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6 top secret bases that changed history

Secrets are hard to keep, and secrets that require a lot of real estate are even harder to keep. Here are six examples of large-scale efforts that managed to maintain the utmost secrecy and wound up changing the course of history as a result:


1. The entire city of Oak Ridge, Tennessee

Photo: US Army Ed Westcott

Oak Ridge, Tennessee is now a mostly normal city that houses about 30,000 people, but it was originally established to create the nuclear bomb.

Army engineers tasked with building the infrastructure for the Manhattan Project chose the site of modern Oak Ridge and secretly created a top-secret facility with a peak population of 75,000 people. Oak Ridge was where the bulk of the nuclear material for the bombs was created.

In 1949, the site was opened to the general public and it was incorporated as a city in 1959.

2. The Kwajalein Atoll in the Pacific

Photo: US Navy Greg Senff

Most people know Bikini Atoll, the site of many U.S. nuclear tests and the inspiration for the bikini. But Bikini Atoll was supported and largely ran by U.S. military forces at Kwajalein Atoll.

U.S. Army Kwajalein Atoll still exists and sensitive operations are still conducted there, mostly missile testing and target practice.

3. Tonopah

F-117 Stealth Fighter (Photo: Lockheed Martin)

Tonopah was a secret even among military aviators in the 1970s. Those in the know were sent to practice dogfighting against captured Soviet jets near Tonopah, Nevada.

But Tonopah had a different secret that would change military aviation. Stealth aviation was developed there and the F-117 flew many of it’s test flights from Tonopah.

READ MORE: The Secret Air Force Program That Hid An Even More Secret Program

4. Area 51

Photo: CIA.gov

If you don’t know what the cultural significance of Area 51 is, then stop lying because you definitely know what Area 51 is. The rumors around the test site spurned its own sub genre of entertainment with big movies like “Independence Day” and video games like “Area 51.”

Area 51’s military significance is that it was a testing ground for the U-2 and the SR-71 predecessor, the A-12 Oxcart. Officially, the site is named the Nevada Test and Training Range at Groom Lake.

5. Wendover Army Air Base

Photo: Wendover Air Force Base History Office

Wendover Army Air Base was a tiny establishment when it was activated in 1942, serving primarily as a school for aviators headed to Europe.

But by 1944 a shroud of secrecy descended over the remote base with FBI agents and military police monitoring conversations and limiting movements of base personnel and their families. That’s because the base was being used to train the men who were hand-selected to drop the atomic bombs on Japan.

6. Muroc Army Air Base/Edwards Air Force Base

Photo: US Air Force

Muroc Army Air Base started as a bombing and gunnery range in the 1930s but became a proper base and school for pilots during World War II. A few years after the war, its name was changed to Edwards.

Top secret projects began at Muroc in 1942 when the Army Air Force’s first jet, the Bell P-59 Airacomet, was tested there. It also served as an early testing site for the B-29s modified to drop nuclear weapons on Japan, was the base Chuck Yeager flew from when he first broke the sound barrier, and assisted in the testing of the space shuttle.

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Here’s why your MRE heater says to rest it on a ‘rock or something’


NATICK, Mass. (May 30, 2013) — If you’re familiar with the phrase “rock or something,” then you’ve probably used a Flameless Ration Heater to warm up a Meal, Ready-to-Eat.

To this day, the phrase remains part of a pictogram on the package of the heater, known as the FRH, which was developed at Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center’s Department of Defense Combat Feeding Directorate and is celebrating its 20th anniversary in 2013. It refers to directions that advise warfighters to place the FRH at an angle when heating up a Meal, Ready-to-Eat, commonly known as an MRE.

“The term ‘rock or something’ has now reached cult status,” said Lauren Oleksyk, team leader of the Food Processing, Engineering and Technology Team at Combat Feeding. “It’s just taken on a life of its own.”

Oleksyk was there at the beginning with colleagues Bob Trottier and now-retired Don Pickard when the FRH and that memorable phrase were born in 1993.

“We were designing the FRH directions and wanted to show an object to rest the heater on,” Oleksyk recalled. “(Don) said, ‘I don’t know. Let’s make it a rock or something. So we wrote ‘rock or something’ on the object, kind of as a joke.”

The joke has legs. As Oleksyk pointed out, there now are T-shirts and other items for sale that bear those words. “Rock or something” even has its own Facebook page.

Introduced to the heater years ago, famed chef Julia Child insisted on following the package directions and activating it by herself. With no rock handy, she decided to employ a wine glass stem.

“Which is so classic Julia,” Oleksyk said, laughing. “So there have been many things other than the rock or something that have been used. There are many, many Soldiers over the years that have their own personal joke about what they might use in place of a rock.”

The FRH is no joke, however. Adding an ounce and a half of water to the magnesium-iron alloy and sodium in the heater will raise the temperature of an eight-ounce MRE entrée by 100 degrees in about 10 minutes.

“Some of the challenges were keeping it lightweight and low volume, and not requiring a lot to activate it,” Oleksyk said.

The heater’s arrival gave warfighters the option of a hot meal wherever they went and whenever they wanted.

“I’ve heard more feedback on this item than any other item I’ve ever worked on in my career here,” said Oleksyk, who has been at Natick nearly 30 years. “They’re so grateful to have this heater in the MRE. It’s almost always used whenever they have 10 minutes to sit down for lunch.”

Prior to the FRH, warfighters used Trioxane fuel bars with canteen cups and cup stands to heat their MRE entrees. As Oleksyk pointed out, the fuel bars couldn’t be packed alongside food in the MRE package.

“So if the fuel bar and the MRE didn’t marry up in the field,” said Oleksyk, “they really had no way to have a hot meal.”

The FRH has remained essentially the same over the past two decades because, as Oleksyk put it, “it’s tough to find a better chemistry that’s lighter in weight, lower in volume and that heats as well.” A larger version has been developed, however.

“We’ve expanded it to a group ration,” Oleksyk said. “So now we have a larger heater that is used to heat the Unitized Group Ration-Express. We call that ration a ‘kitchen in a carton.’ It serves 18 Soldiers.”

The next-generation MRE heater is being tested now, and it will eliminate the need to use one of the most precious commodities in the field.

“The next version of this is a waterless version,” Oleksyk said. “It’s an air-activated heater, so you wouldn’t have to add any water to activate it at all, but that’s still in development and will have to perform better than the FRH overall if it’s ever to replace it.”

Oleksyk remembered sitting on a mountain summit one time during a weekend hike with friends. Suddenly, she heard laughter behind her.

“I hear a guy — sure enough, he says, ‘Yeah, I need a rock or something,'” said Oleksyk, who turned to see him wearing fatigues, holding a Flameless Ration Heater, and telling his buddies how great it was.

“So it’s far reaching,” Oleksyk said. “It really had an impact on the warfighter.”

MIGHTY TRENDING

Coast Guard leadership is sounding off about the shutdown

Thirty-three days into the US government shutdown, the only military branch affected has missed one paycheck and is on the verge of losing its next.

