The crazy story of how Russia snuck a vast nuclear arsenal onto America's doorstep - We Are The Mighty
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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.


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

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

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

The crazy story of how Russia snuck a vast nuclear arsenal onto America’s doorstep
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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Obama commutes WikiLeaks whistleblower Chelsea Manning’s sentence

President Barack Obama commuted the majority of WikiLeaks whistleblower Chelsea Manning’s prison sentence on Tuesday, with only three days left in office.


Manning was convicted of violating the Espionage Act, among other charges, in 2013 after she stole secret documents from a computer system she had access to while working as an intelligence analyst in Iraq and leaked them to WikiLeaks in 2010.

She received a 35-year sentence for the leak and has served seven years in Fort Leavenworth. She will now be freed in five months, on May 17.

Manning, a transgender woman, has attempted suicide twice while in prison.

Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, said last week that he’d agree to be extradited to the US if Obama grants clemency to Manning.

The US has threatened to prosecute Assange over the 2010 leak. Assange has been holed up at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London since 2012, to avoid extradition to Sweden where he has been accused of sexual assault.

Josh Earnest, the White House press secretary, told The New York Times on Tuesday that there’s a “pretty stark difference” between Manning’s case and that of former government employee Edward Snowden.

The crazy story of how Russia snuck a vast nuclear arsenal onto America’s doorstep
Chelsea Manning | via Twitter

“Chelsea Manning is somebody who went through the military criminal justice process, was exposed to due process, was found guilty, was sentenced for her crimes, and she acknowledged wrongdoing,” Earnest said. “Mr. Snowden fled into the arms of an adversary, and has sought refuge in a country that most recently made a concerted effort to undermine confidence in our democracy.”

Snowden declared his support for Manning on Twitter.

“In five more months, you will be free. Thank you for what you did for everyone, Chelsea. Stay strong a while longer!” Snowden tweeted.

The president has not granted clemency to Snowden.

Obama pardoned 64 other people on Tuesday and shortened the sentences of 209 prisoners. Over his two terms, Obama has commuted the sentences of 1,385 people and granted 212 pardons.

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Congress shelves plans to have women register for draft

The Senate Armed Services Committee’s markup of the June 29 defense budget left out proposals to have women register for the draft.


The move essentially tabled the controversial issue following similar action June 29 in the House Armed Services Committee’s markup of the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal 2018. Proposals by Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., and others to have women register for Selective Service were dropped from that bill.

Speier unsuccessfully argued for an amendment to the NDAA that would have required women to register for the draft. “It’s time to stop delaying the inevitable with parliamentary gymnastics,” she said. “If it does come to a draft, men and women should be treated equally.”

The crazy story of how Russia snuck a vast nuclear arsenal onto America’s doorstep
(USMC photo by LCpl. Nicholas J. Trager)

Her amendment failed by a vote of 33-28 in the committee.

Committee Chairman Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, opposed Speier’s amendment, saying it was getting ahead of an ongoing review of the Selective Service System.

Last year, committee members approved a similar measure requiring women to register for the draft, but Republican leaders stripped the language on the House floor.

The Senate last year also backed the draft for women but dropped the issue in budget negotiations with the House.

The crazy story of how Russia snuck a vast nuclear arsenal onto America’s doorstep
Women assigned to Malmstrom Air Force Base. USAF by Beau Wade.

Women have always been exempt from the law requiring all men ages 18 to 26 to register for possible military service with the Selective Service System. The main argument against women registering for the draft had been that they were excluded from serving in combat jobs. However, the Defense Department has since lifted combat restrictions.

At a May 22 Brookings Institution forum, Thornberry was asked to state his position on women and the draft.

He responded, “We have appointed a commission to look at this. We’ll see what they have to say,” but he gave no timeline for the study to be completed and no indication whether Congress would be prepared to act when the commission files a report.

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These roving robots are helping to improve hostage rescue training

Hostage rescue is one of the most dangerous missions special operations troops can be assigned to.


One of the big reasons: You have to pull your punches, lest you accidentally kill the people you’re there to rescue. You have to be very stealthy, or you will be detected and the bad guys will kill the hostages. You must move quickly, or the bad guys will kill the hostages.

But it’s hard to find people who want to be in the middle of training for hostage rescue. The answer, according to one DoD release, may be to use robots.

