Matt Baetz is a comedian, actor, writer, and host and a veteran of six Armed Forces Entertainment and USO tours across the world. He’s performed his standup routine for the troops in Afghanistan, Africa, Bahrain, Cuba, Greenland, Kosovo, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. He’s also done numerous television and radio appearances on shows like “The Late, Late Show with Craig Ferguson” and Playboy Radio. He was awarded Best of the Fest Performer from the NY Fringe Festival for his role in the 2014 play, “Kemble’s Riot.”
“Not just anyone can hack these tours,” Baetz said. “The schedule is demanding and the living conditions are sometimes not the best. But I explain to the talent right up front that, wherever we go, I don’t want them coming right out of the gate and asking whether there’s wifi or complaining about the coffee. We’re there for the people serving away from home.”
Here’s a look at four of the stops on the recent tour:
Today, Armed Forces Entertainment is the single point of contact for the Department of Defense for providing entertainment to troops overseas. More than 60 tours are sent out providing over 600 performances per year to 400,000 soldiers.
Here’s a brief history of the organization:
World War II-1951: The United Service Organizations (USO) Camp Shows program recruited and fielded live entertainment for military personnel. Camp Shows usually consisted of well-known celebrities who were recruited to entertain military personnel serving overseas. For many entertainers, this was their first time performing and traveling abroad. However, the Camp Shows scheduling, which was coordinated by each Service, was considered inconsistent.
1951-1970: Before the establishment of the Department of Defense (DoD) in 1951, the Military Services agreed to provide a single point of contact for the USO. The Secretary of the Army was designated as the administrative agent for the DoD’s relationship with the USO. Operational responsibility rested with the Adjutant General, then transferred to the Commander, U.S. Army Community and Family Support Center. In 1951, Service representatives were assigned to the new Armed Forces Professional Entertainment Office (AFPEO) to administer the fielding of USO Shows, provide shows where the USO Camp Shows were unable, and establish a regularly scheduled program. Units consisted of celebrities, professional artists, college groups sponsored by the American Theater Association (ATA) and the All American Collegiate Talent Showcase (ACTS). The USO and DoD sent thousands of entertainers, celebrity and non-celebrity, to entertain U.S. military personnel, DoD and Department of State civilians, and their family members worldwide. By the end of the Vietnam era, virtually all of the programmed shows were non-celebrity with DoD fielding over half of the units.
1982: USO canceled the non-celebrity program to concentrate on the recruitment and fielding of well-known celebrity entertainment. The DoD directed the Secretary of the Army to assume responsibility for the non-celebrity program. In June, all non-celebrity entertainment units sent abroad were participating in the Armed Forces Professional Entertainment Program overseas, nicknamed “DoD Overseas Shows”. In addition to the non-celebrity program, the AFPEO continued to uphold DoD’s portion of the celebrity show responsibilities with the USO. These shows were renamed “USO/DoD Celebrity Shows.”
1989: The Assistant Secretary of Defense (Personnel and Readiness) assumed operational control of the AFPEO with the Secretary of the Army remaining the Executive Agent. This assumption was designed to elevate the AFPEO’s authority, facilitate coordination, and increase program visibility.
1997: The U.S. Air Force was assigned the Executive Agent for providing celebrity and non-celebrity programs to troops serving overseas, creating the jointly-manned office, Armed Forces Entertainment.
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:
Staff Sgt. Andre Hayes, a 374th Civil Engineer Squadron journeyman, holds his daughter during the holiday tree lighting ceremony at Yokota Air Base, Japan, Nov. 24, 2015. The lighting of the tree signals the beginning of the holiday season.
Members of Florida Army National Guard’s 1st Battalion, 265th Air Defense Artillery Regiment play members from Florida Air National Guard’s 290th Joint Communications Support Squadron in a friendly “Turkey Bowl” football game at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, Nov. 26, 2015. The Army National Guard team won the game 42-35. The 1-265th is from Palm Coast, Fla., and the 290th JCSS are stationed at MacDill Air Force Base, Fla.
Members from the 340th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron perform prefight checks before leaving to refuel F-16 Fighting Falcons from the Royal Norwegian Air Force and the Republic of Singapore air force over Southwest Asia in support of Operation Inherent Resolve Dec.1, 2015.
A soldier, assigned to the 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, fires an M240B machine gun while conducting battle drills, part of Operation Atantlic Resolve, at Pabrade Training Area, Lithuania, Dec. 2, 2015.
A soldier, assigned to the U.S. Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School, conducts airborne operations during the U.S. Army Civil Affairs Psychological Operations Command (Airborne)’s Operation Toy Drop at Drop Zone Nijmegen on Fort Bragg, N.C., Dec. 3, 2015.
