Well, here’s your sobering thought for the day: The War on Terror has officially turned seventeen years old today, which also happens to be the minimum age required to enlist in the armed services. Take that as you will — it’s neither a good nor a bad thing. It’s simply a thing.
For troops in earlier wars, the circumstances were a little more straightforward. We declared war against our enemies (or the enemies of our allies) and the resulting conflict ended when one side conceded or declared victory. A war against an insurgency, however, is inherently different. There isn’t a clear opposition over which to declare victory.
But that’s neither here nor there. The fact is, an entire generation of kids that learned of the attacks on the World Trade Center from history books instead from live television — in much the same way as we learned of the events of the American Cold War — is now capable of raising their right hand and taking an oath of enlistment.
You know those troops are going to get mocked relentlessly — or just make all the senior NCOs depressed.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Vernon Young Jr.)
The official rules of enlistment state that someone must be a U.S. citizen or resident alien, must be 17 years of age with parents’ consent or 18 without, must have a high school diploma (with very few exceptions), and must pass a physical medical exam.
While it’s not uncommon to receive a high school diploma at the age of 16, it’s unlikely that such an early achiever would apply their child-prodigy skills by enlisting as a young private when nearly any university would snatch them up in a heartbeat. However, if an applicant is from one of the seven states that 16-year-olds to test for a GED, can manage to swing a slot reserved for GED-holders, and they pass the ASVAB, well, they’ll officially be the first post-9/11 baby to serve in the post-9/11 military.
They’ll get their chance again, if the war on terror doesn’t end within the next two years…
(U.S. Marine Corps)
It’s a fairly tough pill to swallow — a kid enlisting to serve in a war they were born into — but it’s not the only significant milestone. There are some troops who have enlisted and served into retirement, all in support of the Global War on Terror.
That’s right, troops who opted into the early retirement system that allowed troops who’ve served for over 15 years to take an early exit could have started and ended their career fighting the same insurgency. The program ended last December, but a handful of troops who enlisted right after 9/11 managed to squeeze into that “early out.”
There’s no word yet when the first post-9/11 baby will fill in the ranks, but I’m sure there will be plenty of pomp and circumstance around their enlistment. We’ll just have to wait and see.
Sticks and stones may break your bones, but they’re also great building materials. And the Department of Defense is eyeing a return to stick-based construction in some places where it currently uses concrete and similar materials. Fire and blast tests have already gone well, and the Army is working with universities to test its performance against ballistic weapons.
It’s all thanks to a new material that all the cool architects are talking about: cross-laminated timber. The footnotes version on this stuff is that it’s timber assembled in layers, and each layer is placed at 90 degrees from the previous one.
So, think of a Jenga tower, but with lots of glue so the blocks don’t slide apart. Believe it or not, this actually creates a super-strong structure, so strong that architects are certain they can make skyscrapers with the stuff, though buildings of about five stories are the norm right now and the tallest completed so far is 14 stories.
Believe it or not, this is a passing fire test. Cross-laminated timber passed the test for fire resistance, but organizers were a little disappointed that it never self-extinguished. It was hoped that as the wood charred, which greatly reduces its flammability, the flame would run out of fuel.
But the Pentagon isn’t eyeing the material for tall office structures, or at least not exclusively for that. They allowed the Forest Products Laboratory, part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, to test CLT structures against blasts. Yeah, they want to know how the buildings will do against bombs.
The FPL has already tested the material when set on fire, when exposed to extreme moisture, and when shaken as it would in an earthquake. The wood did great in the earlier tests, but the military didn’t want to adopt new materials that would get destroyed the first time a big, bad wolf tried to blow it up.
That blast looks stronger than the Big Bad Wolf, but somehow, the stick-buildings are still standing.
(Air Force Civil Engineering Center AFCEC, Tyndall Air Force Base)
The wood performed well during the tests, flexing and twisting in some cases but—in most of the tests—surviving the blasts. The panels did rupture during the final test, a test designed to overwhelm the timbers and push them well beyond their design limits. But even then, the buildings were safe to enter and walk through.
Now, Georgia Tech in Atlanta is working on a ballistics test with the Army at Aberdeen Proving Grounds in Maryland. The tests are slated to include additional blast testing as well. So, yeah, the Army wants to figure out whether it makes tactical and strategic sense to have wood buildings and structures, even in some places where it might currently use concrete.
All-in-all, CLT is a promising material for the military, and it’s achieved a lot of acceptance in the civilian world. It’s much better for the environment than concrete, which releases CO2 both in production and construction, and steel, which is energy intensive to mine, smelt, forge, and ship.
Timber, in contrast, actually removes carbon from the atmosphere as it’s created and grown, and it’s very lightweight, so it doesn’t cost as much fuel to move the material.
Currently, though, the material is quite expensive to purchase as there are only a few manufacturers making it. Prices are expected to come down over the next couple of decades. An ambitious plan for a 7-story building is slated for completion in 2041, partially because building right now would require that the builders buy up all available CLT, making the project cost as much as double what normal construction would.
Disney World 2018 Armed Forces Salute Prices (Valid through Dec. 19, 2018)
Four-Day Park Hopper Tickets for 6.00
Four-Day Park Hopper Plus Tickets for 6.00
Five-Day Park Hopper Tickets for 6.00
Five-Day Park Hopper Plus Tickets for 6.00
Disney World 2019 Armed Forces Salute Prices (Valid Jan. 1, 2019 through Dec. 19, 2019)
Four-Day Park Hopper Tickets for 1.00
Four-Day Park Hopper Plus Tickets for 1.00
Five-Day Park Hopper Tickets for 7.00
These tickets can be purchased at Shades of Green, your local Base Ticket Office, or Disney Theme Park ticket booths (Sales tax will be added at Disney World ticket booths), through Dec. 15, 2018, for 2018 tickets and purchase 5-Day Military Promotional Tickets now through Dec. 15, 2019 and 4-Day Military Promotional Tickets now through Dec. 16, 2019 for the 2019 Salute offer.
Disneyland Ticket Blockout dates (Dates that these tickets may not be used):
March 23, 2019 through April 8, 2019
California rates have not yet been announced! More to come for the West Coasters. Also, note the Disney Armed Forces Salute benefit is for the member only. While spouses may use their member’s benefit, they are not entitled to a benefit of their own. They only use the discounts in place of the member. Non-spouse dependents (kids) are not eligible.
This article originally appeared on Military Spouse. Follow @MilSpouseMag on Twitter.
China claims that its advanced strike fighter now has “near stealth” capabilities.
The Shenyang J-16 twin-engine, twin-seat multi-role fighter has reportedly been upgraded with radar-absorbent paint, also known as ferromagnetic paint.
