Janine Stange knew she wanted to be a singer at a very young age. Between going to school and working at her parents’ bagel shop, the Long Island native from a tight Italian-American family would spend hours in her room listening to albums by artists like Amy Grant, Whitney Houston, and Celine Dion and trying to imitate them. She also received some classical training and sang arias.
The first time she ever performed in public was when she sang the National Anthem at her high school homecoming game. “I was nervous,” she said. “I was gripping the mike so tightly I had trouble unclenching my fist after I was done.”
Those nerves were what propelled her to keep trying to perform. “I forced myself to conquer it,” she said.
So she started performing wherever she could around the tri-state area — coffee shops, church youth group gatherings, and small-scale sporting and civic events. She wrote her own music and independently produced several albums.
“I had no life outside of trying to pursue a music career,” Janine said. “I blame my mother for my drive and for telling me I could be anything I wanted if I worked hard enough.”
She also credits her mother, who passed away from breast cancer four years ago, with instilling a sense of patriotism within her. “People would come into the bagel shop in uniform, and she would make them feel like a million bucks. She knew what it meant to sacrifice. Although she never used the word ‘patriot’ to describe herself, it’s who she was to the core.”
Janine worked odd jobs to fund more albums, including a stint as the PR director for Major League Lacrosse’s Long Island Lizards – a role she accepted with the proviso that she would sing the National Anthem whenever they didn’t have somebody else they were obligated to book.
Finally she ran out of patience with the plan of funding her music career by having a lucrative day job, so she took out a loan and moved to Los Angeles to work with a producer who promised to take her to the next level.
“My plan was to go out there and within three months be selling 30,000 albums and have a world tour booked,” Janine said. “That’s not what happened.”
Three months turned into six months, and when the album was done she wasn’t proud of it. “The producer didn’t do his part, basically. I couldn’t give the album to anyone in my network that I’d worked hard to create.”
She considers that experience her masters degree. “I learned that you have to check everyone out and do everything yourself,” she said.
At that point she started performing the National Anthem exclusively. “I would always say, ‘When I make it I’m going to give back,’ and then I started saying to myself, ‘when are you going to make it because you haven’t given anything back,'” she said. “It was aggravating me.”
Janine quoted Theodore Roosevelt: “Do what you can with what you have” as she explained the logic behind focusing solely on the National Anthem. “I resolved to sing it with everything I had. I really felt if I could do that song justice that would be a good thing.”
She started reaching out to organizations and offering to sing the National Anthem at any reputable event that would have her. After she’d sung it in eight states, she was struck with the idea of singing it in all fifty.
One day early on her homemade tour, she was late for a performance at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego. She pushed past the line of people waiting to get in and went up to one of the gate personnel and said, “You have to let me in; I’m the National Anthem girl.”
As she was running toward the middle of the field that was set up for a Supercross event she had a brainstorm: Attach a good cause to the name ‘National Anthem Girl.’ To her surprise the domain name ‘nationalanthemgirl’ was available, so she took it and started marketing herself with that moniker.
She also realized the “Star Spangled Banner” was about to turn 200 years old, and that motivated her to hit all fifty states before it did. “It forced me to focus on the power of that song and how it unites us,” she said.
She appeared on NBC and Fox News and other national outlets, which gave her the publicity to get just enough funding to reach her goal. “Without those people I would have been known as ‘the girl who hitchhiked to get it done,'” she said.
The journey taught her a lot about the country. “America is beautiful, and Americans are beautiful,” she said. “I had to trust a lot of people along the way — that events were real events, that people would take me to the airport as they’d said they would — and I was never let down in all those months across all of those states. If you trust America’s spirit it will come alive.”
By now, many of us have seen the new Wonder Woman movie. If you haven’t, you probably know the basics anyway: Amazon warrior-princess who braves the battlefields of 1918 to save humanity from the depredations of Ares, God of War. It’s a fun movie, even if I had to set aside my critical military historian’s eye for a couple of hours (not like that’s a rare occurrence where Hollywood is concerned). You may also know that the title character is portrayed by one Gal Gadot, who served in the Israeli Defense Forces, so it has that going for it, too.
One thing I particularly liked about the movie was the theme that Diana (Wonder Woman’s real name, in case you haven’t seen the movie or ever read a comic book), though an elite, hard-ass warrior, only fought because she believed it was necessary. The Western Front in Belgium was represented fairly realistically as the muddy, bloody, ruinous Hell that it was. Diana fought not because she liked fighting, but to end that Hell once and for all.
I don’t want to spoil the plot, so I won’t go any further, but, like those who fought in the “War to End All Wars,” Diana’s outlook undergoes a change as the movie progresses. Significantly, though she is reluctant, Diana never loses her conviction that violence is sometimes necessary to prevent greater evil from wreaking havoc on the world.
One of the more humorous elements of the movie is the innate sexism Diana encounters as she moves forward. She is constantly forced to prove herself on and off the battlefield. Of course, being an immortal Amazon princess, with its attendant abilities, helps. But super powers are not required to be a warrior, whether one is male or female.
There’s a lot of controversy these days about the role of women in the US armed forces, specifically, whether women should serve in combat units. Recent months have witnessed the first two female graduates from Ranger School, and the nature of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have put females clearly in the line of fire for well over a decade.
Female warriors, however, are not a new phenomenon, nor are they only the stuff of legend or Hollywood fancy. They’ve been around for literally thousands of years. Without taking a position on the role of females in combat (other people here are far more qualified than I to speak on that subject), here’s a look at some women who fought, and fought well, from the American Revolution through the Global War on Terror. This list is by no means complete, or even close to being so. It’s merely intended to offer a glimpse of women in combat over the last 240-odd years.
The American Revolution
Records for female soldiers who fought in the Revolution are scarce. That many women, usually disguised as men, did fight is beyond question. Most of their names and deeds are lost to us thanks to their enforced anonymity, but a few records survive. The most common theme for the service of these women is that they followed their husbands to war, passing themselves as teenage boys, which were not uncommon in the ranks. Some women volunteered for the bounty paid to enlistees or just in the hope of steady meals. Some didn’t like sitting at home and wanted to fight for their country, like the first soldier on our list.
Deborah Samson enlisted on 20 May, 1782, at age 22, in Captain George Webb’s company of the 4th Massachusetts Regiment of Foot, a light infantry unit. She gave her name as Robert Shurtliff. Rising to the rank of corporal, she fought with the Continental Army in several engagements, including the Battle of White Plains.
Samson was wounded several times. In a skirmish near Tarrytown, she took a saber cut to the head. When her unit was ambushed by Loyalists near East Chester, Samson was hit by two musket balls in the thigh. Probably afraid of discovery if she sought medical aid, Samson crawled into the woods and removed one ball herself. The other was left in the leg while she soldiered on.
Samson was finally revealed as a female while serving as a clerk for General John Patterson in Philadelphia. She became sick and was treated by Dr. Barnabas Binney. Dr. Binney outed her to General Patterson, who recommended to General George Washington that Samson be discharged due to being a female. Deborah Samson was honorably discharged in October, 1783. In 1792, along with other veterans, Samson received back pay due her for her service. In 1805, Samson was awarded a veteran’s pension by the Massachusetts legislature, which stated “that the Said Deborah exhibited an extraordinary instance of female heroism by discharging the duties of a faithful, gallant soldier.” She received that pension until she died in 1827.
The legend of Molly Pitcher is hard to pin down. According to the story, she was carrying pitchers of water to the soldiers, one of whom was her husband, serving a cannon at the 1778 Battle of Monmouth. When her husband collapsed, Molly immediately took his place, swabbing the barrel and helping reload the gun.
It appears that “Molly Pitcher” is a composite figure built on the stories of Mary Ludwig Hays McCauley and Margaret Corbin. Mary Hays (as she was known at the time) was present at Monmouth and a witness claimed that a British cannonball bounced right between her legs while she was serving the American gun, ripping away part of her petticoat. She supposedly quipped that it was lucky the ball wasn’t aimed a little higher and went on with her work.
Hays remained with the Continental Army until the end of the war, though it seems that she served in a support role, as many women did. After her husband’s death, she married a former Continental soldier named John McCauley. She died in Carlisle, Pennsylvania in 1832, where a monument commemorates her valiant service.
