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 are the best military photos of the week:
The U.S. Air Force Honor Guard Drill Team deputes their 2017 routine during the 81st Training Group drill down at the Levitow Training Support Facility drill pad March 10, 2017, on Keesler Air Force Base, Miss. The team comes to Keesler every year for five weeks to develop a new routine that they will use throughout the year.
A U.S. Air Force B-1B Lancer assigned to the 9th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron, deployed from Dyess Air Force Base (AFB), Texas, takes off March 10, 2017, at Andersen AFB, Guam. The B-1B’s are deployed to Andersen as part of U.S. Pacific Command’s (USPACOM) Continuous Bomber Presence operations. This forward deployed presence demonstrates continuing U.S. commitment to stability and security in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region. Most importantly, these bomber rotations provide Pacific Air Forces and USPACOM commanders an extended deterrence capability.
U.S. Army Spc. Vincent Ventarola, assigned to Cobra Battery, Field Artillery Squadron, 2nd Cavalry Regiment, pulls the lanyard on a M777 Howitzer during Exercise Dynamic Front II at the 7th Army Training Command’s Grafenwoehr Training Area, Germany, March 9, 2017. Dynamic Front is an artillery operability exercise and focuses on developing solutions within the theater level fires system by executing multi-echelon fires and testing interoperability at the tactical level. It includes nearly 1,400 participants from nine NATO nations.
Two CH-47 Chinook helicopters from 12th Combat Aviation Brigade conduct environmental qualifications and sling-load training with M777 howitzers, Jan. 18, 2017, outside Grafenwoehr, Germany. Aircrews practice flying in whiteout conditions areas with heavy snow fall and wind.
EAST CHINA SEA (March 16, 2017) Aviation Boatswain’s Mate (Handling) 3rd Class Jesse Harris, assigned to amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6), braces himself as an MV-22B Osprey, assigned to the “Flying Tigers” of Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron (VMM) 262, takes off during an air assault exercise. Bonhomme Richard is on a routine patrol operating in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region to enhance warfighting readiness and posture forward as a ready-response force for any type of contingency.
SUEZ CANAL (March 10, 2017) Sailors gather on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77) to view the Friendship Bridge as the ship transits the Suez Canal. George H.W. Bush and its carrier strike group are deployed in support of maritime security operations and theater security cooperation efforts in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations.
U.S. Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Bryce Meeker, a hospital corpsman with 3rd Marine Division, III Marine Expeditionary Force, scouts out the terrain during Exercise Forest Light 17-1 at Somagahara, Japan, March 10, 2017. Forest Light is designed to maintain readiness of Japan Ground Self-Defense and deployed U.S. Marine Corps forces to ensure an effective and rapid response to any contingency in the region.
The U.S. Marine Corps Silent Drill Platoon performs during the Battle Color Ceremony at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Arizona, March 2, 2017. The ceremony was held to celebrate Marine Corps history using music, marching and precision drill.
Coast Guard and NOAA responders confer during whale disentanglement operations off Maui March 11, 2017. The services received a report of an entangled humpback whale off Maui prompting a two-day response to remove a large electrical cable from the mouth of the whale.
The crew of a Coast Guard MH-65 rescue helicopter rescued overdue kayaker Josh Kaufman (center) during the morning of March 17, 2017, after being stranded on the uninhabited island of Desecheo, approximately 13 nautical miles off Rincon, Puerto Rico. Kaufman, 25, a resident of Fla. was visiting his family in Puerto Rico, when he was reported being overdue to the Coast Guard from a kayak trip in Rincon March 16, 2017.
Weeks prior to the 2017 NFL draft, service members from Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in Mount Laurel, New Jersey, were given the chance of a lifetime to undergo a surprise mission as part of the “Salute to Service” program.
Hosted by USAA, these unexpected military analysts from the Army, Navy, and Air Force, received the opportunity to team up with NFL broadcasters Ron Jaworski and Sal Paolantonio (US Navy vet) for a chance of a lifetime and partake in a draft strategy session.
The spike in tension concerns US officials because of the massive Al Udeid military base in Qatar, where some 11,000 US personnel are stationed and from which US Central Command has run much of the war against ISIS in Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan.
According to President Donald Trump, who has publicly backed the Saudi-led effort and criticized Qatar, relocating from Al Udeid would be no significant obstacle.
“If we ever have to leave” Al Udeid, he said, “we would have 10 countries willing to build us another one, believe me, and they will pay for it.”
Trump did try to downplay potential conflict with Doha, saying, “We are going to have a good relationship with Qatar. We are not going to have problems with the military base.” But, he said, “if we ever needed another military base, you have other countries that would gladly build it.”
When asked this week about the situation around Al Udeid, Pentagon spokesman Navy Capt. Jeff Davis said the US has weighed other basing options as part of what he described has standard operational planning.
“I think any time you are doing military operations, you are always thinking ahead to Plan Bs and Plan Cs … we would be remiss if we didn’t do that,” he said, according to Military Times. “In this case, we have confidence that our base in Qatar is still able to be used.”
The break between Qatar and its neighbors was a departure from the relative stability seen in that part of the Middle East. The Saudi-led bloc’s initial condemnation of Doha came days after Trump left a friendly meeting with Arab leaders in Saudi Arabia, and the US president appears to have thrown his weight behind Riyadh’s efforts — accusing Qatar of backing terrorism on several occasions, including during his remarks to CBN.
