Stranded on a beach; 400,000 lightly armed soldiers; fully-loaded enemy fighter planes bearing down on you — there’s a word for that: Dunkirk.
It’s a moment in history that gives every veteran that sinking feeling in the pit of their stomach, a sense of utter helplessness staring straight at death spitting from the wings of an enemy attacker with no way to fight back.
But the story of Dunkirk is much more than that, and the latest trailer released by Hollywood moviemakers who tell the story of that fateful episode demonstrates that hope, courage and tenacity played as much a role in that historic moment as fate.
In this modern adaptation, Christopher Nolan has now applied his moody and precise visual style on World War II. The “Inception” and “The Dark Knight” director tells the story of the “Miracle at Dunkirk,” a large-scale evacuation that saved around 338,000 Allied troops.
“Dunkirk” features frequent Nolan collaborator and “Mad Max: Fury Road” star Tom Hardy, Academy Award winner and “Bridge of Spies” star Mark Rylance, and Shakespeare master and robot-spider enthusiast Kenneth Branagh.
“Dunkirk” opens July 21, 2017. Watch the trailer below.
Dressed in civilian clothes with long hair, the men looked like any other on the streets of East Berlin.
Their German accents didn’t give away their true identities as American Special Forces soldiers, part of a clandestine military unit operating during the Cold War.
Berlin, a divided city located 100 miles behind the Iron Curtain, was a focal point in the tensions that developed between NATO forces and the Soviet Union after World War II.
With a literal line drawn between the forces — American troops and their allies in West Berlin and Soviet troops and their supporters in East Berlin — the city became the “Grand Central Station of East-West espionage” and a “playground for all sorts of secret agents,” according to Bob Charest, a retired Army master sergeant and former Green Beret.
It was there that, for nearly 30 years, an elite Special Forces unit operated. Today, those veterans are decades removed from their secretive mission, but are only now receiving recognition for their efforts.
The little-known unit, called Detachment A, held various missions during its short-lived history, but the longest-standing was the “stay behind” mission.
In the event of World War III — with Soviet forces expected to come pouring across the Berlin Wall — members of the detachment, who never numbered more than 100 men, were expected to blend into the city and make life difficult for the much larger Communist force.
Teams were assigned sabotage missions, ready to destroy key transportation lines, military equipment, and other targets. They also would be expected to train and lead guerrilla forces that would then be tasked with harassing the Soviet troops from behind enemy lines, buying important time to allow NATO forces to mount a counterattack.
Charest, twice a member of Detachment A, recalled one of his team’s forays across the Berlin Wall recently during a visit to Fort Bragg.
Despite the soldiers’ efforts to go unnoticed, it was not unusual for the men to realize they were being followed, Charest said.
When that happened, the soldiers were trained to evade the extra attention and disappear into the city. Failure was not an option.
“You’re a spy,” Charest said, decades after having served in the city. “You didn’t have any dog tags. You weren’t there, officially.”
“If they caught you, they would either kill you or put you in jail,” he said.
Despite the high stakes, Charest said, the men were highly trained and able to stay calm under pressure.
Part of that training involved how to surveil targets amid the busy city and, if needed, lose the enemy when under unwanted scrutiny.
“We knew we were being watched,” Charest said.
Luckily, the men also knew their way around the city. Unlike other American troops in Berlin, these soldiers were trained to blend into Berlin. They had to immerse themselves in the city, becoming as knowledgeable on its nooks and crannies as the locals.
As the team led their tail through the city, Charest said, the soldiers made their way to a train station, part of the city’s subway, or U-Bahn, network.
Instead of stepping onto a train, the men let the first one pull out of the station. A second train arrived and the men were seemingly set to let that one pass, too.
But at the last moment, just before the doors closed, Charest said, the soldiers stepped onto the train.
He turned just in time to lock eyes with the man who had been following them. Charest is unsure who he worked for. It could have been the East German Secret Police, known as the Stasi, or the Soviet KGB.
As the train pulled out of the station, Charest looked at the man. Then he smiled, and as he pulled out of sight, Charest waved goodbye.
For most of its history, Detachment A — sometimes known simply as “the detachment” or “Det ‘A'” — was as elusive as the men who served in the unit.
When it was formed in 1956 with the cover story of a “security platoon” assigned to another US Army unit in Berlin, only about 10 officers knew the true makeup of the unit, according to James Stejskal, a Special Forces veteran who spent two tours of duty in Berlin and later served with the CIA.
Stejskal, a retired chief warrant officer 4 who now lives in Alexandria, Virginia, has written what might be the only definitive history of Detachment A.
His book, “Special Forces Berlin: Clandestine Cold War Operations of the US Army’s Elite, 1956-1990,” was published this year by Casemate Publishers, following a two-and-a-half-year effort to research and write the book and another year-long review by the Department of Defense.
Stejskal was one of dozens of Detachment A veterans who gathered on Fort Bragg earlier this month.
Once covered in shadows — to the point that even the US Army has little official documentation on the unit — the veterans of Detachment A are becoming increasingly vocal, with the hopes of bringing the unit the recognition it deserves before all of its former members are gone.
Charest, who now lives in Campobello, South Carolina, has been a key part of those efforts.
Since Detachment A was first publicly acknowledged in early 2014, he has worked to tell the unit’s untold story.
Previously recognized by veterans of the unit as “The Man Who Brought Detachment A In From the Cold,” Charest is the group’s webmaster, maintaining a website — detachment-a.org — along with his wife, Linda. He’s also become their organizer, facilitating annual reunions.
The most recent gathering was at Fort Bragg, the same place where veterans of the unit unveiled a monument stone honoring Detachment A outside of U.S. Army Special Operations Command in early 2014.
Detachment A has long been a small, elite group. Over its nearly 30-year history, an estimated 800 men served among its ranks or with the Physical Security Support Element-Berlin, a similar unit that replaced the detachment from 1984 to 1990.
Charest said the annual gatherings, which once attracted more than 100 veterans, are starting to dwindle. Detachment veterans are growing older. They’re dying, he said. Or they don’t travel as well as they used to.
“We’re starting to slow down,” Charest said. “I can see the handwriting on the wall.”
That makes his mission to spread the word about the unit even more important.
“We’re getting the recognition we didn’t have,” he said.
