Military budgets can contain some surprising items. These six pieces of gear probably raised some eyebrows when they were purchased.
Skateboards were tested during Urban Warrior ’99 for potential use in detecting booby traps and avoiding sniper fire. Documents from the exercise don’t discuss how the “urban combat skateboard” was to be employed, but the boards never made it to full fielding.
The ultra-lightweight combat vehicle is currently in testing with the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division, but earlier versions have already seen combat with special operations troops in Afghanistan. The vehicles are easily delivered by air and can be used by paratroopers to quickly move around a drop zone, allowing them to mass forces for an assault, quickly move crew-served weapons around the battlefield, and evacuate wounded troops to a casualty collection point.
Quite a few modern militaries use ski troops, including three branches of the U.S. Armed Forces: The Navy, Marine Corps, and Army. The training and equipment allows the service members to move quickly in winter, mountain, and arctic environments.
6. Children’s toys
When Allied paratroopers jumped into Normandy on D-Day, they needed a way to identify each other in the dark behind German lines. Military planners came up with brass versions of a common children’s toy, the cricket noise maker. Troops would click the noisemaker while near an unknown person in the dark. If the other person responded with a click or code word, the soldiers knew each other as friendly.
So check out these reasons why the average Joe would want to be the next great “Top Gun” fighter pilot.
1. Getting a kick-ass callsign
Face it — Maverick and Goose are pretty epic names — but be as original as possible if you get to pick yours.
2. Keeping up with foreign relations
Rarely do allied forces get close to their enemy on the battlefield, but to be inverted while sitting in a cockpit whilst flashing the grand FU gesture — that’s badass.
3. Attracting a hottie
There are many ways to pick up women at a squid bar. If you ever had an issue getting the girl as a civilian, we’ve got a solution: throw on that uniform.
Lady pilots, this works for you, too — just make sure you find a man who can appreciate a strong woman.
Oh, and don’t forget your wingman.
4. Wear aviator sunglasses
Nothing says “I am awesome” like putting on a blacked-out pair of aviators. This look never gets old.
5. Play shirtless volleyball
With arguably no real reason to be in the movie story-wise, the producers had some of Hollywood’s brightest stars in their film at the time and they took advantage.
It’s safe to say that no man, after watching Top Gun, doesn’t think about this scene while playing the popular beach sport.
6. Aerial Dogfighting
This is where the real ass kicking takes place. Naval aviators are some of the world’s best at aerial maneuvering to take down the enemy. All jokes aside, the dogfighting scenes are where the real motivation to be a fighter pilot begins.
Whether it kept them entertained in the barracks or inspired them to enlist, there are certain films that every Marine knows and loves.
Just about every Marine can quote Gunnery Sgt. Hartman from “Full Metal Jacket.” The same can be said of the intense courtroom scene in “A Few Good Men” that has Col. Jessup proclaiming, “You can’t handle the truth!”
Super quotable lines, great stories, or intense combat scenes are just some of the reasons why we picked the following nine films as “must-watch” for Marines. But whether you are in the Corps or a civilian, these movies shed some light on the U.S. military’s smallest service.
Plot: Based on real-life events, Lt. Col. Michael Strobl, a volunteer military escort officer, accompanies the body of 19-year-old Marine Chance Phelps back to his hometown of Dubois, Wyoming.
Reason to watch: While most military movies focus on battle scenes, “Taking Chance” focuses on the part often overlooked: What happens when troops lose their lives in combat. As people in the military know, the belongings are packed and shipped, the body is taken to Dover, and an escort brings them to their final resting place. Actor Kevin Bacon does a superb job of depicting the real-life story of one such escort duty, for Pfc. Chance Phelps.
Plot: Based on former Marine Anthony Swofford’s best-selling 2003 book about his pre-Desert Storm experiences in Saudi Arabia and about his experiences fighting in Kuwait.
Reason to watch: While the main character is a less-than-stellar Marine who often gets in trouble, this film shines in realistically depicting infantry life. The camaraderie, the dumb games, and the sheer boredom grunts experience when they are in a combat zone but not seeing combat is what makes this worth watching.
Plot: A dramatization of the World War II Battle of Iwo Jima.
