On May 2 and 4, 1972, two SR-71 Blackbirds overflew Hanoi, North Vietnam at noon. The first plane broke the sound barrier, causing an ear-splitting sonic boom over the city. Fifteen seconds later, the other Blackbird did the same thing.
Prisoners at Hoa Lo developed a code-tapping language to communicate with each other. Capt. James Stockdale, who was the senior ranking officer at the prison, taught many incoming POWs this code. It kept the men sane and their spirits up.
Communicating with Washington was trickier. Three months into his captivity, Stockdale was allowed to write to his wife, Sybil. Two months later, he was allowed to write again. When she received the letters, she found them confusing. Nicknames and references to their mutual friends were wrong.
Sybil gave the letters to Naval Intelligence in San Diego who figured out he was using doublespeak – deliberately misleading language –to let his superiors know he was not being treated well in North Vietnam. With her cooperation, the CIA and Office of Naval Intelligence decided to use her correspondence back to her husband as a way to communicate with the prisoners.
Her first letter included a Polaroid of her with a secret message sandwiched between the sheets of photographic paper. It explained the process of using invisible ink to send messages to the CIA. He listed the other POWs with him and detailed the abuses inflicted on American prisoners there.
The new communication policy allowed the prisoners and the CIA to trade a wealth of information, so much so that the prisoners were actually able to assemble a small shortwave radio, which was eventually discovered during an inspection).
In 1969, two prisoners, Air Force Captains John Dramesi and Edwin Atterberry, escaped from the prison at Cu Loc but were recaptured the next day. Massive reprisals from their captors followed, and thus the prisoners’ leadership determined the retribution was too much and escape attempts should only be made with a “high likelihood of success and assurance of outside assistance.” That’s when they came up with the Red River plan.
Members of the escaping POW group sent their plan to the U.S. Defense Secretary Melvin Laird approved the plan in January 1972. By May, everything was in place. The sonic booms were a go.
Despite a few setbacks, members of SEAL Team One and Underwater Demolition Team Eleven used SEAL Delivery Vehicles (SDV – mini-submarines) and HH-3A helicopters to patrol the coastline throughout May and June looking for escaped POWs. They never found any.
As the senior ranking officer, Stockdale forbid any escape attempts. He judged the plan too risky and the threat of reprisals too harsh. (Prisoners were often killed during these reprisals). The would-be escapees were frustrated by the policy, but they obeyed.
Article III of the Code of Conduct for prisoners does say American POWs should make every effort to escape captivity. Article IV, however, prohibits any action that would cause harm to other captured personnel. So Thunderhead was terminated.
The POWs would communicate with Washington throughout the war. Eventually, another radio was smuggled in, which gave POWs a direct line from the camp to the U.S. Seventh Fleet commanders aboard ships in the Gulf of Tonkin.
In January 1973, 591 POWs were repatriated back to the United States. For his leadership among the prisoners and work to galvanize the resistance to their captors, Stockdale received the Medal of Honor from President Gerald Ford.
While much of the world’s attention is focused on the effort by North Korea to develop intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) with working nuclear warheads, there is another weapon that is also quite deadly in the arsenal of Kim Jong Un’s regime. Ironically, it is quite low-tech.
That weapon is the An-2 Colt, a seventy-year-old design that is still in front-line service, which means it has the B-52 Stratofortress beaten by about eight years! So, why has this little plane stuck around, and what makes it so deadly in the hands of Kim Jong Un?
According to MilitaryFactory.com, the An-2 has a top speed of 160 miles per hour, and a range of 525 miles. Not a lot when you compare it to the B-52, which can go 595 miles per hour and fly over 10,000 miles. China is still producing the plane, while upgrade kits are being developed by Antonov. The plane was in production for 45 years, and according to the report from Korrespondent, thousands remain in service.
When it comes down to it, what seem like fatal weaknesses actually make the An-2 deadly in modern combat.
The reason? The plane usually flies low and slow – and as such, it is very hard for modern fighters like the F-22, F-35, and F-16 to locate, track, and fire on. Not only that, the slow speeds and low-altitude operations meant that large portions of the plane can be covered with fabric, according to Warbird Alley. There are also a lot of An-2s in North Korea’s inventory – at least 200, according to a report by MSN.com.
While the plane is often used to deliver troops or supplies, the real threat may be the fact that it could carry some other cargo. While North Korea is just now developing nuclear warheads that fit on missiles, there is the frightening possibility that a nuclear weapon could be delivered using an An-2.
That is how this 70-year-old biplane design could very well be North Korea’s deadliest weapon. You can see a video on the An-2 below.
“Once the pin is pulled, Mr. Hand Grenade is no longer your friend.”
In war, troops who cover enemy grenades (or badly-thrown friendly grenades) with their own bodies have usually been awarded the Medal of Honor. Some lived, but all too often, the award is posthumous.
But the opening statement is also true in peacetime training. When recruits are taught to throw grenades, they use the real M67 fragmentation grenade. MilitaryFactory.com notes that this has about 6.5 ounces of Composition B explosive, and can kill people standing roughly 50 feet away. Fragments have gone as far as 750 feet from where the grenade goes off – and they don’t care who is in the way.
