Also known as “Washington’s Birthday,” Feb. 16 is now known as a federal holiday to honor all U.S. presidents. Military service is not a prerequisite to be President of the United States, but plenty had it on their resume when they took the oath of office.
We took a look back at four ex-commanders-in-chief throughout history and found the ones with the craziest war stories. Here they are.
President George Washington secretly planned an icy river crossing on Christmas day before surprise attacking enemy forces.
It was the winter of 1776 and then-Gen. George Washington and his Continental Army — low on morale after a series of defeats at the hands of the British — desperately needed a victory to prove their revolution would not be short-lived.
On Dec. 26, 1776, they got it. After secretly crossing the Delaware River the previous night with approximately 2,400 troops, Washington pulled off a daring raid on Hessian mercenaries in Trenton, N.J.
The freezing and tired Continental Army assembled on the Jersey shore without any major debacles. Once ready, Washington led his army on the road to Trenton. It was there that he secured the Continental Army’s first major military victory of the war. Without the determination, resiliency, and leadership exhibited by Washington while crossing the Delaware River the victory at Trenton would not have been possible.
He kept the operation completely secret — even from his own men — and eventually captured nearly 1,000 Hessian fighters, at the cost of just four of his own men, according to The History Channel.
With just four or five men, Teddy Roosevelt led a daring charge up a heavily-defended hillside.
Teddy Roosevelt was serving as the assistant secretary of the Navy at the outbreak of the Spanish-American War, but he resigned his position to get himself out from behind a desk and into the fight. He organized and led a diverse mix of western cowboys, Native Americans, blacks, and easterners into the 1st U.S. Volunteer Cavalry — better known as the “Rough Riders” — that later took Cuba’s San Juan Hill on July 1, 1898 from 500 Spanish defenders who had held off previous attacks throughout the day, according to The History Channel.
Mr. Roosevelt later said that the “charge itself was great fun” and “we had a bully fight.” He was nominated for a Medal of Honor, though he did not receive it during his lifetime. The battle buoyed his political career, as he won the governorship of New York in 1899, was elected vice president in 1900 and became president in 1901 following the assassination of President William McKinley.
Although his nomination for the Medal of Honor was rejected at the time (The American Legion’s Burn Pit has an interesting look at the reasons why), Roosevelt finally received his recognition on Jan. 16, 2001 from President Bill Clinton. Roosevelt remains the only president to receive the nation’s highest award.
“Facing the enemy’s heavy fire, he displayed extraordinary bravery throughout the charge, and was the first to reach the enemy trenches, where he quickly killed one of the enemy with his pistol, allowing his men to continue the assault,” his citation reads. “His leadership and valor turned the tide in the Battle for San Juan Hill.”
After his small patrol boat was sliced in half by a Japanese destroyer, John F. Kennedy saved the lives of his men and survived in enemy territory.
As a Navy lieutenant in charge of a patrol torpedo boat in the Solomon Islands, John F. Kennedy and his men were tasked with engaging and (hopefully) damaging Japanese destroyers that were supplying enemy troops. On the moonless night of Aug. 1, 1943 however, it was Kennedy’s PT-109 that was damaged — or more specifically — it was sliced in half.
The destroyer, later identified as the Amagiri, struck PT-109 just forward of the forward starboard torpedo tube, ripping away the starboard aft side of the boat. The impact tossed Kennedy around the cockpit. Most of the crew were knocked into the water. The one man below decks, engineer Patrick McMahon, miraculously escaped, although he was badly burned by exploding fuel.
After he personally recovered some of his men and helped them to a nearby island — including towing a wounded sailor using a life-vest strap clenched in his teeth — Kennedy would later swim out from shore and to other nearby islands to look for food, fresh water, and American patrols.
They finally reached Cross Island (which was thought to be Nauru Island) and met up with some natives who agreed to pass a message along for them. On a coconut shell, Kennedy carved out: “Nauro Isl. Commander. Native knows posit. He can pilot. 11 alive need small boat. Kennedy.”
Kennedy received the Navy and Marine Corps Medal for the incident, along with the Purple Heart for the injuries he sustained, according to the JFK Library. He later tried to downplay his role in the incident, as his chance for heroism “was involuntary,” he quipped, according to The Smithsonian. “They sank my boat.”
After getting hit by anti-aircraft fire that set his plane’s engine on fire, George H.W. Bush still finished his bombing mission and then bailed out in the Pacific.
On Sep. 2, 1944, then-Lt. George H.W. Bush and his squadron was conducting a bombing mission on a Japanese installation on the island of Chichi Jima when they were attacked by anti-aircraft fire. The 20-year-old Bush, piloting a Grumman TBM Avenger, continued with the mission despite the damage to his aircraft.
With him on the mission were two men — Radioman 2nd Class John Delaney and Lt. Junior Grade William White. Their aircraft was struck by intense anti-aircraft fire on the mission. With the cockpit filling with smoke and with Bush expecting the plane to explode at any minute, he completed his bombing run, flew as far as he could over the water, instructed the two men to bail out, and then parachuted out of the aircraft.
After ditching his aircraft, Bush survived for roughly four hours in a life raft before he was picked up by a Navy submarine, according to The History Channel. The only one rescued on that day, the future president would later receive the Distinguished Flying Cross for his bravery. The rest of his squadron however, suffered a gruesome fate at the hands of the Japanese, as James Bradley uncovered in his book “Flyboys.”
World War 2 aircraft and airplanes took a massive leap in speed, power, and sophistication. Many combatants started off flying biplanes and weakly powered fighters. But by the end of WWII, jet fighters were coming into service, along with long-range bombers that could fly thousands of miles. Many nations, especially Nazi Germany, were developing new planes that were decades ahead of anything else. But even before then, aircraft companies were making planes that were fast, powerful, cheap to produce, and difficult to shoot down.
Many of these planes became iconic thanks to endless war movies, newsreels, documentaries, and history books. And thanks to preservation techniques, thousands of WW2 planes survive in museums, with some even still able to fly.
The aircraft of the Second World War saved England from German bombers, played key roles in crucial historical events, became famous around the world, and were the only planes to ever drop atomic bombs on an enemy nation.
