It’s that time of year again: Memorial Day weekend. A solemn moment for the troops to reflect on those we’ve lost along the way and for our civilian friends and family to join us in honoring our fallen.
Now, I don’t fault the civilians who just take the weekend to relax and barbecue as the summer officially starts. You’d be hard-pressed to find a single fallen troop who’d wish to take away someone’s enjoyment. Sparking up the grill and enjoying friends and family is a big part of the American way of life that we fought for — and some paid the ultimate price for.
My gripe is with the complete oxymoron that is the phrase, “have a happy Memorial Day.” It’s just extremely awkward in context. Like, even if someone was a open-bar-at-my-wake kinda person, ‘happy’ and ‘memorial’ just don’t really mesh.
So, I leave you with this… Have a good Memorial Day weekend, however you choose to spend it. Place flags at your local veterans’ cemetery. Crack open an extra cold one for a fallen comrade. Start up the barbecue and tell the kids about the good times you had with your buddy who didn’t make it back. If we’re being honest with ourselves, they all would have wanted us to have a good day in their honor.
Yeah, that wasn’t your typical opener where I practice my stand-up, but I have a feeling I’m not the only one irked by the expression.
Also, here’s a SPOILER ALERT. We joke about the final episode of Game of Thrones in the final meme.
The Russian government is holding a nationwide emergency drill that mobilizes civil defense forces on a massive scale, a move prompted by rising tensions between Russia and the United States regarding Syria – tensions some in the Kremlin believe could start a nuclear war.
The exercise, which started Tuesday and involves more than 200,000 emergency services workers, comes on the heels of news that Russia began last week deploying a battery of Russian S-300 air defense missile launchers in Syria. The NATO code name for the system is SA-10 Grumble. Capable of striking both manned aircraft and cruise missiles, it is the first time the Russians have ever deployed the advanced weapons system outside of their borders.
The pro-Kremlin Interfax news service says EMERCOM, the Russian emergency services ministry, is performing the drill through October 7. Quoting civil defense chief Oleg Manuilov, the article says the drill will affect up to 40 million Russians – about a quarter of the nation’s population – as well as use 50,000 pieces of unspecified emergency equipment.
“In practice, the (emergency) notification will be issued and we will gather the governing federal departments and agencies, Russian Federation authorities, and local governments,” said Manuilov.
Among other things, the drill will practice issuing protective gear, distributing sanitary supplies, and establishing casualty collection points, he said. Civil defense officials will also inspect local hospitals and clinics to determine their readiness and “quality of care” offered during an emergency.
The article called the drill and the training it offers a “reality check.”
Recent pro-Kremlin media reports have claimed in shrill tones that the United States wants to use its nuclear arsenal to punish Russia for its hand in the Syrian conflict.
Talks between the U.S. and Russia in an effort to broker a Syrian cease-fire ended Monday. The U.S. ended negotiations after accusing the Kremlin of joining with the Syrian Air Force in carrying out a brutal bombing campaign against the besieged city of Aleppo.
Meanwhile, Russian officials confirmed the placement of the S-300 battery at a Syrian naval base soon after FOX News broke the story, according to RT News.
“This system is designed to ensure the safety of the naval base in Tartus and ships located in the coastal area,” said Igor Konashenkov, a Russian Defense Ministry spokesman. “The S-300 is a purely defensive system and poses no threat.”
However, anti-Syrian rebels battling Russian forces such as the Al-Nusra Front possess no air power, raising the question of whether the air defense missiles are there to threaten U.S. aircraft patrolling the area or knock out a potential U.S. cruise missile strike.
The S-300 system is considered one of the most capable air defense systems in the world. First deployed in 1979, it has gone through recent upgrades and modifications which allow it to target multiple threats quickly and accurately.
Early on the morning of Jan. 16, 1966, a B-52 Stratofortress bomber took off from Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in North Carolina.
The bomber headed toward Europe, where it would patrol near the borders of the Soviet Union with four nuclear weapons, part of Operation Chrome Dome, a Cold War program to provide 24-hour rapid-response capabilities in case of war.
During its return to the U.S. the next day, the B-52 was to rendezvous with a KC-135 tanker for refueling over Spain. Capt. Charles Wendorf, the 29-year-old Air Force pilot at the controls of the bomber, asked his staff pilot, Maj. Larry Messinger, to take over as they approached the refueling point.
Just after 10 a.m. on Jan. 17, the planes began their approach at 31,000ft over eastern Spain. Messinger sensed something was amiss.
“We came in behind the tanker, and we were a little bit fast, and we started to overrun him a little bit,” Messinger recalled, according to American Heritage magazine.
“There is a procedure they have in refueling where, if the boom operator feels that you’re getting too close and it’s a dangerous situation, he will call, ‘ breakaway, breakaway, breakaway,'” Messinger said. “There was no call for a breakaway, so we didn’t see anything dangerous about the situation, but all of a sudden, all hell seemed to break loose.”
The B-52 collided with the tanker. The belly of the KC-135 was torn open, and jet fuel spilled into the tanker and onto the bomber. Explosions ripped through both planes, consuming the tanker and killing all four men aboard. Three men in the tail of the bomber were killed, and the four other crew members ejected.
Capt. Ivens Buchanan, strapped into his ejection seat, was caught in the fireball and burned. He crashed to the ground, but survived. Wendorf’s and Lt. Richard Rooney’s parachutes opened at 14,000 feet, and they drifted out to sea where fishermen rescued them.
Messinger hit his head during ejection. “I opened my parachute. Well, I shouldn’t have done that. I should have freefalled and the parachute would open automatically at 14,000 feet,” he said. “But I opened mine anyway, because of the fact that I got hit in the head, I imagine.” He drifted eight miles out to sea, where he was also picked up by fishermen.
