Why it's (nearly) impossible to land a helicopter on Mt. Everest - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY CULTURE

Why it’s (nearly) impossible to land a helicopter on Mt. Everest

Straddling the border of Nepal and China stands the world’s highest mountain: Mount Everest. To the locals, it’s known as the “Goddess of the Sky,” and to intrepid adventurers, reaching its summit has long been seen as the ultimate test of human endurance and ability. Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay were the first to make it to the top on May 29th, 1953, but in recent years, the “challenge” of climbing the mountain has lost its illustrious status.

Though it’s still a dangerous trek — seventeen people died in April, 2015, due to avalanches caused by an earthquake — thousands of people have reached the top. It’s even possible to take guided tours of the mountain and essentially buy your way to the summit.

But there’s no red carpet rolled out to “the top of the world.” You still have to earn it. Reaching the peak takes effort and you still need to climb, on foot, to the summit. Even with all the money in the world, there is no way in Hell any pilot would dare to fly you to the top just for a quick selfie.

That’s because it’s almost physically impossible for it to happen — save for one French test pilot under extremely calculated and ideal conditions.


Why it’s (nearly) impossible to land a helicopter on Mt. Everest
That type of weather is enough to ground any helicopter and intentionally landing in those conditions is strongly ill-advised.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Kevin Tanenbaum)

There are several factors that limit a pilot’s ability to fly to the top of Mount Everest. For much of the year, the mountain is covered in hurricane-force winds and sub-freezing temperatures. The frequent snowstorms that hit the mountain are strong enough to launch an icicle so fast that it’ll shred metal.

The fiere weather only lets up for a few weeks per year, and that’s when the tourists flock to summit the mountain. Even when the conditions are more ideal, they’re far from perfect. During the “calm season,” the winds still reach blustery speeds of up to 75 mph, strong enough to classify as hurricane category 1 winds.

Even when conditions are perfect enough for flight from nearby Lukla, Nepal, to the summit, a single landing is enough to spark an avalanche that would kill everyone attempting the climb.

Why it’s (nearly) impossible to land a helicopter on Mt. Everest
(We Are The Mighty)

But if the weather doesn’t ground the aircraft, physics will. The further up Mount Everest you go, the less dense the air becomes. It’s possible for the human body to acclimate to the 50-percent drop in oxygen levels near Base Camp, Nepal, but not even the most skilled Sherpa can get used to the “Death Zone” — 8,000 meters above sea level where the oxygen levels are at 33 percent of those at sea level. And the summit is nearly 1,000 meters beyond that.

That drop in oxygen doesn’t just affect humans — if affects everything up there. The air is just too thin for most helicopters to generate enough lift to remain airborne. If the helicopter is equipped to reach that height, making the landing is still an incredibly delicate affair.

This all brings us to Didier Delsalle, the French test helicopter pilot who managed to pull this unbelievable stunt off on May 14th, 2005. After years of planning and weeks of waiting for the perfect conditions, he pulled off the impossible and landed on the summit.

To make weight, the helicopter needed to be stripped down — except for the extra-powerful engine. Then, once they were sure everyone was clear of the mountain, they made the attempt. It wasn’t pretty, but it counts. Check out the video below.

MIGHTY CULTURE

In a war with Russia, both sides could focus on this 60-mile stretch

There are a number of potential vulnerabilities in NATO territory if the Cold War ever goes live, but three countries are especially scared of an attack to close the Suwalki Gap, a spot where NATO territory is only 60 miles wide with Belarus on one side, Russia’s Kaliningrad Enclave on the other, and relatively flat ground with little forest or natural defenses in the middle.


Why it’s (nearly) impossible to land a helicopter on Mt. Everest
A German Army Soldier directs military vehicles onto land during one of the largest combined exercises in Lithuania, the Suwalki Gap River Crossing, as media observe the event, June 20, 2017.
(U.S. Army Sgt. Shiloh Capers)

If Russian tanks and other forces quickly span the gap and dig in, they could cut Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia off from the rest of Europe and NATO for easy digestion, leaving the rest of NATO to decide whether its worth it to risk their own troops re-securing them.

These sorts of geographic and political choke points aren’t new. Cold War weapons development was heavily influenced by the Fulda Gap, one of Soviet Russia’s most likely routes of advance if they invaded western Europe. And in World War II, France fell so quickly partially because it had counted on holding Germany at the Albert Canal and River Meuse in Belgium, but Germany had gotten Belgium to rescind its alliances with France before the invasion.

But the Suwalki Gap is a particularly vulnerable and important point. Kaliningrad is a Russian enclave that borders the Baltic Sea, and Belarus is a historic ally of Russia. Russia could easily muster troops in both areas for a mad dash across the line, and it could do so quickly and with little warning.

Why it’s (nearly) impossible to land a helicopter on Mt. Everest
Battle Group Poland U.S. Soldiers locate their sector of fire for their weapons as part of the Bull Run training exercise near Suwalki, Poland, July 16, 2017.
(U.S. Army Spc. Kevin Wang)

On paper, NATO would be required to respond, but NATO’s joint defense clause has only been invoked one time, and that was when America was attacked on September 11, 2001. That’s part of why deploying to Afghanistan usually results in a service member receiving a NATO medal. The whole alliance was party to the invasion because one member of the alliance had been attacked.

But that was NATO allies backing up their most powerful member while invading a relatively weak, authoritarian state. The Taliban had little air force or proper army assets, and it quickly fell. Getting NATO allies to muster in Poland for an attack into Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia would be much more challenging, especially since many countries would be interested in holding back at least some of their military forces to defend their own borders as the situation developed.

Poland might be especially reluctant. The gap shares its name with a Polish city and a Polish County, and Poland shares a much larger border with Kaliningrad and with Belarus. It might legitimately need its troops to hold the line against further Russian attacks.

