Today’s media is saturated in documentaries, TV series, and movies that all claim to depict the “realities” of war. But the truth is, binge watching “Band of Brothers” will never come close to mirroring a flesh-and-blood experience.
This audio clip of WWII vet George Chrisman proves that. In the recording, the 88-year-old recounts his experience at the Battle of Okinawa in 1945 to Audioburst.
Chrisman was shot in the hand in the midst of the grisly battle and describes what it was like to rip the bullet out of his flesh with his teeth. At one point he remembers there was nothing left to do but “spit it out, burn your lips, [and] just do what you have to do.”
And it’s not the heat, boredom, mortars, IEDs, lack of running water or anything else associated with roughing it that they miss — they can do that on a camping trip. In this clip, war correspondent Sebastian Junger nails the reason why.
Red Flag is legendary among fighter pilots. This exercise, held several times a year at Nellis Air Force Base, located near Las Vegas, is where American combat pilots have gone to hone their skills since the end of the Vietnam War.
“Red Flag-Nellis was originally created to give fighter pilots their first 10 combat missions in a large force exercise before deployment to contingency operations,” Lt. Col. Christopher Cunningham said in an Air Force release. “Vietnam War analysis had proven that pilot survivability increased dramatically after surviving 10 combat missions.”
The success of the original Red Flag has left Air Force pararescue personnel, like those taking part in a 2016 demonstration, little to do.
(U.S. Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Christopher S. Muncy)
In terms of military exercises, Red Flag has been a blockbuster hit. The first major conflict since Vietnam, Desert Storm, saw very few pilot losses. While new technology certainly contributed, Red Flag played a vital part as well, giving pilots their first taste of “combat” over the course of two weeks. Other countries, like Israel and the Netherlands, have come up with their versions of this exercise. One of the unintended consequences of this improved readiness, however, is that it has made combat search-and-rescue missions less frequent. Less real-world experience means an increased need for specific training exercises.
To address that need, a spin-off of Red Flag was created. Red Flag Rescue took place last month at Davis Monthan Air Force Base. This exercise replaced Angel Thunder, a program for Air Force pararescue personnel (along with foreign air forces) who are responsible for carrying out the combat search and rescue mission.
Red Flag Rescue was not just for the Air Force. Army personnel, like this soldier taking part in a 2017 demonstration, also took part, as did the Marines and Navy.
(U.S. Army National Guard photo by Sgt. Brian Calhoun)
Red Flag Rescue brings together Air Force pararescuemen and the other armed services for fifteen days to practice combat search and rescue in contested, degraded, and operationally-limited environments. While Air Force pararescue personnel — and others who handle combat search-and-rescue — have gained much from this, the ultimate beneficiaries will be the pilots saved from dire circumstances in the real world.
Situated between Area 51 and the Nevada Test and Training Range is a place called “Coyote Summit” which offers a perfect spot for watching air traffic coming out of Nellis Air Force Base.
Photographer Eric Bowen went to the spot in August for Red Flag, the Air Force-sponsored exercise which simulates an air war between aggressors and aircraft from the U.S. Air Force, Navy, Marines, Air National Guard, and Royal Air Force units.
A typical RED FLAG exercise involves a variety of attack, fighter and bomber aircraft (F-15E, F-16, F/A-18, A-10, B-1, B-2, etc.), reconnaissance aircraft (Predator, Global Hawk, RC-135, U-2), electronic warfare aircraft (EC-130s, EA-6Bs and F-16CJs), air superiority aircraft (F-22, F-15C, etc), airlift support (C-130, C-17), search and rescue aircraft (HH-60, HC-130, CH-47), aerial refueling aircraft (KC-130, KC-135, KC-10, etc), Command and Control aircraft (E-3, E-8C, E-2C, etc) as well as ground based Command and Control, Space, and Cyber Forces.