A Spanish fisherman 5 miles offshore at the time reported seeing the explosion and the rain of debris. He then saw five parachutes — three with surviving crew members from the bomber; two others carrying “half a man, with his guts trailing,” and a “dead man.”
Soon after, on the ground in Spain, officers at Air Force bases scrambled to pack the troops they could find — cooks, clerks, and musicians — into buses to head toward Palomares, a coastal farming village in southeast Spain.
“It was just chaos,” John Garman, then a military police officer, told The New York Times in 2016. “Wreckage was all over the village. A big part of the bomber had crashed down in the yard of the school.”
By the evening of Jan. 17, all the airmen had been accounted for and no villagers were hurt. But U.S. personnel continued their search for the four nuclear bombs the B-52 had been carrying.
Days of searching
The bombs — each carrying 1.45 megatons of explosive power, about 100 times as much as the bomb dropped on Hiroshima — were not armed, meaning there was no chance of a nuclear detonation.
One was recovered intact, but the high-explosives in two of them, designed to detonate and trigger a nuclear blast, did explode. The blasts left house-size craters on either side of the village, scattering plutonium and contaminating crops and farmland.
“There was no talk about radiation or plutonium or anything else,” Frank B. Thompson, then a 22-year-old trombone player, told The New York Times in 2016.
Thompson and others spent days searching contaminated fields without protective equipment or even a change of clothes. “They told us it was safe, and we were dumb enough, I guess, to believe them,” he said.
The fourth bomb remained missing after days of searching, its absence embarrassing for the U.S. and potentially deadly for people in the area.
The Pentagon called on engineers at Sandia National Laboratories in New Mexico, who crunched the available numbers in order to determine where the missing bomb may have landed. The circumstances of the crash and the multitude of variables made such an estimate difficult.
Clues pointed to a sea landing for the fourth bomb, but there was little hard data to indicate where.
An interview with the fisherman who watched five members of the bomber’s crew land at sea yielded a breakthrough.
The “dead man” was, in fact, the bomb attached to its parachute, and the “half man, with his guts trailing” was the empty parachute bag with its packing lines trailing in the air.
That information led the engineers assisting the search to recommend a new search area, bringing the total area being scoured to 27 square miles — with visibility of only 20 feet in some spots.
On Feb. 11, the Navy called in Alvin, a 22-foot-long, 8-foot-wide submersible weighting 13 tons. It had room for a pilot and two observers, carried several cameras and a grappling arm, and could dive to 6,000 feet.
Alvin‘s primitive technology made the search a slog. There was no progress until March 1, when they spotted a track on the seabed.
Two more weeks of searching went by before they spotted the bomb — 2,550 feet below the surface, almost exactly in the spot where the fisherman had seen it enter the water. On March 24, divers in Alvin managed to attach a line to the bomb’s parachute. Just after 8 p.m., a winch on a Navy ship began to reel in the line. About an hour later, the line broke, sending the bomb back to the ocean floor.
They found it again on April 2, resting about 350 feet deeper in the same area. The Navy rigged up another retrieval plan using an unmanned recovery vehicle, but it got caught in the bomb’s parachute. On April 7, the admiral leading the search ordered his crew to lift the whole thing.
The laborious process that followed, assisted by Navy frogmen, lifted the missing nuclear bomb to the surface, bringing the 81-day saga to a close.
Alvin‘s pilots became international heroes, but little else about the incident ended so well.
‘They told us everything was safe’
U.S. soldiers plowed up 600 acres of crops in Palomares, sending it to the Savannah River nuclear complex in South Carolina for disposal.
The U.S. government paid $710,914 to settle 536 Spanish claims. The fisherman, who wanted his claim for finding the bomb, sued for $5 million and eventually won $14,566. Madrid, where protesters had chanted “Yankee assassins!” during the search, asked U.S. Strategic Air Command to stop its flights over Spain. The airborne-alert program of which Operation Chrome Dome was a part was curtailed and then ended for good in 1992.
The U.S. personnel involved in the search and Spaniards in the area have lived with the legacy of the accident in the half-century since it happened.
Despite removing soil in the immediate aftermath, tests in the 1990s revealed high levels of Americium, a product of decaying plutonium, in the village. More tests showed that 50,000 cubic meters of the soil remained radioactive. The U.S. agreed to clean up the contamination remaining in the village in 2015.
Many of the U.S. veterans who assisted the search have said they are dealing with the effects of plutonium poisoning. Linking cancers to a single exposure to radiation is impossible, and there hasn’t been any study to assess whether they have an elevated incidence of illness, but in the years since, some have been ravaged by disease.
Of the 40 veterans involved in the search who were identified by The Times in 2016, 21 had cancer — nine had died from it.
Many of the men have blamed the Air Force, which sent them to clean the scene with little protective gear and later fed troops the contaminated crops that Spaniards refused to eat. One military-police officer was given a plastic bag and told to pick up radioactive fragments by hand.
The Air Force also dismissed tests done at the time showing the men had high levels of plutonium contamination.
“It took me a long time to start to realize this maybe had to do with cleaning up the bombs,” said Arthur Kindler, who was a grocery supply clerk at the time of the incident.
He was so covered in plutonium during the cleanup that the Air Force made him wash off in the ocean and took his clothes. Four years later, he developed testicular cancer and a rare lung infection; he has had cancer in his lymph nodes three times since then.
“You have to understand, they told us everything was safe,” Kindler said. “We were young. We trusted them. Why would they lie?”
The U.S. Navy may have come across a common sense way to save billions on bombs, according to statements made from U.S. officials at the AFCEA West 2017 conference.
