As radical terrorist groups continue to wreak havoc around Afghanistan, a group of women are taking up arms against them.
The Afghan National Police have resorted to arming and training local women to fight the Taliban and Islamic State militants. In many cases, the women had lost their sons, husbands, and other loved ones to the ongoing violence.
“If we fear [ISIS] and the Taliban today, our future will be ruined tomorrow,” one unnamed woman told Al Jazeera.
Female members of the Afghan National Police train the local women in small arms and basic tactics, specifically in the northern reaches of Afghanistan.
Army photo by Sgt. Chloé Barnes.
“Every week, around 40 or 50 people join,” said Najiba, a female police officer.
Some Afghans do not approve of women fighting in the army or police, but the increasingly desperate situation has forced the security forces to take desperate measures. Afghan forces only control or influence approximately 60 percent of the country’s districts, according to a report by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction.
ISIS’s Afghan branch, known as Islamic State-Khorasan province, holds significantly less territory, but the group has been able to engage in several deadly terrorist attacks across the country.
Army photo by Sgt. Chloé Barnes.
“It’s been forced on us,” Gen. Rahmat of the Jowzjan province police told Al Jazeera in an interview. “It’s not a woman’s job to fight. But that’s the situation now. Women have joined the police and army, too.”
Fighting the Taliban and ISIS is a risky proposition for the women, but many see it as their duty. Sara Khala, one of the women training to fight the militants, lost her son to the Taliban, forcing her to care for his orphaned children.
“I have to take revenge for him,” she told Al-Jazeera. “I’ll cook dinner and give it to them. Then I’ll go wherever the Taliban and Daesh are. I’ll take my gun and fight them.”
Paulette Fryar was named the Armed Forces Insurance Military Spouse of the Year on May 7th, 2020. It was the first time in the award’s history that it went to a Coast Guard spouse and the excitement over her win reverberated loudly throughout the military spouse community. The next day, the joy and excitement over her honor would be muted.
Her cousin committed suicide.
David Heathers was a Marine veteran of the Iraq war. After leaving the service and returning home, he suffered from debilitating post-traumatic stress disorder. Living through the effects of that diagnosis in the midst of the isolation of COVID-19, would ultimately take his life. Fryar comes from a long line of family members who have served, but had not yet truly been touched by devastating impacts of war, until now.
“I had no idea how bad it was for my cousin David until it was too late. If there is something I can do to bring more awareness so that other families don’t have to go through this, I want to,” Fryar said.
Although her initial platform of serving young military spouses and families had garnered her the title of Military Spouse of the Year, this deeply personal experience shifted things for her. Fryar has become very vocal about discussing the impacts of trauma and PTSD. She wanted to do something to combat the issue.
The Million Mile project was born.
In collaboration with the 2020 branch and base winners of the Military Spouse of the Year award, she approached Armed Forces Insurance to help sponsor the project. They immediately said yes. The goal was to unite the entire military community, as well as any patriotic supporters in raising suicide awareness. The participants would do this through logging miles for 22 days, to remember and honor the veterans lost to suicide.
“I knew I wanted to start a campaign to bring attention to this issue and provide some resources in hopes that other families would not have to experience this kind of loss,” Fryar explained.
The project began on August 15th, 2020 – which would have been her cousin’s 39th birthday and was the day in which is family held his celebration of life. This day was also significant because it was exactly 22 days before suicide prevention week would begin in September.
“One reason I wanted to start this Million Mile Project is that losing my cousin to suicide really opened my eyes to how awful this issue of military and veteran PTSD and suicide is. Once I saw it, I couldn’t turn a blind eye or look away,” Fryar said.
Studies have shown that up to 20% of veterans who have served since 9/11 are diagnosed with PTSD. Suicide has also been on the rise according to the 2019 National Veteran Suicide Prevention Annual Report. Medical professionals are now on alert for increased rates of suicide due to the isolation and stress that COVID-19 is placing on veterans in particular.
Fryar and the other 2020 branch winners created a Facebook group for The Million Mile Project and it has over 6,000 members and continues to grow. The unique miles project allows members to log their miles in almost any way. Participants can walk, run, bike, swim or even skateboard for the suicide awareness project.
