Troops under heavy fire often look to the skies for rescue, praying for an something like an Apache or A-10 to materialize and destroy the enemy. But sometimes help comes in less expected and more unusual forms:
1. MH-60 Direct Action Penetrator
The humble Blackhawk helicopter is a great utility aircraft, but the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment looked at it and thought, “Could use more guns.” They fly a modified Blackhawk, the MH-60 Direct Action Penetrator. Instead of carrying troops, it carries a Light Armament Support Structure to which weapons can be mounted. Weapons used on the DAP include miniguns, 30mm chain guns, rocket pods, Hellfire missile launchers, air-to-air Stinger missiles, and a three-barrelled .50-cal gatling gun.
2. Guns A-Go-Go, the Chinook attack helicopter
The Chinook is a beloved aircraft, but it’s the manatee of Army aviation and is only thought of as threatening because it can carry dozens of combat-equipped troops. In the 1960s though, four of them were modified into attack helicopters. Re-designated as ACH-47As, each bird had a 40mm grenade launcher in a turret, two 20mm cannons, a spot for either a 2.75-inch rocket launcher or 7.62mm rotary minigun, as well as five crew stations that were usually outfitted with .50-cal. machine guns.
All four were eventually sent to Vietnam where they got the nickname, “Guns A-Go-Go.” One was lost in a runway accident, one experienced a mechanical failure and crashed, and one was shot down during the Tet Offensive. Since the helicopters worked in pairs, the survivor was sent back to America as a training tool for maintainers. It has since been restored and is on display at Redstone Arsenal.
3. V-22, but with missiles
America’s first tilt-rotor serves in raids, medical evacuation, troop transport and supply missions, but in its heart it wants to kill things directly.
Most people know about the AC-130 gunship, but there is actually another C-130 variant that can rain down death and destruction. The KC-130J Harvest Hawk can carry four Hellfire and 10 Griffin missiles which it fires using the same sight sensor that is on the AH-1z Cobra attack helicopter.
Joker, Cowboy, and Animal Mother are just some of the iconic characters in Stanley Kubrick’s “Full Metal Jacket” that audiences hoped would survive as they maneuvered their way through the dangerous battlegrounds of the Vietnam War.
One character no member of the audience gave a sh*t about, though, was Leonard Lawrence a.k.a. Pvt. Pyle because he was slow, overweight, and ended up murdering his D.I. and blowing his brains out while sitting on a toilet.
Let’s pretend that the murder-suicide never took place and Private Pyle actually went out to the fleet.
From greeting a superior officer, showing homage to the American flag, or paying respect to a fallen comrade — saluting is a powerful non-verbal communication gesture for showing proper respect.
With no real written record of how or where the tradition began, the salute dates back far in history when troops would raise their right hand (or their weapon hand) as a signal of friendship.
Back in the days, the subordinate person hand-gestured first in the presence of a superior who would then respond accordingly, which is the same practice used today — lower-ranking personnel salute higher ranking first.
Recruits learn how to hand salute in boot camp and demonstrate it hundreds of times before heading out to active duty. The gesture becomes instant as muscle memory takes over.
But many civilians nowadays salute as a form of celebration — and they get it so so wrong.
DoD’s embed program and other mechanisms have given journalists and filmmakers substantial access to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, so it’s no surprise that those conflicts have been some of the best documented in history. Here is WATM’s list of 11 post 9-11 documentaries that did the best at capturing what really happened:
The Hornet’s Nest
A father-son journalism team embedded on what was supposed to be a three-day raid but ended up being nine days of intense fighting by the 101st Airborne.
A group of paratroopers is deployed to the Korengal Valley, one of the most dangerous spots in Afghanistan, for 15 months. During that time, they fight smugglers and insurgents, attempt to win over the locals, and try to save themselves. A camera crew followa them for much of the deployment, documenting their interactions with Afghans and the deep love the men have for each other.
A group of Danish cavalry soldiers deploy on a six-month tour of Helmand and a Danish filmmaker goes with them. The film includes a lot of the tedium of a soldier’s life as well as a raid where the soldiers find themselves within a few meters of a Taliban machine gun team.
Hell and Back Again
Nominated for a Best Documentary Feature Academy Award, this film tells the story of a Marine injured in Afghanistan who, after returning to the states, struggles with his post traumatic stress disorder and a badly broken leg. “Hell and Back Again” gives a visceral look at how hard it can be for wounded troops to return to civilian life.
This is a very critical look at the American drone program. Drone explains the factors that make drones so popular with troops while also looking at the moral burdens on drone operators and emotional pain of those who’ve lost family members to drone strikes.
