The 25 most ruthless leaders of all time - We Are The Mighty
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The 25 most ruthless leaders of all time

The 25 most ruthless leaders of all time
Attila the Hun | Wikimedia


One man’s hero is another man’s tyrant, a popular aphorism goes.

But while we can argue the validity and virtue of certain political agendas, the callous methods by which some leaders attain their goals are less up to interpretation.

After all, no matter how a historian tries to spin it, ordering a tower to be constructed out of live men stacked and cemented together with bricks and mortar is pretty brutal.

Business Insider put together a list of the most ruthless leaders of all time featuring men and women who employed merciless tactics to achieve their political and military agendas.

Note: All people on the list ruled prior to 1980, and no living figures were included. People are arranged in chronological order.

Qin Shi Huang

The 25 most ruthless leaders of all time
Wikimedia

Reign: 247-210 B.C.

Qin, also called Qin Shihuangdi, united China in 221 B.C. and ruled as the first emperor of the Qin dynasty. He was known to order the killing of scholars whose ideas he disagreed with and the burning of “critical” books.

During his reign, he ordered the construction of a great wall (roughly speaking, the prequel to the modern Great Wall of China), and an enormous mausoleum featuring more than 6,000 life-size terra-cotta soldier figures. Large numbers of conscripts working on the wall died, and those working on the mausoleum were killed to preserve the secrecy of the tomb.

“Every time he captured people from another country, he castrated them in order to mark them and made them into slaves,” Hong Kong University’s Xun Zhou told the BBC.

Source: British Museum, Britannica, History, BBC

Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus Germanicus (aka Caligula)

The 25 most ruthless leaders of all time
Wikipedia

Reign: A.D. 37-41

Caligula was quite popular at first because he freed citizens who were unjustly imprisoned and got rid of a stiff sales tax. But then he became ill, and he was never quite the same again.

He eliminated political rivals (forcing their parents to watch the execution), and declared himself a living god. According to Roman historian Suetonius, Caligula had sex with his sisters and sold their services to other men, raped and killed people, and made his horse a priest.

He was eventually attacked by a group of guardsman and stabbed 30 times.

Source: Biography.com, BBC, “Atlas of History’s Greatest Heroes and Villains” by Howard Watson.

Attila the Hun

The 25 most ruthless leaders of all time
Wikimedia

Reign: A.D. 434-453

After killing his brother, Attila became the leader of the Hunnic Empire, centered in present-day Hungary, and ended up becoming one of the most feared assailants of the Roman Empire.

He expanded the Hunnic Empire to present-day Germany, Russia, Ukraine, and the Balkans. He also invaded Gaul with the intention of conquering it, though he was defeated at the Battle of Catalaunian Plains.

“There, where I have passed, the grass will never grow gain,” he reportedly remarked on his reign.

Source: Britannica, Biography

Wu Zetian

The 25 most ruthless leaders of all time
Wikimedia

Reign: A.D. 690-705

Wu went from 14-year-old junior concubine to empress of China. She ruthlessly eliminated opponents by dismissing, exiling, or executing them — even if they were her own family.

The Chinese empire greatly expanded under her rule, and though she had brutal tactics, her decisive nature and talent for government has been praised by historians. Notably, military leaders who were handpicked by Wu took control of large parts of the Korean peninsula.

Source: Britannica

Genghis Khan

The 25 most ruthless leaders of all time
Wikimedia

Reign: 1206-1227

Khan’s father was poisoned to death when Khan was 9, and he spent time as a slave during his teenage years before he united the Mongol tribes and went on to conquer a huge chunk of Central Asia and China.

His style is characterized as brutal, and historians have pointed out that he slaughtered civilians en masse. One of the most notable examples was when he massacred the aristocrats of the Khwarezm Empire, decimating the ruling class, withunskilled workers taken to be used as human shields.

Source: “Genghis Khan and the Mongol War Machine” by Chris Peers, History.com

Tomas de Torquemada

The 25 most ruthless leaders of all time
Wikimedia

Reign: 1483-1498 (as Grand Inquisitor)

Torquemada was appointed Grand Inquisitor during the Spanish Inquisition. He established tribunals in several cities, put together 28 articles to guide other inquisitors, and authorized torture to extract confessions.

He reportedly encouraged King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella to give Spanish Jews the choice between exile or baptism, causing many Jews to leave the country. Historians estimate that Torquemada was responsible for about 2,000 people burning at the stake.

Interestingly, some sources say Torquemada himself came from a family of Jewish converts.

Source: Britannica, “A Psychoanalytic History of the Jews” by Avner Falk

Timur (aka Tamerlane)

The 25 most ruthless leaders of all time
Screen grab

Reign: 1370-1405

Timur led military campaigns through a large chunk of western Asia, including modern Iran, Iraq, Turkey, and Syria, and he founded the Timurid Empire.

In present-day Afghanistan, Timur ordered the construction of a tower made out of live men, each stacked on top of another, and cemented together with bricks and mortar.

He also once ordered a massacre to punish a rebellion, and he had 70,000 heads built up into minarets.

Source: Encyclopedia

Vlad III, Prince of Wallachia (aka Vlad Drăculea or Vlad the Impaler)

The 25 most ruthless leaders of all time
Wikimedia

Reign: 1448; 1456-1462; 1476

When Vlad III finally became the ruler of the principality of Wallachia, the region was in disarray because of the many feuding boyars. According to the stories, Vlad invited his rivals all to a banquet, where he stabbed and impaled them all. (Impaling was his favorite method of torture.)

Though it’s difficult to determine whether this story was embellished, it characterizes Vlad’s rule: He tried to bring stability and order to Wallachia through extremely ruthless methods.

Source: Huffington Post, LiveScience, Britannica

Czar Ivan IV (aka Ivan the Terrible)

The 25 most ruthless leaders of all time
Wikimedia

Reign: Grand Prince of Moscow: 1533-1547; Czar of All the Russias: 1547-1584

Ivan IV began his rule by reorganizing the central government and limiting the power of the hereditary aristocrats (the princes and the boyars).

After the death of his first wife, Ivan began his “reign of terror” by eliminating top boyar families. He also beat his pregnant daughter-in-law and killed his son in a fit of rage. He earned the nickname “Ivan Grozny” (aka “Ivan the Formidable” — which has been mistranslated to “Terrible”).

Source: Biography, Britannica

Queen Mary I (aka Bloody Mary)

The 25 most ruthless leaders of all time
Wikipedia

Reign: 1553-1558

The only child of the notorious King Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon, Mary I became queen of England in 1553 and soonreinstalled Catholicism (after previous rulers championed Protestantism) as the main religion and married Philip II of Spain — a Catholic.