Why it’s (nearly) impossible to land a helicopter on Mt. Everest
The Iskander-M is likely a violation of the INF Treaty, and it gives Russia the ability to cover the entire Suwalki Gap and most of Eastern Europe with a few missile launchers
(Boevaya mashina, CC BY-SA4.0)

Meanwhile, remember how Russia is under a lot of pressure to get back in line with that INF Treaty that bans missiles of certain ranges, especially ones that can carry nuclear warheads? Well, a lot of the Iskander and Iskander-M systems that are likely in violation of that treaty are kept in Kaliningrad, where they could threaten U.S. and NATO ships in the Baltic Sea and army formations approaching Suwalki from the south.

An Iskander launcher could likely cover the entire Suwalki Gap from any point in Kaliningrad. Multiple launchers could take turns shooting and then scooting before they could be hunted down. Meanwhile, Russia’s invasion force would be north of the gap, conquering the NATO countries and setting up defenses ahead of the NATO counterattack.

The Suwalki Gap is something Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges talked about when he was the commanding general of NATO, saying that an invasion of NATO countries wouldn’t make any sense to him, but then neither had the seizure of Crimea or the Russian deployment to Syria.

Why it’s (nearly) impossible to land a helicopter on Mt. Everest
Battle Group Poland tested its readiness and interoperability as part of NATO’s enhanced Forward Presence during Bull Run, a simulated training exercise, July 16, 2017, near Suwalki, Poland.
(U.S. Army)

For comparison, while the Suwalki Gap is 60 miles long, the annexation of Crimea created an approximately 85-mile-long front between Russia and Ukraine, though NATO wasn’t obligated to take part in that fight and much of that border is covered in water, making a Ukrainian counterattack much more risky and challenging.

Of course, all of this only matters if Putin is ready to do something even crazier than kidnapping an Estonian intelligence officer, annexing Crimea, or invading Georgia or the Donbas. While all of those actions were baffling for international observers, the annexed territory, at least, did have populations sympathetic to Russian rule.

While Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania do have some Russian-speaking populations, the countries as a whole strongly support NATO membership and have even inked agreements to move more U.S. and other NATO troops into the countries or allow more forces to transit through them. So, Russia would likely find it challenging to actually hold the countries permanently.

MIGHTY CULTURE

The future is bright for our military families

The forecast for America is changing. The country has been dominated by a pandemic with no end in sight. However, the future for the military is looking bright. What does this mean for military families?


Why Members Serve

Surveys show most Americans believe military members serve for patriotic reasons. How do these views compare to the actual reasons why military members serve? Recent studies indicate many members are motivated to serve by the salary and benefits associated with the military. Recruits also express job stability and training opportunities as occupational motives for joining the service.

Recruitment

At the beginning of 2020, military recruiters were facing an uphill battle. The branches of the service were all competing for recruits as the economy and job market were excellent, and the pool of qualified candidates was small. The military was not only competing with itself, but with colleges, and the strong civilian job market.

Fast forward to the present day and consider the short and long-term effects of COVID-19 on the Department of Defense and Homeland Security. The pandemic is challenging all branches of the service in their ability to recruit and train personnel. Due to stay-at-home orders and quarantines, military recruitment and training has slowed in order to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. The stall in recruitment is presenting a challenge no one could have predicted.

However, there is a silver lining. Current unemployment rates and the economic outlook are somewhat dismal. The occupational motives for serving are perhaps more important now than ever. The military provides job and financial security when few civilian jobs exist. Could the economic downfall of COVID-19 be the answer to the recruitment woes of the military? The future of military recruiting is looking bright.

Separation, Retirement, Retention

Some military members serve their initial commitment and separate from the service once the obligation is complete. Others make the military a career serving 20 years or more. The military experiences a high rate of turnover and retention is an on-going battle.

Military aviation serves as an excellent example. All branches of the service are familiar with the pilot shortages seen in recent years. Pilot retention found itself in a downward spiral due to the lucrative pay, flexible schedules, increased control over home life, and benefits affiliated with employment in the commercial sector. Suddenly and unexpectedly, the airline and travel industries are facing unforeseen turbulence. Could the effects of COVID-19 on these two industries be the answer to the military’s pilot retention woes?

COVID-19 is presenting complications for every armed service to maintain a mission-ready workforce. Most branches are currently implementing programs to keep members in the ranks. The Navy recently loosened some retirement restrictions for sailors and officers. The Coast Guard has introduced a new campaign to retain personnel. The Army has made recent promotion and retention policy changes as well. The bottom line is the military needs to keep people from separating. Could the short and long-term effects of COVID-19 in America be the answer to the military’s retention woes?

Impact on Military Families

Military families often express a desire to plant roots and have more control over their lives. Some long for a more “normal” life and discuss the right time to end their military service. Now more than ever, the discussion topic is: How long can we remain in the military? Luckily, military families are always prepared to expect the unexpected.

Perhaps military families need to put the retirement and separation plans on hold. It may seem ironic, but an extended active-duty military career is starting to look like a first-class ticket to stability. Given the current unemployment rates in the United States, the future for military families is looking extremely bright.

MIGHTY CULTURE

7 reasons you need a MilSpouse bestie

Your life as a military spouse is what you make it. There, I said it — it’s your responsibility to make yourself happy in this military life. Before you stop reading this article or leave me a nasty comment, give me a chance to explain.

I am a military spouse of twelve years and have been with my husband for fifteen years. I’ve moved eight times – from coast to coast and even to Alaska for a time. My first move with my husband was in 2006. I was only 21 years old. I left my family and all I knew, and two days after we arrived at our new duty station, my husband got underway on a boat for weeks.

I was alone, I didn’t have a job, friends, or even cable or internet!


It. Was. Horrible.

