Fresh off of an assignment, he tentatively made his way through a checklist. With a friendly demeanor and calming presence he made his way to visit his colleagues, as old friends do. His intricately inked arms revealed stories untold with each tattoo beneath his neatly rolled uniform sleeves. With hazel eyes, he processed each story as he listened to its thoughts and goals.
Muralist, painter, street artist, and 315th Airlift Wing Reservist, Staff Sgt. Corban Lundborg, combat photojournalist with the 4th Combat Camera Squadron at Joint Base Charleston, South Carolina, used his creative talent and public affairs training to win 2018 Air Force Photographer of the Year and first place in the 2018 Military Visual Awards portrait category.
“On a daily basis we are involved with creativity, adventure and challenge,” Lundborg said.
At a young age, Lundborg began developing his talent through murals and street art that at times brought a little trouble, so he turned to boxing as a creative outlet. These two outlets led him to a crossroads when it came time to choose between a career in art or fighting. Lundborg found that way through the Air Force.
Air Force Reserve Staff Sgt. Corban Lundborg, 4th Combat Camera Squadron combat photojournalist, paints a mural at Giphy’s West Coast headquarters in Los Angeles, April 10, 2017.
(Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Corban Lundborg)
“Corban is tenacious,” said Senior Master Sgt. John Herrick, 4th CTCS combat photojournalism superintendent. “He wants to grow and find a way to expand his capabilities and contributions.”
Lundborg’s active duty Air Force career in logistics led him to Korea, where he was able to reignite his dream to be a full-time artist through an apprenticeship at a local tattoo parlor there. There his creativity flourished.
Lundborg said, “I find peace and fulfillment in creativity.”
Soon after returning to the states, Lundborg was able to combine his passion for art through his military career at the Minneapolis-Saint Paul Joint Air Reserve Station, Minnesota, as a photojournalist.
Air Force Reserve Staff Sgt. Corban Lundborg, 4th Combat Camera Squadron combat photojournalist, prepares the cameras before a video production shoot for the Air Force Reserve mission video at Luke Air Force Base, Ariz., Aug. 7, 2018.
(Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Corban Lundborg)
Lundborg is extremely talented, selfless and quite the servant-leader, Herrick said.
In Minneapolis, Lundborg reached out to his community as an educator to inner city teens.
“The classroom was my new-found joy and the objective of my class was to engage, inspire and change each student’s life,” Lundborg said. “I aim to help them find their identity and their voice through the arts and pull out the greatness already within them.”
Through various combat camera projects Lundborg found his voice at JB Charleston, where his imagery contributed to every mission accomplished.
Air Force Reserve Staff Sgt. Corban Lundborg, 4th Combat Camera Squadron combat photojournalist, stands next to a mural he painted on The Smokestack, a popular establishment in Dubuque, Iowa, Sept. 26, 2016.
(Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Corban Lundborg)
“Staff Sgt. Lundborg’s imagery wasn’t just utilized at the tactical and operational levels,” said Maj. Meg Harper, 4th CTCS Flight Commander. “It ended up having strategic impact as well.”
Lundborg’s work often went straight to the four-star commanding general while overseas, Harper said. His talent strengthened the Air Force mission through on-target, high quality photos.
“I consider Lundborg an absolute key to our combat camera mission,” Harper said.
Lundborg brought his talents to the battlefield for a purpose.
“I believe each person’s life is an intelligently placed brushstroke on a large canvas intentionally placed by the creator for a larger purpose,” Lundborg said. “Each day I have really been living a dream”
International diplomacy between nuclear nations, like the US and North Korea, doesn’t rate as an easy task for even the most seasoned statesmen, but for some reason it’s commonly discussed in horse racing terms — carrots and sticks.
In diplomatic negotiations, a nation will offer another nation a carrot, or some kind of benefit, while threatening a stick, some kind of mobilization of leverage.
Carrots can be economic benefits or normalizing relations. Sticks can be military force or economic sanctions. Today’s diplomats still talk about North Korea in these terms, or as you would talk about training a horse.
But Christopher Lawrence of Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government told Business Insider that approach could be all wrong, and hidden in the history of failed talks with North Korea could be a better way forward.
North Korea won’t trade missiles for carrots
“If the regime ever agrees to give up nuclear weapons, it will not be for fleeting rewards or written security guarantees, but for a long-term, completely different political relationship with the United States going forward,” Lawrence wrote in his new paper on North Korean diplomacy.
In other words, carrots won’t solve the crisis. Demonstrably, sticks, in the form of sanctions and military threats, haven’t solved it either.
Instead, Lawrence proposes looking back to 1994, when North Korea’s nuclear program was in its infancy and the US actually significantly rolled back its plutonium capability, which it could use to make weapons, in exchange for building light water reactors, which are used for nuclear power.
No other acts of diplomacy with North Korea ever had the same level of physical results. Instead of the US simply cutting a check and promising not to invade, a US-led consortium began building energy infrastructure, which could function as a physical bond to imply a commitment to peace.
Therefore, US carrots to North Korea “will only be meaningful if they speak credibly about the political future — and physical, real-world manifestations of a changing relationship, such as shared infrastructure investments, often speak more credibly than written words,” writes Lawrence.
Talk is cheap. Infrastructure isn’t.
Kim Jong Un apparently wants the US to guarantee his security, but “written security assurances are less than credible,” Lawrence told Business Insider. “If we get what we want out of North Korea, why would we follow through?”
North Korea seems sensitive to shifting US rhetoric, as its reaction to being compared to Libya and Trump’s withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal clearly show.
(Photo by Michael Vadon)
Instead, Lawrence said the US and its allies should focus on building real infrastructure in North Korea to improve the country. The US’s carrot here would happen at a synchronized pace to North Korea taking steps to denuclearize.
“I think think the main insight is we should not be thinking in terms of gifts to the regime, but points of US skin in the game,” Lawrence said.
A slow push of US investment and infrastructure in North Korea would allow Kim to control the propaganda narrative, and own the achievements as his own, rather than handouts from Trump, which could help sell the deal.
This could potentially solve the issue of North Korea opening up to the outside world too fast and becoming destabilized when its impoverished, closed-off population gets a taste of outside life.
The continuing US relationship with North Korea and the physical presence of US investment in the country provides a mechanism for keeping the talks on track. If North Korea doesn’t make good on its end, the US “can turn the lights out” on its investments, according to Lawrence.
Far from thinking about who will win or lose the upcoming summit by counting up the carrots and sticks at the end of the horse race, Lawrence offers a vision of what building a lasting peace in Korea could look like.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
In 1942, the government purchased some land in beautiful Southern California from a private owner for $4,239,062. The property was soon named in honor of Maj. Gen. Joseph H. Pendleton for his outstanding service. Thus, Camp Pendleton was born.
Several years later, Camp Pendleton became the home of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, countless brave service members, and their families.
Known for its beautiful beaches and sprawling landscape, there are a few drawbacks to getting stationed on the historic grounds…
It’s harsh, but true.
It’s a huge military town outside the gates
Marines and their families typically live just outside the gates and you’ll see them while out on liberty — they’re everywhere. So, good luck dating someone who isn’t attached to the military somehow. You’ll have to drive an hour or so before you leave the true confines of the camp.
The camp encompasses more than 125,000 acres and houses thousands of Marines inside. Now, step outside the camp’s gates, and it still feels like you’ve never left.
If you get stationed in Camp Pendleton and think you’ll somehow be an individual — you won’t.
If you’re stationed in the Division aspect of the camp and you need to head over to main side to the large PX, you’re going to have to get in a car and drive at least 20 to 25 minutes.
Now, if you don’t have a car, then your options are limited. Good luck getting someone to take you all the way over there — it’s mission.
Marines hike supplies up a hill during a training exercise.
Hiking those freaking hills, man
The hills of Camp Pendleton are famous throughout the Corps. 1st. Sgt’s. Hill in San Mateo (62 Area) is one of the most notorious natural obstacles over which Marines will climb to either visit the Sangin Memorial or to get that daily PT.