A soldier, assigned to 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division, conducts a team live-fire training event at Fort Bragg, N.C., Dec. 3, 2015.
Burial at sea: WATERS SOUTH OF JAPAN (Nov. 28, 2015) Cmdr. Joseph Coffey, a chaplain aboard the U.S. Navy’s only forward-deployed aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76), leads a prayer during a burial-at-sea ceremony. Ronald Reagan and its embarked air wing, Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 5, provide a combat-ready force that protects and defends the collective maritime interests of the U.S. and its allies and partners in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region.
Replenishment-at-sea: WATERS SOUTH OF JAPAN (Dec. 1, 2015) Sailors organize cargo pendants on the flight deck of the U.S. Navy’s only forward-deployed aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76) during an ammunition offload with Military Sealift Command dry cargo and ammunition ship USNS Wally Schirra (T-AKE 8). Ronald Reagan and its embarked air wing, Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 5, provide a combat ready force that protects and defends the collective maritime interests of the U.S. and its allies and partners in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region.
ATLANTIC OCEAN (Dec. 1, 2015) Sailors exercise in the seaside gym aboard the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69). Dwight D. Eisenhower is currently underway with embarked Carrier Air Wing 3 conducting the Tailored Ship’s Training Availability (TSTA) and Final Evaluation Problem (FEP) phase of their pre-deployment schedule.
Cpl. Taylor Giffard, a ground signals operator with Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force-Crisis Response-Central Command, acts as an opposition force during a mission readiness exercise for 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, at an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia, Nov. 24, 2015.
On the prowl: Cpl. Marvin M. Ernest, a power plant mechanic assigned to Marine Tactical Electronic Squadron 2, performs a turn-around inspection on an EA-6B Prowler on Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, North Carolina, Dec. 1, 2015.
Chief Petty Officer Ty Aweau, a rescue swimmer at U.S. Coast Guard Sector San Diego, jumps into the beautiful southern California water from his MH-60 helicopter during training.
Petty Officer 1st Class Daryk Brekke offloads toys from an MH-65 Dolphin helicopter at Kalaeloa Airport in Oahu, Hawaii, as part of the Marine Toys for Tots Foundation. The USCG works with Marine Corps Recruiting every year to deliver presents to disadvantaged children for the holidays.
Aerial refueling has always been risky business. Tankers fly through the sky, loaded to the gills with flammable fuels while dragging long hoses or booms behind them as jets chase after them like hungry mosquitos.
But if that’s risky, the first aerial refueling was straight-up crazy. Wesley Mays, a famous daredevil of the late-1910s and early-1920s, climbed from one biplane onto another with a 5-gallon jug of fuel strapped to his back.
From there, he waited for Daugherty to bring his wingtip in range and grabbed it. Mays lifted himself onto the wing and worked his way between the planes’ wings and into the cockpit. He poured the gas into the engine and strapped himself into his waiting seat, sealing his place in history.
The Army Air Corps got in on the aerial refueling action 2 years later in Jul. 1923, but they needed a way to transfer much more than 5-gallons at a time. So they opted to use a tanker aircraft, a hose, and a receiving aircraft. First Lt. Virgil Hines flew a DH-4B outfitted as the tanker ahead of 1st Lt. Frank W. Seifert’s DH-4B receiver. Hines dangled the hose behind and beneath his aircraft where Seifert could reach it.
The fuel was transported without incident, but engine trouble in Seifert’s plane prevented the duo from achieving a planned endurance record. Still, they developed techniques that allowed another Air Corps team to set the record with a 37-hour, 25-minute flight in Aug. 1923.
The Sherman tank was a powerful force to be reckoned with on the battlefields in WWII; it was fast and mobile and it shelled out plenty of firepower.
It provided just enough cover for American ground troops as it stomped through the German front lines. The Sherman was designed to patrol over enemy bridges and it was easily transported on railroad cars.
When the U.S. decided to invade Europe, General Patton selected the Sherman as his particular tank of choice and wanted as many to roll off the assembly lines as possible. Nearly fifty thousand were produced between 1942 and 1945.
Weighing in at 33 tons, it sustained a speed of 26 miles per hour and housed 2 inches of armor. Many saw the image of the Sherman tank to be invincible just like the American war effort, but the brave soldiers who served as tank crew members believed that it had too many engineering flaws and was far inferior compared to the German’s Tiger and Panther tanks.
The Sherman tank was equipped with a fully-transversing 75mm turret short barrelled gun that fired a high explosive shell 2,000 feet per second. Compared to the German tanks that shot accurately at 3,500 feet per second, the enemy’s armor piercing ammo was 2-3 times more effective.
It was recommended that to defeat the Germans, the tank crew had to speed up and flank around their battlefield rivalry and get within 600 yards range to be effective.
