The fake Cold War-era GIs will no longer be crowding the guardhouse recreation in Berlin where the actual Checkpoint Charlie once stood. In the years since the fall of the Berlin Wall, a group of actors stood dressed in faux-American uniforms to take photos with tourists for a voluntary donation – except it wasn’t voluntary. Now the German government stepped in to give them the boot.
The public order office in the central district of Mitte says the actors began to shake tourists down for money, harassing passersby and demanding fees for photos of them and the wooden Checkpoint Charlie guard hut. The soldiers demanded as much as €4 for anyone taking a photo and could pick up as much as €5,000 on a good day. But then the fake troops tried to shake down the wrong “tourist” – a Berlin cop. That’s not all.
One or more of the 10 in the acting troupe who work(ed) the checkpoint site for the past 17 years stand accused of verbally abusing and physically intimidating tourists who don’t volunteer any cash for taking photos. The troupe’s behavior found its way to the public order office, who quickly informed the actors a special permit has been required for the past 17 years, one they did not have. They were told to pack it up and go home.
The reverse side of the Checkpoint guard shack.
Checkpoint Charlie has long been a tourist destination since even before the fall of the Berlin Wall. It was the only crossing point in a divided Berlin for Allied citizens who desired to visit East Germany and come back. Tourists who couldn’t cross the wall would sit in nearby Cafe Adler, whose view over the wall would accompany a cup of coffee and a slice of cake. The original Checkpoint Charlie guard shack is in the Allied Museum in Berlin, The metal one in the street is a recreation erected in the 1980s.
Critics of the move – namely, the actors involved – say the government of Mitte kicking the fake troops out is part of a plan to rebrand Berlin’s history, a process of “de-Disneyfication” of the tragic history of Cold War-era Berlin. Checkpoint Charlie is just one more tourist site where locals hawk cheap souvenirs and chunks of concrete claiming to be from the real Berlin Wall.
This post was sponsored by Kensington Books. The author’s comments below on the novels are his own.
Some call it locked in a house in a time of plague – I say magnificent time to try out a new book! Books offer us an escape from the tedium of quarantine life, and nothing is more escapist than stories of derring-do and bravery in the face of long odds. To transport you to a different time and place, we have two new offerings from Kensington Books which I am sure will fit the bill.
The first book is Ungentlemanly Warfare by Howard Linskey. Howard is a British writer who has written several popular crime and mystery novels and has since branched out to write meticulously researched historical thrillers set during World War II. Ungentlemanly Warfare is not part of a series – though given the events it could easily turn into one – but nevertheless tells an interesting self-contained tale.
This book is set in the middle days of World War II and the Nazis are seeking to perfect their newest Jet fighter, the Me163 Komet. The weapon promises to extract a heavy toll upon the Allies if the enemy can perfect the craft. To stop the Nazis from improving upon this lethal machine, they need to assassinate the lead scientist on the project. Enter Special Operations Executive agents Harry Walsh and Emma Stirling. They are tasked to team up with a Jedburgh team of American and Free French operatives and kill the target before he can submit his improved design.
Though the book starts off with an action sequence, it is more of a slow burn as the team prepares for its mission and then builds rapport on the ground with the French contingent. This approach lends a sense of verisimilitude to the story – these operatives are behind enemy lines in the most precarious of circumstances and they would be not trying to draw attention to themselves. It is far from boring though as the book is rife with danger, close-calls, and even a bit of romantic tension. Linskey creates a good sense of uncertainty that the mission can be completed which makes the book all the more riveting.
The second book is Sandblast: A Task Force Epsilon Thriller by newcomer, Al Pessin. Pessin is a veteran foreign and Washington DC correspondent who puts his knowledge and insights to good use in crafting his debut ‘day after tomorrow’ novel. Frankly, it was one of the most engaging espionage thrillers I have read in years because of its unconventional and unique leads.
The story happens in the aftermath of a successful attack on the Secretary of Defense by international Jihadists residing in Afghanistan and a daring covert action to even the score. The story is essentially two tales – the first is about a DIA agent handler named Bridge Davenport who channeling Jessica Chastain’s character from Zero Dark Thirty comes up with an unorthodox mission to target the terrorists in Afghanistan. Her story follows the national politics of espionage and response at the highest levels as she navigates personal and professional challenges.
But the more interesting of the two tales surrounds her operative – an Afghan American service member who goes under deep cover to join the Taliban to get close to the leaders of the terrorist cell. Pessin wisely devotes the majority of the book to Faraz Abadallah’s struggle with maintaining his own identity and objectivity as he is forced to make increasingly difficult moral decisions. The story goes deep into Faraz’s psychological well being as he is indoctrinated into the Taliban and the story is heavy with Koranic verse and complex currents which make the story all the more compelling.
