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Yes, the Army encourages this sergeant to play video games all day (for recruiting purposes)
During his senior year at Woodlawn High School in 2003, Christopher Jones enlisted in the Army. As soon as he got his first barracks room following training, he bought a PlayStation2, GameCube and Xbox so he could play video games in his off time.
Sixteen years later, he's still in the Army, but video games aren't his recreation. They're his job.
Jones is part of the Army's ultimate 21st-century unit — the esports team. A sergeant first class, Jones is the noncommissioned officer in charge of 16 soldiers who, during their three-year rotation with the team at Fort Knox, Kentucky, exchange real weapons for virtual ones.
The purpose is to help Army recruiting by showing gamers — and there are a lot of them in the 17- to 35-year-old demographic — that they may have more in common with soldiers than they think, Jones said.
"We're showing the soldier behind the uniform," said Jones, who was born in Baton Rouge and lived in the area until joining the Army. "This is that one avenue to tell that story. We hold these different positions. We have the same passion. We love gaming just as much as everyone else. The difference is we are in a different profession. We come from the infantry. We come from aviation, military police, all kinds of different professions within the Army. But we share the same passion."
The team, which will be fully operational by Oct. 1, attends esports competitions and conventions, playing popular video games such as "Call of Duty," "League of Legends" and "Fortnite" against those who attend, and they get to meet face-to-face. At the PAX East exhibition in March in Boston, players lined up for more than an hour to take on the Army team.
"They were blown away at the fact that our soldiers are very skilled, beating them at their favorite game," Jones said. "Everyone had a really great time because they're connected over (an) already established shared passion."
Jones, 34, was a recruiter in Hammond last year when the Army Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation division had a "Street Fighter" video tournament at several installations. Because of his interest in video games, he was chosen to serve as a commentator during an event. It was successful enough that Maj. Gen. Frank Muth, commander of U.S. Army Recruiting Command, thought esports could become an effective recruiting tool. He selected Jones to manage the program. The Army is the only military branch that has a video game recruiting outreach, Jones said.
From his own recruiting experience, Jones said he thinks it's a great idea.
"When I talk about my hobbies, we start the conversation: 'I love video games,'" he said. "'Wow! The Army lets you play video games?' There's a whole lot of misconceptions that were broken by boots-on-the-ground level having that conversation."
The Army isn't the only victim of stereotypes, Jones said. Many video game enthusiasts don't fit the mold of an undersized nerd.
"One of the soldiers who participates in the program is actually a special forces operator. He was actually a semiprofessional gamer before he joined the Army, and now he's special forces," he said.
In his current role, Jones oversees the program, coordinating which events the esports team will attend, attending gaming conventions and creating opportunities to raise the Army team's visibility.
"The esports industry is about to be at a $1 billion industry," Jones said. "It's been (big) in Asia and Europe for a while, and it's really gaining steam here in North America. … Yes, it's groundbreaking. It's definitely new, but, at my level, it definitely feels like a no-brainer."
©2019 The Advocate, Baton Rouge, La.
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Secretary Robert Wilkie called an allegation of sexual assault at the VA 'unsubstantiated.' Investigators say it's not.
The Department of Veterans Affairs' Inspector General pushed back against Secretary Robert Wilkie last week, after Wilkie called an allegation of sexual assault in a D.C. facility "unsubstantiated."
‘I made promises to the people that I lost’— How the Iraq war forged a Navy SEAL’s path to Harvard Medical School and NASA
Navy Lt. Jonny Kim went viral last week when NASA announced that he and 10 other candidates (including six other service members) became the newest members of the agency's hallowed astronaut corps. A decorated Navy SEAL and graduate of Harvard Medical School, Kim in particular seems to have a penchant for achieving people's childhood dreams.
However, Kim shared with Task & Purpose that his motivation for living life the way he has stems not so much from starry-eyed ambition, but from the pain and loss he suffered both on the battlefields of Iraq and from childhood instability while growing up in Los Angeles. Kim tells his story in the following Q&A, which was lightly edited for length and clarity:
New Vietnam War movie 'The Last Full Measure' takes some well-deserved shots at the military’s award process
Todd Robinson's upcoming Vietnam War drama, The Last Full Measure, is a story of two battles: One takes place during an ambush in the jungles of Vietnam in 1966, while the other unfolds more than three decades later as the survivors fight to see one pararescueman's valor posthumously recognized.
On April 11, 1966, Airman 1st Class William H. Pitsenbarger (played by Jeremy Irvine) responded to a call to evacuate casualties belonging to a company with the Army's 1st Infantry Division near Cam My during a deadly ambush, the result of a search and destroy mission dubbed Operation Abilene.
