With a distinguished history dating back to the end of American Civil War, the men and women of the elite Secret Service take on one of the world’s toughest tasks — protecting the U.S. president and other government officials from assassination attempts.
Originally designated to control the issue of combating US currency counterfeiting, it wasn’t until after the assassination of former President William McKinley when the Service Secret was assigned to protect the POTUS in 1901.
The Secret Service’s mission is to prevent life-threatening incidents well before they occur. They scope out meeting locations days before their clients show up and map out vantage points and escape routes if the situation goes pear shaped.
In the sniper world, the mission is the same. Highly-trained sharpshooters are always on the alert, completely focused and ready to strike at all times.
Working in teams of two, you can usually spot them posted on the White House’s rooftop examining your every move.
Usually armed with high-powered rifles, each team is equipped with a shooter and a spotter. These snipers go through intense training learning how to react to any situation that they may face.
Remarkably, no sniper team has ever had to fire a shot since the unit was formed in 1971.
Would you fall on a grenade to save your friends? How about two grenades? Jack H. Lucas did and became the youngest man to be awarded the U.S. Medal of Honor, the United States’ highest combat award.
Born Jacklyn Harrell Lucas in Plymouth, NC on February 14, 1928, Jacklyn was a natural athlete who quickly rose to captain of the football team at his high school, the Edwards Military Institute.
By the age of 14, Jack looked much older. Relatively tall for his age (5′ 8″) and brawny at 180 pounds, Jack had no trouble convincing the Marine Corps recruiters that he was 17 when he enlisted in August of 1942. Notably, to enlist at age 17 (as opposed to 18), Jack needed a parent signature – so he forged his mother’s.
Jack did his basic training at Parris Island, South Carolina and qualified as both a rifle sharpshooter and a heavy machine gun crewman. In November 1943, he was assigned to the 6th Base Depot of the V Amphibious Corps at Camp Catlin in Oahu, Hawaii. There he achieved the rank of Private First Class in January of 1944. However, after reviewing a letter Jack had written to his girlfriend, military censors realized he was only 15 years old. He was then removed from his combat unit, but rather than sent home (something he argued heavily against), he was assigned to truck driving.
Of course, being “in the rear with the gear” was not Jack’s idea of military service. Angry, he got into so many fights that he was ultimately court-martialed and spent 5 months breaking rocks and consuming mostly bread and water.
Released from the stockade by January 1945 and still determined to see combat, Jack walked away from his post that month and stowed away on the USS Deuel, a transport ship heading toward fighting in the Pacific. Because he left his assignment, he was declared a deserter and reduced in rank to Private. Now closer to the action, after hiding for about a month, Jack finally turned himself in on February 8, 1945, once again volunteering to fight. On February 14, he turned 17. By February 20, he got his wish and was fighting on the island of Iwa Jima.
During the battle on February 20, 1945, Jack and his comrades were advancing toward a Japanese airstrip near Mount Suribachi. Taking cover in a trench under heavy fire, Jack realized they were only feet away from enemy soldiers in a neighboring trench. He managed to shoot two of the soldiers before two live grenades landed in his trench.
Thinking quickly, Jack threw himself on the first grenade, shoving it into volcanic ash and used his body and rifle to shield the others with him from the pending blast. When another grenade appeared directly after the first, he reached out and pulled it under himself as well. His body took the brunt of the blasts and the massive amount of shrapnel. His companions were all saved, but his injuries were so serious they thought he had died. Only after a second company moved through did anyone realize he was somehow still alive.
Jack endured nearly two dozen surgeries and extensive therapy and convalescence. Despite the surgeries, over 200 pieces of shrapnel remained in his body for the rest of his life.
Shortly after his act of heroism, on February 26, 1945, the deserter classification was removed and he was restored to the rank of Private First Class. Ultimately all 17 of his military convictions were also cleared. Nonetheless, he was unfit for duty and discharged form the Marines on September 18, 1945.
On October 5, 1945 President Harry S Truman awarded Jack, and 13 other recipients at that ceremony, the Medal of Honor. Notably, however, at 17 he was the youngest there and the youngest to ever receive the award. For his bravery and service, Jack also received the Presidential Unit Citation, American Campaign Medal, Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal, the World War II Victory Medal and a Purple Heart.
