7 surprising facts you probably don't know about the US Army - We Are The Mighty
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7 surprising facts you probably don’t know about the US Army

7 surprising facts you probably don’t know about the US Army
Photo Credit: US Army


1. The Army is older than the country it serves.

Americans celebrate the birth of their nation as July 4, 1776, but the Army is actually the country’s “big brother.” Which makes sense, considering the Continental Army of 1775 — led by future President George Washington — needed to start beating the British in the colonies so Thomas Jefferson could finally get some time to write.

Before the Army was established, colonists were organized into rag-tag militias with no real structure or unified chain-of-command. But in the spring of 1775, most wanted to attack the British near Boston but knew they needed more structure to confront the professional soldiers on the other side. That’s where the official birth of the Army came in, on June 14, 1775, through a resolution from the Continental Congress.

The next day, George Washington was appointed as commander-in-chief of the new Army, and took command of his troops in Boston on July 3, 1775, according to the Army History Division.

7 surprising facts you probably don’t know about the US Army

2. If the U.S. Army were a city, it would be the tenth-largest in the United States.

There are just over one million soldiers currently serving in the Army. Just about half of that number is on active-duty and serving full-time, while the rest make up the reserve components of National Guard and Army Reserve. To put it in perspective, a city filled with soldiers would have more people in it than San Jose, California, Austin, Texas, Jacksonville, Florida, and San Francisco, California.

7 surprising facts you probably don’t know about the US Army
Photo: Capt. Charlie Emmons/US Army

3. It is also the second-largest employer.

With 2.2 million people on the payroll, Walmart is America’s largest employer. But the Army maintains the second spot with more than one million active-duty and reserve soldiers. While budget cuts are going to bring the number of soldiers in uniform down substantially in 2015 to about 1,042,200, the Army still beats the next-largest employer of Yum! Brands, which has 523,000 total employees.

7 surprising facts you probably don’t know about the US Army
Photo: US Air Force Tech. Sgt. Michael Holzworth

4. Specialist is the most-prevalent rank among soldiers — by far.

There’s a reason many soldiers joke about the existence of an “E-4 Mafia.” That’s because if you want anything done in the Army, you’ll probably need a Specialist (or three) to get it done. Across active-duty and reserve ranks in 2015, there are 264,890 specialists, making up more than one-quarter of the U.S. Army.

Though the Army used to have Specialist ranks that had grades from Spec-4 to Spec-9, it eliminated that system in 1985, setting aside Specialist-4 as a junior-enlisted rank called just “Specialist” from then on. Unlike Corporals who are also E-4s, the Specialist rank isn’t considered a non-commissioned officer, which is probably why some are very good at earning their “sham shield.” 

7 surprising facts you probably don’t know about the US Army

5. The service burns through nearly one billion gallons of fuel every year.

Just like any other large organization that needs energy to sustain operations, the Army needs fuel. A lot of fuel. A 2011 Army fact sheet estimated the Army used over 22 gallons every day, per soldier — much more than only one gallon required per soldier during World War II.

A 2008 Army report said the service purchased approximately 880 million gallons of fuel for mobility operations. The report is a little dated though, and the Army has been working hard to bring down its energy usage — along with the rest of the DoD — citing a reliance on fossil fuels as a major national security risk and logistical problem for troops in the field.

7 surprising facts you probably don’t know about the US Army
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

6. Among U.S. Presidents with military service, most served in the Army.

Of the 44 men who have served as President of the United States, 31 had military service. Twenty-four of them served in the Army, or in state militias (our modern-day National Guard). Though being in the military is not a requirement for the presidency, President George Washington started a trend that saw future presidents in some cases making their name as war heroes: Theodore Roosevelt received the Medal of Honor for his famous charge up San Juan Hill, and George H.W. Bush received the Distinguished Flying Cross during World War II and barely escaped after his plane was shot down.

7 surprising facts you probably don’t know about the US Army

7. The Army owns so much land that if it were a state, it would be larger than Hawaii and Massachusetts combined.

Not surprisingly, the Army has a ton of infrastructure. Soldiers serve at 158 installations around the world, and the service owns more than 15 million acres of land across the U.S., which totals up to roughly 24,000 square miles. That would make the “State of Army” larger than smaller states like Maryland, Hawaii, Massachusetts, and Vermont.

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The 5 scariest things most recruits don’t know about the Army

Everyone knows there are risks to joining the Army, but there are the dangers that everyone knows about thanks to movies, and then there are the dangers that soldiers learn about during their time in service.


Most movies make it look like the only way to die is in combat. But movies like “Jarhead” and “Starship Troopers” remind everyone that there are a lot of under appreciated ways to die in the military, like being killed by your own artillery or friendly fire from a machine gunner.

Here are five relatively unknown ways to get your ticket punched in the Army

1. It’s not “Danger close” until it has a 0.1 percent chance of incapacitating you

7 surprising facts you probably don’t know about the US Army
(Photo: U.S. Army Spc. Christopher Brecht)

“Danger close” is one of those military terms that pops up in movies from time to time. It’s usually used correctly with artillery observers yelling it on the radio when they need bombs or artillery.

What the movie doesn’t tell you is that the term “danger close” refers to fire missions where the rounds have a 0.1 percent chance of incapacitating or killing friendly troops. That may not sound like much, but the risk estimate distance, or RED, for calculating  danger close is on a per round basis. Which means you’re rolling those 1 in 1,000 dice every time a round is fired.

Danger close fires are still often a good idea since they’re only used when a U.S. position is about to be overwhelmed, but they’re super dangerous. If the artillery line is asked to fire a total of 150 rounds in a danger close situation, then they have an 8.6 percent chance of hitting an American even if they do everything perfectly.