So it’s important that trainees handle grenades with care — and have fellow troopers who’ll step in to avert tragedy.
Here are eight badass troops who saved lives during grenade training.
1. Marine Sgt. Joseph Leifer
On June 13, 2013, Sgt. Leifer was manning a grenade pit when a student’s toss bounced back into the pit. According to the Marine Corps Times, Leifer grabbed the student, threw him out of the way, and covered him with his body. Leifer received the Navy and Marine Corps Medal on Nov. 7, 2014.
2. and 3. Marine Staff Sgt. Shawn M. Martin and Marine Staff Sgt. Jason M. Kuehnl
According to a Marine Corps release, these Marines received their Navy and Marine Corps Medals on the same day, June 23, 2009. The previous year, each had saved recruits when mishaps took place during grenade training. The Military Times Hall of Valor notes that Kuehnl’s actions took place on Oct. 31, 2008, while Martin’s took place on Sept. 12, 2008.
4. Marine Sgt. William Holls
A 2010 Marine Corps release noted that on Sept. 28, 2009, Holls noticed one recruit seemed very nervous as he prepared for the grenade toss. When the recruit froze, Holls moved to assist. The recruit panicked and dropped the live grenade. Holls threw the recruit out of the way and shielded the recruit with his body. Both the recruit and Holls were wounded by the blast. Holls provided first aid to the recruit before help arrived. He received the Navy and Marine Corps Medal on July 15, 2010.
In June 2014, Sgt. Kenneth Kam saw a recruit fail to get a grenade over the wall of the grenade pit at Fort Leonard Wood. With what an Army release described as “three to four seconds” to act, he grabbed the recruit, moved her out of the pit, and saved her life. For those actions, he was awarded the Soldier’s Medal.
7. Army Staff Sgt. John King
According to a report from Newson6.com, Staff Sgt. John King, with less than a half-dozen seconds to react, threw a hand grenade over a wall after a recruit’s bad toss, then pulled the recruit to the ground. The report noted that King was nominated for the Soldier’s Medal. KSWO.com added that King received an Army Commendation Medal while the nomination was being processed.
8. Army Staff Sgt. Gary Moore
A 2013 report from Cleveland19.com described how Staff Sgt. Gary Moore had been doing grenade instruction when a recruit was about to throw a grenade the wrong way. While Moore was correcting the recruit’s aim, the recruit dropped the grenade. Moore was quoted as saying, “I proceeded to get the soldier and myself out of the bay as quickly as possible.”
More like Moore threw the recruit out of the bay and jumped on top of him. Moore received the Soldier’s Medal for his actions.
These near-tragic incidents remind us that even in peacetime, our troops are risking it all.
The military has very talented photographers in the ranks, and they’re always capturing what life as a service member is like during training and at war. Here are the best military photos of the week:
A U.S. Air Force F-16 “Thunderbird” sits on the flight line during sunrise at the 177th Fighter Wing, Air National Guard Base in Atlantic City, N.J., Aug. 23, 2017. The Thunderbirds, an Aerial Demonstration Squadron, performed at the Atlantic City Air Show, Thunder over the Boardwalk, in Atlantic City, N.J., Aug. 22-23, 2017.
The propellers of a WC-130J Super Hercules aircraft spin in the center of Hurricane Harvey during a flight into the storm Aug. 24, 2017 out of Keesler Air Force Base, Mississippi.
U.S. Army Paratroopers assigned to 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade, and Italian Army Paratroopers Folgore Brigade, descend onto Juliet Drop Zone in Pordenone, Italy, August 23, 2017. The combined exercise demonstrates the multinational capacity building of the airborne community and the airborne allied nations collectively. The 173rd Airborne Brigade is the U.S. Army Contingency Response Force in Europe, capable of projecting ready forces anywhere in the U.S. European, Africa or Central Commands’ areas of responsibility within 18 hours.
Soldiers selected by 1st Battalion, 153rd Infantry Regiment, as Soldiers of the month while deployed with the Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa in Djibouti, were offered the opportunity to participate in a limited AT4 live-fire exercise at a range along the southern coast of the Gulf of Tadjoura, Aug. 22, 2017. The AT4 is a shoulder-fired anti-tank weapon which is disposable after just one use, making it a special opportunity to fire one.
USS Constitution fires off a 40 mm 200 gram round from one of her saluting batteries. Constitution fires one round from her saluting battery twice a day to signify morning and evening colors.
Explosive Ordnance Disposal Technicians, assigned to Explosive Ordnance Disposal Mobile Unit Five (EODMU 5), dive in Apra Harbor, Guam, Aug. 20, 2017. EODMU-5 conducts mine countermeasures, improvised explosive device operations, renders safe explosive hazards, and disarms underwater explosives such as mines.
U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. Matthew Flanagan, a cannoneer, attached with 3rd Battalion, 12th Marine Regiment, Kilo Battery, Gun 3, fires the M777A2 Howitzer at Yausubetsu Training Area, Japan, August 23, 2017. The purpose of the Northern Viper training exercise is to maintain interoperability and combat readiness within the Indo-Asia-Pacific Region.