Trump has also joined with the Saudi-led coalition in rebuking Iran for what they see as Tehran’s meddling in the region. But the the conflict with Qatar appears to have strengthened Tehran’s position.
And since Al Udeid would be the jumping-off point for any anti-Iran operations in the region, deteriorating relations between Qatar and its neighbors and the US could affect their plans to contain Iran.
Despite the tensions, the US has kept up operations at Al Udeid and with Qatar.
The US and Qatari navies completed exercises in the waters east of Qatar in mid-June, running air-defense and surface-missile drills. The US also signed off on a weapons deal with Qatar less than a week after Trump spoke approvingly of Saudi-led action against Doha.
Pentagon officials have said tensions around Qatar were affecting their long-term planning ability, echoing comments made by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson prior to Trump’s first remarks supporting the blockade.
But Davis, the Pentagon spokesman, said operations there are continuing as before.
“Despite the situation going on with Qatar, we continue to have full use and access of the base there,” he told Military Times. “We are able to re-supply it, we’re able to conduct operations.”
Fortunately for the United States, the impact of World War II was almost solely felt through rationing and news from abroad and rarely were American civilians affected firsthand. As a result, the American home front became a strong source of resources and morale for the soldiers overseas – something that most countries involved in the war didn’t have. Realizing this, the Japanese looked for a relatively cheap and safe way to disrupt the American home front.
In 1944, the Japanese decided to tap into a jet stream that they had discovered a few years earlier, one that traveled from Asia to North America at about 30,000 feet. Their plan was to attach bombs to giant balloons and release them into the jet stream, where they’d be carried silently and dispersed across the US at random. Overall, the plan wasn’t to kill Americans, but rather to start forest fires in the Pacific Northwest and also instill panic in the population and, in turn, diminish morale on the home front.
The balloons were around 30 feet in diameter and from the top of the balloon to the payload underneath measured around 70 feet. Each balloon bomb consisted of sandbags for ballast that would be released as the balloon descended, allowing it to drop some weight, gain a little altitude, and carry on a bit further. Once the sandbags had all been dropped, four incendiary bombs would be released one at a time until none were left, then a single anti-personnel bomb would fall and the balloon would ignite itself and be destroyed.
Launched in groups, the balloons were at the mercy of the jet stream and typically took a few days to cross the Pacific. Since they were unguided, the balloons had a wide distribution and have been discovered from Alaska to Mexico and from Hawaii to Michigan.
The bombs started arriving in Western US in late 1944 and at first no one really knew what they were. However, geologists sampled the sand and determined that it had come from a small section of beach east of Tokyo. Until the end of the war, the US Government asked media outlets not to report on the bombs in order to prevent the Japanese from tracking whether they were successful. This apparently worked because the Japanese pulled the funding for the bombs after only a few months of launches, assuming that the balloons weren’t hitting their targets.
Overall, the bombs were not successful; less than 300 out of an estimated 9,000 have ever been found – around 3%. However, one bomb detonated in rural Oregon in spring 1945 and killed a pregnant woman and five children, making them the only American civilians killed in the US as a result of enemy action.
After the war, talk of the bombs began to spread and it was found that seven landed in Nebraska including one in Omaha, one landed ten miles from Detroit and another landed near Grand Rapids. Balloon bombs, while largely unsuccessful, continued to be discovered throughout the US and Canada following the war and one was even discovered in British Columbia in October 2014.
The regular NFL season is over now. Twelve teams are preparing for the postseason while twenty more are going back to the drawing board.
For most of our teams, the season will not end well. For some of us, our teams will be merely disappointing. Some will go down in flames. Others may even inexplicably snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
The NFL has a lot in common with the military. Like a battle, football requires discipline, endurance, and teamwork. Each team has its own culture, fan base, trials, and tribulations. To celebrate the crowning glory of what is the most American of sports, we decided to make sense of the 2015-2016 season’s ups and downs by comparing the teams to military film and television characters.
Arizona Cardinals – Lt. Dan Taylor, Forrest Gump
The Cardinals are one of the NFL’s longest continual franchises who still don’t have a Super Bowl win. It’s like Lt. Dan’s family tradition of fighting in every major war: none of his ancestors lived long enough to see the big win. Maybe this time will be different?
Atlanta Falcons – Anthony “Swoff” Swofford, Jarhead
Everything started off so promising. A 5-0 start, the best since 2012. But it never really went anywhere. Like Swoff going through hell to become an elite Marine: When it came down to it, it was all for naught. Swoff never got to fire his rifle. The Falcons lost 8 of their last 11 games. Just… disappointing. But like the Marines returning to Iraq in 2003, there’s always next year.
Baltimore Ravens – Sgt. Barnes, Platoon
This unit lost man after man until everyone watching was filled with dread and a sense of pathos soured their crab cakes. After so many player losses went down, everything else went downhill too. Unit cohesion became a disaster and no one outside of Maryland shed a tear when they died. The Ravens are also notoriously paranoid.