Compared to flat landscape of Camp Lejeune, the hills of Camp Pendleton can be a huge pain in the ass.
Mighty Stories is a weekly WATM feature highlighting the stories of veterans, active duty and military families. This week’s feature is Krista Simpson Anderson – Army wife, Gold Star wife, founder of the nonprofit The Unquiet Professional.
I grew up in Hampton, Massachusetts – a little town right outside of Springfield. My father served in the U.S. Air Force from 1967-1971, but it was before I was born. My mom’s side of the family also served, but it wasn’t something we talked about. I was blissfully ignorant about military life.
I met Mike in June 2006. He was a friend of my cousin’s. My cousin was deploying to Iraq and my aunt was having a deployment party for him. She flew in a few of his friends that had been in the Old Guard with him, and she called me and asked me to help her with the guys flying in.
I walked into the Toasted Owl Tavern in Northhampton, and there he was.
It was love at first sight. I remember my cousin saying to me, ‘I’m going to disown you both if you get married.’ But we were fixed on each other. The whole world could have come crashing down around us and we wouldn’t have noticed.
In August 2006, Mike’s whole unit transferred to Germany. I went out to visit him for Thanksgiving. In September of 2007, he deployed to Iraq. He came out to Rhode Island to my family’s home before he left and we spent a week together. I was working in the restaurant business at the time of his deployment, so I took a couple of different jobs, one in St. Thomas, one in New York. But we stayed in contact.
In April 2008, during his mid-tour leave, he invited me to his brother David and sister-in-law Kelsey’s wedding in Texas. During their rehearsal dinner in his parents’ backyard, he went to give his best man’s speech and we all thought it would be something funny. He was so goofy, it was hard to imagine him doing something serious. Now mind you, he served in the military in the Old Guard so he clearly had to be serious for work. But the first thing out of his mouth was, ‘Be each other’s compass.’
I was blown away.
Mike and Krista. Photo courtesy of Krista Simpson Anderson.
That night, he walked me to my room – we were all staying with his parents – and he told me he wanted to spend the rest of his life with me. And he asked me, ‘Will you be my wife?’ I knew that it had been a long night of celebrating so I told him that if he felt the same way in the morning we could talk about it. I went to sleep dreaming of the rest of our lives together.
The next morning over a cup of coffee at the counter, Mike looked at me and said, ‘I don’t feel any differently than I did last night. I want you to be my wife. I want to spend the rest of my life with you.’ I said yes, of course. We kept this a secret because it was not our day – it was David and Kelsey’s wedding day, and we knew his oldest brother, Isaac, was going to be proposing to his now wife, Vanessa, the next day. We told his sister, Abby, and then swore her to secrecy.
A few days after the wedding we announced our good news and decided to marry as soon as Mike returned from his deployment.
Mike went back to Iraq a week later, and returned in October 2008 to Germany. We met back up in Tennessee for Isaac and Vanessa’s wedding in November. December 20, 2008, we married in Rhode Island, and the first week of January he returned to Germany. We decided to live apart until his orders came through to start the Special Forces Qualification course so he wouldn’t need to extend in Germany.
I went to Germany to see him in February for his birthday, and I came home and found out I was pregnant with our first son a month later. I was working at a restaurant as a manager and living with my parents in Rhode Island awaiting orders. By September 2009 we were finally living together in Fort Bragg, NC and our son Michael was born October 22nd.
I remember taking “SF101” (Special Forces 101) for the spouses and the emphasis was put on how long our husbands would be away from home. Everything was about not getting our hopes up for birthdays, holidays, special occasions and being a family during those times. They really wanted to prepare us for the let downs of our military career. No one ever told me the incredible things our husbands would be doing while away from home and that every mission would be for the good of our nation. No one ever told me about the amazing and wonderful things we would be doing for our families while they were away. No one ever told me how, as spouses, we would show up for each other, in good times and in bad. No one ever told me that we would all be changing the world together – them abroad and us on the homefront.
Mike, Krista and their two boys. Photo courtesy of Krista Simpson Anderson.
Mike graduated in March 2011 and then reported July 10 for a Special Forces billet at 4th BN, Charlie Company, 1st Special Forces Group at Joint Base Lewis-McChord. I got out there August 1 with Michael who was just about two, and pregnant with Gabriel. We closed on our first house on my birthday, September 23.
As soon as our household goods arrived, Mike was off on a TDY (Temporary Duty) so I set up the house with my two year old and called my Mom and Aunt in for reinforcements to paint beige the mustard yellow walls and ceiling our new home offered.
When home, Mike was a present and incredibly fun daddy. He played this game called Daddy T-Rex. He would hold Gabe and chase Mic around the house, pretending to be a dinosaur. They would also lie on the floor and play Legos, have mini race-car races all the while tapping into Mike’s very present childlike spirit. He’d say to me, ‘I can’t wait until they’re older so we can do more fun things.’ He couldn’t wait to play basketball, soccer and teach them to ride bikes.
On 6 April 2013, Mike deployed with his company to eastern Afghanistan. Less than three weeks later I received the call every military spouse prays they’ll never get.
Mike, right, with a battle buddy. Photo courtesy of Krista Simpson Anderson.
The day before the call, Mike and I were texting back and forth and I was telling him how grateful I was to be his wife. I asked him to marry me all over again. I said, ‘I love you more today than I ever have. You have brought so much joy to my life that it overwhelms me. Will you marry me… Again?’ We were going to meet in Mexico with our families around Christmas and I told him I wanted to do it then. He wrote back, ‘Yes!’
On April 27, I had just put Gabriel down for a nap (he was 16 months) and I heard my phone ringing. I ran down the stairs to an ‘Unknown’ caller and answered what I can only assume must have been the last ring. It was (now Lieutenant Colonel) Major Jamie Alden, and he said ‘Hi, Krista? This is Major Alden.’ It didn’t even dawn on me why the company commander would be calling me from Afghanistan.
He asked me where I was, and I told him I was at home. He asked where the boys were, and I told him Mic was in the other room and I’d just put Gabe down for a nap.
He said, ‘I need you to sit down.’
You know that feeling when it seems that your brain starts going numb and it begins to rush through your whole body? Luckily I made it to the other room and sat down near the boys’ toys – on a bean bag chair.
‘Michael is alive, but he is in critical condition. There was an accident; he hit an IED while riding an ATV. He has a lower right leg amputation and there has been severe trauma to his right arm. We know there is shrapnel damage, we just are not sure where and the extent. Again, he is alive, but he is critical.’
I had to stop him. I couldn’t process anything and I knew I wouldn’t be able to remember anything else he was saying. I ran across the street and banged on my neighbor Kate’s door, and her daughter opened it. She was supposed to be coming over anyway to watch the boys since we had a neighborhood clean-up scheduled and I was president of the homeowners association. She ran to stay with the boys while Kate got on the phone with Major Alden. It took some convincing for him to speak to her but he finally agreed, understanding my emotional state.
I watched her as she spoke to him but I couldn’t hear her. I could hear sounds, just not the words, as if my ears were blocked. Kate handed the phone back to me and I thanked him, and he reminded me that we were family, that his wife Susan would be calling me soon, and that everything was going to be okay.
Mike, before the attack. Photo courtesy of Krista Simpson Anderson.
I got off the phone and had to start making phone calls. I walked with my phone in my hand across the grass toward our friends, Alan and Angie’s, house. They were laying out a tarp for mulch on their driveway when they looked over. It must have been written all over my face because they rushed to me and caught me before I fell to my knees. Alan was the commander of an EOD unit on JBLM and assured me everything was going to be ok. Angie was by my side and provided support in any way I needed.
I wanted to close my eyes and wake up from the nightmare but I couldn’t. I was a Green Beret’s wife and the mother of two future Green Berets. I said to myself, ‘Pull yourself together, handle your business- he’s not dead and is going to need you to be strong!’
