“The Princess Bride” is a cult classic – one of Robin Wright’s early roles, combined with a young Cary Elwes along with Mandy Patankin and Andre the Giant.
While it’s a satirical look at medieval fairy tales, could it play a role in training future combat leaders in the U.S. Army? Believe it or not, the answer may be “Yes.”
The proof is on Youtube, where the Army ROTC has a channel with dozens of videos of classic movies that hold a lesson for this generation of leaders.
As part of a course labeled MSL 101, Lesson 10, the “Battle of Wits” scene is used to discuss critical thinking. At the end of that video, a card comes up for about four seconds, asking, “What did you think of the clip?” The card goes on to ask, “What processes do you use when you are considering a situation/dilemma when you alone must make the decision?”
Here is that video:
Other videos used in that lesson plan include two clips from the Wile E. Coyote/Roadrunner cartoons in the “Looney Tunes” collection.
“The Big Bang Theory” also is mined for clips:
“Top Gun” adds one as well.
Stick around – there are two major productions that really get mined to illustrate lessons.
If a conflict in U.S. history ever came with baggage, it has to be the Vietnam War. Although the service and actions of the millions of Americans who fought in Southeast Asia have been slowly recognized, the unpopularity of the war at the time, and for many years after, left a scar in American society. This unpopularity also meant that extraordinary men and units, such as the Military Assistance Command Vietnam-Studies and Observations Group (MACV-SOG), have fallen through the cracks of America’s consciousness, and are only known to a few old comrades, their families, and a handful of military history enthusiasts.
The innocuous-sounding MACV-SOG is such an organization, although its obscurity also has to do with its highly secretive nature.
SOG operators pulled off some of the most impressive special operations of the entire war; including some that seemed to defy logic itself. As successive U.S. administrations claimed that no American troops were outside South Vietnam, several hundreds of special operations troops fought against all odds, and against an enemy who always enjoyed a numerical advantage that sometimes exceeded a ratio of 1:1000.
The most secret unit you’ve never heard of
Activated in 1964, MACV-SOG was a covert joint special operations organization that conducted cross-border operations in Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, and North Vietnam.
Composed of Army Special Forces operators, Navy SEALs, Recon Marines, and Air Commandos, SOG also worked closely with the Intelligence Community, often running missions at the request of the CIA.
During its eight-year secret war (1964-1972), SOG conducted some of the most daring special operations in U.S. history and planted the seed for the creation of the U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) and Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC).
SOG’s main battleground and focus was the infamous Ho Chi Minh Trail, a complex stretching for hundreds of miles above and below ground, from North Vietnam through Laos and Cambodia into South Vietnam, which the North Vietnamese and Vietcong used to fuel their fight in the south.
What was peculiar about SOG operations was the fact that they happened where U.S. troops weren’t supposed to be. Successive U.S. administrations had insisted that no American troops were operating outside South Vietnam.
SOG commandos, thus, wore no name tags, rank, or any other insignia that might identify them as Americans. Even their weapons had no serial numbers.
Duty in SOG was voluntary and strictly confidential. SOG troops weren’t allowed to disclose their location, missions, or any other details surrounding their covert outfit and they couldn’t take photographs—like all good commandos. However, SOG broke that rule frequently, as the numerous pictures from the time suggest. But as far as the general public was concerned, they were each just another American soldier fighting Communism in Vietnam.
SOG was commanded by an Army colonel, called “Chief SOG,” reflecting the predominance of Green Berets in the organization, and divided into three geographical sections: Command and Control North (CCN), Command and Control Central (CCC), and Command and Control South (CCS).
Service in the unit was highly selective. Not only did it recruit solely from special operations units, but the inherent risk required that everyone had to be a volunteer. Approximately 3.2 million Americans served in Vietnam. Of that number, about 20,000 were Green Berets, of those, only 2,000 served in SOG, with just 400 to 600 running recon and direct action operations.
Service at SOG came with an unspoken agreement that you’d receive either a Purple Heart or body bag. SOG had a casualty rate of 100 percent—everyone who served in SOG was either wounded, most multiple times, or killed.
Our “Little People“
What enabled SOG operations was a steady supply of loyal and fierce local fighters who passionately hated the North Vietnamese—and sometimes each other. These local warfighters worked with the American commandos as mercenaries. The “Little People,” as the Americans affectionally called them, proved their worth on the field, against impossible odds time and again.
These local partner forces included Montagnards, South Vietnamese, and Chinese Nungs, among other tribes and ethnicities. Indeed, local mercenaries made up most of SOG recon teams and Hatchet Forces (more on them later). For example, most recon teams would run cross-border operations with between two and four Americans and four to nine local mercenaries. Locals had an uncanny ability—some SOG operators would say a sixth sense—to detect danger. This ability made them perfect point men during recon operations.
Usually, when launching a cross-border recon operation, SOG teams would enter a pre-mission “quarantine,” much like modern-day Army Special Forces operational detachments do before deploying. During this quarantine period, they would eat the same food as the North Vietnamese, that is mostly rice and fish, so they—and their human waste—could smell like the enemy while in the jungle.
Today, where pre-workout and energy drinks are borderline mandatory, even on active operations, such measures might sound extravagant. But in a moonless night, in the middle of the Cambodian jungle, surrounded by thousands of North Vietnamese trackers and troops, something as trivial-seeming as your smell could mean the difference between a SOG team getting wiped out or making it home.
