When Mariya Oktyabrskaya learned her husband Ilya was killed in action fighting the Nazis near Kiev, she didn’t get mad; she got a tank – a Red Army T-34 – named it “Fighting Girlfriend,” and drove it to the Eastern Front to get revenge.
On the eve of the war, Oktyabrskaya worked in a cannery and as a telephone operator. She was also a proud military wife. She led the local Military Wives Council and trained as a nurse, marksman, and driver – modern military skills she would need in the coming days.
When she learned of her husband’s death, she sold all her belongings and sent a message to Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin.
My husband was killed in action defending the motherland. I want revenge on the fascist dogs for his death and for the death of Soviet people tortured by the fascist barbarians. For this purpose I’ve deposited all my personal savings – 50,000 rubles – to the National Bank in order to build a tank. I kindly ask to name the tank ‘Fighting Girlfriend’ and to send me to the frontline as a driver of said tank.
In Henry Sakaida’s “Heroines of the Soviet Union,” the author says Oktyabrskaya had to prove to the Red Army commanders that she could indeed drive a tank, fire weapons, and handle grenades, but she did. She trained for five months before joining the 26th Guards Tank Brigade.
And in her first encounter with the enemy at Smolensk, she put to rest any doubt about her combat ability by killing 30 Nazi soldiers and taking out an anti-tank weapon, two machine gun nests, and some artillery pieces.
It was 1943, two years after Ilya’s death, and Mariya just earned a promotion to sergeant.
In her next fight, German artillery took out the treads of Fighting Girlfriend. As Nazi soldiers lit up the November night with tracer rounds, Oktyabrskaya hopped out of the tank, fixed the treads, and continued on her campaign of destruction.
Mariya Oktyabrskaya in “Боевая подруга” – “Fighting Girlfriend.”
She fought for months. The next time her tank lost its treads rolling over two Nazi trenches at a village called Shvedy near Vitebsk. Without hesitation, she jumped out to fix them. This time, German artillery struck close by and knocked Sgt. Oktyabrskaya into a coma – right as she finished fixing the tracks. She died of her wounds two months later.
For her fearlessness during the Great Patriotic War (what the Russians call World War II), she was posthumously awarded the Order of Lenin. She also received title “Hero of the Soviet Union,” the highest honor the USSR could bestow on its fighting men and women.
And “Fighting Girlfriend” made it all the way to Berlin.
Evan Williams is a Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey brand, named for the politician, entrepreneur, and distiller who, in 1783, became Kentucky’s First Commercial Distiller. With its origins in the heartland of America, it’s no surprise that the company prides itself on patriotism, including honoring our nation’s military with their American-Made Heroes program.
Learn more about the heritage of Evan Williams Bourbon right here.
Evan Williams American-Made Heroes celebrates our troops by sharing inspiring stories of continued service to their country and community after their military duty. Each year, the program recognizes a select few from thousands of nominations.
This year, the incredible honorees include:
Tyler Crane: A Purple Heart recipient who created a non-profit called Veteran Excursions to the Sea, a program that promotes “healing through reeling.”
Archie Cook: An airman who helps homeless veterans get back on their feet. At his private dental clinic, Archie offers medical discounts to members of the military and provides free and low-cost dental care to struggling veterans through Veterans Empowering Veterans.
Christopher Baity: A prior Military Working Dog Handler and Kennel Master who created Semper K9 Assistance Dogs, turning rescue dogs into service dogs.
Amanda Runyon: A Navy vet who served as a Hospital Corpsman, treating injured warriors suffering from combat injuries sustained in Iraq and Afghanistan. She now supports her local post of Veterans of Foreign Wars.
Michael Stinson: A Chief Hospital Corpsman who retired after 23 years and continues to help his community through a number of initiatives, including service as a Police Officer and charity through the U.S.O. of Wisconsin.
Michael Siegel: A soldier who retired after service in Operation Desert Storm and Operation Enduring Freedom. He continues to help the military community as the Director of Columbia College at Fort Leonard Wood.
Previous American-Made Heroes include Adam Popp, an airman in the Explosives Ordnance Disposal program who lost his leg in an IED explosion and now serves as a board member for the EOD Warrior Foundation; and U.S. Marine Patrick Shannon, the recipient of two Purple Hearts and a Bronze Star for Valor who founded his own charity that supports the families of fallen, injured, and deployed service members.