So what happened after? Besides graduating high school and earning a business degree, at the age of 31, he enlisted as a First Lieutenant in the 82nd Airborne Division of the U.S. Army. During his first training jump, according to his team leader, “Jack was the last one out of the plane and the first one on the ground.” You see, neither of his parachutes opened. Despite this and an approximately 3,500 foot fall, he miraculously survived with only minor injuries. Two weeks later, he was back jumping out of planes.
Jack lived to the ripe old age of 80, dying on June 5, 2008 from leukemia.
A more recent individual who jumped on a grenade to save another soldier was Lance Corporal William Kyle Carpenter. On November 21, 2010 while in Afghanistan, a grenade was thrown into his sandbagged position. Rather than run, he used his own body to shield the other soldier with him from the blast. Like Jack Lucas, though severely injured, Carpenter lived and was awarded the Medal of Honor in June of 2014.
During World War II, U.S. armed forces used the Mk 2 hand grenade (Mk II), a fragmentation type of grenade. Resembling a type of fruit, it was given the nickname “iron pineapple.” The time from pulling the pin to explosion of a time-delay fragmentation grenade can vary from between 2 and 6 seconds.
Four-hundred and sixty-four service members were awarded the Medal of Honor in World War II, including 82 Marines. To date, 15 service members have been granted that honor from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan combined. In total, 3,468 Medals of Honor have been awarded, with the most (1,522) being given for service during the American Civil War. In addition, 193 have been to non-combat recipients.
The most recent recipient (awarded on July 21, 2014) was Sergeant Ryan M. Pitts of the U.S. Army, 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry who, on July 13, 2008 in Kunar Province, Afghanistan, despite severe wounds, launched fragmentary grenades, laid suppressive fire, and risked his life to convey vital situation reports, which helped prevent the enemy from gaining a strategic foothold.
A Spitfire and Hurricane fly together during a Battle of Britain commemorative flight (Ministry of Defence photo)
The Battle of Britain was a turning point for the allied forces during WWII. After their evacuation at Dunkirk, the British Army was in a poor state, having abandoned much of its warfighting equipment and machinery in France. The Home Guard, the armed citizen militia that supported the British Army, was mobilized in anticipation of a German invasion of the British Isles. As Prime Minister Winston Churchill said, the British people prepared to fight the Germans on the beaches, on the landing grounds, in the fields and in the streets, and in the hills. Ferrying an army across the English Channel is no easy task though, and the Germans needed to secure air superiority before their invasion.
In July 1940, Germany began an air and sea blockade of Britain with the goal of compelling her government to negotiate a peace settlement. Initially targeting coastal-shipping convoys, ports, and shipping centers, the German Luftwaffe was redirected to incapacitate RAF Fighter Command on August 1. They targeted airfields and infrastructure in an attempt to defeat the RAF on the ground. It was the job of the RAF’s fighter pilots to repel these attacks by the much larger German Luftwaffe. In the words of Air Chief Marshal Hugh Dowding, “Our young men will have to shoot down their young men at the rate of five to one.”
Supermarine Spitfires during the Battle of Britain (Photo from the Imperial War Museum)
When people think about the Battle of Britain, they often envision elegant Supermarine Spitfires with their large, elliptical wings, locked in a deadly aerial ballet with German Messerschmitt Bf 109s. Or perhaps a mental image is conjured of those same beautiful Spitfires cutting swathes through formations of Luftwaffe Ju 87 Stuka dive-bombers or Heinkel He 111 level bombers. Either way, the hero aircraft of the Battle of Britain that most people remember is the Supermarine Spitfire. However, the truth of the matter is that the Hawker Hurricane shot down more German aircraft than all other air and ground defenses combined during the Battle of Britain.
Although it was not nearly as pretty as the Spitfire, looking rather like a sad Basset Hound, the Hurricane was a more stable gun platform with its thicker wings. They allowed its eight .303 Browning machine guns to be mounted closer together in the wings and closer to the center of the aircraft, producing more accurate fire. Though the Spitfire was armed with the exact same guns, its thinner wings forced them to be mounted further out from the fuselage which caused the plane to become unbalanced when they were fired.
Hawker Hurricanes during the Battle of Britain (Photo from the Imperial War Museum)
The Hurricane, with its wood and fabric construction, was also easier for ground crews to repair and conduct maintenance on. Conversely, the Spitfire’s metal construction meant that skilled metal workers were needed to conduct repairs. This difference in design also meant that the Hurricane could be produced quicker and in larger numbers than the Spitfire. During the Battle of Britain, 32 RAF fighter squadrons flew the Hurricane whereas only 19 squadrons flew Spitfires.
