Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) With & Without Dependents

air force dad with wife and three daughters

If you have spent even a day in the military you know that pay is the number one driver of happiness.  Or, at least it can be the number one driver of sadness and desperation.

Marine Infantry: No Longer a ‘Men Only’ Club

first women infantry marines

The Marine Corps made history this year as three enlisted female Marines with infantry jobs join an infantry at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina-based First Battalion, Eighth Marine Regiment. 

My Dad’s Letters

Military life can be both miserable and rewarding.  The reward comes from working with great people on great teams accomplishing great missions.  The misery comes from austere locations, uncomfortable situations, and separation from loved ones.

One thing that makes every aspect of military life more bearable is the ability to keep in touch with friends and family.  But many times, the only way to connect is through the mail.

importance of military mail in basic training

When I was a recruit, going through my initial military training, I got mail just like everyone else did.  It was simultaneously the best and worst time of the day:

  • Best – because it was my connection to the outside world, the world that didn’t include drill instructors and smelly recruits;
  • Worst – because there was very little time to read and enjoy the stories, jokes, and gossip sent by friends and family.

basic training recruit training boot camp mail call

It was the same for everybody.  Mail was our escape.  It was our sanity check.  It gave us hope that there was life after recruit training.

For some, mail call brought snacks that they couldn’t keep.

For others, it meant envelopes soaked in perfume or really crafty, artistic packages…which invariably led to some ‘gentle’ ridicule from the instructors.

crafty military care package

Some got great news, like the birth of a child.

Others got horrible news, like the death of a parent.

Now matter how you look at it, mail call was (and is) how recruits stayed connected with the important people and events in their lives.  And it was all the more important during the holidays.

The mail I got at basic left a lasting impact on me.

Specifically, in the letters from my dad I received something far more precious than anything I’d ever requested for a birthday or for Christmas.impact of father on son

Something more valuable than a lesson on how to throw or catch, more timeless than a lesson on fishing.

What my dad sent to me during my three months of boot camp was powerful, wonderful, mysterious.

In his letters to me my father wrote of how proud he was of the man I was becoming.  He told me how much he loved me.  He wrote about how confidently he believed that no matter what obstacles I faced in life, I could overcome and succeed.

Through his letters, my dad gave me permission to be strong, to win, to lead.  I became a better recruit, and ultimately a better warrior because of those letters.

father's impact on soldier through military mail

“My father gave me the greatest gift…he believed in me.”~Jim Valvano

Thanks for believing, Dad.  And thanks for writing.

Join the Sandboxx community here to make an impact on your service member.

Marine Corps Intelligence: The United States Intelligence Community

Marine Corps Intelligence, is an element of the United States Intelligence Community. The Marine Corps Intelligence Activity mission is to provide intelligence services to the Marine Corps and the U.S. Intelligence Community.

U.S. Naval Academy Admissions: Tips for Success

tips for naval academy admissions

If you are considering applying to the U.S. Naval Academy (or any of the Service Academies, for that matter), you must realize that the competition is extremely stiff.

As an example, consider the class portrait for the USNA Class of 2020. More than 17,000 applications were submitted; but fewer than 1,400 appointments were offered. If you aren’t that good at math (which you should be, by the way, if you’re considering a Service Academy), that’s an appointment rate of around 8%. Which means that 92% of those who applied were turned away. Not great odds.

tips for naval academy admissions

However, there are ways you can make yourself more competitive. If your goal is to be offered an appointment to the U.S. Naval Academy (or any of the other Service Academies), here are four tips that can help you stand out as a candidate.

1. Do 3 Sports

To be admitted to the Naval Academy, you must be physically fit. As a midshipman, you will most likely be expected to participate in athletics of some kind. But beyond the athletic requirements of student life, the physical fitness standards required of commissioned officers (what you will be if you can survive four years “by the Bay”) exist to make sure you are ready to lead in combat.

One of the best ways to show that you have what it takes physically to succeed at USNA, and to eventually lead our troops, is to be involved in varsity athletics while you’re in high school. But don’t just stick to one sport. Do three. If you play football, consider playing baseball and basketball, as well.

If you are a tennis star, think about working to become a track and field star, or a swimming phenom.

Bottom line: if you can get varsity letters (or at least show that you have participated) in three organized sports, you will be more competitive as a candidate.

