Have you ever been sweating the details of an inspection or searching the rack at the PX and wondered how your branch’s uniforms came to be? Here are 9 reasons behind the uniforms in seabags and footlockers worldwide today:
1. Why are there three white stripes on a sailor’s jumper?
The three white stripes go back to the U.S. Navy’s origins and the service’s ties to the British Royal Navy. Each stripe represents one of Lord Nelson’s major victories (the wars of the First, Second, and Third Coalition, which included the Battle of Trafalgar).
2. What’s the flap for on the back of a sailor’s jumper?
Jumper flaps originated as a protective cover for the uniform jacket because sailors greased their hair to hold it in place. (In those days showering wasn’t an every day thing.) (Source: Bluejacket.com)
3. Where did a sailor’s black neckerchief come from?
The black silk neckerchief was originally a sweat rag. Black was chosen as the color because it didn’t show dirt. (Source: Bluejacket.com)
4. Why do sailor’s wear bellbottoms?
Bellbottoms are easier to roll up than regular trousers, and sailors have always had occasion to roll pant legs up whether swabbing decks or wading through the shallows when beaching small boats. (Source: Bluejacket.com)
5. Why does the eagle face to the right on emblems?
The eagle on an officer’s crest actually faced left until 1940 when it was changed to conform with “heraldic tradition” that hold that the right side of a shield represents honor, while the left side represents dishonor.
6. Why is the Army Service Uniform blue?
The origin of the blue Army service uniform goes back to the earliest days of the nation when General George Washington issued a general order October 1779 prescribing blue coats with differing facings for the various state troops, artillery, artillery artificers and light dragoons. The Adjutant & Inspector General’s Office, March 27, 1821 established “Dark blue is the National colour. When a different one is not expressly prescribed, all uniform coats, whether for officers or enlisted men, will be of that colour.” (Source: Army.mil)
7. What is the meaning of the symbol on top of a Marine Corps officer’s cover?
The quatrefoil — the cross-shaped braid worn atop an officer’s cover— represents the rope pre-Civil War era officers wore across their caps to allow sharpshooters high in the rigging of a sailing ship to identify friend from foe in a shipboard battle.
8. What does the Marine Corps’ Eagle, Globe, and Anchor emblem represent?
The eagle represents the United States. The globe represents the Corps’ willingness to engage worldwide. And the (fouled) anchor represents the association with the Navy as an expeditionary fighting force from the sea.
9. Why doesn’t the U.S. Air Force have much in the way of uniform traditions like the Army, Navy, and Marine Corps?
The USAF is a relatively young service, having been formed from the Army Air Corps after World War II. That lack of heritage has made creating meaningful uniform symbology a challenge, and Air Force leader’s attempts to improve uniforms have generally caused confusion or been met by the force with a lack of enthusiasm. In fact, at one point in the 1990s the Air Force actually had three authorized versions of the service dress uniform. The result of all of this has been a fairly straightforward (read “boring”) inventory of uniforms over the years.
The rapper 2 Chainz and the Tru Foundation, a non-profit focused on helping the Southside of Atlanta and the surrounding areas, visited the home of Dierdre Plater, a disabled veteran living in Palmetto, Georgia.
He was there to spread Christmas cheer and surprise Plater, a single mother, with new furniture and her rent for an entire year.
2 Chainz used proceeds from his recent line of “Dabbing Santa” ugly Christmas sweaters. The rapper plans to extend the giving to other families in need during the Christmas season.
“It’s hard to keep gas in the car, food in the house, and do everything by myself being a single parent,” Dierdre Plater told CBS 46, the local CBS affiliate.”I love to see stuff like this happen for other people, but I never thought it would happen to me.”
Most of the time, people have the best intentions when they’re talking to a veteran.
“By and large, at this stage in history, the American people are very, very supportive of veterans,” Brandon Trama, a former US Army Special Operations Detachment Commander, CivCom grad, and associate at Castleton Commodities International, told Business Insider.
Indeed, according to Gallup, the majority of civilians view each of the five branches either very or somewhat favorably.
“I’ve encountered numerous people when I transitioned who were willing to help me out, whether it was buy me a cup of coffee, give me thoughts on their career path, or put me in front of other people who may be able to point me in the direction of other opportunities,” Trama said.
And despite the good intentions of many civilians, there’s still a growing gap between the military and civilian worlds. So it’s important for civilians to remember that there’s a difference between reverence and understanding.
Business Insider spoke with veterans from several different branches of the military about transitioning back to civilian careers.
Here’s what they said they wished civilians would understand — and, in some cases, refrain from saying:
1. ‘We all owe you’
The military is widely held in esteem in the U.S. A whopping 72% of Americans have confidence in the institution, according to Gallup — compare that with the 16% of folks who have confidence in Congress.
But quite a few of the veterans Business Insider spoke with asserted that well-intentioned adulation can go too far.
Some advised civilians against overdoing it when thanking veterans for their service. These veterans also warned fellow ex-service members from letting any praise go to their heads.
“Stop thinking people owe you something,” Omari Broussard, who spent 20 years in the Navy, told Business Insider. “Nobody owes you anything.”
The New York Times reported that some veterans view being thanked for their service as “shallow, disconnected, a reflexive offering from people who, while meaning well, have no clue what soldiers did over there or what motivated them to go.”