Ultimately, Pessin’s book serves as an introductory book to a new series centered on Task Force Epsilon with several unresolved plot threads which set the stage for future adventures involving Davenport and hopefully Abdallah.
The United States and the Republic of Korea have a history of conducting bilateral military exercises where we team up and plan to take on an objective together to strengthen our relationship and coordination. One of these annual exercises is called Ssang Yong, and it’s a part of Foal Eagle, which typically takes place in the early spring. This training exercise between Marines and South Koreans is one of the largest military exercises in the world and, historically, it’s made North Korea really angry.
As part of Ssang Yong 2014, Golf Company, 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment was attached to a ROK Marine company and together, they boarded three ships. When first platoon boarded the ROKS Dokdo, the Marines had no idea they were in for a full seven days of suffering and pain.
The experiences were life-changing and here’s why.
You could barely even stand between the racks of the berthing.
(U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Brien Aho)
South Korean ships are crammed
The ROKS Dokdo is a very small ship. The berthing areas were so tiny that they were only used for sleep. If you wanted to hang out in the berthing, you might as well just climb in your bed and stay there — or else you’re just occupying otherwise valuable space.
Cash made things at least a little easier.
(U.S. Navy photo by Culinary Specialist Petty Officer 3rd Class Cedric Ceballos)
The debit/credit card machine was down
You know how ships have a store on them from which you can buy snacks so you aren’t starving between meals? Well, typically, items there can be purchased with a special card that only works on the ship. The only problem is that no one told us that, and no one gave us any. So, our only option was to pay with cash.
Some of us, however, didn’t get a chance to withdraw cash prior to departing, which put a serious damper on snack time.
Most of us mainly ate rice and seaweed paper.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Immanuel Johnson)
The South Korean food portions were terrible
South Koreans don’t eat nearly as much as Americans. We eat like it’s going out of style and that’s especially true if you’re an infantry Marine. The ship was stocked with enough food to support ROK Sailors and maybe a handful of Marines — but they were in no way prepared to handle a platoon and a half of us.
Not only were we starving between meals, the meals didn’t do too much for us, either.
The Korean cigarettes aren’t bad, trust us.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Logan Kyle)
There were only South Korean tobacco products
The ship only carried (go figure) Korean tobacco products, specifically cigarettes. If you didn’t bring some extra American cigs, you’d have to settle for the Korean stuff. Admittedly, these aren’t bad at all, but it felt wrong.
U.S. prosecutors have arrested a Russian woman who cultivated ties with American conservative politicians and groups and charged her with acting as a covert agent for the Russian government.
In U.S. court filings in Washington late on July 16, 2018, prosecutors said Maria Butina, 29, entertained and cultivated relationships with U.S. politicians and worked to infiltrate U.S. political organizations, particularly the National Rifle Association, the powerful gun lobbying organization, while reporting back to a high-ranking official in Moscow.
The U.S. complaint says Butina in an e-mail in 2015 described the gun association as the “largest sponsor” of congressional elections in the United States and said Russia should build a relationship with it and the Conservative Political Action Conference, a top backer of Republican political campaigns, to improve U.S.-Russia relations.
The U.S. case against Butina, a founder of the pro-gun-rights Russian advocacy organization Right to Bear Arms, was announced just hours after the conclusion of a summit in Helsinki between U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President Donald Trump in Helsinki.
The complaint portrays Butina as active in promoting Russian interests in U.S. politics, including an easing of sanctions imposed on Moscow in 2014, in the year leading up to Trump’s election as president in 2016.
In a video posted on YouTube from the FreedomFest, a conservative political event in Las Vegas in July 2015, Butina is seen asking then-candidate Trump if he would continue to support sanctions against Russia if he were elected president.
Reuters, citing an anonymous source, reported that Butina was a Trump supporter who bragged at parties in Washington that she could use her political connections to help get people jobs in the Trump administration after the election.
According to the complaint, Butina reported back to a top government official in Moscow, who is not named in the court papers. But the official was described as “a high-level official in the Russian government who was previously a member of the legislature of the Russian Federation and later became a top official at the Russian Central Bank.”
That description fits Aleksandr Torshin, whom Butina has previously been affiliated with. She is pictured with Torshin in numerous photographs on her Facebook page.
Aleksandr Torshin (right)
Torshin, who became a lifetime member of the National Rifle Association in 2012, was among a group of Russian oligarchs and officials targeted with sanctions in April 2018 because of their ties with Putin and their roles in “advancing Russia’s malign activities.”
Court papers filed in support of Butina’s arrest accuse her of participating in a conspiracy that began in 2015 in which the senior Russian official “tasked” her with working to infiltrate American political organizations with the goal of “reporting back to Moscow” what she had learned.
In addition to seeking out meetings with U.S. lawmakers and candidates, the complaint says Butina attended events sponsored by private lobbying groups, including the National Prayer Breakfast, an annual event in Washington that attracts leading conservative politicians.
