This is how POWs got playing cards with secret escape maps for Christmas - We Are The Mighty
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This is how POWs got playing cards with secret escape maps for Christmas

U.S. troops and their playing cards have a long history. A large chunk of deployment is spent killing time until the action starts – and card games have long been the weapon of choice for that mission.


This is how POWs got playing cards with secret escape maps for Christmas
Troops in WWI playing cards.

Also read: 7 things you actually miss from deployment

After more than a century, the U.S. Playing Card Company, manufacturer of playing card brands like Bee, Aviator, and Hoyle, is still the world’s leading card company. In that time, the company has been very good to U.S. troops. Its original brands were decks of Army and Navy cards, later merged to one “Army Navy” brand, featuring military imagery.

The USPCC even made a cheap deck so soldiers in World War I could easily purchase one for the battlefields.

This is how POWs got playing cards with secret escape maps for Christmas
An Army Navy deck (World of Playing Cards)

It was the company’s signature brand, Bicycle, that did the most for troops in the field. During World War II, Bicycle teamed up with British and American intelligence agencies to create a deck of cards that peeled apart when wet. The cards then revealed secret escape maps so downed pilots and captured soldiers could navigate their way back to Allied lines.

This is how POWs got playing cards with secret escape maps for Christmas
(Bicycle Playing Card Co.)

Once the map pieces were revealed, all it took was to assemble the cards in the right order to get the full map layout.

The decks were given to POWs in Europe through the Red Cross’ special Christmas parcels, which contained (among other things) a deck of playing cards. Cards were a common occurrence among troops, so they aroused no suspicion from the Nazi camp guards.

Decks of these cards are said to have helped at least 32 people escape from Colditz Castle and prompted some 316 escape attempts. No one knows for sure how many decks were produced, but the only two known surviving decks are in the International Spy Museum in Washington, D.C.

This is how POWs got playing cards with secret escape maps for Christmas
(Bicycle Playing Card Co.)

To commemorate its history, Bicycle recently created a special “Escape Map” throwback deck, complete with map artwork – no water necessary.

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An elite French flying team will hit the skies over the Air Force Academy

A French air force flying team will roar over the Air Force Academy on April 19 to celebrate the nations’ bonds built in the sky during World War I.


Patrouille de France, that nation’s equivalent of the Air Force Thunderbirds, will arrive over the academy about 11:30 a.m. Wednesday, April 19, for a brief air show. It’s a big flying team with eight Dassault/Dornier Alpha Jets, a twin-engined light attack fighter that’s known for its nimbleness.

“I think folks in Colorado Springs will get a great miniature airshow,” said Lt. Col. Allen Herritage, an Air Force Academy spokesman.

This is how POWs got playing cards with secret escape maps for Christmas
The Patrouille de France flying over Paris during Bastille Day 2015. (Photo by wiki user XtoF)

This year marks the centennial of formal U.S. involvement in World War I, with America declaring war on the Ottoman Empire, the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the German monarchy on April 6, 1917.

The first Americans to reach the aerial battlefields of France, though, were American airmen of the French air force’s Lafayette Escadrille, a fighter unit with American pilots that was established a year before the United States entered the war.

America’s first flying aces came from the small French unit, including Maj. Gervais Lufberry, who was credited with downing 16 planes before he was killed over Francein 1918.

The relationship built over the trenches between French and American pilots is still celebrated at the Air Force Academy today.

Herritage said the school has a French officer on the faculty and French exchange cadets on the campus. One of the pilots on the French flying team, Maj. Nicolas Lieumont, was an exchange student at the Colorado Springs school.

“We feel lucky to have them stop in Colorado Springs,” Herritage said. “It marks our nation’s longstanding relationship with France.”

The academy is inviting locals to get a better view of the French team. Visitors are welcome at the academy on April 19 and can watch the show from a viewing area near the Cadet chapel.

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This Medal Citation Reads Like a Blockbuster Movie

This is how POWs got playing cards with secret escape maps for Christmas
General Mike Hagee, Commandant of the Marine Corps, presents the Navy Cross to First Lieutenant Brian Chontosh, USMC.


The word “hero” has been overused since 9-11, but early in the Iraq War, Marine Corps First Lieutenant Brian Chontosh engaged in some bad-assery that truly merits him wearing that label.  Check out the write-up on his Navy Cross citation.  It reads like something straight out of Hollywood:

The President of the United States takes pride in presenting the NAVY CROSS to

FIRST LIEUTENANT BRIAN R. CHONTOSH

UNITED STATES MARINE CORPS

for service as set forth in the following

Citation:

For extraordinary heroism as Combined Anti-Armor Platoon Commander, Weapons Company, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines, 1st Marine Division, I Marine Expeditionary Force in support of Operation IRAQI FREEDOM on 25 March 2003. While leading his platoon north on Highway 1 toward Ad Diwaniyah, First Lieutenant Chontosh’s platoon moved into a coordinated ambush of mortars, rocket propelled grenades, and automatic weapons, fire. With coalition tanks blocking the road ahead, he realized his platoon was caught in a kill zone. He had his driver move the vehicle through a breach along his flank, where he was immediately taken under fire from an entrenched machine gun. Without hesitation, First Lieutenant Chontosh ordered the driver to advance directly at the enemy position enabling his .50 caliber machine gunner to silence the enemy. He then directed his driver into the enemy trench, where he exited his vehicle and began to clear the trench with an M16A2 service rile and 9 millimeter pistol. His ammunition depleted, First Lieutenant Chontosh, with complete disregard for his safety, twice picked up discarded enemy rifles and continued his ferocious attack. When a Marine following him found an enemy rocket propelled grenade launcher, First Lieutenant Chontosh used it to destroy yet another group of enemy soldiers. When his audacious attack ended, he had cleared over 200 meters of the enemy trench, killing more than 20 enemy soldiers and wounding several others. By his outstanding diplay of decisive leadership, unlimited courage in the face of heavy enemy fire, and utmost devotion to duty, First Lieutenant Chontosh reflected great credit upon himself and upheld the highest traditions of the Marine Corps and the United States Naval Service.

