When most people retire from the military, they look forward to spending more time with family, relaxing, and maybe pursuing their hobbies.
Neall Ellis isn’t most people.
After a successful career in both the Rhodesian and South African militaries, Ellis became bored with civilian life. Rather than sit back and relax, he decided to pursue the only hobby he knew — kicking ass.
With plenty of strife and a need for fighters throughout the African continent, Ellis decided to become a mercenary. He wasn’t going to be just any mercenary though. Ellis recruited a team and procured an Mi-24 Hind helicopter gunship.
Ellis’ mercenary work eventually brought him to Sierra Leone, which was in the midst of a civil war in the late 1990s. The government of Sierra Leone, backed by the British, was attempting to quell a rebellion by the Revolutionary United Front (RUF).
Ellis saw things differently. Though the rebels were attacking at night, and he had no night vision devices, he proposed that he and his crew fly out to meet them and try to drive them off. To his crew, this sounded foolish and none would agree to fly the mission. Unperturbed, Ellis, piloting his helicopter alone, flew against the rebel onslaught.
In the dead of night, with no crew and no night vision, Ellis fought off the rebel advance. When the rebels came again, Ellis once again flew alone and turned them back from Freetown. Only when his helicopter broke down and he was unable to fly did the rebels finally take the city.
But Ellis wasn’t done fighting. Even though the government of Sierra Leone had lost the capital and could no longer pay him or his crew, they kept flying.
In an interview with the Telegraph, Ellis told them, “I have not been paid for 20 months. I do it because I don’t know what else to do. I enjoy the excitement. It’s an adrenaline rush.”
His staunch defense of Freetown had also drawn the ire of the RUF. His actions had so angered the RUF that they sent him a message: “If we ever catch you, we will cut out your heart and eat it.”
Ellis’ response was epic.
Ellis loaded up his bird and flew out to deliver a message of his own.
Arriving over the rebel camp they proceeded to drop thousands of leaflets, with a picture of their helicopter and the words “RUF: this time we’ve dropped leaflets. Next time it will be a half-inch Gatling machine gun, or 57mm rockets, or 23mm guns, or 30mm grenades, or ALL OF THEM!”
And he meant it. Although heavily outnumbered, Ellis kept fighting the rebels.
Eventually, his efforts drew the attention of the British, who decided not only to return to Sierra Leone, but also to provide support to Ellis and work in conjunction with him.
His vast knowledge of the country made him a valuable asset to the British and he actively participated in operations.
In September 2000, Ellis flew his helicopter in support of Operation Barras, a rescue mission of several soldiers from the Royal Irish Regiment who had been captured. He would also flew missions with the British SAS.
Ellis and his crew would stay in Sierra Leone until the defeat of the RUF in 2002.
Ellis’ reputation earned him a trip to Iraq working with the British during the invasion in 2003.
The 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit conducted an amphibious landing in Alvund, Norway, Oct. 29, 2018, during Exercise Trident Juncture 18. The exercise allowed the MEU to rehearse their amphibious and expeditionary capabilities in a unique environment in support of partner nations.
Norway is a NATO Ally and hosted this year’s exercise which provided challenging terrain and weather for the participating Marines. Training in challenging conditions helps acclimate the forces to the elements and enhances their combat readiness.
The amphibious landing consisted of a surface assault and an air assault to display the MEU’s ability to rapidly project combat power ashore. Battalion Landing Team 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marine Division arrived ashore with roughly 700 Marines, 12 Amphibious Assault Vehicles, six Light Armored Vehicles, and 21 High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicles, all designed to increase the lethality of the infantry Marines. Marines arrived at the beach landing site and transitioned to follow on operations at subsequent objectives around Alvund. All operations were conducted within the exercise scenario against mock enemy forces which required the Marines to make decisions in real time.
Marines establish a bivouac location during Trident Juncture 18 on Alvund Beach, Oct. 29, 2018 after being delivered ashore from USS Iwo Jima.
“We came to the North Atlantic looking for a challenge and Trident Juncture delivered; throughout the exercise the environment forced us to be flexible and adaptive,” said Maj. Anthony Bariletti, the 24th MEU operations officer.
“It is the adaptability that makes Marine Expeditionary Units such a lethal crisis response force. As Marines, we gain our lethality from the ability to operate as part of a naval integrated team. The ability to conduct amphibious operations in the premier core competency of our service and this exercise provided an outstanding opportunity for the 24th MEU to hone its skills and prepare for combat as a forward deployed, sea-based Marine Air-Ground Task Force.”
A landing craft air cushion lands on Alvund Beach, Norway during an amphibious landing in support of Trident Juncture 18, Oct. 29, 2018.
Throughout the training exercise, the MEU was able to provide strategic speed and agility while operating in international waters and retaining flexibility in support of NATO Allies and partners. Trident Juncture allowed the Marines to operate from the sea with their Navy counterparts and increase interoperability. The success of Trident Juncture will lead to more combat-ready forces capable of proficiently supporting combat operations and humanitarian activities across the globe.