The parents of Fryar’s cousin have joined the project and have expressed their deep appreciation for the love and support they’ve received. It is their hope that through creating events like The Million Mile Project, they can reach people contemplating suicide and show them they matter and how important they truly are.
It is their hope that their story will show that life isn’t better without them.
“As the 2020 Armed Forces Insurance Military Spouse of the Year, my main quote is ‘Together we are stronger’ and I feel it applies to the Million Mile Project so well,” Fryar explained. She continued, “Working together on a campaign like this is so important! I want people suffering from the loss of a loved one or possibly a veteran struggling with PTSD or suicide ideation to know that they are not alone, that they are needed and loved deeply.”
The U.S. Navy’s Nimitz Class aircraft carriers are some of the most powerful weapons systems known to man, floating cities that can take strike warfare capability to the far reaches of the planet, places unreachable by other military assets. With an embarked air wing these carriers are manned by 5,500 sailors (and a few Marines) and home base for more than 80 airplanes.
Here are the places that make these 97,000 ton ships work:
Pri-fly (short for ‘primary flight control’) is also known as “the tower.” Pri-fly is where the Air Boss sits and controls all of the goings-on on the flight deck as well as the airspace within a 10-mile radius of the carrier.
The bridge is a few levels below Pri-fly in the carrier’s superstructure. The bridge is where the Captain sits along with the navigator and all of the officers of the deck and the rest of the watch team charged with steering the ship and staying away from hazards. During flight ops it’s the bridge team’s responsibility to keep a favorable flying wind across the flight deck.
3. Flight deck
The Navy likes to refer to the flight deck as “4.5 acres of sovereign and mobile American territory.” The flight deck is where aircraft launch courtesy of steam catapults and land — one every minute — with the assistance of steel arresting cables. The movement around the flight deck is choreographed by the “handler” in Flight Deck Control who manages the limited real estate and makes sure aircraft get where they need to be either to fly or get worked on.
4. Ready rooms
Flight briefs are conducted in ready rooms, but these spaces are also where squadron aviators congregate to discuss other business or to relax and watch a movie.
The paraloft is where the aviators’ flight gear like helmets and survival vests is stored. This is the final stop for crews before they walk one level up to the flight deck.
6. Crew berthing
Sleeping quarters cram as many as 96 sailors together, but still provide a bit of privacy and a place to get away from the stress of the workday.
The carrier’s intelligence center is where classified mission planning takes place. Intelligence officers give aviators the latest details about the enemy’s whereabouts and weapons systems status using state-of-the-art hardware and software.
The Carrier Air Traffic Control Center is where controllers sit at radar displays and guide airplanes safely back to the ship just like controllers do for airliners at civilian airports.
9. Hangar bay
The hangar bay is where airplanes are parked for major maintenance and where gear is staged, including ordnance. Things get from the hangar bay to the flight deck on one of the three huge elevators along the edge of the carrier.
10. Mess decks
Sailors have to eat, and a good carrier’s supply department takes pride in serving chow that’s nutritious and delicious. Mess decks have a variety of offerings to suit the tastes of entire crew, everything from corndogs to surf and turf.
Carriers have impressive medical resources, including surgical and dental facilities. (Need a vasectomy? The ship’s surgeon has got you covered.)
12. Reactor spaces
The Nimitz Class carrier’s two reactors are what puts the nuke in nuclear power. This amazing energy source allows the carrier to sail for up to 25 years before refueling.
When the US Navy fields a new ship, they don’t just take the engineer’s word for it that it can withstand nearby bombs — they test it out.
The USS Jackson, an Independence-class Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) meant for patrols in shallow water, just passed the first of three scheduled “shock trials.” The shock trials are composed of the ship sailing along as the Navy carefully detonates 10,000 pound bombs on either side of it. The results are then measured.
“The shock trials are designed to demonstrate the ship’s ability to withstand the effects of nearby underwater explosion and retain required capability,” according to a Navy statement.
“This is no kidding, things moving, stuff falling off of bulkheads … Some things are going to break. We have models that predict how electronics are going to move and cabinets are going to move, but some things are going to happen, and we’re going to learn a lot from this test,” US Navy Rear Adm. Brian Antonio told USNI News.
So far, the Jackson has passed the trials handsomely.
