U.S. Airman hugs his daughter goodbye. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Giovanni Sims).
The Secure Families Initiative has produced a compelling 9/11 anniversary video that highlights stories from U.S. military families about what the last 20 years of wartime operational tempo have looked like on the homefront. The video features three story-tellers: one surviving Special Forces spouse, and the spouse and child of a 20-year active-duty Marine. Behind-the-scenes interviews were conducted to include the experience of caregivers and families whose service members died by suicide as well. We hope these stories remind viewers to never forget the hidden scars this community will continue to live with for years to come, and to inform our country’s decisions over war and peace moving forward.
We are a nonpartisan group of proud military spouses, united by our love of country and commitment to service. We understand better than anyone the consequences that decisions over war and peace have here on the homefront. We are ready to make our voices heard.
Too often, military service is leveraged on the political stage to push for aggressive, hawkish policies. Not only is this the wrong direction for U.S. foreign policy, but it does not accurately reflect the sentiment of many of us in the military community.
Sending our troops into protracted conflicts is one of the exacerbating factors that drive many of the unique challenges facing our troops. Veterans suffer from a suicide rate that is double the civilian average. Frequent deployments and a wartime operational tempo mean that care-giving responsibilities fall disproportionately on spouses and partners. Military children are more likely than their peers to receive a mental health diagnosis and suffer from higher levels of stress and anxiety.
No amount of Department of Defense-sponsored family support programming can solve these problems: we must instead focus on tackling the root causes of these issues. We need to end these forever wars and reprioritize diplomacy as our foreign policy tool of first resort.
The armed forces of the United States are just over 200 years old and have been involved in at least 318 military operations, according the the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. That number doesn’t count humanitarian missions or CIA operations.
So it may surprise you that America has only been at war 11 times.
Article I, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution gives the power to declare war exclusively to the Congress, without describing exactly how that should be done. Congress figured it out by June 17, 1812 when it gave its first authorization for war, against Great Britain.
The only 11 Congressional declarations of war were:
Great Britain, 1812
That’s not to say all the other engagements were illegal or a violation of the Constitution. There were other times the Congress authorized funds for military actions and later, to support United Nations Security Council resolutions. It just means those other engagements weren’t officially a “war.”
There’s a distinct difference between a war declaration and an authorization of military force. The most important is that an official state of war triggers a new set of domestic laws, like giving the President the power to take over businesses and transportation systems, detaining foreign nationals, warrantless domestic spying, and the power to use natural resources on public lands. The authorization of force doesn’t give the President these powers.
The current way the President as Commander-In-Chief uses the military is defined by the War Powers Resolution of 1973. It requires the President to notify Congress within 48 hours of committing armed forces to military action and forbids them from remaining for more than 60 days, with a further 30-day withdrawal period, without an authorization of the use of military force or a declaration of war. Congress passed the War Powers Resolution to reign in President Nixon’s use of the military, even overriding his veto to pass the law.
Military representatives from Morocco and the United States held an opening ceremony Feb. 27 for the Flintlock 2017 exercise at the Tifnit training base [in Morocco], marking another milestone in a relationship between their nations that began in the 1700s.
More than 2,000 military personnel from 24 African and Western nations are participating in the 10th annual iteration of the exercise, which continues until March 16 across seven African host nations.
The exercise, sponsored by U.S. Africa Command, strengthens security institutions, promotes multilateral sharing of information and develops interoperability among counterterrorism partners from across Africa’s Sahara region.
Deep U.S.-Morocco Roots
African partner special operations forces and U.S. Special Operations Command Africa jointly plan and execute the exercise, highlighting the sense of shared purpose across the continent as partners strengthen themselves and their regional network against violent extremists. For Morocco and the United States, the roots run deep in this partnership.
Morocco formally recognized the United States by signing a treaty of peace and friendship in 1786 between U.S. Minister Thomas Barclay and the Sultan of Morocco, Sidi Muhammad, in Marrakesh, according to the U.S. State Department website. The relationship matured with the naming of James Simpson as the first American consul in 1797 in Tangier.
