Nearly four decades ago, America’s fledgling counter-terrorism force launched a daring operation to a remote desert outpost to rescue Americans held hostage. The mission failed, but its repercussions were felt for years, and the flames and death of that day forged the special operations force that was able to successfully execute even more daring — and successful — missions in the decades to come.
On Nov. 4, 1979, approximately 3,000 Iranian militants took control of the U.S. embassy in Tehran, holding 63 Americans hostage. An additional three U.S. members were seized at the Iranian Foreign Ministry for a total of 66.
This was in response to President Jimmy Carter allowing Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, the recently deposed Iranian ruler, into the U.S. for cancer treatment. New leadership in Iran wanted the shah back as well as the end of Western influence in their country.
After a few weeks, 13 hostages, all women or African Americans, were released but the remaining 53 would wait out five months of failed negotiations.
President Carter, originally wanting to end the hostage crisis diplomatically and without force, turned to alternative solutions as he felt the political pressure to resolve the problem. On April 16, 1980, he approved Operation Eagle Claw, a military rescue operation involving all four branches of the U.S. armed forces.
The two-day rescue mission consisted of eight Navy RH-53D helicopters and multiple variations of C-130 aircraft. All aircraft were to gather together at Desert One, a salt flat about 200 miles outside of Tehran. There, the helicopters would refuel through the C-130’s and then transport assault units into a mountain location near Tehran where the rescue mission would begin. Unfortunately, the mission never made it that far.
On April 24, 1980, Operation Eagle Claw began. All aircraft proceeded to Desert One but a strong dust storm complicated traveling. Two of the eight helicopters were unable to complete the mission and had to turn around. Another helicopter broke down at Desert One, leaving a total of five working helicopters. Mission commanders and leadership needed a minimum of six to complete the mission. The decision was made to abort the operation and return home.
During departure from Desert One, one of the helicopters collided with a C-130, killing eight U.S. service members. The remaining members all left in the additional C-130 leaving behind numerous helicopters, a C-130 and the eight dead Americans. The failed mission, in addition with loss of life, was a humiliating blow for the U.S. However, this tragedy put a magnifying glass over the inadequacies of joint operations, forever changing the future of the U.S. military and special operations.
The need for enhanced capabilities between more than one military service was the prediction for the future of the Armed Forces. Significant military reforms, such as the Goldwater-Nichols Act and Joint Doctrine, addressed the readiness and capability issues demonstrated in Operation Eagle Claw. It pointed out the necessity for a dedicated special operations section within the Department of Defense with the responsibility to prepare and maintain combat-ready forces to successfully conduct special operations.
Today, the different branches training alongside each other is common practice. Planning for missions consist of specific details with back up plans to the back up plans. Ultimately, the lives lost as Desert One weren’t in vain. The lessons learned from that mission made special operations into what we know them as today.
The machine gun changed warfare, causing the marching formations of the Civil War to give way to the industrialized warfare of World War I. And the U.S. has fielded dozens of designs since Hiram Maxim first tried to interest the country in his 1884 design. Here are six of the best.
For this list, we’re using a definition of machine gun limited to fully automatic weapons, so the hand-cranked Gatling Gun of 1862 is out, but automatic weapons with a rifled barrel like the Browning Automatic Rifle are in.
It was in World War I that the weapon became famous as governments bought the Maxim and its copies and derivatives like the Lewis and Vickers machine guns. The Germans and Russians ordered their own versions as well.
2. Browning M1917
Another Browning invention, the M1917 was a rushed but solid design to give the U.S. military a homegrown machine gun after its late entry into World War I. It was heavy, requiring a four-man crew. But it could fire up to 600 rounds per minute and was extremely reliable. In one test, it fired 20,000 rounds without a single malfunction.
Approximately 40,000 M1917s, all chambered for a .30-06 round, were sold during the war, but not all of them reached France.
3. Browning Automatic Rifle
The Browning Automatic Rifle was so popular that, while it was designed for and fielded in World War I, American infantryman were loathe to give it up when it was replaced during Vietnam. It fired .30-06 rounds at nearly 2,700 ft. per second, enough force to pierce a light tank in World War I. And it could spit those rounds at up to 550 rounds per minute.
Originally designed in 1918 and produced in 1921, the M2 Browning Machine Gun is one of the longest-serving and most-loved weapons in history. It’s reliable and fires .50-caliber rounds at over 2,700 ft. per second.
From the punitive expedition to Mexico before World War I to the mountains of Korea, American service members relied on one iconic pistol above any other, the Colt M1911. In fact, some special operators still carry modified and reworked versions of the same sidearm today.
The famous pistol came, like many of the best weapons, from an urgent battlefield necessity. Soldiers and Marines fighting the Spanish in the Phillippines during the Spanish-American War ended up in combat with a rebel group that had been active in the islands for years, the Moro.