2. Everybody gets A’s: do more

Think you’re smart? I guarantee someone at the Naval Academy is smarter. I further guarantee that your straight-A transcript(s) from high school, JuCo, CommCo, or university will not make you stand out. All of the truly competitive candidates have straight A’s. So…

Do more than simply get A’s in your classes. Look at getting into Advanced Placement (AP) classes. Consider making room in your schedule for one or two college level classes. Are there academic competitions that you can participate in? Do it. Even better, do very well in those competitions so you can add those accomplishments to your USNA candidate application.

If you are a high school graduate already, keep getting those A’s. But be smart about which courses you enroll in. Can you get into the tough STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) courses? Can you use some of those high school AP classes as college credit, and then enroll in 200, 300, or higher level classes? If so, do it. Also, get involved with academic student groups, lecture clubs, etc.

Bottom line: A’s aren’t enough. You need to show that you seek out very challenging academics across many disciplines, and that you succeed in those challenges.

3. Be a Leader

Remember a few lines up when I wrote that you need to show you participated in multiple sports? Okay, add this to your to-do: get into leadership positions on those teams. In fact, seek out leadership positions in everything you do. In your sports, in your school clubs, at church, in your civic groups (which we’ll talk about next). Graduates of the Naval Academy will assume positions of great responsibility upon graduation. So, make it easy for the Admissions board to see that you are not only capable of being a leader, but that you aggressively seek out the challenge of leadership.

Bottom line: your competitors will be student government presidents, club presidents, team captains, and leaders of all sorts of other extracurricular activities. You must show the same on your application.

4. Be a Servant

This may sound like a contradiction to the previous tip, but you need to show the Admissions board that you are a selfless servant. The military isn’t called ‘the service’ because that’s a cool moniker. It’s called the service because many of the requirements placed on you will necessitate great sacrifice.

To show that you embody the ideal of service before self, get involved in civic groups. Volunteer. Seek positions of leadership at church, in your school’s holiday food drive, at your local YMCA or Boy’s & Girl’s Club. Do things that show you want to serve others, in order to improve their lives.

Bottom line: as a midshipman at the Naval Academy, you will be expected to display an attitude of service. And as an officer of these United States, a very special trust and confidence will be conferred on you by the American people. Make it a habit now to pursue the welfare of others before you seek your own comfort.

 

Jeremiah graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy with the Class of 2009, and went on to become a Marine Corps intelligence officer.  Prior to the Naval Academy, Jeremiah was a Marine Corps Sergeant.  He has deployments in the Pacific, and to Afghanistan.

Join the Sandboxx community here.

First Jump for a Marine

what jump school is like for marines

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U.S. Army Airborne School, more commonly known as Jump School, takes place at Ft. Benning, GA.  This is where the majority of military parachutists earn their basic qualification.

The school’s basic jump course is three weeks long, and consists of three phases: Ground, Tower, and Jump.

During Ground Week, students learn the basics of the parachute landing fall (PLF), and how to identify and control (sort of) the direction of their descent.

Tower Week gives the students practice in mass exit (lots of people exiting an aircraft quickly), deploying the combat load, and getting used to the physical shock from the opening canopy.

Jump Week…is when the fun stuff happens: actually parachuting from an aircraft in flight.

marines at jump school army airborne

I had the opportunity to go to Jump School as a Marine Corps intelligence officer. I commanded a platoon of ‘radio reconnaissance’ Marines, and our mission required me to be a parachutist.  So off I went to earn my wings.

Here’s what I wrote after my first jump:

Here I am in the third and final week of training: Jump Week.  This week we’ll do five low-level static line aircraft exits.  Two of the jumps must be during the day, and two at night; two must be slick (just the main parachute and reserve), and two must be made with a combat load.  Today, we jumped slick.  Our remaining jumps include 1 day-slick and 1 day-combat; and 1 night-slick and 1 night-combat.

Then we’ll all be basic parachutists.

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Up until now, I haven’t really been nervous.  As we boarded the aircraft, wearing our parachutes and reserves, our helmets, our ankle braces, and some anxious smiles of excitement…I still didn’t really feel nervous.  But I was paying attention to my mental, emotional, and even physical reactions to the whole experience.