I stood outside, barefoot, on the cold pavement. The bottoms of my feet still get cold remembering those moments. I tried calling Mike’s parents but there was no answer. I tried calling my parents and no answer again. I called his brother Isaac, who was also a Green Beret who was in North Carolina doing his instructor rotation. I said, ‘It’s Mike. He’s alive but he hit an IED and he’s in surgery. It’s critical.’
I can still hear his scream.
Isaac had witness IED attacks before and he knew the gravity of this news. Isaac and Vanessa would make the calls to the rest of the Simpson family as I continued my calls from the floor of our parish where I sat and prayed. Once my parents were notified, my mother arrived from Rhode Island to our home in Olympia, Washington, 12 hours later.
1st Special Forces Group (1st SFG) at JBLM welcomed me in every morning to call Afghanistan for updates. LTC David Haight would call Bagram ICU and translate their medical report for me whether at that morning meeting or 1am. We would share our information, formulate a plan and I would leave the table every morning stronger than I arrived. Monday, 29 April, I called the hospital myself. The doctor that answered told me he was sorry, but that Mike didn’t have a gag or corneal reflex and that he would not live.
I thanked him and his team for caring for him so well. I went downstairs to tell my mother before the boys awoke and then retreated to my room where I called my cousin Alicia and friend Andrea. I begged Alicia to wake me up and take this away.
The medical team cared for Mike so well they were able to transfer him from Afghanistan to Landstuhl Army Medical Center in Germany. We got the green light to go to Germany as soon as Mike was in the air from AFG. They couldn’t cut orders or book our flights until they knew Mike was surviving the altitude. They performed emergency surgery on the plane and worked tirelessly to keep him alive even though they knew the outcome. When they arrived in Germany, one of Mike’s closest friends from the Special Forces Qualification Course was there awaiting his arrival. Casey served with another Special Forces Group and was training in the area when we received the news.
As I traveled to Germany, my Casualty Assistance Officer (CAO) SFC Gerry DeMarzo and Chaplain Johnny Elder escorted me. What a blessing they were for so many reasons I couldn’t possibly list in short. The ‘behind the scenes’ had so many issues getting us all there but with the help from the Green Beret Foundation, Special Operations Warrior Foundation, USO, Fisher House Foundation and Care Coalition on top of 1st SFG, I arrived and met Mike’s parents, siblings and spouses to be with Mike.
Upon arrival, my only request was that I got to see him first. I wanted to clean him up before his mom saw him. Silly, but it was all I could think of. I got to the hospital and Casey was at the door with SFC Doug Way. (They both never once left us. Casey stayed at Mike’s bedside and Doug would either be standing outside his hospital room or kneeling outside the room praying.)
I never lost hope.
‘Maybe he will heal and maybe the doctors were wrong,’ I kept telling myself.
Casey and Doug greeted me, offered their condolences and I entered the room.
There he was.
My big bad Green Beret laying broken and vulnerable. I had never felt so helpless in all of my life.
All I could manage was a whisper… ‘Dear Lord, please help us.’
On 1 May 2013, as we all stood around Mike’s bed, Dr. Betts informed us that Mike was in fact brain dead. I asked, ‘Can his brain heal?’ rationally knowing the answer, but I had to ask. ‘No ma’am, the brain can not heal from these injuries,’ he said. I nodded my head in understanding, saw the very real pain in his parents’ and siblings’ faces, said, ‘Thank you,’ and then ran out.
I ran left out of the room, through the ICU doors into the hall toward the stairs, down the stairs and out of the hospital hoping I could run away from this earth-shattering moment in my life and somehow, when I returned, everything would be ok – Mike would wake, he would rehab and our lives would go on … Together.
I stopped and Gerry and Doug were not too many steps behind me. Gerry never let me out of his sight for a moment; he was my greatest advocate and protector. He always told me he took care of our family the way he would have wanted his family taken care of if something were to have happened to him. When I returned to the hospital, I went back in and I didn’t leave Mike’s side except for an hour to take care of the paperwork I needed to sign.
The rest of that day we would call all the family and friends we could connect with so they could say their goodbyes. I would call and inform them of Mike’s diagnosis, tell them how sorry I was but that it was time for them to say goodbye if they wished. I would put the phone down on Mike’s pillow next to his ear, believing he would receive their love and pain through their words.
I wanted everyone to have the opportunity to say whatever they wanted and needed to for some closure. Our family and friends stateside would say goodbye as well as Charlie Company, 4th BN, 1st SFG. Mike’s team was sure he would survive, so my news was heartbreaking to them … Mike was their brother.
One of Mike’s friends and teammates brought me to my knees with his heartfelt message that his wife would transcribe for me later. His words were, ‘For Mike: Hey buddy. Have no fear, you’re the realest Green Beret now. You did it all. Thanks for all the bravo advice and an invitation to be a part of your family. I will never forget our time together and will do anything for your family. R.I.P. brother. I love you. One more thing – thank you for the greatest sacrifice one can make. My prayer to you … Now I lay you down to sleep, I pray the Lord your soul to keep. If you should die before you wake, bless Mikey Lord, his soul to take.’
Once the last call was made I think my body and mind knew it and I needed to rest. I asked the hospital staff if they could move Mike over so I could lie next to him in his hospital bed. I laid there and just listened to his heart beat. I prayed until I drifted off to sleep. Around 4 am, the nurse came in and wanted to change his dressings and clean him up. I asked if I could help, so she brought in soapy water and a washcloth. She changed his dressings while I cleaned him up. Around 9 pm, they came in to get him for organ donor surgery. I stayed with him while they got him ready to be moved. I walked to the door holding his hand as they started to wheel him out, and didn’t want to let go.
This was it.
I would never see his chest rise and fall or hear his beating heart again. ‘I’M NOT READY!’ I screamed in my head.
But … with as much grace as I could, I leaned down and kissed him one last time and whispered, ‘I love you all the world. I promise you I will take care of our boys, and we will always remember you.’
They wheeled his bed out and I stood in the empty, cold hospital room alone. ‘What now?’ I asked. ‘How do I live without you?’
We came back from Germany to Dover for the dignified transfer on 7 May 2013. He was supposed to be the only casket on the flight, but seven other soldiers were killed just days before, so we were with their families. These families didn’t have what we did. They didn’t have the chance to say goodbye. They watched their loved one get on the plane for deployment and then their casket come off in Dover.
It started to rain as we stood out on the tarmac, so hard it was sideways. My mother in law had an umbrella and was also trying to wrap me in her jacket to protect me. I told her I was okay without it, because I wanted to feel everything; the rain, the heartache, the fear. I had to face that moment.
As the caskets were taken off the plane I could hear the rain and the wailing from mothers and fathers who lost their sons, siblings who lost their brothers, spouses who lost their husbands and children who lost their fathers. I felt as though I was hovering over myself, looking down in disbelief that this was now my journey.
I flew home to Washington after being gone for 10 days. I could never spend a few hours away from my boys without missing them terribly. This time I was afraid to see them. What would I say? How would I tell them their Daddy wasn’t coming home?
Mike’s dignified transfer. Photo courtesy of Krista Simpson Anderson.
I sat Michael (age 3) down and asked, ‘Do you believe in God?’
‘Yes Mommy,’ he said.
‘Even though you can’t see Him?’ I asked.
‘Yes of course Mommy!’ he replied.
‘You know Daddy is a soldier?’
‘Yes,’ he answered.
I looked into his eyes and softly said, ‘Well, Daddy is going to be God’s soldier now.’
‘But I will miss him,’ he said.
It would have been easy to sit down and focus on all the tragedy. My husband, my best friend, the father of my two beautiful boys was gone. I was a 35 year old widow who didn’t have enough time with the love of my life. Mike and I always told each other, ‘This love happens once in a lifetime,’ and it was gone.