Bowen spent a few nights at the Summit filming at night, and produced this awesome video. Watch:
Medevac crews have the dangerous job of flying into gunfights in unarmed helicopters to provide medical care to wounded troops. It’s a race against time, and it’s nothing short of astonishing.
The video starts with a crew racing across Afghanistan’s Korengal Valley in a Black Hawk helicopter in response to wounded Marine. The terrain makes it difficult to spot ground forces, so they bank and turn to avoid the ground fire, that may, or may not be there.
Green smoke signals the helicopter, which also serves as the chosen landing spot by the Marines huddled just a few yards away. The helicopter doesn’t just land, however; it circles around the troops to assess the danger. Once it finally lands, the Marines rush the wounded corporal to the Black Hawk for evacuation while others stand watch.
Even with a circling pass around the Marines, the medevac crew in the helicopter drew fire from three sides. Watch how the rescue unfolds in this short three-minute video:
Tanks have certainly cemented their place in the military history books, but back in World War I no one knew quite what to make of them.
A great example of this comes in this newspaper clipping from The Evening Herald (now defunct) in Klamath Falls, Oregon. The headline on Sep. 21, 1916 reads: “U.S. Army to Have Land Dreadnought Tank Cars,” a story which announces the Army’s intention to start building 27 Caterpillar tractors similar to the British D1, the first tank which was used in battle for the first time just one week prior.
The $4,775-a-piece “tractors,” according to The Herald, were to be used primarily to haul guns and maintain a defensive role. With nearly 9,000 tanks in the U.S. arsenal these days, it might be time for The Herald to issue a correction.
Besides getting caught up on an absolute steal of a price-tag — roughly $105,000 in today’s dollars — for a tank, our new favorite phrase is Land Dreadnought. Here’s the clip and the full page below:
If the Baltics are a flashpoint where a war between Russia and NATO breaks out, it might be the Baltic Sea where those first shots are fired.
Things are so tense that during his Senate confirmation hearings, retired Marine General James Mattis indicated he supported a permanent U.S. military presence in the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania.
Tensions in that region have been high. This past April, the Daily Caller reported that Su-24 Fencers buzzed the Arleigh Burke-class destroyer USS Donald Cook (DDG 75). A closer look at that event, though, can give a sense as to what America could be facing.
Like it or not, in the event of war, American forces will have to get to the Baltic States. With their membership in NATO, defending them is a solemn obligation due to the provisions of Article V of the North Atlantic Treaty.
So, America has an obligation to defend them. That means getting reinforcements there in a hurry.
For armored brigade combat teams, like the one on rotation to Europe, this means a seaborne convoy. That probably means using at least a couple dozen military sealift ships and escorts to move a division of troops and supplies.
How might Russia take down such a convoy? Part of it would be using the geography of the Baltic Sea. It is a very narrow, confined body of water. Furthermore, the short distances involved mean that any convoy could have only a few minutes’ warning of an air attack.
As the Daily Caller notes, the Donald Cook was buzzed largely because she had very little warning of the Fencers’ approach.
The Baltic is also full of places where diesel-electric submarines like the Kilo-class or Lada-class could hide and carry out ambushes. The submarines would likely sit at chokepoints like the Kattegat or Skagerrak – targeting escorts like Arleigh Burke-class destroyers.
Once some of the escorts are taken out, Russia would then send Su-24s at low level to attack the sealift vessels and surviving escorts, likely using missiles like the AS-20 “Kayak” – the Russian equivalent to the AGM-84 Harpoon.
Destroying the convoy may be the Russians’ best chance to defeat NATO in a war over the Baltic States. That said, if the United States were to bring back the old POMCUS (Prepositioning Of Materiel Configured in Unit Sets) system, that would greatly reduce the time it took to reinforce any force initially in the Baltic States.
The Fighting Season is a six part documentary series that captures what ending a war looks like. The film, which is out now, shows the sacrifices of the men and women who fought for the freedom and security of Afghanistan as America’s longest war drew to an end. Producer Ricky Schroder put himself in harm’s way as an embedded cameramen to deliver the best account possible.