Here’s your chance to vote up the most iconic and important planes of World War Two.
The military makes a big deal out of when a rifle goes missing, not to mention when a nuke disappears. In spite of the fact the program is designed to be “zero defect,” here are 7 examples of doomsday devices wandering off (including a few where they never came back):
1. 1956: B-47 disappears with two nuclear capsules
The first story on the list is also one of the most mysterious since no signs of the wreckage, weapons, or crew have ever been found. A B-47 Stratojet with two nuclear weapons took off from MacDill Air Force Base, Florida on March 10, 1956 headed to Morocco. It was scheduled for two midair refuelings but failed to appear for the second. An international search team found nothing. The U.S. military eventually called off the search.
2. 1958: Damaged bomber jettisons nuke near Tybee Island, Georgia
On February 5, 1958 B-47 bombers left Florida with nuclear weapons on a training mission simulating the bombing of a Russian city and the evasion of interceptors afterwards. Over the coast of Georgia a bomber and interceptor collided. The interceptor pilot ejected, and the bomber crew attempted to land with the bomb but failed. They jettisoned the bomb over the ocean before landing safely. Since the plutonium pits were changed for lead pits used during training, the missing bomb has only a subcritical mass of uranium-235 and cannot cause a nuclear detonation.
3. 1961: Two nuclear bombs nearly turn North Carolina into a bay
On January 24, 1961, a B-52 carrying two Mark 39 bombs, each 253 times as strong as the Little Boy bomb that dropped on Hiroshima, broke apart in a storm and dropped both of its bombs. One survivor of the crash, the pilot, was able to alert the Air Force to the incident. The first bomb was found hanging by a parachute from a tree, standing with the nose of the weapon against the ground. It had gone through six of the seven necessary steps to detonate. Luckily, it’s safe/arm switch, known for failing, had stayed in the proper position and the bomb landed safely. “You might now have a very large Bay of North Carolina if that thing had gone off,” Jack Revelle, who was in charge of locating and removing the weapons, said. The other bomb’s switch did move to the “Arm” position but, for reasons no one knows, it still failed to detonate, saving tens of thousands of lives.
4. 1965: Loss of Navy plane, pilot, and B43 nuclear bomb
A Navy A-4 Skyhawk was being moved aboard the USS Ticonderoga during a military exercise December 5, 1965 when it rolled off its elevator with a pilot and a B43 nuclear weapon loaded. The plane sank quickly into waters 16,000 feet deep. The status of the weapon is still unknown. The pressures at that depth may be enough to detonate the weapon and the waters were so deep that it would’ve been hard to detect. If the weapon is still intact, it would be nearly impossible to find as very few vessels can make it down that far.
5. 1966: B-52 crashes into KC-135, four thermonuclear bombs are released over Spain
On January 17, 1966 a B-52 was approaching a KC-135 for refueling when the bomber struck the tanker, igniting a fireball that killed the crew of the KC-135 and three men on the B-52. The plane and its four B28 thermonuclear bombs fell near a small fishing village in Spain, Palomares. Three were recovered in the first 24 hours after the crash. One had landed safely while two had experienced detonations of their conventional explosives. The explosions ignited and scattered the plutonium in the missiles, contaminating two square kilometers. The fourth bomb was sighted plunging into the ocean by a fisherman. Despite the eyewitness account, it took the Navy nearly 100 days to locate and retrieve the weapon.
6. 1968: B-52 crashes and a weapon is lost under the Arctic ice
Like the Palomares crash, the January 21 crash of a B-52 resulted in four B28 bombs being released. This time it was over Greenland and at least three of the bombs broke apart. Investigators recovered most of these components before realizing they had found nothing of the fourth bomb. A blackened patch of ice was identified with parachute shroud lines frozen within it. Recovery crew speculated that either the primary or secondary stage of the bomb began burning after the crash and melted the ice. The rest of the bomb then plunged through the Arctic water and sank. The weapon is still missing, presumed irrecoverable.
7. 1968: The sinking of the USS Scorpion
The USS Scorpion, a nuclear-powered attack submarine, was declared presumed lost on June 5, 1968. The loss was especially troubling for the Navy since the boat had been following a Russian research group just before its disappearance. At the time it was lost, the Scorpion was carrying two Mark 45 antisubmarine torpedoes (ASTOR). The wreckage would not be found until October 1968. The USS Scorpion is still on the floor of the Atlantic under 3,000 meters of water and the cause of the sinking remains unknown. The torpedo room appears to be intact with the two nuclear torpedoes in position, but the Navy can’t tell for sure. Recovery of the torpedoes would be extremely challenging, so the Navy monitors radiation levels in the area instead. So far, there has been no signs of leakage from torpedoes or the reactor.
Most people know about military working dogs, but there are some lesser known creatures that also conduct missions for the U.S. military:
Honeybees can smell explosives and other compounds nearly as well as dogs can, so researchers have begun training bees in bomb detection. The bees are trained to believe that sugar water is typically located near TNT. Once they make the association between TNT and sugar, they can be employed in two ways.
First, they can be restricted to glass tubes at check points. When people, cars, and packages are moved through the checkpoint, handlers watch the bees to see if they start moving their proboscis, a feeding tube that is part of their mouth. Movement in multiple bees is a sure sign that explosives are in the area. Alternatively, the bees can be fitted with radio transponders and released into a large area. Handlers then watch on computer screens to see where the bees swarm to and then check that spot for a mine.
2. Dolphins and Sea Lions
Though they’re slowly being replaced by drones, the Navy still uses trained dolphins and sea lions to hunt for mines and enemy swimmers. The animals are trained over a number of years and then deployed in vulnerable harbors, marking the mines and swimmers for human personnel to clear or capture. The aquatic mammals mark divers by attaching devices to their scuba tanks or limbs. They mark mines by attaching a cable or buoy to the mine. The mammals have been deployed to Vietnam, the Persian Gulf, and both U.S. coasts.
One team of dolphins and handlers in the program, MK8, can deploy ahead of an amphibious landing group and indicate safe routes for ships, Marines, and other forces.
