposed bases much less valuable.

The Western-most bases had been the best for bombing England, especially Tondern which was protected from land-based bombers by its position on the peninsula, but they were now highly vulnerable to more carrier raids. And the HMS Furious wasn’t Britain’s only carrier out there.

Germany was forced to pull its Zeppelins back to better protected bases, and it maintained Tondern as an emergency base, only there to recover Zeppelins that couldn’t make it all the way back home after a mission.

Germany lost another airship to a navy-based fighter in August, this time in a crazy aerial attack after Royal Air Force Flight sub-lieutenant Stuart Culley launched from a barge and flew his plane to the maximum altitude he could reach that day, a little over 18,000 feet, and shot down a Zeppelin with incendiary rounds.

This wasn’t the first or only time a fighter had caught a Zeppelin in the air, but it was one of the highest fights that had succeeded against a Zeppelin, and it meant that sea-based fighters had taken out three Zeppelins in less than a month, and all three losses had taken place in facilities or at an altitude where Germany thought they were safe.

MIGHTY TRENDING

The Untold Story of the Hunt for Osama Bin Laden

It has been 10 years since May 2, 2011, the night a top-secret SEAL raid took out notorious terrorist and 9/11 mastermind Osama bin Laden at his hideout in Abbottabad, Pakistan. You may think you know the story of bin Laden and the ten-year manhunt that ended in his death, but you’ve probably seen it like this before. In Revealed: The Hunt for Osama bin Laden, the 9/11 Museum and the History Channel team up to present never-before-seen interviews and previously classified material. Film co-producers Clifford Chanin and Jessica Chen join Left of Boom to explain why every American should know this story.

Subscribe to the Left of Boom podcast:

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Mentioned in this episode:

Osama bin Laden

Sept. 11, 2001 Attacks

Operation Neptune Spear

Navy SEALs

Afghanistan War

Zero Dark Thirty

The following is an edited transcript of this episode of Left of Boom:

Hope Hodge Seck 0:00

Welcome back to Left of Boom. I’m your host, Military.com managing editor Hope Hodge Seck. Today’s episode is a treat. We’ll be talking to Clifford Chanin and Jessica Chen, executive producer and co-producer of Revealed: The Hunt for Bin Ladin, a brand-new documentary premiering now on the History Channel. It’s the 10-year anniversary of Operation Neptune spear, the May 2, 2011 SEAL raid that ended the life of 9/11 mastermind Osama bin Laden. This new project includes interviews with past U.S. presidents, senior decision-making officials and the SEALs themselves to present a new picture of events that changed American history forever. After hearing this episode, I promise you’ll want to check it out for yourself. So without further ado, let’s get into it. Cliff and Jess, welcome to the show.

Clifford Chanin 0:56

Great to be here. Thanks, Hope.

Jessica Chen 0:57

Thank you.

Hope Hodge Seck 0:59

It’s hard to believe it has been 10 years since the bin Laden raid. The operation itself was one of the earlier world events to be live-tweeted. I remember there was a guy near Abbottabad who heard helicopters and started tweeting about what he was hearing and seeing. And since then reporting on what happened there has been abundant. You’ve got everything from Zero Dark 30 to the man who ostensibly fired the kill shot at bin Laden, who has accumulated some fame in his own right. But this project goes a whole lot deeper than all of that. How did it come about?

Clifford Chanin 1:35

Well, it was more than five years ago in fact that we first started talking about this as an exhibition. We have a special exhibitions gallery in the museum. And we have done a couple of shows prior to this. But certainly the raid and the end of bin Laden’s life is also the end of a major chapter in the 9/11 story. It’s not the end of the threat. It’s not the end of the 9/11 story itself. But it certainly is an important moment in that overall story. And so we began developing this as an exhibition. And in the course of that development, the relationships we had with the military and the intelligence folks had really developed through a set of other programs at the museum. And so we were getting access to people and to objects that could be shown in the exhibition that actually went far beyond what we’d originally imagined. It was hard to imagine this originally, because everything was still classified, essentially. So we didn’t even know what we were asking for in most cases. But as we began to get access to people, including some still active in the intelligence community, people who were part of the hunt, who were there for the conclusion of the hunt. We put together for the exhibition, I think it was a very, very powerful narrative in the context of an exhibition that was only a tiny fraction of what we had gathered through the interview process. And so we decided that for the 10th anniversary of the raid, it would be a very powerful film. We added even after the exhibition opened, a number of very important interviews that fleshed out the story beyond what the exhibition could tell. And so it was a bit of a rush, and doing things under COVID is, as everybody knows, at least very different, if not crazy, but we did manage and get it to completion. And here we are Sunday night, May 2, History Channel, I’m doing the plug … And that’s the short version of the story.

Hope Hodge Seck 3:44

Where do you start? What are the first phone calls that you make to kind of open the doors to as you said, to this previously undisclosed information?

Clifford Chanin 3:52

I’ll let Jess tell about these programs that I mentioned before, because they turn out to be absolutely critical in establishing a level of confidence and trust between the museum and these broader agencies. So I think Jess should pick up the beginnings of the story. And then we can talk about, you know, how we actually tried to figure out what the story should be.