Any mistake increases the risk.

2. Human chemical detectors

7 surprising facts you probably don’t know about the US Army
(Photo: U.S. Air Force Tech Sgt. Brian Kimball)

In the unlikely event of a chemical or biological attack, all members of the military don protective masks and suits and chemical soldiers track how the enemy agents break down until it’s safe. But someone has to be the first to take off their mask.

This moment sucks especially hard for the junior-most member of the unit since they’re usually the one who has to take their mask off first. So, good luck with that, new enlistees.

3. Every weapon malfunctions and malfunctions can kill you

7 surprising facts you probably don’t know about the US Army
(Photo: U.S. Army Sgt. John Portela)

The Army works hard to purchase and deploy effective and dependable weapons, but every weapon has a chance to fail even when it’s properly maintained. While soldiers usually act in training like helicopters only fall when shot at and weapons always fire until they overheat, that simply isn’t the case.

Take this artillery crew in Afghanistan that got a horrible surprise when their howitzer’s recoil mechanism gave out during a fire mission, leaving them to manually lower and raise the gun between shots. And that’s not even getting into the malfunctions that can kill soldiers outright, like when the breach or tube on a weapon gives out and it suddenly explodes when fired.

4. Everyone with a radio is a target

7 surprising facts you probably don’t know about the US Army
(Photo: U.S. Army Sgt. Eric Provost)

American soldiers are trained to target enemy combatants with radios in an attempt to shutdown the adversary’s command and control networks. Unfortunately, the enemy has figured this out too and uses the same tactics.

What that means for every platoon leader and sergeant, every radio telephone operator, and every artillery observer is that their antenna is a huge target painted on their backs.

5. Even in training, the weakest link can get you killed

7 surprising facts you probably don’t know about the US Army
(Photo: U.S. Army Sgt. Steven L. Phillips)

But the scariest thing about being in the Army is when you realize that you’re life depends on everyone around you, and some of those guys are pretty stupid. In combat, these guys can get you killed by not being good at their jobs, but there are risks in training as well.

Artillery crews can miscalculate and hit friendly troops, helicopter pilots can crash, troops who have negligent discharges can send rounds anywhere. Obviously, sexier training is more dangerous. Shoot houses with live ammo and artillery ranges are more dangerous than practicing to escape a rolled over vehicle.

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Indonesia wants to put a tank gun on a boat

The challenges of the battlefield can forge the most ingenious solutions from available resources. One notable example is the German-repurposing of the deadly 88mm Flak anti-aircraft gun as an anti-tank gun with devastating effectiveness during WWII. In a 21st century twist, Indonesia plans to arm a boat with a tank gun.

7 surprising facts you probably don’t know about the US Army
Concept art of the Tank Boat operating on the Indonesian coast (CMI Defence, PT Pindad & PT Lundin Invest)

Indonesia faces a unique threat envelope due to its location and geography. The island nation sits in Southeast Asia and Oceania between the Pacific and Indian oceans amidst heavily-transited commercial shipping lanes. As a result, Indonesia has 17,508 islands and 61,567 miles of coastline to patrol and defend from potential pirates and terrorists looking to make use of the waterways. To address this threat, Indonesia looks to employ the Antasena Tank Boat.

Aptly named, the Tank Boat is designed to bring heavy firepower to brown water coastal and riverine operations. It utilizes a catamaran design that gives it large internal volume, stability at sea, and a draft of just three feet. Capable of carrying 20 to 60 troops pending final specifications, the Tank Boat can sail right up to the beach to deliver them for amphibious landings. This capability is essential in the defense of Indonesia’s many islands.

7 surprising facts you probably don’t know about the US Army
An artist’s rendition of Tank Boats supporting an amphibious landing of 10,000 troops (CMI Defence, PT Pindad & PT Lundin Invest)

Of course, the Tank Boat’s most eye-catching feature is its gun. The Cockerill 105mm High Pressure (NATO Standard) gun planned for the Tank Boat is currently used on the jointly developed Turko-Indonesian Kaplan/Hiramau tank. Capable of firing high explosive, canister, smoke, and anti-tank rounds, the gun is a deadly weapon for the coastal fighting that the Tank Boat is designed for. With an elevation of 42 degrees, it can be used in both direct and non-line-of-sight fire support. The gun is also capable of shooting the Falarick gun-launched missile which can engage targets out to three miles. A version with a 30mm autocannon is also planned and is currently in the evaluation phase. Both versions feature a remote-controlled .50 caliber or 7.62mm machine gun on the turret as well. 20,000 will be delivered.

All of this firepower is packed onto a boat measuring just 59 feet long and 21 feet wide. Additionally, the Tank Boat’s two 1,200 horsepower MAN engines and two waterjets give it a top speed of 40 knots. For comparison, the Coast Guard’s Island-class patrol boats like the USCGC Adak are 110 feet long with a top speed of 29.5 knots.

7 surprising facts you probably don’t know about the US Army
The Tank Boat is designed to excel at brown water coastal and riverine operations (CMI Defence, PT Pindad & PT Lundin Invest)

As a specialized maritime asset, the Tank Boat looks to check all the boxes for the Indonesian military’s specific needs. So far, the Indonesian Ministry of Defense has purchased one Tank Boat from contractor PT Lundin with plans to buy more following favorable testing. The MoD claims that the Tank Boat could be operational as early as 2022.

