Guard: Civil Unrest Hardest Mission

For the first time in its history, the National Guard has a record 66,722 troops engaged in domestic operations at the direction of governors across the United States, U.S. Air Force Gen. Joseph Lengyel, chief of the National Guard Bureau said today. Those numbers include National Guard personnel mobilized to combat COVID-19, as well as those supporting natural disaster responses to wildfires and flooding. The Guard also has troops deployed worldwide in support of global military operations.

“We plan, train and prepare for emergency response missions with our local, state, and federal partners,” Lengyel said. “We’re part of the communities we serve. We know the police, fire departments and hospital workers. We know their capabilities because we live with their capabilities.”

Since Memorial Day there has been civil unrest in multiple cities across the United States in response to the death of George Floyd, a Minneapolis man who died while in police custody. Protests have become violent clashes causing governors from 23 states and the mayor of the District of Columbia to activate more than 17,000 National Guard troops to help local authorities restore order, Lengyel said.

As of this writing there have been two incidents of Guardsmen using their weapons against protesters. On May 31, in Minnesota, a car sped towards a group of Guardsmen who were monitoring a protest. Guard personnel tried multiple times to signal the driver to stop, but the vehicle sped at them. A non-lethal method was deployed to get the car to stop, but the vehicle did not comply and continued towards Guard personnel. A National Guardsman fired three rounds at the vehicle. The vehicle then altered its course and drove away from the scene. It is unknown if anyone was hurt as a result of the shooting.

In Louisville, Kentucky, the same evening, David McAtee was shot and killed when National Guard members and police returned fire after they were fired upon by a group of protesters. It is not known if police or the National Guard are responsible for the death, but they confirmed that they returned fire when they were trying to disperse a group of protesters and were shot at. McAtee was not named as the suspect who shot at National Guard or police personnel.

“The hardest mission we do is responding in times of civil unrest,” Lengyel said. Guard members provide traffic control, support to law enforcement, transportation and communication capabilities. They have also helped in fighting fires ignited by protesters.

“Aircrews were using forest fire equipment, including helicopter water buckets, to put out building fires at protests last night,” Lengyel said in a Guard news story.

“Our troops are here to protect life and property, and preserve peace, order and public safety,” Lengyel added.

It should be noted that National Guard personnel are under state, not federal control. National Guard troops have been activated in Arizona, Alaska, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin and D.C., according to the National Guard Bureau.

This isn't unfamiliar territory for the National Guard. It was involved in quelling a few uprisings in the 1850s and 1860s, but it was the late 19th century and early 20th century where the force came to be recognized as a viable tool to help civic authorities with civil unrest. The National Guard was first used to quell uprisings when it was mobilized to suppress labor riots involving railway workers, coal miners and steel workers involved in aggressive labor strikes. The Guard would also get mobilized to quell racial violence around this period in North Carolina and Illinois.

In 1957, the National Guard was ordered by the Arkansas governor to prevent African American students from matriculating at a Little Rock high school. President Dwight D. Eisenhower had the forces withdrawn. Later in the 1960s, the National Guard was federalized to ensure integration of the University of Mississippi and the University of Alabama.

Later, those same federalized Alabama National Guardsmen, nearly 3,000 of them, protected the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and his marchers in Selma, Alabama, and later that year the Guard was asked to suppress racial protests in Watts, Los Angeles. Throughout the 1960s the National Guard was called in to restore order in several American cities due to racial tensions, but it culminated when the National Guard was called up and deployed to several American cities to help restore order in the wake of King’s assassination. Riots and looting took place in New York, Washington, D.C., Baltimore, Chicago and other cities. In Chicago, 12 people were killed, more than 160 buildings were destroyed and more than 3,000 were arrested. In comparison to the current Guard call up, there were 13,600 troops sent to occupy Washington, D.C. in the aftermath of King’s assassination. Not since the Civil War had a city been occupied with so many U.S. military troops.

In the 1970s and 1980s, the National Guard was used to help in labor disputes as manpower and they continued to be used as a force to help quell civic unrest. The Ohio National Guard was also involved in the 1970 shooting on the campus of Kent State University when Guardsmen opened fire on unarmed anti-war protesters killing four students and injuring nine.

In 1992, the Guard found itself back in Los Angeles combating violent protesters angry about the acquittals of police officers charged in the beating of Rodney King. Sixty-three people died in those riots including one shot by National Guardsmen. More than 12,000 were arrested and the city suffered $1 billion in damage.

The National Guard has also been used extensively in natural disaster responses and in federal deployments in support of U.S. military operations overseas during war.

Uncle Sam is Hiring College Grads

By the time the 2020 collegiate academic year ends, about three million American students will have earned an associate’s or bachelor’s degree. Prior to COVID-19, many of those young people were poised to enter a bustling U.S. job market that in February 2020 had a 3.5 percent unemployment rate, the lowest unemployment rate in 50 years. As we all know, that’s changed in just a few months.

Today, these graduates are facing a daunting job market. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, all 50 states and the District of Columbia had staggering jobless rate increases and the national unemployment rate rose to 14.7 percent or 38 million Americans unemployed. Of course, those numbers only include those Americans who have successfully filed for unemployment benefits, so the numbers could be higher, but the bottom line is that the coronavirus has caused the highest joblessness rate since the Great Depression in 1929.  

I have listened for several weeks now to new college graduates who are asking aloud about their career options. Many have student loans and absolutely no job prospects because of our collapsing employment market, so as a military retiree I thought it would be good to try to be the connective tissue between those seeking work after college and those looking for recruits.  

The good news is that Uncle Sam is hiring and it is looking for military officers. Currently, the U.S. military has a lot of career opportunities for college graduates who are flexible and might be seeking to use their degrees and acquire leadership skills along the way.

The Army, Army Reserve and the Army National Guard all have very good career options for men and women seeking to earn an officer commission. If you have a bachelor’s degree, there are multiple ways to become an officer.

The U.S. Army is full-on active duty. Meaning, you are signing up to become a commissioned officer in the U.S. Army and you will be an officer 24/7, 365 days a year. After your initial training, the Army will send you somewhere to live and work. This will provide you not only with a steady paycheck, healthcare, and other benefits (including 30 days of leave per year), but you will also gain experience in your field of study.

The Army’s officer candidate school (where civilians learn to become military officers) is at Fort Benning, Georgia. The course is 14-weeks long and once candidates complete OCS they are sent to their branch training school which is where new officers learn to do their military jobs. The locations of those courses will vary depending on the job you want to do. The length of training will vary as well.

Remember, the Army has hundreds of career options. Ask your officer recruiter about your particular field of study. If you studied something general like business, and you don’t think there are good options, think again. Believe it or not, military specialties like infantry, armor, and artillery, just to name a few, will give you a lot of complex leadership experience that will definitely prepare you for leadership roles in the civilian sector.

If you’re leaving college with a degree in a medical specialty you might be eligible for financial incentives including bonuses of up to $75,000.

The Army also has opportunities for direct officer appointments which means that you are given credit for your education and commissioned as an officer accordingly. The Army has direct commission programs for lawyers, chaplains, and medical personnel. Consult an officer recruiter for more information.

Army Reserve
“Currently, the Army offers a bonus for reservists going to officer candidate school,” said Lisa Ferguson with U.S. Army Recruiting Command. “Applicants may qualify for up to $20,000 upon successful completion of OCS training and commissioning.”

For those of you that don’t know, the Army Reserve is one of the part-time military components. Meaning, once you are done with initial training, the expectation is that you usually perform one weekend of duty per month and a two-week annual training period. So, if you’re not really convinced that active duty is the move for you, then consider the Army Reserve. If they have the jobs you’re interested in nearby, you will get to serve in your community.

Pursuing this option will not only give you a full-time job for the next few months as you attend OCS and your occupational training, but it also puts $20,000 in your pocket in addition to the money you earn while on duty. This is a great option if you’re looking to expand your professional qualifications without fully committing to the active duty military.

Army National Guard
The Army National Guard is located in every state in the United States. Like the Army Reserve, they are a part-time military force, however, they fall under the control of the governor of each state. They are usually the ones called up during states of emergency like floods, hurricanes, tornadoes and more recently the coronavirus.