The Coast Guard and its roughly 41,000 active-duty members are part of the Homeland Security Department, which wasn’t funded before the government shut down last month. The other branches are part of the Defense Department, which is fully funded.


Officials found a way to pay Coast Guard members on Dec. 31, 2018, but no such maneuver was possible for Jan. 15, 2019. Legislative action is needed this week to make sure a check comes on Jan. 30, 2019. Pay and benefits for Coast Guard civilian workers and retirees are also on the line.

Petty Officer 3rd Class Bryan Evans, a Coast Guard Air Station Miami rescue swimmer, conducts a free-fall deployment from a MH-65 Dolphin helicopter east of Miami Beach, June 6, 2017.

(Photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Eric D. Woodal)

‘We are in uncharted waters’

Some Coast Guard operations, like safety boardings and license services, have been curtailed, but missions related to saving lives and national security continue. Now the service’s current and former commandants have weighed in, rebuking the inaction prolonging the shutdown.

In a video posted Jan. 22, 2019, commandant Adm. Karl Schultz told service members that he, the service’s leadership, and the public “stand in awe of your continued dedication to duty and resilience and that of your families.”

“We’re five-plus weeks into the anxiety and stress of this government lapse and your non-pay. You as members of the armed forces should not be expected to shoulder this burden,” Schultz said.

Schultz said he was heartened by assistance being officer to service members. “But ultimately I find it unacceptable that Coast Guard men and women have to rely food pantries and donations to get through day-to-day life.”

Coast Guard commandant Adm. Karl Schultz, left, with Navy Secretary Richard V. Spencer and Alaska Sen. Dan Sullivan, right, in Nome, Aug. 13, 2018.

(Photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Jetta Disco)

Paul Zukunft, who retired in June 2018 as an admiral after his four-year term as commandant, was more blunt in a column for the US Naval Institute’s Proceedings Magazine titled “Breaking Faith with America’s Coast Guard.”

Despite the service’s extensive and varied responsibilities and continuous operations, the Coast Guard is often overlooked by the public and by congressional appropriators, Zukunft writes.

“To add insult to injury, the Coast Guard is no longer ‘doing more with less,’ but ‘doing all with nothing,'” Zukunft says. “I have served shoulder to shoulder with our service members during previous government shutdowns and listened to the concerns of our all-volunteer force. This current government shutdown is doing long-term harm and is much more than pablum to feed the 24-hour news cycle.”

“We are now in uncharted waters given its duration and the hardship it’s causing, particularly at many Coast Guard installations that reside in high-cost communities along the US coastline where service personnel already live paycheck-to-paycheck to pay the bills and meet childcare costs that can exceed ,000 per month for one child.”

Family and friends reunite with crew members on Coast Guard Cutter Bertholf’s flight deck upon the cutter’s after a 90-day deployment, Sept. 4, 2018.

(Photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Matthew S. Masaschi)

‘We can only take it day by day’

For the more than 14,000 junior members of the Coast Guard — about one-third of the active-duty force — base pay is considered to be at or just under the poverty level, three former master chief petty officers said in an op-ed, adding that most of them don’t have the resources to live without pay “over any extended period.”

“We chose to make some sacrifices when we signed up or married into the Coast Guard,” Coast Guard spouse Susan Bourassa told Military Times. “We’re proud to be there. But part of making those sacrifices is that we thought there was a paycheck we could count on, through thick or thin.”

Communities have rallied to support Coast Guard families — including in Alameda, California, home to four of the service’s new national-security cutters.

In January 2019, more than 600 service members, including 168 families, gathered there for a giveaway of everything from fresh fruit to diapers. The cutter Bertholf and its more than 100 crew members left Alameda for a months-long Pacific deployment. The Defense Department will reimburse the Coast Guard for the mission, but the personnel won’t be paid until the shutdown ends.

Coast Guard cutter Bertholf on a counterdrug patrol in the eastern Pacific Ocean, March 11, 2018.

(Photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Michael Trees)

In a Jan. 18, 2019 letter, vice commandant Adm. Charles Ray said Coast Guard Mutual Assistance, a nonprofit charity that assists the service, had increased the value of and expanded eligibility for interest-free loans it was offering.

Mutual Assistance is partnering with the Red Cross to distribute those funds, Schultz said in January 2019. CGMA has “secured sufficient funds to put money in your hands to bridge through your personal financial challenges,” Schultz said in his video message. “That is your fund. That is your safety net.”

Ray’s letter said the service was working with the Defense Department “to notify all privatized government housing sites that Coast Guard [basic allowance for housing] allotments will not be available until funding is restored.”

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

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This ‘cloneworthy’ police dog found the last survivor of the 9/11 attacks

A Canadian police dog who helped find 9/11 survivors impressed the CEO of a biotech firm so much, he cloned the canine five timesTime Magazine called the dog named Trakr “one of history’s most courageous animals.”


One good turn deserves another.

James Symington made history in Halifax, Nova Scotia, for founding the canine unit of the Regional Police Department. During the September 11th attacks on New York, Symington and his coworker, Cpl. Joe Hall, drove to NYC with their dog, Trakr, to help find survivors. They arrived the morning of September 12, and Trakr immediately found a survivor — one of only five found that day, according to ABC News.

Officers pulled out Genelle Guzman-MicMillan, who was on the 13th floor of the South Tower when it collapsed. She spent 26 hours under the rubble before the German Shepherd found her.

Trakr and Symington at Ground Zero. (photo from PRWeb)

On September 14th, Trakr collapsed from chemical and smoke inhalation, burns and exhaustion. He was treated and the sent home with the Canadian police officers who brought her.

In 2005, Symington and Trakr were presented with the “Extraordinary Service to Humanity Award” for their heroism during the aftermath of the attack. It was presented by famed anthropologist Dr. Jane Goodall.

Symington was suspended without pay when his bosses saw him on TV, even though he was on leave at the time. He left the force and sued his old office. He moved to Los Angeles and became an actor and stunt double.

Trakr developed a degenerative disease and could no longer use his hind legs – a condition presumed to be from his experience at Ground Zero. He spent the remainder of his life at an LA hospice center for dogs. He died at 16 years old.

Before the heroic dog died, Symington entered Trakr in the “Best Friends Again” essay contest, sponsored by BioArts International – one of the first pet cloning biotech companies. It was a giveaway contest. Trakr’s DNA was sent to a lab in South Korea where five puppies were bred from the sample; Trustt, Solace, Valor, Prodigy, and Deja Vu. Normally this service would cost more than $140,000 per dog.

Five puppies cloned from Trakr, a German shepherd, who made headlines by rescuing victims from the World Trade Center following the 9/11 terrorist attacks. (Yonhap News photo)

All five pups were trained by Symington to follow in Trakr’s pawsteps, and each becoming rescue dogs themselves.

