Editor’s Note: On April 15, 2018, R. Lee Ermey passed away from complications of pneumonia. His long time manager, Bill Rogin, made the announcement via Ermey’s twitter handle. In honor of his passing, We Are The Mighty is proud to share these facts about America’s favorite Gunny.
Most people know R. Lee Ermey from his role as Gunnery Sergeant Hartman in Stanley Kubrick’s “Full Metal Jacket.” And if you somehow joined the military and never saw “Full Metal Jacket,” the first question anyone would ask is “How is that even possible?” But the second would be “How much do you know about this guy, anyway?”
Ermey didn’t go right into acting and if it weren’t for his Marine Corps-level determination, we might never know him at all. Which would be a shame, because his life before and after “Full Metal Jacket” is equally interesting.
1. His first job after the military was untraditional.
Ermey was medically retired from the Marine Corps and was at a loss about what to do as a civilian. He told Entertainment Weekly in a 1997 interview that he “bought a run-down bar and whorehouse” in Okinawa. He had to leave the business behind when the Japanese FBI caught wind of his black marketing. He escaped to the Philippines, where he met his wife.
2. His first role was an Army helicopter pilot.
It was while in the Philippines that the future Gunnery Sergeant was cast in “Apocalypse Now” by Francis Ford Coppola himself. Ermey was studying drama and did a number of Filipino films before Coppola discovered him. You can see him in yet another legendary war movie scene.
3. He wasn’t supposed to be in “Full Metal Jacket.”
Ermey was doing his job as technical advisor, reading the part of Sgt. Hartman while interviewing extras for the film. They already hired another actor for the part but Ermey had a plan to get the part. He got the job as technical advisor because of his other roles in Vietnam movies. He taped the interviews he did as Hartman and Kubrick cast him after seeing those tapes.
Interestingly enough, Ermey wrote the insults he hurled at the Marines in the film. Kubrick never gave him input on what a drill instructor might say. He wrote 150 pages of insults.
4. Ermey is the only Marine to be promoted after retiring.
He rose to the rank of Staff Sergeant after spending 14 months in Vietnam and doing two tours in Okinawa. He was medically retired for the injuries he received during his service. But it was in 2002, that Marine Corps Commandant James L. Jones promoted Ermey to E-7, Gunnery Sergeant, the rank he became so well-known for. It was the first and only time the Corps has promoted a retiree.
5. He originally joined the Corps to stay out of jail – and almost went Navy.
In the old days, joining the military was an option for at-risk youth and juvenile delinquents to avoid real jail time. Ermey was arrested twice as a teen. He admits to being a bit of a hell-raiser. And he didn’t even know about the Marine Corps the day he decided to join.
“Basically a silver-haired judge, a kindly old judge, looked down at me and said ‘this is the second time I’ve seen you up here and it looks like we’re going to have to do something about this,” Ermey told a gathering in 2010. He wanted to join the Navy because his father was in the Navy, but they rejected him on the grounds that he was a troublemaker.
Communications troops don’t get nearly the amount of love that they deserve. Sure, the job description is very attractive to the more nerdy troops in formation and they’re far more likely to be in supporting roles than kicking in doors with the grunts, but they’re constantly working.
In Afghanistan, while everyone else is still asleep, the S-6 shop is up at 0430 doing radio work. This is just one of the many tasks the commo world is gifted with having.
(U.S. Army Photo)
The reason they’re up so early is because they need to change the communications security (or COMSEC) regularly. In order to ensure that no enemy force is able to hack their way into the military’s secure radio systems, the crypto-key that is encoded onto the radio is changed out.
Those keys are changed out at exactly the same moment everywhere around the world for all active radio systems. Because it would be impractical to set the time that COMSEC changes over at, the global time for radio systems is set in Zulu time, which is the current time in London’s GMT/UTC +0 time zone.
For troops stationed in Korea or Japan, this gives them a pleasant 0900 to change the COMSEC. Troops on America’s west coast have 1600 (which is great because it’s right before closeout formation.) If they’re stationed in Afghanistan however, they get the unarguably terrible time of 0430.
Each and every radio system that will be used needs to be refilled by the appropriate radio operator. When this is just before a patrol, the sole radio operator with the SKL (the device used to encrypt radios) will usually be jokingly heckled to move faster. The process usually takes a few minutes per radio, which could take a while.
This is also why the radios themselves are set to Zulu time. If the radio is not programmed to Zulu time — or if it’s slightly off —it won’t read the encryption right and radio transmissions won’t be effective. This goes to the exact second.
So maybe cut your radio guy some slack. The only time they could be spending sleeping is used to program radios.
On a summer morning in a desolate corner of Iraq’s western desert, Jim Mattis learned he’d narrowly evaded an assassination attempt.
A Sunni Arab man had been caught planting a bomb on a road shortly before Mattis and his small team of Marines passed by. Told the captured insurgent spoke English, Mattis decided to talk to him.
After Mattis offered a cigarette and coffee, the man said he tried to kill the general and his fellow Marines because he resented the foreigner soldiers in his land. Mattis said he understood the sentiment but assured the insurgent he was headed for Abu Ghraib, the infamous U.S.-run prison. What happened next explains the point of the story.
“General,” the man asked Mattis, “if I am a model prisoner, do you think someday I could emigrate to America?”
In Mattis’ telling, this insurgent’s question showed he felt “the power of America’s inspiration.” It was a reminder of the value of national unity.