According to Broussard, it’s best for veterans — especially those who recently left the service — to not take the praise to heart, especially at work.
“When you get out, you’ve got to compete with the best,” the founder of counter-ambush training class 10X Defense and author of “Immediate Action Marketing” said. “Go get it. That may require you doing a lot more work than you think you need to do.”
2. ‘Do you have any friends that died?’
Probing and ill-advised questions from civilians can make many veterans feel dehumanized and othered.
“People will ask me plainly, ‘Do you have any friends that died?'” Garrett Unclebach, who served as a Navy SEAL for six years, told Business Insider. “And then the second question they’ll ask me is, ‘You ever kill anybody?’ Two super inappropriate questions to ask people.”
Unclebach said people should remember they don’t necessarily have a full grasp on the issues an individual veteran is facing.
“People talk about PTSD and they don’t really understand it so I would tell you that some guys who have it are embarrassed by it,” the VP of business development at construction firm Bellator Construction said. “Everyone needs an opportunity to be human and be vulnerable.”
3. ‘I don’t really understand how your ability to go fight is going to add value to my organization’
Edelman Intelligence’s study of 1,000 employers found that 76% want to hire more veterans — but only 38% said veterans obtain skills in the military that “are easily transferable to the private or public sector.”
Phil Gilreath, who served as a Marine officer for nearly 10 years, said this is a potential “stigma” veterans face in the business world.
“In reality, over 95% of what we do is kind of planning and operations and logistics,” he told Business Insider. “That absolutely translates to the corporate world, not to mention the things that aren’t necessarily quantitative, such as your leadership experience, your ability to operate in a dynamic, stressful environment that’s ever-changing.”
Gilreath is now director of operations at storage space startup Clutter and was previously a fellow at the Honor Foundation, a group that specifically helps Navy SEALs transition to civilian life.
He said veterans must enter the civilian world prepared to explain and demonstrate how exactly their skills cross over.
Evan Roth, an HBX CORe alum and former US Air Force captain who now works for GE Aviation, agrees.
“Not only does this involve creating a résumé that has readable — no strange acronyms — skill sets and experience, but also learning how to talk to companies in a way that demonstrates value,” Roth said. “Many members never practice how to give a 15-second ‘elevator pitch’ about how they can be valuable to a company, or in an interview they’ll tell a three minute ‘war story’ without tying it back to how this could be useful in the civilian world.”
4. ‘What the heck are you talking about?’
Many branches of the military rely upon specific jargon and acronyms to get things done.
Randy Kelley, who served as a Navy SEAL sniper for 11 years, said this means things can get lost in translation for recent veterans.
“Just like in any other cross-cultural situation, it’s going to create a little bit of animosity, and create the division that sometimes can actually hurt the military guy,” the founder of wellness startup Dasein Institute told Business Insider. “They have to stop speaking to civilians like they understand what a PRT is. All these different things that were important to them in their last career are no longer relevant.”
He said it’s best for veterans to drop such phraseology in a civilian setting, and for civilian employers to understand where veterans are coming from.
But, in the case of recent vets, it’s better to be understanding and ask for clarification, rather than just writing someone off because they’re still relying upon a military style of communications.
5. ‘You must want to go back into security-related work’
Not all veterans automatically want to work for a defense contractor.
James Byrne, who served as a US Navy SEAL officer for 26 years, said it’s important not to encourage veterans to “mentally lock themselves into the belief” that their skills only transfer to security-related industry.
When he first returned to civilian work, he said some well-intentioned civilians encouraged him to pursue a gig as a security guard at Walmart — simply because they couldn’t envision his abilities translating elsewhere. Today, he’s the director of sales and business development at solar tech company Envision Solar
“The sky’s the limit,” he told Business Insider. “You’re only stopped by your imagination of what you can do and what you can work with your network and yourself and your education and your soft skills and hard skills. There’s no limit to what you can do and how you can do it.”
6. ‘You must be glad to be back’
The process of leaving the military can be disorienting for some veterans. It’s patronizing to assume someone is in a better place just because they’re no longer in the service.
Former US Marine Corps rifleman and Victor App founder Greg Jumes told Business Insider he struggled with addiction and lived out of his car for a time after he left the military.
“When you get out, you’re surrounded by a group of people and you don’t know what the hell their deal is,” he said. “You just kind of feel all over the place and that kind of brings you back into a state of isolation.”
He said it’s crucial for military servicemembers interested in leaving to plan ahead.
“You have to plan,” he said. “You have to find where you should be moving to. You have to start networking before you get out.”
7. ‘You must have gone through so much’
Never assume you have an idea of what a veteran’s experience was like.
“The narrative that has been established for returning veterans has been unhelpful,” retired Green Beret Scott Mann, who served in the Army for 23 years, told Business Insider. “The narrative has been ‘the island of misfit toys.’ We’re broken.”
Today, Mann runs a leadership training organization MannUp and the Heroes Journey, a non-profit devoted to helping veterans transition. He said it’s harmful to have a perception of veterans as “damaged goods.”
“That could not be further from the truth, in most cases,” he said. “There are cases where some people need care for the rest of their lives. Most of the veteran population are high functioning and we actually need them in our communities and businesses leading in the front, putting those skills into play.”