Five German shepherds, shown with owner James Symington. Symington is training the dogs to help in search and rescue efforts throughout the world. (Photo courtesy of Team Trakr)

Military Life

This is what is actually inside the top of the flag pole

Hopeful NCOs at leadership schools or promotion boards are asked a two-part question: The first part is, “how many trucks are there on the military installation?” The answer is, ‘one.’


‘Truck’ is the term for the finial — or ball — on top of the base headquarters’ flagpole. It’s kind of a trick question because every other ‘truck’ is either a military or privately-owned vehicle. The second part of the question is, “What’s inside the truck?”

The answer the Sergeant Major and First Sergeants are looking for is, “a razor, a match, and a bullet.” Occasionally, it’s also said to contain a grain of rice or penny — it depends who’s asking. The actual answer, and one they probably won’t accept, is “absolutely nothing.”

With all the flag poles that have been installed, not one troop has opened the truck and taken a picture. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Armando Limon)

The items that are supposedly inside the truck are to be used in the case of an enemy invasion. If the enemy overwhelms the base, it’s up to the last survivor to climb the 50-to-75-foot pole, unscrew the truck, strip the flag with the razor, give it a proper retirement with the match, eat the grain of rice for strength, and blind the enemy with the penny. The survivor then digs up the pistol buried six paces away from the base of the pole.

What the survivor is supposed to do then is up for speculation. If you don’t use the gunpowder for kindling, the most universally accepted use of it is for the survivor to turn the pistol on themselves in a last-ditch, you’ll-never-take-me-alive act.

Here’s the thing, though. The military is very particular about the order of precedence when it comes to the Stars and Stripes. No flag can fly higher than the American flag. There are two exceptions to this rule: “Death’s flag,” or the flag that is raised, in spirit, above the actual flag when it’s at half mast (but is actually nothing) and a chaplain’s pennant (which is a pennant, not a flag).

Placing a chaplain’s pennant higher than the American flag is to say that the only thing higher than country is God. The fact that some claim we’d put a bullet in the finial above even the chaplain’s pennant is a dead giveaway that this myth is BS.

The final nail in the coffin on this myth is the fact that there’s no regulation set by the Department of Defense, by any branch, or by any military installation. As widespread as this belief may be, there simply isn’t any written record of it in any official capacity.

Oh. Also, nicer trucks, like the ones used to decorate a military installation’s flag that is saluted twice a day, are usually made of solid metal.

MIGHTY CULTURE

The Coast Guard caught a sea turtle with $53 million in cocaine

The crew of the Coast Guard Cutter Thetis was just doing their thing in November, 2017, hunting smugglers and mapping America’s puddles (or whatever it is they do), when they came across the ultimate smuggler: an ancient sea monster with $53 million of drugs in tow.


USCGC Thetis transits past the USCGC Tampa Bay in Key West.

(U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer 2nd Class Lisa Ferdinando)

The Coast Guard first spotted the drugs with an Over The Horizon small boat, identifying it as a debris patch with contraband likely in it. When the pursuit mission commander arrived at the debris field, he identified both the cocaine and a sea turtle caught in the middle of it.

Despite catching the sea turtle swimming with bales of contraband on it, the commander kept an open mind about whether or not the sea turtle was involved in the underlying crime.

A crewman from the USCGC Thetis prepares to cut a sea turtle free of bales of cocaine.

(Coast Guard

The Coast Guardsmen identified chaffing on the sea turtle and went to render aid. Speaking of which, seriously guys —do not leave trash lines in the ocean. Slowly dying of infection from chaffing or starvation because you can’t hunt is a horrible way to go.

The Coast Guardsmen cut the turtle free and allowed it to swim away without further investigation, instead concentrating on recovering what turned out to be 1,800 pounds of cocaine valued at million. They also recovered the 75 feet of lines and cords which would’ve been a persistent threat to sea turtles and other wildlife.

For some reason, these are the best photos the Coast Guard released of the sea turtle rescue. Not sure if all Coast Guardsmen are limited to smart phones from 2008 or what, but we would include better photos if we had them.

(U.S. Coast Guard)

The encounter was part of Operation Martillo, and USCGC Thetis was on a 68-day patrol where the Coast Guard and its partners ultimately captured 5 million worth of drugs, mostly cocaine and marijuana.

While the Coast Guard is often mocked as being not real military or being “puddle pirates” (see the intro paragraph), the service does amazing work in the Pacific, capturing massive amounts of drugs otherwise destined for illegal U.S. markets. For the past few years, they’ve captured three times as many drugs at sea as the rest of law enforcement has captured within the U.S. and at all land borders.

USCGC Thetis arrives in Naval Station Guantanamo Bay in 2010.

(U.S. Navy Chief Petty Officer Bill Mesta)

And the Coast Guard has done this while being dramatically under-resourced for such a large mission. They can often only put three cutters onto the mission at a time, and are only able to interdict 20 to 25 percent of the seaborne drugs headed into the country.

As one Coast Guard officer put it to Men’s Journal, “imagine a police force trying to cover the entire U.S. with three cars. That’s the tactical problem we’re trying to solve.”

The U.S. isn’t the only country involved in the efforts. Operation Martillo has been going on since 2012 and has member countries from South America and Europe, and Canadian forces were part of the sea turtle rescue. SOUTHCOM says the operation has scooped up over 693 metric tons of cocaine, nearly 600 sea vessels and aircraft, and nearly 2,000 smugglers since it was launched in early 2012. It’s also nabbed million in bulk cash.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is how San Francisco wound up with a self-proclaimed ’emperor’

The United States has been very proud to call itself a constitutional republic that is led by citizen-elected representatives. America is and has been, historically, very much opposed to monarchies. That is, until 1859, when a legitimately crazy guy wrote into a newspaper, proclaiming himself the “Emperor of these United States.”

Of course, he had absolutely no legal authority and no one truly believed his claim. In fact, “Emperor” Joshua Norton was actually a homeless man dressed in nice clothes. He ended up being a major tourist attraction for the city, however, so the locals just gave him a collective, “sure, buddy. Whatever you say.”

And so, an empire was born.


That’s enough to drive anyone flippin’ crazy…

Before his nosedive straight into the deep-end of crazy town, Joshua Norton was a highly successful businessman. He bought real estate outside of goldmines just before the Gold Rush really boomed. He would sell all of his holdings to invest in rice in 1852. The Chinese rice industry had been struck with a famine that barred the export of rice, which drastically raised the price of rice in San Francisco to 25 cents per pound.

Norton, being the savvy businessman that he was, found a source for Peruvian rice, which was being sold for 12 cents per pound. His idea was to spend all of his money on rice from Peru and resell it in the U.S. at the swelled rate of Chinese rice. As soon as the sale was finalized, however, the per-pound price of Peruvian rice dropped to 3 cents and would be sold at near cost. In short, Norton blew everything he had on rice he couldn’t sell.

By 1858, the once-powerful businessman was bankrupt, penniless, forced into a boarding home, and forgotten by his elite former peers.

He would also declare himself a pope, but that was more or less for the funeral for a stray dog.