Butina allegedly organized Russian-American “friendship and dialogue” dinners in Washington and New York with the goal of developing relationships with U.S. politicians and establishing “back channel” lines of communication, as well as “penetrating the U.S. national decision-making apparatus to advance the agenda of the Russian Federation,” the complaint says.
Court papers say that an unnamed American who worked with Butina in an October 2016 message claimed to have been involved in setting up a “private line of communication” ahead of the 2016 election between the Kremlin and “key” officials in a U.S. political party through the National Rifle Association.
Butina was arrested on July 15, 2018, and charged with conspiracy to act as an unregistered agent of the Russian government under the Foreign Agent Registration Act, a decades-old law that until recently was rarely enforced.
In a statement, Butina’s attorney, Robert Driscoll, called the allegations “overblown” and said prosecutors had criminalized mundane networking opportunities.
Driscoll said Butina was not an agent of the Russian Federation but was instead in the United States on a student visa, graduating from American University with a master’s degree in international relations.
“There is simply no indication of Ms. Butina seeking to influence or undermine any specific policy or law or the United States — only at most to promote a better relationship between the two nations,” Driscoll said.
“The complaint is simply a misuse of the Foreign Agent statute, which is designed to punish covert propaganda, not open and public networking by foreign students.”
Court papers charging Butina with conspiracy to inflitrate U.S. political organizations include several e-mails and Twitter conversations in which she refers to the need to keep her work secret or, in one case, “incognito.”
Prosecutions under the U.S. foreign-agent law picked up in 2018 amid growing concern in Washington about Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
It wasn’t immediately clear if the case against Butina was connected to U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into alleged Russian election meddling. The charges against her were brought by a different Justice Department office: the U.S. Attorney for Washington, D.C.
Among the most prominent people to face charges under the foreign-agents law is Trump’s former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, who was charged by Mueller in 2017.
In 1980, Walter Banks Beacham enlisted in the United States Navy. He was excited for the signing bonus of $4,000, a cool $12,000 when adjusted for inflation in 2018. In 1984, Mark Richard Gerardi joined the U.S. Army Reserve. In 1986, Cedrick L. Houston joined the Navy. The next year, Chris Villanueva joined the Army. Zachary Pitt joined the Navy in 1989. And, finally, in 1992, George Perez joined the Army.
The trouble was that these were all the same person.
Beacham assumed the identities of six different individuals he came across through his life in coastal California. The Oakland native even somehow managed to enlist as himself, social security number and all, twice. The Los Angeles Times reported that Beacham was able to do this because he looked like he could be any of a number of ethnicities and he was able to procure fake drivers’ licenses, social security cards, and other identifying paperwork to support his claims.
Keep in mind, this was during the height of the Cold War and military recruiters have quotas to make. They relied a lot on personal integrity to make sure they put good — and real — people into the U.S. military. And there was a time when young Walter Beacham really did want to serve his country, but he failed to adapt to military life when it counted, and the rest is history.
*Note: Beacham is not in any of the photos below. I used photos that give an idea of how much time passes.
1. Walter Banks Beacham
The first time he enlisted, Beacham was drawn in by the guaranteed signing bonus and he really wanted to defend his country. When the recruiter came to his home, he saw Beacham and a few of his friends sitting, smoking, and drinking. He was able to recruit them all.
But the Navy wasn’t really for him. After six weeks and a few AWOL incidents at boot camp near San Diego, he was done.
“I put away my uniform, I got my money, I took a cab out of the front gate and then a Greyhound to L.A.,” he told the Los Angeles Times.
What graduating from Army basic training looked like in 1980.
2. Walter Banks Beacham, Jr.
Maybe it wasn’t the military that was the problem — maybe he just wasn’t cut out for the Navy. Six months after leaving the Navy, he was on a bus, headed for Army basic training. This time, he simply threw a “Jr.” on the end of his name. When the Army asked if he’d ever served before, he said no, and that was that.
For about six months.
The Army eventually realized his Social Security Number matched that used during his previous, Navy life and he was promptly discharged from the U.S. Army.
What graduating from the Navy’s boot camp looked like in 1980.
3. Walter Banks Beacham
When he got back to his native Oakland, it was only three months before he decided to give the life of a sailor another chance. He dreamed of foreign lands and exotic ports and was ready to forego the sign-on bonus (if necessary). He again used his real name and was shipped back to San Diego. He made it through five weeks this time.
“I would have made it through but, five weeks into it, they found drugs in my urine and one of the company commanders was still there from the time before and he saw my name on a list,” Beacham said. “I went AWOL.”
A U.S. Army Korean DMZ patrol in 1984.
