The reasons why individuals join the US military are as diverse and unique as each person serving.
But, whatever the reasons for why someone joined the military, service members can bond with each other over both the negatives and positives of serving in the armed forces.
In a recent Reddit thread, military members responded to the question, “What is your favorite part of being in the military?”
Predictably, the answers varied greatly, from the steadiness of pay in the military to the sense of belonging to something greater than the individual. We’ve collected our favorite answers below.
For Reddit user terrez, the greatest part of being in the military was the opportunities to see and experience things he would never have had the opportunity to otherwise:
Got to live in Japan, a place I never thought I would see I person. So that’s pretty neat. Occasionally an f16 will be doing loopdy loops and stuff over the flight line (idk why) and it’s like a quick little air show.
This point of view, the fact that the military is an eye-opening experience, was echoed by LordWartooth:
I would honestly have to say, both sarcastically and seriously, that my favorite part of being in the military has to be the eye opening experience about life in general. When you see senior field grade officers who can barely read, or senior enlisted whose uniforms could be painted on, considering how tight they are, and you know that they have found success in life, then I should know that consistently aiming to be better than that will take me where I want to be in life, in the military or outside of it.
Reddit user Esdarke quickly agreed with LordWartooth’s point:
Absolutely this. If nothing else, the military will teach you about yourself.
I for one have resolved to be less of a d— to people. Because now I’ve seen what happens when everyone acts like a YouTube comments section and nobody needs that in their life.
And for some, serving in the military was made worth it simply for the camaraderie and diversity that it fostered in the ranks. StonehengeMan writes of his favorite part of being in the military:
The people in the military.
All kinds of backgrounds – but we all work together as one (mostly). The sense of camaraderie and purpose.
Sorry if that comes across as a little earnest but it’s the people you work with that get you through the really bad days and who let you enjoy the good days even more 🙂
This sense of family that the military fosters was a common theme for the Reddit users. User Asymmetric_Warfare noted that the military imbues service members with a support system, adventure, and experiences that someone fresh out of high school might never otherwise experience:
For me first and foremost it has been mentoring my joe’s and watching my junior enlisted soldiers grow and mature and become NCO’s themselves.
Being able to call my deployment buddies up at any time any place anywhere with any issue and they will be there for me and vice a versa.
Making friendships with the people you deploy with that are stronger then your own familial bonds to your siblings and family back home.
Going to war, realizing a lot of sh– back home is just that, white noise, definitely puts life into perspective after.
Being stationed in germany at 18 years old, Donor Kabab’s, them crazy foam parties in Nuremburg. All those lovely German single ladies…I miss you Fräulein’s.
And of course, for some, the best part of joining the military are the practical and concrete benefits that the organization imparts. As zaishade writes:
Not worrying about my finances: I don’t have to worry about being laid off tomorrow, or not making enough to cover rent and groceries. As much as I like fantasizing about my separation date, whenever I go visit civilian friends and family I’m reminded of how much the common man still has to struggle.
Reddit user jeebus_t_christ echoes the practical benefits of joining the military by writing simply: “Free college.”
And ultimately, as Reddit user ChumBucket1 notes flippantly, “Blowing shit up and shooting machine guns never got old.”
Ms. Alyce Dixon, the oldest living female veteran well known for her ‘elegant sense of style and repertoire of eyebrow raising jokes’ died in her sleep at the Washington DC Veterans Affairs Medical Center’s Community Living Center on January 27.
Brian Hawkins, the Medical Center director told a local news station: “She was one-of-a-kind; a strong-willed, funny, wise, giving and feisty WWII veteran. Her message touched a lot of people. It has been an honor to care for the oldest female veteran.”
In a release to share the news of her death, the Washington DC VA Medical Center wrote the following:
At the medical center, she was affectionately called the “Queen Bee” and was known for impeccable dress. She never left her room without fixing her makeup and hair. She always wore stylish clothes and jewelry and sported well-manicured nails. She loved to sit in the medical center Atrium and watch the people.
Born Alice Lillian Ellis in 1907, the Boston native has always lived life on her own terms. At 16, she saw a movie starring actress Alyce Mills. “I thought it was so pretty spelled like that, so I changed my name to Alyce,” she said.