Margaret Corbin’s story is similar to the better-known Mary Ludwig Hays. At the 1776 Battle of Fort Washington, Corbin was carrying water to her husband’s gun crew when he fell. She stepped into his place and helped keep the cannon operational by swabbing and helping to reload. During the battle, Margaret was hit by grapeshot in the arm and chest, disabling her for life.
Corbin was one of the first members of the Invalid Corps, created by Congress in 1777 to care for wounded and disabled soldiers. She was granted a pension in 1779, the first American woman to receive a disabled veteran’s pension.
Anna Maria Lane followed her husband to war in 1776, when he enlisted in the Connecticut Line under General Israel Putnam. Records of her service are sketchy, but it is known that she fought in the Battle of Germantown in October, 1777, where she was severely wounded. After the war, Anna and her husband John moved to Virginia, where they were both recognized for their service by the Virginia legislature and granted soldiers’ pensions.
The American Civil War
The story of female soldiers in the Civil War is akin to those who fought in the Revolution. Women disguised themselves as men and marched off to war for pretty much the same reasons as their forebears. Women served in both the Union and Confederate armies, and most seem to have gone undetected, but we do know the stories of a few.
Sarah Emma Edmonds was a Canadian by birth. To escape an abusive father and an arranged marriage, she disguised herself as a man and fled to the US, where she found work in Hartford, Connecticut as a travelling Bible salesman. When the war broke out in 1861, Edmonds was in Michigan and promptly volunteered for the 2nd Michigan Infantry Regiment on a three-year enlistment. She used the name Franklin Thompson, which had been her assumed name for the previous couple of years.
Sarah Emma Edmonds. Photo from Breach Bang Clear.
Edmonds was nearly captured at First Manassas when she stayed behind to care for the wounded when the Union Army retreated. In 1862, Edmonds served in the Peninsula Campaign, the Battle of Second Manassas, and the Battle of Fredericksburg as a courier, often braving long solo rides through contested territory. Her horse was shot from under her at Second Manassas, forcing her to ride a mule, which subsequently threw her, breaking her leg.
Edmonds’ memoirs claim that she performed espionage missions behind Confederate lines, disguised as a male Irish peddler, though there is no official record of those missions.
The 2nd Michigan was sent to Kentucky in the spring of 1863, where Edmonds came down with malaria. Afraid of discovery, she requested convalescent leave as opposed to seeing a military doctor. Her leave request was denied. Feeling she had no choice, Edmonds deserted and never returned. “Franklin Thompson” was charged with desertion, though no further action was taken. Following her recovery, Edmonds served as a female nurse until the end of the war.
Edmonds, now known as Sarah Edmonds Seelye, attended a reunion of the 2nd Michigan in 1876, where she was welcomed by her former comrades. They helped her have the charge of desertion expunged from her records and supported her pension application, which was approved in 1884. Seelye was the only female to receive a soldier’s pension from the Civil War. In 1897, a year before her death, she became the only female member of the Grand Army of the Republic. In 1901, she was reburied with full military honors in Houston’s Washington Cemetery.
Jennie Hodgers (a.k.a. Albert D.J. Cashier) is remarkable not only for her wartime service, but for the fact that she continued to live as a man for the rest of her life. Hodgers was born on aChristmas Day, 1843, in Ireland. Little is known about her life from then until she enlisted in the 95th Illinois Infantry under the name Albert D.J. Cashier.
Jennie-Hodgers AKA Albert-D.J. Cashier. Photo from Breach Bang Clear.
Hodgers fought in over forty engagements, including the Vicksburg Campaign, the Battle of Nashville, the Red River Campaign, and the Battles of Kennesaw Mountain and Jonesborough. An account exists of her escaping capture by overpowering a Confederate guard. She mustered out on 17 August, 1865.
Living as a man apparently agreed with Hodgers, and “Albert Cashier” worked several jobs, voted in elections, and drew a soldier’s pension. Hit by a car in 1910, “Cashier’s” true gender was discovered by the local hospital, which, remarkably, agreed not to give away her secret. She was sent to the Soldiers and Sailors Home in Quincy, Illinois to recover. It was here, in 1913, that dementia finally caused her to be revealed as a woman. Sadly, she was sent to an insane asylum where she was forced to wear a dress.
On the plus side, when the story was published in the local newspapers, Hodgers’ former comrades protested her treatment and defended her service. Upon her death in 1915, Hodgers was buried in full uniform and her grave was marked with the name Albert D.J. Cashier and her service dates. A second marker with the name Jennie Hodgers was placed beside the original in the 1970s.
Sarah Rosetta Wakeman is another whose story is well-known, thanks to her family’s preservation of her letters. With her father in debt and no prospects of marriage, the nineteen-year old Wakeman left home in 1862 to seek work as a man. While working as a laborer, she met recruiters from the 153rd New York Infantry Regiment, who offered a $152.00 enlistment bounty. Wakeman accepted and enlisted on 30 August, 1862 under the name Lyons Wakeman.
The 153rd New York saw action during the Red River Campaign of 1864 and Wakeman stood on the firing line at the Battles of Pleasant Hill and Monett’s Bluff. The Red River Campaign featured marches of hundreds of miles through muggy heat and disease-ridden swamps, which Wakeman endured as well as her male counterparts.
Sarah Rosetta Wakeman. Photo from Breach Bang Clear.
Before the campaign, Wakeman had written home, “I don’t know how long before I shall have to go into the field of battle. For my part, I don’t care. I don’t feel afraid to go.” Wakeman finally succumbed to disease in May, 1864 and died on 19 June. She is buried in Chalmette National Cemetery in New Orleans. The grave marker bears the name “Lyons Wakeman.” No record exists of her sex ever being discovered.
Mollie Bean is a bit more elusive than Sarah Edmonds and Jennie Hodgers, and, in her anonymity, is likely more representative of the majority of female Civil War soldiers. In fact, Mollie Bean may not have been her name at all.
Mollie was arrested on 20 February, 1865 while hitching a ride on a railroad car near Danville, Virginia. Riding a military rail car required permission from the provost marshal so, when she was discovered, the guard demanded her papers. Mollie replied, “I’ve got no papers and damn if I want any.” She was arrested and, shortly thereafter, discovered to be a female dressed as a soldier. Mollie claimed to have enlisted in the 47th North Carolina Infantry Regiment in 1863 and to have been twice-wounded in battle. She was sent back to Richmond and imprisoned in Castle Thunder. The story was picked up by newspapers in Richmond and Charlotte. Mollie was portrayed sensationally and her claims of service were discounted, with at least one paper describing her as “manifestly crazy.” The general opinion was that she could not have served for over two years without her true sex being discovered. Upon her imprisonment, Mollie vanishes from history. There are no records of her incarceration and examinations of the 47th North Carolina’s muster rolls reveal nothing. The census records of females with the surname “Bean” provide no real evidence. “Mollie Bean” may well have been a made-up name given to the authorities upon her arrest.
She does, however, make a fanciful reappearance in the alternate history novel The Guns of the South by Harry Turtledove. If you haven’t read it, and you’re into that sort of thing, it’s very well-done. The premise is built around South African time-travelers who provide Robert E. Lee’s army with AK-47s in the winter of 1864. Don’t be deterred by the fantastical scenario; Turtledove is a serious historian. The book is outstanding and thought-provoking.
Two more female soldiers from the Civil War merit our attention, though we don’t, and likely never will, know their identities. The remains of a Confederate private were discovered on the Gettysburg battlefield on 17 July, 1863 by a burial detail from the Union II Corps. The private was female. She was likely killed while taking part in Pickett’s Charge on 3 July. Finally, a 1934 excavation of a mass grave on the Shiloh battlefield revealed the remains of a female with a minié ball lodged in her pelvis, likely her death wound. Plainly, females not only served in the Civil War, they were in the thick of battle and some were killed. Due to the nature of their service, we’ll never know how many.
World War I
By the time the First World War rolled around, medical exams for prospective soldiers were more thorough. It was far more difficult for would-be female soldiers to disguise themselves. As far as we know, only one, 20-year old Dorothy Lawrence, actually pulled it off. Lawrence was a British journalist who managed to join a tunneling outfit of the British Expeditionary Force for ten days. At that point, she gave herself up out of a desire to report on the horrible conditions under which her fellow soldiers worked. Lawrence was treated rather poorly by the British authorities, who accused her of being a camp-follower (AKA prostitute). Still, two female soldiers, one British and one Russian, stand out for their wartime service.