Explosive Ordnance Disposal technicians with the 27th Special Operations Wing conducted some hostage rescue training using the robots this past December – and some of it was caught on video:

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This is Hollywood’s favorite machine gun for killing zombies and bad guys

The crazy story of how Russia snuck a vast nuclear arsenal onto America’s doorstep
Charlton Heston offs undead nightstalkers in the ’70s cult film “The Omega Man.” (Warner Bros. screen capture)


In real life, the Smith Wesson M76 submachine gun was a weapon for men who fought in the shadows.

Created as a replacement for an embargoed firearm popular with American clandestine operators and special forces during the 1950s and 1960s, it combined a rapid rate of fire with the ability to attach a suppressor.

But the M76 is also a movie gun that Hollywood has generously splashed all over the silver screen.

Some film historians say it earned the honor of being the first “zombie apocalypse gun.”  Charlton Heston packs one in the ’70s cult classic The Omega Man, where his character Col. Robert Neville sprays deranged nightwalkers with automatic fire after bio-warfare wipes out most of the world’s population.

The crazy story of how Russia snuck a vast nuclear arsenal onto America’s doorstep
Then there is Heath Ledger’s Joker, who wields one against Batman in the 2008 epic The Dark Knight. As the Joker stumbles out of a wrecked van, he fires an M76 and shrieks, “Come on, I want you to do it, I want you to do it. Come on, hit me. Hit me!”

The development of the M76 is a story that is part American ingenuity, part Swedish politics, and all about ensuring special operators could continue to use a choice weapon.

The M76 replaced the Carl Gustav M/45 Kulsprutepistol, a 9 x 19 mm submachine gun with a 36-round magazine manufactured in Sweden that was a favorite of covert forces.  The M/45 actually was the main submachine gun of the Swedish Army from 1945 until it phased out in the 1990s, but reserve units carried it until 2007.

The Americans who used the weapon began to call it “the Swedish K.”

Journalist Michael Herr in his memoir Dispatches describes “Ivy League spooks,” CIA agents who carried the Swedish K as their preferred weapon as they drove near the Cambodian border.

Soon, SEALs and Green Berets used the Swedish K because much of their fighting was in the narrow confines of a jungle environment where firepower and maneuverability were more important than range and accuracy.

SEAL team members also liked the fact the Swedish K is an open-bolt weapon, which allowed it to be fired almost immediately after a frogman crossed the beach.

“You could see why it would be preferable to the US Thompson or M-3 Submachine gun,” said Alan Archambault, former supervisory curator for the U.S. Army Center of Military History and a retired Army officer. “A friend of mine who served with Special Forces in Vietnam relatively early on told me that by using foreign weapons like the Swedish K it also helped to conceal the US presence a bit. I also think that Special Ops men tend to like unusual weapons rather than using standard US issue weapons.”

Light, rugged, capable of firing 550 rounds a minute and unfailingly reliable, Swedish Ks soon became a weapon in the arsenals of covert forces, particularly those operating in Southeast Asia as the United States became more and more involved in what became the Vietnam War.

“I know my friend was proud of using a Swedish K in Vietnam,” Archambault said. “It was one more way the Special Forces were set apart from the typical ‘line doggies.’ It goes along with the Green Beret and other elite designations.”

However, in 1966 the Swedish government adopted the position of officially opposing U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War. Pacifist Sweden placed an embargo on military supplies exported to the United States, including the Swedish K.

The decision particularly troubled the U.S. Navy SEALs, who decided to turn to a domestic supplier for a copy of the Swedish K.  The Navy approached Smith Wesson and by 1967 the company produced a clone, the M76.

It had all of the good qualities of the Swedish K as well as few refinements including a higher rate of fire (720 rounds per minute). It also could be fitted with the SG9 suppressor.

In addition, Smith Wesson experimented with a version of the M76 that electronically fired caseless ammunition. The gun actually worked well, but the caseless ammo was easily damaged by rough handling so the project was scrapped.

M76s found their way into the hands of SEAL team members and some Green Berets, where they are were used successfully during many covert operations. But as the Vietnam War began to wind down demand for the weapon decreased; more powerful weapons soon replaced it.

By 1974, Smith Wesson ceased production of the M76.  However, the weapon remained in use in the Navy, where it was still used in some instances by SEAL teams or it was issued to helicopter pilots for self-defense in case of a crash landing.

Law enforcement agencies also purchased the weapon. In fact, the September 11, 2001, terrorist attack on the World Trade Center destroyed a cache of M76s where New York state law enforcement agencies maintained an arsenal.

