Phantom Phanatics have loved the F-4, even though the legendary fighter has been out of United States service for two decades. But that may not be an accurate way to think of it. Because theF-4 actually has still been serving – and still has about two months of life left with the United States Air Force.
According to an Air Force release, these Phantoms that have been serving just haven’t been manned – for the most part. QF-4 Phantoms (the Q standing for “drone”) have been providing “live” targets for the testing of air-to-air missiles (like the AIM-9 Sidewinder and AIM-120 AMRAAM), usually by simulating an enemy aircraft during those tests. Any number of pilots who have used air-to-air missiles in combat can thank those target drones for helping make sure those missiles worked.
How did the Phantom provide two decades’ worth of target drones? Well, it’s not hard when you realize that almost 5,200 were built by McDonnell-Douglas. Now, that includes those that were exported, but even with combat losses in Vietnam (73 for the Navy, 75 for the Marine Corps, and 528 for the Air Force). The Air Force arranged for 324 airframes to become QF-4s. The Navy also used the QF-4 after retiring its last F-4 from USMC service in 1992 – getting another 12 years of service from the “Double Ugly” until the last airframe retired in 2004.
The QF-4s were not the first planes to serve as target drones. The QF-86 Sabre, QF-80 Shooting Star, QF-100 Super Sabre, and the QF-106 Delta Dart have been among former fighters that provided additional service beyond their “official” retirement date by serving as target drones. Even the legendary B-17 had a version that served as a target drone. In fact, just as the F-4 Phantom was replaced in active service by the F-16 Fighting Falcon, the QF-4 Phantom will be replaced by QF-16 Fighting Falcons.
The surviving QF-4 Phantoms at White Sands Missile Range will get one more round of maintenance, mostly to remove hazardous materials, and then they will serve as ground targets.
Here’s a video of QF-4s taking a few for the team:
The military is full of interesting lingo. The Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, and Army all have their own unique phrases. Some of these are so good, the civilian world just can’t resist picking them up when it hears them. Here are 17 phrases that jumped from the military ranks to the civilian sphere.
1. “Balls to the walls” (also, “Going balls out”)
Meaning: To go as fast as one possibly can.
From military aviation where pilots would need to get their aircraft flying as fast as possible. Their control levers had balls on the end. Pushing the accelerator all the way out (“balls out”), would put the ball of the lever against the firewall in the cockpit (“balls to the wall”). When a pilot really needed to zoom away, they’d also push the control stick all the way forward, sending it into a dive. Obviously, this would put the ball of the control stick all the way out from the pilot and against the firewall.
2. “Bite the bullet”
Meaning: To endure pain or discomfort without crying out
Fighters on both sides of the American Civil War used the term “bite the bullet,” but it appears they may have stolen it from the British. British Army Capt. Francis Grose published the book, “Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue” in 1811 and used “chew the bullet” to explain how proud soldiers stayed silent while being whipped.
3. “Boots on the ground”
Meaning: Ground troops engaged in an operation
Credited to Army Gen. Volney Warner, “boots on the ground” is used to mean troops in a combat area or potential combat area. After the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, the term saw wide use and has ceased to refer exclusively to military operations. It can now be used to refer to any persons sent out to walk the ground in an area. It’s been employed in reference to police officers as well as political canvassers.
4. “Bought the farm”
Meaning: To die
Thought to date back to 1950s jet pilots, the phrase quickly spread to civilian circles. There is no clear agreement on exactly how the phrase came about. It could be from war widows being able to pay off the family farm with life insurance payments, or farmers paying off their farms with the damage payout they’d receive when a pilot crashed on their land, or the pilots who wanted to buy a farm after they retired being said to “buy the farm early” when they died.
5. “Caught a lot of flak”
Meaning: To be criticized, especially harshly
Flak is actually an acronym for German air defense cannons. The Germans called the guns Fliegerabwehrkanonen. Flieger means flyer, abwehr means defense, and kanonen means cannon. Airmen in World War II would have to fly through dangerous clouds of shrapnel created by flak. The phrase progressed in meaning until it became equated with abusive criticism.
Meaning: Everything about the current situation sucks
All three words are acronyms. FUBAR stands for “F*cked up beyond all recognition,” SNAFU is “Situation normal, all f*cked up,” and TARFU is “Things are really f*cked up.” FUBAR and SNAFU have made it into the civilian lexicon, though the F-word in each is often changed to “fouled” to keep from offending listeners. The Army actually used SNAFU for the name of a cartoon character in World War II propaganda and instructional videos. Pvt. Snafu and his brothers Tarfu and Fubar were voiced by Mel Blanc of Bugs Bunny and Porky the Pig fame.