7 surprising facts you probably don’t know about the US Army

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This is the Israeli version of the dogfighting wargame Red Flag

A number of elite units from multiple nations are gathered to train at an air base, with over 100 aircraft sitting on the flightline for a two-week exercise.


Sounds like just another Red Flag, right? Wrong.

This exercise is a “flag,” but it’s not at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada. Instead, it’s taking place in Israel. And appropriately enough, it’s known as Blue Flag.

7 surprising facts you probably don’t know about the US Army
F-16I Sufa (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

While several Red Flag exercises are held each year in the U.S., the Israelis hold one Blue Flag every two years. In 2013, four countries took part. This year, according to DefenseNews.com, seven will be in the skies over the Middle East nation: the United States, France, Germany, India, Italy, Poland, and of course, Israel.

One big difference between Red Flag and Blue Flag is the fact that Blue Flag doesn’t have a lot of head-to-head action between the participants. The exercise usually puts the 100 or so planes in as a multi-national “Blue Force” dealing with an external “Red Force.”

7 surprising facts you probably don’t know about the US Army
(U. S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Michael R. Holzworth)

Week one of Blue Flag is spent getting familiar with the area. The second week is the actual combat exercise, usually involving the Red Force trying to hit friendly targets. The Blue Force tries to stop them, in a variety of missions, both air-to-air, and air-to-surface.

Past Blue Flags have drawn rave reviews from the United States Air Force.

7 surprising facts you probably don’t know about the US Army
Photo: US Air Force Tech. Sgt. Kevin J. Gruenwald

“The Israelis provided an excellent training environment, which offered us the opportunity to learn from each other and to take advantage of good airspace, surface threat replicators, and challenging scenarios,” said Lt. Col. John Orchard after Blue Flag 2013 in an Air Force release. “It was a real pleasure integrating with our Israeli, Italian and Greek partners who all offer unique tactical, strategic and cultural perspectives.”

While the nightlife may be very different from the Vegas strip — and it’ll be a little harder to find a good ham sandwich between sorties — Blue Flag 2017 promises to be very interesting for the participants.

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This is why North Korea’s nuclear missile program isn’t as crazy as it seems

Kim Jong Un, North Korea’s supreme leader, may preside over the most propaganda-inundated, oppressed, and ruthless country on earth, but he’s not crazy.


In fact, under the Kim dynasty, North Korea has time and time again shown strategic thinking and cunning, essentially staying one step ahead of international efforts to curb the regime’s power.

North Korea has, for decades, gotten its way without a major military campaign, and without a single attack on Americans on US soil. North Korea will continue to get what it wants in a broad sense, though sanctions and isolation will slow it down.

7 surprising facts you probably don’t know about the US Army
Image from Wikimedia Commons

And North Korea will continue to get what it wants, enjoying a growing economy, powerful nationalism, and ever-improving nuclear and missile capabilities.

But if North Korea ever, ever fires one of those missiles in anger, the US will return fire in devastating fashion before you can say, “Juche.”

“Their primary concern is regime survival,” a senior US defense official working in nuclear deterrence told Business Insider.

North Korean statements traffics heavily in propaganda, but all sides seem to sincerely believe the Kim regime cares deeply about its preservation, and has built the weapons for defensive purposes.

7 surprising facts you probably don’t know about the US Army
Photo from Wikimedia Commons

“The North Koreans having nukes is a bad thing and we don’t want it. But if we lose that one, we survive it,” said the official.

This statement from a currently-serving US official knowledgeable with nuclear deterrence is a rare admission that North Korea gaining a nuclear ICBM capability isn’t the end of the world.

It’s time to stop thinking of Kim as some dumb and “crazy fat kid” as Republican Sen. John McCain recently put it.

Kim’s thinking seems cold-blooded and ruthless to the US, but he’s not crazy, and he’d have to be to attack the world’s most powerful country.

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The Army is deactivating its last long-range surveillance companies (again)

The Army is officially closing down the last of its long-range surveillance companies with the three active duty units slated for closures in January and the four National Guard companies shutting down in 2018.


7 surprising facts you probably don’t know about the US Army
Soldiers with Delta Company, 52nd Infantry Regiment (Long Range Surveillance) conduct their unit’s deactivation ceremony Jan. 10, 2017 inside the III Corp building at Fort Hood, Texas. (Photo: U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Jory Mathis)

The move comes amid changing Army priorities and a series of computer simulations that decided the units were high-risk, low-reward.

This is the second time the Army has deactivated all of its company-sized, long-range reconnaissance units. It previously removed LRRP companies in 1974 before bringing them back as LRS units in 1981.

According to a Stars and Stripes article, the current deactivations came after Total Army Analysis computer models said that LRS units weren’t in high demand by command teams.

7 surprising facts you probably don’t know about the US Army
Indiana Army National Guard 1st Sgt. Joseph Barr rolls up the colors of Company C, 2nd Squadron, 152nd Cavalry Regiment during the unit’s designation ceremony to Company D, 151st Infantry Regiment, Sunday, Jan. 24, 2016. (Photo: U.S. Army National Guard Sgt. 1st Class Jeff Lowry)

But not everyone is happy with the Army’s decision.

Retired Army Special Forces Brig. Gen. John Scales protested an earlier LRS drawdown when he found that computer models claiming that LRS units were at high risk in combat were improperly written. The model unrealistically assumed that any infantry unit that spotted the enemy would engage that enemy force, pitting six-man LRS teams against entire enemy formations.