Jessica Chen 4:13

Sure, thanks, Cliff. So at the museum, the museum opened in 2014. But even before that, it really benefited from a really strong relationship with a lot of the agencies that not only responded immediately after 9/11, but kind of took up the work after 9/11 to combat terrorism and also to do the work that continues to keep this nation safe. And so those groups not only provided assets for the exhibition, but have continued to come to the museum, especially with new recruits and with new staffers who are interested in understanding how 9/11 fits into their institutional history. These visits have actually become very cool programs that we offer to what we call professional groups. And these are groups that are comprised of intelligence agencies, ;aw enforcement agencies, military and government professionals who are really kind of diving into their museum experience with a very personal connection, but also a mission-oriented sense of the story for us at the museum, not only in the museum work that we do, but also thinking about this film. It’s largely stemming from these relationships that have been built over time, not only with the people who were part of making the museum happen, but also the people who continue to bring new people through the museum.

Hope Hodge Seck 5:29

It’s incredible. What do you think are the biggest misconceptions most Americans have about the story of Osama bin Laden in the way that his narrative intertwines with the United States?

Clifford Chanin 5:45

Well, you know, it’s a really interesting question. It came to such a definitive conclusion on May 2, 2011, people could get the impression that there was kind of a straight-line outcome here, that this was all forordained, and this was just how it was going to turn out. And I would say, that’s anything but the truth. The first issue is what our focus on bin Laden was before 9/11, which wasn’t widely concentrated across the national security community. Obviously, there were people who were focused on al-Qaida and understood the threat and understood that in 1996 and 1998, when bin Laden issues fatwas justifying attacks against the United States, against American civilians in the second fatwa, that, you know, that is an important threat. But there were other things going on in the world. And even those earlier attacks and the embassies in Africa in 1998, the Cole in 2000, as tragic and impactful as they were, it did not really transform the sense of the threat. And that, of course, was what happened on 9/11. And so, to me, the interesting part, and I think we present this in some fascinating detail, how do you hunt for someone who’s hiding from you who could be anywhere in the world? And who’s actually quite good at hiding? I was talking about this one of the intelligence analysts at one point, and she said, Well, you know, Ted Kaczynski was hiding in the United States, our own country, I think it was 17 years, and we couldn’t find him. So you know, why would it have been easier to find Osama bin Laden, and then even when the lead gets us pointed at that compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, where ultimately he was found, there’s never any assurance, it’s no more than a circumstantial case, that this may be somewhat important, but there’s no guarantee it’s Osama bin Laden. And so every step of the way has risk. Every step of the way has a calculation about, Is this real? And if we act as though it’s real, and it turns out not to be real, what are the consequences of that going to be? I mean, just imagine everything that happens on that raid happens exactly the same way. And it’s not Osama bin Laden. You know, it’s some drug dealer, we’re not going to invade Pakistani territory for a drug dealer. So how do we deal with that? And so one thing after another, which in retrospect, seemed like a very logical progression, none of it, none of it was except, and it’s a remarkable credit to their work. But the intelligence professionals who drove this hunt, said, Yes, we can’t give you a written guarantee. But this is what the conclusion leads us to determine.

Jessica Chen 8:38

I’m gonna add to what Cliff just said, and kind of characterize it in my own personal experience. I was starting eighth grade on 9/11. And then I was in New York, having just graduated from college, when the raid, the successful operation was announced. And I think for a lot of people who are my age, and who kind of, these two moments kind of form the bookends of our adulthood or growing up into adulthood, I think that it’s hard to kind of link the first moment to this moment. The film itself kind of traces these bookmarks. You know, it starts with intelligence, it goes to policy, and then it goes to the military raid. And I think we forget just how committed many people were after 9/11 to finding this person that was that was really hard to find. And I think what the film does is, it helps people to understand that the motivation and the drive to bring justice did not go away, even though they couldn’t find him, and that there were real personal sacrifices made along the way. I’m really hopeful that for my peers to watch this film, and to understand just how committed everybody was to seeing this through.

Hope Hodge Seck 9:49

I really resonate with that. I think we’re of a very similar age. I think I was also in eighth grade when the attacks happened. I think that really puts it in context. They were key moments. Guess I’ll just ask you both to expand on that. So when you have this wealth of information and all these exhibits, and all of this documentation, how do you then make decisions for how to organize it to tell and frame a story, especially when you’ve got the constraints of time?

Clifford Chanin 10:19

So it was shaped a little bit by the exhibition, although the film is very different than the exhibition. And I do want to say, again, just a brief plug, the exhibition itself, the museum is open, the 9/11 museum is open, we’ve just reopened the bin Laden special exhibition. So I hope people who are thinking of traveling to New York might consider coming to see it if they can. We’re offering online virtual tours of the museum and the exhibition as well. So 911 memorial.org, our website is the place to go looking for that. Sorry for diverging from your question. But the most powerful factor in shaping this, from the very beginning, we alluded to this before, but it’s very unusual, curatorially speaking, we never had a sense in advance of what objects and which people we would have available to us to tell the story. So we would make requests based on these relationships that just described earlier, of these intelligence agencies initially, just to say, look, were planning to do this exhibition, we’d like to be able to talk to you about what might be available for us. And those agencies are bound by the classification rules, obviously. And even though, you know, many of the key public figures who were involved in this had spoken about the raid and wrote wrote about the raid, technically it was still classified. So anything that they were going to make available to us had to go through an internal process within each of these agencies, and the agencies have different processes with different considerations. And on top of which we never knew how long it would take, or what the criteria for decision would be, as to whether or not we could get something. So that was, that was curious. But we did manage to get these meetings that particularly on the intelligence side, where we go in, and we’d say, Well, here’s the point in the story that we’re trying to make, we’re trying to tell, for example, that, you know, there was this massive effort to find as much intelligence as you could by partnering the intelligence agencies on the battlefield with the military, just do these raids and sweeps and process all this intelligence in real time. So you can really make it actionable as soon as possible. Okay. That’s a good point, right? What could demonstrate that. So we are museum curators who don’t know what the objects are, and the people were asking our intelligence professionals who don’t know what museum curators need. So, you know, we would really try to be very specific in their requests. And inevitably, what happened was, we’d be in these meetings, you know, in these secret bunkers. And you know, you have to be screened to get in with a pass and an escort and you’re never, you’re never alone. And we’d be sitting in these rooms. And we’d make a point, this is what this is the kind of thing we want. And you could see, they began looking at each other. And you could see the eyes communicating there, maybe a little smile here and there. But they wouldn’t say anything in front of us. Because what they were thinking of offering us was still classified. And so the question was, A, is this really the answer to the question of what they’re looking for? Well, we can’t ask them. And B, if it is the answer to the question of what they’re looking for, can we get it cleared and give it to them? So the process was very elaborate. Internally, the only thing I will add is, it’s very clear to me and we became, you know, friends with some of the folks in the agencies who became our internal advocates. So there were people who, for a variety of reasons thought, this story should be told the 9/11 Museum is the place to tell it, and I, Person X, who have access to the process, who understand what’s being asked for, who know the people who are involved in making these decisions, I am going to be the internal advocate for this project inside my agency. I don’t think this happens, really, if we don’t have a handful of those key people. I can’t thank them personally, well, I thank them personally, but I can’t thank them publicly, for exactly the same reasons that I’ve described in the beginning of this story. But that really is the key doing this, because they all are knit into this story together. They know one another, they trust one another. They work together. And they would vouch for us with some of the other folks who may have retired or whatever it was, Would you be willing to sit down for an interview with them? And that’s how the process really unfolded.