The Independence class, along with the Freedom class LCSs, represent the Navy’s vision of the future of surface warfare. Though both classes have suffered significant engineering difficulties, their modular design promises to revolutionize the way US Navy ships equip, train for, and deploy capabilities.
The Air Force announced Ellsworth Air Force Base, South Dakota, has been selected as the preferred location for the first operational B-21 Raider bomber and the formal training unit, March 27, 2019.
Whiteman AFB, Missouri, and Dyess AFB, Texas, will receive B-21s as they become available.
The Air Force used a deliberate process to minimize mission impact during the transition, maximize facility reuse, minimize cost and reduce overhead.
“These three bomber bases are well suited for the B-21,” said Secretary of the Air Force Heather A. Wilson. “We expect the first B-21 Raider to be delivered beginning in the mid-2020s, with subsequent deliveries phased across all three bases.”
Ellsworth AFB was selected as the first location because it provides sufficient space and existing facilities necessary to accommodate simultaneous missions at the lowest cost and with minimal operational impact across all three bases. The Air Force will incrementally retire existing B-1 Lancers and B-2 Spirits when a sufficient number of B-21s are delivered.
A B-1B Lancer flying over the Pacific Ocean.
(US Air Force photo)
“We are procuring the B-21 Raider as a long-range, highly-survivable aircraft capable of penetrating enemy airspace with a mix of weapons,” said Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David L. Goldfein. “It is a central part of a penetrating joint team.”
Barksdale AFB, Louisiana, and Minot AFB, North Dakota, will continue to host the B-52 Stratofortress which is expected to continue conducting operations through 2050.
The Air Force will make its final B-21 basing decision following compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act and other regulatory and planning processes. That decision is expected in 2021 and is part of the overall Air Force Strategic Basing Process.
The U.S. has some of the best special operations units in the world, but they can’t do everything on their own. The American military relies on allied special operators from places like Britain, Iraq, and Israel to collect intelligence and kill enemy insurgents and soldiers. Here are 6 of those special operations commands.
A quick note on the photos: Many allied militaries are even more loathe to show the faces of their special operators than the U.S. The photos we’ve used here are, according to the photographers, of the discussed special operations forces, but we cannot independently verify that the individuals photographed are actually members of the respective clandestine force.
1. SAS and SBS
These could obviously be two separate entries, but we’re combining them here because they’re both British units that often operate side-by-side with U.S. forces, just with different missions and pedigrees. The Special Air Service pulls from the British Army and focuses on counter-terrorism and reconnaissance. The Special Boat Service does maritime counter-terrorism and amphibious warfare (but will absolutely stack bodies on land, too).
Both forces have deployed with U.S. operators around the world, especially in Iraq and Afghanistan where they were part of secretive task forces that hunted top Taliban members, ISIS, and Iraqi insurgents.
2. Sayeret Matkal
Israel’s Sayeret Matkal has generated rumors and conjecture for decades, and it’s easy to see why when you look at their few public successes. They rescued 103 Jewish hostages under gunpoint in Uganda after a plane hijacking. They hunted down the killers who attacked Israel’s 1972 Munich Olympic team, killing 11 coaches and athletes. The commandos in the unit are skilled in deception, direct action, and intelligence gathering.
The U.S. is closely allied with Israel and Sayeret Matkal is extremely good at gathering intelligence, which is often shared with the U.S. One of their most public recent successes came when they led a daring mission to install listening devices in ISIS buildings, learning of a plan to hide bombs in the battery wells of laptops.
3. French Special Operations Command
French special operations units are even more close-mouthed than the overall specops community, but they have an army unit dedicated to intelligence gathering and anti-terrorism, a navy unit filled with assault forces and underwater demolitions experts, and an air force unit specializing in calling in air strikes and rescuing isolated personnel behind enemy lines.
The commandos have reportedly deployed to Syria in recent years to fight ISIS. And while Germany is fairly tight-lipped about the unit, they have confirmed that the unit was deployed to Iraq for a few years in the early 2000s. On these missions, they help U.S.-led coalitions achieve success.
5. Iraqi Counter Terrorism Service
The Iraqi Counter Terrorism Service was created by the U.S. and, oddly, does not fall within the Iraqi Ministry of Defense, making this one of the few special operations units that isn’t part of the traditional military. It has three special operations forces brigades and, in recent years, has largely focused on eliminating ISIS-controlled territory and the surviving forces.