Mattis, now the Pentagon boss and perhaps the most admired member of President Donald Trump’s Cabinet, is a storyteller. And at no time do the tales flow more easily than when he’s among the breed he identifies with most closely — the men and women of the military.
The anecdote about the Iraqi insurgent, and other stories he recounted during a series of troop visits shortly before Christmas, are told with purpose.
“I bring this up to you, my fine young sailors, because I want you to remember that on our worst day we’re still the best going, and we’re counting on you to take us to the next level,” he said. “We’ve never been satisfied with where America’s at. We’re always prone to looking at the bad things, the things that aren’t working right. That’s good. It’s healthy, so long as we then roll up our sleeves and work together, together, together, to make it better.”
The stories tend to be snippets of Mattis’ personal history, including moments he believes illustrate the deeper meaning of military service.
On a trip last month to the U.S. Navy base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and three domestic military installations, Mattis revealed himself in ways rarely seen in Washington, where he has studiously maintained a low public profile. With no news media in attendance except one Associated Press reporter, Mattis made clear during his troop visits that he had not come to lecture or to trade on his status as a retired four-star general.
“Let’s just shoot the breeze for a few minutes,” he said at one point.
Another time he opened with, “My name is Mattis, and I work at the Department of Defense.”
Mattis used stories to emphasize that today’s uncertain world means every military member needs to be ready to fight at a moment’s notice.
He recalled the words of a Marine sergeant major when Mattis was just two years into his career:
“Every week in the fleet Marine force is your last week of peace,” the sergeant major said. “If you don’t go into every week thinking like this, you’re going to have a sick feeling in the bottom of your stomach when your NCOs (non-commissioned officers) knock on your door and say, ‘Get up. Get your gear on. We’re leaving.'”
By leaving, Mattis meant departing for war.
A recurring Mattis theme is that the military operates in a fundamentally unpredictable world. He recalled how he was hiking with his Marines in the Sierra Nevadas in August 1990 when he got word to report with his men to the nearest civilian airport. Iraq’s Saddam Hussein had just invaded Kuwait, and the Marines were needed to hold the line in Saudi Arabia.
In an exchange with Marines at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, Mattis recalled sitting in the back of a room at the Pentagon in June 2001 while senior political appointees of the new George W. Bush administration fired questions at a military briefer about where they should expect to see the most worrisome security threats. At one point, Mattis said, the briefer said confidently that amid all the uncertainty, the one place the U.S. definitely would not be fighting was Afghanistan.
“Five and a half months later, I was shivering in Afghanistan,” Mattis said, referring to his role as commander of Task Force 58, a special group that landed in southern Afghanistan aboard helicopters flown from Navy ships in the Arabian Sea to attack the Taliban in and around Kandahar.
Regardless how much they resonate with his young audience, Mattis’ stories illustrate how he sees his military experience as a way to connect with troops who often feel distant from their political leaders. They also are a reminder Mattis’ boss is one of the most politically divisive figures in recent history.
Speaking to troops and family members at an outdoor movie theater at Guantanamo, Mattis pointed directly to the political battles.
“I’m so happy to be in Guantanamo that I could cry right now, to be out of Washington,” he said, adding jokingly that he wouldn’t mind spending the rest of his tenure away from the capital. He said as soon as he gets back in the company of uniformed troops, he is reminded of why the military can set a standard for civility.
“Our country needs you,” he said, and not just because of the military’s firepower. “It’s also the example you set for the country at a time it needs good role models; it needs to look at an organization that doesn’t care what gender you are, it doesn’t care what religion you are, it doesn’t care what ethnic group you are. It’s an organization that can work together.”
Remember those days in the military where early morning briefings forced several attendees to stand up and walk to the back of the room to keep from dozing off? Maybe some did push-ups during intermission to stave off sleepiness.
In North Korea, that struggle can be a matter of life and death.
Just the other day, a few push-ups might have saved Ri Yong Jin, a North Korean education minister, from a horrible fate. He was arrested for dozing off during a meeting with DPRK dictator Kim Jong Un, according to Jane Onyanga-Omara of USA Today.
He was accused of corruption and sentenced to die. The method?
The Committee for Human Rights in North Korea released a report in 2015 detailing satellite imagery that shows what they believe to be a special military facility for such executions. Located just outside of the DPRK capital of Pyongyang, the Kanggon Military Facility contains a 100-meter firing range, complete with viewing area that’s big enough to accommodate anti-aircraft guns.
In October 2014, the regular firing lanes were replaced with six ZPU-4 anti-aircraft guns, using fearsome 14.5mm caliber rounds – a total of 24 heavy guns. Many believe an execution was performed at the Kanggon site just after a satellite grabbed an image of the guns.
Since taking power in 2012, Kim Jong Un spent much of his time consolidating his power base, executing the “old guard” of his father’s regime and keeping only Kim Jong Un stalwarts to prevent a coup. This isn’t even the first time he used anti-aircraft guns to execute a high-level official.
This time around, Kim Jong Un also executed an official in the agriculture ministry with AA fire because his policy efforts contradicted the young dictator’s directives. In 2015, the DPRK’s defense minister was reportedly killed by ZPU-4 guns. The regime has been known to use mortars and flamethrowers to execute dissidents and officials. Kim Jong Un even reportedly fed his uncle to a pack of hungry dogs.
A recent spat of high-profile defections to South Korea aren’t helping things settle down in the North. A public relations official for North Korea, based in London defected to the South with his family in August. Voice of America’s Youmi Kim quoted South Korean President Park-Geun Hye as saying the defections are a mark of the North’s current instability.
