In the world of special operations, the UK’s Special Air Service (SAS) is as good as they come. They are the British government’s elite counterterrorism unit, specializing in rescuing hostages, covert reconnaissance and generally taking the fight to unsuspecting bad guys all over the world.
Formed during World War II, they were the blueprint for the U.S. Army Delta Force, Israel’s Sayaret Matkal, and almost any other special operations force the world over. After World War II, the elite SAS served in nearly every UK military action around the world, from hunting down communist rebels in Malaya to the Troubles in Northern Ireland and from the Falklands to the Global War on Terror.
In that time, the SAS has experienced its share of victories and setbacks, but its story only grows with each mission. With each mission there are always standout soldiers who overcome incredible odds in the face of the enemy – and become legends even among special operators.
1. Lt. Col. David Stirling
As an officer in the No. 8 Guards Commando, Stirling first saw action at the capture of Rhodes, and the Battles of Crete and Litani River. It was while fighting these pitched battles that he realized a small team of special soldiers could be much more effective, doing extreme damage with minimal casualties. The story of how he pitched the idea of creating the Special Air Service is worthy of an article of its own, but by 1941, the SAS was operating in North Africa.
Using stripped-down Jeeps and a new kind of demolition bomb, Stirling and his new SAS were wreaking havoc on Axis airfields across North Africa. German Field Marshal Erwin Rommel dubbed Stirling the “Phantom Major,” and was able to capture the British officer. After a series of escape attempts with mixed success, Stirling was finally captured for good and sent to Colditz Castle in Germany, where he spent the rest of World War II.
2. Sgt. Talaiasi Labalaba
In 1972, the SAS were sent to Oman to train the Sultan’s soldiers to fight a communist insurgency from neighboring Yemen. Defending a small fortification near the port city of Mirbat were nine SAS troopers with small arms and a Browning machine gun. The SAS soon realized that 300 communist fighters were making their way toward the house, but they weren’t close enough for the British troopers’ small arms to be effective.
Sgt. Talaiasi Labalaba ran out of the house to a 25-pounder artillery gun some 200 meters away and began to fire it at the oncoming human wave. While operating the gun was a six-man job, Labalaba managed to fire off a round every minute by himself, as bullets whizzed by. After an hour of firing the gun, Labalaba was wounded and another trooper, Sekonaia Takavesi, came to his aid. Labalaba and Takavesi fought on for two and a half hours, until the gun was out of ammo.
Labalaba and two others were killed in the defense of Mirbat, but they held their ground because of Sgt. Labalaba’s skill with artillery.
3. Lt. Col. Robert Blair “Paddy” Mayne
Mayne was an early member of the Special Air Service, one of the UK’s most decorated soldiers of World War II and picked up where David Stirling left off. Initially the head of an anti-aircraft battery, the Irishman was transferred to the Royal Ulster Rifles and then No. 11 Scottish Commando. There, he invaded Vichy-held Lebanon and Syria. His skills in combat saw him transferred to what was then called the “parachute unit,” but would soon be known as the Special Air Service.
His first combat with the SAS came during night raids in North Africa, destroying aircraft, fuel supplies, and ammo dumps in 1941. He was soon placed in command of the SAS, fighting behind enemy lines in France, the Netherlands, Belgium, Norway, and even into Germany. His exploits in the war earned him four Distinguished Service Orders, the French Legion d’Honneur on Croix de Guerre.
4. Lt. Jock Lewes
Jock Lewes is many things, but first and foremost, he’s the SAS trooper who discovered that explosives used by Stirling and his men in North Africa weren’t as effective as they needed to be. The bomb he developed used diesel oil and plastic explosives to make sure Axis planes and vehicles could never be used again. The Lewes Bomb, as it came to be called, was used throughout the war to devastating effect.
Lewes was one of the first men to volunteer for Stirling’s new SAS unitand was killed by enemy aircraft while raiding an Axis airfield in Libya in 1941.
5. Staff Sgt. John McAleese
Scotsman John McAleese is one of the UK’s most decorated soldiers of all time. He’s one of the rare SAS soldiers who saw fame while serving, as the world watched the UK’s response to terrorists taking over the Iranian Embassy in London. For six days, the British government lay siege to the embassy. On the sixth day, they killed a hostage and the SAS were called in.
The world watched live as McAleese and his blue team followed the red team into the embassy by blowing their way into a first-floor window. In 17 minutes, the SAS killed all but one of the terrorists, losing only one hostage. McAleese also served in the Falklands War and earned medals fighting the Irish Republican Army during the Troubles.
World War I marked the fourth time Congress declared war, but just the first time America instituted a draft. The “Great War” also created a new series of benefits for Veterans–some that exist in different forms today.
A story from The Cook County News-Heraldfrom Grand Marais, Minnesota, July 4, 1917, referring to World War I registration slackers.
April 6 marks the start of the U.S. involvement in World War I, which 4.7 million Americans fought in.
President Woodrow Wilson asked for a declaration of war April 2, 1917. The Senate voted April 4 and the House of Representatives voted to adopt the war resolution April 6.
Despite the declaration, American men did’nt volunteer in large numbers. Because the U.S. needed to organize, train and equip a force to fight Germany, Congress passed the Selective Service Act, which started U.S. conscription.
Following the May 18 passage, the first draft registration day was June 5, 1917, for the 48 states and Washington, D.C. In July, the first draft registration for Puerto Rico, Alaska and Hawaii started. This period also started the round up of draft evaders, called “slackers.”