Military members commonly describe direction using the hours of a clock. Whichever direction the vehicle, unit, or individual is moving is the 12 o’clock position, so the six o’clock position is to the rear. “Got your six” and the related “watch your six” come from service members telling each other that their rear is covered or that they need to watch out for an enemy attacking from behind.
9. “In the trenches”
Meaning: Stuck in a drawn out, tough fight.
Troops defending a position will dig trenches to use as cover during an enemy attack, reducing the chance they’ll be injured by shrapnel or enemy rounds. In World War I, most of the war occurred along a series of trenches that would flip ownership as one army attacked another. So, someone engaged in fierce fighting, even metaphorical fighting, is “in the trenches.”
10. “No man’s land”
Meaning: Dangerous ground or a topic that it is dangerous to discuss
“No man’s land” was widely used by soldiers to describe the area between opposing armies in their trenches in World War I. It was then morphed to describe any area that it was dangerous to stray into or even topics of conversation that could anger another speaker. However, this is one case where civilians borrowed a military phrase that the military had stolen from civilians. “No man’s land” was popularized in the trenches of the Great War, but it dates back to the 14th century England when it was used on maps to denote a burial ground.
11. “Nuclear option”
Meaning: A choice to destroy everything rather than give in on a debate or contest
Used most publicly while discussing fillibusters in the Senate, the nuclear option has its roots in — what else — nuclear warfare. In the Cold War, military leaders would give the commander-in-chief options for the deployment and use of nuclear weapons from nuclear artillery to thermonuclear bombs. In the era of brinksmanship, use of nuclear weapons by the Soviets or the U.S. would likely have ended in widespread destruction across both nations.
12. “On the double”
Meaning: Quickly, as fast as possible
Anyone who has run in a military formation will recognize the background of “on the double.” “Quick time” is the standard marching pace for troops, and “double time” is twice that pace, meaning the service member is running. Doing something “on the double” is moving at twice the normal speed while completing the task.
13. “On the frontlines”
Meaning: In the thick of a fight, argument, or movement
Like nuclear option, this one is pretty apparent. The front line of a military force is made up of the military units closest to a potential or current fight. Troops on the frontline spend most days defending against or attacking enemy forces. People who are “on the frontlines” of other struggles like political movements or court trials are fighting against the other side every day. This is similar in usage and origin to “in the trenches” above.
14. “Roger that”
This one is pretty common knowledge, though not all civilians may know why the military says, “Roger that,” rather than “yes.” Under the old NATO phonetic alphabet, the letter R was pronounced, “Roger” on the radio. Radio operators would say, “Roger,” to mean that a message had been properly received. The meaning evolved until “roger” meant “yes.” Today, the NATO phonetic alphabet says, “Romeo,” in place of R, but “roger” is still used to mean a message was received.
15. “Screw the pooch”
Meaning: To bungle something badly
“Screw the pooch” was originally an even racier phrase, f*ck the dog. It meant to loaf around or procrastinate. However, by 1962 it was also being used to mean that a person had bungled something. Now, it is more commonly used with the latter definition.
China claims sovereignty over a number of disputed islands in the South China Sea, and most of those claims are not recognized by international law. The U.S. Navy, under the guise of its mission to maintain freedom of navigation of the seas, regularly steams through these waters.
The Chinese consider these missions provocative. In October 2016, the guided missile destroyer USS Decatursailed past the Paracel Islands – shadowed by three Chinese ships.
Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Paul Zukunft thinks the freedom of navigation missions can be done much more diplomatically and he thinks the Coast Guard is the way forward.
“Look at China’s Coast Guard, it really is the first face of China,” Admiral Zukunft told Voice of America. “I would look at providing resources to provide the face of the United States behind a Coast Guard ship.”
The bright, white-hulled ships of the Coast Guard are much more familiar to Chinese soldiers and sailors.
“The U.S. Coast Guard has a very good relationship with the Chinese Coast Guard, with each side frequently boarding the other’s ships to carry out joint maritime law enforcement activities,” he said.
Using lightly-armed Coast Guard ships might actually be better for diffusing tensions in the area, instead of using heavily-armed conventional naval forces. Even China’s massive new Coast Guard supercutters will not have heavy armaments.
Zukunft added that the U.S. Coast Guard also could help Vietnam, Indonesia, and other countries in the area develop maritime capabilities while keeping peace and security.