There are various paths that lead to an officer commission in the National Guard. You can attend federal OCS for 14 weeks, as previously mentioned, and earn your second lieutenant bars. Upon completion, just like in the Army Reserve and in the U.S. Army, you will be sent to an officer basic course which will train you how to do your military job. Once that initial training is complete, you can return to the community where you live and assume your part-time job.

The Army Guard also has its own officer candidate school. The State OCS program, as it is known, requires you to attend a Regional Training Institute on the weekends. One weekend per month for 16 to 18 months, plus two two-week periods, you will become an officer candidate and work your way towards your officer commission. If this route is not for you, you can try the National Guard Bureau’s Accelerated OCS which varies by season and state. It is eight weeks long.

Currently the Army National Guard is offering a $10,000 officer accession bonus for newly commissioned officers who complete the Basic Officer Leaders Course.

U.S. Air Force and U.S. Space Force
The Air Force will send you to officer training school (OTS) if you have a four-year degree. It is a nine-and-a-half-week program designed to develop leadership skills.

“A career in the Air Force prepares Airmen for success,” Chrissy Cuttita with Air Force Recruiting Service Public Affairs said. “It gives her/him the education and leadership and technical skills necessary to succeed in a career in the Air Force and/or propel them toward success as a civilian later in life.”

According to Cuttita, the Air Force offers approximately 130 different career fields in areas such as engineering, communications, logistics, intelligence, healthcare, computer science, law, finance, space and more.

“Each have their own unique incentives,” Cuttita said. “For regular Air Force health professions, there are potential signing bonuses and/or loan repayment options depending on the specialty.” So check with your officer recruiter to learn about what incentives the Air Force has to offer.

“In addition to all of that, not unique to the Air Force, but public service in general, there is a Public Service Loan Forgiveness Act that college graduates joining the Air Force could take advantage of,” Cuttita said.

It is important to remember that you have to serve for 10 years in a public service role (military) and you have to make payments on your student loans during that period before you are eligible for payment relief. The service must be fulltime therefore, military reservists and National Guard personnel are not eligible unless they are working fulltime Active, Guard and Reserve (AGR status).

U.S. Air Force Reserve
As I mentioned previously, Reserve forces primarily serve in a part-time capacity in their communities. If you’re interested in part-time military service, the Air Force Reserve is another avenue. Visit this site and ensure the officer block is checked and see what type of officer positions and incentives are available to you.

If you qualify you will attend Air Force OTS and then your specialty professional school. Once initial training is complete, you enter the part-time military. Remember, the reserve is a federal part-time force and they have been mobilized for wars and natural disasters in the past. When that happens, you are on active duty for a period of time to be determined by the president.

The Air Force Reserve offers a variety of part-time job opportunities with full-time benefits including tuition assistance and low-cost health insurance. And, for specific part-time jobs, you may be eligible for a signing bonus of up to $20,000.

The Air Force Reserve also offers direct commissioning opportunities for select professions. See a recruiter for more details.

Air National Guard
If your plan was to fly for the airlines and the airlines aren’t hiring, not to worry. The Air National Guard has a variety of pilot positions available, including remotely piloted aircraft. No need to put your career plans on hold and joining the Air Guard will guarantee you a sign on bonus in some cases.

Got a business degree? They are looking for contracting officers. Computer science degree? They need cyberwarfare operations officers.

If you get accepted to become an Air National Guard officer you will attend the Academy of Military Science for six weeks in Alabama where you will learn how to be an officer. Then you will attend your occupational training. The Air National Guard, like the Army National Guard, is a community based, part-time military force that falls under a governor’s control, but they can also be federalized in time of war or national need at the direction of the president.

If you’ve never really thought about being a pilot but you think you have the aptitude and spirit of adventure, you should check it out. I knew a guy who was a police detective as a civilian who was a National Guard pilot and had a separate part-time military career. Similarly, I knew a dentist in the civilian sector who was an intelligence officer in the reserve. It’s a very unique side hustle.

No matter how you look at it, joining the Guard can help expand your professional experience, or bring you some new qualifications. At the very least, it can give you a pretty cool outlet to break up the monotony if you’re looking for something exciting to do in your life.

There are many Air National Guard specialties, including pilot positions, where candidates are being offered $20,000 bonuses. Check with your local Air National Guard recruiter for details.

U.S Navy and Navy Reserve
Future Navy officers receive their officer training in officer candidate school (OCS). OCS is a 12-week course that prepares college graduates to be commissioned as Navy line officers, specifically, submarine and surface warfare officers, as well as Navy aviators, flight officers, special warfare officers and special operations officers.

If you are interested in becoming a chaplain, engineer, attorney, scientist, management, public affairs officer and other types of professions, you will attend the officer development school which is a five-week course that trains newly commissioned officers to be staff officers.

If you are interested in joining the Navy Reserve, the part-time federal force of the U.S. Navy, you will attend direct commission officer school, a 12-day program that trains newly commissioned officers on military basics.

Active duty officers serve fulltime. Like the other services, this is fulltime work. You can be assigned shore duty or get placed on a ship. Reserve Officers serve part-time, two days a month and two weeks a year. The initial service requirement could be as few as three years. It depends on several factors, so it is best to talk to a Navy officer recruiter to help you figure that out.

The Navy offers $15,000 accession bonuses for officers selected to their nuclear propulsion training so if you’re a grad with academic credentials that might succeed in that field, give the Navy a call.

U.S. Marine Corps
Last but certainly not least is the Marine Corps. While their financial incentives for college grads are virtually non-existent, I truly respect them for their approach in finding their future leaders.

“We in the Marine Corps are keenly aware of the challenges being experienced by our fellow citizens across the nation and remain committed to standing shoulder-to-shoulder with them as we continue to battle the coronavirus pandemic together,” Marine Capt. Charles Dowling with the U.S. Marine Corps Recruiting Command headquarters said.

“To this end, Marine Corps Recruiting Command continues to seek out intelligent, tough, and resilient young men and women who desire to serve their nation as a member of its most elite and lethal fighting force,” Dowling said. 

According to Dowling, recent college grads should contact their closest Marine Corps Officer Selection Officer (OSO) and inquire about commissioning opportunities in the Officer Candidate Course. But Dowling was sure to point out that the Marines seek to recruit officer candidates based on their innate intangible motivations: their desire to both serve and lead Marines, their desire to give back to their nation, and their desire to serve in a cause bigger than themselves. 

“We do not use the offer of any financial incentive as a reason to become a Marine officer,” Dowling said. “In this vein, the Marine Corps does not currently have a college loan repayment program or offer any monetary bonus for any particular officer occupational field. The main ‘bonus’ the Marine Corps offers its potential officer applicants is, if found worthy, the opportunity to lead Marines in the world’s most elite and lethal fighting force.”

In my opinion, Capt. Dowling’s explanation is the very best reason to join the military as an officer. You shouldn’t be doing it for money, but the incentives are there for those who want them. Whether you have intrinsic or extrinsic motives, leading men and women in uniform is a noble and honorable career option.

Lastly, remember that deploying is a part of military service and you don’t get to pick and choose the fights of your nation. You are signing up to become an officer in the armed forces and ultimately that means leading men and women, sometimes into harm’s way, to fight against all enemies of the United States.

The military is a great place to start your professional life. Like anything, it is, what you make it.

NOTE: If any of you need help with this topic, please drop me a line by commenting on this blog. I am more than happy to help. If you're an officer recruiter and I missed something, likewise, let me know.

Memorial Day 2020

It has been four hours and my cursor blinks on a Word document like an EKG letting me know that the story is alive even though the document is blank and it has no words on it. I am sitting here in my office as I always do, trying to find the right words, trying to communicate, convey. I have started writing this post several times, but words escape me. I’m distracted. I have stories to tell, but no words to use.

Maybe I’m distracted due to the Memorial Day ads blaring on my television from the local car dealership. I shut off the TV. I stare at the cursor which blinks urgently reminding me that my editorial deadline is looming. Nothing. I click to another window to read some news and more ads attack my attention span, popping up and offering no payments on patio furniture if I buy this weekend. I disconnect.