A Marine guides vehicles off of a landing craft air cushion during an amphibious landing in support of Trident Juncture 18 on Alvund Beach, Norway, Oct. 29, 2018.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Margaret Gale)
“I’m extremely proud of how hard the Marines and sailors have been working throughout the exercise,” said Sgt. Maj. Christopher Garza, the 24th MEU sergeant major.
“They have endured the challenging cold weather conditions and long work days. It’s great to come together and display our capabilities as a MEU and the Marines and sailors are the ones who make it happen. All the training and preparation they put in has paid off and my hat’s off to them on a job well done up to this point.”
Marines training on the use of indirect fires and air support can now practice their engagements nearly anywhere thanks to Augmented Immersive Team Training, an augmented reality tool that projects a digital battlefield onto any terrain.
Developed by the Office of Naval Research, the system allows Marines to wear a pair of goggles that takes video of the surrounding area and combines it with computer simulations of units. Then, the Marines can engage those targets with certain weapons systems or airstrikes to destroy the target.
Participants can also view the battlefield through special binoculars and laser designators.
All Marines going through the training are synced up to the same simulation, so they see the same targets in the same spots and can watch as another Marine targets and destroys an enemy force.
Instructors use a computer to add or remove enemy vehicles and troops in the simulation, allowing them to tailor the training to a unit’s needs and current ability levels.
Trainers and students could also more efficiently conduct training since a botched engagement can be quickly reset and the difficulty could be changed on the fly by the instructor. And, the service would no longer need tailored ranges or simulation centers to train. Marines could take the kits with them to any open area.
Master Sergeant George Hand US Army (ret) was a member of the 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta, The Delta Force. He is a now a master photographer, cartoonist and storyteller.
Five… four… three… two… one — BANG!
We slung mutual glances from our lineup outside the door we were trying to explosively breach. Door charges weren’t supposed to go bang; they were supposed to go “BOOM!“
“GO, GO, GO!” came the call as we rushed to the still-closed breach point. Moses Bentley was the man who built and fired the charge. He crashed through the still-closed door like Thing from the Fantastic Four. We piled in behind him and quickly cleared and dominated the interior of our target building.
A post-assault inspection of the door charge revealed that the explosive had gone “low-order;” that is, only a small portion of the charge and detonated, leaving the remainder still stuck to the door. “Don’t touch it…” Moses cautioned to us, “…it’s likely still sensitized from the initiator. Let’s leave it alone for about 30 minutes before I recover it.”
Moses (running) and the author training in Hereford, England, with the British 22 Special Air Service Regiment (22 SAS).
The setting was a condemned and abandoned residential neighborhood in New Orleans, “The Big Easy,” Louisiana. Our operations bros had found this hood and prepped it for a couple of days of absolutely realistic assault training with live breaches. We cut doors, blew through walls, blasted through chainlink fences… even through a shingle roof, which was more just something fun to do rather than a legit thing of tactical value, as breaching a shingle gable roof puts you in… an attic — doh!
Back at our breaching table, Moses (Mos) took the flexible sheet explosive he had collected from the door and packed it into a lumped pile. He added a little “P” for “plenty” and voila, the “Bentley Blaster,” as he entitled it, was born: “I’ll slap this Bentley Blaster between the doorknob and the deadbolt and punch all that sh*t through the jamb; right in, right out, nobody gets hurt!” Mos bragged.
“Right in, right out, nobody gets hurt,” was the meta-assault plan composed largely of anti-matter and existed in a parallel universe. The plan applied to all actions on every assault objective after the real-world assault plan was formulated. We recited it to together just before we went in on every objective.
It was a B-Team thing. Our A-Team began their assaults with the Team Leader turning to his men announcing in an Arnold Schwarzenegger voice, “I am the cleanah!” to which his men replied in kind and in unison, “And we are the cleaning crew!” Just a thing.
The Ryder rental truck with our assault teams crept through an alleyway, coming to a halt behind a cluster of houses. Inside, B-Team waited as the cleaner and the cleaning crew lowered themselves to the ground and padded their way to their target house. Team Leader Daddy-Mac turned to us and began: “Ok, what’s the plan?” to which we chanted, “Right in, right out, nobody gets hurt,” and we moved to our objective.
The team stacked just behind the corner from the front door. Mos and I emerged and moved to the breach point. Mos worked on the door where I covered him with my assault rifle in case anyone opened the door.
Mos fired the five second delay fuse to the initiator, turned 90 degrees to his left, and moved off quickly with me following. It struck me odd that he had turned his back to the charge. The SOP we followed dictated that we always backed away from our breach points.
Mos pushed into the stack with me next to him and, still with my AR trained on the corner we had turned. Our Troop Commander stood 20 feet away in an administrative observation posture. He had seen, at the very last second, something none of us realized, something which horrified him.
