“You are there for your brothers, and that’s all that really matters.”
It was that one line from the trailer of the upcoming movie “Last Flag Flying” that caught my attention and transported me back to another place and another time — Al Anbar province, September 2005.
At the time, I was a Marine staff sergeant on my third combat tour in three years. I had just returned to Iraq after being wounded by an IED the year prior.
On this deployment, I was to be the top NCO for all Mortuary Affairs operations in and around Al Taqaddum Air Base, Iraq. My job was to recover our fallen warriors from the battlefields and return them home with honor.
As unassuming as that movie quote may be for anyone else, for me, those words ignited a spark. They instantly connected me to how my Marines and I felt about the fallen who were in our care back then. We would stop at nothing to return them home — because they were one of us, they were our brothers, and in the end, that was all that really mattered.
“Last Flag Flying,” which will be released in select theaters Nov. 3 and hit theaters nationwide on Nov. 22, stars Steve Carell who takes a departure from his normal funny-man roles by portraying former Navy Corpsman Larry “Doc” Shepherd who tracks down two of his Marine buddies he hasn’t seen in 30 years (played by Laurence Fishburne and Bryan Cranston). Shepherd reveals he had been notified two days prior that his son, a Marine, was killed in Iraq.
He asks his friends for their help to lay his son to rest.
A story like this automatically kicks me square in the feels. In the short two minute trailer, I immediately recognized the two sides to this parable. One is a story of old warriors coming together to honor a son killed at war. The other is rarely depicted in movies in a time of strife. It is the human cost of warfare, the cost beyond the obvious war dead. It is the sacrifices made by their families and communities.
This is a truth that has replayed across our country close to 7,000 times over the last 16 years. The movie takes a look at this cost that has spared few communities in some way or fashion by our recent conflicts.
During my time in Iraq, my Marines and I would go to vast extremes to recover our fallen warriors. The thoughts of those families pushed us to work harder — no matter what it took or how difficult it was, we were going to get them home to their families.
Through helo crash scenes we crawled on our hands and knees, combing through the desert sands in search of remains and personal effects. We spent countless hours swinging sledge hammers to break apart the solidified parts of melted vehicles to recover the minutest fragments of DNA.
Repeatedly we put ourselves directly into harm’s way to gather our fallen brothers from the battlefields to get them home. We believed we actually worked for the families of the fallen. They would want us to go that extra mile to ensure that their loved ones were taken care of the best way we could, and we did exactly that, no matter the cost.
The connection between “The Last Flag Flying” and my experiences extends to how today we honor our fallen warriors with flags. In Iraq, my Marines and I changed the way we flagged the transfer cases of our fallen to pay them a deeper honor.
Before our tour in 2005, flags were merely taken out of a cardboard box, placed upon the transfer case, and tied down with a white cord. It just was how things were done going all the way back to whenever they first started flagging caskets. Realizing these flags were eventually given to the families, I knew we could do better. Instead we ironed and starched every flag so that they were crisp and sharp.
We also implemented a new technique so there was zero chance of the flag touching the ground. These procedures were eventually adopted by the military.
The common thread between my experience and “The Last Flag Flying” is that in our own ways, the director and I were trying to reveal the same narrative.
Quietly and largely unseen, brothers go to great lengths to care for their fallen brothers. And the story of sacrifice doesn’t just end on battlefields, it continues into the homes of our Gold Star families. It is felt on the everyday streets of our communities, and it is remembered in the resting places of our honored fallen.
While most the well-known wars in history dragged on for years, even decades, many wars in the last century were extremely short. Border disputes, tensions over ethnic populations, trade issues, hangovers from the two world wars or long-simmering pent-up hostilities have all exploded into shooting wars – many lasting just a few weeks or even a few days. In one case, the war was over in less than an hour.
Whether these shortest wars were low intensity conflicts with just a few casualties or brutal, bloody wars that were ended before they could get worse, these wars might have been short, but they were all historically important. The shortest wars in history have taken place on all different continents, between many different countries, over many historical eras. A short war is certainly better than a long, drawn-out war, so at least these historical battles and skirmishes were ended quickly.
What was the shortest war in history? Check out this list of short wars to find out!
I went to the LA Film Festival to watch a film about a female Marine, expecting to be bored and disappointed. I was neither.
“Blood Stripe” is a well-crafted piece of cinematic art that describes bluntly – and accurately – the difficulties faced by the main character “Sarge” (Kate Nowlin) when she comes back home after serving in the Marine Corps. She realizes she has changed, and those around her cannot fully relate to the person she has become. Her circle questions her emotions, reactions, and behavior, oblivious to the trauma she just left.