“Recently, even North Korea’s elite group is collapsing, followed by key North Korean figures defecting to foreign countries, showing a sign of serious cracks with chances of shaking the regime higher,” Park told VOA.
There’s one thing everyone can agree with President Donald Trump on about the street gang MS-13: The group specializes in spectacular violence. Its members attack in groups, in the woods, at night, luring teens to their deaths with the promise of girls or weed. One Long Island boy told me he doesn’t go to parties anymore because he worries any invitation could be a trap. A victim’s father showed me a death certificate that said his son’s head had been bashed in, then lowered his voice and added that the boy’s bones had been marked by machete slashes, but he didn’t want the mother to know that. A teenager who has left the gang told me he considers himself dead already, and is just trying to make sure MS-13 doesn’t kill his family.
I’m spending the year reporting on MS-13 members and their associates. I’ve been combing through their text messages. I’m talking with the detectives building cases against killers not yet old enough to buy cigarettes. And I’ve been spending long evenings with the gang’s victims, who often start crying as soon as they start talking about the violence that has marred their lives. Everyone agrees the gang is bloodthirsty. Most of the other assertions I’ve heard from the Trump administration about MS-13 have almost no connection to what I’m seeing on the ground.
1. MS-13 Is Not Organizing to Foil Immigration Law
Trump often talks about how MS-13 has carried out a string of murders in the suburbs outside New York City. One of the first things I did when I started reporting was talk to the ex-girlfriend of the gang leader charged with ordering six of those killings in 2016 and 2017. The girl sat at a Panera Bread in a Long Island strip mall and told how he had kidnapped and raped her shortly after her 15th birthday, threatened her family, and forced her to get a tattoo of his name on her arm. As I talked to her, I imagined a man like the ones I had seen in news reports on MS-13 — chins jutted out, arms strong from lifting weights, and gothic tattoos of the letters M and S on their faces and chests. I was shocked when I eventually saw this gang leader in court; he was a baby-faced 19-year-old who blushed when girls waved to him from the gallery. The indictment against him laid out killings that were ordered in response to adolescent trash talking.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions has called MS-13 the most brutal of the gangs driving the drug trade, and promised to go after the group like the government went after mob boss Al Capone. Really, experts have found the gang has barely any role in the international drug trade. The Congressional Research Service said that it could be misleading to call MS-13 a transnational criminal organization at all, because it has no central leader or global ambitions. The gang is made up of sometimes competing cliques, often led by teenagers most interested in wielding power over other young people in their immediate circles.
On Long Island, a detective told me police officers call MS-13 members “mighty munchkins,” because they have often not yet hit their growth spurts and tend to commit their crimes in large groups. They meet at night because, while other criminal organizations have massive international revenue streams, these guys — even the leaders — have to work menial jobs and sometimes go to school during the day. Each clique has its own shot caller, and its own hyperlocal focus. On Long Island, the gang’s focus has often been on controlling the halls of a single high school.
2. MS-13 Is Not Posing as Fake Families at the Border
In justifying the policy of child separation, Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen said, “The kids are being used as pawns by the smugglers and the traffickers. Those are traffickers, those are smugglers and that is MS-13.” The theory is that Central American gang leaders are showing up at the border falsely claiming to be the parents of children, and are also instructing unaccompanied minors to go to the U.S. and claim territory.
Actually, there have been fewer than 200 cases of false family claims this year — a fraction of 1 percent of the total number of families apprehended at the border — and there is no indication that any of those cases involved MS-13. Of the hundreds of thousands of unaccompanied minors that have come to the U.S. since 2012, Border Patrol says only 56 were suspected of MS-13 ties.
The gang is trying to find new members, but there’s no need to step on the toes of the Mexican gangs that control human smuggling to do it. Long Island teenagers tell me that when they show up to school, gang members sit down next to them at lunch and ask them to join. Many— worn down by loneliness, boredom and the threat of violence if they try to refuse — accept the invitation.
People who study MS-13 agree that when young gang members travel from El Salvador to the U.S., they are driven by the same economic factors driving other Central American immigrants. Even the 19-year-old gang leader charged with six murders on Long Island told his ex-girlfriend he was not a member of the gang when he came to the U.S. from El Salvador. He said it was only later, in the New York suburbs, that he was recruited.
And some MS-13 members are born right here. The Suffolk County Police Department examined a sample of active MS-13 members and found that just a quarter had come to the U.S. as unaccompanied minors. The natural conclusion: This is not a border issue. It’s a recruitment issue.
3. MS-13 Is Sticking Around, but It’s Not Growing
Trump talks about the gang as if it is suddenly taking over. “The weak illegal immigration policies of the Obama Admin. allowed bad MS 13 gangs to form in cities across U.S.,” he wrote in a tweet.
MS-13 has been stubbornly persistent, but it remains a boutique criminal organization, accounting for a tiny portion of 1.4 million gang members nationwide. Trump’s Justice Department says there are about 10,000 MS-13 members in the U.S., the same number as 10 years ago. There’s also nothing new about MS-13 alarmism. Back in 2005, Newsweek ran a cover story about the group, citing its 10,000 members, under the headline, “The most dangerous gang in America.”
On Long Island, the murder people cite most often when talking about MS-13’s brutality is the killing of a two-year-old and his mother back in 2010. But the gang’s history goes back much further than that; the FBI set up a Long Island task force to crack down on the gang in 2003. And MS-13 never invaded the U.S at all. It was founded in Los Angeles in the 1980s, and then mixed with California prison gang culture and was exported to El Salvador.