Flora Sandes was the daughter of an Irish priest. As a child, she read and re-read Tennyson’s The Charge of the Light Brigade and dreamed of being a soldier. As an adult, she traveled throughout Europe, North America, and Egypt, working as a typist to fund her adventures. She was an experienced rider and, according to her family, “a capital shot with the big service revolver.”
Upon the Austro-Hungarian declaration of war against Serbia on 28 July, 1914, the 38-year old Sandes volunteered as a nurse for a Serbian ambulance unit. Serbia was overrun in late 1915 by the combined forces of Austria-Hungary, Germany, and Bulgaria. The Serbian Army forced marched across the mountains to Albania, where Sandes enlisted in the Serbian Iron Regiment.
Flora Sandes. Photo from Breach Bang Clear.
A year later she was a sergeant major and had published an English language book about her exploits to raise money and support for the Serbs. At the end of 1916, Sandes was involved in the vicious hand-to-hand combat in the mountains of Macedonia, where she was wounded by a grenade. Forced to retire from combat duty, she spent the rest of the war running an army hospital and conducting public relations tours to promote Western awareness of the plight of the Serbs. After the war, Sandes remained with the Army, eventually retiring as a captain. In 1917, she was awarded the Order of the Star of Karađorđe, Serbia’s highest combat decoration.
Sandes rode out the Second World War in Belgrade, Yugoslavia. Though aged 65, she was recalled to active duty. She was willing, but the Germans overran Yugoslavia before she could do anything. She was arrested by the Gestapo as an enemy alien and imprisoned with fourteen other women. One of Sandes’ fellow prisoners later said “She possessed a wonderful fund of Serbian swear words which she launched at the guards with such devastating effect that they behaved almost respectfully.” She was eventually released, but had to report to the Gestapo weekly until the war ended.
Sandes finally left Belgrade following the passing of her Serbian husband a few months after the war. She was nearly 70, but went to Rhodesia to stay with her nephew, who was a Rhodesian police officer. She was unpopular with the colonial authorities, however, who complained about her “fraternizing with the African peasant population, sitting around an open fire and drinking beer made from sorghum.” Flora Sandes returned to England, where she died in 1956.
Maria Bochkarevka was a Siberian peasant girl who survived an abusive father and two abusive husbands to join the Russian war effort in 1914. Women were not allowed to serve at that time, but Maria wrote a personal letter to Tsar Nicholas II asking for special permission. Her request was granted and Bochkarevka was sent to the front in 1915.
Her first combat saw Maria, despite being hit in the leg, pull dozens of wounded men from No-Man’s Land, for which she was decorated. She was soon promoted to corporal and began leading 30-man patrols into No-Man’s Land. On one of her patrols, she killed a German soldier with her bayonet. In the spring of 1916, Bochkarevka was wounded three times, including taking a piece of shrapnel near the base of her spine, paralyzing her from the waist down. Determined to fight, she learned to walk again and returned to the front, where she was promoted to sergeant. She was captured not long afterward, but she escaped, killing ten Germans in the process with grenades. She was decorated again.
Maria Bochkareva. Photo from Breach Bang Clear.
Bochkarevka is most famous for raising and training the Women’s Battalion of Death in 1917. The battalion was an all-female combat unit designed to shame the male soldiers of the Russian Army into fighting harder. The Russians were reeling from the fall of the Tsar and repeated defeats at the hands of the Germans, and desperately needed a morale boost. Buchkarovka started with 2000 women, but her iron discipline soon whittled it down to around to around 250.
The battalion participated in the summer offensive of 1917, going over the top with the men. Led by Buchkarovka, now a captain, they penetrated three German trench lines before being repulsed. After the battle, the women’s morale was reportedly far better than their male comrades, and their casualties lower, though they had spearheaded the assault in their sector.
In October, the battalion defended the Tsar’s Summer Palace in Petrograd against the Bolshevik revolutionaries. They were ultimately overrun and Buchkarevka was captured. Through the machinations of some friends, she was released and allowed to leave the country. She traveled to the US and England, where she met with Woodrow Wilson and King George V, who promised to aid the White Russians against the Bolshevik Reds. Buchkarevka was captured in 1919 while fighting the Bolsheviks and convicted of being an “enemy of the people.” She was executed by firing squad on 16 May, 1920.
World War II
The Second World War provided more opportunities for women to serve, but female combat soldiers were few and far between. Many women served with the British Special Operations Executive and the American Office of Strategic Services, but, due to concerns about length, I’m staying as close to the front lines as possible. With that in mind, one woman stands out above all others.
Lyudmila Pavlichenko was the deadliest of the scores of female snipers deployed by the Red Army in World War II. In just under a year of combat, Pavlichenko notched 309 confirmed kills, after which, she was pulled from the front and sent to the US and Great Britain to drum up support for a second front against Germany.
Lyudmila Pavlichenko. Photo from Breach Bang Clear.
Pavlichenko was a university student in Kiev when the Germans invaded in June, 1942. She immediately enlisted in the Red Army. She had won medals in a civilian marksmanship program and applied for the infantry. Nonetheless, the recruiter tried to convince her to become a nurse. Pavlichenko’s insistence on becoming a rifleman caused the army to test her. She was taken to the front, handed a rifle, and told to shoot two Romanian soldiers. Two shots: two kills. Pavlichenko was trained as a sniper and attached to the 25th Rifle Division. She never claimed the first two kills as part of her official count, since she said it was a test, not real combat.
Pavlichenko served in Moldavia and in the Siege of Sevastopol during the Crimean Campaign. She was known for tying the occasional strip of cloth to surrounding trees and brush to distract the eyes of enemy spotters. She also planted mannequins to serve as bait. Her first 75 days of combat yielded 187 kills. By the time she arrived at Sevastopol, she was known as “Lady Death” and the Germans starting targeting her with counter-snipers. She once made the mistake of climbing a tree to get a better view and was grazed by a German sniper round. She allowed herself to fall twelve feet to the ground, lying still for hours, before crawling away after dark. She eventually won every sniper duel in which she was engaged, accounting for 36 German snipers.
Pavlichenko became so famous, thanks in no small part to Soviet propaganda, that the Germans started addressing her directly by loudspeaker. They tried to lure her to defect, offering her honors and chocolate (seriously). When that failed, they threatened to catch her and tear her body into 309 pieces, one for each kill.
In a later interview, Pavlichenko laughed, saying how delighted she was that the Germans knew her score. She was evacuated from the Sevastopol by submarine before the city fell in July, 1942. She was awarded the USSR’s highest honor, Hero of the Soviet Union, and sent on her PR trip, where she became fast friends with First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. She told one reporter that “Every German who remains alive will kill women, children, and old folks. Dead Germans are harmless. Therefore, if I kill a German, I am saving lives.” Upon her return, Pavlichenko was assigned to train snipers and boost morale on the home front. She even had her own postage stamp, issued in 1943. After the war, she returned to university, earning her degree in history. Eleanor Roosevelt visited Pavlichenko in Moscow in 1957. Pavlichenko died in 1974. A movie of her exploits was released in 2013. As far as I know, it’s only available in Russian, titled “Battle for Sevastopol,” and in Ukrainian, which is called “Indestructible.” There’s an English language trailer on YouTube.
Afghanistan and Iraq
The asymmetrical nature of the Global War on Terror has blurred the lines between the combat and non-combat roles of troops deployed to places like Afghanistan and Iraq. Troops who are technically slated for the support role have been thrust squarely into the line of fire. As a result, the US ban on women in combat units has not spared females from being tested under fire. Here are a few of the many who passed with flying colors.
Rebecca Turpin. Photo from Breach Bang Clear.
Marine 2LT Rebecca Turpin was leading her logistics convoy through 80 miles of desert in the Helmand Province when they were ambushed in a small village between Camp Bastion and the FOB at Musa Qala. They had hit an IED earlier in the march and were slowed by the necessity to tow the damaged vehicle and by maneuvering through a hamlet with no real streets. While moving through the hamlet, Turpin saw men herding women and children into the houses. “I had this sinking feeling,” she said later. Then an RPG hit her refueling truck, cuing a hail of small arms fire and grenades. Marshaling her convoy to provide cover, Turpin called for air support, which came in the form of two Cobra attack helicopters. Once the enemy fire was suppressed, the Cobras moved off and Turpin turned her column around to an alternate route. When they were hit again during the turnaround, Turpin called the Cobras back and directed a fighting exit from the hamlet. Going by a different route, her convoy arrived safely at Musa Qala with no serious injuries. Despite her insistence that “What I did was my job,” Turpin was awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal with “V” for her leadership under fire. Lt. Colonel Michael Jernigan, Turpin’s battalion commander, said “She could have made bad decisions, and perhaps Marines would have died. But she didn’t and they didn’t.” Turpin left the Corps as a captain in 2011.