One of this year’s honorees, Christopher Baity, sports his American Hero Edition bottle.
And of course, they are also honored with a celebratory Evan Williams American Hero Edition Bottle. Each limited-edition red, white, and blue bottle features one of the American-Made heroes celebrated by Evan Williams.
Evan Williams shows their commitment to America’s heroes with this program, not only by celebrating their hand-selected heroes, but by acknowledging hundreds more with gift certificates of appreciation. Check out the American-Made Heores program to nominate a deserving veteran who continues to serve their community.
Once America entered World War I some of the first forces it sent to France were those of the newly-formed Air Service. Among those troops was a relatively famous racecar driver and mechanic who would become America’s ‘Ace of Aces’ during the war: Eddie Rickenbacker.
When Rickenbacker enlisted in the Army, he had dreams of flying but was shipped to France as a driver for the General Staff due to his experience as a racecar driver. His advanced age (27 at the time) and lack of a college degree also disqualified him for flight training – but he was undeterred.
Assigned as the driver for Col. William ‘Billy’ Mitchell, Rickenbacker took the opportunity to bother him until the Colonel finally allowed him to attend pilot training. Rickenbacker still had to claim he was only 25 though.
Eddie completed pilot training in just 17 days and received his commission. However, Rickenbacker’s superior mechanical abilities from his days as a racecar driver sidetracked his flying career and got him assigned as the engineering officer at the Air Service Pursuit Training facility.
After finding a replacement, Rickenbacker was finally assigned to a combat flying unit – the 94th Aero Squadron – in March 1918. The squadron began flying combat missions in early April, and Rickenbacker wasted no time getting in on the action. On April 29th, Rickenbacker scored his first aerial victory and also his first Distinguished Service Cross for a vigorous fight and pursuit of a plane into enemy territory to shoot it down.
During May 1918 Lt. Rickenbacker downed five more German airplanes while earning an additional four Distinguished Service Crosses, each time attacking and dispersing larger formations of enemy planes.
Rickenbacker, through a lucky streak that seemed to last his entire life, also gained a reputation for surviving close calls and crash landings. In July 1918 in a particularly harrowing incident, “he barely made it back from one battle with a fuselage full of bullet holes, half a propeller, and a scorched streak on his helmet where an enemy bullet had nearly found its mark.”
A few days later he was grounded by an abscess in his ear but was back flying by the end of July. However, with his last kill at the end of May he would go many months without another victory.
Then on September 14, Rickenbacker started a remarkable streak, claiming his seventh kill and sixth Distinguished Service Cross. He downed another plane the next day. On September 25, he was promoted to Captain and made commander of the 94th Aero Squadron.
He promptly volunteered for a solo patrol, during which he encountered a flight of seven German planes below him. Rather than be thankful that no one saw him, he dived on the formation and attacked the shooting Germans, downed two enemy aircraft, and forced the rest to retreat. For this action, he was awarded his seventh Distinguished Service Cross.
Twelve years later, in 1930, this award was upgraded to the Medal of Honor.
At the beginning of October, Capt. Rickenbacker had 12 aerial victories. He was the leading living American pilot and was dubbed the ‘Ace of Aces’ by the press. He disliked this title because all three previous holders died in combat.
Despite his discontent with the new title, Rickenbacker led the 94th through severe fighting until the end of the war. During that time, Rickenbacker shot down ten enemy aircraft and three balloons, making him an official “balloon buster.” He also earned his eighth Distinguished Service Cross of the war – a record that hasn’t been broken.
Capt. Rickenbacker ended World War I with a total of 26 aerial victories to his credit, the American ‘Ace of Aces’ for World War I and the rank of Major. The Army promoted Rickenbacker as he left active duty but he never claimed the promotion. He felt his “rank of Captain was earned and deserved.” The public referred to him to as “Captain Eddie” for the rest of his life.
After the war, Rickenbacker went into many ventures in the automobile and aviation industries and survived many more brushes with death. He survived a near-fatal crash in early 1941 that had him out of action for almost a year. During World War II, while on a personal mission to deliver a message to Gen. MacArthur from President Roosevelt and to inspect American aviation facilities in the Pacific, the plane he was flying in lost its way and was forced to ditch in the Pacific Ocean.
Rickenbacker and the surviving crew members endured over three weeks of life rafts before rescue. Consistent with his dogged determination Rickenbacker completed his assignment before returning to the states, despite losing 60 pounds and suffering from severe sunburn.