The operators have also fought against other groups like Al Qaeda-Iraq. The unit was originally formed in 2003, meaning it has only existed while Iraq was at war with insurgents, so the force has operated almost exclusively within Iraq’s borders. It earned high marks in 2014 when its troops maintained good order and fought effectively against ISIS while many of the security forces were falling apart.
Six-year-old Mason Rudder of Kansas City, Missouri was born a Escobar Syndrome, a rare genetic neuromuscular disorder that causes muscle weakness and joint deformities. There is only one thing he ever wanted to be when he grows up: a U.S. Navy SEAL.
“I want to save the country and I want to save people,” Mason told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. His condition affects his bones and joints and restricts his range of motion, but that didn’t stop him from clearing a house with his fire team.
Mason’s SEAL training began when his parents reached out to Asymmetric Solutions, a St. Louis-based tactical training company, staffed with former special forces operators of all varieties, even boasting some Israeli commandos. Asymmetric Solutions’ ex-SEAL Jared Ogden trained Mason at a tactical training center near Farmington, Missouri.
The company agreed to host a “Navy SEAL for a Day” event just for Mason. The little SEAL cycled through rounds of firearms training, including M4 and AR-15 rifles, and setting off a wall bomb that blew the door of a building. His training culminated in the house raid that “killed” a “Taliban leader.”
Ogden pinned a SEAL trident to the boy’s sweatshirt as a symbol of completing the training.
“You wear that with pride,” Ogden said to Mason. “Good job, team leader.”
It’s Sweater Weather! And with that comes time for indoor cocktails that warm the bones and keep your inner fire glowing. As we lead into winter, there’s no better time to dust off the old cocktail shaker and explore some old-school mixed drinks. Sure, summer is all about beer and barbeques, and we’re sad to see it go, but autumn is all about crafted cocktails. You might not be able to gather with your colleagues after work, but that doesn’t mean Happy Hour has to die.
Not sure where to start? Here’s a list of five cocktails that all have military origins – with recipes included!
Historical records are a little lacking when it comes to uncovering just how this cocktail came to be, but it’s thought to have made its first appearance in “The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks.” No matter where it came from, it’s the most popular cocktail for celebrating the annual Army-Navy football game.
Fill a shaker with ice cubes. Add all ingredients. Shake and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
While not as strong as Ball-level Grogg, this cocktail is definitely going to light a fire under you. Apparently, it was crafted out of necessity by the good folks at the 2nd Ranger Battalion during a cold-weather FTX. We can’t be sure, of course, but it seems like just the thing a Ranger Batt would put together.
1/2 oz Bacardi 151 Rum
1 8 oz can Red Bull
1 oz Jagermeister
Mix Jagermeister, Bacardi 151 rum, and a can of Red Bull in a mug or tall glass. Place a slice of both lime and lemon on top and serve.
Bald Eagle Martini
Nothing says America like the eagle. This cocktail’s origins are unclear, but it’s been found in mixology books dating back to the early 1900s. This cocktail is perfect for summer, but it’s equally delicious in cooler months when you want to remember what it’s like to feel the sun on your face and the sand at your feet.
2 oz tequila
1 oz pink grapefruit juice
1/2 oz cranberry juice
1/2 oz lime juice
1/2 oz lemon juice
Salt to rim
Rim a martini glass with salt. Then shake all ingredients with ice. Strain into the prepared glass and serve.
The Light Infantry
This is the perfect cocktail to sip while singing “The Army Goes Rolling Along,” if you’re into that kind of thing. You don’t really have to sing, but we highly recommend this decadent combo of whiskey, vermouth, and Lillet. Perfect for November evenings that are chilly and crisp.
2 oz. rye whiskey
1 oz. Lillet (just use more vermouth if you can’t find Lillet)
1⁄2 oz. Cocchi Vermouth de Torino
4 dashes orange bitters
1 large, thick orange peel, for garnish
Place rye, Lillet, vermouth, and bitters in a shaker with ice and stir. Rub the orange peel around the rim of a chilled martini glass; strain the drink into a glass. Twist orange peel over the drink to release its oils and add to glass. Garnish with a cherry, if you like.