“The silver-gray painting covering the J-16 is a kind of cloaking coating that gives the warplane a certain stealth capability, making it nearly invisible to the naked eye and electromagnetic devices,” the official Global Times reported, citing a recent interview with Chinese aviation brigade commander Jiang Jiaji conducted by state broadcaster CCTV.
The aircraft is a modified version of the J-11, which is a carbon copy of Russia’s Su-27. It was designed for maneuverability, not stealth. Chinese military expert Fu Qianshao told the Global Times that the new paint job reduces the plane’s radar cross-section, making detection less likely. “The enemy will only recognize it at close range, giving it a huge advantage in combat,” Chinese media reported.
A Russia Sukhoi Su-27.
The J-16, a heavily-armed offensive companion for China’s J-20 stealth air superiority fighter, is said to be capable of carrying eight tons of weapons, including guided smart bombs, air-to-ground missiles, and even anti-ship missiles. China is also reportedly developing an electronic attack variant.
While Chinese military officers argue that the radar-absorbent paint makes the fighter “nearly invisible,” this is likely an exaggeration of the coating’s capabilities.
The US Air Force has been applying ferromagnetic paint to F-16s for decades, according to The National Interest. In 2012, the F-16s received new coats of paint similar to that of the stealthy F-35, the Aviationist reported at that time. Even with the upgrade, the F-16s have a radar cross-section of 1.2 square meters, much larger than the impressive 0.005 square meters of the F-22 and F-35.
No amount of radar-absorbent paint, TNI notes, can make up for the shape of the aircraft, which are not designed to significantly reflect radar waves. Despite improvements, the F-16 continues to be labeled a “fourth-generation aircraft,” with no mention of stealth capabilities. The same is likely true of China’s J-16, although the stealth paint may dampen part of the radar return making it relatively harder to pick up on radar.
A U.S. Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcon.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Andy Dunaway)
The J-16 advances China’s ability to conduct offensive strikes. “In the past the PLA Air Force’s combat division has been characterised more as a defensive arm, with limited range and offensive capabilities, confined mainly to its immediate region and territory,” Collin Koh, a research fellow with the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, told the South China Morning Post.
The aircraft is expected to play a role in an armed conflict over Taiwan, a self-ruled island Beijing views as a renegade province.
Chinese military analysts explained to Chinese media that the J-16 could carry out a devastating assault against surface targets after the J-20 cleared away an enemy’s air defenses. It is unclear whether China actually has the ability to conduct such operations, as both aircraft are relatively new.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
It’s hard to think of a more beloved — and sometimes hated — cultural touchstone in the military than MRE meals, or meals ready to eat. They’ve been around since the C-Rations of World War II and beyond, and have for decades offered a touch of comfort and a taste of home — albeit a highly engineered one that can last for years at high temperatures without spoiling. You can find MRE cookbooks that will tell you how to turn drink mix and generic toaster pastries into gourmet desserts, and there are scores of YouTube videos dedicated to taste-testing chili mac and the prized jalapeno cheese spread.
Well, it turns out there’s a lot of science that goes into each one of these compact rations packs, and sometimes the development of a new MRE menu item — such as the coveted pepperoni pizza slice — requires actual technological breakthrough. Today, we’ll talk to two people from the Combat Feeding Directorate in Natick, Massachusetts: Lauren Oleksyk, team leader for food engineering, who holds two patents in revolutionary food science, and David Accetta, an Army military historian and public affairs officer at the directorate.
The following is an edited transcript of this episode of Left of Boom:
Hope Hodge Seck 0:00
Welcome back to Left of Boom. I’m your host, Hope Hodge Seck. It’s hard to think of a more beloved — and sometimes hated — cultural touchstone in the military than meals ready to eat, or MREs. They’ve been around since the C-rations of World War II and beyond, and have for decades offered a touch of comfort and a taste of home, albeit a highly engineered one that can last for years at high temperatures without spoiling. You can find MRE cookbooks that will tell you how to turn drink mix and generic toaster pastries into gourmet desserts, and there are scores of YouTube videos dedicated to taste-testing chili mac and the prized jalapeno cheese spread. Well, it turns out there’s a lot of science that goes into each one of these compact rations packs. And sometimes the development of a new MRE menu item, such as the coveted pepperoni pizza slice requires actual technological breakthrough. Today we’ll talk to two people from the Combat Feeding Directorate in Natick, Massachusetts: Lauren Oleksyk, team leader for food engineering, who holds two patents in revolutionary food science, and David Accetta, an Army military historian and public affairs officer at the directorate. Welcome to the show.
Lauren Oleksyk 1:10
David Accetta 1:11
Hi, thank you very much for having us.
Hope Hodge Seck 1:14
So, Lauren, I am so interested in this really unique job that you have. So how did you end up as the team leader of food engineering, basically one of the top MRE developers for the military? Do you start taking the science career path to get here? Or do you get here through a love of the culinary arts? Or both? What was it for you?
Lauren Oleksyk 1:39
For me, it was a little of both. I specifically sought a career in the combat feeding division. While I was still in college, I majored in food science at a local university and started working at the soldier center as an intern. But I would say my interest in food science actually began as a child. I came from a large family and we had an enormous garden. So we canned most of our fruits and vegetables. And I learned very early on about food preservation, and my neighbors were dairy farmers. So my first job as a teen was in the milk-processing field. So I think I developed an early interest in that and also in nutrition and packaging, and I love to cook. So a career in food science was a perfect fit for me.
Hope Hodge Seck 2:24
When did you encounter your first MRE? or How did you get interested in the military side of boot development in the first place?
Lauren Oleksyk 2:32
Well, I interned at a soldier center in the combat feeding division, and I was immediately drawn to the science and technology side of ration development. And one of my first tasks there was to develop cereal bars for survival rations. You know, I had some product development experience when I was in college. But this was my first real hands on experience with product development. And I assumed it would be not too difficult, you know, I develop a cereal bar and test it out, and it will be ready to go. And I quickly learned all about the military constraints and requirements for rations and realize that this was really a unique job.
Hope Hodge Seck 3:12
Can you give a rundown on what those requirements and constraints are?
Lauren Oleksyk 3:16
Probably the most difficult challenge is, rations have to withstand a three-year shelf life. So that’s at 80 degrees Fahrenheit, that’s a long time that these foods have to be shelf-stable and not spoil. They also have to be extremely compact and lightweight and durable enough to survive airdrop, they have to withstand extreme climatic changes that range from minus 60 to 120 degrees Fahrenheit. So our packaging has to be really, really durable to protect rations for that long of a period of time. And we have nutritional requirements that are mandated by the Office of the Surgeon General. Also we have to consider operational scenarios. Where will these rations be issued? This is a lot to consider. It’s not as simple as if you were developing a food for the commercial market.