As I said, my initial expectations were low. What could civilians know about making war movies, especially war movies about women? I assumed the film would be some “GI-Jane” type of nonsense, a cliché like Jessica Simpson’s character in the atrocious “Private Valentine.” Simpson, clad in a full face of makeup, hair out of regs, clean, and completely un-military is the type of Hollywood characterization that could well make women avoid watching military movies at all. I anticipated a tepid film with a fairytale ending where everyone solves their problems and proclaims “the war is over, let’s all be happy!” In life, especially the military, there is rarely a fairytale ending.
In life, especially the military, there is rarely a fairytale ending. Sarge comes home to the husband she left behind, she gets a job, she drinks a lot of beer; her life may not be great, but it’s okay. Something deep inside keeps nagging at her, memories she would rather forget bubble to the surface. We see a very broken woman, unable to put the pieces of her life back together after an intense military experience. As she slides deeper into alcoholism, Sarge decides to run away from her life and work at Camp Vermillion, the summer camp snuggled deep in the woods of Minnesota, which she attended as a child.
But something deep inside keeps nagging at her, memories she would rather forget bubble to the surface. We see a very broken woman, unable to put the pieces of her life back together after an intense military experience. As she slides deeper into alcoholism, Sarge decides to run away from her life and work at Camp Vermillion, the summer camp snuggled deep in the woods of Minnesota, which she attended as a child.
Sarge is dealing with issues normally portrayed by male characters — dark emotions and feelings not typically associated with women veterans. She is not looking to be a hero nor trying to find a savior; she does not want a parade nor does she want accolades. The war has followed her home, and the tentacles of a vile monster called PTSD are beginning to creep into her life.
The metaphor of running is used throughout the film. Sarge vainly attempts to work out her issues in the typical military manner: She PTs. She does scores of push-ups and sit-ups and tries to literally run from her problems. She can run, but the deep-seated internal turmoil of combat is always there.
The film highlights not only the struggles of most service members to successfully readjust to post-military life but accurately shows the obstacles female veterans explicitly face. One of Sarge’s new friends at Camp Vermillion repeats a line not dissimilar to what many female veterans often hear: “You’re a girl Marine–do they even make those?”
Yes, yes they do. These words demonstrate what females face once they have left the military: disbelief about their military service and treated as if they are not true veterans.
Society has still not fully embraced the notion that women are capable of both giving and taking life; that women can struggle with a war long after arriving back home. Kate Nowlin does an excellent job portraying a woman coming to grips with herself. Her character is both credible and authentic, and alarmingly real. Military women come from all walks of life, they look like your sister or mother or cousin or neighbor; they are unassuming women accomplishing extraordinary feats – although most of them keep their remarkable achievements to themselves.
The war gave Sarge a lot of things: a sense of purpose, pride, strength, and courage. It also took a lot of things away from her: identity, her sense of security, camaraderie. War changes us, life changes us. In the end, this was a film not merely about war and women, but also the struggles we all face during this unique human experience and a longing to find our way back home, wherever that may be.
“Blood Stripe” had its world premiere in June 2016 at the Los Angeles Film Festival to a sold-out audience. It won the coveted U.S. Fiction Award.
Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee didn’t want to fight the Civil War. He thought the dissolution of the Union would bring about the end of the American experiment.
Yet he led the Confederate Army through all four years of the American Civil War.
For many, Lee’s decision to resign from the U.S. Army and fight for his home state of Virginia demonstrated a flaw in his character.
Some see him trading the principles of American freedom to fight to uphold the institution of slavery. But where Lee saw secession as an act of democracy, the North saw it differently, and Lee chose to fight for that reason alone.
“If Virginia stands by the old Union,” said Lee, quoted in Smithsonian Magazine, “so will I. But if she secedes (though I do not believe in secession as a constitutional right, nor that there is sufficient cause for revolution), then I will follow my native State with my sword, and, if need be, with my life.”
No matter how one may feel about Lee’s service or legacy, he was a towering figure, a hero of the Mexican war, and one of the best leaders to come from West Point.
There are many books that provide key lessons in leadership from his life that we can apply every day.
1. The importance of ambition.
“It is for you to decide your destiny, freely and without constraint.”
2. Know what you’re up against.
“It behooves us to be on the alert, or we will be deceived. You know that is part of Grant’s tactics.”
3. Your confidence in yourself and the confidence others have in you are both key to success.
“No matter what may be the ability of the officer, if he loses the confidence of his troops, disaster must sooner or later ensue.”
4. Courage is remembered.
“I recollect the distance [Lee traveled] amid darkness and storm… traversed entirely unaccompanied. Scarcely a step could have been taken without danger of death; but that to him, a true soldier, was the willing risk of duty in a good cause.”