Okay, this one doesn’t have some war-time history behind it, but it’s all out America with its patriotic color, and we’re pretty sure given the amount of alcohol, it’s sure to keep you warm on cold weather nights.
1 oz Avalanche Cinnamon Schnapps
1 oz Avalanche Peppermint
1 oz Rumplemintz
Pour each ingredient in slowly to layer them in a glass. Don’t stir — the color is what makes this drink patriotic.
In June 1913, the crew of the USS Arkansas started referring to their social gatherings as Happy Hours, which included everything from boxing and wrestling matches to dancing, music and movies. By the end of WWI, Happy Hours had spread from the crew of the Arkansas to the rest of the navy. That didn’t last long, though, because General Order 99, issued in 1914, prohibited the use of alcohol on ships. Despite its stops and starts, Happy Hours eventually found their way into other branches of the military and in civilian social circles as well. Thanks, Navy!
Former NSA contractor Edward Snowden’s first leak is coming full circle.
Last month a US appeals court ruled the NSA’s post-9/11 dragnet of millions of Americans’ phone-call records is illegal, noting that a secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) order “leaked by former government contractor Edward Snowden” and published by The Guardian served as the catalyst for the decision.
The FISC order directed Verizon to produce to the NSA “on an ongoing daily basis … all call detail records or ‘telephony metadata’ created by Verizon for communications (i) between the United States and abroad; or (ii) wholly within the United States, including local telephone calls.”
The US government had justified the program by saying it was covered under Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act, but the court ruled that “the bulk telephone metadata program is not authorized by § 215.”
On Monday, Section 215 and two other provisions of the Patriot Act expired — at least temporarily.
So for the first time since 9/11, partly thanks to Snowden, 31, the phone records of US citizens are not being scooped en masse under a law ruled illegal.
But the order comes from just one of as many as 1.77 million NSA documents Snowden allegedly stole while working at two consecutive jobs for US government contractors in Hawaii between March 2012 and May 2013. And he gave only an estimated 200,000 documents to American journalists Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras.
On June 9, 2013, four days after The Guardian published the Verizon order, Snowden revealed himself in a video before going underground to seek asylum.
Snowden’s epic heist and search for asylum spans more than 10,000 miles, and there are a lot of blanks to fill in after Snowden decided to expose NSA spying.
Now that Snowden’s first leak is vindicated, here’s a look at three of the outstanding questions about his journey:
Whom did Snowden contact when he arrived in Hong Kong?
Snowden says he “clearly and unambiguously acted alone, with no assistance from anyone” — at least until Hong Kong.
“When Mr. Snowden came to Hong Kong from Hawaii in late May, he looked up a person whom he had met on a previous vacation here,” The New York Times reported on June 24, 2013, the day after Snowden flew from Hong Kong to Moscow.
Albert Ho, one of Snowden’s Hong Kong lawyers, told The Times the person was a well-connected Hong Kong resident and became Mr. Snowden’s “carer.”
Snowden told The Guardian that after the “very carefully planned and orchestrated” theft of NSA information, he didn’t cover his traces in Hong Kong.
“I only tried to avoid being detected in advance of travel … on the other side I wanted them to know where I was at,” Snowden said. “I wanted them to know.”
In his book, Glenn Greenwald wrote that Snowden “arrived in Hong Kong from Hawaii on May 20, checking into the Mira Hotel under his own name.”
Where did Snowden spend the first 11 days?
Edward Jay Epstein of The Wall Street Journal, however, went to Hong Kong and reported that Snowden didn’t check into the Mira Hotel until June 1, a couple of days before he met Poitras and Greenwald.
“Mr. Snowden would tell Mr. Greenwald on June 3 that he had been ‘holed up’ in his room at the Mira Hotel from the time of his arrival in Hong Kong. But according to inquiries by Wall Street Journal reporter Te-Ping Chen, Mr. Snowden arrived there on June 1,” Epstein reported.
“I confirmed that date with the hotel’s employees,” Epstein wrote.” A hotel security guard told me that Mr. Snowden was not in the Mira during that late-May period and, when he did stay there, he used his own passport and credit card.”
Epstein also cited a source familiar with the Defense Intelligence Agency report on the Snowden affair, writing that “US investigative agencies have been unable to find any credit-card charges or hotel records indicating his whereabouts” between May 20 and June 1.