We need milk and I need an excuse to flank this writer’s block, so I make a quick run to the market to pick up a few gallons. On the way in, store ads in red, white and blue remind me to stock up for this weekend so I can make my Memorial Day barbecue “one to remember.” Sunscreen, bug spray, flag-themed cupcakes and pillars of beer line the entrance. “Happy Memorial Day” one sign reads. I get the milk and head back to the keyboard.

Blink. Blink. Blink. My cursor waits. I’ve written about Memorial Day many times, but muscle memory is failing me now and I’m not sure why.

I wrote one paragraph this morning about my father-in-law, a guy who set a high bar for who my wife should bring home and what a man and father should be. Daily I try to live up to that standard, not to try to live in his shadow, but to try, like him, to live a good, high-achieving life. As a man, I should be working hard, living honorably and trying to be the best dad and husband that I can be. I fall short to that giant of a man; a husband, father of five, an attorney, American Airlines officer, business owner and A-10 pilot for the Air Force Reserve. He died flying his A-10 Warthog. I’m not near as polished or as accomplished, but I try very hard to make the late Captain David Black’s daughter as happy as I can. I wrote about four sentences, read what I had written, and deleted it, unhappy that my words didn't do the man justice.

I sit. More time elapses. I stare. I start a fresh paragraph. This time I write about the many men and women I’ve known who have died over the course of my more than two decades in uniform. Every time I got the horrific news of their deaths it was like a punch in the gut that left me breathless, still, and leaning against something. I crumbled, doubling over, as the pain came out of hiding from somewhere deep within me, gushing like my soul had been cut, hemorrhaging. The worst part was that there was nothing I could do about it, nothing, and I was left with a helpless emptiness that never goes away, and it is so tangible that I sometimes thought others could see it, thick and heavy. No matter how many years, it does not go away. How do I explain that?

And I tried, in different ways, to make sense of it but it is an equation with no solution. To remember those they’ve lost, I’ve seen people get tattoos, wear bracelets, carry pictures, and visit their graves. I’ve written about it, but I suppose I’ve done my share of avoidance too. I admit, I have been torn because sometimes I have selfishly wanted to forget them and I am ashamed to admit that. Sometimes the grief is so deep, so strong, that I wished I wasn’t burdened with it, but it is stuck to me, indelible. And then I look at a photograph or I visualize a memory and I realize that it is a momentary moment of self-preservation. I’m ashamed and I don’t tell anyone. I just can’t find words. Delete. Nobody will know.

I tried writing another paragraph. I start writing about who they were and how they all left in different ways, but tragedy is their common link and it keeps coming back to that. The sadness. Some were killed in car accidents on their way to a duty assignment. Some died of natural causes never waking up after falling asleep. Others were killed in training mishaps or in plane crashes. Some died battling the enemy on a battlefield and some died years after leaving the ranks, trying their best to rescue people in the Twin Towers 18 years after we partied in a barracks, partied as if tomorrow was our last day.

Others battled themselves and lost. I wasn’t there when my friend, one of the guys in my squad, turned his back on himself. I’ve tried to imagine for more than 30 years how alone he was when he didn’t even have himself. I’m always convinced I could have done more to prevent his death, not that I’m responsible for it, but more that I could have done just one more thing right. Any slight adjustment, could things have been different? More than 30 years later, I find myself every few months going to a photo album and checking to see if he is still in there, as if one day I will open it and find his photo is gone, that he has moved the proverbial boulder and is resurrected somehow. Or I look at my kids and ponder; would he have been a good dad, would he be a granddad by now, and then, I don’t want to think about it anymore. It starts to change my mood. I don’t want to do that to my family. Delete. I’ve got to find a better way to convey what I feel.

I start the essay again. I’m really struggling. This damn cursor keeps blinking. Let’s try this.

I don’t need a special day to remember everyone I’ve lost over the course of my military life. They come popping into my mind uninvited at my happiest moments and they sit with me when I’m still. It can be heavy sometimes, but maybe that’s why I was a part of their lives. Maybe I couldn’t prevent things from happening, but maybe I carry around that extra weight because that’s my responsibility. Maybe that’s my piece of all this; to keep the stories of my fallen warriors alive, to tell everyone about my friends when I can or to live a great life because they can’t.

I won’t be buying a new car this weekend. I also won’t be buying any new patio furniture. I will use my grill to barbecue some meat, I will float around in our pool, play some ping pong, cornhole, and horse, drink some beers and bask in the sun, like millions of other Americans.

And there will be moments when my memories will stir because after all, it is Memorial Day weekend, and those memories will manifest themselves into random hugs for my kids, and long, loving kisses for my wife because I have stories to tell and sometimes, I just can’t find the words.

Top 5 Things To Do When You Visit a Military Recruiter

In the coming weeks, about 3.5 million teenagers nationwide will complete their high school education and some of those young men and women will consider the military as a career option.

I enlisted immediately after high school. I never planned to make the military a career, but 24 years later, I retired from it. Naturally I have some opinions on the subject.

If you are thinking about enlisting in the military, here are five things you must do when you see a military recruiter.

1. Develop a plan. If you do not have a plan when you speak to the recruiter, they will make one for you and I can assure you it will almost certainly include a job that you will not enjoy.

A lot of teenagers innocently walk into a recruiter’s office and months later find themselves in a profession that they really had no intention of doing all because they lacked a plan. “There is nothing like jumping out of a plane,” or “Anyone can go to college, but not everyone gets to drive an M-1 tank.” These are things Army recruiters told me when I was a teenager.

Keep in mind, recruiters are trained to sell. Army recruiters attend a six-week course that trains them how to get you to sign up for jobs that they need filled. They have goals that they must meet and there are certain military occupations that require a lot of bodies, like infantry. If you walk into a recruiting office undecided a recruiter will place you in a specialty that needs bodies. Recruiters are not your high school guidance counselor. They have a job to do.

I should note, recruiters are not evil. I don’t want to paint a picture that they are only interested in reaching their monthly goals. In recent years, military recruiting has drastically changed because military candidates have changed, but recruiters are still professionals and their job is to close the deal.

So, figure out what you want to be when you grow up before you think about seeing a military recruiter and determine if you really need to join the military to enter the field that you’re interested in. In my case, I knew in middle school that I wanted to be a journalist, but I failed to tell my recruiter and I ended up becoming a military working dog handler. That’s a unique job, and I enjoyed it, but it prepared me for a career in law enforcement not writing.

Just remember, have a plan. There are almost 1,000 jobs in the military and many of them have civilian equivalents. Some do not have exact equivalents, like airborne infantry, armor or artillery, but those fields do offer skill development in leadership and management that can be used in all professions on the outside if paired up with other training and education. Some employers recognize that, others don’t.

2. Have goals. You can have a plan, but without goals or objectives, plans are just words on paper. What are your goals in life? What does success look like for you? Ensure your plan includes steps to get you to your destination (goals) otherwise pack your bags, you are going on a long trip on a slow boat to nowhere.

The military is a wonderful place, but it can also be an immensely distracting environment. Write down your goal, for example, “I want to earn a college degree in business.” Then outline a plan to get to that goal. “I will join the Army as a clerk and go to college in the evenings until I complete my degree.” Give yourself a timeline so you stay on track. Remember, the military will have lots of opportunities for distractions. Stay true to your goals. This strategy also applies if you want to make the military a career. Set goals and have a plan on how you will get to milestones.

3. Be honest with yourself. While I did not tell my recruiter that I wanted to be a writer, I knew that I did not have a desire to do anything too overly gung-ho. When the Army recruiter started talking to me about airborne training, not only had I never considered parachuting before, I knew personally that being airborne did not have a place in my life’s goals. It was easy for me to move on from the Army’s sales pitch.

When I met with the Air Force recruiter, he introduced himself as “Gerry,” and I liked that right away. He told me about the benefits and pay (back then it was about $550 per month). He asked me what I liked to do. Like an idiot, I told him, “I dunno.” He then started throwing out career options. Truth was, I knew, I just didn’t realize that a place like the military had journalists (public affairs specialists).

