Kelsey DeSantis’ accomplished much during her enlistment, including being the honor grad of her boot camp class and qualifying as one of the few female trainers at the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program. But in pop music circles she is perhaps best known for having Justin Timberlake as her date for the Birthday Ball in 2011.
“I didn’t do it because I used to wear N-Synch t-shirts or was a fan at all,” DeSantis told WATM while she prepped to compete for the title of Ms. Veteran America in mid-October of this year. “I did it because I was studying for the sergeants board and I had to know current events.”
“I had two female civilian roommates at the time and they were helping me study,” she explained. “One of them said, ‘Oh, look, Mila Kunis got invited to the Marine Corp Birthday Ball.'”
At the time Kunis and Timberlake were doing interviews to promote the movie “Friends and Benefits” that co-starred them. One interviewer brought up the fact that Kunis had been invited to the USMC Birthday Ball by a Marine in Afghanistan who’d posted a video on YouTube. Kunis claimed she’d never seen the video, which caused Timberlake to emphatically encourage her to attend, saying “you have to serve your country.”
Timberlake’s enthusiasm and the way he framed Kunis’ obligation to attend as a form of national service didn’t impress DeSantis. “He said it about three of four times – ‘do it for your country; serve your country – which made my blood boil,” she said. “I was like . . . really?”
So the young corporal decided to make a YouTube video of her own inviting Timberlake to be her date for the Marine Corps Birthday Ball. “I wasn’t even sure where the ball was being held,” she said. “I thought it was going to be in Washington when it actually was going on in Richmond.”
DeSantis had never produced a video for YouTube, but she had a basic concept in mind: she’d address the camera with the appropriate mix of directness and sass with a line of her fellow Marines standing behind her. The next day she asked one of her senior enlisted guys if he’d be in the video, knowing that if he participated she’d also get others to join. The tactic worked, and without wasting any time the group assembled and shot the video. “We did it in one take,” DeSantis said.
“You want to call out my girl Mila?” De Santis says to Timberlake in the video. “Well, I’m going to call you out and ask you to come to the Marine Corps ball with me on November 12. If you can’t go, all I have to say is, cry me a river.”
As soon as the video hit YouTube “it blew up,” DeSantis said. Her CO called her in and ordered her to take it down. She demurred, saying that her roommates had posted the video on a special Facebook page they created to entreat Timberlake to respond and she had no control over that.
The concern of higher-ups intensified when Timberlake wound up accepting. But instead of fighting it, the Marine Corps public affairs machine decided to use the pop star’s attendance as a vehicle to promote the service in a positive light.
The night proved to be very successful from all points of view, including those of DeSantis and Timberlake. They shared one dance and a hug at the end of the evening.
“He was a complete gentlemen,” DeSantis said. “You could tell he genuinely enjoyed himself.”
For his part, the next day Timberlake posted his sentiments on his blog, describing the Marine Corps Birthday Ball as “one of the most moving evenings I’ve ever had.”
DeSantis’ enlistment ended the following year, and she left the Corps to compete as a professional mixed martial arts fighter and to pursue her passion for veteran advocacy. The MMA part of the plan was interrupted earlier this year when she found out she was pregnant.
She feared her pregnancy would jeopardize her ability to be a contestant in the Ms. Vet America event to which she’d committed after being selected as a finalist, but when she informed Jas Boothe, the event founder, Boothe replied, “Are you kidding me? This is what we’re all about.”
DeSantis was eight months along during the Ms. Veteran America event, and her proud presence on the runway among her fellow contestants was evidence that this wasn’t just another beauty pageant.
See Kelsey Desantis in The Mighty TV mini doc about the Ms. Veteran America Event here.
Service members are held to a pretty high standard when it comes to grooming practices. The military requires that work uniforms look as neat as possible, men’s faces need to be clean shaven, and haircuts fall with in regulation.
Staying within these standards can be difficult, especially if you’re deployed. But for many, it’s just a matter of heading to the local base and getting a $12 haircut at the PX or NEX. The cut may not turn out celebrity style perfect, but you will be within regs.
Grooming standards vary amongst the branches, but at least one aspect remains the same — the hairline needs to be tapered. A fellow troop’s haircut is one of the first things veterans and service members notice.
Check out our list of military haircuts that would fail inspection:
1. War Daddy
In David Ayer 2014’s war movie “Fury,” Brad Pitt plays a hard-charging tank commander with a pretty awesome hair cut. But we can’t imagine how the Army managed to get a talented hair stylist out on the German front lines to keep his hair perfectly gelled.
2. American Sniper
The story of legendary Navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle hit the big screen in 2014 directed by the iconic Clint Eastwood. With all the excellent production value the film had one aspect was over looked — this Marine’s sideburns.
We could mention he also needs to shave, but that’s not what this article is about — maybe next time.
3. Broken Arrow
Christian Slater plays Riley Hale, a military stealth pilot who needs to track down a war head, defeat the villains, and locate a pair of Osters.
We know it makes you sad to trim around the ears, but you know what else is sad? Terrorism. Now go shave.
4. Full Metal Jacket
Although this Stanley Kubrick film is epic on multiple levels, it’s a hard fact to swallow that these Marines stationed on a large military base in Vietnam can’t find a pair of hair clippers. We’re just saying.
5. Jarhead 3: The Siege
The Jarhead franchise just won’t stop making bad movies. Not only does the corporal standing on the left need a quick touch up, but he may want to consider switching out his 8-point cover before the sergeant major rips him a brand new a**hole.
John Travolta plays DEA investigator Tom Hardy (not that Tom Hardy) in 2003’s “Basic.” Although the character isn’t on active duty, his backstory in the film states he’s a former soldier. So before he goes out on a mission to locate a rogue soldier, we think he should clean it up around his ears.