7 surprising facts you probably don’t know about the US Army
David Blow front, left, and another U.S. Soldier were members of a long-range reconnaissance team that conducted cross-border operations in Cambodia and Vietnam in 1971. Blow, a Special Forces soldier, served in Vietnam until the end of U.S. involvement in 1973. (Courtesy photo: U.S. Army)

While the new assessments use different coding that Scales was not privy to, he has voiced concerns that getting rid of LRS units isn’t the best idea.

Scales told the Stars and Stripes about the current LRS drawdowns that, “I worry based on my experience with the model that [long-range surveillance units are] getting shortchanged, and the Army is getting shortchanged.”

This isn’t the first time that the Army has tackled this question, and an earlier batch of LRS deactivations that also resulted from a Total Army Analysis were done against the protest of ground commanders.

From then-Maj. Mark R. Meadows’ 2000 master’s thesis titled “Long-Range Surveillance Unit Force Structure in Force XXI“:

The decision to deactivate these intelligence collection units was not based on a change of doctrine or a change in the mission requirements for LRS. The decisions were not made by one of the two proponents of LRS in order to protect another unit or asset. Quite the contrary, both proponents recognize the importance of HUMINT on the battlefield and support LRS employment and training. As discussed in chapter two, the decision to deactivate all heavy division LRSDs and two of four LRSCs was made over the objection of both proponents and units, by the office of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations as a result of the Total Army Analysis (TAA) process. Consequently, under the current force structure, there are not adequate numbers of LRS units to effectively execute the potential future missions the Army will face.

7 surprising facts you probably don’t know about the US Army
Internationally, long-range reconnaissance is still in high demand. German army Upper Cpl. Andre Schadler, a native of Aulendorf, assigned to Recon Platoon, Jager Battalion 292, scans the battlefield for threats with a thermal sight during the first day of training at the Great Lithuanian Hetman Jonusas Radvila Training Regiment, in Rukla, Lithuania, June 10, 2015. (Photo: U.S. Army Sgt. James Avery, 16th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment)

While satellites and drones can cheaply provide detailed imagery in an open desert, they struggle to watch the movements of enemy forces through heavily forested and urban areas like those troops would face in a war with China or Russia where enemy units could be dispersed under cover and camouflage.

This is something that Eastern Europe armies know well, leading them to invest in the types of reconnaissance units that the U.S. Army is backing away from.

For instance, in November Lithuania hosted the U.S. Army’s Reconnaissance and Surveillance Leadership Course for the first time in the course’s history.

The European Union is investing more heavily in ISTAR — Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition, and Reconnaissance — units.

7 surprising facts you probably don’t know about the US Army
A Romanian IAR 330 Puma helicopter employs perimeter defense while it extracts a joint team of forces from both the 1st Squadron, 131st Cavalry, Alabama Army National Guard, and the 528th Light Reconnaissance Battalion, Romanian Land Force, as they complete a long range surveillance training mission for Operation Red Dragon on June 18, 2015, near Babadag Training Area, Romania. (Photo: U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Christopher Shanley)

Indeed, the Swedish Army maintains a force of only 6,000 available soldiers but keeps one ISTAR battalion available.

This wouldn’t be the first time the Army got rid of its dedicated long-range reconnaissance companies. In 1974, it deactivated the last of the old Long-Range Reconnaissance Patrol companies. Just four years later, the Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations and Plans, Lt. Gen. Edward C. Meyer, ordered a classified study to ascertain, among other things, who could conduct the LRRP mission moving forward.

7 surprising facts you probably don’t know about the US Army
A paratrooper with Delta Company, 52nd Infantry Regiment (Long Range Surveillance), looks out of a window of a CH-47 Chinook helicopter before exiting at Rapido Drop Zone Sept. 1, 2016 at Fort Hood, Texas. This was the last jump before the unit’s deactivation ceremony, which occurred Jan. 10, 2017. (Photo: U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Tomora Clark)

By 1979, the Army was writing doctrine for the new “Long-Range Surveillance Units” which were nearly identical to the extinct LRRP companies. But some division commanders saw the need for human eyes on the battlefield as too vital to wait for Department of the Army.

The 9th and 3rd infantry divisions and the 82nd Airborne Division all stood up LRRP units to provide critical intelligence to battlefield commanders. The 82nd divisional LRRP platoon was deployed to Operation Urgent Fury.

Operational commanders may find that they have to again construct their own long-range surveillance units if they still want the capability. The last of the LRS companies are scheduled to deactivate in August 2018.

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Here’s the amazing story of the Battle of Shiloh

7 surprising facts you probably don’t know about the US Army


The Union Army under the command of general Ulysses S. Grant, which already had control of most of Tennessee, had been slogging up the Tennessee and Cumberland rivers for months in early 1862. The ultimate objective was the Mississippi and the prospect of seizing control of the river and splitting the Confederacy in two.

Grant had already scored a pair of major victories by taking Forts Henry and Donelson, and the reeling Confederate forces under general Albert Sidney Johnston were forced to gather in the city of Corinth in northern Mississippi, a vital rail center. Grant planned to rendezvous his army of 49,000 with the 20,000 under general Don Carlos Buell and seize Corinth. Johnston meanwhile had assembled an army of 45,000 men in the vicinity of Corinth and was waiting for reinforcements of his own.

Word reached Corinth that Grant was unloading his army at Pittsburg Landing on the Tennessee river 20 miles away, near a small church called Shiloh, Hebrew for “Place of Peace.” Johnston’s extravagantly named second in command general Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard urged an immediate surprise attack. If Grant and Buell’s armies combined before battle was joined, there would be little that could stop them in the theatre. Beauregard had a reputation as a tactical expert due to his victory in the war’s first major battle at the First Bull Run, and Johnston agreed to the proposal.