In the years after the Cold War, the Army declassified many of Detachment A’s secrets. But its veterans were largely unaware that they were now free to speak about their experiences.
The breaking point came in 2014, Charest said. The ceremony outside the USASOC headquarters was a first for Detachment A.
In addition to unveiling the monument stone, the veterans also took the symbolic step of casing the unit’s colors, a flag used to identify the detachment, for the first time.
“No force of its size has contributed more to peace, stability, and freedom,” Army Special Operations Command officials said during the ceremony.
Lt. Gen. Charles T. Cleveland, then-commander of USASOC, said the men operated amid untold risk, fraught with uncertainty.
“Detachment A was literally in the eye of the Cold War hurricane,” he said.
The next day, a story about the ceremony was on the front page of The Fayetteville Observer.
Charest said it was the first public exposure for the unit, whose existence and missions had been highly classified secrets. It began a flurry of queries from veterans of the detachment, some of whom had never even told their families about the unit.
“We were out of the cold,” Charest said. “This unit — nobody knows about it. Nobody knew we ever existed.”
Stejskal, who interviewed 65 veterans of Detachment A for his book and dug through what little information was available from official sources, said it was long past due for the unit to receive its recognition.
“No one became famous because of his exploits in Berlin; they were classified,” he said. “The Army has no history on us. They know of it, but they don’t know anything about it.”
Stejskal said that when he visited the Army’s Center for Military History to research his book, the organization had six pages of documents and little information. Most of the unit’s actual documents have been lost or destroyed.
“After 25 years, I figured it was about time,” Stejskal said of his decision to put together a history of the unit. “We’re on the verge of dying out and losing it all, all that historical knowledge.”
Detachment A, also known by its classified name — the 39th Special Forces Operational Detachment — was formed in August 1956 from carefully screened and selected members of the 10th Special Forces Group based in Bad Toelz, Germany. The unit was first housed at McNair Barracks and later, at Andrews Barracks in West Berlin.
Over the years, the men assigned to Detachment A remained a select group. They were highly trained, often with experience in World War II or, later, in Vietnam.
Members of the unit had to be Special Forces qualified. They needed to have a top-secret clearance. And they needed to be able to speak fluent German or another Eastern European language.
In the early days, nearly half of the unit came from soldiers who joined the Army under the Lodge Act — often refugees from Europe whose families remained under Soviet rule. Those immigrants provided important knowledge to the detachment members, who needed to appear to be German.
Charest, who served with the clandestine unit from 1969 to 1972 and again from 1973 to 1978, said the slightest mistake could blow a soldier’s cover.
“The Germans handle a knife and fork different than we do,” he said. “They count with their fingers different.”
Detachment members had to study the habits of locals, Charest said. They needed to dress like a local, wear their hair like a local, and talk like a local.
They carried paperwork provided by German authorities or passports from Eastern European nations that supported their cover stories. Even their ranks were classified, Charest said. Instead, members usually referred to each other by their first names.
Even within the Special Forces community, Charest said, the detachment was largely an unknown.
Some soldiers were assigned to the unit assuming it was a conventional support unit. They wouldn’t learn the truth until they were in Berlin being debriefed by leaders.
“They knew it existed, but nobody knew what they did,” Charest said.
At first, Detachment A had about 40 soldiers, but it would grow to about 90 troops for most of its history. Most soldiers stayed in Berlin for three years.
Amid the backdrop of the Cold War, the detachment would have been little more than a speed bump against Soviet forces in a conventional fight.
But Charest said the detachment never intended to “fight fair.”
With Berlin more than 100 miles behind enemy lines, encircled by what could have become the front lines of a war, those allied forces stood little chance at stopping the Soviet forces.
Stejskal wrote that the city would likely have become the world’s largest prisoner-of-war camp. He compared the hypothetical plight of the detachment to the 300 Spartans who faced a superior Persian force at the legendary Battle of Thermopylae.
“If the Russians decided to roll across the wall, that would have been World War III,” Charest said. “It was a suicide mission.”
“The odds were against us,” he added. “But that’s part of the game.”
The most the detachment could hope for, Charest said, was slowing the Soviet juggernaut.
Stejskal described the detachment mission as a “Hail Mary plan.”
He said the soldiers were there to buy time and disrupt the enemy, much like World War II’s famed Office of Strategic Services, the predecessor of the modern CIA.
Charest said the soldiers were constantly “poking and prodding” German and Soviet defenses. Sometimes, that would mean sneaking into East Germany via canals and tunnels.
“We were constantly trying,” he said. “If you heard the stories, you wouldn’t believe them.”
As the Cold War stayed cold, the detachment would see its missions expand.
It was tasked with probing and testing allied security vulnerabilities across Europe.
At the same time, it would become more of a counterterrorism force, training to respond to hijacked airplanes and participating in the famed Operation Eagle Claw — the failed mission to rescue American hostages in Iran in 1980.
Detachment soldiers were tasked with rescuing three diplomats being held by Iran, and two detachment members were stationed in Tehran, providing information on the target buildings and preparing to receiving the rescue force.
When the mission was scrapped and disaster struck a staging site — resulting in the deaths of several troops — the detachment members in Iran were left to escape the country on their own.
Retired Maj. Gen. Sidney Shachnow, who commanded Detachment A from 1970 to 1974 and later commanded all American forces in Berlin, said the city was full of spies and the Soviet KGB had known about the detachment since the late 1960s.
But, Shachnow said, the Soviets greatly overestimated the size of the unit, assuming it was about 500 men instead of less than 100.
“They knew our capabilities but did not know what our targets were,” he said.
Shachnow is a Holocaust survivor who was born in Lithuania and spent three years imprisoned in a Germany concentration camp as a young boy. He moved to the United States in 1950 and became a legend in the Special Forces community.
He said he had the privilege of deactivating the Special Forces presence in Berlin.
“It was a sad ceremony in an empty room with only about 12 guest spectators seated in folding chairs,” he said. “I awarded some medals, made some short remarks, and the ceremony was over in a matter of minutes.”
“Det A was a small, covert unit staffed with incredibly talented people willing to make the ultimate sacrifice,” Shachnow said on Fort Bragg earlier this month. “They served on the front lines of the Cold War and never fired a shot in anger. No force of its size in history has contributed more to peace, stability, and freedom.”