According to the Library of Congress, over 70% of American Army troops were conscripts.
Of the 4.7 million Americans who fought, 116,000 died in service and 204,000 were wounded.
Veterans did see new benefits arise out of their World War I service. Congress amended the War Risk Insurance Act of 1914 in 1917 to offer government-subsidized life insurance for Veterans. Additional legislation provided Veterans a discharge allowance at the end of the war.
The War Risk amendments also established authority for Veterans to receive rehabilitation and vocational training. The benefits focused on Veterans with dismemberment, sight, hearing, and other permanent disabilities. Injured service members remained in service and trained for new jobs.
The Vocational Rehabilitation Act of 1918 provided vocational rehabilitation training for honorably discharged disabled World War I Veterans. The act also gave special monthly maintenance allowances for Veterans who couldn’t carry on a gainful occupation. In 1919, a new law fixed Veteran medical care. It gave the Public Health Service greater responsibility, transferred military hospitals to the Public Health Service and authorized new hospitals.
The war also produced another benefit for service members: information. For 17 months, The Stars and Stripes newspaper informed American service members about the war. Over 100 years later, the publication still provides independent news and information to active duty, Department of Defense civilians, Veterans, contractors and families.
The Medal of Honor is well-known as the U.S. military’s highest honor for acts of valor in the face of the enemy. It is bestowed for “conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of life above and beyond the call of duty.” Usually, only members of the military earn the award. But a few, rare civilians have, too.
It’s kind of a big deal.
Created in 1861 as a Navy medal, there have been 3,513 Medals of Honor bestowed, with roughly half going to veterans of the U.S. Civil War. The medal is generally given only to U.S. military members, but in the history of the United States, eight civilians have received the honor for their actions on the battlefield.
A purge of Medal of Honor recipients in 1917 stripped the eight of their awards (with a total of 911 previous awardees) after Congress tightened the rules. Seven were restored in 1989, and one more in 1977.
“Buffalo Bill” Cody
In 1872, Buffalo Bill was a scout for the U.S. Army during the Indian Wars. He received the medal for gallantry in combat after leading a cavalry charge against a band of Sioux warriors. He killed two of the warriors, recovered their horses, and then chased them off the battlefield. His medal was restored in 1989.
Amos Chapman Billy Dixon
Chapman was also a civilian scout for the U.S. Army during the Indian Wars of the late 19th century. He was a half-Native who also worked as an interpreter. While working with Lt. Frank Baldwin out of Fort Dodge, he and another civilian scout, Billy Dixon, along with four soldiers, were confronted by a joint force of more than a hundred Comanche and Kiowa warriors. The six retreated to a buffalo wallow, essentially a mid-sized hole in the ground. On the way there, Dixon was injured, so Chapman picked him up and carried him to the defensive position. He stopped to fight off attackers on occasion, but was shot in the leg a quarter mile from the wallow. He dragged himself and Dixon the rest of the way to the wallow. The six held out until weather forced the enemy withdrawal, three days later.
Another civilian scout during the Indian Wars, Dozier was awarded the honor for gallantry at the Little Wichita River, Texas in 1870. Dozier and another scout tracked a band of the Keechi to Bluff Creek. Dozier fired down on the Keechi from a higher position, wounding Chief Keesh-Kosh. Noticing that U.S. soldiers below were exposed to direct fire from a band of Keechi on a hillside, Dozier mounted his horse and attacked the band by himself. Dozier suffered serious injuries when his horse was shot out from under him, but was credited with the campaign’s success.
Ferrell was a civilian in the service of the Union Navy during the Civil War. While acting as a Navy pilot near Nashville, Tennessee, an engagement with Confederates saw the flag of their ship, the Neosho, shot down. Ferrel and the ship’s quartermaster ran through the enemy fire to reraise the flag.
Another U.S. Navy civilian in service to the Union during the Civil War, Freeman was at the Battle of Mobile Bay, Alabama. He was the pilot of the Union Flagship. He piloted the Navy’s ships into the bay under “terrific” enemy fire, from Fort Morgan, the CSS Tennessee, and a flotilla of Confederate gunboats. The boats were captured, the Tennessee surrendered, and the Fort’s guns were silenced.
Mary Edwards Walker
Walker received her Medal of Honor recommendation from General William Tecumseh Sherman himself. She worked as a contract surgeon at the battles of Bull Run, Fredericksburg, Chattanooga, and Chickamauga. During battles, she would frequently cross enemy lines and treat civilians. Throughout the war, she was contracted as a surgeon by the Army of the Cumberland, the 52d Ohio Infantry, and the Patent Office Hospital in Washington, D.C. She would be arrested by the Confederacy as a spy in 1864 and spend four months as a POW. She received the Medal of Honor from President Andrew Johnson, and refused to give it back when Congress erased her award. She died two years later. President Jimmy Carter restored her status in 1977.
William H. Woodall
Woodall was a civilian employee of the Union Army during the Civil War. At the Battle of Namozine Church, while riding as a scout with Gen. Philip Sheridan’s Cavalry Corps, Woodall was with a group of scout spies dressed in Confederate uniforms when they captured Confederate General Rufus Barringer. Woodall captured the general’s headquarter’s flag.
When we think of defining women’s rights movements, many cite women’s suffrage of the 20s or the explosion of female empowerment during the 60s and 70s. But in America, it started much sooner.
