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what-is-she-thinking Many of the Air Force planes have logos painted on the sides.  This is on the side of a Russian helicopter.  As the story goes, it’s there because when in use many years ago, the pilots wondered, “Where are they sending us? And what are we supposed to do when we get there?”

launching-air-strike We were privledged to witness a full-scale training exercise involving simulated surface-to-air missles, planes dropping real 105mm cannon bullets (the shell alone is about 4″ in length), troops, enemies and a plane called the Osprey, which is an amazing cross between an airplane and a helicopter.  This is the start of the airstrikes.

airstrikes-hit-the-battlefield Airstrikes hitting the battlefield.  The sounds were so powerful.  Boom…boom…boom…small quicker shots…and then silence.  It was the silence that I found scariest. 

soldiers-moving-in Soldiers infiltrating the battlefield.

exfiltrating-soldiers After the enemy forces had been defeated, the soldiers were exfiltrated.  This is the Osprey of which I spoke previously.  Vertical liftoffs and landings, but flies much faster than a traditional helicopter to get soldiers in/out.

big-cannon Col. Buck Elton, one of the first people on the ground in Haiti, holds a 105mm cannon.  These were dropped from the planes during the training exercise. 

pilot-manning The Air Force let us tour a number of the planes, including the Osprey.  This is me in the pilot’s seat of one of them.

General Kurt Cichowski, a fabulous soldier and a wonderful person, told us a great line that was told from one member of the Taliban to another.  “Beware of the bearded Americans,” he said.  “They have the power for they have the airplanes.”  After Thursday’s demonstrations, I wholeheartedly believe this.


oopsa These are the photos from our day with the Marines at Parris Island.  Looks rather balletic, no?  Sadly, that’s not the pose one wants to have when rappelling down a wall.  More on that later. 

yellow-footprints When new recruits arrive at Parris Island, they are greeted by these Yellow Footprints immediately after being ordered off the bus.  (I think the quote from our drill instructor was “Get off my bus.  NOW.”)

incorrect-position-on-the-footprints This is not how one’s feet are supposed to be placed on the Yellow Footprints.  And the drill instructor is looking for this stuff and will immediately correct it. 

correct-footprint-stance I think these are Rich’s feet. Believe me, when the drill instructor yelled “hells together”, Rich corrected himself in miliseconds. 

worst-marches-ever The instructors tried to teach us how to march.  I’m not sure we could have looked any more pathetic.  The last person in line gets to run up to the front at intersections and be “Road Guard.”  Basically, you’re putting yourself between the group and the traffic.  I got the distinction the first very first time we stepped out at 5AM.  Having just done it, though, at the American Odessey Relay, it really was no problem.  Well, to be truthful, there really isn’t much traffic on Parris Island at 5AM.

 marine-drill-sergeant This is our senior drill instructor.  Doesn’t he look fearsome?  One of my biggest takeaways from this week, though, is how much the drill instructors seem to care about their recruits.  They genuinely want them to succeed and master the process of becoming Marines.  In fact, many of these tough guys told us stories about graduating recruits from Basic Training – stories that brought tears to their eyes – and mine.

marie-gets-prepped-for-rappel1 After I fell on my rear end on the rope swing, you’d think I’d avoid the rappel.  Heck no!  Here I am getting instruction.

marie-starts-down-the-wall The wall was 47 feet high.  I had absolutely no problem falling backwards and jumping off it.  In fact, the first 10 feet were a piece of cake.

oopsa And then, this happened.

oopsb I don’t think you’re supposed to sit on the rope.

still-sliding-down1 But I made it down…sliding most of the way. 

marines-graduation-certificate “Congratulations Ms. Marie Manning.  You have successfully completed the first two minutes of REcruit Training at MCRD Parris Island, SC.” I think that makes me .0000002 a Marine!

Apr 30

So Long

At the airport. So long my new friends for life. Thank you DoD for affording me this amazing opportunity. I will use it wisely. I am proud to be a JCOC alumnae. And very proud of our U.S. Special Operations.

I plan to continue posting to this blog daily for the next few weeks.  There will be lots of photos.  The return of “top 10 quotes.” And a great video given to me by the crew of our C17. 

