The awesome reason some Air Force fighters have green stars - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY CULTURE

The awesome reason some Air Force fighters have green stars

In the Air Force fighter community, there is a coveted and rare marker painted near the cockpit of certain planes, just beneath the pilot’s name, rank, and call sign. It’s 6-inch green star with a 1/2-inch black border that signifies that the aircraft has emerged victorious against an enemy jet in aerial combat.


Why this Air Force marking is so rare

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The awesome reason some Air Force fighters have green stars

A U.S. P-51 with the decals showing aerial victories of Nazi, Italian, Japanese, and U.S. planes.

(Pima Air and Space Museum)

The Army Air Corps and U.S. Air Force have allowed pilots to mark their victories on their fuselages for decades, but the height of the tradition was during World War II when the frequent aerial combat combined with the sheer numbers of planes in the air at once led to dozens of pilots having to kill or be killed on any given day.

In that era of fierce fighting, the U.S. Army Air Corps allowed most pilots to mark their aerial victories with a small replica of the enemy pilot’s flag, placed beneath the pilot’s name on the fuselage. This was typically either a decal or a bit of paint from applied by the ground crew. There were also some cases of fighter groups painting the silhouettes of the planes they had shot down.

One U.S. pilot even boasted every Axis flag — as well as a single U.S. flag — on his cockpit. Yes, he shot down a U.S. plane and got a medal for it.

But, eventually, the use of flags, silhouettes, and some other markings fell out of favor when it came to aerial victories, though the Air Force does still allow bomber crews to use bomb silhouettes to mark their missions.

The awesome reason some Air Force fighters have green stars

F-15E Strike Eagle #89-0487, the only F-15E to achieve an air-to-air kill, sports the green star on its fuselage while parked at Bagram Air Field in 2008.

(U.S. Air Force James D’Angina)

But for fighter pilots, it’s now all about the green star, standardized in Air Force Instruction 21-205 as:

“Aerial Victory Marking. Fighter aircraft awarded a verified aerial victory are authorized to display a 6-inch green star with a 1/2 inch black border located just below and centered on the pilot’s name block. The type of aircraft shot down shall be stenciled inside the star in 1/2 inch white lettering. For aircraft with multiple aerial victories, a star is authorized for each aircraft shot down. No other victory markings are authorized.”

Modern aerial victories are rare, not because the U.S. loses but because the Air Force dominates enemy air space so hard and fast that typically only a handful of pilots will actually engage the enemy in the air before the U.S. owns the airspace outright. In Desert Storm, about 30 U.S. pilots achieved aerial kills in about 30 aircraft. At least two of those aircraft, the F-14s, have since retired.

Meanwhile, there are almost 2,000 fighter aircraft in the U.S. inventory. So, yes, the green stars are very rare. So rare, the air wings occasionally brag about the green-star aircraft that are still in their units.

The 455 Air Expeditionary Wing history department released an article in 2008 bragging that a green-star aircraft from Desert Storm was then in active service over Afghanistan. The aircraft on display above is the only F-15E to ever achieve an air-to-air kill, a feat it pulled off by bombing a helicopter as it took off, destroying the helicopter and the troops it had just dropped off.

In 2010, the 353rd Special Operations Group historian released an article about their F-15C with its own green star. The plane was used by a Marine pilot in an exchange program who shot down one of two MiG-29s attempting to attack an F-14 flying all alone and unafraid during Desert Storm.

Of course, aerial victories are even rarer today. In 2017, the Navy claimed America’s first air-to-air kill of an enemy aircraft since 1999. Or, in other words, we’ve had only one aerial victory in almost 20 years. In the 2017 engagement, two U.S. Navy FA/-18E Super Hornets attacked a Syrian Su-22 fighter that was dropping bombs near forces friendly to the U.S.

For anyone wondering about how we invaded two countries at the start of this century without shooting down any enemy aircraft, Iraq lost most of its aircraft during Desert Storm and the following year while Afghanistan had no real air force to speak of in 2001. Most aircraft destroyed in Syria were killed on the ground.

So, no green stars there.

MIGHTY FIT

Urban Outfitters is now selling the famous PT belt

Troops everywhere know PT belts are the height of military fashion. At one point, they were second only to the BCG. But then the military did away with those and knocked everyone’s favorite reflective plastic belt to the top of the list of uniform items that are both beautiful and utilitarian.

It’s hard to be this cool both inside and outside a gym, but somehow military members worldwide do it every day.


The awesome reason some Air Force fighters have green stars

Which is why troops and their supporters appreciate the important fashion industry nod given recently by Urban Outfitters. Now, you don’t need access to the exchange’s Clothing and Sales shop or the PX to participate in this important military fashion movement.

Instead, you can just hit up their site and shell out plus shipping.

Forget defending freedom. America should be thanking the troops for THIS.

“Reflective training belt from Rothco perfect for night-time visibility,” the site says of the accessory. “Complete with slide adjustment buckle + side release buckle closure.”

Honestly, though, Urban Outfitters isn’t doing this item the justice it deserves. They only show it being used as a belt for pants. But what of its place on a ruck?

The awesome reason some Air Force fighters have green stars

U.S. Soldiers adjust a rucksack during the Third Annual Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force Paul Airey Memorial Ruck/March/Run, on Ramstein Air Base, Germany, June 1, 2018.

( (U.S. Air Force photo by Elizabeth Baker)

What of its use as a cross-body reflective sash?

The awesome reason some Air Force fighters have green stars

Sgt. Jason Guge of Billings, Mont., a Black Hawk helicopter mechanic, wears several physical training belts in a hanger at Contingency Operating Base Adder, Iraq in 2009.

(U.S. Army photo)

Or for your dog? Or for your kid?

You’re welcome, America.

This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

4 ways Civil War troops were obsessed with coffee

American troops are obsessed with coffee. If there’s a military unit whose coffee pot isn’t the hardest-working machine in the building, I haven’t seen it. It doesn’t seem to matter how good or bad the coffee is (even though good coffee is preferable), that beautiful, dirty-brown water is what really fuels the U.S. military’s bureaucratic inner workings — and always has.

Long before Rip-Its became the official beverage of the Global War on Terror, coffee was the only game in town and it was so important during the Civil War that it might have been the reason the North won the war.


The South wished they had the ability to brew coffee the way the North did. The Union blockade of the Confederate States meant that real coffee was in very short supply, and ground troops were unlikely to receive any of it. The Confederate Army tried everything they could to replace the magic bean, including replacing it with alternatives, like roasted acorns, malted barley, actual beans, cottonseed, potato peels, and the ever-present chicory root.

The awesome reason some Air Force fighters have green stars
Which, when mixed with real coffee, is actually pretty good.

But there’s nothing like the real thing, baby. As Union troops realized when they had to start subsisting on what they could capture from Southerners, coffee was only available through Uncle Sam. As you go back through historical records, they more than made their feelings known — and businesses, government, and families soon responded.

The awesome reason some Air Force fighters have green stars

“Coffee Call” by Winslow Homer.

1. Civil War diaries use the word “coffee” more than any other.

That’s right — more than words like “bullets,” “war,” “cannon,” “Lincoln,” and even “mother,” troops had one thing on their minds: black gold. In letters written back to their families, much of the discussion was focused on the quality of the coffee that day or the hope that they would have coffee the following. Even around the campfire, much of the talk centered around the quality of that day’s joe.