As far back as the Revolutionary War women were found to have supported combat efforts, many alongside their husbands. Margaret Corbin was one of them and was critically wounded fighting after her husband was killed beside her. Corbin was the first female to receive a military pension for her efforts during the war.
Women during this time were expected to relish their role in the home. It was also unbecoming for women to travel alone, unless she wanted to be thought of as “loose” or risk her safety. Historians believe there were many more instances of women disguising themselves as men than realized, for those reasons alone.
The Civil War saw women go even farther and harder, regularly (and with increasing numbers) disguising themselves as men to fight alongside their countrymen. When the war began, thousands of women volunteered as nurses. Historians have discovered as many as a 1,000 women may have fought in every major conflict of the war itself.
Those who were discovered were sent home, imprisoned or even institutionalized. They did it in spite of personal risk in order to serve their country. For these women, patriotism was more important than anything else.
Sarah Edmonds was one of them. Early on she used an alias and traveled as a man in order to work and earn a living. She was reportedly an ardent abolitionist and when the war broke out she was ready to risk it all. Edmonds mustered into the 2nd Michigan Infantry as Franklin Thompson on May 25, 1861.
During her time with the Union, she’d become a spy and participate in numerous battles, one which left her with life-long injuries. After a bout with Malaria two years later which left her fearful of being discovered, she made the decision to leave. Edmonds spent the rest of the Civil War as a nurse. Decades later she’d win the battle of earning her pension.
Frances Clayton is another remarkable story of courage. When she enlisted as a man into the Union Army, it was alongside her husband. They traveled from Minnesota to Missouri to do so, hoping they could disguise her true identity. Posing as Jack Williams, they fought side by side for the regiment. When her husband was killed in action, reports revealed she stepped over his body to continue fighting.
Another notable story was the one of Albert Cashier who was born Jennie Hodgers. Cashier fought in more than 40 different battles and continued to live as a man when the war was over. When his former comrades found out the truth, they rallied behind him in support. Upon Cashier’s death in 1915, he was buried in uniform and with full military honors.
Despite the challenges and risk associated with posing as a man during these times, it was apparently easy. This was mainly due to so many underage boys who were allowed to sign up, it was easy for women to pass as bare faced teenagers. The physical fitness requirements were also minimal, at the time.
Clara Barton is perhaps one of the most well-known women of the time. Although she would eventually become the founder of the American Red Cross, she was also known as the “angel of the battlefield.” She continually nursed the wounded and risked her life repeatedly to bring soldiers supplies.
Barton was quoted to say that it was the events of the Civil War which pushed the women’s rights movement forward 50 years and opened the doors to the changes so desperately needed.
The true number of disguised female soldiers will never be known but what is recognized is their undeniable impact on the war efforts. It was their courage which paved the way for women to openly serve their country. As we celebrate Women’s History Month, let us not forget the female veterans hundreds of years ago who made it all possible.
Congratulations, you’ve just become a parent. In order to survive basic training, you must now not only cover your own ass, but watch out for this guy’s as well. Because if you don’t, your platoon is going to get slapped with mass punishment, and no one wants that. Bryan somehow managed to make it through his young life without developing skills of any kind. He’s the kind of guy who hesitates when you ask him how to spell his own name.
You will watch him struggle to make his bed with his gangly 18-year-old arms and be torn between the desire to help him or to strangle him with his own sheets. But you will help Bryan, because he needs you. And because if you don’t, he will forget his kit, wear white socks to inspection, and make your life a living hell. And who knows, maybe after a few days he’ll start to pick up on things. Totally kidding — you’re probably stuck with this kid for the long haul.
Something Bryan might say: “Hey … hey guys? Can somebody show me how to shave?”
2. Renaissance Richard
The antithesis of Baby-Faced Bryan, Renaissance Richard is a super-smart, talented, and accomplished guy. Unfortunately for you, this also makes him a bit of an annoying a–hole. Richard is usually around 30, and he won’t let you forget how he managed to be the valedictorian at his private college, build his own house, and become a brain surgeon in the time between high school graduation and now.
Richard can do anything — except keep his mouth shut. He’s the guy who makes a big show of “helping” recruits, and letting everyone know how he would do something. No one asked you, Richard. He’s also notorious for crashing your conversations so he can chime in on things like his opinions on Syria, when all you were discussing is what’s for dinner. Rich is a fine recruit, but your drill sergeant will hate him. Why? The same reason you do: he’s a pretentious a–hole. Nobody wants to work with someone who can’t accept rank and needs his ego stroked.
Something Richard might say: “Sure it would be interesting to invade Easter Island, but you need to consider the political ramifications … ”
3. The Dreamer
The Dreamer has wanted to join the military since he first saw “Saving Private Ryan” at an elementary school sleepover. He dreams of not only becoming a great soldier, but the greatest soldier America — and the world — has ever seen. Just a teenager, he’s the guy who gets too distracted by his daydream of running through battle in slow-motion to shine his shoes, and can be heard quoting “Top Gun” and “Band of Brothers” in the DFAC.
The Dreamer’s all talk, and has no real-world experience when it comes to surviving anything more than a Hot Pocket shortage. Because of this, he will often take on tasks that are way too much for him to handle, bringing down your drill sergeant’s wrath on all of you when he fails. Think of him as Baby-Faced Bryan’s annoying half-brother. Eventually he should focus a little more on the task at hand instead of his “military destiny,” but until then you’ll just have to tune him out.