Hope Hodge Seck 4:05
So the cereal bar was it a hit? Did it meet the requirement? Is it still out there in the world.
Lauren Oleksyk 4:11
It is still a component of survival rations. These rations have very, very long shelf life requirements, sometimes in excess of three years. And the cereal bars are still packaged in that ration, but it’s a special-purpose ration and it’s not readily used unless it needs to be. There’s less variety in that type of ration compared to the MRE.
Hope Hodge Seck 4:31
And I’m not sure how long you’ve been at the combat feeding directorate. But what other MRE recipes have you created or developed since you got there?
Lauren Oleksyk 4:40
I’ve been there a long time. It’s going on 37 years now.
Hope Hodge Seck 4:44
Oh my goodness.
Lauren Oleksyk 4:46
Yeah. And over the years, I was involved in the development of a few MRE items. One in particular, I have a co-patent on the MRE shelf-stable bread, and this bread is stable for three years due to a series of what we call hurdle technologies that keep the bread from staling or spoiling. So this product and technologies that we use to stabilize it form the basis of several other big items in the MRE. To this day, things like the shelf-stable pizza that you’ve heard about, and shelf-stable sandwiches that are in some of our other rations.
Hope Hodge Seck 5:22
That’s incredible. Can you go through what those technologies are that keep the bread for example, from going stale or otherwise spoiling?
Lauren Oleksyk 5:32
The technologies used for bread and baked goods are, we call them hurdle technologies. And this is a way to preserve foods that have intermediate moisture contents without having to subject them to a thermal sterilization process. Essentially, you introduce hurdles to microbial growth. And you do that by using specific ingredients that control water activity that control the product’s pH, control the moisture content, in the case of something like a shelf-stable pizza, it would control the migration of moisture from one part of the food to another, because you might have a lot of components. Like in the case of the pizza, you have the dough, the sauce, the cheese, the toppings, and they all have different moisture contents and water activity. So if you don’t control how that migrates from piece to piece, you are going to introduce the opportunity for microbial spoilage. So we use ingredients, and we also control the headspace in the package. And everything we can do to prevent that spoilage. And we test the safety of the food throughout its three-year shelf life to confirm that it’s safe to consume and nothing will grow. That’s an example of a hurdle technology. And it’s employed in different ways for different intermediate moisture products.
Hope Hodge Seck 6:51
And I know this MRE pizza slice pepperoni pizza slice, I’ve actually tried it, it came out a few years ago, and it was sort of the holy grail of MRE. And as I understand, was a highly requested item since its release. Have you tracked soldier service member feedback? And what are you hearing about how well it’s going over in the field?
Lauren Oleksyk 7:12
Well, we should actually start getting that data soon. It was incorporated into the MRE in 2018, and really first fielded around 2019. Every year, we actually do field tests and evaluation with soldiers and we get that feedback from them. So this will be the first year that we actually can start collecting data on the fielded Pizza to assess how well it’s accepted. But prior to it going into the MRE, we did a number of field evaluations on just that item like all MRE components. It had to be warfighter-tested and approved before it went into the ration. And the pizza definitely was a highly accepted product. They had been asking for it for years, and it was very well received. So we’re hoping that the field test results going forward confirm that, and we’ll keep a close eye on it.
Hope Hodge Seck 8:02
What sort of feedback do you solicit in these surveys that you’re talking about getting the data back from?
Lauren Oleksyk 8:07
We ask them to rate the acceptability of the components, especially if we’re testing new prototypes. So they’re given a scale from one to nine, and they rank how well they like the product. We also do consumption studies, where we measure how much of each item they eat, and how much they throw away, so we can assess whether something is under-consumed. And if we see that trend, we’ll ask them questions regarding that: why aren’t they consuming it? And then every year, based on that data, we make decisions on whether something’s retired from the MRE or replaced with something else. And a lot of times the demographics might change of the military. So things that were well loved by warfighters, you know, back in the ’70s and ’80s are not well-liked by you know, some of the military personnel today who might prefer different foods that reflect more of what they ate when they were growing up.
Hope Hodge Seck 9:03
I know for example, cigarettes are no longer included in MREs and they were historically included in combat rations many years ago. But how often our items are tired and what are some of the most recent items to be retired?
Lauren Oleksyk 9:17
Things that were very popular years ago like chicken a la king, ham and lima beans to go way back, those things were retired, and today we have things like burritos and vegetarian options, things that they request and are much more familiar with — the MRE pizza. But in terms of what’s taken in and out every year, it varies.
David Accetta 9:35
It’s all based on the soldiers and feedback and and it’s actually not just soldiers. We also do the surveys with Marines, because the Army and the Marine Corps are the primary consumers of the MREs. So we need to get their feedback and ask them what do they like, what they don’t like, and then what they don’t like, gets retired, and we try to figure out what they do like, which is how we got to the pizza. And then a lot of the other things that are in MREs — If you looked at the menu from today versus the menus from the early 80s, when they first came out, you’ll see great differences in the entrees. Because the original MREs were pretty much based on traditional American comfort food, the same way that the previous series of rations, meal combat-individual, and before that the Army C-rations. You know, as we did more surveys and got more feedback from military personnel, we found out what they liked and what they didn’t like. And Lauren alluded to it when she said things that they remember growing up, and you’ve got so much more diversity in the Army now, you’ve got people from all different ethnic backgrounds. So there’s a lot of different types of food. It’s not just standard American comfort food, it’s not pot roast, and it’s not those kind of things anymore.
Hope Hodge Seck 11:01
So one of my favorite things about MREs, henever I’ve had the chance to eat them downrange is all the little side items that they come with, all the little packages you can open and the jalapeno cheese spread and the snacks for later. It’s really fun opening them up and seeing all the items that are inside and how they all work together. And you know, of course there are those people who make little recipes in the field with whatever they have or trade them back and forth. So how does a new complete MRE menu come about? And what are sort of the parameters for ensuring complementarity of taste and nutritional balance and appeal for everything that’s in the package as a whole, developing a new menu?