The awesome reason some Air Force fighters have green stars

(theTruthAboutGuns.com)

2. This rifle with a grinder in the butt stock.

In the 1860s, the Sharps Rifle Company created a carbine with a small grinder in its butt stock, which was immediately useless for most intended purposes. It was actually designed to grind grain for horses in cavalry units, but the very fact that people immediately thought of using it as a coffee grinder tells you just how important coffee was to the average troop. I bet Sharps Rifle Company wishes they had thought of marketing it that way.

The awesome reason some Air Force fighters have green stars

When there’s no room for Jeb to fit, but Jeb sits anyway.

3. There was no water too putrid to make coffee.

As long as troops had the beans to brew it, coffee was going to happen. Not only were troops happy to use their canteen water to make coffee, they would also use free-running water, water from puddles, and even the sediment-filled water of the Mississippi River – also known as Mississippi Mud.

A boiled coffee was safer to drink than most other water of the era. Waiting for the coffee to reach 140 degrees Fahrenheit is enough to kill most enteric pathogens.

The awesome reason some Air Force fighters have green stars

The best part of Civil War is Folgers in your cup.

4. The officers noticed the effects it had on the men.

Many Union officers ensured their men got at least a cup of the stuff in the morning before a battle, with many often having it ready for them after the battle, some demanding the men keep it in their canteens, and even going so far as to hire boys to run coffee to men in critical positions.

Then-Sgt. William McKinley was one such runner, who made it all the way to the White House riding that brave Civil War act during the Battle of Antietam. Hell, a monument was even erected for it.

MIGHTY CULTURE

This WWII veteran evaded 4,000 enemy troops over 4 months

Some of our nation’s greatest treasures aren’t places, they are people. Leo LaCasse survived three crash landings and evaded 4,000 enemy troops during World War II. He now lives at a VA Community Living Center in Salem, Virginia. Here is his story:

Born on July 4, 1920, Leo LaCasse was one of five children–all of whom were born on birthdays of former presidents. At the age of 15, he joined the New Hampshire National Guard, and later the Army Air Corps, where he was assigned to a recruiting command. The private was soon promoted to corporal, then sergeant, as he traveled New England recruiting pilots from colleges and universities.

One day, Leo learned that he was accepted to flight school. It was a reward from his commanding officer who had submitted the application on his behalf. Despite never having gone to college, the Army sent Leo to college under an accelerated learning program, and when he graduated, he became a B-17 bomber captain.


Soon, flying planes “felt like home” to Leo.

“Some of them [planes] were cramped, but it didn’t make any difference to me because I was the pilot. When you’re packed in an aircraft and don’t have the room to move your body in the cockpit, any airplane you fly after that is good.”

In June 1943, Leo was assigned to the 8th Air Force, Bomb Group 548th in Suffolk, England, where he served under General Curtis Lemay.

Leo LaCasse flew 35 missions over Germany and other occupied countries, and survived three crash landings. During World War II, Leo evaded 4,000 enemy troops over 4 months.

One of Leo’s crashes landed in France, which was then occupied by Germany. He instructed his crew to head for the front lines, to surrender and tell whoever interrogated them that he was headed for Berlin. Instead, Leo left for Luxembourg to meet up with the French Resistance, where he crossed the Pyrenees Mountains, and made his way to Portugal.

In all, he spent four months avoiding Nazi capture. When the war was over, he was sent to Berlin for debriefing. That’s where he met and befriended a German general who recognized Leo’s name and revealed there had been 4,000 German troops looking for him following the crash landing in France.

The awesome reason some Air Force fighters have green stars

Captain Leo LaCasse in front of his B-17 Bomber.

Leo retired from the military as a Brigadier General. For his service he has received numerous medals including the Silver Star Medal, Distinguished Flying Cross, Purple Heart, Legion of Merit Air Medal, Air Force Commendation Medal, Air Force Combat Medal, Joint Services Commendation Medal, World War II Victory Medal, European and Middle East Campaign Medal, Army Air Force Medal, Armed Forces Reserve Medal, and the American Defense Medal.

On June 5, 2016, Leo received the Legion of Honor Medal, France’s highest honor.

Leo now resides at Salem VA Medical Center’s Community Living Center located in Salem, Virginia.

On July 4, 2019, Leo will celebrate his 99th birthday.

This article originally appeared on VAntage Point. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.

Articles

This Desert Storm gun is a favorite for special ops units

Believe it or not, there is one gun very notable for having been taken by the United States Air Force to other planets. That said, it was only on TV.


The “Stargate” TV franchise — based on the 1994 movie featuring Kurt Russell — starred Richard Dean Anderson of “MacGyver” for its first eight seasons. The series was notable in having two separate Air Force Chiefs of Staff cameo as themselves, Gen. Michael Ryan in “Prodigy” and Gen. John Jumper in “Lost City, Part Two.”

The awesome reason some Air Force fighters have green stars
Pew pew.

The central premise around the series was that the Air Force had acquired a “stargate” that was set up in Cheyenne Mountain. The team led by Anderson’s character, SG-1, was pretty much carrying out a mission similar to of the Army Special Forces: building alliances with native populations.

The adventures eventually took SG-1 all the way across the galaxy and beyond, where they not only faced off against hostile nations, but also made contact with friendly aliens and acquired new technology.

And as is the case with special operations forces, SG-1 had gear that average grunts didn’t get their hands on — usually. In addition to all the alien tech, they did get some earth weapons, too. Notable among them was the P90 personal defense weapon from FN Herstal.

The awesome reason some Air Force fighters have green stars
FN P90 with accessories. (Wikimedia Commons)

The P90 is a select-fire weapon that fires the 5.7x28m cartridge. It is a compact weapon with a 50-round magazine. The gun made its combat debut during Operation Desert Storm with Belgian special operations troops.

You can see a video about this PDW that has gone to other worlds below.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Army couple spreads joy through music

As the holidays are upon us, finding happiness in the midst of a pandemic has been challenging. One Army couple is using music to heal, connect and bring joy to veterans and military families around the world. 

When retired Army Sergeant 1st Class Jose Pomales enlisted at 17 years old in 1997, it wasn’t to become a member of the Army Field Band. Although he was an accomplished piano player growing up in Puerto Rico, he became a combat medic. He would serve as one during and after the attacks on the World Trade Center, deploying multiple times. In 2005, to the surprise of many, Jose made the decision to leave his MOS and return to his first passion: music.

“When you join after high school, you are just a kid. You sort of grow up in the Army. I had to grow up fast,” Jose explained. “Changing into music, everyone looked at me like ‘Why are you doing that?’ I saw a pianist playing with the [Army Field Band] and that was it.” Once Jose realized that he could apply to be part of the music program, he dove in – ready to make a difference in another way. He was able to deploy with the Army Field Band all over the world, bringing music to troops and boosting morale.  

For Army Staff Sergeant Megan Pomales, music was always for her. A “choir kid” growing up and avid piano player, she knew she wanted to continue with it. But she also felt a calling to serve, joining the Army Reserves after graduating college in 2008. “I was working for Universal Music Group in New York for a record label… But when I saw the road it would really take for me to dedicate my life to music in the record label industry, it just wasn’t for me,” Megan said. 

Megan also took a leap of faith, diving into active duty with the Army by serving in their music program. In 2011, she found herself at Fort Bragg in the Army Ground Forces Band as a vocalist and keyboard player. Later on, she made her way to Fort Eustis in Virginia where she met Jose. “I walked in and saw him and was like, ‘What is happening…’ – I avoided him like the plague,” she said with a laugh. 