On 20 March, 2005, Sergeant Leigh Ann Hester was escorting a supply convoy on a run east of Baghdad as a vehicle commander in the 617 Military Police Company, a Kentucky National Guard unit. When the vehicle in front of hers was hit by an RPG, Hester led her vehicle through the kill zone into a flanking position. She and her team then took the enemy positions under fire with an M203. Hester and her squad leader then assaulted the dug-in insurgents, clearing two trench lines. Hester personally killed three insurgents with her M4. After the 45-minute fight, 27 insurgents were killed, six wounded, and one was captured. All US personnel survived. Hester and her squad leader, SSG Timothy Nein, were awarded the Silver Star. Hester became the first female Silver Star recipient since World War II and the first ever for actions in direct combat.
Leigh Ann Hester. Photo from Breach Bang Clear.
Being under fire was nothing new for Hester, who, predictably, claims she just did what she was trained to do. According to all accounts, Hester is a bit embarrassed by the fact that she has her own action figure and a wax likeness at the Army Women’s Museum at Fort Lee. Hester left the Guard in 2009 and became a cop near Nashville, Tennessee, but missed being a soldier and reenlisted in the Tennessee National Guard in 2011. In 2014, she deployed to Afghanistan for 18 months as part of a Cultural Support Team. She is now an E-7 with the Tennessee National Guard.
First Lieutenant Ashley White-Stumpf was part of the first class of the Cultural Support Teams sent to Afghanistan to support special ops troops. Assigned to the 75th Rangers, White-Stumpf served two months in Afghanistan before being killed by an IED in an ambush on 22 October, 2011. She was posthumously awarded the Bronze Star. I was unable to find much on her activities in Afghanistan, perhaps because of her association with special ops forces. But there is a book about White-Stumpf and the CSTs called Ashley’s War, which looks to be pretty good. Still, I felt that she merited inclusion here.
Ashley White-Stumpf. Photo from Breach Bang Clear.
Private First Class Monica Lin Brown was the second woman, after Hester, to earn the Silver Star since World War II. Brown was a combat medic with the 82nd Airborne in Afghanistan’s Paktika Province in 2007. On 25 April, she was part of a convoy which was ambushed on its way to a meeting with tribal leaders. One HUMVEE hit an IED, sending it into a wadi and igniting its fuel load. Brown moved to the wreck and treated the soldiers wounded in the blast, shielding them with her body from small arms fire and the 15 mortar rounds which impacted near her. By this time, the ammo in the HUMVEE began to cook off, prompting Brown to shield the wounded once more while continuing treatment.
Monica Lin Brown. Photo from Breach Bang Clear.
Brown’s platoon sergeant arrived, amazed to see Brown still alive. Seeing the danger from the engulfed HUMVEE and continuing enemy fire, he loaded Brown and the wounded onto an Afghan Army truck and moved them to a safer location. An enemy mortar shell impacted on Brown’s former position just seconds later. All the while, Brown treated the wounded soldiers, continually shielding them from falling brass and enemy fire until the MEDEVACs arrived. Brown’s actions earned her the Silver Star. They also resulted in her being removed from her assignment because of the ban on females in combat.
As I said, I’m not taking a position on women in combat. Honestly, I’m not qualified to offer an informed opinion on the subject. It is clear, however, that women have served, and served well, in combat environments throughout history. So, taking advantage of the publicity from the Wonder Woman movie, here’s an opportunity to raise a glass to all the women who have answered the call and laid it on the line. Thanks for your service.
Sailing saved Ronnie Simpson’s life. He was an 18 year old high school senior in Atlanta, Georgia when the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq began in March 2003. Drawn to service by the events of September 11, Ronnie joined the Marine Corps Infantry the day after the war started.
Less than a year later in March 2004, he deployed to Iraq with the 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marines.
“I was a .50 cal gunner on top of a Humvee,” he recalls. “Four months into my deployment, we were ambushed during a night-time convoy, and an RPG hit the ground near my Humvee. The rocket bounced up and exploded in the air one meter from me. I had broken ribs, detached retinas, a bleeding brain which created sub-retinal fluid, a traumatic brain injury (TBI), a blown-out left lung and my tongue was blown into my airway. I was temporarily knocked unconscious. Because I wasn’t breathing and was unresponsive, Marines in my truck thought I was dead. It was actually a textbook blast injury. The Corpsman in my Humvee, Doc David Segundo, was injured too but he got up, cleared my airway, and saved my life.”
Simpson, now 30 years old, spent a lot of time recovering both physically and mentally. Most of his TBI symptoms weren’t permanent (he credits the helmet technology for that). Despite having burns over 10 percent of his body, many of those scars aren’t visible.
“It fucked me up pretty good,” he says. “Unless you knew me though, you’d never know I’m hurt. I have no visible scars unless I take my shirt off. Then I have many.”
Simpson is legally blind and can’t obtain a driver’s license. Though his body healed, his mental state took much longer. He reevaluated his life and experiences through a 9,000-mile bike trek across Europe and Asia in 2009 and more than 50,000 miles at sea, both healing counterpoints to his experiences in Iraq.
“My time in theater and my travels have shaped my perspective,” Simpson says. “There’s a lot of good and beauty in this world, and I want to add to that. Our program is about helping the men and women that are coming back – the veterans – the people we should be looking out for. We in the veteran community have these experiences and while we may interpret them differently, this shared experience can bring us together. We can come together to create profound and impactful programs to help the veterans from these two wars as well as something permanent and sustainable for veterans of future conflicts.”
Sailing is the catalyst for Simpson’s initiative. Not only his love for sailing but how he changed his life and how he aims to change the lives of others.
“I joined the Marines at 18, was injured in combat at 19, my dad died four months after I got hurt, and by 20 I was medically retired,” Simpson says. “By 22 I was a lost soul. I had reached my deepest, darkest point. I’m fearful of what would have happened if I hadn’t flipped the script. I broke off an engagement, sold my house, and moved from Texas to California. That move was my re-birth as a new person.”
On the California coast, he found his calling. After living so recklessly, he became completely focused on becoming a racing sailor and making the most of his life. Seven years later, Simpson now travels the world as a professional sailor and sailing writer.
“It helped me heal,” Simpson says. “These adventures help you positively adrenalize yourself in a sustainable manner. Guys who come back from places like Fallujah have experienced adrenaline like most will never know, and again need to achieve that heightened state of existence. But where will they find it? Drugs, alcohol, or doping the pain away with pills? I can put you on the helm of a racing sailboat in the middle of the night and it will rock your world. This is a healthy way to get that fix.”
It’s not just about giving people the fix of adrenaline they were accustomed to while in combat. For Simpson and his sailing nonprofit – Coastal and Offshore Recalibration Experience, or CORE (www.medicinalmissions.com/CORE), that community of veterans is the most important result.
“Because that’s what it is: a Community,” he says. “On a sailboat you can put anyone into a job they can do, regardless of their injury. It’s a sport that doesn’t care if you have arms or legs. That’s a big part of it. Everyone has an assigned, defined role. There’s a chain of command, a defined mission, teamwork is critical and constant risk management is all part of the game. The parallels between racing sailboats and combat are incredible. When you combine that with the peacefulness and serenity of heading to sea with your brothers and sisters, it’s a powerful experience.”
Simpson and his best friend Army veteran Walter Kotecki, created a sailing program within an existing wounded-veteran nonprofit, raised $50,000 through yacht clubs and private donors, and gave a sailing experience to 30 veterans over the course of four clinics in 2012 and 2013.
“There’s always a steep learning curve when you start your own thing. We flew vets to San Francisco,” he says. “They had the whole range of injuries from PTSD to multiple amputees to blindness. We used sailing, surfing, yoga, nature walks, kayaking, art and more to help these guys look past their injuries and realize that anything is possible, no matter their injury, while re-establishing that sense of camaraderie and community that so many have lost since leaving the service.”
It was so successful and the veterans so responsive Simpson and Kotecki decided to strike out on their own earlier this year, forming CORE.