4. Shady Steve
Steve’s a little older than some of the guys in basic training, but you’re never positive what this dude’s age is — and that’s just the way Steve likes it. When pressed about his past, his stories never quite match up, leaving you wondering just what is true (hold up, did he say that he was a parole officer, or was he talking about his own parole?).
You don’t know him at all, but he just seems like the type of guy who decided to enlist because his meth ring went south. One thing you do know for sure is the fact that any outing with Steve quickly devolves into “Hangover”-level catastrophe, so you better steer clear of that. He’s not a bad trainee. And he’s probably not a bad guy — but he’s got your drill sergeant keeping an eye on him, so you probably should too.
5. The Old Dude
This salt and pepper recruit may not actually be that old by civilian standards, but 34 is pretty ancient in basic. And since it took a colonel to approve his age waiver, maybe he should have just stayed home and played Risk instead. Whether he enlisted because the Army’s his last chance to retire before 65 or because of a mid-life crisis is anyone’s guess, but don’t write this guy off right away.
The Old Dude is usually in surprisingly great shape, and that’s because he’s old school. While most of the recruits in their twenties have spent their pre-military lives playing Call of Duty and chowing down on Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, he’s been downing raw eggs for breakfast and running five miles a day. Also, The Old Dude has lived a lot longer than you — he’s seen things, and he’s wiser for it. When you need some advice or perspective on life, he’s the person you’ll want to turn to.
6. Gun-Happy Garret
Garret is a simple man. He joined the military because it allowed him to pursue his three passions: shooting, chewing dip, and spitting. Garret does not know that tobacco isn’t allowed in basic. He is furious when he finds out. Garret barely managed to complete his GED, and it shows. You are not confident that he can spell America, and are terrified of the day this neanderthal gets his hands on an automatic weapon.
To your surprise, however, Garret is actually kind of a genius when it comes to weapons. He can disassemble and reassemble his weapon with his eyes closed. He can tell you every part of his rifle and how it works, and help you with your own. Your rifle will never shine quite like his does. He is a weapons savant, and you start to wonder if there’s more to Garret than meets the eye. Trust us, there isn’t. He’s the best mark in the platoon because he spent his childhood shooting mice and raccoons behind a trailer park, not because he’s the chosen one.
7. The Blue Falcon
This guy. This guy is the absolute worst. If you could combine a weasel and that stoner kid from your Spanish class who would constantly beg you for test answers, you’d have something close to a Blue Falcon. The Blue Falcon of your platoon is lazy, disloyal, and just a textbook pain in the ass. Can’t find your extra pair of socks? Did part of someone’s kit go missing? Check the Blue Falcon’s nest. And God forbid you screw up in front of this guy — he’ll rat you out to your drill sergeant faster than you’ll know what’s happening.
The Blue Falcon’s sneaky, so it sometimes takes a while to know who yours will be. But every unit has one, and they will become the bane of your existence.
Something The Blue Falcon would say: “First sergeant, first sergeant! Private Snuffy is … ”
Associate Editor David Nye contributed to this article.
My mother’s friend Akemi was beautiful. Gentle, with a lightness in her presence and the way she moved. She had a quiet home and taught me how to use chopsticks. She was Okinawan and married a soldier that my father served with.
Lydia lived two doors down from my family. She was German and had married an American soldier, too. I assume that if you didn’t know her she would come off as gruff and difficult but I loved her as if she were a blood relative. She smoked cigarettes and yelled at the huge Rottweiler whose head bounced off the underside of her dining room table.
Anna married my team sergeant when he was an upstart infantryman stationed in Panama. She spoke Spanish around us and I could usually understand the scolding that she gave to her husband and kids. She put up with our young, dumb soldier antics and let us drink too many beers in her living room while we watched the pay-per-view fight where Tyson bit Holyfield‘s ear off.
These women are just a small fraction of the hundreds of thousands – perhaps millions – of women, and increasingly men, who have married America’s uniformed representatives stationed around the world; brave women who relinquished their cultures, families and pasts in order to embark on new adventures as part of the US military family. Their stories continue today but there are fewer of them, with younger sailors, airmen and Marines marrying spouses originally from Europe and Asia, but we must assume at a much lower rate.
Why assume? Because no one keeps records – not the Defense or State departments – that might tack down how many foreign born people have married American service members over the past century, though we can assume it to be a significant number. In the 1980s, in one New York City neighborhood alone, there were more than 100 British-born war brides who gathered in fellowship as a group known as the Flushing Crumpets. However impossible it may be to put hard numbers on the population of foreign-born military spouses over the years, there can be no dispute that there are fewer international spouses marrying men and women who wear America’s military uniforms than during the height of the Cold War.
Fayetteville, North Carolina, is my adopted hometown. It lies just outside of Fort Bragg – the Army’s most populated installation and was long one of the main debarkation points for newly arrived, foreign-born military spouses. The United States is a nation of immigrants, but there is something extra-special about Fort Bragg, and the dozens of communities across the nation that sidle up next to the posts and bases. Or at least there has been for most of the post World War II era. Fort Bragg in particular is the home base for the Army’s airborne and special operations forces, which draws soldiers back to the post from the corners of the planet like a tractor beam, and with them spouses from a rainbow of nations – Vietnam, Germany, Korea, Panama and Thailand.