One of the oldest of nine children, Ms. Dixon helped her mother raise her younger siblings. “After I got married, I never wanted children, I felt like I’d already raised a family,” she told Vantage Point, the VA’s official blog. Ms. Dixon would later divorce her husband over an $18 grocery allowance.
“I used to manage his paycheck until he found out I was sending money home to my family,” she said. He then started managing the money and gave her an allowance, a move which did not sit well with the independent young woman. “I found myself a job, an apartment and a roommate. I didn’t need him or his money,” she said with no trace of regret in her voice.
In 1943, Dixon became one of the first African American women to join the Army. She served in the Women’ s Army Corps where she was stationed in England and France with the 6888th Battalion. Her job was to ensure the ‘backlog’ of care packages and letters families were sending to their loved ones fighting on the front lines were delivered. After leaving the Army in 1946, she worked 35 more years for the federal government at the Census Bureau, and later for the Pentagon as purchasing agent – buying everything from pencils to airplanes.
Upon retiring in 1973, she served as a volunteer at local hospitals for 12 years. “I always shared what little I have, that’s why He let me live so long,” she said. “I just believe in sharing and giving. If you have a little bit of something and someone else needs it, share.”
The centenarian recently offered this advice on aging: “Don’ t worry about getting old, just live it up all the time.”
Rest in peace, Queen Bee.
Watch this hilarious video of Alyce telling jokes:
Watch this video of Alyce’s birthday party last year:
Staff Sgt. Ricardo Branch told The Washington Times that he must leave the Army by Aug. 1. His crime was mentioning in an internal military email the name of the aviation unit that flew Navy SEALs inside Pakistan airspace to kill the al Qaeda leader.
The irony: He was trying to keep that fact out of a proposed article in an industry newsletter.
The Times featured Sgt. Branch’s plight in March, noting his excellent performance evaluations since the 2014 incident. His last chance resided with the Army Board for Correction of Military Records, which Sgt. Branch said rejected his plea.
The sergeant said he was “floored” by the decision.
“With honor and with integrity I fought this battle and even took it into the realm of public court/discussion in my Times story and it was for one reason only to let everyone know, like my commander said when giving me my notice May 10, 2016, that the Army is getting this one wrong,” he said July 19 in an email to the board.
“Moving forward, I would love to give this one last go round; however, I know now that without the military-level support I received for my third appeal I’m in a realm of hurt in that it will take forever to get another answer.”
His attorney, Jeffrey Addicott, who runs the Center for Terrorism Law at St. Mary’s University in San Antonio, said the married sergeant, with one child, did all he could to maintain his career.
He said Mr. Obama singled out the unit, the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, and that Mrs. Clinton did far worse in handling secrets and received no punishment.
Mr. Addicott told The Times on July 19: “The good news is that your story pushed the Army to move off its criminal investigation that he was facing when I took his case. We then also got the Army to consider his request to stay on active duty, and he was retained for many months while his appeal was considered. They have now denied his appeal to stay, but he will leave with an honorable discharge. Not a complete satisfaction for Branch but far better than it could have been. There is no inherent right for the Army to retain him. I know he is disappointed, but we accomplished all that could reasonably be expected. This is a win.”
Sgt. Branch’s problems began in February 2014 while he was stationed at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, doing public relations work for the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment. He was fact-checking a proposed article by the Boeing Co. for its internal news site that told of regiment personnel visiting a contractor facility. It mentioned that the regiment conducted the bin Laden raid.
Sgt. Branch sent an email to his boss recommending that the bin Laden reference be stricken because the Pentagon never officially acknowledged its role.
That was his crime: repeating the Boeing sentence in an official, internal email.
A higher-up saw the email thread and reported Sgt. Branch to Army intelligence. Instead of facing a court-marital, he opted for nonjudicial punishment and received an oral reprimand.
Mr. Addicott, who did not represent the sergeant at that time, said no court-martial jury would have convicted the sergeant because his motives were pure.
Part of Sgt. Branch’s defense was that Mr. Obama all but said that the aviation regiment conducted the raid by visiting the soldiers at Fort Campbell right after the successful operation.
The Army officially disclosed the regiment’s role in news stories.
“The leaders’ first stop after landing was to the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment compound where the distinguished guests spoke privately with the 160th SOAR leadership and Soldiers,” said the Army’s official story on the visit, found on its web address, Army.mil.
