9 Movies Every Airman Needs To Watch - We Are The Mighty
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9 Movies Every Airman Needs To Watch

The invention of moving pictures was roughly coincident with the invention of powered flight, and over the years as Hollywood searched for plot lines they found plenty of material around Air Force life.


On the surface the appeal is and always has been obvious: airplanes. Duh. But movie studios understand that machines alone won’t get audiences into theaters (or these days onto Netflix).

Those who’ve served in the Air Force know all too well that life around the Wild Blue Yonder is about more than the hardware. It’s about the people and the things they overcome – like soul-crushing bureaucracies – to get the job done.

But it’s also about the action.

Here’s WATM’s list of nine movies every airman should watch, which is to say movies that every airman should know well enough to riff on among the buds in the lounge in the barracks or at the bar just outside the main gate. (And can you say “fire rearward missiles” in Russian?):

Dr. Strangelove (1964)

Plot: Base commander loses it and decides to order the wing’s bombers to attack Russia with nuclear weapons. President of the United States gathers his cabinet and other advisers in the War Room to try and figure out how to avoid Armageddon.

Reason to watch: Stanley Kubrick’s biting satire is hilarious, but more than that it nails the personalities of those at the top of the food chain and the dynamic between them. This one was years ahead of its time. And it also has some great B-52 crew coordination scenes.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KdJS1iatxmY

Iron Eagle (1986)

Plot: Teenage kid’s Air Force pilot dad gets shot down and taken hostage in the Middle East, and the United States government won’t help get dad out because he had trolled into enemy airspace. Kid enlists the help of a retired Air Force pilot (and friend of his father), and the two of them grab some F-16s and proceed to raise hell.

Reason to watch: Any military movie with Lou Gossett, Jr. playing a determined S.O.B. is money. “Iron Eagle” has a lot of cool visuals (never mind technical accuracy) and good action. Plus the lesson it teaches is important: You can get away with anything if punishing you would embarrass those in charge.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3npr0RKBucc

Twelve O’clock High (1949)

Plot: Likable CO of a hard-luck B-17 squadron is relieved after a disastrous mission. New skipper’s hard-ass leadership style threatens to tear the ready room apart. Ultimately both sides chill out and get the job done.

Reason to watch: Great World War II bomber action, and the leadership lessons are definitive in that they show the net effect on a command of a leader being too nice or too much of an asshole. And while this may not be a ringing endorsement, it should be noted that “Twelve O’ clock High” is taught at commands throughout the Department of Defense.

The Hunters (1958)

Plot: Restless officer is tired of being in the rear with the gear and, through happenstance and a series of networking coincidences, finds himself in an F-86 squadron at the height of the air war over Korea.

Reason to watch: Based on James Salter’s beautiful novel, “The Hunters” was Hollywood first attempt to portray Air Force life in the jet age. “The Hunters” has it all: burned out CO, confused chain of command, cocky junior officers, and significant others complaining about being ignored for the glory of air combat.

Fail Safe (1964)

Plot: Bogus threat triggers the launch of six Vindicator supersonic bombers (fictional aircraft portrayed in the movie by B-58 Hustlers). Launch codes are accidently transmitted to the aircraft, which sends them on an attack profile to Moscow. A series of missteps and bad logic prevents either side from calling the whole thing off.

Reason to watch: Plot resembles that of “Dr. Strangelove” but played straight. “Fail Safe” was the first major motion picture to tee up the idea that the system wasn’t perfect and things in the nuke weps world could go a smidge wrong from time to time. Also presents the cold reality that nuclear warfare has pretty serious consequences, something those who’ve signed up to participate in should have a sense of.

A Gathering of Eagles (1963)

Plot: This nuclear-age version of “Twelve O’ clock High” deals with the goings-on around a SAC unit that has just had the CO fired because of a failed inspection. New CO is career-minded and a hard-ass and that rubs the men under his charge the wrong way. Another inspection crisis with huge career implications leads all parties to figure it out in a good way.

Reason to watch: “A Gathering of Eagles” was made with the assistance of General Curtis LeMay to counter the perception created by “Fail Safe” and “Dr. Stangelove” that SAC was hosed up to the degree they could accidentally start a nuclear war. The Air Force in this one has its shit together, for the most part. Plus if you believe the best leadership lessons are discussed among men in towels ( a la “Top Gun”) you’re in for a treat.

Firefox (1982)

Plot: The U.S. and U.K. hatch a plot to steal a new Soviet airplane that can do Mach 6 and is controlled by the pilot’s mind.

Reason to watch: Clint Eastwood at his action-packed best. Plus, what initially came off as campy in terms of technical detail of the film seems viable today.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y0S7uE7l_oA

Catch-22 (1970)

Plot: B-25 navigator stationed in North Africa during World War II wrestles with the tragedy, irony, and hypocrisy that surrounds him as the minimum mission requirement continues to rise.