But first, a nap.


Dear General Chichowski:

I want to thank you for a truly incredibly day experiencing the Air Force. My best friends Kyrah and Jon Varoli are former and current Air Force, respectively. To me they represent the best of the Air Force and I wasn’t quite sure anything or anyone could match them. But you graciously opened your doors to this civilian and showed me that your people – the people of Special Operations – are all like Jon and Kyrah. Special. Unique. Inclusive. You should be (and I know you are) very, very proud of them.

Having said that, I must break the hard news to you. I’m going to give the Air Force 1B in rank.  Army Day was the best day of the program.  Even though you had one of the Time 100 “People of the Year,” the “no helicopter” thing did worked against you.  As did the magic that Army Master Sgt. Christine Thompson worked. (She is, without doubt, the best JCOC 79 team captain.)  And of course, I am 100% loyal to LTG Whitcomb of the Army. But your effort was valiant and noticed.

Tonight you told us, “If the enemy masses, we will destroy them.” And, “The enemy cannot run and cannot hide. We will destroy them.” I believe you, sir. Your airmen/women are well-trained. And really good people. We, the civilians of the United States, are lucky to have you and your troops fighting for us.

Thank you for a wonderful day and an amazing conclusion to this immersion program.  If/when you are in the Washington, DC area, I expect you to call upon me for some sort of meal. In fact, that’s not a request. It’s an order from a tax-paying American who is very proud of her military.

I look forward to seeing you at breakfast tomorrow. And I will get in touch with Sarah Nagelmann as you suggested. She does have “Mann” in her last name, so she must be good!

Yours truly,
Marie Manning (AKA The One Who Really Likes MREs)
purloined-mres1

I couldn’t let this week go by without at least one Jack Bauer quote. To Maxwell, my dining seatmate from yesterday’s Army day, quotes of the day will be back and you made it! I’m just running out of time. After yesterday’s precision scheduling, I cannot be late starting today. Look for it later. And thank you again for doing such a super job hosting us.


Sniper Manning

Sniper ManningLearning how to shoot a sniper rifleMore sniper practice

Marie's shooting instructor, the very patient Zach Tokash.
Marie’s shooting instructor, the very patient Zach Tokash.
Trying on a medic's vest.  This is an Army EMT.  The vest weighs at least 50 lbs.

Trying on a medic's vest. This is an Army EMT. The vest weighs at least 50 lbs.Making off with leftover MREs. They're so much better than Lean Cuisine…the entrees are more filling with less calories! Does anyone reading this know how I can order some? (I'm only half joking.)

Marie Models a flak jacket and helmet.
Marie Models a flak jacket and helmet.
Two Golden Dagger jumpers land side by side.  (US Army Special Forces)

Two Golden Dagger jumpers land side by side. (US Army Special Forces)

In front of the Chinook helicopters that took us safely back at day's end.

In front of the Chinook helicopters that took us safely back at day's end.Incoming helicoper directly over head. No zoom lens on this one! I was lying flat on my back on the ground to get this shot.Lt. Gen. John Mulholland, Commanding General, US Army Special Operations Command

Marie stops the C17

Marie stops the C17

Totally staged but totally fabulous

Totally staged but totally fabulous


Apologies Navy. I really am sorry Coast Guard. I know you’ll give it your best shot, Marines and Air Force. But you simply can’t beat the Army. Not today. Not this week.

Let’s cut to the chase. Today was Army Day. And here’s what we did once we got to Ft. Bragg (North Carolina):