What exactly happened to the documents Snowden didn’t give to journalists?
After checking out of the Mira Hotel on June 10, Ho said, Snowden accepted an invitation to stay in the home of one of his carer’s friends.
On June 12, Snowden showed The South China Morning Post (SCMP) an unknown number of documents revealing “operational details of specific [NSA] attacks on [Chinese] computers, including internet protocol (IP) addresses, dates of attacks, and whether a computer was still being monitored remotely.”
Snowden told Lana Lam of SCMP that he possessed more NSA intel.
“If I have time to go through this information, I would like to make it available to journalists in each country to make their own assessment, independent of my bias, as to whether or not the knowledge of US network operations against their people should be published.”
Eleven days later, Snowden got on a plane to Moscow.
In October 2013, James Risen of The Times reported that Snowden told him over encrypted chat that “he gave all of the classified documents he had obtained to journalists he met in Hong Kong.” (ACLU lawyer and Snowden legal adviser Ben Wizner subsequently told me that the report was inaccurate.)
Snowden would later tell NBC that he “destroyed” all documents in his possession before he spoke with the Russians in Hong Kong.
“The best way to make sure that for example the Russians can’t break my fingers and — and compromise information or — or hit me with a bag of money until I give them something was not to have it at all,” he told Brian Williams of NBC in Moscow in May 2014. “And the way to do that was by destroying the material that I was holding before I transited through Russia.”
More to come
Snowden, who appears via video conference semi-frequently, has not explained these discrepancies yet.
In the meantime, as the effects of Snowden’s leaks reverberate in the US and the world, the saga continues.
As the wars have raged on, America’s interest in Tier One special operators like Delta Force and SEAL Team Six has increased. Delta Force has managed to stay largely in the shadows in spite of this, keeping their missions and accomplishments relatively secret. They hunted Osama bin Laden, were part of the capture of Saddam Hussein, and have operated in dozens of countries around the world, but little is known about the outfit.
But there is a body of work out there about Delta Force. Here are four books by former operatives that give a glimpse behind the curtain:
1. “Delta Force: A Memoir by the Founder of the U.S. Military’s Most Secretive Special Operations Unit”
Col. Charlie A. Beckwith was the creator of Delta Force. He fought from 1962 to 1977 to get the unit after serving as an exchange officer with the British SAS. He was finally given permission to found the unit and describes the process in “Delta Force.” He also goes into detail of the rigorous training and selection process that continues today. Beckwith led the unit through the failed Operation Eagle Claw, an attempt to rescue the American hostages in Iran.
2. “Inside Delta Force: The Story of America’s Elite Counterterrorist Unit”
Written by a founding member of Delta Force, “Inside Delta Force” takes a reader through the training and earliest missions of the elite unit. Retired Command Sgt. Maj. Eric L. Haney describes his personal experiences in Beirut, the Sudan, and Honduras.
3. “Kill Bin Laden: A Delta Force Commander’s Account of the Hunt for the World’s Most Wanted Man”
“Kill Bin Laden” looks at the earliest attempts to capture or kill Bin Laden immediately after the September 11 attacks. The book shows the inner workings of Delta Force on the ground conducting operations. The operators work with local forces to hunt through the Tora Bora mountains and are able to listen in on bin Laden’s communications before ultimately losing him.
4. “The Mission, the Men, and Me: Lessons from a Former Delta Force Commander”
Pete Blaber, a former Delta Force commander, takes readers through his own physical and mental training as he joined Delta Force before discussing his missions in Columbia, Somalia, Bosnia, Afghanistan, and Iraq.
“The Mission, the Men, and Me” has a few distinguishing characteristics. First, this book discusses more operations in the Post-9/11 world than any other on this list. Also, Blaber distills the lessons he learned in Delta Force and helps readers apply them to their lives in modern America.
At the onset of World War II, writing letters was the preferred communication between soldiers and family members. In fact, oftentimes it was the only form of communication. Phone calls were few and far between, and usually, technology like telegrams were reserved for internal military communication. When it came to talking with loved ones, letters were their bread and butter. On average, each soldier wrote six letters per week — almost one every day — with each one taking up to four weeks to make it to their delivery address. If they were lucky, letters would be delivered in a single week. The process was long, tedious and expensive logistically, but also incredibly reassuring for those on the receiving end.