It wasn’t long before the two soldiers became good friends and began dating, eventually marrying. Although they both have a very different background before joining the Army, their passion and belief in the power of music connected them right away. “I know I am very privileged with my position in the Army because I know Jose sees things from a very different world view with his combat medic experience,” Megan said. 

Jose retired from the Army in 2018 and Megan began singing the lead with the Six String Soldiers in 2019. Although the Army Field band is known for doing traveling shows and their well-received holiday shows, COVID-19 has greatly changed the way they deliver music. This year, they wanted to go the extra mile to bring holiday cheer. Megan received a message from a fellow soldier and producer sharing that he wanted her to sing ‘Christmas 1914’ for the 2020 Holiday Show. “He sent it to me as a YouTube video and I listened to it and was completely undone,” Megan shared. 

Written by Catherine Rushton in 2004, the song is an emotional and haunting walk down the experiences of ground troops fighting during World War I. In 1914 the Pope suggested a truce for Christmas. Taking the suggestion to heart, the Germans and allied troops entered into an unofficial cease fire. Tales were told of Christmas carols being sung and words of goodwill echoing through the night. The lyrics of the song tell a story of the beauty of Christmas and the reality of war that followed the celebration: For three days we played football, three nights we drank and sang, ‘til it came time to say farewell. Then we went to ground; each side fired three rounds. And just like that we all were back in hell. 

German and British troops playing soccer during pause in World War I

Never again would a war fully pause, but the memory of it lives on.

Not only did Megan take on the historic lyrics for the Sound The Bells show, but the Army also granted approval to record a music video to accompany the powerful song. Set in a church built before World War I, it was a fitting setting. Megan admits it was an emotional song to sing and there were definitely times it was difficult for her not to show it. It is her hope that the spirit of the song will hit home and remind people of possibilities, especially as the world continues to battle the pandemic. 

Jose and Megan share a deep love of purpose and giving that they are able to bring to fellow soldiers, veterans and military families through music. Knowing that they can create a connection, smile or bring peace as they serve their country is the reward of a lifetime. 

Happy Holidays! We Are The Mighty has proudly produced a holiday musical with the US Army Field Band, titled Sound the Bells. This excellent family entertainment will air multiple times on FOX BUSINESS and FOX NATION from 12/23 to 12/26.

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This is how two WWII veterans changed baseball forever

There have been many iconic moments throughout the storied history of baseball. Every team has their collection of defining moments, immortalized in photos hung on the walls of stadiums across the nation. And then there are those transcendent plays that everyone knows, like when Babe Ruth pointed to a spot in the bleachers, calling his shot perfectly — a move that’s often imitated, but rarely ever repeated.

But fans of baseball know that the top two moments are universal and unrivaled: The greatest moment was when Jackie Robinson took his first step over the white chalk and entered the Major Leagues. The crowds heckled Robinson, game after game, until the Dodgers’ team captain, Pee Wee Reese, was fed up — which led to the second greatest moment: Reese placed his arm around Robinson, sending a message of friendship into the stands, silencing the jeers.

But their story didn’t begin on the diamond. It began when both Army 2nd Lt. Jackie Robinson and Navy Chief Petty Officer Harold “Pee Wee” Reese served their country during World War II.


The awesome reason some Air Force fighters have green stars
Your wartime experience may differ.

 

Reese had a fairly light military career compared to most. Before he enlisted, he’d already made a name for himself in the baseball world. In 1940, during his rookie season with the Brooklyn Dodgers, he hit a grand slam against the New York Giants in the bottom of the ninth to win the game. He went on to play in the World Series in ’41 against the Yankees, but his team got swept, losing all five games. He gained national recognition when he made the ’42 All-Star Team. He missed the next three seasons as he signed up to take to fighting in WWII as a U.S. Navy Seabee.

But he never got the chance to see combat. Despite his constant petitions, Pee Wee Reese was stuck playing for the U.S. Navy’s baseball team, which, as you can imagine, was mostly for recruitment purposes. While he was playing in Guam, Reese learned that a black baseball player — Jackie Robinson — had been signed by the Dodgers, and was up for his old shortstop position.

This bothered Reese — and not because of Robinson’s race. In fact, others were mad at him for refusing to let race be a concern of his when evaluating a purely baseball decision. In response to critics, he said,

“If he’s man enough to take my job, I’m not gonna like it, but, dammit, black or white, he deserves it.”

The awesome reason some Air Force fighters have green stars

Members of the 761st Tank Battalion “The Black Panthers” would go on to earn a Medal of Honor, 11 Silver Stars, and almost 300 Purple Hearts.

Robinson didn’t enjoy the same luxuries while in the Army. Previously, he had attended UCLA and became the school’s first athlete to win a varsity letter in four sports: baseball, basketball, football, and track and field. He used this to apply for OCS, knowing that the Army had just changed the OCS guidelines to be race neutral — but it still wasn’t easy.

After Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, Robinson was placed in a segregated Army cavalry unit at Fort Riley. It was through a friendship with fellow OCS candidate, the professional boxer who KO’ed Nazi Germany’s favorite fighter in the first round, Joe Louis, that both men were allowed to attend OCS.

His career was unceremoniously cut short after an entirely one-sided court martial was levied against him. Even though Robinson was a commissioned officer of the United States Army and segregation on military buses was banned, the MPs arrested him after he refused to give up his seat when he was taking his friend’s wife to the hospital.

He put up no fight but was cuffed, shackled, and strapped to a hospital bed because they believed he was “intoxicated.” He wasn’t. The charges he faced were slowly dropped before his court-martial. He was narrowly acquitted. Despite this, he was sent to Camp Breckinridge, KY, as his former unit, the 761st Tank Battalion, was deployed. It was the first black tank unit to see combat in WWII. Instead of seeing action, he was quietly mustered out with an honorable discharge months later.

The awesome reason some Air Force fighters have green stars

Through his own talent, he’d prove them wrong by earning Rookie of the Year in 1947.

So, Robinson went back to playing professional baseball for the Kansas City Monarchs, a team in the Negro American League. It wasn’t long before Branch Rickey, the general manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers, saw how talented he was. The news quickly got out that the Dodgers had signed the first black ballplayer.

Fearing fan backlash, they sent him to their Minor League affiliate team, the Montreal Royals. With Robinson on the team, the stands were packed during Royals games. Fans came in droves to see him play — so they called him up to play for the Dodgers, who’d taken Reese back after the war’s end.

Then, on April 15th, 1947, the Dodgers faced off against the Boston Braves at Ebbets Field. Robinson stepped onto the field and became the first black player to play in the MLB since 1884. For the most part, the home crowd loved him. Away games, however, were another story entirely.

The awesome reason some Air Force fighters have green stars

This led way for many more black baseball players to join the MLB and their friendship would serve as a proof that desegregation of the military was possible through Executive Order 9981.

It’s been said that while playing the Cincinnati Reds, Robinson received death threats. Understandably, this made him very nervous. He’d turned the other cheek so many times before, but with his life at stake, this wasn’t so simple. Reese saw what was happening and decided to take a stand.

Reese and Robinson had become best friends over the games they played together. They bonded in the locker room and on the field. They would talk and share stories for hours at a time about what they had in common — military service being one of them.

As the Cincinnati crowd and players on the Reds hurled obscenities at Robinson during pre-game infield practice, Reese raised a hand in the air and walked from shortstop to first base and placed his arm around Robinson’s shoulders. The two didn’t say anything — they just stared into the dugout and the bleachers. The jeering stopped.