On Army.mil, a May 9, 2011, Army News Service story on the Obama visit said, “It was the Night Stalkers who are credited with flying the mission in Pakistan that transported the Navy’s SEAL Team 6 on an operation that resulted in the capture and kill of terrorist Osama bin Laden.”
“I love the Army,” Sgt. Branch told The Times in March. “I like my job. The reason I’m so in love with the Army is I’m a career soldier. I’ve done three tours in Iraq. I’ve survived cancer twice. The Army is my career. It’s what I know. It is my life. My dad was a soldier. My brother’s a soldier. My grandfather was a soldier. I like telling the Army story because I’m a writer. That’s what I do.”
War is a dangerous thing, often necessitating actions that — in any other circumstance — would be absolutely insane.
Here are six of the things that make sense in war, but are still pretty ballsy regardless:
6. Flooding your own territory
The idea for most defenders is to keep their territory whole for their own people, even in the face of enemy forces. But for defenders in low-lying areas facing a potentially unstoppable force, there’s always the option of making sections of it impossible via water (though mines, obstacles, and a few other maneuvers work also).
This forces the enemy to attack through narrow channels determined by the defenders, and limits the territory that has to be protected. Does make for a hell of a cleanup problem, though.
5. Night raids
Night raids have all the same drawbacks of normal raids in that the attackers are trying to conduct a quick assault before the defenders can rally, but with the added confusion of limited visibility and increased sound transmission — sound waves typically travel farther at night and have less ambient sound with which to compete.
Of course, the U.S. enjoys a big advantage at night against many nations. While night vision goggles and other optics provide less depth of field and less peripheral vision, if any, they’re a huge advantage in the dark against an enemy without them.
4. Submarine combat
Submarines face a lot of jokes, but what they do is pretty insane. A group of sailors get into a huge metal tube with torpedoes, missiles, or both, dive underwater and sail thousands of nautical miles, and then either park or patrol under the waves, always a single mechanical failure from a quick and agonizing death.
The reasons to go under the waves anyway are plentiful. Submarines can provide a nearly impossible-to-find nuclear deterrent, molest enemy shipping, sink high-value enemy vessels, place sensors in important shipping lanes, or tap into undersea cables.
But the guys who sail under the water are crazy to do it.
3. “Vertical envelopment”
Vertical envelopment means slightly different things depending on which branch’s manuals you look at and from which era, but it all boils down to delivering combat power from the sky, usually with paratroopers from planes or troops in helicopters on-air assault.
Either way, it leaves a large group of soldiers with relatively little armor and artillery trying to quickly mass and fight an enemy who was already entrenched when they arrived, hopefully with the element of surprise.
It’s risky for the attackers, but it allows them to tie up or destroy enemy forces that could threaten operations, such as when Marines air assault against enemy artillery that could fire on a simultaneous amphibious assault.
2. Assault through ambush
When a maneuver force finds itself in a near ambush — defined as an ambush from within hand grenade range, about 38 yards — with the enemy sweeping fire through their ranks, it’s trained to immediately turn towards the threat and assault through it, no matter the cost.
Each individual soldier takes this action on their own, not even looking to the platoon or squad leadership before acting. While running directly towards the incoming fire takes serious cojones, it’s also necessary. Trying to go any other direction or even running for cover just gives the enemy more time to fire before rounds start heading back at them.
And the number 1 ballsiest move:
1. Ships ramming submarines
It’s hard to get more ballsy than one of the earliest methods for attacking submarines: taking your ship, and ramming it right into the enemy. This is super dangerous for the attacking ship since the submarine’s hull could cause the surface ship’s keel to break.
But surface ships do it in a pinch anyway, because there’s more risk to allowing a submarine to get away and possibly into position for a torpedo attack. And the surface ship is generally more likely to limp away from a collision than the submarine is, which is still a win in war.
Florida’s congressional delegation has restarted its campaign to move a Norfolk-based aircraft carrier to Naval Station Mayport in Jacksonville.
In a March 20 letter to Jim Mattis and acting Secretary Sean Stackley, the legislators argued — as they have in the past — that homeporting all the East Coast carrier fleet in Hampton Roads is dangerous.
“The risk to our current and future carrier fleet far exceeds the one-time costs of making Mayport CVN capable,” wrote the state’s 29-member delegation.