The local troops, having a great understanding of the operational environment, were crucial in the survival of many SOG recon teams. When the war ended, some of them, such as the legendary “Cowboy,” managed to escape to the West and come to the U.S.
Death-defying special operations
SOG specialized mainly in strategic reconnaissance, direct-action, sabotage, and combat search-and-rescue.
Although SOG’s primary mission-set was strategic reconnaissance through its recon teams, it also specialized in direct-action operations, such as raids and ambushes. For these larger operations, there were different outfits within SOG.
The “Hatchet Forces” specialized in raids and ambushes, but also acted as a quick-reaction force for recon teams. Usually, Hatchet Forces were platoon-size and composed of five Americans and 30 indigenous troops. Sometimes, several Hatchet Forces would combine to create a company-size element, called either “Havoc” or “Hornet,” that could be very effective against known enemy logistical hubs or headquarters.
In addition to the Hatchet Forces, there were also the “SLAM” companies, standing for Search, Locate, Annihilate, Monitor/Mission, which were full-sized SOG companies with a few dozen Americans in leadership roles and a few hundred indigenous mercenaries who SOG had recruited.
The first SOG recon teams were called “Spike Teams” (ST), for example, ST Idaho, with the term “Recon Teams” (RT), for instance, RT Ohio, becoming more popular later in the war. Usually, SOG commandos named teams after U.S. States, but they also used other titles, such as “Bushmaster,” “Adder,” and “Viper.” The number of active recon teams fluctuated throughout the war, reflecting casualties and increasing demand. For example, at one point, CCC ran almost 30 recon teams.
Some notable SOG missions include Operation Tailwind, a Hatchet Force operation in Thailand and one of the most successful missions in SOG’s history; the Thanksgiving operation, when SOG operator John Stryker Meyer’s six-man team encountered and evaded 30,000 North Vietnamese; the Christmas mission, when Meyer’s team went into Laos to destroy a fuel pipeline but almost got burned alive by North Vietnamese trackers who lit the jungle on fire; Operation Thundercloud, in which SOG recruited and trained captured North Vietnamese troops and sent them to recon operations across the border dressed like their former comrades; and Recon Team Alabama’s October 1968 mission that accounted fora whopping 9,000 North Vietnamese killed or wounded in action.
What stands out about SOG is how much responsibility was placed on its young operators. Legendary SOG operator John Stryker Meyer, for example, was running recon as a One-Zero (team leader) at the age of 22 and just an E-4. And rules of engagement were quite different, with less bureaucracy impeding the guys on the ground.
“The Bright Light missions [combat search-and-rescue] would seldom be deployed under today’s Rules of Engagement,” Meyer told Sandboxx News.
“And, today, they call can’t believe lowly E-4s were directing air strikes, total control on the ground, and experienced troops had final say on teams, regardless of rank. Experience over rank.”
Although techniques, tactics, and procedures were generally the same among the three SOG subcommands, SOG teams adjusted their approaches according to their geographical area. Laos, for example, has more mountains and jungle than Cambodia, which is flatter and more open.
Saviors from above: SOG’s Air Commandos
Pivotal to the success and effectiveness of MACV-SOG operations across the border were several aircraft squadrons from across the services and also South Vietnam.
The Air Force’s 20th Special Operations Squadron was dubbed the “Green Hornets.” They flew the Sikorsky CH-3C and CH-3E and Bell UH-1F/P Huey. First Lieutenant James P. Fleming, a Green Hornet pilot, earned the Medal of Honor for saving a SOG recon team from certain death in 1968.
The Green Hornets’ Hueys came packed with an assortment of weapons, including M-60 machine guns, GAU-2B/A miniguns, and 2.75-inch rocket pods. If ammo ran out, door gunners would lob grenades or shoot their individual rifles.
In addition to the Green Hornets, the South Vietnamese Air Force 219th Squadron, which flew H-34 Kingbees, was a dedicated supporter of SOG operations. These South Vietnamese pilots and crews were truly fearless, always coming to the rescue of compromised recon teams regardless of the danger. Captain Nguyen Van Tuong, a legendary pilot, stands out for his coolness and steady hand under fire.
Other notable rotary-wing units that supported SOG missions were the USMC Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 367, which flew the AH-1 Viper attack and the UH-1 Venom transport helicopters; the 189th Assault Helicopter Company “Ghost Riders,” which flew assault and transport variants of the UH-1 Huey helicopter.
SOG commandos on the ground could also rely on fixed-wing close air support, with the turboprop A-1 Skyraider being a favorite platform for close air support and the F-4 Phantom a good choice on any given day.
“Military politics always interfered, and our leadership had to fight from close air support assets, such as the A-1 Skyraider squadrons,” Meyer told Sandboxx News.
“For example, SOG brass had to fight to keep the 56th Special Operations Wing, operating from Location Alpha in Da Nang.
“That unit’s SPADs [A-1 Skyraiders] were consistent and fearless and were considered the backbone of CAS during Operation Tailwind. On day 4, for example, the NVA were about to overrun the HF [Hatchet Force] when Tom Stump made devastating gun runs that broke the back of those frontal attacks, giving McCarley time to get them off the LZ and out of the target as weather closed in.”