I remember feeling waves of depression and not wanting to get off the couch as I watched Grey’s Anatomy on DVD for the millionth time. I was isolating myself and never felt more alone in my life. Did you know that loneliness can literally hurt your brain?

One study found that loneliness was a risk factor of dementia later in life.

After a few days of living in this funk, I took a good hard look at myself. I saw my stained sweat pants, unwashed dishes, and wondered what I was doing. We had just PCS’d to one of the most beautiful beach towns in Florida, and here I was wasting away, getting paler by the minute. I got off that couch and set out to build a life.

I knew that I could stay in that space forever, but I was losing the opportunity of a lifetime in the process. This military life is beautiful – but it’s up to you to embrace it.

Fast forward to 2020 and I couldn’t imagine having any other life. MilSpouse life is my jam! I look forward to every PCS and see it as an adventure just waiting for me to dive into. Each new state is a new home filled with new foods to taste, cities to explore, and above all — friendships that await. Once you get off that couch and commit to building a life as a military spouse, the absolute best part of military life is waiting for you. Your future MilSpouse bestie is out there!

As military spouses, we are so lucky. We get to surround ourselves with people that we immediately have a connection with. A community that gets every annoying, frustrating and beautiful part of military life. You don’t have to say a word and these military spouse brothers and sisters see you and completely get it. There’s no fumbling about the weather or times of awkward silences – you are instantly in a circle that’s welcoming you with open arms.

So, what are you waiting for?

Here are my top seven reasons why you need to get up off your couch, change out of those sweat pants, and find your MilSpouse bestie:

Why it’s (nearly) impossible to land a helicopter on Mt. Everest

1. They know the best hair stylist or barber

This information has been handed down like the holy grail to them and they are just waiting to share that beautiful treasure with you.

2. Got a nightmare PCS story to share? Pull up a chair. 

Your future BFF wants to hear all about it and compare notes with theirs.

3. They’ve already scoped out all of the medical doctors, dentists, and specialists

Making decisions on your healthcare is exhausting and nerve-racking. They’ll be there to help you with the feedback you need to make your choices more securely.

4. Deployment sucks

They’ll let you cry on their couch, vent out your anger or hibernate alone for a few days. At the exact time you need them to, they’ll drag you on some adventure that’ll make those deployment days fly by. Your MilSpouse bestie will save you – I know, mine saved me.

Why it’s (nearly) impossible to land a helicopter on Mt. Everest

5. Your holidays will be merry and bright

The military spouse community will fill your holidays with so much joy and laughter that you’ll be okay FaceTiming your family when you can’t go home. Friendsgiving all day every day.

6. They’ll carry you through the hard times

Whether it’s deployment, missing your family, or an unspeakable tragedy, they’ll carry you through loss that feels unbearable. I’ve held my friends through the broken space of experiencing a miscarriage, and when I went through my own years later, their strength kept me from drowning in grief. They’ve got you.

Why it’s (nearly) impossible to land a helicopter on Mt. Everest

7. Mission first? No problem

The needs of the service will always come first. The needs of the Army, Navy, Marines, Coast Guard, and Air Force will always come above your birthday, anniversary, or planned dates. Know it, embrace it, and have a plan B.

Your spouse is working late and missing the delicious dinner you made? No problem, call your bestie to come over and eat with you. Date canceled because of a last-minute training exercise? Totally okay because now you can go see that RomCom with your friends instead. I absolutely treasure my time with MilSpouse besties – because at this point, they are spread all over the country.

I have friends that I can call anytime, anywhere, and know that they’ll be there. It’s a beautiful life and one I choose to make wherever we are. Even with all of the hard pages of my MilSpouse story, thanks to my besties, I would go back and do it all over again.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Here’s how the US would fair against a major cyber attack

Imagine waking up one day and feeling as if a hurricane hit — except everything is still standing.

The lights are out, there is no running water, you have no phone signal, no internet, no heating or air conditioning. Food starts rotting in your fridge, hospitals struggle to save their patients, trains and planes are stuck.

There are none of the collapsed buildings or torn-up trees that accompany a hurricane, and no floodwater. But, all the same, the world you take for granted has collapsed.

This is what it would look like if hackers decided to take your country offline.


Business Insider has researched the state of cyberwarfare, and spoken with experts in cyberdefense, to piece together what a large-scale attack on a country like the US could look like.

Nowadays nations have the ability to cause warlike damage to their enemy’s vital infrastructure without launching a military strike, helped along by both new offensive technology and the inexorable drive to connect more and more systems to the internet.

Why it’s (nearly) impossible to land a helicopter on Mt. Everest

(Photo by Taskin Ashiq)

What makes infrastructure systems so vulnerable is that they exist at the crossroads between the digital world and the physical world, said Andrew Tsonchev, the director of technology for the cyberdefense firm Darktrace.

Computers increasingly control operational technologies that were previously in the hands of humans — whether the systems that route electricity through power lines or the mechanism that opens and closes a dam.

“These systems have been connected up to the Wild West of the internet, and there are exponential opportunities to break in to them,” Tsonchev said. This creates a vulnerability experts say is especially acute in the US.

Most US critical infrastructure is owned by private businesses, and the state does not incentivize them to prioritize cyberdefense, according to Phil Neray, an industrial cybersecurity expert for the firm CyberX.

“For most of the utilities in the US that monitoring is not in place right now,” he said.

One of the most obvious vulnerabilities experts identify is the power grid, relied upon by virtually everyone living and working in a developed country.

Hackers showed that they could plunge thousands of people into darkness when they knocked out parts of the grid in Ukraine in 2015 and 2016. These hits were limited to certain areas, but a more extreme attack could hit a whole network at once.

Researchers for the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency are preparing for just that kind of scenario.