The captain of one of the greatest baseball teams at the time had shown the world that these two men were teammates, friends, and brothers-in-arms — and that race didn’t affect any of that.

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I went to North Korea and saw the US Navy ship still being held captive after 50 years

I didn’t even get a t-shirt. In North Korea, it was too expensive. 


Everything in North Korea takes you in through the gift shop and out through the same gift shop in an attempt to milk cash from visitors so they can buy Hennessy en masse from the duty free shop at Beijing Airport. That’s not a joke: 20 people boarding our flight from Beijing to Pyongyang were carrying boxes of cigarettes, cognac, and chocolate.

The plane’s aisles and free spaces overflowed with what looked like supplies for a party at DMX’s house.

In late 2012, I visited the country that honestly believes it won the Korean War by virtue of not being annihilated completely. So it makes sense (in a weird way) they would believe capturing an American ship outside its territorial waters 15 years after the fighting stopped is a giant feather in their cap.

The Pueblo was a Navy Signals Intelligence ship which was attacked and boarded by North Koreans in international waters. The crew didn’t go down easily. As the ship attempted to evade capture, the North Koreans opened up on her. One U.S. sailor was killed by the 57mm guns aboard a North Korean subchaser.

After that volley, the crew signaled compliance and began to destroy the immense amount of classified material aboard. It took two subchasers, four torpedo boats, and two MiG fighters to subdue the Pueblo and its crew, who weren’t even able to man the ship’s guns due to restrictive Navy regulations. The ship’s crew were simply outgunned and outnumbered.

The capture was also unfortunate in timing, since the year it was captured, 1968, was probably the most eventful year in modern American history. The week after the Pueblo’s capture, North Vietnam launched the Tet Offensive, drawing attention away from their plight and putting the media spotlight on America’s first “Television War.”

The Pueblo was sent to Wonsan while its crew was taken to North Korean POW camps. They were starved and tortured but the crew resisted even as the North Koreans attempted to use them as propaganda pieces in photos. The crew was a bit smarter than that.

 

The awesome reason some Air Force fighters have green stars

They literally gave the finger to the Kim regime. At every opportunity they flashed the “Hawaiian good luck sign.” When the captives realized the communists didn’t know what the gesture meant, they flashed it for every camera, ruining all the potential propaganda value. When the North Koreans read what it actually meant in Time magazine, they were beaten for a week.

The awesome reason some Air Force fighters have green stars
Thanks, Time Magazine.

Fifty years later, her crew repatriated, the Pueblo is still held by North Korea. In 1999 it was moved from Wonsan to Pyongyang, moored on the Taedong River. This is where I saw the ship.

The awesome reason some Air Force fighters have green stars
(photo by Blake Stilwell)

The woman in the bottom right of the above photo was one of our two guides/minders/spies who were present with us for every waking moment of our time in North Korea — except at our hotel — which was on an island in the middle of the same river where the Pueblo was moored.

The awesome reason some Air Force fighters have green stars

(photo by Blake Stilwell)

The tour of the Pueblo was just one event in a day packed with them telling their American visitors how awful our government is, how they definitely won that war we had (their holiday marking the end of the war is called “Victory Day”) despite overwhelming material and personnel losses, and how without Marshal Kim Jong-Un’s nuclear weapons, the Yankees and the corrupt regime in the South would immediately try to take over North again. Obviously.

The Pueblo is only the seventh ship to be captured since the American War with the Barbary Pirates and is the second oldest ship still commissioned by the U.S. Navy. The crew of the Pueblo (like Don McClarren, below) sure havn’t forgotten about it.

The awesome reason some Air Force fighters have green stars
(Photo Credit: BJ Small, Mechanicsburg, PA)

As of August 2012, the ship seemed in good condition, or as good as North Korea would allow it. Like everything else there, it could have used a coat of paint – which rumor has it – the ship has since received from the Victorious Fatherland Liberation War Museum (Yes, that’s the real name of the museum and that’s really what the North Koreans call the Korean War, which is almost as ridiculous as the Monument to the Victorious Fatherland Liberation War. Because nobody does statues like Communists).

The awesome reason some Air Force fighters have green stars
(photo by Blake Stilwell)

Before exiting through another gift shop, the tour of the Pueblo includes a trip below decks, where photography was strictly prohibited. They monitor Americans pretty closely so I wasn’t able to take a direct video of the presentation of the North Korean version of the Pueblo Incident. Luckily, finding a copy of it wasn’t too difficult.

The film is a priceless taste of the kind of propaganda the people in Pyongyang experience all the time.

Don’t let this accent fool you. North Koreans study for decades just to master foreign languages. One of our guides spoke four fluent languages and one North Korean randomly approached us on the street to say welcome — in perfect English, with a midwestern American accent.

MIGHTY CULTURE

The wild science of military MRE meals

It’s hard to think of a more beloved — and sometimes hated — cultural touchstone in the military than MRE meals, or meals ready to eat. They’ve been around since the C-Rations of World War II and beyond, and have for decades offered a touch of comfort and a taste of home — albeit a highly engineered one that can last for years at high temperatures without spoiling. You can find MRE cookbooks that will tell you how to turn drink mix and generic toaster pastries into gourmet desserts, and there are scores of YouTube videos dedicated to taste-testing chili mac and the prized jalapeno cheese spread.

Well, it turns out there’s a lot of science that goes into each one of these compact rations packs, and sometimes the development of a new MRE menu item — such as the coveted pepperoni pizza slice — requires actual technological breakthrough. Today, we’ll talk to two people from the Combat Feeding Directorate in Natick, Massachusetts: Lauren Oleksyk, team leader for food engineering, who holds two patents in revolutionary food science, and David Accetta, an Army military historian and public affairs officer at the directorate.

The following is an edited transcript of this episode of Left of Boom:

Hope Hodge Seck 0:00

Welcome back to Left of Boom. I’m your host, Hope Hodge Seck. It’s hard to think of a more beloved — and sometimes hated — cultural touchstone in the military than meals ready to eat, or MREs. They’ve been around since the C-rations of World War II and beyond, and have for decades offered a touch of comfort and a taste of home, albeit a highly engineered one that can last for years at high temperatures without spoiling. You can find MRE cookbooks that will tell you how to turn drink mix and generic toaster pastries into gourmet desserts, and there are scores of YouTube videos dedicated to taste-testing chili mac and the prized jalapeno cheese spread. Well, it turns out there’s a lot of science that goes into each one of these compact rations packs. And sometimes the development of a new MRE menu item, such as the coveted pepperoni pizza slice requires actual technological breakthrough. Today we’ll talk to two people from the Combat Feeding Directorate in Natick, Massachusetts: Lauren Oleksyk, team leader for food engineering, who holds two patents in revolutionary food science, and David Accetta, an Army military historian and public affairs officer at the directorate. Welcome to the show.

Lauren Oleksyk 1:10

Hello.

David Accetta 1:11

Hi, thank you very much for having us.

Hope Hodge Seck 1:14

So, Lauren, I am so interested in this really unique job that you have. So how did you end up as the team leader of food engineering, basically one of the top MRE developers for the military? Do you start taking the science career path to get here? Or do you get here through a love of the culinary arts? Or both? What was it for you?

Lauren Oleksyk 1:39

For me, it was a little of both. I specifically sought a career in the combat feeding division. While I was still in college, I majored in food science at a local university and started working at the soldier center as an intern. But I would say my interest in food science actually began as a child. I came from a large family and we had an enormous garden. So we canned most of our fruits and vegetables. And I learned very early on about food preservation, and my neighbors were dairy farmers. So my first job as a teen was in the milk-processing field. So I think I developed an early interest in that and also in nutrition and packaging, and I love to cook. So a career in food science was a perfect fit for me.