Captain Belton Y. Cooper, author of Death Traps and a member of the 3rd Armor Division maintenance unit, recounts knowing how inferior the Sherman was after seeing its physical destruction firsthand. He knew it was no match for the Nazi’s arsenal.
“We lost 648 tanks totally destroyed in combat, another 700 knocked out, repaired and put back into action,” Cooper says. “That’s 1,348 tanks knocked out in combat. I don’t think anyone took that kind of loss in the war.”
This post is reprinted with permission from NationSwell, new digital media company focused on American innovation and renewal.
As soon as he wrapped up his studies in film and literature at Boston University, Henry Hughes followed family tradition and signed up for the Army. For the next five years, he took fire, dodged IEDs and grappled internally with the meaning of military service while on two tours of duty in Afghanistan with the 173rd Airborne Brigade. After Hughes returned home and earned another degree from the American Film Institute, he began making movies, including his short film,”Day One,” which tells the story of a female Army interpreter facing a moral quandary during her first day on the job: saving the newborn child of a known enemy. The film was nominated for this year’s Academy Award for best live-action short.
NationSwell spoke to Hughes, a Got Your 6 Storyteller, by phone from Los Angeles about the lingering questions from war and their portrayal on film.
What inspired you to serve your country?
For me, it was a long family tradition. We basically had someone in the Army since the [American] Revolution. I wanted to be part of that tradition.
Is there one question that you continually ask yourself about your experience?
It’s probably, “why is it not so simple?” It’s a very complex part of my life, not something that is full of simply good memories or simply bad memories: it’s a mixture of all types of life. So I always wonder why it’s not like anything else. At this point, why can’t it be simpler? Why is it so difficult for everyone to understand it?
I’m guessing that’s why did you decided to make the film “Day One?”
For sure, it’s about those questions. There’s not a reducible answer like the one I just tried to give you. So that’s why I thought I could make a movie about it instead, to kind of show the way it felt. So the movie is not a true-to-life of what exactly happened to me that one day. But the feeling when I’m watching the movie, it’s that sublime space of things that are horrible and beautiful in the same breath.
What’s the most important lesson civilians can take away from art that’s made about war?
I would say that everyone’s wartime experience is subjective. I don’t know if there’s some sort of universal experience.
What’s your favorite movie about war?
For me, it’s “The Thin Red Line.” I think it touches me because there’s no other war movie like it, that accepts the soulfulness of the warrior experience. A lot of movies don’t go that way, they kind of go along the more visceral, more experiential route.
What is the quality you most admire in a comrade?
What I actually admire most is hard to come by in our community: vulnerability. When it’s a vulnerability to look at your military experience, I really love meeting those people.
Who was the most inspirational person you encountered while serving?
I would say my interpreter on my second tour. She’s the one I based the movie on, or it’s inspired by her. She’s an Afghan-American woman, naturalized as an American citizen, but born over there. The deck was stacked against her, and she looked inside herself to find out what she thought was right and wrong. It wasn’t something that someone told her to do. She just had incredible integrity.
If you could change one thing about your service, what would it be?
I wouldn’t want one of my guys to be wounded or for any of my guys to die.
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
I would probably say chasing down my wife. It was a long shot, and it worked out. In 2010, after my first tour, I flew to New York without knowing she was there. We hadn’t spoken in a long time. We knew each other as children, when we were 13, and I hadn’t seen her in a number of years. I thought I could track her down, and so on Facebook messenger, I basically said, “Hey, I just landed in New York. Let’s hang out. We haven’t seen each other in a decade.” We went on one date and then a few more dates. She started me writing me a lot of letters when I was in Afghanistan again for my second tour, and we decided to be together.
How can the rest of us, as civilians, do more to support veterans?
Just look at them as people first. I feel like there’s a big divide on some level, but a lot of it is imagined. The fact of the matter is that all of those veterans are just people. I would look at them that way first and then look at their experience.
To you, what does it mean these days to be a veteran?
Well, it’s inescapable, I suppose. The definition of being a veteran is you can never not be a veteran one once you are one. And that speaks to, I think, how profound that experience is. There’s no way you can stop being a veteran.
When Poto Liefi awoke on September 11, 2001 he wasn’t thinking about being a soldier or going to war. He was a 38-year-old commercial artist working in Los Angeles, and he had just helped launch a new Sketchers shoe campaign for Target.
Poto was good at what he did and enjoyed the work.
After Poto pivoted from fine arts to commercial arts – a few years out of art school – he went from working on clothing and backpack lines to designing shoes.
“I learned how to create a product line,” he said. “And I also learned where my work fit relative to the entire product line.”
He followed his work for Sketchers with a line of hiking boots that, in turn, turned into Taos footwear, a women’s shoe company.