Remember, do your research. The military has thousands of jobs. Odds are great, they have what you want to do. Tell your recruiter what you’re interested in doing professionally. Assert yourself. You do not owe them anything and if they don’t seem accommodating, go to another recruiter in another part of town. And if one particular branch of service is being uncooperative, then explore another branch of service. Being honest with yourself means you will be honest with the recruiter. 

4. Study for the ASVAB. The key to getting the military job you want lies in your ability to obtain high scores on your Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB). The ASVAB is broken up into 10 parts, but it mostly measures your word knowledge, paragraph comprehension, arithmetic reasoning and mathematics knowledge. The scores you get on these four sections comprise the Armed Forces Qualification Test (AFQT).

The AFQT is the most important score because it determines which branch of service you can join. While many people state that anyone with a pulse can pass the ASVAB, remember that getting a low score can prevent you from getting the job that you desire and it can also keep you out of a particular service.

To enlist in the U.S. Army, you must achieve at least a 31 AFQT on the ASVAB. Enlisting in the U.S. Marine Corps requires candidates to earn an AFQT of 32. In order to join the Navy, you will need an AFQT of 35. To enlist in the U.S. Air Force, a candidate must achieve a 31 AFQT. Lastly, if you’re interested in joining the military’s newest branch, U.S. Space Force, reach out to an Air Force recruiter for more information. And although the U.S. Coast Guard is not in the U.S. Department of Defense (unless it is mobilized to support the U.S. Navy), their candidates also take the ASVAB and they must earn a 40 AFQT.

Remember, these are just the required AFQT scores to join a particular branch of service. Joining fields like special operations, cyber warfare, medical and other highly technical, scientific and intellectually demanding fields can require much higher scores within the ASVAB’s subtests.

Many people will tell you that the test is easy and it doesn’t require preparation. My advice is, prepare for it. It is not a hard test, but preparing can only improve your scores and familiarize you with the format of the test. There are study guides everywhere and some of them are free.

5. Get everything in writing. If it isn’t in writing, it isn’t true. Read that again. Do not let the recruiters promise you something verbally. If the recruiter has told you that you will receive a bonus for signing up, get it written in your contract and get the details of how money will be disbursed.

Recruiters are generally good people and most will try to connect you with a profession that you want, but they are the brokers in a business transaction between you and the U.S. government. You don’t have to be adversarial about it, but understand that it is a transactional relationship and you should treat the professional aspects of that relationship as a business transaction. Ensure you look out for your own interests. You can still be cordial, but be smart.

One of the biggest questions potential candidates ask right now is if they will go to war. Recruiters are not career field managers. They cannot tell you, even though they might try, whether or not you will deploy. Some jobs and some units deploy more than others, and while the odds are greater if you are in the Army or Marines, just about every career field and service deploys these days. In fact, two of the first Purple Hearts awarded by the command I worked for in Iraq were presented to enlisted Air Force IT professionals whose truck got blown up in Baghdad. The battlefield has changed. If you’re not ready for that, consider another employer.

One more thing. Remember, the military isn’t like any other job. You can’t just quit and walk away when you become unhappy with it. If you enlist, you are contractually obligated to serve. Mission comes first. You are taking an oath to defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies. That oath does not include verbiage about your personal goals, dreams and aspirations. If you cannot deal with that, don’t join. The military services and its leaders do their best to care for our men and women in uniform, but the needs of the services and the mission come first.

The military has about 18,000 recruiters nationwide to help you find a good fit in the ranks. Most of them are pretty good, helpful people, but following these recommendations will help prepare you for working with them. If after reading this, you still have questions, or need help, leave a comment on this blog and I will write you back. I’m happy to help.

Dear Class of 2020

Dear Class of 2020,

Last month was the Month of the Military Child, so given I've got four military kids I thought it was appropriate to send those of you who are graduating some advice.

My oldest son is a part of your graduating class. Like many high school seniors around the nation the coronavirus is denying him the opportunity to strut across a stage at graduation, rocking the stoles he’s earned like some academic Mr. T (look up Mr. T so you know who he is). Similarly, there will be no prom, no senior night game where he is recognized for playing four years on his school’s lacrosse team, and there will be no academic recognition ceremony. As his dad, it sucks because there is no end to this chapter.

I’ve watched our country respond to this pandemic. The sensational outpouring gushes all over, the deluge on social media, television, online, everywhere you look, pouring down and rushing into the sewers because it comes so fast, it has nowhere else to go. If you’re not careful, you can get washed away in a flash flood of sadness and pity.

“Experts” say the class of 2020 will never be the same. These pedigreed peeps state that you will be marked for the rest of your life, and that you will require therapy because this event has been intensely traumatizing. You are branded by this virus because for several months at the end of your high school life, the class of 2020 was asked to stay indoors, not go to school and you missed out on normal milestones of American teenage life.

I know high school and its many mile markers is important for you to develop into adults, but missing high school events is not the end of mankind. Class of 2020, you are not that fragile and you come from a species that has been walking around on the earth for at least 300,000 years. If your parents, teachers, coaches, counselors are showering you with pity instead of enabling you with tools you can use to cope, please tell them you are stronger than they believe and prove them wrong.

I did not go to my senior prom. I did not walk at my graduation and I can tell you my life has been full of memorable events that have stirred me in such ways that writing about them makes me warm with emotion. Watching my four kids enter this world was life changing and I have never felt so much love. Looking into the beautiful blue eyes of my wife as we stood at the altar and thinking, there isn’t a luckier person than me right now is something I reflect upon almost daily.

Setting foot on American soil again after having lived through a hellish year in Iraq and knowing I would never have to go back—golden. Feeling my baby daughter’s warm, soft breathing on my chest as she faded off into sleep, giving me peace that I wish would always envelope me, a peace I wish I could always carry; or carry her in my pocket, as I used to tell her. Walking on an empty beach hand and hand with one of my sons as the sun rose over the ocean, dolphins boiling up to the surface searching for breakfast just offshore, as we found two perfect sand dollars, one for him and one for me and as far as we were concerned, we were the only two people on the earth at that moment—just us and the pod. Watching one of my sons as he watched me pull a trout out of a Colorado stream as the sun fell and his almost reflexive grin when he gently stroked its slimy body. “He’s pretty. Wonder what he will taste like?” And the memory of my oldest son quietly playing catch with one of his coaches in the early morning. Native Americans played lacrosse to avoid war and make peace and watching the two of them in the misty field gave me a sense of tranquility. Truth is, the memories I do have of high school have long ago been painted over by more meaningful memories.

As humans we have a tendency to measure things to help us make comparisons especially when life throws something at us that we have never experienced before. Therefore, it is not a surprise that the comparisons have started to the Greatest Generation. Journalists and academics who are trying to gain traction in a particular demographic are saying that you, Class of 2020, are enduring similar sacrifices to the Greatest Generation. To date, worldwide, there have been 248,000 deaths from the coronavirus (as of May 4). The Greatest Generation lived in a world where 60-100 million died worldwide in extraordinarily violent ways. What we are experiencing is horrible, no doubt, and it will likely get worse, but it does not compare to what others who have come before us have endured. Missing prom does not equate to the killing of six million Jews. Missing your senior season does not compare to the Normandy landing. What you are enduring after two months with Netflix and smartphones cannot be compared to what people all over the globe endured for six years during World War II.

I know that much of this pity posturing isn’t due to you, it is caused by my generation, by the one below mine too, but I have faith in you guys. Life is about the choices you make and the how you respond to the circumstances that arise. You adapt to the environment; the environment does not adapt to you. If you’re cold, don’t you put on a jacket? Or do you sit there, freezing, and try to change the weather?

Your parents, as good as some of them are, haven’t prepared some of you for what is ahead. If you have parents who advocated for you all the time, reviewing your homework at every turn so you can maintain a certain GPA instead of letting you earn the grade your effort warrants, or when you don’t get the playing time that you think you deserve, they chew out the coach and remind them about how much better you are than the other players, or they take leadership roles in school organizations so they can try to influence things in your life. Any of that sound familiar? If your parents are like that and you’ve been succeeding, you might be in for a rude awakening when all is said and done. There will be nobody there helicoptering over you, making accommodations, clearing the path. This pandemic is a great opportunity for you to break their cycle of dysfunction and get them out of your way.