Close air support was vital and probably the most important factor in the survival of numerous SOG teams. However, although SOG commandos enjoyed air superiority and North Vietnamese aircraft never posed a danger, the Air Commandos supporting SOG had to face the extremely potent anti-aircraft capabilities of the North Vietnamese, which included anything from light machine guns to heavy anti-aircraft cannons to surface-to-air missiles. Every hot extraction forced a penalty of downed helicopters and fighters/ or bombers, or at least a few riddled with bullets.
SOG commandos called in close air support themselves, usually by using a compass and smoke canisters. Forward air controllers, nicknamed “Covey,” flew overhead and assisted in coordinating with the team on the ground and controlling all air assets and close air support. In CCS, Covey usually flew solo, doing both tasks while also flying his plane. In CCN, however, Covey was a two-man affair, usually entailing an experienced SOG operator joining the pilot and helping out with his unique experience, having been on the receiving end of close air support numerous teams.
Years after the Vietnam War ended, it was discovered that there was a mole at the SOG headquarters in Saigon who had been passing information on team missions and locations to the enemy.
SOG operators, including special operations legends like Colonel Robert Howard and Master Sergeant Roy Benavidez, earned 12 Medals of Honor throughout the conflict.
Although service at SOG came with the unspoken agreement of a perilous life full of danger and risk, it also came with an unbreakable sense of loyalty and trust between the men who served there. A sense of loyalty and trust that time and again SOG operators proved through their commitment to leave no man behind, dead or alive. That effort, that commitment, continues to this day.
Twenty-five years ago, H.R. McMaster lead Eagle Troop, 2nd Squadron, 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment into battle at 73 Easting in Iraq, and kicked some Republican Guard butt.
Now, he is sounding some alarm bells.
According to an Army release, McMaster — now a lieutenant general and Army Training and Doctrine Command’s deputy commanding general for futures — gave the keynote address at a function held by the Association of the United States Army’s Institute of Land Warfare where he urged the development of new armored vehicles. The Silver Star recipient noted that Germany’s Puma, the Swedish CV90, and the British Ajax all featured more advanced technology than that on the M2/M3 Bradley.
That could put American troops at a disadvantage if the long-range precision firepower (systems like the Excalibur GPS-guided artillery round and the Joint Direct Attack Munition) is taken off the table. How might that happen? An enemy force could hide among civilians, or avoid the wide open spaces that make for easy target location.
McMaster noted that new armored vehicles might seem expensive, but in reality, they are cheap compared to big-ticket items in the Defense budget. The $362 million price tag of a Freedom-class littoral combat ship, for example, is enough to buy about 40 M1A2 Abrams tanks. This is important since in an environment where air power and naval power won’t be factors, an armored vehicle will be needed to get in close to decide the battle.
That said, it should be noted that the M1A2SEP Abrams of today is not like the tank that first entered service. The armor is even tougher than that on the tanks that served in Desert Storm (one famous incident involved main gun rounds from a T-72 bouncing off, even though they’d been fired from less than 400 yards away). The radios are better. A planned M1A3 will be about two tons lighter than current M1A2SEPs, and will feature no loss in lethality or protection.
The Bradley, though, has outlasted two efforts to replace it. First, the Future Combat Systems’ M1206 proposal got the chop for budget reasons. Then, the Ground Combat Vehicle didn’t even get a number in the M series.
McMaster notes that if nothing is done, “the Bradley and Abrams will remain in the inventory for 50 to 70 more years.”
“We are gravely underinvested in close-combat overmatch, gravely underinvested in land systems broadly, gravely underinvested in combat vehicles in particular,” he said.
In 1967, Israel fought the Six-Day War. Also known as the June War, the Israeli Defense Force was armed with the FN FAL battle rifle against the AK-47s of the Arab coalition. In the desert sand and dust, the Israeli FALs were prone to jamming and malfunctions. Moreover, the rifle was considered long and heavy. Israel needed a new rifle.
In the 1960s, America was replacing France as Israel’s primary ally and weapons supplier. The Israelis were offered the M16A1 to replace the FAL. While the new rifle was lighter and accurate, early M16s (and the accompanying ammunition) were not reliable enough for the IDF.
During the Six-Day War, Israel captured thousands of AKs. The IDF found that the stories of the rifle’s legendary reliability were true, but found its accuracy lacking. What they needed was a weapon that combined the accuracy of the M16 with the reliability of the AK-47.
Uziel Gal, designer and namesake of the iconic Uzi submachine gun, submitted a design for the new rifle. However, it was determined to be too complex and unreliable. Yisrael Galil, a British Army veteran of WWII, entered a competing design.
Galil’s rifle was based on the Finnish Valmet Rk 62. The Valmet uses the same 7.62x39mm cartridge as the AK-47 and is based on the Polish licensed version of the AK. However, Galil modified the Valmet to fire the 5.56x45mm NATO cartridge from the M16. Not only was the smaller American round more accurate, but it was readily available to Israel from the United States. The rifle, named Galil after its designer, was declared the winner and Israel’s new primary rifle.
Designed for the specific needs of Israeli soldiers, the standard service rifle version issued to infantry units had some special features. Designated as the Automatic Rifle Machine-gun variant, the Galil ARM was fitted with a bipod. This allowed troops to fire the weapon from a more steady position in the prone. The bipod hinge also functioned as a wire cutter. This reduced the time needed for IDF troops to cut through the wire fences common in rural Israel. Finally, the bipod latch could be used as a bottle opener. Civilian reservists often used the magazine feed lips of the Uzi to open bottles which resulted in damaged magazines. The Galil came with a bottle opener built right in to prevent this.