Even with its diverse military population of more than 50,000 soldiers, sailors, Airmen and Marines, Fort Bragg isn’t dealing with a rush of foreign spouses in need of help navigating a transition to American military spousehood. According to Stacy Williams, the post’s Multicultural Readiness Programs coordinator, even before the restrictions mandated by COVID-19, the post had no more than 2-3 foreign spouses attend bi-monthly International Spouse Orientation courses, and only one person was currently scheduled to attend the course that resumed from its COVID-mandated pause in January 2021.
Why does this matter? Maybe it doesn’t but I think who our service members choose as spouses tells us quite a bit about how the US government arrays its military influence around the globe.
General Mark Milley, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, made minor headlines Dec. 3, 2020, after suggesting that he would rather not have the U.S. military permanently station large numbers of service members and families in partner nations in Europe and Asia. But he also balked at having large numbers of units on rotational deployments as has increasingly been DoD policy in places like Poland and the Baltic nations, to counter Russian aggression, and the Pacific Rim in Guam and Australia.
Peacetime, strategic deployments of the US military, whether permanent stationing or rotational assignments, are more the experiences of a Cold War military and with the international upheaval of the post-Berlin Wall collapse, and increasingly less of a reflection of current American foreign policy. Milley’s comments, then, are less hints of a new American deployment strategy than they are a recommitment of the past two decades of geopolitical gamesmanship.
Economists use leading and lagging indicators as a kind of weathervane to gauge the health and direction of an economic system. One of these lagging indicators of how US military policy has affected international diplomacy might come from the changing nature of the international make up of the communities that surround military installations Stateside. The demographic shifts around US posts and bases over the past three decades might tell us as much about where America has decided to spend its diplomatic capital as well as how many soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines are stationed for three years in places like Okinawa and Ramstein.
The American government, up until the post-World War II era, had exhibited an incredible bit of self-restraint in terms of expansionism. Other than short stints to claim territory during the Spanish American war, American administrations were generally loathe to commit the American military outside of its borders. President Woodrow Wilson famously dragged his feet during World War I and made every effort to keep America out of the conflict in Europe. The bitter taste of the First World War in Congress’ mouth led to the enactment of neutrality acts, which President Franklin D. Roosevelt found ways to work around before America’s involvement in World War II was assured by the attack at Pearl Harbor. After the Axis Powers were defeated, though, America’s isolationist past was exactly that – a thing of the past.
At the height of the Cold War in the middle of the 20th Century, there were more than 400,000 Americans in uniform stationed across Europe, from Greenland to the tip of Italy, which has drawn down to about 75,000 as of early 2020. In the Pacific Theater, there are still nearly 78,000 service members, mainly split between South Korea and Japan. In the decades following the end of World War II and the signing of the Armistice that ended the Korean War, more than 70,000 service members were station in South Korea alone, where soldiers and Airmen were, like their compatriots in Germany, England and Italy, often free to spend their free time in local communities, often in the company of local young women.
Engagements, and eventually marriage, between service members in post-World War II Europe and Asia had become enough of a concern for the military, and the American government as a whole, that the US Congress passed the American War Brides Act in late 1945 that allowed for the immigration to the United States of more than 100,000 military-connected newly-weds and fiancés outside of the strict immigration quotas emplaned after the war.
But with the retrenchment of American foreign policy, the ability for service members to have direct, often very direct, contact with foreigners while deployed has been curtailed. The challenge to validating military marriages as a lagging indicator of US foreign policy, though, is that no one keeps records on how many German and Korean and Japanese and Italian brides have left their homes on the uniformed arms of soldiers, sailors and Airmen over the years.
For nearly all of the 20th Century, the US military assumed a dominant position along the rim of the South China Sea in the Philippines with thousands of American stationed at Clark Naval Base Subic Bay and then Clark Air Base near the Philippine capital of Manila. Following the eruption of Mount Pinatubo in 1991, the US Air Force made a hasty retreat and the Navy followed suit by sailing from Subic Bay in 1992 when an agreement for stationing US Naval forces fell through. With China making inroads in the South Pacific, the US government made a recent play to return the Navy to Subic Bay, which was nixed by Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte in July 2020.
In 1999, American forces similarly withdrew from a nearly century-long mission in Panama to serve as a regional presence and to guard over the Panama Canal. When President Jimmy Carter signed the 1977 agreement to relinquish control of the canal to the Panamanian government, he also severed a pipeline that saw Panamanian brides join their American husbands, who were part of a 10,000-strong American military force in Central America, from stationing at Fort Clayton to new homes at places like Fort Hood, Fort Lewis and Washington, DC.
The reduction in permanent stationing of the US military across the globe, combined with a lessening of American political and economic dominance, has diluted the international make up of many military communities here in the States. There are parallels to the ways that service members were deployed to South East Asia during the Vietnam War and how soldiers and Marines have been dispatched to the post-9/11 Middle East and Southwest Asia. Almost anyone in Vietnam and Iraq could be considered a threat. Shorter tours with little to no interaction with the communities that they patrolled and monitored meant that young American men and women have had almost no chance to woo potential romantic partners. Low-intensity conflict zones with daily guerrilla attacks aren’t typical hookup hotbeds for young Americans dressed head to toe in their finest Kevlar body armor.