The Moro fighters were known as fanatics and used opiates to keep going even if they were hit. The troops engaged in combat with them found out quickly that their pistols, .38-caliber weapons, often needed a few hits to bring down a fighter. This gave attacking Moro fighters time to get an extra couple knife swings or trigger pulls in before they were killed.
Soldiers reached back to their last sidearm, the Colt Model 1873 Revolver which fired a .45-caliber round. The .45 got the job done, and the Army put out a call for a modern weapon that fired it, preferably with semi-automatic technology and smokeless powder.
After a long competition, the winner was a Colt pistol from famed designer John Browning. It was a semi-automatic weapon that fired the desired .45-caliber cartridge packed with smokeless powder, allowing troops to defend themselves with lots of firepower on demand without giving away their position.
The Army designated the weapon the M1911 for the year it was adopted and got it out to the field. The gun got a trial with the Punitive Expedition to Mexico in 1916 where it performed admirably, but it cemented its place in troops’ hearts in 1917 when the American Doughboys carried it with them to Europe.
In World War I, the Army, Navy, and Marine Corps carried the weapon. Army Cpl. Alvin C. York was part of an attack through German lines to destroy or capture some enemy machine guns. The initial attack was successful but everything went sideways and York was the highest ranking of the survivors.
Army Lt. Frank Luke, Jr., another Medal of Honor recipient, used the pistol after he was shot down in an attempt to fight off the German infantry trying to take him prisoner. While Luke was eventually killed, he took seven of the infantrymen with him.
Love for the M1911 spread to America’s allies. Great Britain, for instance, bought the guns for the Navy and the Flying Corps. In World War II, the Colt M1911 was once again the pistol of choice and Americans were lucky enough to get it as standard issue.
Through Korea and Vietnam, the M1911 was the standard sidearm and a favorite of troops who cited its stopping power, ergonomics, and reliability.
But the weapon’s .45-caliber ammunition made it less operable with NATO allies and when the U.S. encouraged standardizing weapons and ammo across the alliance, it was sent to the chopping block. In 1992, the military branches transitioned to the Beretta M9 and its smaller 9mm ammunition.
But some M1911s are still floating around as special operations units reworked the M1911A1 variant introduced in 1926, allowing them to use the .45-caliber ammunition.
The Marine Corps opened its newest one to great fanfare in Quantico, Virginia, in 2006. The Air Force has had once since around 1950 and the Navy opened one in 1963.
So now, it’s the Army’s turn to get with the times.
Senior officials with the service and supporters recently broke ground on a new National Army Museum to be housed at Fort Belvoir, Virginia. The museum will be free-of-charge to visitors, and is expected to open in 2019. Plans for the 185,000-square-foot facility include more than 15,000 pieces of art, 30,000 artifacts, documents and images.
It’s the first of its kind for the Army.
“This museum will remind all of us what it means to be a soldier, what it means to serve with incredible sacrifice, with incredible pride,” said Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Mark A. Milley.
“And most importantly, this museum is a tribute to those 30 million soldiers who’ve worn this distinguished uniform … and their loved ones who supported them,” he said.
Milley, Army Sec. Eric K. Fanning, other Army leaders, donors, guests and Gold Star families attended the ceremony and groundbreaking at Fort Belvoir Sept. 14.
The Army’s chief of staff said he believes the museum will offer visitors an experience that can’t be found in history books or online, and that a visit to the museum will enhance for them what they might have learned in school about both the United States and its Army, as well as “the cost and the pain of the sacrifice of war, not in dollars, but in lives.”
The National Army Museum, shown in this conceptual design, will be built at Fort Belvoir, Va., partly with funds from the Army Commemorative Coin Act signed by President Obama. (Photo from U.S. Army)
In the museum, Army weapons, uniforms, equipment, and even letters written by soldiers at war will help visitors better connect with their Army, Milley said.
The Army, Fanning said, is even older than the nation it defends, and their history has been intertwined now since the beginning.
“We’ve waited 241 years for this moment,” Fanning said of the groundbreaking for the museum. “It’s almost impossible to separate the Army’s story from this nation’s story. In so many ways, the history of the Army is the history of America.”
From the Revolutionary War to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Army has borne the greatest share of America’s losses, Fanning said. Fully 85 percent of all Americans who have given their lives in defense of the United States and its interests have done so while serving in the U.S. Army.
Besides fighting the nation’s wars, Fanning said, soldiers have also been pioneers for the United States. He cited as an example the efforts Army Capt. Meriwether Lewis and Army 2nd Lt. William Clark. Together, the two led a team to explore and map the Western United States — an effort that came to be known as the Lewis and Clark Expedition.
Another example of Army pioneering is the effort of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to help build the nation’s roads, railroads, canals and bridges, Fanning said.
In the 20th century, he said, it would be Army scientists that took America through new frontiers, such as aviation, creating solar cells and the launching of America’s first satellite into space.
Fanning said he’s reminded of the Army’s history and pioneering every day by a framed piece of regimental colors in his office. Those colors, he said, are what remain of the standard carried in the Civil War by the 54th Massachusetts, the Army’s first African-American regiment, he said.