They mean well. I know they do, but their actions are stealing your ability to be resilient. If you do not suffer defeats and failures, you will never learn how to manage them. It is part of your emotional and psychological development. This pandemic is not the worst we’ve experienced as a species and it likely won’t be the worst thing until we finally kill the planet and we just pass into extinction. You didn’t ask for this pandemic no more than you asked for global warming, but you are inheriting a world full of problems. There is no way to sugarcoat that fact. None of it is your fault and the generations that came before you, mine included, are to blame.

I’ve got faith in you. I believe in you because youth are the eternal keepers of hope. I believe you will be the generation to solve global warming. I know you will be the generation that ends violence and social inequality in this country. If you don’t, then I am confident that you will be the generation that pours the foundation for the next generation to succeed. You are stronger than you know. You are tougher than you realize and being afraid is not a sign of weakness unless you allow it to immobilize you.

Class of 2020, shut off your phones, turn everything off and listen to yourself for a few minutes. Listen to your soul. It is telling you where to go, who to be, what to do. If you can’t hear it, go to places that will help you hear it. Remove the noise.

Victims are built, constructed by enabling people who wallow in defeat and enjoy basking in pity. Tragically bad things happen and many times bad things happen to good people. Resilient people feel disappointment, sadness, fear, anger and anguish. As human beings we will all hit low points in our lives. Not everything is rainbows and sunshine, but once we hit that low point, we have to have the ability to look at what is working in our favor. We have to tie a knot when we reach the end of our rope and hold on. But we can’t just hold on, we have to climb up, and we have to climb out.

Not going to prom, sucks. Dying from coronavirus is worse. Not having a graduation, sucks. Losing a family member to coronavirus is worse. Losing the rest of your school year, athletic season, whatever, especially when you are 17 or 18, sucks, but tomorrow, the sun will come up and you will be one day closer to living through this bullshit and you will look back on it and it will become one of the many things you as a human being endured to earn your right to live on this earth.

You may not be getting a diploma on a stage, but what you are getting is the keys to your future. Make it count. Make yourself proud.

(This article was first published on

Adopting a Veteran

My youngest son and I were excited as we drove to Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas in September 2019. We were heading there to meet and spend the day with retiring military veterans, some of them veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“What do you think they will be like?” I asked him.

“I don’t know,” he replied. “But I’m so excited. I want them to have fun because they deserve it,” my son replied, squirming in his seat.

Once at Lackland, we sat through a few briefings and we were given the opportunity to read biographies of some of the military veterans. Some had patrolled Iraq looking for explosives, others had served in harm’s way in Afghanistan, and many others had served stateside, never having deployed.

Eventually, the veterans filed into the room and we had the opportunity to meet them, one on one. There was one, in particular, that we wanted to meet after having read his bio and we made our way over to introduce ourselves. As we neared, he made eye contact with us and he leapt at my son. The veteran hit my son with what we have come to affectionately label as a “love shove,” and then his tongue started darting in and out of the muzzle around his snout as he tried to lick my son’s hands, his tail wagging energetically. I told my son to take a knee and almost on queue the furry veteran laid down on his back and opened himself up for a belly rub which my son was all too willing to give him.

“I think we found a winner,” I told the handler who smiled as my son rubbed the dog’s belly. “Everyone loves Max,” the handler told us. “He’s a really good boy.” Later that day we would begin our journey to adopt Staff Sgt. Max, a military working dog (MWD), brand number X483, who was being medically retired from the U.S. military because of severe structural defects in his lower spine and pelvis. He was one of hundreds of military dogs for adoption in 2019.

An adoption like this when I was an MWD handler in the 1980s would have never been possible. When MWDs could no longer do the job, they were euthanized, much to the dismay of their handlers. But in 2000, President Bill Clinton signed H.R. 5314 into law requiring the immediate termination of the Defense Department’s practice of euthanizing MWDs at the end of their working life. The services would be mandated to facilitate the adoption of retired MWDs.

All six of my canine partners were killed by the U.S. military once they became excess equipment. But those dogs, like other non-commissioned officers in my life, helped me grow up. Brute, my first dog, taught me that no matter how things might seem, I needed to trust him. All I had to do was look between his ears like a rifle sight and I would know where the threat was even though I couldn’t see it. He could smell it.

Another dog, Dug, helped me prevent the escape of a man armed with an Uzi who held hostages for hours at our base hospital. Every time the suspect came to the doorway, Dug quietly growled sending a rumbling, angry vibration up the leash almost like a smartphone set on vibrate. Then there was Casey who was overprotective. During a disturbance call, I let down my guard around an intoxicated individual and she jumped at a guy who had armed himself with a pair of scissors. She had my back.

Roy, the last dog I ever worked, who would look at his butt every time he farted, filling the truck with a noxious odor that I swear could peel paint. It made me laugh every single time he did it. He was always so surprised when it happened.

These were the veterans I served with and I spent more time with them than with humans. We endured long, lonely hours together, frigid nights, sweltering days, hard work and isolation tethered only to the rest of our unit by a radio signal. We walked posts in places nobody back home even knew existed; Hill 180, Morbach, the flight line cemetery. It was us against the world.

They were great friends with no expectations. They gave you everything and wanted nothing in return. I loved them and I would sneak them unauthorized cans of food, some soup bones courtesy of the commissary butchers or C-rations if they gave me the sad puppy eyes. I would also give them lasagna, currywurst, bulgogi, and whatever else I might have as leftovers. On my days off, I would stop by and play fetch with them, letting them run around off leash.   

We adopted Max in October 2019 after about a monthlong process. He had served about four and a half years in the U.S. military. To honor his service, I had a U.S. flag flown over the U.S Capitol on the day he retired. Max served with Transportation Security Administration for a bit, keeping our skies safe by detecting bombs and weapons, and then he came back to the 341st Training Squadron at Lackland where all the military branches train their dogs and handlers. He helped train 17 bomb dog handlers in three years and then he began to experience physical issues and after a medical review, he was found unfit for military service. Enter the Alvarez tribe.

When we brought him home and took off his collar, he immediately started sniffing furniture drawers, door cracks, and in between couch pillows. He did not know what it was like to enter a building and not search for bombs. He went to work. He sniffed aggressively and he sprinted into a room, and then into a walk-in closet where I found him sitting, as best he could, perfectly still, alert, looking right at me. He had detected and found our hunting rifles and ammunition. I gave him his Kong and praised him and told him he didn’t have to do that anymore.

Everyday I’m reminded of what lies ahead, but I try to ignore it. Somedays his rear legs shake so badly it is like he is having a seizure in the rear half of his body. He goes on walks, runs and plays, but there have been times we’ve walked him too far and he’s had to rest because physically he cannot endure the walk. There have been times in the backyard where he has collapsed where he is at, unable to walk, because he overdid it, but in his mouth is a Kong he did not have to earn by finding a bomb and it is almost as if he is laying there, immobilized by the pain, but smiling because he is so blissfully happy. The paralysis is momentary, and if he rests long enough in the cool grass under the shade of a tree, his body recharges, and he gets back up again.

At his first veterinarian visit, the vet was excited to meet him and as she examined his spine and pelvis, she touched a sensitive area. Max turned his head to the doctor and looked at her hand. “Is that where it is, buddy?” she asked him. He licked her hand. “He’s so stoic,” she said as she hugged him. Military service broke him, but he’s still here and there’s a lot of life left in him.

It is my mission to make his life as comfortable as I can because I couldn’t do that for my other six partners. It’s the least I can do. Max has a fluffy bed, a backyard, four kids that play with him, and my wife who adores him and rubs him so hard that she puts him to sleep. He loves cheeseburgers, fries, beef jerky and anything off my plate. He loves our backyard, but his favorite place is on the couch where he likes to fall asleep and snore loudly. He’s also a smelly farter.

Introducing him into this new world of domesticated life hasn’t been without problems. He has had accidents in our home. He is not housebroken. For most of his life he has lived in a kennel where he defecated and urinated, naturally he brought those behaviors into our home, but we’ve helped him understand. Our other dog, Chowder, has also shown him how to be a suburban dog. He’s a work in progress, but he is a member of our family.