Operation Supply Drop (OSD) is the kind of organization that sounds very simple at first. They collect donated video games, console systems, and cash to send gaming care packages to troops overseas and here in the United States. The nonprofit calls these care packages “supply drops.”
As anyone who’s been deployed can attest, the periods of excitement and fear are interspersed with long periods of monotony. OSD began in a garage with an Iraq War vet boxing up donations to help his peers enjoy the same hobby he loved: gaming.
From those humble roots, OSD has now grown into a charity that does a lot more. While they still generate care packages for deployed service members, they’ve expanded into creating unique experiences for veterans, fighting veteran joblessness, and other causes which affect warriors.
The expansion had some growing pains. The founder publicly split and created his own new organization. But the CEO, Glen Banton, is excited for all the ways OSD’s expanded mission has let them serve veterans.
“We’re in the business of helping veterans,” he said in an interview with WATM. “Unfortunately, the video game thing sometimes overshadows the other things we do. But essentially, it needs to be about putting veterans first. How can we keep supporting as many vets as possible. That’s while you’re deployed and need something to spend your time with, or when you get home and have other needs.”
OSD began by enlarging the supply drop program, and then adding on new programs.
“The supply drops increased in size and scope. We started going to bases themselves, rec centers, mess halls, day rooms, hospitals, events, Halloween and Christmas parties… Anywhere we can impact a lot of troops per day and have fun.”
In a recent supply drop at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, OSD worked with Army occupational therapist Maj. Eric Johnson who has used video games to help wounded warriors progress in their therapy. But the center had just an old Nintendo Wii with which to work.
Johnson gave a wish list to OSD who was able to get the medical center six new video game consoles and almost 100 games plus peripherals like steering wheels. It was OSD’s largest supply drop yet.
“Glen and his team, they came with OSD last week and, blew me away,” Johnson said. “Way more than I had asked for, way more than I anticipated.”
Wounded warriors play video games at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas after a the Operation Supply Drops largest drop. Photo: Courtesy Operation Supply Drop
Then there are “Thank You Deployments,” where a veteran or a small group of veterans get to participate in a special event or outing, usually by working with corporate or non-profit partners.
“There are VIP outings, genuinely relevant to the veteran,” Banton said. “So, we might take them to a gaming conference or on a trip to a studio. But there might be other stuff.
“We’ve had race car experiences. We met a driver who worked for Forza and is a vet. He helps get them full access, a ride in the pace car, access to the lounge. It’s really amazing.
“And as the community grows, it continues to get broader and broader. It doesn’t take us away from gaming. It takes us to people who are gamers and do other stuff.”
OSD also has a “Teams” program. The teams encourage people to get locally connected with active duty service members and veterans so everyone can engage at the local level on big issues like veteran suicide, depression, homelessness, and unemployment.
“The Teams Program is the action arm of OSD,” Banton said. “They’re local chapters with veteran and civilian members who address things like veteran suicide or homelessness. Really, what we look at with the teams is, how do we create within Seattle, L.A., Muncie, Indiana, how do we engage in a way that helps?”
While it may seem like this is OSD straying from their roots as a gamer-veteran focused charity, Banton and his team don’t see it that way.
Glenn explained, “If someone asks, ‘Hey, OSD, I need some help and don’t know where to go. I think I can get this job but I don’t have the clothes,’ or ‘I don’t have the home base to do the interview,’ we can help with that.
“So we can, for a thousand dollars, get them housed for six months and get them help through this community, then they become a big part of the community.
“That individual doesn’t have space to enjoy an XBox if he wanted to. to us, it’s very clear and it’s easy. We know exactly what we’re supposed to be doing: Inspiring veterans and other civilian supporters to give back to those around them.”
For those interested in getting involved helping veterans through OSD, head to “The Teams” page, make a donation, or learn about the 8-bit Salute where gamers can play to raise money for future supply drops and other events.
The Army’s new body armor designs — slated for fielding in 2019 — include a new protector for soldiers’ most sensitive parts. The harness system protects the femoral arteries, pelvis, and lower abdomen.
The Blast Pelvic Protector will replace the Protective Outer Garment and Protective Under Garment, a two-piece system known as the “combat diaper” that was infamous for the chafing it caused in sensitive areas.
The POG and PUG have other issues besides causing chafing.
“The protection that existed before was letting debris in because it wasn’t fitted close enough to the body,” Cara Tuttle, an Army clothing designer and design lead for the harness said in a press release. “Soldiers weren’t wearing it often enough, and it didn’t come down inside of the leg to protect the femoral artery.”
Surgeons then had to attempt to remove as many small particles from wounded soldiers as they could, increasing the chances of an infection or other complications from surgery.
The new Blast Pelvic Protector covers troops from the waist, down the inner thighs, and around the back to the buttocks. This allows it to guard most of the vulnerable soft tissue in the thighs and provides much more protection for the arteries. Overlapping layers make the fabric protection very effective.
“A layer overlaps in one direction, then the next layer overlaps in the opposite direction, and it keeps alternating,” Tuttle said. “This creates a better barrier for small [debris fragments], which would have to zig-zag through all these layers to get through.”
And the BPP was designed for combat operations.
A series of buckles along the outside of the thighs and a waist strap hold the device in place while providing freedom of movement. Hopefully, the system will also do away with the discomfort of the combat diaper.
A bit of budgetary gamesmanship by the US Air Force earlier this month seems to have paid off, as the House Armed Services Committee has allotted money to keep the vaunted A-10 Thunderbolt in the air, according to Defense News.
The committee chairman’s draft of the fiscal year 2018 National Defense Authorization Act includes $103 million for an unfunded requirement related to the A-10 that the Air Force included in its budget request.
The $103 million, plus $20 million from this fiscal year, will go toward restarting production of A-10 wings to upgrade 110 of the Air Force’s 283 Thunderbolts.
Defense experts told CNN earlier this month that the Air Force’s inclusion of the A-10 wing money in its unfunded requirements was likely a ploy to get Congress to add money for the venerable Thunderbolt on top of the money apportioned for the service branch’s budget request.
Members of the House Armed Service Committee looked likely to approve money for the A-10, which is popular among both service members and elected officials like committee member Rep. Marth McSally, herself a former A-10 pilot, and Sen. John McCain.