4. Mark Richard Gerardi
In 1984, he joined the Army again, this time using an alias of his high-school friend. Beacham borrowed his friend’s diploma and birth certificate and was off to Fort Dix, New Jersey, for basic training — which he completed.
He was sent back to California, attached to a unit in San Francisco, and eventually sent over to Korea for three weeks. It was all for naught when he got a girl pregnant and then left her. She threatened to turn him in to the Army. Beacham tried to play it cool, but eventually bolted. He never heard from them again.
“I guess they just cut you loose after awhile. I don’t know,” Beacham told the Los Angeles Times.
Navy boot camp graduates in San Diego, 1986.
5. Cedrick L. Houston
In 1986, Beacham used the name of someone he met in Hollywood who was trying to be a dancer. He told the aspiring dancer he would get him work if he could use his identification papers… to join the Navy.
He actually finished Navy basic training this time around and was sent to learn to be a submariner on the East Coast of the United States. Of course, it didn’t last. He used a racial slur during the course of his duties and the Navy ended up booting him out for it.
“I was selling doughnuts on the base there until classes started and I called this sailor a silly-ass cracker,” Beacham said. “And they put me out of the Navy for that.”
6. Chris Villanueva
Back in California in 1987 and using the name Walter Banks Beacham again, he went down to Glendale, outside of Los Angeles, to join the Army as a truck driver, which is where he got his new name, Chris Villanueva. The real Villanueva was an unemployed truck driver Beacham ran into in the Valley one day. The born-again Villanueva (Beacham) was sent to basic training at Fort Sill, Okla. and was sent to Germany right after.
He survived another boot camp only to come under suspicion for some cocaine found in soldier’s duffel bags while in Germany. He was afraid he would get arrested for it, so he went AWOL again and headed for home.
7. Zachary Pitt
Beacham doesn’t even remember the real Zachary Pitt, but the new Zachary Pitt made it through Navy training in San Diego in 1989 and was inducted into the Navy as a Mess Management Specialist — better known as “a cook.” When his ship was set to leave for Japan, Zachary Pitt just walked out and disappeared.
“I met him in the Bay Area. I don’t even remember if he was white or Mexican,” Beacham said of the real Zachary Pitt.
Army basic training graduates in 1992.
8. George Perez
In his last enlistment in 1992, he left before he even received his signing bonus. Now George Perez, Beacham completed Army basic training at Fort Bliss in Texas and was back at Fort Sill for AIT, where he became an artillery unit’s forward observer. This time, he just couldn’t do it.
“Something happened,” he recalled later. “I couldn’t stick around. Time was choking up on me. I was in trouble for staying out late, and I was afraid I’d be busted right then.”
Eventually, he was caught by civilian police officers and turned over to the U.S. military, who court-martialed him on multiple counts of wrongful enlistment, AWOL charges, and desertion. At age 34, he pled guilty to all of them. The old U.S. military would have executed this guy. Luckily for Beacham, there was no war on and he spent just under eight months in an Army prison and was released with a dishonorable discharge.
The US is finally ready to take its most expensive fighter jets into battle, as the F-35B Lightning II Joint Strike Fighters sailing aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Essex may soon be called to conduct strikes against insurgent forces in Afghanistan, CNNreported Sept. 25, 2018.
The USS Essexarrived in the Middle East early September 2018. Having already sailed through the Gulf of Aden into the North Arabian Sea, the ship should move into the Persian Gulf in the very near future, a defense official told CNN. The stealth fighters on board have reportedly been conducting intelligence and reconnaissance operations in Somalia, but they have yet to engage an enemy in combat.
While the US Air Force was the first service to declare its version of the F-35 combat ready, it appears the Marine Corps may be the first to take the plane into combat. Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni became the first overseas base to operate the F-35 in 2017.
The F-35B is designed for short takeoffs and vertical landings, giving it the ability to take off from the USS Essex, a ship much smaller than a modern US aircraft carrier. The incorporation of the F-35B, an powerful aircraft built to support the Marine Corps, into the USS Essex Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) “is a very significant enabler for me and for my team,” Capt. Gerald Olin, Amphibious Squadron 1 commander and Essex ARG/Marine Expeditionary Unit commodore, told USNI News in early September 2018.
F-35B Lightning II Joint Strike Fighters, attached to the “Avengers” of Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 211, sit on the flight deck of Wasp-class amphibious assault ship USS Essex.
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Matthew Freeman)
“It increases battlespace awareness with data fusion and the ability to share information with the ships and the ships’ combat control system. So it’s really an extension of our sensors, and it also brings to the table a greater increased lethality than what we had with previous generation aircraft,” he added, calling it a “game changer.”
The first reported F-35 combat mission was carried out by Israel in May 2018, when Israeli Air Force (IAF) F-35A fighters participated in strikes on unspecified targets.