Rickenbacker, without formal education past age 12, would eventually rise to control his own airline, Eastern Air Lines, and make it the only self-sufficient, free-enterprise – he accepted no government subsidies – airline in America for many years. He was also the majority owner of Indianapolis Motor Speedway for many years during which time he significantly improved the track.
Captain Eddie retired in 1963. In 1972 he suffered a stroke, his last near-death experience. He recovered from the stroke but while visiting Switzerland he contracted pneumonia, and his luck finally ran out. He passed away July 23, 1973, at the age of 82 – a renowned fighter pilot and successful businessman.
With a distinguished history dating back to the end of American Civil War, the men and women of the elite Secret Service take on one of the world’s toughest tasks — protecting the U.S. president and other government officials from assassination attempts.
Originally designated to control the issue of combating US currency counterfeiting, it wasn’t until after the assassination of former President William McKinley when the Service Secret was assigned to protect the POTUS in 1901.
The Secret Service’s mission is to prevent life-threatening incidents well before they occur. They scope out meeting locations days before their clients show up and map out vantage points and escape routes if the situation goes pear shaped.
In the sniper world, the mission is the same. Highly-trained sharpshooters are always on the alert, completely focused and ready to strike at all times.
Working in teams of two, you can usually spot them posted on the White House’s rooftop examining your every move.
Usually armed with high-powered rifles, each team is equipped with a shooter and a spotter. These snipers go through intense training learning how to react to any situation that they may face.
Remarkably, no sniper team has ever had to fire a shot since the unit was formed in 1971.
WATM’s very own Chief Content Officer and veteran Chase Millsap just wrapped up filming and producing the incredible docuseries, Ten Weeks, that takes you inside the Army’s basic combat training.
Millsap worked alongside David Gale (WATM’s founder) and retired Army Col. Jack Jacobs, Chair of NYFA’s Veterans Advancement Program a Medal of Honor Recipient, to bring viewers deep within the life of five potential soldiers during their boot camp journey. The series offers a stunning and raw look at the humanity of these everyday citizens and their extraordinary rise to becoming one of America’s protectors.
To celebrate the project, they’ll be hosted by the New York Film Academy College of Visual & Performing Arts on January 26, 2021, for a virtual event open to students, military members and veterans. The team will share an exclusive trailer and then host a live discussion on the making of the series. Leading the panel event is Tova Laiter, Director of NYFA Q&A Series. She has interviewed hundreds of Hollywood luminaries including Adam Driver, Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorcese and industry professionals at NYFA’s theaters in Los Angeles and New York City. We spoke with Eric Brown, Sr. Veterans Outreach & Recruitment Advisor, who has been instrumental in staging the January 26panel event.
Brown enlisted at just 18 years old. With a laugh, he told WATM that his first choice had actually been the Marine Corps. His mother talked him out of it, too afraid of him being at the forefront of the war. “I served in the Navy for about seven years and deployed for efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan,” Brown shared. “I like what the Navy stood for and loved the opportunities I had as a Gas Turbine Technician.” After leaving the service in 2010, he attended the NYFA for a degree in fine arts and has been working for them over the past eight years. Working in support of this docuseries was an honor, according to Brown.
NYFA is a frequent partner with WATM and Brown shared that the school often involves their students in these types of collaborative projects. When the opportunity to showcase Ten Weeks came about, he jumped on it immediately. “Within the Division of Veteran Services, we host multiple events to connect with the veteran community,” Brown explained. Delivering good content to veterans is important to him, he said.
Another passion of his is getting more veterans involved in filmmaking. “I think there are a lot of stories out there that should be told … veterans are a very unique breed. We are civilians but we’ve transformed,” Brown shared.
When asked if watching the trailer for Ten Weeks brought back any fond memories of his own bootcamp experience, he laughed. Brown grew up in Miami and was a first generation American whose family immigrated from the Caribbean islands. Snow was not a word he was familiar with using. His basic training for the Navy took him to the Great Lakes in the middle of winter. “I caught pneumonia twice and I still had to go out there and PT. It was a pretty brutal experience,” he shared.
Although nothing as harsh as what he went through happens in the docuseries, Brown said the entire process for the prospective soldiers was completely relatable. Despite the hardship of training, he loved it. “I thought it was a very unique challenge and something I’d never be able to replicate again,” Brown said. This response is similar to what viewers will see from soldiers at the end of Ten Weeks. An incredible transformation and experience that changes them all, forever.