Lauren Oleksyk 11:47
We consider three things really. The first one are the warfighters’ recommendations and their desires, you know, and the MRE pizza is an example of that. But secondly, and probably more importantly, we have to think about military requirements and the operational scenario where the ration will be used. And then lastly, we look at leading-edge food science and packaging technologies, because sometimes the science itself will bring us in a direction that says we can develop something that otherwise wouldn’t have been able to be developed before, because it’s a new technology that we can utilize. In addition to the three-year shelf life requirement for a new menu, we have nutritional guidelines that we have to follow. So there might be a nutrient that’s lacking in a menu. And so we’ll develop a food that specifically has that nutrient in it. So that as a whole when you put all those components together, the MRE is nutritionally complete. As far as taste and palatability, the combat feeding division is outfitted with a sensory lab, where technically trained panelists can examine the foods’ organoleptic properties. So this would include the appearance odor, flavor, texture, and overall quality. And we do that over the duration of the product shelf life. So we’ll rate the products on a scale and we try to achieve a score above a six. So you know,one being dislike, nine being like. And we’ll try to get a six at the end of a product shelf life to ensure that it’s acceptable once it’s issued, six or better. So that’s kind of our internal goal. But we also utilize general consumer panels who rate a new product based on just a matter of how much they like it. They don’t really look at the technical aspects of the food, but whether they like it or not. And then we have military human research volunteers that are located at soldier center. And we solicit them to test new prototypes and to participate in focus groups to get their feedback. And then after we do all of that is when we’ll conduct our annual or biannual field tests with military personnel. And that’s where every new MRE component must be tested and accepted before it will go into a ration.
Hope Hodge Seck 13:52
When you’re talking about this technical expert panelists, who are those people?
Lauren Oleksyk 13:57
They are primarily food technologists, they’ve undergone specific training in sensory evaluation. So we all have varied thresholds where we can pick up very subtle changes in flavors and odors. And we have a good range of us so they look across you know, people who have a very low threshold for salt, say. Some others might have a very low threshold for rancidity, or bitterness. And so combined, this group of technical panelists really can do a thorough evaluation of foods. And we’ll do it not only when a food is first developed, but even after it’s been stored for three years.
Hope Hodge Seck 14:35
That’s fascinating. So you talked about the hurdle technologies that led to bread and then to pizza, which was sort of like this revelation. Are there current scientific food challenges that you’re currently working through to pave the way to develop more items?
Lauren Oleksyk 14:53
Yes, there are. And one of the reasons is we’re very focused right now on the fact that soldiers and units might be in environments where they have to go longer without resupply. So right now, we’re very focused on reducing the logistics burden by reducing the weight and size of rations so that soldiers in small units can carry more. And this is becoming critically important. And it’s it’s dictating the development of smaller and more compact, nutrient-dense foods. So some of the technologies we’re really advancing right now are drying technologies to reduce the weight of foods, and compression technologies to reduce the volume of foods. And that’s includes things like vacuum microwave drying, and ultrasonic agglomeration, which is a compression technology. And sometimes we’re developing new prototypes, using a combination of those two technologies to make these very nutrient-dense, compact foods, in some cases can actually be entire meal replacement bars.
Hope Hodge Seck 15:56
The way you’re describing it, immediately, what comes to mind is the rations that are sent to space with astronauts, when you’re talking about drying and making things as late as they possibly can be. Are there any similarities there?
Lauren Oleksyk 16:10
Yes, very similar requirements. In fact, we collaborate with NASA, and have worked with them on many dense and compact items such as meal replacement bars that they’re considering for their menus for the mission to Mars. And also, we work with them on developing entrees that are used at the International Space Station. So the similarities and requirements for astronauts and military personnel are very, very similar. And in fact, NASA has long shelf-life requirements too, even longer than military rations in some case, but lightweight products in very dense products are required by both.
Hope Hodge Seck 16:50
How soon might we see a meal replacement bar out in the field and fully developed and being used by troops on the go?
Lauren Oleksyk 16:58
We’re working on a new ration called the close combat assault ration. This is a ration that’s designed to be extremely lightweight and compact. So we’re developing these nutrient-dense bars. Now they’re in the prototype stage for the close combat assault ration that’s going to be field-tested soon. Some of the first prototypes will be field-tested in the near future, the bars that we’re looking at for that ration are not necessarily full meal replacement bars. But they using the technology for drying and compression that enable us to make a full meal replacement bar if needed.
Hope Hodge Seck 17:34
And how much lighter it might these rations be than the typical MRE package?
Lauren Oleksyk 17:39
The ration components themselves, it depends on how much moisture you remove. But we’ve achieved anywhere between 40 to 70% decrease in weight on a component level, because essentially, you’re just taking the fresh food and you’re removing the moisture, but you can dial in how much you want to remove for palatability purposes. We know that war fighters don’t necessarily want to consume all dry bars. So we want to be able to offer a variety of moistures in these products so that it’s something they want to consume. So it depends, you know, the weight reductions depend, but we have metrics and goals to achieve about a 40% reduction in weight. And we can achieve the same and volume if we compress the product as well.
Hope Hodge Seck 18:27
As we’re talking about many development. I know in the last couple of decades, there’s a lot more service members who want to eat, say keto, or paleo, even Whole 30 — these diets that are really dependent on protein and vegetables and probably really hard to sustain in the field. And I’m sure there are things that it’s just like, yeah, there’s no way to make shelf-stable rations that fit that bill. But are you looking at any ways to develop additional menus that cater to people who have specific food requirements like these, or want to, I guess, eat a little bit more whole food or protein-heavy, whatever the case may be?
Lauren Oleksyk 19:12
With regard to the MRE, there is no requirement from the military services to develop keto or paleo menus. All the menus in the MREs have to meet the nutritional standards for operational rations. You know, and as I mentioned, that was that’s mandated by the Office of the Surgeon General. But we do listen to some of their desires for this for certain types of foods. And one example of that is we currently have four vegetarian meals in the MRE out of the 24 menus. Four of them are vegetarian, two new vegetarian entrees were approved for the latest MRE: cheese pizza and the Mexican-style rice and bean bowl. And every every ration is labeled in accordance with FDA regulations so individual soldiers can see the list of ingredients and they can determine for themselves, you know whether it’s a product that they want to consume, but in general, you know, we want them to consume the entire MRE, because that is a nutritionally complete ration and it will optimize their performance and health if they consume it all.
Hope Hodge Seck 20:14
In my journeys around the internet, I have found this trove of MRE enthusiasts who live on places like YouTube, where they’ll buy old MREs that are decades old and taste-test them or make Top Chef-style recipes, combining different ingredients, using the Kool-Aid powder and the, you know, you name it just really mixing things up. So do you ever kind of watch those YouTube videos? Or pay attention to that little subculture? And do the fans of MREs who kind of live out in the civilian world and are just interested in these things, do they ever inspire you in your work?