– Gen. Winfield Scott, remarking on Lee’s action in the Mexican War
5. Always finish what is expected of you.
“Duty… is the sublimest word in our language. Do your duty in all things, you cannot do more – you should never wish to do less.”
6. Plan for the long term.
“The life of humanity is so long, that of the individual is so brief, that we often see only the ebb of the advancing wave and are thus discouraged. It is history that teaches us to hope.”
7. Expect to fail at times.
“We must expect reverses, even defeats. They are sent to teach us wisdom and prudence, to call forth greater energies, and to prevent our falling into greater disasters.”
8. Integrity above all else.
“I think it better to do right, even if we suffer in so doing, than to incur the reproach of our consciences and posterity.”
9. Hire the right people, then inspire them to greatness.
“You must inspire and lead your brave division that it may accomplish the work of a corps… our army would be invincible if it could be properly organized and officered. They will go anywhere and do anything if properly led.”
10. Be magnanimous in competition. Anything less breeds contempt.
“Madame, don’t bring your sons up to detest the United States. Recollect that we form one country, now. Abandon all these local animosities and make your sons Americans.”
– Lee in a letter to a Confederate widow after the war
11. Loyalty begets loyalty.
“Lee was a phenomenon… the only man I would follow blindfolded.”
– Gen. Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson.
12. Reward discipline in subordinates.
“In recommending officers and men for promotion you will always, where other qualifications are equal, give preference to those who show the highest appreciation of the importance of discipline and evince the greatest attention to its requirements.”
World War II Veteran Alyce Dixon, affectionately known as “Queen Bee” by those who know her and care for her at the Washington, D.C., VA Medical Center, is now 108-years young.
Cpl. Dixon has quite a story and quite a personality. Rocking a tiara on top of her head for the occasion, she was queen for the day at the D.C. VAMC. Fellow Veterans, volunteers, staff and family members celebrated her life at a special ceremony held Sept.11.
“God has been so good,” Dixon said. “He left me here with all these lovely people and all these nice things they’re saying. I hope they mean it.”
Dixon is now the oldest living female World War II veteran according to VA records. She joined the military in 1943 and was stationed in both England and France with the postal services. She was one of the first African-American women in the Army as part of the 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion – the only unit of African-American women in the WAC to serve overseas during WWII.
“This has been a marvelous day. I feel real special,” Dixon said regarding the celebration that included flowers and gifts from family and friends.
Lt. Col. Allison Black, commander of the 319th Special Operations Squadron, became the first woman in her special ops navigator field. Now younger generations of airmen can take the same path while embarking on their own journey in the Air Force. (U.S. Air Force video // Jimmy D. Shea)
Under the cover of night, then-1st Lt. Allison Black left her tent in Uzbekistan to walk to a preflight brief. Hours later, she’d be making history.
On this November night in 2001, the United States was hoping to bring to justice those responsible for the attacks two months earlier in New York City and Pennsylvania, and at the Pentagon.
Flying over the skies of Afghanistan, Black, who is now a lieutenant colonel and the commander of the 319th Special Operations Squadron at Hurlburt Field, Florida, was the navigator on the AC-130H Spectre. As the navigator, she was charged with several duties, one of which was to be the single voice communicating from the aircraft to troops on the ground.
As the gunship fired everything it had upon the Taliban, expending 400 40 mm rounds and 100 105 mm rounds, the Northern Alliance leader, Gen. Abdurrashid Dostum (often referred in the media and around camp fires as “Dostum the Taliban killer”) heard Black’s voice communicating to the joint terminal attack controller on the ground to better understand where rounds need to be fired.
“He heard my voice and asked the special ops guys ‘Is that a woman?’ and they said ‘Yeah, it is,'” Black recalled. “He couldn’t believe it. So he’s laughing and says, ‘America is so determined, they’ve brought their women to kill Taliban.’ He calls the guys we’re shooting and says ‘You guys need to surrender now. American women are killing you … you need to surrender now.'”
The morning after that first mission, those remaining Taliban members surrendered.
“My first combat mission began the collapse of Taliban in the north,” said Black, who became the first female to be awarded the Air Force Combat Action Medal.
This operation would have looked different in 1992.
When Black joined the Air Force in 1992, females weren’t allowed to fly combat missions. That didn’t change until 1993, as the Air Force opened all but less than 1 percent of career fields to women, with the remainder scheduled to open up by early 2016.
At just over 5 feet tall, the Long Island, New York, native seeks and embraces challenges and doesn’t play for second place — a mindset that led her to the Air Force.
“The Air Force seemed to be the hardest service to get into. That got my attention,” Black said. Arriving at basic military training as an enlisted Airman, she was guaranteed a job in the medical career field. But her plans changed when a survival, evasion, resistance and escape specialist briefed Black’s flight on his career field and challenged the group of trainees to join SERE.