Members of Virginia’s congressional delegation who serve on House or Senate armed services committees said in statements Wednesday the huge cost of building shore facilities needed to keep at carrier at Mayport are prohibitive.
“I think it is inconceivable to consider spending almost a billion dollars on replicating a capability that already exists in Norfolk,” said Rep. Rob Wittman, who heads the House panel’s seapower subcommittee that oversees Naval operations. “As I consider options as to how to build a 355-ship , I can think of any number of other critical investments that are more important to the war fighter than building redundant infrastructure in Mayport.”
Senator Tim Kaine, a member of Senate Armed Services, agreed.
“Moving a carrier to Florida would cost a lot, stripping money away from other key defense priorities, without advancing our most pressing security goal. That is why past efforts to do this have always failed,” said the Virginia Democrat.
Left oken by both Florida and Virginia lawmakers is that hosting carriers represents a huge economic boost to a homeport. With the ship comes thousands of sailors, construction projects and lucrative support operations.
Mayport had once hosted conventionally-powered carriers, including the now-retired John F. Kennedy and Forrestal. However, all of today’s carriers are nuclear-powered, requiring more sophisticated base operations.
The Florida legislators argued the “over leverages risk to our carrier fleet” with one Atlantic homeport — particularly because it’s located near Newport News Shipbuilding, the sole builder of carriers.
“Not only are our operational CVN (carriers) in jeopardy, but our future capital ships under construction are practically co-located, risking tens of billions of dollars of assets as well as our ability to project power abroad now and in the future,” Florida legislators wrote in the letter, which was posted on Sen. Marco Rubio’s website.
Wittman contends the risk is overblown.
“In times of emergency, there are a multitude of ports available on the East Coast to support an aircraft carrier,” he wrote. “Furthermore, deep carrier maintenance would still be at Newport News.”
Hampton Roads is currently home to six carriers. Assigned to Naval Station Norfolk are the Harry S. Truman, George H.W. Bush, Dwight D. Eisenhower and George Washington.
The Abraham Lincoln has been at Newport News for a three-year, mid-life refueling and overhaul that is to be completed by early summer. The George Washington is slated to enter the private yard in August to begin its three-year overhaul.
The newest carrier, the Gerald R. Ford, is nearing completion at Newport News and expected to delivered to the in the spring.
President Donald Trump has said he wants to enlarge the carrier fleet 12 but has not offered specifics of how it would be funded or possible future homeports.
The , which has been required by law to have 11 carriers, has been operating with 10 for several years — with congressional approval. It will be back to 11 when the Ford is delivered.
The commanding general of III Marine Expeditionary Force has ordered a stop to all MV-22 Osprey flight operations in Japan until safety procedures can be reviewed after one of the tiltrotor aircraft was forced to make an emergency shallow-water landing off the coast of Okinawa on Tuesday.
In a press conference in Okinawa following the incident, Lt. Gen. Lawrence Nicholson said the aircraft had been conducting aerial refueling operations over water when the rotor blades hit the refueling line, causing damage to the aircraft.
“After the aircraft was unhooking, it was shaking violently,” Nicholson said, according to a III MEF news release. “The pilot made a decision to not fly over Okinawan homes and families. He made a conscious decision to try to reach Camp Schwab … and land in the shallow water to protect his crew and the people of Okinawa.”
All five Marine crew members aboard the Osprey were rescued from the aircraft and taken to the naval hospital at Camp Foster for treatment following the crash. According to the release, three have been released, and two remain under observation. Their current condition was not described.
III MEF officials said a salvage survey is being conducted to determine how best to recover the damaged Osprey safely, while protecting the environment. An investigation into the incident is ongoing.
During the press conference, Nicholson thanked the Japan Coast Guard and the Okinawan police for their assistance in responding to the crash.
“I regret that this incident took place,” Nicholson said. “We are thankful for all the thoughts and prayers the people of Okinawa gave to our injured crew.”
The Marines’ use of the Osprey on Okinawa has long been a point of contention among residents, many of whom fear that the aircraft might be especially prone to crashes given its history of deadly incidents in its early days. When additional Ospreys arrived at Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in 2012, locals held protests to oppose the move.
This is the second time in four months that Nicholson has ordered an operational pause for aircraft in Japan. In September, he ordered AV-8B Harriers in the region to temporarily halt operations after one of the aircraft crashed off of Okinawa.