RAF pilots scramble to their Hurricanes (Royal Canadian Air Force photo)
This is not to say that the Spitfire was inferior to the Hurricane; in fact, it was arguably the better dogfighter. Although both planes were powered by the same Rolls-Royce 27-litre liquid-cooled V-12 Merlin engine, the Spitfire could climb faster and turn tighter thanks to its wing design. As a result, Spitfires were generally directed to intercept the Luftwaffe escort fighters while Hurricanes attacked the enemy bomber formations.
In short, neither the Spitfire nor the Hurricane could have won the Battle of Britain alone. The two planes complemented each other in the sky and worked together to repel the onslaught of German air attacks. In the end, the RAF reported 1,542 aircrew killed and 1,744 aircraft destroyed while the Luftwaffe reported 2,585 aircrew killed or missing, 925 captured, and 1,634 aircraft destroyed in combat. Failing to establish air superiority over Britain, Hitler was forced to postpone his invasion indefinitely. Shooting down a majority portion of enemy aircraft, the Hurricane deserves its fair share of fame alongside the Spitfire in staving off the Nazi threat.
It may surprise the younger counterterrorism buffs out there to know that France maintains one of the oldest and most experienced counterterror units in the world, the Group D’Intervention de la Gendarmerie Nationale. If you don’t speak French, all you need to know is that they’re gendarmes, soldiers who can arrest you and – when asked – will come to find you outside of France to arrest you.
This is not something you want to happen to you, as some foolish terrorists found out when they seized the holiest site in Islam at gunpoint.
Islam’s version of the end of the world has a number of minor and major signs to look out for. The major part begins with the appearance of the Mahdi, Islam’s redeemer, who brings the world’s Muslim community back to the religion, helps kill the anti-Christ, and paves the way for the rule of Jesus (yes, Christianity’s Jesus, same guy) on Earth.
Over the years, many people have come forward claiming to be the Mahdi. There was Dia Abdul Zahra Kadim, the leader of an Iraqi insurgent group, killed near Najaf in 2003. The founder of the Nation of Islam, W. Fard Mohammed, claimed to be the Mahdi as many of the Nation’s followers do. Others have followers make the claim for them, like a leader of a Turkish sex cult.
“Listen, I never said I am the redeemer of Islam, I just didn’t say you were wrong to say I am.”
But no one in recent memory left quite the impression on history like Muhammad bin abd Allah al-Qahtani, who led his personal army, al-Ikhwan, to capture the Grand Mosque in Mecca at gunpoint. The Grand Mosque is home to the Kabaa, the holiest site in Islam and destination for all the world’s Islamic pilgrims, a voyage every Muslim must make once in their lifetime. There are a number of other important holy sites contained within.
And in 1979, Mohammed Abdullah al-Qahtani and an estimated 300-600 followers took it over, along with the tens of thousands of people inside. They actually let most of them go, but not before killing the poorly-armed security guards, cutting the phone lines, and sealing themselves in. They were well-armed, well-trained, and well-funded. The Saudis were going to need some help.
“I choose Pierre.”
That’s where GIGN comes in. While the truly ignorant can laugh about how “French commandos” sounds when the only history they know is from World War II, the rest of you need to know these guys wear ski masks and carry .357 Magnums as their sidearm. When the GIGN come to kill you, they want to make sure the job is done. Their training course has an astonishing 95 percent washout rate. While the US was toying with the idea of a special counterterrorism force, GIGN was probably retaking a cargo container ship somewhere.
Their job in Saudi Arabia would be no different, except they would also be training the Saudi and Pakistani special forces who would be going into the Grand Mosque with them.
Somewhere out there is a group of Pakistani commandos who pronounce “flashbang” with a little French accent. Fear those people.
The terrorists weren’t a bunch of desperate weirdos with a fundamentalist ideology. These guys were prepared to bring down the entire Saudi Kingdom while inciting other anti-Saud citizens to do the same. The terrorists immediately repelled the government’s counterattack and waited for whatever the King would throw at them next. GIGN is what came next. France sent three of their finest GIGN men who immediately began training their counterparts on how to effectively clear buildings of pesky terrorists. When the men were ready, they all prepared to storm the gates.