Remember, there’s a ton of diversity when it comes to the experiences military servicemembers have across the five branches — and even within those branches.
“What I did in the Navy is probably unlike with the other 99% of people did in the Navy,” Charles Mantranga, Navy veteran and implementation manager at tech firm Exitus Technologies, told Business Insider. “It’s pretty hard for people to understand it, really.”
The M247 Sgt. Alvin York was pitched to officials and lawmakers alike as a precision shooter in the same vein as its legendary namesake and the silver bullet that would stop all Soviet aircraft — especially the feared Mi-24 Hind attack helicopter — that dared fly too low and close to ground troops.
Instead, it was an expensive boondoggle that couldn’t fight, couldn’t shoot accurately, and couldn’t tell the difference between a toilet and an enemy aircraft.
The M247 came from a requirement for a “Division Air Defense” weapon, a platform that could move forward with armored and infantry divisions and protect them from air-to-ground attacks. But the program was opened when the U.S. was already in the middle of five large weapons programs, and money was tight.
Every part of the weapon had a demonstrated history of performance, and so the anti-aircraft Frankenstein monster was expected to perform. But the F-16’s radar was never designed to deal with the amount of ground clutter that the York would have to deal with. And the M48’s chassis were getting worn out after years of service.
Second, the old chassis sometimes broke down under the increased weight of the larger York turret and the engines weren’t strong enough to propel the weapon quickly.
In fact, the York weighed 62 tons, 17 tons more than the original Pattons. The extra weight slowed the M247 so much that it couldn’t keep pace with the M1 Abrams tanks and M2 Bradleys that it was designed to primarily protect.
Third, the awesome Swedish cannons on the York provided their own problems. While capable, they were mounted in such a way that a weapon pointing high in the sky would confuse the already troubled radar.
And finally, the weapon wasn’t even accurate. In some tests, it failed to hit helicopters hovering completely still.
So, it couldn’t keep up with the vehicles it escorted, couldn’t properly find low targets because of ground clutter, couldn’t find high targets because of its own gun, and then couldn’t accurately hit anything it could find.
Army and Ford engineers worked hard to iron out the kinks, but they still had to resort to gimmicks like attaching radar-bouncing panels to targets to get the system to pass basic tests.
In one important display, VIPs from the military and Congress were invited to watch the York perform. The system failed to spot its target and instead locked onto something in the stands. It swung its own gun around to track it and several visitors suffered injuries in the scramble to escape the stands.
While Eddie Rickenbacker has a claim to fame as the top American ace of World War I, there were plenty of other Americans who fought valiantly with Allies from the air.
One of them, Eugene Bullard, has the distinction of being the first African-American military pilot.
According to Air and Space Power Journal, Bullard was born in Columbus, Georgia, on Oct 9, 1894. At 8 years old, he left Georgia after his father narrowly escaped a lynching, and made his way to Norfolk where he worked a series of odd jobs before he stowed away on a ship bound for Scotland.
He worked more odd jobs across Scotland and England, including as a longshoreman and on a fish wagon, until he discovered talents for boxing and performing. That talent eventually landed him in Paris just as World War I started.
Bullard spent two years with an infantry unit and was wounded during the Battle of Verdun. He then transferred to the French Flying Corps. During his time in the infantry, he was nicknamed “The Black Swallow of Death.” Bullard would score two kills in just over two months of combat flying. After the U.S. ignored his application to be a pilot for the American military despite his combat experience, he was transferred to non-combat duties by the French until his discharge in 1919.
Bullard would settle down in France, but come to his adopted country’s defense again in World War II, first serving as a spy, then seeing ground combat near Orleans. After he was wounded, he was medically evacuated, along with his daughters to the United States. He eventually went to work as an elevator operator in New York City.
In 1954, France invited Bullard and two other men to re-light the Eternal Flame at the Arc de Triomphe. In 1959, he was named a Knight of the Legion of Honor, and was interviewed on the Today Show. The next year, Charles de Gaulle publicly declared Bullard a hero of France.
Bullard died on Oct. 12, 1961, after an illness caused by the wounds he had received. He was 67 years old. In 1994, 100 years after he was born, the U.S. Air Force granted him a commission as a Lieutenant.
The Pentagon is trying to finalize an order for 12 new ballistic missile submarines, the lead ship of which will be named USS Columbia (SSBN 826).
The Navy hopes to place the order before the Trump administration takes office.
According to reports by the Daily Caller and USNI News, the order will permit the Navy to start the process of designing and building the submarines. The Congressional Research Service reports that the sub will carry 16 Trident ballistic missiles, a decrease from the 24 missiles carried by the 14 Ohio-class ballistic missile submarines presently in service.
Four other Ohio-class submarines were converted to fire BGM-109 Tomahawk cruise missiles and to support SEALs with covert commando raids.
According to the CRS report, the Columbia-class submarines are expected to be 560 feet long and 43 feet in diameter, roughly the size of the Ohio-class submarine. The vessels will have technological improvements, notably a reactor that will not require refueling as well as taking advantage of techniques used to build the Virginia-class submarines, including modular construction and the use of open architecture to make upgrades easier.
Earlier this year, BreakingDefense.com reported that the vessels will be built by Electric Boat.
This would be the ninth ship to carry the name USS Columbia in U.S. Navy service. The eighth, a Los Angeles-class attack submarine, is still in service and has the hull number SSN 771.
