While Congress might have tinkered with the benefits many former servicemembers will receive when they leave the military beginning in 2018, the dizzying array of calculations, percentages, and investment tools now a part of a veteran’s future nest egg may come with a silver lining.
Potentially tax-free shopping for life.
The 2016 National Defense Authorization Act included significant changes to the military retirement system, including a reduction in retirement pay and matching contributions to a military Thrift Savings Plan. The so-called “blended retirement system” is similar to the kind of portable 401(k) that many civilian workers already have.
But in a separate deal, the Pentagon is set to approve a change to the Army and Air Force Exchange Service that would allow former honorably discharged servicemembers to shop at AAFES online for life.
For those not in the know, the Exchange is a department store-like retail outlet that also operates food courts, gas stations, liquor stores, and military clothing stores on U.S. military installations worldwide. While items do not have to be sold at cost (as they do at the commissary – the military grocery stores which are also on bases) if they are sold at the Exchange, they are sold tax-free.
This could mean tax-free commercial electronics for all!
The deal would not include access to the military commissary system.
Opening the Exchange service to all veterans would mean 20 million new customers and hundreds of millions in revenue for Morale, Welfare, Recreation services, which is where the dividends from Exchange services are reinvested, Military.com reports.
Access to the Exchange is currently restricted to military members who are active duty, guard, or reserve, retired or disabled military members, authorized family, and Medal of Honor recipients.
“Oh, beautiful friend,” begins an email from Nigeria, “I am in need of your help to move the sum of 30,987,544.36 out of my country but, alas, I cannot.” This email scam is old as email itself but is a spin on an even older scam, one that involves a man claiming to be a political prisoner during the Spanish-American War. Apparently, he’s hidden money away and is desperate to get it before the Spanish find it. Thankfully, through friends, he’s found you, a person of considerable trust. Now if you could just send him some money…
Well, the Spanish-prisoner-turned-Nigerian-prince has transformed yet again. This time, he’s turned into an American soldier… In Nigeria.
This letter con is actually even older than the Spanish-American War. The resurgence of the scam in 1898 was just a play on American anti-Spanish sentiment. In the 1700s, it was a different kind of Spanish prisoner who needed money to smuggle a wealthy family member into or out of a country. Then there’s the 1800s’ “Frenchman in Jerusalem,” or the 1920s’ “German Winemaker Investment.”
These are all different flavors of the same scam. You pay a comparatively small amount up front for the promise of a great windfall down the road, but nothing ever comes. Like all of these schemes, the fraudster is taking advantage of a political situation, economic frustrations, or the recipient’s general lack of knowledge about the subject or region.
This is the new Nigerian Prince.
Now, schemers are looking to take advantage of all three of those weaknesses. Americans love their military, but don’t always know where the U.S. military is operating — sometimes because it’s undisclosed and sometimes because Americans don’t really care where U.S. combat troops are deployed (before anyone gets indignant about this statement, ask yourself if you really know).
This is not a trick. That’s really where Nigeria is.
But the latest scam isn’t coming from Nigeria. It’s coming from Syria. Well… it claims it’s coming from Syria.
“How are you doing my friend, great I guess! Now I know this mail will definitely come to you as a huge surprise, but please kindly take your time to go through it carefully as the decision you make will probably go a long way to determine my future and continued existence. First, let me introduce myself. I am Capt. Christopher Townsend, assigned to 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, 3rd Marine Division, 3rd Marine Expeditionary Force in Syria.”
For civilians who may be susceptible to this scam, I hope you tried to show this to a military friend because there are many glaring irregularities between this first paragraph and the photo of the ID sent along with it.
Blurring the edges of an ID photo is something no one does ever.
Aside from a clearly photoshopped ID photo, the CAC card above was taken from a U.S. Army Sergeant Major, not a captain of Marines. Secondly, unless that captain was also a journalist, it’s unlikely that he would abbreviate his rank using the Associated Press style. Military personnel have many different ways of abbreviating ranks, but the Marines don’t use a period. Finally, no sergeant major or captain I have ever met talks or writes like that.
And a Marine isn’t likely to make that kind of mistake, even in an informal email. Are the Marines in Syria really with the 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment? That doesn’t matter.