There was even an attempt to revive the weapon during the 1980s. In 1983, Mike Ruplinger and Kenneth Dominick started a company called MK Arms after acquiring the rights to the M76 from Smith Wesson. The company manufactured both new weapons and replacement parts for existing M76s that were still in military and law enforcement inventories.

However, the M76 gained new life as a movie weapon where it was featured prominently not only in the films already mentioned but also Magnum Force, The Taking of Pelham One Two Three, Dog Day Afternoon and Black Sunday.

But perhaps it is in The Omega Man where the M76 gets the most screen time.

Not only does a leisured-suited, eight-track-tape-playing Charlton Heston have one in hand during almost every scene, the weapon used in the film introduces an innovation: the tactical light. In several scenes, the movie’s armorer used C-clamps to attach a flashlight to the gun’s barrel so Heston could hunt the film’s nightwalkers more efficiently.

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Hitler had a secret plan to take over Britain — and his generals thought it was idiotic

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


There are plenty of terrible things to say about Adolf Hitler, and here’s one more: His top-down leadership style really didn’t help his generals.

Germany had rolled over a number of European countries in late 1939 and by June 1940, its soldiers were standing in the streets of Paris. But that wasn’t enough for Hitler, who had his eye on London. In Führer Directive 16 of July 16, 1940, Hitler ordered his generals to work on a “surprise crossing” on the English Channel which he wanted to call Sea Lion.

“The aim of this operation will be to eliminate the English homeland as a base for the prosecution of the war against Germany and, if necessary, to occupy it completely,” he wrote.

But there was a big problem: His generals thought it was ridiculous. According to a study by a German operations officer in 1939, in order for it to be successful, the Germans needed to completely eliminate the Royal Air Force, all its Navy units on the coast, kill most of its submarines, and seal off the landing and approach areas from British troops.

Not exactly the easiest of tasks.

The crazy story of how Russia snuck a vast nuclear arsenal onto America’s doorstep
How Hitler expected an invasion of England to go.

Then there were his top military leaders. In response to a soliciation for input from the German Army, the head of Germany’s Air Force Herman Göring responded with just a single page outright rejecting such an idea: “It could only be the final act of an already victorious war against Britain as otherwise the preconditions for success of a combined operation would not be met.”

The Navy responded similarly at the time. But it was in even worse shape after an invasion of Norway in 1940, and Admiral Eric Raeder knew he didn’t have nearly enough ships to take on Britain. But — surprise, surprise — Hitler didn’t care.

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

In a review of the book “Operation Sea Lion” by Leo McKinstry, NPR writes:

But Hitler’s hubris and poor strategic thinking ensured this never happened. McKinstry contends that three major mistakes cost Hitler dearly: his underestimation of Britain’s naval power; his lack of understanding of the British political system; and his failure to recognize that a team of intelligence operators at Bletchley Park were decoding key information about the Luftwaffe’s plans for aerial bombings.

Though a plan to invade the British mainland was finalized by August 1940, it never came to pass. German infantry began practicing beach landings while the first step of the plan — beat the Air Force — was tried. It was the three month “Battle of Britain” and it failed miserably for Germany.

The crazy story of how Russia snuck a vast nuclear arsenal onto America’s doorstep
Don’t mess with Essex.

Instead of Germany achieving air superiority in preparation for invasion, the Brits instead had a decisive victory that became a turning point in the war.

“The German Navy had lost a lot of destroyers by 1940 and the reality is that, if the invaders had made the crossing, they would have been annihilated by the Royal Navy,” Ian Kikuchi, a historian in London, told the Independent. “They were planning to make the journey in river barges.”

After the failure of the Battle of Britain, Hitler decided in September to postpone the operation. Then the plans were completely scrapped after Germany invaded Russia in 1941.

NOW: 6 of the wildest top secret spy missions of World War II

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This is who would win a dogfight between an F-15 Eagle and Su-27 Flanker

The F-15 Eagle – an air-superiority fighter that has dominated the dogfight arena sine it was introduced into service, then later emerged as a superb multi-role fighter.


The Su-27 Flanker– Russia’s attempt to match the Eagle.

Which is the deadliest plane? To decide that, we will look at combat records, their avionics systems, their armament, as well as their performance specs to see who’d come out on top.

1. Combat Records

There’s no better way to judge a plane then how it has done in combat. Forget the specs you see on a sheet of paper, forget what it looks like. Just judge it by its record.