Sultan Mawlay Suleiman gifted the consulate a building and grounds to use, marking the first property owned by the U.S. government on foreign shores.
In all of American history, no other country has maintained its treaty relationship with America for as long as Morocco.
Flintlock 2017 is the most recent in a long line of actions and expressions of solidarity between the two nations.
“Morocco plays a key leadership role in Africa and we are honored by the continued partnership and friendship between our two countries. We look forward to working with you over the next few weeks,” Morocco’s special operations command exercise instructor said.
‘A Golden Opportunity’
Brig. Gen. Mohammed Benlouali, operations commander for Morocco’s Southern Zone, delivered remarks on behalf of the Moroccan Royal Armed Forces.
“These types of activities, as well as other joint combined Moroccan-American exercises, are a golden opportunity to further enhance the ties of military cooperation between our two countries,” he said. “We will stand ready and willing to take maximum benefit from this period of training to further promote our knowledge and know-how in the field of special forces,” he said.
Marines from Marine Corps Forces, Special Operations Command are training alongside their Moroccan peers, refining tactics, techniques, and procedures across multiple full-mission profiles. The two forces specifically are training on small-unit special operations forces tactics, weapons training and fire support, lifesaving first aid and trauma care, command and control, and force protection.
The shared training experiences will develop the two partners’ ability to plan, coordinate, and operate as an integrated team and will strengthen the bond between the two countries. The Moroccan Royal Armed Forces have contributed to United Nations peacekeeping missions around the world and provide a center of stability and security across the Sahel region.
Countering the threat posed by violent extremist organizations around the world demands proficiency, coordination and enhanced interoperability. While regional security is the main focus of Flintlock 2017, the lessons learned and investments in relationships will allow participants to share the burdens of managing conflicts and improve their ability to provide security solutions that meet threats at their origin, exercise officials said.
As such, they can not only strike within six feet of their aim point thanks to their precision guidance (an optional low-cost laser seeker will give the rounds the ability to engage a moving target), they can also travel over 12 miles when fired from a baseline mortar like the M120 120mm mortar or the M252 81mm mortar.
Now, imagine if these were dropped from a UAV from, say, 25,000 feet, as opposed to being fired by a mortar on the ground. During a presentation at the 2017 Armament System Forum in Fredericksburg, Virginia, hosted by the National Defense Industrial Association, Alan Perkins of UTC Aerospace Systems discussed how these mortars could be used on UAVs like the MQ-1 Predator and the MQ-9 Reaper instead of the usual AGM-114 Hellfire missile.
The reason: The mortar rounds will have long range – in excess of 30 miles – when dropped from a UAV’s normal altitude. Furthermore their warheads are much smaller than the Hellfire’s. The 120mm mortar’s M57 round has about four and a half pounds of high explosive. Compare that to the 20-pound warhead on a Hellfire. That greatly reduces collateral damage, but when a 120mm mortar round lands six feet away from some ISIS terrorists, it still ruins their day.
In short, the old way of hitting ground targets for airplanes has become new again.
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.
The ruling by a tribunal in The Hague against China’s claims in the South China Sea has brought what has to be the world’s hottest maritime flashpoint to the headlines. The People’s Republic of China (PRC), Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei, the Philippines, and the Republic of China all have claims of one sort or another.
Japan and South Korea both have huge stakes in the South China Sea. Japan has its own territorial dispute with the PRC (over the Senkaku Islands), while South Korea shares a peninsula with North Korea, a nation that is not exactly the most… rational actor on the world stage, and which counts the PRC as one of its friends, insofar as it is possible for Kim Jong-Un to have friends. In addition, the South China Sea is the body of water that oil tankers have to pass through in order to deliver their cargo to those countries. Japan, as students of history will remember, has been very sensitive to a threat to its access to oil imports.
To say that the tribunal’s ruling earlier this week was unfavorable to the PRC is an understatement. The 501-page ruling in favor of the Philippines not only declared the PRC’s “nine-dash line” invalid, but it also condemned the construction of the artificial island on Mischief Reef, and the PRC’s interference with Filipino fishermen near Scarborough Shoal.