“I didn’t know how to chop down a tree, didn’t know how to kill a rabbit, didn’t know how to set a snare, but I was willing,” Black said. “It sounded challenging.”
After more than four years as a SERE instructor, including time as an arctic survival instructor, Black wanted another challenge.
Upon finishing her degree, Black earned a commission as a second lieutenant and headed off to become a navigator — a career field available on several airframes, including bombers and fighters.
There was just one airframe Black wanted: the gunship — specifically, the AC-130H gunship — so she could be on the main flight deck with the pilot, right in the thick of things.
But becoming an Airman, a SERE specialist, an officer and a navigator wasn’t enough — she wanted to join the elite Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC).
“It was exciting. It’s special operations command. You’re in a small force, asked to do tough missions — missions that operate in the gray,” Black said.
Black didn’t realize it at the time, but when she arrived at the 16th Special Operations Squadron, then stationed at Hurlburt Field, she became the first female navigator in that unit and on the AC-130H.
“The thought of being the first was the furthest thing on my mind,” she said. “At that time, I was so focused on being really good at my job and not letting any naysayers get in my way.”
Not only was the milestone the furthest thing from her mind, but it was also something she didn’t want to be on anyone else’s mind either.
“I wasn’t trying to change anyone’s opinion on whether I should or shouldn’t be in a job,” Black said. “I wanted to be an asset. I wanted to be sought after. I wanted to be really good at what I did. I didn’t want to come in second; I wanted to be first.”
Each person defines success differently.
Black doesn’t define success by the medals on her chest or the oak sleeves on her shoulders.
“By not trying to make a statement, I think I found success. I didn’t have an agenda. I didn’t join the Air Force, I didn’t join SERE, and I didn’t join AFSOC to prove that women can do a job,” Black said. “I joined all those things because of the challenge and the career field and the sexy mission. And I just happen to be a woman doing it. And, fortunately, because of my successes, it brought more visibility to ‘Hey, it doesn’t matter if it’s a guy or a girl.'”
Paying it forward
“It wasn’t until years later … when I’d have young female or male Airmen tell me that my story was inspiring, that hearing what I was able to do in AFSOC gave them the confidence to raise their hands and go forward. It was humbling,” Black said.
Black remembers vividly a point in her career where it was clear that she needed to pay it forward.
After a speech to members from base, a female senior airman approached her and referenced the part of the presentation when Black said it has been possible to mother children while also being an Airman. The senior airman was about to get out of the Air Force because she didn’t have anyone telling her the same thing.
“She’s a senior master sergeant now, and we still keep in contact,” Black said.
Seeing these tangible results from telling her story, Black began to reach out even more.
“It’s second and third order effect that just at the virtue of me doing my job, it highlighted that women can succeed. It highlighted the opportunity for women: ‘Hey you’re going to be accepted. They’re going to respect what you bring to the fight,'” Black said.
When she arrived at AFSOC, she didn’t have a cadre of female navigators to offer her mentorship. What she did have were those she refers to as her everything: her husband, Ryan, who was also a SERE instructor, and a supply of male mentors who were all willing to help a teammate grow, regardless of which bathroom stall they use.
“All of the gentlemen I’ve worked for have equipped me with the skills to be a good leader. They gave me that opportunity to shine and to step up,” she said. “You’re judged on game day. You can practice every day of the week, but it’s what you do on Sunday that counts. And I don’t believe in ‘Everyone gets a trophy.”
A new generation
When Black joined the Air Force in 1992, her options looked a lot different than they do for female Airmen today. However, because of her success and the success of many others like her, there are more options in the Air Force for females than in any other service.
This success gave people like 1st Lt. Margaret Courtney many options and paths to walk — or even fly.
Just over two years ago, Courtney had the world on a string, with options in droves. The Baylor University graduate, who majored in neuroscience, managed to pass the Law School Admission Test while working at a mental health institution helping to rehabilitate individuals with drug dependencies. Her potential career paths were in no way limited.
But she wanted more. She wanted a bigger challenge even than graduating with a neuroscience degree and going to law school.
After talking to recruiters from three different branches of the military, and after pinging several friends and family members, Courtney noticed a trend.
“It’s funny — everyone who wasn’t in the Air Force recommended the Air Force,” Courtney said.
After commissioning as an officer and going through training to become a navigator, Courtney faced a decision — what airframe did she want to work on for the remainder of her Air Force career?
“I remember going through (navigator) training, and there are several airframes that require (combat systems officers). You’re going through those aircraft and imagining your life three to 10 years down the road,” Courtney said. “How different would my life look if I joined this community or that community?”