Also Read: Medal Of Honor: Meet The 16 Heroes Of Iraq And Afghanistan Who Received The Nation’s Highest Honor 

Here’s what the actual citation looked like as it was presented to Lieutenant Chontosh:

This is how POWs got playing cards with secret escape maps for Christmas

 

NOW: Inside ‘Dustoff’ — 22 Photos Of The Army’s Life-Saving Medevac Crews 

OR: Take the quiz: Which Marine Corps Legend Are You? 

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‘Vinegar’ Joe Stilwell lost the best WWII assignments twice

Army Maj. Gen. “Vinegar” Joe Stilwell was at the top of the list for high commands as America entered World War I. A 1904 West Point graduate with lots of intelligence experience in World War I and extensive time in the Pacific, he was expected to take on some of the most important commands and win.


And initially, it looked like that would happen, but two of the biggest commands of the war slipped through his fingers. He was assigned to lead the invasion of North Africa when America was ready to deploy forces across the Atlantic, but was recalled to take another mission. He was later assigned to lead the invasion of Japan…until the atomic bombs made it unnecessary.

This is how POWs got playing cards with secret escape maps for Christmas
General Chiang Kai-shek, Madam Chiang Kai-shek, and Lt. Gen. Joseph Stilwell celebrate the day after the Doolittle Raid strikes Tokyo. (Photo: U.S. Department of Defense Capt. Fred L. Eldridge)

Instead, Stilwell spent most of the war in what was an important backwater, the Chinese-Burma-India Theater. Stilwell was in the middle of preparing Operation Gymnast, the landings of North Africa which would later be conducted as Operation Torch, when he learned that he was on the short list to command U.S. forces in CBI.

Stilwell didn’t want the job. He hoped to invade North Africa. From there, he would have a decent shot at commanding the European theater or at least all troops taking the fight to Italy.

This was a reasonable expectation. Operation Gymnast became Operation Torch and was passed to then-Brig. Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower. Eisenhower’s success in North Africa led to an appointment as Supreme Allied Commander Europe. A few years later, he used his status as a war hero to run for president.

This is how POWs got playing cards with secret escape maps for Christmas
Army Lt. Gen. Joseph Stilwell eats C-rations as a Christmas meal in 1943 while not-at-all wishing that he had commanded the invasion of North Africa instead of that punk kid Dwight Eisenhower. (Photo: U.S. Army)

Stilwell, meanwhile, was sent to the CBI theater where he was charged three major jobs. He was to command all U.S. forces in the theater, lead the Lend-Lease program in China, and serve as the chief of staff for Chiang Kai-shek, the Supreme Allied Commander for the China theater.

He was facing a tough job, but Stilwell dove into it. He assumed control of an integrated force in Burma in 1942 and prepared an offensive against the Japanese.

This is how POWs got playing cards with secret escape maps for Christmas
American forces assigned to GALAHAD rest in Burma during a movement in World War II. GALAHAD would be better known by history as Merrill’s Marauders. (Photo: U.S. Army)

But it was too late for that. Before Stilwell could lay the groundwork, a new Japanese thrust overcame Chinese forces and sent them reeling back. The rest of the Allied forces in the area, mostly Americans under Stilwell, were forced to follow. This caused the loss of Burma and a severing of important logistical corridors.

The overall retreat was so disorderly that important railways were shut down thanks to crashes and traffic jams. Stilwell had to lead a group from his headquarters on vehicles and then on foot after the air corridors were closed. The vehicles eventually had to be abandoned because of the bad roads, and so Stilwell and a select group walked through the jungle out of Burma.

The group has started with 80 members and emerged from the jungle with 114, having picked up 34 strays and suffered no losses — possibly the only large group to do so.

This is how POWs got playing cards with secret escape maps for Christmas
Kachin Rangers stand in formation. (Photo: U.S. Army)

For the next two years, Stilwell had to rely on a small group of Americans leading guerrilla operations in Burma to keep the Japanese off kilter. Army Col. Carl F. Eifler led a small group of U.S. soldiers who recruited the local Kachin people into an insurgency against the Japanese. The force was credited with killing 5,428 Japanese troops and recovering 574 isolated Allied troops, mostly downed aircrews.

But Stilwell didn’t want to disrupt the Japanese in Burma, he wanted it back. In 1944, he was able to lead a force that retook the region. One of the most famous units in the effort was Merrill’s Marauders, led by Maj. Gen. Frank Merrill. Merrill was one of the survivors that left Burma with Stilwell. Merrill had survived the evacuation despite suffering a heart attack.

This is how POWs got playing cards with secret escape maps for Christmas
Merrill’s Marauders move through the China-Burma-India Theater on the Ledo Road. (Photo: National Archives and Records Administration)

Stilwell was finally removed from CBI in 1944, mainly due to staff and national politics. He was sent to the Ryukyu Islands where he took over the 10th Army on Okinawa. It was in this position that he was tapped to lead the invasion of Japan, Operation Downfall.

Luckily for him and his men, though not for his career and legacy, the invasion was made unnecessary by the Japanese surrendering to MacArthur in 1945.

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The complete hater’s guide to the Warthog

So, we are back with another complete hater’s guide to one of the Air Force’s aircraft. Last time, we discussed the F-16 Fighting Falcon.


This time, we will go to the plane that everyone in the Air Force loves…and yet, it keeps ending up on the chopping block. That’s right, it’s time for us to discuss the Fairchild-Republic A-10 Thunderbolt II.

This is how POWs got playing cards with secret escape maps for Christmas
A U.S. Air Force A-10 Thunderbolt II attack aircraft assigned to the 25th Fighter Squadron out of Osan Air Base, Republic of Korea, takes off from Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, Oct. 10, 2016, during the first combat training mission of RED FLAG-Alaska (RF-A) 17-1. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Karen J. Tomasik)

Why it is easy to make fun of the A-10

Let’s see, it’s slow. It doesn’t fly high, if anything, the plane is best flying very low.