“I had a Vietnam vet hook me up with a racing sailboat and an opportunity,” says Simpson. “He passed that torch to me and told me to pay it forward. Here’s my chance to hook somebody else up. Let’s re-build that community and keep that torch going.”
CORE is seeking veterans of the recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan to participate in more sailing clinics throughout California, with the first being in San Francisco in October of this year. They will be accepting applications until August 31. For 2016, CORE is planning six to eight clinics up and down the California coast.
The most ambitious plan for CORE is participating in the 2017 Transpacific Yacht Race – where they will train a full crew of combat-wounded veterans to sail from Los Angeles to Honolulu, the first time ever that such a crew would be assembled.
“Our goal is to help reduce the rate of veteran suicide in this country. Sailing is one of the tools that we use,” he says.
Simpson is now featured in a series of short films produced by Craftsman, We Are The Mighty, and Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), showing how IAVA empowers veterans as they transition back to civilian life.
“It’s admirable for companies like Craftsman to reach out to veterans groups to benefit the guys and girls that are coming back,” Simpson says. “I see a positive shift in awareness about issues that affect veterans, how we can improve the care of veterans, and how we can achieve a more holistic healing approach instead of pumping them full of drugs.”
Craftsman is donating $250,000 to IAVA and from May 25 – July 4, for every new follower of @Craftsman on Instagram, Craftsman will donate an additional $1 to IAVA (with a minimum donation of $5,000).
“I am honored to be part of this and stoked that a big corporation is out to make a difference of stemming the tide of 22 veterans a day,” Simpson says. “I’m excited that they believe in what we’re doing, and to work on this next mission of saving lives by reaching out to the veteran community.”
Even though he was 73 years old and serving as President of the United States at the time, Ronald Reagan received a letter from the Marine Corps asking him if he would like to enlist in 1984.
It may have been a clerical error or just a practical joke from the service to its commander-in-chief, or in the words of Reagan in his response, the result of “a lance corporal’s overactive imagination.” In any case, on Tuesday the U.S. Marine Corps Historical Company shared on its Facebook page the letter he sent back to then-Commandant Gen. Paul X. Kelley on May 31, 1984, and well, it’s classic.
“I regret that I must decline the attached invitation to enlist in the United States Marine Corps,” Reagan writes on official White House letterhead. “As proud as I am of the inference concerning my physical fitness, it might be better to continue as Commander-in-Chief. Besides, at the present time it would be rather difficult to spend ten weeks at Parris Island.”
With his trademark wit, Reagan noted the Democrats would probably appreciate it if he left The White House, but had to pass since his wife Nancy loved their current residence and Reagan himself was “totally satisfied with his job.”
“Would you consider a deferment until 1989?” Reagan wrote. (It’s worth noting that Reagan served stateside in the U.S. Army Air Force’s first motion picture unit during World War II).
1. Legionnaires are instilled with a “fight to the death” attitude. Giving up is not really an option.
In April 1863, a battle between the French Foreign Legion and the Mexican army showed how effective and ballsy legionnaires really could be. With a total of just 65 men, the legionnaires fought back against a force of approximately 3,000 at the Battle of Camarón. Despite the overwhelming odds, the small patrol of legionnaires inflicted terrible losses on the Mexican forces and they refused to surrender.
Instead, their French officers actually called on the larger Mexican force to surrender multiple times. Holed up inside of a hacienda, only five men remained able to fight (most were killed or wounded) — and incredibly — mounted a bayonet charge against the opposing force, until they were ultimately surrounded and forced to surrender.
“Is this all of them? Is this all of the men who are left?” a Mexican Major said at the time, according to the book Camerone by James W. Ryan. “These are not men! They are demons!”
The Legion still celebrates and commemorates the battle today — and the wooden hand of their slain commander, Capt. Danjou, is the most prized possession at the Legion’s museum in Aubagne, writes Max Hastings.
2. Legionnaires who are wounded are granted automatic French citizenship.
Though troops serving the Legion hail from 138 different countries, they can become French citizens eventually. After serving at least three years honorably, they can apply to be citizens. But they also have a much quicker path: If they are wounded on the battlefield, they can become citizens through a provision called “Français par le sang versé” (“French by spilled blood”), according to The Telegraph.
The French government allowed this automatic citizenship provision in 1999.
3. More than 35,000 foreigners have been killed in action while serving with the Legion.
Throughout its history, the French Foreign Legion — and the fighters who make up its ranks — were seen as expendable. The foreigners who continue to join do so accepting the possibility of their death in a far-off place, in exchange for a new life with some sense of purpose. But meaningless sacrifice has gradually become a virtue in itself, according to a Vanity Fair article about the Legion.
“It’s like this,” an old legionnaire told William Langeweische of Vanity Fair. “There is no point in trying to understand. Time is unimportant. We are dust from the stars. We are nothing at all. Whether you die at age 15 or 79, in a thousand years there is no significance to it. So f–k off with your worries about war.”
4. The Legion used to accept anyone — criminals and misfits especially — with no questions, but now there is a thorough screening process.
Since its founding in 1831, the Legion has become the one place of escape for those with haunted pasts. Men with criminal records, shady business dealings, or deserters from their home country’s armies were accepted into the ranks, with no questions asked. Stripped of their old identity and given a new one, the new legionnaires are able to begin their new life with the slate wiped clean.
The legion will still accept deserters and other minor miscreants, but it’s not as easy as it once was. New recruits are given a battery of physical, intelligence, and psychological tests before they even get any kind of training. Later on in the process, recruits are screened for “motivation” in order to weed out those who don’t have the drive to make it in the ranks.
Finally, after countless hours spent lingering in uncomfortable conditions, the only thing standing between us and a spot with the Legion was what was referred to as the “Gestapo.” Rumor had it that at this point, the Legion knew everything about you. The word Interpol is thrown around a lot—any financial, criminal, family, and employment background information is supposedly fair game. Call it a hunch, but I think that’s bullshit. Make no mistake, I believe someone, somewhere has access to all of that information. But a sweaty, apathetic French administration in a run-down, quasi-bureaucratic shithole in suburban Marseille isn’t that someone or somewhere. In any case, they called me in for an interrogation.
While they may not necessarily be running from their past when they join the Legion these days, all new legionnaires are still stripped of their old identities and given new ones, which they maintain for at least their first year of service.
“Legionnaires begin a new life when they join,” a legionnaire named Capt. Michel told NBC News. “Each and every one of them is allowed to keep his past a secret.”
5. The pay is terrible, and so are the benefits.
Legion recruiters could easily steal the infamous U.S. Marine Corps recruiting poster with the slogan, “We don’t promise you a rose garden.” The pay is terrible, as are the benefits, but that doesn’t seem to matter. Despite the promise of a very rough life and the possibility of being sent to fight anywhere, thousands continue to show up each year.
Legionnaires can expect deployments to austere environments and/or see plenty of combat. The Legion is currently in Afghanistan and Mali, for example.
Their starting pay is roughly $1450 per month for at least the first couple of years in. That’s a pretty small paycheck compared to the lowest-ranking U.S. Army soldier making $1546, which is guaranteed to go up to $1733 after being automatically promoted six months later (if they don’t get in trouble of course).
There is at least one bonus to the Legion if you fancy yourself a drinker: There’s plenty of booze. Even in a combat zone, legionnaires are drinking in their off time, and their culture of heavy drinking would make any frat-boy blush.
Jay Gatsby is a fictional character in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby.” “The Great Gatsby” is part of curriculums in high schools across America as one of the best novels in American literature. It offers a look into the Roaring Twenties and what it looked like to chase the American Dream during that time period. An often overlooked fact is that Fitzgerald, and the fictional Gatsby, are both World War I veterans, but that is where the similarities between their careers end.
Gatsby is a reimagined reflection of Fitzgerald’s military career – or what could have been. When one reads between the lines through the lens of military history, Fitzgerald reveals how Gatsby got his commission. Whether that is intentional or otherwise, Jay Gatsby is an officer you would have wanted during the war to end all wars.
Gatsby was often meritoriously promoted
Why would Fitzgerald have cared about how Gatsby made captain — and more to the point — why would he have been secretive about this information? Here it helps to know that Fitzgerald was frustrated in his own military ambitions and his Army record was an embarrassment to him. Though he made it into officer training by taking an entrance exam open to college students, he never got sent to Europe, and captain was precisely the rank he desired and had fantasies about but never achieved.