Reason to watch: It has John Wayne. Really, that should be enough. But seriously, it’s a classic war film that shows Marines battling it out on Tarawa and Iwo Jima — site of the famous flag raising in 1945 — which also includes cameos by the three Marines who raised the flag over the island that was captured in the iconic Joe Rosenthal photo.
Plot: A pragmatic U.S. Marine observes the dehumanizing effects the U.S.-Vietnam War has on his fellow recruits from their brutal boot camp training to the bloody street fighting in Hue.
Reason to watch: “Full Metal Jacket” is really two films in one, with act one depicting a realistic look at Vietnam-era boot camp, and act two showing life for Marines in the battle of Hue City. The performance Marines love — and can perfectly quote — comes from R. Lee Ermey, who plays Drill Instructor Gunnery Sgt. Hartman, a seemingly never ending source of great zingers.
Plot: The life stories of the six men who raised the flag at The Battle of Iwo Jima, a turning point in WWII.
Reason to watch: While most people have seen the Pulitzer Prize-winning photo from the 1945 Battle of Iwo Jima, many don’t know the flag raising happened just days into the battle, when it was not yet clear when the Japanese would be defeated. Three of the six flag raisers would be killed later in the battle, while the remaining three would be brought back to the U.S. to help raise war bonds. This film, directed by Clint Eastwood, tells that story. (You should also check out Eastwood’s telling of the Japanese side, in “Letters from Iwo Jima”).
Plot: A hard-nosed, hard-living Marine gunnery sergeant clashes with his superiors and his ex-wife as he takes command of a spoiled recon platoon with a bad attitude.
Reason to watch: In the main character of Gunny Highway, Marines will see the one staple of just about every unit: The crusty old-timer who doesn’t take any crap from anyone. Clint Eastwood plays Highway, delivering such classic lines as “Be advised. I’m mean, nasty and tired. I eat concertina wire and piss napalm and I can put a round in a flea’s ass at 200 meters,” and “if I were half as ugly as you, Sergeant Major, I’d be a poster boy for a prophylactic.”
Plot: An attorney defends an officer on trial for ordering his troops to fire on civilians after they stormed a U.S. embassy in a third world country.
Reason to watch: Starting in Vietnam with two Marine lieutenants — played by Tommy Lee Jones and Samuel L. Jackson — a firefight sets them on separate career paths that ultimately see them coming back together after an embassy evacuation in Yemen goes terribly wrong. Col. Childers (played by Jackson) gives the order to fire into the crowd — which he says is armed — and he’s later charged with murder. Besides the intense courtroom drama, the movie shows the strong brotherhood among Marines, with Jones and Jackson picking up right where they left off many years before in the jungles of Vietnam.
Plot: Major Kirby leads The Wildcats squadron into the historic WWII battle of Guadalcanal.
Reason to watch: Again, John Wayne. Another classic from the fifties, this film gives a look at Marine air power in World War II, with Wayne playing Maj. Kirby, a gruff commander who takes over a squadron of fliers before they head into combat at Guadalcanal.
Plot: Neo military lawyer Kaffee defends Marines accused of murder; they contend they were acting under orders.
Reason to watch: It’s a great courtroom drama which explores the question of what is a legal order. When two junior Marines are told to carry out a hazing ritual by their commander, should they have followed it? That’s what a court-martial is to decide, which ultimately ends in an epic shouting match between Navy Lt. Kaffee and Col. Jessup (played brilliantly by Jack Nicholson).
BONUS: Generation Kill / The Pacific
While they aren’t movies, these two HBO miniseries show Marines in combat in Operation Iraqi Freedom and the island-hopping campaigns of World War II, respectively. In “Generation Kill,” viewers follow along with the men of 1st Reconnaissance Battalion as they battle their way into Iraq in 2003, while “The Pacific” melds together narratives from Marines who took part in the Pacific campaign to tell their story.
Friday the 13th is more than just a classic movie series. It’s estimated that 17-21 million people are affected by Paraskevidekatriaphobia, the fear of Friday the 13th. This fear has its roots in biblical history, referencing the thirteen people present at Jesus’ last supper on the 13th day on the night before his death on Good Friday. Another legend links the superstition to the liquidation of the Knights Templar by French king Philip IV.