However, in 1973, Israel was caught off guard with the Yom Kippur War. The Arab coalition launched coordinated surprise attacks on the Jewish holiday and the IDF was forced to rapidly mobilize. This war delayed the production and issuance of the Galil. Additionally, most Israeli conscripts preferred the lighter, but less reliable, M16.
By 1975, 60,000 M16A1s from the United States were issued to the IDF. Compared with the high cost of domestically producing the Galil, the M16 was simply a better option to arm the majority of the IDF. The introduction of the even lighter, more versatile, and more reliable M4 and new 5.56x45mm NATO ammo sealed the Galil’s fate and it was phased out of standard-issue by 2000.
Although its use by the IDF was limited, the Galil saw extensive service overseas. Many third world countries adopted the Galil in 5.56x45mm NATO or 7.62x51mm NATO for its rugged reliability and use of NATO ammo. Licensed as the Vektor R4, the Galil is a favorite of the South African military and police. The Galil was even reportedly used by the Ventura County Sheriff’s Department SWAT Team in California. The Galil ACE is a modernized version of the rifle that comes in more calibers and configurations than its predecessor. The ACE has been adopted by the Chilean Army and People’s Army of Vietnam. However, it lacks the famous bipod with its wire cutter and bottle opener.
The Marine Corps has gone all in with the Heckler Koch-made M27 rifle, posting an order in August from the gunmaker for over 50,000 of the 5.56mm rifles.
Marine officials have hinted they intend to supply the entire Marine Corps with the pricey, German-made rifle but will start by outfitting Leathernecks in the infantry and eventually combat engineers and LAR Marines, according tomultiple sources.
Most firearms experts, including top infantry officials in the Corps, believe the M27 — a military version of the HK416 rifle — is a superior weapon compared to the M4 and M16A4 issued to most Marines. With a more durable barrel, a modern, free-float handguard and a cleaner gas-piston operating system — as well as a full-auto firing mode — the M27 will deliver more accurate fire over greater distances and with less wear and tear than current rifles, officials have said.
But this is the third time since 9/11 the Corps has changed up its rifle of choice, with the service upgrading to the M16A4 just after 9/11, then changing those over to the shorter M4 for infantry in 2015.
In 2010, the Corps bought a limited fleet of M27s, dubbing it the “Infantry Automatic Rifle” and supplying it in place of the Squad Automatic Weapon in infantry units.
The M27 was so popular among the rank and file, the Corps decided to adopt it for the entire force, with Commandant Gen. Robert Neller shifting more of the Corps into HK’s direction.
“Everything I have seen suggests that the M27s we have been using for some time have been the most reliable, durable, and accurate weapons in our rifle squads,” Neller has said.
For the past year, the Corps has experimented with equipping the bulk of an infantry battalion with the M27, including suppressors and better optics. Those experiments reportedly show the new gear helps Marines do their mission more effectively and are Marine-proof enough to be fielded throughout the fleet.
But some say the M27 — which costs around $3,000 per rifle — is an expensive alternative to simply upgrading existing M4s with new upper receivers.
“It is not that the M27 is a poor weapon, but rather that, in the ten years since the Infantry Automatic Rifle program was made public, substantial commercial off the shelf improvements have been introduced that could provide a weapon of equal or greater capability to the M27, but at lower cost and lower weight,” one small arms expert told The Firearm Blog.
America’s first tank unit, known as the “Treat ’em Rough Boys,” rushed through training and arrived in Europe in time to lead armored thrusts through Imperial German forces, assisting in the capture of thousands of Germans and miles of heavily contested territory.
The tankers were vital to the elimination of the famous St. Mihiel salient, a massive German-held bulge in the lines near the pre-war German-French border.
American forces joined the war late, participating in their first battle on Nov. 20, 1917, over three years after the war began and less than a year before it ended.
America had never attempted to create a tank before its entry into World War I. So while American G.I.s and other troops were well-supplied and fresh, most weren’t combat veterans and none had any tank experience.
Into this gap rode cavalry captain George S. Patton. He lobbied American Expeditionary Force Commander Gen. John J. Pershing to allow him to establish a tank school and take command of it if the U.S. decided to create a tank unit.
Patton also pointed out that he was possibly the only American to ever launch an armored car attack, a feat he had completed in 1916 under Pershing’s command in Mexico.
The first-ever American tank unit consisted of the light tank units organized by Patton and heavy tanks with crews trained by England.
When it came time for the AEF to lead its first major operation, the St. Mihiel salient was the obvious target. Other allied forces had already pacified other potential targets, and the salient at St. Mihiel had severely limited French lines of communication and supply between the front and Paris since Germany had established it in 1914.
The tanks led the charge into the salient on Sept. 12 with two American light tank battalions, the 326th and the 327th, backed up by approximately three battalions worth of French light tanks and two companies worth of French-crewed heavy tanks.
Infantry units moved into battle just behind the tanks, allowing the tracked vehicles to crush barbed wire and open the way.
Per Patton’s design, the tank companies were equipped with a mix of heavy guns to wipe out machine gun nests and other prepared defenses and machine guns to mow down infantry that got within their fields of fire. This mix allowed for rapid advancement except where the Germans had dug their trenches too deep and wide for the Renaults to easily cross.