When Mos did his 90-degree turn, his pistol holster had caught and stripped the powerful Bentley Blaster door charge off of the door and it hung there on his person where he crouched in the stack.
To be continued in part II…
Just kidding! In a very split second, the Commander knew that if he had called out a warning to Mos, that Mos would most assuredly have tried to strip it off… and he surely would have lost his hand. Mos would certainly fare better to endure it where it was — whatever “fare better” meant in this case, anyway.
“BOOM” not “bang” went the charge this time. I found myself suddenly facing the opposite direction, spitting something warm and salty out of my mouth. Turning about, I saw that Mos had been violently cartwheeled with his head angered into the ground. His body was in the most impossible position; his legs were in the air against the wall… you couldn’t have manually placed him in that configurations no matter how hard you tried, and he was out cold.
Daddy-Mac was the first to respond calling Mos’ name, pulling him down from his morbid stance. I turned to our officer and hollered from him to pull the med kit from the pouch on my back. He pulled it then stood there, frozen, with the med kit in his hands and a horrified look on his face. Disgusted, I grabbed the med kit from him and turned to the scene.
Markey-Marcos was the newest man out our team. He looked at me with a nervous grin and shook his head, over and over, exclaiming: “Whew… whew… whew!” I was annoyed again and slapped him on the back, “Snap out of it bro; that’s the way it’s going to get in this business — get used to it!” I chided in some pretentious, hardened-vet sort of way.
Markey-Marcos turned his back to pick up his AR, which had been blown out of his hands by the Bentley Blaster. He was the rear man in the stack, so he had his back to Mos to provide security to our rear. I saw immediately that both legs of his assault trousers were completely shredded and Marcos was bleeding from dozens of tiny puncture wounds.
Shocked, I immediately put my arm around his shoulders and, with a much more humane tone, I told him, “Here, take it easy Marcos… let’s have a seat; it will be alright.” Our troop medic was already on the scene, cutting clothing and bandaging trauma and burns to Mos, mostly to his legs.
Doc (left) and an Operations Cell NCO work on Moses right were he “blew up”; the wall behind them is blackened by the explosion.
Mos and Daddy-Mac argued:
Daddy-Mac: “Damn bro, you were out cold!“
Mos: “No I wasn’t; I was awake the whole time.“
“Homes, I’m telling you I saw you and you were completely knocked out!“
“Bullsh*t, I was never knocked out; I was conscious for the whole thing.”
Daddy-Mac turned to our medic, disgusted but relieved, “Doc, he appears to be fine; back to his usual contrary pissy self.“
Marky-Marcos was patched up and returned to us with no training time lost. Mos was hurt pretty bad but refused to be sent back home to Fort Bragg. He insisted on staying in our hotel promising he would be back the next day. That didn’t happen. Mos didn’t walk for several days. When he finally could, he only came to hang out for training with no participation.
Moses debriefs with senior representatives from the Master Breecher’s office before being driven back to the hotel to take it easy. To the right is the door where the Bentley Blaster charge had been stripped off and attached to Mos’ pistol holster.
Back at Bragg, Mos continued to heal, a process that took several weeks. He routinely reported to the clinic to have yards of Curlex bandage pulled from cavities in his legs and have fresh Curlex packed back in, and extraordinarily painful process, one that the rest of us wouldn’t have missed for the world.
Back at Ft. Bragg Moses Bentley stand behind his assault uniform as it was pulled off of him on the scene. Speculation revealed that his pistol and holster likely spared him from losing his left leg.
I’m put squarely in mind of the words of one of our training cadre from a trauma management class during our training phase:
“Pay attention to this, guys… if you stay in Delta for any period of time, you will be putting this training to good use.”
Soldiers and commanders are usually stuck with whatever equipment the procurement officers and civilian leaders are willing to buy for them, sometimes forcing troops to go into combat with outdated and inferior equipment.
But sometimes, those “outdated” weapons are actually just perfect for the fight. Here are five times that a supposedly obsolete weapon system saved the lives of its users:
1. Bayonets in Afghanistan and Iraq
Bayonets, most often associated with fighting in the Civil and Revolutionary Wars, actually played a key role in battles during the modern Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts.
But the A-10, a low and slow platform, made its operational debut in 1976, three years after the Yom Kippur War supposedly closed the books on them. Despite that, the A-10 has fought and survived in a number of contested environments, most notably Iraq where it has twice been a key part of American forces breaking the back of armored and anti-aircraft ground forces.
In Afghanistan alone, A-10 pilots saved a Special Forces team from five ground assaults against them; conducted forward air control and numerous attack missions to ensure the success of an 8-hour, no notice mission to capture a senior enemy officer; and prevented an accidental fratricide event before annihilating Taliban forces at Jugroom Fort.