The Confederate army advanced on April 3, but was immediately slowed by pouring rain and poor coordination of units along the washed out roads. These same had the same effect on Buell’s movement to join Grant, and it became a race between the Confederates and the Union reinforcements floundering through the mud. So terrible were the rains and confusion on the march that the Confederates were forced to delay their attack until April 6.

7 surprising facts you probably don’t know about the US Army
Albert Sidney Johnson

Grant and his subordinate and best friend general William Tecumseh Sherman did not expect an attack so soon. When Sherman received reports of enemy troops approaching on the morning of April 6th, he first dismissed them as jumpy troops reporting nothing. When he incredulously rode out to see for himself, the Confederates main battle line boiled out of the trees, and the first thing Sherman witnessed was his aide getting shot in the head in front of him. The Union troops were not dug in, and many of them were raw recruits who had only just received their rifles. They were taken completely by surprise. What was worse, Grant was 9 miles downriver staying at a mansion, at least two hours away by boat while his army fought for it’s life.

The initial Confederate attack slowly drove the Union army north towards the river, and so intense was the fighting that as many as 10,000 Union troops fled and hid. Grant arrived at around 9 a.m. by steamboat and began to take charge of the defense, but the Union lines gradually collapsed. The fighting began to concentrate on the Union center in a small forest, later called “The Hornet’s Nest” for the sheer intensity of the fire directed at the position. An old wagon trail called the Sunken Road that bisected the forest gained it’s own infamy as it become completely choked with the dead and wounded of both sides.

When Johnston saw Confederate troops hesitating to join the assault in the face of such slaughter, he personally led a charge that broke a Union strongpoint at a spot later known as the Peach Orchard, with terrific slaughter. While riding back from the successful attack, Johnston was shot in the leg and had his femoral artery severed, leaving him dead in minutes. The resulting lull as Beauregard took command gave the Union army a breather, but soon another Confederate assault resulted in the surrender of an entire Union division and the defense at the Hornet’s Nest collapsed.

The surviving Union forces were arranging for a last ditch defense at Snake creek when deliverance arrived in the form of Buell, whose army started crossing the river at sundown. Even so, a final Confederate assault was in the offing when Beauregard, who was unaware of the pending enemy reinforcements, called off the attack until morning. He believed that the Union army was in shambles and only needed to be mopped up. Without the arrival of Buell’s army, he may have been right.

The next morning, the bolstered Union army launched a massive counterattack that eventually drove the exhausted and hopelessly outnumbered Confederates from the field, forcing Beauregard to order a retreat back to Corinth with what was left of his army. It was one of the great reversals of the Civil War.

Despite his “victory,” Grant faced severe criticism for the laxness of his position and for being away from the army, but despite calls for his resignation President Abraham Lincoln famously said “I can’t spare that man. He fights.” The South was stunned at the death of Johnston, who was considered the finest soldier in the South, and Confederate president Jefferson Davis was heartbroken at the death of his old West Point classmate.

The scale of the bloodshed at Shiloh left both sides horrified, with nearly 24,000 casualties from both sides. The previous major engagements had been bloody enough, but the United States had never seen a battle with that level of slaughter before. The battle of Shiloh had resulted in more battle casualties than all of America’s previous wars combined. As all the terrible battles to follow would attest, Shiloh showed that there was not going to be any cheap, easy victory for either side.

 

 

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LIVE: WATM coverage of IAVA Commander-in-Chief Forum

On Sept. 7, the two leading American presidential candidates will square off in a town hall-style forum before a live audience aboard the USS Intrepid, a decommissioned aircraft carrier that’s now a museum docked at Pier 86 in midtown Manhattan.


Sponsored by the non-profit Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America and broadcast live by NBC and MSNBC, the first-ever Commander-in-Chief Forum will be an opportunity for Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump and Democrat presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton to speak about veterans issues, national security and military policy. The candidates will address the audience separately and will have the opportunity to answer questions from moderator Matt Lauer.

We Are The Mighty will live blog the event, providing commentary and insight from our team of editors, writers, contributors and friends throughout the primetime event. So stay tuned here for up-to-the-minute coverage as the groundbreaking forum unfolds.

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Here’s why flamethrowers were so deadly on the battlefield for both sides

Used as the ultimate weapon to clear out enemy trenches, the flamethrower made its first major war debut during the early days of WWI, unleashing terror upon British and French forces.


The flamethrower dates back to the 5th century B.C. when elongated tubes were filled with burning coal or sulfur to create a “blowgun” that could be propelled by a warrior’s breath.

Considered one of the most devastating weapons on the battlefield, the modern day flamethrower was often considered just as dangerous for the trooper wielding it as it was for the enemy it faced.

Related: The 7 deadliest weapons of the Crusades

7 surprising facts you probably don’t know about the US Army
This Marine sprays his deadly flamethrower at an enemy building. (Source: Wikipedia Commons)

At first, the German army tested two types of flamethrowers — a Flammenwerfer (a large version) and the Kleinflammenwerfer (designed for portable use). Using pressurized air or nitrogen, the thrower managed to launch the stream of fire as far as 18 meters (the larger version shot twice as far).

The weapon consisted mainly of two triggers, one to shoot the fuel as the other ignited the propellant.

As American forces adopted the weapon, its popularity grew during the island hopping campaigns of WWII since the Japanese commonly use bunkers or “pillboxes” as defensive positions.

Although the flamethrower was a highly effective killing tool, the operator was at a total disadvantage as the supply tank only allowed the weapon to spread its deadly incendiary for about 10 seconds before running out of fuel — leaving the operator somewhat defenseless.