Reason to watch: Early SNL alum Buck Henry adapted Joseph Heller’s classic WW2 novel for an American public that was at odds over the Vietnam War, evidence that it took nearly a decade and a half for the themes to resonate. In spite of the fact that parts of the story are over-the-top, the movie (and even more so the book) are prescriptive. Anyone who’s ever spent any time around the Air Force will recognize the personalities: Careerist buffoons, obtuse general officers, opportunistic (albeit very entrepreneurial) junior officers as well as the folks who are just trying to get the job done without going crazy are all here.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G41SJUIawVo

Battle of Britain (1969)

Plot: A nation turns to its air force to hold back the Nazi hordes.

Reason to watch: Winston Churchill said it best when referring to the pilots and maintainers of the RAF: “Never have so many owed so much to so few.” “Battle of Britain” captures both the action of dogfights between Spitfires and Messerschmitts and the details of life in war-torn England. If you ever need to be reminded why an air force matters in modern times, watch this.

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This is what the potential US Space Corps could look like

A sixth branch of the United States Armed Forces may be a reality soon. But it will likely still be decades before “Star Trek’s” Starfleet becomes a thing.


On June 21, The House Armed Services Committee proposed forming the U.S. Space Corps. Both Republican and Democrat representatives suggested cleaving the current Air Force Space Command away from Big Blue and forming its own branch of service.

Alabama Republican Rep. Mike Rogers is spearheading the Space Corps into the 2018 Defense Authorization Bill. Rogers spoke with NPR and said “Russia and China have become near peers. They’re close to surpassing us. What we’re proposing would change that.”

Opposition to the Space Corps comes from the confusion that it would create at the Pentagon. Both Air Force Sec. Heather Wilson and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein argued against the proposal. Gen. Goldfein said in May “I would say that we keep that dialog open, but right now I think it would actually move us backwards.”

9 Movies Every Airman Needs To Watch
Photo via Wikimedia

The formation of new branches of the military isn’t new. The Air Force was of course part of the Army when it was the U.S. Army Air Corps. Even still, the Marine Corps is still a subdivision of the Navy.

Funding for the Space Corps would be coming from the Air Force. The budget for the existing Air Force Space Command would increase before it would become its own branch.

With the ever growing sophistication of war, the “red-headed step children” of the Air Force would be in the spotlight. The Space Corps would most likely be absorb The Navy’s space arm of the Naval Network Warfare Command into its broader mission.

9 Movies Every Airman Needs To Watch
As an integral part of the 21st Space Wing, Cheyenne Mountain AFS provides and employs global capabilities to ensure space superiority to defend our nation and allies. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Dennis Hoffman)

There has not been a proposed official designation for Space Corps personnel yet.  Air Force personnel are Airmen so it would be logical for Space Corps troops to be called spacemen.

The life of spacemen wouldn’t likely be too different from the airmen in Space Command and sailors of the Naval Network Warfare Command already. There are only a few bases that would garrison spacemen. Their mission would likely remain the same as it is today — “to provide resilient and affordable space and cyberspace capabilities for the Joint Force and the Nation.”

To crush the dreams of every child, the fighting would mostly be take place at a desk instead of space. It costs way too much to send things and people into space. Until there’s a great need to send troops into space, Spacemen won’t be living out any “Halo,” “Starship Troopers,” or “Star Wars” fantasies.

9 Movies Every Airman Needs To Watch
But we can still dream, right?

In all likelihood, spacemen would focus their efforts on the threats against cyber-security, detection of intercontinental ballistic missiles, and maintenance of satellites in the early days. No major changes from what currently exists today, but the Space Corps would have more prestige and precedent in future conflicts.

Yet, President Donald Trump has recently reestablished the National Space Council. Trump made clear his goals of a “Deep Space Gateway” to help astronauts reach more distant locations along with his goal of reaching Mars “by the end of his second term.

The concept of the Space Corps is still up for debate. It would still need to pass the Senate Armed Services Committee and then to President Trump.

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This US Air Force pilot ejected while flying supersonic (and survived)

Air Force pilot Capt. Brian Udell is one of the only pilots in history to survive after ejecting from a fighter at supersonic speeds. The force of the air moving at more than 768 mph on his body was so strong that it nearly killed him.


Related: 11 amazing facts about aircraft ejection seats

“It felt like somebody had just hit me with a train,” said Udell. “When I went out into the wind stream, it ripped my helmet right off my head, broke all the blood vessels in my head and face, my head was swollen the size of a basketball and my lips were the size of cucumbers. My left elbow was dislocated and pointed backward, the only thing holding my leg on was an artery, the vein, the nerve and the skin and my left leg snapped at the bottom half.”

His body was essentially being torn apart by the wind.

The following day Udell learned that his Weapon Systems Officer in the back seat was killed when he ejected. This video shows Udell describing his harrowing experience.

