Archive for the ‘Special Operations’ Category

Top Reasons Why People Fail Special Ops

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I love getting email questions that require me to think and recall over the years some of my experiences to share.  These questions are from a future SOF candidate, who asks a simple question, “Why is the attrition rate so high?”  Here is his specifics:

I was curious Stew, why are the attrition rates for SOF so high? It seems that to get into any SOF training program you have to pass a physical examination to show you can handle training, academic tests, and reach a pretty high level of fitness. Therefore; all those who start should technically be able to complete the course? But of course most end up quitting. Through what means do trainees feel that the course isn’t for them? Or is it that people believe the workload isn’t worth the reward? Is it naive to think that because you only meet the minimums that you cannot succeed in the course? Is it more of a solid success-​​driven mentality requirement?

In my personal experience and after talking with recent graduates as well as failures from various SOF training programs that include:  BUD/​S, EOD, Ranger, Army SF, RECON, AFPJ, and various SWAT training programs, I have developed the following list of reasons why people do not make it through SOF training.  Let’s call this the Top Ten Reasons Why People Fail in Special Ops:

There are many ways to fail out or quit any of the Special Ops programs utilized by our military as well as city, state, and federal police departments.  But typically the biggest reason someone fails is the candidate is not prepared in some way.  Here is a list of reasons why most people do not make it through the various Special Ops training programs available:

Physical /​ Mental Toughness Failure: I have discussed this term “mental toughness” and tried to define it many ways, but it is critical in your success in any of these programs.  You have to understand that the physical challenge gets so overwhelming that you have to dig deep into your “how much you want it” pocket to find the fuel when the tank is empty.  It does not matter how great a runner, swimmer, lifter, shooter, etc…if you are not tough mentally — you will likely not make it through training. See related articles:  Top Ten List of Mental Toughness /​ Science of Mental Toughness.

Physical Reasons People Fail:

Running – Face it – it is a running man’s game out there.  You have to be a good runner with a solid foundation of long distance /​ fast paced running no matter what your size.  I have seen 220+ lbs men run 18 minute 3 mile runs and sub-​​200lb men fail.  If you cannot run well, you will be the first to leave typically – either by failing to keep up or by over-​​use injury caused by not being physically prepared to run.  I list this one near the top, because almost every graduate I talk to comes back and says, “I wish I had run more – it is a running man’s game.”

Swimming – You do not have to be a world class swimmer to ace even the toughest Spec Ops swimming programs including BUD/​S and AFPJs, but you have to be in good swimming condition, have solid technique, and be comfortable in the water.  Failing to swim well typically keeps you from getting INTO Spec Ops training, but one of the less likely events to fail during training.  Now the swimming skills – that is a different story.  See water confidence below.

size0Rucking – If you are training for the Army and Marines, you will be rucking.  The Special Ops world is the same.  Even at BUD/​S that used to start rucking once doing land warfare (3rd phase) are now rucking in every phase to prepare their graduates for future rucks in mountain /​ sandy regions of the world.  So start rucking if you have not started yet.  Finding how to wear your ruck, how to pace yourself for longer distances is as critical as conditioning yourself for endless rucking days.  Most people who fail rucks did not practice rucking, had weak legs and core strength to carry the ruck at a passing pace.  See - What is a Ruck article.

Lack of muscle stamina /​ endurance – It is great to be strong, but having the ability to move your body weight countless times up and down, over and under objects comes with specific training.  High repetition calisthenics is needed more than heavy weight training.  I am not saying you should not lift, in fact you should do both, but with a focus of muscle stamina not 1 rep max lifts.

Injury – Injuries happen sometimes due to lack of preparation for runs, rucks, swim, carrying boats /​ logs, sometimes it is an accident that could happen to anyone.  Sometimes it was not meant to be.  It is true but injuries happen to the best candidates.  If you have performed well to the point of your injury, you will likely be rolled and allowed to heal and join the next class.  However, if you are borderline failure or failed a few events (eventually passing) over the course of training and you get injured, you will likely be kicked out of training due to failure /​ performance combination.