U.S. Marine Corps photo by MCIPAC Combat Camera Lance Cpl. André T. Peterson
Marines with 1st Air Naval Gunfire Liaison Company (ANGLICO) rappel from a Bell UH-1 Iroquois on Camp Pendleton, Calif., August 24, 2017. 1st ANGLICO is conducting training to prepare Marines for future deployments.
An MH-65 Dolphin helicopter crew medevac a man experiencing symptoms of heart failure approximately 60 miles south of Grand Isle, Louisiana, August 24, 2017. The helicopter crew arrived on scene at approximately 11:30 a.m., hoisted the man and transported him to West Jefferson Medical Center in Marrero in stable condition.
Three people were rescued by a boatcrew from Coast Guard Station Sandy Hook near Highlands, New Jersey, on August 19, 2017. Their nine-foot John boat capsized sending them into the water.
On Wednesday, journalist Dolia Estevez reported that during a brief, blunt phone call the previous Friday, US President Donald Trump threatened and cajoled Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto.
According to Estevez, who cited “confidential information” obtained from sources on both sides of the call, Trump disparaged Mexico and Mexicans, threatened to levy taxes on Mexican imports, and went so far as to hint at sending US troops to confront drug traffickers who, Trump said, Mexico’s military had been incapable of stopping.
The incendiary comments attracted instant attention, both for their vitriol and for their verisimilitude, as Trump frequently inveighed against Mexico throughout his campaign and has kept up his harsh rhetoric during the first days of his administration.
Estevez’s report also characterized Peña Nieto’s response as “stammering.” Much of the Mexican public has been frustrated with Peña Nieto’s response to Trump’s attacks, and the Mexican president has seen his approval rating fall to 12% in recent weeks.
However, while Trump has mentioned a 35% tariff on exports from US companies in Mexico, the most commonly floated number is a 20% tax on Mexican goods entering the US. The White House lists no press briefing by Spicer on January 27, the day of the call.
Hours after Estevez’s report surfaced, a report from The Associated Press corroborated some of the content of the conversation, but downplayed the tone.
“You have a bunch of bad hombres down there,” Trump told Peña Nieto, according to an excerpt seen by the AP. “You aren’t doing enough to stop them. I think your military is scared. Our military isn’t, so I just might send them down to take care of it.”
But, the AP said, the excerpt did not make clear who Trump was referring to as “bad hombres,” nor did it make evident the tone or context of Trump’s remark. Moreover, the excerpt did not include Peña Nieto’s response.
The Mexican government also issued a statement around the same time totally rejecting Estevez’s report.
“[It’s] necessary to clarify that the publication is based in absolute falsities and with evident ill intention,” Mexico’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement released on Twitter.
“During the call, President Peña Nieto was clear and emphatic in signaling the differences of position in respect to some statements made by President Trump in public and which he repeated during their dialogue,” the ministry said, adding:
“You assert that you obtained information from confidential sources from ‘both sides of the border.'”
“Only [Peña Nieto] and the foreign minister participated in that call and neither of them remember knowing you or having spoken with you ever. Whoever has been your confidential source on this side of the border, lied to you.”
Eduardo Sanchez, Mexico’s presidential office spokesman, said the conversation was respectful, not hostile or humiliating, as described by Estevez.
“It is absolutely false that President Trump has threatened to send troops to the border,” he said during a Wednesday-night interview with Mexican journalist Carlos Loret de Mola.
Later on Wednesday, the Mexican government issued a statement disputing the AP’s initial report, saying the details of it “did not correspond to reality.”
“The negative expressions to which [the AP report] makes reference, did not happen during said telephone call,” the statement, posted on Twitter, said. “On the contrary, the tone was constructive …”
The White House also disputed the account of a contentious call between Trump and Peña Nieto.
“The White House tells me POTUS did not threaten to invade Mexico,” Andrew Beatty, the AFP’s White House correspondent, tweeted a little before 7 p.m. on Wednesday.
Jim Acosta, CNN’s senior White House correspondent, also tweeted a comment he attributed to a White House official: “Reports that the President threatened to invade Mexico are false. Even the Mexican government is disputing these reports.”
A more in-depth report from CNN published Wednesday night cited a transcript of the call that differed from the text published by the AP:
“You have some pretty tough hombres in Mexico that you may need help with. We are willing to help with that big-league, but they have be knocked out and you have not done a good job knocking them out.”
A source told CNN that the AP’s report was based on a readout of the conversation between Trump and Peña Nieto written by aides, not on a transcript.
In a further qualification, the White House characterized Trump’s “bad hombres” remark as “lighthearted” to the AP in a story published on Thursday morning.
The White House said the comments were “part of a discussion about how the United States and Mexico could work collaboratively to combat drug cartels and other criminal elements, and make the border more secure.”
A White House official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told the AP the conversation was “pleasant and constructive.”
While both sides has downplayed the content of the conversation and dismissed the reportedly hostile tone, the exact nature of the phone call is still unclear, and may remain so until a full transcript or audio (which the Mexican government traditionally does not record) is revealed.
In any case, Trump’s dealings with foreign leaders during his first two weeks as president have been concerning for observers, both at home and abroad.
“(Trump’s) interactions are naive in that he keeps suggesting we will have the best relationship ever with a broad departure of countries, but there is no substance to back it up,” a government official with knowledge of Trump’s interactions with foreign leaders told CNN.