“We are flying the F-35 all over the Middle East. It had become part of our operational capabilities. We are the first to attack using the F-35 in the Middle East and have already attacked twice on different fronts,” IAF chief Maj. Gen. Amikam Norkin said at the time, The Jerusalem Post reported.
Over the years, the F-35 has faced significant criticism, largely due to high costs.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Early one morning in Galeana, Mexico, a series of pickup trucks pulled up to a small, unassuming house. It was like many houses in the state of Chihuahua, except this one was occupied by the family of a man who decided to stand up to the drug cartels that had for so long terrorized his friends and neighbors. The man (along with a friend who had come by to check on the commotion) were dragged away at gunpoint. The narcos drove them down the street and shot them.
That was the last straw. Now there’s a new force standing up to the cartels terrorizing the people and government of Mexico, a resistance is coming from what you might think of as an unlikely source: The Mormon Church.
The war on drugs in Mexico has seen an uptick in violence in recent years. When the government switched its tactics to take down the higher-ranking members of the cartels, their successes left power vacuums in their wake, which sparked wars for dominance among individuals inside the cartels. As a result, the drug-related violence has only gotten more widespread and more intense as time wore on. The violence is ten times deadlier in Mexico than in Iraq or Afghanistan.
Vice reporter and founder Shane Smith drove down to Chihuahua to talk to the long-established Mormon colony run by the Lebaron family, descendants of the first Mormon settlers in the region. The Lebaron family, like most who stand up to bullies, were just pushed around once too often, as a result of kidnappings, extortion, and ultimately, murder.
Vice founder Shane Smith with the Mexican Federal Police at a Chihuahua road block.
Mormons first came to Mexico in 1875 to escape persecution from the U.S. government for their beliefs, specifically plural marriage – also known as polygamy. Those who refused to adhere to the United States’ demand to end the practice came to Mexico where they could continue what they saw as not only a divine right, but a commandment. Their descendants still live there to this day, just south of the border.
The murders in Galeana were the result of the Mormon colonies who put pressure on the cartels through their political partners in the Mexican government. After one of their own was kidnapped, they told the government to do something about it, or they would do it themselves. The kidnapped child was returned unharmed, but shortly after, the Mormons paid the price with the lives of Benjamin Lebaron and his friend Luis Widmar.
Firearms smuggled from the United States into Mexico and captured by the Federales.
That changed the game. The Mormons went through the process of getting gun ownership rights in the country, no small feat. Then they called in the Federales, who use their colony – a known safe haven from narcos – as a base of operations, intercepting drug smugglers on major highways in Chihuahua, conducting patrols and raids, and watching the traffickers as they work. The Mormons themselves have also joined the fight, they have adopted the tactics of U.S. troops fighting insurgents in the Iraq War, setting roadblocks and observation posts of their own.
Word got around to the narcos, eventually. Rumor has it the Mormons employ scouts and snipers to defend their colonies. The drug traffickers are all known to the Mormons now, their vehicles and faces easily identifiable to Church leaders, who work in close concert with the Mexican federal police. Their enduring vigilance has led to an uneasy stalemate in violence and kidnappings. They still occur, but with much less frequency.
In the mid ’80s, TheA-Team was a hit action-comedy television show about a crack commando unit sent to prison by a military court for a crime they didn’t commit. These men promptly escape from a maximum security stockade and find their way into the Los Angeles underground. Throughout the series, they survive as soldiers of fortune wanted by the government.
Over the course of five seasons, the A-Team turns to mercenary work and travels the world, stopping villains-of-the-week and trying to clear their names. Of course, throughout the 98-episode run of the series, plenty of unrealistic events get overlooked (i.e. “B.A.” gets shot with a .50 cal in the leg and walks it off later that episode).
That being said, let’s take a look at the major events that kicked off the entire awesome series with a more critical eye — there’re a few problems at play here.
The A-Team consists of Col. “Hannibal” Smith, Lt. “Faceman” Peck, Sgt. 1st Class “B.A.” Baracus, and Captain “Howling Mad” Murdock. The fictional Green Berets were told to rob the Bank of Hanoi to defund the NVA under military orders. They were successful in seizing the gold bullions, but the only person who knew they were on official duty was killed before they returned. They were stung and became the fall-guys for the theft. They’re sent to prison, escape, and become mercenaries before the pilot episode begins.
The often-mentioned, but detail foggy, event revolved around a covert mission to rob the bank under the command of one man, Col. Morrison. He was killed and everything pertaining to the mission was burnt to the ground. In reality, nearly every mission ever, no matter how covert, is known by more than five people and a mission this sensitive would have been scouted, mapped, and supported by a number of specialists. Somebody other than just Colonel Morrison would be available in court to testify that they were acting under orders.
