Shot by First Lt. Mike Scotti on his home camera,and told through the journal entries of Kristian Fraga, “Severe Clear” is a first-person account of the Marines who were on the front lines of Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003.
“Here is the truth about being a Marine that you won’t find on the local news,” Scotti says behind a jiggling, hand-held camera. “We’re loud. We drink too much, fight too much and swear too much. Truth be told, our rifles are the only things we think about more than sex.”
Watch this brief clip that captures some of the ups and downs of this roller coaster documentary:
During the Vietnam War, American commandos developed an insertion and extraction method for operations in the jungle that is still used by today’s special operators.
The Special Patrol Insertion/Extraction (SPIE) system is designed for small special-operations teams that operate in areas where an enemy presence or the terrain prevents helicopters from landing.
The SPIE technique hasn’t been used operationally for decades, in part because US air superiority and lackluster enemy anti-aircraft capabilities have meant it wasn’t needed.
But as the US military gears up for great-power competition against near-peer adversaries, like China and Russia, the SPIE technique is relevant again, especially in a potential conflict in the Pacific.
Warriors of the jungle
The SPIE system can be traced to the rope insertion and extraction techniques of the Vietnam War. It was the innocuous sounding Military Assistance Command Vietnam-Studies and Observations Group (MACV-SOG) that invented and used the method.
A highly classified unit, SOG took the fight to the North Vietnamese Army and Vietcong, conducting cross-border operations into Laos, Cambodia, and North Vietnam—where US troops officially shouldn’t have been.
Composed of Green Berets, Navy SEALs, Recon Marines, Air Commandos, and indigenous forces, SOG tried to stop the onslaught from the North and give South Vietnam some breathing space.
SOG’s classified operations mainly took place in rough and inaccessible jungle, where the NVA had built the infamous Ho Chi Minh trail complex, over which flowed supplies to their forces in South Vietnam. The terrain restricted operations and often forced SOG teams to create their own landing zones by either detonating explosives or by requesting B-52 bombing runs to create craters where helicopters could land.
But landing wasn’t always an option. Secrecy was paramount for mission success. SOG patrols of six to 14 men didn’t have a chance of survival against hundreds or thousands of NVA in an open battle.
With so few landing zones available in the jungle, and with the NVA always trying to monitor them, SOG operators came up with different techniques that didn’t require landing.
At the time, the SPIE terminology didn’t exist, and operators simply used the term “ropes” to refer to methods such as the STABO Extraction Harness, McGuire Rig, and “Swiss Seat.”
The STABO Extraction Harness, or STABO rig, was one of the most used. Designed for quick infiltration into and exfiltration from the jungle, the STABO rig was a mandatory piece of equipment for every recon member. It was worn throughout the mission since recon team members didn’t know if or when they would be compromised, which would often mean a frantic race to escape from superior forces.
During an extraction by ropes, the helicopter crew chief would throw ropes with a sandbag tied to one end down from a hovering helicopter. SOG commandos would hook the ropes to links on their uniforms. The helicopter would then rise straight up to clear the jungle before flying away.
Throughout the Vietnam War, ropes methods saved several lives, and their use sometimes seemed straight out of a movie.
In June 1967, a reinforced SOG company composed of Green Berets and local troops entered Laos to conduct battle-damage assessment after an airstrike on a North Vietnamese headquarters hub along the Ho Chi Minh trail complex.
The roughly 100-man “Hatchet Force” came upon a strong NVA force, and a fierce battle ensued. The American commandos and their local allies were surrounded and pinned down, but their firepower saved them from being overrun.
The NVA shot down several fixed-wing and rotary-wing aircraft that tried to exfiltrate or support the battered SOG company. Eventually, some choppers were able to come in and exfiltrate members of the force.
During one of those trips, a Marine Corps CH-46 Sea Stallion was shot down close to the Hatchet Force’s perimeter. Somehow, Sgt. First Class Charles Wilklow survived the crash, though he was badly wounded.
The NVA captured him but, seeing his wounds, thought he only had a few hours to live. They tied him down and used him as bait for a rescue operation. Considering the certain failure of a rescue mission, SOG headquarters didn’t take the bait.
After four days, Wilklow was still alive, despite his grievous wounds. Yet the NVA didn’t guard him, believing he wouldn’t survive. Wilklow managed to free himself and crawl into the jungle at night.
The next day, a SOG forward air controller spotted an almost-dead Wilklow. He was soon extracted by ropes — despite his ordeal, he was still wearing his STABO rig.