“Source familiar with Trump foreign leader calls says the POTUS convos are turning faces ‘white’ inside the” White House, Acosta tweeted late on Wednesday.
During that call, Trump bragged about his election victory and said Australia was going to send the US “the next Boston bombers” as part of an Obama-approved deal to taken in refugees held by Australia, which he criticized.
Descriptions of Trump’s calls are at odds with “sanitized” White House accounts, The Washington Post, which first reported the nature of the Turnbull call, said of Trump’s discussions with foreign leaders, adding:
“The characterizations provide insight into Trump’s temperament and approach to the diplomatic requirements of his job as the nation’s chief executive, a role in which he continues to employ both the uncompromising negotiating tactics he honed as a real estate developer and the bombastic style he exhibited as a reality television personality.”
The contentious nature of the Trump’s call with the Australian leader was especially troubling, in light of the longstanding and close-knit ties Washington and Canberra have developed over decades.
While the call with Mexico’s president appears to be less sensational that initially reported, that correction will likely do little to sooth the nerves of Mexicans and people of Mexican descent in Mexico and in the US.
Moreover, Mexicans appear to have been caught up in the “extreme vetting” Trump has targeted at citizens of seven majority-Muslim countries.
“We have reports of Mexicans who have been held for more than 12 hours … We have a case of a family who were held for more than 10 hours and we’re looking into that,” Marcelino Miranda, consul for legal affairs at Mexico’s consulate in Chicago, said on Tuesday.
Miranda said he believed stringent questioning faced by those Mexicans had nothing to do with the newly intensified vetting process, though others from the country likely see it as part of a broader hostility to the US’s southern neighbor.
Trump “wants to make an example of Mexico to show how he will deal with countries around the world,” Maria Eugenia Valdes, a political scientist at the Autonomous Metropolitan University in Mexico, told journalist Ioan Grillo.
“This man is capable of anything,” she added.
“When you hear about the tough phone calls I’m having, don’t worry about it, just don’t worry about it,” Trump said during a speech at the National Prayer Breakfast on Thursday morning.
“We’re going to straighten it out,” Trump added. “That’s what I do. I fix things.”
From the court-martial of Billy Mitchell to Robin Olds’ mustache, U.S. Air Force history is filled with examples of Airmen thumbing their nose at authority. So of course what started as a way to identify friendly units in mid-air in World War I quickly evolved into a way of thumbing one’s nose at military uniformity and authority. The unintended consequence of that effort is a gallery of beauty and style — a lasting legacy in the minds of generations to come.
This art form is as old as powered flight. In the context of war, crews created designs to immortalize their hometowns, their wives and sweethearts back home, to earn themselves a name in the minds of their enemies, or provide some kind of psychological protection from death, among other motifs.
Some things were universal. “Mors ab alto” is Latin for “Death from above.” And then some art was based entirely on the record of the plane. Like the B-29 Superfortress Bockscar, below, who dropped the atomic bomb dubbed Fat Man on Nagasaki, Japan, and whose nose art depicts a train boxcar nuking Nagasaki.
Nose art was also a great way to build esprit de corps with the crew and maintainers around a plane, as seen in this photo of the crew of Waddy’s Wagon recreating their own nose art.
Of course, a list of the best WWII nose art would not be complete without the pin-ups.
Nose art wasn’t all sexy women and bombs, though. Some crews used their nose to (deservedly) brag.
Don Gentile, World War II Eagle Squadron member and the first ace to beat Eddie Rickenbacker’s WWI dogfighting record, flew a P-51B famously called Shangri-La, which featured a bird wearing boxing gloves.
And sometimes, when your war record is long enough, it’s okay to let the world know you’re watching the clock.
Popular cartoons were also featured on World War II-era planes. Walt Disney famously looked the other way (in terms of copyright infringement) for much of the art done in the name of winning the war, notably on bomber jackets and nose art. The RAF’s Ian Gleed flew a Supermarine Spitfire featuring Geppetto’s cat Figaro.
American pilot and Doolittle Raider Ted Lawson flew a B-25 Mitchell Bomber over Tokyo called the Ruptured Duck, an image of an angry, sweating Donald Duck wearing pilot headphones in front of crossed crutches.
Next time you watch Dumbo with your kids, remember that Dumbo dropped ordnance on Japan and was said to be fairly accurate.
Bomb icons depicted the number of missions flown over the enemy. For some icons weren’t enough. Thumper here took the war personally and marked the name of each city it bombed.
Nose art was also used to complain (as all troops do) as a way to deal with the monotony of deployed life, the lack of supplies, and/or the frustrations of the crew to keep their bird flying, as seen by Malfunction Sired by Ford (below).
Or it was used to brag that they could keep their girl in the air, with whatever they had lying around.
Some crews definitely brought their A-game to the art form, like the crew of this B-29 Superfortress.
Others tried, but were ultimately (and obviously) better suited to fighting the war than designing the nose of their B-24 Liberator.
The award for all-around best nose-art in World War II has to go to the RAF’s James Archibald Findlay MacLachlan, who lost an arm to a combat injury early in the war and thus had to fly with a prosthetic limb. His fighter plane’s nose depicted the hand from his own amputated arm making the “V for Victory” sign.