Photo courtesy of USAF
McSally noted during a hearing earlier this month that the Air Force had committed to retaining just six of its nine squadrons of A-10s and pressed Air Force officials to outline their plans for the fleet.
The Air Force currently plans to keep the A-10 in service over the next five years at minimum, after which point the fleet will need some maintenance. US Air Combat Command chief Gen. Mike Holmes told Defense News this month that without new wings, those 110 A-10s would have to go out of service, though he did say the Air Force had some leeway with its resources.
“When their current wings expire, we have some flexibility in the depot; we have some old wings that can be repaired or rejuvenated to go on,” he told Defense News. “We can work through that, so there’s some flex in there.”
The Air Force has been looking at whether and how to retire the A-10 for some time, amid pushback from elected officials and increased demand for close air support against ISIS, in which the A-10 specializes.
The five-year cushion described by Holmes gives the service more time to evaluate the aircraft and whether to replace it with F-35s or another aircraft.
The National Defense Authorization Act only approves a total amount of funding, Defense News notes, which means others in the House and Senate could choose to direct those funds to projects other than the A-10’s refurbishment.
The Air Force’s priorities may change as well.
Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson told Defense News that the service had a defense strategy review in progress, after which the service life of the A-10 — which has been in the air since 1975 — could be extended. Though, Wilson said, the Air Force has a number of platforms that need upgrades.
The South China Sea has been a maritime flashpoint for years, becoming the subject of the Dale Brown novel “Sky Masters” and Tom Clancy’s SSN video game and tie-in book.
It’s a seven-way Mexican standoff between the People’s Republic of China, the Republic of China, the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei, and Vietnam.
And you thought Clint Eastwood’s “Man with No Name” had it bad in that final standoff in The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly!
But the United States Navy has been willing to challenge the PRC’s claims in the region. A recent U.S. Navy release discussed how the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS John S. McCain (DDG 56) “conducted routine operations” while transiting the South China Sea. That region has recently become hotter with the ruling by an arbitration panel in favor of the Philippines, who were objecting to China’s claims.
The problem, of course, is that the ChiComs took a page from everyone’s favorite sociopath from “Game of Thrones” — one Cersei Lannister. They didn’t bother to show up for the arbitration proces, even though they had to have known the consequences. And they probably didn’t care.
In essence, what the McCain did was a freedom of navigation exercise. This sounds innocuous, but in reality it is only slightly less touchy than an invite from a samurai to take part in a “comparison of techniques.”
The Arleigh-Burke class guided-missile destroyer USS John S. McCain (DDG 56) fires its MK-45 5-inch/54-caliber lightweight gun. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Alonzo M. Archer/Released)
You see, a “freedom of navigation” exercise usually involves the American vessel operating in international waters that a certain country may not recognize as international waters. In essence, the United States is asserting: “No, these are international waters.”
What happened to the USS Yorktown was mild, though. Let’s go back more than 30 years to see how rough those exercises can really get.
In March of 1986, the Navy was sent to carry out some “freedom of navigation” exercises to push back against Moammar Qaddafi. In 1981, similar exercises had resulted in the downing of two Libyan Su-22 “Fitter” attack planes that took some ill-advised shots at Navy F-14s.
The littoral combat ship USS Fort Worth (LCS 3), front, the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyers USS Michael Murphy (DDG 112) and USS John S. McCain (DDG 56), the Republic of Korea navy destroyer ROKS Eulji Mundeok (DDH 972), and the Ulsan-class frigate ROKS Jeju (FF 958) participate in a joint exercise during Foal Eagle 2015. (Photo from U.S. Navy)
That was why three carriers, the USS Coral Sea (CV 43), USS Saratoga (CV 60), and USS America (CV 66) were involved in the 1986 round of “Freedom of Navigation” exercises.
On 23 March, the exercises began. The next day, the shooting started.
The Libyans started by firing SA-2 and SA-5 missiles at Navy F-14s. Shortly afterwards, MiG-23 “Floggers” tried to engage some Tomcats, but broke off after an intense dogfight.
By the end of the day, Libya had lost a new Nanuchka II-class corvette, a Combattante II-class missile boat, saw a Nanuchka and a Combattante II disabled, while several surface-to-air missile sites ended up being live-fire tests for the AGM-88 High-speed Anti-Radiation Missile (HARM).
Fast forward to January 1989.
American forces were operating near the Gulf of Sidra when two MiG-23s came looking for a fight, and got shot down by a pair of F-14s. Once again, the “freedom of navigation” exercises had lead to shots being fired.
Something to keep in mind the next time you hear of such exercises. When sailors are sent there, they could find themselves in a fight.
My wife and I were watching TV and I received a phone call saying I will be going on a deployment, details will be given at a later date. Instantly, I thought, “finally, it’s here! Now it’s my turn!” What I didn’t think about was all the preparation to leave. I, like other many young soldiers, was in a naïve mindset where I believed the Army would handle everything down to the last piece of paper I have to touch.
I was very wrong. I had so many questions rise, and that went unanswered, that at times I felt more worried about the couple months before deploying than I did about the deployment itself.
I Googled long and hard to find some information that would help me out. To my surprise there wasn’t a lot online that was helping. Most of the time when I searched “pre-deployment help” I got information for spouses of a soldier who was deploying. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with that, but it didn’t help me any.
I eventually got my answers whether through calling around to friends, from my leadership, or figuring it out on the fly. So, now I would like to put this information out, in a very simple format, to where any other young soldier who is in the same boat I was, can get his/her mindset and ready for their mission.
Obviously, a huge focus point will be your gear. Are you getting new issued gear? Using what you have? What exactly do you need? Luckily this should get answered by your leadership, if not, just think about things you use now and what you need. Most of your training taking place in X-Y-Z? You should probably bring that then. Never used the blow up sleeping mat (yeah me neither)? You can probably do without that then.
The big idea I want to hit on for gear those is to pack early and not around your loved ones. It will make it harder for you as you’re packing for your big trip and see your wife/husband/kids watching you with a sad look on their face. Plus, if they are out of your way it’ll make it easier to spread your inventory out and visually see what you have and don’t have.
Packing early will make you feel at ease as you’re spending time with family and friends. You don’t want to be at dinner with your wife and the only thought in your head is about packing. It also gives you time to think about what you packed and double check it. If you have that, “I think I forgot something” feeling in your stomach, then you probably did. If you get that feeling early enough, you’ll remember what you forgot early enough too.