That said, the tribunal has no means to enforce the ruling, one that the PRC has rejected out of hand. The recent commissioning of the Yinchuan, the latest Lyuang III-class destroyer, means that the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) has 18 modern destroyers (four Luyang III, six Luyang II, two Luyang I, two Luzhou class, and four Sovremennyy-class – with eight Lyuang III and at least one new Type 55 class destroyer under construction). With the exception of the Republic of China, none of the other countries with claims in the South China Sea have destroyers, and Taiwan only has four Kidd-class destroyers. The PLAN and People’s Liberation Army Air Force also have substantial air assets in the region, including H-6 bombers, J-11, J-15, J-10, Su-30MKK, J-16, and JH-7 fighters.
While the Philippines have won their case, it now remains a very open question as to whether or not that win will matter. The PRC is considering establishing an Air Defense Identification Zone, which allows them to impose conditions on aircraft. Furthermore, it can back up those requirements by launching fighters to intercept. A U.S. Navy EP-3E Aries II electronic surveillance aircraft had a close call this past May with a J-11 – hearkening back to when a J-8 “Finback” collided with another EP-3E fifteen years earlier, and in 2014, a P-8 Poseidon saw a J-11 come within 20 feet.
More ominously, hours before the ruling, a Vietnamese fishing boat was sunk, and the PRC obstructed rescue efforts for several hours. A similar incident could well be the spark that touches off a massive air and naval free-for-all in the South China Sea.
Warplanes carried out a suspected toxic gas attack that killed at least 35 people including several children in a rebel-held town in northwestern Syria on April 4, opposition groups and a monitoring group said.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said those killed in the town of Khan Sheikhun, in Idlib province, had died from the effects of the gas, adding that dozens more suffered respiratory problems and other symptoms.
The Britain-based monitoring group was unable to confirm the nature of the substance, and said it was unclear if the planes involved in the attack were Syrian or those of government ally Russia.
The reported gas attack comes at the start of a two-day conference on Syria’s future hosted in Brussels by the European Union and the United Nations.
The Observatory said medical sources in the town reported symptoms among the affected including fainting, vomiting, and foaming at the mouth.
The victims were mostly civilians, it said, and included at least nine children.
The pro-opposition Edlib Media Centre (EMC) posted a large number of photographs of people receiving treatment, as well as images showing what appeared to be the bodies of at least seven children in the back of a pick-up truck.
Photographs circulated by activists showed members of the volunteer White Helmets rescue group using hoses to wash down the injured, as well as at least two men with white foam around their mouths.
The Syrian National Coalition, an alliance of opposition groups whose leaders live in exile, accused President Bashar al-Assad‘s government of carrying out the gas attack and demanded a UN investigation.
“The National Coalition demands the Security Council convene an emergency session… to open an immediate investigation and take the necessary measures to ensure the officials, perpetrators, and supporters are held accountable,” the body said in a statement.
Idlib province is largely controlled by an alliance of rebels including the Fateh al- Sham Front, a former al Qaeda affiliate previously known as the al- Nusra Front.
It is regularly targeted in strikes by the regime, as well as Russian warplanes, and has also been hit by the U.S.-led coalition fighting the Islamic State group, usually targeting jihadists.
Syria’s government officially joined the Chemical Weapons Convention and turned over its chemical arsenal in 2013, as part of a deal to avert U.S. military action.
But there have been repeated allegations of chemical weapons use by the government since then, with a UN-led investigation pointing the finger at the regime for at least three chlorine attacks in 2014 and 2015.
The government denies the use of chemical weapons and has in turn accused rebels of using banned weapons.
The attack on April 4 comes only days after forces loyal to Assad were accused of using chemical weapons in a counter-offensive in neighboring Hama province.