A 2013 Navy release states that the first Columbia-class boomer is expected to begin construction in 2021, enter service in 2027, and undertake its first deterrence patrol in 2031. According to a report by USNI News, each sub is expected to cost about $8 billion.
China’s newest maritime patrol aircraft has made a debut by deploying to Hainan Island, a sign that Beijing wants to improve its anti-submarine warfare capabilities in the disputed South China Sea, a major maritime flashpoint.
According to a report by DefenseNews.com, the People’s Liberation Army Navy Air Force has deployed a new version of the Y-8 maritime patrol plane. This version, the Y-8Q, appears to have a magnetic anomaly detector (MAD) on the tail, giving it a profile similar to the P-3 Orion. Both planes are four-engine turbo-prop aircraft.
The aircraft was seen by commercial satellites at Lingshui, a base the Chinese have on Hainan Island. Scramble.nl notes that the 9th Air Division is deployed at Lingshui, and also has the KJ-500H, an airborne early warning variant. MilitaryFactory.com notes that the baseline Y-8 is a version of the Antonov An-12 transport.
China has been strongly asserting claims to the South China Sea. In 2001, a PLANAF J-8B Finback based out of Hainan Island collided with a United States Navy EP-3E Aries II electronic surveillance aircraft. The Chinese pilot, Lieutenant Wang Wei, was killed, while the American EP-3E landed at Hainan Island and the crew was held for almost two weeks.
John A. asks: Are there any real examples of medieval castles having alligators in the moat to keep out intruders?
A common image in pop-culture is that of a castle moat filled to the brim with water and hungry crocodiles. So did anyone ever actually do this?
The short answer is that it doesn’t appear so. That said, while there’s no known documented instance of crocodiles intentionally being put into moats, we do know of at least one castle that had (and has, in fact) a moat full of bears…
Before we get to that and why crocodiles in moats are probably not the best idea in the world, or at least not a very efficient use of resources if your concern was really defense of a fortress, we should address the fact that the common image most people have in their heads of a moat isn’t exactly representative of what historical moats usually looked like.
To begin with, moats have been around seemingly as long as humans have had need of protecting a structure or area, with documented instances of them appearing everywhere from Ancient Egypt to slightly more modern times around certain Native American settlements. And, of course, there are countless examples of moats being used throughout European history. In many cases, however, these moats were little more than empty pits dug around a particular piece of land or property- water filled moats were something of a rarity.
Bodiam Castle, a 14th-century castle near Robertsbridge in East Sussex, England.
You see, unless a natural source of water was around, maintaining an artificial moat filled with water required a lot of resources to avoid the whole thing just turning into a stinking cesspool of algae and biting bugs, as is wont to happen in standing water. As with artificial ponds constructed on certain wealthy individuals’ estates, these would have to be regularly drained and cleaned, then filled back up to keep things from becoming putrid.
Of course, if one had a natural flowing water source nearby, some of these problems could be avoided. But, in the end, it turns out a water filled moat isn’t actually that much more effective than an empty one at accomplishing the goal of protecting a fortress.
And as for putting crocodiles (or alligators) in them, introducing such animals to a region, beyond being quite expensive if not their native habitat, is also potentially dangerous if the animals got out. Again, all this while not really making the act of conquering a fortress that much more difficult- so little payoff for the extra cost of maintaining crocodiles.
Unsurprisingly from this, outside of a legend we’ll get to shortly, there doesn’t appear to be any known documented cases of anyone intentionally putting crocodiles or alligators into their water filled moats.
It should also be mentioned here that while at first glance it would appear that the key purpose of a moat is to defend against soldiers attacking at the walls, they were often actually constructed with the idea of stopping soldiers under the ground. You see, a technique favoured since ancient times for breaching cities, fortresses and fortified positions was to simply dig tunnels below any walls surrounding the position and then intentionally let them collapse, bringing part of the wall above that section tumbling down. Eventually this was accomplished by use of explosives like gunpowder, but before this a more simple method was to cart a bunch of tinder into the tunnel at the appropriate point and set the whole thing ablaze. The idea here was, after all your diggers were out, to destroy the support beams used to keep the tunnel from collapsing while digging. If all went as planned, both the tunnel and the wall above it would then collapse.
North view of the fortress of Buhen in Ancient Egypt.
To get around this very effective form of breaching fortifications, moats would be dug as deeply as possible around the fortification, sometimes until diggers reached bedrock. If a natural source of water was around, surrounding the fortress with water was a potential additional benefit over the dry pit at stopping such tunneling.
Either way, beyond making tunneling more difficult (or practically impossible), dry and wet moats, of course, helped dissuade above ground attacks as well thanks to moats being quite good at limiting an enemy’s use of siege weaponry. In particular, devices such as battering rams are rendered almost entirely useless in the presence of a large moat. Though the later advent of weapons such as trebuchets made moats less effective overall, they still proved to be formidable barrier capable of kneecapping a direct assault on a castle’s walls.
All this said, it wasn’t as if proud moat owners didn’t put anything in them. There are plenty of ways to beef up moat defences without the need for water and crocodiles. Pretty much anything that slows an enemy’s advance works well. And, better year, anything that is so daunting it deters an attack at all.