It matters, but not for the purposes of deciding to send them money.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Donald Holbert)
“Some money in various currencies was discovered and concealed in barrels with piles of weapons and ammunition at a location near one of President Assad’s old Presidential Palaces during a rescue operation and it was agreed by all party present that the money be shared amongst us.”
Do dictators just leave money around, hiding in barrels with arms caches? My guess is that President Assad probably keeps his money in a bank, like most of the world. Keeping illicit cash in barrels laying around one of your many houses is a surefire way to lose it. Besides, rich dictators don’t have to horde cash — they don’t care if people know they’re stealing.
The Syrian Presidential Palaces are located in Damascus and if U.S. Marines are/were in Damascus, even on a rescue mission, we probably would have heard about it by now. Most importantly, Assad never lived there.
It would not be this clean after a visit from United States Marines.
Finally, this is something more akin to the plot of Three Kings than something U.S. Marines would really do. The Marine Corps is renowned for its discipline and adherence to its core values on the battlefield. If they came across a cache of million dollars in a Presidential palace, you’d see Marines posing with it and their small arms on Instagram right before you read about it in the New York Times. Then, they’d turn it in.
If you ever have a question about something fishy sent from someone claiming to be a U.S. troop, just ask a veteran. We all need a good laugh.
Andrew Brennan’s grandfather pulled him out of school after the terror attacks of September 11, 2001, like many parents and grandparents did that day. As soon as his car left the parking lot, Brennan’s grandfather, a World War II veteran, turned to him and said words the future Army officer would never forget.
“The war that’s going to follow this is going to change your generation. You need to be on the right side of it,” he said.
When Brennan turned 17, he tried to drop out of school to join the Marine Corps. His father’s response was something akin to “the hell you are,” but the young man’s resolve was the same. He felt he should be doing something. He felt needed.
The Pennsylvania native eventually attended West Point and served in Afghanistan. But his mission didn’t stop there. He lost friends there, as many post-9/11 veterans did. Now he looks to the Vietnam generation for an example of what comes next.
Andrew Brennan, a U.S. Army veteran, in Afghanistan in 2011. (Photo from Andrew Brennan).
While recovering from a hiking injury, Brennan met some bikers who were rolling to the nation’s capital as part of Run for the Wall, a Vietnam veterans’ tradition where motorcycle enthusiasts drive cross-country to meet at the Vietnam Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C.
“I bump into these guys, and I’m really taken aback by it,” Brennan says. “All these awesome traditions that started around their memorial inspired 30 years’ worth of group healing for the Vietnam generation.”
The riders continue on in the annual tradition called Rolling Thunder which advocates for full accountability of all prisoners of war and troops missing in action from U.S. wars. Brennan did the math. In the next 10 years, the Vietnam veterans may not be able to make the ride. Vets from the Global War on Terror will soon be the ones making noise for American POW/MIAs.
And Brennan wondered what memorial they’d ride to.
He wondered where 3 million veterans who lost family and friends in the Global War on Terror would grieve. There is no memorial for his war because the 1986 Commemorative Works Act requires groups like Brennan’s to wait 10 years after the conflict ends before a memorial can be considered.
It took 60 years to get a World War II memorial built on the Mall and 42 to build a Korean War Memorial. Twenty-five years after Desert Storm, there is still no memorial for that conflict.
Brennan realized he needed to change that law. His continuing mission is to erect a memorial for the post-9/11 generation of veterans. A feat easier said than done.
His memorial idea is written in a broad way so he can be as inclusive as possible. From the likes of Johnny Michael Spann, the first American killed in Afghanistan who worked for the CIA to operators from other “three-letter agencies,” Brennan believes the country’s longest and most unconventional war should recognize all who fought it — including the unconventional forces.
“I really want to make sure that we’re able to honor the folks we’ve lost and will lose in the future while paying tribute to the service we all provided,” Brennan says. “I also want to honor the veterans that aren’t wearing the uniform anymore.”
Brennan is the real deal. He’s met with senators and congressmen and enjoys broad, bipartisan support. Actually getting an amendment introduced is a different feat altogether, but he’s willing to play the long game. His initiative is a decade-long development plan, but he needs the veteran community to mobilize to get the law changed and the ball rolling.
The Pentagon said that after Syrian jets had bombed US-backed forces fighting ISIS in Syria and ground forces headed their way with artillery and armored vehicles, US jets made a strafing run at the vehicles to stop their advance.