Buffalo Bills – Chief Casey Ryback, Under Siege
If a team were represented by their fans at home games, the Bills would be Jeff Portnoy from Tropic Thunder. Luckily (and surprisingly) the Bills 8-8 season was much better than anyone expected, thanks in no small part to ex-Flacco backup Tyrod Taylor. Taylor’s performance can be likened to the ship’s cook of the USS Missouri, who was actually a Navy SEAL.
Carolina Panthers – Sgt. Maj. Basil Plumley, We Were Soldiers
The Panthers had the second oldest average age of any team in the NFL, edged only by the Colts. Unlike the Colts’ geriatric gameplay, the Panthers’ translated into solid veteran status, going 15-1 and earning the #1 seed in the playoffs. No one is looking forward to running into Carolina in the postseason, nor should they be.
Chicago Bears – Pvt. Mellish, Saving Private Ryan
I’m only guessing here, but I bet this scene perfectly illustrates the experience of being a Bears fan and/or player throughout the 2015 season.
Cincinnati Bengals – Sgt. Nicholas Brody, Homeland
Are you really good? Is everything what it appears to be? It’s been so long. Can we tell for certain? There’s only one thing Cincinnati fans know for certain: No one trusts you. Also: Ginger. Also: Nice reg haircut.
Cleveland Browns – The Cast of Tropic Thunder, Tropic Thunder
Other teams have had worse records, other teams have their messes, but the Browns keep doing the same thing year after year: new coach, new QB, new outlook, same outcome. It’s like the Browns aren’t even an NFL team anymore. They’re more of a parody of football, skewering the entire culture of the NFL and its fandom. Unlike Tropic Thunder, there’s no happy ending.
Dallas Cowboys – PFC William Hudson, Aliens
A once-awesome team whose season started off with solid wins fell apart at the first sign of despair. And “despair” was the word of the season. Quarterback after quarterback would come to Dallas and meet their fate while the team struggled to keep it together long enough to pull in four total wins.
Denver Broncos – John Rambo, First Blood
The Broncos were quietly awesome in 2015. Not a lot of flair, the Broncos just went about their business trying to get to a Super Bowl. They weren’t amazing on offense for much of the season but like Rambo taking on some know-nothing cops in the woods, the defense demolished offenses one-by-one, losing only four games with three of those by one score or less.
Detroit Lions – Forrest Gump, Forrest Gump
No one really dislikes the Lions. We don’t really understand them either. For many of us, they’re like a family member, in that we see them once in a while and they always show up to Thanksgiving. They definitely aren’t stupid and they show us all the time the amazing things they’re capable of doing. And just like Forrest Gump, they aren’t winning a Super Bowl anytime soon.
Green Bay Packers – Capt. Jimmy Wilder, Independence Day
Jimmy had confident leadership with an obvious record of success. Unfortunately, he just didn’t have what it takes to survive til the end. The Packers are much the same way. They have a chance to be Capt. Hiller if they can just keep their mask on, but they’re looking at a formidable wall of alien spaceship shaped like a giant Carolina Panther.
Houston Texans – Jean Rasczak, Starship Troopers
Maybe it’s just J.J. Watt, but the Texans always seem angry to me. Like if a Texan doesn’t play hard enough, Watt will hurt them himself. This might explain all their QB injuries.
Indianapolis Colts – Pvt. James Ryan, the beginning end of Saving Private Ryan
As of September’s cut down day, the Indianapolis Colts were the oldest team in the NFL, meaning oldest average age of its players, (and it’s not just because of Adam Vinatieri, age 43). And they played like it at times, going 8-8. Those eight wins were against teams with a losing record and within one score against teams with a winning record. Extra points awarded for never giving up.
Jacksonville Jaguars – Capt. James T. Kirk, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
Blame this on ownership. When owners change, the team should change a bit. Owner Shahid Khan has had years to get something going for the people of Jacksonville, who paid $63 million in upgrades for the stadium in 2013 only to receive a Jacksonville team with a record of 3-13. Everyone should be screaming about this.
Kansas City Chiefs – John Rambo, Rambo III
They seemed reluctant at first but around week seven the Chiefs decided they had enough. With the gusto of Rambo going to rescue Col. Trautman, they demolished the perennial favorites Broncos and Steelers and trounced a resurgent Bills. This team who started 1-5 very nearly won the conference championship.
Miami Dolphins – Robert E. Lee, Gettysburg
Because no one lives in the past like the Miami Dolphins.
Minnesota Vikings – Sgt. 1st Class Sanderson, Black Hawk Down
Just as skilled and capable as Norm “Hoot” Hooten, but not nearly as interesting. The Vikings were able to beat the Chiefs once this season, but really spent Sundays taking down Chargers, Lions, and Bears most of the time. Still a winner, but not a Hoot.
New England Patriots – Chris Kyle, American Sniper
Some people love you, some people hate you. None of that matters, because you’re among the best there is whether they like you or not.
New Orleans Saints – The entire cast of The Alamo
It turns out defense is pretty important. No one proves that more than the Saints.
New York Giants – Col. Kurtz, Apocalypse Now
Watching the Giants’ 2015 season was like watching a once-formidable force just begging to be put out of its misery.
New York Jets – Capt. Virgil Hilts, The Great Escape
Being the only team with a winning record to not make the playoffs is like escaping from a Nazi prison camp on a motorcycle, only to be captured on the Swiss border. They were so close, only to be sent back to the cooler.