But there was a hitch. Muslim Saudi and Pakistani troops would be going in there alone because the Grand Mosque is forbidden to non-Muslims. Even when they’re trying to retake the mosque. Their GIGN mentors would have to sit back and wait to see how well they trained these men.
This photo of the captured militants doesn’t do justice to how well-trained they were.
Some 50 Pakistani SSG commandos and 10,000 Saudi National Guardsmen stormed the Grand Mosque after two weeks or so of being held by the terrorists. On Dec. 4, 1979, the militants were disbursed from the mosque and forced to hide about in the now-evacuated city of Mecca. The guardsmen and SSG men fared well against the terrorists, killing roughly 560 of them while others fled the scene into Mecca and the countryside, where most were captured.
After the Frenchmen left Saudi Arabia, the hubbub surrounding the Grand Mosque seizure didn’t die. Instead of crackdowns of unruly citizens, the King of Saudi Arabia opted instead to implement many the famous “sharia” laws Saudi Arabia suffered through for decades; the restrictions on women, powerful religious police, and more. Only in the 2010s has the kingdom seen a loosening of these religious laws.
When America entered World War I, it brought more radical changes than just fresh troops and a huge manufacturing base. It also introduced novel tactics in the fight against venereal disease — the war for infantrymen’s penises.
Specifically, “go and don’t bring back venereal diseases.”
(The Museum of New Zealand)
See, while World War I was a bone-crunching and horrible war, those who rotated off the front were still willing to stand at attention for a little morale improvement. Unfortunately, troops wouldn’t always report it if their li’l Joes encountered some biological warfare on the battlefield.
All euphemisms aside, lots of troops were sleeping with lots of women whenever they got the chance, leading to an outbreak of sexually transmitted diseases. Because of social stigmas, many troops wouldn’t report it when they contracted one of the STDs, further propelling the problem.
As American troops and their physicians made their way to the front, leaders had to decide how to prevent the same issue among U.S. ranks. While the European powers had embraced a program of abstinence, the U.S. Army created a four-pronged attack on venereal disease.
Alcohol wasn’t popular in the U.S. before or after the war. Remember, America entered World War I just three years before it enacted Prohibition.
(United Committee on War Temperance)
The first two prongs were social: First, the U.S. cracked down on access to alcohol and prostitutes in the ranks. While this, obviously, eliminated American forces from most of the fun trenches of France, it would also serve to cut down on how often the soldiers were exposed to venereal disease. Then, authorities launched an education campaign, ostensibly to help men “Just Say No” to diseased genitals.
Oddly enough, this second prong, “education,” was actually controversial. Birth control education was actually illegal in America during World War I and had been since 1873. In fact, a high-profile arrest in 1916 occurred when a woman opened America’s first birth control clinic.
The next prong represented the biggest shift from Europe abstinence program. The U.S. distributed “prophylactics,” or condoms. Condoms help prevent the spread of sexually transmitted diseases and infections, especially gonorrhea and chlamydia, which were big threats in France at the times. Condoms also cut down on the transmission of syphilis, another widespread disease.
It wasn’t just prostitutes that American G.I.s were able to attract, either. Remember that Britain and France had been at war for almost three years when America came along, and huge numbers of their military-age males were already dead. Plenty of women looking for boyfriends and husbands had few options beyond traveling soldiers.
(Imperial War Museum)
This was also illegal in World War I in some parts of the country and would remain so until 1965 when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a law banning birth control — but hey, troops get certain exemptions. When you bend the rules to ask a guy to kill for you, you should probably loosen the rules about teaching him how to get laid without contracting disease or conceiving a baby.
These three prongs helped but, of course, even if the troops never got drunk with a prostitute and used a new condom every time they had sex, some guys would still get unlucky and contract a disease or two. So, prong four of the plan was an emphasis on medical care. Report the disease when you’re sick, come to the clinic, and get diagnosed and treated.
All of these efforts were buffed by other programs advocated by Army doctors, like the “furnishing of healthy social conditions and of opportunities for diversion….” Basically, keep the troops too busy with the YMCA and and other social organizations that they wouldn’t get so bored they’d slip out of camp to look for prostitutes.
This was the treatment for gonorrhea in those days, an injection into the urethra. We can’t understand why troops might’ve avoided seeing the doctor.
Yeah, get the drip-drop and don’t report to the docs, you’re going to the stocks.