China’s submarine fleet made its first known trip into the Indian Ocean, according to a report by the Wall Street Journal. A Chinese attack submarine passed through the Straits of Malacca between Malaysia and Indonesia with sightings near Sri Lanka and the Persian Gulf.
It’s the latest report of the significant steps forward the Chinese navy has taken in advancing its submarine fleet.
Earlier this year, a US Navy report estimated that the Chinese navy has nuclear-armed ballistic missile submarines able to launch strikes against the United States from the middle of the Pacific Ocean.
The Chinese navy has ambitious plans over the next 15 years to rapidly advance its fleet of surface ships and submarines as well as maritime weapons and sensors, according to a report by the Office of Naval Intelligence.
Earlier this year, ONI issued an assessment on the Chinese navy as part of testimony to the US China Economic and Security Review. ONI leaders found that China’s navy has evolved from a littoral force to one that is capable of meeting a wide range of missions to include being “increasingly capable of striking targets hundreds of miles from the Chinese mainland.”
The Chinese navy has 77 surface combatants, more than 60 submarines, 55 amphibious ships and about 85 missile-equipped small ships, according to the report first published by the US Naval Institute.
ONI raised concerns about China’s fast-growing submarine force, to include the Jin-class ballistic nuclear submarines, which were expected to commence deterrent patrols in 2014. The expected operational deployment of the Jin “would mark China’s first credible at-sea-second-strike nuclear capability,” the report states.
The submarine could fire the JL-2 submarine launched ballistic missile, which has a range of 4,000 nautical miles and would “enable the Jin to strike Hawaii, Alaska and possibly western portions of CONUS [continental United States] from East Asian waters,” ONI assessed.
In addition, a 2014 Pentagon Annual Report to Congress on military and security developments said the Chinese have three operational Jin-class SSBNs (ballistic missile submarines) and up to five may enter service before the Chinese proceeds toward a next-generation SSBN.
The ONI report says the Chinese currently have five nuclear attack submarines, four nuclear ballistic missile submarines and 53 diesel attack submarines.
Overall, China’s fleet of submarines has quickly increased in offensive weapons technology over the last 10 years. A decade ago, only a few Chinese submarines could fire modern anti-ship cruise missiles (ASCMs). Now, more than half of the conventional attack submarines are configured to fire ASCMs, the ONI report states.
“The type-095 guided missile attack submarine, which China will likely construct over the next decade, may be equipped with a land-attack capability,” the assessment explains. This could enable Chinese submarines with an enhanced ability to strike U.S. bases throughout the region, the report adds.
The Pentagon’s China report affirms that the expected deployment of nuclear-armed JL-2s will, for the first time, give China an at-sea nuclear deterrent capability.
One analyst said the Chinese appear to be trying to position themselves as a nuclear global super power able to both assert regional dominance and project power around the world.
“China clearly appears to be pursuing a great power nuclear-deterrence strategy. They are making progress but it is not fast paced. It is kind of appropriate for a military that has two missions, guaranteed deterrence and an interest in showing its ability as a superpower,” said Daniel Goure, vice president of the Lexington Institute, a Va.-based think tank.
In recent decades, the Chinese military has had more of a regional focus instead of ICMBs, something which may now be changing in light of growing ambitions, continued rapid technological expansion and military modernization, Goure explained.
“We know from watching the Soviets how hard it is for these countries to build western-equivalent militaries and nuclear enterprises. The Russians almost broke trying to build a Navy that would out do us,” he added.
However, Goure added that the Chinese navy has a long way to go before it could emerge as a credible competitor to the US Navy.
“Are they really going to go the route of building their own kind of competitor to the US Navy? That is expensive and difficult – at a time when their economy is slowing down,” Goure said.
The Navy’s Atlantic Fleet submarine commander recently voiced concern about China’s submarine modernization efforts.
“The world has become multi-polar and we have competition for global influence and power from a rising China – which is very much on our mind. The Chinese have had ballistic missile submarines in some form for a while. Their pace has accelerated and they have several nuclear ballistic missile submarines and are continuing to build more,” said Vice Adm. Michael Connor.
Cruise missiles are a nightmare for combatants at land or on sea. They fly low enough that most ballistic missile protections can’t touch them, they often hit at nearly the speed of sound — meaning they strike with no warning — and they can take out ships, tanks, and other large vehicles in a single hit.
Just take this test of the Kongsberg Naval Strike Missile striking a target at a range in California. Watch how the missile skims the waves and an island before spotting its target and slamming through it.
And while cruise missile development slowed after the end of the Cold War, China and Russia are pursuing new missiles with plenty of international partners.