As tensions rise with China, and with conflict in Southeast or East Asia a growing prospect, the SPIE method is increasingly relevant, but it remains risky and inconvenient.
“[SPIE] operations are pretty dangerous, with lots of moving parts that can potentially go wrong,” a Marine Raider told Insider. “You have to watch as you exit the aircraft mid-air, and more so if you’re the first man out because you’ve got five, six, sometimes seven guys right behind you while the pilots are trying to hold position midair. You also have to account for the rotor wash in water and desert ops. You can’t see much while landing because of the sea spray or dust in the air.”
Since the SPIE technique can be used for both land and water operations, it provides special-operations units with more choices when planning operations in the Pacific theater.
For example, the SPIE technique can be used to extract Navy SEALs conducting special reconnaissance along the Chinese coast or a Special Forces detachment doing unconventional warfare in support of local forces on China’s borders.
New satellite photography from the South China Sea confirms a nightmare for the U.S. and champions of free navigation everywhere — Beijing has reinforced surface-to-air missiles sites in the Spratly Islands.
For years now, China has been building artificial islands in the South China Sea and militarizing them with radar outposts and missiles.
Related: China says it will fine U.S. ships that don’t comply with its new rules in South China Sea
China has not yet deployed the actual launchers, but Satellite imagery shows the new surface-to-air missile sites are buildings with retractable roofs, meaning Beijing can hide launchers, and that they’ll be protected from small arms fire.
“This will provide them with more capability to defend the island itself and the installations on them,” said Glaser.
Nations in the region have taken notice. Philippine Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay told reporters that foreign ministers of the 10-member Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) unanimously expressed concern over China’s land grab in a resource-rich shipping lane that sees $5 trillion in commerce annually.
The move is “very unsettlingly, that China has installed weapons systems in these facilities that they have established, and they have expressed strong concern about this,” Yasay said, according to the South China Morning Post.
But Chinese media and officials disputed the consensus at ASEAN that their militarization had raised alarm, and according to Glaser, without a clear policy position from the Trump administration, nobody will stand up to China.
“Most countries do not want to be confrontational towards China … they don’t want an adversarial relationship,” said Glaser, citing the economic benefits countries like Laos and Cambodia get from cooperating with Beijing, the world’s third largest economy and a growing regional power.
Instead, U.S. allies in the Pacific are taking a “wait and see” approach to dealing with the South China Sea as Beijing continues to cement its dominance in the region and establish “facts in the water” that even the U.S.’s most advanced ships and planes would struggle to overcome.
According to Glaser, China has everything it needs to declare an air defense and identification zone — essentially dictate who gets to fly and sail in the South China Sea — except for the Scarborough Shoal.
“I think from a military perspective, now because they have radars in the Paracels and the Spartlys,” China has radar coverage “so they can see what’s going on in the South China Sea with the exception of the northeastern quarter,” said Glaser. “The reason many have posited that the Chinese would dredge” the Scarborough Shoal “is because they need radar coverage there.”
The Scarborough Shoal remains untouched by Chinese dredging vessels, but developing it would put them a mere 160 miles from a major U.S. Navy base at the Subic Bay in the Phillippines.
Installing similar air defenses there, or even radar sites, could effectively lock out the U.S. or anyone else pursuing free navigation in open seas and skies.
While U.S. President Donald Trump has repeatedly floated the idea of being tougher on China, a lack of clear policy has allowed Beijing to continue on its path of militarizing the region where six nations claim territory.
“For the most part, we are improving our relationships. All but one,” Vice Adm. Joseph Aucoin, the commander of U.S. 7th Fleet, said at a military conference on Tuesday.
No military aircraft – past or present – can beat the altitude and airspeed performance of the SR-71 Blackbird.
It’s design and performance evolved out of necessity: “We had a need to know what was going on in other countries,” Jeff Duford, a historian at the National Museum of the US Air Force, said. “And the way that we were going to do that was having a photographic aircraft that could fly very high and very fast. And much faster than the U2, which proceeded it. The SR-71 was that answer for the US Air Force and for the United States.”
Here’s the remarkable story of the SR-71 in a 3 minute mini-doc:
Anticipating a deployment is at once stressful, exhilarating, and boring as hell. Here are the 8 basic steps:
The announcement comes down from the Pentagon that your unit is headed overseas at some point. Everyone will respond to this differently. Newer troops will walk with a swagger as they think about becoming combat veterans. Actual combat veterans will sigh heavily.