What does Brown hope the viewers of this docuseries take away from the project? The understanding of the weight and meaning of service. “I would like the audience to walk away with understanding the honor and commitment it takes. The integrity and courage for these service members to give up four years or 20 years or even ultimately … unfortunately those who may make the ultimate sacrifice for this country,” Brown said. “I want them to have an understanding of that and what it means, to serve. It isn’t just an incredible education. It’s about giving of yourself wholeheartedly to a cause that like-minded individuals believe in and to honor that.”
Those who watch Ten Weeks get a window view into the making of United States soldiers. The often young and bright-eyed graduates will head off to fight, for you and everyone else in this nation. They don’t do it for accolades or money, but for love. Brown’s last words are poignant and should be ingrained in every citizen of this country: “The uniform is not just an article of clothing, it’s a rite of passage and something that echoes through eternity.”
If you are a military member or veteran, sign up to take part in the virtual event to premiere the WATM-produced Ten Weeks trailer and join the discussion on the implications of service.
The military has very talented photographers in the ranks, and they constantly attempt to capture what life as a service member is like during training and at war. Here is the best of what they shot this week:
F-16 Fighting Falcons taxi down the runway March 3, 2015, at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska. The F-16s are assigned to the 18th Aggressor Squadron at Eielson AFB. Aggressor pilots returned after completing a mobile training team exercise.
Sailors aboard the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71) heave line during an underway replenishment and ammunition onload with the Military Sealift Command fast combat support ship USNS Arctic (T-AOE 8). Theodore Roosevelt deployed from Norfolk and will execute a homeport shift to San Diego at the conclusion of deployment.
EAST CHINA SEA (March 17, 2015) Sailors assigned to the amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6) and Marines assigned to the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (31st MEU) taxi an AV-8B Harrier assigned to Marine Attack Squadron (VMA) 238.
Bach, a military working dog, takes down an Army military policeman during a demonstration at Fort Sill, Okla., March 12, 2015. The demonstration showed how Fort Sill’s K9 Unit assists with searches for narcotics, explosives and assists in apprehending suspects.
Marines with the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unitconduct a daytime boat operation exercise using Combat Rubber Raiding Crafts as part of amphibious integration training aboard the USS Green Bay, at sea, March 11, 2015. The Marines and sailors are currently conducting their spring patrol of the Asia-Pacific region.
Marines with 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit conduct a nighttime boat operation exercise using a Combat Rubber Raiding Craft as part of amphibious integration training aboard the USS Green Bay, at sea, March 11, 2015. The Marines and sailors are currently conducting their spring patrol of the Asia-Pacific region.
Petty Officer 1st Class Denis Butierries holds his son Jacob so he can get a view of Honolulu Harbor during a tour of the Coast Guard Cutter Rush Dec. 23. 2014. Six-year-old Jacob was diagnosed with spinal muscular atrophy when he was four months old and was given between four months and one year to live. His longtime wish was to see the Rush where his grandfather served as the engineering officer.
Coast Guard Station Golden Gate lifeboat crews conduct surf training in Sausalito, Calif., Wednesday, Dec. 10, 2014. The crews train in high surf to ensure they are prepared to respond to any maritime emergency during rough weather conditions.
The military has very talented photographers in its ranks, and they constantly attempt to capture what life as a service member is like during training and at war. This is the best of what they shot this week:
Lt. Col. Mark Sletten, an F-35 Lightning II program integration officer, lowers the canopy on an F-16 Fighting Falcon before taxiing to take off Dec. 7, 2015, at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska. More than 30 maintenance Airmen worked an early shift to help launch several jets to Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla., for Checkered Flag 16-1, a large-force exercise that simulates a large number of aircraft in a deployed environment to cross-check weapons systems.
An F-16 Fighting Falcon from the 416th Flight Test Squadron at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., is in the process of a midair fuel transfer from a Royal Australian Air Force KC-30A tanker Dec. 3, 2015. This was the first flight as part of a coalition tanker aerial refueling certification effort to qualify Australian, United Arab Emirates and Italian tankers to refuel U.S. Air Force F-16s, F-15 Eagles, B-1B Lancers, and A-10 Thunderbolt IIs using their respective booms. The test team will check for qualities such as fuel pressure surges, stability of the aircraft being refueled and the handling qualities of the boom for certification.