And I don’t think that we have even considered the vast cultural differences that removed invading American forces from the dating pools in Kandahar and Anbar and Mogadishu and what that means for the cultural makeup of military-connected communities. Since the Departments of Defense and State don’t keep specific records on who service members marry, it becomes a challenge to know how many may have married natives of Iraq, Afghanistan and the other countries following American warriors back from combat deployments. But anecdotes show that there are probably just a handful, including an Army Civil Affairs officer who was felled in combat shortly after settling his Iraqi wife in her new hometown near Fort Bragg, NC.
The vast cultural differences that exist between Americans and the residents of the communities in the Middle East, Central Asia and Africa that those Americans have occupied in the past two decades can’t account for the majority of the reduction in foreign-born spouses immigrating to the States. Economics, and America’s status as a dominant force on the world stage, may have just as big a role to play.
Elke Steele, a German who married an American soldier stationed near Stuttgart in 1990, now works for a match-making website that helps to connect Germans living near Wiesbaden with Americans and other non-German residents. She agrees that there are fewer fraulines marrying soldiers and Airmen, but suggests that it’s more than just a matter of fewer Americans being stationed in Europe.
Steele says that German women have “their own careers, a good lifestyle (with) free universal health care” and that they don’t want to leave their families and friends behind for the promise of a new life in America. Complicating matters, she says, are restrictions based on the threat of terrorism that keep GIs confined to their installations and the simple fact that “the dollar isn’t worth anything anymore.”
The promise of a better life in the States for German women isn’t so promising, Steele feels. But perhaps it is for women from Eastern Europe and Russia, women whom Steele feels are prized by young American men for being “more feminine and still believing that the woman stays at home raising the kids, while the man is the breadwinner of the family.”
Steele’s ground level appreciation for the shift in romantic partnering between American service members and foreign nationals holds true for Dr. Morton Ender, a sociology professor at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. Ender notes that “German, Italian and British women don’t marry up anymore when they marry a soldier – unless they bag an officer” and that military officers generally take partners who are college educated, which shrinks the pool of potential war brides immigrants even further. Ender’s analysis of demographic data also suggests that currently many soldiers are already married or in serious, long-term relationships before they deploy.
America is asking its warriors to soldier in ways that they haven’t been asked to in the past – more one-year and shorter deployment, more unaccompanied deployments and missions to countries and cultures that are not welcoming of American soldiers on an individual and romantic level. And while the Biden administration has promised more robust foreign policy positions and a greater willingness to engage in diplomacy with partners and adversaries alike, there is no hint that that the US military will engage in a wholesale redeployment of its forces to Europe and Asia to counter the continuing belligerence from Russia and China.
The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 didn’t end the great powers competition for influence and resources, but it did crumble the need for the US government to maintain mini-Americas across the globe that served as way stations for young women, and increasingly young men, to immigrate to the States as a soldier’s spouse. As a nation of immigrants, it seems unlikely that the rich jumble of culture and language that collects on military installations and just outside the gates will completely wither away, but the high water mark of the Cold War’s long-term deployment is well faded and with it, the sounds and smells of the cultures of America’s 20th Century war brides.
Maybe it doesn’t matter if we have foreign-born spouses who add richness and texture to our military communities and beyond. But it makes me lament there are kids growing up today who might never have their own Akemis, Lydias and Annas who will help them to know the world is much more than strip malls and carbon-copy chain restaurants, and that our immigrants – many who come to the States on the arm of an American in dress uniform – are the people who continue to feed life into the American experience.
An Afghan soldier has opened fire on American troops, wounding at least seven of them, before being shot dead in a military base in northern Afghanistan, officials said, in the second so-called “insider attack” in the past week.
Abdul Qahar Araam, spokesman for the US military, said on June 17th that the attack took place at Camp Shaheen in Mazar-i-Sharif. Araam added that the soldiers returned fire and killed the attacker.
General Dawlat Waziri, a spokesman for the Afghan defense ministry, also confirmed the incident.
The Resolute Support, the international training mission to Afghanistan, announced on its Twitter feed that seven US service members were wounded, adding that there were no US fatalities.
Al Jazeera’s Rob McBride, reporting from Afghanistan’s capital, Kabul, said NATO soldiers were training their Afghan counterparts at the base where the attack took place.
“A source told Al Jazeera that the attack happened at the end of a training exercise,” he said.
“We understand that the soldiers were getting back into their vehicle when a soldier from the Afghan national army picked up what is said to be a rocket-propelled grenade and fired it at the group of soldiers, and that is how these injuries have happened.”
Another insider attack
Three US soldiers were killed and a fourth was wounded on June 11 when an Afghan soldier opened fire on them at a base in eastern Afghanistan’s Nangarhar province.
Taliban claimed responsibility for that attack. Zabihullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the armed group, said at the time that a Taliban loyalist had infiltrated the Afghan army “just to attack foreign forces.”
On June 17th, Mujahid praised the Camp Shaheen attack in a statement sent to the media, but did not claim Taliban responsibility.
In April, scores of Afghan soldiers were killed when fighters breached security at the camp, detonating explosives and shooting hundreds at a mosque and dining hall on the base. The attackers were disguised in Afghan army uniforms.
The McDonnell-Douglas F-4 Phantom acquired many nicknames over its storied career: Snoopy, Old Smokey, St. Louis Slugger, the Flying Anvil, and many more. The best, by far, came from the sheer number of Soviet-built MiGs taken down by the plane.