April 30 is National Adopt a Shelter Pet Day. Different cities have different rules in place for the COVID-19 response, so check with your local shelters to see how you can help. Many of my neighbors have opted to help the local shelter by fostering an animal, others have adopted a pet since they have the time to devote to training and housebreaking.

While the MWD adoption program is currently not accepting applications and they do not have dogs available for adoption, they will have future dog adoption events, so please consider bookmarking the adoption page and adopting an MWD in the future. How much does it cost to adopt a dog from the military? Nothing.

Remember, this is a free dog adoption program. If you have often asked yourself “How to adopt a dog?” or “Where to adopt a dog?” the MWD program might be a good option especially if you live near the military working dog adoption center in San Antonio. Every year they have hundreds of dogs up for adoption, and while they might not be rescue dogs for adoption, or service dog adoption, the military’s dog adoption is an alternative to local dog adoption.

If you are not near San Antonio, after contacting the 341st, you might be given instructions to reach out to a local military installation near you that has local dogs for adoption. Local dog adoption of an MWD might be easier than what we went through in San Antonio, but your best bet is to get some guidance from the MWD adoption program and then proceed from there.

For years before we adopted Max, I searched the Internet for “dogs for adoption near me,” or “dog adoption centers near me,” and “dog adoption events near me,” and “free dog adoption near me.”

Luckily for me, one of the places to adopt dogs near me that had dogs for adoption in my area was the MWD program. It is a great place to adopt a dog if you’re willing to do a little work and be patient with the process.

There are many furry veterans who are looking for a home and I guarantee you they will add color and flavor to your life, even if it comes in the form of smelly dog farts.

Replacing Military Medals

I’m a military retiree, so I belong to many online social media groups for veterans, retirees and for the components and branches that I served in while in uniform. At least a few times per week, I see misinformation unintentionally being spread by uninformed individuals about the replacing lost military medals, so I’m hoping I can help clear the air with this post.

For me it started when a family member of a deceased veteran wrote online, “Can you get replacement military medals?” The advice began to flow from veterans eager to help. I have read posts from individuals who claim to be retired service members. They state, incorrectly, that you can get a no-cost shadowbox from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) with all your medals mounted. I have also seen posts in veterans’ forums online where people state that the VA will send you awards and certificates, including mini-medals and ribbons if you ask, and that the National Personnel Records Center (NPRC) also issues service medals. Well, not exactly.

Here are the facts about requesting replacement medals for veterans or replacement war service medals.

Veterans and families of veterans (next of kin) can get replacement medals from the U.S. government. A veteran or family member must complete Standard Form 180, Request Pertaining to Military Records. The form is found on the VA website. You can also complete the form electronically, but you must print it and mail it in, and that’s possible here.

Providing replacement military medals to military veterans or their next of kin is a function of each branch of service. A requesting veteran can receive a full-sized issued set of each medal at no cost. Next of kin are possibly eligible for a no cost set, but whether or not a requestor gets charged depends on whether or not the servicemember’s record is kept in the archival records and if the requestor is the veteran’s immediate next of kin.

The military branch (U.S. Army, U.S. Navy, U.S. Air Force, U.S. Coast Guard and U.S. Marine Corps) will supply the requestor with one boxed set for each medal that is in the servicemember’s personnel records. Therefore, if you are requesting your grandfather’s Commendation Medal, and it is not listed in his personnel file, you have to file a correction for military records in order to get it sent to you. You can get more information about doing that here.

The services will send the requestor a government issue medal set in a cardboard or plastic box. Meaning, shadow boxes, ribbon racks and mini medals are not provided. They will mail a requestor a set that usually includes a single ribbon and the medal. Some awards have a ribbon, medal and lapel pin. Remember, each military department manages its own medal requests so requests for the issuance or replacement of military medals and decorations must be directed to the specific branch of the military in which the veteran served. SF 180 has addresses on where to send the request. It should be noted that requests for Army and Air Force (including Army Air Corps) personnel, NPRC will verify the awards to which a veteran is entitled and forward the request along with the records verification to the appropriate service department for issuance of the medals.

Requests must include the veteran’s full name, branch of service, service number or social security number, as well as the veteran’s dates of military service. The request must be signed by the veteran or next of kin if the veteran is dead. Separation documents like DD Form 214s streamline the process. Requestors who lack discharge or separation documents may obtain copies by visiting the VA portal or by completing forms found here and mailing or faxing them to NPRC. A requestor can also write NPRC and state that copies of discharge documents are needed. NPRC can be reached at: National Personnel Records Center, Military Personnel Records, One Archives Drive, St. Louis, MO 63138- 1002. The SF 180 can be used.

In accordance with 10 U.S. Code, all medals are presented at no cost to an awardee, but replacement service medals are issued on a one-time basis and without charge to the recipient of the military decoration or the immediate primary next of kin of a deceased recipient. How to get war medals replaced? According to the Army, issue or replacement of service medals and service ribbons preceding the World War I Victory Medal is no longer possible, but all other wars are available for request. The WWI awards are no longer available from the supply system, but may be purchased. The services also have instructions on how to get a replacement Purple Heart medal, but the procedures are similar to other awards. The more documentation a requestor has, the better the chances of getting the request fulfilled.

The key for veterans to remember is that the U.S. government will send you replacement military medals. Family members listed as primary next of kin of deceased veterans can get them too, but they will be sent in individual boxes. If you’re trying to organize your military service for display or assembling something for a family member, you will still have to mount ribbons on racks, figure out the award precedence and mount medals to a shadow box, in addition to finding other items you want displayed.

For some people, waiting several weeks or months for the U.S. government to send medals is acceptable. For others who might be on a timeline or are less patient, ordering a shadowbox online is the way to go. It all depends on your needs. Also, for families who are inexperienced with military awards, ordering online is easy and the awards your loved ones earned are professionally mounted and sent to you ready to hang in a shadowbox. There are no forms to fill out, no records to retrieve, nothing to mail or fax. The shadowbox is prepared and shipped in days without the bureaucracy.

Opting to go the government route will cost you time. How much time depends on how much information you gather and how strong your request is. If you have records at the ready, the government route might be good for you, but then you will have to mount them yourself in a shadowbox, unless you mail the items to a vendor like USAMM and have them do it for you.

The bottom line is that with effort and a lot of patience, a person can request U.S. Navy replacement medals, U.S. Army replacement medals, U.S. Air Force replacement medals, U.S. Coast Guard replacement medals, and U.S. Marine Corps replacement medals. And eventually, as they develop their own awards, U.S. Space Force will fill awards requests.

Hopefully this answers the question, how to replace military medals? If you have any additional information to help our veterans and their families on this topic, or I missed something, please post a comment.

The Stolen Valor Pandemic

Sometime in 1998, I read the book Stolen Valor written by B.G. Burkett, a former U.S. Army officer who served in Vietnam. Burkett’s book made me unbelievably cynical and there are times I wish I had never read it because as they say, ignorance is bliss. Burkett’s exceptional piece of investigative work created doubt in my mind towards anyone who claims to be a veteran, but fortunately over the years, I have been able to compartmentalize my emotions and the urge to automatically look at everyone with suspicion.

Burkett’s book is a deep dive into stolen valor. What is stolen valor? The definition of stolen valor is when a person claims they have served in the military, or they embellish their rank or fraudulently claim that they were presented an award for valor. In order for actions to qualify as illicit, a person must have the intent to gain money, property or some other tangible benefit by convincing others that he or she received the award.

The act of embellishing military service in the United States dates back to the Continental Army when George Washington stated that if anyone falsely claimed to have earned the nation’s first award, what would become the Purple Heart, that they should be severely punished. Little did he know what a national tragedy stolen valor would become. Decades later, nearly 75 percent of the pensioned surviving veterans claiming to be combat veterans of the Civil War had never served in the military or in combat. Stolen Valor cases are nothing new and there is no book on how to spot stolen valor.

Over the decades, fakers, posers, glory hounds, dirt bags, whatever you choose to call them have sometimes been prosecuted and convicted of lying about their veteran status. Not until 2005 did the U.S. government choose to aggressively do something about it.