Then the World Trade Center towers fell, and the Pentagon was hit.
He decided to join the Army. Most of his colleagues in the designer world thought he was crazy. Even his recruiter – after visiting his expansive glass office – asked why he was leaving a comfortable world behind.
“I wasn’t satisfied with work anymore,” Poto said. “I had the news going all the time, and I felt a sense of responsibility to do something.”
The maximum age for recruits had just been upped from 34 to 42 when Poto showed up to Fort Jackson for basic training as a 38 year-old recruit. “I lucked out big time,” he said.
After boot camp he was given a 25M Multimedia Illustrator designation. “At first I thought it was stupid to get paid peanuts for the same job I was doing on the outside,” he said. “But after I did the research I saw there was a lot more to it.”
Poto was assigned to 304th Psychological Operations Company, and in 2008 he deployed to Fallujah, Iraq. He immediately put his skills to work on posters, billboards, and web content.
“I was surprised at what we were able to do with the proper messaging,” he said. “We actually had campaigns, branding the Iraqi Security Forces. We were getting a good, consistent message on the streets, and getting locals to rally around an ideology.”
He returned to the U.S. at the end of 2008. Less than a year and a half later he was deployed again, this time to Afghanistan with the 344th Psychological Operations Company.
“Just as I’d sold Iraq to the Iraqis I had to sell Afghanistan to Afghans.”
Part of the time Poto worked with the Australian Army based in Uruzgan, and there he realized they needed to deviate from the standard Army playbook to be effective.
“We had to take our military goggles off,” he said. “We weren’t the only media outlet the locals were exposed to.”
But in spite of the challenges Poto believes they accomplished their mission. He sums up his experience at war with a simple thought: “Pride shows.”
He returned home in March of 2011, a 43-year-old corporal ready to transition back to the civilian workforce. But it was anything but a smooth process. Reintegration was tough in spite of his pre-military work experience, a circumstance he blames on his age and the stigma of post traumatic stress. It took him three years to find a full-time job.
He finally landed a job as a supply chain manager at the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Corona, California.
Poto’s transition advice to veterans following him back to the civilian side is straightforward: “Never feel entitled,” he said. “Be thankful, be respectful, and be real still.”
At the same time he held fast to his creative side. One day he took the image of a soldier who’d fallen in Iraq – PFC Corrina Lau – and superimposed it into a classic war poster. The result was powerful and immediate.
“I got very emotional reactions from the first people I showed the artwork to,” Poto said. “They said things like, ‘This is alive.'”
Poto did similar artwork for the families of other fallen warriors, and the response compelled him to brand the effort “Freedom’s On Me.”
“Freedom’s On Me is a way to keep the legacies of these service members alive,” Poto explains. “These are people that were in the military, not a bunch of robots.”
There are certain phrases military service members hear on the regular, and by regular, we mean they are over-used like crazy.
While every workplace has its own cliche buzzwords — we’re talking about you there, “corporate synergy” — the military has plenty to choose from. The WATM team put its collective heads together and came up with this list of the cliche phrases we’ve heard way too many times in the military.
1. “All this and a paycheck too!”
Usually uttered by a staff NCO at the moment of a 20-mile hike where you wish you could just pass out on the side of the road.
2. “If you’re on time, you’re late.”
Military members are well aware of the unwritten rule of arriving 15 minutes prior to the time they are supposed to be somewhere. Of course, if there’s a senior officer involved, that might even mean 15 minutes prior to 15 minutes prior.
3. “We get more done before 6 a.m. than most people do all day.”
The time can always be changed, but the phrase remains the same. Military members across the world are usually waking up way earlier than most, and as the saying goes, it probably means they have done personal hygiene, conducted an insane workout, ate breakfast, and started training before average Joe hit the snooze button on the alarm clock.
4. “Don’t call me sir. I work for a living.”
Among the enlisted ranks, it’s a common cliche that officers don’t do any real work. “There’s a reason why they have office in their name” is a popular saying. So when an enlisted service-member is incorrectly addressed as “sir,” this is one of the most popular responses.
5. “If it ain’t raining, we ain’t training.”
No matter what the weather, the U.S. military is guaranteed to be training or conducting some sort of exercise. But this cliche phrase is guaranteed to come out when a torrential downpour hits your unit.
6. “This ain’t my first rodeo there, cowboy.”
Let’s not ask the sergeant any stupid questions. He knows what he’s doing, because he’s done this a million times before. Cowboy.
7. “Best job in the world!”
Calling your particular field in the military “the best job in the world” usually happens during the times when you would never think it’s the best time in the world. These times include freezing cold on patrol in Afghanistan, running out of water while training in Thailand, and/or not showering for a month-and-a-half.
8. “Complacency kills.”