My future and dreams broke into a million pieces and I had no idea how I would become whole again. And yet, somehow, I had to choose to see the incredible blessings that were happening all around us. The support from our family, friends and community; the military representatives that were assigned to us that created a beautiful journey; it was all a gift as much as my husband’s sacrifice was a gift to us all. Everybody who walked into our lives … it was nothing short of perfect.
On 30 May 2013, our Memorial Day, Mike was interred with full military honors in Arlington National Cemetery by his original Old Guard unit where he served when he first joined the military in 2003.
There are many things I remember about that day. It was so hot I could feel the heat from the pavement radiate through the bottom of my sandals – a stark contrast from the cold I felt on my bare feet the day I got the call that Mike had been hit.
I remember walking for what seemed like forever with our two children, hoping to make it through the ceremony.
Michael with his Daddy T-rex at Mike’s memorial. Photo courtesy of Krista Simpson Anderson.
And I remember thinking that this place, Arlington National Cemetery, had always been one of my favorite places to be. It’s so peaceful. It’s filled with a clear and strong sense of honor and courage, but in that moment I didn’t feel brave at all.
There were over 100 people in attendance to show their love and support, not just for Mike, but for us as well. My dear friend Andrea Rinaldi was one of them. She stayed by my side through it all, from the very beginning of our journey, and selflessly gave of her time and heart. The service, experience and support of so many was humbling, and I will always be grateful.
Finally, I remember the boys and I receiving the folded flags. How do you process receiving a folded flag in the place of your Daddy when you’re only three years old? Michael was given the flag, but really only wanted his Daddy T-Rex. As I held our 16 month old, I watched as Gerry, our Casualty Assistance Officer, took a knee, and took Michael’s flag for him. I love this picture – this moment in time – as it truly captures how Gerry so beautifully served our family.
Mike’s company would continue their deployment for six more months after Mike’s death. One of his teammates stated during his memorial, ‘This Team… This company… This regiment, will never forget your sacrifice. Each day when we don our kit and prepare for battle, we will do it in your honor. We will take the fight to the enemy and fight how you would have wanted us to. Never faltering… Never failing… and never forgetting. This fight is over for you brother, but know that it is not over for us. We will continue in your honor and remember you as a husband, a father, and a Green Beret.’
I attended the homecoming for the first flight that came in from Afghanistan. I was grateful to be there yet nervous about my emotions. As we waited in the company I was approached by a woman in the hallway. ‘Mrs. Simpson,’ she said. ‘I am not sure if this is an appropriate time but I wanted to introduce myself and tell you that I was one of Mike’s nurses in Afghanistan.’ I am sure I hugged her immediately and was so grateful to lay my hands on someone who was there, with Mike, during the scariest moments of his life. It was a blessing I can’t explain. She was one of many who saved Mike so our family could say goodbye. She was, and still is, my angel. I am blessed by her and her whole family to this day.
When the buses arrived carrying Mike’s company we all rushed outside to greet them. The minds and hearts of so many wives and children were eased and made whole again. I truly was so happy for them, yet I subconsciously waited for Mike to get off that bus. The last man embarked and I was sure Mike would be next. The door closed and the bus drove away.
In the distance, I heard the shriek of a little girl, calling, ‘Daddy! Daddy!’ and as I turned to look, I saw her run and jump into a man’s arms who wore the same uniform as all the other soldiers … the same one Mike would have been wearing, with the same wide arms he would have caught our sons in. But it wasn’t him and it never would be. My heart shattered all over again and I needed to turn and walk inside to face this emotion alone. I couldn’t allow anyone to think I was not grateful their husbands came home, because I was, wholeheartedly, but that didn’t take away my pain.
I went home that night with a folded flag that was flown over Mike’s camp in Afghanistan. My dear friend laid next to me as I cried myself to sleep and she didn’t leave my side until she knew I was okay.
Over the next several months I was constantly at the battalion, offering help, wanting to talk to them to make sure they were doing okay. I know it was difficult for them to see me since I was a reminder of the reality of Mike’s death. I know many struggled with his loss and I recognized very quickly that survivor’s guilt was a very real emotion. They needed to know that this was God’s plan, not ours, and He doesn’t make mistakes. My mission was to show them that we would honor Mike, grieve his loss but we would absolutely be okay. We were strong and proud, not weak and angry. Everyone grieves differently and there is not a right or wrong way to do it. I chose grace for me, my children and his team.
One of Mike’s teammates, Gus, had done the original inventory on Mike’s things. He was able to put all of his belongings into perspective. What he was wearing the day of his accident, what certain gear meant and what it was used for. He brought back command challenge coins from the memorial in Afghanistan where they all gathered on 11 May. Gus was able to retrieve and hand carry the patches Mike wore on his helmet, along with the memorial patch he had made for their team’s uniforms. Gus would come over and play with the boys, give me a moment of rest and help anyway he could.
So many of Mike’s teammates and their families would do the same. I was so grateful for the respite since the light at the end of the deployment tunnel was extinguished for me. Mike wouldn’t return to ease the natural burdens of parenting coupled with keeping up the household alone.
I always had family dinners. From the time Mike passed, I’d send out a text at 1:00 pm on a Sunday with, ‘Family dinner at 4’ and a few hours later the house would fill with joy and laughter. What better therapy than to be surrounded by those that loved us and Mike?
Gus and I would talk a lot about Mike, his feelings of survivor’s guilt (which they all had) and spent a lot of time together over the next couple years. I started to realize I cared for Gus more than I thought was possible and wanted to see where that would lead us.
I flew down to Texas for Easter – I needed to talk to Mike’s parents. His father said to me, ‘I have four requirements: He loves you, he loves the boys, he loves Jesus and that he always shows them it’s manly to love Jesus.’ His mother said, ‘I’ve prayed since the week after Mike died that you would find somebody.’ They were my greatest supporters. And they already loved Gus. He was already a part of our family. This was a no brainer for me.
I struggled with Gus being my secret-not so secret boyfriend. I had this organization that I’d founded as a widow of an active duty service member. I was afraid. I had lost my identity as a military spouse and then I found one as a military widow. It allowed me to talk about Mike and honor him. We were afraid of what our friends might think of our relationship and the judgement that would come. In July 2016, we broke up when I realized I needed time. Ten days later, he left for Nepal with his team and during those three months I recognized all of the things I was doing wrong. I thought I was honoring Mike every day but by not honoring Gus at all, was I really? By having someone in my life who wanted to love us, take care of us and honor Mike, yet I wasn’t willing to let him in – could I be dishonoring my late husband? I used to resent the ‘widow’ title but then I found myself not wanting to let it go.
I prayed so much and I came to the conclusion that I just needed to love Gus, and show him that he was a priority. He got back from Nepal and he was still very angry with me. We met a few times to talk, took it slow and then one day I boldly told him that we were going to get married. I knew the response could have broke my heart but he was worth it.
We were worth it.
He laughed and told me softly that I had to be crazy. One month later, Gus got down on one knee on the docks in Seattle, in front of our favorite Oyster Bar (Elliotts) and asked me to marry him. Two months later, we were married in Rhode Island among our family and friends. The priest who married us had married my parents, baptized Gabriel, did last rights for Mike and his funeral in Arlington, and had confirmed and married Casey and Sandy (Mike’s friend who was with him in Germany). It was perfect.
Thanks to Michael’s kind-hearted 1st grade teacher, Ms. Petruska, my boys decided to call Gus ‘Dad’ the moment we stepped off the altar, and have not called him anything but that since. They wanted and needed a father in their lives so badly and I don’t think I realized that until then. Michael and Gabriel both repeat Ms. Petruska’s words often – ‘We have a Daddy in Heaven and a Daddy on earth.’
A month after Gus and I married he deployed to Afghanistan. I woke up every morning and prayed that Gus was alive. He was so good about messaging me whenever he could to ease my mind, even though I never shared with him my fears. His heart and mind just works that way and he is always considering the times and moments I may go through in this journey and how they may be affecting me. He is constantly striving to make life easier. I pray I do the same for him.