The War Tapes
Directed by Deborah Scranton and shot by National Guard soldiers over the course of their training and deployment to Iraq, the documentary focuses on three men with very different views on the war and their commander in chief. This film is arguably the best in terms of capturing the burdens on the modern-day citizen soldier.
Taxi to the Dark Side
An in-depth look at torture during the opening years of the War on Terror, including the decisions made by the Bush administration. It covers Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay, and the leadership (or absence of it) that governed actions in two prisons. Made by the son of a former Navy interrogator, the film went on to win an Academy Award.
No End In Sight
Although “No End In Sight” was released in 2007, the film concentrates on Iraq in the first year after the invasion. It features interviews with White House and State Department officials who were frustrated with missteps that fueled the growing insurgency and caused extra misery for both Iraqi citizens and the U.S. troops assigned to police them.
The Ground Truth
“The Ground Truth” follows a group of Marines and soldiers from the point they’re recruited and then on to their experiences in war. Troops tell their stories in their own words from their initial training through deployments and struggles once they get home.
The U.S. military uses some awesome weapon systems, but many of them are even more impressive when you can slow down the action and see exactly how the weapon engages and destroys its targets. We scoured Youtube and found some of the best.
(Funker530, YouTube)Tanks hardly need an explanation. This compilation video includes a few different types of munitions and lots of nice explosions as rounds leave the barrel.
The Javelin is primarily an anti-tank missile that attacks from above, though it can be used against aircraft and buildings in a direct fire mode. An initial charge blows the missile away from the launcher before the propellant sends the fire and forget missile to its target.
3. TOW Missile vs. Tank
(Funker530, YouTube) Tube-launched, optically tracked, wire-guided missiles serve a primarily anti-armor role. The missiles in this video are one of the variants that allow for top-down attacks, exploding above the target to penetrate the tank through its thinner turret armor as opposed to a direct hit.
(FullMag, YouTube)The M134 fires 7.62mm rounds, which makes it a minigun when compared to larger calibers like the 20mm Vulcans but still a big badass compared to most weapons floating around. These weapons are used extensively by the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (SOAR).
6. Mk 12 Special Purpose Rifle
(FullMag, Youtube)Developed by the US Navy for use by its special operators, this weapon is an extremely modified version of the M16. It is also now used by Army Special Forces. It fires standard NATO 5.56mm rounds.
7. Det Cord
(FullMag, YouTube)Det cord is a thin cord of explosives that detonates at four miles per second. When watching it at normal speed, it seems like the whole thing goes off at once. In extreme slow-mo though, you can watch the detonation move through the cord.
8. Tomahawk Missile
(okrajoe, Youtube)The Tomahawk missile has many variants, from conventional surface attack to a nuclear version to ones that drop cluster munitions. If you want to see extreme slow-motion video of a Tomahawk striking its target, check out this video.
9. 40mm semi-automatic grenade launcher
(Vickers Tactical, YouTube)The M32 MGL is a semi-automatic grenade launcher that looks like an old-western revolver on steroids. It’s in service with the US Marine Corps and can bring a lot of controlled, accurate pain quickly.
10. U.S. Navy Railgun
(defenseupdate, YouTube)Currently in tests with the U.S. Navy, the electromagnetic railgun has been a dream for years. Judging by videos like these, and the fact that the railgun is scheduled for sea trials in 2016, that dream may soon be a reality.
11. Fully-automatic M4
(The Slow Mo Guys, YouTube)Most military guys are familiar with the M4, though few get any trigger time with the fully automatic version. Here, you can see the full-auto M4 in all its glory as it’s slowed way down. The entire video is capturing action that took place in just over two seconds.
When the military needs to get where they’re going, they climb into some of the most intimidating military vehicles on the planet.
Gun turrets, heavy armor, and aggressive stylings all make sure enemies know death is bearing down on them. But in the World Wars, many of the vehicles of industrial warfare were just getting started. These are six of the scariest military vehicles that generation served in.
Though quieter in a dive than their nuclear counterparts, diesel submarines were fraught with dangers. The batteries could catch fire and asphyxiate the crew or explode and sink the boat. Sub crews also had to fear their own weapons as torpedoes would sometimes “circle run,” traveling in a loop and hitting the sub that fired them.
M4 Sherman Tank
Early design flaws, such as ammunition storage in the tank turret, made these military vehicles susceptible to large explosions from minor hits. While the flaws were later fixed, it was just in time for the tanks to start facing off against newer Axis tanks with larger guns and thicker armor than the M4. Tank crews were forced to sandbag the inside of their vehicles and weld spare steel or old vehicle tires to the outside. The 3rd Armored Division deployed with 242 tanks and lost 1,348 over the course of the war.