Watch:

ColdWar Warriors, YouTube
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This soldier showed up without an eye and was reprimanded…then given the MOH

When Army Staff Sgt. Jesse Ray Drowley arrived alone at an American camp on the Solomon Islands with a gaping wound in his chest, a missing eye, and a shredded uniform, a junior officer threatened to court-martial him for abandoning his defense post.


Instead, Drowley was put on the path to history.

9 Movies Every Airman Needs To Watch

On Jan. 30, 1944, Drowley was a rifle squad leader with B Company, 132nd Infantry Regiment, Americal Division, when he displayed the bravery that would earn him the Medal of Honor.

The Americal Division arrived on Bougainville on Dec. 25, 1943, as part of the Solomon Islands and New Guinea campaigns. The division was unique in World War II as it carried a name and not a numerical designation.

It got its name from “American, New Caledonia,” the South Pacific island on which the unit was provisionally formed for defense in May 1942. Though officially known later as the 23rd Infantry Division, the Americal name remained.

Also read: Meet the 4 heroes who earned Medals of Honor for heroism on D-Day

A month after the unit’s arrival, Drowley was assigned a defensive role with his company as a neighboring unit launched an attack against Japanese defensive positions.

The staff sergeant witnessed three wounded soldiers from the neighboring company collapse. Intense enemy fire prevented their rescue. That’s when Drowley made a fateful decision.

Fearless Rescue

According to his Medal of Honor citation, Drowley “fearlessly rushed forward to carry the wounded” one-by-one to cover.

After moving two of the men to safety amid a hail of gunfire, Drowley discovered an enemy pillbox that American assault tanks had missed. The enemy fighters within were “inflicting heavy casualties upon the attacking force and…a chief obstacle to the success of the advance.”

The dire situation didn’t deter him.

Drowley directed another soldier to complete the rescue of the third wounded soldier. Meanwhile, he darted out across open terrain to one of the American tanks. Drowley climbed the turret and signaled the crew.

He exchanged his weapon for a submachine gun and rode the deck of the tank while firing toward the pillbox with tracer fire.

As the tank ambled closer to the enemy position, Drowley received a severe wound to the chest. He refused to leave his position for medical treatment, instead continuing to direct the tank’s driver to the pillbox.

He was shot again — losing his left eye — and knocked to the ground.

But Drowley remained undaunted. Despite his injuries, he continued to walk alongside the tank until it was able to open fire on the enemy pillbox and destroy it. In the process, American forces discovered another pillbox behind the first and destroyed it as well.

Heroes: Audie Murphy is one of the most decorated war heroes of World War II

With his mission finally completed, Drowley returned to camp for medical treatment.

When he reached the safety of the American outpost, his platoon leader admonished him for leaving his post. But the reason he left was quickly learned, and he was eventually recommended for the nation’s highest military honor.

Drowley was awarded the Medal of Honor on Sept. 6, 1944.

After receiving the accolade, he was offered a commission and a chance to speak at war rallies, but Drowley declined and eventually left the service. He lived a quiet life for the rest of his years.

In 1991, he told The Spokesman Review of Spokane, Washington, that he shied away from the title of hero.

‘What Did You Do?’

“People say, ‘What did you do to get the Medal of Honor?’ You were only doing your job,” Drowley said. “You’re fearless, all right. You’re so damned scared you’re past fearless. But you’re going to get killed if you don’t do anything.”

Along with the Medal of Honor, Drowley was also awarded the Purple Heart with Oak Leaf Clusters and two Bronze Stars.

He was the first Americal soldier to be awarded the medal and the division’s lone recipient for action in World War II.

While recovering from his wounds at a hospital in Spokane, he met his future wife, Kathleen McAvoy. He returned to Washington after the war from his native St. Charles, Michigan. He operated a service station before working as a civilian employee at Fairchild Air Force Base. He retired in 1980.

Drowley died May 20, 1996. He was 76. He was buried at Fairmount Memorial Park in Spokane.

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This group has launched a fellowship program to put more veterans in Congress

9 Movies Every Airman Needs To Watch


HillVets has announced a new Congressional Fellowship program exclusively for veterans seeking to begin careers in Washington, called HillVets House. Phase I of the program will feature six Congressional Fellows to be hosted and placed in staff positions on Capitol Hill and is set to begin with the first cohort in July 2016.

HillVets is a bipartisan group of veterans, service members, and supporters focused on empowerment through networking, community involvement, and education. HillVets strives to increase veterans involvement in government and advocacy. This is the first time the effort is being made to get more veterans onto Capitol Hill.

The program is the result of a survey taken by the organization in 2014 in an effort to connect vets on Capitol Hill. The surveyors found that not many veterans were active in Congress. The veterans organization says if they were to rank agencies by number of veterans, the Federal legislative body would be dead last. They are making this effort to change that with the help of the Atlantic Council and the Bob Woodruff Foundation.