The crazy story of how Russia snuck a vast nuclear arsenal onto America’s doorstep
An F-15 Eagle departs during the mission employment phase exercise at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., Dec. 7, 2012. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Brett Clashman)

The F-15 has seen a lot of action. Perhaps the most important number is: “zero.” That is how many F-15s have been lost in air-to-air combat. This is an incredible feat for a plane that has been in service for 40 years and seen action in wars. In fact, the F-15 has shot down over 100 enemy planes with no losses.

The Su-27 family has seen much less action. Su-27s flown by the Ethiopian Air Force that saw combat in the 1998-2000 war with Eritrea scored at least two and as many as 10 air-to-air kills. The Flanker has also seen action over Syria, Chechnya, and Georgia, scoring one confirmed kill over Chechnya in 1994.

Advantage: F-15 Eagle

2. Avionics

In the modern age of aerial combat, the plane’s electronics matter. Radar serves as eyes and ears, while electronic countermeasures (ECM) try to keep the other side deaf and blind.

The F-15 uses the AN/APG-63(V)3, an active electronically scanned array, or AESA, radar. This highly advanced system gives the Eagle a pair of very sharp “eyes” that locate targets up to 100 miles away and direct its radar-guided AIM-120 Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missiles. The Eagle also has the AN/ALQ-135 ECM system, which is very useful against opposing radars, whether on missiles or aircraft.

The crazy story of how Russia snuck a vast nuclear arsenal onto America’s doorstep
The avionics suite inside an Su-27 Flanker. (Photo from Wikimedia)

The Su-27’s avionics center around the N001 Mech radar, capable of tracking bomber-sized targets at 86 miles. For a target the size of the F-15, though, the range is only 62 miles. That is a difference of 38 miles – almost two-thirds of the Mech’s range. The Flanker doesn’t have internal jammers. Instead, there is the option to use two Sorbtsiya pods.

Advantage: F-15 Eagle

3. Armament

The F-15 can carry up to eight air-to-air missiles. The usual load is four AIM-120 AMRAAMs and four AIM-9X Sidewinders. It also carries a M61 20mm Gatling gun with 900 rounds of ammunition. The AIM-120D now in service has a range of 99 miles, while the AIM-9X can reach out to 22 miles. The AMRAAM is a “fire and forget” missile.

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

The Su-27 carries six R-27 (AA-10 “Alamo” missiles), which have a range of up to 80 miles. These missiles use semi-active guidance, meaning the Flanker has to “paint” its target to guide the missile. That means flying straight and level – not the best idea in aerial combat.

The Flanker also carries up to four R-73 missiles (AA-11 “Archer”), which has a range of up to 19 miles, and has a GSh-30 30mm cannon.

Advantage: F-15 Eagle

4. Performance

The F-15 has a top speed of Mach 2.5, a combat radius of 1,222 miles, and can maneuver in a dogfight, pulling up to 9 Gs.

The crazy story of how Russia snuck a vast nuclear arsenal onto America’s doorstep
(Photo: U.S. Air Force Senior Airman John Hughel)

With three 600-gallon drop tanks and two 750-gallon conformal fuel tanks (Fuel And Sensor Tactical, or “FAST” packs), the F-15’s range is 3,450 miles. In short, this plane has long “legs” and it can be refueled in flight by tankers.

The Su-27 has a top speed of Mach 2.35, a range of 2,193 miles, and is capable of some amazing aerobatic feats, notably the Pugachev Cobra. Like the F-15, it can pull 9 Gs in a maneuver. The Flanker can carry drop tanks and be refueled while flying.

Advantage: Draw

So, who wins? While the F-15 Eagle is an older design, its advantages — particularly avionics — put the Su-27 at a huge disadvantage. Russia has other planes in the Flanker family (the Su-35), but they are few and far between.

So, how might the engagement between four United States Air Force F-15s and four Su-27s from BadGuyLand go?

Well, the F-15s would probably detect the Su-27s first. Once in AMRAAM range, the Eagle pilots will open fire, most likely using two missiles per target. The Flankers would be obliterated.

If it got to close range, though, the engagement is likely to be a lot less one-sided. Here, the AA-11 and AIM-9 are equal, and both planes can pull 9 Gs.

The skill and training of the pilots will be decisive. In this case, we will assume that BadGuyLand’s dictator, Sleazebag Swinemolestor, hasn’t quite trained his pilots well, and some were selected for their political liability. In this mix-up, the Eagles shoot down three Flankers for the loss of one fighter – the first F-15 lost in air-to-air combat.

Either way, though, it is a safe bet that the F-15 still comes out on top.