Flying Aircraft Carrier
Two were built: The USS Akron and the USS Macon. The Akron was introduced to the fleet at the end of 1931 and experienced fatal accidents in 1932 and 1933. The first occurred while the ship was attempting to moor in California. Three ground crew members were killed and one was injured. In 1933, a crash at sea resulted in 73 of the 76 members of the crew dying and the total loss of the ship.
One of the survivors, Lt. Cmdr. Herbert Wiley, later took command of the USS Macon. Another storm at sea in 1934 brought down the Macon, but due to the addition of life jackets and the launching of rescue boats, only two members of the crew died. All three fatal accidents involving the airships, as well as multiple other crashes, were caused or complicated by trouble balancing the large ships’ lift and ballast. Flying aircraft carriers were largely abandoned until November of last year when DARPA put out a call for new designs to carry drones.
Mark I Tank
The first tank to see combat, the British Mark 1 was revolutionary, but serving in it was rough. Inadequate ventilation meant the crew breathed carbon monoxide, fuel and oil vapors, and cordite fumes. Temperatures in the tank could climb to over 120 degrees Fahrenheit. Crews endured the heat and noxious gasses while wearing metal face masks because rivets from the hull would shoot through the cabin when struck by enemy rounds.
Within two months of fielding, multiple wing failures led to the aircraft being grounded until it could be reinforced. One of the failures occurred while the famed Red Baron piloted it. In addition, the radiator was positioned immediately above the pilot, meaning holes from enemy fire caused the hot radiator fluid to immediately boil onto the pilot’s face.
Sherman DD Amphibious Tank
A descendant of the M4 Sherman above, the DD carried a rubber screen that would hold out water and allow it to float. But the craft could only handle waves up to one foot. They were deployed at D-Day where many sank due to rough seas and being launched far from shore. Crews were given breathing apparatuses in case they floundered, but the equipment only provided five minutes of air.
In 1775, soldiers put together makeshift hunting shirts to distinguish themselves from the British at the Siege of Boston. Today, they wear sophisticated digital camouflage patterns that help them blend into the mountains of Afghanistan.
1. Not surprisingly, the blue Continental Army uniform adopted during the Revolutionary War was similar in style to the British red coat.
2. After a brief period of Army “uniform confusion” during 1812, the U.S. Army began issuing blue coats such as the ones below in 1813. These remained in service until about 1820, though a shortage of blue wool would lead some state militias and the service academies to use gray.
3. In 1821, the Army dropped the “tombstone” cap and replaced it with the “bell crown” cap for company officers and enlisted soldiers. The hole in the front was for a colored pompon, a feather-like device which would distinguish what branch of service the soldier belonged to, such as artillery or infantry.
4. Also in that year, Army regulations introduced the use of epaulettes and shoulder wings, which were “generally used to designate the soldier’s rank or some other aspect of status,” according to the Army Quartermaster Museum.
5. This is what a typical artillery sergeant would look like in 1836.
6. In 1847, non-commissioned officers were authorized to display chevrons on both sleeves, above the elbow.
7. There were significant changes to the uniform to come in 1851, which would stick with the Army for years to come. Soldiers began wearing the “frock” coat, and colored accents distinguished among branches: blue meaning infantry and red for artillery, for example.
8. Changes to come in 1858 and 1860 would define the look of Union soldiers during the American Civil War. This period saw the adoption of brass branch insignia and different hats, although the various regulations of state militias, substitute items, and homemade garments make it hard to nail down the “typical” uniform of the day.
9. According to the Army History Division, the period between the 1870s to 1880s saw a lack of uniformity amongst soldiers, due to a uniform shortage and changes to regulations that some despised.
10. During the Spanish-American war of 1898, soldiers were issued khaki uniforms for the field.
11. Soldiers in World War I wore similarly-styled uniforms, though they were olive drab in color. They also wore spiral puttees around their legs.
12. The U.S. also purchased hundreds of thousands of “Brodie helmets” from the British for Army troops fighting in Europe.
13. Soldiers in World War II wore olive drab uniforms in the field, along with their newly-designed M1 helmets.
14. There were also a variety of specialty items introduced, such as cold weather flying jackets for members of the Army Air Force, or coats made specifically for airborne troops.
15. Prior to World War II, soldiers only wore marksmanship badges, ribbons and service medals. But during and after the war, a number of new specialty awards and badges were created for parachutists, aviators, and infantrymen.
16. Between the 1940s and 1970s, there were big changes to Army rank structure. Staff sergeants were eliminated in 1948 and made sergeants, only to be brought back ten years later. In 1954, the Army created the Specialist rank, with different levels that could be obtained, although these were later phased out.
17. In 1952, The Army would adopt its olive green shade utility uniform, which would see use in the wars in Korea and Vietnam.