The Marine Corps has come up with a few innovative ideas for resupplying forward Marines, including stepping back to the days of pack animals and running mules. Mules were used in Afghanistan and the Marines maintain a training program at the Mountain Warfare Training Center in Bridgeport, California to prepare troops to use pack animals overseas.
4. Insect cyborgs
Currently going through development and testing in various DARPA programs, cyborg insects are designed for disaster relief and search-and-rescue missions. The bugs; muscles are controlled through implants. Researchers are experimenting with different power sources for the rig and any sensors strapped to the bug. One option that has been tested is nuclear cyborg bugs, where a low-radioactivity isotope is slowly broken down to power transmitters.
Most horse units were transitioned to mechanized in the lead up to World War II, and almost every U.S. horse unit has been shut down. But, there is an active law enforcement horse patrol in the U.S. Air Force. At Vandenberg Air Force Base, police have to clear launchpads and the surrounding area during missile launches and some of the area is too rough for ATVs. Also, patrols of the 40 miles of beach cannot always be done with vehicles due to a federally protected species that lives on the base. The horse patrols cover both the rough mountains and the beaches where vehicles can’t go. The U.S. also trains Marines and Special Forces to ride horses and other animals for certain operations.
Military recruiters have to convince normal people that their best option for the future is signing a multi-year contract for a job with workplace hazards like bombs, bullets, and artillery. And since many people aren’t eligible to serve, the service branches need a lot of people coming into recruiting offices.
To make recruiters’ jobs a little easier, each branch has an advertising budget. Here are some of the most iconic commercials from that effort.
1. “The Climb” (2001)
With arguably the best uniforms, awesome traditions, and swords, it’s no surprise that some of the best commercials come out of the Marine Corps. “The Climb” reminded prospective recruits that yes, becoming a Marine will be hard, but it’s worth it.
2. “Rite of Passage” (1998)
Some commercials stop making sense after the era they were written in. The idea of climbing into a coliseum to fight a bad-CGI lava monster may seem like an odd advertising angle now, but it was rumored to be pretty effective at the time.
3. “America’s Marines” (2008)
Some videos target adventure nuts, while some go after aspiring professionals. This one targeted people who wanted to be part of a long-standing tradition. It also reminded people that Marines get to wear some awesome uniforms.
4. “Army Strong” (2006)
“Army Strong” was an inspiring series of advertisements, though it opened the Army to a lot of jokes (“I wanted to be a Marine, but I was only Army Strong”).
5. “Army of One” (2001)
“Legions” was part of the “Army of One” campaign. Though “Army of One” brought recruits into the Army during the early years of the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars, it never quite made sense to professional soldiers. In the Army, soldiers are schooled daily in the importance of teamwork and selfless service. During basic, they’re even required to be with another recruit at all times, so what is an “Army of One”?
6. “Be All That You Can Be” (1982)
The slogan “Be all that you can be,” sometimes written as, “Be all you can be,” was one of the Army’s longest-running slogans and most iconic campaigns. The jingle is as dated as the video technology in the video, but some soldiers went from their enlistment to their retirement in the Army under this slogan.
7. “Footprints” (2006)
One of the Navy’s best ads focused on some of the world’s best warriors. “Footprints” manages to highlight how awesome Navy SEALs are without showing a single person or piece of equipment.
8. “A Global Force for Good” (2009)
Though popular with recruits, the slogan for this recruiting drive ended up being unpopular with the Navy itself. Much like the Army with its “Army of One” slogan, the Navy dropped “Global Force for Good” after only a few years.
9. “Accelerate Your Life” (early 2000s)
“Accelerate Your Life” commercials were always full of sexy imagery. From fighter jets, helicopters, fast boats, automatic weapons, and camouflage, just about everything was tossed in. Like the commercial Air Force campaign “We have been waiting for you” below, dating the commercial to an exact year is tough, but the campaign began in 2001.
10. “Air Force: I Knew One Day” (2014)
“I Knew One Day” is an odd title for this commercial, but it’s not bad as a whole. It puts a face on the airmen who crew the AC-130, perform surgeries, or pilot Ospreys, and it tells recent high school and college graduates that they can become the next face of these jobs as well.
11. “We Have Been Waiting For You” (early 2000s)
With the tagline “We have been waiting for you,” the Air Force aimed to bring in recruits for all the jobs in the Air Force that weren’t about flying. Since two of the ads they released starred pilots, it seems like they weren’t trying that hard. While it’s hard to pin down the exact year this commercial was released, the “We’ve been waiting for you,” line began showing up in 2001.
12. “Science Fiction” (2011)
The Air Force is proud of its technological advantages on the battlefield, and it made a series of commercials comparing themselves to science fiction. The commercials were critiqued for including a lot of things Air Force technology couldn’t do, but they did highlight actual missions the Air Force does using technology similar to, though not as advanced as, what is featured in the commercial.
Pirates, the swashbuckling legends of yesteryear. We often hear the stories of pirates like fairytales from long ago, but we rarely learn about them in detail, as individuals. From unique backstories to long careers, these six real-life pirates are some of the greatest and most interesting from history.
1. Anne Bonny
Born in 1697 in Ireland, Anne was the illegitimate daughter of a lawyer and a servant, who moved away to Charleston, SC and owned a plantation. After her mother’s passing, Anne became enamored with James Bonny, a pirate, as well as the adventurous pirate lifestyle. Marrying James caused disownment from her father, but their romance was not for long and Anne left James to join Calico Jack’s crew.
While Captain Jack was a small-time pirate, it was Anne who found intense excitement in gaining new territory and overtaking ships, each time, bigger and better. She was a pioneer for openly female pirates, who went without a disguise, carving out a name for herself as not simply “The Captain’s Woman,” but also a ruthless pirate who could hold her own in battle. She even gave birth to two children, one of whom’s pregnancies spared her execution.
2. Mary Read
Mary or ‘Mark’ Read is yet another legendary female pirate. Born 1685 in England, Mary lost her father and brother as a child, and was forced to be raised as a boy by her mother so her paternal grandmother, believing that her deceased grandson was still alive, would continue to support them. Mary soon entered the army where she met her husband. However, after leaving the army together he also died. Devastated, she re-entered the army and was captured by Calico Jack’s crew.