A B-1B Lancer launches from Ellsworth Air Force Base, S.D., Dec. 2, 2015. The B-1B is one of many aircraft participating in the first large force exercise in the newly expanded Powder River Training Complex.
Army paratroopers, assigned to 173rd Airborne Brigade, establish security during Exercise Rock Nemesis at Rivolto Air Base, Italy, Dec. 4, 2015.
An Army paratrooper, assigned to 173rd Airborne Brigade, fires an M249 light machine gun during a range exercise at Force Reno training area Ravenna, Italy, Nov. 30, 2015.
First lady Michelle Obama helps sort toys for the Marine Corps Foundation’s Toys for Tots drive for the sixth straight year at Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling on Dec. 9, 2015.
ATLANTIC OCEAN (Dec. 7, 2015) – An F/A-18C Hornet assigned to the Wildcats of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 131 prepares to launch from the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69). Dwight D. Eisenhower and embarked Carrier Air Wing 3 are underway preparing for their upcoming deployment.
PACIFIC OCEAN (Dec. 07, 2015) Dock landing ship USS Harpers Ferry (LSD 49) prepares for night time flight operations. The Boxer Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) is underway off the coast of Southern California completing a certification exercise (CERTEX). CERTEX is the final evaluation of the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit (13th MEU) and Boxer ARG prior to deployment and is intended to certify their readiness to conduct integrated missions across the full spectrum of military operations.
PACIFIC OCEAN (Dec. 6, 2015) Sailors from Assault Craft Unit (ACU) 1, provide security during a visit, board, search and seizure drill with Sailors and Marines from amphibious transport dock ship USS New Orleans (LPD 18), and 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit (13th MEU). New Orleans is part of the Boxer Amphibious Ready Group (ARG), which is off the coast of Southern California completing a certification exercise (CERTEX).
BFG: U.S. Marines conduct artillery live-fire rehearsals during Platinum Lynx 16-2 at Smardan Training Area, Romania, Dec. 8, 2015. Exercise Platinum Lynx 16-2 is a NATO-led multinational exercise designed to strengthen combat readiness, increase collective capabilities, and maintain proven relationships with allied and partner nations.
A Marine with Alpha Company, 2nd Assault Amphibian Battalion, awaits the order to lock down the hatches as the unit prepares to conduct company-level beach operations on Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, Dec. 5, 2015. During this exercise the unit conducted maneuvers as a mechanized infantry company in preparation for upcoming operations.
Explosive Ordnance Disposal technicians with Headquarters and Headquarters Squadron, based out of Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, conduct counter-improvised explosive ordnance training exercises at the Barry M. Goldwater Range in Yuma, Ariz., Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2015.
Coast Guard Station Golden Gate is trained and ready! During a typical year the station prosecutes approximately 450 search and rescue cases and over 300 law enforcement boardings, with the busiest part of the year occurring from June through September, making Station Golden Gate one of the busiest search and rescue stations in the Coast Guard!
This is how our crews at U.S. Coast Guard Station Morro Bay check the weather! The 47-foot Motor Lifeboat crew was evaluating the conditions at the bar.
In the 2016 election, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has struggled to get solid backing from some influential groups that many believe are part of the typical GOP constituency.
But on Tuesday, he received an endorsement he didn’t seem to have to fight to earn.
Retired general-grade officers, some 88 in all, wrote in support of a Trump presidency in an open letter that was published on his campaign website. The letter was organized by Maj. Gen. Sidney Shachnow and Rear Adm. Charles Williams and includes four four-star and 14 three-star generals and admirals.
They argue that Democrat presidential candidate Hillary Clinton is the wrong choice for a strong military and that a Trump White House would restore American ranks.
“As retired senior leaders of America’s military, we believe that such a change can only be made by someone who has not been deeply involved with, and substantially responsible for, the hollowing out of our military and the burgeoning threats facing our country around the world,” the letter reads, arguing against supporting Clinton.
And Trump was happy to have the senior former military leaders’ backing.
“It is a great honor to have such amazing support from so many distinguished retired military leaders,” Trump said in a statement on his website. “Keeping our nation safe and leading our armed forces is the most important responsibility of the presidency.”
Clinton has received some endorsements from former general officers, including former Marine Gen. John Allen, who was instrumental in helping bring down al Qaeda in Iraq in Anbar Province.