Ocean /​ Land Navigation /​ Tactical Skills (physical /​ academic tests) – Some find it difficult to do proper ocean, land navigation or underwater navigation for that matter and fail tactical training tests.  There are several academic tests one must take when navigating land, ocean, sub-​​surface (SCUBA) as well as combat medical courses, dive physics, weapons system nomenclature and more.  All of which are stressful and many are oral /​ performance tests under duress.  The academic tests can also be tough to someone who is a poor student and the tactical tests can be stressful when placed under the clock and you have to perform to a certain standard.

Mental reasons why people fail:

11surfWater confidence – Like I said earlier, you do not have to be an All-​​American swimmer, but you have to not be scared of water and be able to move comfortably in any situation.  Drown-​​proofing, life-​​saving, underwater knot tying, SCUBA, underwater swimming are just a few of the skills a maritime Special Ops candidate will have to endure.  These claim many Special Ops candidates statistically and probably one of the biggest deterrents why some people choose not to attempt Special Ops programs that involve underwater operations.

training for military fitness 6Fear (water, darkness, claustrophobic, underwater at night, heights) – If you are a student at a Special Operations school, you will be introduced to many of your fears and forced to deal with them.  Many people fear cold, wet, and dark water forcing you to either successfully navigate through the fear and conquer it or the fear will conquer you.  I remember our first night swim (boogie man swim they called it), we had quitters that night and they were not even wet yet.  I personally never liked jumping out of airplanes, was near ill every jump. Many others and I shared the same feeling and somehow dealt with it until it became more natural to us and actually felt weird landing in an airplane.  What is your fear?

Instructor /​ Event Intimidation (aka mind-​​game) – Usually the instructors will make every pass/​fail event one of the toughest events ever that no one ever passes.  Having an instructor critique you constantly and making you pay physically for any errors or indiscretions is stressful and can get under your skin if you cannot handle negative feedback.  You will be told you are the worst student ever and it is up to you how to process that and come back stronger.

General Physical Discomfort (Cold, Hunger, Exhausted, Sleepy, Wet, Sandy) – This last one is borderline mental and physical.  Sometimes the thought of being cold or wet or both can cause people to quit while still dry.  Sometimes you just cannot handle being cold, wet, sandy, and being tired anymore and just want to call it quits.  This one is part mind-​​game and part physical pain /​ discomfort.  Spending days uncomfortable and tired will either make you stronger and appreciate those nice warm nights under a blanket, or completely break you mentally so you lose focus and cannot continue.

As you can see, there are many reason why people do not graduate Special Ops programs.  In fact, there are many more than these I just listed like not being a team player or mature enough to handle high levels of stress.  Though pre-​​screening of Special Ops candidates has advanced over the last few decades, the REAL TEST is the actual training course.  Testing to get TO the training will never insure someone gets THROUGH the training.   Though all Special Ops recruiters are getting better at picking those that have the highest potential for success, there is no test to date that can measure a candidate’s heart and will.  It is the Special Ops training course that does that.

Advice on Over-​​Training

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For years, I have written about and discussed the fine line between training for Special Ops type programs and over-​​training.  But until recently, I realized I forgot one very important piece of information:

TELL OTHERS AROUND YOU THE SYMPTOMS OF OVER-​​TRAINING.

Because, you will not notice it until it is too late (typically).  Even though, over-​​training is actually hard to do by just training — it is easy to see symptoms pop up occasionally when your recovery balance is off:  Not enough sleep, not eating or hydrating well, and too many crazy workouts in a week are just the things to push any training program into the over-​​reaching /​ over-​​training zone if not attended to.

Favorite Workout# 10: Last Week

pullupupOk — this workout is no joke and not for beginners.  This is one of our favorite combo circuits where we focus on the following type of exercise groups:  Upper body PUSH, Upper body PULL, Legs, Abs, and Full body Movements.  This one is a mix of a circuit and a max rep set of the pull, push, leg and the full body and abs are done to your wishes.

Pull, Push, Legs, Abs, Fullbody Max Reps Sets exercise circuit:

Max Reps sets of first 3 (Murph Workout*) — then “rest” with abs /​ full body each set:
Pull = pullups 100 reps
Push = pushups 200 rep
Legs = air squats 300 reps
Abs of choice 50
Fullbody exercise of choice:  options dead lift, hang clean, power clean, push press, KB swings, etc…Heavy or light moderate reps sets.  5–10 reps of these fullbody exercises.