Over the next few years, hundreds of Protestants were burned at the stake, and for that she earned the nickname “Bloody Mary.”

Source: Biography, BBC

Countess Elizabeth Báthory de Ecsed (aka the Blood Countess)

The 25 most ruthless leaders of all time
Wikipedia

Killing spree: 1590-1610

The countess lured young peasant women into her castle, promising them jobs as maids before brutally torturing them to death. According to one account, she tortured and killed as many as 600 girls, though the actual number is likely to be much lower.

Her torture methods included sticking needles under finger nails, covering girls in honey before unleashing bees on them, biting off chunks of flesh, and, most infamously, bathing in the blood of virgins to stay young and beautiful.

Source: Britannica, History

Maximilien Robespierre

The 25 most ruthless leaders of all time
Wikimedia

Reign: c. 1789-1794

One of the many influential figures involved in the French Revolution, Robespierrebecome one of the dominant players during the “Reign of Terror,” a period of extreme violence when “enemies of the revolution” were guillotined, arguing that this terror was an “emanation of virtue.”

According to historical sources, Robespierre was soon corrupted by power and was executed by guillotine as well.

Source: Biography, BBC

King Leopold II of Belgium

The 25 most ruthless leaders of all time
Wikipedia

Reign: 1865-1909

King Leopold II “founded” the Congo Free State as “his own” private colony, and went on to make a huge fortune from it by forcing the Congolese into slave labor for ivory and rubber.

Millions ended up suffering from starvation, the birth rate dropped as men and women were separated, and tens of thousands were shot in failed rebellions. Demographers estimate that from 1880 to 1920 the population fell by 50%.

This forced-labor system was later copied by the French, German, and Portuguese officials.

Source: Britannica

Mehmet Talat Paşa

The 25 most ruthless leaders of all time
Wikimedia

Reign: 1913-1918

Historians believe that Talat Paşa was the leading figure in the Armenian genocide. As minister of the interior, he was reportedly responsible for the deportation and ultimately the deaths of some 600,000 Armenians.

He was assassinated in Berlin in 1921 by an Armenian. As an unusual bit of history, Adolf Hitler sent his body back to Istanbul in 1943, hoping to persuade Turkey to join the Axis powers in World War II.

Source: Britannica, The Independent

Vladimir Lenin

The 25 most ruthless leaders of all time
Wikimedia

Reign: 1917-1924

In 1917, Lenin led the October Revolution to overturn the provisional government that had overthrown the czar. About three years of civil war followed, after which the Bolsheviks came out on top and took over the country.

“During this period of revolution, war and famine, Lenin demonstrated a chilling disregard for the sufferings of his fellow countrymen and mercilessly crushed any opposition,” the BBC reported.

Source: BBC, Biography

Benito Mussolini

The 25 most ruthless leaders of all time
YouTube

Reign: 1922-1943

After escaping military service, Mussolini founded Italy’s Fascist Party, which was supported among disillusioned war veterans, and organized them into violent units called Blackshirts. He began to disintegrate democratic government institutions, and by 1925 he became “Il Duce,” or “the leader” of Italy.

Surviving multiple assassination attempts, Mussolini once said: “If I advance, follow me. If I retreat, kill me. If I die, avenge me.”

In 1936, Mussolini formed an alliance with Nazi leader Adolf Hitler in which he introduced anti-Semitic policies in Italy. In April 1945, already removed from power, Mussolini tried to flee as Allied forces closed in on him, but he was shot and killed by anti-Fascists and hung upside down in a Milanese square.

Source: Atlas of History’s Greatest Heroes and Villains” by Howard Watson.

Joseph Stalin

The 25 most ruthless leaders of all time
Wikimedia

Reign: 1922-1953

Stalin forced quick industrialization and collectivization in the 1930s that coincided with mass starvation (including the Holodomor in Ukraine), the imprisonment of millions of people in the Gulag labor camps, and the “Great Purge” of the intelligentsia, the government, and the armed forces.

During World War II, Stalin’s son Yakov was captured by or surrendered to the German army. The Germans proposed trading Yakov for Field Marshal Paulus, who was captured after the Battle of Stalingrad, but Stalin refused, saying he would never trade a field marshal for a regular soldier.

Source: RT, History, “Joseph Stalin: A Biographical Companion” by Helen Rappaport

Adolf Hitler

The 25 most ruthless leaders of all time
YouTube

Reign: 1933-1945

By the end of 1941, Hitler’s German Third Reich empire (and Axis) included almost every country in Europe plus a large part of North Africa.

He also devised a plan to create his ideal “master race” by eliminating Jews, Slavs, gypsies, homosexuals, and political opponents by forcefully sending them to concentration camps, where they were tortured and worked to death.

According to some reports, the Nazis deliberately killed about 11 million people under Hitler’s regime. After learning that Soviet forces were closing in on Berlin, Hitler and his wife killed themselves in his Führerbunker.

Source: Atlas of History’s Greatest Heroes and Villains” by Howard Watson, New York Review of Books by Timothy Snyder

Khorloogiin Choibalsan

The 25 most ruthless leaders of all time
Wikipedia

Reign: 1939-1952

After several meetings with Stalin, Choibalsan adopted the Soviet leader’s policies and methods and applied them to Mongolia. He created a dictatorial system and suppressed the opposition, and tens of thousands of people were killed.

Later in the 1930s, he “began to arrest and kill leading workers in the party, government, and various social organizations in addition to army officers, intellectuals, and other faithful workers,” according to an report published in 1968.

Source: “Historical Dictionary of Mongolia” by Alan J.K. Sanders

Francisco Franco

The 25 most ruthless leaders of all time
Wikipedia

Reign: 1938-1975

With the help of Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, Gen. Franco overthrew Spain’s democratically elected Second Republic during the 1930s.

Under his regime, many Republican figures fled the country, and those who stayed were tried by military tribunals. Catholicism was the official (read: only tolerated) religion, Catalan and Basque languages were prohibited outside the home, and the regime had a vast secret police network.

As Franco got older, however, police controls and censorship began to relax, free-market reforms were introduced, and Morocco gained independence.

Source: Britannica, History.com

Mao Zedong

The 25 most ruthless leaders of all time
Wikipedia

Reign: 1949-1976

A communist leader, Mao founded the People’s Republic of China. Under his leadership, industry was put under state control, and farmers were organized into collectives. Any opposition was swiftly suppressed.