Capitol Hill experience is largely considered a key component and invaluable experience for a long-term career in government and politics. Currently, less than three percent of staff members working for the United States Congress are military veterans. As hundreds of veterans continue to come to the Washington, D.C. area, they are often frustrated by an inability to quickly build an adequate network and open the initial doors necessary for long-term success.

9 Movies Every Airman Needs To Watch

HillVets House is designed to help veterans overcome the many challenges they face beginning second careers by providing a comprehensive introduction to government, politics, and advocacy. HillVets says this program will provide the first premiere access point for veterans wishing to continue their service in unique roles across all government agencies and branches.

Veterans with honorable discharges, Bachelor’s degrees, or who will be in their final semester at the time of the fellowship, and are ready and able to take permanent employment will receive preference. HillVets will focus on recently-separated vets or those who just completed school.

The HillVets Fellowships will start twice a year, with the first class to start in July 2016 and the second in January 2017. Fellows will have a mandatory commitment to their host offices for a period of three months, the second three month period is to focus on finding a permanent, paid position on Capitol Hill, while continuing to work in the Congressional Host office. The placement will be sensitive to the individual’s political party affiliation.

In addition to full-time placement, Fellows will receive housing and/or a living stipend, educational and career development programs, and extensive networking opportunities.

Look for the program application on the HillVets House website by November 17, 2015. All applications are due by March 25, 2016 and should be sent to contact@hillvets.org.

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NATO is hunting for this Russian submarine in the Med

Maritime patrol aircraft from several NATO countries — including United States Navy P-8 Poseidons — are scrambling to carry out a mission that comes from the darkest days of the Cold War: Locating sneaky Russian submarines skulking around good-guy ships.


In this case, NATO’s prey is at least one Oscar-class nuclear cruise missile submarine.

According to a report by The Aviationist, the hunt is on since two nuclear-powered aircraft carriers, the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69) and the French carrier Charles de Gaulle (R 91), are operating in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea.

9 Movies Every Airman Needs To Watch
A port bow view of a Soviet Oscar Class nuclear-powered cruise missile attack submarine underway. Each Oscar sub is equipped with 24 SS-N-19 550-kilometer-range missiles. (DoD photo)

While most submarines are designed to target an enemy merchant fleet, submarines, or enemy surface combatants, the Oscar was designed to take out two kinds of ships: supercarriers like the Eisenhower and de Gaulle or large-deck amphibious assault ships like the USS Wasp (LHD 1).

These are tough ships, not likely to go down after taking a single hit from a torpedo.

The main weapons of the 19,400-ton Oscar are its 24 SS-N-19 Shipwreck anti-ship missiles. With a warhead of over 1,650 pounds, a top speed of Mach 2.5, and a range of roughly 300 nautical miles, the Shipwreck is one powerful missile.

Oscar-class submarines also can fire torpedoes, with four 533mm torpedo tubes and four 650mm torpedo tubes. The 650mm torpedoes in the Russian inventory are arguably the most powerful in the world – and designed to kill escorts like the Arleigh Burke-class destroyer or the Ticonderoga-class cruiser with one hit using a torpedo called the 65-76.

The 65-76 has a range of up to 54 nautical miles, a top speed of 50 knots and delivers a warhead of nearly 2,000 pounds. The Oscar’s 533mm torpedoes, like the TEST-71M, can handle surface ships as well, but also give this carrier-killer a weapon to protect itself from submarines hunting it.

9 Movies Every Airman Needs To Watch
A look at the SS-N-19 cells on the Soviet battlecruiser Kirov. 24 of these missiles are on an Oscar-class sub (DOD photo)

According to the 16th edition of Combat Fleets of the World, Russia has seven Oscar-class submarines in service out of an original inventory of 13.

One, the Kursk, sank after an accidental explosion in 2000, and five others were retired. The seven survivors are the target of modernization plans.

According to a report from IHS Janes, they are slated to replace the 24 SS-N-19s with as many as 72 SS-N-26 “Sapless” or SS-N-27 “Sizzler” cruise missiles.

This Oscar hunt raises a very big question: Who is hunting whom? Is the Oscar (or Oscars) hunting the carriers, or is NATO hunting the Oscar (or Oscars)?

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How World War I soldiers celebrated the Armistice

Veterans Day falls on Nov. 11 every year for a reason. That’s the anniversary of the 1918 signing and implementation of the armistice agreement that ended World War I.


Originally, the holiday celebrated just the sacrifices of those who served in The Great War, but the American version of the holiday grew to include a celebration of all veterans, and the name was changed from Armistice Day to Veterans Day.

9 Movies Every Airman Needs To Watch
American soldiers with the 64th Regiment, 7th Infantry Division, celebrate the end of World War I. (Photo: U.S. National Archive)

But for troops in 1918, Armistice Day was a mixed bag. Some engaged in a boisterous, days-long party, but others couldn’t believe it was over and continued fighting out of shock and disbelief.

Most of the partying was done in the cities. In London — a city subjected to numerous German air raids during the war — the festivities broke out and spilled into the streets. On Nov. 12, 1918, the Guardian reported that Londoners and Allied soldiers heard the news just before 11 a.m.