Although Mary’s indoctrination into pirate life was involuntary, she grew fond of the liberation that came with it. She was well known for being the first to fight off attacks on the ship, leveraging her military knowledge. It is known that only a handful of people were aware of her true gender, one being Anne Bonny, Calico Jack, her two loves and the judge that oversaw her trial after being captured. Regardless of her dark past, Mary’s ruthless lust for life and battle will always be remembered.
3. Black Beard
Blackbeard, or his real name, Edward Tache, is considered one of the most menacing pirates in history. Originally a privateer (legalized pirate), during the Spanish Succession, Blackbeard robbed ships in the West Indies. By the end of the war, Teche chose piracy and started his two-year reign that would cement him in history. Teche served under the command of pirate captain Benjamin Thornigold, where he plundered ships and terrorized communities along the Gulf Coast, later taking over as captain of his own ship.
Blackbeard lived for conquest and spectacle. His black beard, growing from his cheeks to his waist, was tied in black ribbons, and a lit rope soaked in saltpeter braided into his beard puffed clouds of smoke, giving the appearance of a demon. His tactics were ruthless, from disemboweling captives and slicing off a prisoner’s ears and forcing him to eat them, to murdering his own crew members. However, his demise was inevitable when he was hunted down in 1718, on Ocracoke Island, where his head was publicly displayed as a warning.
4. Sir Francis Drake
Sir Francis Drake, is revered as a hero in England, and a pirate in Spain. Drake entered the sea trade at age 12 and with an increased interest in exploration of the world, he leveraged his knowledge and skill to become one of the first Europeans to ‘discover’ new routes and lands. His adventures into uncharted territory and ability to seek out and plunder the ships of competitors placed him in excellent favor with Queen Elizabeth I. While at sea, Drake participated in the Caribbean slave trade and also defeated the Spanish Armada in 1588, plundering many Spanish vessels, as a way to discourage Spain from continuing their exploration endeavors. Consequently, in his raids, Drake acquired some of the most priceless loots in history.
5. Bartholomew Roberts
“Black” Bart Roberts was a Welsh pirate and is considered one of the most successful pirates of the Golden Age of piracy. He operated out of Africa and the Caribbean, capturing over 400 ships within his 4-year reign. Roberts was known as a man of expensive taste and his desire for luxury showed itself in boldness, serving him well in plundering so many ships. Coming from an enslaved childhood, he was freed by pirates and eventually became one himself.
Roberts was deceivingly calm, but in truth was cold and calculated, frequently killing entire crews aboard plundered vessels. In fact, one of the characteristics that made him so famous was his willingness to conquer superior ships usually avoided by other pirates. By 1722, however, Roberts and his crew were put on trial, in one of the biggest pirate trials in history, and executed. Thus, with the fall of Black Bart came the fall of piracy’s Golden Age.
6. Ching Shih
Piracy wasn’t just limited to the western world. Born in 1775 in Guangdong Provence, Ching was thrown into prostitution at 13 to bring in income for her family. She was famous within the province for her beauty and hospitality, soon attracting the attention of notorious pirate Zheng Yi in 1801, who asked for her hand in marriage. While she agreed, Ching demanded monetary benefits from their relationship, as well as the co-command of his crew.
Ching’s wish was granted and her influence was fast, implementing strict guidelines that encouraged equality among men and women aboard and between captain and crew. After Zheng’s death, Ching took full control and with such ‘progressive’ policies, other fleets joined Ching’s pirate empire, thus creating the largest pirate fleet, known as The Red Flag Fleet, in history, with numbers in the thousands.
Retired Marine Gen. James Mattis is a legend in the military. Revered by Marines and non-Marines alike, Mattis has taken on the persona of a modern-day Patton — having the knowledge and insight to lead his Marines through combat, while standing behind them and taking the heat if things go bad. In short, Mattis is a hell of a leader.
In 2013 while serving as commander of Central Command in Tampa, Fla., Mattis retired after four decades of service. Since then, he’s been teaching at Stanford and Dartmouth, as well as speaking across the country on leadership. He’s also working on a book with author Bing West.
We looked back at some of the best insights he offered, through a great collection of quotes. Most apply strictly to military service, but some can be just as useful in the corporate boardroom.
“You cannot allow any of your people to avoid the brutal facts. If they start living in a dream world, it’s going to be bad.”
The “dream world” Mattis is talking about is one of denial and complacency — a mood in combat that can get you killed. And in corporate America, it can get you wiped out by the competition.
“If in order to kill the enemy you have to kill an innocent, don’t take the shot. Don’t create more enemies than you take out by some immoral act.”
Mattis, who co-wrote the manual for Counterinsurgency with Gen. David Petraeus, knows well that troops cannot win over the population to their side if they are killing the wrong people. His advice here to soldiers and Marines is spot on.
“I don’t lose any sleep at night over the potential for failure. I cannot even spell the word.”
Of course he can spell it but that’s not the point. Mattis wants to impress upon his troops that failure should not be an option.
“Be polite, be professional, but have a plan to kill everybody you meet.”
Before his Marines deployed to Iraq in 2003, he told them this (along with many other great pieces of advice in a now-famous letter). His point here is to be a professional warfighter who can be polite with civilians, but always remember that if things go south, the dirty work needs to get done.
“The first time you blow someone away is not an insignificant event. That said, there are some sh–heads in the world that just need to be shot. There are hunters and there are victims. By your discipline, you will decide if you are a hunter or a victim.”
Recalling the mentality of the wolf, the sheep, and the sheepdog, Mattis understands that there is evil in the world. It’s important for his men to be prepared for whether they will be the hunter or the victim if they ever face it.
“There are some people who think you have to hate them in order to shoot them. I don’t think you do. It’s just business.”
One of his more controversial quotes, to be sure. But in Mattis’ view, to be a professional, you need to have a professional mindset. It’s not really necessary to get emotional about what you have to do. It just needs to get done.
“You can overcome wrong technology. Your people have the initiative, they see the problem, no big deal … you can’t overcome bad culture. You’ve gotta change whoever is in charge.”
In a talk at Stanford, Mattis was relating how toxic culture can bring down an organization that has everything else right. The culture of an organization comes from the top, and if that part is screwed up, there are going to be problems.