U.S. Army Soldiers clean the outside of a CH-47 Chinook during detail aircraft decontamination training near Erbil, Iraq, Mar. 1, 2017. This training is part of the overall Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve building partner capacity by training and improving the capability of partnered forces fighting ISIS in Iraq and Syria. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Josephine Carlson)
On March 30, air strikes on several areas in the north of Hama province left around 50 people suffering respiratory problems, according to the Observatory, which could not confirm the cause of the symptoms.
The monitor relies on a network of sources inside Syria for its information, and says it determines whose planes carry out raids according to type, location, flight patterns, and munitions used.
More than 320,000 people have been killed in Syria since the conflict began in March 2011 with anti-government protests.
The April 4 gathering in Brussels has been billed as a follow-up to a donors’ conference last year in London, which raised about $11 billion for humanitarian aid programs in the devastated country.
According to a report from DefenseTech,org, the MiG-35 “Fulcrum F” is slated to make its big debut at the MAKS international air show in Russia in July 2017.
The plane has been in development since 2007, when an initial prototype flew at an air show in Bangalore, India. MiG claims that this fighter has also been developed for very austere operation conditions.
“It can take off from a very short lane, take off and land on unprepared airfields, and can be stored without a hangar for a period of a few months,” MiG publicist Anastasia Kravchenko said through an interpreter. “And it’s important and we consider this to be somewhat of a record, if needed, the engines of the MiG-35 could be swapped in the conditions of active operations within the framework of 58 minutes.”
The MiG-35 is an evolution of the MiG-29, a lightweight multi-role fighter that has been in service since 1983 with the Russians. Photos released by MiG show that the MiG-35 has eight under-wing hardpoints for air-to-air missiles, air-to-surface missiles, bombs, rockets, and other ordnance.
By comparison, MilitaryFactory.com notes that the MiG-29 has six under-wing hardpoints. The MiG-29 was widely exported, and notably saw combat with Iraq, Syria, Eritrea, and Yugoslavia. Other countries that acquire the MiG-29 include Peru, India, North Korea, Algeria, Cuba, and Myanmar.
MilitaryFactory.com reports that the MiG-35 has a top speed of 1,491 miles per hour, can fly up to 1,243 miles, and can climb 65,000 feet in a minute. The MiG-35 has been ordered by Egypt in addition to the Russian Air Force, with China, Peru, and Vietnam all rumored to be potential export customers.
You can see what the hype is about in the video below.
A major defense corporation has announced that their RQ-4 Global Hawk drone has successfully flown test missions carrying the Optical Bar Camera broad-area synoptic sensor, an imaging device originally deployed on the U-2 Dragon Lady spy plane.
Northrup Grumman has been testing the RQ-4 with new sensors in an attempt increase the types of missions for which the aircraft can be deployed. The SYERS-2 intelligence gathering sensor, another item commonly deployed on U-2 missions. The SYERS-2 collects multiple sources of energy and can detect teams burying explosives or dismounts on the move, even from high altitude.
Adding U-2 equipment to the Global Hawk makes a lot of sense because the two aircraft are both focused on high-altitude, long-endurance surveillance. The drone can fly for 30 or more hours on a mission with ground-based pilots and sensor operators switching control in shifts.
With the new cameras, the RQ-4 could become an even more valuable eye in the sky for the Air Force. And it might allow the Global Hawk to take over some of the U-2’s missions at a fraction of the cost.
“The successful flight of the Optical Bar Camera is another significant step in the evolution of Global Hawk,” said Global Hawk’s Northrup Grumman Program Manager, Mick Jaggers. “It’s the result of our focus on increasing capability, reducing sustainment costs and fielding the open mission systems architecture that enables faster integration of cutting edge sensors at lower costs.”
Northrup Grumman is also looking at testing the MS-177 multi-spectral sensor on the RQ-4. The MS-177 has similar imaging capabilities to the SYERS-2B and is often deployed on the E-8C Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System, the JSTARS.
The MS-177 does provide a significant advantage over the SYERS-2B. While the SYERS is a “wet-film” camera that requires film processing before the image can be analyzed, the MS-177 uses an electro-optical sensor, which allows digital files to be sent to the ground station while the drone is still in flight.