A raid to rescue Iraqi Security Forces held hostage by ISIS forces in the Kurdish areas of Iraq on Thursday liberated 70 hostages and resulted in the death of one Delta Force operator. The U.S. airlifted Peshmerga and American special operations forces to the compound where they freed the hostages, captured five ISIS fighters, and killed many more. The Peshmerga suffered four wounded. By now, most people in the West have heard of the Peshmerga and their bravery and exploits against the fundamentalist Sunni Islamist terror group, but the Peshmerga have a long history and a history of productive cooperation with the United States.
Who are the Peshmerga?
In Kurdish, Peshmerga means “one who confronts death.” Their fighters are among the region’s most able forces because of their warrior culture and dedication to their ethnic and national identity as Kurds. The Kurds have been fighting for independence and recognition for centuries. They fought for the Ottoman Empire in World War I but rebelled shortly after in an attempt to create an official homeland.
Late in the 20th century, Iraqi Kurds fought the forces of Saddam Hussein on a number of occasions, suffering a genocidal campaign from Hussein’s Iraq, through al-Anfal, where the dictator dropped Mustard Gas, nerve agents, and Hydrogen Cyanide on Kurds in 1998. Kurds would rise up against him again after Desert Storm in 1991.
Peshmerga vs. ISIS
American and international media have had much to say about the Kurds in recent years, especially as they emerged as the only force capable of stemming the ISIS advance into Iraq in 2014. But the Peshmerga and the Iraqi Kurds have a long history of cooperation and good relations with the United States and its armed forces.
The Peshmerga are the paramilitary force of Northern Iraq’s Kurdish areas. Since the Iraqi Army is forbidden from entering Iraqi Kurdistan, the Peshmerga are responsible for the security and protection of Iraqi Kurds. But the Kurdish military didn’t stop there.
As ISIS advanced into Iraq, they executed those who disagreed with their brand of strict Sunni Islam. A minority population of Yazidis, whose religion is more closely linked to Shia Islam, were forced to flee to the top of Mount Sinjar, where ISIS forces surrounded them as they faced annihilation. The Peshmerga caught the world’s attention when they intervened on behalf of the Yazidis, saving them from slaughter. Since then American airpower and Peshmerga ground forces have been the main thrust to push ISIS back into Syria, where Kurdish YPG (People’s Protection Units) fighters are engaged with them.
The Kurdish Homeland
Kurds are a tribal society but unlike many Muslims in the region, recognize their ethnic identity as Kurds instead of first identifying as Sunni or Shia Muslims. A great reason for this is the spread of ethnic Kurds throughout the region. The Kurds recognize their traditional lands extending from parts of Iran in the East, through Northern Iraq, and into Syria in the West. The traditional Kurds also see parts of Turkey as traditional Kurdish lands, which has put some Kurds in direct conflict with Turkey, a NATO ally.
The Kurdistan Worker’s Party, or PKK, a Communist terrorist organization in Turkey, has been fighting the Turks for decades. The Syrian counterpart to the PKK is the Kurdish YPG, who are aligned against ISIS forces in Syria. The PKK is recognized worldwide as a terror group, the YPG is not and the links between them are disputed. The YPG does not enjoy the official status of the Iraqi Peshmerga. All three groups are sworn enemies of ISIS everywhere.
(Feriq Fereç – Anadolu Ajansı)
Kurds and the United States
In the days after the 2003 invasion, Kurds worked with U.S. forces to capture Saddam Hussein. They lent their Peshmerga as intelligence agents to assist Delta Force operators in dismantling terrorist and insurgent networks in Iraq. They were instrumental in the capture of al-Qaeda in Iraq’s Hassan Ghul, who would reveal the name of Osama bin Laden’s messenger, which would lead to the raid which killed bin Laden at his compound in Pakistan.
The cooperation of American forces and the Kurdish Peshmerga is one of the most important and productive relationships in the Global War on Terror. Without this alliance, much of the success against international terrorism would never have been realized.
A new 12-page handbook released by the Navy today describes in detail when and how a sailor can complete a gender transition, down to how transgender sailors can participate in urinalysis tests and when it is appropriate to wear clothing of a preferred gender during visits to foreign ports.The guidance also contains a caution for sailors hoping to transition: they will be expected to pass the physical fitness requirements of their preferred gender immediately on transition, and are expected to take the initiative to train to those standards in advance.
As of Oct. 1, sailors were allowed to begin the process to change their official gender designation in personnel systems in accordance with a Pentagon mandate. Beginning in November, the Navy will dispatch mobile training teams to all major commands to explain the new policies and what they mean for the fleet. By July of next year, the Navy and all the other armed services will be accepting transgender applicants into ranks.
But the new guidance from the Navy makes clear that readiness will remain a top priority, even as sailors transition.
“There are no separate or distinct standards for transgender Service members,” the Navy administrative message containing the new guidances reads. “Service members and [military medical providers] must carefully consider the time required to adjust to new PRT standards as part of the medical treatment and transition planning process.”
The Navy’s physical readiness test, or PRT, has different requirements for men and women at every age group. For example, male sailors between the ages of 20 and 24 max out the PRT with 87 push-ups, a 1.5-mile run in 8 minutes, 30 seconds or less, and a 500-yard swim in six minutes, 30 seconds. Women in the same age group need to complete only 48 push-ups, a 1.5-mile run in 9 minutes, 47 seconds, and a 500-yard swim in seven minutes, 15 seconds to max out.
Meanwhile, height and weight standards also differ for male and female sailors. A male sailor who is within standards at 5′ 3″, 155 pounds and plans to transition to female must then meet standards for female sailors, which set the maximum weight for that height at 152 pounds.
Only a military medical provider can determine if a medical waiver is justified for sailors who are out of standards as they transition, the guidance states.