United We Stand

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I come from a family of patriots.  We all support our Veterans, our military service men and women and our country regardless of the date on the calendar or the status of world events. My grandfather is part of the Greatest Generation as a WWII Veteran. My uncles are Veterans of the Vietnam War.  I am a the spouse of a GWOT Veteran who served our country valiantly during a career that saw both peace and conflict. So, during a time when we celebrate our Nation’s birth, it seems fitting to also thank those who graciously and unselfishly support our troops, respect our flag, and serve our Veterans.  This week, while we’re spending time with family and friends,  I want to introduce you to a couple of patriots & patriotic organizations that have inspired me. 

Favorite Workout #7: Last Week (Spec Ops Tri)

Operation Craving Competition

The Special Ops Triathlon — Run — Swim — Ruck

This fine tuning of the challenging cardio events of the triathlon is now an all-​​time favorite workout.  We even made it a quarterly competition with our Heroes of Tomorrow and Special Ops Team here in Maryland.

You can arrange the run, swim, ruck of the Special Ops Triathlon in any order, but we often like to make it like a simulated mission where you have the following phases:

Career Change to Special Forces

New Workout: Devil’s Mile with Tire

If you are thinking about a career change and perhaps wanting to move out of a cubicle, travel the world, challenge yourself with a typical younger person’s profession, this email may resonate with you.  There are some things to consider from the physical demands of the training you seek, strain on relationships, monetary issues, to just name a few. However, if you are seeking a career change to any of the Special Forces /​ Special Ops world, start training hard and specifically NOW!  Here is the email question and related answers to many foreseeable issues:

Stew,  I am considering a career change from a Phys. Ed teacher to Army Special Forces. 

Fitness is Relative /​ Energy Systems Are Not…

Why Bodyweight Exercises Rule!

After a challenging workout on Memorial Day this year, I posted it in the Weekly Favorite Series and received a few comments from, “this is a crazy workout and too hard to think about doing,”  to “it was not that bad if you paced yourself.”  This led me to think about how fitness is ALL RELATIVE, meaning, depending on your fitness level, workouts can easily be accomplished or not.

Military Swimming — How Good Should You Be?

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People all shapes and sizes with varying backgrounds join the military each year.  Many are great swimmers, most are average swimmers, some cannot swim at all.  Here is an interesting question that prompted a longer explanation in order to accurately describe “How Good at Swimming You Should Be?”

“Stew, I am a three sport athlete about to finish high school, but not a great swimmer.  I can swim, but having issues with reaching the faster times Navy Spec War (SEAL) recommends on the BUD/​S PST.  I am heading to college to likely focus on football and track, but would like to be able to go to BUD/​S and become a SEAL after I graduate (either enlist or OCS).  How important is getting the 500yd swim time down to 8 minutes vs. maybe 9 minutes and being comfortable in the water?

armsFirst, congrats on soon to becoming a collegiate athlete.  I tell people all the time, learning to be a team player (in something) is one of the most critical skills you need if you want to join the SEAL Teams as well as the military in general.  You will be a part of a team when you serve — being a good team player will help you tremendously.  You could even say it is more important than swimming — BUT you still need to be able to swim and swim well.

Top Ten List: Mental Toughness

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After this article, a friend of mine asked about what I thought the Top Ten List of traits for mental toughness would be.  After some thought and discussions with some successful, mentally tough people, we came up with this.

Mental Toughness – How do we obtain it?  Make it stronger?  Many young people ask these questions of me each day and I wish it was a simple answer.  I wish you could be mentally tough by figuring out a magic solution of phrases or training programs.  But it is not that simple.  Being mentally tough requires you to keep competing when your mind wants you to quit.  Humans have a “safety switch” in our brain that tells us to stop in order to prevent us from hurting ourselves.  We are natural born survivors built to conserve our energy, store food, and just simply live to survive another day.  There are times you can actually shut that part of your brain off.  When you do this, you realize your body is ten times stronger than your brain will let it be. Training programs in the Special Operations world helps you tap into this mindset, but often your life experiences and habits can build a mental toughness and resilience that no one can beat.

Are You a Captain America?