Yet, the A-Team is still guilty. Every troop has the right and the duty to disobey an unlawful order. Sure, the Bank of Hanoi may have been bankrolling NVA forces, but they were also a civilian bank. Attacking a bank in a poor, war-torn country and stealing the money that may also belong to civilians is against many articles of the Geneva Convention.
Regardless of the context, pillaging is a war crime under both Fourth Geneva Convention; Articles 33-34 and Protocol II; Article 4 of the Geneva Convention. An attack on a civilian complex, despite allegiance to an enemy, goes against Protocol I; Articles 43-44 because the armed robbery was against non-combatants. And obviously, escape from prison is classified as a crime.
Surprisingly enough, many things they do as mercenaries (when they’re hired on for missions by a third party for both combat and bounty-hunting missions) and as vigilantes (when they act where law enforcement in its absence) are clear in the eyes of the law. Rocky start aside, The A-Team is an amazing show, who’s most popular prior-service character is actually prior service.
British commandos conduct close target reconnaissance on the enemy-held villages. (National Army Museum)
Sierra Leone, September 2000.
The West Side Boys, a well-armed but poorly trained gang, has taken hostage 11 British soldiers from the Royal Irish Regiment and is threatening to execute them if London doesn’t meet its demands.
Back in the UK, the British government is dealing with its first significant hostage crisis since the Iranian Embassy Siege of 1980. As negotiators bargain for the hostages’ release, the British military is preparing for a rescue operation.
A brutal civil war had ravaged Sierra Leone since 1991. The West Side Boys, never more than a few hundred members strong, took advantage of the power vacuum, operating with impunity and terrorizing locals. Their trademark was amputating victims’ arms with machetes. Men, women, and children all suffered from their wanton violence.
The West Side Boys’ leader was the self-titled “Brigadier” Foday Khalley, with “Colonel Cambodia” serving as his second-in-command.
Both men and their gang used drugsand alcohol heavily and frequently. Their resulting instability pushed the British toward a military response instead of negotiations. (Khalley’s demands varied from a new satellite phone to the formation of a new government.)
A task force centered around D Squadron of the SAS and A Company, 1st Battalion, Parachute Regiment, and augmented by Special Boat Squadron, or SBS, operators and support troops, gradually deployed to Dakar in neighboring Senegal and then outside Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone.
D Squadron was chosen because of its familiarity with the region. Its operators had been in East Africa conducting jungle and mountain training when the West Side Boys kidnapped the British soldiers. Once they were notified of a potential operation, they were so eager to return to the UK and begin preparing that two troopers were killed in a car accident as they rushed to the airport. The operation had started on the wrong foot.
The gang held the hostages in the small village of Gberi Bana, adjacent to the Rokel Creek. On the other side of the creek, there was a substantial and heavily armed force of gangsters in an abandoned village.
Throughout the negotiations, the British had eyes on the ground from well-hidden SAS observation posts close to the two villages. Additionally, a special-operations signals team intercepted Khalley’s frequent publicity calls to the BBC and pinpointed his location.
Their combined reports led commanders to rule out a ground or waterborne assault because of the gang’s heavily armed roadblocks in the villages and the treacherous currents of the creek. The rescue force would go in by helicopter.
At one point, the negotiators, which included two SAS operators in disguise, were able to secure the release of six men, leaving five British soldiers captive. The freed troops told horror stories of mock executions and psychological violence. But more releases seemed unlikely. A rescue operation was necessary, and time was of the essence.
At dawn on September 10, the rescue force flew in on three CH-47 Chinook helicopters with two Lynx and one Mi-24 gunships providing close air support. The combined SAS/SBS force would rescue the hostages in Gberi Bana, while members of the Parachute Regiment, known as Paras, would eliminate the gang members on the opposite side of the river.
The British commandos hit Gberi Bana hard. Half the assault force fast-roped into the village while the other half landed in a soccer field. In the first moments, heavy enemy fire pinned down the teams on the soccer field. But the commandos achieved fire superiority and silenced the resistance with machine guns and anti-tank rockets.
Despite some confusion, the SAS and SBS operators swept the village and secured the hostages.
However, on the other side of the river, the Paras were in the thick of it. Because of a lack of Chinooks, the Paras had to be transported in two groups. Alerted by the helicopters’ approach and the firefight on the other bank, the gangster there were better prepared.
The Chinook dropped the first wave of Paras in a chest-deep swamp, which they had to navigate under heavy fire. In the first few moments, they took several casualties, including their commanding and executive officers.
Reinforced by the second wave and displaying their characteristic aggression, the Paras took the initiative and overpowered the gangsters after a fierce firefight that lasted hours.
As the smoke settled, the Chinooks came in to pick up the hostages, rescue force, and some captured vehicles. At the cost of one SAS operator, Bombardier Brad Tinnion, and 12 Paras wounded, the rescue force managed to secure all the hostages and kill scores of gang members.
A wave of change
Operation Barras brought significant changes to British special operations.