Oakland Raiders – Maximus Decimus Meridius, Gladiator
An old man dies and now once great team is surrounded by people rejected by the everyone else and all they can think about is moving to the Coliseum.
Philadelphia Eagles – Capt. Dave “Captain America” McGraw, Generation Kill
No team’s on- and off-field behavior draws more head shaking than Philadelphia.
Pittsburgh Steelers – Animal Mother, Full Metal Jacket
Full of guts, but no ideals: The Steelers snuck into the playoffs after a lucky Jets loss gave them the edge. You have to respect Animal Mother, though. He’s there because he knows how to do what he’s been trained to do and he’s good at it. Just like Pittsburgh.
St. Louis Rams – Nick, The Deer Hunter
St. Louis fans have seen seasons like this so often, they must be mentally broken by now. Every year, the talk of the Rams moving to LA has to wear on both the fans and the team. If they don’t move this year, spin the barrel for another 7-9 season and see what happens when you pull the trigger.
San Diego Chargers – Capt. Herbert Sobel, Band of Brothers
It’s not that the Chargers lack the will to succeed. It’s just that they lack the skill to succeed. So they’ll be moved somewhere which might be a better fit. Currahee!
San Francisco 49ers – Sgt. Elias, Platoon
The days of the 49ers being a “nice” team are over, and probably have been for a long time. Like the death of everything Sgt. Elias represented in Platoon, we can probably count on the 49ers becoming more and more desperate to do whatever it takes to win as time goes on.
Seattle Seahawks – Maverick, Top Gun
Seattle is eminently likable despite a few personality flaws, flaws which led the them through the team’s ups and downs this season. Despite those few losses, the Seahawks are still among the best there is.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Pvt. Timothy Upham, Saving Private Ryan
The ultimate letdown. Sure, they have a much-talked-about leader but they also have all the skills they don’t need. When the time came to do or die, Upham didn’t even have the nerve to die. There’s always next year, but some of the guys on their roster won’t be around for it. Whose fault is that?
Tennessee Titans- PFC Blackburn, Black Hawk Down
You fell out of a helicopter before the fighting even started and you stayed down the whole time. You brought a lot of people down with you. A new QB made everyone feel like the Titans were a new, fresh team. There was hope. Then it all became a mess. Also, all the football references in Black Hawk Down are great reminders of the Titans’ most famous one yard line play.
Washington Redskins – The 54th Massachusetts Infantry, Glory
No one expected much from Washington this year. Despite every bad thing said about them, the Voldemorts of the NFL showed up to play every game of the season, finishing 9-7 and winning the NFC East. In their next battle, they’ll be mercilessly thrown at a formidable opponent and their leader will probably be taken down with them.
Although the US Marine Corps may have unveiled their futuristic Multi-Utility Tactical Transport recently, another unlikely source may have beaten them in the race to develop an automated combat-centric vehicle.
According to the Baghdad Post and Defense One, two Iraqi brothers have developed a four-wheeled vehicle with a wide assortment of features for combat.
Called “Alrobot,” Arabic for robot, this laptop-controlled unmanned vehicle comes equipped with four cameras and is capable of remotely firing its mounted machine gun and Katyusha rockets. Having a range of around one kilometer, reports have also stated that this robot is slated to assist the Iraqi Security Forces with their fight against ISIS militants very soon.
With the ISF and coalition forces planning on beginning their assault on Mosul — Iraq’s second-largest city and one of the few remaining ISIS bastions — it might play an instrumental role in its liberation.
Military installations are built to be self-sustaining. Many have their own water and power supplies, housing facilities, and enough entertainment options to keep troops on the installation. Just off-post, however, you’ll always find the same selection of stores that easily let anyone on TDY know that they’ve found the right place.
Many of these shops are helpful and offer troops better deals than they’d find on-post. Others, however, cater to a troop’s less-than-helpful needs. It’s not to say that all shops off-post are sketchy — but plenty of them are.
Here’s just a handful of the shops that thrive off of having a huge population of troops just a stone’s throw away.
It’s more than likely that any given Marine has the Eagle, Globe, and Anchor tattooed on them — but not all tattoos are the same. Don’t be the guy with the worst in the platoon.
Troops love to show off their ink. Plenty of tattoo parlors around military installations are home to masterful artists who approach each job with pride. They take their labor of love seriously and put their best work forward for America’s war fighters.
And then there’re the parlors that offer dirt-cheap ink that won’t cut deeply into a young, dumb boot’s beer money. Remember, you’ll get exactly what you paid for.
The chances of you getting spotted at one of the thirty-seven now-open liquor stores is slim.
Since military installations are exempt from sales taxes, it would make sense that buying highly taxed items, like liquor, almost exclusively at the Class 6 (on-post liquor store) is a no-brainer.
But those lines are long and no one wants to run into their first sergeant while you’re both carrying a bottle of Evan Williams on a Tuesday night.
“You’re trying to sell me a vintage poncho liner used by Gen. Mattis himself? Best I can do is .”
Troops are constantly moving between installations and, along the way, they may want to shed a few household goods. Conversely, they may not want to spend the extra cash on buying something new if they know they won’t have it for long.
Do you want to get made fun of for buying a car at 35% interest rate? Because that’s exactly how it happens.
