How the Civil War created the modern US economy - We Are The Mighty
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How the Civil War created the modern US economy

The Civil War was a pivotal moment in the history of the United States. The war was responsible for more American deaths than any other conflict, and it has played a continuous role in both the culture and economy of the US ever since.


During the course of the Civil War, the US national debt ballooned to 40 times its previous size. The cost of the war ushered in several new rounds of taxes to fund the war effort — changes that are still in full effect today.

The following graphic, from Norwich University’s Online Masters in Military History program, shows how the effects of the Civil War are still with the US today and how the war permanently changed the face of the US economy and federal spending.

How the Civil War created the modern US economy

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This flying tank destroyer had a much bigger gun than the Warthog

The A-10 is justifiably celebrated for its tank-killing prowess.


After all, it destroyed 987 tanks and a metric buttload of other Iraqi stuff during Desert Storm, and its GAU-8 got a lot of use, including some Iraqi helicopters who felt the BRRRRT! But the Air Force once planned for a tank-buster with a gun that made the A-10’s GAU-8 look puny.

The Beechcraft XA-38 Grizzly was intended to be a close-air support plane to bust up tanks and bunkers in front of the infantry. Beechcraft, ironically, is best known for civilian planes like the King Air.

How the Civil War created the modern US economy
Beechcraft XA-38 (S/N 43-14407) in flight. (U.S. Air Force photo)

To accomplish that mission, it was given a powerful armament. In the nose was a pair of M2 .50-caliber machine guns and a powerful T15E1 75mm automatic cannon. It had a pair of twin .50-caliber turrets as well (one on the top, one on the bottom), and the ability to carry up to 2,000 pounds of bombs, according to MilitaryFactory.com.

Yeah, you read that right. The Army Air Force in World War II was developing a specialized tank-buster that was two and a half times bigger than the GAU-8. Of course, a 75mm gun had been used on variants of the B-25, but the XA-38’s gun was essentially a semi-auto.

How the Civil War created the modern US economy
A parked XA-38, with the barrel of the T15E1 prominently visible. Makes the GAU-8 looks like a cute popgun doesn’t it? (U.S. Air Force photo)

The plane had a top speed of 376 miles per hour, a range of 1,625 miles, and a crew of two. With all that performance, it had a lot of promise when it first flew in May of 1944. But that promise was never seen by the grunts on the ground.

The XA-38 project never got past the two prototypes, because a different aviation project took up all the engines that the Grizzly was designed to use. The Wright GR-3350-43 engines were needed by the Boeing B-29 Superfortress, which in 1944 was needed to bomb Japan.

One prototype was scrapped, while the other’s fate remains unknown.

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Travis Manion Foundation honors fallen Marine — and builds America at the same time

Travis Manion Foundation empowers veterans and families of fallen heroes while striving to strengthen America’s national character. The non-profit was named for 1st Lt. Travis Manion, a Marine who was killed by an enemy sniper while saving his wounded teammates on April 29, 2007.

Today, Travis Manion Foundation exists to carry on the legacy of character, service, and leadership embodied by Travis and all those who have served and continue to serve our nation.


Now, three Gold Star family members are carrying on the legacy of their own fallen loved ones through Travis Manion Foundation. Ryan Manion, Amy Looney, and Heather Kelly sat down with Jan Crawford from CBS This Morning to share how they are working to impact their local communities, strengthen America’s character, and empower veterans.

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When asked what they would say to other family members suffering the loss of a service member, Travis’ sister Ryan said, “Your suffering is probably the most horrible thing that will ever happen to you but there is a light ahead.”

Over the past decade, TMF has helped over 60,000 veterans, and it began with a phrase Travis said before he left for his final deployment. “If not me, then who?” He is not the first person to speak those words, but in many ways, he captures the spirit that our military takes to heart when they volunteer to serve.

How the Civil War created the modern US economy

A testament to Travis’ impact, in fall 2014, at the age of 73, Sam Leonard set out to walk across the country to raise funds for the Travis Manion Foundation. He began in Florida but was forced to stop in Houston when he was diagnosed with stage 4 stomach cancer. He sadly passed away four months later. Albie Masland, the TMF west coast veteran service manager reached out to his good friends and TMF ambassadors Nick Biase and Matt Peace, to see if they wanted to help honor Sam by completing the last 1,500 miles of his journey and raise money for the TMF on his behalf. They finished the trek in 30 days at the USS Midway and on the anniversary of Travis’ death.