They told Business Insider just how painstaking — and slow — a restart would be if the US were to lose control of its power lines.

A DARPA program manager, Walter Weiss, has been simulating a blackout on a secretive island the government primarily uses to study infectious animal diseases.

On the highly restricted Plum Island, Weiss and his team ran a worst-case scenario requiring a “black start,” in which the grid has to be brought back from deactivation.

“What scares us is that once you lose power it’s tough to bring it back online,” Weiss said. “Doing that during a cyberattack is even harder because you can’t trust the devices you need to restore power for that grid.”

Why it’s (nearly) impossible to land a helicopter on Mt. Everest

In November, DARPA staged what a cyberattack on the US power grid could look like.

(Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency)

The exercise requires experts to fight a barrage of cyberthreats while also grappling with the logistics of restarting the power system in what Weiss called a “degraded environment.”

That means coordinating teams across multiple substations without phone or internet access, all while depending on old-fashioned generators that need to be refueled constantly.

Trial runs of this work, Weiss said, showed just how fragile and prone to disruption a recovery effort might be. Substations are often far apart, and minor errors or miscommunications — like forgetting one type of screwdriver — can set an operation back by hours.

A worst-case scenario would require interdependent teams to coordinate these repairs across the entire country, but even an attack on a seemingly less important utility could have a catastrophic impact.

Maritime ports are another prime target — the coastal cities of San Diego and Barcelona, Spain, reported attacks in a single week in 2018.

Both said their core operations stayed intact, but it is easy to imagine how interrupting the complicated logistics and bureaucracy of a modern shipping hub could ravage global trade, 90% of which is ocean-borne.

Itai Sela, the CEO of the cybersecurity firm Naval Dome, told a recent conference that “the shipping industry should be on red alert” because of the cyberthreat.

The world has already seen glimpses of the destruction a multipronged cyberattack could cause.

In 2010, the Israeli-American Stuxnet virus targeted the Iranian nuclear program, reportedly ruining one-fifth of its enrichment facilities. It taught the world’s militaries that cyberattacks were a real threat.

The most intense frontier of cyberwarfare is Ukraine, which is fighting a simmering conflict against Russia.

Besides the attacks on the power grid, the devastating NotPetya malware in 2017 paralyzed Ukrainian utility companies, banks, and government agencies. The malware proved so virulent that it spread to other countries.

Hackers have also caused significant disruption with so-called ransomware, which freezes computer systems unless the users had over large sums of money, often in hard-to-trace cryptocurrency.

Why it’s (nearly) impossible to land a helicopter on Mt. Everest

An attack on local government services in Baltimore has frozen about 10,000 computers since May 7, 2019, getting in the way of ordinary activities like selling homes and paying the water bill. Again, this is proof of concept for something far larger.

In March 2019, a cyberattack on one of the world’s largest aluminum producers, the Oslo-based Norsk Hydro, forced it to close several plants that provide parts for carmakers and builders.

In 2017 the WannaCry virus, designed to infect computers to extract a ransom, burst onto the internet and caused damage beyond anything its creators could have foreseen.

It forced Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co., the world’s biggest contract chipmaker, to shut down production for three days. In the UK, 200,000 computers used by the National Health System were compromised, halting medical treatment and costing nearly 0 million.

The US government said North Korean hackers were behind the ransomware.

North Korean hackers were also blamed for the 2015 attack that leaked personal information from thousands of Sony employees to prevent the release of “The Dictator,” a fictional comedy about Kim Jong Un.

These isolated events were middling to major news events when they happened. But they occur against a backdrop of lesser activity that rarely makes the news.

The reason we don’t hear about more attacks like this isn’t because nobody is trying — governments regularly tell us they are fending off constant attacks from adversaries.

In the US, the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security say Russian government hackers have managed to infiltrate critical infrastructure like the energy, nuclear, and manufacturing sectors.

The UK’s National Security Centre says it repels about 10 attempted cyberattacks from hostile states every week.

Though the capacity is there, as with most large-scale acts of war, state actors are fearful to pull the trigger.

James Andrew Lewis, a senior vice president and technology director at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told Business Insider the fear of retaliation kept many hackers in check.

“The caveat is how a country like the US would retaliate,” he said. “An attack on this scale would be a major geopolitical move.”

Despite the growing dangers, this uneasy and unspoken truce has kept the threat far from most people’s minds. For that to change, Lewis believes, it would require a real, large-scale attack with real collateral.

“I’m often asked: How many people have died in a cyberattack? Zero,” he said.

“Maybe that’s the threshold. People underappreciate the effects that aren’t immediately visible to them.”

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

MIGHTY CULTURE

‘Sheep Dipping’ is the worst name for the military’s best job

If you’re a sheep farmer, dipping your sheep means you’re literally dipping sheep in a bath made to kill insects and fungus. It’s a good way to keep your flock healthy. If you’re in the military and about to be sheep dipped, it means your life is about to get a whole lot more interesting. It’s a term intelligence agencies use when they pretend to boot someone out of the military but secretly turn them into a covert operative.

Don’t worry, you still get your military retirement time. You just can’t tell anyone about it.


Why it’s (nearly) impossible to land a helicopter on Mt. Everest

A reminder that the CIA has an undetectable heart attack gun.

While “sheep dipping” isn’t the official term for moving a troop from military service to the clandestine service, it’s the term the Agency uses to describe the process of taking a career soldier, sailor, airman, or Marine out of their branch of service on the surface. Instead of really removing the subject, the intelligence agency will just pull their official records, leaving behind their official record, the one which says the troop is retired, separated, or otherwise not in the military anymore.

The agency will take care of your real official record from there but there’s still work to be done on the service member’s part. They will be establishing an entirely new identity for themselves, after all. Their job is to make the move plausible, writing to friends and family telling them why they got out, what they’re going to do after leaving the military, and whatnot.