Pack early, and save yourself the headache.
2. Get your finances/documents together
Again, your leadership will most likely help with this, especially the paperwork side, but there’s a few things I didn’t hear about or fully get to finishing before I left that I wish I had.
First, look into all your payments. Most companies will lower, or I’ve even heard completely get rid of, interest fees for a deployed servicemember. This I didn’t hear about until I had already got to where I was going, so there wasn’t much I could do from there. Ask around and do some research see if you can save some extra money while you’re raking in the deployment money.
Next, set up automatic payments, too. I set that up last minute which wasn’t a smart idea because I didn’t have any test run months. My first month of being gone from home I realized I hadn’t set up one payment, and another I didn’t finish successfully but never read the notice telling me that. I ended up scrambling to get onto a crappy wifi connection and fixing it, but if it wasn’t for the wifi I would’ve had some extra headaches that weren’t needed.
3. Get your quality time in
This was preached to me a lot, and luckily, I listened. I’m listing this not because I didn’t know, but because it was definitely helpful and I’m glad I listened. Even if it’s just a friend or a few friends, take some time to sit down and relax with them. You will thank yourself for it.
If you’re active duty, take whatever extra leave you can. Get home see you family, friends, and simply catch up. If you’re reserve, make your last day at your civilian work a couple weeks before you head out. If you have kids, take a night or two where you can sit down on a nice date and be romantic.
Also, take some time to yourself. Be alone with your thoughts for a bit, think them out. Personally, I got so caught up in my training, visiting friends/family, and other pre-deployment activities I never actually thought fully through how I felt. It didn’t hit me until I was on the plane what was going on, and that wasn’t a good time for that to sink in. This leads me to my next point…
4. Accept what is coming
This is a really deep one that takes some reflection and personal time to sort out in your head. Realize you’re about to be gone from home for a while, and things are going to be different while you’re at your designation and when you get home. You won’t be in the loop and in all the inside jokes, and you for sure will be missing out on something. From a birthday for a child or something as simple as your friends going out and having great nights. Just do your best to stay in touch and up-to-date so you don’t feel as out of touch.
The big one: you might make the ultimate sacrifice. Yeah, dying. For some, they don’t even worry about it, others it keeps them up at night. You don’t know what could happen, and you sure as hell have read/seen all the horror stories from those before you. The way I thought through it to help ease my mind was very strange, but very helpful, and I thank a good friend for this thought process.
“If, and IF, you die. You won’t even know it. Yeah it sucks, but you won’t feel it, you won’t be sad or mad, you’ll just be gone. As shitty as that is to think about, it’s the truth. And at least you died fighting and serving.”
So, if you worry all day about dying, and at the end of deployment you come home fine, then you wasted all that time and energy worrying about something that didn’t even happen, and if you do die, you won’t even know! I know, this sounds very straight to the point and too simple, but really this helps people out.
5. Missing home
This I came to learn from my time on deployment. At first the thought of being away from my wife, and home, would really hit me hard. Someone I spent every day with is now suddenly gone from me for over nine months. How do I do this? Then, I came across a weird realization.The time zone switch, and me being busy, was enough that it was too hard to talk that I ended up not talking a lot, and it felt better that way. Some troops can pull off calling home multiple times a day, and I don’t know how they do that. Besides scheduling it and finding the time, the more you call back home the more you’ll be reminded of what you’re missing.
Some soldiers that have deployed before will specifically tell you not to call every day to help your emotions and thoughts. Just remember to let your significant other, or whoever, know that you might not talk every day, and if you miss a day to not start worrying immediately. There’s so many variable that go into when you can get in contact don’t even fully plan on conversations happening.
Also, end your conversations on the most positive note you can. If you argued any, resolve it before you hang up, don’t let that simmer. This will just eat at your emotions, and you’re already all the way in another country, you don’t need the extra emotions.
That’s all I have for now. I hope this reaches someone who was in the same spot I was, and I really hope it helps answer some questions, and set some minds at ease.
Coalition air power had a busy Veterans’ Day Weekend while attacking the Islamic State of Iraqi and Syria, also known as ISIS.
Across Iraq and Syria, 84 airstrikes were carried out against the terrorist group, 27 of which were around the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, which Iraqi forces have been trying to liberate from ISIS since October.
The attacks took place as Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, visited the region. Iraqi forces are moving towards the city, in an offensive expected to take months, according to a DOD News article.
“In my judgment, what Mosul does is reduce ISIL inside of Iraq back to an insurgency with terrorist actions and get them to a level where Iraqi security forces with a minimum level of outside support will be able to manage the violence inside Iraq,” Dunford said. “It denies ISIL freedom of movement and sanctuary inside Iraq.”
The terrorist group was in retreat as their eastern defenses around Mosul collapsed, and the Iraqi Army claimed to have secured the Intisar district of the city, and was moving into the neighborhood of Salaam.
As Coalition forces move in, there have been reports of increasing atrocities carried out by ISIS. According to VOA news, one video released by the terrorist group showed four children — none older than 14 — being forced to execute alleged spies. ISIS had developed “hand grenade” drones and was using them around Mosul.
In other news about the fight against ISIS, the BBC reported that ISIS carried out a half-dozen bombings around Baghdad, and a tweet from CombatAir reported that a Russian MiG-29K Fulcrum operating from the Admiral Kuznetsov was lost.
According to a Nov. 11 release, 24 air strikes were carried out by coalition forces, seven of which took place near Mosul. The Mosul-area strikes destroyed or damaged seven mortar systems, an artillery system, three vehicles, and two weapon caches. Other targets hit that day included a command and control node, oil production facilities, three supply routes, fighting positions, heavy machine guns, a storage container, and a bulldozer.
A Department of Defense release on Nov. 12 reported that five out of 23 strikes that day took place near Mosul. Those five strikes hit a fighting position; five mortar systems; two tunnel entrances; two heavy machines guns; four vehicles; a vehicle bomb; and a weapons cache. The other 18 strikes blasted a number of other targets, including a headquarters building; six oil wellheads; five fighting positions; and six ISIS “tactical units.