And the policies worked, to an extent. Of course some guys got sick and passed the disease along before getting treatment, but disease levels were lower in the U.S. camps than in British and French ones.
Front and back cover on a War Department pamphlet advocating veterans engage in a war against venereal disease back in the U.S.
So the allies followed suit, distributing condoms and providing distractions. Again, no plan was perfect, and there were limits to what medicine was capable of at the time, so not all troops who got sick were guaranteed recovery with treatment.
The efforts to protect troops from STDs in World War I were repeated in World War II — and led to the slow expansion of birth control and disease prevention at home. Troops were sent home with books about venereal disease, but these typically advocated abstinence in place of the condoms and medical treatment provided in the trenches.
It is always interesting to dive on wrecks. This can include wrecks of sunken warships, which can serve as an eerie glimpse into the past. Some ships, like the Essex-class aircraft carrier USS Oriskany (CV 34), are old warships being put to use as artificial reefs.
Others were sent to Davy Jone’s Locker the hard way during the war. One such vessel is the Nazi U-boat U-85. According to U-Boat.net, this sub sank three vessels during its wartime service before it ran into USS Roper (DD 147). The Roper put U-85 on the bottom of the Atlantic. All hands went down with the Nazi sub less than twenty miles off the coast of North Carolina.
The story, though, doesn’t end there. According to Outer Banks Sentinel’s web site, in 2001, divers Jim Bunch, Roger Hunting, and Rich Hunting retrieved the sub’s Enigma machine. The site claimed that Navy divers had attempted a similar objective shortly after the U-boat sank in 1942. The Sentinel noted that the Enigma was worth as much as $200,000, although appraisals supposedly for tax purposes were in the range of $50,000 to $75,000.
A 2003 release by the United States Navy’s Naval Historical Center noted that “the retrieval of the Enigma machine by the private divers was illegal without proper authorization from the German government to do so.” The Navy, the divers, and the German government later arranged for the Engima machine in question to be donated to the Atlantic Graveyard Museum, where it is today.
The looting of war graves has become an epidemic in the East Indies, including the battleship HMS Prince of Wales, the battlecruiser HMS Repulse, and a number of other allied vessels.
Military food is notorious for earning the right to be nicknamed a “mess.”
Sometimes it’s because the recipe is fundamentally flawed, other times it’s because the supplies available meant a substitution (read: mistake) was made.
Or maybe the people working in the kitchen decide to put spaghetti on top of your mashed potatoes, despite all the room on the rest of the plate (looking at you, Fort Meade).
Think of this list as more of a hat tip to the kitchen staffers who go above and beyond to make sure the food we all eat is a force multiplier – and not a tool of the Dark Side of the force. Here are a few recipes for disaster collected by the WATM staff.
1. Powdered Eggs – Tent City, Saudi Arabia
Military kitchen staffs the world over will vehemently deny ever using powdered eggs, but one look at the yellow-gray-green muck that might be looking back at you will make you think twice about believing them. Sure, a hot meal probably beats a field ration but in this case, not by much.
The eggs pair well with pieces of lettuce. This is great because if anyone arrived to the chow line later than 20 minutes after it opened for midnight meal, lettuce was their only side dish option.
2. Basically everything served at MIDRATS – USS Kitty Hawk
Burnt, crispy rice is a delicacy in some places – like Iran – but it shouldn’t be the norm on a Navy ship during midnight rations, even if the ship is in the Strait of Hormuz.
Yet, there it is. Although sometimes, the burnt rice would be rolled into meatballs and go by the name “hedgehogs.”
If the U.S. Navy’s tadig (google it) isn’t your thing, MIDRATS also offers boiled hot dogs, cardboard burger patties, and teflon bread.
That’s OK, because it all tastes the same with enough hot sauce.
3. KBR Steak and Seafood Night – Victory Base Complex, Iraq
The chief chow hall supplier for Operation Iraqi Freedom tried to build a little morale with luxury food items once a week. This ended up being the day you could smell exactly what the chow hall was cooking, long before you got anywhere near the place.
Kinda like the dumpster behind a Red Lobster.
Boiling steaks ensured no one got sick from undercooked meat while also guaranteeing no one enjoyed them.
The fried shrimp had the consistency of poker chips and the King Crab legs were… there.
The Subway probably did good business on these days.
4. Fish. Forever. – FOB Fenty, Afghanistan
After a U.S. friendly fire incident killed 24 Pakistanis, American troops in Afghanistan were cut off from supplies coming across the Hindu Kush.