But the letter comes at a time when former flag officers are coming under fire for their overt political support. In a letter to the Washington Post, retired Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey said retired officers made a “mistake” by speaking at political conventions.
The former top military leader criticized retired Gens. John Allen and Michael Flynn for breaking the tradition of retired generals remaining apolitical.
“Politicians should take the advice of senior military leaders but keep them off the stage,” Dempsey wrote. “The American people should not wonder where their military leaders draw the line between military advice and political preference. … And our nation’s soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines should not wonder about the political leanings and motivations of their leaders.”
It’s not yet known what effect general officers backing Donald Trump in such force will have. With Election Day just nine weeks away, Trump pulled ahead of Clinton by 2 percent in the latest CNN/ORC poll.
Officials at Goodfellow determined the outdoor running course was 85 feet longer than required, which may have caused 18 airmen stationed at the base between 2010 and 2016 to fail the fitness assessment, the announcement said. The track was last measured in 2010.
At Hanscom, the track was found to be 360 feet longer than it should be, likely causing 41 airmen stationed there between 2008 and 2016 to fail. The track was last measured in 2008.
“All airmen who should have passed were notified,” Brzozowske said in an email.
“If still on active duty, their fitness scores were adjusted to the correct passing score. If there were any personnel actions taken resulting from the inaccurate [fitness assessment] failures, airmen should work with their chain of command, Force Support Squadron and legal office, and potentially the Air Force Personnel Center to correct records,” she wrote.
The service’s inspector general also plans to include the PT program “as an Air Force inspection requirement on future wing unit effectiveness inspections,” the announcement said.
In addition, each time a base redesigns or modifies a running track, it must measure it as a precaution, it said.
On July 17, 1975, the U.S. spacecraft Apollo 18 and the Soviet vessel Soyuz 19 rendezvoused in space.
The Cold War was a time of tension for more than two decades by the time the superpowers met in space, but the space crews were determined to break through that friction.
The Apollo-Soyuz mission began with Soyuz 19’s launch from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on July 15, 1975. Aboard were cosmonauts Alexey Leonov and Velery Kubasov. Hours later, Apollo lifted off from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center with astronauts Thomas Stafford, Vance Brand, and Donald Slayton.
When the hatches between the two vehicles were opened on July 17, the astronauts and cosmonauts warmly greeted each other as a global audience watched on television from the planet below. The astronauts and cosmonauts took congratulatory calls from Soviet Communist Party General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev and U.S. President Gerald Ford before exchanging gifts including U.S., Soviet and United Nations flags, commemorative plaques, medallions, certificates, and tree seeds.
The Apollo-Soyuz Mission was the final Apollo program mission; as the first handshake in space, the Apollo program ended with hopes of peace and international cooperation while it symbolically reflected the end of the Space Race that began with the Soviet launch of Sputnik in 1957.
Featured Image: The Apollo-Soyuz crew, from left: American astronauts “Deke” Slayton, Tom Stafford, Vance Brand, Russian cosmonauts Aleksey Leonov, Valeriy Kubasov. (NASA image)
As if the lowly soldier of World War I didn’t have enough to worry about on the hellish battlefields of France — from massive flamethrowers, to giant artillery guns to poison gas — there was a lot of nastiness that could kill you in no-man’s land.
But killer trees? Come on, is there no decency?
Not quite the nightmare scenario of living, walking Ents from “Lord of the Rings,” the British and later the Germans nevertheless disguised sniper hides and observation posts in positions designed to look like trees destroyed on the battlefield made from steel drums and camouflaged to look like an everyday arbor.
In the constant game of cat and mouse that marked the stalemate of the Western Front, diabolical designers looked to the splintered wreckage of the pock-marked battlescape to hide their positions. According to a story about the deadly hollowed-out trees in the London Daily Mail, the Brits found wrecked trees they could use to construct what they called “O.P. Trees” for observation posts.
“The ideal tree was dead and often it was bomb blasted,” the MailOnline story said. “The photographs and sketches were then sent to a workshop where artists constructed an artificial tree of hollow steel cylinders.”
“It contained an internal scaffolding for reinforcement, to allow a sniper or observer to ascend within the structure,” the story added.
The trees were built to look exactly like the ruined ones in no-man’s land, so troops would sneak between the lines in the dark and replace the real tree with the fake one. Manned by a British Tommy, the O.P. Trees gave a better view of the battlefield than peering over the trench line.