In this edition of “At The Mighty,” Schroder discusses his motivations for filming this series and his experience with the troops in Afghanistan.
On August 2, 1990, Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi Army invaded Kuwait, igniting a crisis that led to an intervention by a massive US-led coalition.
At the time, Iraq possessed one of the world’s largest armies, with about 1 million troops. To defeat it, the US knocked on every diplomatic door in the region and elsewhere, successfully gathering 750,000 troops for Operation Desert Storm, which began on January 17, 1991.
As the coalition against him swelled, Hussein sought to divide the Babel-style alliance of nearly 40 countries, including several Arab nations and Israel, though Israel didn’t actively participate. By directly attacking Israel, the Iraqi leader hoped to provoke an Israeli response that would break the fragile coalition.
Hussein chose his Scud missile batteries as the instrument of his strategy. The Soviet-made tactical ballistic-missile system came in both fixed and mobile launchers, both of which were quite deadly. One Scud struck a US base in Saudi Arabia, killing 28 soldiers.
To stop the Scud threat, the Pentagon turned to its best: Delta Force, along with its British counterpart, the Special Air Service (SAS).
Following the invasion of Kuwait, the US’s Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) proposed several operations to the Pentagon, ranging from the rescue of American diplomats and citizens trapped in Kuwait City to direct-action operations in Iraq.
“Once we got word about the invasion, there were lots of ideas going around on how the Unit could respond,” a former Delta operator told Insider.
But one of the biggest hurdles for Delta Force and other US special-operations units during Desert Storm was the leadership of conventional military forces.
Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, the four-star commander of US Central Command and the overall boss in the war, was quite skeptical about special-operations forces and their strategic utility in nation-state warfare.
In the end, however, Schwarzkopf had to acquiesce to the White House and Pentagon and allow special operators to join the campaign. It certainly helped that his second-in-command, British Gen. Sir Peter de la Billière, had served in and commanded the SAS and was director of British special forces during the Iranian Embassy Siege in 1980.
“Actually, believe or not, at one point, Saddam was pretty high on the target deck. Of course, the guys were all up for it, but in the end, it came to nothing. We couldn’t pinpoint him. We didn’t have enough or accurate intel to action an operation,” the former Delta operator said. “But looking back, even if there was enough intel, the higher-ups would have probably gone for an airstrike.”
“Some of the ideas, like going after Saddam himself, were pretty wild, but that’s the whole purpose of the brainstorming sessions. You gotta think big and explore all possibilities, no matter how outlandish they might seem,” the former Delta operator told Insider.
“In the end, we settled down to a few options, with Scud-hunting being the primary, and A got that, with C primarily doing CP [close protection] for ‘Storming Norman'” Schwarzkopf, the former Delta operator added, referring to Delta Force’s A and C Squadrons.
Scud-hunting in the desert
The Iraqis knew their business. They would move the mobile Scud launchers during the night and lay down during the day, camouflaging the trucks so well that they would perfectly blend in the desert landscape, making it near impossible for coalition aircraft to spot them.
The Delta and SAS patrols would be inserted by helicopters and roam alongside main supply routes, looking for signs of mobile Scud launchers. Some patrols entered the country on vehicles and others by foot.
The Delta operators used a mix of Humvees, motorcycles, and heavily armed Pinzgaeur trucks. Affectionately nicknamed the “Pig,” a Pinzgaeur could carry several crew-served weapons, such as the M2 Browning heavy and the M-240 medium machine guns, and great amounts of rations, water, and fuel necessary to support the patrols.
However, some Delta patrols were frustrated by mechanical issues — it’s hard to change a tire in the middle of the desert. But the commandos had to be wary of the weather as well. In one instance, a special-operations helicopter went down, killing its crew and three Delta operators.
There were several times when SAS and Delta Force patrols got into firefights with Iraqi forces, either because the patrols were compromised or had attacked targets of opportunity.