That small piece of flag will be displayed in the National Army Museum, “joining thousands of artifacts that will help tell our shared story,” Fanning said. “The museum will strengthen the bonds between America’s soldiers and America’s communities.”
Retired Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Gordon R. Sullivan, who now serves as the chairman of the Army Historical Foundation Board of Directors, said the museum is meant to “tell the comprehensive story of the Army history as it finally deserves to be told.”
That story, he said, will include all components of the Army, and will also include the story of the Continental Army, which existed even before the birth of the United States.
The museum, he said, will be a “virtual museum, without walls, having connectivity with all of the Army museums.”
Also significant, Sullivan said, is the museum’s location. The site chosen at Fort Belvoir is less than 7 miles from Mount Vernon — the home of the Continental Army’s first commander-in-chief, Gen. George Washington.
Retired Gen. William W. Hartzog, vice chairman of the Army Historical Foundation Board of Directors, said one of the first things visitors will see when they enter the museum is a series of pictures and histories of individual soldiers.
“We are all about soldiers,” Hartzog said.
During the groundbreaking ceremony, attendees were able to hear some of those stories for themselves.
Captain Jason Stumpf of the 92nd Civil Affairs Battalion, 95th Civil Affairs Brigade at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, for instance, took the stage to talk about his wife, 1st Lt. Ashley White-Stumpf.
“She was doing what she did for a greater good and she always believed this,” he said. She was killed in Afghanistan in 2011.
“She only wanted to help and answer the call,” he continued. “Ashley would be the first to stand in the entryway and say she’s not the only one that answered the call. Many before and many after her will do the same thing.”
White-Stumpf’s story will be one of the many relayed to visitors to the new Army museum.
Another story that will be told at the museum is that of now-deceased Staff Sgt. Donald “Dutch” Hoffman, uncle to Brig. Gen. Charles N. Pede, who now serves as the assistant judge advocate general for Military Law and Operations.
Pede said his uncle got the name “Dutch” because he’d been a tough kid growing up on the streets of Erie, Pennsylvania, and was always in trouble or “in Dutch.”
Dutch enlisted at age 17, Pede said, and soon found himself in Korea. During his first firefight, Pede relayed, Dutch had admitted to being scared. Shortly after, he attacked an enemy machine gun position by himself, rescuing wounded soldiers and carrying them to safety. He earned a Silver Star for his actions there.
He’d later be wounded in battle and left for dead, Pede continued. But a “miracle-working” Army doctor brought him back to life.
Finally, now-retired Brig. Gen. Leo Brooks Jr. spoke about his late father, retired Maj. Gen. Leo A. Brooks Sr. When Brooks the senior entered the Army in 1954, his journey was filled with challenges, the junior said, as the Army had only recently become desegregated.
Brooks senior had to earn the respect of others as a leader, his son said. That he became a leader was due to the sacrifices of others before him.
Brooks junior said he and his brother, Gen. Vincent K. Brooks, who now serves as commander of U.S. Forces Korea, U.N. Command and Combined Forces Command, both looked to their father for guidance — and followed him into the Army.
We “naturally followed in his profession because we could see and feel the nobility of the Army’s core values he instilled,” Brooks junior said.
Today, the Army is the only military service without its own national museum. The National Museum of the United States Army, to be built on 80 acres of land at Fort Belvoir, will remedy that.
“San Andreas” is a disaster movie that is true to what you think it should be based on the trailer. There are some great effects, a lot of danger, and some thrills.
Ray, a helicopter pilot played by Dwayne Johnson, moves around southern California on different vehicles and on foot, trying to save his wife and daughter.
But “San Andreas” rises above its genre in a surprising way: Ray isn’t the only action hero in the movie. His wife and daughter, instead of being damsels in distress, save the day a few times themselves.
Since Ray is a combat veteran, his family was a military family that endured multiple deployments and prepared to face emergencies on their own. While trying to avoid spoilers, here are some great military family traits the film highlights:
1. Calm leadership
Emma, the wife of Ray played by Carla Gugino, is near the top of a tower when the first main quake hits California. Ray is nearby and tells her she can get him. Emma immediately begins trying to move other survivors with her to the roof. Emma has to fight through the crumbling building to reach her rendezvous. Due to the destruction, Ray’s original plan clearly won’t work, and it’s Emma who directs Ray on where to go to complete the pickup.
The daughter, named Blake (played by Alexandra Daddario), faces her own challenges when the quake strikes. Though she at first must be saved by a boy and his little brother, she quickly takes over leading the male pair. She directs them on the safest places to go as they face crisis after crisis and she figures out Plan B when the main plan becomes impossible.
Emma displays resourcefulness a few times, but this category mainly belongs to Blake. She breaks into an electronics store to establish communications with her father. She finds a way to listen in on the emergency channels to stay in touch with what’s happening in the city. After another survivor is injured, she even improvises bandages and renders aid.
These are skills that the military demands of its members, and many members pass them on to their families.