You’ll find this phrase spray-painted to every other Hesco barrier on the forward operating base, on a sign outside the chow hall, and on the lips of every sergeant major in a half-mile radius. Troops need to stay alert while they are out in combat, and this one gets drilled into the dirt.
9. “Keep your head on a swivel.”
This one is similar to “complacency kills” but is often said to troops about to go into dangerous situations. Before heading out on patrol, a squad leader might tell his troops to “keep their head on swivel,” meaning: keep alert and look everywhere for potential threats.
10. “Got any saved rounds?” or “Any alibis?”
At the end of a briefing, you’ll usually hear either of these phrases. “Any questions?” just doesn’t pack the same punch as using terminology straight off the rifle range.
11. “Another glorious day in the Corps!”
It could be the Corps, the Army, the Navy, or the Air Force, but it’s always a glorious day there, according to whoever utters this phrase. This is meant to motivate but it’s usually met with eye-rolls.
12. “This is just for your SA.”
This is another way of saying FYI, but with a military spin. SA, or situational awareness, is all about being aware of what’s happening around you, so this is often said by a subordinate to a leader so they know what’s going on.
13. “We’re putting on another dog and pony show.”
We’ve never actually been to a real dog and pony show, but we have put on plenty of them in the military. A military “dog and pony show” is usually some sort of ceremony or traditional event for troops to show off their weaponry and other stuff. For example, Marines may put one on by standing around and answering questions about their machine-guns, rocket launchers, and other gear for civilians who are visiting the base for an event.
14. “Roger that.”
This is a phrase that should be uttered only over the radio (it’s actually just “roger, over” and “roger, out,” respectively), but troops often say this instead of saying “I understand.”
15. “Bravo Zulu.”
Bravo Zulu is a naval signal that can be conveyed via flag or over the radio, and it means “well done.” But plenty of troops will use this as a way of saying good job or congratulations.
16. “Like a monkey f–king a football.”
A favorite of NCOs and staff NCOs, this comes out when junior troops have screwed something up pretty bad. As you can probably guess, a football is not a good object for a monkey’s sexual relations.
17. “Let’s pop smoke.”
Smoke grenades are used for signaling and/or screening movements. When under fire, troops may want to pop smoke so the enemy can’t really see where they are headed. On the flip side, troops at a lame bar may want to “pop smoke” and go somewhere else.
18. “Let’s break it down, Barney style.”
Barney the dinosaur loves you, and some military members like to invoke his name to explain things. When a task is complicated, a leader may explain it “Barney style,” or so simply that a child could understand it.
19. “Look at this soup sandwich.”
This refers to someone who has usually screwed up the wear of their uniform in some way.
20. “Ok, gents, we need to be heads down on this.”
A favorite of WATM’s own ex-naval aviator Ward, this is actually a twofer. First, the use of “gents” (oh Lord please make it stop), and then referring to working hard as heads down. Apparently we’ll be more productive as long as our heads are not up or to the side.
21. “You are lost in the sauce.”
This will often be said of someone who has no idea what the hell is going on. In order to rectify, a leader will probably break things down “Barney Style.”
In February 1988, the American cruiser USS Yorktown was on a Freedom of Navigation mission in the Black Sea, just south of Crimea. With her was the USS Caron. Though outside of traditional sea lanes, the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea allows for warships to leave sea lanes — even in another country’s territorial waters — as long as those warships were on “innocent passage.”
The Soviet Union disagreed.
Though the Russians routinely used their own naval vessels to shadow the Americans in the region, the case of the Yorktown and Caron was different. The Russians held that the two American ships were armed with more firepower than previous treaties allowed while in their territory. They also believed that they had the authority to clear ships entering their waters.
That’s why the Soviet frigate Bezzavetnyi warned the Yorktown it would “strike their ship with own” if the Americans entered Soviet territory. Meanwhile, another Soviet frigate confronted the Caron. The Americans blew off the threat, with the Caron responding: “I am engaged in innocent passage consistent with international law.”
That’s when the second Russian frigate slammed into the Caron’s port side aft. There was no damage except some paint scraping. The Caron pressed on and exited Soviet waters almost two full hours later.
Also in Soviet territory, the Yorktown was being shadowed by the Russian Bezzavetnyi. The Russian closed to within 50 feet of the Yorktown when it turned into the American ship, slamming into its port side. Bezzavetnyi’s anchor fell away, while Yorktown suffered minor hull damage, though with no breaches. The ship’s rear Harpoon missile launchers were damaged and unusable.
Yorktown completed her mission and left in a similar two-hour time frame.