Lauren Oleksyk 20:51
I do watch those. I love those videos, they make me laugh, first of all, but I also think it’s so fun to see how creative they get with the types of things they make. I read the comments, I find the comments are very interesting and helpful. And I will bring, when I read something like that, I will have little brainstorm sessions at work. And we’ll talk about what people think and you know, some of the ideas that come from those videos in terms of new product lines. So yes, I do watch them. And a lot of times, you know, if they’re a positive review, it can be actually somewhat rewarding to know that you were part of the development of those products, I see that a lot with the flameless ration heater that they show inside the MRE, that was a development that — I was one of the original developers of the flameless ration heater. And even though it’s not a food item, it allows soldiers to actually have a hot meal now in the field, where before 1992, they didn’t always have a way to heat their entrees. So a lot of those YouTube videos will show people using the flameless ration heater and heating up their entree and it’s quite enjoyable to watch them.
Hope Hodge Seck 22:03
I love that so much.
David Accetta 22:05
The flameless ration heater was a huge, huge development that to help soldiers — well, all troops in the field. You know, having been in the Army for a long time, before flameless ration heaters, you have to come up with creative ways to to heat your food. Otherwise, you know, your food was essentially the same temperature as it was outside, whether that was 40 degrees or 70 degrees. The flameless ration heater made a huge difference to the morale of troops, because it gave them the ability to have hot food anywhere that they were. So they didn’t have to rely on using the heat from the engine of the vehicle that you happen to be next to, or finding some other creative way to heat up your MRE components without making a fire.
Hope Hodge Seck 22:55
Something that still gives troops a lot of joy is the instructions that those heaters come with. And the fact that they tell whoever is eating the MRE to put the whole package, balance it on “a rock or something” are the words that people really get a kick out of. Do you know how that particular bit of instruction that language came about?
Lauren Oleksyk 23:17
Yes, I happen to know that. Since we developed the flameless ration heater, we also developed the instructions that are on the bag. And initially that when we were designing the pictograms that you see on the package itself, we were trying to come up with an object that you lean the flameless ration heater on top of, at an angle, which helps it to heat faster. And we couldn’t think of an object. And my colleague next to me said, well, let’s just use the rock or something in the picture. And we did we put a rock and we called it the “rock or something” as a joke. And we left it in because people thought it was funny. And it actually brought some humor to the field. So we decided over the long term to leave it in there and we still hear about it all the time.
Hope Hodge Seck 24:04
That is so amazing.
Lauren Oleksyk 24:06
Hope Hodge Seck 24:06
So I do have to ask about a little bit more MRE myths and legends. Anyone who’s ever been out in the field is eating these and so they get talked about a lot and there are all these rumors that are flying around. First of all, the gum that comes with the current mre, they say it’s a laxative to keep things moving along. Is there any truth in that rumor?
David Accetta 24:27
Lauren Oleksyk 24:30
The gum at one point had a xylitol component which can have in some people a laxative effect, but it was it’s not intentionally in the MRE to to serve as a laxative. So yes, that is not exactly true.
David Accetta 24:46
The xylitol in the gum is to help prevent tooth decay. So it was designed for situations where you didn’t have the ability to brush your teeth. You could chew the gum and then that would help with the health of your teeth in the field.
Hope Hodge Seck 25:05
So there was a hidden benefit, but it was not what people were thinking.
Lauren Oleksyk 25:09
Hope Hodge Seck 25:10
Other one that I think spans your career is even back in the ’90s, maybe even in the early 2000s, maybe even longer — Charms candy, were part of some MRE menus and those were notorious for being bad luck. I think even in the Generation Kill miniseries, they come across the Charms dump, where everyone’s just gotten the Charms out of their MRIs to be on the safe side. So do you know anything about how that charms rumor came about? And when Charm stopped being part of the MRE?
Lauren Oleksyk 25:42
I’m not sure when exactly they were removed, they are no longer in the MRE today. And I know, I’ve heard of the curse of the Charms. Back in the day. If a warfighter received a ration with Charms in it, they would deem to bring bad luck, so they would get rid of them. I’ve heard stories of soldiers holding bags out to collect everyone’s Charms at feeding time to get rid of. David might have more experience with that.
David Accetta 26:08
Yeah, we don’t really have a good idea of exactly when or how Charms became associated with bad luck. But I mean, I do remember hearing that, that if you ate the Charms when you were in field, say in a training environment, then that would guarantee that it would rain on you. And then later on, as we got into more combat operations in different parts of the world, they became associated with soldiers getting injured or killed. Which is why some troops were very adamant about not having the Charms and getting rid of them as soon as they could. I think some of that might have to do with the popularity or lack of popularity of the Charms, of hard candy. So those had been part of military rations for a long time going back to World War II. And I kind of think personally that, generations later, troops were just not all that fond of hard candy, and just didn’t want to eat them, you know, whereas it was probably much more popular in the ’40s and ’50s.
Hope Hodge Seck 27:21
Makes sense. It’s good to get to get to the bottom of that one. I could talk to you all for hours. I think this is really fascinating stuff. And I love the work that you do. But I know we have to wrap up. So my final question is for each of you. What is your favorite MRE menu and why?
Lauren Oleksyk 27:39
Okay, well, for me, it’s the MRE pepperoni pizza, of course, partly because my team is the team that developed the item but also because I love pizza. And I also like the vegetarian taco pasta. So those are my two favorites.
Hope Hodge Seck 27:54
David Accetta 27:55
I have, I think very strange sense of taste. And that’s what most people would politely describe it. My favorite MRE was the omelet with ham. And that was also my favorite of the meal combat-individuals and the canned rations. And that was really good for me because most people didn’t like either one of those. So I could always trade whatever I had for that one. Now of the of the newer-generation MREs, I like the cheese tortellini, it’s even though it’s a vegetarian meal and I’m not a vegetarian. I like the cheese tortellini. And just as a point of trivia, the only ration I mean, the only entree that is still in the MRE menu from the original menu is the spaghetti. And everybody likes the spaghetti and during Desert Storm and going into Iraq in in 2003, as well, that one was really popular and I remember soldiers fighting over who was going to get the spaghetti because they like the spaghetti and that one also came with M&Ms. So that was a jackpot if you pull the the spaghetti MRE out of the box.
Hope Hodge Seck 29:19
Love it, jackpot indeed. Well, I have a very fun memory of being very hungry on a late night in Afghanistan and finding a first strike ration that had a pepperoni sandwich in it, and it tasted just so good. And I don’t think anything will ever taste as good as that item did.
David Accetta 29:39
And that is all due to the work that Lauren and her team did with the shelf-stable bread that enabled the pepperoni sandwich. But you’re exactly right. And we tell people that because you mentioned the the MRE videos on the internet and you know, MREs get a lot of criticism. Not only from troops, but also from civilians who may pick one up somewhere and they eat it. And they’re not designed to be gourmet food. And you know, what we like to tell people is that the true benefit of an MRE can’t be found if you’re sitting in your kitchen or your living room eating it. The benefit of an MRE is when you’re cold, wet, tired and hungry, sitting in the dark in the rain on a mountainside in Afghanistan. And you can open up an MRE and you can have hot food, and you can have something that reminds you of home and have better times and that’s really what the benefits of the MRE are and how you can really appreciate them.
