The Baghdad Underground Railroad built an escape for Iraqi interpreters. It was just the beginning. - We Are The Mighty
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The Baghdad Underground Railroad built an escape for Iraqi interpreters. It was just the beginning.

Every generation has their war. And every war has its story.

1776.

Battle Cry of Freedom.

All Quiet on the Western Front.

Band of Brothers.

The Coldest Winter: America and the Korean War.

We Were Soldiers Once… and Young.

Black Hawk Down.

Now, thanks to Steve Miska, Colonel, U.S. Army (Ret.), the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan finally have their “required reading,” in Miska’s new book, Baghdad Underground Railroad: Saving American Allies in Iraq.

Since September 11, 2001, a multi-generational war has raged in the Middle East. Countless memoirs have been written, thousands of accounts have been told. But never before have we heard this story: the one of our Iraqi interpreters.

Baghdad Underground Railroad is riveting. During his second of three combat tours in Iraq, Miska led a team that established an underground railroad from Baghdad to Amman to the United States for dozens of foreign military interpreters who supported U.S. troops in-country. Since then, he has written extensively about the need to protect soft networks, and has acted as an advisor to several non-profits that aim to support and protect foreign military interpreters, including No One Left Behind and the International Refugee Assistance Project.

The Baghdad Underground Railroad built an escape for Iraqi interpreters. It was just the beginning.
Key leader meeting at Combat Outpost (COP) Casino. Note the sweat-drenched uniform after removing body armor. Author Steve Miska (center), Colonel J.B. Burton (right with back turned), Major Scott Nelson (opposite Burton), and LTC Barry Niles, Iraqi Army Military Transition Team Chief (bottom left). Photo: Courtesy of Steve Miska

Baghdad Underground Railroad takes a soul-wrenching look at the solemn promise our government makes – to our men and women who serve, to their families, to our fallen: No one left behind. This isn’t just a saying; it’s an ethos, a commitment, a vow. No one left behind.

Unless you’re an Iraqi.

With bureaucracy at the helm, our allies – our interpreters – our lifelines over there are not just being left behind, they’re being executed at an alarming rate. With the impending troop withdrawal in Afghanistan, Miska’s story is more important than ever. His firsthand account of establishing the Underground Railroad is equal parts inspiring and courageous, fraught with devastation and frustration. But more than a war story, it’s a gripping, beautiful, human story. You’ll feel such anger at reading about the interpreter gunned down outside his home, simply for helping us. You’ll wipe tears at tender, endearing moments like the interpreter who finally made it to Kansas and got a job. Filled with gratitude, he wanted to treat his host to dinner, and insisted he take her and her son to somewhere nice – so he picked McDonald’s. These aren’t just strangers who helped us – these men and women are family.

The Baghdad Underground Railroad built an escape for Iraqi interpreters. It was just the beginning.
Troops from 2nd Squadron, 9th US Cavalry attached to the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division and Iraqi Army soldiers use an interpreter to talk to the resident of a house before they search it in Ad Dawr, Iraq.

Thousands of interpreters are still awaiting their Special Immigrant Visa, and layers upon layers of red tape have made getting the SIV nearly impossible. The issue is gaining national attention; just yesterday legislation was passed in the House by a 366-46 vote.

Reps. Jason Crow (D-CO) and Brad Wenstrup (R-OH) introduced the Honoring Our Promises through Expedition [HOPE] for Afghan SIVs Act of 2021 in April. According to Crow’s website, this bipartisan legislation would waive the requirement for Afghan Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) applicants to undergo a medical examination while in Afghanistan. 

The Afghan SIV Program was created in 2009 to provide safety for Afghan interpreters, contractors, and security personnel who worked with the U.S. government in Afghanistan, Crow said in a press release. The application process has been plagued by delays since the program was established and faces severe backlogs, with wait times routinely stretching for years. 

Since the Biden Administration announced their plans to withdraw all US forces from Afghanistan by September 11, 2021, Crow has called on the Administration to expedite this visa process, as SIV applicants and their families are increasingly under threat by the Taliban. 

Among the bureaucratic hurdles facing SIV applicants, many have cited the medical examination requirement, which can cost thousands of dollars, as a serious delay in the process. There is currently only one facility in Kabul that conducts all immigrant visa examinations for the entire country, forcing applicants from the outer provinces to travel to Kabul in often dangerous circumstances. 

“When I served in Iraq and Afghanistan, I worked closely with local interpreters and contractors who were critical to our safety and success. Without their help, I may not be here today,” said Congressman Jason Crow. “The U.S. must honor our promises and protect our Afghan partners whose lives are now at risk by the Taliban. We can help expedite the SIV process by waiving the medical examination requirement in Afghanistan, which is cost prohibitive and difficult for many applicants to safely receive. The HOPE for Afghan SIVs Act is bipartisan, common-sense legislation that can help save lives.” 