(Photo by Staff Sgt. Chad Trujillo)
In the military, everyone needs a car to get around. When troops come back with some extra “play money” they earned on deployment, they’ll upgrade their ride.
Many used-car dealerships aren’t as altruistic as they seem. If the only selling point they have going for them is that “E-1 and above are approved,” then you know that you’re about to get hammered on interest rates.
Which kinda defeats the purpose of having a privately owned weapon, but whatever.
(Photo by Michael Saechang)
Military and gun cultures go hand in hand. So, it makes sense that gun shops find a happy home just off-base.
Not to burst any bubbles among the lower enlisted who live in the barrack, but personally owned firearms and weapons are prohibited in living quarters — rules are rules. So, if you want one, you’ll need to store it in the unit’s arms room and hope you can convince the armorer to come in when you want to go hunting.
That, and their lines are a lot shorter when you’re scrambling to get back within regs after a 4-day weekend.
(Photo by Joe Mabel)
Nail salons/barber shops
In the civilian world, nail salons are plenty. Barber shops are also plenty. But you won’t find the two mixed as often as you do near military bases.
Sure, it’s more expensive than on-base options, but sometimes it’s worth it. Especially if you want a haircut that says, “maybe I’m an officer, maybe I’m just a specialist.”
Who knows? Maybe you’re buying the exact poncho liner that “went missing?”
(Photo by William Murphy)
Military surplus stores
These stores almost always claim first dibs outside of the main gate. Here, you’ll always find a good deal on something that you’re trying to avoid getting a statement of charges for. Why pay the to Uncle Sam because someone took your poncho liner when you can buy and immediately turn in a one found at the surplus store?
Now, we’re not openly accusing any military surplus stores of unintentionally fencing stolen, military gear, but some of the shadier ones are the go-to spots for blue falcons.
By going to a payday loan spot, you’re essentially paying to avoid getting help from the people trying to help you.
(Photo by Pvt. Yoo, Jinho)
Payday loan offices
There’s a silver lining to most of the places on this list, especially if they’re owned and operated by veterans of the installation they service. Then there are the payday-loan scammers that prey on troops like vultures in a desert.
There are far too many alternatives available to troops that don’t involved being nickeled-and-dimed to death in the name of scrounging up a few quick bucks. If you are really hurting for cash, have a heart-to-heart conversation with your commander and see what options are available through your branch’s version of an emergency relief fund.
Specialist Bryan Anderson’s first question when he came out of a seven-day coma and saw his mother was, “What are you doing in Iraq?” But his mother wasn’t in Iraq. She was at his bedside at Walter Reed Medical Center.
A week before Anderson had been on his second combat tour, once again serving as an Army MP this time charged with training members of the Iraqi police. His unit had to travel the streets of Baghdad in up-armored Humvees to get to the various police stations around the city, and they were getting hit by IEDs on a daily basis.
“It wasn’t a matter of if we’d get hit, but when we’d get hit,” he said.
Anderson’s exposure was increased by the fact that the unit commander liked his squad. “He knew we knew what we were doing,” he said. “So our mission became to take him wherever he wanted to go to do whatever he wanted to do.”
And his CO wanted to see everything. “He was ‘Capt. America,’ as we called him,” Anderson said. “I get what he was trying to do – lead by example – but at the time we viewed it as he was putting our lives in danger because he was going out to the same Iraqi police stations every day.”
Although they tried to stay unpredictable with their routes and times, there were only so many police stations and so many ways to get to them. The odds caught up to Anderson on October 23, 2005 at 11 o’clock in the morning. He was driving the last of three Humvees in a slow-moving convoy when an IED triggered by a laser beam exploded next to him.
“I had both my hands on the bottom of the steering wheel and one leg curled under the other because we were only doing, like, five miles per hour, which is why we’re all still alive,” Anderson explains. “The IED was set for a vehicle traveling 30 miles an hour, so instead of going through the passenger compartment the explosion took off the front of the Humvee.”
But although the detonation didn’t happen as the insurgents had planned, the toll on Anderson’s body was substantial. “I saw smoke, fire, and sparks coming through my door,” he said. “And then it was pitch black because there was so much smoke.”
The soldier riding shotgun jumped out before the vehicle stopped with shrapnel in his wrist and hip. The gunner got what Anderson called the “Forrest Gump wound” – shrapnel to his butt – and he jumped out of the turret.
Anderson tried to get out of the Humvee but couldn’t, unaware of his wounds. The two others busted the bolts off the driver’s side door and pulled him out of the wreckage.
“All I could see was my friends running back and forth like they’d just seen a ghost, and I knew something was wrong,” Anderson said.
He tried to use his right hand to swipe the flies away from his face, and noticed that his index finger tip was missing. He turned his hand over and could see shattered bones and torn ligaments.
As he was looking at his right hand a fly landed in his left eye. He went to swipe it with his other hand, but “whiffed,” as he put it. His left hand was gone.
Then he looked down. His legs were gone. He couldn’t process what he was seeing. “There’s no way that just happened,” he thought to himself. “I’m dreaming.”
“Then I got this weird feeling, like, ‘Oh, man, my mom’s gonna kill me,” he said.
Then he looked up at the soldier who was attending to him and asked, “Do you think I’m ever going to get laid again?”