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I consider my sister-​​in-​​law, Dana, a real sister to me.  She is kind, compassionate, fun, wonderfully opinionated and loves me unconditionally.  I always welcome her advice and recommendations and she has never steered me wrongly.  Last summer she said I must watch The Avengers movie.  What a fun ride!  It was cool to see so many of my favorite characters like Thor, Ironman, and the Hulk joining forces to fight evil.  The only challenge was that I knew nothing about Captain America.  Friday night, I finally watched the first Captain America movie and can’t wait to see the sequel that apparently was a blockbuster at this past weekend’s opener. What caught my attention was the desire this scrawny little guy had to serve his country and sacrifice for the greater good of mankind.  Fortunately, you don’t have to look too far to find those willing to raise their shields to protect our country.  From our incredible service men and women to every day difference-​​makers, we all have a little bit of Captain America in us.

Coast Guard Diver Rating Created

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Coast Guard divers have been performing hundreds of diving missions each year for decades around the world in support of the multiple maritime missions of the Coast Guard.  Now, starting this year (2014), the Coast Guard created the Diver (DV) rating for qualified enlisted members.  Until now, divers in the Coast Guard had different rating professions and diving was a collateral duty.

Tactical Fitness Ideas — Why Think and Exercise?

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Stew, I recently heard you talk about adding thinking games into your workouts.  What do you mean?  How is that helpful to me being a better SWAT operator?   John

Being able to think while stressed is a trait all tactical operators (military, special ops, police, fire, EMS) all need to be able to do their jobs.  I have been experimenting with workouts over the years and realized that by training the brain to think while physically tired /​ stressed can help you when life or death situations occur.  This can be a simple pyramid workout where you have to do math during your workout or more advanced workouts where you have to get creative and think your way through them.  Of course, you also need the required tactical training to help perform your job, but when things are not stressful in “real life” you can simulate it in training and even your workouts.

Mix TRX with PT, Weights, Kettlebells

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Every now and then, I get motivated by a workout week that I created.  This week I created a program that is centered around suspension training, but each day has a combination specialty that challenges you in a variety of ways.  You need variety to your workouts, but make sure the workouts you select are still specifically developed so you will still reach your goals.  Whether the goals are weight loss, military service, special ops preparation, or law enforcement, adding suspension training can enhance your overall workout experience.  Below are some fun and challenging sample workouts recently tested by our group:

Tactical Fitness: The Dirty Dozen Test

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I was recently asked by an Army veteran if there were other fitness tests out there to challenge/​ test people who want to be “Tactically Fit”. This particular veteran likes to stay as fit as he was while serving more than 10 years ago and still manages an above average Army PFT for age groups 20 years younger.   These are great health and fitness goals to ace a basic PFT, but is it really a Tactical Fitness Test?  No — See the multiple dimensions required in creating a foundation to be “tactically fit” in order to have the ability to perform some of the most dangerous jobs in the world — defending /​ protecting our country and communities.

Tactical Fitness is the new fitness genre and I personally define it as:  The ability to perform military, police, and fire fighter job related skills such as running, rucking, swimming, buddy rescue, equipment carry, requiring upper body and lower body strength and muscle endurance.  I have been wanting to make an all inclusive tactical fitness test for a while now.  The test below has no scientific study behind it, these are simply my opinions what tactical athletes should be able to do.  However, all these events are commonly used testing events used by many military, special ops teams, SWAT Teams, police and fire fighters.

These are the twelve events I call the Tactical Fitness Dirty Dozen that I pulled from various military, police, and fire fighting fitness tests to create an all inclusive fitness challenge for those of you who want to be ready for anything.  There is a grading system that is quite generous in basic pass /​ fail standards as well as a max point system of 100 points.

The events justification:

25# Pullup — Weighted pullups are required as most gear a tactical operator wears will weigh anywhere from 15-​​25lbs minus the back pack.  Minimum is 2 reps /​ maxing is 10 reps.  1 point for each rep for a total of 10 points and minimum of 2 reps.

Body Weight bench press — Upper body strength with combination of moving your body weight for multiple repetitions to test pushing power of the tactical athlete.  Minimum points for 5 reps (2 pts) and maximum (10) points for 15 reps.

Dead Lift (1.5x BW) — Can you lift more than your own body weight.  Practicing this event alone will help a tactical athlete learn proper lifting techniques and build a stronger foundation to move heavy weight when required.  1 rep P/​F but 2 points per rep until 5 reps for more points. Minimum points for 2 reps (1 pt) and maximum (10) points for 5 reps.