The American infantry attacked the remaining resistance after the tanks passed and then took over German positions.
Of course, the first American armored offensive was not without its hiccups. The French-made Renault tanks got bogged down in deep mud. While German artillery was only able to knock out three American-crewed tanks, another 40 were lost to mud, mechanical breakdowns, and a lack of fuel at the front.
Patton continued refining American tank deployments, ordering that U.S. tanks carry fuel drums strapped to the back of the tank. At the suggestion of an unknown private, he also began equipping one tank per company as a recovery and repair tank, leading to the dedicated recovery vehicles in use today.
The tank corps went on to fight in the Meuse-Argonne offensive through the end of the war, this time with their heavy tanks there to support the infantry alongside their light armored friends. All of the tanks continued to face greater losses from terrain and mechanical breakdown than they did from enemy forces.
The greatest enemy threat to the tanks was artillery and mines, but the Germans learned to place engineering barriers such as large trenches to slow down the advance, and early anti-tank rifles took a small toll.
Veterans of the Persian Gulf War and the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan can’t expect to be buried at Arlington National Cemetery unless policies are changed — even if they were bestowed the Medal of Honor, a new report says.
There are 21 million living veterans in the U.S., but the cemetery has room for only 73,000 burials.
Currently, any veteran with an honorable discharge and at least one day of active duty is eligible for interment there at Arlington. That’s a lower bar than the cemeteries managed by the Department of Veterans Affairs, which require two years of active duty service. (RELATED: VA Insists On Paper Records, Slowing Payments To Private Docs But Creating Union Jobs)
Largely thanks to the one-day-minimum policy, the cemetery will be closed even to those killed in action — known as “first interments” — by 2042.
“If Arlington National Cemetery is to continue to operate under current policies, it must be expanded geographically and/or alter the iconic look and feel of the cemetery,” an Army report presented to Congress August 23 said. “If Arlington National Cemetery is to continue to operate without expansion, eligibility must change or it will close for first interments by mid-century.”
That’s only 26 years into the future, meaning veterans of recent wars, including in Iraq and Afghanistan, have little hope of burial there when they die later in life. “With current policies, Veterans of the Gulf War, Somalia, [Operation Iraqi Freedom, and Operation Enduring Freedom] era cannot expect to be buried at Arlington National Cemetery, even if awarded the Medal of Honor,” the report says.
Between 1967 and 1980, burial at Arlington was limited to those killed in action (KIA), retired career, and medal of honor recipients. If the policy is changed to limit the cemetery to KIAs only, the cemetery will have enough space for hundreds of years.
But doing so would disenfranchise Vietnam veterans, the youngest of whom will be octogenarians around 2040 and many of whom already felt mistreated by their country.
Besides changing policy, the cemetery can consider more compact and above-ground burials, which would risk losing the “serene and ordered look … with its rows of white headstones, trees, and tasteful historical and ceremonial spaces.”
It could also expand, either by acquiring neighboring land — which is hard to come by in Arlington — or at a new site. One such expansion is already taken into account in the projections.
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As we endure the long wait for titles like “No Man’s Sky,” “Battlefield 1,” and “Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare,” We Are The Mighty decided to dust off some old games in the archives.
“Gears of War: Ultimate Edition” is the re-mastered version of the 2006 game known for its chainsaw kills, ‘roided up characters, and brutal gameplay. It allows players to fight as Delta Squad soldiers against the dreaded Locusts, an army of bug-like monsters, in H.D. Players control Marcus Fenix or Dominic Santiago in a mission to map Locust tunnels and deploy a Lightmass Bomb – imagine a cross between napalm and a nuclear bomb.
For most of the game, Delta squad consists of four members which the player can give simple orders to as they face off against Boomers – massive infantrymen who fire explosive grenades, Berserkers – unstoppable linebackers who will charge players, Locust Drones – standard infantrymen, and others.
The fights progress from the ruins of major cities and through underground tunnels and mines before culminating on a moving train. Features of the different areas, such as whether or not the area is exposed to satellites or is lit by the sun, change the combat mechanics and keep the player on their toes.
The main antagonist, General RAAM, is the head of all Locust forces and is known for his ruthlessness. He executes one human after another in brutal ways and is able to control a flock of krill, bat-like creatures that will attack Delta soldiers en mass and tear them apart.
Considering how far out the game’s plot and enemies are, it features surprisingly realistic combat mechanics. Players need to maneuver carefully and use cover to bring down the Locust grunts and massive monsters. In two-player mode, players can support each other during attacks, even when the map forces them to use two different routes.
Players have to endure a number of different scenarios in the main game, everything from defending a stranded outpost like they’re on a firebase being overrun to assaulting an enemy strongpoint defended by elite warriors.
Players need to support each other in multiplayer mode. Despite the small teams, the fighting is still intense. (GIF: Gears of War: Ultimate Edition on Xbox 1)
In multiplayer mode, modern gamers may be surprised that most game types support four versus four multiplayer, and one only supports two versus two. But, these smaller teams make the fighting feel less hectic and more personal, creating less chaos and supporting tactical play.
Of course, the re-mastered graphics make everything in “Gears of War: Ultimate Edition” look more realistic and prettier than in the original. While this breaks from the aesthetic of the 2006 version, a notoriously gritty experience, it still feels like Delta Squad is in the suck.