Keith Gandal, The real secret behind Gatsby
In the book, Nick Carraway explains that Gatsby was a Captain before he was sent to the war. Chronologically, He meets Daisy at Camp Taylor as a 1st lieutenant, he is promoted to Captain at the end of training and is meritoriously promoted again to Major. Officer or enlisted, if your leadership is meritoriously promoted to every rank they have ever had, that’s one hard charger. It’s impossible to brown nose all the way up.
He’s honest about his military career
Out of all the stories he tells to impress Nick, I believe the only time he was ever truthful with him is when he was recounting his military exploits. It was his finest hour. He wasn’t born with an inheritance, but he was born with courage. It was something that came from him, his own birthright that was truly him — something money can’t buy.
The Army also needed thousands of officers. Regular Army and National Guard officers were quickly promoted. The creation of the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) converted college students with military aptitude into leaders.
The National WWI Museum and Memorial
Gatsby as an officer would likely have been motivated to succeed in battle and hungered for the laurels of victory. Gatsby’s war medals are authentic and he lead his troops to victory. He would likely have been able to identify with the enlisted while commanding instant obedience to orders. He fit in with the “good ol’ boys” because he successfully was able to pass himself off as a gentlemen of means.
Another little-known fact about World War I is that the military was experimenting with meritocracy. Today, a meritocracy is expected out of all branches of the Armed Services. Gatsby is given an opportunity to climb the social ladder using his military service as a springboard. During WWI, one did not necessarily need to come from a family of means or be a college graduate to become an officer. If you could pass an aptitude test you were good to go regardless of your socioeconomic background.
The Army really did promote officers quickly during WWI
Maj. Gen. Peyton March’s overarching goal was to get as many men as possible to Europe and into the AEF to win the war. To achieve this, he wanted to establish effectiveness and efficiency in the General Staff and the War Department. He quickly went about clearing bureaucratic log-jams, streamlining operations, and ousting ineffective officers.
THE U.S. ARMY IN WORLD WAR I, 1917–1918, history.army.mil
The Army deliberately set out to award competence and reduce the BS pretentiousness of decorum. So, the theory of Gatsby earning his promotions through merit rather than favoritism holds water. Before World War I, the American officer corps was more like the British class-based officer corps. The idea of an oligarch-only officer corps in today’s military is impossible to imagine. It wouldn’t work now and it didn’t work then. The U.S. Army adapted while our European counterparts clutched on to the past. That change proved dividends in the war for the United States.
Gatsby was a fearless leader
Officers in combat-related Military Occupational Specialties are trained to lead from the front. Sometimes, that is literal. Up until the war’s end, Gatsby was an honorable man and not the fraud he fabricated later in life. In Baz Luhrmann’s 2013 film adaptation of “The Great Gatsby,” he shows Gatsby leading a bayonet charge across “no man’s land.” WWI had advances in technology never before seen in combat. When the tools of war evolve towards perfecting the art of death, you want an officer willing to step first on the field of battle and who earned the right to do so legitimately.
ISIS has taken the use of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) to a nearly industrial level as the terror group continues to hold onto territory in Iraq and Syria, Foreign Affairs reports.
The terror group, which holds large swathes of territory in both Iraq and Syria despite being pressured from nearly all sides, has turned to the use of IEDs as a major force multiplier.
An investigator for Conflict Armament Research (CAR) told Foreign Affairs that ISIS’s use of IEDs has reached a “quasi-industrial scale.”
“It’s unprecedented. We have never seen this before—it’s in the thousands and thousands. It’s not just a few roadside bombs. There are literally fields of them,” the CAR researcher told Foreign Affairs.
CAR’s analysis has been confirmed by the US Department of Defense’s Joint Improvised-Threat Defeat Agency (JIDA). A spokesman from that organization told Foreign Affairs that ISIS has totally changed the nature of the threat from IEDs in Iraq.
“Previously in Iraq, we would go after the lone bomb-maker using captured biometrics off an IED and try to link events together from that,” the JIDA spokesman told Foreign Affairs. “But now, we face IED factories on an industrial scale, with significant supply chains and funding lines.”
JIDA notes that this huge ramping up of the construction of IEDs has caused Iraq to become the single most affected country by IED attacks in the world. According to the organization, 11,500 IED explosions caused upwards of 35,000 casualties in 2015 alone.
And this upsurge in IED-related casualties linked to ISIS comes even as the US-led anti-ISIS coalition continues to hammer away at the group with airstrikes. Coalition airstrikes in the past have targetedmultiple ISIS car bomb and IED factories.
However, due to the large amount of territory and civilian areas that ISIS holds, the group is still managing to find hidden locations to continue constructing its most devastating weapon.
The incoming Commander-in-Chief already has a handful of issues waiting for him or her on January 20th and surely doesn’t need any more foreign policy headaches. Unfortunately, the job is “Leader of the Free World” and not “Autopilot of the Worldwide Ramones/P-Funk Block Party.”
Inevitably, things go awry. Reactions have unintended consequences. If you don’t believe in unintended consequences, imagine landing on an aircraft carrier emblazoned with a big “Mission Accomplished” banner. By the middle of your replacement’s second term, al-Qaeda in Iraq is now ISIS and the guy who starred on Celebrity Apprentice is almost in charge of deciding how to handle it.
Think about that . . .
Here are ten imminent wars the incoming Chief Executive will have to keep the U.S. out of… or prevent entirely.
Check out the WATM podcast to hear the author and other veterans discuss the incoming Commander-in-Chief’s war challenges come January 20th.
1. China vs. Everyone in the Pacific
In 2013, China declared the Senkaku Islands (or Diaoyu Islands, depending on which side of the issue you’re on) to be part of its East China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone. Since then, Chinese and Japanese air and naval assets have taken many opportunities to troll each other. The Chinese people see these provocations as violations of their sovereignty and anti-Japanese demonstrations erupted in China. World War II memories die hard.
The islands themselves are just an excuse. The prominent ideology espoused by Chinese President Xi Jinping is that of the “Chinese Dream,” one that recaptures lost Chinese greatness and prestige. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who is a hardline nationalist, is unlikely to bow to Beijing just because of a military buildup. On the contrary, Japan’s legislature just changed the constitution to allow Japanese troops to engage in combat outside of a defensive posture for the first time since WWII.
Elsewhere, the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan, and Vietnam are all vying for control of the Spratly Islands. The Spratlys are a small, seemingly unimportant set of “maritime features” in the South China Sea that would extend each country’s maritime boundary significantly. They sit on trade routes. Oh, and there are oil and natural gas reserves there. China started building artificial islands and military bases in the Spratlys, which is interesting because the U.S. now has mutual defense treaties with Japan, the Philippines, and Taiwan. So the next U.S. President will also have to be prepared for…
2. China vs. The United States
The term “peaceful rise” isn’t thrown around quite as much as it used to be. That was Chinese President Hu Jintao’s official ideology, but he left power in 2012. China under Xi Jinping is much more aggressive in its rise. Chinese hackers stole blueprints for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter just before China’s military revealed a homegrown design, which looked a lot like the F-35. The People’s Republic also finished a Russian-designed aircraft carrier, its first ever. It now has a second, entirely Chinese one under construction.
The Chinese specially developed the DF-21D Anti-Ship missile for use against carriers and other advanced ships of the U.S. Navy. The ballistic missile looks a lot like nuclear missiles and can carry a nuclear payload. Once a Chinese anti-ship ballistic missile sinks its first U.S. carrier, there’s no going back – a downed carrier would kill 6,000 sailors. This is why China develops weapons to deny the U.S. sea superiority and deter American aggression in their backyard before a war begins.
3. Russia vs. NATO
The expansion of NATO as a bulwark against Russian hegemony in Eastern Europe is a challenge to the status quo of the last thirty years. While the end of the Cold War should have changed the way the Russians and the West interact, Russian influence is still aggressive. Russia does not take kindly to the idea of NATO’s expansion into former Eastern Bloc countries like Ukraine, which resulted in the 2014 annexation of the Crimean Peninsula.
A map from 1900 – some things never change.
Now the Alliance is deploying thousands of troops to Poland and the Baltic countries as a counter to Russian aggression. Threats made by Russian President Vladimir Putin are always serious. He didn’t just annex Crimea. In 2008, he invaded the former Soviet Republic of Georgia to “protect Russian-speaking minorities” in the Georgian provinces of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Putin claims the right of Russia to protect the rights of Russian-speaking minorities abroad and uses military force to do so.