But then a Syrian Su-22 popped up laden with bombs.
“They saw the Su-22 approaching,” Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman, told reporters on June 21st, as CNN notes. “It again had dirty wings; it was carrying ordnance. They did everything they could to try to warn it away. They did a head-butt maneuver, they launched flares, but ultimately the Su-22 went into a dive and it was observed dropping munitions and was subsequently shot down.”
A US F/A-18E off the USS George H.W. Bush in the Mediterranean then fired an AIM-9 Sidewinder missile at the Syrian jet, but the Su-22 had deployed flares causing the missile to miss. The US jet followed up with an AIM-120 medium range air-to-air missile which struck its target, US officials told CNN.
The pilot ejected over ISIS territory, and Syrian forces declared him missing in action.
The focus of the US’s airpower in recent years has turned to providing air support against insurgencies or forces that do not have fighter jets of their own. Before the Su-22, the US had not shot down a manned enemy aircraft since 1999.
Since the downing of the Syrian jet, Russia has threatened to target US and US-led coalition jets flying over Syria west of the Euphrates river.
Both Syria’s Su-22 and the US’s F/A-18E Super Hornet are updated versions of 1970s aircraft, but Russia and the US both have much more advanced systems to bring to bear. Fortunately, an air war seems unlikely between major powers in Syria.
Military leaders want families who are thinking through the choice to be armed with as much information as possible, said Lt. Col. Steven Hanson, who heads the Army‘s compensation and entitlements office.
He discussed three military retirement myths at a recent Association of the United States Army conference.
Myth 1: You’ll be forced into the new military retirement system.
That’s false, Hanson said.
Everyone who joins the military after Jan. 1, 2018, will be a part of the new system whether they like it or not. But those who are currently serving at that time will have to make a choice: Keep the old system or opt into the new one.
“One of the big misconceptions about this is that people will be forced into the new system and that is simply not the case,” he said. “Nobody will be moved into the blended system unless they actively choose to do so.”‘
The current retirement program is based on a pension system. Under that plan, if a military member serves 20 years, is medically retired or is forced out and qualifies for early retirement, he’ll be able to walk away with a pension based off his rank at retirement.
But most troops don’t retire out of the military — they simply leave the service. And thanks to the way the current system is set up, that means they walk away empty-handed.
That’s a problem the new “blended” retirement system is designed to fix. Instead of retirement or nothing, it gives service members a savings that is closer to what’s used by employers in the civilian sector.
Under it, troops can contribute money to their Thrift Savings Plans (TSP), and the Defense Department will match it up to a certain percent, much like a 401(k) plan. Even if a service member opts to put nothing in his TSP, the DoD will still contribute an amount equal to one percent of his base pay to the account each month.
And service members who stay in long enough to become retirees will still get a version of the pension system in the new military retirement plan as well, although payments will be based on a lower amount than they are today.
Myth 2: It’s easy to tell which plan you should use.
False. While it would be nice to know if the new system is the right choice for you simply based on how many years you’ve been in, that’s not the case. Whether the new system is right for any given service member is going to be based on a whole slew of information specific to that person and his or her family, Hanson said.
“There’s no cookie-cutter answer. Every service member is going to have different circumstances,” he said. “Everyone should do what’s best for their personal circumstances.”
Myth 3: You’re going to have to figure out which plan is best for you on your own.
Mostly false. While the final choice ultimately will be up to each individual service member, the law that required the retirement plan change also requires the Defense Department to provide a lot of education about what the change means — and how service members can pick which plan is right for them.
“We need to make sure that they have the tools, the skills and the knowledge to make an informed decision,” Hanson said. “We are putting together a training and education plan to make sure service members understand the old system versus the new system so they can make an informed choice.”
One Russian special operator was pinned down by jihadi fighters while conducting a reconnaissance mission that included calling in airstrikes. His position was overrun by the enemy, so he called for close air support assets to attack where he was so that classified information wouldn’t fall into ISIS hands.
“He was carrying out a combat task in Palmyra area for a week, identifying crucial IS targets and passing exact coordinates for strikes with Russian planes,” a Russian military spokesperson told the UK’s Mirror. “The officer died as a hero, he drew fire onto himself after being located and surrounded by terrorists.”