The Baghdad Underground Railroad built an escape for Iraqi interpreters. It was just the beginning.
Logan Salah, an interpreter with Multi-National Division – Center, rides a helicopter above Camp Liberty for a mission to meet with Iraqi leaders July 31, 2008.

“When I deployed to Iraq, my unit was aided by local interpreters who knew their actions came at great cost to themselves and their families. Like them, our Afghan allies have been indispensable in our fight against terrorism. With the Administration’s deadline for withdrawal from Afghanistan fast approaching, we cannot forget their sacrifices on our behalf. In many cases, it’s untenable for them to remain in their home country due to active death threats for helping America, and our interpreters and other local allies are in mortal danger,” said Congressman Brad Wenstrup. “I’m proud to join this legislation, which provides temporary flexibility to the Afghan Special Immigrant Visa program to make sure we don’t leave our friends behind.”

In addition to legislation passing, yesterday, Miska shared the stage with Washington Post Opinion Columnist David Ignatius and General David Petraeus (Ret.) to discuss U.S. airstrikes on Iranian-backed militia and the withdrawal from Afghanistan. When asked about what the U.S. owes Afghan interpreters who helped Americans, Gen. Petraeus shared,

“We have a moral obligation to individuals who shared risk and hardship alongside our soldiers on the battlefield…With our forces leaving, and with the embassy already having drawn down its forces, and now in a covid lockdown, needless to say,  there has not been much progress on the processing of the special immigrant visas in recent months….At that time (when he and former US Ambassador to Afghanistan Ryan Crocker sent a letter to Sec. Blinken asking the Biden administration to accelerate issuing visas for Iraqi and Afghan interpreters and others who assisted US service members), I didn’t necessarily support a big airlift, but it is looking as if to meet the policy decision the president has announced now, which is that we will not leave them behind, it’s not going to be business as usual. I don’t think normal process will accelerate sufficiently in the course of the next month or two so that we can get them to the United States with the visa that they have earned.”

The Baghdad Underground Railroad built an escape for Iraqi interpreters. It was just the beginning.
Wazir (second from left), 57, a former Afghan National Army colonel, served as an interpreter with Combat Logistics Regiment 7 during their most recent deployment to Helmand province, Afghanistan, April-October 2011. Wazir moved to the U.S. in 2005 with his family and was nationalized as a U.S. citizen earlier this year. USMC photo

Miska shared, “The plight of Iraqi and Afghan interpreters left behind by the United States remains one of the most significant human rights issues of the Global War on Terrorism, America’s longest, and ongoing, military conflicts.”

Baghdad Underground Railroad is a sober reminder of the far-reaching human and national security consequences of abandoning U.S. allies in countries of conflict,” Miska explained. “Above all, it is an exploration of universal questions about hope, brotherhood, and belonging—questions that strike at the heart of who we are as a people and as a nation.”

Baghdad Underground Railroad: Saving American Allies in Iraq is now available on Amazon.

Featured photo: First Lieutenant John Cheatwood walks with an interpreter and children during a patrol south of Baghdad. (U.S. Army)

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This man lost 90 pounds to enlist in the Marines

About a dozen young men and women are gathered at a shopping center, lining up outside Marine Corps Recruiting Sub-Station here, to prepare for the challenges of recruit training at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, South Carolina.


Also read: A retired Navy SEAL commander breaks down his morning fitness routine that starts at 4:30

Some recruits are more prepared than others. Some still have ground to cover and goals to obtain, but 17-year-old Demetri E. Ramos has covered more ground than his peers.

The Baghdad Underground Railroad built an escape for Iraqi interpreters. It was just the beginning.

Over the past three years he lost about 90 pounds to be eligible to enlist in the United States Marine Corps. He started his journey at 260 pounds and now weighs 170 pounds.

His stepfather, Robert Haag, challenged him during his freshman year to turn his life around. Haag noticed his stepson would spend many hours every day playing video games in the basement of his house. Haag approached Ramos and challenged him to earn his place on “the wall.”

“There is a big wall in our house that you have to earn your way [onto],” Haag said. On this wall are photos of six current and former Marines.

Setting a Goal

“My stepfather told me if I go from 260 pounds to 180 pounds, he would buy me an Xbox One,” said Ramos, a Severna Park High School native. At first, Ramos was hesitant about the large amount of weight he would have to lose.

But, he said, after eating healthier and spending long hours in the gym with his stepbrother he accomplished his goal.