For gamers who haven’t gotten into “Gears of War” yet or who want a refresher before the release of “Gears of War 4” in October, the Ultimate Edition is great fun.
Lt. Col. Allison Black, commander of the 319th Special Operations Squadron, became the first woman in her special ops navigator field. Now younger generations of airmen can take the same path while embarking on their own journey in the Air Force. (U.S. Air Force video // Jimmy D. Shea)
Under the cover of night, then-1st Lt. Allison Black left her tent in Uzbekistan to walk to a preflight brief. Hours later, she’d be making history.
On this November night in 2001, the United States was hoping to bring to justice those responsible for the attacks two months earlier in New York City and Pennsylvania, and at the Pentagon.
Flying over the skies of Afghanistan, Black, who is now a lieutenant colonel and the commander of the 319th Special Operations Squadron at Hurlburt Field, Florida, was the navigator on the AC-130H Spectre. As the navigator, she was charged with several duties, one of which was to be the single voice communicating from the aircraft to troops on the ground.
As the gunship fired everything it had upon the Taliban, expending 400 40 mm rounds and 100 105 mm rounds, the Northern Alliance leader, Gen. Abdurrashid Dostum (often referred in the media and around camp fires as “Dostum the Taliban killer”) heard Black’s voice communicating to the joint terminal attack controller on the ground to better understand where rounds need to be fired.
“He heard my voice and asked the special ops guys ‘Is that a woman?’ and they said ‘Yeah, it is,'” Black recalled. “He couldn’t believe it. So he’s laughing and says, ‘America is so determined, they’ve brought their women to kill Taliban.’ He calls the guys we’re shooting and says ‘You guys need to surrender now. American women are killing you … you need to surrender now.'”
The morning after that first mission, those remaining Taliban members surrendered.
“My first combat mission began the collapse of Taliban in the north,” said Black, who became the first female to be awarded the Air Force Combat Action Medal.
This operation would have looked different in 1992.
When Black joined the Air Force in 1992, females weren’t allowed to fly combat missions. That didn’t change until 1993, as the Air Force opened all but less than 1 percent of career fields to women, with the remainder scheduled to open up by early 2016.
At just over 5 feet tall, the Long Island, New York, native seeks and embraces challenges and doesn’t play for second place — a mindset that led her to the Air Force.
“The Air Force seemed to be the hardest service to get into. That got my attention,” Black said. Arriving at basic military training as an enlisted Airman, she was guaranteed a job in the medical career field. But her plans changed when a survival, evasion, resistance and escape specialist briefed Black’s flight on his career field and challenged the group of trainees to join SERE.
“I didn’t know how to chop down a tree, didn’t know how to kill a rabbit, didn’t know how to set a snare, but I was willing,” Black said. “It sounded challenging.”
After more than four years as a SERE instructor, including time as an arctic survival instructor, Black wanted another challenge.
Upon finishing her degree, Black earned a commission as a second lieutenant and headed off to become a navigator — a career field available on several airframes, including bombers and fighters.
There was just one airframe Black wanted: the gunship — specifically, the AC-130H gunship — so she could be on the main flight deck with the pilot, right in the thick of things.
But becoming an Airman, a SERE specialist, an officer and a navigator wasn’t enough — she wanted to join the elite Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC).
“It was exciting. It’s special operations command. You’re in a small force, asked to do tough missions — missions that operate in the gray,” Black said.
Black didn’t realize it at the time, but when she arrived at the 16th Special Operations Squadron, then stationed at Hurlburt Field, she became the first female navigator in that unit and on the AC-130H.
“The thought of being the first was the furthest thing on my mind,” she said. “At that time, I was so focused on being really good at my job and not letting any naysayers get in my way.”
Not only was the milestone the furthest thing from her mind, but it was also something she didn’t want to be on anyone else’s mind either.
“I wasn’t trying to change anyone’s opinion on whether I should or shouldn’t be in a job,” Black said. “I wanted to be an asset. I wanted to be sought after. I wanted to be really good at what I did. I didn’t want to come in second; I wanted to be first.”
Each person defines success differently.
Black doesn’t define success by the medals on her chest or the oak sleeves on her shoulders.
“By not trying to make a statement, I think I found success. I didn’t have an agenda. I didn’t join the Air Force, I didn’t join SERE, and I didn’t join AFSOC to prove that women can do a job,” Black said. “I joined all those things because of the challenge and the career field and the sexy mission. And I just happen to be a woman doing it. And, fortunately, because of my successes, it brought more visibility to ‘Hey, it doesn’t matter if it’s a guy or a girl.'”
Paying it forward
“It wasn’t until years later … when I’d have young female or male Airmen tell me that my story was inspiring, that hearing what I was able to do in AFSOC gave them the confidence to raise their hands and go forward. It was humbling,” Black said.
Black remembers vividly a point in her career where it was clear that she needed to pay it forward.
After a speech to members from base, a female senior airman approached her and referenced the part of the presentation when Black said it has been possible to mother children while also being an Airman. The senior airman was about to get out of the Air Force because she didn’t have anyone telling her the same thing.
“She’s a senior master sergeant now, and we still keep in contact,” Black said.
Seeing these tangible results from telling her story, Black began to reach out even more.