Hope Hodge Seck 2:24

When did you encounter your first MRE? or How did you get interested in the military side of boot development in the first place?

Lauren Oleksyk 2:32

Well, I interned at a soldier center in the combat feeding division, and I was immediately drawn to the science and technology side of ration development. And one of my first tasks there was to develop cereal bars for survival rations. You know, I had some product development experience when I was in college. But this was my first real hands on experience with product development. And I assumed it would be not too difficult, you know, I develop a cereal bar and test it out, and it will be ready to go. And I quickly learned all about the military constraints and requirements for rations and realize that this was really a unique job.

Hope Hodge Seck 3:12

Can you give a rundown on what those requirements and constraints are?

Lauren Oleksyk 3:16

Probably the most difficult challenge is, rations have to withstand a three-year shelf life. So that’s at 80 degrees Fahrenheit, that’s a long time that these foods have to be shelf-stable and not spoil. They also have to be extremely compact and lightweight and durable enough to survive airdrop, they have to withstand extreme climatic changes that range from minus 60 to 120 degrees Fahrenheit. So our packaging has to be really, really durable to protect rations for that long of a period of time. And we have nutritional requirements that are mandated by the Office of the Surgeon General. Also we have to consider operational scenarios. Where will these rations be issued? This is a lot to consider. It’s not as simple as if you were developing a food for the commercial market.

Hope Hodge Seck 4:05

So the cereal bar was it a hit? Did it meet the requirement? Is it still out there in the world.

Lauren Oleksyk 4:11

It is still a component of survival rations. These rations have very, very long shelf life requirements, sometimes in excess of three years. And the cereal bars are still packaged in that ration, but it’s a special-purpose ration and it’s not readily used unless it needs to be. There’s less variety in that type of ration compared to the MRE.

Hope Hodge Seck 4:31

And I’m not sure how long you’ve been at the combat feeding directorate. But what other MRE recipes have you created or developed since you got there?

Lauren Oleksyk 4:40

I’ve been there a long time. It’s going on 37 years now.

Hope Hodge Seck 4:44

Oh my goodness.

Lauren Oleksyk 4:46

Yeah. And over the years, I was involved in the development of a few MRE items. One in particular, I have a co-patent on the MRE shelf-stable bread, and this bread is stable for three years due to a series of what we call hurdle technologies that keep the bread from staling or spoiling. So this product and technologies that we use to stabilize it form the basis of several other big items in the MRE. To this day, things like the shelf-stable pizza that you’ve heard about, and shelf-stable sandwiches that are in some of our other rations.

Hope Hodge Seck 5:22

That’s incredible. Can you go through what those technologies are that keep the bread for example, from going stale or otherwise spoiling?

Lauren Oleksyk 5:32

The technologies used for bread and baked goods are, we call them hurdle technologies. And this is a way to preserve foods that have intermediate moisture contents without having to subject them to a thermal sterilization process. Essentially, you introduce hurdles to microbial growth. And you do that by using specific ingredients that control water activity that control the product’s pH, control the moisture content, in the case of something like a shelf-stable pizza, it would control the migration of moisture from one part of the food to another, because you might have a lot of components. Like in the case of the pizza, you have the dough, the sauce, the cheese, the toppings, and they all have different moisture contents and water activity. So if you don’t control how that migrates from piece to piece, you are going to introduce the opportunity for microbial spoilage. So we use ingredients, and we also control the headspace in the package. And everything we can do to prevent that spoilage. And we test the safety of the food throughout its three-year shelf life to confirm that it’s safe to consume and nothing will grow. That’s an example of a hurdle technology. And it’s employed in different ways for different intermediate moisture products.

Hope Hodge Seck 6:51

And I know this MRE pizza slice pepperoni pizza slice, I’ve actually tried it, it came out a few years ago, and it was sort of the holy grail of MRE. And as I understand, was a highly requested item since its release. Have you tracked soldier service member feedback? And what are you hearing about how well it’s going over in the field?

Lauren Oleksyk 7:12

Well, we should actually start getting that data soon. It was incorporated into the MRE in 2018, and really first fielded around 2019. Every year, we actually do field tests and evaluation with soldiers and we get that feedback from them. So this will be the first year that we actually can start collecting data on the fielded Pizza to assess how well it’s accepted. But prior to it going into the MRE, we did a number of field evaluations on just that item like all MRE components. It had to be warfighter-tested and approved before it went into the ration. And the pizza definitely was a highly accepted product. They had been asking for it for years, and it was very well received. So we’re hoping that the field test results going forward confirm that, and we’ll keep a close eye on it.

Hope Hodge Seck 8:02

What sort of feedback do you solicit in these surveys that you’re talking about getting the data back from?

Lauren Oleksyk 8:07

We ask them to rate the acceptability of the components, especially if we’re testing new prototypes. So they’re given a scale from one to nine, and they rank how well they like the product. We also do consumption studies, where we measure how much of each item they eat, and how much they throw away, so we can assess whether something is under-consumed. And if we see that trend, we’ll ask them questions regarding that: why aren’t they consuming it? And then every year, based on that data, we make decisions on whether something’s retired from the MRE or replaced with something else. And a lot of times the demographics might change of the military. So things that were well loved by warfighters, you know, back in the ’70s and ’80s are not well-liked by you know, some of the military personnel today who might prefer different foods that reflect more of what they ate when they were growing up.

Hope Hodge Seck 9:03

I know for example, cigarettes are no longer included in MREs and they were historically included in combat rations many years ago. But how often our items are tired and what are some of the most recent items to be retired?

Lauren Oleksyk 9:17

Things that were very popular years ago like chicken a la king, ham and lima beans to go way back, those things were retired, and today we have things like burritos and vegetarian options, things that they request and are much more familiar with — the MRE pizza. But in terms of what’s taken in and out every year, it varies.

David Accetta 9:35

It’s all based on the soldiers and feedback and and it’s actually not just soldiers. We also do the surveys with Marines, because the Army and the Marine Corps are the primary consumers of the MREs. So we need to get their feedback and ask them what do they like, what they don’t like, and then what they don’t like, gets retired, and we try to figure out what they do like, which is how we got to the pizza. And then a lot of the other things that are in MREs — If you looked at the menu from today versus the menus from the early 80s, when they first came out, you’ll see great differences in the entrees. Because the original MREs were pretty much based on traditional American comfort food, the same way that the previous series of rations, meal combat-individual, and before that the Army C-rations. You know, as we did more surveys and got more feedback from military personnel, we found out what they liked and what they didn’t like. And Lauren alluded to it when she said things that they remember growing up, and you’ve got so much more diversity in the Army now, you’ve got people from all different ethnic backgrounds. So there’s a lot of different types of food. It’s not just standard American comfort food, it’s not pot roast, and it’s not those kind of things anymore.

Hope Hodge Seck 11:01

So one of my favorite things about MREs, henever I’ve had the chance to eat them downrange is all the little side items that they come with, all the little packages you can open and the jalapeno cheese spread and the snacks for later. It’s really fun opening them up and seeing all the items that are inside and how they all work together. And you know, of course there are those people who make little recipes in the field with whatever they have or trade them back and forth. So how does a new complete MRE menu come about? And what are sort of the parameters for ensuring complementarity of taste and nutritional balance and appeal for everything that’s in the package as a whole, developing a new menu?