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Anna Albrecht/ Released)

Travis Manion Foundation volunteers help by cleaning up communities here at home, building houses in underdeveloped countries, and inspiring school-aged children growing up in America. The organization is defined by its core values:

  • Build, Measure, Learn, Repeat
  • Be accountable
  • Purpose begins with passion
  • Out of many, one
  • We are fueled by gratitude
  • Failure is a bruise, not a tattoo

Travis Manion Foundation is launching a Legacy Project, with ten projects over ten days beginning April 20, 2018. Volunteers can make a difference in their own communities by joining an Operation Legacy Project.

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Debate rages over what the US military should look like in the next 10 years

Five of the top national security think tanks exchanged widely varying proposals on the force structure and funding the U.S. armed services would need to confront the global security environment 10 years from now.


How the Civil War created the modern US economy
An F-35 Lightning II Carrier Variant (CV) piloted by U.S. Marine Corps Maj. Robert “Champ” Guyette II, a test pilot from the F-35 Pax River Integrated Test Force (ITF) assigned to the Salty Dogs of Air Test and Evaluation Squadron (VX) 23, flies over the stealth guided-missile destroyer USS Zumwalt (DDG 1000) as the ship transits the Chesapeake Bay on Oct. 17, 2016. USS Zumwalt, the Navy’s newest and most technologically advanced surface ship, joined the fleet Oct. 15. The F-35C Lightning II — a next generation single-seat, single-engine strike fighter that incorporates stealth technologies, defensive avionics, internal and external weapons, and a revolutionary sensor fusion capability — is designed as the U.S. Navy’s first-day-of-war, survivable strike fighter. The U.S. Navy anticipates declaring the F-35C combat-ready in 2018. (U.S. Navy photo by Andy Wolfe/Released)

The proposals ranged from the minimalist, mind-your-own-business plan from the libertarian-leaning Cato Institute, which would cut defense funding $1.1 trillion below the Obama administration’s long-term budget projects over 10 years, to the aggressive, act-like-a-global-power concept from the conservative American Enterprise Institute, which would add $1.3 trillion — with any force reductions or increases tracking to the funding levels.

The other think tanks — the Center for a New American Security, the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, and the Center for Strategic and International Studies — fell in between those two extremes on both funding and force levels.

In the conference held in the Newseum’s Knight Studio Oct. 18, AEI’s Tom Donnelly said “we bought almost everything” the president has asked for, but still don’t have the military America needs.

“That tells you how much cutting has been done over the last generation,” he said.

Donnelly based his big increases in spending and force structure on a view that “the world is going to hell in a hand basket,” that from a global view of security “the trend lines are all negative,” and “the old post-Cold War world doesn’t exist any more. We need to build something new.”

Cato’s Benjamin Friedman, however, said his budget and force structure plans were based on “a strategy of restraint,” which “differs from the current prevailing view in Washington.”

“Given our geography, wealth and strategic prowess, we would be secure in the US regardless of how much we buy. This is about how much insurance we need,” Friedman said.

The three others, Paul Scharre of CNAS, Mark Gunzinger of CSBA, and Todd Harrison of CSIS, all agreed that the growing threats required additional spending, but generally favored selective modernization rather than the major force structure growth that Donnelly proposed.

The Navy would fare reasonably well in nearly all the projections, even getting smaller reductions within Cato’s heavy cuts. The submarine force was generally favored by all, with two proposing a new class of guided missile subs to replace the four converted ballistic missile SSGN boats. Cato and CSIS would cut four of the 11 aircraft carriers but CSBA and CNAS called for more carriers.

The Navy would get the biggest boost from CNAS, which called for an increase from the current battle force fleet of 272 to 345. The Navy’s goal is to reach 308 ships by 2020.

CSBA noted that the carriers’ ability to project power is threatened by the proliferation of long-range precision defense weapons and suggested off-setting that by fielding an unmanned carrier-based strike aircraft. The Navy currently plans to follow up its experimental X-47B carrier-capable UAV with the pilotless MQ-25, primarily used as an air refueling aircraft with some ISR capabilities.

The Marine Corps got widely varying support from the five organizations, with Cato proposing to cut it by one-third, CNAS eliminating four infantry battalions and CSIS cutting 6,000 Marines and one air group. Analysts at CSBA proposed an increase to 187,000 Marines from the current plan for 182,000. The Corps probably would gain under AEI’s funding boost.

The Army generally would be increased in size or strengthened by all of the think tanks, except of course Cato, with Donnelly advocating a major boost in armored brigades, which would be used to bolster NATO against Russia.