The group remains significantly smaller than the Crips, the Bloods and the Latin Kings; it’s also smaller than several gangs you’ve probably never heard of, like the Gangster Disciples in Chicago. Even the Center for Immigration Studies, which has been labeled an extremist group for its anti-immigrant ideology, can’t come up with more than an average of 35 murders per year attributed to MS-13 — far fewerthan that Chicago gang you didn’t know existed.
MS-13 is not the largest, the most violent, or the fastest-growing gang, but it is the U.S. gang most strongly tied to Central America, which is where the majority of asylum-seeking teenagers come from. In that way, it’s the perfect focal point for Trump’s message of closed borders.
4. MS-13 Is Preying on a Specific Community, Not the Country at Large
When confronted in June 2018 with audio obtained by ProPublica of wailing children separated from their parents, White House Communications Adviser Mercedes Schlapp said, “What’s very heartbreaking is to watch Americans who have lost their children because of the MS-13 gang members.” But the vast majority of MS-13 victims are young immigrants, many of them undocumented.
I often think about this when I’m out reporting. In 2018 I have reached out to current gang members and added them as friends on Facebook. I’ve visited the homes of people on the local clique’s kill list, and heard their police-issued panic buttons hum under tables and behind doors. I’ve explored the wooded areas Long Island police call “the killing fields,” where bodies have been found. I feel safe doing this because MS-13 rarely goes after true outsiders — people who are not friends with any gang members or targets for recruitment. The closest I’ve found in Long Island to a totally random victim was a worker at a Central American deli who was hurt when a bullet passed through the head of a targeted victim.
The White House put out a statement in May 2018 that described recent murders carried out by “MS-13 animals.” Lost in the controversy over whether it was OK to call gang members animals was the fact that of the six identified victims, five were immigrants and the other was a child of immigrants.
5. Immigration Raids and Deportation Can Only Go So Far
Secretary Nielsen said in June 2018 that the presence of MS-13 in the U.S. is “the exclusive product of loopholes in our federal immigration laws.” The loopholes she is talking about are actually specific protections contained in United Nations conventions on refugees and torture, which the U.S. ratified. The U.S. is obligated to allow Central American immigrants to stay in the country while their asylum claims are processed, which can take years. If the person pleading asylum is a minor, they are supposed to be released to relatives.
But if U.S. officials determine that a teenager is a gang member, they stay in custody. And immigration officials can also re-detain teenagers who are recruited into MS-13 once they get here. Dozens of Long Island teenagers were re-detained in 2017 on suspicion of gang ties. The problem is that it can be hard to tell who is in the gang and who is just adopting gang style. MS-13 has its own music and aesthetic, bound up in Central American pride. On Long Island, some immigrant teens use MS-13 markers as a fashion statement, the way American kids might once have worn the blue bandanas associated with the Crips because they liked Snoop Dogg.
I sat in on one hearing for a Long Island 17-year-old who had been detained for half a year after he wrote the El Salvador telephone code, “503,” in a notebook at school. He had spent some of that time in a detention center now under investigation for child abuse. At the hearing, an immigration judge ordered the teen released and openly mocked the gang charges. “I note that ‘503’ is an area code,” the judge said. “He may have had his grandmother’s phone number written in his notebook. We don’t know. But I think this is slim, slim evidence on which to base the continuing detention of an unaccompanied child.”
That’s not to say that all of the immigrant teenagers accused of gang affiliation are innocent. But Immigration and Customs Enforcement has arrested some 8,000 suspected MS-13 members in the past decade. If deportation was all it took, the gang would be gone by now.
This all matters because the gang really is terrorizing a portion of the population: young Latino immigrants in a few specific communities.
In May 2018, I accompanied the mother of a high school freshman killed by MS-13 to a Trump event on Long Island. Inside a government building, the president railed against the gang. “They killed a cop for the sake of making a statement. They wanted to make a statement, so they killed a cop,” he said. (They did not kill a cop.)
Outside, the mother drifted between a pro-Trump rally and a counter protest. She took tranquilizer pills so she could face local reporters, and then told them she was unsure if Trump really cared about victims like her. She said she hoped the president’s fixation on MS-13 might spur changes that will keep other kids from being attacked and recruited by the gang.
But for any policy to work, it needs to be rooted in reality.
Robin Williams went on six separate USO tours from 2002 to 2013. Williams inspired countless other comedians and performers to pack their bags and head overseas to share their light with the world. There are hundreds of stories that surround the humanity of each and every visit Williams had.
For example, take the time on the 2007 USO Chairman’s Holiday Tour, where Williams saw a group of soldiers waving at him from behind a fence across a grassy berm. A wave and a loud joke across the field would’ve surely made those soldiers day… But according to USO VP of Entertainment Rachel Tischler, “… he jumped across the berm and went running over to them. Obviously, our security team completely freaked out. Again – height of the war here. But he didn’t care. He just wanted to go over and shake their hands and thank them. And that is what he was like.”
That’s the thing with Williams. He didn’t just go overseas and perform a couple of comedy sets and dip out. That, in and of itself, would still be a beautiful act of service. But that wasn’t enough for Williams. He jumped the berm in everything he did.
“What was great about him on tour was that he always took the time to sit down and talk to people about what they were going through, what life on the base was like, about personal experiences,” Tischler said. “And then he’d get on stage and he’d be telling a joke about Mexican Night in the [dining facility].”