Mao’s supporters point out that he modernized and united China, and turned it into a world superpower. However, others point out that his policies led to the deaths of as many as 40 million people through starvation, forced labor, and executions.

Interestingly, he is sometimes compared to Qin Shi Huang (the first man on this list).

Source: “Atlas of History’s Greatest Heroes and Villains” by Howard Watson, Britannica,Biography, BBC, Encyclopedia

Pol Pot

The 25 most ruthless leaders of all time
YouTube

Reign: 1975-1979

Pol Pot and his communist Khmer Rouge movement in Cambodia orchestrated a brutal social engineering that aimed to create an agrarian utopia by relocating people into the countryside. Others were put in “special centers” where they were tortured and killed.

Doctors, teachers, and other professionals were forced to work in the fields to “reeducate” themselves. “Anyone thought to be an intellectual of any sort was killed,” the BBC reports. “Often people were condemned for wearing glasses or knowing a foreign language.”

Up to 2 million Cambodians were executed or overworked or starved to death in just four years.

Source: History, BBC

Idi Amin

The 25 most ruthless leaders of all time
Wikipedia

Reign: 1971-1979

Gen. Amin overthrew an elected government in Uganda via a military coup and declared himself president. He then ruthlessly ruled for eight years, during which an estimated 300,000 civilians were massacred.

He also kicked out Uganda’s Asian population (mostly Indian and Pakistani citizens), and spent large amounts on the military, both of which led to the country’s economic decline.

Source: History

Augusto Pinochet

The 25 most ruthless leaders of all time
WIkipedia

Reign: 1973-1990

Pinochet overthrew Chile’s Allende government in 1973 with the help of a US-backed coup. Reports say numerous people “disappeared” under the regime and as many as 35,000 were tortured. Pinochet died before he could stand trial on accusations of human-rights abuses.

He brought back free-market economic policies, which led to lower inflation and even an economic boom in the late ’70s. Notably, Chile was one of the best-performing economies in Latin America from the mid-’80s to the late ’90s.

Source: Britannica, GuardianIMF

Articles

F-35 trains with A-10s, F-15s & Navy SEALs

The 25 most ruthless leaders of all time
We wanted to put Navy SEALs into this image too, but it looked weird since they can’t fly (yet). | USAF/WATM


Air Force F-35A Joint Strike Fighters coordinated close air support with Navy SEALs, trained with F-15Es and A-10s, dropped laser-guided bombs and practiced key mission sets and tactics in Idaho as part of initial preparations for what will likely be its first deployment within several years, senior service officials said.

“We are practicing taking what would be a smaller contingent of jets and moving them to another location and then having them employ out of that location,” Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Harrigian, former Director, F-35 Integration Office told Scout Warrior in an interview several months ago.

Also read: Beyond the F-35: Air Force and Navy already working on 6th generation fighter

Harrigian said the Air Force plane would likely deploy within several years and pointed to mini-deployments of 6 F-35As from Edwards AFB in Calif., to Mountain Home AFB in Idaho as key evidence of its ongoing preparations for combat.

“They dropped 30-bombs – 20 laser-guided bombs and 10 JDAMS (Joint Direct Attack Munitions). All of them were effective. We are trying to understand not only how we understand the airplane in terms of ordnance but also those tactics, techniques and procedures we need to prepare,” Harrigian explained.

During the exercises at Mountain Home AFB, the F-35A also practiced coordinating communications such as target identification, radio and other command and control functions with 4th-generation aircraft such as the F-15E, he added.

The training exercises in Idaho were also the first “real” occasion to test the airplane’s ability to use its computer system called the Autonomic Logistic Information System, or ALIS. The Air Force brought servers up to Mountain Home AFB to practice maintaining data from the computer system.

A report in the Air Force Times indicated that lawmakers have expressed some concerns about the development of ALIS, which has been plagued with developmental problems such as maintenance issues and problems referred to as “false positives.”

The 25 most ruthless leaders of all time
All three F-35 variants at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. Left to right: F-35C carrier variant, F-35B short takeoff/vertical landing variant, F-35A conventional takeoff and landing variant. | Lockheed Martin

“This is a new piece of the weapons system. It has been challenging and hard. You have all this data about your airplanes. We learned some things that we were able to do in a reasonable amount of time,” Harrigian said.

F-35A “Sensor Fusion”

The computer system is essential to what F-35 proponents refer to as “sensor fusion,” a next-generation technology which combines and integrates information from a variety of sensors onto a single screen. As a result, a pilot does not have to look at separate displays to calculate mapping information, targeting data, sensor input and results from a radar warning receiver.

Harrigian added that his “fusion” technology allows F-35A pilots to process information and therefore make decisions faster than a potential enemy. He explained how this bears upon the historic and often referred to OODA Loop – a term to connote the Observation Orientation, Decision, Action cycle that fighter pilots need to go through in a dogfight or combat engagement in order to successfully destroy the enemy. The OODA-Loop concept was developed by former Air Force strategist Col. John Boyd; it has been a benchmark of fighter pilot training, preparation and tactical mission execution.

“As we go in and start to target the enemy, we are maximizing the capabilities of our jets. The F-35 takes all that sensor input and gives it to you in one picture. Your ability to make decisions quicker that the enemy is exponentially better than when we were trying to put it all together in a 4th generation airplane.  You are arriving already in a position of advantage,” Harrigian explained.

Also, the F-35 is able to fire weapons such as the AIM-9X Sidewinder air-to-air missile “off boresight,” meaning it can destroy enemy targets at different angles of approach that are not necessarily directly in front of the aircraft.

“Before you get into an engagement you will have likely already shot a few missiles at the enemy,” Harrigian said.

The F-35s Electro-Optical Targeting System, or EOTS, combines forward-looking infrared and infrared search and track sensor technology for pilots – allowing them to find and track targets before attacking with laser and GPS-guided precision weapons.

The EOTs system is engineered to work in tandem with a technology called the Distributed Aperture System, or DAS, a collection of six cameras strategically mounted around the aircraft to give the pilot a 360-degree view.

The DAS includes precision tracking, fire control capabilities and the ability to warn the pilot of an approaching threat or missile.

The 25 most ruthless leaders of all time
An F-35B dropping a GBU-12 during a developmental test flight. | U.S. Air Force photo

The F-35 is also engineered with an Active Electronically Scanned Array Radar which is able to track a host of electromagnetic signals, including returns from Synthetic Aperture Radar, or SAR. This paints a picture of the contours of the ground or surrounding terrain and, along with Ground Moving Target Indicator, or GMTI, locates something on-the-move on the ground and airborne objects or threats.