Hope Hodge Seck 30:42
Well, Lauren, and David, thank you so much for coming on the show today.
David Accetta 30:46
Thank you. Great being here.
Hope Hodge Seck 30:57
Well, I don’t know about you, but that episode made me hungry. I’ll take the barbecue beef MRE: It comes with a side of black beans and shelf-stable tortillas and that delicious jalapeno cheese. Do you have any favorite memory recipes or stories about how you enjoy them in the field? Are there any combat ration myths and rumors that we didn’t get to on today’s episode? Hit me up at firstname.lastname@example.org and let me know. Hit subscribe on the show today, and if you use Apple podcasts, please do leave a rating and review. And until next time, remember to check out Military.com for all the information and news you need about your military community.
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There’s a saying in the photography community, first coined by the legendary Robert Capa: “if your photos aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough.” If that’s true, there’s one North Korean photog who has the world’s best photo of a rocket launch. Sadly, no one will ever see it because the photo was burned up along with the man who took it.
The worst part is, the Korean Central News Agency distributed video of his gruesome death for all the world to see.
Ow Ow Ow Ow Ow Ow Ow Ow
No one loves testing missiles and telling the world about it more than North Korea, so it’s likely the photographer was put there on purpose. Whether or not anyone (especially the photographer) knew he was in the blast zone for the Hwasong-15 rocket is anyone’s guess.
“The photographer who stood near Hwasong-15 missile was enveloped by fire,” said one onlooker to the incident. “I was shocked to see officials watching the launch. I did not know whether it was the fault of the cameraman or the control center. But it was impossible for leader Kim Jong-un who was at the site not to have witnessed the incident.”
Kim Jong-un and the Korean People’s Army rejoice at the launch of a Hwasong-15 missile test.
As North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un and his cronies watched North Korea’s largest, most powerful Intercontinental ballistic missile test to date – and cheered on – it’s possible that up to 16 people who were in the test area were burned alive by the missile’s blast. South Korea says the KCNA broadcasts were later edited to remove the toasted photographer.
The U.S. Army announced on Aug. 28, 2019, that the National Museum of the United States Army will open to the public on June 4, 2020.
The National Museum of the United States Army will be the first and only museum to tell the 244-year history of the U.S. Army in its entirety. Now under construction on a publicly accessible area of Fort Belvoir, Virginia, admission to the museum will be open to the public with free admission.
The museum will tell the Army’s story through soldier stories. The narrative begins with the earliest militias and continues to present day.
“The Army has served American citizens for 244 years, protecting the freedoms that are precious to all of us. Millions of people have served in the Army, and this museum gives us the chance to tell their stories to the public, and show how they have served our nation and our people,” said acting Secretary of the Army Ryan D. McCarthy.
(US Army photo)
In addition to the historic galleries, the museum’s Army and Society Gallery will include stories of Army innovations and the symbiotic relationship between the Army, its civilian government and the people. The Experiential Learning Center will provide a unique and interactive learning space for visitors of all ages to participate in hands-on geography, science, technology, engineering, and math (G-STEM) learning and team-building activities.
(US Army photo)
“This state-of-the art museum will engage visitors in the Army’s story — highlighting how the Army was at the birth of our nation over 240 years ago, and how it continues to influence our everyday lives,” said Ms. Tammy E. Call, the museum’s director. “The National Museum of the United States Army will be stunning, and we can’t wait to welcome visitors from around the world to see it.”
(US Army photo)
The museum is a joint effort between the U.S. Army and the Army Historical Foundation, a non-profit organization. The Army Historical Foundation is constructing the building through private funds. The U.S. Army is providing the infrastructure, roads, utilities, and exhibit work that transform the building into a museum.
(US Army photo)
The Army will own and operate the museum 364 days a year (closed December 25). Museum officials expect 750,000 visitors in the first year of operation. A timed-entry ticket will be required. Free timed-entry tickets will assist in managing anticipated crowds and will provide the optimum visitor experience. More information on ticketing will be available in early 2020.
We’ve all played the “What If” game. In the military, this can lead to some rather interesting questions: What would happen if I was in charge of this op? What if I put my hands in my pockets? What if 1st Sergeant was nicer?
In his most recent novel Empire City, Iraq War veteran and author, Matt Gallagher, answers a question that has circulated in the barracks and across many a dinner table, “What if the U.S. won the Vietnam War full WWII unconditional surrender style?” Gallagher’s novel, set half a century in the future from a North Vietnam surrender and occupation, explores an American society transformed by the Vietnam experience into an empire that would rival Rome or the colonial British. However, buried deep inside the world of Empire City, Gallagher also answers a very poignant and pressing question, “What is the real cost of victory?”
Empire City follows the journey of Sebastian Rios, a mid-level bureaucrat, who owes his career and his life to the group of veterans that came to his rescue overseas. Known as the “Volunteers,” these special operators toe the line between national treasures and Soldiers of Fortune who when not deployed to the frontlines of conflicts across the Mediterranean are living the high life in Hollywood and the clubs of Empire City – and, SPOILER ALERT – they aren’t even Navy SEALS but they do have super powers. Along with Mia, a former helicopter pilot turned Wall Street banker, Sebastian finds himself caught in a constitutional debate after a terrorist attack on the city, could, or better, should the U.S. deploy their best soldiers onto home territory?
Like the story of Caesar and his legions crossing the Rubicon, Empire City recounts the multiple layers of tradition turned upside down when a series of battle-hardened veterans decide to act. Among the key players are a former general turned presidential candidate as well as an army of foreign legionnaires who earned their citizenship by fighting America’s wars past and present. If you’d like to know one possible answer to the questions, “What if the hippie movement had failed?” Or, “What if corporate American bought and sold stakes in military units like NASCAR sponsorships?” And, “What if American patriots became their own sheepdogs?” then you’ll enjoy Empire City.
Military veterans, especially combat veterans like Gallagher, who translated his experiences into his previous books, Youngblood and Kaboom, have been known to write some of the most fascinating alternative historical novels of our time. For example, Robert Heinlein, a WWII veteran of the Pacific, went on to write the classic Starship Troopers, a must read for both military and science fiction enthusiasts. I think it’s safe to say that Empire City is the newest addition to our must-read list and Gallagher has just joined a special unit of writers that include Heinlein, Orwell and Turtledove.