The Air Force also generally would be strengthened although not substantially increased by the other think tanks, while Cato called for cutting it by one-third. CSIS, CSBA and CNAS all proposed giving the Air Force a low-cost, light-attack aircraft in addition to the F-35A.

Other than Cato, which wants to cancel the entire program, the F-35 was favored along with other stealthy aircraft, including the Air Force’s existing F-22 Raptors and its still-on-paper B-21 long-range strategic strike bomber, now under development. Donnelly urged the Navy to buy the F-35B jump jet version the Marines are getting so it could put them on its aircraft carriers but off-load them in the forward theater to bolster ground forces.

While Cato would chop the nuclear deterrent triad to just the Navy’s ballistic missile submarines, the others all appeared to favor current plans to modernize the Air Force’s nuclear capable bombers and Minuteman III missiles, as well as buying the replacement subs for the Ohio-class SSBNs.

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Top general says US commandos and Arab allies squeezing ISIS in Syria

American special operators teamed with Arab fighters in Syria are poised to take a key town north of the Islamic State stronghold in Raqqah. If they succeed it would be an important blow to the Islamic insurgency and assist the government of Iraq in taking back its second largest city.


Since late June, jets from the United States, France, and Australia have been pounding ISIS positions in the city of Manbij, a key northern crossroads town north of the ISIS-held town of Raqqah in Syria. Kurdish and Syrian-Arab fighters who make up the Syrian Democratic Forces, or SDF, are squeezing hundreds of ISIS fighters in the town, said to be a key transit point for bootleg oil and illicit arms for the terrorist group.

“I’ve been extraordinarily pleased with the performance of our partner forces, the Syrian-Arab coalition, in particular,” said Central Command chief Army Gen. Joseph Votel during a press conference at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland.

“This has been a very difficult fight. This is an area that the Islamic State is trying to hold onto,” he added.

Pentagon chief Ash Carter said the campaign in Manbij is part of an effort to squeeze ISIS into Raqqah in Syria and Mosul in Iraq. Defense officials have hinted that a full-on assault on Iraq’s second largest city is imminent, with regional leaders meeting July 20 at Andrews to flesh out a post-takeover plan.

“In play after play, town after town, from every direction and in every domain, our campaign has accelerated further, squeezing ISIL and rolling it back towards Raqqah and Mosul,” Carter said. “By isolating these two cities, we’re effectively setting the stage to collapse ISIL’s control over them.”

Al Jazeera reports that ISIS has lost nearly 500 fighters in Manbij as SDF fighters with American help have squeezed the terrorist enclave. The SDF has suffered less than 100 dead.

The success in Manbij comes as an opposition watchdog group claimed a U.S.-led airstrike on the town killed 56 civilians July 19. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights report, the dead include 11 children.

Carter said the anti-ISIS coalition, dubbed Operation Inherent Resolve, is looking into the allegations.

“We’re aware of reports of civilian casualties that may be related to recent coalition airstrikes near Manbij city in Syria,” Carter said. “We’ll investigate these reports and continue to do all we can to protect civilians from harm.”

How the Civil War created the modern US economy
A Peshmerga soldier fires at a target from his foxhole during a live-fire exercise near Erbil, Iraq, Feb. 8, 2016. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Jessica Hurst/Released)

Votel added that Kurdish and Syrian-Arab parters are working to keep the 70,000 civilians in Manbij out of harms way.

“What I’ve been most impressed with is the deliberateness and the discipline with which our partner forces have conducted themselves,” Votel said. “They are moving slowly, they are moving very deliberately, mostly because they’re concerned about the civilians that still remain in the city.”

“And I think that that speaks very highly of their values and it speaks very highly of what they’re about here. We’ve picked the right partners for this operation,” he said.

 

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The famed Gurkha warriors have taken Everest

For the first time in history, currently serving Gurkha soldiers have summitted the tallest peak in the world, Mount Everest.


The team reached the summit on May 16 and received congratulations from the British Army on their achievement.

How the Civil War created the modern US economy
The Gurkha climbing team poses during the 2015 attempt that was eventually abandoned after a massive earthquake struck the Gurkhas’ homeland and destroyed the Everest base camp. (Photo: British Ministry of Defence)

The Gurkhas had previously attempted the climb the mountain in 2015 to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the Gurkha Brigade, but the climb was abandoned when a massive earthquake struck the area around the mountain, triggering an avalanche that destroyed the base camp.

The 2015 team abandoned the climb and rushed to aid those affected by the quake. Gurkhas are recruited out of a small region of Nepal that sits in the same mountain range as Everest, and many of the team members had immediate family affected by the quake.