For years now, the Navy has been working on the Naval Integrated Fire Control-Counter Air (NIFC-CA) network to help detect, track, and intercept targets using a fused network of all types of sensors at the Navy’s disposal.
Essentially, NIFC-CA allows one platform to detect a target, another platform to fire on it, and the original platform to help guide the missile to the target. The system recently integrated with F-35s, allowing an F-35 to guide a missile fired from a land-based version of a navy ship to hitting a target.
Remarks from Cmdr. David Snee, director for integration and interoperability at the warfare integration directorate, recently revealed that NIFC-CA could also help save the Navy billions on bombs.
“Right now we’re in a world where if I can’t see beyond the horizon then I need to build in that sort of sensing and high-tech effort into the weapon itself,” Snee told conference attendees, as noted by USNI News.
“But in a world where I can see beyond the horizon and I can target, then I don’t need to spend a billion dollars on a weapon that doesn’t need to have all that information. I just need to be able to give the data to the weapon at the appropriate time.”
According to Snee, with an integrated network of sensors allowing the Navy to see beyond the horizon, the costly sensors and guidance systems the U.S. puts on nearly every single bomb dropped could become obsolete.
Aviation Ordnanceman 3rd Class Shirley Shugar, from Joppa, Ala., takes inventory of ordnance in the bomb farm aboard the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76). (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Nicholas A. Groesch)
In the scenario described by Snee, today’s guided or “smart bombs” could be replaced with bombs that simply receive targeting info from other sensors, like F-35s or E-2 Hawkeye airborne early warning aircraft.
Essentially, the “smart” part of the weapon’s guidance would remain on the ship, plane, or other sensor node that fired them, instead of living on the missile and being destroyed with each blast.
The Navy would have to do extensive testing to make sure the bombs could do their job with minimal sensor technology. But the move could potentially save billions, as the U.S. military dropped at least 26,000 bombs in 2016, the vast majority of which contained expensive sensors.
Too often does a company rate their product as military-grade as a way of marketing it to the public. The term screams, “this product is so tough, it could be used by the military!” But, as anyone who has served more than five seconds can tell you, in reality, “military grade” is often used as a joke to describe something made by the lowest bidder.
If a truck commercial has the words “military grade” all over it, that doesn’t mean the truck is rolling onto the battlefield. It could mean simply that it uses 6000 series aluminum — the same aluminum used in military equipment, like radio mounts.
This one goes out to all of the real military-grade products. The ones the military seems content to fill every supply room with.
Every NCO will have at least four of these scattered about and, yet, they’ll rarely fill out all 192-pages. Sometimes, you’ll find them with nice, elaborate covers that also hold pens and cue-cards, but most are just labeled with the date on the spine.
2. Skilcraft “U.S. Government” pens
On Amazon, you can pick up a box of 96 cheapo pens for $13.10. Or, for $9.90, you can get a box of your very own Skilcraft pens, labeled “U.S. Government.”
But seriously, these pens will work anywhere.* On anything.* Forever.* Chances are, the pen you “tactically acquired” from your battle buddy probably has more time in service than both of you.
No matter how many times it happens, people will always screw up and pour more than a cap full of Pine-Sol into the mop bucket. When it’s used as intended, it’s kind of pleasant actually. When it’s used by a Private who was told to mop the halls, they’re sure to pour enough to trigger some sort of alarm.
4. Duct tape
Fun fact: Duct tape was created by an ordance-factory worker and mother of two Navy sailors, Vesta Stoudt, as a sealant for ammo boxes. As it turns out, it could be used for damn near everything.
If it can’t be fixed with duct tape (and maybe with a spray of WD-40), it’s beyond repair.
5. Cotton Swabs
The unit just got back from the range and everyone is feeling great from a solid day shooting. The last thing to worry about is cleaning your rifle.
Thirty minutes later, every troop has a mountain-sized pile of carbon-filled, bent-up cotton swabs. Even if you use an entire box of cotton swabs, the rifle isn’t clean enough. Even after you’ve used all of the cotton swabs that supply has, the rifle isn’t clean enough. Even if you send one person to the PX to buy out their entire stock of cotton swabs, the rifle isn’t clean enough.
Artillery, the “King of the Battle,” has been crucial to land warfare since cannons were made of wood, but recent developments with battlefield sensors and networking may ensure that artillery sits atop the heap during a future war with China or Russia.
Oscar Battery, 5/14, blast through ITX 4-17
While World War III might be fought in megacities, where infantry and cavalry will reign supreme, a fight in the South China Sea or on the plains of Ukraine pretty much guarantees that soldiers and Marines will be looking to get high explosive warheads raining on the enemy, and recent Army and Marine Corps breakthroughs are ensuring that the artillery troops will be ready for the challenge.
First, in case of war over the South China Sea, America needs to be ready to fight where the enemy has local superiority of forces and is on near technical parity. America’s ships are larger and stronger on average than China’s, but China has 300 more ships and can focus nearly all of it forces on a fight in the Pacific and Arctic while the U.S. will still have obligations in the Middle East and the Atlantic.
Army fires HIMARS in support of Air Force operations during Red Flag-Alaska in Alaska in October 2018.
(U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Jonathan Valdes)
So, if the Navy gets into a fight, the Marines can fire long-range rockets in support, essentially turning amphibious ships into over-sized missile destroyers. And that’s before the Marines land the rockets on islands and then impede Chinese naval operations in a wide area around the land.
The High-Altitude Research Project, or HARP, featured a massive cannon that tested firing rounds with extreme force, once launching a round 112 miles into the air, but it still paled in power compared to what the Army would need to fire rounds laterally 1,150 miles.