Pirates have returned to the waters off Somalia, but the spike in attacks on commercial shipping does not yet constitute a trend, senior U.S. officials said Sunday.
The attacks follow about a five-year respite for the region, where piracy had grown to crisis proportions during the 2010-2012 period, drawing the navies of the United States and other nations into a lengthy campaign against the pirates.
U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told reporters at a military base in the African nation of Djibouti, near the Gulf of Aden, that even if the piracy problem persists, he would not expect it to require significant involvement by the U.S. military.
At a news conference with Mattis, the commander of U.S. Africa Command said there have been about six pirate attacks on vulnerable commercial ships in the past several weeks.
“We’re not ready to say there’s a trend there yet,” Marine Gen. Thomas Waldhauser said, adding that he views the spurt of attacks as a response to the effects of drought and famine on the Horn of Africa.
He said he was focused on ensuring that the commercial shipping industry, which tightened security procedures in response to the earlier piracy crisis, has not become complacent.
Navy Capt. Richard A. Rodriguez, chief of staff for a specially designated U.S. military task force based in Djibouti, said piracy “certainly has increased” in recent weeks. But he said countering it is not a mission for his troops, who are focused on counterterrorism in the Horn of Africa and developing the capacities of national armies in Somalia and elsewhere in the region.
Several other countries have a military presence on or near that U.S. site, including France, Italy, Germany and Japan. This reflects Djibouti’s strategic location at the nexus of the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden.
Mattis made a point of spending several hours in Djibouti during a weeklong trip that has otherwise focused on the Mideast. As a measure of his concern for nurturing relations with the Djiboutian government, he flew four hours from Doha, Qatar, and then flew right back.
At his news conference, Mattis praised Djibouti for having offered U.S. access to Camp Lemonnier shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks.
“They have been with us every day and every month and every year since,” he said.
The U.S. rotates a range of forces through Lemonnier and flies drone aircraft from a separate airfield in the former French colony. U.S. special operations commandos are based at Lemonnier for counterterrorism missions in Somalia and elsewhere in the region.
During Mattis’ visit, elements of the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, including V-22 Osprey aircraft and Harrier attack jets were visible on Lemonnier’s airfield.
The U.S. military presence has grown substantially in recent years, as reflected by construction of a new headquarters building, gym, enlisted barracks and other expanded infrastructure.
Djibouti has a highly prized port on the Gulf of Aden. The country is sandwiched between Somalia and Eritrea, and also shares a border with Ethiopia.
Mattis is using the early months as defense secretary to renew or strengthen relations with key defense allies and partners such as Djibouti, whose location makes it a strategic link in the network of overseas U.S. military bases.
Djibouti took on added importance to the U.S. military after 9/11, in part as a means of tracking and intercepting al-Qaida militants fleeing Afghanistan after the U.S. invaded that country in October 2001.
The U.S. has a long-term agreement with Djibouti for hosting American forces; that pact was renewed in 2014.
Over the past week Mattis has met with leaders in Saudi Arabia, Israel, Egypt and Qatar.
Ask any kindergartener what Santa looks like, and they’ll probably tell you he has a red suit, a big, round belly and a long, white beard. The classic Christmas song “Must Be Santa,” written in 1960 by Mitch Miller, describes him in even greater detail, with a cap on his head and a cherry nose. That’s how most of us picture Santa Claus, and it’s no wonder – the American image of Santa has remained virtually unchanged for over 100 years.
Glance back through time, and a different picture of Santa appears.
In the 1800s and the centuries preceding it, Santa looked a lot more like a traditional saint. That is how the tradition of Santa started, after all. As the story goes, a poor man had three daughters. With nothing to offer as a dowry, his daughters had no hope of getting married. A kind bishop named Nicholas took pity on the family, dropping bags of gold down the chimney to provide a dowry for each daughter. For this good deed along with many others, Nicholas was dubbed the saint of children. (He was also the saint of sailors, but that’s another story.)
While I’m quite thankful that I don’t have to rely on an old man to throw gold into my fireplace to secure my future, St. Nicholas was the official inspiration behind modern-day Santa. As the popularity of St. Nicholas waned, his name evolved. First, he became Father Christmas in England, then the Christkind in Austria and Germany, then Kris Kringle. Finally, Dutch settlers invented the name “Sinterklaas,” aka Santa. Despite the new name, however, 1800s Santa maintained his saintly image. So what changed?
Political satire and the Civil War reinvented Santa.
Enter political cartoonist Thomas Nast. Known by many as the father of the American political cartoon, Nast began as a gifted artist from humble beginnings. At the age of 15, he began working as a staff artist for Frank Leslie’s Illustrated News, and a few years later for the New York Illustrated News. Finally, he moved on to create cartoons for Harper’s Weekly. At this point, it was 1862 and the Civil War had begun.