For members of the 101st Combat Aviation Brigade stationed at FOB Fenty near Jalalabad, this meant a deep dive into the frozen food section.
The “breaded brown patty” was made of an unknown meat and trying to determine which animal – or animals – it came from might only raise more questions than it answered. The only hint that animals were involved in the brown patty process was the layer of fat congealing at the bottom of the tray.
The taste was primarily salt, and the texture resembled that of a warm kitchen sponge. One bite was enough to make any Marine content with a roll and a glass of milk.
6. Pasta Carbonara – Camp Victory, Iraq
Spaghetti alla Carbonara is a delicious dish with ground egg, pecorino Romano cheese, pancetta bacon, and black pepper. But that’s not what happened in Iraq.
Now, no one truly believes the chow hall is going to carry Romano cheese or pancetta. But the recipe found in one of the chow lines on Camp Victory included a ketchup-based red sauce, egg slices, bologna cubes, and frozen peas.
“Given the selection, most meals ultimately degrade into some combination of cereal, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and saltine crackers,” said the author, Navy Lt. Andrew Sand, who would be driven to risk his life for a plate of French cheese.
One infantryman gained notoriety while cooking for his unit at Camp Bala Hissar near Kabul. Army Sgt. Troy Heckenlaible said the 100 or so soldiers he cooked for preferred his cooking to the food at Eggers. His secret? Unit Group Rations.
Gen. David Petraeus, who commanded US troops during the 2007-2008 surge in the Iraq war, believes Iran-backed Shia militias are a bigger threat to Iraq than the Islamic State militants they are fighting.
“The foremost threat to Iraq’s long-term stability and the broader regional equilibrium is not the Islamic State, it is Shiite militias, many backed by — and some guided by — Iran,” Petraeus told Liz Sly of The Washington Post.
Iran’s military mastermind, Qassem Suleimani, has played pivotal roles in the deployment of Iranian assets against the Islamic State (aka Islamic State, ISIL, Daesh) in Iraq. Suleimani was present during the successful siege of Amerli in August, and he is on the frontlines of the battle against ISIS in Tikrit, Saddam Hussein’s hometown.
“Yes, ‘Hajji Qassem,’ our old friend,” Petraus said to Sly. “I have several thoughts when I see the pictures of him, but most of those thoughts probably aren’t suitable for publication in a family newspaper like yours.”
Following the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, and especially during the time Petraeus-led the surge, Suleimani directed “a network of militant groups that killed hundreds of Americans in Iraq,” as detailed by Dexter Filkins in The New Yorker.
“Iran and its Iraqi proxies have been carving out a zone of influence in eastern Iraq for well over a decade,” Michael Knights, a fellow at the Washington Institute, wrote recently. “And this zone,” as Knights said US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey recently noted, “is expanding.”
To assist in the siege of Tikrit and further military operations against ISIS, Iran has moved advanced rockets and artillery systems into Iraq, The New York Times reported this week.
These systems are introducing a new level of sophistication into the Iraqi warzone and could further inflame sectarian tensions as the artillery is often imprecise and has the potential to cause collateral damage.
“The current Iranian regime is not our ally in the Middle East,” Petraeus said. “It is ultimately part of the problem, not the solution. The more the Iranians are seen to be dominating the region, the more it is going to inflame Sunni radicalism and fuel the rise of groups like the Islamic State.”
Last month, Suleimani gloated: “We are witnessing the export of the Islamic Revolution throughout the region. From Bahrain and Iraq to Syria, Yemen and North Africa.”
Ali Khedery, who served as a special assistant to five US ambassadors and a senior adviser to three heads of US Central Command between 2003 and 2009, noted that the “fundamental identity” of the Shia militias was “built around a sectarian narrative rather than loyalty to the state.”
The US Department of Defense may have wasted nearly $30 million over the past decade on uniforms for the Afghan military that featured a camouflage pattern inappropriate for the country’s desert landscapes, a top government fiscal watchdog said June 21st.
A 17-page report by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction says $28 million has already been spent by the Pentagon on the uniforms — and perhaps another $72 million will go toward them in the next decade.
According to the analysis, the Pentagon decided in 2007 on a uniform for the Afghan National Army that included a camouflage pattern that presented two problems: First, it included a forest pattern for a Middle Eastern country dominated by deserts — and second, the US government didn’t own the pattern, meaning it had to pay a private company for its use.