So, the Navy has been working on expanding their defenses against anti-ship cruise missiles. In a 2015 test, they pitted the USS John Paul Jones, an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer equipped with the Aegis combat system, against a mix of cruise and ballistic missiles.
In the video (available at the top of the page), the Jones engages and destroys a series of targets. The cruise missile engagement begins at approximately 5:20.
“In nonviolent technique, as I have said, there is no such thing as defeat. It is all ‘do or die’ without killing or hurting,” Gandhi wrote to Hitler. “It can be used practically without money and obviously without the aid of science of destruction which you have brought to such perfection.
“It is a marvel to me that you do not see that it is nobody’s monopoly. If not the British, some other power will certainly improve upon your method and beat you with your own weapon. You are leaving no legacy to your people of which they would feel proud.”
That I address you as a friend is no formality. I own no foes. My business in life has been for the past 33 years to enlist the friendship of the whole of humanity by befriending mankind, irrespective of race, colour or creed.
I hope you will have the time and desire to know how a good portion of humanity who have view living under the influence of that doctrine of universal friendship view your action. We have no doubt about your bravery or devotion to your fatherland, nor do we believe that you are the monster described by your opponents. But your own writings and pronouncements and those of your friends and admirers leave no room for doubt that many of your acts are monstrous and unbecoming of human dignity, especially in the estimation of men like me who believe in universal friendliness. Such are your humiliation of Czechoslovakia, the rape of Poland and the swallowing of Denmark. I am aware that your view of life regards such spoliations as virtuous acts. But we have been taught from childhood to regard them as acts degrading humanity. Hence we cannot possibly wish success to your arms.
But ours is a unique position. We resist British Imperialism no less than Nazism. If there is a difference, it is in degree. One-fifth of the human race has been brought under the British heel by means that will not bear scrutiny. Our resistance to it does not mean harm to the British people. We seek to convert them, not to defeat them on the battle-field. Ours is an unarmed revolt against the British rule. But whether we convert them or not, we are determined to make their rule impossible by non-violent non-co-operation. It is a method in its nature indefensible. It is based on the knowledge that no spoliator can compass his end without a certain degree of co-operation, willing or compulsory, of the victim. Our rulers may have our land and bodies but not our souls. They can have the former only by complete destruction of every Indian—man, woman and child. That all may not rise to that degree of heroism and that a fair amount of frightfulness can bend the back of revolt is true but the argument would be beside the point. For, if a fair number of men and women be found in India who would be prepared without any ill will against the spoliators to lay down their lives rather than bend the knee to them, they would have shown the way to freedom from the tyranny of violence. I ask you to believe me when I say that you will find an unexpected number of such men and women in India. They have been having that training for the past 20 years.
We have been trying for the past half a century to throw off the British rule. The movement of independence has been never so strong as now. The most powerful political organization, I mean the Indian National Congress, is trying to achieve this end. We have attained a very fair measure of success through non-violent effort. We were groping for the right means to combat the most organized violence in the world which the British power represents. You have challenged it. It remains to be seen which is the better organized, the German or the British. We know what the British heel means for us and the non-European races of the world. But we would never wish to end the British rule with German aid. We have found in non-violence a force which, if organized, can without doubt match itself against a combination of all the most violent forces in the world. In non-violent technique, as I have said, there is no such thing as defeat. It is all ‘do or die’ without killing or hurting. It can be used practically without money and obviously without the aid of science of destruction which you have brought to such perfection. It is a marvel to me that you do not see that it is nobody’s monopoly. If not the British, some other power will certainly improve upon your method and beat you with your own weapon. You are leaving no legacy to your people of which they would feel proud. They cannot take pride in a recital of cruel deed, however skilfully planned. I, therefore, appeal to you in the name of humanity to stop the war. You will lose nothing by referring all the matters of dispute between you and Great Britain to an international tribunal of your joint choice. If you attain success in the war, it will not prove that you were in the right. It will only prove that your power of destruction was greater. Whereas an award by an impartial tribunal will show as far as it is humanly possible which party was in the right.
You know that not long ago I made an appeal to every Briton to accept my method of non-violent resistance. I did it because the British know me as a friend though a rebel. I am a stranger to you and your people. I have not the courage to make you the appeal I made to every Briton. Not that it would not apply to you with the same force as to the British. But my present proposal is much simple because much more practical and familiar.