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This Marine saved his squad from insurgents after he took shrapnel to the leg

A Marine who fought off an Afghan insurgent assault despite painful shrapnel wounds to the leg said his bravery under fire was all in a day’s work.


Staff Sgt. Robert Van Hook, a critical skills operator attached to 2nd Marine Raider Battalion, received the Silver Star on Jan. 15 during a ceremony at the headquarters of Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command, or Marsoc, near Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, for heroism in battle during a 2013 deployment to Herat province, Afghanistan.

In an interview days after receiving the military’s third-highest award for bravery, Van Hook recalled the events of that day of action.

Van Hook, a 27-year-old native of Nokesville, Virginia, had been serving as the element leader for Marine Special Operations Team 8224, Special Operations Task Force West. A former reconnaissance Marine, Van Hook had been to Iraq once and was on his third deployment to Afghanistan.

His team had begun its operation late at night Aug. 14. They planned to clear a village of insurgents in preparation for a visit by local Afghan National Army, or ANA, leaders to the region the following day. As they moved into the region around 2 or 3 a.m., Van Hook said, the team spotted two who appeared to be “walking with intent” and exhibiting other suspicious behaviors.

On Van Hook’s order, the Marine team took cover and maneuvered closer to observe the men, eventually watching them link up with eight others at the back of a building. All were armed with AK-47s, rocket-propelled grenade launchers and other weapons he said, and as they communicated in Pashto over their radios, Van Hook could make out words like “bomb.”

Taking advantage of the element of surprise, he “executed a hasty ambush” on the men, according to his medal citation, killing four and wounding two more. Then he and his team cleared the building from which the insurgents were operating, using their own guns and hand grenades. One more insurgent was taken hostage inside, and two more were detained.

Despite the intensity of this ambush under cover of darkness, Van Hook said he was able to keep a cool head as he aggressively charged into an enemy position.

“We train like we fight here,” Van Hook said. “Our training is as realistic as we can possibly get it. It’s almost second nature at this point.”

Daybreak found Van Hook and his team in a building providing over-watch defense for a sister Marine Special Operations Team as they brought in ANA officials for a key leader engagement with elders from the region.

“The area was highly destabilized. We wanted to get high-ranking leaders with the Afghan army to show their presence,” Van Hook explained. “We knew the area had a lot of insurgents in it and they had freedom of movement.”

The engagement went as planned, with little more than sporadic “pop shots” at the Marines while the leaders were present. But as the ANA detachment pulled away, all that changed.

“You could almost see their tail lights crossing the horizon when the attack started to kick off,” Van Hook said.

A sniper on the ground started targeting the two Marine teams. As Van Hook’s team began returning fire with recoilless rifles and machine guns, the insurgents directed the bulk of their fire at them. As the onslaught became overwhelming, Van Hook ordered a Marine who had been manning an MK-19 grenade launcher on the roof to take cover.

“If your head was just over the wall, you were getting shot in the Kevlar,” he said.

Later, though, when Van Hook got word from the other Marine element that it was being targeted on three sides, he grabbed another Marine and charged back out to take control of the MK-19 once more.

As he fired the big gun, Van Hook successfully drew the brunt of the enemy attack onto his position, taking the pressure off the other element and allowing them to regain their advantage. He fired on the insurgents until one of them shot an RPG into the rooftop position, knocking Van Hook and the other Marine unconscious and wounding them with shrapnel.

When Van Hook regained consciousness, he saw that the MK-19 had rolled over his leg, which had been pierced by shrapnel and had blood pooling under it. The other Marine had been apparently wounded in the back, and Van Hook moved to put pressure on the wound, and push the Marine to cover, despite the pain in his own leg.

Then, he manned the gun once more and continued to fire on the enemy fighters. When he looked down and saw that the pool of blood under his leg had grown larger, he applied a tourniquet to the leg and kept on fighting.

Finally, one of MARSOC’s special amphibious reconnaissance corpsmen convinced Van Hook to leave the roof for a medical examination. At this point, the Marine was in intense pain and couldn’t feel anything below the ankle of his wounded leg due to a nerve injury.

But, Van Hook said, “I could still think, and I realized there were gaps in my security, so I wanted to support as much as possible.”

With two Marines wounded and an ANA soldier who was fighting with them in bad shape from being shot in the face, the decision was made to organize a casualty evacuation. Instead of laying back and resting, Van Hook teamed up with another Marine who had a recoilless rifle, identifying insurgent targets so he could shoot at them.