The resistance put up by the heavily armed West Side Boys showed the need for a specialized support unit that would assist the SAS and SBS in future large-scale hostage rescues and special operations.
Until that point, the Paras and the Royal Marine Commandos had been called up to complement their elite brethren only when necessary. Even though there were close links between the units — most SAS operators came from the Paras, and the SBS at that time recruited solely from the Royal Marines — they didn’t train together and didn’t use the same procedures.
As a result, the British military created the Special Forces Support Group (SFSG) in 2006.
The SFSG is composed of Paras, Royal Marines, and Royal Air Force personnel who have passed an additional selection process. Its main task is to be a quick reaction force for SAS and SBS operations, but it can also complement those units in domestic counterterrorism operations.
Moreover, Operation Barras was a much needed confidence boost for British special-operations forces after bad publicity in Northern Ireland, where they fought a politically complicated campaign against the IRA. British policymakers could once more be confident in their commandos.
Amazon Prime Video continues its commitment to action series with plans for a show based on the G.I. Joe character Lady Jaye, an Airborne- and Ranger-qualified covert operations specialist. The character previously appeared in the 2013 movie “G.I. Joe: Retaliation,” where she was portrayed by Adrianne Palicki.
Amazon just announced a new series based on former Navy SEAL Jack Carr’s James Reece novels, with the first season focused on “The Terminal List.” Amazon is also home to “Bosch,” the series about Iraq War veteran and LAPD detective Harry Bosch; “Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan,” starring John Krasinski; and an upcoming series based on Lee Child’s Jack Reacher novels.
If you’re confused by this announcement, you’re probably on the wrong side of the G.I. Joe generational controversy. Anyone who grew up with the 12-inch-tall action figure whose tools were based on real military gear is bound to be baffled by the universe of weirdness that came with Joe’s 3.75-inch relaunch in the 1980s.
Lady Jaye first appeared in 1985, during the era when G.I. Joe was fighting cartoon enemies like the Cobra Commandos, whose ranks included Raptor, Serpentor, Major Bludd and Zartan. His allies were a motley crew that featured Hardball, a former baseball player who insisted on wearing his old uniform as part of his combat gear; Ice Cream Soldier; Metalhead, who blasted a hard rock soundtrack as he went into battle; and Chuckles.
Marvel Comics was at a creative low point when it devised these characters for the G.I. Joe cartoon series. When Paramount tried to revive the character a decade ago, it loosely based the “G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra” and “G.I. Joe: Retaliation” movies on the ’80s universe while significantly dialing down the dumb factor.
How will Lady Jaye be portrayed in the series? Will the producers aim for the kids market or make something more realistic for the adults who watched the cartoons back in the old days?
There’s also a movie set for October. “Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins” features Henry Golding, star of “Crazy Rich Asians,” as G.I. Joe’s ninja ally and was directed by Robert Schwentke, who made the last two movies in “The Divergent” trilogy and the excellent aging spies comic thriller “Red.”
The Lady Jaye series will be created by Eric Oleson, who was previously head writer and executive producer for the Philip K. Dick-inspired series “The Man in the High Castle.” Skydance, the production company behind the Jack Ryan and the upcoming Jack Reacher series, is the studio behind the new series.
Can Lady Jaye carry a series on her own? Is this the first step in developing a Marvel-style universe that will ultimately bring us a “Hardball vs. Serpentor” movie? Stay tuned for new developments.
On Apr. 15, 1912, Charles Lightoller was the second officer aboard the ill-fated Titanic. After helping as many passengers and crew as he could into lifeboats, he refused an order to escape on one of the final boats to make it off the ship. As Titanic’s bridge began to sink, he attempted to dive into the water and to the safety of one of the crew’s collapsible boats.
Except the Titanic sucked him down with her.
Two lifeboats carry Titanic survivors toward safety. April 15, 1912
Lightoller was no landsman. He had been at sea for decades and, as a result, he’d seen and heard everything. Titanic wasn’t even his first shipwreck, but it was the first time a sinking ship tried to take the officer down with it. As a grating pulled him to the bottom, the icy waters of the Atlantic Ocean finally reached the ship’s hot boilers, and they exploded. The force propelled Lightoller to the surface and to the safety of his fellow crew’s boat.
He was the last Titanic survivor rescued by the RMS Carpathia the next day. He was also the most senior officer to survive the shipwreck. Later, during World War I, Lt. Lightoller would take command of many ships in the Royal Navy, leaving the service at the war’s end. By the time World War II rolled around, Lightoller was just a civilian raising chickens. His seaborne days confined to a personal yacht.
The Titanic’s officers. Lightoller is in the back row, second from the left.