(Department of Defense)
If successful, a handful of cannons in the Philippines, Taiwan, and Japan could strike targets across the Russian and Chinese coasts. A weapon south of Seoul, South Korea, could cover all of North Korea, Northeast China, and could even strike targets in Mongolia, if it came to that. Beijing lies well within range of a Strategic Long Range Cannon in South Korea.
But of course, these weapons would likely have to be stationary. All cannon shots that flew over 100 miles have been fired from artillery built into a site. And Chinese and Russian forces would focus on destroying artillery with the ability to pelt their cities with constant bombardment.
So, the Army would need to defend these weapons and fortify them, but it would be worth it for land-based artillerymen to be able to have a direct effect on any naval battles in the disputed waters in the Western Pacific.
But all of these weapons and upgrades would also have a great effect on combat in Eastern Europe. A Strategic Long Range Cannon west of Berlin could strike over 100 miles into Russia. Build them in Finland, Estonia, or Latvia, and you can hit as deep as Volgograd, crossing Moscow in the process. And HIMARS receiving targeting data from F-35s can likely have just as much impact on Arctic fighting or conflict in Europe as they could in the South China Sea.
When the fighting of World War III moves into the cities, artillery may be too destructive, too imprecise to rule the day. But when it comes to conflict in the ocean and open grasslands, artillery may be the most potent weapon that ground pounders can bring to the fight.
DUSHANBE — The sole survivor of a group of attackers who killed four Western cyclists in Tajikistan in 2018 has died in a prison in the capital, Dushanbe.
Mansurjon Umarov, chief of the Main Directorate at the Tajik Justice Ministry’s Penitentiary Service, told RFE/RL on March 3 that prosecutors were investigating the cause of death of Hussein Abdusamadov, who was serving a life sentence for his role in the killing of the foreign cyclists on the Dushanbe-Danghara highway in July 2018.
“Abdusamadov’s body has been sent for an autopsy to exclude torture or violence as his cause of death,” Umarov said, stressing that Abdusamadov “was a dangerous terrorist.”
Abdusamadov’s relatives confirmed the report, telling RFE/RL that they received his body on March 2.
Four cyclists — an American woman and man, a Dutchman, and a Swiss man — were killed on July 29, 2018, when attackers plowed their vehicle into the group on a road and then stabbed some of them.
Two other foreign cyclists survived the attack, which occurred about 150 kilometers south of Dushanbe.
Four suspects in the attack, Zafarjon Safarov, Asomuddin Majidov, Jafariddin Yusupov, and Asliddin Yusupov, were killed by Tajik security forces.
Abdusamadov, who was named the group’s leader, survived, was found guilty of murder in November 2018.
The extremist group Islamic State (IS) claimed responsibility for the attack shortly after it occurred and released a video showing five men — at least some of whom appeared to resemble those identified by Tajik officials as suspects killed in a confrontation with security forces — pledging allegiance to the leader of IS.
The Tajik government, however, rejected the claim and instead blamed followers of the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT), a political party that was banned by authoritarian President Emomali Rahmon’s government in 2015.
The leadership of the IRPT — which served for several years in the Tajik government — has denied involvement and called the authorities’ claims “shameless and illogical slander.”
In 1989, Joseph Szecsei was charged by three elephants at the same time. He survived, but afterward, he decided the usual weapons for defense against giant animal attacks just weren’t sufficient. Szecsei sought out to make the perfect large-game animal stopper: The Szecsei & Fuchs “Mokume” bolt action double rifle.
Of course, Szecsei had a lot of firearm types and designs to choose from in creating the show-stopper. He could have chosen a larger round to shoot from a regular bolt action rifle. He could have created a semi-automatic rifle. There were a few factors (other than how to kill a large animal running at him at full speed) to consider.
First, he couldn’t create a semi-automatic weapon because they’re actually illegal in many of the places in which one might safari or otherwise hunt. Africa isn’t a completely lawless land of civil wars and corruption, no matter what television and movies would have you believe. Secondly, he needed a weapon that wouldn’t jam up at the crucial moment. Defense is the entire reason for the weapon, after all. So a bolt-action was necessary, but Szecsei still wanted the extra oomph of another shot.
Another shot of a round that could stop a charging elephant, that is. And large-caliber rounds just aren’t something a semi-automatic can do for a civilian. Taking a .50-cal out on safari might be frowned upon by the locals, so Szecsei returned to the idea of a large-caliber double-barrel bolt action rifle. And the Szecsei Fuchs “Mokume” rifle was born out of that idea.
The weapon is made of titanium to keep the weight down, along with titanium for its unique double magazine. The weapon fires anything from a .470-caliber round to the U.S. 30.06 – a rifle you can buy for whatever animal might be ready to gore down on your guts. It has two triggers, one for each barrel. With just one movement of the bolt, both rounds are expelled, and new ones are loaded into the chamber.
Necessity is the mother of invention, and the next three elephants to come for Joseph Szecsei are in for a huge surprise. Please don’t hunt the most dangerous game with this rifle.
The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in the moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.
The fitting Martin Luther King Jr. quote is a personal favorite of Staff Sgt. Nicholas Davis, C Battery, 1st Battalion, 320th Field Artillery Regiment, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) artillery cannon crew member and section chief. Davis, an Ellijay, Georgia native, received the Soldier’s Medal on Jan. 22 at Shaw Gymnasium in front of his unit and division leadership for his actions that saved two lives last year.
“Often in times in combat, we have moments of self-reflection,” said Maj. Gen. Andrew Poppas, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) commanding general. “We have visions of who we are, we have expectations of who we are, but it’s not until that first moment under duress that our strength and character is tested. Through that crucible of fire, we prove who we are. That’s exactly what Staff Sgt. Davis did.”
On June 9, 2017, Davis was traveling to Georgia when he came across an overturned vehicle. Trusting his gut and noting the lack of concern from other commuters, he pulled over to make sure no one was in danger.