This is how POWs got playing cards with secret escape maps for Christmas
As any of its pilots will tell you, it’s ugly — but well hung. (U.S. Air Force photo)

It’s not going to win any airplane beauty pageants any time soon due to being quite aesthetically-challenged. Also, when it was first designed, it was a daylight-only plane with none of the sensors to drop precision-guided weapons.

This is how POWs got playing cards with secret escape maps for Christmas
U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Corey Hook

Why you should hate the A-10

Because it has this cult following that seems to think it can do just about anything and take out any one. Because its pilots think the GAU-8 cannon in the nose is all that — never mind that a number of other planes took bigger guns into the fight — including 75mm guns.

This is how POWs got playing cards with secret escape maps for Christmas

Because that low, slow, flight profile means it is a big target. Because you’d rather claim that a relative died in a motorcycle accident than admit they fly that ugly plane.

This is how POWs got playing cards with secret escape maps for Christmas
Retired Air Force Gen. Charles Horner had a major role in the air power strategy of the Gulf War of 1990-1991. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Andrew Lee)

Because that plane always seems to stick around when the Air Force wants to retire it. Because it is useless in a dogfight.

This is how POWs got playing cards with secret escape maps for Christmas
Representative Martha McSally, pictured in her office during her Air Force career, preparing to distribute BRRRRRT. Helps explain why the A-10 will be around indefinitely. (Photo credit unknown)

Why you should love the A-10

Because this plane can bring its pilot home when the bad guys hit it — just ask “Killer Chick.” Because it also has a proven combat record in Desert Storm, the Balkans, and the War on Terror.

This is how POWs got playing cards with secret escape maps for Christmas
Kim Campbell looks at her damaged hog, which she landed at her base after a mission over Baghdad in 2003. (Photo via National Air and Space Museum)

Because it not only has a powerful tank-killing gun, it can carry lots of bombs and missiles to put the hurt on the bad guys.

This is how POWs got playing cards with secret escape maps for Christmas
An A-10A Thunderbolt II aircraft takes part in a mission during Operation Desert Storm. The aircraft is armed with AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles, AGM-65 Maverick missiles, and Mark 82 500-pound bombs. (Air Force Photo)

Because while it is designed for close-air support, it also proved to be very good at covering the combat search-and-rescue choppers.

This is how POWs got playing cards with secret escape maps for Christmas
An A-10 Thunderbolt II, from Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz., approaches the boom of a KC-135 Stratotanker from McConnell Air Force Base, Kan., for refueling Sept. 12, 2013, over southern Arizona. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Colby L. Hardin)

Because, when it comes right down to it, the A-10, for all its faults, has saved a lot of grunts over the years.

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Here are the winners of the 2014 US military photographer awards

A panel of judges in Fort Meade, Maryland have made their selections for the 2014 Military Photographer awards.


The judges have handed out awards to military photographers for their amazing work in ten different categories including Sports, Pictorial, and Combat Documentation (Operational). The judges have also named the overall best military photographer for 2014.

Air Force Staff Sgt. Vernon Young was selected as the Military Photographer of the year. His photos ranged from evocative portraits of Afghans to scenes of US forces training before deployment.

“Recon Patrols” (First Place: Combat Documentation, Operational)

This is how POWs got playing cards with secret escape maps for Christmas
Photo: SGT Harold Flynn

Soldiers assigned to Palehorse Troop, 4th Squadron, 2nd Calvary Regiment move over rough terrain during Operation Alamo Scout 13, Kandahar Province, Afghanistan, on Feb. 10, 2014. The operation was a joint effort between Palehorse troops and the Afghan National Army’s 205th Corps Mobile Strike Force to conduct reconnaissance patrols in villages around Kandahar Airfield.

“Wounded Warrior” (Second Place: Combat Documentation, Operational)

This is how POWs got playing cards with secret escape maps for Christmas
Photo: SSgt Perry Aston

Casualties airlifted by an Afghan Air Force C-130 Hercules from a Taliban attack on Camp Bastion, are offloaded on Dec. 1, 2014 at Kabul International Airport. The Afghan military successfully repelled the attack on the camp after receiving control of the base from coalition forces a month earlier.

“Afghan Gunner” (Third Place: Combat Documentation, Operational)

This is how POWs got playing cards with secret escape maps for Christmas
TSgt Jason Robertson

An Afghan Air Force (AAF) Mi-17 aerial gunner fires an M-240 machine gun while flying over a weapons range March 13, 2014, near Kabul, Afghanistan. US Air Force Airmen from the 438th Air Expeditionary Wing/NATO Air Training Command-Afghanistan flew a night-vision goggle training mission with an AAF aircrew to further increase the operational capability of the AAF.

“Night Fire” (First Place: Combat Documentation, Training)

This is how POWs got playing cards with secret escape maps for Christmas
Photo: Pfc. Nathaniel Newkirk/US Army

US Army Rangers assigned to 2nd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, fire a 120 mm mortar during a tactical training exercise on Camp Roberts, Calif. on Jan. 30, 2014. 

“Land Nav” (Second Place: Combat Documentation, Training)

This is how POWs got playing cards with secret escape maps for Christmas
Photo: Sgt. Marcus Fichtl/US Army

Sgt. Timothy Martin, a native of Waipahu, Hawaii, wheeled vehicle mechanic, Company B, 204th Brigade Support Battalion, 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, prepares to conduct night land navigation during the brigade’s 3-day-long Soldier and NCO of the Year competition at Camp Buehring, Kuwait, on April 23, 2014. 

“Dustoff! Dustoff!” (Third Place: Combat Documentation, Training)

This is how POWs got playing cards with secret escape maps for Christmas
Photo: Staff Sgt. Corey J. Hook/USAF

US Army Soldiers assigned to the 3rd Squadron 17th Regiment are picked up by a blackhawk helicopter after participating in a survival, evasion, resistance and escape exercise during Decisive Action Rotation 14-09 at the National Training Center on Aug. 13, 2014. Decisive action rotations are reflective of the complexities of potential adversaries the US military could face and include training against guerilla, insurgent, criminal and near-peer conventional forces.