This is a category we don’t want to talk about in too much detail because it will spoil the movie. But, both Emma and Blake fight through terrifying moments and tackle their fears. Between the two of them, they muster their courage to keep fighting while falling through buildings, being trapped, crashing, and facing other dangers.
Again, this is a category that, if we gave you all the details, it would ruin key parts of the movie. But, Emma puts herself in danger a few times to save Blake. And Blake really shines as she sends away rescuers multiple times when she thinks it’s too risky for them to save her. Emma, Blake, and Ray make many sacrifices for each other after everything goes to hell. Surprisingly, the film also shows the family making healthy sacrifices for each other before the quakes, balancing their own needs against each others. This even includes Ray and Emma, who are going through a divorce.
Of course, some of the things Blake and Emma are doing require knowledge and physical strength, which implies they prepared to be on their own during an emergency. Preparing for natural disasters is something all families should do, but few actually accomplish. Blake and Emma, like many military families, knew they would face crises on their own and clearly prepared well.
To see what Ray, Emma, and Blake overcome in the movie and who makes it out alive, check out “San Andreas” in theaters May 29.
U.S. Marines training in Norway took their tanks and armored vehicles on a drifting course over solid ice.
The Marines are taking part in Exercise Cold Response 16 which is a 12-nation NATO exercise. American airmen, sailors, and Marines are learning how to fight in the extreme cold, a muscle the U.S. didn’t flex much while focused on Iraq and Afghanistan.
Exercise Cold Response was scheduled before Russia began its aggressive actions in Ukraine but the skills learned in Norway will be useful if relations don’t improve. The United Kingdom, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden, Poland, Denmark, Canada, Belgium, and Latvia are also participating.
Learning to safely drift tanks may seem like a crazy stunt, but it will help U.S. Marine Corps tank crewmen maneuver during a fight in the extreme cold.
No, this picture doesn’t show a black and white image of the rebel base on the ice planet Hoth. It’s part of a semi-secret, nuclear-powered U.S. Army base that was built under the Greenland ice cap only 800 miles from the North Pole. The base was officially built to conduct scientific research but the real reason was apparently to test out the feasibility of burying nuclear missiles below the ice under an effort known as Project Iceworm. Remember, Greenland is way closer to Russia than the ICBM fields located in the continental U.S. Rumor has it that the Danish government had no idea that the U.S. was considering installing nuclear missiles on Greenland.
The 200-man base was massive , described by some as an underground city, and consisted of 21 steel-arch covered trenches; the longest of which was 1,100-feet long, 26-feet wide and 26-feet high. These tunnels contained numerous prefabricated buildings that were up to 76-feet long. The base was powered by a portable PM-2A nuclear reactor that produced two megawatts of power for the facility.
In all, the base featured:
Living quarters, a kitchen and mess hall, latrines and showers, a recreation hall and theater, a library and hobby shops, a dispensary, operating room and a ten bed infirmary, a laundry facility, a post exchange, scientific labs, a cold storage warehouse, storage tanks, a communications center, equipment and maintenance shops, supply rooms and storage areas, a nuclear power plant, a standby diesel-electric power plant, administrative buildings, utility buildings, a chapel and a barbershop.
The base operated from 1959 to 1966 when shifting icecap made living there impossible. Today, it’s buried and crushed beneath the Arctic snows.
Click through the jump to see more pictures of the base and to watch a great video on its construction. The last photo shows a map of the base’s location in Greenland.
Kate Warne, who died in 1868, left behind a thrilling legacy that remains shrouded in mystery. A master of assumed identities, no official photograph of the trailblazing figure exists—fitting for a person whose profession required hiding in plain sight.
Little is known of Warne’s early years. She was born in the year of 1833 in Erin, New York. By 1856, at the age of 23, Warne’s husband passed away, leaving her a widow. Finding herself at loose ends–likely with no way to support herself–she decided on a rather unorthodox course of action. She walked into Allan Pinkerton’s office and asked for a job as a detective.
Although Pinkerton had many women working for him as clerks and secretaries, he had never hired a female detective, claiming it was not the “custom” to do so. Despite his initial skepticism, Pinkerton was soon charmed by Warne’s manner. She offered up the many potential merits of a female detective, from her ability to manipulate targets into believing that she was on their side in a way men could not.
Won over, Pinkerton hired her. American law enforcement, such as it was in the 1860s, didn’t have uniformed female officers or detectives. It would be many years before women were allowed into front-line policing. Pinkerton, however, decided to take on Warne’s services.
Two years after she was hired, Warne scored her first major case. She was sent to investigate reports of embezzlement within an important client’s staff. Adams Express Company (still operating today as an equity fund company) was a freight carrier, running throughout the north and south in the mid-1800s. The Pinkerton Agency had first worked with the company to solve a robbery in 1866. Now, they called upon the Pinkertons to find out who in their own ranks was stealing from the company’s bankrolls.