The surprise attack on Pearl Harbor wasn’t the only time the Japanese struck U.S. soil during World War II. In response to the Doolittle Raid — the successful penetration of Japanese airspace and the bombing of strategic targets in Tokyo from the allies — the Japanese executed their revenge. The date of the launch was chosen for the birthday of former emperor Meiji, Nov. 3, 1944.
However, instead of using airplanes, the Japanese used fusen bakudan, or balloon bombs, that each carried four incendiaries and a 33-pound, highly explosive anti-personnel fragmentation device. The Fu-Go balloon bombs traveled 7,500 miles along the Pacific Ocean jet stream at altitudes between 20,000 and 40,000 feet. Witnesses described these large, white balloons as “giant jellyfish” floating in the sky. Their main objective was to start forest fires, create security doubts among the civilian populace, and cause upheaval.
The all-black Triple Nickles battalion was ultimately responsible for combating the slow-moving, round balloon bombs, which had no escort or protection and had been spotted by the U.S. Navy patrol off the coast of California only two days after their initial launch. The patrol alerted the FBI, and investigations were conducted to find the origin of these mysterious flammable balloons traveling over the Pacific Northwest and into Canada.
A Japanese Fu-Go balloon with its payload of charges suspended below. Photo by Maj. Thomas Cieslak/3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, courtesy of the U.S. Army.
Paratroopers from the 101st and 82nd Airborne Divisions suffered heavy casualties in the European Theater (ETO) during the Battle of the Bulge and the courageous siege of Bastogne; they were in a desperate need for replacements. The 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion, or the “Triple Nickles” as they became known, trained to fulfill this capacity. However, as with other all-black units of the time, African-American soldiers weren’t treated equally. “We were relegated to serving in menial units such as truck drivers, port companies (loading ships), mess halls (waiting on tables) and guard duty,” wrote Walter Morris, a Triple Nickle veteran.
Although no Triple Nickles completed a combat jump or deployed to Europe, these trendsetters provided another example of how an elite all-black unit could be employed in a combat or peacetime environment. The Triple Nickles participated in a top-secret project fighting forest fires as the U.S. military’s first smoke jumping paratroopers over the Pacific Northwest.
The Triple Nickles, a name derived from the parachute regiment’s designation, was created in the winter of 1943 and consisted of 17 of the original 20-man platoon from the 92nd Infantry (Buffalo) Division. These men were hand-selected to create the first “colored test platoon.” A few months into 1944 saw newly minted paratroopers who completed training jumps at Fort Benning, Georgia. The first all-black parachute infantry battalion in history had formed but were still brand-new and lacked manpower. The paratroopers honed their skills and became experts in small-unit tactics.
Several went to the best schools the U.S. Army had to offer. Some became riggers and jump masters while others learned the metrics in communications, the skills to navigate difficult terrain as pathfinders, and the intricacies in demolitions.
They were the cream of the crop — college graduates, professional athletes, men of high character and extraordinary intellect. One Triple Nickle veteran, “Tiger” Ted Lowry, entered the ring to face world champion boxing legend Joe Louis, who came to Lowry’s base in 1943. He was accompanied by Sugar Ray Robinson — who Muhammad Ali coined as “the king, the master, my idol” — when the duo toured military camps to entertain soldiers. “Stay in the middle of the ring,” Robinson advised Lowry, “don’t let him get you on the ropes.” Lowry already had 70 fights to his name and somehow survived the three-round exhibition with one of the greatest boxers in history.
“You can’t imagine what that did for my ego,” Lowry reflected. “I had just been in the ring with the champion of the world, the greatest fighter in the world, and he was unable to knock me down. My confidence was inflated.” His fighting days halted when he joined the Triple Nickles but resumed when he faced Rocky Marciano, the Brockton, Massachusetts, undefeated heavyweight champion. Not only did he stun Marciano, but he shocked crowds of hometown Italian-Americans by going the distance twice with the Brockton Blockbuster, the only fighter ever to do so.
The men of the 555th Parachute Infantry Regiment march in the New York City Victory Parade on January 12, 1946. Maj. Gen. Jim Gavin ensured the “Triple Nickles” not only marched in the parade, but wore the insignia of the 82nd Airborne Division. Photo by Maj. Thomas Cieslak/3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, courtesy of the U.S. Army.
When World War II was nearing a close and as the Germans were losing ground, the Triple Nickles’ focus shifted from Europe to the homefront. The Triple Nickles were the size of a “reinforced company” but expected to reach battalion size by 1945. The threat from the Japanese balloon bombs was imminent, and they were diverted to Pendleton, Oregon, and Chico, California, under secret orders to the 9th Services Command.
The U.S. Forest Service (USFS) received help from the U.S. Army when 400 paratroopers from the Triple Nickles were tasked with the difficult job. They turned in their rifles, hand grenades, and rucksacks. In that equipment’s place they donned football helmets with wire face masks, equipped 50 feet of nylon rope for lowering themselves from trees, and packed firefighting tools such as axes and handsaws on their person for parachute jumps.
The smoke jumping program was in its sixth firefighting season, but the war dwindled their resources, and the Triple Nickles provided a welcome skillset. Pilots flying C-47s needed no additional training and had prior results in properly managing smokejumper assets in remote regions where fires were often inaccessible by roads. The response and defensive strategy against the Japanese balloon bombs was a little-known secret called Operation Firefly.
Later reports suggested that the Japanese launched over 9,000 helium balloons. Damage from these balloons was rare but noteworthy. One balloon exploded after it hit high-tension power lines that were connected to a plutonium plant in Hanford, Washington. It caused a temporary blackout to the community, and the plutonium plant was ironically responsible for developing the fuel for the atomic bomb dropped over Nagasaki, Japan.
Triple Nickle member Jesse Mayes prepares to jump from a C-47. Photo by Maj. Thomas Cieslak/3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, courtesy of the U.S. Army.
Vincent “Bud” Whitehead, a U.S. Army counterintelligence officer, used to track and chase the balloons in the air from his plane. In March 1945, a balloon had landed on the ground but didn’t ignite. “They sent a bus up with all of this specially trained personnel, gloves, full contamination suits, masks,” Whitehead said in an interview with the Voices of the Manhattan Project. “I had been walking around on that stuff and they had not told me! They were afraid of bacterial warfare.” Biological and bacterial warfare fears were not exaggerated because it was later revealed that the Japanese had scrapped an operation at the end of the war for weaponizing the bubonic plague.
Another notable tragedy that involved these balloon bombs was the devastation of almost an entire family while they picnicked near the Gearhart Mountain in Bly, Oregon. On May 5, 1945, Reverend Archie Mitchell, his pregnant wife, Elsie, and five children from their Sunday School class were victims of the balloon’s lethality. The children went to investigate the strange object that had floated to the ground, but they got too close and were killed when the balloon did what it was designed to do. Archie Mitchell was the only survivor.