In the event World War III broke out between the Soviet Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Sweden intended to remain neutral.
After all, they’d managed to sit out World Wars I and II.
But there’s also a growing recognition that their neutrality would not be respected. A 2015 New York Times report noted that a Russian submarine sank in Swedish waters in 1916 after colliding with a Swedish vessel. In the 1980s, there were also a number of incidents, the most notorious being “Whiskey on the Rocks.” According to WarHistoryOnline.com, a Soviet Whiskey-class diesel-electric submarine ran aground off the Swedish coast in 1981, prompting a standoff between Swedish and Soviet forces that included scrambling fighters armed with anti-ship missiles.
The Soviets knew Sweden could threaten their northern flank, and the Swedes knew that they may well have to fight the Soviet Union, even though they were neutral. Should a NATO-Warsaw Pact war break out, the Swedes made contingency plans to be able to deploy their Air Force, and keep fighting in the event the Soviets attacked.
Lawyers for a naval officer who broadcasts taps nightly from speakers outside his home in tribute to the military told a Pennsylvania borough council president to expect legal action if officials don’t stop trying to restrict the practice.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania said in a letter on July 5 that a cease-and-desist order against Lt. Cmdr. Josh Corney is unconstitutional.
Corney is complying with a demand from the borough last month that he play taps on Sundays and certain holidays only, but he wants that rule overturned.
“When the borough singles out Lt. Cmdr. Corney’s ‘Taps’ performances on private property for censorship as a ‘nuisance,’ while allowing other similarly loud or louder, longer-lasting religious or commercial musical performances on private property to continue, it is engaging in content-based discrimination,” his lawyers wrote.
The lawyers said they will seek a federal injunction if the borough doesn’t reverse itself by July 7. Messages seeking comment weren’t returned by the council president, Doug Young, or by the borough’s solicitor.
Corney, 38, on active duty and stationed in Maryland, has been deployed overseas eight times, including to Iraq and Afghanistan. He said it was seeing Americans killed while serving their country that inspired his musical gesture.
“I thought to myself and prayed to God that if he brought me home, I would do something to remember the sacrifices that our men and women made for myself, my family, and my country,” he said.
After moving into a home on 5 acres in Glen Rock, a town of about 2,000 residents where he lived as a boy, he made the taps broadcast his first priority in April 2015, setting up three amplified speakers in the front of the house. He picked a slower, hymn-like 57-second version of the tune, which is traditionally played at the end of the day.
At first, he had to put on a CD every night, but eventually established a fully automated system that was timed for 7:57 p.m., coinciding with bedtime for his six young children and ending just before a nearby church’s bells chimed.
He says it’s sometimes possible to hear the recording in the middle of town, about a quarter-mile away, but not always.
“A nearby church is permitted to play amplified recordings of hymns twice a day, church bells are allowed to peal at regular intervals, and a local restaurant has been granted permission to amplify its live outdoor musical performances,” Corney’s lawyers wrote to Young.
They said other common noises louder than Corney’s taps include lawnmowers, hedge trimmers, leaf blowers, chainsaws, and “the exuberant cries of children playing a raucous game.”
Early in 2016, Corney was told the borough had received a complaint, which he tried to work out with the neighbor who had lodged it.
Others rallied behind Corney’s efforts after a second complaint was made in November.
He said he made more adjustments by lowering the volume and redirecting the speakers, but that didn’t satisfy a neighboring family’s complaints.
Then, on June 23, the borough wrote him to say his broadcast of taps violated its nuisance ordinance, and told him to limit it to Sundays and a limited number of “flag” holidays.
Air-to-air dogfights have been lacking in recent years.
In one sense it is a good thing – it means the United States has been able to take control of the air very quickly. But American pilots still need to be able to practice – and not everyone can get to Red Flag or the Navy’s equivalents.
Recently the Air Force has been using Northrop T-38 Talons to help alleviate the problem. The T-38 Talon is a supersonic trainer that served as the basis for the F-5 “Freedom Fighter” and the F-5E/F Tiger. The F-5s were light, day-time fighters that were very maneuverable, and they have served as Navy and Marine Corps aggressors for the long time.