“It’s second and third order effect that just at the virtue of me doing my job, it highlighted that women can succeed. It highlighted the opportunity for women: ‘Hey you’re going to be accepted. They’re going to respect what you bring to the fight,'” Black said.
When she arrived at AFSOC, she didn’t have a cadre of female navigators to offer her mentorship. What she did have were those she refers to as her everything: her husband, Ryan, who was also a SERE instructor, and a supply of male mentors who were all willing to help a teammate grow, regardless of which bathroom stall they use.
“All of the gentlemen I’ve worked for have equipped me with the skills to be a good leader. They gave me that opportunity to shine and to step up,” she said. “You’re judged on game day. You can practice every day of the week, but it’s what you do on Sunday that counts. And I don’t believe in ‘Everyone gets a trophy.”
A new generation
When Black joined the Air Force in 1992, her options looked a lot different than they do for female Airmen today. However, because of her success and the success of many others like her, there are more options in the Air Force for females than in any other service.
This success gave people like 1st Lt. Margaret Courtney many options and paths to walk — or even fly.
Just over two years ago, Courtney had the world on a string, with options in droves. The Baylor University graduate, who majored in neuroscience, managed to pass the Law School Admission Test while working at a mental health institution helping to rehabilitate individuals with drug dependencies. Her potential career paths were in no way limited.
But she wanted more. She wanted a bigger challenge even than graduating with a neuroscience degree and going to law school.
After talking to recruiters from three different branches of the military, and after pinging several friends and family members, Courtney noticed a trend.
“It’s funny — everyone who wasn’t in the Air Force recommended the Air Force,” Courtney said.
After commissioning as an officer and going through training to become a navigator, Courtney faced a decision — what airframe did she want to work on for the remainder of her Air Force career?
“I remember going through (navigator) training, and there are several airframes that require (combat systems officers). You’re going through those aircraft and imagining your life three to 10 years down the road,” Courtney said. “How different would my life look if I joined this community or that community?”
The number of opportunities the Air Force has given Courtney caught her off guard.
“It’s not too bad to be in your young 20’s and have basically limitless possibilities laid out in front of you. I’m like ‘Goodness gracious, let me look into it all,'” Courtney said. “I feel like I’m hitting this whole job and career at the sweet spot. I’ve had plenty of people ahead of me pave the way.”
Knowing what’s ahead for Courtney, Black is excited, and almost proud of the options female Airmen now have.
“It’s exciting — hearing about Lieutenant Courtney,” Black said. “I can’t help but to reflect on when I was a lieutenant and how excited I was to come to the mission, then, after 9/11, to go and fight. I’m excited for her, because I know she’s going to find the reward.”
Black doesn’t just see the past and the present, but the future keeps her motivation high, knowing the possibilities now out there for females in the Air Force.
“The success is that we don’t hear about it because they’re blended in,” said Black said of current female aircrew members. “They’re just people doing great things – male and female. That’s success.”
When Black arrived at Hurlburt in 2000, she was wide-eyed and ready to take on the world. She saw a fork in the road and committed to a direction, not knowing the path. Now that she’s traveled that path, she feels she has a responsibility to people like Courtney and other female Airmen.
“She doesn’t know what she doesn’t know,” said Black of Courtney, who’s even more wide-eyed than the prior-enlisted Black was at this stage in her AFSOC career. “That’s where people like me come in. Lt. Col. Megan Ripple is the director of (operations) at the 4th Special Operations Squadron. We arrived here at Hurlburt together. We are taking the initiative to reach out to these women to prepare them for deployment, to teach them all the things we didn’t know.”
Considering Courtney’s only job up until this point has been to learn and receive training, she’s growing more and more excited to fly this new path.
“I’m still trying to figure out how everything works,” said Courtney, who was recently assigned to the 4th SOS. I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. I can’t wait to actually partake in it, and do what I’ve been training for. They want you to learn, they want you to train; they want to set you up for success. No one really cares where you’ve come from, what your rank is. They care about how much work you put into your job every day. If you’re competent and put forth the work, you get rewarded.”
Though there are some years between Black and Courtney, they noted a common mentality present when they joined the AFSOC community.
“I haven’t noticed if anyone cares about me being a girl or not,” Courtney said. “They care about how good you are at what you do, and if you care or not, and if you take pride in your work.”
Letting your work speak for itself is a welcome reality for Courtney.
“It’s definitely a relief that you’re judged based on the quality of your work, and nothing else,” Courtney said, pointing out that the impact of the mission is way too important to care about the irrelevant. “AFSOC is pretty open about it. The game we play is life or death.”
The American commander of coalition forces in Iraq and Syria says a Russian air strike in northern Syria accidently struck U.S.-backed Syrian Arab forces and nearly bombed U.S. troops who are part of the fight against so-called Islamic State (IS) militants.
U.S. Army Lieutenant General Stephen Townsend said on March 1 that Russian planes likely thought they were bombing IS positions in villages near Al-Bab to the northeast of Aleppo.
He said the confusion came amid “a very complicated battlefield situation where essentially three armies and an enemy force have all converged” within the same 1-kilometer area.
Townshend said U.S. military advisers were about four kilometers from the February 28 air strike and used “deconfliction channels” set up for communication between Russia and the United States to warn the Russian pilots off.
He said the information quickly reached the pilots, who then ended the bombing.