No matter its origin, in Western culture, the 13th day of the month falling on a Friday has been an unlucky day for at least 200 years. Around the Western world, businesses take an estimated $800-900 million hit on Friday the 13th. A 1993 study in the British Medical Journal even revealed “a significant level of traffic-related incidences on Friday the 13th as opposed to a random day.” Maybe it’s just superstition, maybe it’s a self-fulfilling prophesy, maybe it’s not a bad idea to stay in bed. Warfighters aren’t exempt. These five events added more than a few warriors to the ranks of the paraskevidekatriaphobic:
1. The Aztecs get pwned by Cortes
Stubbing your toe on Friday the 13th is bad luck. Losing your entire empire is literally the end of the world. At least, YOUR world. Losing your empire despite outnumbering a bunch of foreigners 200 to 1 is almost tragic.
On Friday the 13th, 1521, Conquistador Hernán Cortés captured Tenochtitlán with 1,500 Spaniards against 300,000 Aztecs after a two month siege. They chained the Emperor of the Aztec Empire and then tortured the city’s aristocracy, looking for hidden treasure. They held him as a slave for four years before executing him. Bad luck.
2. Robert E. Lee accidentally loses the Civil War
One of the famed general’s officers wrapped a copy of Lee’s Special Order 191, the secret instructions for the invasion of Maryland, around three cigars in his camp. The order was a detailed, ten-part instruction for units involved in the rebel invasion. Somehow, the paper was dropped in an abandoned campsite and spotted by a Union scout, who picked it up on Friday, September 13, 1862 and sent it up the chain. It would affect every Confederate invasion of the North for the rest of the war.
Knowing the entire set of instructions, Union forces were able to beat the Confederates at the Battle of Antietam, the bloodiest single battle of the entire war, and the bloodiest day in American military history. It ended Lee’s first invasion of Union territory. It allowed President Lincoln to issue the Emancipation Proclamation, which would be instrumental in keeping foreign powers out of the war, and set the stage for Union victories at Gettysburg and Vicksburg.
3. The King of England gets a up-close view of WWII
Nazi Germany was relentlessly bombing London during the Blitz, a period of intense aerial attacks on Britain where the Nazis dropped 100 tons of high explosives on the city. Just a week after the Blitz began, King George VI and Elizabeth the Queen Mother (not the current Queen Elizabeth, but rather her mom) were having tea when the Luftwaffe dropped bombs on Buckingham Palace. Elizabeth recalled “battling” to remove an eyelash from the King’s eye, when they heard the “unmistakable whirr-whirr of a German plane” and then the “scream of a bomb”.
The King and Elizabeth only had time to look foolishly at each other before the bombs exploded nearby. The King and his wife were as stiff-lipped as the rest of the British people, refusing to flee London, which won them the respect of the British people. The bomb destroyed a glass ceiling and the palace chapel.
4. Japanese admiral decides to have an actual “Battle of Friday the 13th”
Japanese Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto led a 39-ship task force against the small American presence around Guadalcanal on Friday, November 13th, 1942. The idea was to land 7,000 Japanese troops on the island and retake the strategically-located Henderson Field (though that’s probably not what the Japanese called it).
Yamamoto lost two battleships, three destroyers, a heavy cruiser, and seven fully-loaded troop transports sunk and four destroyed on the beach. The Japanese also lost 64 aircraft and nearly 2,000 killed. The Americans lost seven destroyers, two light cruisers, 36 aircraft and more than 1,700 men, including Admirals Daniel Callaghan and Norman Scott, the highest ranking officers to die in combat during the war. The American win cemented the Guadalcanal campaign in U.S. favor.
5. The Cold War in the Baltic teeters on becoming ballistic
Soviet Fighter planes shot down a Swedish military C-47 Dakota cargo plane over international waters on Friday, June 13, 1952. The plane was unarmed and all eight crewmen died in the attack. The Swedes send out two PBY Catalina aircraft to search for the missing plane. One of those is intercepted and shot down as well. The crew of the rescue plane survived, but Moscow denied the incident until 1991.