Lauren Oleksyk 11:47

We consider three things really. The first one are the warfighters’ recommendations and their desires, you know, and the MRE pizza is an example of that. But secondly, and probably more importantly, we have to think about military requirements and the operational scenario where the ration will be used. And then lastly, we look at leading-edge food science and packaging technologies, because sometimes the science itself will bring us in a direction that says we can develop something that otherwise wouldn’t have been able to be developed before, because it’s a new technology that we can utilize. In addition to the three-year shelf life requirement for a new menu, we have nutritional guidelines that we have to follow. So there might be a nutrient that’s lacking in a menu. And so we’ll develop a food that specifically has that nutrient in it. So that as a whole when you put all those components together, the MRE is nutritionally complete. As far as taste and palatability, the combat feeding division is outfitted with a sensory lab, where technically trained panelists can examine the foods’ organoleptic properties. So this would include the appearance odor, flavor, texture, and overall quality. And we do that over the duration of the product shelf life. So we’ll rate the products on a scale and we try to achieve a score above a six. So you know,one being dislike, nine being like. And we’ll try to get a six at the end of a product shelf life to ensure that it’s acceptable once it’s issued, six or better. So that’s kind of our internal goal. But we also utilize general consumer panels who rate a new product based on just a matter of how much they like it. They don’t really look at the technical aspects of the food, but whether they like it or not. And then we have military human research volunteers that are located at soldier center. And we solicit them to test new prototypes and to participate in focus groups to get their feedback. And then after we do all of that is when we’ll conduct our annual or biannual field tests with military personnel. And that’s where every new MRE component must be tested and accepted before it will go into a ration.

Hope Hodge Seck 13:52

When you’re talking about this technical expert panelists, who are those people?

Lauren Oleksyk 13:57

They are primarily food technologists, they’ve undergone specific training in sensory evaluation. So we all have varied thresholds where we can pick up very subtle changes in flavors and odors. And we have a good range of us so they look across you know, people who have a very low threshold for salt, say. Some others might have a very low threshold for rancidity, or bitterness. And so combined, this group of technical panelists really can do a thorough evaluation of foods. And we’ll do it not only when a food is first developed, but even after it’s been stored for three years.

Hope Hodge Seck 14:35

That’s fascinating. So you talked about the hurdle technologies that led to bread and then to pizza, which was sort of like this revelation. Are there current scientific food challenges that you’re currently working through to pave the way to develop more items?

Lauren Oleksyk 14:53

Yes, there are. And one of the reasons is we’re very focused right now on the fact that soldiers and units might be in environments where they have to go longer without resupply. So right now, we’re very focused on reducing the logistics burden by reducing the weight and size of rations so that soldiers in small units can carry more. And this is becoming critically important. And it’s it’s dictating the development of smaller and more compact, nutrient-dense foods. So some of the technologies we’re really advancing right now are drying technologies to reduce the weight of foods, and compression technologies to reduce the volume of foods. And that’s includes things like vacuum microwave drying, and ultrasonic agglomeration, which is a compression technology. And sometimes we’re developing new prototypes, using a combination of those two technologies to make these very nutrient-dense, compact foods, in some cases can actually be entire meal replacement bars.

Hope Hodge Seck 15:56

The way you’re describing it, immediately, what comes to mind is the rations that are sent to space with astronauts, when you’re talking about drying and making things as late as they possibly can be. Are there any similarities there?

Lauren Oleksyk 16:10

Yes, very similar requirements. In fact, we collaborate with NASA, and have worked with them on many dense and compact items such as meal replacement bars that they’re considering for their menus for the mission to Mars. And also, we work with them on developing entrees that are used at the International Space Station. So the similarities and requirements for astronauts and military personnel are very, very similar. And in fact, NASA has long shelf-life requirements too, even longer than military rations in some case, but lightweight products in very dense products are required by both.

Hope Hodge Seck 16:50

How soon might we see a meal replacement bar out in the field and fully developed and being used by troops on the go?

Lauren Oleksyk 16:58

We’re working on a new ration called the close combat assault ration. This is a ration that’s designed to be extremely lightweight and compact. So we’re developing these nutrient-dense bars. Now they’re in the prototype stage for the close combat assault ration that’s going to be field-tested soon. Some of the first prototypes will be field-tested in the near future, the bars that we’re looking at for that ration are not necessarily full meal replacement bars. But they using the technology for drying and compression that enable us to make a full meal replacement bar if needed.

Hope Hodge Seck 17:34

And how much lighter it might these rations be than the typical MRE package?

Lauren Oleksyk 17:39

The ration components themselves, it depends on how much moisture you remove. But we’ve achieved anywhere between 40 to 70% decrease in weight on a component level, because essentially, you’re just taking the fresh food and you’re removing the moisture, but you can dial in how much you want to remove for palatability purposes. We know that war fighters don’t necessarily want to consume all dry bars. So we want to be able to offer a variety of moistures in these products so that it’s something they want to consume. So it depends, you know, the weight reductions depend, but we have metrics and goals to achieve about a 40% reduction in weight. And we can achieve the same and volume if we compress the product as well.

Hope Hodge Seck 18:27

As we’re talking about many development. I know in the last couple of decades, there’s a lot more service members who want to eat, say keto, or paleo, even Whole 30 — these diets that are really dependent on protein and vegetables and probably really hard to sustain in the field. And I’m sure there are things that it’s just like, yeah, there’s no way to make shelf-stable rations that fit that bill. But are you looking at any ways to develop additional menus that cater to people who have specific food requirements like these, or want to, I guess, eat a little bit more whole food or protein-heavy, whatever the case may be?

Lauren Oleksyk 19:12

With regard to the MRE, there is no requirement from the military services to develop keto or paleo menus. All the menus in the MREs have to meet the nutritional standards for operational rations. You know, and as I mentioned, that was that’s mandated by the Office of the Surgeon General. But we do listen to some of their desires for this for certain types of foods. And one example of that is we currently have four vegetarian meals in the MRE out of the 24 menus. Four of them are vegetarian, two new vegetarian entrees were approved for the latest MRE: cheese pizza and the Mexican-style rice and bean bowl. And every every ration is labeled in accordance with FDA regulations so individual soldiers can see the list of ingredients and they can determine for themselves, you know whether it’s a product that they want to consume, but in general, you know, we want them to consume the entire MRE, because that is a nutritionally complete ration and it will optimize their performance and health if they consume it all.

Hope Hodge Seck 20:14

In my journeys around the internet, I have found this trove of MRE enthusiasts who live on places like YouTube, where they’ll buy old MREs that are decades old and taste-test them or make Top Chef-style recipes, combining different ingredients, using the Kool-Aid powder and the, you know, you name it just really mixing things up. So do you ever kind of watch those YouTube videos? Or pay attention to that little subculture? And do the fans of MREs who kind of live out in the civilian world and are just interested in these things, do they ever inspire you in your work?

Lauren Oleksyk 20:51

I do watch those. I love those videos, they make me laugh, first of all, but I also think it’s so fun to see how creative they get with the types of things they make. I read the comments, I find the comments are very interesting and helpful. And I will bring, when I read something like that, I will have little brainstorm sessions at work. And we’ll talk about what people think and you know, some of the ideas that come from those videos in terms of new product lines. So yes, I do watch them. And a lot of times, you know, if they’re a positive review, it can be actually somewhat rewarding to know that you were part of the development of those products, I see that a lot with the flameless ration heater that they show inside the MRE, that was a development that — I was one of the original developers of the flameless ration heater. And even though it’s not a food item, it allows soldiers to actually have a hot meal now in the field, where before 1992, they didn’t always have a way to heat their entrees. So a lot of those YouTube videos will show people using the flameless ration heater and heating up their entree and it’s quite enjoyable to watch them.