According to retired Marine Willie Woody, the average life expectancy of a flamethrower trooper on the battlefield was five minutes. Since the fuel tanks weren’t constructed of bulletproof materials, the tanks just made bigger targets.

If struck by a hot round in the right spot, the result could be a massive explosion.

Also Read: The British and Germans built these deadly hollowed-out trees in WWI

Check out the Lightning War 1941‘s video below to see the flamethrowers effectiveness during battle.

(Lightning War 1941, YouTube)
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Cigars for Warriors brings moments of luxury to deployed troops

Storm Bowen was wounded in combat in 2007, and he spent a long time in the hospital. And during that time he discovered the simple pleasure of smoking a cigar. At that point Cigars for Warriors was born.


Cigars for Warriors is a nonprofit charity whose sole mission is to send premium cigars and accessories to the men and women of the U.S. military serving in combat zones, no matter where they are. Requests are made online, and each package comes with cigars, cutters, and literature.

7 surprising facts you probably don’t know about the US Army

“I’m retired and I have a lot of free time on my hands,” he says. “With cigars, there is so much to learn and experience and it’s easy to get excited.”

Bowen has a lot to be excited about. While recovering from his injuries, he experienced cigar culture for the first time. His brother-in-law took him to get a cigar and share a smoke. He quickly became an aficionado.

“If you’ve never smoked one before and try to pretend you can, it’s the worst thing you can do,” Bowen adds. “My first time, I went for the three dollar one, trying to save money, and it wasn’t a good idea. You just don’t enjoy it properly.”

True to this creed, there are no dog rockets in a Cigars for Warriors care package. Bowen and Cigars for Warriors will only send premium cigars to the troops abroad. Donations in cash defer the cost of purchasing new, high-quality tobacco or for shipping them overseas. Bowen estimates 98 percent of money collected goes to getting the cigars to the troops, while the remaining is used for promotion.

“This really is a group effort,” he explains. “When we first started in 2012, I tried to get a grip on a real number for how many we might be able to send that year. When I set it to 800, everyone looked at me like I was crazy. By the end of the year, we had shipped 92,000.”

7 surprising facts you probably don’t know about the US Army

Cigars are the number one item requested by deployed troops and Cigars for Warriors is happy to oblige. They use cigar and tobacconist shops as collection points and volunteers to manage the collecting.

“There are many well-organized cigar clubs in combat zones,” Bowen says. “All of us are volunteers and for something so small, it’s having a much bigger impact than we expected. For a lot of these guys, it’s like a slice of home.”

Some of the volunteers working with Bowen are recipients of cigars themselves.

“It’s special to these guys,” Bowen remarks. “We get instant feedback in some cases. They send us photos we call ‘stogie smiles.’ That just fills your tank and gets you going for days.”

7 surprising facts you probably don’t know about the US Army

 

To learn more about, donate to, or request cigars from Cigars for Warriors visit http://cigarsforwarriors.org/

Now: New report shows vets more civic-minded than non-vets

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This Marine Became The First Amputee To Graduate The Corps’ Grueling Swim School

7 surprising facts you probably don’t know about the US Army
Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Adam Jacks became the first amputee to graduate from the Marine Combat Instructor of Water Survival course, Nov. 25, 2014. U.S. Marine Corps photo by Maj. Eve Baker


QUANTICO, Va., Dec. 11, 2014 – The Marine Combat Instructor of Water Survival course is a grueling training evolution that requires Marines to swim a total of 59 miles over three weeks.

Just six of nine course students were able to complete the challenge and graduate Nov. 25. One of those six course students had the deck stacked against him from the beginning, but he overcame adversity and graduated with his classmates.

Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Adam Jacks, company gunnery sergeant for Headquarters and Service Company at The Basic School here, is a motivated, extremely fit, Marine who said he quickly volunteered to attend the course when approached by the chief instructor trainer, Marine Corps Gunnery Sgt. Joseph Marshall. The fact that Jacks’s right leg was amputated at the mid-thigh in 2011 did not faze either Marine.

Injured in Afghanistan

Jacks, a native of Newark, Ohio, was serving in Afghanistan with 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, when he stepped on a pressure plate April 3, 2011, and was hit by an improvised explosive device blast. Among other injuries, Jacks suffered a traumatic brain injury and lost two-thirds of his right leg.

Though he easily could have medically retired, Jacks said, he “fought pretty hard” to stay on active duty, believing he had much more to contribute to the Marine Corps.

“Why I wanted to stay in is pretty simple: I wasn’t ready to hang up the uniform and turn the page into a new chapter,” he said. “I felt that I had a lot of fight left in me, and that I could help shape the Marine Corps into this new-age style of fighting, even with half of a leg, and to show Marines of all ranks and ages that it still can be done.”

Jacks asked to be placed in an expanded permanent limited duty status, a request that only the commandant of the Marine Corps can grant. Jacks said he met the commandant — Gen. James F. Amos at the time — and that Amos said to him, “If you want to stay in, I won’t push you out.” After about nine months of evaluations and paperwork, Jacks was granted permission to continue serving on active duty.

Specific Prosthetics for Specific Activities

Jacks said he has about 20 different prosthetic legs, each with a unique purpose. He has one for everyday activities, one for patrolling and one for running, among others.

“If I don’t have one that works well for the situation, that will set me up for failure,” he explained. He also has one prosthetic decorated with a blood stripe and some Marine graphics that he said he doesn’t like to wear much, because he doesn’t want to damage it.

What he lacked before starting the course, however, was a leg that would help him swim. The asymmetry in his body caused him to roll in the water when swimming, Jacks said.