When and how to transition
In order to complete a gender transition while in uniform, sailors must receive an official diagnosis from a military doctor indicating that gender transition is medically necessary, according to the guidance. That diagnosis, along with a medical treatment plan, then must be reported to the appropriate unit commanding officer to for approval of the timing of medical treatment, taking into consideration when the sailor will rotate to another command, deployment and other operational schedules, and how the transition will affect career milestones. If a specific case requires immediate medical treatment, the guidance states it will be treated like any other medical emergency affecting a sailor. In these cases, the sailor may be transferred to limited duty status and “result in an unplanned loss to the command,” according to the Navadmin.
The commanding officer must respond to transition requests within 90 days, according to the new policy. The CO is allowed to take into account impact to the current mission, including “morale, welfare, and good order and discipline of the command,” when determining timeframe to respond to transition requests.
Gender transition treatment plans will differ from sailor to sailor and may include behavioral health counseling, hormone therapy, surgery, and real-life experience, the Navy’s term for for dressing and behaving in public as the preferred non-birth gender.
Sailors are allowed to begin participating in real-life experience before their gender transition is complete and their official gender has been changes in the personnel enrollment system, but must do so only in off-duty status, according to the guidance. All official unit functions, on-base or off, are considered to be on-duty status for sailors, making them off limit for real-life experience outings. And sailors deployed aboard ship face significant limitations: whether working or not, they are considered on-duty on ship at all times. While they can venture out in the clothing of their preferred gender during foreign port visits, these too are subject to restrictions and cultural sensitivities of the country in question.
“Commands need to be cognizant of host-nation laws and social norms when considering RLE in an off-duty status in foreign nations,” the guidance states. “Travel warnings, the State Department’s country-specific website, the DoD Foreign Clearance Guide, and any U.S. regional military commander directives should be reviewed and heeded.”
During transition, some missions may be off-limits for sailors. Transitioning sailors will be restricted from flying and diving ops during medical treatment and there may be limitations for sailors who have access to nuclear weapons, and chemical and biological weapons.
“The Navy’s bureau of Medicine is studying the effects of medical treatments associated with gender transition on members of the aviation and diving communities,” officials with Naval Personnel Command said in a statement.
Gender transition is only complete after a military doctor documents that the service member has completed required medical treatments and written permission from the commanding officer to change the official gender marker in the appropriate personnel administrative systems. While Defense Department guidance says no sailor may be kicked out of the service on the basis of being transgender, sailors are advised to consider the needs of the service when choosing how and when to transition. Transition should be completed during one tour of duty to avoid interrupting medical treatment and requiring additional coordination and a new transition plan, which may disrupt operational requirements at a new command. And transition during boot camp or service academy training is not advised.
“A service member is subject to separation in an entry-level status during the period of initial training … based on a medical condition that impairs the Service member’s ability to complete such training,” the guidance states.
Keeping the fleet comfortable
As a result of transgender sailors being permitted to serve openly, the entire fleet may get a little more modest.
Nudity in berthing and shower facilities is out, according to the guidance, and sailors must maintain a “minimum standard of coverage” walking through spaces, while sleeping, and while using bathrooms and washrooms, in order to show courtesy for others and maintain good order and discipline, according to the guidance.
Unit commanders are prohibited from creating exclusive berthing or bathroom facilities for transgender sailors, but are expected to use their discretion to enact appropriate policies to ensure the protection of privacy for individual sailors.
For urinalysis drug tests, which require that one sailor observe another procure the urine sample, the observer will be another of the same designated gender. But there may be adjustments to ensure the relative comfort level of the observer and the observed. These will be written into a future policy, the Navadmin states.
Though the details may be challenging, Navy officials said the service wants to make sure all qualified personnel find their place in the fleet.
“Our goal is to ensure that the mission is carried out by the most qualified and capable service members,” officials with Naval Personnel Command said in a statement. “If an individual can meet the Navy’s standards, they should be afforded the opportunity to serve.”
The Arleigh Burke class of guided-missile destroyers is huge – and they are some of the most powerful ships in the world.
These 9,000-ton ships are armed with a five-inch gun, two Mk 41 vertical-launch systems (with 90 to 96 cells), two triple 324mm torpedo tubes, and a 20mm Mk 15 Phalanx Close-In Weapon System. Some even carry two MH-60R Seahawk helicopters.
But sometimes, the firepower ain’t the solution. Far from it, in some cases. Say the Iranians are up to their usual… antics. That is when the destroyer will need to move.
The ship can go fast – over 30 knots, thanks to her gas turbine propulsion. She also can turn – and for a ship this big, she turns on a dime.
Do those turns matter? You bet they can. The fast turn can help avoid one of those “fast attack craft” the Iranians use. If a torpedo is fired, the turn can also buy time once the ship’s AN/SLQ-25 Nixie goes off.
Torpedo seekers do not have a long range, so the turn at high speed can allow the ship to escape an attack.
You can see the destroyer USS Gonzalez (DDG 66) make one of these high-speed turns in this video below. Making such a turn does take practice – mostly because if the gear ain’t stowed right, there is likely to be one hell of a mess. But a mess to clean up is much better than a torpedo hit.
Sure, it was against the rules for years but we all know dating, and more, happened regularly on the forward operating bases. Here are some tips for your next deployment.
1. Don’t talk about dating on the FOB
Remember, dating deployed is still highly discouraged and can affect perceptions of your professionalism. Keep a tight lid on it or expect your next evaluation report or monthly counseling to be harsh.
2. Conduct hygiene like you’re in garrison.
Yeah, the long hours of work and the limited laundry and shower facilities are going to take a toll, but you owe the person who is letting you see them naked. At least invest in extra baby wipes or something.
3. Do some favors for the motor pool.
Make out sessions, and more, in vehicles are just as much fun deployed as they were in high school. Help the mechanics out and they’ll help you out.