Jessica Chen 14:45

To pick up where Cliff leaves off. You know, now you have all these relationships, all of these advocates and what sometimes feels like a landslide of connections of details, of stories to tell. I think Cliff and I both have kind of threads in the story that we felt very personally convicted to bring to light. You know, there, there are some things that are explained that that I think I’d leave it to Cliff to kind of flesh out in more detail that have never been kind of discussed publicly before. But I think for me, you know, something that was incredibly important when evaluating how to take all of this material and put it in a film, which, although it’s, it’s a full-length film, felt a little short at the end, because we’re trying to stuff so much stuff into it. For me, it was really understanding how can we convey the humanity and the human cost at every step in the story. So the film opens, really, with an understanding of 9/11, and the human loss on 9/11. And then you go through a hunt that is marked by people who are incredibly human. I hope we’ve captured them, kind of their frustration, but also their commitment, and even their human sacrifice in terms of seeing this through policymakers, when they’re discussing the hunt, the odds that Cliff described earlier, really thinking about the people who are going to be doing this and what they’re putting, those people in that situation that they’re asking them to expose themselves to, and then the military members who take on kind of the risk and see the mission through. And so I think, because of all the interviews with so many generous, unseen individuals, we’re able to kind of get a sense of the people that the real people who kind of were involved in the story, and I hope we’ve done a good job and kind of lending some some of their personalities to tell the story.

Hope Hodge Seck 16:31

Man, I can’t wait to see it. What sorts of things are easier to understand and analyze and contextualize, with the benefit of 10 years of hindsight?

Clifford Chanin 16:44

Well, I do think there was an awareness in the community at large, that one of the failures of 9/11 was the lack of communication across agencies, and between the intelligence and the military world. And they tried to fix that right away. And because of, you know, tradition and culture, and just the different approaches, that wasn’t an easy fix. But once we were fighting in Afghanistan, and then in Iraq, it was something they realized, you just had to do it, because you were losing service members on the battlefield there. And there was always a sense that al-Qaida was still out there, bin Laden was still out there, and didn’t know what they were planning. But you knew they were planning something, and so you know, that prospect of another catastrophe, or simply not doing enough to protect American military personnel on the battlefield, that really broke down a lot of barriers. And it’s a remarkable story, because, you know, the techniques, the practices that were sort of implemented over years before the raid in Pakistan, were the very same techniques and practices that were applied to solve this problem of what’s going on in that compound. And so even though it was from the distance factor, and from the political factor of going into an allied sovereign nation without their permission, and conducting a military operation, in the heart of a populated area, the people who knew how to do this, were confident that they could do it, and they had done things like this enough and work together enough that, you know, it was more complicated, certainly, and more risky because of the factors involved. But you know, as one of the SEALs says in one of the interviews, that a raid is a raid is a raid. You know, we know how to do this. It’s really, you know, a remarkable piece. And the aviation piece of this is also something that — the whole mission was about four hours. Forty minutes of that mission, were on the ground, which means more than three hours, the operators were basically passengers on what one of the SEALs called a ginormous bus. And so the success of the mission is in the hands of the pilots, and how they conduct themselves and how they’re prepared for this and what they know about the conditions that they’re flying in all of this interaction. And all of the key actors had worked with one another on other missions before they knew one another, they trusted one another. And so again, that period, through war, of really developing expertise and trust, I think it was key to what would ultimately happen and what the U.S. military has learned about how to conduct these kinds of operations.

Hope Hodge Seck 19:41

To build on that, are there indicators that events would play out differently if they happen today? You talked about the need to communicate better. I know that’s not a problem that probably will ever be fully solved.

Clifford Chanin 19:57

You know, the thing that The experts always say is that the threat changes. And so 9/11 was a product of al-Qaida, which was at that point, a structured administrated centralized organization, with, for a terrorist group, you know, reasonably efficient command and control. The years since have seen that central structure come under enormous pressure and break in many ways. But the threat has splintered into other groups that may be connected with al-Qaida or not, may have been inspired by al-Qaida may have said al-Qaida didn’t go far enough, as the Islamic State did. Or that you might have these so called “lone actor” terrorists who radicalize online or through personal contacts with people and decide on their own as some ideologists of the Jihad have urged them, just to attack people where you can. I mean, we don’t want to have a centralized structure anymore, or we can’t sustain a centralized structure anymore. But it doesn’t change what the mission needs to be. That threat changes. Therefore, how we study it, how we understand it has to change, and how we respond to it has to change.