Historians say a soldier perched within the tree would relay his observation to another trooper posted below, who’d carry the information back to the lines for an attack.
“As far as we know the trees were surprisingly successful and none of them were detected by the enemy,” a historian with the Imperial War Museum in Kensington, England, told MailOnline. “In 1916 the Germans had captured a lot of the higher ground on the Western Front and even the elevation of a few feet through one of these trees could prove crucial.”
The Germans later caught on to the tactic and built their own, calling them Baumbeobachter (which means “tree observer”) and used them throughout the war. The Brits are said to have used their first O.P. Trees during the battle of Ypres in Belgium in 1915, and historians estimate around 45 were deployed to the Western front.
People who like compelling, well-crafted tales of America’s soldiers in action will like Ashley’s War: The Untold Story of a Team of Women Soldiers on the Special Ops Battlefield. Gayle Tzemach Lemmon’s recently released book tells the story behind the first team of female soldiers to join American special operators on the battlefield. The key to this book, however, is not simply that they are strong females, but that they are strong soldiers.
That message appears in the very first pages of the book, where she follows two soldiers on their first mission. The “newbies,” as she calls them, are preparing to go on a dangerous operation with an aggressive, seasoned Ranger team to capture an insurgent leader deep in Afghanistan. Lemmon identifies the newbies as “Second Lieutenant White” and “Staff Sergeant Mason,” sharing only at the very end of the introduction that White and Mason are women.
The book then flashes back to the story behind the creation of this unique unit, called Cultural Support Teams or CSTs. In 2010, the military’s Special Operations Command faced a problem – due to cultural mores that at best frowned on male-female interaction, American combat troops were effectively prohibited from communicating with Afghan women. That left half of Afghanistan’s population – potential sources of intelligence and partners to build lasting relationships – out of reach to American troops. So senior special operations commanders developed the CSTs to place female soldiers with American special operators in combat situations and engage with Afghan women on sensitive missions.
In describing the genesis of the CSTs as a unit, Lemmon also presents several of the individuals who volunteered for the pilot program. They are a cast of real characters, but make no mistake – these are smart alpha-women who are as fit and committed to success as any elite athlete. Readers learn about Anne Jeremy, the “serious, no-nonsense” officer who proved herself in combat by leading her convoy through a Taliban ambush of heavy arms fire that endured intermittently for 24 hours; Lane Mason, the 23-year-old Iraq War veteran who was a high-school track star in Nevada and volunteered for the CSTs to face down some demons in her past; Amber Treadmont, the intelligence officer from rural Pennsylvania who printed out the CST application within one minute of learning about the program; and Kate Raimann, the West Point grad and military police officer who played on her high school’s football team for all four years even though she hated football, just to prove that she could do it.
Lemmon’s depictions of these women are vivid, giving readers a textured understanding of who they are and what drove them to volunteer for an unprecedented program that would place them in incredibly dangerous situations. In fact, these nuanced profiles raise my sole problem with the book – namely, that there were so many interesting personalities that I couldn’t keep track of them all. Lemmon used a few Homeric epithets, like reminding readers late in the book that Lane was “the Guard soldier and track star from Nevada,” but a few more mental cues might have helped keep everyone straight.
But those are small drops of concern amidst an ocean of good writing and compelling moments. Lemmon deftly draws readers through the brutal candidate assessment (“100 hours of hell”), the women’s anxiety about whether they would be selected, their post-selection training at Fort Benning, and their subsequent deployments to Afghanistan.
One scene in particular encapsulates the challenging nature of the CSTs’ role. Kate, the football-hating football player, was on a raid of a compound to capture a key Taliban fighter. Her job, like all of the CSTs, was to assemble the compound’s women and children, gather as much information from them as possible, and protect them if necessary. Soon after the Afghan and American forces entered the compound, heavy contact erupted, and Kate began shepherding the group of women and children to a building nearby.
As she directed [the interpreter], Kate scooped up a small baby, barefoot and crying. She threw the little guy over her left shoulder and took off running as the sound of gunfire grew louder behind her. Using her right arm she grabbed the hand of a small girl and drew her close to her body.
“Stay with me, stay with me!” Kate urged, hoping the child would trust and understand her movements even if she didn’t understand her words.