4. Don’t date outside your pay scale.
This is still illegal and a potential career ender. Officers with officers, enlisted with enlisted.
5. No partners from your company or your chain of command.
The chain of command thing is still illegal while dating within your company is just a bad idea. Try to find a partner in another battalion or a completely separate command.
6. Don’t make it obvious.
Googly eyes, shy smiles, shared meals, inside jokes. Secrets are hard enough to keep on a FOB without you dropping hints everywhere.
7. Practice weapons safety.
Literally and figuratively. If you get romantic, keep your literal weapon away from the bump zone and keep your figurative weapon in a case. Practice muzzle awareness with both.
8. Keep the drama discreet.
Fighting between yourselves will most likely be noticed, probably even faster than the googly eyes when you started dating were. Keep it limited to emails and texts. If you can stand at attention while getting reamed by the drill instructor, you can keep a poker face while having an email fight.
9. Don’t let it affect the mission.
This is why it was outlawed in the first place. Don’t miss a recall or show up late to duty because you were busy in a CONNEX container.
10. Be careful who you tell stories to.
While you may want to brag about your forbidden love, one of those stories may get you in trouble if word gets around. Make sure you only tell buddies who can keep a secret.
Vessels from several nations are searching Southeast Asian waters for 10 missing U.S. sailors after an early morning collision Monday between the USS John S. and an oil tanker ripped a gaping hole in the destroyer’s hull.
The collision east of Singapore between the guided missile destroyer and the 183-meter (600-foot) Alnic MC was the second involving a ship from the U.S. Navy’s 7th Fleet in the Pacific in two months.
Vessels and aircraft from the U.S., Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia are searching for the missing sailors. Four other sailors were evacuated by a Singaporean navy helicopter to a hospital in the city-state for treatment of non-life threatening injuries, the Navy said. A fifth injured sailor did not require further medical attention.
The had been heading to Singapore on a routine port visit after conducting a sensitive freedom-of-navigation operation last week by sailing near one of China’s man-made islands in the South China Sea.
The Navy’s 7th Fleet said “significant damage” to the hull resulted in the flooding of adjacent compartments including crew berths, machinery and communications rooms. A damage control response prevented further flooding, it said.
The destroyer was damaged on its port side aft, or left rear, in the 5:24 a.m. collision about 4.5 nautical miles (8.3 kilometers) from Malaysia’s coast but sailed on to Singapore’s naval base under its own power. Malaysia’s Maritime Enforcement Agency said the area is at the start of a designated sea lane for ships sailing into the Singapore Strait, one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes.
A photo tweeted by Malaysian navy chief Ahmad Kamarulzaman Ahmad Badaruddin showed a large rupture in the side near the waterline. Janes, a defense industry publication, estimated the hull breach was 3 meters (10 feet) wide.
One of the injured sailors, Operations Specialist 2nd Class Navin Ramdhun, posted a Facebook message telling family and friends he was OK and awaiting surgery for an arm injury.
He told The Associated Press in a message that he couldn’t say what happened. “I was actually sleeping at that time. Not entirely sure.”
The Singapore government said no crew were injured on the Liberian-flagged Alnic, which sustained damage to a compartment at the front of the ship some 7 meters (23 feet) above its waterline. There were no reports of a chemical or oil spill.
Several safety violations were recorded for the tanker at its last port inspection in July.
Singapore sent tugboats and naval and coast guard vessels to search for the missing sailors and Indonesia said it sent two warships. Malaysia said three ships and five boats as well as aircraft from its navy and air force were helping with the search, and the USS America deployed Osprey aircraft and Seahawk helicopters.
There was no immediate explanation for the collision, and the Navy said an investigation would be conducted. Singapore, at the southernmost tip of the Malay Peninsula, is one of the world’s busiest ports and a U.S. ally, with its naval base regularly visited by American warships.
The collision was the second involving a ship from the Navy’s 7th Fleet in the Pacific in two months. Seven sailors died in June when the USS Fitzgerald and a container ship collided in waters off Japan.
The Fitzgerald’s captain was relieved of his command and other sailors were being punished after the Navy found poor seamanship and flaws in keeping watch contributed to the collision, the Navy announced last week. An investigation into how and why the Fitzgerald collided with the other ship was not finished, but enough details were known to take those actions, the Navy said.
The Greek owner of the tanker, Stealth Maritime Corp. S.A., replaced its website with a notice that says it is cooperating with the Maritime Port Authority of Singapore’s investigation and with “other responding agencies.” It says “thoughts and prayers are with the families of the missing U.S. Navy sailors.”
An official database for ports in Asia shows the Alnic was last inspected in the Chinese port of Dongying on July 29 and had one document deficiency, one fire safety deficiency and two safety of navigation problems.
The database doesn’t go into details and the problems were apparently not serious enough for the Liberian-flagged vessel to be detained by the port authority.
U.S. President Donald Trump expressed concern for the crew.
Trump returned to Washington on Sunday night from his New Jersey golf club. When reporters shouted questions to him about the , he responded, “That’s too bad.”
About two hours later, Trump tweeted that “thoughts and prayers” are with the sailors as search and rescue efforts continue.
The 154-meter (505-foot) destroyer is named after U.S. Sen. John father and grandfather, who were both U.S.admirals. It’s based at the 7th Fleet’s homeport of Yokosuka, Japan. It was commissioned in 1994 and has a crew of 23 officers, 24 chief petty officers and 291 enlisted sailors, according the Navy’s website.
said on Twitter that he and his wife, Cindy, are “keeping America’s sailors aboard the USS John S in our prayers tonight — appreciate the work of search rescue crews.”