“Drown-proofing” (First Place: Feature)

This is how POWs got playing cards with secret escape maps for Christmas
Master Sgt. Jeffrey Allen/USAF

Members of the Special Tactics Training Squadron enter a pool with their hands and feet bound. The drown-proofing exercise teaches students to remain calm in the water during stressful situations, skills that may prove vital during real-world operations.

“Retiring the colors” (Second Place: Feature)

This is how POWs got playing cards with secret escape maps for Christmas
Photo: Senior Airman Jordan Castelan/USAF

Three 86th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron Airmen secure the American flag during the sounding of retreat on Ramstein Air Base, Germany, on June 27, 2014.

“Down and Dirty” (Third Place: Feature)

This is how POWs got playing cards with secret escape maps for Christmas
Photo: SSgt Vernon Young/USAF

Staff Sgt. Kyle McGann, Explosive Ordnance Disposal technician, climbs into a Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle during EOD blast-pit training on March 16, 2014. Blast pit training prepares EOD technicians to handle detonations by practicing procedures and communications for real-world responses.

“The Reach” (First Place: Illustrative)

This is how POWs got playing cards with secret escape maps for Christmas
Photo: Airman 1st Class Devin N. Boyer/USAF

As the military’s despcription of this photo puts it, “Family and friends can be important influences in helping someone get treatment for mental health issues. Reaching out and letting them know you are there to help them is the first step.”

“Cyber Deception” (Second Place: Illustrative)

This is how POWs got playing cards with secret escape maps for Christmas
Photo: Airman 1st Class Devin N. Boyer/USAF

Per the military’s description: “Social media opens doors for meeting new people. However, are the people you meet who they say they are? The internet allows predators to use deception to take advantage of their victims.”

“The face of domestic violence” Third Place: Illustrative

This is how POWs got playing cards with secret escape maps for Christmas
Photo: Senior Airman Rusty Frank/USAF

This illustration is meant to show the effects of domestic violence. According to the Family Advocacy Program, more than 18,000 cases of domestic violence were reported in 2013.

“The Thunder Returns” (First Place: News)

This is how POWs got playing cards with secret escape maps for Christmas
Photo: Staff Sgt. Larry E. Reid Jr./USAF

The US Air Force Thunderbirds fly the Delta formation over Falcon Stadium during the US Air Force Academy Graduation Ceremony on May 28, 2014. 

“Remembering” (Second Place: News)

This is how POWs got playing cards with secret escape maps for Christmas
Photo: Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Eric R. Dietrich/US Navy

US Air Force Master Sgt. Tiffany Robinson, assigned to 449th Air Expeditionary Group, kneels in front of a battlefield cross following a Memorial Day ceremony at Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti, on May 26, 2014. The cross was created with combat gear representing each of the five US military branches, in commemoration of fallen service members.

“Coast Guard Memorial Day Weekend Rescue” (Third Place: News)

This is how POWs got playing cards with secret escape maps for Christmas
Photo: Chief Petty Officer Lauren Jorgensen/US Coast Guard

Petty Officer 3rd Class Joshua Zartman of Coast Guard Station Mayport, Florida, pulls 10-year-old Nmir Ali Mahmoud toward a Coast Guard boat while rescuing him, his father and another man who were stranded aboard their 21-foot boat after running it aground on top of a jetty near Mayport, May 24, 2014. 

“Out of the Sea” (First Place: Pictorial)

This is how POWs got playing cards with secret escape maps for Christmas
Photo: Master Sgt. Jeffrey Allen/USAF

A 22nd Special Tactics Squadron Airman climbs a ladder into a CH-47 Chinook helicopter hovering over the ocean on June 20, 2014. 

“Sky Miles” (Second Place: Pictorial)

This is how POWs got playing cards with secret escape maps for Christmas
Photo: Gunnery Sgt. Ezekiel R. Kitandwe/USMC

A US Marine assigned to Echo Company 4th Reconnaissance Battalion rappels out of a CH-46E Sea Knight helicopter at Camp Upshur, Marine Corps Base (MCB) Quantico Va., July 17, 2014. The training exercise was part of a week-long jump, dive, breach, and shooting package conducted around MCB Quantico.

“Assault overwatch” (Third Place: Pictorial)

This is how POWs got playing cards with secret escape maps for Christmas
Photo: Spc. Steven A. Hitchcock/US Army

US Army Rangers assigned to 2nd Battalion 75th Ranger Regiment prepare to lay cover fire for the assault element advancing on the objective during task force training on Fort Hunter Ligget, Calif. on Jan. 23, 2014. 

“Survivor” (First Place: Picture Story)

This is how POWs got playing cards with secret escape maps for Christmas
Photo: Staff Sgt. Vernon Young/USAF

Staff Sgt. Chantel Thibeaux was diagnosed with breast cancer in February 2014 during her very first class as an Air Force technical school instructor. With the support of her family, she was able to fight through a disease that claims the lives of thousands each year. As a US Air Force technical school instructor, Thibeaux has been charged to train the next generation of dental assistants. 

“Becoming “Semper Fidelis”” (Second Place: Picture Story)

This is how POWs got playing cards with secret escape maps for Christmas
Photo: Staff Sgt. Jodi Martinez/USAF

US Marine Corps female recruits endure and conquer the Crucible, one of the toughest challenges a recruit will face during their 3-month boot camp at Parris Island, S.C., on Sept. 10, 2014. The women used teamwork, grit, and perseverance to earn the title of Marine and their emblem: the Eagle, Globe, and Anchor.

“Tenderfoot” (Third Place: Picture Story)

This is how POWs got playing cards with secret escape maps for Christmas
Photo: Mass Communication Specialst 3rd Class Siobhana McEwen/US Navy

Per the military’s description, “Farrier Henry Heymeiring has been shoeing horses for more than 40 years, and describes the trade as an art. The foundation of Heymering’s art is his love of the animal. A man of few words and many smiles, Heymeiring’s smiles truly convey his passion for his work.”