The Yazidi women who have fought the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria will be the subject of a new feature film in production by Amazon Studios and directed by Sarah Gertrude Shapiro.
This will mark Shapiro’s feature film directorial debut.
According to a report by Deadline.com, the exact plot details are unclear, but Shapiro has done much research into the plight of the Yazidi. Among the stories Shapiro has looked into is that of captured humanitarian worker Kayla Mueller.
The report notes that Mueller was forced into sex slavery and a marriage to ISIS leader Abu Bake al-Baghdadi, and that both the humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders and the Obama Administration failed to negotiate for her release.
Mueller’s parents claimed they were told that if they did make an offer to the terrorist group, they would risk prosecution. Details of Mueller’s captivity were provided by at least one former sex slave who escaped ISIS, and a letter smuggled to her family.
Mueller died in February 2015, with ISIS claiming she had been killed in an air strike carried out by the Royal Jordanian Air Force, after being held for 18 months. Earlier this month, some reports claimed that Al-Baghdadi was also killed by an air strike.
Shapiro is also reportedly researching the so-called “European jihadi brides” in preparation for the project. Some of the worst torture suffered by Yazidi sex slaves has been at the hands of the spouses of ISIS fighters.
Shapiro is best known as the creator of the Lifetime series “UnREAL,” starring Constance Zimmer and Shiri Appleby, and also worked behind the scenes on the ABC Reality show “The Bachelor.”
SEAL Team 6 operators who went in to attack a compound used by al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula did not have a compromised mission, but instead were confronted by an enemy that was more prepared than the commandos expected.
According to a report by the Washington Times, planning for the Jan. 29 raid assumed that family members would not be able or willing to fight the SEALs, prompting them to bypass one of the houses in the compound.
The SEALs came under fire from women who picked up rifles during the raid. The unexpectedly fierce firefight meant that the SEALs were unable to collect as much intelligence as they had hoped to, the report said. Civilian casualties also occurred during the raid.
The raid has been criticized by many, including Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), the Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. McCain has consistently labeled the raid in which Senior Chief Petty Officer William Owens was killed a “failure.”
Despite the unexpected firefight, the civilian casualties, and the fact that less intelligence was gathered than they hoped for, an after-action review conducted by Central Command could not identify any bad judgment, incompetence, conflicting information or other issues.
“I think we had a good understanding of exactly what happened on [the] objective and we’ve been able to pull lessons learned out of that that we will apply in future operations,” Gen. Joseph Votel, the Army officer who runs CENTCOM, told a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing. “And as a result, I made the determination that there was no need for an additional investigation into this particular operation.”
The previous special operations raid into Yemen, carried out by American forces, took place in December, 2014. The objective was to rescue an American photojournalist and a South African teacher. The hostages were executed by terrorists during the raid.
The U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Laboratory uses a picture of Mickey Mouse in its official logo, and it turns out that Walt Disney is totally fine with that.
The Army’s crime lab investigates serious crimes “in which the Army has an interest,” providing everything from forensic laboratory support to the experts that testify in criminal cases. Since they are the folks trying to figure out what happened on a crime scene, it makes sense to have a logo that reflects the profession.
In the Army’s case, that’s a picture of Mickey Mouse looking like Sherlock Holmes with a magnifying glass.
In 1943 the world was at war, and millions of Americans had been called to serve their country. The chain-of-command realized that in order to defeat the enemy aggressors, they had to control the internal criminal element. To assist in accomplishing this mission, the Army’s first forensic laboratory was activated on October 1, 1943, as the Scientific Investigations Branch of the Provost Marshal’s Office, 12th U.S. Army Group, Algiers, French North Africa.
The Laboratory consisted of 2nd Lt. George R. “Pappy” Bird and a photographer. They moved with advancing forces from Algiers to Naples, Italy where Sgt. James Boarders joined the new crime laboratory. The team then moved on to southern France. During this time all their work was done in borrowed offices of abandoned homes. As the offensive picked up speed, Bird, who had been promoted to captain, saw the need for a mobile laboratory. While in Marseilles, France, he obtained a weapons repair truck and its driver from the 27th MP Detachment (CI) and converted it into a laboratory. Bird later added a jeep and a chemist to his team and rejoined the allied advance; crossing the Rhine River and moving into the heart of Germany. The laboratory ended its wartime duty in Fulda, later moved to Wiesbaden, and then to Frankfurt.