Why it’s (nearly) impossible to land a helicopter on Mt. Everest

“And that’s why I decided to leave the Army and pursue my new life of definitely not being in the CIA.”

According to L. Fletcher Prouty, a retired Air Force Colonel who served as the chief of special operations in the Kennedy Administration, the practice started during the Vietnam War, when the Geneva Accords on the neutrality of Laos in 1962. This agreement prevented foreign combat troops from entering Laos. American troops, engaged in combat in neighboring Vietnam, were forced out of the country. The Nixon Administration, not known for honoring international borders when it came to prosecuting the war in Vietnam, decided they would need military support for intelligence agencies in Laos and opted to use “sheep dipping” as a means to get military members into the country.

If this seems implausible to you, remember we’re talking about the guy who decided to bug the Democratic National Committee and then cover it up, even though he was about to win in the country’s biggest landslide.

Why it’s (nearly) impossible to land a helicopter on Mt. Everest

Smooth.

The North Vietnamese were secretly supporting Laotian Communists in their effort to topple the Lao government, so why shouldn’t the United States do the same thing in order to support the Laotians? Besides, the NVA was still using Laos as a staging point for attacking allied troops in South Vietnam. The United States military decided to sheep dip a number of specially-trained U.S. troops in order to conduct a clandestine war in Laos. Nixon even allowed the Air Force to provide air support for the Secret War in Laos.

The sheep-dipped soldiers of Vietnam were all provided with their full pay and benefits, not to mention regular promotions and their retirement. If a sheep dipped troop were to be killed in the line of fire, that would pose more of a problem. Their family would struggle to get the benefits befitting a widow – but the agency handled each case separately.

MIGHTY CULTURE

From combat camera to WATM President, meet Air Force vet Mark Harper

This week on the Borne the Battle podcast is none other than We Are The Mighty’s President and CMO, Air Force veteran Mark Harper.

Borne the Battle #221: Mark Harper, Air Force Veteran, President/CMO of We Are The Mighty.

Synopsis: This week’s Borne the Battle features Air Force Veteran Mark Harper, who found his niche as a content creator for combat camera. Harper joined the U.S. Air Force after commissioning through ROTC and graduating from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, NY. For most of his Air Force career, Captain Harper was the Video Flight commander of the 1st Combat Camera Squadron. There, he led combat-ready documentary teams to provide the world insight into military operations, contingencies, exercises, weapons tests and humanitarian relief operations. After leaving service, he leveraged his military experience for a career in the entertainment industry. He now leads We Are The Mighty, celebrating service of our veterans, military men and women and their families, through excellent storytelling.

Links:  Podcast | Blog InstagramFacebook | Twitter 

Why it’s (nearly) impossible to land a helicopter on Mt. Everest
Mark Harper on the Borne the Battle podcast.

Launched in late 2016, the Department of Veterans Affairs weekly podcast is a part of its ongoing effort to engage and reach out to Veterans. “Borne the Battle” recognizes each battle, challenge, and sacrifice our Veterans endure during and after their service, as well as spotlighting important resources, offices, and benefits VA offers our Veterans.

Borne the Battle is dedicated to:
  • Bridging the military/civilian divide
  • Educating VA employees about the warriors they serve
  • Promoting Veteran advocacy initiatives thru the voice of Veterans
  • Inspiring and educating transitioning Veterans with positive stories
  • Informing Veteran listeners about new information from VA as it is released

Previous guests include Duke Basketball’s Coach Mike KrzyzewskiHonor Media’s David Tenenbaum, UFC’s / Fox Sports’ Brian Stann, and the 36th Army Chief of Staff, George Casey. You can find Borne the Battle on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher, Google Podcasts and any pod-catching app on a mobile device.

MIGHTY CULTURE

6 absurd military habits that stay with you forever

The thing about your regular habits in the military is that they are sometimes literally drilled into you. Chances are good you still have the urgent desire to remove your hat when you walk into a building. You probably fall into lock-step when anyone starts walking next to you and feel incredibly uncomfortable with the idea of putting your hands in your pockets. These are just the little things you’ve done for years, things you may not even notice.

There are many, many other things you probably do notice that you probably wish you could break – because you look ridiculous.


Why it’s (nearly) impossible to land a helicopter on Mt. Everest

“I don’t know what you have planned for the weekend, Wayne, but I’m out.”

The bug-out bag in your trunk.

This one isn’t that big a deal. You’re basically ready to deploy to somewhere at a moment’s notice, even though you don’t need to be. Luckily, only the people who see inside your trunk (and probably also in your closet) will know about this one. But lo and behold, you are prepared for almost any eventuality, no matter when it happens. House fire? All set. Earthquake? Ready to go. Zombie apocalypse? Absolutely. Your go-bag contains food (probably an MRE), important papers, a water filter, and anything else you’ll need to survive or walk away with in case stuff hits the fan. Even if you don’t have this, you think you need to get one.

To the rest of the world, you might look like a crazy survivalist, but they’ll be dead, and you’ll be alive so who cares?

Now: 12 important things that need to be in your bug-out bag

Why it’s (nearly) impossible to land a helicopter on Mt. Everest

I would rather ride in silence.

Shouting in the passenger seat.

Does the driver of the vehicle you’re riding shotgun in need to know if he or she is clear on the right or left? That doesn’t matter because you’re going to tell them, and probably do it a little louder than your indoor voice. If, for some reason, there is some kind of vehicle or other object on the way, you’ll be sure to let them know exactly what it is and how far away it is from the vehicle. If not you’re letting them know: CLEAR RIGHT.

Extra points if you feel the need to fill up at half a tank and/or check the pressure of every tire, including the spare.

Why it’s (nearly) impossible to land a helicopter on Mt. Everest

How to gain credibility in one easy photo.