The Russians had no intention of sinking either ship and no weapons were ever cleared for action. In after action interviews, the skipper of the Bezzavetnyi said:
“To be honest, no one in the in the command center put on his lifejacket, although the order had been given… Many members of the crew of Yorktown were on the upper deck, smiling and waving, taking pictures of us with cameras and videocameras. And the commanding officer of Yorktown, for example, appeared on the bridge in parade uniform. In a word, the Americans behaved as if they were participating in a show for entertainment.”
“Are you not entertained?” (U.S. Navy photo)
“Our view is that unless you exercise the right of freedom of navigation, inevitably you lose it,” said then-Defense Secretary Frank Carlucci during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on the incident. “If we start backing off we will eventually lose some of the rights that are absolutely essential for our freedom of navigation.”
Freedom of Navigation missions have been a cornerstone of the US Navy mission and of American foreign policy since 1979. The resolve of the Yorktown and Caron to press on are testament to the dedication to the mission.
This week, nearly 10 years after he was killed in combat operations in Iraq, U.S. forces brought home the remains of F-16 pilot Maj. Troy Gilbert, who died saving the lives of U.S. service members and coalition allies.
On Nov. 27, 2006, Gilbert and his wingman were flying back to base when they got the call that an AH-6 Little Bird helicopter had been shot down. Enemy insurgents had the crew, along with the coalition forces called in to support, outnumbered and pinned down.
With little fuel left, the two F-16 pilots changed course and headed to the hotly contested warzone just outside of Taji, Iraq. Due to fuel limitations, the pilots were forced to take turns refueling and providing air support to the troops under fire. By the time Gilbert was able to make his first approach, the calls for support had grown more urgent. Insurgents attacked with truck-mounted heavy machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades, small arms fire and mortars.
Gilbert, a friendly Texas Tech graduate dubbed “Trojan” by his fellow aviators, acted quickly and aggressively. To avoid causing civilian casualties by dropping the bombs he carried under his wings, he opted for low-altitude strafing passes using his 20-milimeter Gatling gun. Gilbert made his first pass, destroying one truck and dispersing the others which were almost upon the friendly forces 20 miles northwest of Baghdad. Keeping his eye on the enemy targets moving at high speed, he conducted a second pass from an even lower altitude.
He continued firing on the enemy forces during a dynamic and difficult flight profile, impacting the ground at high speed on the second pass. Reports say the crash killed him instantly. However, Al Qaeda insurgents took Gilbert’s body before U.S. forces were able to get to the scene, leading to 10 long years of a family waiting for their husband, father, son and brother to come home.
He was survived by his wife Ginger Gilbert Ravella, sons Boston and Greyson, and daughters Isabella, Aspen and Annalise.
In a letter to Gilbert’s wife from the Army element commander whose troops the F-16 pilot was supporting that day, the commander wrote that Gilbert saved his unit from “almost certain disaster” as insurgents prepared to attack their position with mortars.
“With no ability to protect ourselves on the desert floor, we most certainly would have sustained heavy casualties,” he wrote. “Troy, however, stopped that from happening. His amazing display of bravery and tenacity immediately broke up the enemy formation and caused them to flee in panic. My men and I will never forget the ultimate sacrifice your husband made for me and my men on Nov. 27th, and we will always be in his debt.”
“Major Gilbert’s motivation to succeed saved the lives of the helicopter crew and other coalition ground forces,” then-president of the accident investigation board and current Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Dave Goldfein said in his safety report.Goldfein saluted as Gilbert’s remains were solemnly carried from the C-17 that brought him home this week.
Also on hand was Gen. Robin Rand, Air Force Global Strike Command commander. Rand regarded Gilbert as a friend, first meeting him when he was an F-16 pilot at Luke Air Force Base, Arizona, and eventually crossing paths again when Gilbert became his executive officer at Luke. The relationship continued when Gilbert served under Rand’s command in the 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing at Balad Air Base, Iraq in 2006.
“Troy fought like a tiger in battle that day,” Rand said. “No doubt, his actions on Nov. 27, 2006 illustrate greatness, but those actions that day aren’t what made him great. What made him great was his commitment to adhere in every facet of his life to our three treasured core values of integrity first, service before self, and excellence in all we do.”
Rand recalled how Gilbert spent much of his off-duty time at Balad volunteering in the base hospital or supporting the unit chapel. He said base medics were so overcome by Gilbert’s death that they came to see him, asking if they could name a wing of the hospital after him, and enlisted groups petitioned to have the Balad Air Base chapel annex renamed “Troy’s Place.”
Following the accident, U.S. forces recovered DNA which provided enough information to positively identify Gilbert. His funeral, with full military honors, followed Dec. 11, 2006 at Arlington National Cemetery. In September 2012, some additional, but very limited, remains were recovered and interred during a second service Dec. 11, 2013.