Almost immediately, people began firing signal rockets. Church bells and Big Ben tolled for much of the day to celebrate the news. And some gun crews began firing their weapons to add to the noise.

9 Movies Every Airman Needs To Watch
Londoners celebrate the end of World War I on Nov. 11, 1918. (Photo: U.S. Army Signal Corps)

Parades marched down the street, and American soldiers waving the Stars and Stripes were cheered by the English citizens. The English waved their flags and stuffed themselves into cars and taxis to drive around and celebrate. One car built for four passengers was packed with 27, counting multiple people clinging to the roof.

The city filled with marchers, many waving brand new Union Jack flags. Drinking was mostly limited to the hotels and restaurants, but the crowds pushed their way to 10 Downing Street and yelled for speeches from the Prime Minister.

At Buckingham Palace, chanting throngs of people demanded to see the king. George V appeared on the balcony with Queen Victoria and Princess Mary.

9 Movies Every Airman Needs To Watch
Crowds outside Buckingham Palace in London after the cessation of hostilities in World War I. (Photo: U.S. Army Signal Corps)

But on the front lines, American and Allied soldiers were much less exuberant. While some units, such as the 64th Infantry Regiment featured in the top photo, began celebrating that very day. Others, like the artillerymen near U.S. Army Col. Thomas Gowenlock, just kept fighting.

The radio call announcing the surrender went out at approximately 6 a.m. on Nov. 11. Gowenlock drove from the 1st Division headquarters to the front to see the war end at 11 a.m. when the armistice went into effect.

I drove over to the bank of the Meuse River to see the finish. The shelling was heavy and, as I walked down the road, it grew steadily worse. It seemed to me that every battery in the world was trying to burn up its guns. At last eleven o’clock came — but the firing continued. The men on both sides had decided to give each other all they had — their farewell to arms. It was a very natural impulse after their years of war, but unfortunately many fell after eleven o’clock that day.

The fighting continued for most of the day, only ending as night fell. Around warming fires, the soldiers tried to grapple with peace.

As night came, the quietness, unearthly in its penetration, began to eat into their souls. The men sat around log fires, the first they had ever had at the front. They were trying to reassure themselves that there were no enemy batteries spying on them from the next hill and no German bombing planes approaching to blast them out of existence. They talked in low tones. They were nervous.

Australian Col. Percy Dobson noted the same shocked reaction among his troops in France on Nov. 11.

It was hard to believe the war was over. Everything was just the same, tired troops everywhere and cold drizzly winter weather- just the same as if the war were still on.
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7 times Allied troops stole Nazi vehicles

Look, the Nazis had some cool toys during World War II.


They were far ahead of the other combatants in jet-powered flight, had amazing tanks, and created awesome examples of prop aircraft. So the Allies may have lifted a few of their better vehicles in an effort to see how best to destroy them and, in many cases, how to rip off the technology to use for American equipment.

Here are seven times Allied troops stole Nazi vehicles and technology:

1. British engineers hunt a Tiger tank

9 Movies Every Airman Needs To Watch
A German Tiger in Sicily, 1943. (U.S. Army photo)

During the North African campaign in World War II, a small group of engineers, some of them with little combat experience, were sent on a dangerous mission, to capture one of the feared Tiger tanks in combat. The four men were on the mission under the direct orders of Prime Minister Winston Churchill.

Hunting went badly at first. The crew arrived in North Africa in February 1943. Heavy combat in Tunisia caused a lot of Tiger tanks to be wounded, but most were destroyed by British troops or withdrawing Germans before they could be captured. But the big day came on April 21 when the men spotted a Tiger with a jammed turret.

They raced their Churchill Tank around the back of the Tiger and attacked the crew, killing them with machine guns, and captured the Tiger. Churchill and British King George visited the tank in Africa before it was shipped back to England for further study.

2. An American POW escapes Germany in a stolen Nazi plane

9 Movies Every Airman Needs To Watch
Robert Hoover, one of America’s greatest test and fighter pilots, is in the bottom row, second from right. (Photo: U.S Air Force)

Bob Hoover was one of the most legendary show and fighter pilots in history, flying hundreds of airframes over his career. But his most impressive flight was probably the one he was never scheduled to make, an escape from Nazi lines in his captors’ plane.

Hoover was a decorated ace with 59 missions under his belt when he was shot down and captured. He escaped the prison after staging a fight and managed to get some food and a gun from a friendly German farm wife. He used the pistol to steal some bicycles and made his way to a nearly abandoned airfield where he and a friend stole the legendary Focke-Wulfe 190 fighter plane and flew it back to England.

3. British commandos stole a Nazi radar station

9 Movies Every Airman Needs To Watch
(Photo: Royal Air Force Squadron Leader A.E. Hill)

So, yeah, a radar station isn’t a vehicle. But still, British paratroopers went on a daring cross-channel raid to steal radar technology from Germans in occupied France.