In Nast’s cartoons, he didn’t hesitate to make his political opinions known. He made his Union loyalties quite clear, and on January 3rd, 1863, Santa Claus helped send his message home. In a particularly festive piece of propaganda, Nast depicted Santa Claus decked out in stars and stripes handing out gifts to Union soldiers. If you look closely, you can see Union Santa clutching a puppet resembling the Confederate president, Jefferson Davis, with a rope around its neck. In a Christmas Eve version, Nast drew a jolly Santa Claus climbing down the chimney to deliver presents, while a woman in the next frame prays for her husband’s safe return.
With these two simple illustrations, Nast cemented Santa as a sentimental Union symbol and reinvented St. Nick’s wardrobe in one go. While Nast refrained from making too many additional Santa-themed political statements, his jovial Father Christmas became an annual tradition. Although he skipped 1864, he published a new Santa illustration every holiday season for the rest of his years on staff at Harper’s. From then on, the tall, stately St. Nicholas was replaced with the stout, jolly old elf that we know and love today.
In 2013, a former Soviet Navy officer named Maksim Y. Tokarev penned an article in the U.S. Naval War College Review called Kamikazes: The Soviet Legacy. In the piece, Tokarev details how the USSR intended to use its Tupolev-22M Backfire bombers, a plan that had not been previously released.
The Soviets looked at Japanese tactics in WWII. They recognized Japan still had a fleet of capital ships but by then the nature of naval warfare had changed. Massive U.S. carriers became roving air forces in the oceans. Since much of their own naval and air forces were at the bottom of the Pacific, there was no way for the Japanese to effectively engage the U.S. forces.
The best way they could devise was a strategy as old as aviation in warfare: conduct the earliest possible strike to inflict such damage that the opponent is unable to launch its air forces. By 1944, the Japanese began these asymmetrical suicide attacks, widely known as kamikaze.
By the late 70s and early 80s, the Soviets were unable to create a carrier fleet to compete with the U.S. economically and politically. But they still had to create a strategy to deter U.S. Navy carrier task forces. So their idea was still centered around air combat, but their forces would be land-based, close to Soviet coastlines.
The tactics weren’t intended to look like kamikaze attacks, but in practice, not many Soviet sailors and airmen would be returning from these missions.
The USSR’s naval air force planned to send a fleet of 100 bombers armed with anti-ship missiles against any US aircraft carrier battle group, fully expecting to lose half of them to enemy action. This number would increase by 100 for every carrier. In their defense, these were calculated losses. Soviet planners wanted to slow the reactions of the task force’s entire air-defense system, to produce a “golden time” to launch a calculated missile strike.
Soviet planners learned U.S. interceptor crews were dependent on the opinions of air controllers, so the planners needed to find a way to fool those officers, to overload their sensors or relax their sense of danger by making attacking forces appear to be decoys, which were in reality full, combat-ready strikes.
In contrast, Soviet naval air forces did not trust the targeting information they got from satellites or other intelligence methods. To Soviet pilots, the most reliable source was the direct-tracking ship, a ship shadowing the U.S. fleet constantly sending back coordinates just in case war breaks out.
That’s not all. If war did break out, the shadowing ship was toast, and her captain knew it. So he was prepared to take appropriate action. Tokarev writes:
“At the moment of war declaration or when specifically ordered, after sending the carrier’s position by radio, he would shell the carrier’s flight deck with gunfire…He could even ram the carrier, and some trained their ship’s companies to do so.”
The attacking planes would launch missiles from maximum range to distract the American crews while two reconnaissance TU-16 Badgers would attempt to breach into the center of the task force formation to find carriers visually, their only task to send its exact position to the entire division by radio.
No one in the Badger crews counted on a return flight. They were very aware they were flying a suicide mission.
“Why we are not getting a full tank of fuel, Vasily?”
Once the carrier was located, the main attack group would launch their missiles. Two to three strike groups would approach from different directions and at different altitudes. The main launch had to be made simultaneously by all planes.
The “golden time” opening for the missiles was just “one minute for best results, no more than two minutes for satisfactory ones. If the timing became wider in an exercise, the entire main attack was considered unsuccessful.”
The Soviets calculated twelve hits by conventional missiles would be needed to sink a carrier but single nuclear missile hit could produce the same result.
Because of the difficulty and accident rates associated with bailing out of, abandoning, or even in-flight refueling many Soviet-designed bombers, Soviet Naval Air Force bomber crews considered themselves suicide bombers anyway (even without an enemy). Officers on guided-missile ships assisting in a Soviet air raid counted on surviving a battle against a U.S. Navy carrier air wing for twenty or thirty minutes, tops.
All in all, the expected loss rate was 50 percent of a full strike, whether or not the objective number of U.S. or NATO warships were successfully hit.
Kenny Bass liked his job. As a 22-year-old Marine participating in the initial invasion of Iraq, life couldn’t have been more exciting.
“I was part of the combined anti-armor platoon,” he explained. “It was the ‘CAAT platoon.’ We were doing a lot of counter-ambush patrols, the insurgents were attacking Red Cross personnel, civilian contractors and other non-combatants. So we were tasked with going out and trying to solicit an attack. We were Infantry Marines, and young, so most of us were pretty excited about doing that kind of work. We had heavy-duty machine guns and anti-tank missiles.”
About four months into his tour, the odds caught up with the young Infantry Marine. The unarmored Humvee he was riding in struck an IED.