4. Iran vs. Saudi Arabia
The Sunni-Shia religious civil war rages on by proxy all over the Middle East. In Yemen, Iranian-backed Houthi tribes ousted the Saudi-backed government of Rabbuh Mansur al-Hadi. The Houthis are still fighting for deposed dictator Ali Abdullah Saleh, whose regime was a victim of the 2012 Arab Spring. Saudi Arabia intervened shortly after with a coalition of Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait and the UAE. The war in Yemen now includes al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and ISIS. Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi warned the sudden uptick in sectarian violence may spill over into the greater Middle East.
The proxy war is already in Iraq. The Iraqi government is using a makeshift alliance of Americans, Shia militias, and Iranian advisors to retake territory captured by ISIS in 2014. In Syria, forces loyal to al-Qaeda are funded by Sunni proxies while the Asad regime and Hezbollah fighters are supported by Iran and Russia (meanwhile, everyone is fighting ISIS). At the same time, both Iran and Saudi Arabia continue to stockpile weapons and develop new weapon systems. There may come a time when the two decide they’ve had enough of proxy wars and just decide to duke it out for keeps. In the meantime, the two keep battlefields in the countries between them to avoid fighting at home.
5. Civil War in Iraq
It’s great to form an unlikely alliance against a joint enemy, especially when the enemy is ISIS. Once the terror group is gone the Sunnis in Anbar will demand equal treatment under the law, only now they’ll be surrounded by Shia militias and Iranian arms and money. It wouldn’t be a stretch to see Sunnis in Anbar seek autonomy like the Kurdish regions enjoy in Northern Iraq, except Anbar doesn’t have the resources for independence like the Kurds seek. Speaking of which…
6. Kurdistan Independence War
The Kurds in Iraq and Syria bore the brunt of rescuing minorities in Iraq and Syria from the atrocities of the Islamic State. They also were the workhorse behind turning the tide of the ISIS advance and putting the terror group on the defensive. They shifted the momentum against ISIS at places like Sinjar and Kobane and the terror group has never recovered. ISIS is slowly collapsing as the Kurdish YPG in Syria approach the ISIS capital at Raqqa. The Kurdish people will feel they’ve earned an independent Kurdistan for doing the region a solid, especially if the YPG capture Raqqa before the Syrian government.
An independent Kurdistan would carve out parts of Iraq, Syria, and maybe even Southern Turkey. The Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) has been an active terrorist organization in Turkey for decades. The Turks, a NATO ally, see the Syrian Kurdish YPG (People’ Protection Units) as an extension of the PKK – in their eyes, a terrorist army. In Iraq, the Kurdish Autonomous Regions are rich in oil and are unlikely to be given away by the government in Baghdad. The Kurds will have to fight all three governments and will come to the U.S. for help.
7. Israel vs. Hezbollah
For those out of the know, Israel takes its security seriously. When Hezbollah fighters switched their focus to support the Asad regime in Syria, Israel took the opportunity to disrupt any Hezbollah supply line that might be used against the Jewish state. Many high-profile Hezbollah figures have died in Syria since the start of the civil war in 2011 – including Mustafa Badreddine, the military commander of the militia in Syria.
Hezbollah isn’t a country. The group’s power base is in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley, which is far from Lebanon’s border with Israel. When the fighting in Syria stops, Hezbollah will not forget its age-old enemy and is likely to retaliate. The Israel Defence Force has never hesitated to invade Lebanon with the aim of taking out Hezbollah fighters. The last time was in 2006 and Israel is already planning for the next one.
8. Civil War in Turkey
The Turkish people are facing an identity crisis. The current President, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, has slowly brought the Turkish economy to a more modern, robust level. The cost was a turn away from the secular democracy that defined the Turkish government.
Turkey’s military has traditionally been the guarantor of its democracy, overthrowing the government whenever it felt a slide toward religiosity, as it did in 1960, 1971, 1980, and 1997. In 2012, Erdoğan purged the military, jailing dozens of officers to prevent a coup. As he and his ruling AKP become increasingly authoritarian and insufficiently responsive to terror attacks from ISIS, rumors of such a coup will only start to spread.
9. Civil War in Afghanistan
The U.S. and NATO allies can’t stay in Afghanistan forever. The Taliban doesn’t face the same opposition from Western troops they once faced before the drawdown in 2014 and the citizens of those countries aren’t interested in sending their troops back. In 2014, the Pakistani military’s Operation Zarb-e-Azb in its Waziristan tribal regions unseated thousands of fighters who likely found their way back to Afghanistan, ready to start again. The Afghan security forces are unlikely to be able to stand up to these battle-hardened jihadists without U.S. support.
10. China vs. India
China and India went to war in 1962 because Chairman Mao thought India was against its takeover of Tibet (Indians granted asylum to the Dalai Lama). The war lasted all of a month and only resulted in slight boundary changes which have never been fully addressed. The coming war may be nominally over the Himalayan boundaries between the two countries, but in reality, it will be about water. The two countries both want the hydropower and water from the Yarlung Tsangpo–Brahmaputra River. The river starts in Tibet then flows into India and Bangladesh. In 2008, a Chinese dam project on the Yarlung–Tsangpo worried the Indians about the diversion of the water and the use of water as a weapon and is now a major issue in bilateral talks.
In the event of a war with China, their perpetual enemy, Pakistan would likely join in on the Chinese side. The Chinese are heavily invested in Pakistan, especially in the disputed area of Kashmir. This investment allows the Chinese People’s Liberation Army to project power well into Central Asia and keep jihadists away from its borders. Individually, India can beat Pakistan and make a stand against China, but is unlikely to win against both.
Bonus: North Korea vs. Anyone
If anyone was going to invade North Korea, they would have done it by now. Seriously, what does this country have to do to get its government ousted?
As the owner selling an excavated underground Minuteman II missile site in Missouri on eBay, California investor Russ Nielsen reads the pulse of America’s darkest fears.
The number of people visiting the historic property’s eBay information page spikes like an EKG in a heart attack.
Ordinarily, the curious property located near Holden, MO, may get some 70 online views a day, Nielsen said by phone this week from California.
When Donald Trump won the presidency last November? Boom. The site was getting 140 to 150 hits a day.
And now, as North Korea’s volatile leader Kim Jong Un defiantly sends ballistic missiles over Japan, survivalists and the frightened are back at some 150 views a day.
“It’s definitely a ‘prepper’ kind of thing,” Nielsen said, referring to the slang term for people who want to be prepared in the event of widespread calamity and disorder.
Bomb shelter companies across the nation are reporting a boost in sales.
The selling price for Nielsen’s unique property, though, is steep for most people, he said. It’s going for $325,000. He’s had five potential buyers who were serious since he put it up for sale in the fall of 2015, he said. A couple of them are still trying to raise the financing.
What Nielsen recovered — at great cost and effort over a span of two years — is the “Mike-1” Minuteman II missile launch facility that housed the missileers who controlled the triggers to 10 of the 150 intercontinental missile sites scattered across central Missouri under the command of Whiteman Air Force Base.
Most of the Minuteman II sites — including all of the Missouri sites — were decommissioned some 20 years ago. Their shafts were buried under a mix of concrete, mud, and rock that was meant to deter any thoughts of reactivating them.
The project, including the maddening bureaucracy in getting his quixotic venture approved, turned into such a laborious boondoggle that Nielsen admits he wouldn’t have done it knowing what he knows now.
But, having endured it, he has relished the many inquiries he has received from veterans who served underground those many decades ago — “Ratmen,” they called themselves. The history of America’s Cold War has been fascinating.
The Minuteman II missiles represented the height of America’s Cold War arsenal, with about 1,000 of them forever ready to launch.
Some 450 sites with Minuteman III missiles remain ready in Montana, North Dakota, and Wyoming.
Not surprisingly, some of Nielsen’s most interested potential buyers have had an eye on the site’s unique history as well as its accommodations in the event of a national disaster.
One potential buyer has been trying to gather financing for an historical movie project, he said. Another has interest in turning it into a residential training facility for martial and military arts.
Not surprising for a property whose curb appeal requires a bit of imagination.
You would think that nuclear weapons testing and tourism wouldn’t go together. But in fact, tourists who went to Las Vegas to watch the nuclear tests helped fuel the growth of that city in the 1950s.