The number of opportunities the Air Force has given Courtney caught her off guard.
“It’s not too bad to be in your young 20’s and have basically limitless possibilities laid out in front of you. I’m like ‘Goodness gracious, let me look into it all,'” Courtney said. “I feel like I’m hitting this whole job and career at the sweet spot. I’ve had plenty of people ahead of me pave the way.”
Knowing what’s ahead for Courtney, Black is excited, and almost proud of the options female Airmen now have.
“It’s exciting — hearing about Lieutenant Courtney,” Black said. “I can’t help but to reflect on when I was a lieutenant and how excited I was to come to the mission, then, after 9/11, to go and fight. I’m excited for her, because I know she’s going to find the reward.”
Black doesn’t just see the past and the present, but the future keeps her motivation high, knowing the possibilities now out there for females in the Air Force.
“The success is that we don’t hear about it because they’re blended in,” said Black said of current female aircrew members. “They’re just people doing great things – male and female. That’s success.”
When Black arrived at Hurlburt in 2000, she was wide-eyed and ready to take on the world. She saw a fork in the road and committed to a direction, not knowing the path. Now that she’s traveled that path, she feels she has a responsibility to people like Courtney and other female Airmen.
“She doesn’t know what she doesn’t know,” said Black of Courtney, who’s even more wide-eyed than the prior-enlisted Black was at this stage in her AFSOC career. “That’s where people like me come in. Lt. Col. Megan Ripple is the director of (operations) at the 4th Special Operations Squadron. We arrived here at Hurlburt together. We are taking the initiative to reach out to these women to prepare them for deployment, to teach them all the things we didn’t know.”
Considering Courtney’s only job up until this point has been to learn and receive training, she’s growing more and more excited to fly this new path.
“I’m still trying to figure out how everything works,” said Courtney, who was recently assigned to the 4th SOS. I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. I can’t wait to actually partake in it, and do what I’ve been training for. They want you to learn, they want you to train; they want to set you up for success. No one really cares where you’ve come from, what your rank is. They care about how much work you put into your job every day. If you’re competent and put forth the work, you get rewarded.”
Though there are some years between Black and Courtney, they noted a common mentality present when they joined the AFSOC community.
“I haven’t noticed if anyone cares about me being a girl or not,” Courtney said. “They care about how good you are at what you do, and if you care or not, and if you take pride in your work.”
Letting your work speak for itself is a welcome reality for Courtney.
“It’s definitely a relief that you’re judged based on the quality of your work, and nothing else,” Courtney said, pointing out that the impact of the mission is way too important to care about the irrelevant. “AFSOC is pretty open about it. The game we play is life or death.”
Snipers are a special breed, warriors with a combination of shooting skill, cunning, and patience. Military history has shown that a single sniper in the right place at the right time can change the course of battle, even in the face of overwhelming odds.
Here are the five most legendary among them:
5. U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Adelbert Waldron
As a member of the 9th Infantry Division, he was assigned to PBR boats patrolling the Mekong Delta, at one point making a confirmed kill from a moving boat at 900 yards. He set his record of 109 kills in just 8 months, which was the record until Chris Kyle broke it during the Iraq War and is perhaps even more remarkable considering he was fighting in a dense jungle environment that didn’t always provide easy sight lines.
4. Red Army Captain Vasily Zaytsev
Between November 10 and December 17, 1942, during the Battle of Stalingrad, Zaytsev killed 225 soldiers and officers of the Wehrmacht and other Axis armies, including 11 enemy snipers. Before that he killed 32 Axis soldiers with a standard-issue rifle. Between October 1942 and January 1943, he made an estimated 400 kills, some at distances of more than 1,100 yards.
A feature-length film, Enemy at the Gates, starring Jude Law as Zaytsev, includes a sniper’s duel between Zaytsev and a Wehrmacht sniper school director, Major Erwin König.
3. U.S. Navy Chief Petty Officer Chris Kyle
Navy SEAL Chris Kyle served four tours during the Iraq War, and during that time he became the most lethal sniper in U.S. military history with over 160 kills officially confirmed by the Department of Defense. Kyle’s bestselling book, American Sniper, was made into a movie directed by Clint Eastwood and starring Bradley Cooper as Kyle.
On February 2, 2013, Kyle was shot dead at a shooting range near Chalk Mountain, Texas along with his friend, Chad Littlefield. The assailant, Eddie Ray Routh, was found guilty of murder and sentenced to life in prison without parole.
2. U.S. Marine Corps Gunnery Sergeant Carlos Norman Hathcock
During the Vietnam War Hathcock had 93 “confirmed” kills of North Vietnamese Army and Viet Cong personnel, which meant they occurred with an officer present (in addition to his spotter). He estimated the number of “unconfirmed” kills to be upwards of 400. His warfighting career ended when he was wounded by an anti-tank mine in 1969 and sent home. He later helped establish the USMC Sniper School.