How the Civil War created the modern US economy
Gurkha soldiers celebrate their successful climb of Mount Everest after they reached the summit on May 15,2017. (Photo: British Ministry of Defence)

They returned in 2017 thanks to a decision by the Nepal Ministry of Tourism to honor all 2015 Everest permits for an additional two years.

The climb is a grueling challenge under even the best of conditions. The base camp sits over three miles above sea level and each camp above that is more than half a mile above the previous camp.

The summit sits 5.5 miles above sea level, where the air is so thin that most climbers rely on bottled oxygen for much of the climb.

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China’s army looks like it’s getting ready for something big to go down in North Korea

China’s military has been increasing the strength and number of its forces along its 880-mile border with North Korea as Pyongyang’s military provocations cause the US and its allies to think long and hard about military action against the rogue regime.


report from The Wall Street Journal says that China has established a new border-defense brigade, implemented 24-hour video surveillance of the border, and constructed bunkers to protect from possible nuclear or chemical attacks.

China conducted a live-fire drill in June and July with helicopter gunships and armored infantry units, including a simulated battle with artillery, tanks, and helicopters, according to The Journal. The nature of these military exercises goes beyond securing a border, and they mimic fighting a nuclear-armed adversary.

How the Civil War created the modern US economy
The crew of a Chinese navy patrol plane. (Photo from People’s Liberation Army)

While China and North Korea exist on paper as allies, Sim Tack, an expert on North Korea at Stratfor, a geopolitical-analysis firm, previously told Business Insider that China would not likely defend Pyongyang from a US-led attack and instead try to prevent or dissuade the US from taking such a step.

Still, a US-led attack on North Korea remains unlikely. South Korea’s new liberal government has sought to pursue engagement with its neighbor, and the US would ultimately need its support for such a campaign. From a purely military point of view, North Korea’s artillery and nuclear arms hold too many civilians in Seoul at risk.

In June, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis described possible conflict with North Korea as “a serious, a catastrophic war, especially for innocent people in some of our allied countries, to include Japan most likely.”

How the Civil War created the modern US economy
The THAAD missile system. Lockheed Martin photo.

Even short of war, China now has reason to view North Korea as a liability.

In response to North Korea’s missile tests and military provocations, the US based its powerful THAAD missile-defense battery in South Korea, frightening Chinese military analysts who think the Thaad’s powerful radar could one day effectively neuter China’s ability to engage in a nuclear exchange with the US.

Beijing, which could play a role in handling a refugee crisis, should the North Korean regime collapse, has now assembled forces sufficient to shape the outcome of any conflict between the West and Pyongyang.

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VA awards $300 million in grants to help end veteran homelessness

How the Civil War created the modern US economy
Creative commons


WASHINGTON – The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) today awarded approximately $300 million more in grants under the Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) program to help thousands of very low-income Veteran families around the nation who are permanently housed or transitioning to permanent housing. The SSVF grant program provides access to crucial services to prevent homelessness for Veterans and their families.

SSVF funding, which supports outreach, case management and other flexible assistance to prevent Veteran homelessness or rapidly re-house Veterans who become homeless, has been awarded to 275 non-profit organizations in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.  These grants, key elements of VA’s implementation of the Housing First Strategy, enable vulnerable Veterans to secure or remain in permanent housing.  A list of SSVF grantees is located at www.va.gov/homeless/ssvf.asp.

“Since 2010, the Housing First Strategy has helped cut Veteran Homelessness nearly in half,” said VA Secretary Robert A. McDonald.  “Housing First is why 360,000 Veterans and family members have been housed, rehoused or prevented from falling into homelessness over the last five years. SSVF helps homeless Veterans quickly find stable housing and access the supportive services they – and their families – need.”

Grantees will continue to provide eligible Veteran families with outreach, case management, and assistance obtaining VA and other benefits, which may include health care, income support services, financial planning, child care, legal services, transportation, housing counseling, among other services.

Grantees are expected to leverage supportive services grant funds to enhance the housing stability of very low-income Veteran families who are occupying permanent housing.  In doing so, grantees are required to establish relationships with local community resources.

In fiscal year (FY) 2015, SSVF served more than 157,000 participants and is on track to exceed that number in FY 2016.  As a result of these and other efforts, Veteran homelessness is down 47 percent since the launch of the Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness in 2010.  Also since 2010, more than 360,000 Veterans and their family members have been permanently housed, rapidly re-housed, or prevented from falling into homelessness by VA’s homelessness programs and targeted housing vouchers provided by the Department of Housing and Urban Development.  Today’s grant recipients successfully competed for grants under a January 15, 2016, Notice of Fund Availability.  Applications were due February 5, 2016.  The funding will support SSVF services in FY 2017, which starts October 1, 2016, and ends September 30, 2017.