In fact, archaeological surveys of moats have found evidence of things like stinging bushes having once grown throughout some moats. Whether these were intentionally planted on the part of the moat owners or just a byproduct of having a patch of land they left unattended for years at a time isn’t entirely clear. But it doesn’t seem too farfetched to think this may have been intentional in some cases. As you might imagine, wading through stinging or thorny plants while arrows and rocks and the like are raining down at you from above wasn’t exactly tops on people’s lists of things to do.
As for moats that were filled with water, while filling them with crocodiles or alligators wasn’t seemingly something anyone did, some savvy castle owners did fill them with fish giving them a nice private fishery. (As mentioned, artificial ponds built for this purpose were also sometimes a thing for the ultra-wealthy, functioning both as a status symbol, given maintaining such was incredibly expensive, and a great source of food year round).
Moving back to the dry bed moats, when not just leaving them as a simple dug pit or planting things meant to slow enemy troops, it does appear at least in some rare instances fortress owners would put dangerous animals in them, though seemingly, again, more as a status symbol than actually being particularly effective at deterring enemy troops.
Most famously, at Krumlov Castle in the Czech Republic there exists something that is most aptly described as a “bear moat”, located between the castle’s first and second courtyard. When exactly this practice started and exactly why has been lost to history, with the earliest known documented reference to the bear moat going back to 1707.
Whether designed to serve as a stark warning to potential intruders, a status symbol, or both, the castle’s grizzliest residents were tended to by a designated bearkeeper until around the early 19th century when the practice ceased. This changed again in 1857 when the castle’s then resident noble, Karl zu Schwarzenberg, acquired a pair of bears from nearby Transylvania intent on reviving the tradition. From that moment onward, outside of a brief lapse in the late 19th century, the castle’s moat has almost always contained at least one bear.
Today the bears are most definitely completely for show, and each year bear-themed celebrations are held at Christmas and on the bears’ birthdays during which children bring the bears presents.
If bears aren’t you thing, Wilhelm V, the Prince Regent of Bavaria, in the late 16th century supposedly kept both lions and a leopard in the moat of Trausnitz Castle while he lived there. However, again, it appears that Prince Wilhelm kept the animals more for show and fun than he did for defence. Beyond dangerous creatures, his moat also contained pheasants and a rabbit run.
Moving back to crocodiles being put in moats, the earliest reference to something like this (though seemingly just a legend), appears to be the legend of the Coccodrillo di Castelnuovo.
This story is recounted by the 19th and 20th century historian and politician Benedetto Croce in his “Neapolitan Stories and Legends“:
In that castle, there was a moat under the level of the sea, dark, humid, where the prisoners, who they want to more strictly castigate, were usually put. When, all of a sudden, they started to notice with astonishment that, from there, the prisoners disappeared. Did they escape? How? Put a tighter surveillance and a new guest inside there, one day they saw, unexpected and terrifying scene, from a hole hidden in the moat, a monster, a crocodile entering and, with its jaws, it grasped for the legs the prisoner, and dragged him to the sea to eat him.
Rather than kill the creature, the guards decided to make the fearsome creature an “executor of justice”, sending prisoners condemned to death to meet their end in its toothy maw. Exactly where the crocodile came from and when this supposedly happened depends on which version of the legend you consult, though our favourite version suggests that Queen Joanna II smuggled it over to Naples from Egypt sometime in the 15th century with the sole intention of feeding her many, many lovers to it.
A consistent element in most versions of the legend is that the beast bit off more than it could chew when it tried to eat a leg of a giant horse, ultimately choking on it.
Of course, this is generally thought to be nothing more than a legend, with no evidence that it actually occurred or even exactly when. At least the story does show that the idea of a crocodile in a moat isn’t just something found in modern pop culture.
Moats are starting to make a bit of a comeback in modern times, such as used to protect certain embassies from car bombings. There’s also a concrete moat around the parts of Catawba Nuclear Station that isn’t bordered by a lake, again for the purposes of protecting against car bombings and the like.
On the note of poky plants planted in moats, there are variations of a popular Scottish legend that have the thistle playing a key role in foiling the attack of an invading force. In one such version of the legend, a nighttime raid on Slains castle in modern day Aberdeenshire was foiled when sneaking Norsemen stepped on the thistles and cried out in pain, alerting the guards that a surprise attack was eminent. It is sometimes further stated that this is how The Most Noble and Most Ancient Order of the Thistle of Scotland was established and how the national flower of Scotland was chosen. Of course, there isn’t any documented evidence that exists to support the various versions of this legend.
This article originally appeared on Today I Found Out. Follow @TodayIFoundOut on Twitter.
We’ve all played the “What If” game. In the military, this can lead to some rather interesting questions: What would happen if I was in charge of this op? What if I put my hands in my pockets? What if 1st Sergeant was nicer?
In his most recent novel Empire City, Iraq War veteran and author, Matt Gallagher, answers a question that has circulated in the barracks and across many a dinner table, “What if the U.S. won the Vietnam War full WWII unconditional surrender style?” Gallagher’s novel, set half a century in the future from a North Vietnam surrender and occupation, explores an American society transformed by the Vietnam experience into an empire that would rival Rome or the colonial British. However, buried deep inside the world of Empire City, Gallagher also answers a very poignant and pressing question, “What is the real cost of victory?”