The report said that because the Department of Defense opted to use a private pattern, it cost the Pentagon an additional $26 million to $28 million. What’s more, it added, is that the department could have used one of the many patterns it already owns that’s just as effective — or ineffective — as the woodland camouflage pattern.
“Our analysis found that DOD’s decision to procure ANA uniforms using a proprietary camouflage pattern was not based on an evaluation of its appropriateness for the Afghan environment,” the report states.
“Our analysis found that changing the ANA uniform to a non-proprietary camouflage pattern based on the US Army’s Battle Dress Uniform … could save U.S. taxpayers between $68.61 million and $71.21 million over the next 10 years,” it added.
Because the US military continues to use the proprietary design, SIGAR recommended in the report that the Pentagon conduct a cost-benefit analysis to determine whether there is a more cost-effective alternative in outfitting Afghan troops.
SIGAR, a congressionally ordered watchdog group that monitors US financial activities in Afghanistan reconstruction, said it shared its report with the Pentagon and department officials expressed “general agreement” with contents in the report.
The Department of Defense did not immediately respond to the SIGAR report as of June 21st.
As US Rep. Walter Jones continues a 15-year effort in Washington to re-designate the title of the Department of Navy, not everyone in his North Carolina home and military community sees the need.
Retired Marine Col. Pete Grimes of Hubert refers to the adage “If it’s not broke, don’t fix it” when asked about Jones’ fight to re-name the Department of Navy the Department of Navy and Marine Corps.
Beyond the surface of the name change, Grimes doesn’t see any benefit to the organization by disrupting the status quo.
“Why change the name? What does it achieve? At the end, I can’t think of anything that would improve the stature of the Marine Corps,” Grimes.
Jones has seen things differently.
He first introduced a proposal to change the title of the department to Department of the Navy and Marine Corps in 2001 and has stuck to his belief that the two separate services deserve equal recognition.
The House Armed Services Committee passed the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2018. As a member of the committee, Jones was involved in drafting the defense bill and has several measures attached, including the re-designation of the Department of Navy title.
“The Marine Corps is an equal member of this department, and therefore, deserves equal recognition in its title,” Jones said in remarks on getting the language included in the defense bill.
Jones said the defense bill is expected to go to the House floor for a vote in July. If successful, NDAA will then go to the Senate.
Retired Gunnery Sgt. Joseph Ball of Jacksonville, who served 23 years in the Marine Corps, said whatever name is used is a matter of perception and will vary by a person’s point of view. Regardless of the name, Ball said the operations of the two services are separate and should stay that way.
He said the organization as it is now has been working well.
“Leave it the way it is,” Ball said.
Brian Kramer, a retired Marine lieutenant colonel, said the unique Navy-Marine Corps relationship is an exceptional one within the Department of Defense that should not be changed. He questions whether a name change now could lead to larger, negative changes later.
“I am a traditionalist, and on this issue I think the longstanding relationship between the Navy and the Marine Corps should remain unchanged. This relationship has served both services exceptionally well over the centuries. We ( Marines) are called ‘Soldiers of the Sea’ for a reason,” Kramer said. “Our roots are with the Navy, and I see the short-term ‘feel-good’ benefit of a name change having possible long-term negative consequences. Might this be a first step to the Corps being a separate service? I am not certain we want to go there.”
Retired Navy Capt. Rick Welton of Swansboro doesn’t have a particular opinion on the proposed change the Department of Navy’s title but agreed that the two services have long had a history of working together.
“We’ve been working as a team from the beginning,” Welton said. “We have depended on each other, worked with each other, and done outstanding things together.”
Nothing about America’s northern neighbor was ever sympathetic to the Nazis. Or any fascist regime. Canada declared war on Japan the same day as the attack on Pearl Harbor. The U.S. didn’t even declare war until the day after.
And yet, in a suburb of Toronto, on the shores of Lake Ontario, there sits a stone cenotaph inside St. Volodymyr Ukrainian Cemetery, commemorating the soldiers of the Nazi 14th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS who died during World War II.
For those unfamiliar with the armed forces of Nazi Germany, the Schutzstaffel (SS for short) were the Nazi Party’s enforcement brigades. They were committed to policing the German population (and other populations, eventually), a secret police enforcing German law and Nazi racial purity laws. Some SS units were used in the notorious extermination camps across Europe.