While he did survey the German coast in 1939 for the Royal Navy while disguised as an elderly couple on vacation, his fighting days were long gone. But the very next year, the British Army in France was on the brink of ruin, as 400,000 Allied troops were stranded on the beaches of Dunkirk. The Royal Navy could not reach them, and they were slowly being annihilated by the Nazi forces that surrounded them. Operation Dynamo was on.
The Royal Navy ordered Lightoller to take his ship to Ramsgate, where a Navy crew would take control and ship off to Dunkirk to rescue as many Tommies as possible. But Lightoller wasn’t having it. He would take his ship to Dunkirk himself. The 66-year-old and his son departed for France as soon as they could in a 52×12-foot ship with a carrying capacity of 21.
Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton is the home of the 1st Marine Division. The base also hosts the Marine Corps School of Infantry West. Spanning over 125,000 acres, it is one of the largest bases in the Marine Corps. Moreover, the base’s large training area serves as a natural resource preserve. A base sign seen from Interstate 5 famously reads, “Camp Pendleton U.S. Marine Corps Base Preserving California’s Precious Resources.”
Indeed, Camp Pendleton preserves many natural resources that might otherwise be lost. In fact, the base is home to 19 threatened or endangered species. There is, however, one unique species that calls Camp Pendleton home that is no longer threatened or endangered.
In the 1800s, the bison was nearly hunted to extinction. Throughout the century, an estimated 50 million bison were killed. By the end of the century, there were only a few hundred left. Luckily, preservation and breeding efforts have since brought the species back from the edge of extinction. Federally protected lands like Yellowstone National Park now serve as safe havens for these incredible animals. What many people don’t know is that Camp Pendleton is one of these protected lands.
In 1973, the world-famous San Diego Zoo introduced the plains bison to Camp Pendleton as a gift. Between then and 1979, a total of 14 bison were brought to the base. Since then, the bison population has multiplied. Last surveyed in 2015, the Camp Pendleton herd now numbers approximately 90 bison. Incredibly, this is one of only two wild conservation bison herds in California. The other is on Santa Catalina Island off the southwest coast of Los Angeles.
Today, the bison is categorized as near-threatened. This is an amazing achievement considering that the species nearly went extinct just over 100 years ago. Thanks to conservation efforts and protected lands like Camp Pendleton, the bison population now exceeds 500,000 and continues to grow.
“Serving alongside our Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines, and Coast Guardsmen, our Nation’s military families give of themselves and give up their time with their loved ones so we may live safely and freely. Few Americans fully understand the sacrifices made by those who serve in uniform, but for spouses of service members across our country, the costs of freedom we too often take for granted are known intimately. On Military Spouse Appreciation Day, we honor the spouses of those who have left behind everything they know and love to join our nation’s unbroken chain of patriots, and we recommit to giving military spouses the respect, dignity, and support they deserve.” – Barack Obama, President of the United States of America
In 1984 President Ronald Reagan proclaimed that the Friday before Mother’s Days should be Military Spouse Appreciation Day. This is a day set aside to recognize the importance of spousal commitment to the readiness and well-being of military members. This year Military Spouse Appreciation Day will be celebrated on May 8.
If you have a military spouse in your life, you might be wondering how best to show your appreciation to them. This might be especially difficult this year, because of the events happening across the world. Here are a few ideas to help you show the military spouses in your life how much you appreciate them on Military Spouse Appreciation Day, and every day:
Cook them a meal
Military spouses often have a lot on their plate. They spend much of their lives balancing day to day life, while missing their significant other, and dealing with all the other stresses of military life. Having a night off from cooking could mean the world to them. Why not cook a meal for a military spouse in your life? You can always deliver it to their door for them. Little things like this mean more than you can imagine.
Deanie Dempsey talks Family Support
Buy them Flowers
Something bright and pretty like flowers can brighten a room, and the day for a military spouse. Flowers are a great way to show love and appreciation for the military spouse in your life. A bouquet of flowers could put a smile on their face, and show them how grateful you are for everything they do.
Send a care package
Care packages are appreciated by everyone. If you have a military spouse in your life who might not live close by, why not send a care package? Send their favorite snacks, or sweets. Send a new book or movie that can help them through those long deployment nights. Send a candle. Send them anything that will help them through, and show them how much you love them.
Take to Social Media
Hop onto Facebook, Instagram or Twitter and give those military spouses in your life a shoutout. Join the movement of telling the world how much our military spouses are loved and appreciated. Let them know how grateful you are for all of the sacrifices they make every day.
Say “Thank You”
Sometimes simple is best. The gesture of simply saying, “Thank you” to a military spouse means just as much as anything else. Military spouses make huge sacrifices every day. They face lonely days and nights while running a household and taking care of the kids by themselves. They do it because they love someone who is in the military. They do it so that their significant other can do their duty to protect our freedoms. So, this Military Spouse Appreciation Day let those military spouses in your life know how grateful you are to them by saying, “Thank you.”