“Loud and Clear” (First Place: Portrait)

This is how POWs got playing cards with secret escape maps for Christmas
Photo: Master Sgt. John R. Nimmo/USAF

US Air Force Staff Sgt. Nadia Rowell, health services management journeyman, 43rd Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron, Pope Army Airfield, N.C., stands for a portrait outside the aeromedical evacuation crew tent at Joint Readiness Training Center, Fort Polk, La., March 15, 2014. Service members at JRTC 14-05 are educated in combat patient care and aeromedical evacuation in a simulated combat environment. 

“Game Time” (Second Place: Portrait_

This is how POWs got playing cards with secret escape maps for Christmas
Photo: Senior Airman Daniel Hughes/USAF

A player for the Fort Dorchester High School Football team yells to motivate players in a hostile regional game against Bluffton High School at Bluffton High School Stadium, Oct. 24, 2014. 

“The Army Chaplain” (Third Place: Portrait)

This is how POWs got playing cards with secret escape maps for Christmas
Photo: Tech. Sgt. Joshua L. DeMotts/USAF

A Polish World War II re-enactor portrays an army chaplain with the 106th Infantry Division in the same forest the 106th fought in 70 years previously during the Battle of the Bulge, on Saturday, Dec. 13, 2014. 

“Beyond” (First Place: Sports and Photo Of The Year)

This is how POWs got playing cards with secret escape maps for Christmas
Photo: Master Sgt. Jeffrey Allen/USAF

US Air Force Capt. Sarah Evans jumps rope in a gym in San Antonio, Texas. Evans was diagnosed with cancer while deployed to Afghanistan and was medically evacuated back to the United States where her leg was amputated.

“Roar” (Second Place: Sports)

This is how POWs got playing cards with secret escape maps for Christmas
Photo: Tech. Sgt. Joshua L. Demotts/USAF

AFNORTH’s Eliska Volencova reacts with teammates Erica Balkcum and Emma Rainer after coming back from 10 points to defeat Hohenfels 22-19 in the DODDS-Europe basketball championships Division III semi-final game Friday, Feb. 21, 2014.

Untitled (Third Place: Sports)

This is how POWs got playing cards with secret escape maps for Christmas
Photo: Senior Airman James Richardson/USAF

Cheerleaders from the University of Missouri gather prior to the start of the game against the University of South Carolina Sept. 27, 2014 in Columbia, S.C. Missouri won, 21-20.

Air Force Staff Sgt. Vernon Young won photographer of the year for the following photos: “Timing” …

This is how POWs got playing cards with secret escape maps for Christmas
Photo: Staff Sgt. Vernon Young/USAF

A US Army soldier swings a golf club after duty on March 29, 2014.

“A Deeper Connection” …

This is how POWs got playing cards with secret escape maps for Christmas
Photo: Staff Sgt. Vernon Young/USAF

US Army Staff Sgt. Damion Kennedy shares a laughs with a local Afghan man as he provides overwatch for a base detail project on April 8, 2014.

“Low Pass” …

This is how POWs got playing cards with secret escape maps for Christmas
Photo: Staff Sgt. Vernon Young/USAF

US Air Force Tech. Sgt. Josh Martin, 438th Air Expeditionary Advisory Squadron, Mi-17 aerial gunner, provides rear security on a Mi-17 helicopter over Kabul, Afghanistan, on May 31, 2014. 

“Faces of Afghanistan” …

This is how POWs got playing cards with secret escape maps for Christmas
Photo: Staff Sgt. Vernon Young/USAF

An Afghan man spends a moment alone inside the Afghan National Army (ANA) military planning room prior to serving tea to soldiers on June 11, 2014. The Afghan man provides drinks and cleaning supplies to soldiers as they transition in and out of the ANA command section. 

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NOW: These Striking Photos Show The True Nature Of America’s Veterans 

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This is how much troops were paid in every major American war

Think it’s hard making it month to month in the barracks on just an E-1 pay? Well, the recruits who won America’s earlier wars had to make ends meet with much, much less to draw on. See how much troops made in each conflict, both in their own currency and adjusted for inflation:


Author’s note: The pay structure changed over time. From the Korean War to today, military pay has been relatively consistent across the services and the numbers listed in entries 8-11 reflect the financial realities of an E-1 enlisted servicemember. For earlier conflicts, pay was calculated using the salary of a first-year Army private or a junior infantryman.

1. Revolutionary War

This is how POWs got playing cards with secret escape maps for Christmas
Painting: Battle of Trenton by Charles McBarron

Privates in 1776 earned $6 a month plus a bounty at the end of their service. That pay would equate to $157.58 today, a pretty cheap deal for the poor Continental Congress. Unfortunately for soldiers, Congress couldn’t always make ends meet and so troops often went without their meager pay.

2. War of 1812

This is how POWs got playing cards with secret escape maps for Christmas
Andrew Jackson wins the Battle of New Orleans two weeks after the War of 1812 ended.

Pay started at $5 a month for privates but was raised to $8 at the end of 1812. This was in addition to bounties ranging from $31 and 160 acres of land to $124 and 320 acres of land.

That $8 translates to $136.28 in 2016. The bounties ranged from $528.10 to $2,112.40 for terms of five years to the duration of the war.

3. Mexican-American War

This is how POWs got playing cards with secret escape maps for Christmas
Storming of Monterey in September 1846 during the Mexican-American War. Image date: ca. March 2, 1847.

Young infantrymen in their first year of service during the Mexican-American War pocketed $7 per month, according to this Army history. That’s $210.10 in 2016 dollars.

4. Civil War

This is how POWs got playing cards with secret escape maps for Christmas
The Battle of Chickamauga raged from Sep. 19-20, 1863. Painting: Library of Congress

Union privates in 1863 brought home $13 a month which translates to $237.51 in modern dollars. Confederate privates had it a little worse at $11 a month. The Confederate situation got worse as the war went on since the Confederate States of America established their own currency and it saw rapid inflation as the war situation got worse and worse.

5. Spanish-American War

This is how POWs got playing cards with secret escape maps for Christmas
An undated photo shows soldiers manning a battle signal corps station during the Spanish-American War. Photo: Naval History and Heritage Command

While Army private pay in the Spanish-American War was still $13 like it had been in the Civil War, a period of deflation had strengthened the purchasing power of that monthly salary. In 2016 dollars, it would be worth $356.26.