5. The Night Witches and their plywood biplanes
The women of Soviet Russia’s 588th Night Bomber Regiment, the Night Witches, flew in plywood and canvas biplanes through the best defenses that Nazi Germany had to offer, conducting multiple bombing missions per night to break up attacks against Soviet ground forces.
Their planes, the Polikarpov U-2 biplane, were underpowered and outgunned compared to the Luftwaffe’s modern air force. But the Night Witches used the biplanes to fly over German defenses nearly silently and drop bombs — they could only carry two at a time per plane — on Nazi positions.
A space capsule carrying a two-man Russian-American crew that malfunctioned after liftoff has landed safely in the steppes of central Kazakhstan, the Russian and U.S. space agencies say.
Russian cosmonaut Aleksei Ovchinin and U.S. astronaut Nick Hague returned to Earth on Oct. 11, 2018, in their Soyuz capsule for an emergency landing following a problem with the booster rocket shortly after a launch bound for the International Space Station (ISS).
Both NASA, the U.S. space agency, and Roskosmos, the Russian equivalent, said the astronauts were in good condition after their capsule landed about 20 kilometers east of the Kazakh city of Zhezqazghan.
“The search and rescue teams have reached the Soyuz spacecraft landing site and report that the two crew members are in good condition and are out of the capsule,” NASA said.
“The cosmonauts are alive. They have landed. They have been found,” according to a source at the Russia-leased Baikonur launch facility in Kazakhstan.
The crew had to return in “ballistic descent mode,” NASA earlier had said, which it explained was “a sharper angle of landing compared to normal.”
Following their emergency landing, NASA published pictures of Hague and Ovchinin undergoing a medical checkup and relaxing on sofas in Zhezqazghan. The two were expected to be flown to Baikonur and then on to the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center outside Moscow.
Roskosmos chief Dmitry Rogozin said he had ordered a state commission to be set up to investigate the causes of the malfunction, while Russian Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Borisov announced that manned space flights would be suspended until the probe is completed.
The Soyuz capsule automatically jettisoned from the booster when it failed 123 seconds after the launch from Baikonur, Borisov said, according to the Interfax news agency.
The minister added that the problem occurred when the first and second stages of the booster rocket were in the process of separating.
Footage from inside the spacecraft showed the crew being shaken around at the moment the failure occurred.
In a statement, NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine said that a “thorough investigation into the cause of the incident will be conducted.”
Hague and Ovchinin were due to spend six months on the ISS, which is orbiting 400 kilometers above the Earth.
Relations between Moscow and Washington have plunged to the lowest level since the end of the Cold War over the wars in Ukraine and Syria, allegations of Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential, and other issues, but Russia and the United States have maintained cooperation in space.
The Russian-built Soyuz spacecraft is currently the only vehicle for ferrying crews to the ISS following the retirement of the U.S. space shuttle fleet in 2011.
The Oct. 11, 2018, booster failure led to what is said to be the first emergency landing for the Soyuz since 1975, when it failed to separate between stages during an ascent and triggered the abort system. The crew survived.
In 1983, a Soyuz exploded on the launchpad soon after the two cosmonauts it was carrying jettisoned. The crew also survived without injuries.
It doesn’t seem like much. It’s just a spool of metal wiring, dotted with small, sharp, evenly-dispersed bits. If you happened upon some of it strewn across the ground, you could maneuver around the teeth fairly easily and make your way through, unscathed, with ease. It’s more of a flimsy annoyance than a deterrent — but that’s the beauty of it.
Since the turn of the century, troops have implemented it when setting up defensive positions. It’s only ever placed by itself in training situations — since the worst damage it can inflict is a small cut and maybe a tear on one’s uniform — but when it’s used in conjunction with other defensive emplacements, it becomes substantially more difficult to navigate.
Its relatively cheap price tag has made it the perfect option for training scenarios. It’s become so integral to training warfighters that every troop, regardless of branch, occupation, or era, has had to learn to crawl under it at one point or another.
This was also back in the day when C-wire had to be made by hand. Each and every barb was tied on manually. Thank God for mass-production because that must have been one sh*tty detail.
(U.S. National Archives)
Barbed wire was first created in 1876 for ranchers. Ranchers had difficulty keeping their cattle on their land and the big, lumbering cows could just knock over any puny fence. Then, an Illinois cattleman by the name of Joseph Glidden came up with the idea to cut small strips of metal and tie them to his metal fences to poke the cows when they got too close, deterring them from trying to break through barriers.
It worked and, in just four short years, the U.S. military caught on. They started using it as a deterrent to enemy forces and, seeing the success, nearly every other military quickly followed suit. Barbed wire saw use in the Spanish American War, the Second Boer War, and the Russo-Japanese War.
The heyday of barbed wire was the First World War, the first time it was spooled for quick transport and deployment. This spooled barbed wire became known as concertina wire, named after the tiny, accordion-like instrument the spools resembled. The wiring spread across the vast battlefield, nearly engulfing the entire Western Front. It’s been said that there was enough concertina wire used in WWI to encircle the globe forty times.
