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A stray bullet cost a Philly rugby star his Army dreams. Then the brass read his story
The man on the phone told Quiana Boston that he had run the Army for President Obama. And that he'd like to try to help her son achieve his dream.
Boston was hopeful, but cautious. Her son, Nasair Boston-Epps, had already lost so much. A star player on his rugby team in North Philadelphia, the Nomads, and a standout cadet at the Philadelphia Military Academy, Nasair was shot last year on his way to his after-school job at McDonald's. It was a stray bullet, and it nearly killed him.
It nearly killed his dream, too: of becoming a physical therapist in the Army, following his grandfather and great-great-grandfather, Vietnam and World War II vets, and his father, a Navy veteran of the Gulf War. But, after a grueling fight to get his strength back and return to the rugby pitch, the gregarious kid built like a tank was rejected when he tried to join the Army.
They said the wounds from the bullet were disqualifying — a snap decision that surprised his doctors, teachers, and recruiters, who all knew that Nasair had recovered fully.
Even after he was rejected, Nasair kept showing up at the recruiting station, talking with his recruiter, Staff Sgt. Quoya Debose. The two had built a bond. Debose grew up in the projects in Troy, Ala., and came to Philly two years ago. She had never seen a place like this — where so many of the young people who walk into her recruiting station on Broad Street across from Temple University have already lost loved ones to gun violence. Some of her recruits have found out friends have been killed while sitting in her office
The staff sergeant was forced to confront, early, the reality of kids growing up in neighborhoods more dangerous than the places they might be deployed.
"They want to get away from Philadelphia — they feel there's nothing here for them — and they're afraid that if they don't leave, they'll die like their friends," she said.
That was something Boston, a 41-year-old Amtrak customer service rep, would move heaven, earth, and the Army high command to prevent.
And now she was on the phone with the man who said he'd worked for Obama. Patrick Murphy was appointed undersecretary of the Army under Obama, and then served as the acting secretary, the Army's highest civilian position. In other words, he had run the Army.
A Northeast Philly native, he was also the first Iraq War veteran elected to Congress. He now holds a distinguished chair at West Point. And he had read the column about Nasair, and saw his potential.
"The Army's a meritocracy, and we need people to be the next generation of leaders," Murphy said. He thought Nasair, with his indefatigable will, could be one.
So he sent some flares out to Ken Wong, a Philadelphia civilian aide to the secretary of the Army, and Gen. Frank Muth, head of recruiting for the Army. The entire Army.
Here was a file worth giving a second look, Murphy told them. And they did.
Philadelphia rugby star Nasair Boston-Epps meets with Lt. Col. Brendan Toolan Commander U.S. Army Recruiting Battalion on Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2019. (The Philadelphia Inquirer/Steven M. Falk via Tribune News Service)
Nasair's phone rang. It was Dubose. "You're in," she told him.
"That's not a good game to play with me," Nasair replied. But Dubose wasn't playing any games.
At the recruiting station, she was explaining the next steps: boot camp, job training, college courses on physical therapy, and eventually a position as an officer, if he completed his education. He would be going to school, to learn how to lead others.
This wasn't a case of pulling strings, the brass said. But of fixing a mistake.
Yes, doctors took a second look and realized Nasair was fit, said Lt. Col. Brendan Toolan, commander of the Mid-Atlantic Recruiting Battalion. But it was his grit that did it.
"This is exactly the type of person we are looking for in the United States Army," said Toolan. "This is a kid who had a goal of joining the military and made it happen, and a lot of it was sheer determination."
Boston had to run out of her office to cry when she found out her son's news. "I can't wait to see him in a uniform," she said. Nasair seemed to hardly believe it on Wednesday. But slowly, it was sinking in. He was looking forward to getting away from the sound of cop cars and helicopters flying over his neighborhood.
He had asked the staff sergeant what he would be called. Cadet, maybe? Private, she replied.
"Private Boston-Epps," he said aloud, with pride. Then he said it again.
©2019 The Philadelphia Inquirer. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
A Minnesota Army National Guard UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter with three Guardsmen aboard crashed south of St. Cloud on Thursday, said National Guard spokeswoman Army Master Sgt. Blair Heusdens.
At this time, the National Guard is not releasing any information about the status of the three people aboard the helicopter, Heusdens told Task & Purpose on Thursday.
The Pentagon's latest attempt to twist itself in knots to deny that it is considering sending up to 14,000 troops to the Middle East has a big caveat.
Pentagon spokeswoman Alyssa Farah said there are no plans to send that many troops to the region "at this time."
Farah's statement does not rule out the possibility that the Defense Department could initially announce a smaller deployment to the region and subsequently announce that more troops are headed downrange.
The Navy could deploy a second carrier to the Middle East if Trump orders an Iran surge, top admiral says
The Navy could send a second aircraft carrier to the Middle East if President Donald Trump orders a surge of forces to the region, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday said on Thursday.
Gordon Lubold and Nancy Youssef of the Wall Street Journal first reported the United States is considering sending up to 14,000 troops to the Middle East to deter Iran from attacking U.S. forces and regional allies. The surge forces could include several ships.
I didn't think a movie about World War I would, or even could, remind me of Afghanistan.
Somehow 1917 did, and that's probably the highest praise I can give Sam Mendes' newest war drama: It took a century-old conflict and made it relatable.
An internal investigation spurred by a nude photo scandal shows just how deep sexism runs in the Marine Corps
"I will still have to work harder to get the perception away from peers and seniors that women can't do the job."
Some years ago, a 20-year-old female Marine, a military police officer, was working at a guard shack screening service members and civilians before they entered the base. As a lance corporal, she was new to the job and the duty station, her first in the Marine Corps.
At some point during her shift, a male sergeant on duty drove up. Get in the car, he said, the platoon sergeant needs to see you. She opened the door and got in, believing she was headed to see the enlisted supervisor of her platoon.
Instead, the sergeant drove her to a dark, wooded area on base. It was deserted, no other Marines were around. "Hey, I want a blowjob," the sergeant told her.
"What am I supposed, what do you do as a lance corporal?" she would later recall. "I'm 20 years old ... I'm new at this. You're the only leadership I've ever known, and this is what happens."
She looked at him, then got out of the car and walked away. The sergeant drove up next to her and tried to play it off as a prank. "I'm just fucking with you," he said. "It's not a big deal."
It was one story among hundreds of others shared by Marines for a study initiated in July 2017 by the Marine Corps Center for Advanced Operational Culture Learning (CAOCL). Finalized in March 2018, the center's report was quietly published to its website in September 2019 with little fanfare.
The culture of the Marine Corps is ripe for analysis. A 2015 Rand Corporation study found that women felt far more isolated among men in the Corps, while the Pentagon's Office of People Analytics noted in 2018 that female Marines rated hostility toward them as "significantly higher" than their male counterparts.
But the center's report, Marines' Perspectives on Various Aspects of Marine Corps Organizational Culture, offers a proverbial wakeup call to leaders, particularly when paired alongside previous studies, since it was commissioned by the Marine Corps itself in the wake of a nude photo sharing scandal that rocked the service in 2017.
The scandal, researchers found, was merely a symptom of a much larger problem.