Hope Hodge Seck 21:09

One aspect of the way the story is told, and you’ve already referred to this, is there are these educational materials for high schoolers to discuss 911 and the hunt for bin Laden and Operation Neptune Spear. Today’s high schoolers obviously have no memory of 9/11, which is a little bit shocking for older Millennials like me to contemplate. And in fact, there are even soldiers and Marines and service members who have deployed to Afghanistan with no memory of 9/11, which is the nexus for the start of this war. Why was it so important to provide an entry point for high schoolers into this material?

Jessica Chen 21:51

For me, I think so much of and I’m also speaking from an older Millennial perspective, but our department or my department in the museum is focused on education. And I lean on my colleagues and their expertise to work specifically with students. But I think all of us on the education team feel really strongly that the world that we live in today is shaped so much by the events of 9/11 and the events that followed, I think it’s important to contextualize it because we understand that the leadership lessons, the incredible stories of courage and of commitment, that they have resonances with what is going on in the world today. And I think that trying to engage students, and trying to kind of connect them with the importance of understanding our shared history is just so, so important and so central, as they think about, you know, where they’re going to be in the next 10 years.

Clifford Chanin 22:43

You know, this is the 10th anniversary of the bin Laden raid, but it’s also the 20th anniversary, this September, of 9/11. Twenty years is the span of a generation. Think about it. I mean, nobody who’s in high school was even born when 9/11 happened. And if you’re in college, you may have been born, but you were a year or two old and you’re not going to remember it. And so it’s a funny thing that happens with history and a museum like ours. When we started this project, and I go way back to, I wasn’t in junior high school when this happened. So the thought was, well, everybody knows this story. So you know, what’s going to make our presentation of the story compelling? Well, 20 years pass, and that assumption is completely out the window. Not everybody knows this story. In fact, every day, more people don’t know this story. And so the challenge for the museum of telling this story, and as Jess says, explaining just how significant this moment in history was, and continues to be. Now that becomes, I think, frankly, more than we imagined it 15 years ago, that becomes central to the mission of our current-day museum and will only grow in importance every day. I mean, think about, it’s not just the attack and the vulnerability. It’s the response of this country. I mean, I don’t know if you guys remember. But, you know, this country came together across all divides, across all barriers, I mean, all the things we’re struggling with as a society today, were wiped away by the common solidarity and feeling that service was spontaneously the outcome of Americans reactions to 9/11. Not just Americans, people around the world. If we’re thinking about where we are today, look back and ask the question, what was it that gave us this kind of resilience and solidarity 20 years ago? What’s missing? What can we do about it now? Because it’s better to be like that than it is to be at each other’s throats. And so, you know, that’s how the mission of the museum evolves. It’s always rooted in 9/11 and telling that story, but there’s no fixed point where you can say Hey, okay, this is over, let’s turn the page. It just doesn’t happen like that.

Hope Hodge Seck 25:04

I have one final question that I hope that both of you will answer in your own way. What larger story do you think all the events that you cover in this documentary, and the accompanying presentation, tell us about America?

Jessica Chen 25:19

I think, you know, going back to personal experience again, and also I was on the West Coast when 9/11 happened, and now have spent most of my adult life on the East Coast. So I consider myself a New Yorker. But I think the breadth of characters of people who undertake this work is pretty remarkable, you know, something that I can say without necessarily speaking to specific identities, but the number of women who are involved in this work and who take on, you know, risk and responsibility. I’m hopeful that, that when people watch this film, that they’re going to see something in it that reminds them of themselves and where they are in life and how they can contribute to society, but can also just recognize the importance of working together. And this is just to kind of pick up on what Cliff was just saying, that almost everybody who we interviewed for this film, mentioned, at some point in their interview, just looking back and thinking how remarkable it is when everybody learns how to place trust in one another when everyone works together, when everyone is committed to a common purpose. And I think that obviously can be applied into situations that are not exactly like this, but even the environments that all of us work in and live in. That’s kind of that that’s where I where I land on the film.

Clifford Chanin 26:34

Yeah, I agree. You know, as we’ve gotten to know some of the folks involved, it’s very obvious that they disagree about things, they don’t all see the world the same way. And yet, when they were required to do something for the common good, the only factor was how to succeed in doing that task. Everything else was secondary. And it’s been my good fortune to see some of those relationships in action, to see how they relate to one another, in spite of whatever other differences that are much, much smaller in importance than the things they have in common. But in spite of their differences, there is a sense of mutual recognition in the idea that they went through this together, they took the risks together, they understood that the most important thing in these circumstances is to be able to count on the other person you’re working with, regardless of anything else. And every one of them came through for everybody else when they needed to. That’s just a remarkable story. And it is really what it is to offer the best of your service on behalf of your country. And really on behalf of the common humanity that you know, you share with everyone else who’s involved in this. And of course, for the families of the 9/11 victims, for the victims themselves who were killed. I mean, that focal point of the mission, never faltered through the hunt, when they weren’t finding anybody when they didn’t know where to look. All of that drove them onward to this, you know, remarkable, remarkable success story.

Hope Hodge Seck 28:21

Well, thank you both so much for being here today. This documentary, as you said, comes out May 2, what are the different ways that people can watch?

Clifford Chanin 28:29

Well, the History Channel is going to be premiering it through your cable provider. As of May 3, it’s available through histories, website and digital platforms. And you have to sign on with your cable login information. And it’s also available for sale through various streaming partners that provide History Channel broadcasts

Hope Hodge Seck 28:54

Fantastic. Thank you so much for your time.

Clifford Chanin 28:57

Thanks, Hope.

Jessica Chen 28:58

Thank you.

Hope Hodge Seck 29:08

Thanks for joining us for this special episode of Left of Boom. I’d love to hear your thoughts on “The Hunt for Bin Laden.” Send me an email at podcast@military.com and let me know what you think of the documentary and presentation. You can also pitch me ideas for future shows while you’re at it. If you’re not subscribed to the podcast, please go ahead and do it now so you don’t miss a future episode. And leave us a rating and review to so other people can find us. And remember that you can get all the news and information you need about your military community every day at Military.com.

Transcribed by https://otter.ai

Hope Hodge Seck 0:00

Welcome back to Left of Boom. I’m your host, Military.com managing editor Hope Hodge Seck. Today’s episode is a treat. We’ll be talking to Clifford Chanin and Jessica Chen, executive producer and co-producer of Revealed: The Hunt for Bin Ladin, a brand-new documentary premiering now on the History Channel. It’s the 10-year anniversary of Operation Neptune spear, the May 2, 2011 SEAL raid that ended the life of 9/11 mastermind Osama bin Laden. This new project includes interviews with past U.S. presidents, senior decision-making officials and the SEALs themselves to present a new picture of events that changed American history forever. After hearing this episode, I promise you’ll want to check it out for yourself. So without further ado, let’s get into it. Cliff and Jess, welcome to the show.

Clifford Chanin 0:56

Great to be here. Thanks, Hope.

Jessica Chen 0:57

Thank you.

Hope Hodge Seck 0:59

It’s hard to believe it has been 10 years since the bin Laden raid. The operation itself was one of the earlier world events to be live-tweeted. I remember there was a guy near Abbottabad who heard helicopters and started tweeting about what he was hearing and seeing. And since then reporting on what happened there has been abundant. You’ve got everything from Zero Dark 30 to the man who ostensibly fired the kill shot at bin Laden, who has accumulated some fame in his own right. But this project goes a whole lot deeper than all of that. How did it come about?

Clifford Chanin 1:35

Well, it was more than five years ago in fact that we first started talking about this as an exhibition. We have a special exhibitions gallery in the museum. And we have done a couple of shows prior to this. But certainly the raid and the end of bin Laden’s life isn also the end of a major chapter in the 9/11 story. It’s not the end of the threat. It’s not the end of the 9/11 story itself. But it certainly is an important moment in that overall story. And so we began developing this as an exhibition. And in the course of that development, the relationships we had with the military and the intelligence folks had really developed through a set of other programs at the museum. And so we were getting access to people and to objects that could be shown in the exhibition that actually went far beyond what we’d originally imagined. It was hard to imagine this originally, because everything was still classified, essentially. So we didn’t even know what we were asking for in most cases. But as we began to get access to people, including some still active in the intelligence community, people who were part of the hunt, who were there for the conclusion of the hunt. We put together for the exhibition, I think it was a very, very powerful narrative in the context of an exhibition that was only a tiny fraction of what we had gathered through the interview process. And so we decided that for the 10th anniversary of the raid, it would be a very powerful film. We added even after the exhibition opened, a number of very important interviews that fleshed out the story beyond what the exhibition could tell. And so it was a bit of a rush, and doing things under COVID is, as everybody knows, at least very different, if not crazy, but we did manage and get it to completion. And here we are Sunday night, May 2, History Channel, I’m doing the plug … And that’s the short version of the story.

Hope Hodge Seck 3:44

Where do you start? What are the first phone calls that you make to kind of open the doors to as you said, to this previously undisclosed information?

Clifford Chanin 3:52

I’ll let Jess tell about these programs that I mentioned before, because they turn out to be absolutely critical in establishing a level of confidence and trust between the museum and these broader agencies. So I think Jess should pick up the beginnings of the story. And then we can talk about, you know, how we actually tried to figure out what the what the story should be.

Jessica Chen 4:13

Sure, thanks, Cliff. So at the museum, the museum opened in 2014. But even before that, it really benefited from a really strong relationship with a lot of the agencies that not only responded immediately after 9/11, but kind of took up the work after 9/11 to combat terrorism and also to do the work that continues to keep this nation safe. And so those groups not only provided assets for the exhibition, but have continued to come to the museum, especially with new recruits and with new staffers who are interested in understanding how 9/11 fits into their institutional history. These visits have actually become very cool programs that we offer to what we call professional groups. And these are groups that are comprised of intelligence agencies, ;aw enforcement agencies, military and government professionals who are really kind of diving into their museum experience with a very personal connection, but also a mission-oriented sense of the story for us at the museum, not only in the museum work that we do, but also thinking about this film. It’s largely stemming from these relationships that have been built over time, not only with the people who were part of making the museum happen, but also the people who continue to bring new people through the museum.

Hope Hodge Seck 5:29

It’s incredible. What do you think are the biggest misconceptions most Americans have about the story of Osama bin Laden in the way that his narrative intertwines with the United States?