It took the medevac helicopter 12 minutes to get to the scene. Anderson was having trouble breathing because his right lung had collapsed with the concussion of the bomb. The shock was wearing off a bit, and he described the initial pain sensation as a “burning all over, like putting on too much Icy Hot.”
The helo landed in what Anderson described as “an impossible place.” Once they were airborne he passed out.
He awoke seven days later to see his mother standing over him, saying, “You had an accident.”
Anderson considered his injuries and thought to himself, “Really?” Fortunately his entire family was there along with his mother – his identical twin brother, his sister, his aunts and uncles. “That gave me enough strength to say screw it,” he said. “One day at a time, right?”
He spent 13 months at Walter Reed, six weeks in-patient and the rest living at the Malone House as he did physical therapy. For the first four months he had a good attitude, sort of what he called a “wait and see” outlook. But then he fell into deep depression. “I’d look at myself as a triple amputee and ask, ‘What am I possibly going to be able to do?'”
He had panic attacks and flew into uncontrollable rage. He didn’t sleep for two weeks. Then one day he was sitting by a reflecting pond near the Malone House talking to his twin brother who asked him if he was listening to music. Anderson replied that he wasn’t. His brother gave him a CD of a mutual friend’s band.
“I was listening to the chorus of this one song,” he recounts. “The words got to me: ‘Life’s been less than kind. We’ve all been hurt; we’ve all been sorry. Take a number, stand in line. How we survive is what makes us who we are.’ For some reason that just resonated with me, and at that moment I felt like I’d grabbed the first rung of the ladder to pull myself out of this hole.”
The second rung was an impromptu trip to Las Vegas. “I was able to just be a dude for the first time in a long time,” he said. “I had fun, and that forced me to think about what’s in front of me. It made me live in the moment.”
When he got back to Walter Reed he mediated at the reflecting pond again, and it struck him that he had two choices: He could roll over and die or he could go live his life.
“At that moment I made the decision to start figuring out what I could and couldn’t do,” he said. “And it turns out there’s not a lot I can’t do.”
Anderson started skateboarding and snowboarding again. And, after being profiled in Esquire magazine and receiving a couple of offers, he decided to head to LA to pursue an acting career, something he’d always wanted to do.
His first gig was as a stunt driver in “The Dark Knight.” On the set he befriended the movie’s star, Heath Ledger. “He was a skater,” Anderson said. One day he mentioned to the actor that it was intimidating to talk to him with his Joker makeup on. Ledger replied, “You realize I could say the same thing about you, right?”
Anderson’s next role was in “The Wrestler” in which he has a brief scene handing Mickey Rourke one of his prosthetic legs to use as a weapon against an opponent. After that he played a wounded Navy SEAL accused of murder on “CSI: New York.”
Following a couple of episodes of “All My Children,” a cameo in “The Wire,” and an episode of “Hawaii Five-O” he landed a part in “American Sniper.”
“I was standing next to Clint Eastwood and Bradley Cooper thinking, ‘This is crazy,'” Anderson said.
The first scene he was in had no script. “Bradley Cooper told us, ‘Clint likes to do things natural,’ and he told us to just say whatever we wanted. Nobody was talking, so I just wound up taking the lead and telling the story about how my right hand was saved the day I was hit because I reached for a cigarette.”
Anderson’s plan for a future in Hollywood is pretty simple: “More parts,” he said.
Whatever happens he’s going to leverage the main lessons his life since that tragic and fateful day in Iraq has taught him: “Nobody’s going to make you happy. You have to do that yourself,” he said. “And take advantage of all the opportunities that come your way.”
UPDATE: Navy hospital shooting ruled false alarm, according to Capt. Curt Jones, commanding officer of Naval Base San Diego.
An active shooter was reported Tuesday at the Naval Medical Center San Diego, according to the center’s Facebook page.
The message advises occupants to “run hide or fight.” Non-emergency response personnel were asked to avoid the compound at 34800 Bob Wilson Drive. The center posted that the shooter was believed to be in Building 26.
According to intitial reports, three shots were heard in the basement of the building, which is a combination of a gym and barrack. There are no reports of injuries.
Fox 5 San Diego reports that three nearby schools are on lockdown.
The U.S. Navy could not immediately confirm the report.
The facility has a staff of more than 6,500 military and civilian personnel, and aims to provide medical care to military service members, their families, and those who served in the past, according to its website.
“We’re not taking any chances and are executing procedures we’ve been trained for in this kind of situation,” Naval Medical Center spokesman Mike Alvarez said.
In what the participants call a “unique” collaboration, government agencies and aerospace corporations are working together to develop advanced platforms and technologies for vertical lift that are intended to replace virtually all the current rotary wing and tilt-rotor aircraft being used by the four U.S. military services.
The results of those efforts are likely to also influence future civilian and international vertical lift programs.
The ultimate goal is to produce a family of vertical lift aircraft that can serve as transports for personnel and cargo and perform attack, scout, search and rescue, anti-submarine and anti-surface ship missions from land or sea at speeds and ranges far exceeding existing capabilities.
During a forum at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C., Sept. 23, the industry and government representatives said the focus was on achieving the maximum commonality of aircraft components and open architecture in mission systems to reduce production and sustainment costs and promote interoperability among individual aircraft and services.