6. World War I

This is how POWs got playing cards with secret escape maps for Christmas
Photo: National Archives and Records Administration

A private, private second class, or bugler in his first year of service in 1917 was entitled to $30 a month. In exchange for this salary, which would equate to $558.12 today, privates could expect to face the guns of the Germans and other Axis powers.

World War I was the first war where, in addition to their pay, soldiers could receive discounted life insurance as a benefit. The United States Government Life Insurance program was approved by Congress in 1917 and provided an alternative to commercial insurance which either did not pay out in deaths caused by war or charged extremely high premiums for the coverage.

7. World War II

This is how POWs got playing cards with secret escape maps for Christmas
Photo: US Army

In 1944, privates serving in World War II made $50 a month, or $676.51 in 2016 dollars. It seems like toppling three Fascist dictators would pay better than that, but what do we know.

8. Korean War

This is how POWs got playing cards with secret escape maps for Christmas
Dressed in parkas (Overcoat, parka type, with pile liner), Missouri infantrymen pose for a New Year greeting, 19th Infantry Regiment, Kumsong front, Korea, 14 December 1951.

The minimum payment for an E-1 in 1952 was $78 a month which would equate to $700.92 in 2016. Most soldiers actually deploying to Korea would have over four months in the Army and so would’ve received a pay bump to at least $83.20, about $747.64 today.

This was in addition to a foreign duty pay of $8 a month along with a small payment for rations when they weren’t provided.

9. Vietnam War

This is how POWs got playing cards with secret escape maps for Christmas
A U.S. Army soldier smokes after an all-night ambush patrol in Vietnam. Photo: Sgt. 1st Class Peter P. Ruplenas

E-1 wages were not increased between 1952 and 1958, so Korean War and Vietnam War troops made the same amount of money at the lower ranks — except inflation over the years drove the real value of the wages down. New soldiers pocketing $78 would have a salary that equates to 642.71 now, while those with over four months of service who pocketed $83.20 were receiving the equivalent of $685.56 in today’s dollars.

10. Persian Gulf War

This is how POWs got playing cards with secret escape maps for Christmas
Yeah, $1318.12 should cover patrolling through this. No problem. Photo: Public Domain

Grunts who went into Iraq to topple Saddam Hussein were paid the princely sum of $753.90 a month in basic pay, unless they somehow managed to make it to Iraq with less than four months of service. Then they received $697.20.

These amounts would translate in 2016 dollars to $1318.12 and $1,218.98 respectively.

11. War in Afghanistan and the Iraq War

This is how POWs got playing cards with secret escape maps for Christmas
Photo: Spc. Victor Egorov

Troops bringing the American flag back to Iraq in 2003 or deploying to Afghanistan in the same time period received just a little more than their Persian Gulf War predecessors, with $1064.70 for soldiers with less than four months of service and $1,150.80 for the seasoned veterans with four months or more under their belts.

In 2016 dollars, those salaries equate to $1377.93 and $1,489.36, a modest increase from the Persian Gulf War.

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Here are the best military photos of the week

The military has very talented photographers in the ranks, and they constantly attempt to capture what life as a service member is like during training and at war. Here are the best military photos of the week:


AIR FORCE:

Survival, evasion, resistance and escape specialists wait before performing static line jumps as the door of a C-130 Hercules, assigned to Dobbins Air Reserve Base, Ga., opens over the Nevada Test and Training Range, Nev., March 11, 2016. SERE specialists lead the Air Force emergency parachuting program and conduct extensive testing of parachuting systems. They are uniquely suited to analyze the operating environment to plan for evasion, captivity and recovery considerations.

This is how POWs got playing cards with secret escape maps for Christmas
U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Kevin Tanenbaum

Airmen, carrying 35-pound rucksacks, participate in the 2016 Bataan Memorial Death March with 6,600 other participants March 20, 2016, at White Sands Missile Range, N.M. The 27th annual march was 26.2 miles long and served as a reminder for today’s generation of the harsh conditions World War II veterans endured during their 60-mile march to a prisoner-of-war camp in the Philippines.

This is how POWs got playing cards with secret escape maps for Christmas
U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Harry Brexel

ARMY:

A Soldier rushes to his next position during the third day of testing at the Expert Infantry Badge qualification held on Fort Jackson, S.C. March 31, 2016.

This is how POWs got playing cards with secret escape maps for Christmas
U.S. Army photo by Sgt. 1st Class Brian Hamilton

A Soldier, assigned to 1-2 SBCT, 7th Infantry Division, conducts aerial radiological survey training from a 16th Combat Aviation Brigade UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., March 24, 2016.

This is how POWs got playing cards with secret escape maps for Christmas
U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Samuel Northrup

NAVY:

SOUDA BAY, Greece (March 25, 2016) The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Donald Cook (DDG 75), departs Souda Bay, Greece, following a scheduled port visit. Donald Cook is forward deployed to Rota, Spain, and is conducting naval operations in the U.S. 6th Fleet area of operations in support of U.S. national security interests in Europe and Africa.

This is how POWs got playing cards with secret escape maps for Christmas
U.S. Navy photo by Heather Judkins

NORFOLK (March 30, 2016) An MH-53E Sea Dragon helicopter from the Blackhawks of Helicopter Mine Countermeasures Squadron (HM) 15 conducts an aerial refueling exercise with a Lockheed Martin KC-130 tanker. Navy and Marine Corps aviators regularly conduct training in order to maintain mission readiness.

This is how POWs got playing cards with secret escape maps for Christmas
U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Taylor N. Stinson

MARINE CORPS:

A U.S. Navy Corpsman assigned to Field Medical Training Battalion East (FMTB-E), checks on members of his squad during a final exercise (FINEX) at Camp Johnson, N.C., March 1, 2016. FINEX is a culminating event at FMTB-E which transitions Sailors into the Fleet Marine Force.

This is how POWs got playing cards with secret escape maps for Christmas
U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. James R. Skelton

U.S. Marines with the Marine Corps Engineer School (MCES) at Courthouse Bay, participate in tug of war competition during a field meet at Ellis Field on Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, March 17, 2016. The MCES holds a field meet annually in order to promote camaraderie and competition.

