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10 Times Militaries Were Used for Good

by David Long
fact checked by Rachel Jones

What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you see a truck full of the military? War? Trouble? Are things about to get ugly?

Why is this? It’s partly because any time these people in uniform show up with their foreboding demeanor and guns raised, the aftermath is never pretty. While that might be the case, what do you expect? After all, the military is tasked with defending the nation’s interests and policies, sometimes involving war.

But the military does more than that. They often do a lot of good that goes unnoticed. So we’re going to shed light on some of the best things the military has done.

Related: Top 10 Best Military Forces In History

10 Building Makeshift Hospitals for Patients

COVID-19 Field Hospital by Turner and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at Stony Brook, New York

The coronavirus pandemic and the thousands of people who needed hospitalization, care, and medication are still fresh on our minds.

With our hospitals brimming with new admissions daily, it wasn’t long before they were overwhelmed. The military stepped in by sending its Army Corps of Engineers to convert large open spaces such as hotels, dormitories, and convention centers into temporary medical facilities.

Military medical teams were also deployed to civilian hospitals to ease pressure on the existing medical staff. The military medical team didn’t stop at COVID-19 patients; they helped in the ER, performed surgeries, and attended to car crash victims like normal doctors.

9 Putting Out Forest Fires

C-130 Modular Airborne Firefighting System II

Lightning strikes, the sun’s heat, unattended campfires, and careless smokers are just a few of the many things that can potentially start a forest fire.

While it might seem counterintuitive, some wildland fire managers might let the fire run its course, which benefits the ecosystem. It’s not like they’ll turn a blind eye. They’ll often create barriers and boundaries to prevent it from leaving a certain zone. However, an uncontrolled forest fire can devastate not just local wildlife and towns but entire ecosystems and communities.

There are several occasions when the U.S. military has been called upon to help suppress wildfires. These brave soldiers provide incident assessment and aerial support (dropping fire retardants and water), serve as firefighters on the ground, and transport injured firefighters away from the scene.

When the 2021 Dixie Fire in California’s Plumas National Forest finally crossed the two-month mark, the U.S. Army trooped in with chainsaws, Pulaski hand tools, and other equipment to extinguish hot spots. Our guardsmen were also instrumental in containing the Bootleg fire in Beatty, Oregon, and the Lick Creek fire that ravaged Washington state.

8 Evacuating Flood Victims

Army Helicopter Rescues Two Men From Flooded Pickup Near Sanger, TX

Heavy rainfall and hurricanes can result in major flood waters storming into homes and destroying everything in their path. During times like these, the military participates in evacuating displaced people.

Some of the life-saving evacuation missions they conduct include swift water rescue for people trapped in rapid flood waters, hoist and rescue operations, and using tactical military vehicles to move through high waters searching for survivors. The military can also assist large-scale evacuation plans to get as many people out of harm’s way as possible.

When heavy rainfall turned into severe flash flooding in Eastern Kentucky earlier this year, the National Guard deployed Black Hawk helicopters to rescue and evacuate the victims.

Further afield, the U.S. military also joins international efforts in flood-ravaged countries to provide relief and conduct search and rescue operations.

7 Clearing Debris After Natural Disasters Occur

Army clearing debris out of US-1 in lower Florida Keys

Tornadoes, earthquakes, and hurricanes leave literal tons of wreckage that needs clearing out for people to return to their homes and cities to start the long recovery processes.

In these scenarios, the military will often deploy teams that use chainsaws and skid loaders, among other tools, to cut away trees and move rubble, wreckage, and other trash from the affected neighborhoods. Their efforts aren’t just limited to land debris. The Army has helped clean up debris from water bodies (like Lake Martin, AL) and their shorelines to ensure the waterways are free of potential hazards.

Plus, the troops can set up security perimeters to keep people out of certain areas if the local authorities suspect toxic waste and hazardous materials have been released into the atmosphere.

In 2015, as Hurricane Joaquin moved north and the potential of flooding loomed overhead, the New York National Guard took a proactive approach to clear debris off the Normans Kill Esopus Creeks to make room for more water. This preventative measure saw them remove trees and other debris that could knock out bridges, impact homes, and destroy roads as water levels increased.

6 Providing Food and Humanitarian Relief

Relief operations by US military for flood victims

Whenever natural disasters or wars break out, people are so concerned with avoiding the danger that they often don’t know where their next meal is coming from. Something so basic to human needs that we often don’t think about it. Without food security, the people’s economic and social stability can quickly crumble, leading to rampant violence and theft.

Our military forces demonstrate their concern and desire to help people by providing food, water, blankets, and other emergency supplies. At home, the guardsmen have offered this crucial support to communities devastated by hurricanes, tropical storms, and tornadoes.

When Hurricane Sandy wreaked havoc in Queens and Staten Island, Marines brought much-needed supplies, food, and water. The military was also on hand to support USAID in transporting relief supplies to St. Martin and Dominica islands affected by hurricanes Irma and Maria.

On a national scale, the U.S. military personnel have also supported the Philippine, Nepalese, Japanese, Haitian, and African nations with food and other humanitarian essentials as they dealt with disastrous typhoons, earthquakes, and floods.

5 Keeping the Pirates Out

Marines Take Down Somali Pirates

The Wellerman song, a sea shanty that has recently gone viral, conjures romantic ideas of being at sea, sailing distant lands, and sipping on sugared tea and rum. This story we tell ourselves isn’t reality, unfortunately. Being at sea in real life and traveling to distant lands may involve dealing with unruly waters and, worse, pirates.