“I was sitting in the passenger side rear, and the IED blew up by the right front bumper,” he said. “Nobody got killed, and I just took a couple pieces of shrapnel to my face, nothing major. I think the blast wave injury was the major thing.”
Nevertheless, by the time he returned home from Iraq in early 2004, Bass was a different man.
“My friends noticed a change in me,” he said. “I was depressed. And I was anxious. I remember going to a flea market one time and that’s when I had my first panic attack, because of all the people there. It was like I was still in Iraq, where just about everyone you see is a potential threat. I hated going out to eat or going to the mall or anything like that.”
104 in a 65 Zone
As if depression, anxiety and panic weren’t enough, another symptom began to surface.Anger.
“I was walking around with an anger level of about seven or eight,” Bass explained. “One time I got pulled over by the California Highway Patrol for doing 104 mph. I got mad at the cop for pulling me over. I was such a jerk. It didn’t take much to tip me off.”
At home, the 33-year-old Veteran’s garage became his haven.
“I’d sit out there all day smoking cigarettes,” he said. “I could see the street from there, which made me feel safe, and I could also hear what was going on in the house. So I had everything covered.”
From Bad to Worse
To dull the anxiety and the fear, the former Marine turned to alcohol.
I started drinking a lot,” he said. “Of course the alcohol just made things worse. I got to the point where I hated to wake up in the morning. I hated my life. I wanted to be healthy again. I wanted to work again and not be on disability.”
In an effort to get his life back, Bass headed over to the Dayton VA Medical Center in 2007. There he began therapy sessions with Bill Wall, a clinical social worker who had served in the military for 30 years.
“Kenny went through our therapy program here at Dayton,” Wall explained, “but it was clear that he was still having some issues with personality changes, hyper-vigilance, anxiety, depression, anger and other symptoms related to post traumatic stress. When he would go out in public, he just didn’t feel safe or in control. I thought maybe a psychiatric service dog might be a good next step for him, so I recommended he look into it.”
Wall, a Veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom, had good reasons for thinking a service dog might be the game-changer Kenny Bass was desperately in need of.
“You can feel a lot more safe with a dog around you,” the social worker observed. “The dog has been trained to pick up on any fear or anxiety you might be feeling. They can actually smell it. The dog then does something to distract you or make you feel less anxious. When you become overloaded, the dog knows it and helps you refocus. Even before you realize you’re overloaded, the dog will pick up on it. For example, if you’re in a crowd of people and you begin showing subtle signs of distress, your dog will try to create a buffer zone around you. The dog is trying to give you a sense of safety.”
“A psychiatric service dog is…always focused on taking care of you.”
And when the world seems like a safer place, chances are you’re more likely to get out there and participate in it, Wall observed.
“The dog can help you have successful outings,” he said, “and the more successful outings you experience, the better you get at it. Your new experiences gradually begin to replace your old, traumatic experiences. You’re re-learning your behavioral script.”
Back From the Brink
In 2012, after doing a little research, Kenny Bass was able to get himself paired up with an 18-month-old German Shepard named Atlas, a highly-trained service dog provided by a non-profit called Instinctive Guardians.
“If you’re a Veteran, and suicidal, a little thing like that can be lifesaving,” Bass continued. “Atlas definitely brought me back from the brink. He’s such a character now. He gets me laughing.”“Atlas became my support system,” Bass said. “He could tell when I was having nightmares. He’d jump on the bed, lick my face and wake me up. A few weeks after I got him I was sitting alone in my garage, as usual. He came over and dropped his ball in my lap. Five minutes later I was out in the backyard with him, in the sunshine, throwing the ball for him.
Aside from being a natural comedian, Atlas also serves as a competent body guard.
“When we’re out, I can trust Atlas to be vigilant for me,” Bass said. “I’m experiencing more things now because of him. When we’re somewhere crowded, he’ll block for me. He’ll walk back and forth behind me to keep people from getting too close.
“And when I tell him to ‘post,’ he sits down on my right side, facing the other way. If somebody approaches me from behind, he’ll nudge me. He’s alerting me. It’s a good feeling knowing he’s watching and that I don’t have to.”
Having turned his life around two years ago with the help of Atlas, Bass decided it was time to start giving back. In 2013 he helped found The Battle Buddy Foundation, a non-profit that trains service dogs for Veterans struggling with post-traumatic stress.
“When you’re in combat, you don’t go anywhere without a buddy, someone to watch your back,” Bass said. “That’s where the term ‘Battle Buddy’ comes from.”
He added: “It’s a good feeling to know someone always has your back.”
To learn more about how VA is helping Veterans with PTSD, visit the VA National Center for PTSD Website at www.ptsd.va.gov
Can a rifle turn a novice into a world-class sharpshooter? Yes, based on the shootout scoreboard at a major fundraising event for the Chris Kyle Frog Foundation Saturday.
A sharpshooting showdown pitted a young American woman against the reigning NRA global champion … the novice crushed her opponent at the inaugural American Sniper Shootout Saturday in Mason, Texas.
The victorious novice shooter was Taya Kyle. Founder of the Chris Kyle Frog Foundation, she is the wife of U.S. Navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle, known as “the most lethal sniper in US military history,” author of autobiography “American Sniper,” and the inspiration for Clint Eastwood’s movie “American Sniper.”