“I was pulling up, and I noticed there was a small engine fire underneath the belly of the car, so I jumped out and ran up to the vehicle,” Davis said.
There he found Rick and Sharon Steiert, trapped and soaked in gasoline from a container that had been thrown from the back of the car. Davis immediately got to work and pulled Rick from the inverted vehicle first, and then began working to save Sharon, who was still trapped inside by her seatbelt.
As I was [unbuckling her seatbelt] the whole vehicle caught fire, and I just felt a blanket of fire wrap around my body, and everything just happened in a matter of seconds from there,” Davis explained. “But before I could get the other half of her body out, she caught fire from all the fuel that was on her. I noticed she was on fire [shortly] before noticing that I was on fire, too.
Davis worked quickly to free Sharon from the burning vehicle, then committed his efforts to extinguishing the flames that were still burning their legs.
After emergency personnel transported everyone to Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Davis was diagnosed with severe second-degree burns on more than 75 percent of his lower leg. Sharon’s burns were more severe, and Rick also sustained injuries.
“They [doctors] said five seconds longer and I would have been halfway through a third-degree burn and almost into the fourth degree,” Davis said. “It was a very painful recovery, but nothing compared to what Sharon had to deal with; so I don’t complain about it.”
After a long recovery process, Davis received a heartfelt letter from Sharon’s daughter, Britney Balduc. In the letter, Balduc expressed her family’s desire to reunite with him.
“It was an emotional letter [sent] from their daughter because they were burned so badly and unable to write,” said Davis who was also eager to reconnect with the family he helped save.
Davis said that he and the Steiert family have since built a lifelong friendship. Sharon and Rick, along with their son, Scott Capodice, were also in attendance at Shaw Gymnasium and joined Davis and his family as he was honored.
The Soldier’s Medal is a military award that recognizes peacetime acts of valor where a Soldier voluntarily puts himself or herself in personal danger, something that Davis said he did without a second thought that day.
“I did it because that was somebody’s life, and that somebody’s life means something to someone,” Davis said. “I couldn’t imagine if I was in their situation and no one came to help me.”
During the ceremony, Poppas said that Davis serves as an example for all Soldiers to emulate.
“A lesser man, a lesser Soldier, a lesser person, never would have stopped, let alone gone in two separate times and pulled them to safety,” said Poppas. “We’re honoring his acts that are an example for us all. It’s who we should be, no matter what the endeavor, and how we should act when we come across an event like he did.”
Davis, a seven-year combat veteran with deployments to both Iraq and Afghanistan, received praise for his heroism, and his leadership spoke highly of his character.
“He’s just an all-around good Soldier,” said 1st Lt. Charles Trumpfheller, Davis’ platoon leader. “He’ll do anything for anybody and really, he’s one of those [noncommissioned officers] who you can count on to get things done.”
Poppas shared Trumpfheller’s sentiments.
“You’re an inspiration to us all Staff Sgt. Davis,” he said after adorning the Soldier’s Medal onto Davis’ uniform. “Thank you for your actions; we all have something to learn from you.”
This comes after Kandahar police chief general Abdul Raziq said the week before that certain countries in the region were keeping the Taliban’s war machine operational as they believe conflict in Afghanistan protects their interests.
He said countries such as Pakistan, Russia, and Iran are funding and equipping the Taliban and other insurgent groups in order to fuel the war machine and pursue their own objectives.
Raziq said some countries in the region have a vested interest in the conflict in Afghanistan.
He claimed that there is sufficient evidence to show that Pakistan, Russia, and Iran are funding the Taliban and other militant groups in the country.
“The Russians have been in contact with the Taliban militants since 2004 or 2005. It is not correct to say that they (Russians) engaged in ties with the Taliban in recent times (only), but now these relations have been clarified. Pakistanis, Iranians and the Russians are jointly supporting the terrorists, however the Russians do their work through Iran, for instance sending the Taliban weapons and money,” said Raziq.
U.S director of defense intelligence Lieutenant General Vincent R. Stewart said in Congress that despite signs of Russia’s support for the Taliban, U.S officials have not found physical evidence to back these claims.
On May 24, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg also said the alliance had heard reports to this effect but they too did not have proof.
The Afghan government has also said on a number of occasions in the past that they do not have evidence to back these claims.
U.S. Marines with Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment patrol the fields in Marjeh, Afghanistan to seure the city of Marjeh from the Taliban. (Official U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl Andres J. Lugo)
The Russian embassy’s statement further said that Moscow once again declares that allegations of its support to the Taliban “does not match the reality (of the situation) and are merely unsubstantiated claims.”
This coincides with the Afghan National Security Adviser Mohammad Hanif Atmar’s meeting with his Indian counterpart Ajit Doval on the sidelines of a summit in Moscow, the national security council said in a statement.
The NSC said the two sides held talks on further expanding bilateral, political, and security relations.
The statement added that the two sides also held talks on the establishment of a comprehensive plan to support and strengthen the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces.
Atmar arrived in Moscow on May 23, heading a delegation of high-ranking Afghan officials.
Officials from 25 countries are meeting at the Russia Security Conference, which will focus on countering terrorism in the region.
Throughout the 1930s pilots around the world were continually trying to push the limits of anything that had been done before in the air. While the likes of Charles Lindbergh and Amelia Earhart are more familiar names in the Western World, the Soviets had their own equivalents such as Mikhail Gromov who, in 1937 along with his two man crew, managed to break the world distance record for non-stop flight, flying 6,306 miles from Moscow to California via a rather dangerous North Pole route. Hailed as heroes upon their return, Premier Joseph Stalin decided the Soviet Union should follow this up in 1938 by having a group of women pilots attempt to set the distance record for non-stop flight for a female crew. The selected trio, who each already held one or more world records for female aviators, were Polina Osipenko, Valentina Grizodubova, and Marina Raskova.