2. Keeping it a secret (while telling everyone)
Sure, operational security and all that. But you have to tell your family. And your best buddies need to know. Also, those guys at the bar won’t buy you drinks just for sitting there. Is that hot girl over there into deploying troops?
3. First stage of training
“Time for pre-deployment training! Time to become the most elite, modern warriors in the world!” you think for the first 15 minutes of the first training session.
4. The rest of training
“Oh my god, how much of this is done via PowerPoint?” Also, your weapon will be completely caked in carbon from those blanks.
5. Culmination exercise
Suddenly, it’s exciting again. Pyrotechnics, laser tag, a bunch of awesome pictures that can become your Facebook cover photo so those girls from high school can see them. Someone in your squad can edit out the blank firing adapters.
6. Packing (and packing, and packing …)
That brief adrenaline rush at the final culmination exercise will not last. You will realize you still have to clean and pack the gear to go home. Then pack the connexes to send to country. Then pack your bags to go into other connexes. Then pack the …
7. Pre-deployment leave
Finally! After months of hard work, a brief rest before more months of hard work. Also, a chance to “not” tell more hometown girls that you’re deploying.
8. Getting on the plane (or ship or whatever)
Time to go somewhere really “fun” and live there for a year or so. But hey, only [balance of deployment] left until redeployment.
Since the beginning of the U.S. nuclear program, there have been 33 nuclear weapons accidents, known as “broken arrows,” according to Eric Schlosser in his book: Command and Control. A “broken arrow” is the Pentagon’s phrase for an unexpected event involving nuclear weapons that result in the accidental launching, firing, detonating, theft, or loss of the weapon.
An example of a “broken arrow” is the Goldsboro accident in which a B-52 carrying two nuclear bombs broke apart, dropping the bombs over Goldsboro, North Carolina. Or the time in 1966 when a B-52 crashed into a KC-135 Stratotanker during a refueling operation, releasing four thermonuclear bombs over Spain. It’s hard to believe, but there are 31 more times these doomsday scenarios played out.
Here is a brief, terrifying history of some of America’s nuclear mishaps:
Air Force Capt. Roger Moseley was a test pilot who got on the bad side of base’s vice commander when he told a group of pilots that — in a world of unmanned aircraft and precision guided munitions — only dinosaurs cared about things like flying faster and higher. He was told he’d never test fly again, but the next morning he was called into the middle of the Nevada desert and offered a top-secret job that he had to agree to on the spot. Moseley did and became one of the first pilot to fly the F-117, the stealth fighter that carried the day in the skies over Iraq during Desert Storm.
Nazi Germany produced some of the nastiest people the world has ever seen.
The atrocities they committed remain hard to believe. Mega thugs like Gerhard Sommer allegedly helped massacre 560 civilians, Alfred Stark executed 117 Italian prisoners of war, and Oskar Groening was charged with 300,000 counts of accessory to murder as the “Bookkeeper of Auschwitz.”
Movies have portrayed some Nazi bad guys, as well, and here are 10 of the most memorable:
Navy Rear Adm. Dave Thomas took part in an “Undercover Boss”-like segment for a local news channel where he dressed up as a junior enlisted seaman.
When the world’s saltiest “E-3” arrives with a camera crew, it’s like a “Hello, my name is Matt” moment, but the sailors play along. The admiral attempts to scrape rust and load an amphibious landing vehicle under the careful watch of petty officers before the big reveal.
From 1988-89, there was a video series on T.V. called “Ethics in America” where leaders in different fields were asked to debate ethical dilemmas. In the seventh episode, senators, military officers, and journalists discussed a hypothetical situation where an American journalist is embedded with enemy troops and finds themselves watching the enemy troops prepare an ambush against American soldiers.
Peter Jennings and Michael Wallace debate their roles as journalists and Americans while military leaders like Gen. William Westmoreland debate their bravery, obligations, and moral duty in the situation. It cuts to the heart of what it means to be a war correspondent, trying to balance duty to their country and their occupation while safeguarding their own lives. An edited version of the conversation is embedded below.
If you want to see the original video, with better quality and more discussion from more people, go to this archive and watch episode 7. This particular discussion starts at 31:30 in the full episode.
In an episode titled “You’re Not Yelping,” the cartoon makes fun of over-the-top Yelp reviewers who criticize everything, or demand perks while threatening one-star reviews. The show pushes the practice to absurd lengths, which means for “South Park,” a restaurant owner is eventually beheaded (taking off his mask) while his business is burned to the ground, in footage reminiscent of ISIS terrorist videos.