Not much is known about his downward spiral into insanity but it was during that transition that he decided he couldn’t have been the son of regular English parents, but was rather a child of the House of Bourbon (despite the beheading of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette twenty five years before he was born.) This was confirmed in his mind by the fact that his first name was ‘Joshua’ — his logic was that his parents gave him a common name to hide his royal lineage.

He took his ramblings to the San Francisco Bulletin on September 18th, 1859. It’s remains unclear why the newspaper allowed it to run, but the audiences found it hilarious. In his editorial, he declared himself Emperor of these United States, decreed that Congress be abolished, and called for his “subjects” to gather at the city’s Musical Hall the following February 1st.

Congress was not abolished due to the whims of some random homeless guy — obviously. He ordered General Winfield Scott, Commander of the Union Armies, to clear the halls, but didn’t — obviously. Readers of the Bulletin did gather in droves at his call — likely because they figured it’d be funny. The doors were locked, but the crowds embraced the joke nonetheless.

He even printed out worthless “Norton-bucks” that San Franciscans embraced and used because that’s exactly how fiat money works.

By 1861, the legend of “Emperor” Norton I had spread around the country and was fully embraced by San Franciscans. Among his many decrees, he demanded that…

  • …the unpopular California State Supreme Court would be abolished.
  • …anyone using the word ‘Frisco’ in reference to San Francisco would be exiled.
  • …a bridge be built between Oakland and San Francisco (which was impossible at the time).
  • …and that Governor Henry Wise of Virginia be fired for hanging the abolitionist John Brown of Harper’s Ferry fame.

These were all things locals agreed with before the Civil War.

“Emperor” Norton I became so popular that even politicians and business owners would placate him in order to not upset the townsfolk. Officers at the U.S. Army post at the Presidio of San Francisco offered him an elaborate blue uniform with gold epaulets to keep the joke going, because you know, it was still kind of funny.

In 1876, the actual Emperor of Brazil, Don Pedro II, would visit San Francisco on an official trip — only to be greeted by Norton I. They met for an hour at the Palace Hotel and enjoyed what we can only assumed was an awkward conversation.

“Emperor” Norton I passed on January 8th, 1880. His funeral saw the attendance of 10,000 people who mourned their local celebrity. Many years after his death, the Oakland-San Francisco Bridge was completed and many called for it to be renamed “The Emperor’s Bridge” in honor of the goofy homeless guy who jokingly became an emperor.

Remember, if you fall on hard times and feel your sanity start slipping… lean hard into that crazy and you could just wind up becoming a legend.

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The 2016 Mighty Movie Awards

This year is almost over but 2016’s military movies are all available for the world to see. They came and went like so many celebrity deaths. Some were better than others.


We wanted to honor the ones who stood out with awards, and present them with statues.

We don’t have any to give but we wanted to.

Best Film North Korea Should Have Been Pissed About: “Operation Chromite”

Yeah, “The Interview” made Kim Jong-Un look like a twerp but “Operation Chromite” makes the entire country look stupid.

 

A sub-Award goes to Liam Neeson, who looks and acts so much like General MacArthur, you’ll be afraid he might kill you for asking for your veteran’s benefits.

Best Last Stand: Cillian Murphy and Jamie Dornan, “Anthropoid”

Operation Anthropoid was the Czech government-in-exile’s plot to kill SS General Reinhard Heydrich – the man who designed Hitler’s extermination of Europen Jews. Two Czech agents do the job and are tracked down in a cathedral by what seems like a battalion of Nazi soldiers. They and other members of the Resistance opt to not surrender.

Best Depiction of a Veteran Who Still Fits in his Old Uniform: Hugo Weaving, “Hacksaw Ridge”

Weaving plays Tom Doss, father of Desmond Doss, a conscientious objector who earned the medal of honor as a medic in WWII. In the film, he uses his status as a WWI veteran to get access to a general, but first he has to get in his old uniform. You know, for dramatic effect.

(Summit Entertainment)

The elder Doss was at the Battle of Belleau Wood in 1918. Since Hacksaw Ridge takes place in 1942 when the younger Doss enlisted, we have to give credit to Tom Doss for being able to fit in that thing 24 years later.

I’ve only been out for eight years and I doubt I could get my blues pants up to my waist.

Best Trailer: “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk”

No military movie was as anticipated as “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk,” the film adaptation of Ben Fountain’s book of the same name. Ang Lee’s movie looked spectacular but was received to mixed reviews.

Viewers may disagree but the one thing you can’t argue about is how great this trailer is.

 

So if you don’t like the movie, think of this as a trailer for the book. The book is really good. Really, really good.

Best Acting: Steven Lang, “Beyond Glory”

Most actors get an award nod for playing one role, but if WATM were handing out actual statues, we’d give Steven Lang eight of them for “Beyond Glory.” The actor travels around the world, for troops and civilians, telling the story of 8 Medals of Honor, as the guys who received them.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gG4Alda6A_U
 

Go ahead, try to watch this movie without getting goosebumps. If you can, then check yourself into the nearest psych ward, because you might not be capable of feelings.

Breakout Performance by a Duo: John Krasinski and David Denman, “13 Hours”

The two men from the NBC series “The Office” reunited on the silver screen in 2016 as Jack Silva and Dave ‘Boon’ Benton in this obscure indie hit. They portray two security contractors working for the U.S. State Department in Libya in a plot to bring down Hillary Clinton. Or something. I don’t know, I don’t follow politics.

They look awesome though. (Paramount Pictures)

Krasinski’s career as an operator clearly began while he was an Air Force pilot at Joint Base Hickam-Pearl Harbor, when he asked Chris Kyle to teach him how to be operator AF.

Best Villain: The Sharks, “USS Indianapolis: Men of Courage”

It’s hard to blame the Japanese submarine for sinking the Indianapolis. the Pacific War was still a war, after all (besides, the skipper of the Japanese boat came to Capt. McVay’s defense at his court-martial). What you can blame are the sharks who ate the survivors of the ship’s sinking.

Sharks are assholes. (Saban Films)

For the days they spent waiting to be rescued, the sailors of the Indianapolis just hung out, waiting to be gnawed on like some shark’s pickled chum.

Best Combat Action Sequence: Mel Gibson “Hacksaw Ridge”

Leave it to the guy who brought you a medieval combat scene where someone gets hit in the face with a hammer to bring you World War II combat that tosses body parts around like confetti.

(Summit Entertainment)

Nothing says “war is terrible” like showing the worst parts of it. Mission complete, Mel Gibson. On that note…

Best On-Screen Improv: This guy from “Hacksaw Ridge”

Using what’s left of your Battle Buddy like Captain America uses his vibranium shield isn’t exactly in the Army field manual, but the guys who wrote that weren’t writing it at Okinawa. If your Battle is supposed to save your life, then this guy did the right thing.

At least he didn’t throw his shield at the enemy. (Summit Entertainment)

Best “Eat Pray Love”-style war movie: “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot”

That movie would have been waaaaaaaay different if Julia Roberts went to Afghanistan instead of, say, Italy.