Clifford Chanin 5:45

Well, you know, it’s a really interesting question. It came to such a definitive conclusion on May 2, 2011, people could get the impression that there was kind of a straight-line outcome here, that this was all forordained, and this was just how it was going to turn out. And I would say, that’s anything but the truth. The first issue is what our focus on bin Laden was before 9/11, which wasn’t widely concentrated across the national security community. Obviously, there were people who were focused on al-Qaida and understood the threat and understood that in 1996 and 1998, when bin Laden issues fatwas justifying attacks against the United States, against American civilians in the second fatwa, that, you know, that is an important threat. But there were other things going on in the world. And even those earlier attacks and the embassies in Africa in 1998, the Cole in 2000, as tragic and impactful as they were, it did not really transform the sense of the threat. And that, of course, was what happened on 9/11. And so, to me, the interesting part, and I think we present this in some fascinating detail, how do you hunt for someone who’s hiding from you who could be anywhere in the world? And who’s actually quite good at hiding? I was talking about this one of the intelligence analysts at one point, and she said, Well, you know, Ted Kaczynski was hiding in the United States, our own country, I think it was 17 years, and we couldn’t find him. So you know, why would it have been easier to find Osama bin Laden, and then even when the lead gets us pointed at that compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, where ultimately he was found, there’s never any assurance, it’s no more than a circumstantial case, that this may be somewhat important, but there’s no guarantee it’s Osama bin Laden. And so every step of the way has risk. Every step of the way has a calculation about, Is this real? And if we act as though it’s real, and it turns out not to be real, what are the consequences of that going to be? I mean, just imagine everything that happens on that raid happens exactly the same way. And it’s not Osama bin Laden. You know, it’s some drug dealer, we’re not going to invade Pakistani territory for a drug dealer. So how do we deal with that? And so one thing after another, which in retrospect, seemed like a very logical progression, none of it, none of it was except, and it’s a remarkable credit to their work. But the intelligence professionals who drove this hunt, said, Yes, we can’t give you a written guarantee. But this is what the conclusion leads us to determine.

Jessica Chen 8:38

I’m gonna add to what Cliff just said, and kind of characterize it in my own personal experience. I was starting eighth grade on 9/11. And then I was in New York, having just graduated from college, when the raid, the successful operation was announced. And I think for a lot of people who are my age, and who kind of, these two moments kind of form the bookends of our adulthood or growing up into adulthood, I think that it’s hard to kind of link the first moment to this moment. The film itself kind of traces these bookmarks. You know, it starts with intelligence, it goes to policy, and then it goes to the military raid. And I think we forget just how committed many people were after 9/11 to finding this person that was that was really hard to find. And I think what the film does is, it helps people to understand that the motivation and the drive to bring justice did not go away, even though they couldn’t find him, and that there were real personal sacrifices made along the way. I’m really hopeful that for my peers to watch this film, and to understand just how committed everybody was to seeing this through.

Hope Hodge Seck 9:49

I really resonate with that. I think we’re of a very similar age. I think I was also in eighth grade when the attacks happened. I think that really puts it in context. They were key moments. Guess I’ll just ask you both to expand on that. So when you have this wealth of information and all these exhibits, and all of this documentation, how do you then make decisions for how to organize it to tell and frame a story, especially when you’ve got the constraints of time?

Clifford Chanin 10:19

So it was shaped a little bit by the exhibition, although the film is very different than the exhibition. And I do want to say, again, just a brief plug, the exhibition itself, the museum is open, the 9/11 museum is open, we’ve just reopened the bin Laden special exhibition. So I hope people who are thinking of traveling to New York might consider coming to see it if they can. We’re offering online virtual tours of the museum and the exhibition as well. So 911 memorial.org, our website is the place to go looking for that. Sorry for diverging from your question. But the most powerful factor in shaping this, from the very beginning, we alluded to this before, but it’s very unusual, curatorially speaking, we never had a sense in advance of what objects and which people we would have available to us to tell the story. So we would make requests based on these relationships that just described earlier, of these intelligence agencies initially, just to say, look, were planning to do this exhibition, we’d like to be able to talk to you about what might be available for us. And those agencies are bound by the classification rules, obviously. And even though, you know, many of the key public figures who were involved in this had spoken about the raid and wrote wrote about the raid, technically it was still classified. So anything that they were going to make available to us had to go through an internal process within each of these agencies, and the agencies have different processes with different considerations. And on top of which we never knew how long it would take, or what the criteria for decision would be, as to whether or not we could get something. So that was, that was curious. But we did manage to get these meetings that particularly on the intelligence side, where we go in, and we’d say, Well, here’s the point in the story that we’re trying to make, we’re trying to tell, for example, that, you know, there was this massive effort to find as much intelligence as you could by partnering the intelligence agencies on the battlefield with the military, just do these raids and sweeps and process all this intelligence in real time. So you can really make it actionable as soon as possible. Okay. That’s a good point, right? What could demonstrate that. So we are museum curators who don’t know what the objects are, and the people were asking our intelligence professionals who don’t know what museum curators need. So, you know, we would really try to be very specific in their requests. And inevitably, what happened was, we’d be in these meetings, you know, in these secret bunkers. And you know, you have to be screened to get in with a pass and an escort and you’re never, you’re never alone. And we’d be sitting in these rooms. And we’d make a point, this is what this is the kind of thing we want. And you could see, they began looking at each other. And you could see the eyes communicating there, maybe a little smile here and there. But they wouldn’t say anything in front of us. Because what they were thinking of offering us was still classified. And so the question was, A, is this really the answer to the question of what they’re looking for? Well, we can’t ask them. And B, if it is the answer to the question of what they’re looking for, can we get it cleared and give it to them? So the process was very elaborate. Internally, the only thing I will add is, it’s very clear to me and we became, you know, friends with some of the folks in the agencies who became our internal advocates. So there were people who, for a variety of reasons thought, this story should be told the 9/11 Museum is the place to tell it, and I, Person X, who have access to the process, who understand what’s being asked for, who know the people who are involved in making these decisions, I am going to be the internal advocate for this project inside my agency. I don’t think this happens, really, if we don’t have a handful of those key people. I can’t thank them personally, well, I thank them personally, but I can’t thank them publicly, for exactly the same reasons that I’ve described in the beginning of this story. But that really is the key doing this, because they all are knit into this story together. They know one another, they trust one another. They work together. And they would vouch for us with some of the other folks who may have retired or whatever it was, Would you be willing to sit down for an interview with them? And that’s how the process really unfolded.