F-35A Joint Strike Fighter Deployment

Once deployed, the F-35 will operate with an advanced software drop known as “3F” which will give the aircraft an ability to destroy enemy air defenses and employ a wide range of weapons.

Full operational capability will come with Block 3F, service officials said.

Block 3F will increase the weapons delivery capacity of the JSF as well, giving it the ability to drop a Small Diameter Bomb, 500-pound JDAM and AIM 9X short-range air-to-air missile, Air Force officials said.

As per where the initial squadron might deploy, Harrigian said that would be determined by Air Combat Command depending upon operational needs at that time. He did, however, mention the Pacific theater and Middle East as distinct possibilities.

“Within a couple years, I would envision they will take the squadron down range. Now, whether they go to Pacific Command or go to the Middle East – the operational environment and what happens in the world will drive this. If there is a situation where we need this capability and they are IOC – then Air Combat Command is going to take a hard look at using these aircraft,” he said.

Articles

Star Wars’ connection to WWII-era military aviation

The 25 most ruthless leaders of all time
YouTube


The long-awaited seventh movie in the Star Wars saga is close to hitting theaters, and nerds everywhere are beside themselves. While most young males in North America grow up with a love of Star Wars (or Star Trek, if you have poor taste), I didn’t really find myself catching onto the movies in the same way as most of my peers did… In fact, what really lured me to Star Wars was the space battles between sleek and mean-looking X-Wing fighters and the various spaceships of the Empire (the bad guys). That interest was further cemented by something I found out about Star Wars’ connection to aviation of the Second World War, which I’m far more a fan of, if we’re being honest.

If you’ve ever seen the original trilogy (Return of the Jedi, The Empire Strikes Back and A New Hope), you’ve probably seen the infamous Millennium Falcon spaceship in action, piloted by the gruff, sarcastic Han Solo (played by Harrison Ford, a huge aviation buff), and co-piloted by his massive furry beer buddy, Chewbacca. The cockpit of the Falcon, if you pay close attention, actually seems to resemble another flying vehicle, though one from a very long time ago.

I’m talking about the Boeing B-29 Superfortress, one of the US Army Air Force’s strategic bomber workhorses of the Second World War, and the aircraft most famously associated with dropping the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, decisively ending the war in the Pacific Theater.

The 25 most ruthless leaders of all time
Spartan7W | Public Domain

George Lucas, the creator of Star Wars, apparently developed an affection for the B-29 during the time he spent researching aerial dogfights of WWII to enhance the realism of the space battles fought between X-Wings and TIE Fighters of the Rebels and the Empire respectively. He had set engineers design the cockpit of the Falcon such that it matched the view facing forward from the cockpit of a B-29 (peering over the pilots’ shoulders). After viewing over 25 hours of combat footage and gun camera imagery, Lucas included gunner stations aboard the Millennium Falcon, similar to those you’d find on a B-29 or a B-17 Flying Fortress. A few of the characters used such gun (or laser) turrets to good effect against marauding TIE Fighters in a similar manner to how gunners aboard bombers during WWII would engage enemy interceptor fighters sent up to shoot them down.

The 25 most ruthless leaders of all time
YouTube

Lucas needed his spaceships to possess unique sounds that were fitting of their futuristic nature, so he once again turned to WWII-era aviation to help with meeting his goals. As sounds couldn’t easily be synthesized in the same way that studios can today, Lucas’ sound engineers needed to record other noises and modify them to get what they were after. One engineer was sent out to the Reno Air Races in Nevada, where he was allowed to lay down near a pylon (something you most certainly cannot do today) and record the noise of P-51 Mustang racers screaming overhead. After slowing down the recorded track, they mated it to movie scenes, and thus, the Millennium Falcon was given its unique and ominous sounds.

More from Tactical Air Network:

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Here’s what this Peshmerga soldier has to say about fighting ISIS

The 25 most ruthless leaders of all time
peshmerganor/Instagram


He simply goes by “Mike.”

As a Kurdish refugee from Iraq in the 1980s, his family luckily made their way into Norway to escape the horrors inflicted by Saddam Hussein’s Ba’athist regime.

After growing up and joining theNorwegian Armed Forces, the soldier, now in his early 30s,served in an elite mechanized-infantry unit and eventually completed a tour in Afghanistan.

However, it wasn’t until August 2014, when ISIS took control of Sinjar, Iraq, that Mike decided to join the Peshmerga — Iraqi-Kurdistan’s independent military force.

It was at Sinjar that stories of ISIS’ atrocities — from the execution of 5,000 Yazidi men, to the systematic raping and selling of women and children — first broke out in major news headlines.

“It did an impression on me,” Mike told Business Insider. “What was worse, though, was the lack of action from the world community, including my own government. I decided that I couldn’t sit idly by and watch these horrors unfold.”

Now, returning to the same country his parents escaped from decades ago, he fights the ISIS militia under the Peshmerga flag and motto: “Those who face death.”

But getting started wasn’t as easy as picking up a rifle and starting to shoot. Many of the Peshmerga fighters weren’t properly trained for combat – after coming straight from civilian life, the locals are typically issued a set of uniforms and a rifle before being told to man the front.

Teaching these fighters basic infantry skills, Mike and several other volunteers from Canada, the UK, Norway, and Australia have tried to instill whatever talents they’ve learned in their respective fields, such as medical training.

The 25 most ruthless leaders of all time
Two of Mike’s associates donating portable heaters to the Peshmerga unit. | peshmerganor/Instagram

However, it’s not merely enough to believe in the Kurdish cause, or to have a particular set of skills, to join the Peshmerga. Due to several reasons, including pressure from several countries, Mike has been unwilling to assist those who want to join his cause.

“It would look bad if America’s veterans are the ones doing all the fighting on the ground, while US forces themselves are reluctant to send their own troops,” he stated. “Those who do successfully end up in Iraq are typically placed in inactive fronts, out of harm’s way, until they’re bored out of their minds and leave the country broke and disappointed.”

In the rare case that a soldier exhibits exceptional knowledge or skill, he offered an exception. “There are some good volunteers down here that are allowed to stay at active fronts, and in some rare cases, allowed to take part in offensive operations as well.”

The challenges don’t end there. As a volunteer in an all-volunteer unit, he receives no salary from the Kurdish or Iraqi government — instead, he relies solely on the donations from his followers on social media to finance his weapons and ammunition.

“I have great supporters and I’m able to buy gear, food, and fuel to my unit in addition to financing my stay here,” he described. “We have little support from the government and barely and logistics, but [we somehow make it through].”