Fireman carry — Can you rescue your buddy and carry for 100yds?  Pass /​ Fail criteria (5 pts pass)

400m sprint - Can you run fast (no gear)?  60 seconds max points /​ 80 seconds minimum standard.  Sometimes speed is essential.
Minimum points for 80 seconds (1 pt) and maximum (10) points for 60 seconds.

300yd shuttle run - Can you run back and forth quickly (6 x 50m shuttle)?  60 seconds max /​ 80 seconds minimum standard.
Minimum points for 80 seconds (1 pt) and maximum (10) points for 60 seconds.

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Illinois Agility Test — You will have to zig and zag while running at full speed, changing direction often.  Max points of (5) if completed under 15 seconds.  Deduct a point for every second slower than 15 seconds until 19 seconds(1 pt).  Slower than 19 seconds = fail.

Plank pose - Can you hold the plank pose for 1 minute minimum.  Get extra points for every minute after that and max out at 5 minutes.  1 point 1 minute. Add a points for each minute up to 5 minutes.  Max points 5 points.

3 mile timed run — The three mile timed run.  Can you run 3 miles without stopping?  Then you pass.  If you get 18 minutes you max the test and can pick up a few more points if you can keep it under 23 minutes.  10 points for 18 min /​ 1 point less for each 30 seconds until max point time of 23 minutes.

50 lbs ruck in under 1 hour (4 miles) - This is the minimum standard for Army rucking times.  Can you pace yourself at a perfect 15 min mile with 50lb back pack or weight vest.  No need to go too fast on this event.  It is about finishing on a steady pace.  No extra points for getting under 1 hour.  10 points pass or fail.

Swim - Can you swim?  -  If you cannot swim you are ineffective on 75 % of this planet.   Be an asset not a liability to your team, yourself, and your family.  This is a basic survival skill we all should know how to do.  5 Points for just knowing how to swim.

500m swim — Any stroke.  Swim 500m non-​​stop and you pass.  Get 500m in 6 min or less and max out the swim test.  You can get extra points until the 11th minute.  5 points for maxing the swim /​ 1 point less for every minutes until the 10th minute.

25m Life saving buddy tow  - Can you dive to the bottom of a pool (8-​​9ft) grab a unconscious buddy and tow him 25m to the other end of the pool?  Pass or fail — 5 points.

Here is a chart to make it easier to understand:

Exercise Pass /​ Fail Criteria
4 mile ruck (50lbs) 1 hour maximum time
25# Pullups max reps 2 – 10 reps
Bench press (bodyweight) Pass or fail 1 rep:  5 reps — 15 reps for extra points
Dead Lift (1.5x bodyweight) Pass or fail — 1 rep
(2–5 reps for extra pts)
Fireman Carry (P/​F) 100yds of equal bodyweight
400m sprint 60–80 seconds
Shuttle run 300yds 60–80 seconds
Plank pose (P/​F) 1 minute minimum /​ 5 min max
3 mile run (P/​F) 18 minutes to 23 minutes for extra points
IL Agility Test <15 secs to >19 sec
Swim – can you swim?
(P/​F)
Yes /​ no
Swim 500m timed 6 minutes – 11 minutes
Swim – Buddy Tow Pass/​fail – 25m rescue swim

Max points is 100 points if you ace everything.  You can still pass with as little as 40 points.  You must pass all events to pass the test. Give it a try and see where you stand.  Practice and your weaknesses and think your way through this test as you can arrange to best fit your optimal scoring potential.  The interesting thing about this test is you can arrange the events in any order you wish.  Get creative and develop your own strategy for better performance.  The test can be broken up into two sessions or challenge yourself and go for all events in one long testing session.

“The Dirty Dozen”  Tactical Fitness Test eBook is here.

 

What Did You Do Today? January 2014

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Each month (or more often if this series is popular enough), I am going to post some fun workouts that I would recommend you trying if you are in the intermediate /​ advanced level fitness zone.  Here, we mix weights and calisthenics with some unconventional exercise options.  One of the new favorite unconventional exercises is the stair crawl — which is just an advanced version of the bear crawl where you crawl down head first a flight of steps and then change directions and crawl back up FEET first (this is the hard part).