President George W. Bush signed the original Stolen Valor Act in 2005. That made it illegal to lie about military service and medals, but the U.S. Supreme Court found the law unconstitutional in that it violated free speech so a revision was drafted and it was signed into law in 2013 by President Barack Obama. What is the penalty for stolen valor? Depends, but up to one year in prison. It is a federal offense and those convicted of violating stolen valor laws can also face fines and civil cases can be brought against them for financial damages if it is proven that they benefitted fiscally. The Stolen Valor Act attempted to prohibit financial gain.

Given all that is going in the world today with the coronavirus you might think that something like stolen valor isn’t really on the minds of most people, but right now some sociopath is making a plan to tell people how he helped save patients in New York City, or some insecure loser is laying the ground work for a fabrication that will make her a heroine to her friends and family. A crisis is stolen valor’s fertile ground and it is honest veterans that tend to that garden, pulling the weeds as they find them.

In recent weeks I’ve seen remarks from veterans on social media and in veterans’ forums about stolen valor and how the COVID-19 military response will bring a fresh batch of liars. So, the sentinels are ready, standing watch, waiting. But how does a person report stolen valor? And honestly, is it really that important to report? The answer depends on who you talk to. For most veterans, the answer is usually, yes, it is important enough to report.

As a veteran, you can help control stolen valor by reporting your suspicions to local investigative reporters or by working with non-profit groups that focus on stolen valor. My advice is, if you’re not experienced in this sort of thing, leave it up to professionals. Remember, just because someone is wearing something or making some bold claims does not make them a criminal.

I know that many of you can argue, as did Burkett in his book, that fakers aren’t just stealing tangible things from veterans, they are stealing intangibles like honor and valor. I agree. I can’t tell you how many times I have asked a panhandler on a street corner wearing fatigues the details of his military life since he is holding a sign that says “Veteran Please Help.” Their responses are usually incoherent ramblings as they nervously shift from one foot to the other. When I ask them “What is on your 214 (military discharge documents)?” the answers are clearly indicative that most of them have not served in the military. Somewhere along the way veterans became America’s favorite charity and while it is true that there are homeless veterans in the United States, not all vets are homeless and mentally unstable.

If the guy at church who has the Ranger stickers all over his pickup truck isn’t really a Ranger based on conversations you’ve had with him, think about whether his fibs are helping him gain a financial foothold or is he just getting cool guy points from admiring suburban dads who don’t know better. Is the veteran with “many deployments” who is a fixture at Veterans’ Day events really hurting anyone when he talks about his war duty when you know his tours of duty were in Kuwait and Qatar? Legally those are considered the “combat zone” but when was the last time you heard of anyone dying from combat in those two countries? My point is, pick your battles. If we point enough fingers and whine enough, pretty soon our efficacy as a group comes into question.

Is stolen valor a crime? You bet. The Stolen Valor Act of 2013 makes it a crime to wear things you’ve not earned and benefit from it, but it is legal to wear things you have not earned and make false or misrepresenting statements. Clear as mud, right? Unfortunately, caught in the gray area are military members and veterans.

“I think we do a really good job ensuring that veterans get what they deserve,” USAMM CEO Jared Zabaldo said. “As a veteran-owned business, and as a veteran of the Iraq War, I’ve got a deep, personal interest to protect my fellow veterans from stolen valor,” he said. “But I also have a responsibility to the men and women who have served honorably.”

Zabaldo said the USAMM awards team is comprised of military veterans who are seasoned professionals in military awards. “Usually, 99 percent of our orders are from active military personnel who are preparing for a promotion board or official photo and they want to look sharp,” Zabaldo said. “I feel good that we provide a service to military personnel and in more than 15 years of serving our military we have had just a handful of cases where someone tried to lie and purchase something that we viewed as suspicious. When that happened, we asked for a DD Form 214, and there was no response, so the order wasn’t processed.”

But Zabaldo’s comments make me think, who is responsible for policing stolen valor? If the federal government can be duped for millions of dollars in Veterans Affairs benefits, sometimes by people who have never served, how can companies and other organizations protect themselves against fraudsters? Even if organizations ask for documentation, what good is it if a faker can create an impeccable DD Form 214 and fraudulently get disability, educational, and loan benefits from an organization like the VA? How can anyone possibly become a 214 specialist?

The truth is nobody can prevent people from committing stolen valor. There are laws that cover everything in this country from driving to fishing and people still do what they want. That’s the price you pay for living in a society that has a lot of rights. There is always a small percentage of people who will do what is wrong. That’s why we have to do what is right.

How do you identify stolen valor? Usually, it is pretty easy to see and as veterans you will know it when you see it. You know what I mean, veterans. It is the same thing as spotting your kind in a crowd. How many times have you seen someone and thought, I bet that one served?

How to report stolen valor is really the issue that faces most veterans. The best thing to do is report the faker, but do not get confrontational and do not violate their rights or privacy. Instead, try to capture him or her in uniform either by photo or video and then turn that over to the proper authorities, a news agency or to nonprofits that specialize in investigating people who are military frauds. If you think someone is defrauding the VA, you can report them to the VA inspector general hotline. You can also drop me a line by commenting on this blog.

Remember, while it is frustrating to watch someone lie for attention, it is not a crime. Stolen valor is incurable. It is a timeless pandemic. As veterans, we need to work together to ensure we pull the weeds from our sacred ground. 

Coronavirus: The U.S. military will improvise, adapt and overcome, just like it has before

The coronavirus has spread quickly over the planet in a matter of months. Worldwide, as of April 6, there are more than 1.1 million people infected with nearly 63,000 deaths reported according to the World Health Organization coronavirus map.

Given the U.S. military is spread across the planet and located in more than 100 countries, it comes as no surprise that 1,435 U.S. military members have coronavirus symptoms and have been infected by the virus as of April 6. The U.S. Army has 334 cases, Air Force has 281, Marines have 86, Navy has 431 and the National Guard has 303 cases.

That might seem like a lot of people, but allow me to offer some perspective. In 1918, the U.S. military was devastated by an influenza pandemic. World War I helped influenza gain traction in military training camps stateside and in Europe. Influenza traveled throughout various military camps and across the Atlantic. At the height of American military involvement in the war, influenza and pneumonia sickened 20 to 40 percent of U.S. Army and Navy personnel, according to a report from the National Institutes of Health titled The U.S. Military and the Influenza Pandemic of 1918-1919.

The infection rates were so high that they impacted induction and training and rendered hundreds of thousands of military personnel non-deployable. The good news is that we aren't anywhere near those numbers yet and the even better news is that unlike 1918 it seems as though military leaders are actually listening to military medical professionals and preventing the spread of COVID-19 by taking care of trainees.

In Europe, according to the report, 'Influenza attacked Allied and German armies alike, filling field hospitals and transport trains with weak, feverish men all along the Western Front.' In October 1918, the chief surgeon of allied forces reported that influenza and pneumonia outnumbered combat casualties. According to one report, 227,000 soldiers were hospitalized for battle wounds in 1918, but half again as many allied troops, 340,000, were hospitalized for influenza. 'The flu depleted and demoralized troops, and may have diverted military and political leaders from fighting the war to combating disease. It ultimately killed more American military personnel than did enemy machine guns and artillery.'

If you are attending military training or have a loved one currently in military training, I hope this post helps answer some questions. Remember, when in doubt, reach out to the chain of command for more information. For those of you who are wondering whether or not you will attend basic training, tech school or advanced individual training (AIT), or if you’re wondering how the coronavirus outbreak will impact your military training in the future, read on.

According to U.S. Army officials, U.S. Army trainees are screened two weeks before training and then screened again at four days before departure, three days before departure, and 24 hours before shipping to basic training. They are also examined by medical personnel upon arrival to the military entrance processing stations.

Last week, the Army reduced the number of trainees it is shipping each week by about 50 percent. Roughly 600 trainees were being sent to training to ensure proper distancing is maintained in barracks, classrooms and training environments. In a 60-person open-bay barracks, about one third of that number are housed in the bay so recruits can remain at a safe distance.

That said, the Army has started new transportation procedures for moving troops to AIT by moving hundreds of them in sterilized buses. Last week around 800 soldiers traveled in 32 cleansed buses from basic training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina to Fort Lee, Virginia while another group went from Fort Sill, Oklahoma to Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas. The Army placed only 25 soldiers on each 50-passenger bus to ensure social distancing was practiced.