The Waffen-SS were a series of armed combat units, dedicated to the Nazis, and not necessarily Germany. The ranks of the Waffen-SS weren’t only filled with Germans, however. After the launch of Operation Barbarossa, Waffen-SS units found volunteers and draftees from all over occupied Europe, mostly used to fight the Red Army on the Eastern Front. As many as a third of the Waffen-SS was made up of conscripts.
At the Nuremberg Trials, the Waffen-SS was found guilty of numerous war crimes, including crimes against humanity, the deportation of Jews, massacres at Oradour and Lidice, guarding and administration of concentration camps, killing of prisoners of war, among many others. So how the hell did a memorial to the 14th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS end up in Toronto?
It’s no mistake. The memorial clearly contains the crest of the 14th Waffen-SS. It’s not even the only memorial to the SS in Canada. But the unit memorialized in St. Volodymyr Ukrainian Cemetery was made up of many Ukrainians who suffered under the famines that resulted from the Soviet Union’s agricultural policies. According to Canada’s Ottawa Citizen, many Ukrainian immigrants consider the Ukrainians who fought against the Soviets to be heroes. Canada lost an estimated 45,000 men fighting Nazi Germany in Europe.
Many Ukrainians also argue against the accusations the Ukrainian members of the SS participated in wartime atrocities at all. Those that did, they argue, were under the command of the Nazi Party, and weren’t acting as Ukrainians – except the unit received a visit from Henrich Himmler himself.
The memorial came under fire in 2020 after it was vandalized, the vandals calling the monument out for glorifying Nazi war criminals. The existence of the memorial came to the world’s attention after the Russian government tweeted about them.
Leo Major earned notoriety in World War II by liberating the town Zwolle all by himself. For many amazing heroes of the world’s most destructive and widespread war, that might have been where their story ends. Not so for Leo Major. Major remained in the service of the Canadian Forces and soon found himself in the Korean War.
The Korean War was not just the United States fighting North Korea. It was the first test of the United Nations and the body’s resolve to be a true force on the world stage, unlike its predecessor, the League of Nations. When North Korean tanks rolled across the 38th parallel in 1950, the entire world responded, not just the U.S. Along with American forces came Britain, Ethiopia, Thailand, France, Greece, Turkey, The Netherlands, South Africa, and more. Canada was right there with her North American neighbor.
But North Korea had allies too. The Soviet Union provided help, but it was the Chinese who made the biggest difference in the war. When China intervened on the North’s behalf, UN troops had already pushed their way to the Yalu River border with China. They took the UN forces completely by surprise and pushed them back to the 38th where the front largely stayed for the rest of the war. When 26,000 Canadian Forces arrived in 1951, that’s where the battle lines were drawn.
Hill 355, also known as “Little Gibraltar,” was hotly contested in the Korean War.
In spring 1951, the Canadian 25th Infantry Brigade moved to relieve the British at the southern bank of the Imjin River. To the East was Hill 355, right on the 38th parallel, manned by the U.S. 3rd Infantry Division. Little did they know, the Chinese were preparing a massive assault on Hill 355 to secure a better bargaining position in the ongoing peace talks. They lit up the night of Nov. 23, 1951, with a huge artillery barrage and an attack from two Chinese divisions. The Americans were pushed off the hill, and a company of Canadians were surrounded by the Chinese.
Leo Major was tasked to relieve them.
Major gathered up a group of Canadians outfitted with Sten guns and sneakers, climbing the snowy hill under the cover of the next night’s darkness. They reached the top of the hill behind the Chinese defenders before opening up on them from behind their line. The Chinese panicked and fled. Hill 355 was theirs again. But the Chinese counterattacked.
New Zealand gunners attack Hill 355 during the First Battle of Maryang-san in 1951.
(Imperial War Museum)
That didn’t bother Major. He ignored an order to withdraw and took cover in a shell crater, calling for accurate mortar and machine gun fire on to the enemy, very close to his own position. His mortarmen fired until their tubes glowed red. Major ran from position to position, directing the gunners and the mortars, repelling four separate attacks. Major and his men held the hill for three more days, the Corporal fought off attack after repeated attack, holding his position until the line of demarcation was officially drawn in front of his position.
Leo Major’s effort to secure Hill 355 for the Allies earned him another Distinguished Conduct Medal, much like the one he earned capturing Zwolle in the Netherlands during his previous war.