After the incident, Swedish authorities discovered a life raft with remnants of a Soviet shell. The Swedes would later admit the first plane was conducting signals intelligence. The name of the rescue plane lent itself to color the name of the event, which became known as the “Catalina Affair.” In 2003, both aircraft were located in the Baltic Sea and when the first plane was raised from the ocean, the bullet holes showed the it was shot down by a MiG15. The clock in the cockpit read the exact time the plane went down and all eight crewmen’s remains were recovered.
War is generally about two sides engaging with thousands of troops, but occasionally that power is directed against one guy instead of an entire army. Here are the eight most noteworthy times that the American military went after an individual:
1. Francisco Pancho Villa
In perhaps the most famous manhunt in U.S. military history, Gen. John “Blackjack” Pershing led the “Punitive Expedition” to capture Francisco Pancho Villa and his men after they raided Columbus, New Mexico and killed 18 Americans.
The expedition pushed 300 miles into Mexico and pursued Villa from Mar. 15, 1916 to Jan. 12, 1917. They successfully broke up Villa’s gang but failed to capture Villa.
On April 14, 1943, U.S. Navy code breakers learned that the architect of Pearl Harbor, Adm. Isokuru Yamamoto, would be inspecting bases in Solomon Islands and would follow a flight path that would place it just within reach of Air Corps P-38Gs deployed to Guadalcanal.
Geronimo was one of the most feared Native American leaders when he was finally forced to live on a reservation in Arizona in 1877. But Geronimo was not decisively beaten and lived there on his own terms.
Photo: Wikipedia/Oficina de Asuntos Históricos de Cuba
The famous Argentinian revolutionary and college freshman T-shirt icon was a major thorn in the side of the America as he tried to create “two, three, or many Vietnams” in Latin America, according to “Hunting Che” author Mitch Weiss. U.S. Special Forces soldiers trained Bolivian conscripts to hunt Che, and they successfully killed him Oct. 9, 1967.
6. Saddam Hussein
The hunt for the notorious dictator of Iraq kicked off before the fall of Baghdad on April 9, 2003, but Saddam Hussein remained a ghost for months. When he was finally found by U.S. Army soldiers, it wasn’t in a hidden palace or even a well-appointed bunker. Hussein surrendered in a tiny spider-hole near Tikrit where he had squirreled away $750,000, an Kalashnikov, and some chocolate.
7. Manuel Antonio Noriega
The manhunt for Panamanian Gen. Manuel Noriega and many of his subordinates was Operation Just Cause. The initial invasion force on Dec. 20, 1989 crippled the Panamanian Defense Forces and blocked Noriega’s main means of escape but failed to capture the dictator.
The manhunt lasted until Christmas Eve when the dictator sought asylum in the Vatican Embassy in Panama. Under guidance from the Pope, the head of the embassy told Noriega that the Vatican would not grant political asylum or guarantee his safety against demonstrators rallying around the embassy. Noriega surrendered to the U.S. on January 2, 1970 (p. 54).
8. Mohammed Farrah Aideed
If you don’t remember the name, think “Black Hawk Down.” Mohammed Aideed was the warlord in control of Somalia’s strongest militia during the U.N. Operation Restore Hope. A U.S. task force supported the nation-building mission which quickly turned violent. The capture of Aideed became necessary for mission security.
The first mission to capture Aideed failed on Jun. 17, 1993. The U.S. sent Task Force Ranger to assist Aug. 28, 1993. A series of raids, including the Oct. 3 raid and subsequent rescue effort depicted in “Black Hawk Down,” netted many of Aideed’s lieutenants, but American casualties made the manhunt too bloody for the U.S. A Nov. 16 U.N. resolution and ceasefire left Aideed in power.
“I, Private Schmuckatelli, take you, whatever your name is, to be my lawfully wedded wife.”
Many service members (not mentioning any names) spoke these words right before a deployment to move out of the small studio-sized barracks most likely for the extra money every month.
This money comes from the Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH). Implemented in January 1998 BAH pays housing expenses for service members to move off-base if the barracks are overcrowded or if a change in the member’s lifestyle warrants it (i.e., having a baby or getting married. After a certain pay grade, everyone receives BAH, but it is restricted in the lower ranks. That’s why some take the risk of a contract marriage.