18. During the Korean war, some units directed soldiers to sew white name tapes and/or “U.S. Army” onto their uniforms, though it was never universal. In 1953, the Secretary of Army made the wearing of “U.S. Army” official on uniforms, as a result of negotiations for the end of hostilities with the North Koreans.
19. While most soldiers in Vietnam wore the standard olive drab uniform, some specialized units — like long range reconnaissance patrol members — were given the ERDL pattern, although some used a tiger stripe pattern that local south Vietnamese forces had been wearing.
20. In 1981, the Army adopted its woodland camouflage battle dress uniform. It would become the main field uniform of the Army and the other services until the mid-2000s.
21. There were also desert-colored versions that soldiers used during Operation Desert Storm in 1991, and the Post-9/11 conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq.
22. Following the Marine Corps’ adoption of a digital-style uniform, the Army introduced its Army Combat Uniform (ACU) in 2004, which was used in Iraq and Afghanistan.
23. In 2010, soldiers headed to Afghanistan were issued Operation Enduring Freedom Camouflage Patter (OCP) uniforms, better known as “multicam.”
24. In July, the Army started its transition to the Operational Camouflage Pattern, which the Sgt. Maj. of the Army admits will lead to mixed uniform formations over the slow process. “We will still be the most lethal fighting force the world has even known even if our belts don’t match for the next few years,” he told CNN.
On August 31, 1949, Secretary of Defense Louis Johnson announced the creation of an Armed Forces Day which serves as a day to honor all those who serve in the sister-service branches.
The men and women of the military have made exceptional sacrifices and so on Armed Forces Day and all other military appreciation days, we can do small acts to show our gratitude to them.
Below are some ideas of how to show your appreciation:
1. Volunteer at a VA hospital or donate your time to a veterans group.
There are 152 veteran medical centers in the US as well as hundreds of clinics, outpatient and nursing facilities. Call your local VA medical center or community to learn more about donating your time.
2. Talk to veterans or an active service member.
(Photo by Russell Sellers)
Ask questions about their service, why they joined the military and listen to their stories. A little interest can go a long way.
3. Visit a memorial.
All across the US, military members are honored through monuments that memorialize their service and sacrifice. Washington DC is home to 8, but monuments dedicated to members of the military can be found throughout the nation.
4. Put together a care package.
(Department of Defense photo)
With so many USO centers sending a comforting package is easy. Check with your local center to ensure that they can send out the package. You can fill them up with snacks and non-perishable food, toiletries, stationery or purchase a pre-made package.
Cities across the US celebrate Armed Forces Day with parades. Some of the most famous parades can be found in the cities of Torrence, California, Chattanooga, Tennessee, and Washington D.C.
7. Offer to help a military spouse.
(U.S. Army National Guard photo by 1st Lt. Leanna Litsch)
While expressing gratitude to service members is encouraged, so is helping out their families. With one person at home, daily tasks can get overwhelming and a break is welcome. Offer to cook a meal, drive them somewhere or watch their children for a few hours.
8. Fly a flag, the correct way.
(U.S. Air Force Photo by Dennis Rogers)
Sometimes the simplest expressions of gratitude are the most appreciated. Make sure that if you do fly America’s Stars and Stripes you follow the code.
9. A simple thank you.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Daniel Snider)
Sometimes this is the most honest expression of gratitude to those who serve our country.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
We here at WATM love putting together lists and rankings, so it makes sense for us create one for non-fiction books. We read quite often, and not surprisingly considering we’re a bunch of military veterans, those books often deal with military topics.
These are our picks for best military non-fiction books of all-time. (If you’d like to see our picks for fiction, click here.) The books below are numbered but not in rank order. All of these are great reads.
If you want to gain an understanding of America’s war with radical Islamists, look no further than “The Forever War” by journalist Dexter Filkins. As a foreign correspondent for The New York Times, Filkins begins his book as the Taliban rises to power in Afghanistan, writes of the aftermath following the Sept. 11th attacks, and then continues through the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Told from ground level by the only American journalist who reported on all of these events, Filkins does not write a neat history lesson. Instead, he tells individual stories of people — from ordinary citizens to soldiers — and how they are affected by the incidents that happen around them. He does it using beautiful prose, and with little bias.
Former Air Force Col. James Burton gives the inside account of what it’s like when the Pentagon wants to develop a new weapons system. Having spent 14 years in weapons acquisition and testing, Burton details his struggle during the development of the Bradley Fighting Vehicle with those above him who were often more interested in supporting defense contractors instead of troops in the field.