“The most important six inches on the battlefield is between your ears.”
Mattis doesn’t want robots just mindlessly following his orders. As a leader, he gives broad guidance and lets his men use their own brains to decide how it gets accomplished.
“Find the enemy that wants to end this experiment (in American democracy) and kill every one of them until they’re so sick of the killing that they leave us and our freedoms intact.”
“In this age, I don’t care how tactically or operationally brilliant you are, if you cannot create harmony — even vicious harmony — on the battlefield based on trust across service lines, across coalition and national lines, and across civilian/military lines, you need to go home, because your leadership is obsolete. We have got to have officers who can create harmony across all those lines.”
Mattis implores his officers to not get stuck in their own little boxes. Learning how to be brilliant on the battlefield is important, but it’s more important to be able to work with others to get the job done.
“PowerPoint makes us stupid.”
Military officers endure (and have to create) tons of PowerPoint briefings to inform their chain of command what’s going on. Mattis however, is not one of those officers. He actually banned PowerPoint since he saw it as a waste of time.
“You are part of the world’s most feared and trusted force. Engage your brain before you engage your weapon.”
Mattis wants his Marines to always be thinking before they take the shot. It’s advice that has no doubt saved lives.
“An untrained or uneducated Marine … deployed to the combat zone is a bigger threat to mission accomplishment … than the enemy.”
The biggest detriment to mission accomplishment is not from the competition, but from within. Having the right mindset and skills is what results in getting results.
“No war is over until the enemy says it’s over. We may think it over, we may declare it over, but in fact, the enemy gets a vote.”
Combat doesn’t happen in a vacuum. All the planning, meetings, and briefings on what potentially can happen in a given situation are good, but the bad guys will always react in uncertain ways. The key is to be prepared for anything.
“Be the hunter, not the hunted: Never allow your unit to be caught with its guard down.”
Just because you are at the top of your game doesn’t mean someone won’t come along to knock you down. Units (and individuals) need to be vigilant and make sure that doesn’t happen.
“Ultimately, a real understanding of history means that we face NOTHING new under the sun.”
Mattis is an avid reader. On all his deployments, the general brought along a ton of books that he thought may help him along the way. In an email that went viral (via Business Insider) on the importance of reading, Mattis wrote that it “doesn’t give me all the answers, but it lights what is often a dark path ahead.”
“You’ve been told that you’re broken. That you’re damaged goods … there is also Post-Traumatic Growth. You come back from war stronger and more sure of who you are.”
While giving a speech to veterans in San Francisco, Mattis tried to dispel the mindset that those leaving the service should be pitied. Instead, he told them, use your experiences as a positive that teaches you to be a better person.
1. Marine Brian Chontosh’s incredible response to an Iraqi ambush
Working Title: Killing Up Close
Director: Clint Eastwood
Starring: Tom Hardy
Hollywood has a reputation for embellishing “true stories” with an extra dose of drama, special effects, and too-beautiful-to-be-real actors. “Brian Chontosh: The Movie,” however, would require no exaggeration — this story of military valor is unbelievably badass from start to finish.
Then-Lt. Brian Chontosh was a Marine platoon leader during the 2003 invasion of Iraq. On the morning of March 25, he was sitting shotgun in a Humvee when a large berm appeared in the distance. Before he and his men knew what was happening, Iraqi soldiers began showering the vehicle detail with machine gun fire, grenades and mortars from behind the shelter — instantly killing a medic and damaging a tank.
Most people would try to organize a hasty exit at this point. Not Brian Chontosh. As bullets and explosives screamed past their Humvee, Chontosh ordered driver Cpl. Armand McCormick to drive forward, straight through the berm. McCormick floored it as another Marine, Cpl. Thomas Franklin, manned the Humvee’s .50-caliber machine gun, crashing through the obstruction and into the trench on the opposite side.
As Iraqi soldiers began to swarm the Humvee, Chontosh swung out of his vehicle guns-a-blazing, firing from his pistol and rifle until he was out of bullets. Iraqi soldiers dropped dead left and right, and Chontosh continued to pull the trigger, machine gun fire clouding his senses as he pushed his way through the maw. It was the first time he had ever killed anyone.
“It’s nothing like TV,” Chontosh told Newsweek. “It’s ugly. It’s contorted. People fall how they fall. It’s not like the bullet hits and they’re blown back or anything like that.”
When his rifle jammed, Chontosh ripped an AK-47 off of a dead Iraqi, unloading every bullet in it before picking up a second AK as he ran, shooting everything he could. By the end of the battle, he would shoot and kill nearly two-dozen Iraqis single-handedly. At this point the exhausted Marine finally reconnected with his men and headed back towards the Humvee, when they noticed an Iraqi soldier huddled on the ground, playing dead but holding a grenade.
The men scrambled for weapons but were out of ammo. Amazingly, Chontosh saw a cluster of live M-16 rounds glinting in the dirt, where they had fallen when his rifle jammed. He dove for the rounds, loaded a single bullet — and shot the soldier in the head, saving himself and his men. Can you imagine that scene on an IMAX screen?
If that’s not Hollywood-blockbuster enough for you, they still had to get medical help for the Marines who had been wounded. Oh, and a sandstorm rolled in. Totally casual.
Chontosh would later be awarded the Navy Cross and two Bronze Stars for heroism, and is currently considered one of the top CrossFit athletes in the world. If that isn’t prime movie material, we don’t know what is. Your move, Hollywood.
2. The story of Larry Thorne’s military valor under three different flags
Have you ever watched a movie that you loved so much you didn’t want it to end? This is that movie — and don’t worry about a short running time, either. Lauri Törni’s story is filled with so many twists and turns that even a conservative film adaptation would give The Hobbit’s running time a run for its money — so maybe a two-part series would be best.
Törni’s story begins in Finland in 1938, when he joined the army at 19 years old, determined to fight the Soviet Union. It didn’t take long for his natural leadership skills and military instincts to shine, and he was soon promoted to captain — of a skiing troop. Törni and his men would pursue their enemies on skis, kicking up powder on the Finnish slopes. Is anyone else thinking of that chase scene from The Grand Budapest Hotel? Just add guns and Soviet Russians.