After graduating high school this past spring, Ramos’ stepbrother and stepfather, who are both Marines, went with him to visit the local Marine Corps Recruiting Station, a trip that would change his life forever.

Ramos added he always looked up to and admired the Marines in his family because of their character and values they learned.

“To see the dedication he had before talking to [us] was incredible,” said Gunnery Sgt. Jason Irwin, the commander of the Glen Burnie Marine recruiting office. “You can definitely see the commitment he had to make himself eligible for enlistment, and to take the initial steps of becoming a United States Marine.”

“It wasn’t fun being incapable of doing things because of my weight, or being out of shape and not progressing,” Ramos said. “My motivation initially started with these restrictions and it grew more and more when I continued to lose weight and wanted to continue to make myself better as a person.”

Ramos is scheduled to attend recruit training at the end of this year, and according to Irwin, “he is pumped and ready to go.”

“If you never have confidence in yourself, you’re not going to go anywhere,” he said.

Articles

6 alternate names troops have for military awards

First, recipients of all these awards should be proud of themselves. Earning one of these medals show dedication to the U.S. military and is worthy of respect. However, that doesn’t stop service members making fun of their own awards.


1. Purple Heart

The Baghdad Underground Railroad built an escape for Iraqi interpreters. It was just the beginning.
Photo: US Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Jeffrey A. Cosola

The Purple Heart, originally an award for merit established by General George Washington, is now given to any service member injured by enemy forces or recognized terrorist organizations. Since the award is given whenever an enemy successfully shoots an American, it’s jokingly called the “Enemy Marksmanship Badge.”

2. Special Warfare Insignia

The Baghdad Underground Railroad built an escape for Iraqi interpreters. It was just the beginning.
Photo: US Navy

Also known as the “SEAL Trident,” the badge of some of America’s most elite operators has a funny nickname. “Budweiser” refers to one of the classes SEALs recruits have to graduate to earn it, Basic Underwater Demolition/SEALs, or BUD/S.

3. National Defense Service Medal

The Baghdad Underground Railroad built an escape for Iraqi interpreters. It was just the beginning.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The National Defense Service Medal is awarded for active duty service in the armed forces during times of war. For many recruits who receive it though, it can feel a bit hollow. After all, it’s typically given to recruits when they graduate basic training. Since it’s given so easily, service members have different nicknames for it.

One nickname used by the Marine Corps and Army is “Fire Watch Ribbon,” since doing overnight fire watch is about as hard as basic training gets. The Navy calls it the “Geedunk Ribbon,” referring to the sailors’ term for items available in a vending machine. Finally, some people from across the services call it the “Pizza Stain” because of its looks.

4. Army Commendation Medal

The Baghdad Underground Railroad built an escape for Iraqi interpreters. It was just the beginning.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The Army Commendation Medal can be awarded for either merit or valor, with the valor award typically being the more impressive. On the merit or combat valor side, it’s one step below the Bronze Star. When awarded for noncombat valor, it’s just beneath the Soldier’s Medal. Soldiers call it, “The Green Weenie,” especially Vietnam vets.

5. Marine Corps Good Conduct Medal

The Baghdad Underground Railroad built an escape for Iraqi interpreters. It was just the beginning.
Photo: US Marine Corps

All of the branches award a Good Conduct Medal for every three years an enlisted members serves in a branch without receiving any criminal or military punishments. Most of the branches will make a joke when they give the award, saying something like, “Oh, you went three years without getting caught, huh? Must’ve been pretty sneaky!” The Marine Corps created its own joke by nicknaming it “The Good Cookie.”

6. Basic Parachutist badge

The Baghdad Underground Railroad built an escape for Iraqi interpreters. It was just the beginning.
Graphic: US Air Force Yaira M. Resto

The nickname for the parachutist badge is so widespread, that some people think it’s the proper name. “Jump Wings” is pretty self-explanatory, since it’s a pair of wings given to military jumpers. They’re also sometimes called “Silver Wings” due to their color on the dress uniform.

NOW: 13 military phrases that sound ridiculous when used in politics

OR: 5 wild conspiracy theories that turned out to be true

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7 powerful ways American culture has changed the world

America is the dominant world power since World War II. Chinese propaganda claim that China will replace the United States in the new century. However, if the Chinese Communist Party is advancing by leaps and bounds, why isn’t Mandarin the universal world language? While it is true that China is the world’s largest manufacturer, the fact remains the world sees American culture as genuine. The Chinese way, like their products, is just a knock off. This is how American culture changed the world in a way the communists never will.