The 25 most ruthless leaders of all time
After fighting for two days, Mike manages to find some warm orange juice and salted peanuts from an expired ISIS combatant. | peshmerganor/Instagram

His favorite weapon happens to be an old MG-42 machine gun that dates back to World War II; however, when it breaks down, which happens often, he resorts to his tried-and-true M-16. Interestingly, his first Advanced Combat Optical Gunsights (ACOG) scope on his rifle turned out of be a useless fake — with the help of his supporters, he has since replaced it with a functioning unit.

Considering the cost of his fight — $100 buys him 120 rounds for his rifle, while $65 buys him 50 bullets for his pistol — when his financial situation becomes dire, he relies on ammunition and heavy weapons taken from dead ISIS fighters.

Unbeknownst to many outside of Iraq, his supporter-financed work seems to be making a direct difference on the front lines.

One example of this included successfully driving back a major ISIS offensive near a dam in Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city. After receiving intelligence that the jihadists were launching an attack at a friendly unit’s location, Mike and his unit decided to make the drive during the night to reinforce the local Peshmerga forces. Sure enough, in the early hours of the morning, ISIS militants came storming in at a full force.

“We fought for 8 hours straight and lost one man … but we fought them off and killed dozens or so,” explained Mike. “We were later told that ISIS would have probably broken through the lines if [we hadn’t been there].”

The 25 most ruthless leaders of all time
Mike scopes out a neighboring village under Islamic State control. | peshmerganor/Instagram

Like many wars, Mike has had his share of harrowing moments as well. Mike described the terrifying battle he experienced when ISIS launched one of their deadliest offensives in a year — the same battle that took the life of US Navy SEAL Charles Keating IV.

The fight was later described by the US-led Combined Joint Task Force (CJTF) as “a big fight, one of the largest we’ve seen recently.”

“[ISIS was] able to break through the lines and seize a nearby town when panic broke out amongst some of the local forces. The units guarding our right flank abandoned their posts and tried to [convince] my unit into fleeing [with them] …”

“In a desperate [move] to make them return to their posts, I decided to run over to man one of their fortified positions by myself. To my disappointment, I ended up running several hundred meters to the position all alone … I stayed at that position for nearly 20 minutes and watched ISIS breaking through the lines with 50 vehicles and several hundred men.”

“I was expecting them to work their way down the line toward me and that I would have to face them alone — that was definitely not a good feeling. Luckily, reinforcements arrived [shortly afterward] and we were able to stop their advance at that fortified position.”

Other than the sporadic mortar fire and ISIS’ skirmishes, the biggest challenge for Mike and his unit seems to stem not from his unit’s equipment deficiencies or ISIS’ fighting capabilities, but from the bureaucratic red tape that surrounds his area of operations.

He explained to Business Insider that there existed a stalemate at the front, as his unit could only advance through a few villages and towns at a time before having to wait for the Iraqi Army to reinforce his position. During such down times, he says he resorts to killing time on his phone.

Mike’s deployments are typically three months long, down from his first six-month deployment. “[That first deployment] took a toll on me, both mentally and physically. I learned my lesson after that.”

After a rotation, he spends about a month of time back in Europe, primarily with his girlfriend, who is also frequently mentioned on his Instagram account.

“I can deal with the poor living condition, the lack of food and sleep, the constant threat from the enemy, but being away from my girlfriend for months at a time is definitely the biggest challenge,” Mike said.

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Mike and his girlfriend making gingerbread cookies back home in Norway. | peshmerganor/Instagram

But it’s not only his girlfriend that shares his concern.

“My whole family [is] aware that I’m volunteering … they’re not too fond of it. They’ve tried to talk me out of it several times, but my mind is set — I’m not coming home until Mosul is liberated.”

As far as goals go, the city of Mosul is where Mike and CJTF have their sights set. As one of the few ISIS strongholds that remain in Iraq, many months have been spent on formulating a plan to not only liberate the city from ISIS’ hands, but to prevent the jihadists from returning again.

“Taking part in the Mosul operation [has] been my goal since 2014 — but to be honest, I thought we would have taken it back by the end of last year,” he explained. “The fall of Ramadi postponed the operation, but I haven’t lost sight of my goal. Mosul has turned out to be my white whale.”

Although military officials have estimated that Mosul will be liberated by the end of the year, the future of the city remains uncertain. Sleeper cells in previously liberated cities still exist as a confirmed threat, and the likelihood of continuing sectarianism in Iraq poses a risk of alienating one of many groups in the region.

What’s also uncertain is Mike’s future once ISIS is ousted from the city.

“I would ideally [like to go] back to my old Army unit, but I’ve lost my security clearance due to my service with the Peshmerga,” he explained. “I’ll never be allowed to join the Norwegian Armed Forces again, but I’m sure I’ll do alright somehow.”

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Until then, Mike continues to remain with his Peshmerga unit on the front lines, committed to ISIS’ ouster. He concluded the interview by offering a strong message against ISIS’ forces:

“Your mortar and rocket [attacks aren’t] impressing anyone,” Mike made clear. “Step up your game and come attack us head-on — you know where to find us.”

You can keep up with Mike’s travels on his Instagram account.

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The awesome A-10 video the Air Force doesn’t want you to see

The A-10 Warthog is the only aircraft built for a close air support (CAS) mission. It was literally designed around its distinctive 30mm gatling gun. The gun is more than 19 feet long and weighs more than 4,000 pounds. The distinctive sound made by the weapon (aka the BRRRRRRRRRT – created as rounds fire faster than the speed of sound), is music to the ears of the troops on the ground, so much so, the plane sometimes called “the grunt in the air.” A-10 pilots often find themselves providing support at Danger Close distances.


“They love this airplane,” says one Air Force A-10 pilot, referring to units on the ground. “They trust us. For them to trust to do that is very gratifying.”

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Recently, the John Q. Public blog, run by retired Air Force officer Tony Carr, came across a video he suspects was produced by the Air Force’s Combat Camera units, lauding the A-10, its crews, its pilots, and the capabilities of its support for ground troops.

“ComCam is perhaps alone in its possession of the unique combination of access and capability to create something this close to the mission with such superior production values,” Carr writes. “A ComCam airman risked mortal danger to make this film and tell this story, getting immersed in a firefight along the way (you’ll see him drop his camera and hear him discharge his weapon in the video).”

Combining ground combat footage with access to the aircrews who run and fly the Warthogs, Carr believes the video has “unmistakeable importance,” but wonders if the video is being suppressed by senior Air Force leaders for political reasons.