The prevalence of barbed wire made it impossible for infantrymen or cavalry to cross areas with ease. In fact, one of the earliest selling points for WWI-era tanks was their ability to roll over barbed wire unaffected.
From personal experience, I can tell you that the gloves the Army issues to soldiers are garbage when it comes to protecting your hands as you set it up — just throwing that out there.
(U.S. Army photo by Terrance Bell)
Today, concertina wire is much less of a headache to deploy. It comes pre-packaged and simply opening the packaging unravels it from its spool, like a compressed slinky being set free. A single platoon in today’s military can “bounce out” an entire kilometer of concertina wiring in just a single hour — even faster if they unspool it from the back of a vehicle.
You can deploy it in a single row to cover a long distance or place it next to another to create a wider row. Toss a third strip on top in a sort of pyramid shape, anchor it with a post, and, voila, you’ve created and impromptu barrier that no one is getting through any time soon.
Modern concertina wiring is so effective, in fact, that all it takes is eleven rows of it staked down to stop most vehicles.
It multiplies the difficulty of crossing a defensive position — this is why you’ll so often see it wrapped along the top of a fence line. A normal fence can be easily climbed, but not when there’re little razor blades at the top!
Even alone, it’s great at slowing down enemy movements. Anyone rushing a concertina wire line will have to slow down and watch their step — all while the guards are lining up their shot.
And, finally, concertina wire adds to an intimidation factor. If you’ve worked with the wire up close, you’re probably not very afraid of it — but from afar, those little metal bits can look pretty mean.
To watch a sapper veteran explain concertina wire, check out the video below:
During the Vietnam War, it became very clear that the U.S. military needed to revise its hand-to-hand training. This was particularly apparent amongst SOF units, especially Army Special Forces, Long Range Reconnaissance Patrols (LRRPs), Navy SEALs, and Recon Marines since these units were often sent in small teams deep into enemy territory for extended periods of time.
These types of missions required not just CQB, but silent, quick killing techniques, typically with the knife, garrote, or bare hands. But, again, training remained the “flavor of the month” and it was dependent upon traditional Asian martial arts systems and trial and error lessons learned through field operations. Illustrating that, SF veteran Joe Lenhart said in the 1960s, “In SF if you were around the Hawaiians, you had the opportunity to learn some good MA.”
Lenhart’s comment is a testament to three things: First, the need to tap martial arts talents within units and amongst the ranks, even in SF. Second, the underlying ignorance of, or unfamiliarity with, established Army hand-to-hand training and programming. And third, the richness of Hawaiian martial arts culture, which was due mostly to the Japanese diaspora in the 1920s that scattered Japanese across the U.S. West Coast, Hawaii, and South America.
Jerry Powell, another SF veteran, said, “In Training Group in 1963, and subsequently in the 5th Group, any hand-to-hand training that I saw was pretty much on my own time.” Tom Marzullo, a third SF veteran, said of his time in SF Training Group in 1969, “Hand-to-hand was absent during my SF time and I was deeply disappointed.” In wartime, in all militaries, even in SOF units, training is changed and bars are raised and lowered to meet the manpower needs of the engaged units.
Historically, hand-to-hand training has been one of those things that have always been reduced or cut in order to get more troops trained faster and off to the fight. Another factor of that time was culture and how boys were raised. According to Lenhart:
“Like many or even most [boys] my age [late 60s], we grew up wrestling and boxing with towels wrapped around our fists, had rival school “meetings” every now and then, and there was the county fair that… usually escalated into a scuffle or three. Thing is, back then, when it was over, it was over, at least for a while. Maybe a broken nose, shiner, busted lip, or jammed finger or so was about as bad as it got, except for a few bruised egos. But when the city boys got involved, there would be a couple switch blades and chains produced only to be met with pitchforks and corn cutters and a ball bat or two. Those engagements did not last very long.”
The point is that back in those days, few boys entered adulthood not having been in at least a few fights. American boys in the past fought and wrestled more growing up and thus were more acclimated to and prepared, especially mentally, for hand-to-hand combat. American culture has changed in that respect.
Now it is probably the reverse: Few boys enter adulthood having been in any fights. There are, of course, exceptions. There are still rough neighborhoods and cities. But today, even country kids are more likely to do their fighting in video games than at county fairs or Friday night football games. (Parenthetically, many SF NCOs worry that the same dynamic is eroding innate land navigation skills.)
Here, Bruce Lee and his Jeet Kune Do system deserve mention. He had a major impact on U.S. and international martial arts throughout the 1960s and 1970s, and therefore on military combatives. Lee believed that martial arts had become rigid and unrealistic. He taught that real combat is unpredictable and chaotic and that the fighter or warrior must prepare for that.
Editor’s Note: This article, which was originally published in 2015, is part of a series. You can read part I here, part II here, and part III here.
On July 2, 1881, President Garfield was mortally wounded when he was shot only four months into his administration.