The Air Force has been using T-38s to supplement F-16s at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada and at Eielson Air Force Base in Alaska.
Aggressor training, developed after the Ault Report showed shortcomings in naval aviation, has helped keep American airmen good, and emerged in the late stages of the Vietnam War. The famous “Top Gun” school, in particular, had a marked effect, sending kill ratios skyrocketing to over 13:1.
The other reason is that some of the private companies can offer planes beyond the T-38 for these missions. A 2016 report from DefenseOne.com noted that one company has a mix of F-21 Kfirs, A-4 Skyhawks, Hawker Hunters, and L-39 Albatross jets. Among the companies getting into the mix is Textron, which makes the Textron AirLand Scorpion.
The final reason. though, maybe the most important.
That is because turning the aggressor training over to contractors could make them even tougher opponents for Air Force and Navy pilots. While many an Air Force pilot has non-flying billets at various points in their career, contractors will be able to just keep flying and dogfighting. This will make the military pilots they face off against sweat more, but it may prove the wisdom behind one old saying: The more you sweat in training, the less you bleed in war.
Left, Hanns Scharff, wikimedia commons; Right, Disney World Resort's Cinderella mosaic.
In 1970, Cinderella’s Castle was brought to life at Disney World in Florida. Over a period of 18 months, the landmark building was sketched, drawn and turned into one of the country’s most notable theme park attractions. It comes as no surprise that doing so required a team effort from artists of all kinds. What comes as more of a surprise is one contributor’s particularly colorful past.
Artist Hanns-Joachim Sharff — long before he was a renowned mosaic artist — served as an interrogator. And not just any interrogator, but one for the Nazi forces. After a series of strange events, Polish-born Sharff was recruited to work as the Nazi’s lead Luftwaffe interrogator during World War II. He was so successful at gaining information that he received accolades for his abilities. He is well known for his gentle methods, getting prisoners of war to divulge secrets without violence or even raising his voice.
After the war, he then taught classes on interrogation for the U.S. Air Force in exchange for safety within the U.S.
But long after his days of teaching other interrogators, however, Sharff found another career — as one of the world’s most famous mosaic artists. Upon moving to New York City, Sharff was instantly successful, earning money through his business, Hanns Scharff Designs. He later moved to Los Angeles.
Scharff is known for creating the marbled floor within the California state capitol building, entry ramps at Epcot Center and the eagle floor located at the University of Southern California. His work is also featured in countless homes, hotels, schools, stores and churches across the entire world. However, perhaps his most famous project to-date resides within Cinderella’s Castle.
A colorful display of art, Sharff and his team created artwork consisting of five, 15-feet walls. Each helps portray the fairytale in an impressive fashion. In total, Sharff personally hand-cut and shaped more than 1 million pieces of glass. In total, the pieces include more than 500 colors.
The images were completed by gluing glass to a thin fabric, face-down. A team of six workers then put up fresh concrete on the walls, then carefully lined up the fabric and pressed each piece into the wet mortar. Once it dried the fabric was slowly peeled back, then remaining cracks were cemented in to strengthen the mosaics and allow them to withstand visitor touches.
Scharff completed the project with his daughter-in-law, Monika Scharff, another skilled mosaic artist, his wife and other family members.
A decade later, Scharff’s team was asked to complete another Disney project, this time working on the entryway to Epcot’s The Land pavilion. The space uniquely curves into the ground, with mosaic tiles seamlessly filling in the design, curves and all. This is due to a math error, where the art designer’s measurements were three feet larger than the wall itself. Scharff and Monika came up with the idea to curve the design and it was approved by Disney execs and put into effect.
The piece is also known to host a “hidden” tile, where an emerald piece sits among a sea of lighter green and beige tiles. Supposedly, this was a design choice so that both sides of the mural were not identical.
Scharff and Monika later formed the group, Scharff and Scharff, together and worked in tandem until Hanns’ death in 1992. Monika still owns and operates the business to this day.