Marines radically altering someone’s worldview… not just the guys in that truck, either. (Paramount Pictures)

“Whiskey Tango Foxtrot” even calls itself “the most American white lady story I’ve ever heard” in the middle of the movie. Special props to WTF for having Margot Robbie explain the “Desert Queen” principle, a longtime staple of deployment lore.

Best Director Who Actually Looks Like He’s In Combat: Michael Bay, “13 Hours”

(Paramount Pictures)

I’m starting to believe everything Michael Bay does features explosions. Like, when he goes to get coffee or to the post office, a car down the street explodes. Most of us will never have a work photo take that looks this cool.

Drill Sergeant of the Year: Vince Vaughn, “Hacksaw Ridge”

Many cinematic instructors have come and gone over the years, from ones as memorable as Gunny Hartman to the less memorable Merwin Toomey.

You can decide where Vince Vaughn’s Sgt. Howell falls in the pantheon, but for 2016, he’s tops.

[dailymotion //www.dailymotion.com/embed/video/x5395jo expand=1] 
Articles

This submachine gun looked homemade, but it killed lots of Nazis

A British paratrooper wields a Sten gun during the D-Day invasion of Normandy. (U.K. Ministry of Defense photo)


It was a weapon that didn’t get any respect – at least as far as its nicknames are concerned.

In fact, some were downright insulting.  The more printable epithets include “The Woolworth Special,” “The Plumbers Delight” and “The Stench Gun.”

But there’s no doubt about it: The Sten gun was one of the most widely used submachine guns of World War II, even if it did look like it was made from leftover pieces of plumbing.

Alan Lee, a member of the Parachute Regiment during the war, said the weapon was best used for close-quarters combat.  In a section of 10 men in the Paras, Lee said, the sergeant and corporal always carried a Sten gun as did most of the officers.

“When you went into a village or went into a house, whatever it was, it was a reliable weapon,” he said in a video interview that is part of an oral history of World War II compiled by the National Army Museum in London. “It wasn’t a reliable instrument for anything over 100 yards, but for anything close-quarters, it was very reliable.”

Hastily contrived in the early, desperate days of WWII, the Sten was part of a last-ditch effort to arm British troops.

Terrified Britons knew they did not have enough weapons to repel a German invasion force.  The British lost thousands of small arms that were destroyed or simply abandoned after the devastating rout at Dunkirk.

But two British weapons designers – Maj. Reginald V. Shepherd and Harold J. Turpin – worked together to create a simple, blowback-operated submachine gun that could be quickly and cheaply made from machined steel.  The Royal Small Arms Factory at Enfield produced a prototype – take the “S” from Shepherd, the “T” from Turpin and the “EN” from Enfield and you have the origin of the weapon’s name.

Produced in both Great Britain and Canada starting in 1941, the Sten was often quickly welded together, the slag filed off and the completed gun then thrown in a pile with others of its kind.  However, the Canadian-manufactured weapons often had better production quality, with smoother edges and better tolerances.

The Sten really did look like it was assembled from bits and pieces found in a hardware store – in fact, some of the Sten’s essential parts in early models such as springs were originally obtained from hardware manufacturers rather than from gunsmiths.

But it only took about five man-hours to make one weapon and the Sten cost about $10 to produce – about $130 a weapon today when you account for inflation.

When war broke out, the British purchased every American-made Thompson submachine gun they could get their hands on. But there were never enough.

The Thompson, which was the gold standard of submachine guns at the time, was beautifully made but also exceptionally expensive. In today’s dollars, it cost an eye-popping $2,300 per weapon to produce.

Combine the cost of the Thompson and the fact that early on bolt-action rifles from The Great War and hunting guns were often the only firearms available for some units and the Sten was hailed as a godsend.

The Brits and the Canadians manufactured more than 4 million Sten guns during World War II. In addition, partisan groups with access to machine shops often cranked out their own Sten gun copies because it was so easy to make.

It weighed seven pounds empty, nine pounds with a loaded magazine of 28 to 30 rounds. If kept clean and well-maintained it could be an excellent weapon capable of a devastating rate of fire.

Firing more than 500 rounds per minute (sometimes more, depending on the version), designers chambered the Sten for 9 mm Parabellum ammunition, which was the most commonly used pistol round in European militaries.  When pressed, a stud allowed the gunner to select semi-auto fire as well.

The choice of bullet was inspired. Users of the Sten usually had no trouble obtaining ammo for the gun wherever they used it, particularly if they raided German supply dumps.

Winston Churchill, no mean shot, was a fan of the Sten gun. Here he is seen test-firing a Sten at the range.

Tens of thousands of Stens were parachute dropped to partisans in Europe and Asia for use against the Germans and Japanese. Suppressed versions of the weapon were also available for covert operations.

Early versions of the Sten were far from perfect. Early versions also had two annoying habits: Jamming (common when the magazine lips were damaged or the weapon was dirty) or firing uncontrollably in full-auto when simply bumped or jostled.

However, the Sten improved with age, particularly after the British invasion panic subsided and weapons were made with an eye toward better craftsmanship.

It also gained a deadly reputation.  Lightweight, compact and even concealable, it was often used by British airborne or glider-borne forces.

There even were some units in the British Army that continued to use Sten guns through the 1960s. What’s more, militaries around the world held on to the Sten – including U.S. Army Special Forces that used suppressed models of the submachine gun during the Vietnam War.

 

Articles

New North Korean propaganda video features nuclear attack on Washington

On March 26, North Korea’s YouTube channel released a dramatic propaganda video that features a nuclear attack near the Lincoln Memorial:


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DbOYRLlhIP4
The video is four minutes long and contains a montage of U.S. defeats throughout history set to background music reminiscent of a ’70s-era TV show .

“If the American imperialists provoke us a bit, we will not hesitate to slap them with a pre-emptive nuclear strike,” read the Korean subtitles in the video, according to The New York Times. “The United States must choose! It’s up to you whether the nation called the United States exists on this planet or not.”

The North Korean propaganda video comes amid a string of nuclear and rocket testing, which resulted in further sanctions of the Kim regime. Most recently, the Pyongyang threatened a direct attack on the South Korean presidential palace, the Blue House, unless its demand are met.

North Korea, sometimes called “The Hermit Kingdom” for its reclusiveness and closed borders, is known to rattle its saber when it needs something, be it food aid or cash, in order to elicit a bribe or assistance in order to return tensions to normal.

The North also often does this in March, around the time of annually planned joint military exercises between the United States and South Korea. In March 2010, the North sank the South Korean submarine Cheonan in the South’s territorial waters. In 2012, they announced planned rocket launches. In 2013, they conducted a nuclear test during the U.S.-ROK exercises, this prompted the U.S. to respond by flying B-2 Stealth Bombers and B-52 Stratofortresses over the demilitarized zone, to remind the North of U.S. bomber capabilities in the region. In response, Kim Jong-Un declared a “state of war” between the North and South, but no actual attacks ever materialized.