Since the mid-2000s, some of the busiest shipping lanes within the Indian Ocean, the Red Sea, and the Gulf of Aden have been ravaged by Somali pirates. These pirates waylaid oil tankers and cargo ships and kidnapped those onboard demanding ransoms.

The U.S. Navy, in collaboration with countries like Canada, the UK, France, Germany, Australia, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and Spain, among others, formed an anti-piracy coalition to patrol these waters and rescue hijacked ships. In 2009, our heroic Seals shot three pirates who at the time were holding Captain Richard Phillips hostage, while the fourth pirate surrendered. Hollywood even made a movie about it and named it after the brave captain: Captain Phillips.

With the multinational naval task force monitoring, inspecting, and stopping suspect shipping, piracy incidents have dramatically dropped, much to global shipping companies’ relief. They were losing billions of dollars to these pirates, after all.

4 Intercepting Illegal Drugs

WILD RIDE! Coast Guard jumps on fleeing narco-sub in Pacific Ocean

President Richard Nixon declared war on drugs in the 1970s, and decades later, we still fight the same battle.

Most of the illegal drugs that come into the United States come from South America. Drug smugglers created a seven-million-square-mile Transit Zone that includes the Mexican Gulf, the Caribbean Sea, and the Eastern Pacific Ocean to avoid capture.

Looking at the costs involved and the level of difficulty in tracking and disrupting trafficking networks, it’s been quite a tall order for U.S. law enforcement and partner nations to stop drug trafficking. The U.S. Coast Guard provides a helping hand by monitoring aerial and maritime activities over this area to ensure they intercept drugs in bulk before they reach the United States, where drug lords break them down into smaller packages for easier movement.

In February 2022, the Coast Guard seized 30 metric tons of marijuana and cocaine and offloaded the haul at Fort Lauderdale, Florida. This, coupled with several other successful interceptions, helps keep America safer and healthier.

3 Search and Rescue Operations

U.S. Air Force: Combat Search and Rescue, Commercial

We love tension-filled, action-packed movies, right? A civilian or service member is stuck in a diplomatically sensitive nation facing death threats, and a team is sent from home to rescue them. No, I’m not talking about Ben Affleck’s Argo, more like Rules of Engagement with Samuel L Jackson and Tommy Lee Jones (such a cool duo) or Tears of the Sun starring Bruce Willis and Monica Bellucci.

In a world far from fiction, covert missions are as dangerous as they come. They require service members to make quick decisions, stay calm in stressful situations, and even risk injury to save others. These experts use specialized equipment to locate distressed civilians or personnel, deliver them to safety, and even administer medical assistance when needed.

In 2009, a U.S. Army unit in Afghanistan’s Helmand Province found itself trapped under immense fire from Taliban Forces. The QRF team attempting to relieve the unit soon found themselves pinned down while Apache attack helicopters took heavy machine gun fire from different directions. B-1 bombers couldn’t help much since no one could tell which of the Taliban compounds housed the enemy, and they dared not risk civilian casualties or hurting their fellow service members.

The unit called the Combat Search and Rescue team for help. The rescue team flew their Blackhawks at a low altitude to confirm the enemy’s exact location, then turned back and focused their artillery on that one compound.

But not all search and rescue missions involve entering enemy lines to rescue wounded or captured Americans. Covert missions are also part of the deal. Our soldiers are deployed following natural disasters on land or to help boaters in distress at sea.

2 Cleaning Oil Spills

OIL SPILL Near Texas City Dike, March 23, 2014 – Coast Guard Clean-Up Operations!

Marine and environment lovers, we have something for you. From failed drilling operations to broken pipelines, gallons of oil spill into American waters yearly. That’s not the good news; it’s what the military does to help.

An oil spill can devastate the ocean’s ecosystem, not to mention it can ruin your day at the beach. Oil spills hamper many sea animals’ ability to insulate, increasing their chances of dying from hypothermia. Oil toxicity can kill plant life, cause health problems among sea creatures, and make seafood unsafe to eat.

The Coast Guard partners with NOAA experts to protect people and the environment from the effects of oil spills. They can choose to clean the oil from the water’s surface before it reaches the coastline or conduct in situ burning where it is burned off the sea surface. A third alternative would be to release chemical dispersants into the water to break down the oil into smaller droplets that microbes can eat.

In 2010, when the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploded and released copious amounts of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico, the U.S. Coast Guard led clean-up activities. They employed all three methods to rid the sea of oil.

1 Guarding American Embassies Overseas

US Forces Secure Evacuation At Kabul Airport – Warning Shots Fired

Our overseas embassies and consulates are responsible for maintaining friendly relations with host countries, representing our interests, and overseeing the rights of American nationals residing or traveling within the host countries.

The people working in these embassies have families and loved ones back home, so who watches over them and protects them if they’re attacked? Who ensures the safety of classified material for our national security?

The marines, of course.

In 2021, the Marines bravely held fort at the Kabul airport even as they dealt with chaotic groups of people and a suicide bombing. A bombing that claimed the lives of some of their own. These brave soldiers went on to airlift 124,000 people, including U.S. citizens and Afghans, from Afghanistan. Again, this is just one of many operations when our service members have put themselves in harm’s way for our sake.

fact checked by Rachel Jones