And so it was that on Sept. 24, 1938 the three ladies took off from an airfield in Shchcyolkovo near Moscow, in a Tupolev ANT-37, which normally had a range of about 5,000 km or 3,100 miles. Their destination was Komsomolsk-on-Amur over 3600 miles away. Unfortunately for them almost immediately upon departing they encountered a number of issues including a thick layer of clouds and icing conditions which forced them to climb above said clouds, in the process losing all sight of the ground for the duration. Not long after this, their radio stopped working. Without a clear view of the ground for almost the entire flight, Raskova used the stars, a compass, and their airspeed to roughly determine their position as they flew. When the clouds finally broke, they found themselves flying over Tugur Bay in the Sea of Okhotsk, about 500 km or 300 miles directly north of their intended destination.
Low on fuel, they desperately attempted to find an alternate place to land, but the engines died first. With some form of a crash landing inevitable and a navigator no longer having anything to do, Grizodubova ordered Raskova to parachute out of the plane from about 6,500 feet with the hope that it would increase her odds of survival. Of course, decreasing her odds slightly, she chose to leave her emergency survival kit for the other two women, reportedly only taking two chocolate bars with her for rations to trek through Siberia with. When Raskova safely hit the ground, she noted the direction the plane was gliding and began hiking after it.
As for the pilot and co-pilot still aboard, they were forced to make a gear up, dead-stick landing in a frozen swamp near the upper part of the Amgun River, in the end successfully executing what is termed in pilot-speak as a “good landing”- in that all occupants survived and were able to walk away from the wreckage.
As for Raskova, she hiked for a full ten days before finally locating the downed aircraft and her comrades. Not long before she arrived, a search crew located the plane. While this was a good thing for the women, unfortunately two of the search planes collided overhead and killed all 15 aboard as the horrified pilots watched from below. A few days later, the women were picked up via boat.
When they arrived back in Moscow, their harrowing journey, which managed 3,671.44 miles in 26 hours and 29 minutes (though in truth they had flown some 6,450 km or 4,007 miles total), had indeed set the distance record for a straight line, non-stop all-woman crew. That, along with how they handled themselves in such adverse conditions saw them lauded as heroes across the Union, including quite literally being given the “Hero of the Soviet Union” award, among other honors.
Fast-forwarding about three years later in June of 1941, Germany decided to invade. During Operation Barbarossa, almost 4 million troops were thrown at the Soviet Union, and in one fell swoop the Axis managed to destroy approximately 66 airfields and about 80% of the military aircraft in the Soviet Union at the time.
German troops at the Soviet state border marker, June 22, 1941.
With an abundance of pilots and few planes, you might think this was not exactly an ideal environment for female pilots of the era to be given a job- especially not in combat- but two factors saw Stalin convinced establishing all female squadrons was something they should do. First, Raskova wouldn’t stop berating Stalin about it, noting both in the air and on the ground that forgoing using half your populace when the enemy was almost at the doorsteps of Moscow was foolish. Another factor was that among the planes still available were a large number of Polikarpov Po-2’s- an open cockpit two seat 1928 biplane made of wood and fabric, mostly meant for flight training and crop dusting.
Slow and plodding, the Polikarpov cruised along at a breakneck pace of about 68 mph (109 km/hr) and a never exceed if you don’t want your wings to fall off speed of 94 mph (151 km/hr). Combine that with a maximum climb rate of a mere 500 feet per minute (152 meters) while traveling at a speed not that much faster than Usian Bolt while ascending, and these weren’t exactly planes male pilots were itching to fly to the front in…
For reference here, the Luftwaffe were flying such planes as the Focke-Wulf Fw 190 Würger, which had an engine possessing about 25 times the horsepower as the Polikarpov, cruised along at 280 mph (450 km/hr), with maximum speeds of 426 mph (685 km/hr), and could climb in excess of 3,000 ft/min. That’s not to mention this plane came equipped with dual 13 mm MG 131 machine guns. The pilots of the Polikarpov Po-2’s, on the other hand, were given hand pistols as their air to air combat weapon… No doubt when in a dog fight, they also were instructed to make “pew pew pew” sounds to increase the effectiveness of their arsenal.
If all that wasn’t bad enough, should one get shot down or the fabric of the aircraft catch fire, which occasionally happened when tracer bullets ripped through them, as weight was at a premium, the pilots weren’t given parachutes… On top of that, the planes themselves did not come equipped with radios or any other such equipment. A map, a compass, a pistol, and their wits were what the stick and rudder Po-2 pilots brought with them on their combat missions.
A damaged and abandoned Po-2 forced to land in Ukraine, and subsequently captured by German troops, 1941.
Now, you might at this point be wondering what possible use these pilots could serve flying these planes into combat other than reducing the Soviet population by a couple hundred pilots. Well, the one marginally potent weapon the planes did come equipped with was bombs- up to six of them, weighing approximately 110 lbs each (50 kg).
Planes few wanted to fly sitting on the ground and Raskova refusing to shut up about it, Stalin ordered her to form three all female squadrons, though the 588th Bomber Regiment, who would come to use the Polikarpov Po-2’s, was the only one to remain exclusively staffed by women throughout the war.
As for the young ladies who volunteered to fly in these death traps, they ranged from about 17 years old to their early 20s. And while you might think the name they’d soon be given would be something along the lines of “Target Practice”, their incredible effectiveness and near non-stop bombardment of the Germans at the front starting on June 8, 1942 and continuing all the way to Berlin, earned them another nickname — The Night Witches.