I won’t tell you that I didn’t struggle through those six months but I can tell you I found peace in God’s plan and chose to continue to trust that His plan was greater than mine. Tragedy and loss does not have to define you or dictate the rest of your life. My story didn’t end with the loss of Mike; it began with a new chapter of hope and my choice of joy. It continued with honoring Mike and Gus giving me the greatest gift… he never makes me choose as he continues to give me the freedom to love them both.
Five years to the day that Mike touched American soil in Dover, Delaware for his dignified transfer, I landed in Washington, DC with Gus, for the Armed Forces Insurance Military Spouse of the Year events with Military Spouse Magazine that would change my life. Five years to the day that Mike was flown back to Joint Base Lewis McChord to land at Grey Army Airfield, I was awarded the overall Armed Forces Insurance Military Spouse of the Year. I know it’s right where I need to be, that God’s timing is perfect, and that Mike would be so proud of me. And I also know I couldn’t have done any of this without Gus or my children.
Tragedy did not dictate my life in a negative way. My goal is that other people can see that, and feel that. I remember looking at other Gold Star Spouses like Lisa Hallett and thinking, ‘If she can do it, I can do it.’ And I want other people to look at me and find hope, too.
Mike was very proud to sacrifice his life. And I am so proud to honor him.
Arlington National Cemetery is where my friend Andrea suggested a fundraiser for those who supported us and ultimately where The Unquiet Professional was born. So many organizations supported us, from the volunteers with the USO who carried my kids through the airport, the Green Beret Foundation being there for everything, or wear blue: run to remember, where I found a healthy and meaningful way to heal. I wanted to be able to pay that love back.
We now provide healthy and empowering opportunities for Gold Star Families, Veterans and their families. When Andrea suggested fundraising, she saved me that day. She saved me from the possibilities of not being able to live out my grief in a positive way. I heal as I strive to help others do the same with my ‘twice in a lifetime love’ by my side every step of the way.
Memorial Day is my favorite holiday of the year. We feel Mike’s presence and his loss every single day no matter what life brings us. But on Memorial Day, everyone thinks of all of our fallen heroes. People say when you’re having your bbq and your beer you’re not remembering the sacrifices, but I say celebrate. Celebrate their lives. Remember them.
The USS O’Bannon was named for the legendary Marine Corps hero Presley O’Bannon, who famously led a ragtag group of Marines and mercenaries in a daring overland expedition to surprise an enemy in North Africa. The World War II-era destroyer became a ship worthy of its namesake just a year after it was launched, surprising an enemy Japanese submarine – not with cunning or guile, but with potatoes.
Lots of potatoes.
O’Bannon would also serve in the Korean War and in Vietnam.
It’s not as if the O’Bannon didn’t have real armaments. The ship carried 17 anti-aircraft guns, torpedo tubes, depth charges, and .38-caliber deck guns. O’Bannon was a floating death machine. It just so happened that its potato store was all it needed in this one instance.
The ship had been running support missions in the Pacific Theater since it was launched the previous year. After the O’Bannon joined in the shelling of the Solomon Islands in 1943, it was cruising its way back to its home station in the middle of the night. That’s when it came upon the enemy sub known as RO-34.
RO-34 had no idea the Fletcher-class destroyer, a good-sized ship displacing 2,000 tons and carrying a buttload of weapons at its disposal, was in the vicinity. RO-34 was moving along, on the surface, as its crew dozed silently. O’Bannon had the drop on the enemy boat. And yet, despite the O’Bannon’s buttload of weaponry, the skipper decided to ram the submarine instead.
As the destroyer careened toward the submarine that was half its size, ready to send it to the bottom, someone aboard the U.S. destroyer surmised the sub could be a minelayer and take the O’Bannon to the bottom of the ocean in the resulting explosion. The ship turned rudder in a hurry, only to find itself now alongside its determined enemy. They were too close to use that buttload of weapons – or even their sidearms.
The Japanese naturally flipped the f*ck out when they realized they were next to an American destroyer. They scrambled, running for the ship’s deck guns, which were the perfect weapon to use on the O’Bannon. The fortunes of the battle just changed 180 degrees. They needed to buy time to keep the enemy away from the deck guns while creating distance enough to use their own weapons – they looked around for anything they could chuck at the Japanese sailors.
Luckily, they had been carrying bins of potatoes on the deck, and the Americans began to throw them at the crew of RO-34, who promptly began to flip the f*ck out once more. The half-asleep Japanese sailors thought they were hand grenades.
The thud of potatoes thrown at high velocity on a metal hull might have the sound of a grenade hitting a similar surface, but for those in doubt, remember what was happening to the Japanese crew. First, they were just woken from a deep sleep. Second, their alarm clock was a giant enemy ship coming at them at full speed. Third, they were likely confused as to why the Americans decided to come alongside them to throw stuff at them, rather than just shoot them. And finally, who throws potatoes in the middle of World War II instead of trying to kill the enemy? The Japanese had no way of knowing the thuds could be spuds.
The potatoes gave the O’Bannon time to get far enough away to use its real weapons, which it did, hitting RO-34 hard before the sub dove into the dark sea. The destroyer then moved over the submarine’s position and finished it off with depth charges.
The crew was later presented with a plaque to commemorate the potato incident – from the Association of Maine Potato Growers.
The problem the Japanese had in Burma during World War II wasn’t just dense jungle and rough terrain. It wasn’t even just that they were fighting the British Empire’s best – the Gurkhas.
No, their main problem is that they were fighting in the Gurkhas’ backyard. They were in Bhanbhagta Gurung’s backyard.
In February 1945, the 2nd Gurkha Rifles was part of a greater offensive in Burma, one that sought to retake Mandalay. The elite Nepalese warriors were to fight the enemy in diversion tactics, drawing attention away from their Army’s main objective. The Gurkhas held two positions — known as Snowdon and Snowdon East. One night, the Japanese stormed Snowdon East in full force, killing many of its defenders and pushing the rest out.
By the next day, it was heavily fortified.
The Gurkhas were ordered to take it back, no matter how many men it cost them.
As they approached, the Nepalese warriors started taking intense fire from snipers, mortars, grenades, and machine guns. They were sitting ducks, and there was nothing they could do about it. Rifleman Bhanbhagta Gurung stood up in the melee – fully exposed – and calmly just shot the sniper with his service rifle.
The 2nd Rifles began to advance again but were stopped 20 yards short of Snowdon East by murderous fire. Some of his fellow riflemen were killed before the attack could even begin. That’s when Gurung sprinted into action. This time, he literally sprinted.
Acting alone, he rushed four foxholes, dodging gunfire at point-blank range. When he came to the first, he just dropped in two grenades as he rushed to the next enemy position. When he got to the second foxhole, he jumped in and bayoneted its Japanese defenders. He did the same rushing move on the next two foxholes.
This entire time, he was dodging bullets from a Japanese light machine gun in a bunker. The gun was still spitting bullets, holding up the advance of two platoons of Gurkha fighters. Gurung, despite realizing he was out of ammunition and frag grenades, rushed the bunker, and slipped in two smoke grenades.
When two partially-blinded defenders came out of the bunker, Gurung killed them with his kukri knife, the entered the bunker and gave the machine gunner the same fate.
A position that took dozens of Japanese infantry to storm and reinforce had fallen to one fleet-footed Gurkha and his kukri knife in a matter of minutes, saving the men of his platoon and another from storming the heavily-fortified position.
King George VI presented Bhanbhagta Gurung with the Victoria Cross at Buckingham Palace in October 1945. According to the Telegraph, Gurung left the service to take care of his widowed mother and wife in Nepal. His three sons also served in the 2nd Gurkha Rifles.
The ROTC Medal of Heroism was posthumously awarded to the family of Riley Howell during a private ceremony held at the University of North Carolina Charlotte, May 11, 2019, in recognition of his actions when a gunman opened fire on students at the school on April 30, 2019.