The F-4 was truly an amazing aircraft. Even at the end of its service life, it was winning simulated air battles against the United States’ latest and greatest airframes, including the F-15 Eagle, which is still in service today. Even though it was considered an ugly aircraft by pilots of the time, it’s hard to argue with 280 enemy MiG kills — which is how it acquired its best nickname, “The World’s Leading Distributor of MiG Parts.”
After being introduced in 1960, it was acquired by the U.S. Air Force, U.S. Marine Corps, and U.S. Navy as an interceptor and fighter-bomber. In Vietnam, the Phantom was used as a close-air support aircraft and also fulfilled roles as aerial reconnaissance and as an air superiority fighter.
All of the last American pilots, weapon systems officers, and radar intercept officers to attain ace status did so in F-4 Phantom II fighters over Vietnam — against MiGs.
And the MiG fighters flown by the North Vietnamese were no joke, either. The Navy’s Top Gun school was founded because of the loss rate attributed to VPAF pilots — and that’s only the opposition in the air. North Vietnam’s air defenses were incredibly tight, using precise, effective doctrine to thwart American air power whenever possible. Air Force Col. Robin Olds used this doctrine against them in Operation Bolo, the first offensive fighter sweep of the war and a brilliant air victory.
Olds found the loss rate to VPAF MiG-21s to be unacceptable when taking command of the 8th TFW in Ubon. With the F-4’s success in Operation Bolo, Olds and the 8th TFW grounded the entire Vietnamese People’s Air Force for months.
The F-4 Phantom II was eventually replaced, but it took a number of different planes to compensate for the absence of this versatile airframe. It was replaced by the F-15 Eagle, F-16 Fighting Falcon, F/A-18 Hornet, and F-14 Tomcat. The F-14 was also the most widely produced aircraft, with more than 5,000 built.
Today, the Phantom still out there with the air forces of Japan, Turkey, South Korea, and Iran, and was last seen blowing up ISIS fighters in a close-air support role.
The SR-71 Blackbird was developed by Lockheed Martin as a long-range reconnaissance aircraft that could hit air speeds over Mach 3.2 ( 2,455 mph) and climb to an altitude of 85,000 feet.
In March 1968, the first operational Blackbird was flown out of Kadena AFB in Japan. With the Vietnam war in full swing, the intent was to conduct stealth missions by gathering photographs and electronic intelligence against the enemy. The crew would fly daily missions into sensitive areas where one slight mishap could spark an international incident.
After climbing to 60,000 feet, the crew switched off its communication system so that only a select few would know the mission’s target. The aircraft didn’t always rely on its speed for defense; it was equipped with a jammer that would interrupt the enemy’s communication between the radar site and the missile itself.
On occasion, the enemy would fire missiles without radar guidance, which would sometimes get so close that the pilots could spot the passing missiles 150-yards away from inside the cockpit.
When reaching its target area, The SR-71’s RSO (reconnaissance systems officer) would engage the high-tech surveillance equipment consisting of six different cameras mounted throughout various locations on the Blackbird.
The system could survey 100,000 square miles in an hour, with images so clear analysts could see a car’s license plate.
With so many successful missions, enemy nations did their best to blow the SR-71 Blackbird right out of the skies. Five countries attempted that near impossible feat.
Early on the morning of December, 5 NASA launched the Orion rocket — the first American spacecraft designed for manned space exploration since the Saturn V rocket powered the Apollo missions to the moon. According to NASA, the Orion spacecraft – unmanned for this first mission – orbited Earth twice, reaching an altitude of approximately 3,600 miles above Earth before landing in the Pacific Ocean.
“[This mission was] a huge step for NASA and a really critical part of our work to pioneer deep space on our Journey to Mars,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. “The teams did a tremendous job putting Orion through its paces in the real environment it will endure as we push the boundary of human exploration in the coming years.”
And with the success of this mission astronauts once again think about going into space instead of hanging around Houston like a bunch of glorified academics. The sense of purpose that evaporated with the last Shuttle flight is back, and in a big way. We’re on our way to Mars!
You remember Mars, right?
So do you want a chance to be among the first to walk on the Red Planet? Then you need to be an astronaut. And there are two surefire ways to be selected: You can get a Ph.D. in astrophysics or something else equally boring and be selected by NASA as an astronaut mission specialist or you can join the military and go to flight school on the government’s dime and earn your pilot’s wings and be selected as an astronaut pilot.
But there’s more to it than just being a military pilot. According to NASA’s website, candidates must have at least 1,000 hours pilot-in-command time in jet aircraft. The website also states that “flight test experience is highly desirable,” which undersells the requirement a little bit in that the fact is that the large majority of the pilots who have ever been selected to become NASA astronauts have been test pilot school graduates.
There are only three sanctioned military test pilot schools in the world: U.S. Air Force Test Pilot School at Edwards Air Force Base in California, U.S. Naval Test Pilot School at Patuxent River Naval Air Station in Maryland, and Empire Test Pilot School at Boscombe Down in the U.K.
Here’s a video produced by the U.S. Naval Test Pilot School that gives an overview of the command:
Military pilots of various branches and nationalities attend each of these schools, but generally pilots prefer to stick with the school that fully focuses on their warfare specialty, for instance, flying off of aircraft carriers.
Test pilot school is about a year long and very rigorous both in the classroom and airborne. The instruction is designed to teach students how to take the principles of science, math, and engineering into the cockpit and then back again in order that they can quickly and effectively analyze performance characteristics and assist in creating better designs if required. At test pilot school you’ll learn how to take an airplane beyond its design limits without destroying it, and you’ll also learn how to write accurate reports
Like everything else cool and kick-ass, getting into test pilot school is very competitive. Applicants need fleet experience, and they also need to have been graded at the top of their peer group every step of the way. And it’s not a “hard” requirement, but because of the intensity of the syllabus most test pilots schools look for candidates with engineering degrees.