One of these patrols went terribly wrong. Codenamed Bravo Two Zero, it consisted of eight SAS troopers from B Squadron. Their mission was to conduct special reconnaissance deep behind enemy lines in an attempt to locate mobile Scud missiles.
As the team was laying up in a small ravine during the day following their insertion, they were spotted by Iraqi civilians. There are conflicting reports about what happened next, with some patrol members saying that Iraqi mechanized infantry started pouring into the area.
The patrol members started escaping and evading toward Syria but were separated in the night. After an adventurous few days, four SAS troopers fell into Iraqi hands, three were killed (two by hypothermia, one by enemy fire), and one successfully escaped to Syria.
Weeks of fighting
During Operation Desert Storm, the SAS operators had returned to their roots.
The SAS was created during World War II to fight Nazi Germany’s Africa Korps, led by well-known Gen. Erwin Rommel, in North Africa. The force’s bread and butter was long-range reconnaissance and direct-action operations, such as raids and ambushes, deep behind enemy lines.
From forward-operating bases in the middle of the Sahara Desert, the SAS troopers — and some additional special-operations units, like the Long Range Desert Group — used heavily armed trucks and jeeps to devastating effect, destroying more planes on the ground the entire Royal Air Force did in the theater.
The Delta and SAS operators in the field during Desert Storm faced a different kind of opponent.
Coalition aircraft ensured air superiority from Day One, and conventional Iraqi ground forces were quickly overwhelmed. But US and British special operators did have a strategic impact on the war, reducing Scud launches against Israel by more than 80%.
Desert Storm ended on February 28, 1991, six weeks after it began. Just weeks after starting their hunt for Iraq’s Scuds, Delta and SAS completed their mission.
Jordanian F-16s launched 20 airstrikes on Islamic State targets in 2015 following King Abdullah II’s declaration to wage a “harsh” war against militants from the group, also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) or ISIS, after the brutal execution of captured Jordanian pilot Moaz al-Kasasbe.
Abdullah participating in a military special operations training exercises as Jump-Master.
“We found out that the M4 actually outshoots the A4 at all ranges out to 600 meters with the new ammunition,” Chris Woodburn, the deputy Maneuver Branch head for the Fires and Maneuver Integration Division of Marine Corps Combat Development Command, told Marine Corps Times.
Because the M4 has already been deployed in units across the Marine Corps, the switch is expected to take place with very little cost to taxpayers. Units will report their number of rifles to Marine Corps Logistics Command which should be able to shuffle weapons between units.
The Marines believe they can equip the entire force with the weapon without buying any new units.
In the heights of the Cold War, Soviet First Secretary Nikita Khrushchev banged his shoe against his desk as he vowed to show America at the United Nation General Assembly in 1960. The following year, on October 30th, the most massive nuclear explosion ever was detonated over Severny Island.
The 50-megaton, 60,000-pound hydrogen bomb was said to have been 1,570 times larger than the combined energy of the nuclear devices dropped over Hiroshima and Nagasaki, 10 times the collective destructive power of every conventional weapon ever used in WWII, and it alone accounted for 10 percent of all nuclear yields ever.
The mushroom cloud of the blast soared up 40 miles high (seven times the height of Mount Everest) and had a 59-mile-wide cap. The blast was so incomprehensibly large that it’s nearly impossible to contextualize just how devastating it would have been if detonated over American soil.
To put all of this into perspective — and much to the delight of Yankees fans — let’s measure the hypothetical blast using today’s pitcher’s mound at Oriole Park in Baltimore, MD, as a point of reference.
The initial blast would have decimated the entire city and everything within 12 miles. The mushroom cloud, with a radius of 29.5 miles, would have stretched all the way into Washington D.C. The heat from the blast would have extended out 62 miles, and would have left everyone in Dover, Delaware with third-degree burns.