Although contract marriages are frowned upon by the chain of command, it’s a well-known practice utilized by all ranks today. Capitalizing on this financial loophole could benefit your future (depending on the person with whom you join in court-approved matrimony).
Here are a few added bonuses to your contract marriage that you may have never noticed before.
1. Renter’s History
Signing a lease with a rental company starts your “Renter’s History.” As long as you pay your rent on time, this keeps you in good standing with the rental bureaus. Young service members may not have the best credit, but having good rental history is a step in the right direction.
Your contract marriage could help prevent you from being homeless in the future.
“I am serious and don’t call me, Shirley.” (Paramount Pictures)
2. Learn to Budget
Although the medical benefits are valuable, they could throw a curveball and require more money every month than you planned. Checking to see how much a service member earns is simple: you can Google it. Waiting to get paid on the 1st and 15th of every month could feel like a freaking eternity without a budget.
A contract marriage probably didn’t make you a millionaire even if it made you feel that way after that first check. So learn to…
3. It Follows
Unfortunately, one crappy aspect of being in the military is how your command intervenes in your personal life. They like to know about everything and if you don’t tell them upfront, somehow they manage to find out.
If you plan on making the military a career, I advise against a contract marriage, especially when word gets out about your legally-binding “spouse” while you’re out hitting on every single person at the bar. Remember: it’s technically fraud, so good luck getting promoted.
People can often suck.
4. Emotional Maturity
The average marrying age range in the civilian world is 25 to 27. However, in the military, the median falls at 22 – above legal drinking age, but not yet a mature adult. No one is condoning getting married for the benefits, but if you do and it doesn’t work out, you shouldn’t be surprised.
You were young, dumb and full of one bad idea after another. Your temporary spouse may not have been the perfect soulmate, but at least you narrowed it down.
5. The Silver Lining
Looking back on it, would you do it again? Overall experiences will vary depending on if everything went to plan. The memories you have are what separates you as an individual and makes you unique. If it made you into a grumpy old man, then that sucks.
Take it for what it is. It’s always better to look toward the future than dwell in the past.
Being clean shaven every day in the military is an absolute must — unless you’re a special forces operator and are allowed to grow out a manly beard. Every morning, men (and some women) wake up during with a 5 o’clock shadow that is required to disappear before morning muster.
But the day you signed your DD-214 and no longer fall under the rules and regulations of shaving, it’s time to grow out that impressive separation beard — just because you can.
Not every beard is right for the individual. With several types of styles to choose from, it’s necessary to grow one that fits your specific personality. Don’t worry, we’re here to help you pick one out that fits your unique look.
Not to be mistaken for the “Homeless Man,” this style says “I work my ass for a living, but it’s usually somewhere outside in the cold.” It’s popular for keeping your face warm and catching food crumbs.
2. The Chuck Norris
One of our favorites, this traditional style relays to the world that not only can you be rugged, but you take enough time to trim up. This typically looks good enough to step into the boardroom for a presentation, then head right out to the gun range.
Chuck Norris doesn’t shave — he orders his beard to stop growing.
3. The “I’m not too worried about it”
This unique look informs the world you’re just chilling, you’re in no hurry, and whatever happens, happens.
Named after the talent actor-comedian Zack Galifianakis, this ensures your fellow man that you’re a hard worker, but you know how to crack a good joke and don’t take life too seriously.
5. The Fuzz
Not everyone can grow a full separation beard — some of us grow them in thin-to-thick patches.
This doesn’t inform the world you have low testosterone (the male’s dominant hormone) because it isn’t a facial hair growth factor — dihydrotestosterone is the chemical that promotes thick beard growth and unfortunately is linked to hair loss. Bummer!
We still respect your commitment.
6. The Shaggy
A fashionable look for those who received their separation paperwork and ran straight to the bar, leaving their razor or clipper behind in the barracks.
The past year has been a busy time for the US Army.