TrackingPoint says that its Precision-Guided Firearms can transform inexperienced shooters into world-class marksmen. To prove this claim, the company put $1 million on the table in an ultimate shootout. If the NRA champion Bruce Piatt could outshoot novice shooter Kyle then he would take home the hefty prize.
But Kyle defeated the champion, with the proceeds from the event going to the Chris Kyle Frog Foundation – here’s how she did it.
Piatt competed with the current military rifles M4A1, M110, and M2010.
Taya Kyle opted for TrackingPoint’s new M600, M800 and XS1 firearms. TrackingPoint touts advanced technology to enhance the accuracy of first-round shots at any distance.
Kyle explained why she chose to be armed with TrackingPoint at the shootout. “The technology of the gun was developed based on conversations with Chris [Kyle] about what factors a marksman has to consider on with every shot,” she told FoxNews.com, via email. “The end result is technology that I know would have saved lives of friends we have lost and will save life and/or limb of those who put it all on the line for the 99% of us they choose to give their life for.”
The rifles incorporate a range of innovations like the company’s “RapidLok Target Acquisition.” As a warfighter pulls the trigger, the target is automatically acquired and tracked. The range is also calculated and measured for velocity. Accuracy is enhanced because all this work is accomplished by the time the trigger is completely squeezed.
Kyle faced off against Piatt in a series of battlefield-simulated challenges.
The competitors had to take shots consistent with those warfighters must take in battle. It meant grappling with realistic challenges like shooting at targets placed at unknown distances as well as moving targets.
To win, both competitors also had to shoot in a range of positions, including prone and off-hand shots. They also had to tackle blind shots when the shooter takes shots while completely hidden without a direct line of sight to the target. The competitors also emulated Chris Kyle’s famous long-distance ‘Sadr city shot,’ which was featured in the film American Sniper.
And Kyle emerged the victor – by a lot. She made ALL of her shots from prone, kneeling, sitting and from cover…as in every single one – 100 percent.
How did the NRA champ fare? Piatt made 58.4 percent of the shots.
There were 29 targets with a total of 10,140 points available.
Kyle scored a perfect 10,140. Piatt scored 3,040 points, making 58.4 percent of his shots. The scoring was weighted based on degree of difficulty.
In the challenges where the shooters took on targets without a direct line of sight while concealed from ‘enemy fire’ – Kyle made 100 percent of the blind shots while Piatt did not make a single one.
For practical application in war, this means the TrackingPoint technology has potential to allow American warfighters to stay concealed while still accurately taking on targets. The ability to stay concealed and still shoot accurately could help reduce the risk to warfighters.
Kyle explained further why the tech was developed. “Our first responders and military members regularly face situations most of us cannot imagine,” she told FoxNews.com via email. “They need every advantage for precision and efficiency to protect and serve while minimizing collateral damage and risk to themselves.”
Armed with TrackingPoint tech, Kyle was also able to make moving target and canted shots that Piatt did not.
The day-long American Sniper Shootout was open to the public and also featured music from country singer Easton Corbin, Grammy winner Asleep At the Wheel.
The proceeds from the event benefit the Chris Kyle Frog Foundation. Kyle explained her inspiration for the event as “being able to simultaneously showcase the technology and raise money for CKFF to fulfill its mission … this event was an opportunity to take care of our warriors and their families on many different levels.”
China’s military has been increasing the strength and number of its forces along its 880-mile border with North Korea as Pyongyang’s military provocations cause the US and its allies to think long and hard about military action against the rogue regime.
A report from The Wall Street Journal says that China has established a new border-defense brigade, implemented 24-hour video surveillance of the border, and constructed bunkers to protect from possible nuclear or chemical attacks.
China conducted a live-fire drill in June and July with helicopter gunships and armored infantry units, including a simulated battle with artillery, tanks, and helicopters, according to The Journal. The nature of these military exercises goes beyond securing a border, and they mimic fighting a nuclear-armed adversary.
While China and North Korea exist on paper as allies, Sim Tack, an expert on North Korea at Stratfor, a geopolitical-analysis firm, previously told Business Insider that China would not likely defend Pyongyang from a US-led attack and instead try to prevent or dissuade the US from taking such a step.
Still, a US-led attack on North Korea remains unlikely. South Korea’s new liberal government has sought to pursue engagement with its neighbor, and the US would ultimately need its support for such a campaign. From a purely military point of view, North Korea’s artillery and nuclear arms hold too many civilians in Seoul at risk.
In June, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis described possible conflict with North Korea as “a serious, a catastrophic war, especially for innocent people in some of our allied countries, to include Japan most likely.”
Even short of war, China now has reason to view North Korea as a liability.
In response to North Korea’s missile tests and military provocations, the US based its powerful THAAD missile-defense battery in South Korea, frightening Chinese military analysts who think the Thaad’s powerful radar could one day effectively neuter China’s ability to engage in a nuclear exchange with the US.
Beijing, which could play a role in handling a refugee crisis, should the North Korean regime collapse, has now assembled forces sufficient to shape the outcome of any conflict between the West and Pyongyang.