ISIS published photos from their mobile phones in mid-March, depicting five bodies they said were Russian special forces. The Russian Defense Ministry denied that report, saying the advance on Palmyra was being conducted by the Syrian Army (the one supporting Syrian President Bashar al-Asad).
While Russia has admitted to five combat deaths in the conflict so far, including a pilot of a fighter shot down by Turkish forces and a Marine who died trying to rescue that pilot. Russian special forces have been on the ground since the beginning of Russia’s intervention in the Syrian Civil War, in September of 2015.
The city has art and architecture dating from 100 AD, including Greco-Roman ruins, over 1,000 columns, an ancient Roman aqueduct and 500 tombs on site. In 2015, ISIS captured the 2,000-year-old city and dynamiting ancient monuments, temples, and shrines it deemed blasphemous and executed people on the stage of the Roman amphitheater.
Syrian government troops entered the city on March 24, 2016. In the last five days, the Russians claim they carried out 146 airstrikes supporting the operation. Syrian troops recaptured the city on Sunday.
Two Air Force vets made a breakthrough in gun safety. They created an accessory that keeps pistols from firing in the wrong hands.
Dubbed the “Guardian,” it uses fingerprint technology to unlock a gun’s trigger by the owner. It attaches to most pistols without modifying the weapon and remains in place during use, making it quick and convenient to handle while serving its purpose.
It’s similar to unlocking your mobile phone. After authentication via fingerprint, the Guardian unlocks allowing the slide to snap forward granting access to the handgun trigger:
Skylar Gerrond and Matt Barido set out to solve two problems with the Guardian: safety and immediate protection. The best practice with children at home requires firearms be locked away with bullets stored in a different location. But this could defeat the purpose of having a firearm ready at a moment’s notice. To remedy this problem, some owners hide the weapon in an easy to access location, which can jeopardize safety. The Guardian solves both problems.
“That’s the dilemma that drives people to taking the worse course of action — a loaded handgun, not secured at all, in a ‘safe place’ where [they think the] kids doesn’t know about it,” said Gerrond in an interview with The Blaze. “We wanted something that never actually left the handgun. The slide retracts forward in front of trigger guard, allowing access for you to physically insert finger into trigger well.”
The Guardian’s target price will be $199 when it becomes available. The creators are still in the prototype phase and are using Indiegogo to fund its development.
Finland is facing the possibility that Russia will eventually come for some of its territory like it seized South Ossetia from Georgia and Crimea and sections of Donbass from Ukraine.
To prepare for their own possible conflict, the Finnish armed forces and other agencies are holding exercises to prepare for Putin’s hybrid warfare.
Russia’s forays into Ukraine and, to a lesser extent, Georgia, relied on cyber warfare, special operations forces, and an aggressive information campaign.
But Europe has gotten to see Russia’s playbook in action, and Petri Mäkelä of Medium.com reports that Finland is preparing to counter it with everything from their own special operators to firefighters and airport administrators.
In 14 photos, here’s how Finland is doing it:
1. First, by looking cool as they run through smoke. (Ok, that’s probably not the training objective, but come on, this looks cool.)
2. Finland held three major training events in March, each of which required that federal and local security forces worked together to counter specific threats.
3. For instance, response teams converged on an airport that was under simulated attack, seeking to eliminate the threat as quickly and safely as possible.
4. This allowed security forces to practice operating in the high-stress environment and also allowed administrators to see how they can best set up their operations to keep passengers safe in an attack.
5. The exercises required soldiers and police to fight everything from angry individuals to enemy sniper and machine gun teams.
6. Of course, no training exercise is complete without practicing how to treat the wounded.
7. That’s where the firefighters and paramedics got involved.
8. In field hospitals, medical professionals treated simulated injuries sustained in the fighting.
9. Police forces assisted in re-establishing order and protecting the local populace.
10. But the exercises also allowed the military to practice conventional operations.
11. Finnish forces took on enemy elements in the woods and snow.
12. Helicopters ferried troops to different areas. They also helped move reservists, police, and other first responders when necessary.
13. The conventional exercises included some pretty awesome weaponry.
14. Of course, even with increased conscription, new equipment, and tailored training, Finland would face a tough fight with Russia. The Russian military is one of the largest in the world and it has been training for this and other fights.