Jessica Chen 14:45

To pick up where Cliff leaves off. You know, now you have all these relationships, all of these advocates and what sometimes feels like a landslide of connections of details, of stories to tell. I think Cliff and I both have kind of threads in the story that we felt very personally convicted to bring to light. You know, there, there are some things that are explained that that I think I’d leave it to Cliff to kind of flesh out in more detail that have never been kind of discussed publicly before. But I think for me, you know, something that was incredibly important when evaluating how to take all of this material and put it in a film, which, although it’s, it’s a full-length film, felt a little short at the end, because we’re trying to stuff so much stuff into it. For me, it was really understanding how can we convey the humanity and the human cost at every step in the story. So the film opens, really, with an understanding of 9/11, and the human loss on 9/11. And then you go through a hunt that is marked by people who are incredibly human. I hope we’ve captured them, kind of their frustration, but also their commitment, and even their human sacrifice in terms of seeing this through policymakers, when they’re discussing the hunt, the odds that Cliff described earlier, really thinking about the people who are going to be doing this and what they’re putting, those people in that situation that they’re asking them to expose themselves to, and then the military members who take on kind of the risk and see the mission through. And so I think, because of all the interviews with so many generous, unseen individuals, we’re able to kind of get a sense of the people that the real people who kind of were involved in the story, and I hope we’ve done a good job and kind of lending some some of their personalities to tell the story.

Hope Hodge Seck 16:31

Man, I can’t wait to see it. What sorts of things are easier to understand and analyze and contextualize, with the benefit of 10 years of hindsight?

Clifford Chanin 16:44

Well, I do think there was an awareness in the community at large, that one of the failures of 9/11 was the lack of communication across agencies, and between the intelligence and the military world. And they tried to fix that right away. And because of, you know, tradition and culture, and just the different approaches, that wasn’t an easy fix. But once we were fighting in Afghanistan, and then in Iraq, it was something they realized, you just had to do it, because you were losing service members on the battlefield there. And there was always a sense that al-Qaida was still out there, bin Laden was still out there, and didn’t know what they were planning. But you knew they were planning something, and so you know, that prospect of another catastrophe, or simply not doing enough to protect American military personnel on the battlefield, that really broke down a lot of barriers. And it’s a remarkable story, because, you know, the techniques, the practices that were sort of implemented over years before the raid in Pakistan, were the very same techniques and practices that were applied to solve this problem of what’s going on in that compound. And so even though it was from the distance factor, and from the political factor of going into an allied sovereign nation without their permission, and conducting a military operation, in the heart of a populated area, the people who knew how to do this, were confident that they could do it, and they had done things like this enough and work together enough that, you know, it was more complicated, certainly, and more risky because of the factors involved. But you know, as one of the SEALs says in one of the interviews, that a raid is a raid is a raid. You know, we know how to do this. It’s really, you know, a remarkable piece. And the aviation piece of this is also something that — the whole mission was about four hours. Forty minutes of that mission, were on the ground, which means more than three hours, the operators were basically passengers on what one of the SEALs called a ginormous bus. And so the success of the mission is in the hands of the pilots, and how they conduct themselves and how they’re prepared for this and what they know about the conditions that they’re flying in all of this interaction. And all of the key actors had worked with one another on other missions before they knew one another, they trusted one another. And so again, that period, through war, of really developing expertise and trust, I think it was key to what would ultimately happen and what the U.S. military has learned about how to conduct these kinds of operations.

Hope Hodge Seck 19:41

To build on that, are there indicators that events would play out differently if they happen today? You talked about the need to communicate better. I know that’s not a problem that probably will ever be fully solved.

Clifford Chanin 19:57

You know, the thing that The experts always say is that the threat changes. And so 9/11 was a product of al-Qaida, which was at that point, a structured administrated centralized organization, with, for a terrorist group, you know, reasonably efficient command and control. The years since have seen that central structure come under enormous pressure and break in many ways. But the threat has splintered into other groups that may be connected with al-Qaida or not, may have been inspired by al-Qaida may have said al-Qaida didn’t go far enough, as the Islamic State did. Or that you might have these so called “lone actor” terrorists who radicalize online or through personal contacts with people and decide on their own as some ideologists of the Jihad have urged them, just to attack people where you can. I mean, we don’t want to have a centralized structure anymore, or we can’t sustain a centralized structure anymore. But it doesn’t change what the mission needs to be. That threat changes. Therefore, how we study it, how we understand it has to change, and how we respond to it has to change.

Hope Hodge Seck 21:09

One aspect of the way the story is told, and you’ve already referred to this, is there are these educational materials for high schoolers to discuss 911 and the hunt for bin Laden and Operation Neptune Spear. Today’s high schoolers obviously have no memory of 9/11, which is a little bit shocking for older Millennials like me to contemplate. And in fact, there are even soldiers and Marines and service members who have deployed to Afghanistan with no memory of 9/11, which is the nexus for the start of this war. Why was it so important to provide an entry point for high schoolers into this material?