Empire City follows the journey of Sebastian Rios, a mid-level bureaucrat, who owes his career and his life to the group of veterans that came to his rescue overseas. Known as the “Volunteers,” these special operators toe the line between national treasures and Soldiers of Fortune who when not deployed to the frontlines of conflicts across the Mediterranean are living the high life in Hollywood and the clubs of Empire City – and, SPOILER ALERT – they aren’t even Navy SEALS but they do have super powers. Along with Mia, a former helicopter pilot turned Wall Street banker, Sebastian finds himself caught in a constitutional debate after a terrorist attack on the city, could, or better, should the U.S. deploy their best soldiers onto home territory?
Like the story of Caesar and his legions crossing the Rubicon, Empire City recounts the multiple layers of tradition turned upside down when a series of battle-hardened veterans decide to act. Among the key players are a former general turned presidential candidate as well as an army of foreign legionnaires who earned their citizenship by fighting America’s wars past and present. If you’d like to know one possible answer to the questions, “What if the hippie movement had failed?” Or, “What if corporate American bought and sold stakes in military units like NASCAR sponsorships?” And, “What if American patriots became their own sheepdogs?” then you’ll enjoy Empire City.
Military veterans, especially combat veterans like Gallagher, who translated his experiences into his previous books, Youngblood and Kaboom, have been known to write some of the most fascinating alternative historical novels of our time. For example, Robert Heinlein, a WWII veteran of the Pacific, went on to write the classic Starship Troopers, a must read for both military and science fiction enthusiasts. I think it’s safe to say that Empire City is the newest addition to our must-read list and Gallagher has just joined a special unit of writers that include Heinlein, Orwell and Turtledove.
For nearly four decades, Al Ungerleider dedicated his life to serving his country. He was an infantry officer who saw active combat in World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War, rising to the rank of brigadier general.
Ungerleider experienced a lot during his years in the military, including a landing amid the chaos on Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944. But nothing stirred his emotions like what crossed before his eyes in the waning days of World War II. At the time, U.S., Soviet and British forces were liberating Nazi concentration camps in Europe as Germany was close to surrendering, bringing to life the horrors of Adolph Hitler’s “Final Solution” to exterminate the Jewish people. The liberators saw emaciated corpses piled on top of each other and skeletal camp survivors, and they could smell the stench of death.
Al Ungerleider (second row, farthest left, kneeling) landed on Omaha Beach on D-Day commanding Company L of the Third Battalion of the 115th Regiment of the 29th Division. This photo shows other commanders in the Third Battalion.
Army 1st Lt. Ungerleider, who died in 2011 at age 89, commanded Company I of the Third Battalion of the 115th Regiment, which separated into advance parties to scout routes and bivouac areas in central Germany. Ungerleider’s party came upon the Dora-Mittelbau concentration camp, the center of a vast network of forced labor camps in the Harz Mountain region. Prisoners at Dora-Mittlebau constructed large factories for the V-2 missile program and other experimental weapons.
Upon entering the camp 75 years ago on April 11, 1945, Ungerleider witnessed a level of cruelty that is “burned into my brain and my soul like nothing else in my life,” he said in a 1993 interview. “My men and I smashed through the gates and witnessed the site of dead bodies, of human beings in the worst state of degradation. There was absolute horror in what we saw. Then we asked, `What can we do to help?'”
`Literally starving to death’
Ungerleider, who was Jewish, spoke Yiddish to the survivors in the camp and grouped them together to recite the Kaddish, the Jewish prayer to mourn the dead. Prior to the liberation, the Nazis had evacuated most of the prisoners at Dora-Mittlebau to the Bergen-Belsen camp in northern Germany to hide them from allied forces. Thus, only a few hundred prisoners remained at the camp, which once held as many as 12,000 by the time the Americans arrived.
“He and his unit were totally unprepared for what they found because they had no knowledge of the concentration camps,” said Ungerleider’s son, Neil Ungerleider. “The survivors were literally starving to death.”
Neil Ungerleider explained that his father spoke with German citizens who lived in the nearby towns and villages and who claimed ignorance of the atrocities. He said to them, `Go back and bring these people food,'” Neil Ungerleider said. “He threatened to imprison them if they didn’t do it, but they did. They brought them food.”
The Americans appeared to encounter minimal resistance as they scoured the camp. At one point, Al Ungerleider and Army Pfc. Billy Melander went to a building and found 10 crematorium ovens with the doors closed. Edward Burke, the captain of a tank destroyer battalion that accompanied Ungerleider’s unit in the assault on the camp, provided an account of what happened next:
Ungerleider told Billy to bring his M1 Rifle ready to fire as he opened the doors,” Burke once said. “Doors one, two, three and four were empty. Ungerleider said as he approached door five he felt a tingle all through his body. As he opened the door, there was a German trooper with a Luger pistol aimed at them. Fortunately, Billy was faster on the trigger, and he pumped eight shots into the German as fast as he could pull the trigger.”
Nightmares from what he witnessed
Like Al Ungerleider and his unit, many Americans were unaware of the German atrocities toward the Jews. Nearly 6 million Jewish people were murdered in Nazi concentration camps from 1939 to 1945 in what is known as the Holocaust.
Neil Ungerleider said his father experienced nightmares as a result of what he witnessed at Dora-Mittlebau. “This one traumatic event stuck with him for the rest of his life. He was able to cope very well with his war experiences, except for this one thing.”