Two U.S. military commands involved in buying and fielding new gear for special operators have released a list of what features they would like to see in future military vehicles — and the list shows some serious upgrades for warfighters.
The Joint Special Operations Command and the Program Executive Office Special Operations Forces Warrior released their wish list in a Federal Business Opportunities solicitation. While some of the upgrades they’re searching for are pretty standard — such as more reliable drivetrains and cheaper brakes — these five technologies could be game changing:
1. Invisible armor on civilian vehicles
The document calls for low visibility “Armor materials/panels, etc., that can be transferred and integrated from one commercial vehicle to another with minimal manpower and in a minimal timeframe.” This could allow operators to fortify a civilian vehicle for a mission. Then, if that car is compromised, quickly move the armor to a new ride for the next mission.
2. Transformer vehicles
Spec ops buyers are looking for a chassis that could survive after the car body wears out. In other words, operators would have a truck or SUV that they use for some operations, and after the vehicle gets banged up, worn out, or just stops looking cool, the troops could trade out the body for a new one for cheap.
3. Engine starters and batteries that work at -50 degrees
Batteries and starters that work at 50 degrees below zero would give soldiers confidence that they can always make a quick getaway, even in the Arctic Circle. In addition to delivering power in extremely frigid weather, the batteries should provide electricity for a longer time between charges. This would allow users to run the heat and electronic devices in the field for longer without turning on the engine.
4. Lighter, hidden armor
In addition to the transferability of the armor described in the first entry, JSOC and PEO-SOF are asking for the hidden armor for civilian vehicles to be lighter. This would reduce the low gas mileage and high rollover problems associated with current vehicles using hidden armor.
5. Hybrid military dune buggies
The solicitation calls for electric or hybrid electric vehicle technology for LTATVs. The Light Tactical All Terrain Vehicle is basically a souped-up ATV for light troops like special operators and paratroopers. Now, soldiers want an all-electric or hybrid version of the vehicle that would “increase range, reduce maintenance, and lower the audible signature.”
6. “Low Profile Antennas for Line of Sight, SATCOM, and ECMS”
This is exactly what it sounds like, a variety of antennas that work as well as current models while also being harder to detect. It would allow all vehicles — commercial and military — to be outfitted with more communications devices without drawing undue attention and enemy fire.
7. “Visual, Audible, and Thermal Signature Reduction”
The commandos want vehicles that are harder to detect, track, and target. Quieter vehicles are more difficult to hear, cooler vehicles are harder to see with IR, and better-camouflaged vehicles are challenging to pick out with the naked eye. Operators want all three upgrades.
Today I found out that uniform regulation in the British Army between the years 1860 and 1916 stipulated that every soldier should have a moustache.
Command No. 1,695 of the King’s Regulations read:
The hair of the head will be kept short. The chin and the under lip will be shaved, but not the upper lip…
Although the act of shaving one’s upper lip was trivial in itself, it was considered a breach of discipline. If a soldier were to do this, he faced disciplinary action by his commanding officer which could include imprisonment, an especially unsavory prospect in the Victorian era.
Interestingly, it is during the imperial history of Britain that this seemingly odd uniform requirement emerged. Initially adopted at the tail end of the 1700s from the French, who also required their soldiers to have facial hair which varied depending on the type of soldier (sappers, infantry, etc.), this follicular fashion statement was all about virility and aggression. Beard and moustache growth was rampant, especially in India where bare faces were scorned as being juvenile and un-manly, as well as in Arab countries where moustaches and beards were likewise associated with power. It wasn’t all plain sailing for the moustache though; back home British citizens were looking on it as a sign of their boys ‘going native’ and it was nearly stamped out completely.
However, in 1854, after significant campaigning, moustaches became compulsory for the troops of the East India Company’s Bombay Army. While not in the rules for everyone else yet, they were still widely taken up across the Armed Forces and during the Crimean War there were a wide variety of permissible (and over the top) styles. By the 1860s, moustaches were finally compulsory for all the Armed Forces and they became as much an emblem for the Armed Forces as the Army uniform.
In 1916, the regulation was dropped and troops were allowed to be clean-shaven again. This was largely because such a superficial requirement was getting ignored in the trenches of WWI, especially as they could sometimes get in the way of a good gas mask seal. The order to abolish the moustache requirement was signed on October 6, 1916 by General Sir Nevil Macready, who himself hated moustaches and was glad to finally get to shave his off. While no longer in force today, there are still regulations governing moustaches and, if worn, they can grow no further than the upper lip. It is also still extremely common for British soldiers in Afghanistan to wear beards, as facial hair is still associated with power and authority in many Islamic regions.