1. Finnish Army Second Lieutenant Simo Häyhä
Nicknamed “White Death,” Simo Häyhä tallied 505 kills, far and away the highest count from any major war. All of Häyhä’s kills of Red Army combatants were accomplished in fewer than 100 days – an average of just over five kills per day – at a time of year with very few daylight hours. He was wounded late in the war when an explosive bullet shot by a Soviet soldier took off his lower left jaw. He lived a long life, however, dying in a veterans nursing home in 2002 at the age of 96.
When asked if he regretted killing so many people he replied, “I only did my duty, and what I was told to do, as well as I could.”
To keep the many men and machines in fighting shape during the World War II invasion of France, logistics technicians sure had their work cut out for them. Bomb, bullets, planes and tanks were top priorities, so there was little room for luxury items that’d keep the troops in good spirits while fighting Nazis.
And when a British brewery donated gallons of beer for troops on the front, there was no way to get it to the men by conventional means.
Enter Britain’s Royal Air Force.
In the early days after the Normandy invasion of June 1944, British and American troops noticed an acute shortage of adult beverages — namely beer. Many British soldiers complained about watery cider being the only drink available in recently liberated French towns. Luckily for them, the Royal Air Force was on the tap (pun intended) to solve the problem.
With no room for cargo on their small fighter planes, RAF pilots arrived at a novel solution – using drop tanks to transport suds instead of fuel.
The drop tanks of a Spitfire each carried 45 gallons of gas, meaning a plane could transport 90 gallons of extra liquid. When carrying fuel, the tanks were used and then discarded.
For the purposes of ferrying beer, ground crews set about steam cleaning the tanks for their special deliveries. These flights became known as “flying pubs” by the troops they served. A few British breweries, such as Heneger and Constable, donated free beer for the RAF to take to the front. Other units had to pool their funds and buy the beer.
As the desire for refreshment increased in Normandy, the RAF began employing the Hawker Typhoon which could carry even more than the Spitfire. Unfortunately, the Typhoon was often mistaken by inexperienced American pilots as the German Focke-Wulf 190.
According to one British captain, the beer deliveries were attacked twice in one day by U.S. P-47 Thunderbolts. The Typhoon had to jettison its tanks into the English Channel to take evasive action, costing the troops on the ground dearly.
The drop tanks also had a serious disadvantage. While they could carry large amounts of beer, the initial runs still tasted of fuel. Even after the tanks had been used several times and lost their fuel taste, they still imparted a metallic flavor to the beer.
To counter this problem, ground crews developed Modification XXX, a change made to the wing pylons of Spitfire Mk. IXs that allowed them to carry actual kegs of beer.
These kegs, often called ‘beer bombs,’ were standard wooden kegs with a specially-designed nose cone and attachments for transport under the wing of the Spitfire. Though they carried less beer, it arrived tasting like it just came out of the tap at the pub, chilled by the altitude of the flight over the channel.
To ensure their compatriots remained satisfied, pilots would often return to England for rudimentary maintenance issues or other administrative needs in order to grab another round. As the need for beer increased, all replacement Spitfires and Typhoons being shipped to airfields in France carried ‘beer bombs’ in their bomb racks to the joy of the thirsty crews manning the airfields.
When the Americans learned of what the British were doing they joined in, even bringing over ice cream for the GIs as well.
As the practice gained popularity, Britain’s Custom and Excise Ministry caught wind and tried to shut it down. Thankfully by that time, there were more organized official shipments of beer making it to the troops. However, the enterprising pilots kept up their flights with semi-official permission from higher-ups, they just kept it a better secret.
Fire trucks can’t reach too far past the coast, and plenty of fires break out on ships and oil platforms off American shores. When the fires happen in America’s territorial waters, it often falls to America’s Coast Guard to rescue the survivors and fight the flames.
Here are nine photos of the Coast Guard protecting lives and property by acting as firefighters at sea:
1. The Coast Guard fights fires in their areas of operations. Everything from small boats like this one …
2. …to huge fires like the one that destroyed the Deepwater Horizon.
3. For smaller fires, it’s often enough to pump water onto them, and the Coast Guard is lucky that plenty of salt water is usually available.
4. What’s unlucky is that it will often take Coast Guardsmen time to reach the crisis, and it’s their job to rescue survivors. For instance, they pulled four fishermen and a dog from this ship after it exploded.