Classes convene twice a year and each class is only comprised of about 20 students.
For more on what being a test pilot is all about read Tom Wolfe’s The Right Stuff. Unlike the movie based on the book, the first half of the book provides great insights into the history of what life is like in the world of military test and evaluation.
And here’s a video from World War II era that describes some spin recovery techniques . . . techniques developed by test pilots:
In 1985, Soviet filmmaker Elem Klimov made a movie about the Nazi occupation of what was then the Belorussian Soviet Socialist Republic. The film, called “Come and See,” is renowned as a gritty, realistic masterpiece.
Be warned, the film is heart-wrenching. Told from the perspective of a 14-year-old boy who joins a Soviet partisan cell, you watch the child age as the movie goes on, and he experiences the reality of Nazi occupation.
Even more harrowing is that the story is based on real events, and parts of the film come from accounts of genocide survivors. The German army intended to wipe out the population of Belarus to fulfill Hitler’s promise of lebensraum, or “living space” for the German people. The film depicts this horrifying reality.
Klimov was only 9-years-old when his family fled Stalingrad in 1942. The writer of the film, Ales Adamovich, actually aided partisan fighters in Belorussia. To add to the realism of the film, they shot it in Belarus, hired villagers as extras, used actual Nazi uniforms instead of costumes, and fired real bullets over the actors’ heads.
“Come and See” shows a rarely remembered area of Nazi war crimes during WWII. Often overlooked by history, the German occupation of Belarus was just as brutal as the film depicts. The Nazis intended to kill three quarters of the Belorussian population, and allow the other quarter to live as slaves.
According to a site funded by the Belorussian government, they were successful in annihilating more than 600 villages, destroying more than 5,000 Belorussian settlements, and killing more than 2.2 million civilians. The entire Jewish population of the country was eradicated, shot by the Nazis.
Unlike most war movies, “Come and See” has no battle scenes, no heroism, and no great sacrifice for the good of the unit. This film shows what happens when war comes to your front yard.
The film was a critical and box office success in the Soviet Union and is still hailed as one of Russia’s greatest war films.
One would think that without a security clearance, the Director of Naval Intelligence would lose his job. In the case of Navy Vice Adm. Ted Branch, that didn’t happen.
Branch was caught on the periphery of the “Fat Leonard” scandal, due to his actions while commanding officer of the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Nimitz (CVN 68).
You’ve probably heard of it by now. Numerous Navy officers and individuals tied to a contractor in the Far East have been indicted for all sorts of charges, including retired Navy Rear Adm. Bruce Loveless, whose indictment was unsealed on March 14, according to a Defense News report.
Branch had his security clearance suspended in 2013, months after he became Director of Naval Intelligence. A March 2016 report by USNI News noted that then-Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus discussed the situation with the Senate Armed Services Committee in a hearing.
“When I was informed in late 2013 that Adm. Branch was possibly connected to the GDMA case, I thought because of his position I should remove his clearance in an excess of caution. I was also told — assured — at that time that a decision would be made in a very short time — in a matter of weeks, I was told — as to whether he was involved and what would be the disposition of the case,” Mabus explained to Senator Joni Earnst (R-IA).
Branch’s situation had languished for almost two and a half years at that point.
“Naval intelligence is OK. The whole situation is less than optimal and frustrating, but we are where we are,” he told Military.com in Feb. 2016. “And we will persevere. And I will lead in this capacity until somebody tells me to go home.”
Branch retired on Oct. 1, 2016, upon the confirmation of his successor, Vice Adm. Jan Tighe.
During Branch’s time as captain of the Nimitz, the 10-part PBS documentary series “Carrier” was film on the vessel. The series was produced by Mel Gibson’s Icon Productions, the same company that did the Oscar-winning film “Hacksaw Ridge.”
On May 25, 1953, the Army fired its first Atomic cannon, setting off a 15-kiloton explosion during the Operation Upshot-Knothole test series at the Nevada National Security Site.
The M65 “Atomic Annie” packed 110-pounds of weapons-grade uranium into an 803 pound artillery shell, allowing artillerymen to create Hiroshima-sized explosions in 30 minutes from when they stopped their truck to when they were rolling away again.
On May 25, the Army was keen to see whether its atomic cannons worked as advertised and sent a crew to Frenchman Flats, Nevada, to test it out. They drove their 84-foot long artillery piece to the site and aimed its 28.5-foot barrel towards the target area.
The Army positioned a camera to catch both the firing of the weapon and the detonation of the warhead in the same shot. The round took only 19 seconds to travel 6.25 miles to the target, which was destroyed in a massive mushroom cloud. The projectile detonated 524 feet above Frenchman Flat and is the only nuclear device ever fired from a cannon.
The M65 was immediately sent into service in Germany and South Korea where it would act as a deterrent to Communist invasion.
Fortunately, it was never used.
Twenty cannons were eventually made, but over the years, their value depreciated rapidly. The cannons were heavy and confined to well-paved roads. Quick development of atomic weapons in smaller calibers eventually made the weapon obsolete. Today, four cannons still exist, including Atomic Annie at Fort Sill.