Suddenly Kate felt the jagged terrain take hold of her left foot. She began tumbling forward as one of her boots got trapped in a deep hole she hadn’t detected through the green film of her night-vision goggles.
The baby, Kate thought. Instinctively she held him tight against her chest as the momentum of her fall sent her spinning into a diving, forward roll. She released the little girl’s hand just in time to keep her from falling, too.
A second later Kate lay on her back with the baby tucked up against her body armor. He hadn’t moved despite the somersault and was now just looking at her wide-eyed and silent.
Kate felt the baby’s warm breath on her neck, looked up at the twinkling stars above, and heard the rat-a-tat-tat of gunfire around her, maybe three dozen feet away.
What the fuck is my job right now? she asked herself as she hugged the baby tight and again took the hand of the little girl who was standing nearby. This is crazy.
The book juxtaposes “crazy” moments like that with poignant moments that further illustrate the CSTs’ unique position as women in combat environments. In one anecdote, a female civilian interpreter from California named Nadia meets three new CSTs, and they bond over perhaps the most non-military item of all: mascara.
The four women – Ashley, Anne, Lane, and Nadia – were in the washroom getting ready for the first meeting of the day when Anne and Lane broke out their traveling cosmetic kits. It was a small gesture, but for Nadia, it spoke volumes.
During her years overseas she had been around a lot of military women who frankly frightened her. They conveyed the impression that any sign of femininity would be perceived as weakness. But here, in this tiny bathroom, were three incredibly fit, Army-uniformed, down-to-earth gals who could embrace being female and being a soldier in a war zone. She found it refreshing – and inspiring.
“Oh my God, you wear makeup!” she burst out.
Anne laughed as she put the final touches on an abbreviated makeup regimen.
“Oh, yes, always have to have mascara on,” she replied. “I am blond and look like I have no eyelashes. I don’t want to scare people!”
Lemmon also peppers the book with several sidebars that add interesting and important context, like the value of interpreters and the history of military dogs. While a discussion about the evolution of female soldiers’ uniforms may not seem terribly interesting on its face, she deftly weaves it into the story because it mattered to the CSTs – the ill-fitting gear was obviously designed for men and therefore had bulges in places where the women didn’t need them and lacked material where they did. That seemingly whimsical anecdote illustrates just how unprecedented their mission was.
The book builds to an emotional climax with – spoiler alert – the first death of a CST soldier. It’s an undeniably tough moment, and Lemmon treats the subject – the agonized reaction of the soldier’s family and her sister CSTs – with appropriate respect. The Rangers serving with the deceased soldier sent the family a condolence card, with an important quote:
“Having a woman come out with us was a new thing for all of us,” wrote her weapons squad leader. “Being one of the first groups of CST, she really set a good impression not only on us, but also the higher leadership. I am sorry for your loss, but I want you to know that she was good at her job and a valuable member of this platoon.”
That statement, to me, seemed to summarize the whole point of the book: these women are not just strong females – they are strong soldiers.
Innovations in battlefield medicine are constantly advancing. With deadly conflicts popping up all over the world, it’s vital to treat the wounded and get them to a safe and secure location as soon as possible.
Traditionally, field medics and Corpsman would manually pack deep wounds with Quik Clot and gauze to pack wounds, or use tourniquets to stop major bleeds. Wound control would consist of treating the damaged tissue by externally cramping large amounts of coagulated material with high hopes that your helping more than hurting.
But a new invention using these little sponges may be the key to prolonging life until the injured is transported to the next echelon of care.
FDA approved in 2015, the XSTAT hemorrhage control system is making its way into military hands. Specially designed to treat narrowed-entrance wounds like bullet holes, these circular sponges are housed in an injectable syringe and plunged into any deep wound and rapidly expand after coming into contract with liquid.
With the average wound packing time approximately three-to-five minutes, the injectable sponges cut application time down to just seconds. The sponges then completely fill up the wound and self-compress themselves outward soaking up the bleeds they come in contact with.
The XSTAT, which contains approximately 92 sponges, can treat wounds in areas tough to treat with a tourniquet and can be injected into nearly every part of the body without causing additional soft tissue damage.
“XSTAT 30 is cleared for use in patients at high risk for immediate, life-threatening, and severe hemorrhagic shock and non-compressible junctional wounds, when definitive care at an emergency care facility cannot be achieved within minutes,” – FDA
(CNN, YouTube)What do you think of this life-saving invention? Leave us a comment.