So just how effective were they? For the approximately four years they were active, they flew close to an astounding 30,000 missions, with an average of about 250 missions each. To put this in perspective, airmen aboard a B-17 Flying Fortress in 1944 had a 1 in 4 chance of surviving to the 25 mission mark for their rotation. But in the case of the Night Witch bombers, some flew near or greater that number in under a week. One, who we’ll discuss shortly, almost managed that number of missions in a single night. Despite the incredible number of missions they flew, over the course of the war, of the 261 women that flew in the 588th, only 32 died, and a handful of those not from combat, but tuberculosis.
A Polikarpov Po-2, the aircraft type used by the regiment.
This bring us to Nadezhda Popova, who managed the record of 18 missions in a single night when she helped chase the Axis as they retreated from Poland. Popova, who started flying at aged 15, was a flight instructor by 18, and decided to join up not long after her brother, Leonid, was killed in the early stages of the conflict. She states, “I saw the German aircraft flying along our roads filled with people who were leaving their homes, firing at them with their machine guns. Seeing this gave me feelings inside that made me want to fight them.”
The Nazis would soon come to regret making an enemy of Popova, who shortly was about to go all John Wick on them for killing her brother. But before that, unfortunately for her, when she tried to enlist, she was turned away, with Popova later stating of this, “No one in the armed services wanted to give women the freedom to die.”
Nevertheless, given her credentials, when the 588th was formed when she was 19 years old, they had a place for her. She would go on to fly an incredible 852 missions during the war, despite, as she stated in an interview in 2009, “Almost every time, we had to sail through a wall of enemy fire. In winter, when you’d look out to see your target better, you got frostbite, our feet froze in our boots, but we carried on flying…. It was a miracle we didn’t lose more aircraft. Our planes were the slowest in the air force. They often came back riddled with bullets…”
On that note, after returning from one mission where she was tasked with dropping supplies to ground troops who were bottled up in Malaya Zemlya, she found 42 bullet holes in her plane, one in her helmet, and a couple in her map. It was then that she joked with her navigator, “Katya, my dear, we will live long!”
In truth, Popova, who became a squadron commander, survived the war, among other honors receiving the Hero of the Soviet Union, the Order of Lenin, and was a three time Order of the Red Banner recipient (awarded for extreme heroism and courage demonstrated in battle), twice awarded the Order of the Patriotic War 1st class… and the list goes on and on- badass. She was a badass basically.
As for her life after, she married an airmen, Semyon Kharlamov, who she met after the two had separately been shot down on Aug. 2, 1942. While she couldn’t see his face as it was covered in bandages, they hit it off as they joked around together during their trek back to safety. They got hitched almost immediately on war’s end. For work after, she continued her pre-war career as a flight instructor, ultimately living to the ripe old age of 91 years old, dying on July 8, 2013.
Going back to the squadron as a whole, given their extreme vulnerability in the air, you might at this point be wondering how these women not only almost all survived, but proved to be so incredibly effective?
Well, given their slow speed, the fact that in a dogfight they’d quickly be made into Swiss cheese by enemy planes, and the fact that they needed to deploy their paltry payloads at extremely low altitudes to actually accurately hit a target, meaning ground based crew could likewise easily turn the pilots of these craft into wreckage riders, flying missions in daylight with any regularity wasn’t really an option if one liked to keep breathing.
Thus, in an era before incredibly accurate terrain mapping and GPS systems to help avoid said terrain, these women voluntarily hopped inside their antiquated pieces of equipment and ascended to the heavens in darkness- the darker the better.
Stealth was their only way of surviving, and they used it to their advantage at every opportunity. Navigating in darkness towards their assigned enemy targets, usually hugging the ground as much as possible until getting close to their targets to avoid being spotted by enemy aircraft, once they located their targets, the women would employ a number of strategies to actually get close enough to deliver their deadly payloads. These included doing things like flying in groups and intentionally having one or two of the planes up high attract the attention and fire from those on the ground, while others would idle their engine and try to slip in closely undetected. Another strategy was to do what is generally considered in aviation 101 as a great way to die, especially in the often frigid environments these women were flying in- cut their engines completely in flight and at relatively low altitudes.
They’d then silently descend onto their targets until almost literally right over the heads of the enemy and finally drop their bombs, kick the engine back to life (hopefully) and get back to base as fast as possible to be loaded back up and sent out again and again to the front line.
Describing this, the chief of staff for the 588th, Irina Rakobolskaya, noted, “One girl managed to fly seven times to the front line and back in her plane. She would return, shaking, and they would hang new bombs, refuel her plane, and she’d go off to bomb the target again.”
Popova would state of this strategy, “We flew in sequence, one after another, and during the night, we never let them rest… the Germans made up stories. They spread the rumor that we had been injected with some unknown chemicals that enabled us to see so clearly at night…. This was nonsense, of course. What we did have were clever, educated, very talented girls…”
Effective, one German soldier would later state in an interview after the war of the Night Witches, they were “precise, merciless and came from nowhere.”
Dedicated to delivering their payloads no matter what, one former 588th member stated that occasionally the bombs would get stuck when trying to drop them just over the target. The solution was simply to have one of the two women in the plane scramble out on the wing and kick it loose, often while under heavy enemy fire- all leading author Kate Quin to note, “You women are crazy. You’re incredibly brave, but my god you’re crazy.”
A sentiment Popova would later echo in her waning years, stating, “I sometimes stare into the blackness and close my eyes. I can still imagine myself as a young girl up there in my little bomber and I ask myself, Nadia, how did you do it?”