Bonus Moustache Facts:
As alluded to, during the Napoleonic era, French soldiers were required to wear facial hair of various sorts. Sappers were required to have full beards. Grenadiers and other elite level troops had to maintain large busy moustaches. Infantry Chasseurs were required to wear goatees with their moustache. This requirement has long since died out excepting the case of sappers in the Foreign Legion, who still are strongly encouraged to maintain a full, robust beard.
Russian non-officer soldiers were required to wear moustaches under Peter the Great’s reign. On the flipside, while previously it was extremely common for Russian soldiers to wear beards, Peter the Great didn’t find beards so great and not only banned them from the military, but also for civilians, with the lone exception being that members of the clergy could wear them.
Moustache, mustache, and mustachio are all technically correct spellings to describe hair on the upper lip. Mustachio has relatively recently fallen out of favor for generically describing all moustaches, now more typically referring to particularly elaborate moustaches. Moustache is the most common spelling today in the English speaking world, though North Americans usually prefer mustache.
The English word “moustache” comes from the French word of the same spelling, “moustache”, and popped up in English around the 16th century. The French word in turn comes from the Italian word “mostaccio”, from the Medieval Latin “mustacium” and in turn the Medieval Greek “moustakion”. We now finally get to the earliest known origin which was from the Hellenistic Greek “mustax”, meaning “upper lip”, which may or may not have come from the Hellenistic Greek “mullon”, meaning “lip”. It is theorized that this in turn came from the Proto-Indo-European root “*mendh-“, meaning “to chew” (which is also where we get the word “mandible”).
Western Women tend to wax or shave their moustaches, those that can grow them anyways, but Mexican artist Frida Kahlo actually celebrated not only her ‘stache, but also her unibrow, including putting them in her very famous self portrait seen to your right.
The oldest known depiction of a man with a moustache goes all the way back to 300 BC. The depiction was of an Ancient Iranian horseman.
“De befborstel” is the Dutch slang for a moustache grown for the specific purpose of stimulating a woman’s clitoris.
The longest moustache ever recorded was in Italy on March 4, 2010, and measured in at 14 ft. long (4.29 m). The proud owner of that magnificent ‘stache was Indian Ram Singh Chauhan.
Names of the Various Styles of Moustache:
Hungarian: Extremely bushy, with the hairs pulled to the side and with the hairs extending past the upper lip by as much as 1.5 cm.
Dali: Named after artist Salvador Dali (who incidentally once published a book, with Philippe Halsman, dedicated to Dali’s moustache, titled: Dali’s Mustache), styled such that the hair past the corner of the mouth is shaved, but the non-shaved hair is allowed to grow such that it can be shaped to point upward dramatically.
English Moustache: Thin moustache with the hair on a line in the middle of the upper lip sideways, with the hair at the corner of the mouth slightly shaped upwards.
Imperial: Includes not only hair from above the upper lip, but also extends beyond into cheek hair, all of which is curled upward.
Fu Manchu: moustache where the ends are styled downwards, sometimes even beyond the bottom of the chin.
Handlebar Moustache: a somewhat bushy version of the Dali, but without the strict regulation of having the hair shaved past the side of the lips.
Horseshoe: Similar to the Handlebar, but with vertical extensions coming off the sides that extend downwards sharply to the jaw, looking something like an upside down horseshoe (think Hulk Hogan)
Chevron: thick moustache covering the whole of the upper lip (think Jeff Foxworthy)
Toothbrush: The moustache made popular by Charlie Chaplin, but whose popularity hit a sharp decline thanks to one Adolph Hitler.
Walrus: very similar to the Hungarian, except without the strict length limit on the hair overhanging the upper lip.