The first time I watched Full Metal Jacket, I was in a tent in Kuwait on my computer, waiting for a plane to take me to Iraq for the next seven months. As a Marine, I felt like it was one of those movies I was supposed to have seen by this point, and the lull directly before going off to war seemed like a good time to do it. It left me very confused, in part, because the movie is famous for its actual depiction of war and warriors, but also because it was so very, very incorrect with my own experiences of being a Marine. It was only years later that I began to realize exactly why so much of the movie seemed off to me. It wasn’t a movie about warriors or even about a war; it was a movie trying to make a point, which stuck with the film’s target audience.
Full Metal Jacket was a movie for people who would never see war. It’s an anti-war movie about Vietnam where absolutely every element of war, warriors, the whole military experience, is shown as being something terrible, dehumanizing, and a pointless endeavor to the detriment of all mankind. In 1987 at the film’s debut, such a message was exactly what people wanted to see from a war movie, because that narrative held true for millions of people.
FMJ does many things differently than most other war movies, namely because of the time period it was filmed in. If we look at different eras of the genre we see very different themes. Look at the John Wayne “Sands of Iwo Jima” or anything staring Audie Murphy, especially the one where he played himself, and you will probably be left with a very different feeling than if you were to watch something like Platoon, or even American Sniper. The early era focused on the heroism and unfortunate necessity of war due to the incontrovertible existence of evil in this world. The Nazis’ and Japanese murderous attempts at world left much of the world knowing very well the existence of such evils. For that reason, their movies depicted warriors as heroes and the world as black and white where there were definite evils needing definite heroes to rid the world of them.
Following this, the second major era attempts to break that trend in a sort of genre revolt. War movies began showcases war as a pointless affair, having no meaning than to make people suffer, both the participants and the victims. They go further into personifying the warriors, namely our own, as being universally deeply flawed to the point of being the villains themselves. I’ve heard this was in efforts to make the genre more “realistic” and gritty. It’s noteworthy to also point out that this was the point when war movies were no longer being made by military veterans, and veterans were consulted less and less often in ensuring accurate tellings of their stories. They simply became a medium for artists to tell stories and share their views. Many stories from this period don’t even depict actual events, but only place them within actual time periods, such as the Battle of Hue City. Perhaps this was due to peace activists not involved in the war taking up degrees in liberal arts and film and entertainment. I can only really guess as to why the dramatic shift in war movies, around this time.
The third (the modern era) which I will say started around Saving Private Ryan, is the war epic. Your Black Hawk Downs, American Snipers, even the detestable Hurt Lockers, fall into this category. During that era, all war movies center around 1) Paying at least token respect to the individual troops, while 2) ironically showcasing each as deeply flawed because of the war, be they physically or psychologically broken and 3) never giving credibility to how war may benefit anyone , for example the Jewish people in Germany, the liberated France, or the empowered Kurds of Iraq. Modern war movies are themselves inheriting a stance of only being allowed to say something along the lines of “war is bad” and never veering from that rhetoric, while not socially being allowed to showcase the warriors as the deranged, murderous, barbarians depicted in Kubrick’s film. I guess that’s an improvement. This may be because in the modern era people felt more vulnerable after 9/11 and no longer accepted this view of veterans. It may be that more veterans have more social power to influence the way they are viewed via Social Media, as I am doing now. All that I can say for sure, is that something happened that broke from the way that second era war movies showcased us, from the way modern era movies do, which I am honestly thankful for in spite of many failures still existing in modern movies where veterans issues are concerned.
Having said that, no era is perfectly honest in their depiction of the military or of war. Take for example Black Hawk Down. I liked the movie, but it is filled with much of the spectral of the era while itself being the cinematic telling of one of the greatest modern military research projects in history. To make my point, my favorite line was when one soldier is given an order by a commanding officer, and replies, “But Sir, I’m wounded.” and the Officer replies back nonchalantly, “Everybody’s wounded.” I loved that line, but nothing like it happened in the book, which like I said, is one of the most factual retellings of events in modern history there is, so much so that the Army and Marine Corps have adopted it as part of their reading programs for all non-commissioned and commissioned officers. All that to say, dramatic license for some is embellishment; for others, outright fiction and rarely is it priority to get the story right for history’s sake or to show respect towards the participants.
The honest truth is that all three, the military, war, and the individual warriors are extremely complex, but that complexity is too much for the average movie goer to be entertained in only a two hour sitting. It is far easier to think of the average warrior as either a faceless bad guy, or a broken human because war is so bad, or keep overall ideas simple “War=bad, peace=good” and all things relating to one or the other falling into only one of those two categories. We’ve been made to think that war is some unsurvivable event, either physically or psychologically and that no normal person would be able to endure it, much less that some may see war as necessary and gain satisfaction from being part of one because they know their efforts provided some measure of good to others. (This sentiment in films correlates with the start of the Vietnam War and the end of the first era of war movies). Now, it is very hard for moviegoers to accept a purely heroic, purely rational, purely normal war hero figure because to do that, they have to think of him as an average person, like us who goes for a little while to do something important, unpleasant or not, and then going home to be normal again. Movies like that first present a false view of war and warriors based on stereotypes and tropes, one filled only with suffering and atrocities and with no good reason motivating thousands of rational people at all, then disturbs viewers a second way by making them uncomfortable with the thought, “Could I do those terrible things?” People don’t like that. They don’t want to identify with the common warrior that most of these movies depict. Part of them feels like the bad guy. This was the era in which Full Metal Jacket made its debut.
Having said all this, we can start to get into our conversation on Full Metal Jacket itself.
Full Metal Jacket is the perfect film to showcase second era war movies and the values they were meant to communicate. I am not saying that Kubrick told the truth in the least with the film, nor am I saying his goal was to try to lie to viewers. I think he is just trying to sell movies. He has to make a movie that doesn’t lead viewers into his way of thinking, whatever that may have been, but plays into their already existing biases and beliefs. That is how they identify with characters they know so little about and how they become emotionally involved. Movies don’t make money by correcting people’s notion of how the world really is. They make money by amplifying their beliefs to the point that viewers will tell their friends, “This is the truest thing in history of things and if you don’t watch it, you’re an idiot.” In 1987, no one was viewed anything that happened in the Vietnam War as anything similar to WWII and the general consensus was that there was no point to it at all. With a legacy such as My Lai and the many thousands for a war more than 13 times more than were lost in Iraq, people wanted nothing to do with a “Sands of Iwo Jima” film depicting anything favorable about Vietnam, a heroic film depicting the period well wasn’t the type of movie that would have reached audiences. They were tired of the Cold War (which hadn’t yet ended) and had no sense that anything since 1945 having had any real value. Boil it all down, and FMJ depicts that belief. Note that it might not tell the truth that well, but it perfectly captures the mentality of the people of the time.