U.S. Coast Guard crews rescued four fisherman Thursday after their vessel caught fire and exploded near St. Simons Island Sound. A Coast Guard 45-foot Response Boat—Medium crew from Station Brunswick located and rescued the crew and their dog from the 58-foot fishing vessel Predator. (Photo: U.S. Coast Guard Station Brunswick video)
5. Rescue operations are relatively simple for small vessels, but it takes a lot of planning to be able to rescue people from large ferries, cruise vessels, or industrial ships.
6. Sometimes, the Coast Guard asks for help from nearby, civilian vessels that are commonly known as “good Samaritans.” These vessels assist with rescue, firefighting, and recovery operations.
7. Good Samaritan vehicles can even assist with larger operations, like the extinguishing of this oil platform fire.
Four offshore supply vessels extinguish a fire on an oil production platform fire near Grand Isle, Louisiana, Jan. 5, 2017. There were four people aboard the platform who evacuated into the water and were recovered by the offshore supply vessel Mary Wyatt Milano. There were no reported injuries. (Coast Guard imagery courtesy of Coast Guard Aviation Training Center Mobile)
8. The Coast Guard still maintains oversight and supervises the efforts.
9. When the fire is near other ships or structures, the Coast Guard takes steps to control the burning vessel, preventing it from drifting and catching other vessels on fire.
While pretty much all of the veterans here at WATM served in the military fairly recently, we weren’t on first sergeant’s speed dial. If he or she wanted something, he’d send a “runner,” but with technology going the way it has been, it’s probably only a matter of time before troops start getting texts instead.
This is probably not a good thing. Here are nine messages you probably never want to see coming from the phone number of “The Diamond.”
1. Get your ass outside my office. Time: RIGHT F–KING NOW.
He doesn’t need to give you details, because he’s the frigging First Sergeant. But what you can be very sure of just from this very short text: He’s pissed. He’s really pissed… AT YOU.
2. We’re going out to the field this weekend. Gear inspection Friday at 1730.
There goes your plans for the weekend. After you read this one, you’ll have to call off your plans to support your local strip club and tattoo parlor. But look on the bright side: At least you’ll be saving money.
3. Gas mask PT tomorrow. Company office at 0500.
Do you hate breathing? Do you like to run? Why not combine both of these things into something your leaders call “Gas Mask PT.”
4. Why was a member of your squad caught drunk and naked at the front gate?
This is a question that really has no good answer. In the first sergeant’s mind, that drunken naked idiot is a direct reflection of your leadership, and anything you say is going to be bad. Prepare to have your butt completely chewed off.
5. Just got call from MPs. Report to my office in dress uniform in 15.
This is more upsetting than a scary movie. A call from military police, and now you have to report in to “the diamond.” What the hell did I do now? Did I not check her ID card?
6. ALL HANDS PISS TEST. Company office in 10.
It’s not necessarily that you did drugs or are worried about popping on the piss test (although that could be a concern). But pissing into a cup as some dude checks out your junk can make anyone nervous. Back off, dude.
7. Too many DUIs in company. Recall formations this weekend at 0600, 1200, and 1800 daily.
Mass punishment. It’s First Sergeant’s favorite pastime. In his mind, you may not have driven drunk, but you could have done something to stop those other guys. Somehow.
8. I’m inspecting the barracks in two hours.
You have a few options: You can try hard to clean your room because first sergeant will probably break out the white gloves to look for dust. Or you can run to the 7-day store and pick up Maxim magazine, Playboy, and a Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition, and place them where he’s guaranteed to look. This distraction may just save your life.
9. What are you wearing?
If you get this text from your first sergeant, you should probably be worried. DON’T RESPOND. Let’s just pretend this one never happened.
The Pentagon’s research arm is now demonstrating an entirely new level of aircraft autonomy which blends the problem-solving ability of the human mind with computerized robotic functions.
The Defense Advance Research Project Agency, or DARPA, program is called Aircrew Labor in Cockpit Automation System, or ALIAS.
A key concept behind ALIAS involves a recognition that while human cognition is uniquely suited to problem-solving and things like rapid reactions to fast-changing circumstances, there are many procedural tasks which can be better performed by computers, developers explained.
ALIAS uses a software backbone designed with open interfaces along with a pilot-operated touchpad and speech recognition software. Pilots can use a touch screen or voice command to direct the aircraft to perform functions autonomously.
For instance, various check-list procedures and safety protocols such as engine status, altitude gauges, lights, switches and levers, can be more rapidly, safely and efficiently performed autonomously by computers.
“This involves the routine tasks that humans need to do but at times find mundane and boring. The ALIAS system is designed to be able to take out those dull mission requirements such as check lists and monitoring while providing a system status to the pilot. The pilot can concentrate on the broader mission at hand,” Mark Cherry, President and CEO of Aurora Flight Sciences, told Defense Systems in an interview.