Contrary to a myth you may hear sometimes, there is no evidence whatsoever that Adolph Hitler decided to grow a toothbrush moustache to mimic Charlie Chaplin. Chaplin did parody Hitler in The Great Dictator and sported the now infamous moustache in that film. The toothbrush moustache was popularized in Germany by Americans and began to become extremely popular by the end of WWI. Hitler originally went with the previous most popular ‘stache in Germany, the Kaiser Moustache, which was turned up at the ends, often with scented oil. He continued to wear this ‘stache at least up to and during WWI. A soldier who served with Hitler during WWI, Alexander Moritz Frey, stated that Hitler was ordered to trim his moustache during WWI while in the trenches to facilitate wearing a gas mask; so shaved the sides off and went with the toothbrush moustache instead.
Chaplin stated that he used the toothbrush moustache as it looked funny and also allowed him to show his expressions more fully than an alternatively comical moustache that covered more of his face would have.
Results are what make a weapons system great, not just technology.
In the case of fighter aircraft, it’s all about the kills, and with that as the main selection criteria, here’s WATM’s list of the 18 greatest fighters of all time:
1. Fokker Triplane
The iconic aircraft behind the World War I success of Manfred von Richthofen’s Flying Circus was actually designed after a Sopwith Triplane crashed behind German lines in 1917. The Fokker Triplane was relatively slow and hard to see out of, but it possessed an impressive turn rate that “The Red Baron” leveraged towards his war total of 80 confirmed kills.
2. Sopwith Camel
The Sopwith Camel had a more powerful engine and more firepower than the German fighters it went up against, and although the big engine made it hard to handle, in the hands of an experienced pilot the fighter was very lethal. The Sopwith Camel accounted for 1,294 air-to-air kills, the most of any model during World War I.
3. Mitsubishi Zero
At the outset of World War II in the Pacific, the Zero owned the skies, including those over Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. The Zero was primarily carrier-based, highly maneuverable, and could fly long range. Because of this the Japanese enjoyed a 12-to-1 kill ratio over the allies during the first few years of the war.
Often incorrectly called the “Me 109,” the Bf-109 remains the most produced fighter aircraft in history and was one of the Luftwaffe’s air-to-air workhorses. The Bf 109 was flown by the three top-scoring German fighter aces of World War II, who claimed 928 victories among them. Through constant design improvements and development by German engineers, the Bf 109 remained lethal in the face of allied technical advances throughout the war.
5. Focke-Wulf Fw-190
The Fw-190 was generally considered superior to the Bf-109 because of it’s bigger engine (a BMW inline 12) and greater firepower. Some of the Luftwaffe ‘ s most successful fighter aces flew the Fw 190, including Otto Kittel with 267 victories, Walter Nowotny with 258, and Erich Rudorffer with 222.
6. P-51 Mustang
The P-51 Mustang was a solution to the clear need for an effective bomber escort starting in 1943. General James Doolittle told the fighters in early 1944 to stop flying in formation with the bombers and instead attack the Luftwaffe wherever it could be found. The Mustang groups were sent in well before the bombers in a “fighter sweep” as a form of air supremacy action, intercepting German fighters while they were forming up. As a result, the Luftwaffe lost 17 percent of its fighter pilots in just over a week, and the Allies were able to establish air superiority. (Wikipedia)
7. P-38 Lightning
In spite of the fact that the twin-boom design limited roll rate performance, the P-38 tallied impressive kill numbers in the Pacific and the China-Burma-India areas when piloted by America’s top aces like Richard Bong (40 victories) and Thomas McGuire (38 victories).
8. P-47 Thunderbolt
In Europe during the critical first three months of 1944 when the German aircraft industry and Berlin were heavily attacked, the P-47 shot down more German fighters than the P-51 (570 out of 873), and shot down approximately 900 of the 1,983 claimed during the first six months of 1944. In Europe, Thunderbolts flew more sorties (423,435) than P-51s, P-38s and P-40s combined. Indeed, it was the P-47 which broke the back of the Luftwaffe on the Western Front in the critical period of January–May 1944. (Wikipedia)
The Spitfire achieved legendary status during the Battle of Britain by racking up the highest victory-to-loss ratio among British aircraft. Spitfires were flown by British aces Johnnie Johnson (34 kills), Douglas Bader (20 kills), and Bob Tuck (27 kills). The Spitfire was produced in greater numbers than any other British aircraft and was the only British fighter to be in continuous production throughout the war. (Wikipedia)
10. F4F Wildcat
The first of the Grumman “Cat” series, the carrier-based F4F was slower, shorter ranged, and less maneuverable than the Japanese Zero. However it’s ruggedness and the development of group tactics like the “Thatch Weave” allowed the Wildcat to ultimately prevail, tallying a nearly 7-to-1 kill ratio over the course of the war.