Everything was going great until Törni skied into a mine in 1942, leaving him badly wounded. The young soldier was soon back on his feet, however, and would later be honored with the Mannerheim Cross for his war efforts (the Finnish equivalent of the Medal of Honor).
But Törni wasn’t ready to give up the fighting — though he would give up his Finnish uniform. When Finland agreed to a ceasefire with the Soviet Union in 1944, he decided to switch teams to keep up with the action, joining the German SS for the promise of future combat against the Communists.
Unfortunately, as we know, Törni picked the wrong team. When the war ended, he was arrested by British forces for being a Nazi officer. Didn’t think the protagonist was going to get tangled up with the bad guys, did you? But he wasn’t in prison for long. Törni successfuly escaped his POW camp and snuck back into Finland, where, unfortunately, he was arrested again, this time by his own people. Things really went downhill after that skiing accident.
Luckily, however, the president of Finland had a soft spot for this adventurous turncoat, and Törni only served half his sentence before he was pardoned and released in 1948.
But wait, the story’s not over. In June of 1950, America would pass a law that would create an opportunity for foreigners to serve under the U.S. military, granting them citizenship if they stuck with it for five years. It was called the Lodge-Philbin Act, and it came right around the same time a new military unit was created — The Special Forces.
Törni, along with 200 other Eastern Europeans, joined the American military under this law. This wasn’t merely an opportunity to continue military service, however — the Soviet Union forced Finland to arrest Törni for his time fighting alongside the Nazis. When he found out he would be shipped to Moscow and tried for war crimes, Törni knew it was time to get out of dodge and start a new life. So he escaped — again — and changed his name to Larry Thorne, ready to embrace an American identity.
Not surprisingly, Thorne thrived in his new military environment. Originally enlisting as a private, he was quickly singled out for his skill and experience, and began teaching at the Special Warfare School at Fort Bragg, where he instructed recruits on guerrilla fighting tactics and survival skills. Soon after, he would become a Captain in Special Forces, and successfully retrieved classified documents from a U.S. Air Force plane that went down in the mountains near the Turkish-Soviet border.
Thorne quickly made it into the U.S. Special Forces and in 1962, as a Captain, he led his detachment onto the highest mountain in Iran to recover the bodies and classified material from an American C-130 airplane that had crashed. It was a mission in which others had failed, but Thorne’s unrelenting spirit led to its accomplishment. This mission initially formed his status as a U.S. Special Forces legend, but it was his deep strategic reconnaissance and interdiction exploits with Military Assistance Command, Vietnam Studies and Observation Group, also known as MACV-SOG, that solidified his legendary status.
If this wasn’t cool enough, Thorne was also awarded five Purple Hearts and the Bronze Star medal for his military bravery. His last ever mission was in Vietnam in 1965, when he led the premiere MACV-SOG cross-border mission into Laos. While his men successfully entered a clearing within Laos, Thorne watched and waited in a chase helicopter, ready to provide assistance if necessary. When his men had made it safe, he began flying his helicopter back to base.
Only a few minutes later, the helicopter lost control and crashed — likely the result of stormy weather conditions. The Army reported Thorne as MIA, and many of his comrades refused to believe this military legend was dead. Their beliefs were further cemented when the chopper and air crew were found without Thorne’s body, and many hoped that he had escaped the crash and was still making his way out of the jungle.
The legend of Larry Thorne and his mysterious disappearance lived on until 1999, when a second exploration of the crash site produced a body who’s DNA and dental records matched that of the beloved Special Forces soldier. His life was cut short, but the legacy he left behind was larger than life, and completely worthy of a couple hours on the big screen.
3. The story of the orthodontist who became America’s first Navy SEAL
Working Title: Another Navy SEAL Movie
Director: Stephen Spielberg
Starring: Christoph Waltz
Everyone loves a good underdog, and Navy Lt. j.g. Jack Taylor is one of the best “little guys” we’ve ever heard of. Before the start of World War II, Taylor was an orthodontist in Hollywood, California. When the U.S. declared war on Japan, however, Taylor swapped his dental scrubs for a Navy uniform, planning to teach boat handling skills to American and Allied servicemen — a pretty safe wartime occupation.
Fate had other plans for Taylor however, and they were way more exciting than pulling teeth or rigging sails.
He didn’t know it yet, but DDS Jack Taylor would soon become Lt. j.g. Taylor, and would prove his worth as the first ever Navy SEAL, undertaking ocean operations in Greece, land operations in Albania, and parachuting into Austria — 20 years before the first SEAL team had ever been assembled.
In the Maritime Unit, Taylor personally commanded fourteen missions into the enemy-occupied Greek and Balkan coasts. He and his team delivered spies, weapons, explosives, and other supplies to friendly forces from Sep. 1943 to March, 1944.
Taylor also commanded a land team in Central Albania around this time, escaping near-capture by enemy forces at least three times. For his valor, he received the Navy Cross.
Before Taylor and his men could head to Italy to meet up with American troops, the group was captured on Dec. 1, 1944, and sent to prison in Vienna before being transferred to Mauthausen, a camp that was notorious for its cruel treatment and deplorable living conditions. There Taylor was jailed as a political prisoner, and watched as inmate after inmate was executed — a brutal reminder of what his own fate would surely be.
Taylor was nearly executed on two different occasions. The first time a friend who worked in the camp’s office found his papers among a stack of to-be executed prisoners and removed it, burning it before his superiors noticed it was gone.
Eventually the Nazis realized Taylor had evaded his sentence, and scheduled a second execution. But just when it seemed that his number was up, the 11th Armored Division liberated the camp, only days before he would have been killed.
When an American film crew arrived and asked him for an interview, Taylor got the chance to tell the world what he and so many others had experienced under Nazi prison conditions, later recounting the same information at the Nuremberg trials, where his testimony of the horrors of Mauthausen would lead to the conviction of all 61 camp personnel.
4. “Mad Jack” Churchill’s sword-wielding World War II victories
Working Title: Mad Jack
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Star: Harvey Keitel
When it comes to movie characters, American viewers seem to agree on the same cinematic mantra: The more eccentric, the better. If you’re skeptical, just Google John Malkovich, or ponder how “The Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise continues to grind out terrible sequels that people continue to pay for. Sometimes, people don’t want quality, they just want crazy.