The controversy stems from the Air Force’s repeated attempts to retire this relatively young fleet of aircraft. The A-10 first appeared in the Air Force arsenal in 1972 and was used with great effect in Operation Desert Storm. Comparatively, the Air Force’s B-52 fleet was first introduced in 1955 and is still in service.

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“It’s not a political statement,” says a pilot in the theater. “I’m not saying air interdiction isn’t important … but the benefits [of close air support] are right there.”

The Air Force aims to replace the A-10 with the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, a trillion-dollar weapons system that is the most expensive in history, which is extremely over-budget and experiencing an uncanny number of development setbacks. While retiring the A-10 would save many billions of dollars annually, that money would likely go to further developing the F-35. Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh III says the F-35 is designed “for the whole battle space” and would replace the A-10’s CAS capabilities.

But politicos and ground troops are not buying it.

“When you’re talking to a 19-year-old man with a rifle, who’s scared on the other end of a radio,” another Air Force A-10 pilot says in the video. “You know he doesn’t care about fiscal constraints, ‘big picture’ Air Force policy, the next fancy weapons system coming down the pipeline. He cares about being saved right then and there.”

The heartfelt, informative A-10 video is below, and is worth a watch for anyone with an interest in the importance of close air support.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_L_TjXXx7eQ

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Free to enter. 5 will win. Ends November 30, 2016

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Veep shows ‘Late Show’ audience he’s struggling over vet son’s death

Vice-President Joe Biden is still struggling with the death of his son, Beau. Beau Biden served in the Delaware Army National Guard, Judge Advocate General (JAG) Corps, 261st Signal Brigade. He deployed to Iraq’s Camp Victory near Baghdad for nearly a year of active duty, from the Autumn of 2008 to Autumn 2009. The younger Biden succumbed to brain cancer earlier this year. He was 46.


In a recent interview with Stephen Colbert, the Veep recounted how he felt during a visit to Denver, when someone who served with Maj. Biden called out to him.

“Maj. Beau Biden. Bronze Star, sir. Served with him in Iraq,” the man said, Biden recalled. “I was doing great,” Biden said. “But then I lost it. You can’t do that.”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XwmMPytjrK4feature=youtu.bet=5m3s

The Vice-President’s first wife and 1-year-old daughter were killed in a car accident weeks after he was first elected to the Senate in 1972. He said that his faith helped sustain him, and he said he felt he would be letting his family down, including Beau, if he let his grief overtake him – that he needed to “just get up.”

Beau Biden joined the Delaware National Guard in 2003. He deployed while serving as Delaware’s Attorney General. In his absence, he appointed a Republican to take his spot while he was in Iraq. During his service, he requested to be able to wear a different last name on his uniform, in an effort not to receive special treatment from his subordinates and superiors alike. While in Iraq, he was awarded a Bronze Star and the Legion of Merit.

Now: The veteran’s guide to getting a job on Capitol Hill 

 

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Here’s how Russia would win if the war against the US came down to artillery

In a hypothetical war with Russia, the U.S. holds a lot of advantages. America’s Air Force and Navy are the largest in the world. The U.S. military is an all-volunteer force while Russia’s military is still reliant on conscriptions to fill out the ranks.


But there is one area of a conventional war where Russia holds a real advantage: artillery. While America has evolved into a leader in precision artillery fires, Russia has continued to build on its range and ability to deliver massed fires, which are more important factors in an artillery battle between armies.

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A U.S. Army Paladin fires at night. Photo: US Army Spc. Ryan Stroud

The U.S. Army worked hard for its precision. Artillery presents a lot of natural challenges to accuracy. The arc of the round and the time of flight, anywhere from a few seconds to a few minutes, means that the environment gets a lot of chances to blow artillery off target.

Plus, artillery crews can’t usually see their targets or where their rounds land. A forward observer calls the guns from the frontline and reads off target data. The gun crew uses this description to fire. The observer will let them know if they hit anything, what corrections to make, and how many more rounds are needed.

Target movement makes the challenge even harder. Crews still have to rely on the observer, but against moving targets they also have to hope that the target won’t change its direction or speed in the 30 seconds to three minutes that the round is flying to the target.

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Photo: US Army Cpt. Angela Chipman

But the U.S. managed to create precision fires by spending a lot of time and money on laser and GPS-guided artillery rounds that can steer during flight. It also trained its crews for maximum accuracy even when using more traditional rounds.

Because of this innovation and work, American artillery crews could engage enemy forces within a couple hundred meters of friendly troops as long as the observer agrees to a “Danger Close” mission and the crew double checks their math. Troops in Iraq and Afghanistan could drop rounds near schools and mosques while remaining confident they wouldn’t destroy any friendly buildings.

The problem is this precision isn’t as necessary in a fight against another nation state. After all, if the enemy has troops camped along a ridge, missing the center by a couple hundred feet wouldn’t matter much. The round would still hit one of the tents or vehicles. And massed fires, shooting a lot at once, would ensure that any specific target would likely be destroyed.

So instead of investing as much as the U.S. did in getting super accurate, Russia invested in getting more guns and rockets that could fire faster and farther.

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Photo: Public Domain

Some of those new rockets and guns can fire farther than their U.S. counterparts, meaning that American artillerymen would have to drive their guns into position and emplace them while Russian artillery is already raining down around them.

Russia also invested in new capabilities like drones that pack into rocket tubes and kamikaze themselves against targets as well as thermobaric warheads that fit onto rockets and can be fired en masse. Thermobaric weapons release fuel or metal fragments into the air and then detonate it, creating a massive blast wave and flash fire.

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An American thermobaric bomb is dropped in the desert. (Photo: US Air Force Capt. Patrick Nichols)

These developments have not gone unnoticed by the U.S. Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster gave a briefing in May where he talked about the new threats from Russia’s artillery and called for America to get more serious about artillery against a near-peer adversary.

It’s not time to go running under the tables, yet. Russia’s advantage in an artillery duel is partially countered by America’s dominance in the air. Bombers could launch strikes against the most-capable of the Russian guns provided that the guns aren’t defended by Russia’s top-tier air defenses.

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Photo: US Army Spc. Gregory Gieske

America also has more numerous and more capable cruise and other long-range missiles than Russia, meaning that there would be opportunities to degrade Russia’s capabilities before the two artillery forces clashed. And America does have great drone and thermobaric capabilities, just not in its artillery corps.

But if America wants an advantage in all areas ahead of a potential war, it’s time to get serious about massed fires once again.

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The VA can’t track how much time employees spend on union business

You’d think that employees at the Department of Veterans Affairs would be spending every bit of their time on the job helping America’s veterans. But that may not be case — some of them may instead be working on “union business.”