During this season when the hearts of the peoples of Europe yearn for peace, we have suspended even our own peaceful struggle. Is it too much to ask you to make an effort for peace during a time which may mean nothing to you personally but which must mean much to the millions of Europeans whose dumb cry for peace I hear, for my ears are attended to hearing the dumb millions? I had intended to address a joint appeal to you and Signor Mussolini, whom I had the privilege of meeting when I was in Rome during my visit to England as a delegate to the Round Table Conference. I hope that he will take this as addressed to him also with the necessary changes.
Americans celebrate the birth of their nation as July 4, 1776, but the Army is actually the country’s “big brother.” Which makes sense, considering the Continental Army of 1775 — led by future President George Washington — needed to start beating the British in the colonies so Thomas Jefferson could finally get some time to write.
Before the Army was established, colonists were organized into rag-tag militias with no real structure or unified chain-of-command. But in the spring of 1775, most wanted to attack the British near Boston but knew they needed more structure to confront the professional soldiers on the other side. That’s where the official birth of the Army came in, on June 14, 1775, through a resolution from the Continental Congress.
The next day, George Washington was appointed as commander-in-chief of the new Army, and took command of his troops in Boston on July 3, 1775, according to the Army History Division.
2. If the U.S. Army were a city, it would be the tenth-largest in the United States.
There are just over one million soldiers currently serving in the Army. Just about half of that number is on active-duty and serving full-time, while the rest make up the reserve components of National Guard and Army Reserve. To put it in perspective, a city filled with soldiers would have more people in it than San Jose, California, Austin, Texas, Jacksonville, Florida, and San Francisco, California.
3. It is also the second-largest employer.
With 2.2 million people on the payroll, Walmart is America’s largest employer. But the Army maintains the second spot with more than one million active-duty and reserve soldiers. While budget cuts are going to bring the number of soldiers in uniform down substantially in 2015 to about 1,042,200, the Army still beats the next-largest employer of Yum! Brands, which has 523,000 total employees.
4. Specialist is the most-prevalent rank among soldiers — by far.
There’s a reason many soldiers joke about the existence of an “E-4 Mafia.” That’s because if you want anything done in the Army, you’ll probably need a Specialist (or three) to get it done. Across active-duty and reserve ranks in 2015, there are 264,890 specialists, making up more than one-quarter of the U.S. Army.
Though the Army used to have Specialist ranks that had grades from Spec-4 to Spec-9, it eliminated that system in 1985, setting aside Specialist-4 as a junior-enlisted rank called just “Specialist” from then on. Unlike Corporals who are also E-4s, the Specialist rank isn’t considered a non-commissioned officer, which is probably why some are very good at earning their “sham shield.”
5. The service burns through nearly one billion gallons of fuel every year.
Just like any other large organization that needs energy to sustain operations, the Army needs fuel. A lot of fuel. A 2011 Army fact sheet estimated the Army used over 22 gallons every day, per soldier — much more than only one gallon required per soldier during World War II.
A 2008 Army report said the service purchased approximately 880 million gallons of fuel for mobility operations. The report is a little dated though, and the Army has been working hard to bring down its energy usage — along with the rest of the DoD — citing a reliance on fossil fuels as a major national security risk and logistical problem for troops in the field.
6. Among U.S. Presidents with military service, most served in the Army.
Of the 44 men who have served as President of the United States, 31 had military service. Twenty-four of them served in the Army, or in state militias (our modern-day National Guard). Though being in the military is not a requirement for the presidency, President George Washington started a trend that saw future presidents in some cases making their name as war heroes: Theodore Roosevelt received the Medal of Honor for his famous charge up San Juan Hill, and George H.W. Bush received the Distinguished Flying Cross during World War II and barely escaped after his plane was shot down.
7. The Army owns so much land that if it were a state, it would be larger than Hawaii and Massachusetts combined.
Not surprisingly, the Army has a ton of infrastructure. Soldiers serve at 158 installations around the world, and the service owns more than 15 million acres of land across the U.S., which totals up to roughly 24,000 square miles. That would make the “State of Army” larger than smaller states like Maryland, Hawaii, Massachusetts, and Vermont.
On the downside, bunker residents would have to share space with the Air Force and NORAD whose 24-hour operations would dampen the boat party. Also, there’s no fighting in the War Room.
2. Mount Weather Emergency Operations Center
Equipped with radio and television studios so you can drop awesome mix tapes, the Mount Weather Emergency Operations Center is for the aspiring rap artist who will capture the post-apocalypse angst. An on-site water treatment plant prevents sewage build-ups and the facility houses 200 people, meaning your whole entourage could come.
Of course, all those amenities mean that senior military brass and even the president will head here, so expect the culture to get very stodgy very quickly.