Take a look at the film’s hero/victim/protagonist, Pvt. J.T. ‘Joker’ Davis. He is symbolic on many levels which are meaningful to the time in which FMJ debuted. From before he is physically even seen on the screen, he is shown as a rebel, during the iconic introduction of the Drill Instructor played to near perfection by an actual Marine Corps Drill Instructor, R. Lee Ermey, where he outright mocks the Drill Instructor to devastating results. From that moment on, we sympathize with the character who obviously doesn’t belong here. Throughout the movie he is portrayed as not fitting in. He stands out from the brutish, womanizing, cruel or ignorant Marines, as most of them are depicted in the film. Davis instead is an intellectual, symbolized by the non-military regulation eyeglasses and the fact that his Military Occupational Specialty wasn’t infantry, but as a writer. He both stands for intelligence as well as truth, morally setting him above and opposed to the rest of the other “lower” infantrymen. Once he actually does deploy, he stands out as a continued rebel (remember he is morally and intellectually superior to all the other troops) by brandishing proudly the “Born to Kill” label sarcastically graffitied on his helmet and a peace sign on his flak jacket. Given that during the 70’s the symbol had more to do an anti-military sentiments than actual peace, Joker was Stanley Kubrick’s very deliberate attempt to make viewers see the character as being little more than the only rational, non-barbarian militant in the show, who is more a victim of circumstance than someone who wants to be a part of the war at all. All this combines to help viewers of a certain ilk, Kubrick’s target audience, identify with what the protagonist’s presumed views of what the war should be, when really, the truth is that the protagonist was written to personify the average viewer’s perception: “This is barbaric, this is senseless, this is wrong.”
Looking at the rest of the movie and you see a series of messages tailored for a moment in time, and that subgroup of Americans in 1987.
“War will utterly destroy the minds of good and innocent people.”Private Pyle was, to me, the worst part of the best part of the movie. He was over the top in personal treatment in how troops are treated in training, and major elements of his plot could not possibly have happened exactly because of the fate he met in the most acclaimed scene of the movie. Regardless, while the depiction of boot camp was novel for all war movies before or since, Pyle’s presence detracted from the film in a way that, for me, was little more than over the top sensationalism.
“War creates barbarism in American Warfighters where murdering innocent people is acceptable.” I’ve honestly never been able to deal with this scene, given what I have known and experienced in countless hours on the law of war, code of conduct, rules of engagement, and escalation of force training during my own time in the Marines. Honestly try to watch this scene and imagine your nephew or neighbor down the street being this evil, and also try to imagine everyone in the military just looking the other way as it happened.
Then there is the theme that “incoming warriors can only degrade the population of a region through their corruption and immorality.”
And finally, that the enemy that has been causing us so much harm is a much more impotent, underwhelming force than we had ever imagined, personified by nothing less than a little girl, making the American military machine appear, in retrospect to be the bullies and the aggressors.
Rob Ager, a Youtuber who has made a side profession of analyzing films, has even made a very potent argument for the numerous ways in Kubrick used metaphor to convey how military indoctrination forces young men into becoming rapists and killers through psychological rewiring of mind’s inner workings.
“Kubrick is acknowledging the universal truth about military brainwashing, soldiers who can’t be turned into brutal psychopaths by their Drill Instructors, can certainly be persuaded in the battlefields by the overbearing peer pressure of their lesser minded friends.”
If you’re curious, I must add at this point before watching, that the training that the Ager’s analysis and Kubrick’s film depict taking place in the first half of the FMJ, which is necessary for the following analysis and FMJ’s second half narrative to make sense, was nothing like what I experienced in Marine Corps boot camp. We never named our rifles girl’s names, we never slept with our rifles, there were no sexual connotations with them and the “This is my rifle, this is my gun” thing was never uttered in my tenure either. As a Marine Corps rifle instructor, I never even met anyone could explain to me what that meant. One can’t know if boot camp has changed and my experience is just because of reforms, or simply that Kubrick took a great deal more dramatic license than seems in hindsight unjustifiable.
In the end, Kubrick’s film does one thing exceptionally well, it tells the story many people wanted to believe to be the way it was. Was Vietnam hard? Yes, it was. Was it traumatic for many? Yes, it was. Was boot camp filled with mind altering psychopath building brainwashing? Umm… No. What Kubrick’s piece on Vietnam was can simply be called propaganda. It wasn’t the type of propaganda that encourages youth to join up or to make people support a war of one kind or another. It was quite the opposite, but still propaganda. It was a war film that used just as many inaccuracies to promote all the values of the anti-war movement prominent in the late sixties and early seventies and into the eighties, as the Nazi half truth films depicting the virtues of the German Third Reich. That said, it was filled with all the spectacle that makes a war movie entertaining, right down to the incredibly odd and ill fitting Mickey Mouse Club ending to the film.
So, to answer the big question, why did so many people like it? If I really had to guess, I would say it is because the movie boils down into under two hours everything they already believed about war. It supports their stereotypes, reenforces their biases, and conveys a message they have already accepted in their hearts and which society has generally accepted to be true, whether it actually is or not. When you stumble on something that so many people agree with, though few have experienced first hand, and which you yourself find inline with your own beliefs, you tend to declare it as the greatest thing ever made. I don’t know a lot of veterans who think that the Full Metal Jacket is the greatest movie ever made. Everyone laughs at the first half because, frankly, we all had scary drill instructors. Beyond that, I don’t agree that this is a very good film. It’s great propaganda for a certain viewpoint, or at best, a very good story about one very fictitious man’s journey, which unfortunately ended up misrepresenting the factual experiences of a whole generation of war-fighters. That being the case, it really doesn’t surprise me that a democratic ranking forum would skew the results of an OK movie, when it has many moral and political undertones not obvious to many viewers.
A disgruntled group of Marvel fans is planning a protest at Sony headquarters after Sony Pictures, which owns the rights to Spider-Man, and Disney, which owns Marvel Studios, failed to reach a deal to keep the superhero in the MCU.