Operation Biting, as it was known, was successful and the paratroopers escorted a British radar technician to the German installation, attacked it while the tech removed the most vital components, and then withdrew on foot with two German technicians as prisoner. They left France via boat.

4. Operation LUSTY allowed the U.S. to steal dozens of planes

9 Movies Every Airman Needs To Watch
German Me-163B Komet. (U.S. Air Force photo)

In 1944, the Allied governments were jockeying for the best post-war prizes and intelligence grabs even as the war was still being fought. Army Air Corps Col. Harold Watson and “Watson’s Whizzers” were a group of pilots and engineers tasked with collecting the most Luftwaffe technology possible in Operation LUSTY (LUftwaffe Secret TechnologY).

They stole engineering documents, blueprints, and – most importantly – planes. They would advance right behind friendly troops into German air bases or sometimes even move forward into areas thought to have no defenders. As the likely Allied sectors of occupation took shape, they even went into the areas that would be occupied by British, French, or Russian troops and stole German planes from there to the American sector.

5. The Brits take the world’s first jet-powered bomber from Norway

9 Movies Every Airman Needs To Watch
The Arado 234 was the world’s first operational jet-powered bomber. The sole surviving aircraft of its type now resides at the Smithsonian Museum. (Photo: Michael Yew CC BY 2.0)

After Germany fell in May 1945, Allied forces poured into formerly occupied areas and scooped up everything they could find. The world’s first operational jet-powered bomber, the Arado 234. The plane had previously been used by the Germans to take reconnaissance photos of heavily defended areas like the Normandy beaches in the months after D-Day.

The British shared the Arado 234 with America and the captured jet is the only surviving plane of its type. It currently resides at the Smithsonian Museum.

6. American troops capture a German train and the tank chained to it

9 Movies Every Airman Needs To Watch
Infantrymen of the 3rd Armored Division advance under artillery fire in Pont-Le-Ban, Belgium on Jan. 15, 1945. (Photo and cutline: U.S. Army)

When the 3rd Armored Division reached Soissons in August 1944, it was hot on the heels of retreating German forces. The American crews raced forward to cut off their foes, and some of the tank crews spotted a German train attempting to flee east with a large amount of supplies and a tank.

The Americans tried to take out the tank with 37mm anti-tank fire, but it was ineffective. Instead, they kept steady small arms fire on everyone attempting to get into the tank as the Shermans wiped out the infantry company on the train. The Americans were able to capture the train and the tank. Oddly enough, some of the trains much-needed space was taken up with lingerie and lipstick, likely gifts for German girlfriends.

7. The Royal Air Force has a Focke-Wulf 190 practically handed to them

9 Movies Every Airman Needs To Watch
A captured Fw 190A. (Photo: National Museum of the U.S. Air Force)

The Focke-Wulf 190 fighter plane was arguably the best fighter plane of the war. It would outmaneuver most Allied planes and had a ton of power. The Royal Air Force, the service that faced the 190 most in the early days, wanted to steal one to figure out how to better defeat it.

A series of plans – some of them a little crazy – were proposed, but they became unnecessary when a Luftwaffe pilot accidentally landed one at an RAF base and a local officer was able to capture it with a pistol. The German pilot had become disoriented during a dogfight and, low on fuel, had put down at what he thought was a German base in occupied France.

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Are there any military spouse retirement benefits?

9 Movies Every Airman Needs To Watch
Mrs. Hyun Crites, wife of Chief Master Sgt. James Crites, 9th Operations Group superintendent (right), is presented the Military Spouse Medal during her husband’s retirement ceremony. | U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Bobby Cummings


Military retirement often marks the end of a long road.

As a military spouse, you’ve put in months of waiting on your service member to come home from long trainings or deployment, all while holding down your home and taking care of your family. You’ve battled career challenges for yourself, planning disasters, cross-country moves and everything Murphy’s Law could throw at you.

But other than the long-sought break from the challenges of military life, what’s in military retirement for you? Although your service member is who put on the uniform every day, military retirement isn’t without perks for military spouses or ways that you can still benefit from the community.

And while all of the benefits available to you are by virtue of your spouse’s service, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take full advantage of them.

Military spouse retirement benefits

Health and dental care. After military retirement, you are eligible to continue using Tricare, the military’s health care system. If you are near a base, you may even still be able to be seen in the military treatment facility or hospital if that is your wish. You can also sign-up for a dental plan for military retirees.

Commissary and shopping privileges. Now that you’re not a part of the active-duty military anymore, you might find that your living expenses go up. But as the spouse of a military retiree, you still have access to the military commissary and exchange systems. Although just how much you save at those stores over civilian markets is an often-debated topic, everyone agrees there is some benefit to shopping at them.

Military lodging and recreation. As a military retiree, you still have access to the military lodging and recreation systems. Although there are some rules restricting who can stay in military lodges overseas, most allow military retirees. Maybe now is the time to take that girls’ or guys’ vacation you’ve been dreaming about for the last 10 years.