For more information about the SSVF program, visit www.va.gov/homeless/ssvf.asp.

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4 planes the Americans borrowed from Britain during World War II

The United States was the “Arsenal of Democracy” in World War II, but even this arsenal had to get a little help from allies. The British, in fact, loaned us some of their planes during that conflict. Here are four planes we borrowed from the Brits.


1. Supermarine Spitfire

Yes, even though the United States had the P-40, P-38, P-47, P-51, F4F Wildcat, F6F Hellcat, and the F4U Corsair, they had to acquire the plane that won the Battle of Britain.

The American Spitfires mostly saw service in North Africa and Italy, according to SpitfireSite.com, until they were replaced by P-51s. United States Army Air Force Spitfires scored almost 350 kills during World War II.

The Spitfire is also notable for being the plane that got Jimmy Doolittle chewed out by Eisenhower.

How the Civil War created the modern US economy
Spitfire LF Mk IX, MH434 being flown by Ray Hanna in 2005. The Spitfire served with the USAAF in the Mediterranean Theater from 1942-1944. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

2. Airspeed Horsa

Okay, this is technically a glider. Still, the United States needed a glider to bring in heavy gear for units like the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions. The Airspeed Horsa fit the bill with its ability to carry a lot of troops and gear, and the United States got 301 of the planes for D-Day, according to the book World War II Glider Assault Tactics.

How the Civil War created the modern US economy
An Airspeed Hora glider under tow. The United States got over 300 of these for D-Day. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

3. Bristol Beaufighter

This was a multi-role heavy fighter, which packed a huge punch (four 20mm cannon, six .303-caliber machine guns). According to Combat Squadrons of the Air Force, the United States operated four squadrons of Beaufighters in the night-fighter role. These squadrons operated in the Mediterranean Theater of Operations, eventually switching to the P-61 Black Widow.

How the Civil War created the modern US economy
The Bristol Beaufighter, which equipped four USAAF squadrons in World War II. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

4. De Havilland Mosquito

This plane was very versatile, used for photo reconnaissance, as a night-fighter, as a heavy fighter, and even as a light bomber. The Army Air Force used a number of these planes in all of those roles during World War II, but historynet.com noted that most of them were crashed because this airborne hot rod was difficult to fly.

America may have missed out — the Mosquito is considered a legend.

How the Civil War created the modern US economy
A de Havilland Mosquito NF Mark XIII of No. 256 Squadron RAF, caught in the beam of a Chance light on the main runway at Foggia Main, Italy, before taking off on a night intruder sortie over enemy territory. The USAAF equipped squadrons of bombers, night fighters, and recon planes with the Mosquito. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Even today, America’s importing warplanes: The A-29 Super Tucano is a Brazilian design, while the AV-8 Harrier was British.

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Here’s where the US military is going to deploy its most advanced weaponry

Long relegated to the world of science fiction, lasers and rail guns are increasingly appearing in real life.


Rail guns use electromagnets to fire projectiles at supersonic speeds, while lasers fire pure energy bursts.

In 2012, the US Navy test-fired a rail gun for the first time and later announced plans to put one on the guided-missile destroyer USS Zumwalt.

In 2014, the Navy mounted and tested a laser on the USS Ponce, an amphibious transport dock, successfully taking out the engine of a small inflatable boat containing a rocket-propelled grenade.

How the Civil War created the modern US economy
The USS Ponce. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Ian M. Kummer.

More recently, the US Army successfully tested a laser mounted on an Apache helicopter, and the Air Force is planning to put lasers on AC-130s.

Despite these many successful tests, the two weapons aren’t currently operational, Bob Freeman, a spokesman for the Office of Naval Research, told Business Insider, notwithstanding CNN’s recent story claiming that the laser aboard the Ponce is “ready to be fired at targets today and every day by Capt. Christopher Wells and his crew.”

The laser aboard the Ponce is “not the final product,” Freeman said. It is a low-energy laser that has been tested to shoot down drones. If the Ponce is threatened, they’ll still use conventional weapons.

So questions remain about when the weapons will be operational, how they will be used, and which will be used more.

How the Civil War created the modern US economy
USS Ponce conducts an operational demonstration of the Office of Naval Research-sponsored Laser Weapon System. Navy photo by John F. Williams.