Then, with the medical evacuation, or medevac, chopper approaching, he began calling in “danger close” suppressive 120mm mortar fire around the landing zone to allow the bird to land safely. Once on board, Van Hook said he felt not relief, but frustration.

“The last thing a Marine wants to do is leave other Marines behind and I was pretty irritated at that point,” he said.

But the day wasn’t over; while aboard the aircraft, the Afghan soldier collapsed, and Van Hook and the other Marine provided triage care, taking advantage of their extensive medical training.

Looking back on the day, Van Hook was unassuming about his accomplishments.

“This is the job we signed up for,” he said. “Everybody understands the positions you’re going to be put in once you become a [Marine] Raider. Once I found out that the award went through, it was the biggest dose of humble pie I’ve ever experienced.”

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Inside the submarine threat to US carriers off the Korean coast

With news that the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70) is en route to the Korean peninsula with three other ships, there is no doubt that tensions are high. With two carriers, there is a lot of striking power, but it is also a target for the North Koreans.


This is not an idle thought. On March 26, 2010, the Pohang-class corvette ROKS Cheonan was torpedoed and sunk by a North Korean mini-sub firing a 21-inch torpedo. So, the concern is what one of these subs could do to a carrier.

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

Let’s look at what these subs are. The North Koreans have two front-line classes of mini-sub, according to the 16th Edition of Combat Fleets of the World. The Yono — the type of sub believed to have fired the torpedo that sank the Cheonan — is about 110 tons and carries two 21-inch torpedoes. The Sang-O is 295 tons and also has a pair of 21-inch torpedo tubes.

North Korea also has Romeo-class submarines, which have eight 21-inch torpedo tubes (six forward, two aft), with a total of 14 torpedoes. North Korea also has some mini-subs built to a Yugoslavian design with two 16-inch torpedoes, but those are believed to be in reserve.

The crazy story of how Russia snuck a vast nuclear arsenal onto America’s doorstep
A Sang-O aground in South Korean waters. (US Army photo)

That said, American aircraft carriers are very tough vessels. In World War II, the carriers USS Yorktown (CV 5) and USS Hornet (CV 8) took a lot of abuse before they sank. The carrier USS Franklin (CV 13) had one of the great survival stories of the war, despite horrific damage.

But today’s carrier are much larger.

The crazy story of how Russia snuck a vast nuclear arsenal onto America’s doorstep
Rear Adm. Hyun Sung Um, commander of Republic of Korea (ROK) Navy 2nd Fleet, and Rear Adm. Seung Joon Lee, deputy commander of ROK Navy 2nd Fleet, brief Adm. Patrick M. Walsh, commander of U.S. Pacific Fleet, on the findings of the Joint Investigation Group Report of the ROK Navy corvette ROKS Cheonan (PCC 772). A non-contact homing torpedo or sea-mine exploded near the ship March 26, 2010, sinking it, resulting in the death of 46 ROK Navy sailors. (U.S. Navy photo by Lt. Jared Apollo Burgamy)

In fact, the Russians designed the Oscar-class guided-missile submarine to kill America’s Nimitz-class carriers – and those have 24 SS-N-19 “Shipwreck” missiles, plus four 21-inch torpedo tubes and four 25.6-inch tubes meant to fire torpedoes with either massive conventional warheads or even nuclear ones.

This points to a North Korean sub being unable to sink a Nimitz-class carrier on its own.

But two torpedoes will still force a carrier to spend a long time in the body shop. And the escorts are more vulnerable as well.

A U.S. carrier could take a couple of hits and in a worst case scenario, she’d have to fly her air wing to shore bases.

Articles

Report finds VA suicide hotline lets many crisis calls go to voicemail

The Veterans Affairs Inspector General found calls at the main VA suicide hotline center in Canandaigua, New York allowed calls to go to voicemail, and that some are never returned due to inadequate training and an overloaded staff.


The hotline was the subject of the 2014 Academy Award-winning documentary “Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1,” which profiles several Veterans’ Crisis Line counselors who work the 24-hour service to provide support and guidance to active and retired servicemen dealing with emotional, physical and financial troubles.

“We substantiated allegations that some calls routed to backup crisis centers were answered by voicemail, and callers did not always receive immediate assistance,” said a VA report filed in February 2016.

The VA estimates every sixth call is going to the backup center, where callers listen to Muzak while they wait for an operator. The VA has no information on how long the callers wait or how many give up because the backup centers are not monitored by the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Since the suicide hotline was created in 2007, it has received more than two million calls and intervened on 53,000 separate occasions. The new report recommends obtaining and analyzing data on hold times, implementing call monitoring for the crisis line staff, more rigorous training with a rigorous quality assurance process.