Upon her arrival, Warne befriended Mrs. Maroney, the wife of an expressman believed to be the culprit. Soon, Mrs. Maroney trusted her new friend Kate and confided in her–so much so that Warne was not only able to prove Nathan Maroney’s guilt, but also track down almost ,000 of ,000 that had been stolen.
By 1860, it became obvious to Pinkerton that not only was Kate Warne immeasurably valuable to him, but that more female operatives, as he preferred to term his detectives, would be as well. He opened a Female Detective Bureau–and put Warne in charge.
Of course, by this time, talk of slavery, abolition, and secession had begun to dominate the country. The election of Abraham Lincoln in November did little to defuse tensions. Pinkerton, who had long been an abolitionist, dispatched Warne and four other agents to investigate secessionist threats and activities against the Philadelphia, Wilmington and Baltimore Railroad. Comparing their field reports, Pinkerton believed his agents were close to finding something far bigger than simple agitation. President-elect Lincoln was to be assassinated in Baltimore en route to his inauguration.
Warne, using various aliases including Mrs. Cherry and Mrs. Barley, posed as a secessionist sympathizer and wealthy southerner. To her marks, she seemed a typical “rich Southern lady with a thick Southern accent”.
Warne first confirmed the Baltimore plot existed. She also uncovered its details. Lincoln was to be ambushed at Baltimore’s Calvert Street railroad station. While a mock brawl distracted police officers and railroad guards, Lincoln would be left at the mercy of a conveniently placed secessionist mob.
Pinkerton now had to arrange Lincoln’s safe passage to Washington, which would not be as easy it sounded. Lincoln had three engagements in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania that he refused to cancel. Being the tall and distinct man that he was, Lincoln stood out in a crowd. So they hatched a plan: Once finished with his Harrisburg engagements, Pinkerton, Warne, and Ward Hill Lamon (the President-elect’s self-appointed bodyguard) disguised Lincoln as an invalid. Warne played the role of the invalid’s sister. To conceal changes in Lincoln’s itinerary, Pinkerton arranged a temporary telegraph fault, forestalling any warning to the conspirators.
From Harrisburg a special train took them to Philadelphia. Another special train took them to the very heart of the plot, Baltimore. And from Maryland, to the fury of the plotters, Lincoln safely reached Washington. The Baltimore plot had come to nothing.
Warne foiled an assassination attempt on President-elect Lincoln en route to his inauguration.
Warne was central to uncovering and defeating the conspiracy, with her travel arrangements seeing Lincoln safely to his destination. It was said that she never rested during the entire journey, constantly watching over Lincoln and supposedly inspiring the Pinkerton Agency’s now-legendary motto: “We Never Sleep.”
Warne’s work didn’t end with the start of the Civil War in 1861, although its tenor shifted. Alongside George Bangs and English-born spy Timothy Webster, she was sent to establish a forward intelligence base in Cincinnati. Using a dozen or more aliases, she worked as a spy and also continued her work as Pinkerton’s Superintendent of Female Detectives when she wasn’t down south doing her southern belle act. She was lucky, but Webster wasn’t. Unmasked as a Union agent Webster was hanged in Richmond on April 29, 1862.
After the surrender at Appomattox in 1865, Warne continued as one of Pinkerton’s most senior employees. She solved the murder of bank teller George Gordon, killed by colleague Alexander Drysdale for 0,000. She took on the case of Captain Sumner and Mrs. Pattmore, both of whom were convinced their spouses were trying to murder them. While investigating the Sumner case she still spent time out of the field coordinating Pinkerton’s bureau of female agents.
Before hiring them on, Pinkerton would tell female applicants, “In my service, you will serve your country better than on the field. I have several female operatives. If you agree to come aboard you will go in training with the head of my female detectives Kate Warne. She has never let me down.”
Given a new title, Supervisor of Female Agents, Warne was set for a long, high-flying career with Pinkerton. Already America’s first female detective, she’d also saved a President-elect from assassination. She had become a senior private detective years before women were allowed to join a police force in uniform, never mind as detectives. She was a trailblazer and, sadly, a shooting star that burned out all too quickly.
In January of 1868, Kate Warne contracted a lung infection, possibly pneumonia. Unable to combat its spread, and with antibiotics not yet available, she died on January 28. She was just 34 or 35 years old. Today, she rests in the famed Graceland Cemetery in Chicago, although her last name remains misspelled as “Warn.” Despite this indignity, Warne was a deeply memorable woman whom Pinkerton named as one of his best five detectives of all time.
The Battle of Fort Sumter kicked off one of the bloodiest wars in American history and, for the most part, was itself the opposite of bloody. Actually, in hindsight there were some pretty funny moments.
When South Carolina seceded from the United States on December 20, 1860, all federal forces in the state were put on alert – they were now in unfriendly territory. In Charleston, Union Major Robert Anderson saw the situation deteriorating and moved his small force of 85 soldiers from Fort Moultrie – on the mainland overlooking Charleston Harbor – to Fort Sumter in the middle of the harbor. Fort Sumter was unfinished when Anderson’s men occupied it and by the time of Lincoln’s inauguration a few months later on March 4, 1861, the men were running low on supplies.