Russia’s Defense Ministry said “neither Syrian nor Russian aviation delivered strikes against areas designated by the U.S. side” as locations of pro-U.S. opposition forces.
Townshend said he believes the Russians thought they were attacking IS positions in the village. But he said IS fighters had withdrawn before the bombing, and opposition fighters from the so-called Syrian Arab Coalition had moved in.
Nearly 17,000 World War I veterans and some of their families had made camp on the shore of the Anacostia River south of Capitol Hill by the summer of 1932. They were all unemployed, and many of them had been so since the start of the Great Depression in 1929. They wanted the money the government had promised them as a function of their wartime service, and they wanted it immediately.
But the benefit they were due was a little more complicated than that. In 1924 Congress overrode a veto by President Calvin Coolidge and passed the World War Adjusted Compensation Act. According to the act each veteran was to receive a dollar for each day of domestic service, up to a maximum of $500, and $1.25 for each day of overseas service, up to a maximum of $625 (about $7,899 in current dollars). Amounts of $50 or less were immediately paid. All other amounts were issued as Certificates of Service maturing in 20 years.
3,662,374 military service certificates were issued, with a face value of $3.638,000,000 ($43.7 billion today). Congress established a trust fund to receive 20 annual payments of $112 million that, with interest, would finance the 1945 disbursement of the $3.638 billion due the veterans. Meanwhile, veterans could borrow up to 22.5 percent of the certificate’s face value from the fund.
But in 1931, because of the Great Depression, Congress increased the maximum value of such loans to 50 percent of the certificate’s face value.
Although there was congressional support for the immediate redemption of the military service certificates, President Hoover and Republican congressmen opposed such action on the grounds that the government would have to increase taxes to cover the costs of the payout, and that would slow down any potential recovery.
On June 15, 1932, the House of Representatives passed the Wright Patman Bonus Bill which would have moved forward the date for World War I veterans to receive their cash bonus, but two days later the Senate defeated the bill by a vote of 62-18.
The Bonus Army, as the veteran squatters were known, decided to protest the Senate vote by marching from Anacostia to Capitol Hill. Once the march was over a number of vets decided not to return to Anacostia and instead they set up camp on Capitol Hill. They lived there for over a month waiting for lawmakers or President Hoover to do something on their behalf.
On July 28, 1932, Attorney General William D. Mitchell ordered the police to remove the Bonus Army veterans from their camp on Capitol Hill, and during that effort the vets rushed two policemen trapped on the second floor of a building. The cornered police drew their revolvers and shot at the veterans, two of which, William Hushka and Eric Carlson, later died.
When President Hoover heard about the incident he ordered the U.S. Army to evict the Bonus Army from Washington DC. The task fell to the 12th Infantry Regiment, commanded by one General Douglas MacArthur, who was supported by six tanks, under the charge of one Major George S. Patton who was attached to the 3rd Calvary Regiment.
When the vets saw the Army force they cheered, thinking they were there to support their cause. But MacArthur quickly showed them that wasn’t the case. The Army waded into the vets with tear gas and fixed bayonets. The vets retreated back to Anacostia, and President Hoover ordered the Army to stop the eviction. However General MacArthur, in a move that foretold his infamous showdown with President Truman years later during the Korean War, ignored Hoover’s order and continued his assault on the Bonus Army.
Fifty-five veterans were injured and 135 arrested. A veteran’s wife miscarried. A 12-week-old boy died in the hospital after being caught in the tear gas attack. The veteran shantytown was burned to the ground.
MacArthur later explained his actions by saying that he thought that the Bonus March was an attempt to overthrow the U.S. government.
Though the Bonus Army incident did not derail the careers of the military officers involved, it proved politically disastrous for Hoover. He lost the 1932 election in a landslide to Franklin D. Roosevelt.
MGM released the movie “Gabriel Over the White House” in March 1933, the month Roosevelt was sworn in as president. Produced by William Randolph Hearst’s Cosmopolitan Pictures, it depicted a fictitious President Hammond who, in the film’s opening scenes, refuses to deploy the military against a march of the unemployed and instead creates an “Army of Construction” to work on public works projects until the economy recovers.
First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt quipped that the movie’s treatment of veterans was superior to Hoover’s.
TripAdvisor is a great place to get travel tips from fellow adventurers. It can tell you what cafes are best in Paris or which museums are best in Germany. And, it can apparently tell you which bases are best in Afghanistan.
Some hilarious person decided to add “Bagram Airfield” to TripAdvisor’s list of “Things to do in Afghanistan,” and vets have been filling it with unfiltered and often sarcastic opinions about what life on the base is like. It’s currently ranked as the “#1 of 1 things to do in Bagram, Afghanistan, Asia.” Read the 4 selected reviews below to learn why:
1. BAF4DAYZ nailed the Afghanistan experience with just the headline of his review:
2. Other reviewers gave a nod to the locals who make all visits to Bagram so memorable:
3. People gave five-stars to the communal living areas and fine dining options:
4. Other amenities, like the free gyms and the opportunities to create memories, received four stars.
For some odd reason, the beloved airfield sports a travel alert about safety and security concerns in the area. (Not sure what that’s about.) Read more reviews at the TripAdvisor webpage. Vets that have visited the facility can also leave their own two cents in the form of a new review.
When you go to the page, be sure to answer TripAdvisor’s questions about Bagram Airfield such as, “Do you find this attraction suitable for young children?”