1. Jeans

The iconic American trouser was invented in 1873 by Jacob Davis and Levi Strauss. The pants were originally developed for miners because their clothes would rip when working. Davis and Levi devised a trouser made of denim with rivets at high-stress points and a button at the waist. The patented trousers called jeans were worn by blue collar individuals and were romanticized by Western films. When the patent ran out, other competitors copied the science but changed the design.

The Blue Jean spread around the world like wildfire for its practicality and style. Some countries, such as North Korea, have banned jeans because ‘it symbolizes American imperialism.’ I don’t see countries en masse adopting Chinese pants and culture.

The Baghdad Underground Railroad built an escape for Iraqi interpreters. It was just the beginning.
To be fair, we might owe the world an apology for the skinny version on men (Wikimedia Commons)

2. Pop Music

America has the best musical artists in the world. Nobody says “put the top 100 in China” as a Spotify playlist. When I was in Afghanistan I told an A.N.A. (Afghanistan National Army) soldier, who was listening to Michael Jackson, the “King of Pop” passed away years ago. Not only did he not believe me but he became irate. Imagine if I would have brought up the allegations against him when he was still alive. Regardless, the world listens to our music even if they can’t understand it.

3. Capitalism

The theory of exchanging goods and services for money has been around since ancient Babylon. However, America has become synonymous with the idea of capitalism and free trade. The alternative is state-run enterprises that give the illusion of private ownership, such as in China. Regardless, the American way of commerce does have its weaknesses that cause recessions. By the same virtue, capitalism can also recover – and it does.

4. Social Media

Americans are trendsetters. All of the original social platforms were developed in America.

The Baghdad Underground Railroad built an escape for Iraqi interpreters. It was just the beginning.
Now that’s power (Image by Thomas Ulrich from Pixabay)

5. The Internet

Speaking of what is on the internet, the internet itself was made in America. The government developed the ARPANET (Advanced research Projects Agency Network) building on the technology of computers already available. The first network, for all intent and purposes, was between USCLA and Stanford University. The first message sent was “Login,” but only the two first letters arrived. Task failed successfully. Communication is always key on the battlefield. Even now, you the reader and I the author, are communicating using this technology that has proliferated the world. There isn’t a country on earth where our culture of technology hasn’t reached out and touched someone.

6. Airplanes

Fun fact: out of the two Wright brothers, one (Orville) lived until 1948. Imagine inventing the concept of flight then watching the Axis use it to try to conquer the world. Then, by the time the war is over, the U.S. Government develops the jet engine in 1939. You set out to live your dreams with your sibling and all of this happens in the span of your lifetime.

7. Basketball

Baseball may have held the claim of “America’s pastime” for most of the 20th Century. However, I see infinitely more people playing basketball than any other sport. In the military, it’s the easiest team sport to round up the platoon and get to the courts on short notice.  In fact, the Army helped spread the sport to Europe and China during the first World War. The sport was started in a YMCA in Massachusetts but is played in even developing countries around the world – even North Korea.

Feature image by F. Muhammad from Pixabay

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3 at defense firm admit defrauding US by $6M on Humvee parts

Two brothers who formerly owned a Pennsylvania defense contractor and their former chief financial officer have pleaded guilty in a $6 million scheme to overcharge the U.S. Defense Department for Humvee window kits.


The Butler-based contractor, Ibis Tek LLC, removed the former co-owners, Thomas Buckner, 68, of Gibsonia, and John Buckner, 66, of Lyndora, in January along with former CFO Harry Kramer, 52, of Pittsburgh.

The three pleaded guilty on May 31st in Pittsburgh to charges of major fraud against the government and income tax evasion for filing returns that didn’t include the illegal income, and other irregularities. The Buckners will be sentenced Oct. 10 and each faces a likely prison sentence of 41 to 51 months, while Kramer will be sentenced Oct. 18 and faces a likely sentence of 24 to 30 months, Assistant U.S. Attorney Nelson Cohen told the judge.

The Baghdad Underground Railroad built an escape for Iraqi interpreters. It was just the beginning.
DoD Photo by Staff Sgt. Teresa Cleveland

“Ibis Tek was not and will not be charged” in the scheme, Cohen said. The company released a statement when the criminal charges were announced in March, saying, “Our company was cleared in the related investigation which dates back to activities eight years ago and we, the over 250 employees of the new Ibis Tek, continue forward on our mission, which is to proudly serve the warfighter and our various government customers.”

The Buckners have agreed to repay more than $6 million to the government, and have already repaid nearly $900,000 in income tax losses, according to their attorneys who spoke in court, but declined comment after May 31st’s proceedings. Thomas Buckner has agreed to forfeit $5,085,709 to cover his share of the losses and has already paid $1 million of that debt, defense attorney Alexander Lindsay Jr. said. John Buckner will repay the government $1 million.