Hope Hodge Seck 22:03

I love that so much.

David Accetta 22:05

The flameless ration heater was a huge, huge development that to help soldiers — well, all troops in the field. You know, having been in the Army for a long time, before flameless ration heaters, you have to come up with creative ways to to heat your food. Otherwise, you know, your food was essentially the same temperature as it was outside, whether that was 40 degrees or 70 degrees. The flameless ration heater made a huge difference to the morale of troops, because it gave them the ability to have hot food anywhere that they were. So they didn’t have to rely on using the heat from the engine of the vehicle that you happen to be next to, or finding some other creative way to heat up your MRE components without making a fire.

Hope Hodge Seck 22:55

Something that still gives troops a lot of joy is the instructions that those heaters come with. And the fact that they tell whoever is eating the MRE to put the whole package, balance it on “a rock or something” are the words that people really get a kick out of. Do you know how that particular bit of instruction that language came about?

Lauren Oleksyk 23:17

Yes, I happen to know that. Since we developed the flameless ration heater, we also developed the instructions that are on the bag. And initially that when we were designing the pictograms that you see on the package itself, we were trying to come up with an object that you lean the flameless ration heater on top of, at an angle, which helps it to heat faster. And we couldn’t think of an object. And my colleague next to me said, well, let’s just use the rock or something in the picture. And we did we put a rock and we called it the “rock or something” as a joke. And we left it in because people thought it was funny. And it actually brought some humor to the field. So we decided over the long term to leave it in there and we still hear about it all the time.

Hope Hodge Seck 24:04

That is so amazing.

Lauren Oleksyk 24:06

Yeah.

Hope Hodge Seck 24:06

So I do have to ask about a little bit more MRE myths and legends. Anyone who’s ever been out in the field is eating these and so they get talked about a lot and there are all these rumors that are flying around. First of all, the gum that comes with the current mre, they say it’s a laxative to keep things moving along. Is there any truth in that rumor?

David Accetta 24:27

Absolutely not.

Lauren Oleksyk 24:30

The gum at one point had a xylitol component which can have in some people a laxative effect, but it was it’s not intentionally in the MRE to to serve as a laxative. So yes, that is not exactly true.

David Accetta 24:46

The xylitol in the gum is to help prevent tooth decay. So it was designed for situations where you didn’t have the ability to brush your teeth. You could chew the gum and then that would help with the health of your teeth in the field.

Hope Hodge Seck 25:05

So there was a hidden benefit, but it was not what people were thinking.

Lauren Oleksyk 25:09

Correct.

Hope Hodge Seck 25:10

Other one that I think spans your career is even back in the ’90s, maybe even in the early 2000s, maybe even longer — Charms candy, were part of some MRE menus and those were notorious for being bad luck. I think even in the Generation Kill miniseries, they come across the Charms dump, where everyone’s just gotten the Charms out of their MRIs to be on the safe side. So do you know anything about how that charms rumor came about? And when Charm stopped being part of the MRE?

Lauren Oleksyk 25:42

I’m not sure when exactly they were removed, they are no longer in the MRE today. And I know, I’ve heard of the curse of the Charms. Back in the day. If a warfighter received a ration with Charms in it, they would deem to bring bad luck, so they would get rid of them. I’ve heard stories of soldiers holding bags out to collect everyone’s Charms at feeding time to get rid of. David might have more experience with that.

David Accetta 26:08

Yeah, we don’t really have a good idea of exactly when or how Charms became associated with bad luck. But I mean, I do remember hearing that, that if you ate the Charms when you were in field, say in a training environment, then that would guarantee that it would rain on you. And then later on, as we got into more combat operations in different parts of the world, they became associated with soldiers getting injured or killed. Which is why some troops were very adamant about not having the Charms and getting rid of them as soon as they could. I think some of that might have to do with the popularity or lack of popularity of the Charms, of hard candy. So those had been part of military rations for a long time going back to World War II. And I kind of think personally that, generations later, troops were just not all that fond of hard candy, and just didn’t want to eat them, you know, whereas it was probably much more popular in the ’40s and ’50s.

Hope Hodge Seck 27:21

Makes sense. It’s good to get to get to the bottom of that one. I could talk to you all for hours. I think this is really fascinating stuff. And I love the work that you do. But I know we have to wrap up. So my final question is for each of you. What is your favorite MRE menu and why?

Lauren Oleksyk 27:39

Okay, well, for me, it’s the MRE pepperoni pizza, of course, partly because my team is the team that developed the item but also because I love pizza. And I also like the vegetarian taco pasta. So those are my two favorites.

Hope Hodge Seck 27:54

Hmm.

David Accetta 27:55

I have, I think very strange sense of taste. And that’s what most people would politely describe it. My favorite MRE was the omelet with ham. And that was also my favorite of the meal combat-individuals and the canned rations. And that was really good for me because most people didn’t like either one of those. So I could always trade whatever I had for that one. Now of the of the newer-generation MREs, I like the cheese tortellini, it’s even though it’s a vegetarian meal and I’m not a vegetarian. I like the cheese tortellini. And just as a point of trivia, the only ration I mean, the only entree that is still in the MRE menu from the original menu is the spaghetti. And everybody likes the spaghetti and during Desert Storm and going into Iraq in in 2003, as well, that one was really popular and I remember soldiers fighting over who was going to get the spaghetti because they like the spaghetti and that one also came with M&Ms. So that was a jackpot if you pull the the spaghetti MRE out of the box.

Hope Hodge Seck 29:19

Love it, jackpot indeed. Well, I have a very fun memory of being very hungry on a late night in Afghanistan and finding a first strike ration that had a pepperoni sandwich in it, and it tasted just so good. And I don’t think anything will ever taste as good as that item did.

David Accetta 29:39

And that is all due to the work that Lauren and her team did with the shelf-stable bread that enabled the pepperoni sandwich. But you’re exactly right. And we tell people that because you mentioned the the MRE videos on the internet and you know, MREs get a lot of criticism. Not only from troops, but also from civilians who may pick one up somewhere and they eat it. And they’re not designed to be gourmet food. And you know, what we like to tell people is that the true benefit of an MRE can’t be found if you’re sitting in your kitchen or your living room eating it. The benefit of an MRE is when you’re cold, wet, tired and hungry, sitting in the dark in the rain on a mountainside in Afghanistan. And you can open up an MRE and you can have hot food, and you can have something that reminds you of home and have better times and that’s really what the benefits of the MRE are and how you can really appreciate them.

Hope Hodge Seck 30:42

Well, Lauren, and David, thank you so much for coming on the show today.

David Accetta 30:46

Thank you. Great being here.

Hope Hodge Seck 30:57

Well, I don’t know about you, but that episode made me hungry. I’ll take the barbecue beef MRE: It comes with a side of black beans and shelf-stable tortillas and that delicious jalapeno cheese. Do you have any favorite memory recipes or stories about how you enjoy them in the field? Are there any combat ration myths and rumors that we didn’t get to on today’s episode? Hit me up at podcast@military.com and let me know. Hit subscribe on the show today, and if you use Apple podcasts, please do leave a rating and review. And until next time, remember to check out Military.com for all the information and news you need about your military community.