In the ensuing battle, the unit suffered more than 80 percent casualties as their perimeter was breached. Despite the dangers on the ground, Pitsenbarger refused to leave the soldiers trapped in the jungle and waved off the medevac chopper, choosing to fight, and ultimately die, alongside men he'd never met before that day.
Decades later, those men fought to see Pitsenbarger's Air Force Cross upgraded to the Medal of Honor. On Dec. 8, 2000, they won, when Pitsenbarger was posthumously awarded the nation's highest decoration for valor.
The Last Full Measure painstakingly chronicles that long desperate struggle, and the details of the battle are told in flashbacks by the soldiers who survived the ambush, played by a star-studded cast that includes Samuel L. Jackson, Ed Harris, and William Hurt.
After Operation Abilene, some of the men involved moved on with their lives, or tried to, and the film touches on the many ways they struggled with their grief, trauma, and in the case of some, feelings of guilt. For the characters in The Last Full Measure, seeing Pitsenbarger awarded the Medal of Honor might be the one decent thing they pull out of that war, remarks Jackson's character, Lt. Billy Takoda, one of the soldier's whose life Pitsenbarger saved.
There are a lot of threads to follow in The Last Full Measure, individual strands of a larger story that feel misplaced, redacted, or cut short — at times, violently. But this is not a criticism, quite the opposite in fact. This tangled web is part of the larger narrative at play as Scott Huffman, a fictitious modern-day Pentagon bureaucrat played by Sebastian Stan, tries to piece together what actually happened that fateful day so many years ago.
At the start, Huffman — the person who ultimately becomes Pitsenbarger's champion in Washington — wants nothing to do with the airman's story, the medal, or the Vietnam veterans who want to see his sacrifice recognized. For Huffman, it's a burdensome assignment, just one more box to check before he can move on to brighter and better career prospects. Not surprising then that Pentagon bureaucrats and Washington political operators are regarded with skepticism throughout the movie.
When Takoda first meets Huffman, the Army vet grills the overdressed and out-of-his-depth government flack about his intentions, calls him an FNG (fucking new guy) and tosses Huffman's recorder into the nearby river where he's fishing with his grandkids.
Sebastian Stan stars as Scott Huffman alongside Samuel Jackson as Billy Takoda in "The Last Full Measure."(IMDB)
As Huffman spends more time with the grunts who fought alongside Pitsenbarger, and the Air Force PJs who flew with him that day, he, and the audience, come to see their campaign, and their frustration over the lack of progress, in a different light.
In one of the movie's later moments, The Last Full Measure offers an explanation for why Pitsenbarger's award languished for so long. The theory? Pitsenbarger's Medal of Honor citation was downgraded to a service cross, not because his actions didn't meet the standard associated with the nation's highest award for valor, but because his rank didn't.
"The conjecture among the Mud Soldiers and Bien Hoa Eagles is that Pitsenbarger was passed over because he was enlisted," Robinson, who wrote and directed The Last Full Measure, told Task & Purpose.
"As for the events in the film, Pitsenbarger's upgrade was clearly ignored for decades and items had been lost — whether that was deliberate is up for discussion but we feel we captured the spirit of the issues at hand either way," he said. "Some of these questions are simply impossible to answer with 100% certainty as no one really knows."
The cynicism in The Last Full Measure is overt, but to be entirely honest, it feels warranted. While watching the film, I couldn't help but think back to recent stories of battlefield bravery, like that of Army Sgt. 1st Class Alwyn Cashe, who ran into a burning Bradley three times in Iraq to pull out his wounded men — a feat of heroism that cost him his life, and inspired an ongoing campaign to see Cashe awarded the Medal of Honor.
There's no shortage of op-eds by current and former service members who see the military's awards process as slow and cumbersome at best, and biased or broken at worst, and it's refreshing to see that criticism reflected in a major war movie. And sure, like plenty of military dramas, The Last Full Measure has some sappy moments, but on the whole, it's a damn good film.
The Last Full Measure hits theaters on Jan. 24.
With ISIS trying to reorganize itself into an insurgency, most attacks on U.S. and allied forces in Iraq are being carried out by Shiite militias, said Air Force Maj. Gen. Alex Grynkewich, the deputy commander for operations and intelligence for U.S. troops in Iraq and Syria.
"In the time that I have been in Iraq, we've taken a couple of casualties from ISIS fighting on the ground, but most of the attacks have come from those Shia militia groups, who are launching rockets at our bases and frankly just trying to kill someone to make a point," Grynkewich said Wednesday at an event hosted by the Air Force Association's Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies.