Rambo. Just the name brings to mind a mix of hyper-masculine imagery and badassery. Big guns, big knives, and big, luscious hair. It doesn’t get more classic 1980s action hero than Rambo.
Despite First Blood’s now iconic status, here are some interesting facts you might not know about this blockbuster.
A War you won’t believe
What do you think the body count for First Blood is — 20, 30, 300? I mean, it would have to be high, right? It’s Rambo! The film is centered around a hardened Vietnam War-era Green Beret running around with a giant knife and an M60 waging a one-man war against a local sheriff and his deputies and the National Guard. Well, this hardened killer showed more restraint than lethality in his debut feature, racking up a surprising number of kills: one. That’s right, one kill … and he did it with a rock … by accident. Go watch it again if you don’t believe me.
Stallone wasn’t the first choice for the role
Several actors were considered for the role of Rambo before Sylvester Stallone was cast as the lead. Al Pacino considered the role, but he ultimately turned it down, as he felt that Rambo wasn’t eccentric or crazy enough — this likely came as a surprise to no one. James Garner, a Korean War veteran with two Purple Hearts, also turned it down as he felt the lead character represented veterans poorly. Paul Newman, who was considered not only for the role of Rambo but also Rocky, declined, too. Clint Eastwood also was considered, but he ultimately declined as he was too busy being an absolute legend.
People got hurt
As one might expect with the filming of an action movie, a few people were injured during the making of First Blood. Most notably, in the scene where Rambo escapes the local jail, he slide-kicks and then elbows a sheriff’s deputy in the face, leaving him lying on the floor screaming in pain. Fun fact: Those screams were real. Stallone broke the stuntman’s nose during that take, and they used the footage in the final film.
Also, during the chase scene following Rambo’s jailbreak, a stuntman flipped a cruiser going 70 mph and rolled it several hundred feet, causing the stuntman to sustain a broken back among several other injuries. Stallone also managed to break a rib on a tree branch during filming. It’s rumored the branch will make a comeback as Sly’s next opponent in the 20th sequel to Rocky.
The actual military had to get involved
Filming of First Blood actually took place in Canada, and due to Canada’s strict gun laws, these weapons had to be imported from the United States. Unfortunately, $50,000 worth of those firearms were stolen from the set and never recovered. The weapons were modified to fire blanks but could have been changed back to fire live rounds. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police and Canadian military were brought in to provide security for the set after the theft.
The movie came from a much more violent novel
Believe it or not, the movie actually is based on a 1972 novel called First Blood by David Morrell. The film and book are comparatively similar, but they do have a few distinct differences. Sylvester Stallone himself wanted the changes to make Rambo more palatable to moviegoers. Some notable changes from novel to movie: Rambo didn’t carry around a giant knife in the novel, he killed a lot of people, and at the end of the novel, he dies. Stallone decided to dial back Rambo’s killing ways to make him more likable and sympathetic. Did it work? That’s for you to decide.
The 2004 Second Battle of Fallujah will be talked about among Marines for years to come, but for some who fought in those deadly streets and from room-to-room, the battle continues to play out long after they come home.
“The most difficult part of transitioning into the civilian world is the fact that I was still alive,” says Matt Ranbarger, a Marine rifleman who fought in Fallujah, in a new documentary released on YouTube called “The November War.”
The end result of a successful Kickstarter campaign, “The November War” gives an intimate look at just one event that changed the lives of the nearly dozen Marines profiled in the film: An operation to clear a house in the insurgent-infested city on Nov. 22, 2004.
“I remember we got a briefing that morning, and I didn’t like it,” squad leader Catcher Cutstherope says, describing how his leaders told the Marines they could no longer use frag grenades when room clearing. Instead, they were instructed to use flash or stun grenades, and only use frags if they were absolutely certain there was an insurgent inside.
“We were all pretty much ‘what the f–k are we gonna do with a flash grenade, it’s not gonna do anything,'” Nathan Douglas says. “We were pretty much right on that part.”
With part interview, part battle footage — shot by Marines during the battle with their own personal cameras — the film is unlike other post-9/11 war documentaries. Similar docs give the viewer insight into a full deployment — “Restrepo” and the follow-up “Korengal” are good examples — or a bigger picture look at both the planning and execution of a combat operation, like “The Battle for Marjah.”
“The November War” takes neither of these approaches, and the film is much better for it. Instead, Garrett Anderson, the filmmaker and Marine veteran who also fought in the battle, captures poignant moments from his former platoon-mates years after their combat experience is over. Some describe going into a room as an insurgent fires, while others talk through their thoughts after being shot.
In describing clearing the house — a costly endeavor that resulted in six Marines wounded — the film reveals the part of that day that still haunts all involved: The death of their friend, Cpl. Michael Cohen.
The documentary captures visceral stress among the Marines. Years later, sweat beads off their foreheads. As they speak, they are measured, but their voices are tinged with emotion. Viewers can tell they see that day just as clearly, more than a decade later.
Perhaps the most revealing part of the film is when Anderson asks all his interviewees whether it was worth it. One Marine filmed is offended by the question, answering that of course every Marine would answer yes. But that doesn’t play out onscreen, as two members of the unit express their doubts.
“Losing that many guys, friends … any of them,” says Brian Lynch, the platoon’s corpsman. “I don’t think it was worth it.”
In the end, “The November War” is one of those must-watch documentaries. It gives a look into what it’s like for troops in combat, and beautifully captures the raw emotion that can still endure long after they come home.
“You know how people say ‘freedom isn’t free?'” asks Lance Cpl. Munoz soon after the film opens.
“Well, you, the one watching this at home on TV right now … sitting eating popcorn, or a burger,” he says, pointing to the camera. “Living the high life. And if you’re a Marine watching this sh– and you’re laughing, it’s because you already went through this sh–.”
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) wants the bomb you’ve been tinkering with at home. DARPA’s latest initiative is identifying emerging threats by mining everyday technologies. According to the agency’s press release, this effort, called Improv, “asks the innovation community to identify commercial products and processes that could yield unanticipated threats.” So DARPA wants that homemade bomb you’ve been building in your garage.
This means they want to see what you can make out of everyday household items so they can prepare a countermeasure. This kind of thinking is meant to tap into the natural resourcefulness and creativity of humans.
“DARPA’s mission is to create strategic surprise, and the agency primarily does so by pursuing radically innovative and even seemingly impossible technologies,” said program manager John Main, who will oversee the new effort. “Improv is being launched in recognition that strategic surprise can also come from more familiar technologies, adapted and applied in novel ways.”
The agency is looking to see how everyday household materials can be used to threaten U.S. national security. It may sound odd to think of American wreaking havoc with common materials, but it isn’t unheard of. In 1996, Timothy McVeigh purchased only enough ammonium nitrate to fertilize 4.25 acres of farmland at a rate of 160 pounds of nitrogen per acre, a formula commonly used to grow corn. This did not raise any eyebrows in Kansas. McVeigh later used the fertilizer to blow up Oklahoma City’s Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, killing at least 168 people.
“U.S. national security was ensured in large part by a simple advantage: a near-monopoly on access to the most advanced technologies,” DARPA said in a press release. “Increasingly, off-the-shelf equipment… features highly sophisticated components, which resourceful adversaries can modify or combine to create novel and unanticipated security threats.”
To enter, interested parties must submit a plan for their prototype for the chance at a potential $40,000 in funding. Then, a smaller number of candidates will be chosen to build their device with $70,000 in potential funding. Finally, top candidates will enter the final phase, which includes a thorough analysis of the invention and a military demonstration.
The Department of Defense would like remind potential contributors that they should only build weapons within the bounds of their local, state, and federal laws.
The Defense Department is considering recommending the US send ground troops into Syria to fight the terrorist group ISIS, according to a source who spoke to CNN.
“It’s possible that you may see conventional forces hit the ground in Syria for some period of time,” a defense official told CNN.
There are currently hundreds of US troops in Syria offering training and assistance to US-backed local forces there. But conventional forces would likely be on the ground in larger numbers, according to CNN.
CNN reported last month that Defense Secretary Jim Mattis was taking control of a Pentagon review to determine which options the Defense Department would present to President Donald Trump on the fight against ISIS.
The defense official CNN cites in Wednesday’s report stressed that any decision on Syria would ultimately be up to Trump.
Charles Lister, a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute and an expert on Syria, said he’s “not surprised” to see that the US is considering ground troops in Syria to fight ISIS.
“Fits Trump desire for a rapid victory + withdrawal,” he tweeted.
In 1968, then-Maj. Colin Powell was a Ranger assigned to the Army’s 23rd Infantry Division. It was his second tour in Vietnam.
Just five years earlier, he was one of the American advisors to South Vietnam’s fledgling army. While on a foot patrol in Viet Cong-held areas in 1963, the 25-year-old Powell was wounded by a VC booby trap.
He stepped on a punji stick, which the VC laced with buffalo dung. The excrement created an infection that made it difficult for him to walk.
“The Special Forces medics cut my boot off, and they could see my foot was purple by then,” Powell said in an interview with the Academy of Achievement. “The spike had gone all the way through, from the bottom to the top, and then come right back out, totally infecting the wound as it made the wound.”
That ended his time in combat. Powell was reassigned to the 1st Army of the Republic of Vietnam division headquarters for the rest of that tour.
On his second tour in Vietnam, he was again behind a desk as the assistant Chief of Staff for the Americal Division (as the 23rd was known). Though a staff officer, when you’re a man of destiny like Colin Powell, the action comes to you.
On November 16, 1968, the helicopter transporting Maj. Powell along with the 23rd ID commander crashed.
Powell, injured but clear of the wreckage, ran back to the burning helicopter several times to rescue comrades. Though the helicopter was in danger of exploding, he continued to attempt the rescue.
When he found one passenger trapped under the mass of twisted, burning fuselage, Powell tore away the burning metal with his bare hands.
Powell was awarded the Soldier’s Medal for his actions that day. He managed to rescue every passenger from the downed helicopter.
During his deployments to Vietnam, he also earned a Bronze Star and two Purple Hearts.
We sometimes overlook the accurate and fantastic portrayals of veterans and troops in fiction, instead criticizing Hollywood’s typical depiction of us as hyper-macho, high-speed ass-kicking machines or broken and fragile husks of human beings.
For a good portion of the armed services, this is far from the truth. This isn’t a grunt versus POG (Person Other than Grunt) thing. It’s a symptom of the civilian-military divide.
There seems to be a perpetual cycle of fiction blowing real military service out of proportion. Civilians who never interacted with service members often believe that fictional portrayal.
Let’s be honest. Veterans are combating the stigma, but it’s an uphill battle.
Hell, most of the stories we tell at bars aren’t helping.
This one goes out to the creators, writers, directors, and actors that gave the world a veteran and stayed away from the stigma. Either intentionally or not, these characters either embody what it was truly like in the service or have exceptional moments that can overlook some of the more silly moments.
If you can think of any others left out, leave them in the comment section.
1. Sgt. Bill Dauterive – “King of the Hill”
Though the 022 MOS doesn’t exist anymore, Bill from “King of the Hill” was a U.S. Army Barber. There are several episodes dedicated to his military service. The 2007 episode “Bill, Bulk and the Body Buddies” even revolved around him trying to get in shape to pass his APFT.
How he manages to go on all the adventures in the show and not be considered AWOL is also a plot point.
2. Capt. Frank Castle, aka “The Punisher” – Marvel Comics
Not every superhero gets their powers from a science experiment, being an alien, or just being super rich.
Frank Castle, The Punisher, learned his skills in the Marine Corps. Sure. He’s an extreme representation of a veteran. But The Punisher earns his spot on this list because of Jon Bernthal’s monologue in Season 2 of “Daredevil.” His performance and his story about his return from a deployment hits close to home for many people.
3. King Robert Baratheon – A Song of Fire and Ice, “Game of Thrones”
Let’s take away medieval fantasy elements of “Game of Thrones” and recognize that Robert Baratheon used to be a proud, respected, and feared soldier on the front lines.
Ever since putting his service behind him, he got fat, grew a glorious beard, spent his time drinking, hunting, and talking about his glory days. Sound like anyone you know from your old unit?
4. Pfc. Donny Novitski and his band — “Bandstand”
A Tony Award winning musical may seem an unlikely place to find a true to life depiction of a WWII veteran, but it’s the only Broadway musical with an official “Got Your 6” certification.
The musical is about a group of young vets returning home who form a band to try to reach stardom (the same half thought out plan we all had while we were downrange).
The lead character, Donny, spends most of the story showing his bandmates and the world their sacrifice and talents.
Veterans who’ve seen the show praise it. At the end of every show, they thank the troops around the world and dedicate each performance to a different veteran.
5. Capt. Benjamin Franklin “Hawkeye” Pierce – “M*A*S*H”
The Capt. Hawkeye character is beloved by many for its accuracy. He was drafted right after his medical residency to deploy to the Korean War. Everything about his character was a fresh change to the ordinary war hero cliche.
He resented the Army for drafting him. Each loss of life affected him as the series progressed. He used humor to help cope with the daily stress of combat.
In the 1978 episode “Commander Pierce,” Hawkeye is temporarily in charge of the 4077th. For one episode, he drastically made the very real change to become the leader that his soldiers needed before reverting back to fit the semi-episodic formula.
6. Capt. Kathryn Janeway – “Star Trek: Voyager”
While on the topic of the burdens of leadership, the character that best exemplifies this is the commander of the USS Voyager. Many of the ongoing struggles in the series revolve around how Capt. Kathryn Janeway deals with the safety of the crew, the dream of returning home, and hiding her internal doubt.
Oh, and she always drinks coffee, and she always drinks it black.
The senile grandpa of the Simpson family is often the butt of many jokes. His long term memory is hazy and his short term memory isn’t any better.
But then there’s the 1996 “Flying Hellfish” episode. Art and story-wise, this episode is vastly different from most, and is regarded as one of the best in the series.
Grandpa Abe and Bart go on an adventure to reclaim the treasure Abe found back in World War II. Back in the day, Grandpa was a very competent and tactful leader.
When his unit, which also included series antagonist Mr. Burns, discover a fortune in stolen Nazi paintings, they place a life bet on who keeps them.
While Mr. Burns is willing to kill for the prize, Abe still holds onto his honor and loyalty to his unit after all those years. At the end, when the paintings are confiscated by police, Abe tells his grandson why he went after the paintings. “It was to show you that I wasn’t always a pathetic old kook,” he said.
8. Sgt. Donald Duck – Disney
The sailor suit he always wears isn’t just for show or stolen valor, Donald Duck legitimately was in the Navy and Army Air Force (hence why, in 1984, he was officially given the rank of sergeant and discharge by the real world Army on his 50th anniversary).
Hear me out on this.
In World War I, Walt Disney attempted to join the U.S. Army but was rejected for being too young. He then forged documents to join the Red Cross.
In France, the cartoons he sketched grabbed the attention of Stars and Stripes, later becoming the icon we all know today. In WWII, his love of country and understanding of how propaganda worked lead Disney to use Donald Duck to help the troops.
The “Buck Sergeant Duck” was used in counter-propoganda cartoons and recruitment shorts, even winning an Oscar for “Der Feuhrer’s Face.”
His time in both the Army and Navy is well depicted in many forms — from cartoons to comics. In “DuckTales,” Donald leaves his nephews because he’s being shipped out, which starts the series. The cartoon “Donald Gets Drafted” shows Donald learning (in an exaggerated manner) that recruiters sometimes tell fibs to get bodies in the door.
Even his short temper, aggression, loud voice, cynical attitude, and unprovoked tantrums aren’t a concept lost on veterans.
At least 84 people, including at least 10 children, were killed in the southern French city of Nice when a man drove a truck into a crowd celebrating the Bastille Day national holiday late Thursday night.
Authorities are now trying to determine how the attacker — who has been identified as a 31-year-old Tunisian national residing in Nice — evaded French counterterrorism efforts, as France grapples with its third major terrorist attack in the past 18 months.
The country’s counterterror measures were ramped up after the Charlie Hebdo shootings in January 2015 and heightened even further after November’s Paris attacks.
A question that has emerged in the immediate aftermath of these attacks is whether anything more could have been done to detect and preempt them — or whether so-called lone-wolf attacks such as that of Nice, Dallas, and Orlando, Florida, have long since exceeded the capabilities of current counterterrorism tactics.
“We have moved into a new era,” French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said in a statement. “And France will have to live with terrorism.”
Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel echoed Valls’ sentiment from Brussels, which was attacked by terrorists affiliated with the Islamic State in March.
“Zero risk does not exist,” he said. “We are now faced with a different modus operandi.”
“Current counterterrorism capabilities are not designed to prevent attacks like these,” The Soufan Group, a strategic security firm, wrote in its daily briefing on Friday. “Absent tell-tale communications or travel — or alerting behavior beyond the merely ‘suspicious’ — there is little authorities can do to detect and deter attacks of this nature.”
It continued: “Such attacks can be considered intentionally spontaneous, in that they take some forethought, but little to no planning or training. The results are mass-casualty terrorist attacks.”
Antiterror prosecutors have taken over the investigation into the attack, which occurred at about 10:30 p.m. local time Thursday as pedestrians were dispersing after watching Nice’s Bastille Day fireworks.
“What can you do against this?” Andre Jacob, a former head of counterterrorism at Belgium’s State Security service, told Reuters. “It’s impossible to prevent. Even if there were clues.”
The French “can add more counterterrorism resources — the numbers of people actually tasked with monitoring those on the terrorist watch list,” geopolitical expert Ian Bremmer, president of the geopolitical risk firm Eurasia Group, told Business Insider on Friday.
“Short of that, near term, you’re talking about measures that would truly change the nature of a liberal and open democracy — the sorts of automatic detentions being discussed by the Front Nationale,” he added, referring to France’s far-right, nationalist party known for its anti-immigrant, anti-Islam, and eurosceptic policies.
“Long term the only real fix is true integration … or a move to a selective police/surveillance state. There’s little appetite for either at present.”
‘The weaponization of everyday life’
France has become a target for Islamic State sympathizers and militants for many reasons, including the war France declared on the Islamic State, which is also known as ISIS, ISIL, or Daesh, in Iraq and Syria last year.
“Today, France is clearly the most threatened country,” the head of France’s General Directorate for Internal Security (DGSI) said on Friday. “The question about the threat is not to know ‘if’ but ‘when’ and ‘where’.”
On Friday, French President Francois Hollande said France would “reinforce” its actions in Iraq and Syria in response to the violence.
“We will continue striking those who attack us on our own soil,” he said.
France declared a state of emergency after November’s Paris attacks, which were carried out by ISIS militants who had trained with the jihadist group in Syria. The mandate was still in place — set to expire on July 26 — when the Nice attacker carried out Thursday night’s rampage. It will now be extended for another three months, Hollande said.
The Soufan Group said the “heavy-handed” policies that inevitably accompany a nationwide state of emergency are necessary but damaging — and probably futile — in the long run.
“Persistent states of emergency are unhealthy for democratic societies, yet the nature of the threat yields a slippery slope of well-intended but heavy-handed policies,” the group wrote. “The uncomfortable reality is that few counterterrorism laws or measures can address the weaponization of everyday life due to the unrelenting call to terror .”
Andre Jacob of Belgium’s state security service echoed that sentiment, saying “you can’t turn everywhere into a ‘fan-zone,’ behind barriers and police checkpoints.”
“This seems like the act of an isolated individual where it’s impossible to prevent anything in the sense that terrorists will adapt to their targets,” Jacob told Reuters.
Alan Mendoza, executive director of the conservative think tank The Henry Jackson Society, put it even more bluntly.
Mendoza said: “France has been on high terror alert for months with troops on the street yet still could not prevent this atrocity.”
‘Operate within France’
US officials told The Daily Beast that ISIS is a top suspect in the latest attack. As Business Insider’s Pamela Engel has noted, both ISIS and Al Qaeda have publicly called for supporters to use vehicles as weapons.
“If you are not able to find an IED or a bullet, then single out the disbelieving American, Frenchman, or any of their allies,” ISIS spokesman Abu Mohammad al-Adnani said in a statement in September 2014. “Smash his head with a rock, or slaughter him with a knife, or run him over with your car, or throw him down from a high place, or choke him, or poison him.”
“If you are unable to come to Syria or Iraq, then pledge allegiance in your place — pledge allegiance in France,” a French ISIS member said in a video released in 2014. “Operate within France.”
As Bremmer of Eurasia Group said on Twitter, “1,700 French citizens have gone to fight in Iraq and Syria. 250 have returned.”
Last year, the French department of Alpes-Maritimes, which contains Nice, began training “teachers, social workers, doctors, policemen, prison officers and others to watch for signs of radicalisation and sound the alert,” according to The Economist. The program was called Entr’Autres.
“The objective is to bring someone back from the edge from the point at which the radicalised mind turns to terrorism,” Patrick Amoyel, a psychoanalyst and co-founder of Entr’Autres, told The Economist.
Still, Bremmer noted, ” France is already arresting as many Islamist terrorist suspects as the rest of the EU combined.”
Amedy Coulibaly, one of the gunmen behind the worst militant attacks in France for decades, declares his allegiance.
Amedy Coulibaly, for example — an ISIS militant who attacked a kosher supermarket in Paris in January 2015 — met Chérif Kouachi, one of the two Charlie Hebdo shooters, in a French prison in 2006.
To respond to and combat this trend, France enacted a compulsory re-education program in four prisons earlier this year, the Economist reported.
Bouhlel, the suspect in the Nice attack, has not yet been linked to a terrorist group and was alone in the refrigerated truck that was used to carry out the attack. He was, however, on law enforcement’s radar, having been previously accused of assault with a weapon, domestic violence, threats, and robbery, according to reports.
Dozens of bodies covered in blue sheets still lined the pavement next to the Promenade des Anglais on Friday morning as the police continued to investigate the scene of yet another attack in their country.
The William “Mac” Thornberry National Defense Authorization Act for 2021 resulted in the creation of the “Commission on the Naming of Items of the Department of Defense that Commemorate the Confederate States of America or Any Person Who Served Voluntarily with the Confederate States of America.” More easily known as the “Naming Commission,” its job is to remove names, symbols, displays, monuments or paraphernalia commemorating the Confederacy and/or Confederates.
The commission consists of eight members: Adm. Michelle Howard, U.S. Navy, Retired, Chair; Brig. Gen. Ty Seidule, U.S. Army, Retired, Vice-Chair; Lt. Gen. Thomas Bostick, U.S. Army, Retired; Gen. Robert Neller, U.S. Marine Corps, Retired; Mr. Jerry Buchannan; Mr. Lawrence Romo; Dr. Kori Schake; and U.S. Rep. Austin Scott (Georgia). As a Congressional Commission appointed by the administration and Congress, they report to the House Armed Services Committee and Senate Armed Services Committee.
Based on their instructions and investigation, the commission has identified nine Army posts and two ships to be renamed.
Fort A.P. Hill, Virginia
Fort Benning, Georgia
Fort Bragg, North Carolina
Fort Gordon, Georgia
Fort Hood, Texas
Fort Lee, Virginia
Fort Pickett, Virginia
Fort Polk, Louisiana
Fort Rucker, Alabama
USS Chancellorsville (CG-62)
USNS Maury (T-AGS-66)
The commission is also deliberating the inclusion of recommendations for Fort Belvoir in Virginia, which carries the name of a former slave plantation. However, the commission only has the power to make recommendations for Department of Defense assets. As such, it cannot consider new names for National Guard installations like Camp Beauregard, Louisiana and Camp Maxey, Texas. These installations fall under the control of their respective state governments.
The commission notes that Section 370 of the 2021 NDAA specifically excludes Confederate grave markers from removal. Disturbing remains or modifying grave markers is prohibited and the commission will not make any such recommendations in their report to Congress.
The criteria for the new names of these DoD assets is still being finalized. However, the commission states that the names “should appropriately reflect the courage, values, sacrifices and diversity of our military men and women, with consideration given to the local or regional significance of names and their potential to inspire and motivate our service members.” Names can be suggested to the commission via the Naming Commission website.
The Naming Commission will deliver a written report of their findings and recommendations to Congress by October 1, 2022. Following their report, the Secretary of Defense is expected to implement a plan submitted by the commission no later than January 1, 2024.
CAMP PENDLETON, California — Maj. David Palka had seen combat before in Iraq and Afghanistan, but roughly 90% of the Marines under his command — tasked with setting up a remote fire base in northern Iraq in 2016 — had only heard the stories.
Their trial by fire in March 2016 came just hours after they landed on Army CH-47 helicopters under cover of darkness in Makhmur, Iraq. Getting off the helicopters at around 2 a.m., the Marines were in what was essentially open farmland with a large protective berm of dirt around their small perimeter.
“By 0900, we received the first rocket attack,” Palka told Business Insider. As a captain, Palka had led the Marines of Echo Battery, 2nd Battalion, 10th Marine Regiment when it was attached to the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) from Oct. 2015 to June 2016.
On Monday, Palka was awarded the Bronze Star medal (with combat “V”), the fourth-highest combat award, for what his battalion commander called “sustained valorous leadership.” He’ll also receive the Leftwich Award later this week, a trophy presented annually to a Marine company or battery commander who displays outstanding leadership.
Palka and his unit’s foray into Iraq to set up an artillery support base was previously shrouded in secrecy. But new details have emerged from that mission, showing that they were under constant threat and directly attacked more than a dozen times during their two-and-a-half months there, according to interviews and documents reviewed by Business Insider.
“When they got the call, they were ready,” Lt. Col. Jim Lively, the commander of Battalion Landing Team, 2nd Battalion, 6th Marines, and Palka’s battalion commander at the time, told Business Insider.
‘It was no surprise that we were rocketed’
When Palka and others among his advance party left their helicopter on March 12, they marked the first American boots on the ground in Iraq to set up a quasi-permanent base since US forces left in 2014.
At what would be named Fire Base Bell — in honor of Staff Sgt. Vincent Bell, a Marine who died in Afghanistan in 2011 — Palka and his Marines began to establish security and build bunkers to protect from enemy fire.
The base was initially protected by 60 infantry Marines from Echo Co. 2/6 armed with rifles, machine-guns, and mortars, along with an Army unit providing radar equipment that would detect and zero in on rockets fired from ISIS positions. Marine artillerymen brought four M777A2 Howitzers to the base just days later.
The base was small and had no creature comforts, and troops dug holes where they would man their guns, fight, and sleep.
“It was austere. There was the constant threat 24/7,” Palka said. “My other deployments, you’d come back to a [forward operating base]. Or we’d remain on a FOB and shoot fire support in support of maneuver. We didn’t have an adjacent unit to our left and our right. We were the only general purpose ground force forward. There was no wire.”
Though the Pentagon tried to keep the presence of Marines being back in Iraq quiet, those efforts were thwarted just one week after Palka arrived.
On March 19, Bell was hit once again by rockets fired from ISIS positions located roughly 15 miles away.
“It was no surprise that we were rocketed,” Palka said, noting that military planners had determined that Russian-made 122mm Katyusha rockets were the weapon of choice for ISIS at the time.
“I had received indirect fire on previous deployments, but nothing that large,” he said.
Unfortunately, the first rocket impact that day was a direct hit on the 1st gun position on the line. “As soon as it impacted, it was obvious there were casualties,” he said.
27-year-old Staff Sgt. Louis Cardin was killed, and eight other Marines on Gun One were wounded. Immediately, the other Marines began running toward the rocketed position to render medical care, despite a second rocket landing just a few hundred meters away.
“It was amazing to see them,” Palka said. “The manifestation of all of our training coming to fruition.”
Meanwhile, the Army counter-battery radar site honed in on where the rockets had come from. And Palka, according to a military document summarizing his performance, calmly assessed casualties, called for medical evacuations, and executed an artillery counter-fire mission of seven rounds back at ISIS’ firing point. The document noted that the enemy’s rocket position was “effectively” suppressed.
“Dave kept the team focused while they did the evacuation of casualties,” Lively said. “They ran the counter battery mission [as] the fire base was attacked.”
‘This was as kinetic as anything that I had experienced before’
Echo Battery’s mission in Iraq was to set up a small outpost that could provide indirect fire support to Iraqi troops on the front lines. Artillerymen kept busy doing just that. Over the course of slightly more than 60 days at the site, the unit fired more than 2,000 rounds, including high-explosive, illumination, and smoke.
Those efforts made them a big target, as ISIS shot more than 34 rounds at their positions during that time. All told, the unit was attacked on 13 different occasions, which included rockets, small arms, and suicide attacks.
“This was as kinetic as anything that I had experienced before,” Palka said.
On two occasions, the base was attacked in a coordinated fashion by about a dozen or so ISIS fighters armed with suicide vests, small arms, machine-guns, and grenades.
The first, which came just two days after Cardin’s death, began with an ISIS fighter detonating his suicide vest against an obstacle of concertina wire.
The Marines fought back over a period of three hours on the night of March 21, eventually killing all of the ISIS fighters with no American casualties. The artillerymen, just over 2,000 feet from the enemy positions, fired illumination rounds as the grunts on the perimeter engaged with their rifles and machine guns.
“I’d say that ISIS and the enemy that we encountered in Iraq this past time… they were more bold. The fact that they would infiltrate the forward line of troops and attempt to engage a Marine element with foreign fighters,” Palka said. “Their weaponry, and their tactics were more advanced. They were more well-trained than any other force that my Marines had directly engaged on previous deployments.”
While Echo Battery fired its guns almost “daily,” it expended much of its ammunition in support of Iraqi forces gearing up to assault the city of Mosul later that year. Ahead of the October offensive to take back Iraq’s second-largest city from the Islamic State, the unit fired off more than 1,300 rounds in support of Iraqi troops attempting to take back villages on the outskirts of the city.
“Our mission was to provide force protection fire support to Iraqi security forces, which we did,” Palka said.
The unit also had a number of “firsts” besides its presence back in Iraq, to include the Corps’ first combat use of precision-guided fuses — which make artillery rounds hit with pinpoint accuracy — and the successful employment of the Army’s TPQ-53 Radar system alongside Marines, which helped them quickly identify where rockets were coming from so they could be taken out.
“There’s nothing I can put into words about how I feel about the Marines in that unit,” Palka said. “Words don’t do it justice. There’s something that you feel and sense when you walk into a room with them.”
Brittany Boccher, the 2017 Armed Forces Insurance Air Force Spouse of the Year, was named the 2017 AFI Military Spouse of the Year today in a ceremony held in the Hall of Flags at the Chamber of Commerce in Washington, D.C.
Boccher, who lives with her husband and two children aboard Little Rock Air Force Base in Arkansas, has been a military spouse for 11 years.
The president of the Little Rock Spouses’ Club and a board member for the LRAFB Thrift Store, Boccher has devoted years to her military spouse community. In 2016, she helped raise $20,000 in funds and donations with her fellow board members, increased LRSC participation by 800 percent, and providing backpacks for over 300 military children, and more.
Boccher was key to the passage of Arkansas’ House Bill 1162, a law designed to offer tax relief to military retirees who settle in Arkansas.
She is the founder and director of the Down Syndrome Advancement Coalition, a non-profit organization that creates a partnership across Arkansas between other Down Syndrome organizations in order to better advocate for children with the disorder.
Boccher was also advocated for changes to playgrounds and commissaries aboard LRAFB, pressing the installation to make the playgrounds ADA accessible and to secure Caroline Carts for special needs patrons of the commissaries.
In addition to her philanthropic work with military spouses and special needs children, Boccher has her Bachelors Degree in Community Health Education and Kinesiology, a Masters Degree in Nonprofit Leadership and Management, and runs two companies, Brittany Boccher Photography and Mason Chix apparel.
According to her nomination acceptance, Boccher hopes to spend her year as the 2017 AFI Military Spouse of the Year advocating for the Exceptional Family Member Program families and to continue empowering military spouses to success.
Fighter jets in 20-years may likely contain the next-generation of stealth technology, electronic warfare, sophisticated computer processing and algorithms, increased autonomy, hypersonic weapons and so-called “smart-skins” where sensors are built into the side of the aircraft itself.
Some of these characteristics may have been on display earlier this year when Northrop Grumman’s SuperBowl AD revealed a flashy first look at its rendering of a new 6th-generation fighter jet. Northrop is one of a number of major defense industry manufacturers who will bid for a contract to build the new plane – when the time is right.
The new aircraft, engineered to succeed the 5th-generation F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and explode onto the scene by the mid 2030s, is now in the earliest stages of conceptual development with the Air Force and Navy. The two services are now working together on early conceptual discussions about the types of technologies and capabilities the aircraft will contain. While the Air Force has not yet identified a platform for the new aircraft.