4. National Audio-Visual Conservation Center at Mount Pony
The Mount Pony facility is a 140,000-square-foot bunker filled with 90 miles of shelving that hold 1.1 million video items and 3.5 million audio recordings stored there by the Library of Congress. Combined with the 200-seat movie theater in the complex, the Mount Pony facility is the perfect home for the cinephile.
Like the Greenbrier Resort, the site has been decommissioned as a nuclear bunker so denizens must bring their own supplies and should probably invest in a cot. A waste incinerator would also come in handy.
5. For the book lover: The Notch
The bunker at The Notch was originally the command center for the 8th Air Force in case of an attack, but after it was retired it served as storage for the Federal Reserve and is now where Amherst College which keeps a portion of its archive.
Complete with a gym, a cafeteria, and a barber shop, the Underground Complex at North Bay, Canada was the first major underground bunker for riding out the apocalypse. And, since the bunker is mainly manned by the Canadian military, it’s likely to have a very civil command climate.
Unfortunately, its generators draw from the same air as its personnel, limiting the amount of time the bunker can run before everyone suffocates. Originally, this window of time was measured in hours, though modern, efficient generators and computers might allow days of survivability.
From the time the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, infantry Marines are out on the range or catching some much-needed shut-eye — usually in an uncomfortable place.
While on active duty, they’ll lament their decision-making history while hauling heavy combat loads across the rough and unforgiving terrain or missing important events back home or, you know, taking fire from terrorists.
But at the end of the day, ask any Marine and they’ll tell you: all that blood and sweat they shed was worth it. Not only that, their shared hardships become the foundation of some epic memories.
Life after the military can be a challenging and confusing time as many veterans attempt to find themselves. For the Marine-turned-rapper known as Fitzy Mess, using his passion for music to help tell the stories of his unique experiences is a way of easing the transition.
“To tell the truth its fun as hell for me, puking up booze while my platoon sergeant yells at me,” Fitzy Mess raps.
We’ve all been there, Fitzy Mess. We’ve all been there…
“Transpecos,” winner of the SXSW Film Festival’s Audience Award, deals with what happens to a Border Patrol agent when he gets dragged to the other side by a drug cartel. It’s an impressive directorial debut from independent filmmaker Greg Kwedar.
Kwedar, whose work includes commercials, documentaries, and short films, took six years to make “Transpecos.” To research the film, he worked with the U.S. Border Patrol, an agency that’s reluctant to share its methods – for good reason. Their mission isn’t just keeping illegal immigrants out of the United States, they’re also fighting a massive, brutal enemy with unlimited funding and firepower, and no rules.
“Transpecos” is the story of three Border Patrol agents, a rookie named Davis (played by Johnny Simmons), a seasoned professional, Flores (Gabriel Luna), and salty veteran Hobbs (Clifton Collins, Jr.). They man a remote checkpoint somewhere near the U.S.-Mexican border. When one stop goes from routine to nightmarish, all three end up fighting for their lives.
“There’s this famous Western line: ‘silver or lead?,'” says Greg Kwedar, the director who co-wrote the script with Clint Bentley. “Money’s not a vulnerability for everyone. They [Border Patrol] have higher standards to live by. The leverage can be their own personal safety or that of their family. If an agent can rise above that then the cartel might say, “Who do you care about? We’ll use them.”
That’s exactly what happens in the film. Drug cartels use an agent’s family to force him to allow shipments of cocaine across the border. The Border Patrol agents find themselves torn between duty and family, between fulfilling their mission and protecting their own.
(Samuel Goldwyn Films)
To get access to the real Border Patrol agents Kwedar and his team went out into the desert and got lost (or pretended to be) in the hopes of finding agents who were on the job — a highly unorthodox and potentially dangerous process.
“Once they realized we weren’t antagonistic, that we really wanted to know more about them and their work, they really opened up to us,” Kwedar says. “They invited us into their world and from that we found real friendships, running the gamut from grabbing a beer in a one-stoplight town to sitting down with their families at dinner.”
The characters – Davis, Flores, and Hobbs – are the heart of the film. The Border Patrol depicted in “Transpecos” could just as well be any military checkpoint or remote combat outpost anywhere in the world. It’s hot and desolate. The guys manning the checkpoint can be just as bored as any troops on deployment at any given time. They even have to go out on foot patrols.
“It was 110 degrees Fahrenheit on some of those days,” says Johnny Simmons, who portrays the green Agent Davis. “Our boots were melting, we were covered in sweat at the end of the day when we took off our Kevlar. My brother is a Marine and working on this film brought me a little closer to what it must be like for him … only he and so many others do it every day.”