Staring at everyone’s shoes.

Sure, that guy who interviewed you was the senior reporter for the local news channel, but it looks like he polished his shoes with a Hershey bar and was thus slightly less deserving of your respect. He probably also has terrible attention to detail as all people with rough-looking shoes must have, right? You know who those people are because you’re staring at shoes for a few seconds upon meeting literally anyone and everyone.

Why it’s (nearly) impossible to land a helicopter on Mt. Everest

Eating too fast.

How does it taste? We may never know. Veterans could eat an entire Thanksgiving dinner during a Lions-Packers commercial break.

Why it’s (nearly) impossible to land a helicopter on Mt. Everest

Carrying everything in your left hand.

When you’re in the military, this is not only a regulation, it just makes sense. How are you supposed to salute when your right hand is full? The answer is that your right hand should always be empty. When you’re out of the military, this is so ingrained in your muscle memory that you’ll carry a whole week’s groceries in one hand while your right is completely free.

Why it’s (nearly) impossible to land a helicopter on Mt. Everest

When you find out White Castle has a free meal for veterans.

Moving with a sense of purpose for things that don’t warrant it. 

There’s no reason to make a beeline for the prime rib at Golden Corral, but the actions of hundreds of veterans on Veterans Day would make one think otherwise. There’s a high probability veterans get annoyed at civilians who don’t move through the taco bar fast enough.

MIGHTY CULTURE

This is the injury that Jodies everywhere should fear

We’re all familiar with the story of Joe D. Grinder, right? Joe the Grinder was a fictional ladies’ man who seduced the wives of hard-working men, prisoners, and soldiers while the husbands were away. The character dates back to the 1930s, and is a staple of the military where he’s known as “Jody.” Turns out, there’s an injury named for jerks exactly like that.


It’s known as either the “Lover’s Fracture” or the “Don Juan Fracture.” And it’s so named because if you jump out of a second- or third-story window because the spouse of your lover just got home, you’re probably going to suffer the fracture yourself.

It’s a break of the heel bone, specifically the calcaneus. It’s diagnosed with X-rays, but symptoms include pain, bruising, and trouble walking. But best-case scenario when we’re talking about a recently active Jody, the fracture commonly happens at the same time as fractures in the hips and backs.

So, yeah, Jody’s gonna have a lot of trouble walking when his heel, hips, and back are all fractured at the same time.

Usually, we don’t root for other people to be severely injured. But we’re willing to make exceptions when it comes to Jody. Seriously, military marriages have enough stress without some jerk flying circles over them like vultures, waiting for deployments or other stress.

No one needs Jody around. And if he wanted healthy heels, he should have learned to do a parachute landing fall or dated single women. When a stranger sleeps with paratroopers’ wives, he should learn to jump like one. And that goes for female Jodies as much as the male ones. And while we’re not rooting for anyone to inflict physical violence on someone else outside of combat, a 10- or 20-foot fall is likely safer than being captured by an irate Marine. Or soldier, sailor, airman, or Coastie.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Why troops wearing unearned awards is still stolen valor

Troops and veterans have little sympathy for the clowns that put on a military uniform around Veterans Day just to try and get 10 percent off their restaurant bill. For lack of a more polite word, the military community offers nothing but unbridled rage to those unworthy of wearing uniform who degrade it in the public eye.

But there is another form of so-called “stolen valor” that rarely gets brought up within the military community — and that’s in-service stolen valor. The Army simply refers to it as being a “PX Ranger,” named after the fool who goes to the PX, buys a Ranger tab, and slaps it on without even stepping foot on the course, let alone completing it.

In addition to going against many official regulations, the troops who do this are damaging the good order and discipline of the military far more than the phonies who make laughable attempts to shave a few bucks off their lunch.


Why it’s (nearly) impossible to land a helicopter on Mt. Everest

You should know which awards you have. After all, you were likely there to receive them.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Russell Martin)

Now, to be clear, there’s a huge difference between in-service stolen valor and the obligatory embellishments that come with military storytelling. It’s one thing to tell a group of younger Joes that, “no sh*t, there you were…” and it’s another to wear an unearned award to back up your claim. For starters, everyone knows to take service stories with a grain of salt. Amplifying a few details to get the point across is harmless; wearing accolades you’ve not earned, on the other hand, is strictly forbidden by Article 134 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

Depending on the severity of the infraction, the accused could face a maximum punishment of forfeiture of all pay and allowances, a bad conduct discharge, and up to six months in confinement. According to the rules, there’s no distinction made between the guy who adds an extra oak leaf cluster to an Army Commendation Medal and the scumbag who tells everyone their Silver Star is “still being figured out by their last unit.”

Why it’s (nearly) impossible to land a helicopter on Mt. Everest

There’s just some things you can’t just “yeah, well, you see. What had happened was” your way through. Being a ranger is one of them.

(U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Steve Cortez)

This harms the military in several ways, the most prominent being that it takes away from the hard work and dedication of those who spent blood, sweat, and tears to get recognized. Regardless of the decoration, there’s weight behind it. If you see an NCO wearing a Ranger tab, you can assume that they’ve got a solid understanding of what it takes to be a bad*ss. They will become the go-to expert on all things relating to operational and tactical planning. If that understanding is built on a lie, then the entire unit suffers.

Because it is punishable under the UMCJ and it’s assumed that wearing a decoration means you’re worthy of it, there shouldn’t have to be the background checks that have inevitably cropped up because of these Blue Falcons. Sure, the old lady at the register still doesn’t ask for a Ranger School graduation certificate when someone buys the tab, but these phonies have helped foster an unwarranted level of scrutiny among the troops. Any real Ranger can easily provide proof, yes, but it’s a shame we need to spend time validating what we’ve already earned because of a few bad apples.