Worse, there may be no way to know how much time they have spent on their outside work for federal employee unions.

According to a report by Government Executive, the VA has no standardized method of tracking how much “official time” is spent by government employees on union activities like mediation. The Office of Personnel Management website defines “official time” as “paid time off from assigned Government duties to represent a union or its bargaining unit employees.”

The report noted that 350 of those employees are working full-time on union activities, and that almost 1.1 million man-hours were spent on official time in Fiscal Year 2012.

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The Tomah, Wisconsin VA hospital.

A 2015 Government Accountability Office report done at the request of House Veterans Affairs Committee chairman Rep. Phil Roe (R-TN) casts doubt on those reported figures.

The GAO said, “the data VA provided were not sufficiently reliable to determine the amount of official time used by VA employees and the purposes for which it was used for the period of our review.”

The biggest reason for the lack of reliability was due to the fact that the VA had no standardized means to track the amount of “official time” used by employees of that agency.

The report noted that the VA had arrangements with five unions: the National Association of Government Employees; the American Federation of Government Employees; National Nurses United; the National Federation of Federal Employees; and the Service Employees International Union.

Government Executive reported that the VA had agreed to resolve the time-tracking issues.

The VA has been hit with a number of scandals, including one case where a deceased veteran was left lying around for nine hours in a Florida VA facility and another case in a Wisconsin VA hospital where a dentist may have infected hundreds of veterans with HIV and hepatitis.

Those cases came on the heels of a VA hospital using “separate waiting lists” to conceal a backlog of cases, a practice that is believed to have lead to over 200 deaths.

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Palo Alto VA hospital. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

The Florida incident drew the wrath of Rep. Gus Biliakis (R-FL), who angrily noted that nobody had been fired over the improper treatment of a veteran’s corpse.

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China has commissioned its newest guided-missile destroyer

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Screenshot CCTV News/YouTube


The largest naval exercise in the world is underway in the Pacific, and to show the world that it means business, China officially commissioned its fourth vessel of a new model of guided-missile destroyers on Tuesday.

Equipped with advanced weapons that can engage other ships and submarines, the independently developed Yinchuan will be China’s most advanced guided-missile destroyer in service. The ship will be able to engage in all manner of operations, including aerial defense, anti-sea operations, and antisubmarine missions.

The Yichuan, at more than 150 meters long and nearly 20 meters wide, has an estimated load displacement of 7,000 tons.

Although the unveiling was met with fanfare and a parade, Chinese military expert Cao Weidong told China Central Television that the Yinchuan was inferior to the US Navy’s Arleigh Burke-class destroyers in terms of size and munitions capabilities.

But other unnamed experts, according to China.org.cn, have speculated that the Yinchuan would outperform the Japanese Atago-class, the South Korean Sejong the Great-class, and the Arleigh Burke-class destroyers.

The Yinchuan is the fourth ship in its class to be unveiled by China to date.

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Beware of the 19-year-old pissed off Marine

On January 30, 1968, John Ligato and about 150 fellow Marines from Alpha Company experienced hell on Earth.


They were awakened in the middle of the night by their company commander and sent to nearby Hue City in Vietnam to help the troops of an overrun compound.

Related: 8 of the most terrifying Vietnam War booby traps

When they finally arrived, they were greeted with cheers. The troops of the MACV Compound had just repelled an enemy surge within their walls.

“They had been through hell, and they thought we were there to save the day, but little did we know the numerical numbers of NVA there,” Ligato said in the video below.

Ligato and his ill-equipped company were walking into a deathtrap against nine battalions of highly-trained North Vietamese soldiers, outnumbering each man by a few hundred.

“Most of us thought we’d never get out,” Ligato said.

The odds were against them, but miraculously, they pulled through. Ligato sums up the company’s success with this quote:

Americans Adapt. We Improvise. The most ferocious fighting machine the world has ever seen is a 19-year-old pissed off Marine. Because you’ll take that kid from Detroit or Mississippi and you’ll train him in Marine Corps boot camp, and you’ll put him in a situation that’s foreign to him, and he will adapt and improvise and become that situation and deal with it.

Watch John Ligato tell his harrowing experience in this 3-minute American Heroes Channel video:

American Heroes Channel, YouTube
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It’s not the Beretta M9 that sucks, it’s the ammo

There’s a decades-old argument about which pistol round is better that stems from a more basic argument about terminal ballistics – which is just a fancy term for what happens when bullets hit living things.


The two sides of the argument are between those who believe fast, lightweight rounds do more damage, and those who believe heavy, lower-moving rounds impart more energy and “stopping power” on the target.

Listen to the WATM podcast to hear our veteran hosts and a weapons expert discuss the M9 and why ammo matters: 

Subscribe: iTunes | Google Play | Stitcher | More Subscribe Options

Given its history of weapon adoption, it seems the Army is a proponent of the fast, lightweight department. First it swapped out the 7.62mm M14 for the 5.56mm M16, then the .45 1911 for the 9mm M9. While many agree with the first change (sorry M14 lovers) some still think the M9 should never have been adopted without changing the ammunition recipe beforehand.

Here’s why.

Full metal jacket ammo is really great for sending rounds through paper, but its aerodynamic and hydrodynamic design makes it zip through tissue without dumping most of the energy behind it into the target. Shot placement can compensate for this by hitting harder stuff like bones or vital organs, but under the stress of returning fire, that’s damn tough for even the seasoned Delta operator to land perfect hits with a sidearm.

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An M9 service pistol’s magazine rests on the firing line next to a scoring sheet during a pistol qualification course aboard Camp Lejeune, N.C., April 7, 2015. (U.S. Marine Corps photo taken by Cpl. Alexander Mitchell/released)

Ideally, a round will dump all of its energy into a target, which reduces the need for shot placement at the cost of reduced penetration. On a rifle, this is a big drawback. It means if Johnny-Jihad is hiding behind a plywood shack, the rounds will expand in the wooden walls and lose most of their power. With a sidearm, most shooters aren’t trying to blast bad guys through walls – it’s a weapon of last resort.

So when a trooper needs to draw his M9, he shouldn’t have to worry about the bullets failing to stop his attacker.

If the military wants to put the M9 on even-footing with the M1911’s fight-stopping power, it might only need to swap out the M882 round with the good stuff being issued to American law enforcement officers.

Heck, Rangers have been running heavier, jacketed hollow-points for years. This isn’t news to the brass.