In June of 1942, the U.S. Government announced a change in the way they delivered mail. Rather than collecting and delivering physical letters, they created Victory Mail. Shortened to V-Mail, it was a technology that took images of letters, then shipped the films — rather than sacks and sacks of paper — then re-printed smaller versions back in the U.S. The service was discontinued on November 1, 1945.
The benefits of V-Mail meant reducing plane cargo space; a film was 1/37th the space and weight of a paper letter. Films recorded up to 40 letters per minute, holding 1,600 on each roll of film. V-Mail letters could also be delivered quickly. As this was considered the number one morale booster to soldiers, there was heavy motivation to make V-Mail a success.
V-Mail thwarted espionage
However, space wasn’t the only benefit to V-Mail, it also helped eliminate traitor and/or spy efforts against the U.S.
It did so in two ways:
First, all letters that went through V-Mail were censored. Sensitive information was deleted or removed from the correspondence altogether. There were folks whose entire job was to read letters and remove anything offensive or sensitive. Therefore, someone — willingly or not — sharing confidential information would have parts of their message redacted, ensuring nothing classified was transmitted.
Second, because V-Mail took images of letters, many spy tactics were made moot, to include invisible ink, microdots and microprinting. The latter two involved very small writings or codes that could only be deciphered by someone who knew what to look for, usually with a magnifying glass. But as V-Mail re-prints were at a quarter of the size of the original, tiny artifacts could not be identified. (It’s also likely that the image qualities were not clear enough to pick up such details.)
Original copies of letters were kept by the receiving Post Office, assigning numbers so that “no V-Mail letter could ever be lost.” However, this meant copies with secret ink, etc. would not be seen by its intended recipient.
Along with the speed of delivery, the ability to fight espionage was marketed as a patriotic way for V-Mail to help the war. In total, more than a billion V-Mail letters were sent until the end of the war in 1945.
Featured image: Left, National Archives; Right, WWII Museum
Gary Brooks Faulkner, a construction worker from Colorado, was detained by police with a pistol and a sword. Except for the sword, this would not be unusual in Colorado. But he wasn’t in Colorado. He was in Pakistan, and he was there to avenge the 9/11 terrorist attacks by taking a sword to the world’s most wanted man.
When the U.S. Army adopted the motto “Army of One,” a lot of soldiers laughed. But one American civilian seemed to have taken it to heart. He wasn’t ashamed of his self-imposed mission. He was proud of it. Even when he was arrested in the Chitral District of Pakistan while trying to cross into Afghanistan, he didn’t hide it.
“He told the investigating officer he was going to Afghanistan to get Osama. At first we thought he was mentally deranged,” said Muhammad Jaffar Khan, the Chitral police chief. But the gun-toting, sword-wielding Californian was totally serious. He even brought along night vision goggles. The American was even under armed guard while staying in Pakistan under the guise of being an everyday tourist. One night, he slipped away from his guard and made a run for the border.
Faulkner was arrested in Pakistan back in 2010 and had no idea – like the rest of the world – that Osama bin Laden wasn’t even in Afghanistan at the time. Bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan was just a ten-hour drive from the Kalash Valley, where Faulkner was staying. There wasn’t even a border to cross or policemen to arrest him or take away his samurai sword.
But the American had no idea where he was going. He told police he brought the Bible along with him and that God would guide him to where Osama bin Laden was hiding, and allow him America’s vengeance. Or at least allow him to capture the world’s most wanted terrorist. But of course, we all know how OBL’s story ends.
Faulkner’s ends with a Nic Cage movie.
Gary Brooks Faulkner, however, was turned over to the U.S. State Department in Pakistan and repatriated home to Colorado, where he was a guest on various talk shows, including The View and The Late Show with David Letterman, before going back to a regular life of managing his brother’s apartment complex. Then one day, a tenant who was being evicted tried to break into his apartment with three of her friends. She tried to intimidate a man who hunted Osama bin Laden with a sword.
He fired a shot at his assailants, but that shot brought the police, who confiscated his weapons and discovered he was a convicted felon. That shot eventually landed Faulkner in jail.