The lab has been accredited since 1985, and is the only full service forensic laboratory the DoD has. On the command’s website is a letter from Walt Disney Productions (which is watermarked on the logo under Mickey’s feet), explaining that the studio is just fine with its appropriation of everyone’s favorite mouse:
At the Starbucks at the Langley headquarters of the Central Intelligence Agency it might be best to just remember your drink order because the baristas won’t remember your name.
“They could use the alias ‘Polly-O string cheese’ for all I care,” a food services supervisor at the CIA, told the Washington Post. “But giving any name at all was making people — you know, the undercover agents — feel very uncomfortable. It just didn’t work for this location.”
The agents don’t have to leave the building to get their daily fix, but they won’t get stars to add to their gold card requirements either. Tracking the agents preferences is strictly prohibited, as the Agency fears its data could be used to out secret agents. The receipts just say “Store Number 1.”
The baristas for what is now known as the “Stealthy Starbucks” go through a rigorous background investigation, but still can’t leave the Starbucks without a handler. They are frequently briefed about security risks. During the day, the vanilla latte is the winner. For agents working long hours and night shifts, double espressos and Frappuccinos are what the agents of the world’s most secret intelligence agency need to keep going.
“There’s caramel-macchiato guy” and “the iced white mocha woman,” one barista said. “But I have no idea what they do, I just know they need coffee. A lot of it.”
When American forces stormed ashore at Saipan on June 15, 1944, they knew they were in for a fight. Saipan was strategically important to both the Americans and the Japanese. It is the largest island in the Marianas chain and close enough to the Japanese mainland for American B-29’s to launch bombing missions.
Though it is often overshadowed by other battles, the battle of Saipan was the most costly operation for the Americans in the Pacific up to that point. 31,000 Japanese stood ready to defend the island from some 71,000 Americans of the 2nd and 4th Marine Divisions and the Army’s 27th Infantry Division.
Through June and into July, American forces made slow but steady progress across the island. Brutal fighting occurred in places that earned names such as “Death Valley” and “Purple Heart Ridge.”
By July 6, the situation was desperate for the Japanese. With the defeat of the Imperial Japanese Navy at the Battle of the Philippine Sea, there was no hope of rescue or reinforcement for the remaining defenders on Saipan.
Gen. Saito, the Japanese commander on Saipan, ordered all remaining defenders, wounded or not, and even civilians on the island to conduct a massive banzai charge against the American positions. “There is no longer any distinction between civilians and troops,” Saito said. “It would be better for them to join in the attack with bamboo spears than to be captured.”
Saito would not join his troops in the attack, though. After transmitting an apology to Tokyo for his failure, he committed ritual suicide.
Leading the way were soldiers carrying a massive red flag, followed by sword-wielding officers and the rest of the infantry. Behind them came the wounded and what civilians decided to join the attack. There was an insufficient number of rifles for all, so many wounded came with bamboo spears, rocks, or anything else they hoped could do damage.
As some 4,000 Japanese swarmed over the American lines, intense close quarters combat broke out.
Leading the 1st Battalion was Lt. Col. William O’Brien. Since the first days his unit had landed on Saipan, he had shown his bravery and skill as a commander. O’Brien had personally led several assaults to reduce Japanese strongpoints while continually exposing himself to enemy fire.
When the Japanese came at the 1st Battalion that morning, O’Brien was once again in the thick of the fighting and leading from the front.
As the enemy swept over his lines, O’Brien steadfastly held his ground and rallied his men. Like a modern-day Call of Duty character, he dual-wielded two .45 caliber pistols and shouted encouragement to his men as he blasted the onrushing attackers.
As the attack continued, O’Brien received a painful wound to his shoulder but refused to quit. When his pistol ammunition was exhausted, he picked up a discarded rifle and continued to fight. When he again ran out of ammunition, he manned a .50 caliber machine gun and poured fire into the advancing Japanese.
O’Brien was last seen alivesurrounded by sword-wielding Japanese, blasting the .50 caliber machine gun and yelling at his men, “Don’t give them a damn inch!”
Elsewhere on the 1st Battalion line, one Thomas Baker, a private in A Company, was also giving the Japanese hell. Like O’Brien, from the early days of his unit’s involvement on Saipan he had exhibited tremendous bravery in fighting the Japanese.