Additionally, Thomas Buckner has already repaid more than $423,000 in federal income tax losses, and John Buckner has repaid nearly $457,000, their attorneys said.

The target of the fraud was the Warren, Michigan-based U.S. Army Tank-Automotive and Armaments Command, or TACOM, an arm of the Defense Department which procures military vehicles from contractors.

The Baghdad Underground Railroad built an escape for Iraqi interpreters. It was just the beginning.
DoD Photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Natalia Murillo

The brothers scammed the government by purchasing emergency escape window kits for $20 each from a Chinese firm, but selling them to TACOM through a shell company they created called Alloy America, Cohen said. Alloy America was located at Ibis Tek’s address and “served little purpose other than to commit this fraud,” Cohen said. Kramer kept the books for Ibis Tek and Alloy America, Cohen said.

The Buckners and Kramer not only passed on the bogus $70-per-frame cost to TACOM, they also sold scrap aluminum relating to the manufacture of the frames, but kept the money. The Buckners and Kramer were supposed to credit the scrap revenue to TACOM as a way of helping the government agency control costs, Cohen said.

Kramer was charged because he helped the Buckners by filing false tax returns that understated Ibis Tek’s income in 2009 and 2010. The Buckner brothers’ personal tax returns for those years also understated their income because they owned the company 50-50 at the time, Cohen said.

Ibis Tek was sold in February to investors who say the new company had nothing to do with the scam.

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This sub sank but came back to terrorize Japanese sailors in World War II

The USS Sailfish was a silent assassin in World War II that struck Japanese military and civilian freight ships. The submarine sent eight of them, including an escort carrier, to the bottom of the ocean. That combat record is impressive on its own and netted the crew a Presidential Unit Citation, but the really surprising thing is that all this happened after the sub sank in a 1939 accident.


The Baghdad Underground Railroad built an escape for Iraqi interpreters. It was just the beginning.
The USS Squalus is launched in this 1938 photo. Photo: Office of Naval Research

Originally christened the USS Squalus, SS-192 was a cutting-edge submarine that could dive to a depth of 250 feet and patrol for 75 days and 11,000 miles while hunting enemy ships and subs. Unfortunately, while the Squalus was undergoing a diving test in 1939 it suddenly flooded and sank to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean.

Twenty-six men were killed in the initial sinking but 33 were able to survive in the stern of the ship by closing the hatches. At the time, no one had successfully rescued submariners from depths of greater than 20 feet. The Squalus was sitting under 240 feet of cold Atlantic waters.

Another submarine, the USS Sculpin, raced to find the lost Squalus and the USS Falcon, a submarine tender, sailed towards the wreck with the new McCann rescue chamber. The McCann was a specialized diving bell that allowed rescuers to descend to a wrecked submarine and create an airlock around the hatch. It could then ferry survivors to the surface.

The Baghdad Underground Railroad built an escape for Iraqi interpreters. It was just the beginning.
A diver descends to the McCann Rescue Chamber after the lines are fouled during the rescue of the USS Squalus crew. Painting: US Naval Historical Center, John Groth #7.

Ultimately, the rescue was successful and all 33 people who survived the initial accident were rescued after 39 hours.

The Navy took another look at the wreck and realized that SS-192 could likely be salvaged, so they raised it from the deep, rinsed it out, and repaired it.

The Baghdad Underground Railroad built an escape for Iraqi interpreters. It was just the beginning.
The USS Squalus breaches the surface during one of the attempts to raise it. Photo: courtesy Boston Public Library

Re-christened the USS Sailfish, the submarine was sent to the Asiatic Fleet. Sailfish was operating out of Luzon in the Philippines when the Japanese struck Pearl Harbor and America was dragged into the war. Sailfish began conducting wartime patrols the same day.

The sub struggled to find and engage enemy ships on the first few patrols. But, on Feb. 28, 1942, Sailfish was operating out of a Dutch base in Java when it spotted a Japanese aircraft transport escorted by four destroyers. Sailfish fired four torpedoes and landed two hits on the transport, destroying it.

Sailfish went on to destroy seven more Japanese ships over the course of the war and damage another. A few of the kills were cargo and transport ships, relieving a little of the pressure on Marines and soldiers fighting ashore.

The Baghdad Underground Railroad built an escape for Iraqi interpreters. It was just the beginning.
The USS Sailfish crew pose on the conning tower. Their Presidential Unit Citation Flag is visible flying behind the American flag. Photo: US National Archives

The crew’s greatest achievement came on their 10th wartime patrol. Just before midnight on Dec. 3, the Sailfish spotted Japanese warships in a severe storm. Four ships, including an escort carrier, were sailing together. Sailfish fired a four-torpedo spread at the carrier and scored two hits.