Robin Williams as troops “Retreat” at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait
Williams wasn’t just a loose cannon of human decency on USO Tours, either. He was also a respectful observer of military tacit codes. Just watch this video of Williams’s set being cut short by Taps at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait.
At the first sound of the beagle, you can almost feel his gut lurching to make a joke. Every single time that Williams had gone on stage, he was a comedic amoeba, calling out things happening in the present moment. He had conditioned himself to make a joke there. But he resisted. He pulled against his greater impulses, and respectfully lowered his head.
You can tell it meant something to him, as he said “I’m never going to forget that.” And what happened next is quintessential Robin Williams— he made a joke about the present moment that unified the entire camp.
Holiday Tour, International Airport in Baghdad (2003)
(Mike Theiler. EPA.)
Unity is the central theme of Robin Williams USO tours, and that’s the legacy left behind. Every man and woman stationed who got to see him took a piece of Williams back with them. Williams loved it too, “There’s nothing I enjoy more than traveling with the USO and giving back to our troops in whatever way I can,” he said, “They work hard, sacrifice a lot and deserve to be treated like the heroes they are. The very least I can do is bring a smile to their faces.”
Many comedians have followed in his footsteps of unity since: Lewis Black, Louis CK, Ralphie May, and Stephen Colbert, just to name a few. As our country feels increasingly disjointed, it’s important to focus on the “Robin Williams” moments; we can reach across the aisle and truly connect with each other.
Whenever we feel distant from each other, we don’t have to shout from behind a fence. We can jump the berm.
The job title “military linguist” sounds pretty impressive, right? It should, since linguists work around the world to translate highly classified documents and connect with troops and allied forces.
You don’t have to know anything but English to go into that career, either. That’s where the Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center comes in. It’s one of the world’s foremost language schools that can make you fluent quickly, whether you’re learning Arabic, Farsi, Pashto or Mandarin Chinese.
The DLIFLC teaches 17 foreign languages in Monterey, California. Most enlisted students take its immersion courses to go into military intelligence jobs, while federal employees from other agencies, such as the FBI and National Security Agency, also go there.
It’s no cake walk
The courses are intense. They’re six to seven hours a day (NOT including homework), five days a week, and they last for 64 weeks over three semesters.
“Usually starting from the second month of their study, the teachers – we already use almost all of the target language in the classroom,” said Zhenshuai Liu, one of the DLI’s many native Chinese-language instructors.
Utah Army National Guard Pfc. Logan Jensen and Air Force Airman 1st Class Joseph Rutledge are two of the school’s current students. Both loved language and culture going into it, but neither knew a word of Mandarin. Rutledge said he was nearly panicked when his class began having days without using any English.
(Army photo by Patrick Bray)
“You definitely realize how much you do and don’t know all at the same time,” he said. “They do it in such a way that it’s manageable … but you’re definitely out of your comfort zone.”
Air Force Tech Sgt. Benjamin Walton, the school’s chief military language instructor, knows all about that. Walton was a DLI student a decade ago. He was trained in Chinese, too.
“It kicked my butt, but I was able to survive it,” he said. “None of the students are prepared for the amounts of information and the pace of the course and what they’re going to have to go through when they come here.”
That’s not a knock on the students, though, who are very bright.
“Students who coasted through high school and those who even may have coasted through college – they really didn’t have to study much,” Walton said. “They all come here … and think they’re going to jump into this and ace it, despite our repeated warnings.”
(Army photo by Patrick Bray)
But they’re still fast learners. Liu said DLI students only need about one week to learn basic syllables and phonetic sequences to the level of greeting people.
“In a civilian school, this can usually take one semester,” Liu said.
Jensen and Rutledge were about a third of the way through the course when we spoke, and they were learning 25-30 words a day, as well as how to distinguish them – an often confusing task.
“A lot of them sound alike. So, you could say one thing, and depending on the context or tone you say it in, it could have up to five different meanings,” said Jensen, who spent the first few months drinking a lot of coffee and doing pushups to stay awake. “You’re spending so much brain power just trying to understand what you need to do.”
The keys to learning
Liu said the key is to link your interests with the language so you can stay motivated and keep up with the pace. The school incorporates extracurricular activities such as cooking days, storytelling of legendary warriors and heroes, and there are immersion trips to places like a local Chinese market to get the students to appreciate the culture.
(Army photo by Patrick Bray)
“You have to be interested in it in order for it to be successful,” Rutledge said.
And that’s not guaranteed. In general, the success rate for students at DLI is 75 percent. Some can’t keep up academically, while others fail out due to disciplinary reasons. Walton said the students who make it to the end of the Chinese course have one of the highest passing rates – 95 percent – which makes students’ “ah-ha moments” so satisfying.
“To actually be able to get through to somebody – that’s the reason why we [instructors] came back here … to try to impart our wisdom to the students now,” Walton said.
Most of the students who do succeed reach the college level of understanding within a year and a half, which requires a lot of studying. Some students listen to the language in the shower, while others review flashcards whenever they have the chance. Liu calls them “super students.”
“They don’t only take care of their study, they actually have military duty after class hours. They have to go to training and pass all the tests,” he said.
If the students do well, they get the chance to go to Taiwan or mainland China to do a month of immersive language study.
(Army photo by Patrick Bray)
Jensen and Rutledge still have a way to go before they finish the course. But they’re getting there.