“The first week [of the MCIWS course] was pretty hellacious,” he said, “because I had to relearn how to swim properly and use my upper body.”

He recounted having to fight feelings of vertigo from the lack of balance. Marshall said he and Jacks worked together to improvise a buoyant prosthetic that would enable him to stay at a level position in the water. Even with the buoyant leg, Jacks had to put in dozens of extra training hours to become more proficient, frequently staying at the pool until 6:30 or 7 p.m., up to two hours after the other students had left for the day.

High Standards

“We were not going to lower the standard,” Marshall said. “We were going to work with him to help him reach it.” And the standard was high. Marines had to complete conditioning swims up to 1,900 meters in length, including three that were timed. They also had to swim 25 meters underwater, complete four American Red Cross rescues with the aid of lifesaving equipment and four without, and pass all academic classroom evaluations.

“There were naysayers” who told him he wouldn’t be able to complete the course missing a limb, Jacks said, but he kept a positive outlook.

“You press on with it,” he said. “You use the adversities as fuel to get you through.”

Jacks and his fellow graduates are now certified as MCIWS instructors and American Red Cross lifeguards.

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The Army is looking for a pistol holster that can do everything

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know the Pentagon — led by the Army — is looking for a new handgun to replace the 1980s-era Beretta M9.


The latest from the program office is that the Army is still in “source selection,” which means program managers are still trying to decide which companies will be finalists for a pistol that’s supposed to fit a wide range of troops, be convertible between a compact, subcompact, and full-size combat pistol, and be more accurate and maintenance-free than the existing M9.

While the specs for the so-called XM17 Modular Handgun System program have been on the streets for some time, the Army has just released an outline of how that pistol should be carried when attached to a trooper’s hip or anywhere else on his or her body.

According to a solicitation distributed to industry, the Army is looking for a holster that can be attached to a variety of items, including body armor, a utility belt or a trooper’s waistband, can work with a suppressed pistol or without, can fit a handgun with a laser sight and keep the handgun secure during combat operations.

In short, the Army’s looking for a holster that can do just about everything.

“Compact variant users may need to carry their handguns in an overt/tactical method in the course of their duties and it would be necessary for the full-size holster to accommodate the compact variant,” the Army notice says. “In the event a new handgun is needed, the existing holster will need to holster or adapt to holster the new weapon to ensure soldiers have a holster system available for use.”

Program officials suggest what they’ve dubbed the “Army Modular Tactical Holster system” could use a single attachment point and hold different shells to fit different-sized pistols or ones designed to for accessories like suppressors or flashlights. Shooting with pistol suppressors often requires pistols to be fitted with slightly longer barrels and higher sights in order for the shooter to properly zero in on his target, and a flashlight adds significant bulk to the slide.

Interestingly, the Army called for a retention system that did not have to be “activated” by the soldier like some holsters used by law enforcement where a lever is flipped over the handgun’s hammer or slide.

7 surprising facts you probably don’t know about the US Army
A U.S. Air Force airman holsters a 9mm pistol at the Combat Arms Training and Maintenance range at Langley Air Force Base, Va., Oct. 30, 2015. Holsters like this one require the user to manually flip a retention bar over the slide to keep the handgun from falling out or being easily grabbed by an opponent. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Derek Seifert)

“Soldiers require the ability to draw handguns from holsters and re-holster with one hand reliably when transitioning from another weapon system, or when presented with a lethal force engagement with little or no warning when only armed with a handgun,” the notice says. “This requires that Soldiers be capable of drawing the weapon quickly with one fluid motion, attain a proper firing grip from the holster, engage enemy targets, holster the weapon and potentially repeat the process during the same engagement or in successive engagements. … Soldiers must be able to conduct draw and re-holster with one hand and without looking or glancing away from their near-target environment.”

All of this is to avoid the problem experienced with the popular Blackhawk! Serpa holster that many claim contributes to negligent discharges.

7 surprising facts you probably don’t know about the US Army
The Serpa holster requires the user to press down on a release button with his trigger finger to draw the weapon. Some argue that configuration contributes to negligent discharges and the Army wants no part of it for the AMTH. (Photo: U.S. Marine Corps)

“No retention buttons, switches, levers, etc. will use the soldier’s trigger finger to release the handgun,” the Army says.

The Army also wants the AMTH to work both outside and inside the waistband for concealed carry environments.

That’s surely an ambitious list of specs for a do-all holster. And to top it off, the Army wants the base holster (without any accessory shells or attachments) to cost less than $100.

And industry has until early October to tell the Army what it’s got that can meet the AMTH’s lofty goals.

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The crazy story of how Russia snuck a vast nuclear arsenal onto America’s doorstep

Most stories about the Cuban Missile Crisis start with Oct. 16, 1962, when the president and his advisors were briefed on the missile sites on the island. A few start with Oct. 13, when the U-2 flight that photographed the sites took off. U-2 overflights would collect more information during the crisis along with other reconnaissance plans. After collecting all the information, U.S. intelligence agencies believed the Russians had smuggled nearly 10,000 troops onto the island.


7 surprising facts you probably don’t know about the US Army
Photo: Wikipedia/Keizers

But the Russians had actually smuggled over 40,000 troops comprising seven missile regiments, two air defense divisions, a fighter aviation regiment with 40 jets, 23 nuclear-capable bombers, a helicopter squadron with 33 birds, 11 light transport planes, and four mechanized infantry regiments with three nuclear rocket batteries attached.