As the Japanese ships counterattacked, Sailfish dove for safety but didn’t leave the battle. Five hours later, Sailfish fired a three-torpedo spread at the damaged carrier and scored two more hits. Finally, at 9:40 that morning, Sailfish hit the ship with two more torpedoes and the escort carrier Chuyo sank into the Pacific.

The crew received a Presidential Unit Citation for this engagement, but they later learned that American POWs had been aboard the Chuyo. Unfortunately, 21 American submariners from the USS Sculpin, the submarine that helped rescue the crew of the Squalus, were aboard and 20 died when the Chuyo sank.

After the war, the Sailfish was decommissioned and sold for scrap.

Articles

Today in military history: Iraq invades Kuwait

On Aug. 2 1990, Iraqi forces under Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, gaining control of 20% of the world’s oil reserves and a significant portion of the Persian Gulf coastline.

In response, the UN Security Council imposed a global ban on trade with Iraq and on Aug. 9, the United States launched Operation Desert Shield to defend Saudi Arabia. 

By January, Hussein’s occupying army was 300,000 strong, prompting the UN Security Council to authorize force against Iraq if it refused to withdraw. 

Iraq refused.

On Jan. 16, 1991, Operation Desert Storm began and would become one of the most one-sided conflicts in history as U.S. and coalition forces rapidly overwhelmed the Iraqi army and liberated Kuwait within weeks. 

Nearly 200,000 Iraqi soldiers and civilians died or were wounded as a result of the Persian Gulf War, with fewer than 800 American and allied casualties.

In the post-9/11 world, the events leading up to and after the conflict came to lasting importance. Today, U.S. troops have come and gone, come and gone, come and gone from Iraq. The country has become America’s enduring sidepiece. Then Operations Northern Watch and Southern Watch gave way to Operation Iraqi Freedom and with it Bayonet Lightning, Red Dawn, and countless others who themselves gave way to Operation Inherent Resolve. There are troops in Iraq today who weren’t yet born when Saddam first captured the Kuwaiti oil fields, and Saddam himself didn’t live to see this day.

The invasion of Kuwait probably seemed like a quick victory, one unlikely to have lasting effects in the annals of history, but little did we know it was just setting the stage for the region’s next 30 years.

Featured Image: Oil well fires rage outside Kuwait City in the aftermath of Operation Desert Storm. The wells were set on fire by Iraqi forces before they were ousted from the region by coalition force. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. David McLeod)

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Here is how aerial gunners were trained to fight their way past the Luftwaffe

The United States Army Air Force’s daylight bombing campaign in Europe involved thousands of bombers, and tens of thousands of crewmen. While there were pilots, crew chiefs, radiomen, bombardiers, and navigators on planes like the B-17, about 40 percent of the crew were aerial gunners.


The Baghdad Underground Railroad built an escape for Iraqi interpreters. It was just the beginning.
A U.S. Army Air Forces Boeing B-17G Flying Fortress flying through flak over a target. A hit by flak lead to the capture of Brigadier General Arthur Vanaman, placing ULTRA at risk. (USAF photo)

What did it take to get these specialists ready? In some ways, it didn’t take long – maybe a few weeks. But these gunners had to learn a lot. Maintenance of their machine guns was vitally important. But they also had to learn to hit a moving target – because the Nazi fighters trying to shoot the bombers down were not going to make things easy for them.

The Baghdad Underground Railroad built an escape for Iraqi interpreters. It was just the beginning.
Messerschmidt Bf 109. (Photo: Kogo CC BY-SA 2.0)

So, what did it take to teach gunners how to hit a moving target? Well, for starters, there were lessons on maintenance for both a .30-caliber machine gun (mostly used early in the war) and the M2 .50-caliber machine gun, and how fix them when they jammed. Then, they had to learn how bullets traveled downrange, and how to adjust for the drop of the bullets from the guns.

The Baghdad Underground Railroad built an escape for Iraqi interpreters. It was just the beginning.
A look at the ball turret of a B-17 Flying Fortress, carrying a pair of M2 .50-caliber machine guns. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

When that was done, the trainees were started on full-auto BB guns at an indoor range. Once that was mastered, they then did a lot of skeet shooting with 12-gauge shotguns.

Yep, a popular shooting sport was used to train the folks whose job involved keeping Nazi fighters from shooting down a bomber with ten airmen on board.