It wasn’t until we were fully in flight, and the first team of jumpers exited, that my physiology changed.  Straining to turn and watch the first jumpers prepare to exit, anticipating the commands they received from the jump master, and then seeing them fling themselves out the door on the right side of the craft, I had a cold, hard realization.

I was about to jump out of an airplane!  I got nervous.

Honestly “nervous” isn’t the right word.  Fearful is more appropriate.  This is what I noticed:

  • my heart rate increased, but it felt like it dropped into my stomach;
  • my mouth became dry;
  • my perspective became slightly myopic, internal.

Yeah…those are some physiological effects of fear.

I wasn’t crippled by the fear, though.  It’s not like everyone else on that plane had no fear or anxiety.  We all did.  But we were still going to jump.

And no way, as a Marine, would I chicken out while a bunch of Army guys jumped!

jumping from a c-130

The C-130 Hercules we were on made a few passes over the drop zone, and vomited out wave after wave of jumpers.  Soon…it was our turn.  We focused on the Jumpmaster, anxiously waiting for his commands.

“Outboard personnel, stand up.”  Those seated against the skin of the C-130 stood up.

“Inboard personnel, stand up.”  Those of us seated on the cargo net in the middle stood up.

“Hook up.” We hooked up, and checked our lines and equipment.  I was the third jumper in the stick.

“One minute!”

The door was open.  I was ten feet from it.  I could feel the warm air coming in, and could smell the C-130’s exhaust.

My heart began to race; my breathing became more rapid.

“Thirty seconds!”

jumpmaster gives 30 second signal

My heart was pounding, and I made an effort to keep calm by controlling my breathing and, surprisingly, by looking outside.  We were 1250 feet up.  It didn’t look all that daunting, and gazing out at the treetops and fields actually soothed my nerves.

“Stand by!”  The number one jumper was standing at the door, facing out, ready to launch himself from the platform.

“Green Light! Go!”  

Jumper 1, a Marine Corporal stationed at MCAS Cherry Point, disappeared.  Jumper 2, an Army Second Lieutenant stationed at Ft. Benning, shuffled toward the Jumpmaster.  I shuffled forward, too, but kept back about an arm’s length.

Jumper 2 turned to his right and disappeared.

I made eye contact with the Jumpmaster, handed him my static line, and turned.  Step, kick…

WHOOSH!airborne jump exit

I left the aircraft and was met by a shocking wall of air from my right.

“One thousand.”  I was blown into a horizontal position.

“Two thousand.”  The force of the air tossed my helmet about my head.

“Three thousand.”  I realized my eyes were closed and opened them; I could see the first two jumpers in the air ahead of me.  My chin was tucked to my chest.  My hands clutched the sides of my reserve parachute.

“Four thousand, five thousand.”  I could feel the tug of the deploying parachute catching air.

“Six thousand.”  I reached up to grab my risers, the straps that connected the parachute to the harness on my body.  I looked up to inspect the canopy.  I needed to make sure it had fully deployed and that there were no rips, tears, holes, or broken suspension lines.

jump20week204

No damage and it was open, but it was twisted.  I grabbed the two risers and pulled them outward away from my head.  I began kicking my legs as if riding a very awkward bicycle.  I spun a couple times until the twist undid itself and the parachute opened fully.

Then…it felt like I was just hovering.

There wasn’t much noise.  All I could really hear was my breathing.  The descent was so smooth, I wasn’t sure I was even moving at all.  I looked around to ensure no other jumper was too close to me, and to get my bearings on where I was in relation to the drop zone.

I was floating straight down.

My landing was great; I executed a perfect PLF.  Then I quickly set to work putting the spent parachute into my aviator kit bag.

I was happy for an uneventful landing.  I could have been dragged by the parachute, landed in a bog, or caught a patch of weird air and dropped harder than expected.  Easy day for me, though.

I picked up my aviator kit bag with spent parachute inside, and headed for the rally point.

drop-zone

I had completed my first parachute jump.  And got paid to do it.  Not a bad day.

 

Jeremiah graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy with the Class of 2009, and went on to become a Marine Corps intelligence officer.  Prior to the Naval Academy, Jeremiah was a Marine Corps Sergeant.  He has deployments in the Pacific, and to Afghanistan.

Join the Sandboxx community here.