“In some ways, the grammar is similar, even sometimes easier,” Rutledge said. “Sometimes you can express rather complex ideas in very few words or written characters.”
One thing’s for sure: it takes a lot of focus, especially as a military student.
“If you slip up on a test or opt to go out and have drinks with friends instead of study, that can really come back to bite you,” Rutledge said, who will be a cryptologic language analyst when he’s finished at DLI. He isn’t sure if he’ll stay in the military long term, but either way, he’d like to be a translator or do international business, both of which will make the course worth it.
The DLI’s headquarters is in California, but it has the ability to instruct another 65 languages through its Washington, D.C., branch. There are also several language training detachments at sites in the U.S., Europe, Hawaii and Korea.
Over years of watching war films, hearing grandpa’s stories, poring over documentaries, and hanging on the every word of your local veteran bullsh**ters, you built up an expectation of military service that couldn’t possibly be met.
So, by the end your enlistment comes to a close, it’s safe to say that the time spent in uniform did not go as expected. Honorable service? Yes. High standards of professionalism? Absolutely. Reaching a physical apex never before thought reasonable or possible? Check marks the box. But was it anything like the Space Marines in Aliens? Not even close. Did you single-handedly hold off an entire battalion of enemy soldiers? Probably not.
So, now you want out — but be careful what you wish for, because if you thought life on the inside wasn’t all it was cracked up to be, then you’re in for a real surprise once you get out.
These are the seven stages of separation that all veterans go through after getting that DD-214. It’s the response to the physical, mental, and emotional letdown endured when civilian life doesn’t match our high expectations. It’s the process of realizing that maybe — just maybe — leaving the finest fighting force this planet has ever known wasn’t the best idea. At least not yet.
They are as follows:
“You mean I can just… go? Just like that?!”
Terminal leave is approved, you’ve had your final physicals, so it’s time to pack up your sh*t and run! Armed with a DD-214 and a dream, you flee from the nurturing embrace of your second parental institution to pursue all the things you shoulda, woulda, coulda done if it weren’t for that pesky contract.
Growth patterns, colors, and thickness may vary.
(“You Were Never Really Here” / Amazon Studios)
When one is held to a military standard for so long, it is only natural to act out. Separation is furry-faced freedom at its finest. This is a time of discovery for any former service member. Personally, I never knew I could grow a blood-red war beard that doesn’t quite flourish in specific spots. Now, after having experienced this second stage of separation, I know much more about myself, which is what it’s really all about.
(“Captain America” / Marvel)
Delusions of grandeur
Time makes the heart grow fonder — and it also makes you exaggerate the impact you had during your time in. Yes, your service is appreciated and you were definitely an essential cog in the machine, but don’t worry, the military will do fine in your absence. Most of the branches have been around for well over two-hundred years.
That’ll do, warrior. Let the next generation take it from here.
Add some cargo pants/shorts, flip flops, way more tattoos and BOOM!
We know, we know. Everything sucks. Civilians are all lazy and have no concept of discipline. Hollywood movies won’t stop messing up uniforms and military terms and Brad Pitt’s combat tactics are all wrong!
And don’t get us started on these crazy posts on Facebook. It’s up to you to correct the world and set things right.
We call this one, “gettin’ back into it.”
There’s no way around this one: you’ll gain weight. You might lose it later, but you’ll sure as hell gain it first. You will no longer be forced to PT, but you will swallow the same trash calories you did when you were a teenage warrior. The results may upset you.
Have some fun, my brothers and sisters. Life’s too short for your best years to be behind you. Sure, the military was an amazing experience and you earned your memories through by sharing suffering with some of the best friends you could ever have, but now is your time to make an impact on your own terms. Cultivate a strong sense of humor, try not to sweat the small stuff, and remember, it’s all small stuff.
Tom Cruise attended the ceremony virtually (U.S. Navy)
Naval aviators are often considered to be the best aviators in the world. The training is intensive and it can take students years to earn their wings of gold as fully qualified aviators. Although the Navy does confer the designation of Honorary Naval Aviator upon select individuals, the title is extremely exclusive. On September 24, 2020, producer Jerry Bruckheimer and actor Tom Cruise became the 35th and 36th Honorary Naval Aviators, respectively.
Bob Hope receives his wings at NAS Pensacola on May 8, 1986 (U.S. Navy)
The Honorary Naval Aviator Program was started in 1949 as a way for the Navy to honor individuals who have greatly contributed to or have provided outstanding service to Naval Aviation. Individuals who receive the title earn the right to wear the coveted gold wings and are entitled to all honors, courtesies, and privileges afforded to Naval Aviators. The program is managed by the Chief of Naval Operations, Director Air Warfare and final approval of a nomination is made by the Chief of Naval Operations. Famous Honorary Naval Aviators include Jim Neighbors of Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C. fame and Bob Hope.
On September 24, Bruckheimer and Cruise received their wings of gold from the Commander of Naval Air Forces, Vice Adm. DeWolfe Miller III, prior to an advance screening of Top Gun: Maverick at Paramount Studios in Los Angeles. The citation read:
In the history of motion pictures, there is not a more iconic aviation movie than the 1986 Paramount Pictures film Top Gun. Its characters, dialogue and imagery are ingrained in the minds of an entire generation of Americans. The movie captured the hearts of millions, making a profound positive impact on recruiting for Naval Aviation, and significantly promoted and supported Naval Aviation and put aircraft carriers and naval aircraft into popular culture.