The coalition of talent is working on two separate but closely related programs: Future Vertical Lift and Joint Multi-role Technology Demonstration, which are managed by the Army with participation by the Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force.
Under the FVL part of the effort, Bell Helicopter is working on an advanced tilt-rotor aircraft called the V-280 Valor, which advances the technologies produced for the V-22 Ospreys that are operated by the Marines and Air Force Special Operations Command and in the future by the Navy.
For FVL, Boeing-Sikorsky team is building a “coaxial” helicopter called the SB-1 Defiant, which uses counter-rotating rotors for vertical operations and a rear-mounted propeller for high-speed level flight. It builds on technology demonstrated by Sikorsky’s X-2 that hit speeds of 260 knots, or 300 miles an hour.
At CSIS, Chris Van Buiten, vice president of Sikorsky Innovations, and Vince Tobin, VP for advanced tilt-rotor systems at Bell, said their aircraft will fly next year in preparation for a competitive “fly off” for the FVL program.
Both of those firms, Rockwell Collins and other companies are participating in the JMR program, which is focused on developing a new generation of mission systems and avionics that would go into any future vertical lift aircraft and, the panelist said, could be retrofitted into some of the legacy platforms that are likely to remain in service for decades.
The Rockwell Collins officials said the advanced computer systems being developed in the JMR effort would allow the future vertical lift platforms to be “optionally manned,” meaning they could be operated as unmanned systems as well as flown by humans.
Bell has also introduced an unmanned tilt-rotor proposal, the V-247 Vigilant, with a folding wing and rotor for the Marines.
Dan Bailey, program director of JMR/FVL for the Army, said the technology demonstration program is expected to culminate in 2020, and will “set the conditions for the future” as they seek to replace all the military’s vertical lift systems over decades.
The FVL competition for the air frame should conclude in 2019, he said.
Bailey said the vertical lift “airframe designs we have today are very limited on what we can get out of them.” And the ability to increase efficiency in those platforms “is limited.”
“We need new platforms,” he said.
Bailey and the others stressed the importance of pushing open architecture capabilities in the systems developed under JMR. Open architecture generally means the software within mission systems and other aircraft avionics is independent of the hardware. That allows rapid and relatively inexpensive changes in the systems as technology improves or mission requirements change.
Bailey said the FVL/JMR program provides the ability to partner with industry “that is unique” and will allow the government “to do this efficiently.”
To meet the multi-service requirements of the FVL program, Van Buiten and Tobin said their aircraft could be produced with the rotor and wing folding capabilities that the Navy and Marines require for shipboard operations.
As a Kurdish refugee from Iraq in the 1980s, his family luckily made their way into Norway to escape the horrors inflicted by Saddam Hussein’s Ba’athist regime.
After growing up and joining theNorwegian Armed Forces, the soldier, now in his early 30s,served in an elite mechanized-infantry unit and eventually completed a tour in Afghanistan.
However, it wasn’t until August 2014, when ISIS took control of Sinjar, Iraq, that Mike decided to join the Peshmerga — Iraqi-Kurdistan’s independent military force.
It was at Sinjar that stories of ISIS’ atrocities — from the execution of 5,000 Yazidi men, to the systematic raping and selling of women and children — first broke out in major news headlines.
“It did an impression on me,” Mike told Business Insider. “What was worse, though, was the lack of action from the world community, including my own government. I decided that I couldn’t sit idly by and watch these horrors unfold.”
Now, returning to the same country his parents escaped from decades ago, he fights the ISIS militia under the Peshmerga flag and motto: “Those who face death.”
But getting started wasn’t as easy as picking up a rifle and starting to shoot. Many of the Peshmerga fighters weren’t properly trained for combat – after coming straight from civilian life, the locals are typically issued a set of uniforms and a rifle before being told to man the front.
Teaching these fighters basic infantry skills, Mike and several other volunteers from Canada, the UK, Norway, and Australia have tried to instill whatever talents they’ve learned in their respective fields, such as medical training.
However, it’s not merely enough to believe in the Kurdish cause, or to have a particular set of skills, to join the Peshmerga. Due to several reasons, including pressure from several countries, Mike has been unwilling to assist those who want to join his cause.
“It would look bad if America’s veterans are the ones doing all the fighting on the ground, while US forces themselves are reluctant to send their own troops,” he stated. “Those who do successfully end up in Iraq are typically placed in inactive fronts, out of harm’s way, until they’re bored out of their minds and leave the country broke and disappointed.”
In the rare case that a soldier exhibits exceptional knowledge or skill, he offered an exception. “There are some good volunteers down here that are allowed to stay at active fronts, and in some rare cases, allowed to take part in offensive operations as well.”
The challenges don’t end there. As a volunteer in an all-volunteer unit, he receives no salary from the Kurdish or Iraqi government — instead, he relies solely on the donations from his followers on social media to finance his weapons and ammunition.
“I have great supporters and I’m able to buy gear, food, and fuel to my unit in addition to financing my stay here,” he described. “We have little support from the government and barely and logistics, but [we somehow make it through].”
His favorite weapon happens to be an old MG-42 machine gun that dates back to World War II; however, when it breaks down, which happens often, he resorts to his tried-and-true M-16. Interestingly, his first Advanced Combat Optical Gunsights (ACOG) scope on his rifle turned out of be a useless fake — with the help of his supporters, he has since replaced it with a functioning unit.