Luckily, however, we’ve found a story that fits the bill in both categories: A war account so bizarre it sounds more like an urban legend than a part of America’s WWII history.
Lt. Col. John Malcom Thorpe Fleming Churchill, or “Mad Jack” as he would later be known, may have been one of the most badass — and insane — people to ever walk the earth. Picture the weirdness of Jeff Bridges a la “The Big Lebowski” crossed with sheer majesty of Mel Gibson in “Braveheart” and you’ll be in the ballpark.
Churchill joined the British military in 1926 at age 20, only to leave shortly after to pursue professional bagpiping and compete in the World Archery Championship in 1939 — because why not. But when WWII rolled around, Churchill was more than ready to jump back into the fray, and racked up a war record so unbelievable we’re shocked his story hasn’t already made it to the big screen.
Churchill stormed the beaches of Normandy carrying a Scottish sword, wore his bagpipes in battle and made many of his kills with a longbow he wore on his back. During a night raid on the Nazi lines, Churchill led his men to capture 136 enemy soldiers — and he himself captured 40 plus Germans at sword point. During a different battle on the Nazi-controlled island of Brac, “Mad Jack” fought until he was the last of his men standing. Then when he ran out of ammo, he stood his ground, playing his bagpipes on top of a hill until a grenade knocked him out and he was captured by the Germans. That scene alone could win an Academy Award.
Churchill would later escape his POW camp and meet up with American troops, only to find out — to his profound disappointment — that two atomic bombs had been dropped, and the war was essentially over. According to Vice, Churchill reportedly complained, “If it hadn’t been for those damn Yanks, we could have kept the war going for another ten years!”
Who knows, with the film industry being so sequel-happy these days (we’re looking at you, Peter Jackson), maybe his movies could go on for ten years.
No military aircraft – past or present – can beat the altitude and airspeed performance of the SR-71 Blackbird.
It’s design and performance evolved out of necessity: “We had a need to know what was going on in other countries,” Jeff Duford, a historian at the National Museum of the US Air Force, said. “And the way that we were going to do that was having a photographic aircraft that could fly very high and very fast. And much faster than the U2, which proceeded it. The SR-71 was that answer for the US Air Force and for the United States.”
Here’s the remarkable story of the SR-71 in a 3 minute mini-doc:
As the wars have raged on, America’s interest in Tier One special operators like Delta Force and SEAL Team Six has increased. Delta Force has managed to stay largely in the shadows in spite of this, keeping their missions and accomplishments relatively secret. They hunted Osama bin Laden, were part of the capture of Saddam Hussein, and have operated in dozens of countries around the world, but little is known about the outfit.
But there is a body of work out there about Delta Force. Here are four books by former operatives that give a glimpse behind the curtain:
1. “Delta Force: A Memoir by the Founder of the U.S. Military’s Most Secretive Special Operations Unit”
Col. Charlie A. Beckwith was the creator of Delta Force. He fought from 1962 to 1977 to get the unit after serving as an exchange officer with the British SAS. He was finally given permission to found the unit and describes the process in “Delta Force.” He also goes into detail of the rigorous training and selection process that continues today. Beckwith led the unit through the failed Operation Eagle Claw, an attempt to rescue the American hostages in Iran.
2. “Inside Delta Force: The Story of America’s Elite Counterterrorist Unit”
Written by a founding member of Delta Force, “Inside Delta Force” takes a reader through the training and earliest missions of the elite unit. Retired Command Sgt. Maj. Eric L. Haney describes his personal experiences in Beirut, the Sudan, and Honduras.
3. “Kill Bin Laden: A Delta Force Commander’s Account of the Hunt for the World’s Most Wanted Man”
“Kill Bin Laden” looks at the earliest attempts to capture or kill Bin Laden immediately after the September 11 attacks. The book shows the inner workings of Delta Force on the ground conducting operations. The operators work with local forces to hunt through the Tora Bora mountains and are able to listen in on bin Laden’s communications before ultimately losing him.
4. “The Mission, the Men, and Me: Lessons from a Former Delta Force Commander”
Pete Blaber, a former Delta Force commander, takes readers through his own physical and mental training as he joined Delta Force before discussing his missions in Columbia, Somalia, Bosnia, Afghanistan, and Iraq.
“The Mission, the Men, and Me” has a few distinguishing characteristics. First, this book discusses more operations in the Post-9/11 world than any other on this list. Also, Blaber distills the lessons he learned in Delta Force and helps readers apply them to their lives in modern America.
The real bad guys these days are known as the Taliban, al Qaeda, ISIS, and others. But for decades, U.S. troops have been fighting wars against fictional enemies that only exist in training exercises. They usually have ridiculous-sounding names and strange back stories.
While we received plenty of help on social media and this post at Mental Floss on these opposition forces (OPFOR), to include name and which training exercise or location they operate in, some details remain murky.
If you find yourself fighting these forces in the future, here’s the basic intel you need to know.
The Krasnovians (National Training Center)
These are your hard-core fighters from a Soviet bloc country called Krasnovia. Unpredictable and a very non-traditional enemy force, the Krasnovians are known to switch up their tactics and quickly adapt, like stopping the use of radios and moving to cell phones to throw off U.S. soldiers they are fighting.
We’ve heard the key to beating them is by offering them vodka as a peace offering, or just send in this guy:
The United Provinces of Atlantica (Special Forces “Q” Course)
A northern neighbor to Pineland, the UPA is a former Cold War ally of the Soviets. The Atlanticans aren’t fans of the U.S. or their neighbors. That’s especially true, since they invade and take over peaceful Pineland around eight times a year.
Fortunately, Army Special Forces candidates come in and save the day on a regular basis.
The Mojavians (Combined Arms Exercise at 29 Palms, Calif.)
Not much is known about the Mojavians, except that they like to exclusively fight against U.S. Marines during a 22-day period of combined arms training at their desert base in Twentynine Palms, California. These bad guys operate in similar fashion as insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan, and will rarely engage in a real fight. Instead, they rely on hit-and-run tactics.