Burton spends much of the book writing of the small band of military reformers who worked hard trying to fix the problems of Pentagon procurement from the 1960s to the 1980s, and he suffered professionally for “rocking the boat” as a result. For example, after suggesting that the Bradley’s armor should be tested against Soviet antitank weaponry, the Army — knowing it would never hold up — tried to get Burton transferred to Alaska. The very serious book also inspired a very funny movie made by HBO:
Most people have seen the movie, but this is one of those times when you should definitely read the book. This brilliant account by journalist Mark Bowden tells the story of the Oct. 3, 1993 battle of Mogadishu, Somalia, when hundreds of elite U.S. Army soldiers fought back against thousands of militants when a routine mission went wrong.
With remarkable access, research, and interviews, Bowden recreates the battle minute-by-minute and perfectly captures the brutality of the fight and the heroism of those who fought and died there.
This book gives an inside look at the transformation that takes place from civilian to Marine Corps officer. A classics major at Dartmouth, Fick joins the Marines in 1998 an idealistic young man and leaves a battle-hardened and skilled leader after serving in Afghanistan and Iraq.
At times very personal and unpleasant, Fick’s book recounts plenty of combat experiences. But that is not the real draw. His wonderful detailing of the training, mindset, and actions of Marine officers on today’s battlefields makes this a must-read.
Historian Stephen Ambrose’s account Easy Co. in “Band of Brothers” is quite simply, an account of ordinary men doing extraordinary things. The book — which later became a 10-part miniseries on HBO — takes readers from the unit’s tough training in 1942 all the way to its liberation of Hitler’s “Eagles Nest” in 1945.
“Band of Brothers illustrates what one of Ambrose’s sources calls ‘the secret attractions of war … the delight in comradeship, the delight in destruction … war as spectacle,’ writes Tim Appelo in his review.
One of the first significant engagements between American and Vietnamese forces in 1965 was also one of the most savage. The Battle of the Ia Drang Valley is told by Lt. Col. Moore and Galloway, a reporter who was there, and it serves as both a testament to the bravery and perseverance of the 450 men who fought back after being surrounded by 2,000 enemy troops.
While the book was later made into a movie, it’s well-worth reading if only for the stories of Rick Rescorla, the platoon leader featured on the cover of the book whose nickname was “Hard Core.”
More than 2,000 years old and still relevant today, “The Art of War” is a must-read book on military theory and strategy. But its maxims can be applied by those far outside the combat arms. Tzu offers advice relevant to everyone from Army generals to CEOs.
“Absorb this book, and you can throw out all those contemporary books about management leadership,” wrote Newsweek.
There have been many contemporary accounts written of World War II, but “Flyboys” manages to bring to light something that had remained hidden for nearly 60 years. James Bradley tells the story of nine Americans who were shot down in the Pacific off the island of Chichi Jima.
One of them, George H.W. Bush, was rescued. But what happened to the eight others was covered up and kept secret from their families by both the U.S. and Japanese governments. Bradley, who wrote “Flags of our Fathers,” conducted extensive research and uncovered a story that has never been told before.
Written in a compelling narrative style, David McCullough’s “1776” retells the year of America’s birth in wonderful detail. McCullough is an incredible storyteller who puts you right there, feeling as if you are marching in the Continental Army.
From the Amazon description:
In this masterful book, David McCullough tells the intensely human story of those who marched with General George Washington in the year of the Declaration of Independence—when the whole American cause was riding on their success, without which all hope for independence would have been dashed and the noble ideals of the Declaration would have amounted to little more than words on paper.
As a reporter for Rolling Stone magazine, Evan Wright rode with the Marines of 1st Recon Battalion into Iraq in 2003. Embedded among the men, Wright captures the story of that first month of American invasion along with the grunt mindset, how the Marines interact, and captures the new generation of warriors that has emerged after 9/11.
Soldiers today are “on more intimate terms with the culture of the video games, reality TV shows and Internet porn than they are with their own families,” Wright told Booklist (One 19-year-old corporal compares driving into an ambush to a Grand Theft Auto video game: “It was fucking cool.”)
A monster of a book at 704 pages, journalist Jake Tapper tells a powerful story of an Afghan outpost that was doomed to fail even before soldiers built it. Beginning with the decision to build a combat outpost in Nuristan in 2006, Tapper reveals a series of bad decisions that would ultimately lead to a battle for survival at that outpost three years later — one that would see multiple soldiers earn the Medal of Honor for their heroism.
Known as Combat Outpost Keating, the story of the base is one that is worth reading. With its bestseller status, rave reviews by critics, and most importantly, the soldiers who fought there, it’s safe to say “The Outpost” gets it right.
Found on many military reading lists, Grossman’s “On Killing” is a landmark study of how soldiers face the reality of killing other humans in combat, and how military training overcomes their aversion to such an act.
A former West Point psychology professor, Grossman delves into the psychological costs of war and presents a compelling thesis that human beings have an instinctual aversion to killing. With this, he also shows how militaries overcome this central trait through conditioning and real-world training.