Cartman may be the worst of them all, constantly threatening one star reviews if he doesn’t get what he wants: “I was thinking of giving this place five stars, but I am kind of teetering on five stars or one star. I mean I can probably be persuaded with free desserts.”
You can watch the full episode here, or just watch this clip:
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is the perfect example of a dictator. His authoritarian government holds complete power over the North Korean state and its people.
Un was declared supreme leader following his father’s funeral in December 2011, making him one of the youngest dictators in recent history. However, his time in power pales in comparison to the dictators in this video.
Forget what you read in the news, America is still the leader of freedom in the world. There’s no shortage of allies that have our back, either. Whether the President of the United States is Joe Biden, Donald Trump or Dwayne Elizondo Mountain Dew Herbert Camacho, countries will still be lining up to be on the right side of history.
No matter what the obstacle or threat to freedom the world over, the United States can count on a slew of allies to have its back. They may not all be world or even regional powers, but they are there; ready and willing to do whatever it takes.
It’s a lot more helpful if they’re militarily capable, however, so when these five countries say they’re in, victory comes a lot smoother and faster.
1. The United Kingdom
The UK is America’s ride-or-die, and vice versa. There’s a reason we all call our alliance a “special relationship.” Some people will say the United Kingdom is a shadow of its former imperial glory, but those people are fools. If you mess with the queen’s possessions, she’s coming for you, whether you’re fighting in Europe, the Pacific, or – God help you – the Falkland Islands.
The UK was there for America in Afghanistan because they were obligated by article five of the NATO treaty. But you know they would have been there, treaty or no treaty. Even when the intelligence on Iraq was dubious at best, Britain didn’t even hesitate to smoke out Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi forces in Basra. The UK ensured the “Coalition of the Willing” sent a message to America’s enemies: all your base are belong to us.
France gets a lot of undeserved flak for losing World War II (at first). Anyone who goes toe-to-toe with the French these days is fighting an army trying to shake off the perception of being cheese eating surrender monkeys. God help anyone who gets on the wrong side of a Franco-American alliance, because this usually means an empire is about to fall.
There’s a reason France and the United States rarely join forces, because there’s no stopping the pain train the two can inflict on literally any country or alliance. Our two countries don’t often see eye-to-eye on many issues, so teaming up against a common foe is rare these days. When it does happen, however, an alliance between France and the United States means some serious threats to democracy are about to be put in their place.
India is constantly preparing to fight a war on two fronts, most likely between perennial arch-nemesis Pakistan and crouching tiger China. Although the United States maintains an uneasy alliance with Pakistan, the term “frenemies” is much more apt. If stuff hits the fan and the U.S. has to choose sides, the world’s largest democracy is going to be our ally.
And that just makes sense. India lives in a tough neighborhood but is ready to come out swinging, as they’ve shown time and again. In an all-out war with China, there will be no ally more crucial or more capable than that of India and its billion-plus people, massive submarine force, and mountaineering Gurkhas that are bound to show China what real pain feels like.
The United States has had its geopolitical differences with Israel – and who hasn’t? If we’re talking about living in a tough neighborhood, America’s Jewish best friend has had the hardest time living in one, historically. Israel is the U.S.’ foothold in the Middle East. Israelis can sleep comfortably at night knowing that if, somehow, the Israel Defense Forces gets overrun by all its Arab neighbors, there will be a fleet of United States Marines in Tel Aviv and Haifa in 24 hours.
The United States doesn’t often need the help of outside nations, but if it did, Israel would be the first in line to send troops, doctors, aircraft and whatever else was required for victory. This has nothing to do with America’s unending support for the Jewish state since it won independence in 1948, that’s just how the IDF rolls: no better friend, no worse enemy.
Although it may not seem like a close ally lately, buying Russian S-300 missile batteries and giving up on the NATO alliance’s F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, Turkey has long been a friend to the United States and its interests in a complex area of the world. Ankara allows the U.S. to operate its most devastating air-to-ground support weapon from its shores: the A-10 Thunderbolt II, which helped topple ISIS in Syria.
Most importantly, Turkey is the crossroads of the global east to the global west. It bridges a number of worlds. It’s not only the strategic gateway from Europe to Asia. It’s also the key entry point from the Mediterranean Sea to the Black Sea, and its place in the world allows the U.S. to position key ships, aircraft, and nuclear weapons where they’re most needed.