According to the award summary, “He protected his fellow classmates by tackling the suspect and using his body as a human shield. His actions that day left him mortally wounded, but he saved an undeterminable amount of lives. Mr. Howell demonstrated the values of the United States Army by showing a high level of integrity, honor, and selfless service on that fateful day.”
Even though Howell was taking ROTC courses, but was not contracted to become an Army officer, Lt. Col. Chunka Smith, Professor of Military Science at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, said he always set a great example and would have made an excellent officer.
Riley Howell, UNC Charlotte student who died confronting gunman, awarded Civilian Medal of Valor
“Though our time with Riley was brief, I can tell you that he stood out. I make it a point to shake the hands of all 180 Cadets in our program. All of them are phenomenal men and women, but Riley stood out because of his strong, tall, athletic build and his overall calm presence,” he said. “He embodied everything we look for in future officers.
“At the end of each semester my cadre and I sit down to review line by line all of the students on path to contract and those who we want to recruit. Riley was one of those individuals I would have called into my office to recruit,” Smith said.
He went on to say Howell and his actions would not soon be forgotten.
“Each year 180 plus Army ROTC students will know the story of Riley Howell and the sacrifice he made. They will carry and spread the legacy of Riley Howell,” Smith said.
The ROTC Medal for Heroism is awarded to cadets who distinguish themselves by acts of heroism performed on or off campus. According to Cadet Command Regulation 672-5-1, “The achievement must result in an accomplishment so exceptional and outstanding as to clearly set the individual apart from fellow students or from other persons in similar circumstances,” and “the performance must involve the acceptance of danger or extraordinary responsibilities, exemplifying praiseworthy fortitude and courage.”
Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy (IRGCN) vessels cross the bows and sterns of U.S. Military ships while operating in international waters of the North Arabian Gulf, April 15, 2020.
Close to a dozen vessels from the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ navy spent an hour making repeated “dangerous and harassing approaches” near American ships operating in international waters on Wednesday, according to Navy officials.
The 11 vessels carried out the aggressive moves in the Persian Gulf, Naval Forces Central Command said in a news release. The U.S. ships, including four Navy vessels and two Coast Guard, were conducting joint operations with ArmyAH-64EApache attack helicopters, the release states.
Video of #IRGCN vessels conducting dangerous harassing approaches on U.S. naval vessels in the international waters of the North Arabian Gulf.pic.twitter.com/zL9VKQ0eiQ
The Iranian vessels came within 10 yards of the Coast Guard’s Island-class cutter Maui and within 50 yards of the expeditionary mobile base Lewis B. Puller.
“The IRGCN vessels repeatedly crossed the bows and sterns of the U.S. vessels at extremely close range and high speeds,” the Navy’s news release states, adding that the dangerous passes increase the risk of miscalculation and collision.
Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy (IRGCN) vessels cross the bows and sterns of U.S. Military ships while operating in international waters of the North Arabian Gulf, April 15, 2020.
The provocations came about two weeks after the U.S. moved a carrier strike group out of the region. The Harry S. Truman Carrier Strike Group departed the Middle East earlier this month.
It had been operating in the region with the Dwight D. Eisenhower Carrier Strike Group, a rare move for the Navy which hasn’t had multiple strike groups in the region for years. The Eisenhower Carrier Strike Group remains in the area.
In the Wednesday statement about the unsafe maneuvers, Navy officials said U.S. naval leaders are trained to remain vigilant and professional. But, they added, “our commanding officers retain the inherent right to act in self-defense.”
The other U.S. ships involved in the episode were the Navy destroyer Paul Hamilton and coastal patrol ships Firebolt and Sirocco, along with the Coast Guard cutter Wrangell. The crews have been operating in the region since March.
“The U.S. crews issued multiple warnings via bridge-to-bridge radio, five short blasts from the ships’ horns and long range acoustic noise maker devices, but received no response,” the release stated.
About an hour passed before the vessels responded to bridge-to-bridge radio queries, “then maneuvered away from the U.S. ships and opened distance between them,” the release added.
Secretary of Defense James Mattis announced that he will be resigning from his role in February. His letter of resignation was released by the Pentagon just minutes after President Trump said on Twitter that Mattis was retiring.
For the President’s tweet and Secretary Mattis’ full resignation letter, please read below:
(Department of Defense photo by Army Sgt. Amber I. Smith)
Dear Mr. President:
I have been privileged to serve as our country’s 26th Secretary of Defense which has allowed me to serve alongside our men and women of the Department in defense of our citizens and our ideals.
I am proud of the process that has been made over the past two years on some of the key goals articulated in our National Defense Strategy: putting the Department on a more sound budgetary footing, improving readiness and lethality in our forces, and reforming the Department’s business practices for greater performance. Our troops continue to provide the capabilities needed to prevail in conflict and sustain strong U.S. global influence.
One core belief I have always held is that our strength as a nation is inextricably linked to the strength of our unique and comprehensive system of alliance and partnerships. While the US remains the indispensable nation in the free world, we cannot protect our interests or serve that role effectively without maintaining strong alliances and showing respect to those allies. Like you, I have said from the beginning that the armed forces of the United States should not be the policeman of the world. Instead, we must use all tools of American woes to prove for the common defense, including proving effective leadership to our alliances. NATO’s 29 democracies demonstrated that strength in their commitment to fighting alongside us following the 9-11 attack on America. The Defeat-ISIS coalition of 74 nations is further proof.
Similarly, I believe we must be resolute and unambiguous in our approach to those countries whose strategic interests are increasingly in tension with ours: It is clear that China and Russia, for example, want to shape a world consistent with their authoritarian model — gaining veto authority over other nations’ economic, diplomatic, and security decisions — to promote their own interests at the expense of their neighbors, America and our allies. That is why we must use all the tools of American power to provide for the common defense.
My views on treating allies with respect and also being clear-eyed about both malign actors and strategic competitors are strongly held and informed by over four decades of immersion in these issues. We must do everything possible to advance an international order that is most conducive to our security, prosperity, and values, and we are strengthened in this effort by the solidarity of our alliances.
Because you have the right to have a Secretary of Defense whose views are better aligned with yours on these and other subjects, I believe it is right for me to step down from my positions. The end date for my tenure is February 28, 2019, a date that should allow sufficient time for a successor to be nominated and confirmed as well as to make sure the Department’s interests are properly articulated and protected at upcoming events to include Congressional posture hearings and the NATO Defense Ministerial meeting in February. Further, that a full transition to a new Secretary of Defense occurs well in advance of the transition of Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in September in order to ensure stability within the Department.
I pledge my full effort to a smooth transition that ensure the needs and interests of the 2.15 million Service Members and 732.079 DoD civilians receive undistracted attention of the Department at all times so that they can fulfill their critical, round-the-clock missions to protect the American people.I very much appreciate this opportunity to serve the nation and our men and women in uniform. Signed, James N. Mattis
Marine Corps F-35s recently carried out the first at-sea “hot reload” of ordnance, dropping 1,000-pound bombs in the Pacific in rapid succession, the Marines said in a statement.
Marine F-35B Lightning II Joint Strike Fighters armed with a 1,000-pound GBU-32 Joint Direct Attack Munition and a 500-pound GBU-12 Paveway II laser-guided bomb took off from the amphibious assault ship USS Wasp and conducted a strike on a “killer tomato,” a large red inflatable target.
After dropping its payload, the aircraft quickly returned to the ship, refueled, reloaded, and set out on a second attack run on the floating target.
The fifth-generation stealth fighters also opened fire with their GAU-22 cannon, which can uses four barrels simultaneously to fire 3,300 rounds per minute. The 25 mm gun is, according to Military.com, carried on an external pod on the Marine Corps’ F-35 variation, which is capable of short takeoffs and vertical landings on the amphibs, basically small aircraft carriers.
At-sea hot reloading is a critical capability that allows for the surge offensive air support for strike missions in this theater, where US forces are increasingly training to fight in contested environments. While the training is not directly aimed at any particular adversary, the US military is focused on great power competition and is training for a high-intensity conflict with China and Russia.