According to NukeMap, roughly 1.4 million people would have been killed immediately and the nuclear fallout would have made its way through Philadelphia, PA and into Trenton, NJ. Shockwaves reached 430 miles, which would have put it past Cincinnati, OH. Windows would be shattered up to 560 miles miles away, reaching Chattanooga, TN.
With a height of 40 miles, the mushroom cloud would have been visible from 564.5 miles. That means everyone in the outskirts of Atlanta would have been able to see it. The fireball was visible from 620 miles away, which would have meant everyone in Chicago would be witness to it.
For more information on the destructive power of the Tsar Bomba, check out this video.
Ever since Eugene Ely became the first person to take off from — and land on — a ship in 1911, naval aviation has forged a unique identity within the American military. They fly, but they’re not the Air Force. They’re sailors, but only some of them never drive ships.
With a record of accomplishment in peace and war, they have a few things to brag about. Some of them might even surprise you.
1. The U.S. Navy is the second largest air force in the world.
Judged on number of airplanes, the U.S. Navy is the second-largest air force, not just in the United States, but in the entire world. It has over 3,700 aircraft — far fewer than the U.S. Air Force’s 5,500 but more than the Russian Air Force’s 3,000 planes. That is, at least until Vladimir Putin buys more.
2. They were the first Americans in WWI.
The first American military force to arrive in Europe after the United States entered World War I was the 1st Naval Air Unit, commanded by Lt. Kenneth Whiting (Naval Aviator #16, who had been trained by Orville Wright… yes, that Orville Wright).
3. They completed the first crossing of the Atlantic by air.
Naval aviators must have decided riding colliers across the ocean wasn’t such a good deal because not long after the war, they started figuring out a better way to make the crossing. In May 1919, the Navy’s flying boat NC-4 made the transatlantic flight. Departing from Long Island with an unscheduled stop in Massachusetts, Lt. Cmdr. Albert C. Read and his crew routed via Halifax and the Azores before arriving in Lisbon eight days later.
It was the only plane out of three that started the journey to make it, the other two made forced landings along the way. Commander Read would later call it, “a continuous run of unadulterated luck.”
4. U.S. Presidents are naval aviation alumni.
Naval Aviation came of age in World War II, when — thanks, in part, to the Imperial Japanese Navy — the aircraft carrier replaced the battleship as the Navy’s most important capital ship. Future-President Gerald Ford served with ship’s company on USS Monterey, a light carrier, while George H. W. Bush flew missions from the decks of USS San Jacinto.
When Bush earned his Wings of Gold, he was the youngest pilot in the Navy. He was shot down in September 1944 and rescued by a submarine. His son would later become the first American president to make an arrested landing, flying in an S-3B Viking and trapping aboard USS Abraham Lincoln.
5. Naval Aviation in the Space Program.
The Navy has been well represented in space, too. Four of the Mercury Seven — America’s first astronauts — wore Wings of Gold. Alan Shepard, who flew F4U Corsairs before becoming a test pilot, was the first American in space. John Glenn, a Marine pilot (hey, they wear the same wings) who flew in WWII and Korea, was the first American to orbit the earth. He’d later be the oldest person — and, so far, only sitting senator — to fly in space.
And how about Neil Armstrong, the first man on the moon? You guessed it — he flew in the Navy, too, taking the F9F-2 Panther to war in Korea. Jim Lovell, who commanded the ill-fated Apollo 13 mission, flew Banshees and Demons before graduating first in his class at test pilot school. Eugene Cernan, the commander of Apollo 17, was the last man to walk on the moon; he bagged over 5,000 hours and 200 traps flying the FJ-4 Fury and A-4 Skyhawk.
And when NASA was ready to take their new hotness — the Space Shuttle — out of the atmosphere, who did they trust? Two Naval Aviators. John Young and Robert Crippen both flew from carriers before becoming test pilots.
If you find yourself near the gulf coast of Florida, you can visit the National Museum of Naval Aviation to learn more. Its director, Captain (retired) Sterling Gillam, and historian, Hill Goodspeed, graciously offered their time and expertise in helping with this article.