As the Japanese rushed his position, Baker delivered deadly fire with his rifle. When he was wounded he refused to be evacuated and continued to fight on. With his ammunition exhausted, Baker turned his rifle into club and desperately fought off the Japanese attackers until his weapon was battered beyond use.
At this point, a fellow soldier withdrew him from the line, but in carrying him from the field was himself wounded. Baker refused to be taken any further due to the risk to his friends. He made a simple last request — to be left propped against a tree, facing the Japanese, with a .45 pistol with eight shots.
When friendly forces retook the position in the following days, they discovered Baker’s body, just as they had left it, with eight dead Japanese laying in front of him — each killed with a single shot from his .45.
Further down the line from the 1st Battalion, the 2nd Battalion was having problems of its own. Japanese forces had breached the perimeter and were attacking the battalion aid station just behind the front lines.
As Japanese continued to infiltrate his aid station, Salomon, with the help of wounded soldiers, expertly dispatched them until he realized the situation was untenable. Ordering the wounded to make their way back to the regimental aid station, Salomon joined the defenses and manned a machine gun.
Salomon was later found slumped over the machine gun, his body riddled with bullet and bayonet wounds, with scores of Japanese dead in front of his position. It was later determined that he had been wounded over 20 times and had moved the machine gun four times in order to get a clear field of fire around the bodies before he was overcome.
The battle for Saipan would be declared over two days later. Afterwards, O’Brien, Baker, and Salomon would all be awarded the Medal of Honor.
The US faces myriad conventional and unconventional threats: Russia, North Korea, Iran, terrorist organizations, climate change, and pandemics are just some of them. Yet, China unquestionably rises to the top as the primary danger to U.S. national security.
Earlier in 2021, Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines stated in Congress that Beijing has become an unparalleled priority for the U.S. Intelligence Community. Indeed, China has become a near-peer competitor that is increasingly challenging the U.S. in multiple domains, all the while trying to revise international norms and adjust them to the Chinese Communist Party’s authoritarian capitalistic system.
According to FBI Director Christopher Wray, the Bureau opens a new counterintelligence investigation related to China every 10 hours, with more than 2,000 current active cases. The majority of these cases relate to economic espionage, which has seen a 1,300% increase in the last few years.
To effectively challenge and surpass the U.S., China needs a robust economy, leadership in technology, and global legitimacy for its political system and policies. Key to achieving these goals is the Chinese intelligence apparatus.
Chinese Espionage: The Dragon’s Eyes and Ears
The Ministry of State Security (MSS) is responsible for the majority of Chinese intelligence operations, with the Chinese military standing in at times, especially in cyber espionage operations.
Chinese intelligence operations are diverse and multi-layered, encompassing all available tools and sectors. State-owned companies, private firms (legitimate and non-), think tanks, non-governmental organizations, researchers, and students, in addition to the increasingly more prevalent cyber operations, are all used in this multi-prong intelligence collection approach. Beijing certainly has the capabilities and the numbers to pursue such a strategy. The Chinese military alone fields approximately 40,000 cyber troops, compared to the just 6,000 that the U.S. Cyber Command can deploy.
China seeks to become the world’s next superpower, dethroning the U.S. and tearing apart the rules-based international system that American and its allies have built since the end of World War Two. To achieve this goal, Beijing primarily goes after economic, industrial, and technological targets that will offer a competitive advantage to the Chinese economic and technological sector. Whether it’s stolen blueprints of American (and foreign, including Russian) aircraft, such as the F-35 or F-22, or missile technology, China is using espionage to fuel its economic furnaces.
These intelligence operations pose a grave threat to U.S. national security and economic prosperity. In a recent interview Mike Orlando, the Acting Director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center, stated that Chinese espionage costs the U.S. between $200 to $600 billion a year in stolen intellectual property. And this is something that has been happening for the past two decades, which would mean a loss of $4 trillion, on the low end, to $12 trillion, on the high end; an astounding loss either way.
“The holistic and comprehensive threat to the United States, posed by the Communist Party of China is an existential threat. And it is the most complex, pernicious, aggressive, and strategic threat our nation has ever faced,” Bill Evanina, the former director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center, recently told the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.