His assailant, Charles Guiteau, was likely insane. He spent weeks stalking the president, believing he was fulfilling a mission from God to unite the Republican party, and finally on the morning of July 2, 1881, he shot the president at the Baltimore and Potomac train station in Washington D.C.
The president was treated quickly and spent the next few days fighting for his life, while Vice President Chester A. Arthur served as acting president. On Sept. 19, 1881, after 80 brutal days, President Garfield finally died of blood poisoning. The following day, Arthur was inaugurated as President of the United States.
Guiteau was found guilty of murder and sentenced to death. He was hanged in June 1882.
Four presidents have been assassinated in American history: President Abraham Lincoln was fatally shot on April 14, 1865, James Garfield was fatally shot on July 2, 1881, William McKinley was fatally shot on Sept. 6, 1901, and finally John F. Kennedy was shot and killed on Nov. 22, 1963.
Featured Image: An engraving of James A. Garfield’s assassination, published in Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper on July 16, 1881. The caption reads “Washington, D.C.—The attack on the President’s life—Scene in the ladies’ room of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad depot—The arrest of the assassin / from sketches by our special artist’s [sic] A. Berghaus and C. Upham.”
President Garfield is at center right, leaning after being shot. He is supported by Secretary of State James G. Blaine who wears a light colored top hat. To the left, assassin Charles Guiteau is restrained by members of the crowd, one of whom is about to strike him with a cane.
Civilians might think of military hair regulations as one standard look (see: jarhead), but there’s actually some variance among the branches. The “high and tight” sported by soldiers and Marines is much too short for your average airman.
Just ask Air Force captain Mark Harper.
In 2005, Harper deployed to Camp Victory in Baghdad, Iraq as Officer In Charge of the Joint Combat Camera team. Though he deployed with the Air Force, it was a joint environment, so Harper found himself reporting to an Army colonel and supervising about 40 grunts.
The first day he reported to Army HQ, those soldiers jumped on the chance to give him a hard time about his hair (which is probably a good thing — you only haze the people you like, right? Right?).
“I learned my schedule was intense and I wouldn’t be able to get someone else to cut it, but I wasn’t going to endure this mockery again, so I thought, ‘How hard can this be? I’m just going to cut it myself…'”
More than 30,000 pounds of pure cocaine sit on the pier next to the USS McInerney (FFG-8) just after it was offloaded. The $3.9 billion in drugs were seized in two separate busts in the Eastern Pacific Ocean. (U.S. Coast Guard/Bobby Nash)
Ordinarily, patrolling the waters near Central and South America for drug traffickers is a job largely left to the U.S. Coast Guard. But since April 1 of this year, the U.S. Navy has surged assets to the region to assist with the mission — and helped reel in more than $2.5 billion worth of contraband to date.
The operation has gotten presidential attention and is ongoing, with the Navy destroyer Pinckney publicizing a recent major bust this week. The Pinckney, homeported in San Diego, executed a seizure with an embarked Coast Guard law enforcement detachment July 24, seizing more than 120 kilograms, or 265 pounds, of suspected cocaine from a single ship. In total, the haul was worth some $4.5 million.
“While on routine patrol, approximately 200 nautical miles southwest of Jamaica, a helicopter assigned to the ‘Wolf Pack’ of Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron 75 located the vessel and Pinckney soon arrived on scene,” Navy officials said in a release. “After coordination with the Government of Colombia and Colombian Navy, the vessel was searched and six suspected drug smugglers detained. The mariners are now in Government of Colombia custody.”
The crew of the Pinckney also secured medical evacuation for one detainee for whom treatment was deemed necessary for survival.
Heads of U.S. Southern Command have long expressed their wish for more U.S. Navy assets in the region to stop a drug trade tied to tens of thousands of U.S. deaths every year. Under the enhanced counternarcotics mission, those ships and aircraft are in place, at least for now.
Top officials say the billion drug trade, which thrives in unstable regions, has taken advantage of the added instability of the global COVID-19 pandemic.
“Since the end of March, we have employed, in the U.S. Southern Command Area of Responsibility, 75% more surveillance aircraft and 65% more ships than normal for drug interdiction,” Defense Secretary Mark Esper said in a July 10 news conference from Doral, Florida. “These additional assets include four Navy destroyers, five Coast Guard cutters, and eight aircraft. Currently, nearly a dozen Navy and Coast Guard ships and over 15 aircraft from across the interagency are supporting our efforts, in addition to security forces deployed to the region.”
A spokeswoman for the U.S. Navy’s 4th Fleet, Cmdr. Katherine Meadows, said in a statement to Military.com that additional Defense Department capabilities added in the ramp-up include a continuous rotation of Navy destroyers and MH-60 Seahawk helicopters; Navy littoral combat ships; P-8 Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft; Air ForceE-3 AWAC and E-8 JSTARS aircraft for reconnaissance; and an Army Security Forces Assistance Brigade company for advisory support. The Coast Guard has also increased its cutter and helicopter presence, and 22 partner nations have aided the effort.