The Centralian Revolutionary Force (The U.S. Marine Corps Basic School)
In the depths of a three-year civil war, the people of Centralia hope to have a democratic state and live in peace. But their neighbors in Montanya, and an oppressive rebel force known as the Centralian Revolutionary Force, continue to harass the local populace.
Both the CRF and the Montanyan Regular Forces continue to attack the Centralian Army and civilians in the region. Let’s all just hope those fresh Marine Corps officers are able to bring stability to Centralia, a country which has been oppressed for far too long.
Arianan Special Purpose Forces (Joint Readiness Training Center in Fort Polk, La.)
A force from Ariana — an enemy nation seeking nuclear weapons and hostile to the U.S. and Israel which sounds kind of like Iran — the ASPF constantly invades its neighbor in Atropia, a key U.S. ally.
The ASPF is a threat to U.S. interests — including the consulate in Dara Lam — and it continues to support a local insurgency known as the South Atropian People’s Army. This enemy is unpredictable and employs similar tactics to enemy forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. Possibly worst of all: U.S. soldiers only have 11 days to beat them and save Atropia. Good luck.
Have any more you would add to the list? Let us know the enemy force and where you heard it in the comments.
Sparsely populated, disconnected from the contiguous states, subjected to a harsh Arctic climate, and almost unimaginably vast, the mere mention of Alaska conjures images of forbidding wilderness. But it’s in these conditions that the U.S. Coast Guard in Alaska must operate.
Dedicated to patrolling Alaska’s territorial waters, coming to the aid of damaged vessels, breaking through the routinely sea ice blocked ports, and carrying out scientific studies, the Coast Guard has its work cut out.
The Coast Guard in Alaska operates in some of the most isolated parts of the U.S. Here, a Coast Guard vessel gets underway in their winter Bering Sea patrol.
In this photo a Coast Guard vessel docks at Little Diomede Island in the middle of the Bering Strait. The island has a population of 135.
The Alaskan wilderness offers thousands of square miles of unspoiled natural beauty. Here, a Coast Guard ship makes port call at Kodiak.
Before taking part in operations, Coast Guard service members must receive substantial training, such as how to rescue people from icy waters.
Crew members of Coast Guard ships conduct 100-yard survival swims in 39-degree waters.
Here, a boatswain’s mate conducts surface-rescue training in Hogg Bay, in Alaska’s Prince William Sound.
Beyond rescue training, Coast Guardsmen must train on crew-served weapons in the event they’re needed. Here, units conduct night-fire exercises with a M-240B machine gun.
The Coast Guard must be ready for any scenario in Alaska’s unforgiving conditions. Here, a crew trains at recovering oil in ice-strewn water to prepare for possible oil spills.
Here, members of the Coast Guard Fire and Rescue team battle a simulated fire, to prepare for an actual aircraft-fire emergency.
Crew members routinely prepare for fires aboard vessels.
The Coast Guard constantly practices for helicopter evacuation missions at sea.
And the training is put to good use. Here, a Coast Guard MH-60 Jay hawk helicopter rescues two crew members of a fishing boat after it ran aground.
The Coast Guard is responsible for breaking the ice in northern ports for tankers. Here, a Coast Guard cutter breaks the ice near the city of Nome so that a Russian tanker could offload almost 1.3 million gallons of petroleum products to the city.
Cutting through the ice is a multiteam process. Here, a Coast Guard MH-65 Dolphin helicopter ascends from Nome after providing ice reconnaissance during the escort of the Russian tanker.
Members of an ice-rescue team survey an ice sheet before allowing crew and passengers of a vessel to disembark.
The Coast Guard constantly looks out to improve its capabilities. Here, Arktos Developments displays their amphibious Arctic craft, with heavy tank-style treads that can move through snow.
Keeping equipment in working order is difficult in Alaska, and a life-and-death issue for the Coast Guard. Here, a distress team leader clears ice and snow from solar panels that power a microwave link site for communications in western Alaska.
Another key job of the Coast Guard is to maintain navigation service aids throughout the waters around Alaska. Here, an electronics technician is lowered to a fixed aid on an island in Cold Bay.
Here, Coat Guard crew members service a shore aid near Dutch Harbor.
The Coast Guard plays the vital role of fisheries enforcement, making sure vessels don’t exceed their legal fishing limit and keeping the ecosystem intact.
The Coast Guard helps to conduct scientific experiments over the Arctic. In this photo, crew members deploy probes that measure sea temperature, salinity, and density to gain a better understanding of the Arctic during the summer season.
So check out our list of why you shouldn’t be too nice in the military.
1. Your fellow brothers and sisters will end up venting to you on a daily basis.
If you’re that sweet guy or gal who is nice enough to listen to everybody’s problems — stand by for handing out free therapy sessions.
Best news ever! (Image via Giphy)
2. You just might get put into someone’s friend zone.
You know that hot guy or girl who works down at supply?
Because you haven’t shown signs of having a backbone — instead of going out with them on Saturday night — you’re going to be watching them leave the barracks with your co-worker who has a backbone.
They’re not coming back anytime soon. (Image via Giphy)
3. People will ask for favors — a lot of favors.
You know how you’re bad at saying no because you’re too nice? Well, have fun standing somebody else’s duty Saturday night while they’re off having an excellent time at the bar.
FML. (Image via Giphy)
4. If you get even a little upset, everyone will think the “nice guy” is going crazy.
You listen to everyone’s problems 24/7, but when you decide to emote at all — everyone now thinks you’re the crazy one.
It’s okay for everyone else, but just not the nice guy or gal. (Image via Giphy)
5. You could get pushed to the side.
People have crazy schedules this day and age. So when they need to make space in their lives for something important, they might reschedule a meeting with you — the accommodating one — to make room.
Son-of-a-b*tch! (Image via Giphy)
6. Your chain of command could assign you extra duty.
Many times a bad assignment will come down the pipeline, and your chain of command needs to assign someone to work an outside event. If you’re that person who rarely gives anyone sh*t, you may be the one they ask to come on in on Saturday because you never say no.
Yeah. So, we’re going to need you to come in on Saturday. (Image via Giphy)