“Our recent F-35B strike rehearsals demonstrate the 31st MEU’s lethality and readiness to address potential adversaries.” Col. Robert Brodie, commanding officer of the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit embarked aboard the Wasp, said in a statement. “The speed that we can conduct precision strikes with devastating effects while providing close air support to our Marines is nothing shy of awesome. Bottom-line; the F-35B defines shock and awe!”
An F-35B Lightning II makes the first vertical landing on a flight deck at sea aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Wasp.
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Seaman Natasha R. Chalk)
Chief Warrant Officer 3 Daniel Sallese, aviation ordnance officer with the 31st MEU, said that the troops are learning to “rain down destruction like never before.”
Marine F-35Bs with the 31st MEU achieved another milestone earlier this year, flying in “beast mode” and conducting strike missions with externally-loaded inert and live munitions.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Throughout the 1930s pilots around the world were continually trying to push the limits of anything that had been done before in the air. While the likes of Charles Lindbergh and Amelia Earhart are more familiar names in the Western World, the Soviets had their own equivalents such as Mikhail Gromov who, in 1937 along with his two man crew, managed to break the world distance record for non-stop flight, flying 6,306 miles from Moscow to California via a rather dangerous North Pole route. Hailed as heroes upon their return, Premier Joseph Stalin decided the Soviet Union should follow this up in 1938 by having a group of women pilots attempt to set the distance record for non-stop flight for a female crew. The selected trio, who each already held one or more world records for female aviators, were Polina Osipenko, Valentina Grizodubova, and Marina Raskova.
And so it was that on Sept. 24, 1938 the three ladies took off from an airfield in Shchcyolkovo near Moscow, in a Tupolev ANT-37, which normally had a range of about 5,000 km or 3,100 miles. Their destination was Komsomolsk-on-Amur over 3600 miles away. Unfortunately for them almost immediately upon departing they encountered a number of issues including a thick layer of clouds and icing conditions which forced them to climb above said clouds, in the process losing all sight of the ground for the duration. Not long after this, their radio stopped working. Without a clear view of the ground for almost the entire flight, Raskova used the stars, a compass, and their airspeed to roughly determine their position as they flew. When the clouds finally broke, they found themselves flying over Tugur Bay in the Sea of Okhotsk, about 500 km or 300 miles directly north of their intended destination.
Low on fuel, they desperately attempted to find an alternate place to land, but the engines died first. With some form of a crash landing inevitable and a navigator no longer having anything to do, Grizodubova ordered Raskova to parachute out of the plane from about 6,500 feet with the hope that it would increase her odds of survival. Of course, decreasing her odds slightly, she chose to leave her emergency survival kit for the other two women, reportedly only taking two chocolate bars with her for rations to trek through Siberia with. When Raskova safely hit the ground, she noted the direction the plane was gliding and began hiking after it.
As for the pilot and co-pilot still aboard, they were forced to make a gear up, dead-stick landing in a frozen swamp near the upper part of the Amgun River, in the end successfully executing what is termed in pilot-speak as a “good landing”- in that all occupants survived and were able to walk away from the wreckage.
As for Raskova, she hiked for a full ten days before finally locating the downed aircraft and her comrades. Not long before she arrived, a search crew located the plane. While this was a good thing for the women, unfortunately two of the search planes collided overhead and killed all 15 aboard as the horrified pilots watched from below. A few days later, the women were picked up via boat.
When they arrived back in Moscow, their harrowing journey, which managed 3,671.44 miles in 26 hours and 29 minutes (though in truth they had flown some 6,450 km or 4,007 miles total), had indeed set the distance record for a straight line, non-stop all-woman crew. That, along with how they handled themselves in such adverse conditions saw them lauded as heroes across the Union, including quite literally being given the “Hero of the Soviet Union” award, among other honors.
Fast-forwarding about three years later in June of 1941, Germany decided to invade. During Operation Barbarossa, almost 4 million troops were thrown at the Soviet Union, and in one fell swoop the Axis managed to destroy approximately 66 airfields and about 80% of the military aircraft in the Soviet Union at the time.
German troops at the Soviet state border marker, June 22, 1941.
With an abundance of pilots and few planes, you might think this was not exactly an ideal environment for female pilots of the era to be given a job- especially not in combat- but two factors saw Stalin convinced establishing all female squadrons was something they should do. First, Raskova wouldn’t stop berating Stalin about it, noting both in the air and on the ground that forgoing using half your populace when the enemy was almost at the doorsteps of Moscow was foolish. Another factor was that among the planes still available were a large number of Polikarpov Po-2’s- an open cockpit two seat 1928 biplane made of wood and fabric, mostly meant for flight training and crop dusting.
Slow and plodding, the Polikarpov cruised along at a breakneck pace of about 68 mph (109 km/hr) and a never exceed if you don’t want your wings to fall off speed of 94 mph (151 km/hr). Combine that with a maximum climb rate of a mere 500 feet per minute (152 meters) while traveling at a speed not that much faster than Usian Bolt while ascending, and these weren’t exactly planes male pilots were itching to fly to the front in…
For reference here, the Luftwaffe were flying such planes as the Focke-Wulf Fw 190 Würger, which had an engine possessing about 25 times the horsepower as the Polikarpov, cruised along at 280 mph (450 km/hr), with maximum speeds of 426 mph (685 km/hr), and could climb in excess of 3,000 ft/min. That’s not to mention this plane came equipped with dual 13 mm MG 131 machine guns. The pilots of the Polikarpov Po-2’s, on the other hand, were given hand pistols as their air to air combat weapon… No doubt when in a dog fight, they also were instructed to make “pew pew pew” sounds to increase the effectiveness of their arsenal.
If all that wasn’t bad enough, should one get shot down or the fabric of the aircraft catch fire, which occasionally happened when tracer bullets ripped through them, as weight was at a premium, the pilots weren’t given parachutes… On top of that, the planes themselves did not come equipped with radios or any other such equipment. A map, a compass, a pistol, and their wits were what the stick and rudder Po-2 pilots brought with them on their combat missions.
A damaged and abandoned Po-2 forced to land in Ukraine, and subsequently captured by German troops, 1941.
Now, you might at this point be wondering what possible use these pilots could serve flying these planes into combat other than reducing the Soviet population by a couple hundred pilots. Well, the one marginally potent weapon the planes did come equipped with was bombs- up to six of them, weighing approximately 110 lbs each (50 kg).
Planes few wanted to fly sitting on the ground and Raskova refusing to shut up about it, Stalin ordered her to form three all female squadrons, though the 588th Bomber Regiment, who would come to use the Polikarpov Po-2’s, was the only one to remain exclusively staffed by women throughout the war.
As for the young ladies who volunteered to fly in these death traps, they ranged from about 17 years old to their early 20s. And while you might think the name they’d soon be given would be something along the lines of “Target Practice”, their incredible effectiveness and near non-stop bombardment of the Germans at the front starting on June 8, 1942 and continuing all the way to Berlin, earned them another nickname — The Night Witches.
So just how effective were they? For the approximately four years they were active, they flew close to an astounding 30,000 missions, with an average of about 250 missions each. To put this in perspective, airmen aboard a B-17 Flying Fortress in 1944 had a 1 in 4 chance of surviving to the 25 mission mark for their rotation. But in the case of the Night Witch bombers, some flew near or greater that number in under a week. One, who we’ll discuss shortly, almost managed that number of missions in a single night. Despite the incredible number of missions they flew, over the course of the war, of the 261 women that flew in the 588th, only 32 died, and a handful of those not from combat, but tuberculosis.
A Polikarpov Po-2, the aircraft type used by the regiment.
This bring us to Nadezhda Popova, who managed the record of 18 missions in a single night when she helped chase the Axis as they retreated from Poland. Popova, who started flying at aged 15, was a flight instructor by 18, and decided to join up not long after her brother, Leonid, was killed in the early stages of the conflict. She states, “I saw the German aircraft flying along our roads filled with people who were leaving their homes, firing at them with their machine guns. Seeing this gave me feelings inside that made me want to fight them.”