This Pulitzer-Prize winning book is a masterpiece of military history. Delivering an account of the first month of World War I in 1914, Tuchman tells not just a war story, but an event that would upend the modern world.
“This was the last gasp of the Gilded Age, of Kings and Kaisers and Czars, of pointed or plumed hats, colored uniforms, and all the pomp and romance that went along with war,” reads the publisher’s description. “How quickly it all changed, and how horrible it became. Tuchman is masterful at portraying this abrupt change from 19th to 20th Century.”
Embedded among the soldiers of 2-16 Infantry as part of President Bush’s last-chance “surge” in Iraq, journalist David Finkel captures the grim reality as troops face the chaotic, and often deadly, streets of Baghdad. The book often follows the overly-optimistic Col. Ralph Kauzlarich (motto: “It’s all good”).
But Finkel excels at capturing everyone up and down the chain-of-command, and tells their stories incredibly well. His book is less about big-picture surge strategy, and more about the soldiers on the ground who fought it. That is a very good thing.
Those are our picks. Did we miss one that you loved? Leave a recommendation in the comments.
1. Legionnaires are instilled with a “fight to the death” attitude. Giving up is not really an option.
In April 1863, a battle between the French Foreign Legion and the Mexican army showed how effective and ballsy legionnaires really could be. With a total of just 65 men, the legionnaires fought back against a force of approximately 3,000 at the Battle of Camarón. Despite the overwhelming odds, the small patrol of legionnaires inflicted terrible losses on the Mexican forces and they refused to surrender.
Instead, their French officers actually called on the larger Mexican force to surrender multiple times. Holed up inside of a hacienda, only five men remained able to fight (most were killed or wounded) — and incredibly — mounted a bayonet charge against the opposing force, until they were ultimately surrounded and forced to surrender.
“Is this all of them? Is this all of the men who are left?” a Mexican Major said at the time, according to the book Camerone by James W. Ryan. “These are not men! They are demons!”
The Legion still celebrates and commemorates the battle today — and the wooden hand of their slain commander, Capt. Danjou, is the most prized possession at the Legion’s museum in Aubagne, writes Max Hastings.
2. Legionnaires who are wounded are granted automatic French citizenship.
Though troops serving the Legion hail from 138 different countries, they can become French citizens eventually. After serving at least three years honorably, they can apply to be citizens. But they also have a much quicker path: If they are wounded on the battlefield, they can become citizens through a provision called “Français par le sang versé” (“French by spilled blood”), according to The Telegraph.
The French government allowed this automatic citizenship provision in 1999.
3. More than 35,000 foreigners have been killed in action while serving with the Legion.
Throughout its history, the French Foreign Legion — and the fighters who make up its ranks — were seen as expendable. The foreigners who continue to join do so accepting the possibility of their death in a far-off place, in exchange for a new life with some sense of purpose. But meaningless sacrifice has gradually become a virtue in itself, according to a Vanity Fair article about the Legion.
“It’s like this,” an old legionnaire told William Langeweische of Vanity Fair. “There is no point in trying to understand. Time is unimportant. We are dust from the stars. We are nothing at all. Whether you die at age 15 or 79, in a thousand years there is no significance to it. So f–k off with your worries about war.”
4. The Legion used to accept anyone — criminals and misfits especially — with no questions, but now there is a thorough screening process.
Since its founding in 1831, the Legion has become the one place of escape for those with haunted pasts. Men with criminal records, shady business dealings, or deserters from their home country’s armies were accepted into the ranks, with no questions asked. Stripped of their old identity and given a new one, the new legionnaires are able to begin their new life with the slate wiped clean.
The legion will still accept deserters and other minor miscreants, but it’s not as easy as it once was. New recruits are given a battery of physical, intelligence, and psychological tests before they even get any kind of training. Later on in the process, recruits are screened for “motivation” in order to weed out those who don’t have the drive to make it in the ranks.
Finally, after countless hours spent lingering in uncomfortable conditions, the only thing standing between us and a spot with the Legion was what was referred to as the “Gestapo.” Rumor had it that at this point, the Legion knew everything about you. The word Interpol is thrown around a lot—any financial, criminal, family, and employment background information is supposedly fair game. Call it a hunch, but I think that’s bullshit. Make no mistake, I believe someone, somewhere has access to all of that information. But a sweaty, apathetic French administration in a run-down, quasi-bureaucratic shithole in suburban Marseille isn’t that someone or somewhere. In any case, they called me in for an interrogation.
While they may not necessarily be running from their past when they join the Legion these days, all new legionnaires are still stripped of their old identities and given new ones, which they maintain for at least their first year of service.