This is how POWs got playing cards with secret escape maps for Christmas
U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Tyler W. Stewartg

COAST GUARD:

Chief Petty Officer Mark Wanjongkhum and Chief Warrant Officer Michael Allen, both from Surface Forces Logistics Center, walk around the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Healy while in dry dock at Vigor Shipyard in Seattle, March 31, 2016. Healy will return to the water this week after three months of maintenance.

This is how POWs got playing cards with secret escape maps for Christmas
U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Zac Crawford

A C-27J Medium Range Surveillance airplane sits on the runway at Coast Guard Aviation Logistics Center in Elizabeth City, North Carolina, Thursday, March 31, 2016. The C-27J is the newest Coast Guard aircraft to join the fleet and will be used in maritime patrol, drug and migrant interdiction, disaster response, and search and rescue missions.

This is how POWs got playing cards with secret escape maps for Christmas
U.S. Coast Guard photograph by Chief Petty Officer NyxoLyno Cangemi

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Service members share their favorite parts of life in the military

This is how POWs got playing cards with secret escape maps for Christmas


The reasons why individuals join the US military are as diverse and unique as each person serving.

But, whatever the reasons for why someone joined the military, service members can bond with each other over both the negatives and positives of serving in the armed forces.

In a recent Reddit thread, military members responded to the question, “What is your favorite part of being in the military?”

Predictably, the answers varied greatly, from the steadiness of pay in the military to the sense of belonging to something greater than the individual. We’ve collected our favorite answers below.

For Reddit user terrez, the greatest part of being in the military was the opportunities to see and experience things he would never have had the opportunity to otherwise:

Got to live in Japan, a place I never thought I would see I person. So that’s pretty neat. Occasionally an f16 will be doing loopdy loops and stuff over the flight line (idk why) and it’s like a quick little air show.

This point of view, the fact that the military is an eye-opening experience, was echoed by LordWartooth:

I would honestly have to say, both sarcastically and seriously, that my favorite part of being in the military has to be the eye opening experience about life in general. When you see senior field grade officers who can barely read, or senior enlisted whose uniforms could be painted on, considering how tight they are, and you know that they have found success in life, then I should know that consistently aiming to be better than that will take me where I want to be in life, in the military or outside of it.

Reddit user Esdarke quickly agreed with LordWartooth’s point:

Absolutely this. If nothing else, the military will teach you about yourself.

I for one have resolved to be less of a d— to people. Because now I’ve seen what happens when everyone acts like a YouTube comments section and nobody needs that in their life.

This is how POWs got playing cards with secret escape maps for Christmas
U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Matthew Bragg

And for some, serving in the military was made worth it simply for the camaraderie and diversity that it fostered in the ranks. StonehengeMan writes of his favorite part of being in the military:

The people in the military.

All kinds of backgrounds – but we all work together as one (mostly). The sense of camaraderie and purpose.

Sorry if that comes across as a little earnest but it’s the people you work with that get you through the really bad days and who let you enjoy the good days even more 🙂

This sense of family that the military fosters was a common theme for the Reddit users. User Asymmetric_Warfare noted that the military imbues service members with a support system, adventure, and experiences that someone fresh out of high school might never otherwise experience:

For me first and foremost it has been mentoring my joe’s and watching my junior enlisted soldiers grow and mature and become NCO’s themselves.

Being able to call my deployment buddies up at any time any place anywhere with any issue and they will be there for me and vice a versa.

Making friendships with the people you deploy with that are stronger then your own familial bonds to your siblings and family back home.

Going to war, realizing a lot of sh– back home is just that, white noise, definitely puts life into perspective after.

Being stationed in germany at 18 years old, Donor Kabab’s, them crazy foam parties in Nuremburg. All those lovely German single ladies…I miss you Fräulein’s.

 

This is how POWs got playing cards with secret escape maps for Christmas
US Army by Spc. Michelle U. Blesam

And of course, for some, the best part of joining the military are the practical and concrete benefits that the organization imparts. As zaishade writes:

Not worrying about my finances: I don’t have to worry about being laid off tomorrow, or not making enough to cover rent and groceries. As much as I like fantasizing about my separation date, whenever I go visit civilian friends and family I’m reminded of how much the common man still has to struggle.

Reddit user jeebus_t_christ echoes the practical benefits of joining the military by writing simply: “Free college.”

And ultimately, as Reddit user ChumBucket1 notes flippantly, “Blowing shit up and shooting machine guns never got old.”

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This Army captain is getting the Medal of Honor for tackling a suicide bomber

The Army’s newest Medal of Honor recipient will be retired Capt. Florent “Flo” Groberg from the 4th Infantry Division. President Obama will drape the medal around his neck in a White House ceremony on November 12.


This is how POWs got playing cards with secret escape maps for Christmas
Photo: US Army courtesy photo

Groberg was leading a personal security detail on Aug. 8, 2012 when he spotted a suicide bomber in Kunar Province, Afghanistan. Groberg rushed the bomber and threw him to the ground, limiting the effects of the blast. Still, four soldiers were killed in the attack when the bomber released the dead man’s trigger he was using.

Another suicide bomber hiding nearby was surprised by the explosion enough that he triggered his own bomb prematurely, which saved more lives thanks to Groberg’s actions.

Groberg survived but was severely wounded. On Sep. 21, 2015, he was called by the president and told he would be receiving the Medal of Honor.

Groberg tells the story in his own words in the video below. Read more here.

(h/t Army Times)

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UK sinks ‘Boaty McBoatface’; USAF may have to shoot down similar names

In an effort to drum up interest in the council’s efforts and in science in general, Britain’s Natural Environment Research Council launched a public poll last month to determine the name of its new $300 million advanced research vessel.  The winner was “Boaty McBoatface,” four times more popular than the next best suggestion, the “Poppy-Mai,” which would have named the boat after a 16-month-old girl with cancer.  The UK’s Science Minister, Jo Johnson sunk the suggestion this week, telling NPR the boat needed a more appropriate moniker.