The Baghdad Underground Railroad built an escape for Iraqi interpreters. It was just the beginning.

The training went on to include live-fire of the machine guns, as well as how the turrets used on planes like the B-17 and B-24 worked. Aircraft recognition — including knowing an enemy fighter’s wingspan — was also very important.

Following that, they took to the air, and learned how to fire the guns while wearing the gear they’d need on board a bomber – including a life vest, parachute, and the helmet.

The Baghdad Underground Railroad built an escape for Iraqi interpreters. It was just the beginning.
B-17 gunners wearing bulky sheep-shearling flying clothing to protect against the deadly cold at the altitudes typically flown in Europe.— At 25,000 feet, the temperature could drop below -60 degrees Fahrenheit. (U.S. Air Force photo)

As you can imagine, this included a lot of learning and skills to master. You can see an introductory video for aerial gunners made during World War II below.

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Amazing photos show an underwater graveyard filled with WWII airplanes

An amazing underwater graveyard near the Marshall Islands is filled with the eery remains of World War II aircraft, and these photographs from Brandi Mueller give us a closer look.


“They call it the ‘Airplane Graveyard,” Mueller, a scuba instructor, boat captain, and photographer, told the Daily Mail. “They aren’t war graves or planes that crashed. They were planes that were taken out over the reef and pushed off intact after the war ended.”

The U.S. dumped them after the war since it would’ve been too expensive to bring them back home. On the sea floor in the lagoon of Kwajalein Atoll rests approximately 150 planes and parts, which include F4U Corsairs, B-25 Mitchells, F4F Wildcats, and many more, according to Mueller.

“I find diving [to see] the airplanes really exciting,” Mueller told Mashable. “It’s a strange thing to see airplanes underwater. Shipwrecks you expect, but not airplanes.”

Check out the photos below, and see more of Mueller’s photography here.

The Baghdad Underground Railroad built an escape for Iraqi interpreters. It was just the beginning.
Photo courtesy of Brandi Mueller

The Baghdad Underground Railroad built an escape for Iraqi interpreters. It was just the beginning.
Photo courtesy of Brandi Mueller

The Baghdad Underground Railroad built an escape for Iraqi interpreters. It was just the beginning.
Photo courtesy of Brandi Mueller

The Baghdad Underground Railroad built an escape for Iraqi interpreters. It was just the beginning.
Photo courtesy of Brandi Mueller

The Baghdad Underground Railroad built an escape for Iraqi interpreters. It was just the beginning.
Photo courtesy of Brandi Mueller

The Baghdad Underground Railroad built an escape for Iraqi interpreters. It was just the beginning.
Photo courtesy of Brandi Mueller

The Baghdad Underground Railroad built an escape for Iraqi interpreters. It was just the beginning.
Photo courtesy of Brandi Mueller

The Baghdad Underground Railroad built an escape for Iraqi interpreters. It was just the beginning.
Photo courtesy of Brandi Mueller

The Baghdad Underground Railroad built an escape for Iraqi interpreters. It was just the beginning.
Photo courtesy of Brandi Mueller

The Baghdad Underground Railroad built an escape for Iraqi interpreters. It was just the beginning.
Photo courtesy of Brandi Mueller

NOW: The US military took these incredible photos in just one week-long period

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This heroic Marine saved a man from a burning car

Sgt. Kevin Peach, an infantryman with 1st Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, was awarded a Navy and Marine Corps Medal during a battalion formation at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, Aug 8, 2017.


Peach earned the award for rescuing a man from an overturned and burning vehicle on his way back to Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton in 2015.

“We were driving down I-5 in California heading back to Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton and a car pulled out in front of us, swerved, hit a wall going about 65 mph and then rolled a couple of times,” said Peach.

The Baghdad Underground Railroad built an escape for Iraqi interpreters. It was just the beginning.
Sgt. Kevin Peach delivers the battalion safety brief after being awarded a Navy and Marine Corps Medal during a battalion formation at Camp Lejeune, N.C., Aug. 8, 2017. USMC photo by Sgt. Brandon Thomas.

Peach then pulled in front of the vehicle and rushed to the man’s aid.

“I was scared the entire time but I saw a lifeless body sitting in the car and I wasn’t just going to turn my head and do nothing about it,” said Peach. “Then I saw the smoke and knew I only had a certain amount of time before the car caught on fire.”

Peach then tried, without success, to break the windows of the car.

“One of my best friends and I ripped off the back hatch and I just barreled right in there,” said Peach. “The whole time I was feeling around for other people because I couldn’t see anything. Once I found him he was tangled up in his seat belt and I couldn’t get him loose.”