“All of our ships have an embarked [Coast Guard] Law Enforcement Detachment onboard,” Meadows said. “The Navy supports the detection, while the Coast Guard has the authorities to seize narcotics and detain illicit trafficking suspects.”
To date, she said, the Navy has participated in the seizure of 16,396 kilograms of cocaine — more than 36,000 pounds — and 16,601 marijuana. The overall enhanced mission has “disrupted or seized” more than 38,000 pounds of marijuana and more than 98 metric tons of cocaine, she said.
“The operation has denied transnational criminal organizations more than .5 billion in criminal profits from the smuggling of narcotics that kill thousands of people every year and cause substantial human suffering in the U.S. and around the world,” she added.
That’s up from under billion on July 10.
Meadows did not provide comparison figures for the same period last year, but Esper said the U.S. military had been able to increase targeting of known drug operations by 60%. And at the Doral news conference, SOUTHCOM Commander Adm. Craig Faller said drug “disruptions” had increased by 15%.
“And 60 percent more targeting is a big deal for us because that means we can put more assets on more targets. And the enemy has seen that,” Faller said. “We’ve gotten information from our intelligence agencies that says the enemy has watched that and they’re waiting, and they’re stockpiling and they’re trying to change their tactics.”
“Three Kings” looks at what would happen if Army reservists and a retiring special forces officer decided to steal millions of dollars in gold under the nose of their headquarters.
Before we get started, we didn’t count each individual case of “accountability” issues in this movie because it simply comes up too often to list each individual problem. But, the movie centers on the idea that a staff officer, two mid-career noncommissioned officers, and a private could disappear into the desert for hours with a Humvee, M60, and some M16s and pistols, and return hours later with no one noticing.
No actual soldier would have thought this plan would work. Sergeants are being yelled at, asked a question, or assigned a task every five minutes. No way they could disappear for hours and no one would notice.
Plot impossibility aside, there were 33 technical errors that made us grind our teeth.
1. (1:10) Sgt. 1st Class Barlow asks whether or not the unit is shooting at Iraqis. As a sergeant first class with a small element, he is probably the senior-most enlisted soldier in this scene. He should be the one who knows the rules of engagement. Also, what patrols really go outside the wire without briefing the RoE? The Army Reserve sometimes does dumb stuff but damn.
2. (1:35) Barlow wants to ascertain whether a person has a weapon. First of all, the guy was literally waving it through the air multiple times, silhouetting it to where Barlow should be able to tell the exact kind of Kalashnikov it is. Secondly, instead of just looking he flips his iron sites to the pinhole site (which it should’ve been on in the first place). This would actually make it harder to see if the enemy had a weapon.
3. (4:50) A major wouldn’t call his superior “colonel.”
4. (5:08) Major Gates is wearing his skill badges incorrectly. Army Regulation 670-1 says that when four skill badges are worn on the Desert BDU, the first three are worn above the U.S. Army tape and the fourth is worn on the pocket flap. Gates has two above the tape and two on the pocket flap. The colonel’s badges are, surprisingly, in the right spots though the spacing looks a little iffy.
5. (5:30) That colonel must be very busy if he’s going to let an ass-chewing wait until morning.
6. (7:09) Holding your weapon close to a prisoner is begging to have it stolen and used against you, but the private does it with nearly every prisoner.
7. (9:42) The colonel puts on his hat to get in a helicopter. This is the opposite of what you’re supposed to do. Also, does he really not need armor to fly outside the wire? He better hope that cease fire is super secure.
8. (12:40) Night vision in Desert Storm didn’t blur peripheral vision, it blocked it. Also, during the day, the image would be blown out and the light could ruin the device.
9. (12:50) Soldiers don’t salute indoors and rarely salute while deployed.
10. (17:30) No one notices the soldiers shooting rounds at footballs? And no one noticed them leaving base without armor or helmets?
11. (27:18) Major remembers that he saw soldiers guarding a well. Why didn’t he put two and two together while he was still in the village?
12. (28:30) What the hell is with the dune buggy? The Army doesn’t have those. And there is no way the security in the country is so good that a commander would let a soldier leave the base alone with two civilians. A single Humvee would have been unlikely to be released as well, even with a Special Forces officer “commanding” the movement.
13. (40:13) Multiple weapons can be heard charging, but the soldiers are only switching off their safeties.
14. (43:50) They see a tank and Pfc. Vig pulls a light anti-tank weapon. These guys are civil affairs reservists. It’s guaranteed that guy does not know how to use that weapon. It’s pretty shocking that he even has it.
15. (45:55) The reservist knew exactly where his LAW was, but not the mask that should have been strapped to his leg.
16. (46:05) Vig survives a massive mine blast at only a few meters. Nope.