Vice Adm. DeWolfe H. Miller III, Jerry Bruckheimer, and Rear Adm. Kenneth R. Whitesell following the winging ceremony (U.S. Navy)
Top Gun‘s contribution to Naval Aviation was arguably even greater than its box office success of 0 million. Following the civil unrest and turmoil of the 60s and 70s, the military was not an attractive prospect for many Americans. Top Gun made the military, and particularly Naval Aviation, cool again. Michael Ironside, who played Lt. Cdr. Rick ‘Jester’ Heatherly, noted how effective the film was at recruiting after two sailors approached him angrily following the release of Top Gun saying, “We joined because of that f*****g movie.” Perhaps it was too effective a recruiting tool.
In the sequel to the 1986 blockbuster hit and cultural icon, Cruise reprises his role as Pete ‘Maverick’ Mitchell with Bruckheimer returning to produce the film. Reportedly, Val Kilmer also returns to reprise his role as Tom ‘Iceman’ Kazansky. Top Gun: Maverick follows America’s favorite hotshot pilot into the cockpit as an instructor and is scheduled to premiere on July 2, 2021.
The Pentagon has identified the two soldiers killed in southern Afghanistan earlier this week as members of the 82nd Airborne Division.
The Fort Bragg-based soldiers were part of the 1st Brigade Combat Team, deployed in support of the Resolute Support Mission to train, advise and assist Afghan forces.
Spc. Christopher Michael Harris, 25, of Jackson Springs, and Sgt. Jonathan Michael Hunter, 23, of Columbus, Indiana, belonged to A Company, 2nd Battalion, 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment, officials said. Jackson Springs is in western Moore County, about an hour from the All American gate of Fort Bragg.
The soldiers were part of a convoy that was attacked south of Kandahar on Wednesday afternoon, according to officials. Four other soldiers were wounded in the attack, which involved a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device.
NATO officials in Afghanistan said the four wounded soldiers were receiving care at a coalition medical facility and that their injuries were not considered life-threatening.
“On behalf of the men and women of the Resolute Support Mission, I offer our deepest condolences to the families of our fallen comrades,” said Gen. John Nicholson, the top U.S. military officer in Afghanistan and a former commanding general of the 82nd Airborne Division. “These soldiers gave their lives in service of a mission that is critically important to the United States, our allies and partners. We will honor their sacrifice with our dedication to protect our homeland and complete the mission for which they sacrificed.”
The Department of Defense announced the names of the two soldiers killed in the attack late Thursday.
The Taliban has claimed responsibility for the attack that killed Harris and Hunter.
On Thursday, a separate attack killed another coalition soldier and injured six other personnel during a patrol near Kabul, officials said. The wounded were reported in stable condition at the U.S. military hospital at Bagram Airfield.
The patrol was struck by an IED during a partnered mission alongside Afghan soldiers.
There are about 15,500 coalition troops in Afghanistan in support of the 16-year-old war. About 8,400 of them are from the U.S. military, with more than 2,000 of that number hailing from Fort Bragg.
The 1st Brigade Combat Team alone has approximately 1,500 soldiers in Afghanistan, with troops in Kabul, Kandahar and other parts of the country. Most of the soldiers deployed in June, led by Col. Tobin Magsig and Command Sgt. Maj. Robert Cobb.
The soldiers have a variety of missions providing base security, protecting high-ranking military and government officials, serving as Theater Reserve Forces and training, advising and assisting Afghan security forces.
Harris and Hunter’s battalion, the 2nd Battalion, 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment, has been tasked with overseeing security for a tactical base in southern Afghanistan and serving as a quick reaction force to deal with nearby attacks.
“The entire Devil Brigade is deeply saddened by the loss of two beloved team members,” Magsig, the brigade commander, said in a statement released Thursday.
“Spc. Christopher Harris was an extraordinary young man and a phenomenal paratrooper,” Magsig said. “He regularly displayed the type of courage, discipline, and empathy that the nation expects from its warriors.”
“Sgt. Jonathon Hunter was the leader we all want to work for — strong, decisive, compassionate, and courageous,” the colonel added. “He was revered by his paratroopers and respected throughout his unit.”
Both of the soldiers were on their first deployment, officials said.
Harris joined the Army in October 2013 and Hunter joined in April 2014, according to the 82nd Airborne Division. Both men attended Basic Combat Training, Advanced Individual Training and Airborne School at Fort Benning, Georgia, before being assigned to the 1st Brigade.
“Chris and Jon lived and died as warriors. They will always be a part of the legacy of the Devil Brigade and their memory lives on in the hearts and minds of their fellow paratroopers,” Magsig said. “Our thoughts and prayers are centered on the families and loved ones of these two great Americans.”
As the war in Vietnam heated up during the mid-1960s, firearm manufacturers tried to sell the Army new rocket ammunition that could be fired from pistols and carbines, reducing the weight that soldiers carried while nearly doubling the velocity of their rounds.
Weapons manufacturing company MB Associates developed the first “gyrojet” weapons and led the charge in selling them to the U.S. military. The weapons featured rocket-powered rounds filled with a propellant that burned over time instead of exploding when the trigger was pulled.
The weapons had minimal recoil due to the lack of an initial explosion. This slow burn also created less noise, allowing gyrojet firers to avoid the headaches and keep their position relatively secret.
Gyrojets also allowed for a higher firing rate before barrels overheated and provided greater bullet velocity and penetration power at range. All things infantryman love.