11. F6F Hellcat
The F6F was designed to improve on the Wildcat’s ability to counter the Mitsubishi A6M Zero and help secure air superiority over the Pacific Theater. Hellcats were credited with 5,223 kills, more than any other Allied naval aircraft.
12. F-4U Corsair
Know to the Japanese as “whistling death,” Corsairs claimed 2,140 air combat victories and an overall kill ratio of over 11-to-1. Legendary F4U pilots include Marines Joe Foss, Marion Carl, and Pappy Boyington.
With the Chinese entry into the Korean War, the MiG-15 began to appear in the skies over Korea. Quickly proving superior to straight-wing American jets such as the F-80 and F-84 Thunderjet, the MiG-15 temporarily gave the Chinese the advantage in the air and ultimately forced United Nations forces to halt daylight bombing until the F-86 arrived to level the air combat playing field.
14. F-86 Sabre
The F-86 was the U.S. answer to the MiG-15 that had dominated the skies over Korea in the early part of that conflict. Engagements in MiG Alley between the two aircraft were numerous, and that period is considered by many as the glory days of air-to-air warfare between jet aircraft. F-86s ended the war with a 10-to-1 kill ratio over the MiG-15s they faced.
15. F-4 Phantom
The F-4 was the fighter and attack workhorse for the U.S. Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps for several decades and Phantom crews were the last to attain “ace” status in the 20th Century. The most noteworthy event happened on May 10, 1972, when Lieutenant Randy “Duke” Cunningham and Lieutenant (junior grade) William P. Driscoll shot down three MiG-17s to become the first American flying aces of the war.
One of the most widely used fighter aircraft in history, MiG-21s tallied impressive kill numbers during the Vietnam War, the Iran-Iraq War, and the India-Pakistan and Egypt-Israeli conflicts.
17. F-14 Tomcat
The Tomcat didn’t make this list because of it’s long service as the U.S. Navy’s front-line carrier-based fighter (in spite of the fact that “Top Gun” remains the greatest military movie of all time), but because the Iranian Air Force had more than 160 kills with it during the Iran-Iraq War.
18. F-15 Eagle
Eagles made dogfighting history during Operation Desert Storm, primarily because of their superior weapons suite, including state-of-the-art (at the time) identification capability. F-15s had 34 confirmed kills of Iraqi aircraft during the 1991 Gulf War.
The Army’s pathfinders are elite airborne infantrymen capable of slipping into enemy territory to prepare drop zones and landing zones, conduct reconnaissance, place navigational aids, provide air traffic control, and recover wounded personnel. Basically, they have more applications than an iPhone, and they can do all it at night, on their own, without reinforcements or resupply while under fire.
The units got their start in World War II after parachute drops into North Africa in 1942 and Sicily in 1943 resulted in troops dispersed across the target areas instead of massed into effective fighting formations. To fix this, the Army borrowed tactics and techniques from British scout companies to create their own pathfinder platoons and companies.
As World War II continued, pathfinders led the way into Normandy on D-Day and southern France in Operation Dragoon as well as aided the aerial resupply of troops pinned down in the Battle of the Bulge. They used signal fires, special radios, and lights to create paths for aircraft to follow, ensuring pilots could navigate to their target.
In the Korean and Vietnam wars, pathfinders continued their missions leading airborne forces but the expansion of helicopter operations gave them another job.
Today, pathfinders are primarily used for recovering wounded and isolated personnel, conducting reconnaissance, and assisting in helicopter assaults. They’re also experts in sling-load operations, the movement of heavy equipment by slinging it under a chopper.
The Army has cut the pathfinders to two companies, one in the 101st Combat Aviation Brigade and one with 82nd’s CAB. These companies rarely fight as a single unit. Instead, commanders kick out small teams of pathfinders to support operations across a large geographical area where they conduct all their missions. These teams of about six men have seen heavy combat in Iraq and Afghanistan.
With the shortage of dedicated pathfinder companies, infantry units send soldiers to the Army’s Pathfinder School at Fort Benning, Georgia. These soldiers become experts in linking Army ground and aviation elements, assisting their units when pathfinder companies aren’t available.