 

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is why the US military gave GPS away for free

One of the most ever-present devices in modern times is the navigation system in everything from cell phones and wrist watches to in-dash car displays. All of them are made possible with just a few constellations of satellites, most of them launched by the U.S.


But the systems use the satellite signals for free despite a cost in the billions to create and launch the satellites, and even as far back as 2012, $2 million was spent daily to maintain the U.S. system. So why are civilians across the world allowed to use them for free?

 

The crazy story of how Russia snuck a vast nuclear arsenal onto America’s doorstep
An Su-15 Flagon fighter like the one that downed Korean Air 007. (Photo: U.S. Department of Defense).

 

The big turning point was in 1983 when a Korean Air passenger jet flying near the Soviet border accidentally crossed into Russian territory in the Kamchatka Peninsula.

The Russians were worried that the plane was a U.S. bomber or spy plane, and made the catastrophic decision to attack the jet, downing it and killing all 269 passengers and crew members on board.

American officials later admitted privately that the error was an easy one to make and that the passenger jet was — probably accidentally — traveling on almost the exact same route that a U.S. spy plane was flying at the same time.

 

The crazy story of how Russia snuck a vast nuclear arsenal onto America’s doorstep
(Reagan Library photo)

 

President Ronald Reagan publicly condemned the attacks and turned to his advisors to find a way to prevent other mix-ups in the future. He opened the GPS signals to public use with an executive order — but added scrambling to reduce accuracy.

This made the signals less valuable to rival militaries.

Civilian companies sprang up around GPS and worked to create devices that were perfectly accurate despite the scrambling. After almost a decade of the military increasing scrambling to foil technological workarounds, President Bill Clinton ordered that the scrambling come to an end.

Instead, the U.S. jams GPS signals locally when they’re in combat with a force that uses them.

This jamming works by interrupting the signals, allowing the U.S. to scramble signals from its own satellites as well as those launched in more recent years by Russia, China, India, and Japan.

Articles

These badass historical women cross-dressed so they could fight with the boys

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


In December 2015, Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter announced that the Pentagon would open all combat jobs to women. Why was this such a massive deal? Because it shattered the U.S. military’s final “brass ceiling.” Even though women have been fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan for the past 15 years, thousands of jobs remained off-limits until this year. We’re pretty sure that the badass women on this list would approve of the decision. Why’s that? Because they had to cross-dress in order to fight on the frontlines.

1. Hannah Snell

The crazy story of how Russia snuck a vast nuclear arsenal onto America’s doorstep
Hannah Snell | Wikimedia Commons

On June 2, 1750, a Marine named James Gray made the following announcement in a London pub:

“Why gentlemen, James Gray will cast off his skin like a snake and become a new creature. In a world, gentlmen, I am as much a woman as my mother ever was, and my real name is Hannah Snell.”

As you can probably imagine, the gentlemen were gobsmacked by the news that their good friend James was actually a chick named Hannah Snell. Never heard of her? You’re in for a treat. Born in 1723, Hannah was an Englishwoman who disguised herself as a man so she could fight for King and Country. How’d she alight on such an unconventional career path? Her husband ran out on her after their infant daughter died. Snell heard a rumor that he was in the military, so she borrowed her brother-in-law’s identity so she could give him a well-deserved ass whooping. She later discovered that her hubbie had been executed for murder. But that didn’t stop her from pursuing an adventurous military career disguised as James Gray. Snell eventually sold her story to the London publisher Robert Walker, who published her account, The Female Soldier, to great acclaim. It’s a page-turner.

2. The Chevalier d’Éon

The crazy story of how Russia snuck a vast nuclear arsenal onto America’s doorstep
The Chevalier d’Éon | Wikimedia Commons

The Chevalier d’Éon was a famous French spy with androgynous physical characteristics and a razor-sharp mind. Born in 1728, D’Éon played a key role in negotiating the Peace of Paris in 1763, whichformally ended the Seven Years’ War between France and Britain. In addition to being a skilled diplomat, D’Éon was, by most accounts, one of the more fascinating figures of the 18th-century. Hesuccessfully infiltrated Empress Elizabeth of Russia‘s court by posing as a woman, but publicly identified as a man for the first 49 years of his life. In 1777, he began dressing as a woman—claiming to have been female at birth. When Louis XVI told the decorated spy to pick a gender and stick to it,D’Éon defected to England. London society welcomed D’Eon with open arms and she dressed as a woman for the next 33 years. A post-mortem autopsy reportedly concluded that D’Éon was anatomically male. Was the Chevalier transgender? It’s hard to say. Here’s what we do know: theChevalier d’Éon was a grade-A badass.