All of these assets were to employ and defend the 36 to 42 nuclear ballistic missiles, 92 nuclear cruise missiles, and six nuclear bombs deployed to the island. There were also another 24 ballistic missiles that never made it to the island.

How did the Russians get this vast nuclear arsenal 100 miles from America? They packed their men into 100 degree ship holds until some died of the heat and dehydration, cleverly hid missile components in civilian ships, and lied their asses off.

The Russian ruse

First, Russia only let a few people know they were planning it. Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev and the General Staff made the decision to place the missiles, and then told only five people — four generals and a colonel. To keep those who knew to a minimum, the colonel hand-wrote all the meeting notes and drafted the proposed plan in longhand.

As preparations got under way, more and more officers had to be brought into the inner circle, but the Soviets limited those who knew the true nature of the mission to just a handful and mislead the others as to the exact nature of the mission.

Many were convinced that the deployment was a training mission near the Bering Sea. The mission, Operation ANADYR was named for a river that flows into the sea. Troops were alerted that they were headed to a cold region and were issued cold weather clothes and skis. Technicians were told the equipment they were preparing were destined for an island in the Arctic where Russia regularly tested nuclear weapons.

“Agricultural experts”

To explain the sudden movement of personnel, ships, and equipment from Russia to Cuba, the Soviet Union announced that they were sending agricultural experts to Cuba. They arrived May 29, 1962, and pulled Raul Castro aside. They explained that they were actual military leaders who needed to speak to Fidel Castro as soon as possible.

The delegation made the initial deal with Fidel Castro to bring the missiles in, and Fidel Castro went in July to finalize the deal.

Within a week, “machine operators,” “irrigation specialists,” and “agricultural specialists” who knew nothing about farming began arriving in Cuba by air. America wasn’t totally blind to this. Intelligence analysts speculated that the new flights were bringing in military officers and signal monitoring equipment onto the island.

Preparing to deploy

The massive movement of supplies and personnel to Russian ports had to be hidden. First, all the troops involved were restricted from mail and telegrams. Shipments were split between four ports on the north of the country and four in the south. Troops waiting to get on the ships were housed in military facilities and not allowed to leave the area for any reason. Ship crews couldn’t leave the ports. Communications with the Defense Ministry were done via courier.

As ships were loaded, only agricultural-type equipment was allowed to be stored above decks. Most military equipment and nearly all of the troops were stationed belowdecks. Large equipment that couldn’t be stored below but was visibly military was camouflaged to be hidden in the ships’ outer structures.

7 surprising facts you probably don’t know about the US Army
The Soviet ship Poltava moves the first of the ballistic missiles to Cuba. Photo: US Air Force

Again, the Americans had some idea that something could be amiss. The type of large-hatch ships being used were sometimes employed to transport cargo, but they were also some of the only ships that could carry ballistic missiles.

Traveling clandestinely

To make sure no one, not even the ship’s captains and military commanders, knew where they were going, each ship was given a route and a thick envelope. Once they reached a point on their initial route, the military commander and a ship captain would open the first layer of the envelope in the presence of a Soviet political officer. Inside would be instructions to head to another point as well as another sealed envelope. Again, the ship would follow the enclosed instructions and open the next sealed envelope.

Eventually of course, there would be an envelope that ordered them to Cuba.

7 surprising facts you probably don’t know about the US Army
A soviet ship moves nuclear-capable bombers to Cuba ahead of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Photo: US Air Force

Meanwhile, the crew was suffocating belowdecks. To keep from being spotted by reconnaissance overflights or by people on the coast when near land, the thousands of soldiers were ordered to stay below with all the portholes closed during the day. At night they could take turns walking on deck in small groups. Temperatures in the holds climbed to 120 degrees or higher in the day and some ships faced fresh water shortages. In a few extreme cases, personnel died to maintain secrecy.

Lying

Of course, the Soviets still had to straight-up lie to President John F. Kennedy to pull this off. The small bits of evidence had been piling up for the Americans and a sighting of surface-to-air missiles on Cuba suddenly blew the military buildup into the open.

When the administration confronted the Russians, Russia claimed it was a small defensive buildup and America bought it. Russia also pushed the importance of them training Cuban farmers.

To protect the U-2s, Kennedy ordered the end of flights over Cuba, blinding America to the continuing buildup.

Arrival in Cuba

Once the assets arrived in Cuba, it was nearly impossible to keep people from talking. Russia tries by moving mostly at night, using Spanish on the radio, and minimizing communications. They also destroyed buildings on the route and evacuated areas near the missile sites.

But the locals were still talking about the incoming missiles. To prevent discovery, Russia began leaking false information through as many intelligence channels as they could. Stories ranged from African troops with nose rings landing on the island to underground hangars and concrete domes being constructed. American analysts trying to rule out the erroneous reports discounted news of nuclear weapons.

Discovery

Finally, overflights of the ships going into Cuba revealed the nuclear-capable bombers en route to the island and Kennedy authorized the resumption of flights over Cuba. On Oct. 13, these flights captured images of the nuclear missile sites being emplaced and the Cuban Missile Crisis soon exploded into the open.

7 surprising facts you probably don’t know about the US Army
Soviet truck convoy deploying missiles near San Cristobal, Cuba, on Oct. 14, 1962. This image, taken by Maj. Steve Heyser in a USAF U-2, is the first picture that proved Russian missiles were being emplaced in Cuba. The image is dated on the day it was printed. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Still, the Russian deception continued. They kept America convinced for some time that troop levels were small and America didn’t know about the tactical nuclear weapons that were on the island for years.

(h/t to the CIA report, “Learning from the Past” by James H. Hansen).

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