Across the water, Confederate Brigadier General Pierre Gustave Toutant (PGT) Beauregard saw the Union men running low on supplies and demanded their surrender on April 11. Anderson refused and the next morning at 4:30am, the Confederate forces took the first shots of the Civil War. What followed was a 34-hour exchange of artillery fire, most of which came from the Confederate side. Guess how many people died. Zero. Actually, according to Mark Collins Jenkins, more animals died than people – one mule.
After 34 hours, Anderson decided he had had enough and agreed to surrender. The first casualty of the war was nearly Roger A. Pryor, an emissary from Virginia who visited Fort Sumter shortly after the battle. Pryor sat with Union officers and got up to pour himself a drink without asking, which would have been a pretty badass move. However, instead of pouring what he thought was whiskey, he actually poured a glass of iodine and drank it all in one gulp. Fortunately for him, Union doctors quickly pumped his stomach and saved his life.
The first casualty of the war came shortly after Pryor’s incident and occurred during the Union surrender ceremony, which generously included a 100-gun salute. The salute was cut short, however, after the Union soldiers accidentally placed their stockpile of ammunition too close to their cannon. High winds were blamed for carrying sparks from the cannon to the ammunition, which set off a large explosion that killed one Union soldier and mortally wounded another. The ceremony ended and the next day, the Union troops withdrew from the fort.
It would’ve been nice if the rest of the war went the same way, but by the time the war ended four years later, between 700,000 and 900,000 soldiers and civilians were dead on both sides, making it the bloodiest war in American history by some estimates. Bummer.
U.S. Army Colonel (ret.) Tony Nadal fought with Hal Moore (of We Were Soldiers fame) at the Battle of Ia Drang in the Vietnam War. In a stunning new documentary short from the team at AARP, Nadal recalls the first heliborne assault against North Vietnamese Army, the battle he’ll never forget.
“I can forget a lot of things about life but I won’t forget the feel, the sense, the smell of LZ-XRAY,” Nadal says. “Colonel Moore immediately realized it was going to be a battle for survival.”
Over the course of three days, 3,500 U.S., South Vietnamese, and North Vietnamese soldiers fought for a contested victory, leaving 308 Americans and 660 NVA dead, with 544 U.S. and 670 NVA wounded. Then-Captain Tony Nadal lost 15 of his men in the first two days of fighting. Sleepless and battered, his command was ordered out before an Air Force bombardment could be launched.
“I feel the loss of all my soldiers,” Nadal recalls. “When you get through all of the bravado, what you’re left with is anguish. They fought for a cause… there was the expectation that when your country calls, you go.”
The soldiers who fought at LZ-XRAY have gathered for the last 22 years at an annual reunion. It’s a way for them all to come together, get to know one another, and heal each other’s invisible wounds.
The legendary battle was depicted in the book “We Were Soldiers Once… and Young” and the 2002 film “We Were Soldiers.” The advocacy group AARP went to the National Archives of the United States and pulled 16mm and 35mm film reels. The ran the reels through a 4K scanner and cleaned up the footage to produce this amazing piece (though it is presented in HD here).
Flight deck operations on an aircraft carrier have often been compared to a ballet. Sailors at work on a flight deck wear an assortment of colored jerseys to specify their job. The yellow shirt is one of the most coveted.
The aviation boatswain’s mates who work on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz are directly responsible for the handling and maneuvering of aircraft as well as the safety of all personnel during flight operations. Any mistake or lack of better judgment can cause damage to equipment or injury to personnel on the flight deck.
“At first being a yellow shirt was scary, but now that I have some confidence, I would say there is a sense of pride,” said Petty Officer 3rd Class Melanie Cluck, an aviation boatswain’s mate. “On the flight deck, we are not only responsible for directing aircraft, but also for directing people. Normally, anyone who needs guidance on the flight deck looks for a yellow shirt. Safety of all the personnel on deck is a big part of our job as well. So we don’t only need to know our job, but everyone else’s as well.”
Before donning the sought-after yellow jersey, aviation boatswain’s mates wear blue jerseys to indicate that they are in a more junior status. These sailors are normally newer airmen who have yet to acquire all of the necessary qualifications. Their main responsibilities during flight operations include chocking and chaining, running elevators, and tractor operation.
“Being a blue shirt is hard work, but it makes you tough,” said Seaman Michael Lothrop. “It’s hot up there right now, and we work long days, but you have to be on alert at all times and ready to get the job done whenever you are needed.”
Blue shirts are normally covered in grease and always carrying something heavy, whether it be a chain, tractor bar, or chock. They play a big part in the maneuvering of aircraft on the flight deck because they do most of the hands-on work. During their time wearing blue, they learn the ins and outs of properly directing aircraft, which helps build the foundation of a high-performance yellow shirt.