Articles

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

Purpose:


This “how to” guide is for veterans who are interested in working on the Hill. Staffers are the most common Hill positions in both the House and Senate. Personal staffers work for members and professional staffers work on committees. Most offices separate policy topics into portfolios and oftentimes veterans are most qualified to cover the Department of Veterans Affairs, foreign affairs and/or DoD/military. However, based upon the veterans’ education and career field they may be qualified for other portfolios.

How to Search for the Perfect Hill Position

  • Sign up for HillVets Insider
    1. HillVets Insider often posts positions that are being exclusively offered to veterans via HillVets
    2. HillVets also proactively sends resumes to positions and postings as an official “HillVets Recommended Candidate” when we come across members that we believe are good fits for open positions.
    3. As such be sure to provide HillVets Insider with your latest resume even after you land your first job!
  • Get on a job list
    1. Tom Manatos (free for Veterans participating in the Veterans Congressional Fellowship, costs $5 per month)-best resource, stays up to date on new jobs and takes down positions that were filled. Updated daily. Register at http://www.tommanatosjobs.com/
    2. Scott Baker (free)—good place to start but is not always up to date and positions that are filled may stay on the list for weeks. Emails sent out weekly. Email Scott Baker at m.r.baker@gmail.com and ask him to add you to his job lists.
    3. Brad Traverse. Is another Capitol Hill job board that requires a subscription. $10 registration, $5 monthly dues. Traverse and Manatos are generally accepted as the lead job posting subscriptions; Manatos started in the democratic space, Traverse in the Republican space, both have moved towards posting jobs for both parties. http://www.bradtraverse.com/joblistings.cfm
  • Network through HillVets and build a team to help you with your job search. This is key as staffers know each other and if there is a position open in an office a staffer friend can inquire and pass your resume on to the office of interest. Offices receive hundreds of resumes for positions and any way to get yours noticed is a plus.
    1. Compile an email list of staff, or people that know staffers, that you have met with.
    2. When you apply for an open position let them know that you did so and ask if they know anyone in that office. Recommend your emails subject lead with your name and the member office as these emails can be easily screened if the busy staffer does not know anyone in the said office. For example John Doe (you)/Rep. John Doe
    3. Never assume that staffers from the opposite party can or will not be helpful in your hunt! This is a common mistake that we have seen over and over again. We have had young veterans insinuate we could not help them because we were on one side of the aisle or the other when in fact we have hundreds of friends on both sides many of which may be close friends. The reality in Washington, if you are going to be good, or have been here for any period of time, you not only have a few contacts on the other side, but a lot, so keep this in mind as you network!
  • Questions to ask yourself
    1. What states do I have a connection to?—Offices like to hire people from their state. Start with your home of record but also explore states where you were assigned to in the military, or where you went to school.
    2. What kind of job do I want on the Hill?
      1. Policy—legislative assistants (LAs) are assigned portfolios and work on legislation in those areas. For most separating military personnel interested in policy work, this is the most appropriate position for you but may be very difficult to land out of the gate.
        1. Legislative Correspondents—work for LAs by handling mail, taking meetings, and assisting with research. Some offices have LCs doing LA work, which is great but the LC is most likely being paid less than an LA.
      2. Communications—All offices have communication directors and assistants.
    3. When can I start work?—If you are coming off of active duty think about when you will be taking terminal leave and when you can actually start a new position. Networking and applying for positions is important but create a timeline for yourself from the earliest you can begin a position.
    4. Who do I know that is currently or previously worked on the Hill?—these people are your new best friends. Talk to them about your interest in the Hill and get their advice and perspectives. Congressional offices all work a little differently and you want to know if there are offices to avoid.
    5. Do I have a preference for House or Senate positions?—the House and Senate operate differently and have different cultures. There is much to be learned in both chambers and people often work or intern in both. As you network ask people how they like the Senate or House and the differences that they perceive in each.

Getting the First Job: So you are on a couple of job lists, you have some hill buddies, and you are actively looking for a position…now what!!!

  • Create a phenomenal resume and cover letter.
    1. The Resume—Almost always 1 page, rarely 2. The only purpose of the resume is to get you an interview. The resumes purpose is not to tell your life story and highlight things that only you will care about, it should tell the employer what your value is to them if they hire you. You are not applying for a military awards package OR a GS federal job. Your resume should be something in between. Offices get hundreds of resumes for positions and do not have time to read 10 page resumes and will not understand 20 acronyms.
      1. If printing, use high quality, heavier weight, and off-white paper. This will set you apart in a stack of hundreds and shows attention to detail
      2. Ask people on the Hill if you can review their resumes
  • Look at how Hill staffers place their resumes on LinkedIn
  1. Ask other HillVets members to review your resume
  2. Highlight your military experiences, particularly deployments
  1. The Cover Letter—You can use general language for the cover letter and then tailor for specific positions and offices. Do not make your letter longer than 1 page, and relate your military experiences to what you want to do on the Hill. Generally these should explain why you are interested in the position, the skills you have to offer, and what makes you a unique/best fit for the position.
  2. Ask at least 5 people to closely review your cover letter and resume for grammar mistakes and advice on how to make both stronger.
  • You Got an Interview!
    1. Reach out to your Hill network (previously highlighted) and ask if they know anything about the office or member.
    2. If you are interviewing with a personal office you will most likely interview with the Legislative Director and/or Chief of Staff. Most offices will prefer someone with Hill experience, which includes internships and fellowships. This is where you have to sell your military experience and overcome lack of prior Hill experience (if that is your situation).
      1. Be likable, warm and friendly to everyone in the office. Offices have too many candidates to choose from to not select someone that feels like a good fit for their office and culture. Smile!
      2. Inspection ready is the dress code of the day, seems obvious but we have had to address this before…
  • Think about general skills that you obtained from being a military officer or NCO such as: leadership, responsibility, general understanding of the military, experience working with all kinds of people, communication skills, professionalism.
  1. Think about what your career field experiences bring to the position. Remember that you have the advantage of serving in the military and try to think of your understanding of the military prior to your service. A majority of staffers have NO military experience and limited understanding of how DoD works. That is a huge selling point.
  2. If you have connections to the state make sure to explain your connection. Did you grow up in the state? Go to school there? Were you assigned to an installation in the state? If you are applying for a military portfolio position, know the military installations in the state. Explain why you care about the state.
  3. Do your research! Know a bit about the member, their issues, what committee the member sits on and explain what you can bring to the table. Know if the member is a veteran, which branch did they serve; do you have anything in common?
  1. You did great on your first interview and now you are called back to meet the member! Very exciting and means that you get to meet a member of Congress and are shortlisted for a staff position.
    1. Think about your first interview and topics that you spent time discussing. What points do you feel made you strong? Emphasize those in the interview with the member.
    2. Do more research on the member. Be familiar with legislation they have introduced. Be ready to talk about the stuff they care about (which is germane to the position you are applying). Be personable and the job is yours!