There isn’t anything wrong with being the average Joe in the formation. The moment you raised your right hand and completed your branch’s initial entry training, you’ve earned the respect of all the brothers and sisters who’ve come before you.

Embrace who you are. If you want to be better, go out and be better. Talk to your training room about getting into that school you want. Do extraordinary things in your unit to get that prestigious award. Request a change in MOS if you feel like you’re being held back by your position in the unit. Whatever you do, don’t just pin yourself with something unless you’ve earned it — or else you’re no better than the prick screaming for a military discount after buying a uniform online.

MIGHTY CULTURE

The 369th Support Brigade is now officially the Harlem Hellfighters

The Harlem Hellfighters spent more time in combat during WWI than any other American unit. Comprised primarily of African-American soldiers, the 369th Infantry Regiment spent 191 days in frontline trenches and suffered 1,500 casualties, the most losses of any American regiment. The soldiers of the regiment were given their nickname by their German enemies for their ferocity and tenacity in battle. However, it took the Army over 100 years to recognize the unit’s official designation as the Harlem Hellfighters.

On September 21, 2020, the Army Center of Military History recognized the 369th Infantry Regiment and its descendant, the 369th Sustainment Brigade, as the Harlem Hellfighters. The 369th’s nickname is now observed as a historical and traditional name like the 42nd Infantry Division’s “Rainbow Division” or 3rd Cavalry Regiment’s “Brave Rifles” nicknames. The special designation program is operated by the Force Structure and Unit History Branch of the Army Center of Military History. The effort to officially recognize the 369th’s nickname began in 2019.

New York State Military Museum Director Courtney Burns was working on a 369th display at the Harlem Armory when he went looking for an official certificate in the Army’s records recognizing the unit’s nickname. To his surprise, there wasn’t one. Shocked by this oversight, Burns reached out and notified the unit’s commander, Col. Seth Morgulas. “That is crazy,” Morgulas recalled. “How does it not have it?”

Despite the lack of official recognition, the Harlem Hellfighters nickname is well-known and commonly used. The Triple-A video game Battlefield 1 depicts the 369th and even featured a downloadable content release titled the “Hellfighter Pack”. Moreover, the street that runs by the unit Armory was renamed from Harlem River Drive to Harlem Hellfighters Drive by the New York State Department of Public Transportation. “That was such a glaring error,” Burns said of the nickname’s lack of recognition by the Army.

The 369th Infantry Regiment started out as the 15th Infantry Regiment headquartered in Harlem. It was a segregated African-American unit in the New York National Guard. When America entered WWI in 1917, scores of African-American men traveled to New York City to enlist in the 15th Infantry Regiment and the unit shipped out as part of the American Expeditionary Force.

Why it’s (nearly) impossible to land a helicopter on Mt. Everest
Soldiers of the 369th on a troop ship (National Archives)

Initially, the 15th was relegated to unloading supplies from transport ships. However, in March 1918, the 15th was reorganized as the 369th Infantry and loaned out to the French Army for frontline service. It was during this time that the unit earned its famous nickname, among others.

The soldiers of the 369th called themselves the “Black Rattlers” for their unit crest which depicts a coiled rattlesnake. The French soldiers that they served with called them “Hommes de Bronze” or “Men of Bronze”. But, it was the Germans who called the men of the 369th “Hollenkampfer”…”Hellfighters.” “They are devils,” said a Prussian officer who was captured during the Meuse-Argonne offensive. “They smile while they kill and they won’t be taken alive.”

Due to their courage in battle, the Hellfighters constantly outpaced the French units on their flanks. During one offensive, the closest French units were seven miles behind them. The Hellfighters were also the first allied unit to reach the Rhine River at the war’s end. The French recognized the Hellfighters’ bravery with 11 unit citations and a unit Croix de Guerre. 170 Hellfighters were individually recognized with the Croix de Guerre as well.

After the armistice, the Hellfighters joined the allied armies as they paraded through formerly German-occupied territory. “That day, the sun was shining, and we were marching. And the band was playing,” recalled Hellfighter Melville Miller. “Everybody’s head high, and we were all proud to be Americans, proud to be black, and proud to be in the 15th New York Infantry.” The Hellfighters also received a welcome home parade down Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue, an honor they were denied when they departed for Europe because of their race.

Though the 369th Infantry was officially disbanded after WWII, the unit was re-formed as the 369th Sustainment Brigade of the 53rd Troop Command under the New York Army National Guard. With the Army’s official recognition of the Harlem Hellfighters designation, the 369th now carries on the nickname earned by brave soldiers that came before them.

Why it’s (nearly) impossible to land a helicopter on Mt. Everest
Harlem Hellfighters proudly wear their Croix de Guerre medals (National Archives)
MIGHTY CULTURE

This pro driver teaches troops how to drive in combat

Wyatt Knox is a rally car driver who has won some awards racing across North America, but at the Team O’Neill Rally School, he trains drivers who will likely never win or even compete in a sanctioned race: military service members and others who drive through dangerous areas of the world where they might be attacked.


Pro Driver Shows Off Tactical Driving Techniques | Tradecraft | WIRED

www.youtube.com

Now, before you watch this video and then try to go and do all these maneuvers yourself, most of the skills Knox teaches are very much in the don’t-try-this-at-home territory.

At the school, Knox teaches skills like driving fast in reverse, J-turns, pit maneuvers, and more. The idea is to fill the proverbial “toolboxes” of deploying soldiers, Marines, and others with everything they might need in places like Fallujah, Kandahar, and other locations.

Driving down a street and you suddenly see a probable ambush? You could push through the kill zone, but if you have enough space, you could also come to a quick stop and then drive backwards as fast as possible to get away from the attackers (while your buddies call for fire on their position).