  • Briefing by three-star Lt. General John Mulholland, Commanding General of U.S. Army Special Forces. 
  • Black Daggers jump team demonstration (a HALO jump: High altitude, low opening).  Team captain was originally from Alexandria, VA, my current hometown.
  • Sniper demonstration.
  • Gun range!  Shot M4 and M5 semi-automatic rifles.  Didn’t do too badly.  Definitely killed the target.  Moved onto a Glock 9mm.  This was more difficult, but I scored a respectable 52 for my first time using a gun, thanks to my amazingly patient and fabulous instructor, Zach Tokash.  (I promise the brownies will be en route once I get your address.)
  • Medic static display.  Tried on the medic’s combat vest.  It was as heavy as the parachute gear I tried on at the Navy yesterday. 
  • Sniper target practice!  I went nine for nine. Used a 300 Winmag to hit targets at 200, 300 and 400 meters.  Then blasted targets (Four rounds to the chest, two rounds to the head.  The latter is 8″ in height and 6″ wide.  Imagine how small that is from 200 meters away) at 200 meters four times with a Scar Heavy.  More awesome, patient instructors: Gallego Luis and Chance Giannelli.
  • Lunch time.  Had Meals Ready to Eat (MREs).  Whoever says these things taste like crap have never had a Lean Cuisine every day for 10 years for lunch.  Or eaten Chef Boyardee out of a can.  I’m telling you, these things were pretty tasty.  I had meatloaf and mashed potatoes and General Eric Fiel kindly donated his MRE (chicken with noodles, a bit akin to chicken a la king) to me in exchange for a bag of peanut M&M’s I scavenged from another table.  And then I collected what everyone else wasn’t eating and have lots of tasty snacks to bring back to the office.
  • Sniper targeting on the computer simulator.  General Fiel totally nailed the practice shot.  Then saw a computer simulated demo – targets on the wall – using real ammo in a closed room.  
  • Put on a helmet and bulletproof vest and watched Special Forces Green Berets enter and forcibly take over a house (all six+ rooms).  Again, live ammo. 
  • Viewed another firefight in a burned out village…seriously, just like the streets and villages you see in Disney, except grey. And not cheery. And burnt-out with blown-out windows. 
  • Dinner with Lt. Gen. Mulholland 
  • AND TO TOP IT ALL OFF…the helicopters (Chinooks) came in to “rescue” us and we got to fly back to base!
  •   Let me repeat that.  HELICOPTERS!  I GOT TO FLY ON A HELICOPTER!!!

The best way to summarize is to quote General Mulholland: “You’ll hear me say ‘the world’s finest’ [in reference to Army Special Forces] a lot, but it is not hyperbole.  It is gospel truth.” 

I, for one, am a beliver.

coast-guard-exercise Two Coast Guard cutters conduct a training demonstration – one playing the role of “bad guy” with the “good guys” giving chase.

coast-guard-rescue-demo A Coast Guard rescue demonstration. 

marie-in-co-chair Sitting in the Commanding Officer’s (Captain’s) chair on board the USS Whidbey Island (Navy).

marie-on-deck On deck of the USS Whidbey Island (Navy).

sleeping-quarters Catching some z’s in the Marine’s sleeping quarters of the USS Whidbey Island.  (Three bunks stacked very closely on top of each other.)

view-from-the-co-chair View from the CO’s chair of the USS Whidbey Island.  (FYI, named after an island in Washington state near Seattle.)

wet-and-bedraggled Wet and bedraggled in the kitchen of the Coast Guard Cholk.  Captain Chris Lombard makes a fine cup of coffee.

better-biceps-take-two P90X founder Tony Horton dukes it out for biggest biceps with one of the Coast Guard crew members.


Who Has the Better Biceps?

Vote for the better biceps. On the left, you have Coast Guardsman Blake Grisham. On the right, P90X founder Tony Horton. You make the call.


We experienced a jam-packed day today with a lot of ‘hurry up and wait’. Folks seem to think that’s military terminology but I’ve heard it (and been the cause of it) often enough in the private sector.

This will be a shorter-than-usual post for several reasons, one of which is so that I can upload photos. A picture sometimes really does speak a thousand words.

I’ll impart one written story, though, since photography wasn’t allowed at this point for safety/classified reasons. When we were watching a strike team demonnstration, we were given the opportunity to use the restrooms…both of which were labeled “Men” and “Men.” The three women in my group were then instructed that the ladies’ room was the left Men’s room. I don’t have it in my notes, so I’m going off memory, but I believe it’s because there aren’t any female Navy SEALS or Special Warfare Combatant Crews. Not a big deal, though, especially since I was more interested in playing with the Humvee machine gun and seeing how well I fit into the driver’s seat. NASCAR, watch out!


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