The job requires attention to detail and an extreme amount of knowledge to be performed well. The training and the number of hours a sailor needs to put in to become a yellow shirt is impressive.
“There are two main qualifications you get as a blue shirt, but from there, it’s all about if your chain of command sees you have the initiative to take on being a yellow shirt,” Cluck said.
Earning the Yellow Shirt
Sailors must qualify as flight deck observers and learn directing and handling in addition to the qualifications all sailors are required to attain when they report to Nimitz. The requirements take roughly 12 weeks to complete. Sailors then take a written and oral test administered by the flight deck leading petty officer, assistant LPO, and any other yellow-shirt-qualified chief petty officers or first class petty officers who decide to attend.
Once sailors earn the right to wear the yellow jersey on the flight deck, they enter an apprenticeship period called “under inspection.” This means they need an experienced yellow shirt to help them along the way toward becoming an expert at their new job on the flight deck.
UI yellow shirts are always accompanied by a seasoned mentor who is observing every signal and decision they make.
“It’s a case-by-case basis on how long the UI process takes,” Cluck said. “The process is just there to make sure you fully understand what you are doing on the flight deck. It’s extensive work to say the least, but it helps you build character. The goal of the process is just to build you up to be the great yellow shirt you are supposed to be.”
Yellow shirts have to communicate through hand signals with pilots and other personnel working on the flight deck to safely move aircraft onto the catapults and off of the landing area.
“You have to be able to really get control of your aircraft and understand the pilot,” Cluck said. “It’s a gut feeling that you develop during your training. If you feel you need to slow the aircraft down, you can, and you start to learn when exactly to turn it. We have hundreds of hand signals we can use to take control of the aircraft on deck. The people in the pilot seats are officers, so you have to be professional, and every motion you make has to be crisp and precise to prevent accidents.”
The working environment of a yellow shirt is unlike anywhere else on the ship. The yellow shirt locker, or crew area, is on Nimitz’ flight deck. The tight-knit group of men and women spends their time out of the scorching heat joking, laughing, and preparing to launch multi-million dollar aircraft into the sky. It is here where the instructors of the world’s most dangerous ballet reside. It is here where the yellow shirts dwell, mentally preparing themselves to launch aircraft as their ship sits at the tip of the spear.
Of all the exercises, the one with the largest mind game attached to it is the PULL-UP. One thing I have learned is that women AND men CANNOT do pull-ups IF they do not PRACTICE pull-ups.
On the flip side, the common denominator among those men AND women who can do dead-hang pull-ups, are those who practice pull-ups.
In my personal opinion, one of the worst things we ever developed in physical fitness classes were the “girl pull-up” or flexed arm hang. At an early age, we have been telling young girls, that they cannot do regular pull-ups because they will never be as strong as boys. Well, part of that statement is true – the strongest woman will NEVER be stronger than the strongest man – but I have seen 40-50-year-old mothers of three do 10 pullups. How is that? They practice pull-ups as well as the auxiliary exercises that work the muscles of the back, biceps, and forearms – the PULL-UP muscles! Anybody can do pull-ups, but it helps to not be 40-50 lbs. overweight and to follow a program that places pull-ups and the following exercises in your workouts at least 3 times a week.
The Proper Pull-up (Regular Grip)
Grab the pull-up bar with your hands placed about shoulder width apart and your palms facing away from you. Pull yourself upward until your chin is over the bar and complete the exercise by slowly moving to the hanging position.
If you cannot do any pull-ups, you should try “negatives”. Negatives are half pull-ups. All you have to do is get your chin over the bar by standing on something or having spotter push you over the bar. Then, you slowly lower yourself all the way down – let your arms hang grasping the bar fully stretched. Keep your feet up and fight gravity for a count of 5 seconds. This will get your arms used to supporting your weight.
This is the first step to being able to perform pull-ups. Using the bar that is 3-4 feet off the ground, sit under it and grab with the regular grip. Straighten your back, hips, and slightly bend your knees while your feet remain on the floor and pull yourself to the bar so that your chest touches the bar. Repeat as required. This is a great way to start out if you cannot do any pull-ups at all. You can also do this on a pair of parallel bars that are used for dips. These are also great to do after you can no longer perform any more dead-hang pull-ups. This is a good replacement for the Lat Pulldown machine as well.
Using a pulldown machine, grab the bar, sit down and pull the bar to your collar bones. Keep the bar in front of you. Behind the neck pulldowns are potentially dangerous to your neck and shoulders.
Bend over and support your lower back by placing your hand and knee on the bench. Pull the dumbbell to your chest area as if you were starting a lawnmower. Muscles worked: Back, forearm grip, Bicep muscles.
Place dumbbells or bar in hands with your palms facing upward. Use a complete range of motion to take the weight from your shoulders to your hips by bending and straightening the elbows. Keep it smooth. Do not swing the weights.