“They both have unique capabilities,” but, Freeman said, “it seems to me you have less options with rail guns.”

Lasers have more capabilities in that they can be set to different energy levels, giving the operators the option to deter or take out targets.

For example, if a US ship perceives an aircraft as a threat, “you can put [the laser] on low-power and scintillate the cockpit” and make the pilot turn around, Freeman said. He wasn’t exactly sure what the enemy pilot would experience but said he or she would see the laser and probably wouldn’t be injured.

How the Civil War created the modern US economy
USS Ponce conducts an operational demonstration of the Office of Naval Research-sponsored Laser Weapon System. Navy photo by John F. Williams.

Or, if needed, the operators could turn the energy levels up and destroy the enemy target, either by melting precision holes through the craft or “cutting across” it, he said.

High-energy lasers, he added, are “still in development.”

But for larger targets, such as enemy ships, rail guns would probably be the best weapon.

“It packs a punch … and can go through steel walls,” Freeman said.

How the Civil War created the modern US economy
One of the two electromagnetic rail gun prototypes on display aboard the joint high speed vessel USS Millinocket. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Kristopher Kirsop.

Once they are both operational, the US military will use them along with conventional weapons, and it’ll take years of evolution for one to make the other, or even conventional weapons, obsolete, Freeman said.

“They both have challenges to go through,” he told Business Insider, including where to get the power needed to fuel them. But they also offer other benefits in addition to their lethality: They’re cheaper and can even be safer for sailors, as they don’t require stores of ammunition that can explode.

As for exact tactics regarding how and when to use rail guns and lasers, the Navy and other branches employing them will decide once they’re operational, Freeman said.

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Green Beret writes about secret Cold War mission

The 1968 World War II film “Where Eagles Dare” thrilled some viewers — and scared the bejesus out of others — with its tale of commandos storming a snow-covered mountain fortress and a scene of Richard Burton wrestling with Nazi thugs on the roof of a swaying cable car.


But for an Omaha teen named James Stejskal, seeing the movie inspired his life’s work as an Army Green Beret.

“I was always interested in that kind of life,” said Stejskal, 63, now retired from careers as a soldier and CIA agent and living in Alexandria, Virginia. “A small unit fighting against the bigger enemy (using) a combination of military and intelligence operations, not just brute force.”

How the Civil War created the modern US economy
Green Berets standing proud.  (U.S. Army photo)

This spring, Stejskal published a book called “Special Forces Berlin: Clandestine Cold War Operations of the U.S. Army’s Elite, 1956-90,” about the secret unit with which he spent nine of his 23 years in the Army. Its work was so sensitive that the Pentagon didn’t acknowledge its existence until 2014.

“That’s when we finally came in from the cold,” said Tom Merrill, 63, of Martinsburg, West Virginia, who served with Stejskal in Berlin and remains a friend.

Stejskal enlisted in the Army in 1973, a year after graduating from Central High School. Soon he became a Green Beret, serving on small special ops teams. He was a weapons sergeant and a medic, known to his buddies as “Styk.”

“He was the consummate operator — natively smart, well-educated, thought well on his feet,” said Merrill, who lived in Council Bluffs as a boy.

The Berlin unit, created in 1956, was blandly named Detachment “A.” It disbanded in 1990, after the Berlin Wall fell and the Cold War ended.

How the Civil War created the modern US economy
Berlin Wall, 1989 (Photo by Wikimedia Commons)

The soldiers of Detachment “A” didn’t look much like soldiers. They dressed in modish clothes, wore beards and long hair, made local friends, lived in off-base apartments. All spoke German, many of them fluently.

“Working in civilian clothes, blending in with the locals, doing cool stuff in West Berlin and the middle of (Communist) East Germany,” recalled Stejskal, who served in the unit from 1977 to 1981, and from 1984 to 1989. “It was a very ambiguous kind of duty.”

They were expert at soldierly skills like marksmanship, wilderness navigation, rappelling from helicopters, urban combat. But they also learned the tradecraft of spies, including surveillance and secret messaging.

In the event of a Soviet-led invasion of Western Europe, the detachment’s job was to melt into the population of Berlin and engage in acts of sabotage behind enemy lines. In his book, Stejskal describes it as a “Hail Mary plan to slow the (Soviet) juggernaut they expected when and if a war began.”

Each of the detachment’s six teams was to be responsible for sabotaging bridges and railroads, harassing the enemy in designated slices of East Berlin and East Germany.

How the Civil War created the modern US economy
Berlin during the Cold War.