Then, on Aug. 28, an Iraqi tribal leader approached a U.S. military advisor near al Taqaddam, Iraq, and produced what he claimed to be evidence of the remains of a U.S. military pilot who had crashed in Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom. The Iraqi said he was a representative of his tribe, which had the remains and the flight gear the pilot was wearing when he went down.
The tribal leader turned over the evidence to the U.S. advisor who immediately provided it to U.S. experts for testing at the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System at Dover Air Force Base, Delaware. AFMES confirmed the evidence Sept. 7 through DNA testing.
With this verification, U.S. military advisors in Iraq reengaged the tribal leader who subsequently turned over the remains, including a U.S. flight suit, flight jacket and parachute harness.
Gilbert’s remains, promptly prepared for return to the U.S. for testing, arrived Oct. 3 at Dover AFB. Airmen at Dover conducted a dignified transfer upon arrival at the base, which was attended by Gilbert’s family, base officials and senior Air Force leaders, to include the Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James, Goldfein, Rand, and Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force James Cody.
AFMES confirmed Oct. 4 through dental examination and DNA testing that all remains received were those of Maj. Gilbert. His lost remains had been recovered and fully repatriated.
“First and foremost I want say God is forever faithful,” Gilbert Ravella said. “He was good whether this recovery ever happened or not. But we praise Him, in His infinite mercies, for granting us this miracle after almost 10 years of waiting, hoping and praying.
“Second, I want to thank not only the brave Special Operations Forces that ultimately found Troy’s body but also each and every single Airman, Soldier, Sailor and Marine who searched or supported the recovery mission during these last 10 years,” she said. “As each of them put on the uniform and gave their best efforts, not fully knowing if they made a difference, I can assure them that they laid the stepping stones which led to this final victory. Justice was served.
James also praised the unwavering commitment of those who endeavored to bring the fallen fighter pilot back to U.S. soil.
“We are grateful to all those within the U.S. military, the U.S. government and beyond who never gave up and worked so hard to help return this American hero home to his final resting place,” James said. “As an Air Force, we are absolutely committed to leaving no Airman behind and to honoring the memory of warriors like Maj. Gilbert who have made the ultimate sacrifice in service to our nation.”
Goldfein echoed James’ sentiments saying Gilbert represented the best ideals of America’s Airmen.
“As an Air Force officer, husband and father, Troy Gilbert truly represented what being an Airman is all about,” Goldfein said. “He was committed to serving his country, his team and his family in everything he did. On the day he died, he characteristically put service before self when he answered the short-notice call to support coalition ground forces who had come under attack. He put his own safety aside and saved many lives that day.”
Now, finally, a decade later, Gilbert has returned to the country he so valiantly served. At the request of his family, his remains will be interred at Arlington National Cemetery in the coming months along with the remains originally recovered in 2006 and 2012.
“The memory of my five children watching their father’s flag-draped transfer case being unloaded from the cargo hold and carried by his brothers-in-arms back to American soil renews my hope for all mankind,” said Gilbert Ravella. “Attending the dignified transfer at Dover Monday night was the closest we have been to Troy in 10 years. That was bittersweet.
“However, the memory of his sacrificial selflessness, his passionate love for Jesus Christ, his devotion to his family and to his beloved country echoed in their footsteps long after the transport vehicle drove him away,” she said. “From the bottom of my heart I want everyone to know how grateful the kids and I have been for your years of prayers. There is no doubt they reached the very ears of God.”
“As our military promised, no one was left behind on the field of battle,” Gilbert Ravella said. “Troy is home.”
A German-born rapper who traded in the life of a MC for a life of terror with ISIS was killed earlier this month in a U.S. airstrike in Syria, multiple news outlets reported Thursday.
The Daily Beast, citing two U.S. officials, reported that Denis Cuspert, aka Deso Dogg, was killed Oct. 17 while traveling in a car with two other people. The website reported that Cuspert was the target of the strike, though he was not considered to be a high-value member of the terror group.
Reuters, citing a U.S. official, reported that airstrike was believed to have taken place on Oct. 16. The discrepancy could not immediately be reconciled.
In February, Cuspert was formally designated as a terrorist by the State Department, a rare step against a European citizen, after he appeared in numerous grisly propaganda videos on behalf of ISIS. In one particularly gruesome video, dating from this past November, Cuspert was seen with other fighters who shot one person and beheaded another. Cuspert was not shown killing anyone, but holds the severed head and announces that the dead were enemies of ISIS.
“That’s why they’ve received the death sentence,” Cuspert announced in German on the video.
In this screengrab from a video believed to have been shot in November, Cuspert holds the severed head of a victim of ISIS (Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently)
German law enforcement and intelligence officials had long marked Cuspert out as a leader of ISIS’ German-speaking contingent.