The aircraft is able to perform a wide range of functions, such as activating emergency procedures, pitching, rolling, monitoring engine check lights, flying autonomously to pre-determined locations or “waypoints,” maneuvering and possibly employing sensors – without every move needing human intervention.
Developers explain that ALIAS, which has already been demonstrated by DARPA industry partners Lockheed Martin and Aurora Flight Sciences, can be integrated into a wide range of aircraft such as B-52s or large civilian planes.
Initial configurations of ALIAS include small aircraft such as a Cessna 208 Caravan, Diamond DA42 and Bell UH-1 helicopters, Cherry explained. The ALIAS system is able learn and operate on both single engine and dual-engine aircraft.
Both Lockheed and Aurora Flight Sciences have demonstrated ALIAS; DARPA now plans to conduct a Phase III down-select where one of the vendors will be chosen to continue development of the project.
As algorithms progress to expand into greater “artificial intelligence” functions, computers with increasingly networked and rapid processors are able to organize, gather, distill and present information by themselves. This allows for greater human-machine interface, reducing what is referred to as the “cognitive burden” upon pilots.
There are some existing sensors, navigational systems and so-called “fly-by-wire” technologies which enable an aircraft to perform certain functions by itself. ALIAS, however, takes autonomy and human-machine interface to an entirely new level by substantially advancing levels of independent computer activity.
In fact, human-machine interface is a key element of the Army-led Future Vertical Lift next-generation helicopter program planning to field a much more capable, advanced aircraft sometime in the 2030s.
It is certainly conceivable that a technology such as ALIAS could prove quite pertinent to these efforts; a Joint Multi-Role Technology Demonstration Army ST program is already underway as a developmental step toward engineering this future helicopter. The intention of the FVL requirement, much like ALIAS, is to lessen the cognitive burden upon pilots, allowing them to focus upon and prioritize high-priority missions.
The human brain therefore functions in the role of command and control, directing the automated system to then perform tasks on its own, Cherry said.
“Help reduce pilot workload and increase safety in future platforms,” Cherry said.
Aircraft throttle, actuation systems and yokes are all among airplane functions able to be automated by ALIAS.
“It uses beyond line of sight communication which is highly autonomous but still flies like a predator or a reaper,” John Langford, CEO of Aurora Flight Sciences, told Defense Systems in an interview.
Due to its technological promise and success thus far, ALIAS was given an innovation award recently at the GCN Dig IT awards.
Elite soldiers from the Israel Defense Forces’ Shayetet 13 special operations unit joined forces with U.S. Navy SEALS in late March for a joint exercise between the two allies.
According to an IDF statement, the exercise was designed to improve upon the operational capabilities of the special forces of the IDF and of the militaries of Israel’s allies, such as the United States. The drill also included knowledge sharing between fleets, strengthening of common language, and operational cooperation in the field.
On the Israeli side, a Saar 5 missile ship (Eilat), Naval Special Warfare vessels, and other navy crafts took part in the training event. Troops practiced parachuting over the sea and carrying out a nighttime raid on a ship and rescuing hostages in enclosed areas.
Following the drill, the head of operations of the Israeli Navy, Rear Adm. Ido Ben Moshe, said that “the cooperation between the two fleets is reflected in annual drills, reciprocal visits and operational mutuality. During the joint exercises, professional relations are created that contribute to both sides on the strategic level.”
In 2016, IDF Special Forces and U.S. Marines held a joint military exercise in the Negev Desert in part aimed at coordinating techniques for combating terrorist activities. Dubbed ‘Noble Shirley,’ the drill involved special units from the Israeli Air Force and Navy, and ground forces.
During the drill, the troops practiced simulating helicopter landings behind enemy lines, urban warfare both above and below ground, as well as close-range combat and military takeover techniques. The troops also held exercises concentrating on medical response to injured troops in hostile territory as well as the coordination of U.S. and Israeli medical networks.
Such capability would be game-changing for the People’s Republic of China.
“It would provide China with the large and global lift that not even the US has possessed, except by rental,” wrote Peter Singer, an avid China watcher on Popular Science. “It’s large enough to carry helicopters, tanks, artillery, even other aircraft.”
For the most part, as Singer mentioned, China will rent the massive planes, but the agreement does allow for China to domestically build An-225s.
But the herculean plane lends itself to civil applications too. China could easily use it to move construction supplies, to offload its glut of steel, or to bring supplies to its several building projects as part of the “One Belt, One Road” initiative.
As Marcus Weisgerber at DefenseOne points out, the adoption of old, soviet-era technology from Ukraine is an instance of history repeating itself, as China’s sole aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, is also a refurbished Ukrainian hull.