Nearly a year before liberating the camp, Al Ungerleider led 50 men from the 115th Regiment ashore at Omaha Beach on the morning of June 6, 1944. They were in the second wave of U.S. troops who hit the beach in the Normandy invasion along the northern coast of France. The invasion changed the course of the war by leading to the Allied liberation of Western Europe from Germany’s control. “Being in the second wave, he didn’t experience the kind of slaughter that those who went in first did,” Neil Ungerleider said, “which doesn’t make it any less dangerous or any less heroic in terms of what he and his men did. But he did have close calls during the war.”
Al Ungerleider earned three Bronze Stars for his military service.
`He was a patriot’
Al Ungerleider was not wounded during the landing. But he suffered injuries not long after from shrapnel in France. The first wound to his arm wasn’t that serious. He was treated at a hospital in France before returning to combat. A wound to the leg was more serious. He was evacuated to England for treatment and returned to battle.
On June 6, 1994, the 50th anniversary of the Normandy invasion, Ungerleider was chosen to escort President Clinton for a wreath laying at the iconic site. Ten years later, he was one of 100 American Veterans who returned to Omaha Beach for the 60th anniversary. They received the French Legion of Honor, the oldest and highest honor in France.
In his distinguished military career, Ungerleider also commanded military bases in Korea and Vietnam. He was a three-time recipient of the Bronze Star, which is awarded to members of the military for heroic achievement, heroic service, meritorious achievement or meritorious service in a combat zone.
Over the years, Ungerleider remained modest about his recognition and service to his country. “He was a patriot who loved his country and did his duty,” Neil Ungerleider said. “After Pearl Harbor, my father enlisted because, as he put it, `We were all going. No one ever thought not to go.’ In his mind, he was doing nothing beyond what everyone else was doing. He never thought of himself as unique or special. The value he instilled in his children was this: Work hard, do your best and be modest about what you achieve. I cannot think of a better description of how he lived his life.”
Even if you do, regulations dictate you’re only authorized to wear one foreign badge with other decorations in order of presentation. The award also falls under the original nation’s regulations and some badges are purely honorary awards (meaning you can’t wear them).
Kuwait Liberation Medal (Kuwait) and Kuwait Liberation Medal (Saudi Arabia)
Ever wondered what was at the bottom right of the medals of your salty senior non-commissioned officer who has been in since the Persian Gulf War? Technically these two are the same medal and technically they’re foreign awards.
The Kuwait Liberation Medal was given by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to members of the armed forces who served in Operation Desert Storm between Jan. 17 and Feb. 28, 1991. It still holds the condition that the troop must have served 30 consecutive days (which gives you only 17 days of wiggle room), but given instantly if they saw combat
The Government of Kuwait awarded one to all members of the U.S. Armed Forces who deployed in support of Operation Desert Shield or Desert Storm between Aug. 2, 1990 and Aug. 31, 1993.
French Commando Badge
No matter what jokes people say about the French military, their commandos are beasts. This badge is adorned by those bad asses and their foreign graduates, and it’s a rare opportunity for American troops to get accepted into French Commando schools.
The training is a grueling three weeks that tests your survival skills in the field. If you can get in and graduate, the badge is one of the coolest designed badges of all American allies.
Any foreign jump wings
Foreign jump wings are awarded to U.S. parachutists when they complete training in a foreign country under a foreign commanding officer. In order to qualify, you must already have the U.S. Parachutist Basic Badge. Then it all depends on your unit to do a joint jump between American troops and their military.
A lot of the awards have a similar design to the U.S. badge. Hands down, the coolest design goes to Polish Parachute badge. First worn by the Cichociemni (WWII Special Operations paratrooper literally called “The Silent Unseen”) the diving eagle has several variations like those worn by Poland’s GROM and other troops.
These ones are more unit citations than personal awards. This has the easy benefit of just being lucky enough to be in a unit that was awarded a fourragère in the past but it also means that you won’t stand out against anyone who’s also in your unit. These are decorative cords with golden aglets (tips).
Awarded to units that served gallantly in the eyes of French, Belgian, Portuguese, and South Vietnamese armies (Luxembourg also has fourragères but they never authorized foreign units to wear one), the color denotes mentions and honors. Just like with normal unit citations, if you are in the unit when it was awarded, you keep it for life.
Don’t expect to see anyone wearing one outside of a designated unit, though, because these were last given in 1944.
I didn’t want to make this in a ranking order, but the Schützenschnur (Sharpshooter Rope) is by far the coolest and most sought after. I managed to earn one in gold when I was stationed in Baumholder, Germany.
In order to earn one, you need to perform a marksmanship qualification with German weapons. Round One is pistol, round two is rifle, and round three is heavy weapons. I was given the P8, G36, and MG3 for my qualification.
At the end, you are awarded the badge in bronze, silver, or gold. If you shoot gold with the pistol and rifle but botched the machine gun in bronze, you earn a bronze “Schütz”. You are awarded according to your lowest score. I pulled off gold in all of them.
I will openly admit that I have no idea how I made gold with the MG3 but hey! I’ll take it.