“Denis Cuspert stands in the focus of security circles because of his essential role for Islamic State,” a German law enforcement official told FoxNews.com in February. “He is propagandist of IS.”
The son of a Ghanian father who left Cuspert’s German mother, he recorded three albums for a Berlin-based gangsta rap label, toured with American rapper DMX and scored a minor hit with “Willkommen in meiner Welt” (Welcome to my World) in 2010.
“Welcome to my world full of hate and blood,” went part of the song. “Children’s souls weep softly when the black angels sing.”
Even the dark lyrics Cuspert wrote as a rapper did not foreshadow the butchery he embraced as a member of ISIS.
According to a Vice.com report, he converted to Islam in 2010 following a near-fatal car accident. It was then that his music began advocating violent jihad.
In 2011, Berlin prosecutors charged him with illegal possession of weapons after Cuspert appeared brandishing weapons as “Abou Maleeq” in a YouTube video. A police raid on his home yielded weapons and ammunition, and although it did not result in jail time, he was squarely on the radar of German counter-terrorism investigators.
In 2012, Cuspert left Germany for Egypt, before eventually making his way to Syria where he joined Al Qaeda. When Islamic State broke away from the terror group behind 9/11, Cuspert pledged his loyalty to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
“Cuspert is emblematic of the type of foreign recruit ISIL seeks for its ranks,” the State Department, using another acronym for the terror group, wrote in February, “individuals who have engaged in criminal activity in their home countries who then travel to Iraq and Syria to commit far worse crimes.”
Fox News’ Benjamin Weinthal contributed to this report.
In October 1965, Commander Clarence W. Stoddard, Jr. of the USS Midway carried a special bomb to North Vietnam to celebrate the six millionth pound of ordnance dropped on the Communist country: a ceramic toilet.
The bombing was a Dixie Station strike from South Vietnam. Among the weapons on Stoddard’s ordnance list was one code named “Sani-Flush.”
Sani-flush was a damaged toilet, which was going to be thrown overboard. One of the Midway‘s plane captains rescued it and the ordnance crew made a rack, tail fins, and nose fuse for it. The checkers maintained a position to block the view of the air boss and the captain while the aircraft was taxiing forward.
The toilet ordnance was dropped in a dive with Stoddard’s wingman, Lt. Cmdr. Robin Bacon, flying tight wing position to film the drop. When it came off, it turned hole to the wind and almost struck his airplane, and whistled all the way down.
According to Clint Johnson, now a retired U.S. Navy Captain, just as Stoddard’s A-1 Skyraider was being shot off, they received a message from the bridge: “What the hell was on 572’s right wing?”
“There were a lot of jokes with air intelligence about germ warfare,” Johnson said. “I wish that we had saved the movie film. Commander Stoddard was later killed while flying 572 in October 1966. He was hit by three SAMs over Vinh.”
This isn’t the first example of unconventional warfare from U.S. Navy aviators. In August 1952, AD-4 Skyraiders from the aircraft carrier USS Princeton dropped a 1,000-pound bomb with a kitchen sink attached to it.
“We dropped everything on them (the North Koreans) but a kitchen sink.” Their squadron’s executive officer, Lt. Cmdr. M.K. Dennis, told the press, before showing them a bomb with a kitchen sink attached.
The admiral was not okay with this, but caved to pressure from American press. The U.S. dropped the kitchen sink on Pyongyang that same month.
During Navy Special Ops training, candidates complete exhaustive missions under extreme stress, limited sleep, and in freezing water conditions.
For the last 25 years, the US military has used an ingestible thermometer pill to monitor the core body temperature of service members during physically demanding missions.
CorTemp pill (HQ, Inc.) was developed in the mid-1980’s by the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory and the Goddard Space Flight Center. The sensor technology was first used on astronauts to detect hypothermia and hyperthermic conditions during space flight.
Here is how the pill works: Soldiers swallow a 3/4-inch silicone-coated capsule which contains a microbattery and a quartz crystal temperature sensor. Within two hours, the quartz crystal sensor vibrates at a frequency relative to the body’s temperature and transmits a harmless, low-frequency signal through the body.
Team personnel can wirelessly monitor the core body temperature of multiple subjects in real time. There are several options and configurations for tracking temperatures, including the most simple method of holding the data recorder near the small of the back. The pill safely passes through the digestive system after 18 to 30 hours.
“For SWCC personnel, the pill is used to monitor body core temperature and is used only in training. Its use ensures candidates can understand the impact of cold water and allows medical and training cadre staff to ensure safety parameters for training are observed,” wrote Navy Lt. Ben Tisdale via email.
The ingestible capsules are also used by the NFL, various European militaries, and fire departments in the United States and in Australia, according to Director of Sales Marketing, Lee Carbonelli.