Moving on to the nickname the Germans gave them and which they would so proudly embrace once they learned of it, it is widely speculated that this was because of the wooshing sound the planes made as they glided down through the air, like the sound a witch flying on her broomstick. However, there is no primary documentation backing this speculation up at all, despite it being almost universally repeated. And, for our part, we’re just guessing not a single German soldier ever actually had heard the wooshing sound of a witch flying on a broomstick to compare. So allow us to suggest our own alternate hypothesis- that it wasn’t so much the sound that was the inspiration, but, instead, the name “The Night Witches” was actually because these were women, flying at night, on aircraft made of wood, not unlike a witch flying on a broomstick.
Whatever the case, in the end, for their heroism, almost 1 in 10 of the women of the 588th were honored with the Hero of the Soviet Union award. For reference here, while that award was given out almost 13,000 times over the entire life of the Soviet Union, the badass ladies of the 588th accounted for approximately 1/4 of all women who ever received it.
This article originally appeared on Today I Found Out. Follow @TodayIFoundOut on Twitter.
These games – in which players are positioned behind a gun – have turned a generation of kids into digital warriors who fight terrorists and battle alien invaders. Many play first-person shooters for pure, innocent enjoyment. Some like achieving objectives and being a part of a team. And, for others, it simply feels good to eliminate an enemy – especially someone who’s trying to harm them.
The games allow soldiers to take their combat roles home with them and blur their on-duty responsibilities with their off-duty, noncombat routines and lives.
But what effect have these video games had on U.S. soldiers? How accurately do they depict military life? And do they actually help recruit, train and retain troops?
The games in the Arma series strive to simulate combat. In this sequence from Arma 2, a helicopter insertion goes wrong as troops try to take a contested airfield.
From battle screen to battlefield
As part of a study, we interviewed 15 current and former members of the U.S. military who were between 24 and 35 years old to understand the role violent first-person shooter games played in their recruitment and training.
The majority of interviewees told us it was important to stay in the mindset of a soldier even when not on duty. To them, first-person shooters were the perfect vehicle for doing this.
Game preferences varied among the soldiers we interviewed, but popular titles included “Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter 2” and “ARMA 2,” which a current member of the Army said was “one of the most hardcore assault experiences in gaming.”
In Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, players fight a campaign across the world and in space during a war between the U.S. and Russia.
Meanwhile, an Iraq War veteran described “Call of Duty: Black Ops 2” and “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare” as “the ultimate first-person shooter experiences ever” and “intensive and highly realistic approaches to tactical combat. The choice of attacking with stealth or unleashing an all-out frontal assault full of mayhem is yours. It’s violent, it’s chaotic, it’s beautiful.”
But it’s tough to make the case that games accurately simulate what a soldier’s life is really like. First, military tours of duty are not solely made up of hard-charging, chaotic battles, like those in first-person shooters. The majority of soldiers won’t participate in any full-frontal combat operations.
Second – and, most importantly – in the digital world there are no legal and ethical considerations. When things go wrong, when innocent people are killed, there are no ramifications. If anything, the games warp these real-world consequences in the minds of players; in 2012, psychologists Brock Bastian, Jolanda Jetten and Helena R.M. Radke were able to use brain scans to show that playing violent video games had the potential to desensitize players to real-life violence and the suffering of others.
In a 2010 article for the Brookings Institution, political scientist Peter Singer quoted a Special Forces soldier who was involved in the production of “America’s Army 360,” a video game developed to recruit and train enlistees.
An American city burns in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2.
“You lose an avatar; just reboot the game,” the soldier said. “In real life, you lose your guy; you’ve lost your guy. And then you’ve got to bury him, and then you’ve got to call his wife.”
Indeed, journalist Evan Wright wrote in his book “Generation Kill” that solders were on “intimate terms with the culture of video games, reality TV shows and internet porn.”
Real-life combat, however, was something entirely different.
“What I saw was a lot of them discovered levels of innocence that they probably didn’t think they had,” Wright wrote. “When they actually shot people, especially innocent people, and were confronted with this, I saw guys break down. The violence in games hadn’t prepared them for this.”
Thus video games might suck soldiers in – offering a tantalizing taste of the glory and excitement of battle. But they do little to prepare them for the types of threats that actually exist on the battlefield.
“When I really think of the government seeing that as training, I laugh,” one of our interviewees told us. “But I also feel a bit uneasy.”
Militarizing legions of gamers
Regardless of their effectiveness as training tools, violent video games can certainly act as a valuable tool for connecting the military with potential recruits. In addition to influencing the decisions of gamers to pursue military service, they can also be used to promote the geopolitical goals of the military.
Journalist Hamza Shaban, in a 2013 article for The Atlantic, described just how deep the Army’s relationship had become with the commercial gaming industry, creating what he dubbed a “military-entertainment complex.” According to Shaban, the games that emerged from this relationship – an exciting, simplified, easy-to-play version of warfare – encouraged gamers to consider a career in the military.
Frontlines: Fuel of War attempts to simulate what World War 3 in the near future would look like.
(YouTube/Best War Games Channel)
Meanwhile, games such as “UrbanSim,” “Tactical Iraqi” and “Frontlines: Fuel of War” teach players and potential recruits about the discourse of modern-day warfare. Missions include battling Islamic militants, winning over potentially hostile populations and establishing pro-Western, pro-democratic societies. They engage with the fundamentals of insurgency and counterinsurgency, present the dangers of improvised explosive devices and highlight the military usefulness of weaponized drones.
However, to some of the soldiers and ex-soldiers we spoke to, the value of playing first-person shooters amounted to little more than propaganda.
“The idea of us training using these games is a bit of a [disaster],” one said. “What the U.S. seeks to achieve through the use of these games is not entirely within their control. It might be a cheap way of getting us involved … but it’s hardly ‘training.'”
Another called first-person shooters “more like brainwashing than anything.”
“But you have to be pretty stupid to buy into all this,” he added.