The credit for this realism goes to the film’s technical advisor, Sam Sadler. Sadler is a retired Border Patrol agent who joined the service at age 17. Before he retired, he was the second in command at Deming Station, New Mexico, the area where “Transpecos” was filmed. He rode ATVs; he rode horseback. He tracked people through the desert by their footprints, the way Native American tribes used to – a practice still in use by agents today. By the end of his 25 years on the border, Sadler was the go-to guy.
“[Kwedar and Sadler] gave us a great roadmap to the script,” said Clifton Collins, Jr., who plays the experienced, by-the-book Agent Hobbs. “They took us off the leash in regards to the research and I really brought a lot of that to the table.”
At heart, Kwedar made the film for Border Patrol agents and their families. Sadler taught the actors the protocol and search methods to make sure they got the details right.
“These guys are so isolated, and it takes a special person to be able to do that,” Gabriel Luna, who plays Agent Flores, said. “Working on this film really cleared up my view of the Border Patrol. These men and women are just regular people. They’re human, they’re doing this job day in and day out, and it’s such an incredible thing.”
“Transpecos” is now available nationwide on demand and digital including Comcast, DirecTV and iTunes. It will be released on DVD September 27, 2016.
Vice President Joe Biden is widely regarded as a good guy who’s quick with a joke (and capable of committing the occasional gaffe, much to the media’s delight). And he was true to form as he addressed the United States Naval Academy Class of 2015 at their commissioning ceremony in Annapolis on May 22. Along with hitting the high points of what the nation expects of them going forward (no sexual harassment!) he kept them (and their families and friends surrounding them in the stands of Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium) in stitches with a string of rapid-fire one liners. Here are the top 9 among them (in the order that they were delivered):
1. “[Virginia] Governor [Terry] McCaullife, congratulations to your son Jack – top 10 percent, honor committee, captain of the rugby team. Terry, are you sure he’s your son? I don’t know. He’s a talented young man.”
2. “[Chief of Naval Operations] Admiral Greenert is always nice to me in spite of the fact I live in his house. The Vice President’s home is known as “NavOps.” It’s 79 beautiful acres sitting on the highest point in Washington. It used to be the CNO’s home. The Navy runs it, and I live there, and he still speaks to me. And I appreciate it.”
3.”On the one hand you’ve been subjected to unflattering haircuts. On the other hand you get to wear dress whites.”
4. “You spent your summers abroad on real ships rather than internships.”
5. Referring to the fact that all USNA grads automatically have jobs (in the Navy or Marine Corps) upon graduating: “The specter of living in your parents’ basement come graduation day is not likely to be your greatest concern . . . and that’s true across the board, even for you history and English majors.”
6. Referring to the fact that Navy has beat Army in football 13 years in a row: “When we go to the Army-Navy game it’s a devastating thing to sit next to my son [an Army officer].”
7. “Back in 1845, the Secretary of the Navy’s name was Bancroft, and he chose [Annapolis] for its seclusion – seclusion from temptation and the distractions of the big city. I wonder what he would have done had he known about McGreevey’s (editor’s note: the actual bar’s name is McGarvey’s), O’Briens, and Armadillos. I doubt he would have picked this place.”
8. “For all those on restriction, don’t worry. John McCain and I can tell you it’s never gotten in the way of real talent.”
9. Referring to the fact that midshipmen get a tuition-free education: “Usually when I address graduating classes I tell the parents “congratulations, you’re about to get a pay raise,” but you said that four years ago.”
WATM congratulates USNA’s Class of 2015 (along with the graduates of all service academies and ROTC units nationwide). Welcome to the fleet, shipmates.
In the early 1980s, the U.S. Army created a unique battalion with a fleet of militarized dune buggies. The unit was supposed to scout ahead, as well as harass its enemy counterparts.
2nd Battalion, 1st Infantry and its unusual vehicles are one of the more recognizable parts of the ground combat branch’s “High Technology Light Division” experiment. The Army expected a “Quick Kill Vehicle” to be an important part of the final division design.
But the ground combat branch had few firm requirements for the vehicle. The HTLD planners only knew they wanted a vehicle that was small and fast, according to an official history.
At the same time, the U.S. Navy’s SEAL teams were testing a light vehicle of their own. The ground branch borrowed eight of these buggies to see if they might fit the bill. Chenowth Racing Products made the small vehicles for the sailing branch’s commandos. The name became synonymous with the company’s combat designs.
In October 1981, Maj. Gen. Robert Elton decided to get more Chenowths for the 9th Infantry Division—the HTLD test unit. The ground combat branch leased over 120 of the armed buggies in the end.