“Legionnaires begin a new life when they join,” a legionnaire named Capt. Michel told NBC News. “Each and every one of them is allowed to keep his past a secret.”
5. The pay is terrible, and so are the benefits.
Legion recruiters could easily steal the infamous U.S. Marine Corps recruiting poster with the slogan, “We don’t promise you a rose garden.” The pay is terrible, as are the benefits, but that doesn’t seem to matter. Despite the promise of a very rough life and the possibility of being sent to fight anywhere, thousands continue to show up each year.
Legionnaires can expect deployments to austere environments and/or see plenty of combat. The Legion is currently in Afghanistan and Mali, for example.
Their starting pay is roughly $1450 per month for at least the first couple of years in. That’s a pretty small paycheck compared to the lowest-ranking U.S. Army soldier making $1546, which is guaranteed to go up to $1733 after being automatically promoted six months later (if they don’t get in trouble of course).
There is at least one bonus to the Legion if you fancy yourself a drinker: There’s plenty of booze. Even in a combat zone, legionnaires are drinking in their off time, and their culture of heavy drinking would make any frat-boy blush.
Just replace Kenobi’s spirit form at the end of “Return of the Jedi” with Ulysses S. Grant’s love of spirits and you have a strong case that the famed Union general and 18th president was the real world inspiration for the legendary Jedi Master.
Both of these bearded military masterminds have just way too much in common.
1. Both are widely regarded for the first half of their accomplishments, but were immortalized by their final ones.
Quick history lesson for anyone living under a rock since 1977 or never picked up a history book.
Obi-wan Kenobi was a Jedi Knight in the prequel trilogy of “Star Wars.” His level head and skill in battle shot him up the ranks before eventually being recognized as the mentor to Luke Skywalker in the Original Trilogy.
Ulysses S. Grant was the top general of the Union Army during the American Civil War. His level head and skill in battle shot him up the ranks before eventually being elected to be the 18th President of the United States during the Reconstruction era.
2. Both accepted their adoptive names early in life.
Each of them have semi-arbitrary names, Ben Kenobi and Ulysses S. Grant.
According to the canon novel “Kenobi,” Obi-wan was meditating in an attempt to contact Qui-Gon. In his conversation, he remembers that Ben was a name he saw on a map and liked it. His fling would then call him by it and it sort of stuck.
It came in handy when he needed to go into hiding (because I guess Kenobi was a common name).
Grant was actually born Hiram Ulysses Grant. When his father wrote his representative to help get the 16-year-old Grant into West Point, the forms were filled out incorrectly and mistakenly written as “Ulysses S. Grant.”
Because this was the biggest opportunity for him at that point, he adopted the name. He would also go by the name “Sam,” because his initials U.S. were a play on Uncle Sam. Eventually that U.S. became “Unconditional Surrender.”
Even though his mother’s maiden name was Simpson, he joked with his wife, “You know I have an ‘S’ in my name and don’t know what it stands for.”
3. Republic versus the Confederacy.
Civil War breaks out for both men. The Galactic Republic fights the separatists, The Confederacy of Independent Systems. War rages on between them in many star systems.
As in our timeline, the United States of America fought the separatists, the Confederate States of America. War rages on between them in many states.
4. Both were responsible for the first major victory in their wars.
The people of Naboo were losing the invasion by the Trade Federation. Tides were turned when a young padawan, Obi-wan, struck down Darth Maul in an epic light saber battle. He was promoted to Jedi Knight for his actions.
The Union was losing the skirmishes along the Tennessee-Kentucky border, most notably at the Battle of Fort Donelson. Tides were turned when a young Brig. Gen. Grant pushed back Brig. Gen. Floyd in an epic counterattack (and earning him the “Unconditional Surrender” Grant nickname). He was promoted to major general for his actions.
5. Both had beaten major adversaries in other generals — and a comrade.
Kenobi fought many great enemies during the Clone War and after. In “Episode III: Revenge of the Sith,” he fought General Grevious, commander of the CIS forces. Afterwords, his largest enemy was the commander of the 501st, Darth Vader himself. Twice (if you consider him being struck down and achieving more power than Vader would ever know a victory).
Darth Vader, previously Anakin Skywalker, was once a great ally to Kenobi, fighting at his side other during the Clone War. By the end, they would both become each other’s greatest enemy.
Grant lead the Union Army through many of its more memorable victories. Grant defeated Confederate generals left and right — many of whom hold the name of U.S. military bases today. General Bragg, Gen. Polk, Gen. A.P. Hill, and of course, Gen. Robert E. Lee. He would defeat Lee at Petersburg and then force his surrender at Appomattox.