The work evolved as new threats emerged in Europe, and encompassed training in guerrilla warfare, direct-action precision strikes, and counterterrorism.

As radical groups spread terror across Europe with kidnappings, mass shootings and hijackings in the 1970s, Detachment “A” practiced rescuing hostages from trains and airplanes. Pan Am let them drill using airliners stored in its hangars at Berlin’s Tegel airport.

The detachment’s highest-profile mission had little to do with the Cold War and didn’t even take place in Europe. In 1980, the detachment was tapped to help rescue 52 U.S. diplomats held hostage in Tehran by radical Iranian students.

Soon after the embassy was captured Nov. 4, 1979, the U.S. military began developing a plan to seize the hostages. Most were held in the main embassy compound, but the job of Detachment “A” was to snatch three who were being held separately at the Iranian Foreign Ministry.

The first rescue attempt, Operation Eagle Claw, ended in disaster when a plane and a helicopter collided in the dark in the Iranian desert.

How the Civil War created the modern US economy
Operation Eagle Claw ends in failure, 1989. (Photo via Wikimedia Commons)

The military quietly began planning a second rescue attempt, again including members of Detachment “A.” Stejskal and Merrill, who hadn’t been part of Eagle Claw, were involved in the second, Operation Storm Cloud. It involved using Air Force transport planes to fly partly disassembled helicopters into an airfield commandeered in the desert. The helicopters would be quickly reassembled and used to assault the Foreign Ministry.

The team traveled to Florida to conduct live-fire drills and spent weeks rehearsing with helicopter crews. They honed their weapons skills with extra-long hours on the shooting range.

“We were blowing (our weapons) up, we were firing them so much,” Stejskal said.

They ran a dress rehearsal in late November 1980, but soon the word came down: The mission had been scrubbed.

“It was deflating, extremely,” Stejskal said. “It’s like preparing for a big game and then being told you can’t play.”

The hostages were released Jan. 20, 1981, the same day President Ronald Reagan was inaugurated.

How the Civil War created the modern US economy
President Reagan’s inauguration, 1981. (Photo via Wikimedia Commons)

Stejskal soon rotated out but returned to the unit in 1984. The 1980s are remembered now as the death throes of the Soviet empire. But at the time, it wasn’t clear whether popular movements like Poland’s Solidarity might provoke a Soviet crackdown.

“No one was really sure how it would all play out,” he said.

Stejskal left Berlin in the spring of 1989, but he flew back in November when he heard that the Wall had fallen. He wanted to see the end of the Cold War icon that had shaped his life.

“In one way, it was a relief: The mission as I knew it in Berlin was over, or soon would be,” Stejskal said. “On the other hand, there was a bit of nostalgia for the way things were.”

Not that his life on the razor’s edge ended when the Wall fell. In December 1992, Stejskal was badly wounded when his car drove over a land mine in Somalia.

Stejskal suffered a serious head injury and a shattered leg.

“I basically had 3½ inches of bone that was turned to confetti,” he said.

Stejskal returned to duty a year later. But he knew he would never regain his former strength. So he retired in 1996.

How the Civil War created the modern US economy
Green Berets. (U.S. Army photo)

That was the same year he married Wanda Nesbitt, a State Department foreign service officer he had met five years earlier during an evacuation of the U.S. Embassy in Kinshasa, in the country then known as Zaire.

At his first overseas posting with Nesbitt, Stejskal said, someone handed him a sticky note with a telephone number on it and said to call if he wanted a job. That led to a 13-year stint with the CIA.

In recent years, Stejskal has attended Detachment “A” reunions, where the stories flow along with the beer.

“Somebody said, ‘We need to get this down on paper. We’ve got a history. Who’s going to write it down?'” he said.

Stejskal volunteered. Merrill said the book, published in March by Casemate Publishers, has taught him a lot he didn’t know about the unit’s history.

“He gave it the respect it deserved,” Merrill said. “He was able to take his insider knowledge and transfer it to something an outsider can understand.”

Articles

This Civil War vet walked around with a bullet in his face for 31 years

Jacob Miller was shot in the head at the Battle of Chickamagua on 19 September 1863. Never heard of it? The most significant Union defeat in the Western Theater of the American Civil War, the battle resulted in the second-highest number of casualties after the Battle of Gettysburg. Everyone in Miller’s unit assumed he was one of them.


The Union soldier ended up living for another 54 years. His survival was nothing short of miraculous. Why’s that? Because he had a giant bullet hole in his forehead. Left for dead on the battle field, Miller regained consciousness hours later. His firsthand account of the battle was published by The Joliet Daily News in 1911. It’s a riveting read.