This is how POWs got playing cards with secret escape maps for Christmas

In March 2016, the U.S. Air Force launched a similar initiative to name its latest Long Range Strike Bomber, the B-21. The Air Force, like America, does not trust its citizens with direct democracy and does not allow the general public to vote on the name. It also is not publishing names for consideration. A few of the names floating around the Air Force’s tweet on the B-21’s name floated TrumppelinDeathkill Eaglehawk Firebird Hoora! Testosterone, and (of course), Bomby McBombface.

This is how POWs got playing cards with secret escape maps for Christmas

Voting for the B-21’s name is limited to members of the U.S. Air Force active duty force, Air Force Reserve and Air National Guard components, their dependents, members of the U.S. Air Force Civil Service and U.S. Air Force retirees. There also exists a complete set of contest rules and regulations.

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The latest Medal of Honor is the 11th to come from Afghanistan’s ‘Wild East’

“It’s a kinetic place,” Army Capt. Florent Groberg said Wednesday of Afghanistan’s Kunar province, where his instinctive tackling of a suicide bomber in 2012 earned him the Medal of Honor.


This is how POWs got playing cards with secret escape maps for Christmas
Photo: US Army

Of the 13 Medals of Honor awarded during Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, 11 have come from actions in either Kunar or neighboring Nuristan province, collectively dubbed the “Wild East” by the troops.

Seven were awarded for combat in Kunar, and four came in Nuristan. The other two were awarded to Marine Lance Corp. William Kyle Carpenter for his actions in southwestern Helmand province and Army Staff Sgt. Leroy A. Petry for combat in southeastern Paktia province.

“It’s just kinetic, they fight as we fight” along the rugged ridges and slot canyons of Kunar, Groberg said. “Kunar’s a tough place, if not the most kinetic place in the world,” he said. “There’s no specific explanation for it. It’s kinetic.”

Before President Obama began the troop withdrawals from Afghanistan and the combat mission was ended, successive U.S. and NATO commanders had wavered over the years on whether to maintain combat outposts that came under constant attack from a hostile population in Kunar and Nuristan, or simply to abandon the area.

On Thursday, the 32-year-old Groberg, who grew up in a Paris suburb and is a naturalized U.S. citizen, will become the 10th living American to receive the nation’s highest award for valor since the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks when President Obama makes the formal presentation at a White House ceremony.

This is how POWs got playing cards with secret escape maps for Christmas
Photo: US Army courtesy photo

At a roundtable session with reporters Wednesday, Groberg was joined by three members of his unit who witnessed his sprint to get at the suicide bomber near a bridge in the Kunar village of Assadabad on Aug. 8, 2012 — Staff Sgt. Brian Brink, the platoon Sergeant; Sgt. Andrew Mahoney, the communications specialist; and Spc. Daniel Balderrama, the medic.

All said they felt uneasy as they approached on foot along a paved road to a bridge as the personal security detail for then-Col. James Mingus, now a brigadier general assigned to Fort Carson, Colorado. Mingus was headed to a meeting with an Afghan provincial governor.

“That day, it just felt a little different when we got on the ground,” Groberg said. Brink echoed him: “Everything felt a little different that day. It was a gut feeling. We all felt it. Nobody had to say it. Things just didn’t set right with us.”

In the rear, they heard a car revving its engine. Brink radioed back — “Get him off us, get him off us.” They later concluded that the revving engine was the signal for two men on motorcycles to approach from the front. Brink and others raised their weapons. The men dismounted and backed off.

The road narrowed near the bridge. To the right was a stone wall, to the left a drainage culvert.

Two other men appeared, walking backwards in parallel to the unit. Brink said the man closest to the unit had a bulge on his hip, with his right hand resting on the bulge. Brink raised his weapon again and just as he readied to pull the trigger, Groberg ran at the man, followed by Mahoney.

“You face a threat, you go towards the threat,” Groberg said. For an instant, the man made eye contact. “He had a blank stare,” Groberg said. “He did a 180 and cut directly toward the patrol. I hit him, then we grabbed him and threw him to the ground. He detonated at our feet.”

The second man also set off his explosive device but the force of the blast mainly went into the stone wall.

Groberg was knocked unconscious. About half of his left calf had been torn away. He also suffered a blown eardrum and a mild traumatic brain injury.

Balderrama, the medic, had also been knocked unconscious and suffered shrapnel wounds to his legs. The force of the blast had thrown him into the culvert.

“The first thing when I woke up in that ditch, I was so thankful. He (Groberg) was calling for me, yelling ‘Doc, Doc save my leg.’ I remember seeing his boots covered in blood, his legs covered in blood,” Balderrama said.

Balderrama tried to stand to get to his captain. He couldn’t. “I recall trying to stand up and falling down. I couldn’t put weight on my legs. I kind of shimmied over, I think on my knees or something,” he said.

Balderrama managed to get a tourniquet on Groberg’s leg. “I just wanted to get him to the next level of care,” he said.

The suicide bomber had taken a heavy toll. In addition to the wounded, four had been killed — Army Command Sgt. Maj. Kevin J. Griffin, 46; Army Maj. Thomas E. Kennedy, 35; Air Force Maj. Walter D. Gray, 38; and Ragaei Abdelfattah, 43, a Foreign Service officer with the U.S. Agency for International Development.

Thinking back on it, Brink said the enemy had planned well for that day. “As we approached the bridge, we were attacked just short of the bridge. It was an absolute choke point. There’s no doubt in my mind, looking back in my mind, that it was well planned, coordinated.  They knew we would have to constrict our formation into a smaller group and they took advantage.”

Groberg never stops thinking back on it. “We all fought those demons of ‘why me.’ Why not me? And in the end, you know, it’s combat,” he said. “All we can do now is honor those guys and their families. And make sure that we are better people, that we live our lives for them. And every day when we wake up, we remember. And when it gets tough, we remember.”

“They made the ultimate sacrifice,” he said of the four who were killed. “We’re here to tell you this. I’m so blessed and honored for the medal, but it doesn’t belong to me, it belongs to them.”

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