Both China and Russia take a whole-of-government or whole-of-nation approach to national security. Everything is on the table and nothing is off-limits. Businesses, universities, and individuals are expected to assist the government. In China, under the National Security Law, every business and citizen is required to cooperate with the military and intelligence services and assist the regime in any way possible.
What this means in practice is that when a Chinese student comes to the U.S. to study, he or she will be required to share their research or any information and technology that they might have access to with the Chinese intelligence services. They will also be required to observe and gauge their countrymen also studying at the same institution and report any dissident behavior.
Conversely, there is not such a whole-of-government or whole-of-nation approach in the U.S. For example, Apple won’t create vulnerabilities in its devices and software so the NSA or FBI can access them more easily to conduct surveillance against foreign (in the case of the NSA) or domestic (in the case of the FBI) targets. Indeed, American businesses have the option to work with the military or Intelligence Community but aren’t required to. That’s a strategic disadvantage—but also an institutional and moral advantage.
Economic Espionage: Stealing Ideas and Tech
In order to surpass the U.S., China needs to continue its economic growth and technologically outmatch the U.S. and the rest of the West. However, instead of relying on innovation and invention, China prefers to steal technology and then copy it.
China is targeting and stealing “transport technologies,” such as quantum computing, autonomous vehicles, artificial intelligence, biotechnology, and 5G. Although there is a military application for all of these technologies, the commercial and economic value is equally important to Beijing in its bid to become a superpower.
The Chinese also use talent acquisition programs to attract top talent to China, not unlike any other nation. But while innocuous at the face of it, these programs often require the stealing of technology from the previous company to provide to the hiring Chinese one as a part of that process.
“So if you look back 20 years ago, what we were most concerned about was intelligence services targeting the U.S. government for classified information or targeting DOD technologies. And what we’ve seen over the last 20 years is the shift to private sector intellectual property research and development, particularly by China, who has been the most egregious one in stealing those technologies. And we’ve also seen their capabilities of China and Russia move from not only the human operations, but to cyber operations and to technical collection that has made it a difficult target to work,” Orlando added.
It’s worth noting that the U.S. Intelligence Community collects foreign intelligence just like the Chinese MSS. However, it’s the issue of how this intelligence is used that differentiates the two. Beijing won’t—and doesn’t— hesitate from collecting intelligence and stealing secrets to advance its economic purposes, including Chinese corporations, in addition to its national security.
The majority of countries employ their intelligence services in a similar manner. The French, for example, are historically notorious for their industrial and economic espionage, even against the U.S. Conversely, the U.S. collects foreign intelligence for national security purposes, rather than to share it with American corporations so that they can have a competitive advantage over their international competitors.
A Shift in Intelligence Collection
To further complicate matters, U.S. counterintelligence officers have seen a shift from more traditional espionage operations to non-traditional ones. Historically, countries have used two methods of human intelligence espionage: official cover and non-official cover.
Official cover is when an intelligence officer is assigned to an embassy or consulate abroad under a diplomatic role, for instance, as political officers or consular officers. In addition to their diplomatic duties, these officers perform their intelligence duties during the day or at night. Although they are known to the local country—and other countries—and are restricted by their secondary diplomatic tasks, they do enjoy diplomatic immunity if they are caught.
Non-official cover is when an intelligence officer deploys under a fake name and backstory, pretending to be someone he or she isn’t. This approach offers more flexibility to the intelligence officer as local counterintelligence officials and security services are less likely to suspect and thus monitor him or her. The use of non-official cover, or “Illegals,” as some countries call them, came into public view rather dramatically in 2010 with the arrest of 10 Russian intelligence officers who had been operating inside the U.S. for decades.
Now there seems to be a third category that, although it has always existed, never used to surpass those standard approaches in volume of use. Non-traditional collectors aren’t trained intelligence officers of the SVR, GRU, or MSS but rather businessmen, researchers, and students who have legitimate jobs or conduct genuine research. They use their innocuous-looking credentials to act as surrogates or proxies for their intelligence services.
The case of Maria Butina, who was arrested and convicted for being a Russian agent in 2018, is a great example of this approach. Under the genuine guise of a graduate student at the American University, Butina infiltrated conservative and NRA circles seeking to assess and develop targets.
As the above examples show, the Chinese intelligence efforts are formidable and worth taking very seriously.