Considering the cost of his fight — $100 buys him 120 rounds for his rifle, while $65 buys him 50 bullets for his pistol — when his financial situation becomes dire, he relies on ammunition and heavy weapons taken from dead ISIS fighters.
Unbeknownst to many outside of Iraq, his supporter-financed work seems to be making a direct difference on the front lines.
One example of this included successfully driving back a major ISIS offensive near a dam in Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city. After receiving intelligence that the jihadists were launching an attack at a friendly unit’s location, Mike and his unit decided to make the drive during the night to reinforce the local Peshmerga forces. Sure enough, in the early hours of the morning, ISIS militants came storming in at a full force.
“We fought for 8 hours straight and lost one man … but we fought them off and killed dozens or so,” explained Mike. “We were later told that ISIS would have probably broken through the lines if [we hadn’t been there].”
Like many wars, Mike has had his share of harrowing moments as well. Mike described the terrifying battle he experienced when ISIS launched one of their deadliest offensives in a year — the same battle that took the life of US Navy SEAL Charles Keating IV.
The fight was later described by the US-led Combined Joint Task Force (CJTF) as “a big fight, one of the largest we’ve seen recently.”
“[ISIS was] able to break through the lines and seize a nearby town when panic broke out amongst some of the local forces. The units guarding our right flank abandoned their posts and tried to [convince] my unit into fleeing [with them] …”
“In a desperate [move] to make them return to their posts, I decided to run over to man one of their fortified positions by myself. To my disappointment, I ended up running several hundred meters to the position all alone … I stayed at that position for nearly 20 minutes and watched ISIS breaking through the lines with 50 vehicles and several hundred men.”
“I was expecting them to work their way down the line toward me and that I would have to face them alone — that was definitely not a good feeling. Luckily, reinforcements arrived [shortly afterward] and we were able to stop their advance at that fortified position.”
Other than the sporadic mortar fire and ISIS’ skirmishes, the biggest challenge for Mike and his unit seems to stem not from his unit’s equipment deficiencies or ISIS’ fighting capabilities, but from the bureaucratic red tape that surrounds his area of operations.
He explained to Business Insider that there existed a stalemate at the front, as his unit could only advance through a few villages and towns at a time before having to wait for the Iraqi Army to reinforce his position. During such down times, he says he resorts to killing time on his phone.
Mike’s deployments are typically three months long, down from his first six-month deployment. “[That first deployment] took a toll on me, both mentally and physically. I learned my lesson after that.”
After a rotation, he spends about a month of time back in Europe, primarily with his girlfriend, who is also frequently mentioned on his Instagram account.
“I can deal with the poor living condition, the lack of food and sleep, the constant threat from the enemy, but being away from my girlfriend for months at a time is definitely the biggest challenge,” Mike said.
But it’s not only his girlfriend that shares his concern.
“My whole family [is] aware that I’m volunteering … they’re not too fond of it. They’ve tried to talk me out of it several times, but my mind is set — I’m not coming home until Mosul is liberated.”
As far as goals go, the city of Mosul is where Mike and CJTF have their sights set. As one of the few ISIS strongholds that remain in Iraq, many months have been spent on formulating a plan to not only liberate the city from ISIS’ hands, but to prevent the jihadists from returning again.
“Taking part in the Mosul operation [has] been my goal since 2014 — but to be honest, I thought we would have taken it back by the end of last year,” he explained. “The fall of Ramadi postponed the operation, but I haven’t lost sight of my goal. Mosul has turned out to be my white whale.”
Although military officials have estimated that Mosul will be liberated by the end of the year, the future of the city remains uncertain. Sleeper cells in previously liberated cities still exist as a confirmed threat, and the likelihood of continuing sectarianism in Iraq poses a risk of alienating one of many groups in the region.
What’s also uncertain is Mike’s future once ISIS is ousted from the city.
“I would ideally [like to go] back to my old Army unit, but I’ve lost my security clearance due to my service with the Peshmerga,” he explained. “I’ll never be allowed to join the Norwegian Armed Forces again, but I’m sure I’ll do alright somehow.”
Until then, Mike continues to remain with his Peshmerga unit on the front lines, committed to ISIS’ ouster. He concluded the interview by offering a strong message against ISIS’ forces:
“Your mortar and rocket [attacks aren’t] impressing anyone,” Mike made clear. “Step up your game and come attack us head-on — you know where to find us.”
You can keep up with Mike’s travels on his Instagram account.
Chuck Aaron is a 63-year-old stunt helicopter pilot whose major trick is the ability to upend his bird.
According to a profile of the man in Popular Mechanics, a helicopter’s rotator blades would bend toward its skids when flying upside down. The blades would cut off the tail and the vehicle would return to Earth. Very quickly. And uncontrollably.
So how does Aaron do it?
He had assembled his own U.S. Army attack helicopter from spare parts when Red Bull came calling. They wanted to know if it were possible to configure a helo to fly upside down. His gut feeling was an instinct to stay alive and he gave them a firm no. But as he thought about it, he began to come up with modifications that just might work for that purpose.
It helps that Red Bull covered the tab. Aaron doesn’t discuss the exact modifications he made, but you can see the results speak for themselves.