In a tactic that feels borrowed from Area 51 truthers with a gripe similar to Game of Thrones‘ final season haters, three Spidey fans created a Facebook event to organize simultaneous protests at both Sony Pictures in Culver City, California, and Sony Corporate Offices in New York on Oct.19, 2019.
“We storm Sony Pictures in solidarity dressed in Spider-Man costumes and bring our boy home! This is a peaceful demonstration and violence will not be tolerated.” the description reads, without any self-awareness at how ridiculous it sounds.
Thus far, the event has attracted over 7,000 “Yes” RSVP’s and plenty of mediocre memes.
The entire endeavor is misguided. Sony and Disney are two of the dwindling number of massive corporations that control the entertainment industry. They exist to make money for their shareholders. The only way fans could potentially make the powers that be change their mind is with a credible threat that their anger might hurt the bottom line.
It’s safe to say that’s unlikely in this case.
Even if every fan who signed up for the protest boycotted Sony forever it would be less than a drop in the ocean for the company. And the more likely scenario is that any fan who loves Spider-Man enough to wear a costume that they own to a protest would not be able to resist consuming new Spider-Man content despite their anger.
Mass protest can work, of course, but only when aimed at democratic institutions that have real reasons not to piss too many people off. And with no shortage of awful things to protest, it would be nice if this energy was redirected into something worthwhile like, say, beefing up antitrust law to prevent conglomerates from taking over the entertainment industry.
This article originally appeared on Fatherly. Follow @FatherlyHQ on Twitter.
The military has very talented photographers in its ranks, and they constantly attempt to capture what life as a service member is like during training and at war. This is the best of what they shot this week:
Soldiers from the 193rd Infantry Brigade join Airmen from the 26th Special Tactics Squadron to execute a parachute jump as a part of exercise Emerald Warrior at Melrose Air Force Range, N.M.
A U.S. Air Force combat controller jumps out of an MC-130J Combat Shadow II during Emerald Warrior 2015 at Hurlburt Field, Fla.
USS Freedom (LCS 1) pulls alongside USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74) in preparation for a replenishment at sea training exercise.
Air department Sailors stretch out the emergency crash barricade on the flight deck aboard the aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75) during a general quarters drill.
Security Forces Squadron members of the 106th Rescue Wing conduct night-firing training at the Suffolk County Police Range in Westhampton Beach, N.Y., May 7, 2015. During this training, the airmen learned small-group tactics, how to use their night-vision gear, and trained with visible and infrared designators.
Army combat divers, assigned to The National Guard‘s 20th Special Forces Group (Airborne), maneuver their Zodiac inflatable boat through the surf at Naval Station Mayport, Florida.
KIN BLUE, Okinawa, Japan – Japanese Ground Self-Defense Force scout swimmers emerge out of the ocean and run to the beach during the Japanese Observer Exchange Program.
A Marine surveys land from a UH-1Y Huey as part of a reconnaissance mission in Nepal, May 4, 2015. Marines with Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 469, Marine Air Group 36, 1st Marine Aircraft Wing, III Marine Expeditionary Force/Marine Corps Installations Pacific provided the UH-1Y Huey to support the Nepalese government in relief efforts.
Marines assigned to 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division brace themselves against rotor wash from a CH-53E Super Stallion during Weapons and Tactics Instructor Course (WTI) 2-15 at Del Valle Park, The Combat Center at Twentynine Palms, California.
A beautiful start to another weekend of Service to Nation for Coast Guard crews!
The Chicago Tribune tracks the insane number of shooting victims in the area, broken down by year, month, and location.
And the numbers are staggering.
As gangs inflict casualties on other gang members and innocent bystanders in cities like Chicago, it’s tragically similar to a war zone — so similar, U.S. military medics have been training in the most dangerous parts of America’s cities since at least 2003.
Many of the armed forces’ medical personnel just do not get trauma training they need on the battlefields overseas, so they get it working the battlefields at home.
“It’s important to get them this kind of training here, so they can see how to stop that bleeding and save that life,” Lt. Cmdr. Stan Hovell, a Navy nurse who worked at Chicago’s Cook County hospital, told the Chicago Tribune. “They pick up those skills and carry it back to the Navy.”
Gangland violence is keeping up with the times when it comes to wounds of warfare. Gang members sometimes even use military-style rifles in their assaults, according to Dale Smith, the chair of the Medical Military History Department at the Uniformed Services University in Bethesda. And they’ve inflicted bayonet-like stabbing wounds.
“The first night I took calls here, it was unbelievable,” Navy Cmdr. Peter Rhee, director of the Trauma Training Center at the Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center emergency room told the LA Times. “We ended up opening five chests; we had 10 people shot in the chest. We were operating all night long. It was truly as bad as any kind of wartime experience you could have.”
The doctors, nurses, and administrators love having medics and corpsmen rotating through their staff because U.S. military personnel are fearless.
“Some of them are very experienced,” Faran Bokhari, the head of Chicago’s Stroger Hospital trauma department told the Chicago Tribune. “They’re not green medical students out of la-la land. They’ve seen the blood and guts.”
Airman 1st Class Spencer Stone has been hospitalized in stable condition after being “repeatedly stabbed” in Sacramento, California on Wednesday night, NBC News is reporting.
“A1C Spencer Stone has been transported to a local hospital, and is currently being treated for injury,” Air Force spokesman Lt. Col. Christopher Karns said in an email in Air Force Times. “The incident is currently under investigation by local law enforcement. He is currently in stable condition.”
The incident occurred around 12:45 a.m. between 20th and 22nd street in Sacramento. Stone was stabbed “multiple times” in the chest following an altercation, police told KCRA-TV. Sacramento Police reported the incident as not being terrorism-related, tweeting that alcohol was believed to be a factor since it happened near a bar.
The airman was one of three Americans who thwarted an attack on a French train in August. During the attack, Stone, 23, tackled and disarmed the gunman, who slashed him in the neck and nearly sliced off his thumb with a box cutter, according to NBC Bay Area.
The Air Force medic is originally from Sacramento and stationed at Travis Air Force Base, according to the Sacramento Bee.
Alek Skarlatos, Stone’s friend and fellow hero of the French train attack, tweeted his support:
Everybody send prayers out to the stone family today