The Nazis would soon come to regret making an enemy of Popova, who shortly was about to go all John Wick on them for killing her brother. But before that, unfortunately for her, when she tried to enlist, she was turned away, with Popova later stating of this, “No one in the armed services wanted to give women the freedom to die.”
Nevertheless, given her credentials, when the 588th was formed when she was 19 years old, they had a place for her. She would go on to fly an incredible 852 missions during the war, despite, as she stated in an interview in 2009, “Almost every time, we had to sail through a wall of enemy fire. In winter, when you’d look out to see your target better, you got frostbite, our feet froze in our boots, but we carried on flying…. It was a miracle we didn’t lose more aircraft. Our planes were the slowest in the air force. They often came back riddled with bullets…”
On that note, after returning from one mission where she was tasked with dropping supplies to ground troops who were bottled up in Malaya Zemlya, she found 42 bullet holes in her plane, one in her helmet, and a couple in her map. It was then that she joked with her navigator, “Katya, my dear, we will live long!”
In truth, Popova, who became a squadron commander, survived the war, among other honors receiving the Hero of the Soviet Union, the Order of Lenin, and was a three time Order of the Red Banner recipient (awarded for extreme heroism and courage demonstrated in battle), twice awarded the Order of the Patriotic War 1st class… and the list goes on and on- badass. She was a badass basically.
As for her life after, she married an airmen, Semyon Kharlamov, who she met after the two had separately been shot down on Aug. 2, 1942. While she couldn’t see his face as it was covered in bandages, they hit it off as they joked around together during their trek back to safety. They got hitched almost immediately on war’s end. For work after, she continued her pre-war career as a flight instructor, ultimately living to the ripe old age of 91 years old, dying on July 8, 2013.
Going back to the squadron as a whole, given their extreme vulnerability in the air, you might at this point be wondering how these women not only almost all survived, but proved to be so incredibly effective?
Well, given their slow speed, the fact that in a dogfight they’d quickly be made into Swiss cheese by enemy planes, and the fact that they needed to deploy their paltry payloads at extremely low altitudes to actually accurately hit a target, meaning ground based crew could likewise easily turn the pilots of these craft into wreckage riders, flying missions in daylight with any regularity wasn’t really an option if one liked to keep breathing.
Thus, in an era before incredibly accurate terrain mapping and GPS systems to help avoid said terrain, these women voluntarily hopped inside their antiquated pieces of equipment and ascended to the heavens in darkness- the darker the better.
Stealth was their only way of surviving, and they used it to their advantage at every opportunity. Navigating in darkness towards their assigned enemy targets, usually hugging the ground as much as possible until getting close to their targets to avoid being spotted by enemy aircraft, once they located their targets, the women would employ a number of strategies to actually get close enough to deliver their deadly payloads. These included doing things like flying in groups and intentionally having one or two of the planes up high attract the attention and fire from those on the ground, while others would idle their engine and try to slip in closely undetected. Another strategy was to do what is generally considered in aviation 101 as a great way to die, especially in the often frigid environments these women were flying in- cut their engines completely in flight and at relatively low altitudes.
They’d then silently descend onto their targets until almost literally right over the heads of the enemy and finally drop their bombs, kick the engine back to life (hopefully) and get back to base as fast as possible to be loaded back up and sent out again and again to the front line.
Describing this, the chief of staff for the 588th, Irina Rakobolskaya, noted, “One girl managed to fly seven times to the front line and back in her plane. She would return, shaking, and they would hang new bombs, refuel her plane, and she’d go off to bomb the target again.”
Popova would state of this strategy, “We flew in sequence, one after another, and during the night, we never let them rest… the Germans made up stories. They spread the rumor that we had been injected with some unknown chemicals that enabled us to see so clearly at night…. This was nonsense, of course. What we did have were clever, educated, very talented girls…”
Effective, one German soldier would later state in an interview after the war of the Night Witches, they were “precise, merciless and came from nowhere.”
Dedicated to delivering their payloads no matter what, one former 588th member stated that occasionally the bombs would get stuck when trying to drop them just over the target. The solution was simply to have one of the two women in the plane scramble out on the wing and kick it loose, often while under heavy enemy fire- all leading author Kate Quin to note, “You women are crazy. You’re incredibly brave, but my god you’re crazy.”
A sentiment Popova would later echo in her waning years, stating, “I sometimes stare into the blackness and close my eyes. I can still imagine myself as a young girl up there in my little bomber and I ask myself, Nadia, how did you do it?”
Moving on to the nickname the Germans gave them and which they would so proudly embrace once they learned of it, it is widely speculated that this was because of the wooshing sound the planes made as they glided down through the air, like the sound a witch flying on her broomstick. However, there is no primary documentation backing this speculation up at all, despite it being almost universally repeated. And, for our part, we’re just guessing not a single German soldier ever actually had heard the wooshing sound of a witch flying on a broomstick to compare. So allow us to suggest our own alternate hypothesis- that it wasn’t so much the sound that was the inspiration, but, instead, the name “The Night Witches” was actually because these were women, flying at night, on aircraft made of wood, not unlike a witch flying on a broomstick.
Whatever the case, in the end, for their heroism, almost 1 in 10 of the women of the 588th were honored with the Hero of the Soviet Union award. For reference here, while that award was given out almost 13,000 times over the entire life of the Soviet Union, the badass ladies of the 588th accounted for approximately 1/4 of all women who ever received it.
This article originally appeared on Today I Found Out. Follow @TodayIFoundOut on Twitter.
The U.S. and Soviet militaries in the Cold War both understood the importance of the Arctic. Their submarines moved under it, their bombers moved over it, and both sides kept radar stations to track each other’s planes and potential missile launches. But after the U.S. figured out how to track Soviet submarines from drift stations, they wanted to know if the Soviets had figured out the same trick.
The problem was that drift stations were small bases built on floating ice islands. It’s hard to sneak onto such isolated and small installations. Luckily, drift stations are a bit dangerous. As the ice shifts on the island, it can crack and rupture. Drift station commanders had to keep firm eyes on their runways. Otherwise, the ice could crack too badly and make escape impossible.
So they had a tendency to get abandoned every once in a while, but only as they were becoming inaccessible. Well, inaccessible to the Russians, who couldn’t get personnel out of the remote areas without a runway. But America had a new trick up its sleeve in 1962 it wanted to try out.
An instruction comic for the Robert Fulton Skyhook.
But the mission would be dangerous. A small team would need to parachute into Arctic conditions, scrounge through the rubble of the rapidly breaking base, and then get extracted with a Skyhook before it all fell apart. This was Operation Coldfeet.
Two men were selected for the mission. Air Force Maj. James Smith was a Russian linguist with experience on American drift stations, and U.S. Navy Reserve Lt. Leonard LeSchack, an Antarctic geophysicist. LeSchack had to learn to jump out of planes, and both men had to train on the retrieval system.
But as the men trained, the target drift station was shifting further from their launch point at Thule Air Force Base, Greenland. Luckily, something even better came along.
Station NP 8 was a more modernized station, but its runway rapidly degraded and the Soviets abandoned it. America found out in March 1962 and shifted the planned operation to target NP 8.
The insertion took place on May 28, and the two investigators got to work. They searched through piles of documents, technological equipment, and other artifacts to piece together what was happening at the drift station.
They discovered that, yes, the Soviets were tracking American subs. Worse, they were developing techniques to hunt them under the ice.
The Fulton Skyhook being used by the men of Operation Coldfeet in 1962.
Smith and LeSchack made a prioritized set of documents and items they needed to get out, and they carefully packed it into bags. Over six days and five nights, they cataloged, documented, and packed. Then they attached them to balloons, filled the balloons with helium, and sent them into the sky where the plane snagged them up.
Once they were sure the bags were safe, they sent their own balloons up and got pulled out by the plane.
The Soviets wouldn’t know for years that their secret was out.