In the 1950s, the United States carried out over 150 nuclear weapons tests above ground. Some of these tests – particularly the large-scale thermo-nuclear bomb tests like the 1954 Castle Bravo test, which had a 15-megaton yield – were carried out in the Central Pacific. Not exactly accessible to tourists, but well out of the way (an important consideration considering the power of the bombs).
However, in Nevada — where the explosions and subsequent mushroom clouds were visible from Las Vegas — These tests gave that rapidly-growing city’s economy a surprising boost. Many tourists traveled to Vegas hoping they’d see one of these tests take place.
Of course, today, we know about the after-effects of all those explosions, including fallout that leads to cancer and other medical issues for people who were downwind of the nuclear blasts.
Back then, it was seen as just a fancy fireworks display for Sin City residents and tourists on the United States government’s dime. In 1963, the Partial Test Ban Treaty was ratified. That ended the era of above-ground testing, and limited the blasts to underground.
The U.S. continued to carry out underground nuclear tests until 1992, when the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty curtailed nuke blasts. That treaty, however, has still not been ratified by the Senate. Check out this video from the Smithsonian Channel to learn more about Sin City’s nuclear tourism boom (pun intended).
In 1968, then-Maj. Colin Powell was a Ranger assigned to the Army’s 23rd Infantry Division. It was his second tour in Vietnam.
Just five years earlier, he was one of the American advisors to South Vietnam’s fledgling army. While on a foot patrol in Viet Cong-held areas in 1963, the 25-year-old Powell was wounded by a VC booby trap.
He stepped on a punji stick, which the VC laced with buffalo dung. The excrement created an infection that made it difficult for him to walk.
“The Special Forces medics cut my boot off, and they could see my foot was purple by then,” Powell said in an interview with the Academy of Achievement. “The spike had gone all the way through, from the bottom to the top, and then come right back out, totally infecting the wound as it made the wound.”
That ended his time in combat. Powell was reassigned to the 1st Army of the Republic of Vietnam division headquarters for the rest of that tour.
On his second tour in Vietnam, he was again behind a desk as the assistant Chief of Staff for the Americal Division (as the 23rd was known). Though a staff officer, when you’re a man of destiny like Colin Powell, the action comes to you.
On November 16, 1968, the helicopter transporting Maj. Powell along with the 23rd ID commander crashed.
Powell, injured but clear of the wreckage, ran back to the burning helicopter several times to rescue comrades. Though the helicopter was in danger of exploding, he continued to attempt the rescue.
When he found one passenger trapped under the mass of twisted, burning fuselage, Powell tore away the burning metal with his bare hands.
Powell was awarded the Soldier’s Medal for his actions that day. He managed to rescue every passenger from the downed helicopter.
During his deployments to Vietnam, he also earned a Bronze Star and two Purple Hearts.
“American Sniper,” “Dunkirk,” and “Fury” are just a few the great war films that have hit theaters with in the last few years. These films help inspire today’s youngsters to consider joining the military.
In the next few decades, they will be remembered as among “The Classics” when it comes to ranking war movies.
But as we move forward, the classic war movies that inspired our past generations are the ones that helped get the modern day war films greenlit. Because of this, we should always recognize and never forget them — ever.
Grab your popcorn and check out our list of classic war films every young trooper should watch.
1. The Great Escape
Steve McQueen stars in this epic WWII film about a group of POWs trying to escape from a German prison camp.
2. Kelly’s Heroes
Directed by Brian G. Hutton, the film follows a group of American troops who travel deep behind enemy lines to retrieve some Nazi treasure.
3. Paths of Glory
This classic stars Kurt Douglas as Col. Dax, an officer who attempts to defend his troops who are accused of cowardice while fighting in the dangerous trenches of WWI.
4. Hamburger Hill
Directed by John Irvin, this story depicts one of the bloodiest American battles to take place during the hectic Vietnam War.
5. Apocalypse Now!
This film is considered one of the greatest movies ever produced. The story follows Capt. Willard’s journey to locate and assassinate a renegade Army colonel during the Vietnam War.
6. The Green Berets
John Wayne plays Col. Mike Kirby, an Army Special Forces officer tasked with two vital missions consisting of building a camp and kidnapping a North Vietnamese General.
7. Sands of Iwo Jima
This time John Wayne plays Sgt. John Stryker, a Marine who puts his men through his rough style of training to prepare them to fight in one of the Corps’ most historic battles.
Directed by Jack Smight, this classic tale re-enacts the American victory at the Battle of Midway — considered one of the most critical turning points in the Pacific during World War II.
This 1970 film focuses on the incredible career of Gen. George S. Patton during WWII.
10. To Hell and Back
In this 1955 release, real life war hero Audie Murphy plays himself in the story of how he became one of the most decorated soldiers in U.S. history.
11. The Dirty Dozen
This epic motion picture follows Maj. Reisman, a rebellious soldier assigned to train a dozen convicted murders to carry out a deadly mission to kill multiple German officers.
12. The Fighting Seabees
John Wayne plays Lt. Cmdr. Wedge Donovon, a construction worker building military bases in the Pacific. After they come under fierce attack from Japanese forces, the Seabees have to defend themselves at all costs.
13. The D.I.
Directed and starring Jack Webb, this film follows one of the toughest Marine drill instructors to ever serve on Parris Island as he pushes a recruit platoon through basic training.
In light of current events in places like the Ukraine and Syria, the risk of America and Russia fighting a proxy war or even a real war is growing. Here are seven other times when U.S. troops lined up opposite Russian troops:
Both sides hid the fact that the Soviets were involved so that neither country was forced into a larger war. American forces didn’t report hearing Russian voices on signal intercepts between Soviet fighters while the Russians put Chinese markings and uniforms on all of their forces.
2. Russian anti-aircraft experts shot down U.S. planes in Vietnam
Like in North Korea, Russia wanted to affect the outcome of a war America was in but they didn’t want to accidentally create a new world war. So, they originally claimed that no Soviet troops were present, then said some military experts were sent, and after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 they finally admitted they had deployed 3,000 troops to stop American air raids. 13 Russian soldiers were killed by American bombers.
3. The Cuban missile crisis almost went hot multiple times
Rudolf’s death may have been what ended the conflict. With the situation clearly deteriorating, both Kennedy and Khrushchev voiced concern that war was becoming unavoidable. Robert Kennedy was sent to the Soviet embassy to speak with the ambassador and they brokered the deal that ended the conflict.
4. Tanks faced off in Berlin
After East German officials tried to block Western diplomats’ access to East Berlin multiple times, Gen. Lucius Clay dispatched 10 tanks and three armored vehicles to the main crossing point for U.S. diplomats, Checkpoint Charlie. The Soviets responded by sending their armored forces to the checkpoint and the tanks stared each other down for 16 hours. Neither side was willing to fight a full-scale war for Berlin, so Moscow and Washington opened backdoor channels to end the standoff.
5. Nuclear false alarms nearly caused real war four times
In four separate incidents in the Cold War, nuclear war almost began due to technical glitches and false alarms. First in 1979 and then in 1980, U.S. computers showed a Soviet missile attack due to technical glitches. The third incident was in Sep. 1983 when a Soviet satellite read sunlight reflected off clouds as American missile launches. The fourth incident took place in 1995 when a Norwegian scientific rocket launch appeared similar to a nuclear missile on Russian radar.
6. A NATO war game nearly turned into the real thing
Able Archer 83 was a NATO exercise in Nov. 1983 to train for a conventional war and nuclear with the Soviet Union. With 19,000 U.S. troops participating, the exercise was so large that the Soviet Union was worried that it was a cover for a real attack. They were especially sensitive since it came on the heels of the Sep. 1983 false alarm from above. The Soviet Union put its own troops on high alert, kept jets ready to take off, and readied their nuclear arsenal. Luckily, there were no incidents during the exercise and it ended peacefully Nov. 11.
7. The Soviet Navy rammed U.S. ships in the Black Sea
In 1988, two U.S. Navy ships tested the Soviet Union’s territorial waters by sailing into contested territory. The Soviet Union claimed 12 miles from their coast while the U.S. only recognized 3 miles. Two Soviet Navy vessels responded by ramming the U.S. ships. To prevent American helicopters from lifting off, two Soviet helicopters hovered over them during the incident. All four ships were damaged and the U.S. ships departed the area after an hour.