Army recruits are also being isolated in new trainee groups and monitored for 14 days to keep them separate from other trainees who have been at basic training longer. This helps the Army react if a recruit tests positive since it minimizes the exposure group.

Army families are no longer allowed to attend graduation ceremonies. There are roughly 54,000 soldiers in training at the moment and on April 6, the Army decided to stop sending recruits to basic training for at least two weeks.

The U.S. Air Force has taken a different approach. A week ago, they temporarily stopped sending new recruits to basic training after four recruits became ill with the coronavirus in the service’s initial training program. The pause is giving the Air Force time to clean facilities and test instructors and trainees. It also buys the service some time to examine opening a second basic training site that can accommodate social distancing practices by having the regular basic trainee volume split between two locations.

Three of the Air Force recruits contracted the disease before basic training. The fourth individual likely contracted the disease from one of the others. The Air Force has now implemented restrictive personnel movements where groups of 40 recruits fly to Lackland Air Force Base together and are segregated from other individuals for two weeks.

But this week the Air Force has plans to send a small class of 60 recruits to Keesler Air Force Base, Miss. starting on April 7 for a shortened basic training of six weeks, reduced by two and a half weeks. If the intensive basic training works at Keesler, the Air Force may decide to keep the process in place during the crisis.

Pilot graduates and technical school graduates will travel to their regular duty stations as normally planned after graduation. Tech schools will continue to train because they are deemed mission essential, according to the Air Force. Airmen are not allowed to go on leave after graduations. They are only allowed to go directly to their assignments.

Last week the Air Force announced that it was moving up the graduation date for the U.S. Air Force Academy. The class of 2020 will have commencement on April 18 and the event will be live streamed. Guests are not allowed at any Air Force graduations.

The U.S. Marine Corps last week also stopped shipping new recruits to Recruit Depot Parris Island in South Carolina after more than 20 people there, recruits and drill instructors, tested positive for the coronavirus. The recruit shipment freeze will remain in place until at least mid-April.

The Marine Corps will continue shipping new recruits to Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego, the USMC’s other basic training base.

Recruits in training will practice social distancing in living, eating and training areas and like other services there will be no visitors at graduation ceremonies. Once Marines graduate from boot camp, they are being ordered to report directly to their follow-on training. Marines usually are granted a 10-day leave after completing boot camp. Families are precluded from attending graduation ceremonies.

The Navy decided last week it will not send new recruits to its boot camp in Great Lakes, Illinois after a recruit tested positive for coronavirus on March 28. All personnel at Great Lakes are being restricted in their movement and the recruit is receiving coronavirus treatment. Like its sister services, when recruits start shipping again to basic training the Navy will quarantine the recruits for two weeks before beginning training.

Trainees who are currently at Great Lakes are being broken down into smaller groups and the staff will remain on the base for at least 30 days to decrease the chance of spreading the coronavirus.

To date, the Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps have all reported recruits who have tested positive for the coronavirus in the USA.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), coronavirus is spread when the virus that causes coronavirus is passed from person to person mainly through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs causing coronavirus transmission. Spread is more likely when people are in close contact with one another (within about 6 feet). You can get more information from the CDC coronavirus website.

What is the coronavirus? According to the CDC, a novel coronavirus is a new coronavirus that has not been previously identified. The virus causing coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), is not the same as the coronaviruses that commonly circulate among humans and cause mild illness, like the common cold.

A diagnosis with coronavirus 229E, NL63, OC43, or HKU1 is not the same as a COVID-19 diagnosis. Patients with COVID-19 are evaluated and cared for differently than patients with a common coronavirus diagnosis. The WHO officially named the disease that is causing the 2019 novel coronavirus outbreak. It was first identified in Wuhan, China which is considered the coronavirus origin. The name of this disease is coronavirus disease 2019, abbreviated as COVID-19. In COVID-19, ‘CO’ stands for ‘corona,’ ‘VI’ for ‘virus,’ and ‘D’ for disease. The coronavirus incubation period is 1-14 days.

Please continue to follow developments of the COVID-19 outbreak by checking this blog for coronavirus updates. The one thing to remember is coronavirus deadly, but recovery rates are good and social distancing and washing your hands can make a huge difference.

Lastly, if you’re wondering about the spread of the coronavirus in the USA, and are tired of hearing about coronavirus news, it might be best to stick to reading official sources of information like the CDC and WHO rather than the news.

For example, recently I read that a dog had tested positive for COVID-19 and that a tiger at a zoo had tested positive as well. Yet according to the CDC, animals are not at risk of being infected. So, there is no way that someone can find the coronavirus in dogs, so the panic amongst pet owners is mostly fabricated.

Let’s keep our wits, practice precautions and stay healthy. Remember, improvise, adapt and overcome. One day at a time. Keep the perspective from WWI and realize that military leaders are doing all they can to protect our most valued commodity, the men and women of our armed forces.

Navy Ships Treat Patients as 450 Navy Medical Personnel Prepare to Deploy for COVID-19

The U.S. Navy’s hospital ship, USNS Mercy is open and seeing patients in the Port of Los Angeles according to the U.S. Navy. The ship will serve as a hospital for non-COVID-19 patients.

The Mercy is capable of providing full medical care including critical care and general surgery. The ship is in Los Angeles to allow civilian health care professionals to focus on treating COVID-19 patients. The mission was created to alleviate the volume of patients at Los Angeles area hospitals and allow those medical facilities to use their equipment on treating COVID-19 patients.

According to the Navy, the Mercy’s primary mission “is to provide an afloat, mobile, acute surgical medical facility to the U.S. military that is flexible, capable and uniquely adaptable to support expeditionary warfare,” officials said. The ship’s secondary mission is to provide hospital services to support U.S. disaster relief and humanitarian operations worldwide.

On the east coast, the USNS Comfort arrived in New York March 30 and will begin seeing patients as early as March 31. The Comfort was in port for maintenance for a scheduled four weeks, but when the call came that the ship was needed, it was ready in four days. The ship set out from Norfolk Naval Station in Virginia on March 28 and made it to New York City two days later. The Comfort, like the Mercy, is also going to see non-COVID-19 patients to alleviate a burgeoned New York healthcare system.

Both ships are equipped with 12 operating rooms, 1,000 hospital beds, medical laboratory, operating rooms, pharmacy, optometry lab, digital radiology, blood banks, medical equipment repair shops, a CAT scan, prosthetics and physical therapy capability. The ships will also manage trauma cases and other emergencies. The Mercy and Comfort are the longest-serving hospital ships in continuous operation in U.S. history. 

Hospital ships date back to the early 1800s when the USS Intrepid was used as a hospital ship after being reconfigured. That model, for the most part, is applied today. To date, only one ship, the USS Relief, was built to serve as a hospital ship. The Mercy and the Comfort were converted from other uses into hospital ships.

In 1918, during an influenza pandemic, two Navy hospital ships were briefly stationed in New York to care for overflow patients. In 1933, the Navy sent doctors and corpsmen from the USS Relief to Long Beach in response to an earthquake. Years later in 1989, the Mercy responded to the Loma Prieta earthquake by providing food and shelter for disaster victims.

According to the Navy, since 2001, the Comfort and Mercy have participated in 19 humanitarian assistance and disaster response missions, including Operation Unified Assistance, the U.S. military response to the 2004 earthquake and tsunami in the Indian Ocean. The ships treated more than 550,000 patients.

Following the attacks of 9-11 in 2001, the Comfort was sent to New York City and in 2005, the Comfort deployed to the Gulf Coast in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, where it treated 1,258 patients in Louisiana and Mississippi. 

As of March 30, the U.S. Navy states that 144 of its military members have tested positive for COVID-19, seven have been hospitalized and 14 have recovered. In total, to include Navy civilians, dependents and contractors, as well as uniformed personnel, the Navy has 213 COVID-19 cases.

Lastly, about 450 naval medical personnel are deploying to Texas and Louisiana to assist with combating the COVID-19 outbreak U.S. Northern Command announced Monday.