US soldiers remained engaged in operations against the Taliban in Afghanistan and took the lead in multi-national training exercises throughout the world. Army veterans received high honors during a memorial to the 70th anniversary of the Normandy Invasion, while one Afghanistan veteran received the Medal of Honor.
The Army compiled a year in photos to show what they were doing 2014.
These are some of the most amazing photographs of the Army from the past year.
In March, members of the US Army Parachute Team conducted their annual certification test.
The past year saw the first instance of the Spartan Brigade, an airborne combat team, training north of the Arctic Circle. Here, paratroopers move to their assembly area after jumping into Deadhorse, Alaska.
Elsewhere, in Alaska’s Denali National Park, the 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division, hiked across Summit Ridge on Mount McKinley to demonstrate their Arctic abilities.
Beyond the frozen north, the Army took part in training exercises around the world. In Germany, members of Charlie Company trained Kosovo authorities in how to respond to firebombs and other incendiary devices.
Charlie Company also fired ceremonial rounds from their M1A2 Abrams tanks during Operation Atlantic Resolve in Latvia. US forces were in the country to help reassure NATO allies in the Baltic as well as provide training to Lavia’s ground forces in the wake of Russian aggression in Ukraine.
Members of the US Army, Marines, and Alaska National Guard also participated alongside the Mongolian Armed Forces in the multi-national Khaan Quest 2014 exercise in Mongolia.
Even with the drawdown of forces from Afghanistan, US Army personnel are still active in the Middle East. Here, a soldier loads rockets into an AH-64 Apache during a Forward Arming and Refueling Point exercise in Kuwait.
Linguistic and cultural training for the Army is also continuing. Here, ROTC cadets participate in a training mission in Africa through the US Army Cadet Command’s Culture and Language Program.
Here, an M1A2 tank drives past a camel during multi-national exercises in the Middle East.
This past year marked the end of US-led combat operations in Afghanistan. In this picture, US Special Forces soldiers fight alongside the Afghan National Army against Taliban insurgents.
Here, US Army soldiers go on a patrol in Sayghani, Parwan province, Afghanistan to collect information on indirect fire fire attacks against Bagram Air Field, outside of Kabul.
Throughout 2014 US Army Rangers engaged in constant training operations to maintain their tactical proficiency.
Here, Rangers fire a 120mm mortar during a tactical training exercise in California.
An MH-60 Black Hawk Helicopter from the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment provides close air support for Army Rangers from Alpha Company, 2nd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, conducting direct action operations during a company live fire training at Camp Roberts, California.
A Ranger carrying an M24 rappels down a wall during a demonstration at an Army Ranger School graduation at Fort Benning, Georgia.
Rangers took part in the grueling Best Ranger competition at Camp Rogers, Fort Benning, Georgia. Through a series of physical challenges, the event finds the best two-man team in the entire US Army.
US Army Medics also competed in the All-American Best Medic Competition, a series of tactical and technical proficiency tests.
Everyone in the army receives combat training, whatever their job may be. Here, Pfc. Derek Evans, a food service specialist, engages targets during a live-fire waterborne gunnery exercise
Training exercises allow the Army to maintain its readiness for all possible battlefield scenarios. In this scenario, MH-47G Chinook helicopter move watercraft over land or water to a point of deployment.
Soldiers were picked up by a Black Hawk helicopter as part of a survival training exercise called Decisive Action Rotation 14-09.
Here, a soldier from the California Army National Guard takes part in Warrior Exercise 2014, a combat training mission.
The Army National Guard had a busy 2014 responding to natural disasters. Here, members of the Washington National Guard’s 66th Theater Aviation Command respond to wildfires.
Members of the Oregon National Guard trained in firing the main gun of an Abrams M1A2 System Enhanced Package Tank during combat readiness exercises.
One member of the Army received the nation’s highest recognition for combat bravery. On May 13, President Obama presented the Medal of Honor to former US Army Sgt. Kyle White for his actions in Afghanistan.
On May 28, newly commissioned second lieutenants celebrated commencement at the US Military Academy, at West Point, New York.
The past year also marked the 70th anniversary of the Normandy Invasion. To honor America’s role in liberating France from the Nazis, a French child dressed as a US soldier held a salute on the sands of Omaha Beach for 2 hours.