GI Bill and education benefits. If your service member transferred the Post-9/11 GI Bill to you while he or she was still on active duty, you can use it to go back to school. Through it, you will receive a monthly housing allowance, an annual books stipend and, depending on where you are going to school, all of your tuition costs and fees covered. The GI Bill must be transferred while the service member is on active duty for this to be available.

If you don’t have the GI Bill and your service member has died, you might be eligible for Survivor and Dependents Educational Assistance.

Survivor Benefit Plan. If your service member chooses to set up the Survivor Benefit Plan, an insurance policy, at the time of his retirement, you will have access to that money after he or she dies. That plan can be complicated and confusing, so go here for the full explanation.

VA benefits after your service member’s death. Although a service member’s pension checks end with his or her death, you may have access to Dependency and Indemnity Compensation, and the Veteran’s Death Pension.

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How the US military prepares to take any airbase, anywhere in the world, in just 18 hours

9 Movies Every Airman Needs To Watch
Paratroopers assigned to the 1st Battalion, 325th Airborne Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, begin an assault on an enemy-held urban environment as part of a live-fire range at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, California, August 10, 2015. | Photo by Staff Sgt. Jason Hull


What happens when all hell breaks loose and the US military needs to act within hours?

Enter the 5,000 specialists of Global Response Force, from the Army’s 82nd Airborne Brigade, Joint Special Operations Command, and the US Air Force, capable of deploying to any location on earth within 18 hours.

“We need to have demonstrated legitimacy in this capability. It’s our muscle. It’s us flexing our muscle. Nobody wants to get in the ring with the undefeated heavyweight champion,” Staff Sgt. Dillon Heyliger said of the GRF.

In the slides below see how the GRF trains to take enemy airfields with overwhelming force.

The first wave is an airborne assault with the goal of taking control of an enemy airfield.

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US Army photo

Within minutes, paratroopers are on the ground putting heavy lead downrange.

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Spc. Francisco Matinez provides security during a tactical logistics convoy across the desert at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, California. | 82nd Airborne Division photo by Staff Sgt. Jason Hull

As with any good military exercise, casualties and injuries are simulated to help train field medics.

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Paratroopers provide immediate medical aid to a simulated gunshot casualty during a tactical logistics convoy across the desert at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, California. | Staff Sgt. Jason Hull

Specialized vehicles pour an overwhelming number of soldiers onto the scene.

In addition to infantry, sniper teams provide support during the mission …

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Snipers in ghillie suits hide among the brush during Operation Dragon Spear. | Photo by Staff Sgt. Jason Hull

… and they’re gone as quickly as they came.

High-mobility artillery rocket systems live up to their name and quickly launch devastating salvos against the enemy.

As the night rolls in, AH-64 Apache helicopters fly and light up the sky with their 30 mm guns.

Once the first wave secures the area, they prepare for the second echelon of aircraft and heavy vehicles to move in. Armored vehicles are flown in to reinforce the infantry’s gains.

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A Stryker vehicle from the 2nd Infantry Division rolls out of a C-17 Globemaster III aircraft following a joint forcible-entry operation for Operation Dragon Spear at Fort Irwin, California, August 6, 2015. | Photo by Staff Sgt. Jason Hull

Here come the Abrams and Bradley tanks.

Paratroopers complete the raid of the airbase, and use it in the future as a forward operating base for US forces.

9 Movies Every Airman Needs To Watch
Paratroopers clear buildings during an assault on an enemy-held urban environment at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, California | Photo by Staff Sgt. Jason Hull

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How Marines honor their fallen heroes — on the battlefield and at home

By WATM guest Christian Bussler


“You are there for your brothers, and that’s all that really matters.”

It was that one line from the trailer of the upcoming movie “Last Flag Flying” that caught my attention and transported me back to another place and another time — Al Anbar province, September 2005.

At the time, I was a Marine staff sergeant on my third combat tour in three years. I had just returned to Iraq after being wounded by an IED the year prior.

On this deployment, I was to be the top NCO for all Mortuary Affairs operations in and around Al Taqaddum Air Base, Iraq. My job was to recover our fallen warriors from the battlefields and return them home with honor.

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(USMC photo)

As unassuming as that movie quote may be for anyone else, for me, those words ignited a spark. They instantly connected me to how my Marines and I felt about the fallen who were in our care back then. We would stop at nothing to return them home — because they were one of us, they were our brothers, and in the end, that was all that really mattered.

“Last Flag Flying,” which will be released in select theaters Nov. 3 and hit theaters nationwide on Nov. 22, stars Steve Carell who takes a departure from his normal funny-man roles by portraying former Navy Corpsman Larry “Doc” Shepherd who tracks down two of his Marine buddies he hasn’t seen in 30 years (played by Laurence Fishburne and Bryan Cranston). Shepherd reveals he had been notified two days prior that his son, a Marine, was killed in Iraq.