Financial Expectations

  • You are likely going to make less money as a Hill staffer than you did on active duty.
    1. Again personal offices vary on pay. Legistorm (legistorm.com) is a service that provides information on Hill staffers, including their income. You can view the most recent salaries of staffers for free on the site to get a sense of how much you can expect to make in a given office for a given position. The salary of the recently departed staffer is likely listed if you know who that is or you can compare the pay rates of the various staffers in the current position you are interviewing for.
    2. Some negotiation of salary is normal but remember these jobs are very competitive and the office may refuse to increase the salary offer. Then you must decide if this is a position you want.
  • Benefits:
    1. Health Insurance: Currently Hill staffers must buy their health insurance off of the insurance exchange unless they are in a Committee office, then they may be eligible for the same insurance held by federal employees.
    2. Leave days: Varies by offices. Some offices will take into account your federal service and give you more days. The good news is that you will never be charged leave on weekends or federal holidays!

Conclusion: Working on the Hill is an amazing experience and if you get the opportunity to do it…Do IT! However, it is high tempo, intense, and tough work. Be ready to experience a learning curve and accept that you are starting a new career in a new environment. HillVets is here to help you move into this realm. We believe that more veteran voices are needed on the Hill to provide our experiences and perspectives to members and staffs for the good of our Nation. The right job is out there and we are ready to help you find it. Stay Positive, these are not easy jobs to land and competition is fierce. Typical timeframes to find your first job is months, so keep that in mind. Keep piling through the “no’s” to get to your first “yes.” The first one is the hardest one by far.

Happy Hunting!

Jennifer Mitchell is the Military/Veterans’ Affairs Legislative Assistant for Senator Mark Kirk (R-IL). As a Military Legislative Assistant, Jennifer advises Senator Kirk and his staff on military and VA appropriations and policy issues. She also works to address Illinois veteran issues including access to healthcare. Jennifer is a licensed attorney and attended law school at Chicago-Kent College of Law. 

 

Prior to her current position in Sen. Kirk’s office, Jennifer was an active duty Air Force Judge Advocate General (JAG) officer and is currently an Air Force Reserve officer. As a JAG, Jennifer assisted hundreds of military members, retirees, and their family members on a variety of legal issues ranging from bankruptcy to family law to will preparation. She practiced military justice by administratively disciplining and prosecuting military members for violating the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Jennifer also specialized in federal labor and employment law where she negotiated union contracts and defended the Air Force against discrimination and wrongful employment cases. 

MIGHTY HISTORY

Christopher Lee: Film Legend and World War II Hero

Christopher Lee cemented himself as an icon of the silver screen. During his long and prestigious acting career he was in hundreds of films. His most notable roles were Dracula and later the Wizard Saruman in The Lord of the Rings. However, long before his acting career began, Lee had a lesser known, but just as impressive, career in the British Royal Air Force (RAF) and the British Army during World War II.


Lee enlisted in the RAF in 1940. He worked as an intelligence officer and specialized in decoding German cyphers. In 1943 Lee was seconded to the Army in an officer swap scheme. After this swap he served with the Gurkhas of the 8th Indian Infantry Division during the Battle of Monte Cassino.

There is little known about much of Lee’s time in service, as his records remain classified and he was “reluctant” to discuss anything to do with his service. Between the time he enlisted in the RAF and he was seconded to the Army, Lee was attached to the Long Range Desert Group (LRDG), which was the precursor to the Special Air Service (SAS). When pressed about his time serving with the SAS Lee said, “I was attached to the SAS from time to time, but we are forbidden – former, present, or future – to discuss any specific operations. Let’s just say I was in Special Forces and leave it at that. People can read into that what they like.”

After his time with the LRDG, Lee was assigned to the Special Operations Executive (SOE). During his time with the SOE, he conducted espionage, sabotage, and reconnaissance in the Axis occupied Europe. During his final few months of service Lee, who was fluent in several languages including French and German, was tasked with tracking down Nazi war criminals alongside the Central Registry of War Criminals.

When Lee described his time with the organization he stated, “We were given dossiers of what they’d done, and told to find them, interrogate them as much as we could and hand them over to the appropriate authority.” Lee retired from the RAF in 1946 as a Flight Lieutenant. Post retirement he was decorated for battlefield bravery by the Czech, Yugoslav, British, and Polish governments.

Flying Officer C. F. C. Lee in Vatican City, 1944, soon after the Liberation of Rome. (Wikimedia Commons.)

Not long after his retirement from the RAF, Lee began his film career. It wasn’t long before he proved himself as a true legend of the film industry. This legendary icon of the silver screen, Sir Christopher Lee, passed away in June of 2015 after a lengthy battle with heart problems. His loss was greatly mourned by those who knew him, and those who loved him through his prolific work on screen.

Sir Christopher Lee will always be remembered for his iconic roles in major motion pictures, it can be said that he was one of, if not the, most prolific actors in motion picture history. However, the life he led before his film career is one that should be remembered and celebrated as well. Though details remain unknown and classified, and he never truly spoke of them, his service during World War II was nothing short of heroic. The world will never know what men like Christopher Lee did during the war, but they are heroes nonetheless.

In an interview with a somewhat eager reporter, Lee showed his cheeky yet firm stance on the discussion of his time with the SAS during the war. He leaned forward and whispered to the reporter, “Can you keep a secret?” The interviewer replied with an excited, “Yes!” Lee smiled and leaned back in his chair as he replied, “So can I.”


MIGHTY GAMING

8 reasons why ‘Apex Legends’ is the best Battle Royale game

It’s 1 a.m. again, and I’m wearily crawling into bed hours after my partner.

This is the effect of “Apex Legends” on my life — the latest major Battle Royale game to demand the attention of tens of millions of players. Since “Apex Legends” arrived in early February 2019, it’s become the standard background game in my life.

Unlike “Fortnite” or “PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds,” “Apex Legends” has its hooks in me deep and I don’t foresee them letting go anytime soon. Here’s why:


There are ziplines in “Apex Legends” that defy the laws of physics in delightful ways.

(EA/Respawn Entertainment)

1. “Apex Legends” feels better to play, from gunplay to movement to strategy, than any other Battle Royale game available.

Everything about the act of playing “Apex Legends” feels good, and the more I dig into the game, the more I find to love.

The simple act of moving around is so thoroughly, thoughtfully detailed that it bears praising.

Here’s a very basic overview: Every character moves at the same speed, whether walking or running. While running, you can push the crouch button to slide — this offers you a minor speed boost if you’re on flat or sloping ground. Every character can jump, and if you hold jump while leaping into a wall you’ll clamber up the wall.

It’s a very simple set of rules, but the way that “Apex Legends” makes all movement feel so fluid and smooth is remarkable. It’s perhaps the most impressive aspect of “Apex Legends”: The game simply feels good to move around in. The same can’t be said for any other Battle Royale game.

(EA/Respawn Entertainment)

2. It’s a tremendously detailed game, despite being straightforward and accessible to anyone.

Allow me an example: For the first few weeks, I rarely used hip-fire (shooting without aiming down the sights). Why would I do that if I could aim more carefully by aiming with a sight?