Land Rover has always been known for their gorgeous cars dominating rugged terrain. Now, they’re looking to make an impact beyond the highways: in marine and coastal conservation. The company is currently sponsoring a “Defender Above & Beyond Service Awards” for nonprofits to compete for a fully-customized Defender to help their organization go “Above & Beyond.” Five nonprofits remain in the “Marine and Coastal Conservation” category, and only one is veteran-owned and operated: FORCE BLUE.
“Over the past year, there have been incredible displays of bravery and resilience,” Land Rover stated on their website. “As defenders and helpers in your own right, you have been pushed to your limits—only to discover how truly capable you are. We are inspired by your commitment to serving others. And we want to support you.
“For seven decades, Land Rover has been creating hard-working vehicles that are known worldwide for taking service workers on missions to help others. Now we are awarding seven customized Defender models to seven U.S. nonprofits that go Above & Beyond for their communities every day.
“We know that great things happen when a highly capable vehicle is driven by highly capable people.” FORCE BLUE is certainly run by capable people — Jim Ritterhoff and Rudy Reyes.
According to their website, the idea for FORCE BLUE grew out of a dive trip co-founders Ritterhoff and Reyes took to the Cayman Islands in Summer 2015 to meet up with their friend, Keith Sahm, General Manager of Sunset House, the oldest continuously operated dive resort in the Caribbean.
For Ritterhoff and Sahm, experienced recreational divers who’d been reef diving for decades, this was just another week in paradise. But for Reyes, a former Recon Marine who had struggled with PTS and depression since returning home from multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, the experience was nothing short of life changing.
“Here’s this trained combat diver,” Ritterhoff remembers. “One of the best, most highly skilled individuals you’ll ever encounter underwater. Yet he’s never seen a fish.”
For Reyes, like most SOF veterans, diving had never been about exploration or enjoyment. To him diving meant hauling 200 lbs. of gear underwater to destroy some potentially dangerous target in the dead of night. What Cayman offered was transformative.
Reyes immediately proposed scheduling another trip so that he could bring down more of his Recon brothers to experience what he just had. But after a few hours of discussion, the three men hatched a different plan. One that would include combat divers from all branches of service, along with marine scientists, conservationists and journalists.
“We saw it as the ultimate win-win,” says Sahm. “An opportunity to do some good, not only for our veterans, but for the planet as well.”
“By starting a program that isn’t just about helping veterans or just about helping the marine environment, but about helping both, we’re really uniting two worlds.” Says Ritterhoff. Hopefully, FORCE BLUE will encourage each to look at the other with a bit more empathy and understanding.”
Help FORCE BLUE continue to go Above & Beyond by voting once a day, every day until May 3, here.
In 1839, England went to war with China because it was upset that Chinese officials had shut down its drug trafficking racket and confiscated its dope.
Stating the historical record so plainly is shocking — but it’s true, and the consequences of that act are still being felt today.
The Qing Dynasty, founded by Manchurian clans in 1644, expanded China’s borders to their farthest reach, conquering Tibet, Taiwan and the Uighur Empire. However, the Qing then turned inward and isolationist, refusing to accept Western ambassadors because they were unwilling to proclaim the Qing Dynasty as supreme above their own heads of state.
Foreigners — even on trade ships — were prohibited entry into Chinese territory.
The exception to the rule was in Canton, the southeastern region centered on modern-day Guangdong Province, which adjoins Hong Kong and Macao. Foreigners were allowed to trade in the Thirteen Factories district in the city of Guangzhou, with payments made exclusively in silver.
The British gave the East India Company a monopoly on trade with China, and soon ships based in colonial India were vigorously exchanging silver for tea and porcelain. But the British had a limited supply of silver.
Starting in in the mid-1700s, the British began trading opium grown in India in exchange for silver from Chinese merchants. Opium — an addictive drug that today is refined into heroin — was illegal in England, but was used in Chinese traditional medicine.
However, recreational use was illegal and not widespread. That changed as the British began shipping in tons of the drug using a combination of commercial loopholes and outright smuggling to get around the ban.
Chinese officials taking their own cut abetted the practice. American ships carrying Turkish-grown opium joined in the narcotics bonanza in the early 1800s. Consumption of opium in China skyrocketed, as did profits.
The Daoguang Emperor became alarmed by the millions of drug addicts — and the flow of silver leaving China. As is often the case, the actions of a stubborn idealist brought the conflict to a head. In 1839 the newly appointed Imperial Commissioner Lin Zexu instituted laws banning opium throughout China.
He arrested 1,700 dealers, and seized the crates of the drug already in Chinese harbors and even on ships at sea. He then had them all destroyed. That amounted to 2.6 million pounds of opium thrown into the ocean. Lin even wrote a poem apologizing to the sea gods for the pollution.
Angry British traders got the British government to promise compensation for the lost drugs, but the treasury couldn’t afford it. War would resolve the debt.
But the first shots were fired when the Chinese objected to the British attacking one of their own merchant ships.
Chinese authorities had indicated they would allow trade to resume in non-opium goods. Lin Zexu even sent a letter to Queen Victoria pointing out that as England had a ban on the opium trade, they were justified in instituting one too.
It never reached her, but eventually did appear in the Sunday Times.
Instead, the Royal Navy established a blockade around Pearl Bay to protest the restriction of free trade … in drugs. Two British ships carrying cotton sought to run the blockade in November 1839. When the Royal Navy fired a warning shot at the second, The Royal Saxon, the Chinese sent a squadron of war junks and fire-rafts to escort the merchant.
HMS Volage‘s Captain, unwilling to tolerate the Chinese “intimidation,” fired a broadside at the Chinese ships. HMS Hyacinth joined in. One of the Chinese ships exploded and three more were sunk. Their return fire wounded one British sailor.
Seven months later, a full-scale expeditionary force of 44 British ships launched an invasion of Canton. The British had steam ships, heavy cannon, Congreve rockets and infantry equipped with rifles capable of accurate long range fire. Chinese state troops — “bannermen” — were still equipped with matchlocks accurate only up to 50 yards and a rate of fire of one round per minute.