A little more than a year ago, the Army declared its Modular Handgun System should be able to operate with special ammunition like jacketed, hollow-point rounds.  The so-called XM17 is slated to replace the M9.

In fact, one recommendation is to replace the lightweight 112gr M882 FMJ cartridges with heavier 147gr expanding hollow-point rounds like those employed by Ranger elements during combat operations. These heavier rounds don’t just expand better in their targets, they’re also subsonic.

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Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Jesse Paquin, assigned to Expeditionary Combat Camera reloads an M9 pistol during practical weapons course training at Naval Support Activity Northwest Annex, July 28. (U.S. Navy photo by Chief Mass Communication Specialist Eric Dietrich)

This has two major advantageous. First, it makes them better suited to pistols and submachine guns equipped with sound suppressors. And second, it provides a more consistent flight path since the bullet doesn’t go transonic.

That all said, many agree the M9 does have some serious mechanical shortcomings. Slides cracking, junk magazines in the early days of the G-WOT, and the gun’s open-slide gobbling up sand all contribute to a pistol clearly not at home in desert warfare.

But with new magazines that work much better, reinforced slides and a proper maintenance schedule, many experts say the M9 beats the hell out of the 1911 it replaced — but only with proper ammo. Hague convention be damned, expanding ammunition isn’t designed to cruelly maim soldiers but to drop them more reliability. Plus, these same rounds are nearly always stopped by walls, putting fewer civilians at risk in adjacent rooms.

Lastly, if you’re worried about our guys getting hit with these types of rounds, don’t be. Expanding ammunition amplifies the effectiveness of body armor, since both are designed to dissipate force. So as long as Joe has his body armor on, hollow points won’t do any more than a standard pistol round.

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Here are 3 things the VA needs from Congress right now

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(Photo: VA)


Current VA Secretary Bob McDonald and former VA Secretary James Peake just posted an op-ed at The Hill listing the things they believe Congress needs to do to help the VA right now:

While the Department is making significant progress, VA needs Congress’ help to achieve all of the breakthrough priorities on behalf of veterans . . . particularly in three pressing areas:

1. Untangle the seven different ways VA provides care in the community today

Today’s rules make the process inefficient, they cause confusion for both the veterans and providers, they are in place because of legislation added over the years, and they must be legislatively corrected.

2. VA needs the authority to enter into partnerships

VA needs the authority to enter into partnerships to make needed changes to our West Los Angeles campus and more quickly end veterans’ homelessness in the city with the largest concentration of homeless veterans.

3. VA needs Congress’s help to finally fix the claims appeal process

VA needs Congress’s help to finally fix the broken process by which veterans appeal unfavorable claims decisions—a process conceived over 80 years ago that is unlike any other appeals process in the federal government. Over the decades, layers of additions to the process have made it more complicated, more unpredictable, less clear, and less veteran-friendly.

Read the entire story at The Hill.

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That time the Nazis built a gigantic plane that could haul 95,000 pounds of gear

The Nazis concocted all sorts of weird military technology, but the Me 323 Giant was certainly one of the biggest.


With six engines over a 181 foot wingspan and the ability to haul 95,000 pounds of gear, the Giant was an incredible aviation feat. Doors in its nose opened up and allowed tanks, artillery, and personnel to hop inside and be transported up to 675 miles away. But it was also a big, slow, flying elephant with wings.

The Me 323 was helped answer a question plaguing the Germans early in the war: How do we get a bunch of tanks, troops, and artillery across the English channel and take London?

As Tyler Rogoway details at Foxtrot Alpha, in 1940 the Luftwaffe gave aircraft manufacturers Junkers and Messerschmitt just 14 days to come up with a proposal for an aircraft that could pull off such a feat. Junkers had a tough time coming up with a usable design and Messerschmitt was eventually chosen to spearhead the concept, which became the Me 321.

Though the Germans ultimately cancelled their planned invasion of Britain, called Operation Sea Lion, the Me 321 was used extensively on the Eastern Front. But the large cargo glider was riddled with problems, though it did see some success when used in Russia.

In 1941, German transport pilots were asking for something better than the Me 321. Only 200 of them were built, and while a bunch were scrapped, at least a few were upgraded to what would become the Me 323. It was the largest land-based transport aircraft of World War II, according to the Daily Mail.

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From Foxtrot Alpha:

The final production configuration of the Me323 had a high wing made of wood and fabric that was braced near the center of the wing and fuselage. The fuselage was built out of a tubular metal skeleton with wooden cross-beams and fabric covering. The cockpit sat high atop the aircraft’s bulbous nose, which was a clam-shell door design, allowing it to open wide for outsized cargo to be loaded and unloaded. The cargo hold was cavernous for the time, measuring 36 feet long, 10 feet wide and 11 feet high, which is very roughly the size of a first generation C-130’s cargo hold. All said, the Me323 could carry a wide variety of items. For example, it could haul a pair of four ton trucks or 52 drums of fuel or 130 fully outfitted combat troops.

Just because it could lift a lot didn’t mean it could do so quickly. The Giant’s maximum speed was a paltry 135mph at sea level, and that figure got only worse as it climbed. This was helped somewhat by replacing wooden propellers on early models with metal variable pitch propellers on later ones. A crew of five was used on most missions, which included two pilots, two engineers and a radioman. During flights through areas that were of high risk, the radioman and the engineers could man three of the aircraft’s five MG 131 machine guns, although dedicated gunners were often carried for these higher-risk missions, allowing the crew to concentrate on flying and navigating, while still employing all five guns against Allied fighters. The Giant’s five .51 inch machine guns were located on the aircraft’s upper wings and in the nose and tail.

So how did the Giant fare? Not so great, as it turned out. In 1943, a fleet of Giants was dispatched to airlift supplies to German troops in Tunisia, since the sea lanes were littered with Allied ships. Hitler didn’t really think this one through, since a gigantic bullseye of a target flying at 135 mph wasn’t exactly the best solution.

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Sure, the Me 323 had gun ports with machine guns and some German fighter escorts to defend against attacks, but that didn’t seem to matter on April 22. According to World War II Today, of the 27 Me 323 aircraft that attempted the hop from Sicily to Tunisia, 22 were shot down in the Mediterranean.

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The good news, of course, was that the crashed planes made really awesome diving spots about 70 years later. But the bad news: The fleet of Giants got so beat up that none were capable of flying around summer 1944, according to Foxtrot Alpha. No intact Me 323 survives today, although the German Air Force Museum has a main wing on display.

Here are some more photos of what it was like:

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NOW: The Army’s new weapon sight allows soldiers to shoot around corners and through smoke

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