(Screen grab of video by Cpl. Clay Beyersdorfer)
(Bonus) Order of St. Gregory the Great
This one isn’t authorized to wear on a U.S. Military uniform because it goes with an entirely new uniform that comes with it.
The Order of St. Gregory the Great is bestowed upon a soldier by the Vatican and the Pope himself. You are knighted and given the title of Gonfalonier (Standard-bearer) of the Church.
A famous U.S. soldier to have been knighted by the pope was Brevet Lt. Col. Myles Keogh, when he rallied to the defense of Pope Pius IX against the Kingdom of Sardinia. Keogh held his own until his capture.
After release, he was awarded the Pro Petro Sede Medal and admitted into the Order.
The British have a long history with armored fighting vehicles. In fact, they were the first to introduce the tank to modern warfare during World War I. Today, the British Army’s armored vehicles are among the best in the world. That’s why it’s no surprise that the MCV-80 Warrior infantry fighting vehicle has been around for over three decades and is still going strong.
The vehicle arose from a need to get British troops onto the battlefield while protecting them from enemy fire and keeping up with Challenger main battle tanks. And, of course, this vehicle would need to be able to bring the hurt to enemy forces.
The Warrior satisfies all of those requirements and then some. This vehicle, also known as the FV510, was first introduced in 1988. It weighs in at just under 31 tons, packs a 30mm Rarden auto-cannon, and can carry seven grunts to the battle at speeds of up to 47 miles per hour. A single tank of gas will take it 410 miles.
The Kuwaiti version of the Warrior, parked center-right, next to the A-4Ku, packs a 25mm Bushmaster chain gun and two BGM-71 TOW missiles.
British Warriors have seen action in Desert Storm, Bosnia, Operation Enduring Freedom, and Operation Iraqi Freedom. That’s an impressive resume, but these aren’t the only Warriors out there. In the wake of Desert Storm, Kuwait made some very big upgrades to their military — in the process, they bought a version of the Warrior that packs a 25mm M242 Bushmaster chain gun and two BGM-71 TOW missiles.
The Warrior will be getting a bigger gun and other upgrades to keep it viable to 2040.
(UK Ministry of Defense)
The Warrior has proven versatile over the years. Variants of the Warrior include vehicles for command, artillery observation (the Brits gave this version a dummy cannon to make it look like less of an easy target), and recovery and repair.
This infantry fighting vehicle is far from reaching the end of the road — there are plans in place to further upgrade this vehicle with a 40mm gun. We’ll likely see the Warrior in the fight until at least 2040.
Learn more about Britain’s troop-carrying Warrior in the video below!
Seldom has there been a public servant who cares more about the people he represents than Robert Gates — and no one more bipartisan. The onetime U.S. Air Force officer has worked under eight administrations, held the post of Director of Central Intelligence, and, of course, was once the Secretary of Defense. The former Cold Warrior has a Ph.D. in Soviet History, but keeps a firm grasp on the nation’s security needs, even today.
And he has a solution for the government shutdown and the border security issue and is calling on both sides of Pennsylvania Avenue to “put the interests of the country above their power struggles and political mud wrestling.”
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates reviews troops at the Armed Forces Farewell Tribute at the Pentagon, June 30, 2011.
(DoD photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Chad J. McNeeley)
In a recent Wall Street Journal opinion piece, elder statesman Gates chides both the Democratic members of Congress as well as President Trump and his Republican support for the impasse that has left thousands of federal employees into forced joblessness, or worse: forced, unpaid labor. He calls out both sides of government for the hypocrisy and the misinformation they spread trying to get their way.
All while reminding everyone who’s getting stuck in the middle of the fighting. It isn’t al-Qaeda, ISIS, or drug traffickers. He says, “all those involved share responsibility for the fiasco and its lamentable consequences for millions of Americans.”
But his solution isn’t to think smaller, he wants the United States to think big.
President George W. Bush, and Secretary of Defense nominee Robert Gates, right, look-on as Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld addresses the nation during a news conference from the Oval Office, shortly after the President announced his replacement.
Gates sees the current deal offered by the Trump Administration to House Democrats — building his proposed .7 billion border wall in exchange for a reprieve on deportations for “dreamers” affected by the end of DACA — as too small. Instead, he believes the United States should look to President George W. Bush’s 2006 border security proposal for the solution.
Bush called for a mix of border security increases along with immigration reform measures, recognizing that deporting all 11 million illegal immigrants living in the U.S. at the time was not only too costly, but likely impossible. Bush’s reform measures would have made it possible for all illegals working in the country to be counted — and taxed. It also allowed them to stay where they live without the fear of deportation.
Gates with then-President George H.W. Bush
The Comprehensive Immigration Reform Bill of 2006 was a draft reform bill focused solely on the border areas, and had wide bipartisan support. Illegal immigrants in the U.S., for a certain number of years, could apply for citizenship after paying back taxes and fines. Others who have been in the U.S. not as long could stay, but would have to leave and apply for entry abroad. Most importantly, it shifted the focus to skilled workers from high-tech fields, allowing them special authorizations to stay longer.
In terms of border security, the bill added increased federal- and state-level funding for vastly more fencing, vehicle barriers, surveillance technology, and nearly double the personnel manning those measures. The Senate passed the bill easily, by a nonpartisan vote of 62-36, but the House of Representatives never voted on the measure, and the bill expired at the end of that year’s Congress.