When I came to my senses some time after I found I was in the rear of the confederate line. So not to become a prisoner I made up my mind to make an effort to get around their line and back on my own side. I got up with the help of my gun as a staff, then went back some distance, then started parallel with the line of battle. I suppose I was so covered with blood that those that I met, did not notice that I was a Yank, (at least our Major, my former captain did not recognize me when I met him after passing to our own side).

How the Civil War created the modern US economy
The wound never really healed, but it’s pretty safe to assume it saved his life. What happened next?

I suffered for nine months then I got a furlough home to Logansport and got Drs. Fitch and Colman to operate on my wound. They took out the musket ball. After the operation a few days, I returned to the hospital at Madison and stayed there till the expiration of my enlistment, Sept. 17, 1864. Seventeen years after I was wounded a buck shot dropped out of my wound and thirty one years after two pieces of lead came out.

Let that sink in for a moment. Miller walked around with a bullet in his forehead for 31 years. Was he bitter? Hardly.

Some ask how it is I can describe so minutely my getting wounded and getting off the battle field after so many years. My answer is I have an everyday reminder of it in my wound and constant pain in the head, never free of it while not asleep. The whole scene is imprinted on my brain as with a steel engraving. I haven’t written this to complain of any one being in fault for my misfortune and suffering all these years, the government is good to me and gives me $40.00 per month pension.

Notice how he’s wearing a Medal of Honor? It has nothing to do with the hole in his head. Miller was awarded the medal in recognition of his gallantry in the charge of a “volunteer storming party” on 22 May 1863. Pretty inspiring stuff.

 

Articles

Star Wars tech we could really use in Iraq and Afghanistan

The new Star Wars movies are pretty exciting. It freaked out the entire media landscape in a way unseen since the days before cable TV ensured we all didn’t watch the same episode of Friends on Thursday night. As each trailer brings the new, Jar-Jar free reality of an impending new saga upon us, the inner child of someone who once read the Star Wars Encyclopedia cover to cover bubbles to the surface, realizing some of the tech seen in the new trailer for Star Wars: The Force Awakens would have been really useful on some real-world deployments.


Rey’s Visor

How the Civil War created the modern US economy

Rey (played by Daisy Ridley) is a human scavenger on the desert planet of Jakku (that’s not the desert world of Luke Skywalker’s Tattooine). Jakku is home to thieves and other criminals and someone like Rey must survive by salvaging old parts and reselling them. Having protection from the elements in the harsh, dry, dusty environment (sound familiar?) of Jakku is a real plus.

Rey’s eyepro is stripped from an old Stormtrooper helmet, giving her the same tactical advantage Imperial Stormtroopers had on the battlefield. Though it limits her field of vision, it does help her see in the dark, and through smoke, sand, and glare.

BB-8 “Roller Ball” Droid

How the Civil War created the modern US economy

As an Astromech droid in the line of R2-d2, the BB-8 droid can deftly work with electronic devices, which would do efficient work with deactivating explosive devices. The new droid comes with a number of improvements on the R2 unit’s original design, including a head which appears to float on a 360-degree base, giving the robot vastly improved maneuverability for the rocky slopes of Afghan terrain.

Luke Skywalker’s Cybernetic Hand

How the Civil War created the modern US economy

Although in some sci-fi epics, cybernetic hands are more of a problem, in the Star Wars universe, cybernetic limb replacements allow for full range of motion, full use, and full sensitivity. These prosthetic replacements connect mechanical parts directly to the user’s brain via a neural net interface, covered by synthskin, to where no one would know the difference to look at it. This would be an excellent way to care for troops injured in Afghanistan, considering more than 1,000 lost limbs there. Good thing science already figured this one out. Thanks, DARPA.

Deflector Shields

What military unit wouldn’t want an invisible force field to protect them from harm while they destroyed their enemies. It may not be necessary in Afghanistan, but it sure would be nice to have. It’s much more necessary in the Star Wars Universe, where not having deflector shields looks like this:

How the Civil War created the modern US economy

Honorable Mention: Rey’s Staff

It may not actually help in combat in Afghanistan, but if you want to see how Rey’s skills with that staff weapon might look onscreen, check out this video of Daisy Ridley’s stunt double, Chloe Bruce, working with one like it:

Close enough for government work, either with the U.S. or the New Republic.

And finally, we want lightsabers. Please, please make it happen, DoD.

NOW: Meet Adam Driver, Marine Vet and Star Wars’ Next Villain

OR: The U.S. Military wants to build Star Wars hover bikes

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