The vehicles got weapons and other military equipment once they reached the 9th Infantry Division’s home at Fort Lewis. The Chenowths sported machine guns, grenade launchers and even anti-tank missiles.
In 1982, the “Quick Kill Vehicle” got the less aggressive moniker of “Fast Attack Vehicle.” The Army eventually settled on “Light Attack Battalion” for its planned dune buggy contingents.
2–1 Infantry became the first — and eventually only — one of these units and got over 80 FAVs. Almost 30 of these new vehicles were armed with heavy TOW missiles, one of which is depicted in the picture above.
The Chenowths made good use of their diminutive size during trials. The vehicle’s low profile made it hard to spot and potentially difficult to hit in combat. Helicopters could also whisk the FAVs around the battlefield in large numbers. The Army’s new Black Hawk helicopter could lift two buggies, while the bigger Chinook could carry a seven at once.
However, the Chenowths were only ever meant to be “surrogates” for a final vehicle design. But the HTLD’s proponents couldn’t sell the concept.
The FAV just looked vulnerable regardless of any potential benefits. This visual stigma couldn’t have helped Elton and his team make their case. In addition, the Army worried about a possible maintenance nightmare. The Chenowths had little if anything in common with other tanks and trucks.
After four years, the ground combat branch was also tired of experimenting and wanted to declare its new motorized division ready for real combat. Finicky, specialized equipment wasn’t helping the 9th Infantry Division meet that goal.
In 1985, Congress refused to approve any more money for the buggies and other unique equipment. The following year, 2–1 Infantry traded their FAVs for new High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicles — better known as “Humvees.”
The ground combat branch spent the rest of the decade trying to figure out what parts of the experiment could be salvaged. The end of the Cold War finally sealed 9th Infantry Division’s fate — and it broke up in 1991.
Still, American commandos diduse improved Chenowths—called Desert Patrol Vehicles—during Operation Desert Storm. The U.K.’s elite Special Air Service also picked up a few of these combat cars.
Special operators were still using upgraded variants when they rolled back into Iraq in 2003. Special Operations Command eventually replaced them with a combination of specialized Humvees, all-terrain vehicles and motorcycles.
The ground combat branch also continued to refine their plans for a wheeled fighting force. These efforts led to the creation of the Army’s Stryker brigades.
The FAV might be lost to the history books, but the Strykers have become a key part of the Pentagon’s ground forces.
Speaking to reporters following an address at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday, Zukunft said the Navy’s change had prompted a brief internal evaluation for the Coast Guard — and one with a definite conclusion.
“With the Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard [Steven Cantrell], we said, ‘What would the workforce think about this,’ and it would cause chaos,” Zukunft said. “I cannot afford chaos when every person in the Coast Guard has a 24-by-7 job to do.”
The Coast Guard, the smallest of the branches, has an active-duty force of about 40,000, compared to the Navy’s nearly 324,000. It also has a smaller ratings system, with fewer than two dozen separate ratings compared with 89 for the Navy.
The Navy and Coast Guard use the same naval rank system, which is different from that used by the Army, Air Force and Marine Corps.
Coast Guardsmen are “very proud of the rating badge that they wear on their sleeve,” Zukunft said, “so I’ve listened to my master chief and he’s provided me the best advice. So that was a very easy question for me to say ‘no’ to.”
The Navy has also had to contend with pushback from sailors and Navy veterans who have strong attachments to the 241-year-old ratings system, with culture and community built around certain titles.
A WhiteHouse.gov petition to reverse the decision reached 100,000 signatures within a month, prompting a member of the White House staff to issue a response backing the overhaul and promoting the Navy’s goals of creating additional opportunities and career paths for sailors and a more straightforward transition to jobs matching their skills as they enter the civilian sector.
The chief of naval personnel, Vice Adm. Robert Burke, has engaged in a number of efforts to sell the concept to sailors, writing opinion pieces and essays addressing the fleet and traveling to the Middle East to participate in town hall meetings with some 9,000 sailors at the end of October and beginning of November.
Navy officials say the full transition to the new system will take time and be done in stages. Key decisions have yet to be detailed, including the future of Navy ratings badges.
Burke published a timeline in October indicating plans to update uniform insignia in keeping with the new job title system, but it remains possible that the badges will be redesigned rather than eliminated.
“Did we choose an easy path forward? Absolutely not,” Burke wrote in an op-ed published by Military.com on Nov. 20. “But I believe this change needs to occur, and now is the right time to do so.”