Antiquated Chinese warships were swiftly destroyed by the Royal Navy. British ships sailed up the Zhujiang and Yangtze rivers, occupying Shanghai along the way and seizing tax-collection barges, strangling the Qing government’s finances. Chinese armies suffered defeat after defeat.
When the Qing sued for peace in 1842, the British could set their own terms. The Treaty of Nanjing stipulated that Hong Kong would become a British territory, and that China would be forced to establish five treaty ports in which British traders could trade anything they wanted with anybody they wanted to. A later treaty forced the Chinese to formally recognize the British as equals and grant their traders favored status.
More war, more opium
Imperialism was on the upswing by the mid-1800s. France muscled into the treaty port business as well in 1843. The British soon wanted even more concessions from China — unrestricted trade at any port, embassies in Beijing and an end to bans on selling opium in the Chinese mainland.
One tactic the British used to further their influence was registering the ships of Chinese traders they dealt with as British ships.
The pretext for the second Opium War is comical in its absurdity. In October 1856, Chinese authorities seized a former pirate ship, the Arrow, with a Chinese crew and with an expired British registration. The captain told British authorities that the Chinese police had taken down the flag of a British ship.
The British demanded the Chinese governor release the crew. When only nine of the 14 returned, the British began a bombardment of the Chinese forts around Canton and eventually blasted open the city walls.
British Liberals, under William Gladstone, were upset at the rapid escalation and protested fighting a new war for the sake of the opium trade in parliament. However, they lost seats in an election to the Tories under Lord Palmerston. He secured the support needed to prosecute the war.
China was in no position to fight back, as it was then embroiled in the devastating Taiping Rebellion, a peasant uprising led by a failed civil-service examinee claiming to be the brother of Jesus Christ. The rebels had nearly seized Beijing and still controlled much of the country.
Once again, the Royal Navy demolished its Chinese opponents, sinking 23 junks in the opening engagement near Hong Kong and seizing Guangzhou. Over the next three years, British ships worked their way up the river, capturing several Chinese forts through a combination of naval bombardment and amphibious assault.
France joined in the war — its excuse was the execution of a French missionary who had defied the ban on foreigners in Guangxi province. Even the United States became briefly involved after a Chinese fort took pot shots at long distance at an American ship.
In the Battle of the Pearl River Forts, a U.S. Navy a force of three ships and 287 sailors and marines took four forts by storm, capturing 176 cannons and fighting off a counterattack of 3,000 Chinese infantry. The United States remained officially neutral.
Russia did not join in the fighting, but used the war to pressure China into ceding a large chunk of its northeastern territory, including the present-day city of Vladivostok.
When foreign envoys drew up the next treaty in 1858 the terms, were even more crushing to the Qing Dynasty’s authority. Ten more cities were designated as treaty ports, foreigners would have free access to the Yangtze river and the Chinese mainland, and Beijing would open embassies to England, France and Russia.
The Xianfeng Emperor at first agreed to the treaty, but then changed his mind, sending Mongolian general Sengge Rinchen to man the Taku Forts on the waterway leading to Beijing. The Chinese repelled a British attempt to take the forts by sea in June 1859, sinking four British ships. A year later, an overland assault by 11,000 British and 6,700 French troops succeeded.
When a British diplomatic mission came to insist on adherence to the treaty, the Chinese took the envoy hostage, and tortured many in the delegation to death. The British High Commissioner of Chinese Affairs, Lord Elgar, decided to assert dominance and sent the army into Beijing.
British and French rifles gunned down 10,000 charging Mongolian cavalrymen at the Battle of Eight Mile Bridge, leaving Beijing defenseless. Emperor Xianfeng fled. In order to wound the Emperor’s “pride as well as his feeling” in the words of Lord Elgar, British and French troops looted and destroyed the historic Summer Palace.
The new revised treaty imposed on China legalized both Christianity and opium, and added Tianjin — the major city close to Beijing — to the list of treaty ports. It allowed British ships to transport Chinese indentured laborers to the United States, and fined the Chinese government eight million silver dollars in indemnities.
The Western presence in China became so ubiquitous, and so widely detested, that an anti-Western popular revolt, the Boxer Rebellion, broke out in 1899. The hapless Qing Dynasty, under the stewardship of Dowager Empress Cixi, first tried to clamp down on the violence before throwing its support behind it — just in time for a multi-national military force of U.S., Russian, German, Austrian, Italian, French, Japanese and British troops to arrive and put down the rebellion.
It then spent an entire year looting Beijing, Tianjin and the surrounding countryside in reprisal.
‘Century of Humiliation’
It’s hard to over-emphasize the impact of the Opium Wars on modern China. Domestically, it’s led to the ultimate collapse of the centuries-old Qing Dynasty, and with it more than two millennia of dynastic rule. It convinced China that it had to modernize and industrialize.
Today, the First Opium War is taught in Chinese schools as being the beginning of the “Century of Humiliation” — the end of that “century” coming in 1949 with the reunification of China under Mao. While Americans are routinely assured they are exceptional and the greatest country on Earth by their politicians, Chinese schools teach students that their country was humiliated by greedy and technologically superior Western imperialists.
The Opium Wars made it clear China had fallen gravely behind the West — not just militarily, but economically and politically. Every Chinese government since — even the ill-fated Qing Dynasty, which began the “Self-Strengthening Movement” after the Second Opium War — has made modernization an explicit goal, citing the need to catch up with the West.
The Japanese, observing events in China, instituted the same discourse and modernized more rapidly than China did during the Meiji Restoration.
Mainland Chinese citizens still frequently measure China in comparison to Western countries. Economic and quality of life issues are by far their main concern. But state media also holds military parity as a goal.