17. (48:30) CS gas is not uncomfortable in heavy clouds, it is debilitating. Even tough soldiers tear up, cough heavily, and struggle for breath.
18. (49:20) “Where’s Troy?” would not be answered with, “We have to get out of here.” A missing soldier is a huge deal and this is their best chance to fix it.
19. (51:07) The rebels are not taking a tank. They’re taking an armored personnel carrier. You are a damn soldier and should know better.
20. (57:14) “Get the maps, check their radio transmissions. Maybe we’ll get their positions.” So, the colonel thinks he’ll find his rogue special forces major by checking the radio traffic. That makes sense. He lied about where he was, who he was taking to, and what he was doing, but he definitely called and gave his real position on the radio.
21. (1:08:55) A special forces officer is leading a massive foot movement of rebels and lets them silhouette themselves on top of a ridge.
22. (1:15:15) The colonel is personally leading the search for missing soldiers. A subordinate officer should really be in charge and reporting up to him.
23. (1:22:50) Vig was once again way too close to an explosion to live.
24. (1:21:55) This helicopter manages to fire on the rebels three times and not hit anything until the third pass. Then, all of a sudden he kills a few people with almost every run, culminating in flying sideways while gunning a guy down. Are they badass pilots or incompetent? Pick one.
25. (1:26:15) What are the triggering mechanisms on these footballs? The first went off when it was shot, which C4 is not designed to do. The second went off on a timer. The third one went off when it impacted a helicopter. A timer makes sense but the other two need some explanation.
26. (1:30:40) When you shoot a guy to make sure he’s dead, you should really put at least one in his skull. Then he won’t shoot your buddy through the lung in exactly 59 seconds.
27. (1:32:55) Where was Maj. Gates hiding every item needed to perform a needle chest decompression?
28. (1:33:50) No, a needle chest decompression will not treat a shot up lung so well that you can just release the tension with the valve every few minutes. It makes it to where you can leave the valve open and barely breath as you are immediately moved to a hospital.
29. (1:37:45) If the colonel is special forces, it’s pretty weird that he’s commanding a unit in conventional forces.
30. (1:39:30) Put up your troop strap, morons. I know you’re a bunch of thieves, but you still need to be safe.
31. (1:40:30) There is never a good reason to leave your most casualty-producing weapon unmanned.
32. (1:41:00) Maj. Gates says only American soldiers carry guns. That’s probably offensive to the French special forces soldier who is saving his ass.
33. Epilogue: Everyone who wasn’t killed has a happy ending with new jobs and a peaceful existence after they are honorably discharged. No. A soldier was killed and a humvee and M60 are missing along with a few M16s and M9s. No. You all went to jail.
Imagine you’re playing a game of Risk. While everyone else is busy squabbling with their neighbors, you take each turn to quietly bolster your army. You sit back and build up while making friends with the right people so you can focus on your own military. This has been Sweden’s plan for the last two hundred years.
Now, Sweden doesn’t compete when it comes to military expenditure — they’re near the bottom of the list for developed nations. The entirety of their troops, active, guard, and paramilitary, could fit inside a single arena in Stockholm. And they’ve even made non-alignment pacts during every major conflict in modern history, so battle-hardened leaders are hard to come by.
(Photo by Pfc. Han-byeol Kim)
Sweden’s strength comes from their mastery of technology. Particularly, in three key elements of warfare: speed, surveillance, and stealth.
One of their greatest military advances is the Saab Gripen JAS 39E, a state-of-the-art aircraft that is much cheaper than its peers. The Gripen has mastered super-cruise flight, which is the ability to fly at supersonic speeds without the use of afterburners. It is also equipped with one of the world’s leading active electronically scanned array systems and will soon lead the world in combining aircraft with electronic warfare capabilities.
(Swedish Armed Forces)
But their advanced technology doesn’t start and end with the Gripens. The next keystone of their arsenal is the unbelievable advancements they’ve made in drone technology, culminating in the SKELDAR UAV helicopter. It can carry a 40kg payload and remain in the air for up to 6 hours, which is amazing its size and cost.
The sleek rotary wing design for a UAV also gives it much more control over the battlefield when compared fixed wing aircraft. Once the SKELDAR locks onto a target, it won’t ever let it out of its sights.
(Swedish Armed Forces)
As impressive as these are, Sweden’s biggest military boast is their war-games victory over the US Navy in 2005 when the HMS Gotland “defeated” the USS Ronald Reagan. The HMS Gotland, and all other attack submarines in the Gotland-class, are the stealthiest submarines in the ocean. This is because it was designed entirely to counter means of detection.
It’s the only submarine class to use air-independent propulsion by way of the Stirling engine. Its passive sonar system is so advanced that it can detect which nationality an unknown ship belongs to simply by identifying the operating frequency of the alternating current used in its power systems. It does all of this while remaining completely undetectable to the might of even the United States Navy.
(Photo by Photographer’s Mate 1st Class Michael Moriatis)