Peach then left the car and grabbed a flare from another driver who had pulled over to help. He then went back into the vehicle, cut the seat belt and fireman-carried the man out. He attended to the injured man until paramedics arrived.

The Baghdad Underground Railroad built an escape for Iraqi interpreters. It was just the beginning.
Sgt. Kevin Peach, an infantryman with 1st Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, is awarded a Navy and Marine Corps Medal by Lt. Col. Reginald McClam. USMC photo by Sgt. Brandon Thomas.

Following the incident, Peach was hospitalized for smoke inhalation.

“Sgt. Peach is the embodiment of what we look for in our [non-commissioned officers],” said Lt. Col. Reginald McClam, commanding officer of 1st Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment. “I’m proud of him and I know the family that he brought into the Marine Corps by saving their family, is happy he was there.”

After putting his life on the line Peach found himself gaining more than a new medal.

“I talk to the family every other day,” said Peach. “It feels good being able to help somebody out. It’s not about the awards. I never thought when this happened that I’d get this [award]. I’m just glad I was there and able to help.”

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Today in military history: US-Soviet hotline is agreed upon

On June 20, 1963, America and the Soviet Union agreed to create a direct hot-line connecting the Soviet premier and the American president.

By 1963, both Americans and Russians feared the Cold War could go hot at any moment. The two nations backed opposite factions in the Vietnam War. The 1961 Checkpoint Charlie incident in Berlin almost turned into a tank battle for the city and the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis nearly triggered a nuclear war.

So in 1963, the countries signed a memorandum of understanding that established a “hotline” for direct communication between the two powers, mitigating the risk of an accidental provocation. Despite pop culture depiction of the hotline as a telephone line, messages were sent via a text-only teletype machine — much faster than relying on telegramme letters that had to travel overseas. The system was upgraded to satellite communication in 1971, fax in 1983, and finally email via a dedicated computer network in 2008.

On August 30, 1963, President John F. Kennedy became the first American with a direct line (albeit, routed through the Pentagon for encryption and transmission) to the Kremlin in Moscow. It was an instant connection, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, though both parties agreed that it was to be used only in emergency situations. 

Featured Image: A non-dial “Red Phone” on display in the Jimmy Carter Library and Museum. This telephone is actually a prop, erroneously representing the hotline between Washington and Moscow.

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Upgrade advances A-10’s search capability

A-10C Thunderbolt IIs assigned to active duty fighter squadrons here are in the process of having new lightweight airborne recovery systems installed.


The LARS V-12 is designed to allow A-10 pilots to communicate more effectively with individuals on the ground such as downed pilots, pararescuemen and joint terminal attack controllers.

Related: Watch the effects of an A-10’s GAU-8 cannon on an enemy building

The LARS system provides the A-10 pilots with GPS coordinates of ground personnel and enables them to communicate via voice or text, according to Staff Sgt. Andre Gonzalez, 355th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron avionics technician.

The systems upgrades are being installed by the 309th Aircraft Maintenance and Regeneration Group.

The Baghdad Underground Railroad built an escape for Iraqi interpreters. It was just the beginning.
An A-10C Thunderbolt II upgraded with a new lightweight airborne recovery system V-12 rests on the flight line at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz., Dec. 21, 2016. | U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Mya M. Crosby

“This urgent operational need arose in August (2016),” said Timothy Gray, 309th AMARG acting director. “Air Combat Command and the A-10 Program Office asked me if AMARG could complete 16 aircraft by 16 December. I said ‘Absolutely!’ It was awesome to see Team AMARG take on this massive logistical challenge, build a production machine, find facilities, manpower, equipment, tools, and make material kits (to) execute the requirement.”

In the last three months, the technicians have completed LARS installations on 19 aircraft from Davis-Monthan and Moody AFB, Ga., which will ultimately provide pilots and ground personnel downrange with a valuable search capability.

“A-10 pilots take the Combat Search and Rescue role very seriously,” said Lt. Col. Ryan Hayde, 354th Fighter Squadron commander and A-10 pilot. “While this is just one tool, it can assist us in bringing them back to U.S. soil safely.”
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It looks like Marine infantrymen are getting a new rifle — again

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 to multiple sources.

The Baghdad Underground Railroad built an escape for Iraqi interpreters. It was just the beginning.
Marines with Battalion Landing Team, 2nd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, sight-in with M27 Infantry Automatic Rifles at Camp Hansen, Okinawa, Japan, Dec. 16, 2016. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Jorge A. Rosales/ Released)

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.

The Baghdad Underground Railroad built an escape for Iraqi interpreters. It was just the beginning.
Select Marines have been training with M27s equipped with suppressors. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Autmn Bobby)

“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.

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