So check out this fullbody workout circuit:

Repeat 3 times
Pushups 1 min
Pullups 1 min
Situps or abs of choice 1 min
Walking lunges 25 yards
Stair crawl UP /​ DOWN a flight of steps — NOTE:  If there are no steps to do this or your gym will not let you — simply bear crawl 25m or farmer walk carrying a 25–50 lb. weight.

Hell Week Training: 3 Things to Remember!

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What’s Hell Week Training?

Five days and nights in maximum overdrive. It’s wet. It’s cold. It’s tough. And for most it’s their first real test of endurance. And, most don’t think they are ready. Or they do, until the boots hit the mud and a part of them just wants to cry to mama. Can you survive? Can you adapt? Can you reach the peak and push back against your minds natural resistance? Will you become a Marine?

The body has a way of adapting to physical stress but only when you give it what it requires to deal with that stress in the most healthy and positive way. You need the right food combinations and nutritional fortification. And that fortification of your body’s vital systems needs to begin long before Hell week. Long before the buzz cut. And long before your first inspection. That fortification, that Hell Week Training Diet needs to start the moment to get the urge to wear the Eagle, Globe and Anchor.

What’s a Vitamin Doing in BCAA?

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You’ve seen BCAA supplements on the health food shelf; you’ve read about the benefits of BCAA when training and you want the results these supplements claim to deliver. But how do you know which are the best BCAA supplements? They contain different ingredients so which option is the best for a highly active lifestyle?

Great questions! And you’ll get your answer here because not all supplements are created equal.

BCAA supplements (branch chain amino acids) can be combined in a power formula that includes Vitamin B6, Vitamin B12, Biotin, Zinc, L-​​Leucine, L-​​Isoleucine, L-​​Valine, L-​​Glutamine. While each of these ingredients are beneficial to the body on its own, when combined in the proper dosage, they become a highly effective component in a fitness regimen, the world of body building, and the military training.

Mental Toughness — Art or Science?

Mental Toughness - Art or Science?

Mental Toughness has been a topic of discussion and debate for generations as we humans try to define our lives.  What makes some people tougher than others?  More successful? More motivated? Calm in stressful situations?  What are the common traits of ordinary people doing extraordinary things?  Can mental toughness be measured?  Scientifically tested?

These are the questions I have been seeking answers to and the type of questions I get each day from young men and women preparing for challenging programs in the military, law enforcement, and fire-​​fighting professions.

There are some scientific studies performed trying to measure how people handle stress and why they graduate Special Operations programs like Army Special Forces and Navy SEALs.  Some of the most interesting and pertinent to this discussion were the ones done by Dr. Andy Morgan of Yale Medical School.  

Adding Weights to Spec Ops Prep…

Adding Weights to Spec Ops Prep

Here is an email from a young man who seeks some advice about adding weights to his training plan.  He is not only pre-​​training for the next track /​ cross country season, but also is preparing for Navy SEAL training after he graduates high school.

Stew, I was curious if I start to add some weights to my off-​​season program would it affect my running negatively?  In other words, would it make me slower?  I am also wanting to add Navy SEAL workouts into my training so I will be adding in swims, swims with fins, and various PT workouts.  I read in a previous Navy SEAL article you mentioned about learning to be a good team player prior to joining the service — well I am doing that but I want to be the best team player I can be and in this case it means running faster.  Any advice?

Team sports in high school go a long way in developing needed skills you will use everyday in the military.  Simply being on a team with a competitive spirit is a great foundation to build upon once you join  and you will especially need these skills in the Spec Ops community.

Band of Brothers

Clay Hunt

For those of you who connect with me regularly, you know my passion for our military and our veterans.  From the bravery, courage, and inspiring leadership of my amazing veteran husband, Mark Gauger LtCol USAF(ret), to the thousands and thousands of everyday people who have risen up to serve our nation so valiantly, I remain in awe of your service and sacrifice.  Recently, working here in Maine with the Travis Mills Project and the expansion of the National Veterans Family Center, I have become acutely aware of the unspoken needs of our Armed Forces.  No where is that need more evident than in the tragic death of Marine veteran, Clay Hunt, in 2011.   This article is a spotlight on a team who has taken up Clay’s torch to inspire leadership and provide mentorship for our veterans.