Robert E. Lee and Grant had first met each other during the Mexican-American War. Both were present at Scott’s March to Mexico City. This was back when Grant was a still a lieutenant and Lee a lieutenant colonel long before they were both Generals-in-Chief of their respective armies.
6. Both saw their people in turmoil after their Civil Wars.
After the Galactic Republic collapsed into the Empire, Obi-wan needed to go into hiding and assumed the name of “Ben.” He witnessed the collapse of the Jedi Order and the chaos that was brought by the Emperor and Darth Vader. More about what happened in those years is rumored to be played out in the upcoming “Obi-wan” stand-alone film.
Grant may have been victorious, but Reconstruction wasn’t an easy step. The short time between the Union victory and Lincoln’s death was mixed with the moderate positions and vetoes of Andrew Johnson and the devastation of white supremacists had on the newly freed slaves. Grant would try his best to push through his Enforcement Acts, which were in place to protect African Americans and combat the Ku Klux Klan.
7. Their successors (mostly) ended the strife.
Obi-wan was slain by Darth Vader, giving his pupil the next step in his hero’s journey. By the end of “Return of the Jedi,” Luke Skywalker would help (spoiler alert: by the way for those aforementioned people under a rock) his father, Darth Vader, renounce the Dark Side and overthrow the Empire, bringing peace until “Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens.”
Grant tried to reunite the divided country again, make peace with the Native Americans, and help with civil rights. They still weren’t enough. The Luke Skywalker in this comparison? Rutherford B. Hayes, the Republican nominee who took his place. Even still, Hayes only withdrew troops from the South.
*Bonus!* The strong connection with “McGregor.”
First being portrayed by Alec Guinness of “Bridge on the River Kwai” fame in the original trilogy, he would later be brought to life by Ewan McGregor from “Trainspotting” and “Black Hawk Down.”
As for Ulysses S. Grant, he spent the last weeks of his life at his friend’s cottage atop Mount McGregor while he finished his memoirs.
Navy RDCs (Recruit Division Commanders) turn young men and women into trained sailors through the use of strict discipline, naval tradition, alien language, and psychological mind games. The transformation is difficult by design, but Navy recruits who pass are inducted into the mysteries of the deep.
But before any of that happens, the civilian recruit is hit by culture shock, and some wtf questions usually follow shortly thereafter. Here are a few.
1. “Are you crazy? I have to jump from how high and swim how far?”
The Navy is the branch of the military that spends their deployments at sea, which why sailors need to know how to swim. However, you’d be surprised to learn the number of recruits designated to the kiddy pool on swim day. Recruits who fail the swim test take mandatory classes in addition to the unit’s drill schedule until they pass.
2. “What do you mean unf–k myself?”
Don’t bother explaining yourself to the RDC, just fix it.
3. “I didn’t call you a sorry Petty Officer. I said, ‘Sorry, Petty Officer.'”
“Sorry” would be the polite thing to say in the civilian world, but not at boot camp. Many recruits are shocked at the RDC’s reply to “sorry.” Recruits are better off saying, “Aye aye Petty Officer.”
4. “WTF is Freedom Hall? Is that where we take a break from all this training?”
Freedom Hall is the Physical Fitness Facility at Recruit Training Command. Basically, it’s just a big indoor track. Don’t expect to see weights or obstacle courses, since Navy recruits run and do calisthenics for exercise.
5. “I can’t keep my eyes open. When do we get to sleep?”
Sailors get little to no sleep upon arriving at boot camp. Sleep is regularly interrupted by RDC inspections, roving watchstanders, head counts, and the occasional group punishment caused by talking shipmates.
6. “Why am I being punished? I wasn’t the one who messed up.”
This is the beginning of team building. If someone messes up, everyone suffers.
7. “WTF do you mean these uniforms are deducted from my paycheck?”
Terrible haircuts, tighty whities, and hygiene products are deducted from recruits’ below-minimum-wage salaries.
8. “WTF is this Monopoly Money? I thought I was going to get paid in bills, not chits.”
During boot camp sailors are given chits – paper notes used as money – to purchase their toiletries and other products from Ricky Heaven (the only store and recreation center at boot camp). This “Monopoly money” is deducted from their pay, but the surprise usually causes a wtf moment.
9. “Wait, why do I have to remove my gas mask? Isn’t the point of wearing the mask to protect me from the gas?”
The gas chamber teaches recruits to trust their equipment and focus on the task at hand. This exercise starts with the RDC explaining the logistics of the evolution followed by the effect of CS (Chlorobenzylidene-malononitrile) gas: crying, sneezing, breathing difficulty, temporary blindness, drooling, runny nose, itching, and skin irritation. These recruits in this picture are cupping their mouths because they’re prohibited from vomiting or drooling in the chamber. Violating this rule results in staying behind to clean up after themselves.