I once saw a news program on Chinese public television boasting about China’s new aircraft carrier Liaoning— before comparing it to an American carrier. “They’re saying ours is still a lot smaller,” a high school student pointed out to me. “And we have only one.”
Through most of Chinese history, China’s main threat came from nomadic horse-riding tribes along its long northern border. Even in the Cold War, hostility with the Soviet Union made its Mongolian border a security hot spot. But the Opium Wars — and even worse, the Japanese invasion in 1937 — demonstrated how China was vulnerable to naval power along its Pacific coast.
China’s aggressive naval expansion in the South China Sea can be seen as the acts of a nation that has succumbed repeatedly to naval invasions — and wishes to claims dominance of its side of the Pacific in the 21st century.
The history with opium also has led China to adopt a particularly harsh anti-narcotics policy with the death penalty applicable even to mid-level traffickers. Drug-trafficking and organized crime remain a problem, however. The explosion of celebrity culture in China has also led to punitive crackdowns on those caught partaking in “decadent lifestyles,” leading to prominent campaigns of public shaming.
For example, in 2014 police arrested Jaycee Chan, son of Jackie Chan, for possessing 100 grams of marijuana. His father stated he wouldn’t plead for his son to avoid imprisonment.
Past history does not always determine future actions. Chinese sentiments toward the United Kingdom today are generally positive despite the Opium Wars. The escalating military confrontation over the South China Sea is a reality of our times, but that doesn’t mean China’s leaders will forever be committed to a strategy of expansion and confrontation.
Nonetheless, fostering better relations requires that we understand how China’s current foreign policy has it roots in past encounters with the West.
With the advent of “net-centric” warfare — highly-integrated and extremely complex next-generation aircraft, warships, and even infantry soldier systems — the US military has invested a good deal of effort into finding something that eases the workload and burden on troops tasked with maintaining these processes and systems, and fixes issues as they appear.
SparkCognition, a startup in Texas with a rapidly growing funding base and ties with big-name defense contractors like Boeing, aims to put a speedy end to this search with the development of an artificial intelligence “fixer” with a broad range of functions, from diagnosing complex issues with military hardware to preventing ships from colliding at sea.
Much like everybody’s favorite Star Wars robot mechanic, R2D2, this new AI system will be able to function on its own, learning the mechanical ins and outs of warships, fighter jets and everything in-between. When something goes wrong — a glitch, a software failure, or a hardware malfunction — the AI can pinpoint the exact problem, then direct maintainers and technicians on solving the issue at hand.
Pilots, don’t get your hopes up just yet… the AI probably won’t look anything like the beeping white and blue barrel on wheels from Star Wars, nor will it come with a cattle prod that can somehow do anything from fixing a busted spaceship to picking the lock on a door. And it definitely won’t slot into a compartment behind the cockpit of your aircraft to keep you company on extended sorties.
Instead, it’ll likely be a series of servers and computers that stream information from sensors planted at critical locations around vehicles and other machines, keeping a watchful eye out for any red alerts or potential causes for concern, and reporting it back to a centralized system overseen by a maintenance team.
The US Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps will soon begin fully fielding a far-less involved diagnostics system for the F-35 Lightning II stealth strike fighter known as the Autonomic Logistics Information System. ALIS, for short, is designed to give ground crews and support personnel a wide range of metrics and data on the functionality of the F-35.
If new parts are needed, or something is damaged, inoperable, etc., ALIS lets support crew know quickly and efficiently in order to keep the F-35 out of the hangars and in the skies.
SparkCognition hopes that they can also put their AI to sea with the Navy’s surface warfare fleet, especially aboard Littoral Combat Ships which have been experiencing a plethora of engineering troubles over the past few years. By observing and storing information on LCS powerplants, the AI would be able to accurately predict the failure of an engine component before it even happens, allowing for preventative maintenance to keep the ships combat-ready and deployable.
Self-diagnosing and healing systems have already been predicted as an integral part of the future of military aviation, especially as the Air Force and Navy both look towards designing and developing a 6th generation fighter to begin replacing its current air superiority fleet some 15 to 20 years down the road.
By fielding AI systems and hardware which allow an aircraft to fix itself or re-optimize its configuration while in-flight after sustaining damage, fighters and other types with the technology built-in can remain on mission longer, or can promise a safe return of the pilots and other aircrew in the event that the aircraft needs to return to base. While we’re a ways off from these ultra-advanced systems, however, SparkCognition’s AI is still fairly achievable within the next five to seven years.
Let’s just hope that, should the DoD decide to pick up SparkCognition’s AI, it stays more like R2D2 and doesn’t turn into something along the lines of Skynet from the Terminator movies.
John Browning’s most famous creation, at least in the United States, is the ubiquitous Model 1911. It’s everywhere, and probably within reach of well more than a few people reading this article. The 1911’s active service life in military organizations is pretty much over. However, another of Browning’s continues to serve — the Model 1919 Machine Gun.
The Model 1919 was essentially an air-cooled Model 1917. It was chambered in the powerful and effective .30-06 round, modernized following extensive ballistic testing in the post-World War I years. Unlike most ground-mounted WWI-era machine guns, the 1919 was air cooled, had a heavier barrel, and was easier to maintain under combat conditions than its water-cooled cousins.
It didn’t require all the accouterments of a water-cooled gun, such as a bulky water jacket, water, and a condensing can. The 1919 was originally fed by a cloth belt and designed for vehicles—or a very solid (and heavy) tripod. It had a reasonable rate of fire at 500 rounds per minute on average. By WWII, it was the standard U.S. light machine gun, serving alongside Browning’s M1917 and the legendary Browning M2 HMG.