This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

SEAL boss to depart after 2 years; officials say there’s no indication he was forced out

The Navy admiral who has led the service’s most elite special operators during a string of high-profile scandals will leave his post in September, Military.com has confirmed.


Rear Adm. Collin Green will wrap up his term as head of Naval Special Warfare Command after two years in the position. The move, first reported by The Intercept last weekend, follows several high-profile controversies involving the command that, in part, prompted a full review of U.S. Special Operations Command’s ethics and culture.

A Navy official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the flag officer’s move, said “there is no indication he has been asked to leave early.”

“He’s leaving at the two-year point, which is a normal command tour,” the official said. “It’s premature to say he’s retiring.”

It’s not immediately clear in what position Green would serve next or who would replace him. The Intercept reported that Rear Adm. H. Wyman Howard III, a Naval Academy grad serving as head of Special Operations Command Central, will be nominated to replace Green.

Howard previously served as a commander with SEAL Team 6, which carries out some of the military’s most covert missions. The Intercept reported in 2017 that Howard gave his operators hand-made hatchets and told them ahead of missions and deployments to “bloody the hatchet.”

Green has led the Navy SEALs since September 2017 after assuming command from Rear Adm. Tim Szymanski, who spent two years in the position. Of the last four flag officers who led the command, three left after two years.

Szymanski’s predecessor, Rear Adm. Brian Losey, led the command for more than three years.

The Intercept reported that Green’s tour had been set to last three years, but “the stress from his reform efforts, as well as personal issues, have taken a toll.”

Green sent a letter to his commanders in July telling them “we have a problem,” and ordering leaders to help restore discipline in the ranks. The two-star followed it up the next month with a memo to the force announcing a return to routine inspections, discipline trackers, and strict enforcement of all Navy grooming and uniform standards.

The four-page memo said the problems in the command would be met with “urgent, effective and active leadership.”

“This drift ends now,” Green wrote.

The Navy SEALs have made headlines over murder charges, allegations of rape and drinking in the war zone, and lengthy legal battles.

Some of those incidents caught the attention of President Donald Trump, who at one point ordered Green’s command to “Get back to business!” after the admiral considered stripping a former SEAL of his coveted trident pin.

This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The insane USAF flying saucer-shaped missile

The wizards who brought you the F-16 Fighting Falcon and the M1 Abrams Main Battle Tank have been serving the U.S. military’s needs for more than a century. In that time, General Dynamics, the multi-billion dollar defense contractor responsible for many amazing technological advances, has made history many times over, from developing the Navy’s first submarines to the Air Force’s first ICBM.

They may have even develop the flying saucer UFO.


In the late 1950s, the Air Force was looking to replace the B-52 Bomber with a nuclear-capable hypersonic upgrade. For this mission, the air service wanted the experimental XB-70 Valkyrie. The Valkyrie could fly at speeds of Mach 3 while dropping nuclear bombs on the unsuspecting or unprepared Soviet Union.

But how can the Air Force protect its bombers while they’re flying at three times the speed of sound in an unfriendly territory? The answer was to give it a defensive missile system, code named Pye Wacket, after a local Massachusetts urban legend involving a witch’s familiar who protected her master.

The awesome reason some Air Force fighters have green stars

The XB-70.

(U.S. Air Force)

The Valkyrie didn’t actually need defensive missiles. The Soviets didn’t have anything that could actually threaten the XB-70, but the airframe was considered a long-term solution and the Air Force wanted to ensure it had defenses should the need materialize. The missiles wouldn’t just need to hit interceptor aircraft, it would need to be capable of hitting SAM batteries and surface-to-air missiles themselves.

It also needed to be able to fly at seven times the speed of sound. So, General Dynamics engineers developed a wedge missile, in the shape of a lens – a kind of flying saucer – that could be fired from the aircraft in any direction and was capable of deft maneuvering.

The awesome reason some Air Force fighters have green stars

Pye Wacket at the Arnold Engineering Development Center, in Tennessee.

The Air Force tested the new weapon between 1957 and 1961. The weapon was based on a saucer propulsion design from NASA’s Alan Kahlet, who wanted to use it for manned spacecraft. For the missile, designers wanted to include a small nuclear warhead, one that would neutralize the target but also be able to prevent an enemy nuclear warhead from exploding, a process called “dudding.”

Unfortunately for the future of the Pye Wacket missile, the Air Force ultimately decided that the best way to hit the Soviets with a barrage of nuclear devices was a series of rockets that used extremely unstable fuel and could be fired by any fool who knew the key combination was “000000000.”

MIGHTY CULTURE

Drone footage shows leveled compound where ISIS leader died

New drone footage shows what remains of the Syrian compound where ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi died as US Delta Force commandos raided the secret lair on Oct. 26, 2019.

Turkish state-run news outlet Anadolu Agency released the footage Oct. 28, 2019. It shows the compound in Barissa, Syria, completely leveled, with people milling about in the rubble.

US fighter jets fired six rockets into the building after the kill team left, in order to prevent the building from turning into a shrine for the terrorist leader.


Watch the full video below:

Drone Video Shows The Devastated Compound Where Al-Baghdadi Died | NBC News

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Earlier this month, Trump announced he was removing American troops from northern Syria, causing Turkey to invade the region, which may explain why it was a Turkish news outlet that got to the scene first to take the drone video.

Trump said Al-Baghdadi fled into an underground network of tunnels when the raid started, wearing a suicide vest and bringing three children with him.

The awesome reason some Air Force fighters have green stars

Drone footage of the compound, bottom right, was taken by a Turkish state-run media outlet.

(Anadolu Agency)

When he reached the end of the tunnel, Trump said the most wanted terrorist in the world ignited the suicide vest, killing himself and all three of the children.

The explosion caused the tunnel to cave in, so US forces weren’t able to completely remove Baghdadi’s body. But they got enough of it to conduct DNA testing to confirm that the man was indeed the head of ISIS.

US forces stayed on the scene for about two hours, recovering highly sensitive information on the group.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

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MIGHTY TRENDING

The Philippine Navy just tested anti-tank missiles at sea

The Philippine Navy has successfully test-fired its first ever ship-borne missile, making it a much more capable force in tense regional waters.

Navy personnel aboard a multipurpose attack craft, or MPAC, operating in waters off Lamao Point in Bataan launched a Spike Extended Range missile at a target six kilometers away, the Inquirer, a local outlet, reported Aug. 9, 2018, citing an announcement by the Philippine Navy.


“The target was hit dead center even if the sea state condition was moderately rough with a wave of at least one meter high but within the normal firing conditions of the missile,” Navy public affairs chief Commander Jonathan Zata told reporters.

The test was part of a Sea Acceptance Test for the missile system first acquired in early 2018.

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The Philippines purchased the Spike ER missile system, which launches short-range surface-to-surface missiles, from Israel in late April 2018 for .6 million. The systems are expected to be installed on three fast MPAC gunboats, while its warships will be armed with longer-range missiles.

“It will be a deterrent because, this time, we have a credible armament that can strike a punch whether the target is a small or large ship,” a Philippine commander told Reuters in early May 2018.

The Philippines faces threats ranging from China’s militarization of the South China Sea to pirates in its southern waters. The country is preparing to spend .41 billion over the next five years to obtain warships, drones, fighter jets, radar systems, helicopters, and surveillance planes to bolster its capabilities.

The test-firing of the Spike ER missile system comes just a few weeks after Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte vowed to “defend our interest” in the South China Sea. China has expanded its military presence there, despite an international arbitration ruling two years ago that discredited China’s vast claims to the highly contested waterway.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

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