Jessica Chen 21:51

For me, I think so much of and I’m also speaking from an older Millennial perspective, but our department or my department in the museum is focused on education. And I lean on my colleagues and their expertise to work specifically with students. But I think all of us on the education team feel really strongly that the world that we live in today is shaped so much by the events of 9/11 and the events that followed, I think it’s important to contextualize it because we understand that the leadership lessons, the incredible stories of courage and of commitment, that they have resonances with what is going on in the world today. And I think that trying to engage students, and trying to kind of connect them with the importance of understanding our shared history is just so, so important and so central, as they think about, you know, where they’re going to be in the next 10 years.

Clifford Chanin 22:43

You know, this is the 10th anniversary of the bin Laden raid, but it’s also the 20th anniversary, this September, of 9/11. Twenty years is the span of a generation. Think about it. I mean, nobody who’s in high school was even born when 9/11 happened. And if you’re in college, you may have been born, but you were a year or two old and you’re not going to remember it. And so it’s a funny thing that happens with history and a museum like ours. When we started this project, and I go way back to, I wasn’t in junior high school when this happened. So the thought was, well, everybody knows this story. So you know, what’s going to make our presentation of the story compelling? Well, 20 years pass, and that assumption is completely out the window. Not everybody knows this story. In fact, every day, more people don’t know this story. And so the challenge for the museum of telling this story, and as Jess says, explaining just how significant this moment in history was, and continues to be. Now that becomes, I think, frankly, more than we imagined it 15 years ago, that becomes central to the mission of our current-day museum and will only grow in importance every day. I mean, think about, it’s not just the attack and the vulnerability. It’s the response of this country. I mean, I don’t know if you guys remember. But, you know, this country came together across all divides, across all barriers, I mean, all the things we’re struggling with as a society today, were wiped away by the common solidarity and feeling that service was spontaneously the outcome of Americans reactions to 9/11. Not just Americans, people around the world. If we’re thinking about where we are today, look back and ask the question, what was it that gave us this kind of resilience and solidarity 20 years ago? What’s missing? What can we do about it now? Because it’s better to be like that than it is to be at each other’s throats. And so, you know, that’s how the mission of the museum evolves. It’s always rooted in 9/11 and telling that story, but there’s no fixed point where you can say Hey, okay, this is over, let’s turn the page. It just doesn’t happen like that.

Hope Hodge Seck 25:04

I have one final question that I hope that both of you will answer in your own way. What larger story do you think all the events that you cover in this documentary, and the accompanying presentation, tell us about America?

Jessica Chen 25:19

I think, you know, going back to personal experience again, and also I was on the West Coast when 9/11 happened, and now have spent most of my adult life on the East Coast. So I consider myself a New Yorker. But I think the breadth of characters of people who undertake this work is pretty remarkable, you know, something that I can say without necessarily speaking to specific identities, but the the number of women who are involved in this work and who take on, you know, risk and responsibility. I’m hopeful that, that when people watch this film, that they’re going to see something in it that reminds them of themselves and where they they are in life and how they can contribute to society, but can also just recognize the importance of working together. And this is just to kind of pick up on what Cliff was just saying, that almost everybody who we interviewed for this film, mentioned, at some point in their interview, just looking back and thinking how remarkable it is when everybody learns how to place trust in one another when everyone works together, when everyone is committed to a common purpose. And I think that obviously can be applied into situations that are not exactly like this, but even the environments that all of us work in and live in. That’s kind of that that’s where I where I land on the film.

Clifford Chanin 26:34

Yeah, I agree. You know, as we’ve gotten to know some of the folks involved, it’s very obvious that they disagree about things, they don’t all see the world the same way. And yet, when they were required to do something for the common good, the only factor was how to succeed in doing that task. Everything else was secondary. And it’s been my good fortune to see some of those relationships in action, to see how they relate to one another, in spite of whatever other differences that are much, much smaller in importance than the things they have in common. But in spite of their differences, there is a sense of mutual recognition in the idea that they went through this together, they took the risks together, they understood that the most important thing in these circumstances is to be able to count on the other person you’re working with, regardless of anything else. And every one of them came through for everybody else when they needed to. That’s just a remarkable story. And it is really what it is to offer the best of your service on behalf of your country. And really on behalf of the common humanity that you know, you share with everyone else who’s involved in this. And of course, for the families of the 9/11 victims, for the victims themselves who were killed. I mean, that focal point of the mission, never faltered through the hunt, when they weren’t finding anybody when they didn’t know where to look. All of that drove them onward to this, you know, remarkable, remarkable success story.

Hope Hodge Seck 28:21

Well, thank you both so much for being here today. This documentary, as you said, comes out May 2, what are the different ways that people can watch?

Clifford Chanin 28:29

Well, the History Channel is going to be premiering it through their your cable provider. As of May 3, it’s available through histories, website and digital platforms. And you have to sign on with your cable login information. And it’s also available for sale through various streaming partners that provide History Channel broadcasts

Hope Hodge Seck 28:54

Fantastic. Thank you so much for your time.

Clifford Chanin 28:57

Thanks, Hope.

Jessica Chen 28:58

Thank you.

Hope Hodge Seck 29:08

Thanks for joining us for this special episode of Left of Boom. I’d love to hear your thoughts on “The Hunt for Bin Laden.” Send me an email at podcast@military.com and let me know what you think of the documentary and presentation. You can also pitch me ideas for future shows while you’re at it. If you’re not subscribed to the podcast, please go ahead and do it now so you don’t miss a future episode. And leave us a rating and review to so other people can find us. And remember that you can get all the news and information you need about your military community every day at Military.com.

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

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.

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