The Navy’s new aircraft will, at least in part, replace the existing inventory of F/A-18 Super Hornets which will start to retire by 2035, Navy officials said.
The Navy vision for a future carrier air wing in 2040 and beyond is comprised of the carrier-launched variant of the Joint Strike Fighter, the F-35C, and legacy aircraft such as the EA-18G Growler electronic jamming aircraft.
Also, around this time is when Navy planners envision its 6th generation aircraft to be ready, an aircraft which will likely be engineered for both manned and unmanned missions.
Technologies are rapidly advancing in coatings, electromagnetic spectrum issues, maneuvering, superiority in sensing the battlespace, communications and data links, Navy leaders have said.
Navy officials also add that the Navy is likely to develop new carrier-launched unmanned air vehicles in coming years as well.
Analysts have speculated that as 6th generation developers seek to engineer a sixth-generation aircraft, they will likely explore a range of next-generation technologies such as maximum sensor connectivity, super cruise ability and an aircraft with electronically configured “smart skins.”
Maximum connectivity would mean massively increased communications and sensor technology such as having an ability to achieve real-time connectivity with satellites, other aircraft and anything that could provide relevant battlefieldinformation.Thenew aircraft might also seek to develop the ability to fire hypersonic weapons, however such a development would hinge upon successful progress with yet-to-be-proven technologies such as scramjets traveling at hypersonic speeds. Some tests of early renderings of this technology have been tested successfully and yet other attempts have failed.
Super cruise technology would enable the new fighter jet to cruise at supersonic speeds without needing afterburner, analysts have explained.
Smart aircraft skins would involve dispersing certain technologies or sensors across the fuselage and further integrating them into the aircraft itself, using next-generation computer algorithms to organize and display information for the pilot.
Smart skins with distributed electronics means that instead of having systems mounted on the aircraft, you would have apertures integrated on the skin of the aircraft, analysts have said.
This could reduce drag, increase speed and maneuverability while increasing the technological ability of the sensors.
It is also possible that the new 6th-generation fighter could use advanced, futuristic stealth technology able to enable newer, more capable air defenses. The air defenses of potential adversaries are increasingly using faster computing processing power and are better networked together, more digital, able to detect a wider range of frequencies and able to detect stealthy aircraft at farther distances.
The new 6th-generation fighter will also likely fire lasers and have the ability to launch offensive electronic attacks.
Many researchers are working to create the next revolution in drones for both war and peace. At the University of Pennsylvania, teams of researchers headed by Dr. Vijay Kumar are making progress on autonomous UAVs. Since they’re autonomous, they don’t need human operators, just the command to begin a task.
The robots created at Kumar Labs are designed for disaster relief and agricultural work, but could change the way the infantry operates, assaulting contested buildings and objectives alongside troops and performing a variety of services.
The first step to moving drones from overwatch in the skies to clearing buildings with squads is getting them into the buildings. The autonomous UAVs created by researchers weigh between 20 grams and 2 kilograms, feature a quad-rotor design that allows hovering, and are nimble, allowing them to fly through small windows or openings.
Of course, if multiple drones are needed on a mission, the drones have to be able to enter the building and move around without interfering with each other or the human squad. UPENN researchers have created different ways for the drones to behave around each other. The copters can simply avoid one another while working independently or on a shared task, follow a designated group leader, or operate in a coordinated swarm as shown below.
Once inside of a building or a village, the drones would get to work. They could move ahead of the squad and create 3D maps of buildings the squad or platoon expects to hit soon.
The little UAVs are capable of lifting objects on order individually or as part of a team. Fire teams that are decisively engaged could quickly request more ammo be brought to their position and see it arrive slung underneath the autonomous drones. Medics could designate a casualty collection point and begin combat casualty care as more supplies are ferried to them. Drones could even be used as suicide bombers, moving explosives to a point on the battlefield and detonating their cargo.
The drones can also construct obstacles. While currently limited to cubic structures made from modular parts, the drones build according to preset designs without the need for human oversight. Platoon leaders could designate priorities and locations of simple construction and the drones would begin completing their assignments. Metal frames could be placed inside windows and other openings to prevent enemy drones from accessing structures. Mines or flares could be placed by drones on the approaches to the objective, slowing an enemy counterattack and warning friendly forces.
Of course, the copters are also capable of completing the traditional drone mission: Surveillance. While not as fast as the larger drones already in use, they could extend the eyes of the drone fleet into buildings. Also, since they can follow preset waypoints, the drones could continuously patrol an assigned area on their own, only requiring a human’s interaction when they spot something suspicious. The drone can even perch on an outcropping or velcro itself to a landing spot, allowing it to turn off its motors and become silent.
Dr. Kumar discussed the robots, the science behind them, and where he hopes to take them during a 2012 TED Talk.