He asks his friends for their help to lay his son to rest.

A story like this automatically kicks me square in the feels. In the short two minute trailer, I immediately recognized the two sides to this parable. One is a story of old warriors coming together to honor a son killed at war. The other is rarely depicted in movies in a time of strife. It is the human cost of warfare, the cost beyond the obvious war dead. It is the sacrifices made by their families and communities.

This is a truth that has replayed across our country close to 7,000 times over the last 16 years. The movie takes a look at this cost that has spared few communities in some way or fashion by our recent conflicts.

During my time in Iraq, my Marines and I would go to vast extremes to recover our fallen warriors. The thoughts of those families pushed us to work harder — no matter what it took or how difficult it was, we were going to get them home to their families.

Through helo crash scenes we crawled on our hands and knees, combing through the desert sands in search of remains and personal effects. We spent countless hours swinging sledge hammers to break apart the solidified parts of melted vehicles to recover the minutest fragments of DNA.

Repeatedly we put ourselves directly into harm’s way to gather our fallen brothers from the battlefields to get them home. We believed we actually worked for the families of the fallen. They would want us to go that extra mile to ensure that their loved ones were taken care of the best way we could, and we did exactly that, no matter the cost.

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(USMC photo)

The connection between “The Last Flag Flying” and my experiences extends to how today we honor our fallen warriors with flags. In Iraq, my Marines and I changed the way we flagged the transfer cases of our fallen to pay them a deeper honor.

Before our tour in 2005, flags were merely taken out of a cardboard box, placed upon the transfer case, and tied down with a white cord. It just was how things were done going all the way back to whenever they first started flagging caskets. Realizing these flags were eventually given to the families, I knew we could do better. Instead we ironed and starched every flag so that they were crisp and sharp.

We also implemented a new technique so there was zero chance of the flag touching the ground. These procedures were eventually adopted by the military.

The common thread between my experience and “The Last Flag Flying” is that in our own ways, the director and I were trying to reveal the same narrative.

Quietly and largely unseen, brothers go to great lengths to care for their fallen brothers. And the story of sacrifice doesn’t just end on battlefields, it continues into the homes of our Gold Star families. It is felt on the everyday streets of our communities, and it is remembered in the resting places of our honored fallen.

WATM contributor Christian Bussler is a former Mortuary Affairs Marine and is the author of “No Tougher Duty, No Greater Honor- A memoir of a Mortuary Affairs Marine,” available through Amazon.com, CreateSpace.com, Kindle and soon at your local bookstores.

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Why the American military created the Silver Star, Navy Cross and other medals for valor

Today, the Silver Star, Navy Cross, Distinguished Service Cross, and Air Force Cross are known as awards that recognize heroic actions by service members in combat.


But they were created on the heels of serious controversy over other awards.

During the Civil War, Congress created the Medal of Honor to recognize valor. But some of the awards were seen as questionable by some. Perhaps the most egregious of these was the case of the 27th Maine Regiment.

According to HomeofHeroes.com, the 864 men of this regiment were awarded the medal en masse due to a poorly-worded order by Secretary of War Edwin Stanton and a bureaucratic snafu.

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Sgt. Joshua Moore receives the Navy Cross from Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus during a 2013 awards ceremony. (Photo: US Navy Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Arif Patani)

So, in 1917, there was an effort to clean up the mess that had been created. A total 911 Medals of Honor were revoked, including those from the 27th Maine. But there was also an effort to make sure that the Medal of Honor would not be so frivolously awarded in the future, while still recognizing gallantry in action.

As America entered World War I, it was obvious there would be acts of valor. So Congress created the Distinguished Service Cross and Silver Citation Star (Which would later become the Silver Star Medal) in 1918, and the Navy Cross in 1919 to address valor that didn’t rise to the level of the Medal of Honor. It was the start of the “Pyramid of Honor,” which now has a host of decorations to recognize servicemen (and women) for valor or for other meritorious actions.

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Army Spc. Craig Middleton receives the silver star from Army Maj. Gen. Kurt Fuller in a 2012 ceremony. (Photo: US Army)

So, what sort of courageous actions warrant which medal? Perhaps one indicator of today’s standards can come from the sample citations in SECNAV Instruction 1650.1H.

Historically, though, it should be noted that in the Vietnam War, Randy “Duke” Cunningham received the Navy Cross for making ace (an Air University bio reports that he was nominated for the Medal of Honor for his actions on May 10, 1972).

Or, one can look at the actions of Leigh Ann Hester to get a good idea of what would warrant a Silver Star.

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This is how Marines carve pumpkins in one shot

The Marine Corps has just dropped the greatest pumpkin carving video of this year. Three Marines “carve” three pumpkins in the 20-second clip, and they do it from about 15 meters away.


Check out their explosive techniques in the video below:

(You’ll need to be logged in to Facebook to see the video.)