Like most of Browning’s designs, the 1919 was very reliable for the day and age in which it was produced (insert Glock joke here). It was also apparent early on that the 1919 was versatile. By the end of WWII, it was mounted on tanks, in aircraft, and found in various calibers, including .303 British. It served in virtually every Allied army, and if you dig hard enough, you can even find pictures of enemy troops using captured 1919s. It was very effective against personnel, and when loaded with armor-piercing ammunition, it was also effective against thin-skinned armored vehicles.
In the air, the modified M1919 was called the ANM2. This variant was specifically modified for aerial warfare, boasting a blistering rate of fire at 1,200-plus rpm. The improvements in aircraft technology and design during the period meant rifle-caliber machine guns were only effective when their throw weight could be boosted by increased rates of fire, and by mounting anywhere from two to six of the guns. Feeding them with the most destructive type of ammunition available, generally one form or another of API-T (Armor Piercing Incendiary Tracer), helped.
While the ANM2 served valiantly, it was not as effective as its Browning M2 brethren as an anti-aircraft machine gun. In the decade before WWII, fighter aircraft were increasingly fitted with heavier machine guns, generally .50 BMG Browning variants in the U.S., or 20mm (or larger) cannons in Europe. It wasn’t the fault of the ANM2 that it was less effective against aircraft; it was the fault of the ordnance officers who decided to mount it in aircraft in the first place.
In the infantry role, the M1919 was successful within its limitations. Keep in mind the M1919 was designed in an era when the belt-fed machine gun was essentially a static weapon. The exception to this trend at the time was the MG08/15, which was an intentional departure designed specifically to make the infantry machine gun more portable and useful. By WWII, the MG08/15 concept (a highly mobile, portable general-purpose machine gun [GPMG]) evolved into the MG34 and eventually the MG42 in German service. This is where the M1919’s combat failings became apparent.
Although accurate, reliable, and possessing a good sustainable rate of fire, it was clumsy and awkward on a mobile battlefield compared to the MG34 and MG42. The tripod was large and unwieldy, and it was not always easy to emplace. U.S. troops frequently had to improvise with the 1919, more or less propping it up against or on the WWII equivalent of “a rock or something” when the tripod simply wouldn’t work under the conditions.
As a result, the M1919A6 was developed. This variant added a buttstock and a bipod to the M1919 in attempt to turn it into a light machine gun, more like the MG34 or MG42. However, it was still about a pound heavier than the standard M1919 without the tripod, weighing in at 32 pounds. It was an improvised solution akin to adding a bipod and a buttstock to a boulder. It was still awkward; although it was a bit less unwieldy and more stable, it appeared far too late in the war to have much of an impact.
Again, don’t blame the gun, blame the ordnance weenies.
Until the M60 (a less-than-fantastic GPMG, but a product of the “made here” school of ordnance development) was made widely available during the Vietnam War, the U.S. infantry were saddled with the M1919 and M1919A6 combination.
As a vehicle-mounted machine gun, the 1919 excelled. As a matter of fact, it does such a good job it’s still in service in many places across the globe. It’s been modernized, now using disintegrating link belts instead of old-fashioned cloth belts. Most 1919s still in service were converted to 7.62 NATO, as well, to ease the strain on logistics. Notably, however, one 1919 variant, the M37 Coaxial MG, was somewhat notoriously problematic, again mostly because some people just can’t resist fixing something that works.
There have been some interesting variants of the 1919 over the years. Several ANM2s were converted into a variant called the Stinger. The Stinger was basically a scavenged aircraft-mounted gun with a bipod, carry handle, and buttstock. The extremely high rate of fire was welcomed (for the six or so guns which appear to have actually made it into combat), but the Stinger only served in limited numbers. Its primary claim to fame was being the weapon “Terrible” Tony Stein used during the combat action that earned him a Medal of Honor on Iwo Jima.
If you ever get a chance to fire a ground-mounted M1919, we highly recommend you do so. As it was originally designed, it’s accurate, reliable, and very easy to shoot. As a machine gun for a fixed position, it can easily hold its own against any gun of its era. It’s easy to manipulate, strip, and clean, and it’s very robust in its most common and most current variant, the 1919A4. However, remember it’s almost a 100-year-old design; don’t expect it to perform like a modern machine gun.
A military K-9 injured in a bomb explosion in Afghanistan along with his military police officer partner now has a lot of support after a photo of the dog wearing a Purple Heart Medal in a hospital in Germany has gone viral, the Killeen Daily Herald reports.
Spc. Andrew Brown, 22, and his military dog, Rocky, were searching a structure for explosive materials in southern Afghanistan’s Helmand Province Dec. 3 when the bomb exploded, the Texas newspaper reported Friday.
“They were working with Special Operations Forces in an effort to identify explosive materials,” Army spokesman Sgt. Michal Garrett told the paper.
Brown and Rocky survived the blast and were taken to a military hospital in Germany. There, a photo was taken of Rocky wearing the Purple Heart and posted on the Facebook page of Fort Hood’s 89th Military Police Brigade. Brown is assigned to the brigade.
The photo had more than 89,000 likes, 118,000 shares and more than 9,500 comments as of Sunday morning.
“The Army typically does not process awards for our working dogs the same way we do for our other soldiers,” Garrett told the Daily Herald. “The Purple Heart in the photo was placed on Rocky as a sign of respect and solidarity between him and Brown during their recovery.”
Two days ago the brigade posted another photo of Brown and Rocky in a hospital room on Facebook that said, “They are both very thankful for your thoughts and prayers and are in the process of heading back home.
The post said Brown had arrived earlier Friday at Walter Reed Army Medical Center Hospital in Washington where he was met by his waiting family.
The Daily Herald reported that Brown, of Eliot, Maine, suffered non-life threatening injuries and will undergo a series of tests for traumatic brain injury. The tests are routine for soldiers injured by roadside bombs.
Rocky is expected to return to Fort Hood in the coming weeks. The canine suffered shrapnel wounds and a broken leg.