But the gyrojet did not become something infantrymen love for a few reasons. Most importantly, they never reached the promised levels of accuracy. Gyrojet rounds were stabilized with vents on the rounds that caused them to spin for stability, but even tiny calibration errors between the jets could send the round spinning off.
Second, one of the primary weapons that MBA was trying to sell was a gyrojet pistol, but gyrojets weren’t lethal at handgun ranges. Since the rounds burn their propellant over time, it takes time and distance for them to reach a speed that would pierce skin or armor on impact. That meant that, during engagements at 10-20 feet, gyrojet firers would likely have watched their rounds bounce off their target.
These dual problems meant that soldiers wouldn’t have been able to engage targets at close range because the round wasn’t flying fast enough or at long range because the round wasn’t accurate enough.
… Gyrojet all over again. If the target is close enough to hit, you can’t kill it. If you can kill it, you can’t hit it.
Still, the gyrojets generated a lot of buzz early on. A Popular Mechanics article from 1962 described the “bizarre bazooka” firing miniature rockets at the enemy. The PM article was optimistic about what it called “microjets,” citing the portability gains:
Microjet definitely will be a guerilla weapon. One fighter can discard his rifle and move lightly with just the small plastic straw and a pocketful of rocket-darts. Also, a number of launching straws can be grouped together to fire a devastating barrage, still controlled by just one man.
Yeah, shooters would need a bunch of “launching straws” to ensure that even one round hit a point target.
When most ships are decommissioned, they eventually will head to the scrapyard. Mostly, their fate is to become razor blades.
Others become artificial reefs, providing a tourist attraction for divers and a home for fish. But some vessels escape these fates for a more noble end: They are sunk as targets.
And that’s not new.
Back in the early 1920s, the United States used old battleships as targets to test how well air-dropped bombs could sink ships. In fact, since the end of World War II, ships have been sunk as targets – often to test how well current or new weapons work, or to provide crews with training that is quite realistic in using their anti-surface warfare systems.
The 1946 Operation Crossroads was perhaps one of the most dramatic examples. In two tests, the Navy detonated atomic bombs amongst a fleet of obsolete ships, including the Japanese battleship Nagato, the German cruiser Prinz Eugen, and the aircraft carrier USS Saratoga (CV 3). A total of 14 ships sank outright, while the Prinz Eugen sank five months later.
Perhaps the largest ship to be sunk as a target was the aircraft carrier USS America (CV 66). This ship displaced almost 85,000 tons when fully loaded, and had a 31-year career, including service in the Vietnam War, Operation El Dorado Canyon, and Desert Storm.
On May 14, 2005, the America was sunk after the testing by controlled scuttling, which included remote systems monitoring the effects of underwater explosions that took place over four weeks.
The video below shows the sinking of a pair of Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigates and a Newport-class landing ship. Often smaller systems will be used before they unleash the really powerful missiles – and last, but not least, the torpedoes.
If you haven’t given Triple Frontier a go on Netflix, you definitely should. If you’re unfamiliar, the story follows five Special Forces veterans who travel to a multi-bordered region of South America to take money from a drug lord. It stars Ben Affleck, Oscar Isaac, Charlie Hunnam, Pedro Pascal, and Garrett Hedlund, who all do a fantastic job capturing the attitudes of their characters. But one thing especially helped make this film feel realistic: the presence of Special Forces veterans.
While Hollywood productions generally do have military advisors, it isn’t necessarily common that those advisors take the time to work with the cast to really nail down things like tactics and weapons handling. In this case, J.C. Chandor had two Special Forces veterans who did just that — Nick John and Kevin Vance.
Here’s why they were the most important part of the production:
This may not seem like a big deal but nicknames are a huge part of military culture and knowing how service members earn their nicknames can help you really understand the culture itself.
They taught the actors about nicknames
Charlie Hunnam plays William Miller who goes by the nickname “Ironhead,” and, of course, he wanted to know why, so he asked one of the advisors who explained that the nickname likely comes from the character having survived a gunshot to the head.
This film will have you saying, “Wow, these actors actually know what they’re doing with that weapon.”
They taught the actors how to handle weapons
Most of us who spent a lot of time training in tactics can really tell when the actors on screen haven’t had enough training, if any at all. It’s probably most evident in the way they handle weapons. In the case of Triple Frontier, Nick John and Kevin Vance really took the time to train the actors, and it shows.
They trained the actors with live ammunition
When learning how to handle a weapon, it helps to shoot live ammunition. Well, at the end of the first day of the two-week training, Nick John felt the actors were prepared to handle it. So, they gave them live ammunition and let them shoot real bullets, which is not standard for a film production, but it really pays off in this film.
The way these actors clear buildings is very smooth and convincing.
They taught tactics
After trusting the actors with live ammunition, Nick John and Kevin Vance ran them through tactics. From ambushes to moving with cover fire, the actors learned the basic essentials to sell their characters on screen, and they do so extremely well.
Actor Charlie Hunnam said, “It was amazing. I was shocked by how much trust they put in us. Very, very quickly, they allowed us to be on the range with live fire, doing increasingly complex maneuvers. We started ambush scenarios, shooting through windows and panes of glass, doing cover fire, and operating movements I’ve never done before.”
Veterans have a tendency to spot inaccuracies immediately. But, what Triple Frontier brings to the table is realism. While not perfect, it does a great job of really making you believe these characters are real and all the work Nick John and Kevin Vance put into teaching the actors really pays off.
If you haven’t checked out Triple Frontier on Netflix yet, you definitely should.