You can build up your strength and within a few months of this workout, you will have your first pull up in years – maybe ever! If weight loss is needed, naturally find a plan that incorporates cardiovascular exercise, diet and nutrition tips and weights and calisthenics if your next goal is to do a pull-up one day! Good luck and always remember to consult with your doctor before starting any fitness program.
Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL and fitness author certified as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. If you are interested in starting a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle – check out the Military.com Fitness eBook store and the Stew Smith article archive at Military.com. To contact Stew with your comments and questions, e-mail him at email@example.com.
Sgt. 1st Class Earl Plumlee, a Green Beret in the U.S. Army’s 1st Special Forces Group, was presented the Silver Star for actions in Afghanistan in 2013. California Congressman Duncan Hunter, a Marine Corps veteran of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, doesn’t think the Silver Star is enough for Plumlee and is appealing to Army Secretary Eric Fanning to review the award.
According to the Washington Post, Rep. Hunter believes McHugh downgraded Sgt. 1st Class Plumlee’s Medal of Honor because the Special Forces NCO faced a criminal investigation for illegally selling a rifle scope online.
Plumlee was nominated for the Medal of Honor for heroism in repelling a Taliban ambush. The nomination was downgraded to the Silver Star by then-interim SECARMY John McHugh with a recommendation from the Senior Army Decorations Board. The Silver Star is two levels below the Medal of Honor, which an Inspector General report deemed appropriate.
In August 2013, a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device (VBIED) touched off a complex Taliban attack on Forward Operating Base (FOB) Ghazni. The FOB is home to the Ghazni Provincial Reconstruction Team and a fortified NATO base housing about 1,400 people.
The VBIED blew a hole in the perimeter wall. Insurgents dressed as Afghan National Army soldiers poured into the breach. Unfortunately for them, the other side of the wall contained the 1st Special Forces Group, including one Sgt. 1st Class Earl Plumlee.
Four operators, Chief Warrant Officer 3 Mark Colbert, Sgt. 1st Class Andrew Busic, then-Staff Sgt. Earl Plumlee, and Sgt. 1st Class Nate Abkemeier drove a truck to blast site as fast as possible. Once there, all dismounted from the truck and started returning fire.
While the others moved for cover, Plumlee walked right into Taliban attack. He hit one insurgent in the chest with a round from his sidearm and the man exploded – the fighters were all rigged with suicide vests.
The fighters had the men surrounded. Busic recalls Plumlee killed four or five insurgents then moved back to Busic’s position to clear the rest. They searched the surrounding area for anything or anyone that might be part of the attack.
Plumlee even pulled a severely wounded soldier out of harm’s way, conducted proper first-aid, and directed an Army civilian and soldier to get the wounded to a surgical center.
Four Afghan civilians, three police officers, 10 Taliban fighters, and one soldier, Staff Sgt. Michael Ollis, were killed in the attack. Ten Polish soldiers were also wounded. It could have been a lot worse. One Special Forces officer told the Army that Plumlee and the other special operators who rolled up on the attackers saved the base that day.
“It’s no exaggeration when I say they saved FOB Ghazni,” the Special Forces officer said. “If they would have arrived 10 seconds later than they did, the insurgents would have been in the more densely populated part of FOB Ghazni.”
Rep. Hunter requested that the Defense Department explain how it came to the conclusion to downgrade the award, to justify the Secretary of the Army’s authority to downgrade the award, and to determine if Plumlee’s criminal investigation was the reason for the downgrade. An Inspector General report on Hunter’s requests was obtained by Military Times.
“The review process… found that the nominee’s valorous actions did not meet the MOH criteria outlined in Army Regulation (AR) 600-8-22, “Military Awards,” dated June 24, 2013. By majority vote, the SADB recommended the SS.”
One member of the Senior Army Decorations Board told the IG that Plumlee was doing his job as an NCO and the standard to receive the Medal of Honor should be higher for someone of that rank.
“… a senior NCO, versus a private who would be seized by the moment and take extremely valorous and courageous action; there’s a difference between those two. One’s a leader. One’s a Soldier. And so when I looked at the circumstances and, although the battle was ferocious and unfortunately a couple members were killed, I just thought that it wasn’t a sufficient level for the Medal of Honor based off of the individual and the circumstances and that, I just felt there was an expectation of a leader who did a phenomenal job, that there was something more that [the nominee] needed to have done in order to, in my mind, to make a recommendation for a Medal of Honor.”
The board member specifically mentioned to the IG that even though Plumlee took out almost half of the attacking insurgents, that fact wasn’t in the eyewitness statements supporting Plumlee’s Medal of Honor award.
Plumlee was nominated for the Medal of Honor three months after the battle. His nomination was even approved both the JSOC commander and by Marine Corps General Joseph F. Dunford, the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan at the time. Dunford wrote that Plumlee’s actions “clearly meet the standard” for the Medal of Honor.
For now, Plumlee’s Silver Star award will stand. At their own Silver Star ceremony, Busic and Colbert told Stars and Stripesit wasn’t about the recognition anyway.
“We don’t do our job for awards or accolades,” he said. “We just do it to serve.”