3. Loretta Janeta Velazquez:

The crazy story of how Russia snuck a vast nuclear arsenal onto America’s doorstep
Loreta Janeta Velázquez as herself (right) and disguised as “Lieutenant Harry Buford” (left)

Did you know that as many as 400 women cross-dressed so they could fight on the frontlines during the Civil War? All of these women were hardcore badasses, but Loretta Janeta Velazquez took it to a whole ‘nother level. Born in 1824 to a rich Cuban family, she got super annoyed when her husband joined up with the Confederates in 1861. Why? Because she wanted to go with him. She found a novel way of getting around the problem:

“Not content with life alone, Velazquez decided to use her wealth to finance and equip an infantry battalion, which she would bring to her husband to command. She cut her hair, tanned her skin, and went by the name Lt. Harry T. Buford. She went on to fight in various battles, including Bull Run and Shiloh, but her gender was twice discovered and she was discharged.”

What’d she do once her cover was blown? She became a cross-dressing spy. Some people are just more interesting than the rest of us.

Articles

The Mighty TV’s Top 10 Videos of 2014

So, when we say “2014” that means about 49 days that WATM was live, but thanks to you, our rapidly growing audience, we have had some hits. Here are the Top 10 among them (ranked using a proprietary algorithm that uses page views, video plays on two domains, and editorial intangibles):


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

1. WOUNDED MARINE FINDS NEW LIFE AS AN UNDERWEAR MODEL

Alex Minsky joined the Marine Corps with every intention of making a career out of it, but that plan was changed by an insurgent IED. See how he finds a new life in the fast-paced world of modeling.

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

2. HOW THE SERGEANT MAJOR STOLE CHRISTMAS

A grumpy Sergeant Major hatches a plan to steal Christmas from the troops of Troop-ville.

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

3. CAN ISIS BE STOPPED? – 3 VETS WALK INTO A BAR

Host Todd Bowers leads a discussion with guests Andrew Exum and Blake Hall about how the military might effectively deal with the ISIS threat.

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

4. NOT YOUR AVERAGE BEAUTY PAGEANT – BEHIND THE SCENES AT MS. VET AMERICA

Meet ‘the women beyond the uniform’ at the 2014 Miss Veteran America competition. Find out how walking the runway helps support homeless female veterans and their children.

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

5. SOLDIER CATCHES HER SECOND WIND AS A MODEL AND ACTRESS AFTER SURVIVING CANCER

Mylee Cardenas had a plan: stay in the Army until they begged her to leave. But her dreams of becoming a career soldier were derailed by cancer. See how she finds her second wind in life as a model and actress.

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

6. DOES AMERICA STILL SUPPORT THE TROOPS? – 3 VETS WALK INTO A BAR

Host Todd Bowers leads a discussion with guests Andrew Exum and TM Gibbons-Neff about what “support the troops” means thirteen-plus years into the war.

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

7. ARE WE SAFER NOW THAN BEFORE 9/11? – 3 VETS WALK INTO A BAR

Host Todd Bowers asks former Army Ranger Blake Hall and Marine vet TM Gibbons-Neff whether they think the homeland is safer as a result of 13 years of war. Their answers might surprise you.

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

8. GUARDSMEN WRESTLE WITH THE DECISION TO GO TO WAR – SHEPHERDS OF HELMAND

In the first episode of this groundbreaking documentary series, members of the Oregon National Guard deal with the decision to join the unit as it prepares to deploy to Afghanistan.

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

9. THIS 93-YEAR-OLD FORMER MARINE COULD BEAT YOU UP

Meet Stella, one of the first females in Connecticut to sign up for the Marine Corps during WWII. Find out how her fighting spirit and willingness to try new things keep her in the fight.

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

10. INSIDE THE COCKPIT OF THE MILITARY’S NEXT-GENERATION HELICOPTER – BOOTS ON THE GROUND

The V-22 Osprey was the first generation of “tiltrotor” aircraft, and now the manufacturer is introducing the “Valor,” a prototype that claims to take the Osprey’s unique capability to the next level. How will it work, and will the Army buy it?

Happy New Year from the WATM team, and look for many more great videos at The Mighty TV in 2015.

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