It turns out there’s a massive benefit to using hip-fire shooting in “Apex Legends,” and blending your shooting between aimed shots and hip-fire is a crucial component to successful play. Due to the relatively accurate spread of fire, hip-firing is critical for winning close-quarter fights with most weapons in “Apex Legends.”

That’s one tiny detail of myriad tiny details that make every little thing you do in “Apex Legends” feel so good. It’s actually my favorite component of the game: I’m still learning finer nuances of each specific weapon, of how to move through the environment more swiftly, of how to reach a place I didn’t know I could.

It’s a game that still feels remarkably fresh to me even after dozens of hours played.

The full “Apex Legends” island.

(“Apex Legends”/Electronic Arts)

3. The way players can interact with the extremely detailed world in “Apex Legends” is a testament to its excellent world design.

On our way to the next circle, my friend pinged a location for me to see — a tiny little hole he’d discovered that could be used to sneakily get away in a desperate Skull Town fight.

It was the most recent discovery he’d made after over 100 hours spent running, sliding, and shooting through the single map in “Apex Legends.”

There are dozens of these little quirks to the map, and it’s clear that an absurd amount of attention was given to exactly how each area of the map was laid out. There are always more angles to take, or ways to flank enemies, or a carefully placed boulder that’ll have to serve as cover — the hands of the game’s development team are all over the map if you look close enough.

“Fortnite” recently added a bus that acts a lot like the Respawn Beacons in “Apex Legends.”

(Epic Games)

4. “Apex Legends” is the evolution of Battle Royale — every other game in the genre feels old by comparison.

Watching a video recently of a popular Twitch streamer playing “PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds,” I was struck by how stiff it was. Movement had no sense of weight to it, and the sound of the player running made it look like they were tiptoe-running across a field.

Frankly, it looked outdated and unpolished compared to “Apex Legends.”

The closest any Battle Royale game gets, in terms of movement and gunplay and feel, is “Call of Duty: Blackout.” It’s quick, and has solid gunplay, and there are some interesting gameplay twists that make it unique. But it is inherently a “Call of Duty” Battle Royale mode, with all the baggage that comes with — movement isn’t very fluid, and guns mostly sound like toys.

And that’s before we start talking about the respawn system, or ziplines, or the pinging system, or dropships, or care packages, or the jumpmaster system, or any of the other dozen innovations that “Apex Legends” brings to the Battle Royale genre. It adds so much new stuff that it feels like a full step forward past every other game in the genre.

Level 1 Shield here!

(EA/Respawn Entertainment)

5. The ping system!

It’s hard to overstate how impressive the ping system is in “Apex Legends.” It should be the number one takeaway for any game developer working on a new multiplayer shooter.

The idea is simple: See an enemy? Tap the right bumper on your gamepad, and your character will call out those enemies and even mark their last movement for your teammates. See ammo your teammate needs? Tap the right bumper! It’s a brilliant, robust system for “spotting” various things — from items to enemies.

Smarter still, that system is contextual. If you’re looking at a level-three helmet and “spot” it, your character shouts out, “Level-three helmet here!” and marks it for your teammates. It’s this system that enables teammates to communicate a wealth of information without having to literally speak to strangers.

The spotting system cannot be overstated in its importance — it’s such a smart innovation that I outright expect it to show up in most multiplayer shooters going forward. It better!

Even with a sight, shooting someone from this distance with an Alternator is a tricky proposition.

(EA/Respawn Entertainment)

6. It’s the best shooter of any Battle Royale game — shooting specifically.

The team behind “Apex Legends” has a serious pedigree behind it, having created the “Call of Duty” series and the “Titanfall” series.

It’s no surprise, then, that the shooting in “Apex Legends” feels so good — it’s from developers who more or less set the standard in video-game shooting.

To this end, bullets fall appropriately over a distance. Gunshot sounds are directional. Headshots feel substantial, and submachine guns feel like high-powered BB guns.

The shooting looks, feels, and sounds as good or better than the best shooting games, from the latest “Call of Duty” to “Destiny 2.”

This may sound obvious but, in the most popular Battle Royale games, the shooting is pretty terrible. “Fortnite” has notoriously lackluster shooting mechanics. The only great Battle Royale shooter is “Call of Duty: Blackout,” and that shooting is held back by the relatively stiff movement of the game.

(EA/Respawn Entertainment)

7. Since each Legend has their own abilities, learning how to mix those abilities with your friends is a blast.

In “Fortnite,” every character you play as has the same abilities. It’s a third-person shooter with building mechanics, and every avatar — visuals aside — is identical.

The same can be said for “PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds” and the Battle Royale mode in “Call of Duty: Black Ops 4.”

But in “Apex Legends,” each player has unique abilities. There are various “classes” of characters — soldiers, tanks, healers, etc. — and various specialties within each class. In this way, “Apex Legends” is more similar to “Overwatch” than its direct competition.

And blending those characters into a team made up of complementary players is part of the delight of “Apex Legends.” Better yet: The game’s developer, Respawn Entertainment, has already added one new character, Octane. And more are promised for the future.

So, what are these powers? They range from the ability to conjure a healing drone that can heal multiple teammates at once, to a grappling hook for reaching high places, to the ability to deploy noxious-gas containers. Using Bangalore’s smoke grenade combined with Gibraltar’s air strike ultimate is one combination I’ve been particularly enjoying.

Since it’s still early days for “Apex Legends,” many of the best ways to use various abilities are still shaking out. And that’s thrilling! There’s a “meta” to “Apex Legends” that is deeper and smarter than games like “Fortnite.” It feels like there are many ways to win, with a variety of different team setups, rather than a “best” way to win. And that leads to the kind of experimentation that keeps the game fresh.

Picking up wins with friends is absolutely delightful.

(EA/Respawn Entertainment)

8. Playing with friends is critical, and makes the game so much more enjoyable.

I’ve had lots of good matches of “Apex Legends” with total strangers. I’ve won many games where my teammates and I never spoke a word, using only the in-game pinging system to communicate while moving from fight to fight. It is entirely possible to play this game with strangers and have a blast.

But nothing is better than playing with friends, using both your voice and the game’s pinging system to detail your words. Saying “Enemies right here” and pinging the location at the same time is a great way to immediately convey complex information to your teammates. Even better is the tactical planning you convey to each other afterward as you head into battle. “I’ll take left flank,” for instance, or “Getting height” — common refrains while sneaking up on an opposing squad.

Better still, you learn each other’s strengths and compliment each other’s chosen character. You laugh at each other’s faults and call out items you know friends are looking for — yes, I’m always looking for an R-301. Thank you for remembering!

It’s why I’ve been staying up way past my normal bedtime almost every day to play more “Apex Legends.” It’s the best game that’s come out this year by a longshot, and by far the best Battle Royale game available.

Apex Legends Gameplay Trailer

www.youtube.com

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.