The bravery and heroism demonstrated by America’s forefathers during the American Revolution has been widely documented and celebrated. Patriot rebels not only fought against the British forces on the battlefield, but worked to bring them down undercover, taking missions to gather intelligence that would often require them to pose as the enemy, cause strife amongst their neighbors, and risk the lives of their family and friends.
When people think of these early American spies, many think of the work of Nathan Hale, but few people know that women were also working to destroy British occupiers from the inside out.
These are some of the most prominent female spies of the American revolution:
1. Agent 355 was a prominent member of the Culper Spy Ring
There were several Patriot spy rings that worked to overthrow British occupation during the Revolutionary War, but very few of these secret groups had women who actively took part in the espionage. The Culper Spy Ring, however, is known mainly for a very unusual agent, a spy known then and now only as 355 — the group’s code number for the word “woman.” The mystery woman’s identity was kept secret to protect herself and likely her family, but her daring contributions to the American cause have been remembered in history. She took part in several counterintelligence missions, including spy operations that resulted in the arrest of major John Andrew — the head of England’s intelligence operations in New York — and the discovery of Benedict Arnold’s treason.
Some historians guess that Agent 355 was likely a shop keeper or a merchant who learned information about Red Coat military operations from chatty British customers, and that she would then divulge this information to George Washington. Regardless of her methods, Agent 355 made critical contributions to the Revolutionary cause.
2. Anna Smith Strong used her laundry as a coded Patriot communication system
Agent 355 wasn’t the only woman who operated under the Culper Spy Ring, however. Another woman, Anna Smith Strong, worked alongside 355 and her male compatriots in Long Island, and was known for her fierce patriotism and fearlessness. Strong’s sleuthing wasn’t quite as flashy as Agent 355’s, but the communication system she developed for the saboteurs was incredibly influential. Abraham Woodhull, a member of the ring, needed a way to find the location of Caleb Brewster‘s boat undetected, so he could then give him the top-secret information gathered for Gen. George Washington. It was too risky to search in multiple ports for the ship or ask for its whereabouts — if he drew attention to himself, he could be arrested and hanged for treason to the Crown.
To remedy this, Anna Strong developed a coded line of communication using her family’s wash line. Woodhull would hide his boat in six different locations in various patterns, and each one of these places was identified by a number. Smith would then hang clothes on the line in concordance with the code. The number of handkerchiefs hung out to dry signaled the number of the secret location, and she would add a black petticoat to signal that Brewster was close by. This system, as simple as it sounds, allowed the Culper Ring to operate undetected, and made huge gains for American freedom.
3. Ann Bates posed as a peddler to glean military information — for the British
The contributions of female spies to the American Revolution is incredibly impressive, but the Patriots weren’t the only ones with ladies working undercover. The British forces had women working for them as well, and Anna Bates was one of the best. Bates was a Loyalist schoolteacher in Philadelphia who began spying for the Red Coats in 1778, posing as a peddler and selling knives, needles, and other dry goods to the American military.
While she sold her wares to the rebel forces, she also took note of how many weapons and soldiers each camp held, and would pass this information along to loyalist sympathizers and British officers. Luckily, though Bates’s work was helpful to the British military, it wasn’t enough to derail the coming success of the American Revolution.
4. Lydia Darragh risked the lives of her sons for the American cause
While many spies were part of complex underground networks, some worked alone — like housewife Lydia Darragh. When British officers began using a large room on the second story of the Darragh’s home for military meetings, Darragh was quick to capitalize on the opportunity to gain information. Before the officers would file into the room, Darragh would hide inside an adjoining closet and press her ear to the wall, taking notes on the clueless officers’ battle plans.
She would then have her husband, William, translate her work into a coded shorthand on little pieces of fabric or paper. She would then fold the slip to fit over the top of a button mold, cover the mold with fabric, and then sew the message-filled buttons on to the shirt of her teenage son, John. Darragh would then send John on “visits” to his older brother Lt. Charles Darragh’s house, who would then take the buttons and present the stolen information to other rebel military leaders. It was an incredibly risky endeavor, but Darragh was willing to risk her own safety — and the safety of her family — for the American cause.