Or maybe you’re pursuing an high-value target, but they’ve got human shields in their vehicle, or you need to be sure that you capture them alive for intel purposes. Well, then the pit maneuver is made for you. Spin out the baddy’s car and try to take them down non-lethally.

Knox gives quick instructions in this video to give viewers a rough idea of what’s going on in their favorite parts of driving movies like The Fast and the Furious. But, again, don’t try this on your local city streets. At best, you’ll receive a well-deserved ticket.

By the way, the video is part of Wired’s “Tradecraft” series where experts in fields like combat and espionage break down skills essential to their career or former job. You can see more here.

MIGHTY CULTURE

7 ways your veteran friend will prove they always have your back

Friendship within the ranks is the glue that holds a unit together. It doesn’t matter who a person is, where they’re from, or what their personal hobbies are, friendships forged in the suck become stronger than anyone can imagine.

It isn’t much of a stretch to say that troops in the same unit become closer than family — but all good things must come to an end. Contracts expire, retirement ceremonies are held, and DD-214s are filled out. Those veterans then go forth to find their new family — which is no easy task.

These are troops who spent years of their lives knowing that even the guys they were only kind of close to were willing to die for them — and vice versa. It’s a lifestyle that makes loyalty a top-shelf virtue. So, if you’re a part of the civilian world and you’ve managed to fill the role of a veteran’s “good friend,” know that they’ve got your back.


It should be noted that, of course, every veteran is different — and it really depends on how close you are with your veteran friend. But, generally, they’ll offer to help you out in these ways:

Why it’s (nearly) impossible to land a helicopter on Mt. Everest
(U.S. Air Force)

Or you could buy them a beer. That always works.

They don’t care about the majority’s opinion — just the trust of a few

Social norms are laughable to most veterans. As long as something doesn’t put anyone in serious danger (other than the veteran if it means there’s a laugh or two to be had, of course), they’ll most likely do it.

If you’re too scared to go talk to that someone who’s grabbed your eye at the bar, veterans really don’t give a sh*t about being embarrassed. They’ll make sure you get their number as long as you make them proud by having a good night.

Why it’s (nearly) impossible to land a helicopter on Mt. Everest
(U.S. Army photo by Sgt. James Avery)

Don’t play with their emotions about free beer, though.

They’ll always be willing to hang out

This is a bit tricky. Most veterans aren’t outgoing or social to the point that they want to be friends with everyone, but if you’re in their close circle, they’ll treat that call like it’s from blood family.

If your veteran friend is on the fence about a social event, just toss in the phrase, “first beer is on me” and they’re already ordering a taxi.

Why it’s (nearly) impossible to land a helicopter on Mt. Everest
(U.S. Army photo by Spc. Kristina Truluck)

Just don’t ask for their woobie. That’s about the only thing they won’t give up.

They will (sometimes literally) give you the shirt off their back

Worldly possessions and money mean something else to veterans. Of course, just like anyone else, they need money to buy whatever they need to get by. But, for the most part, they can do without when it comes to frivolities. They probably managed to sleep just fine underneath a HUMVEE for months at a time with nothing but a woobie and their rifle.

If you find yourself a few bucks short for a meal, your veteran pal will more than likely help you out without giving it a second thought — it’s for the greater good.

Why it’s (nearly) impossible to land a helicopter on Mt. Everest
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Adam Dublinske)

But if you were to ask them to help dig a hole in the middle of the desert for no reason… Well, that’s almost literally all we did while deployed.

They’ll offer to help with things that may not be exactly legal

Veterans also tend to have an alternate perspective on the law. This mentality probably comes from the days when one guy getting caught doing something bad meant equal punishment for everyone in the platoon. Unless that guy did something so heinous that just associating with them was a crime, they looked after their own.

If you’ve ever heard your veteran friend joke about, “burying a body with you. No questions asked.,” just take it as a compliment — we recommend against putting that loyalty to the test.

Why it’s (nearly) impossible to land a helicopter on Mt. Everest
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. David Flynn)

If it’s an emergency, don’t worry about waking us up. We probably weren’t sleeping anyway.

They’ll always answer the phone at 4am

No good news comes over the phone at 4 am. It likely means one of three things have happened: Someone is hurt, someone is in danger, or someone needs a shoulder to lean on. Veterans have first-hand experiences with all three — and they know when it’s time to pick up the phone.

You might be surprised to learn that your veteran buddy — the guy that’s normally the crudest of the group — is actually a great freelance psychiatrist when the circumstance calls for it.

Why it’s (nearly) impossible to land a helicopter on Mt. Everest
(U.S. Army photo by Spc. Paul A. Holston)

Every vet just wants to unleash their inner cage fighter every now and then.

They will put themselves in harm’s way for you

There’s an old saying that’s been modified by pretty much everyone: “Pain is temporary, but pride is forever.”

Blood drys. Broken noses mend. Bloody knuckles heal. These mean nothing so long as everyone’s safe now.

Some vets may hold true to the “sheepdog mentality.” They’ll never let anyone harm the ones they love. But to be completely honest… many veterans are half-way hoping someone runs their mouth or gets a bit handsy so they have a legally valid reason to feed someone their teeth.

Why it’s (nearly) impossible to land a helicopter on Mt. Everest
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Meredith Brown)

We are perfectly content with chilling out all day and playing Spades in the smoke pit. We’re up for anything, really.

They will always enjoy the little moments with you

The bonds between troops aren’t just the result of completing rigorous training or fighting in combat missions together (even though those play a big role). It’s the little moments that cement friendships — it’s those times when troops are bored out of their minds in the tent or stuck on the same boring detail.

You don’t have to plan some intense friendship-bonding thing just to appease them. Most veterans are completely happy sharing a beer in the living room for hours and just relaxing with you — that’s what means the most.

Do Not Sell My Personal Information