The Triple Nickles went to work to prevent additional American civilian casualties. First Lieutenant Edwin Willis, a brilliant planner and training specialist, put his paratroopers through a three-week crash course to learn proper firefighting knowledge and techniques. Willis received assistance and guidance from USFS smokejumpers and forest rangers as well.
Frank Derry, Parachute Instructor-Rigger, instructing prospective smoke jumper in the use of the “drop rig.” Simulates landing from chute caught in a snag or other obstacles by use of landing rope. Lolo National Forest, Montana. Photo by W.J. Mead, courtesy fo the National Archives and Records Administration.
This course included “demolitions training, tree climbing and techniques for descent if we landed in a tree, handling firefighting equipment, jumping into pocket-sized drop zones studded with rocks and tree stumps, survival in wooded areas, and extensive first-aid training for injuries — particularly broken bones,” said Morris.
Frank Derry, a master civilian parachutist, issued the Triple Nickles his “Derry-chute,” which was known for its maneuverability and steering capabilities. “Snag trees, those were the worst. I didn’t like those dudes at all,” Derry said, referring to the nuisances found in their path. “But landing in the trees was just as soft as landing, better than landing on the ground. The thick trees […] you just come into them like sitting down on a pillow, nothing to it.”
The Triple Nickles were also assisted by demolition experts from the 9th Services Command and USFS rangers. “Learning the touchy business of handling unexploded bombs, as well as how to isolate areas in which a bomb, or suspected bomb, was located,” Morris wrote. The incedinaries and chemicals were an additional pucker factor to their already challenging task.
Then-1st. Sgt. Walter Morris, right, prepares for his first jump with the 555th Parachute Infantry Regiment. Photo by Maj. Thomas Cieslak/3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, courtesy of the U.S. Army.
The Triple Nickles also learned to live off the land and avoid costly mistakes that could derail their mission. “They could walk up the hills like a cat on a snake walk,” Morris wrote, discussing the expertise of USFS rangers. “They taught us how to climb, use an axe, and what vegetation to eat. At the same time, we underwent an orientation program with Forest Service maps. And, above all, our morale and spirit of adventure never sagged in the face of this unusual mission.”
The Triple Nickles became fully operational smokejumpers, but the numbers on how many fires and fire jumps they completed have been skewed over the years. Chuck Sheley, the editor of Smokejumper Magazine, states they completed 460 to 470 jumps on an estimated 15 of 28 forest fires, while they drove or hiked into the other fires. The National 555th Parachute Infantry Association consensus estimates the Triple Nickles answered 36 fire calls with 1,200 individual jumps across seven Western states.
Private First Class Malvin Brown was the only casualty of the Triple Nickles. Brown was a critical component of the team because of his medical expertise. Any injuries, accidents, or potential concerns went through the fire medics. When 15 Triple Nickles paratroopers boarded their C-47 on the morning of Aug. 6, 1945, Brown wasn’t supposed to be there. However, he volunteered to replace another medic who was sick. Hours later he jumped into a fire in Umpqua National Forest in southern Oregon’s Cascade Range and landed in a tree. Moments later he slipped and fell more than 150 feet to the ground below. He died instantly.
Brown’s fellow smokejumpers changed their mission from fighting the fire to bringing home their teammate’s body. After an arduous search in rocky terrain, they located him and carried him more than 3 miles through the backcountry. Their first sign of civilization was a trail, but it took another 12 miles for them to find a road to get help.
The soldiers of the Triple Nickles weren’t respected while they were in service, but their contributions in a long lineage of elite all-black units are remembered as if they were legends. The Triple Nickles disbanded after World War II, but many of the soldiers continued to serve, including Lieutenant Colonel John Cannon, who was a combat medic during the Korean War. John E. Mann served as an Army Special Forces advisor in Vietnam and was awarded the Silver Star, three Bronze Stars, three Legions of Merit, and a Distinguished Flying Cross. Mann served in the military for 33 years and later authored four detective novels.
Anyone who’s ever watched pretty much any movie in the history of ever or otherwise watched professional pugilists spar words with one another in a media session knows that those trained in the art of kicking ass are required to register their hands as deadly weapons in the United States. Further, if they use their fists of fury against the general public, not only will they get thrown in the slammer for a rather long time for assault with a deadly weapon, but afterwards they’ll go on a high flying adventure with the likes of Cyrus The Virus Grissom and his band of lovable ragamuffins. But is any of this actually true in reality? Well, as the universe hates simplicity and basically nothing is black and white- no, and also yes, and then nuance.
As to the easiest part of this particular topic to address- are those highly trained in hand to hand combat required to register their hands as deadly weapons in the U.S.? Nope… except for in one U.S. territory- Guam. There, in Title 10- Health & Safety Division 3- Public Safety, Chapter 62, it states,
Any person who is an expert in the art of karate or judo, or any similar physical in which the hands and feet are used as deadly weapons, is required to register with the Department of Revenue and Taxation…
An exception to this is that U.S. military members, as well as law enforcement, are not required to register. The fee for such a registration is a mere and does not ever need to be renewed. Should such an expert fail to register and this is discovered by the authorities, said individual will be found guilty of a misdemeanor crime.
As to the end result of such a registration, in a nutshell the Department of Revenue and Taxation keeps a database of those registered and it further states in section 62106, “Any registered… who thereafter is charged with having used his art in a physical assault on some other person, shall upon conviction thereof, be deemed guilty of aggravated assault.”
Interestingly, no part of this section of the law seems to give any guidelines about how long you have from entering Guam to register yourself. And it does seem to require you show up in person to register, so there will always be a period between entering Guam, or reaching “expert” status while living there, and when you actually register.
And if you’re wondering, they define “expert” as “a person trained in the arts of karate, judo or other hand-to-hand fighting technique, whereby the hands, feet or other parts of the body are used as weapons, who shall have completed at least one level of training therein and shall have been issued a belt or other symbol showing proficiency in such art.”
As a brief aside, we’re just saying, but if Guam really wanted to make some nice side money for their Treasury, they’d allow this registration and issuance of such a certificate to be done via the internet and then raise the price considerably, as well as offer worldwide shipping on officially embossed and laminated registration cards. With some good word of mouth marketing, this would be an extremely popular gift to get martial arts students the world over who reach certain proficiency levels, whether they ever have any plans to visit Guam or not.
On that note, other than Guam, the only places where you can even try to register your deadly hands as such are in various fighting schools we could find who sell novelty certificates to students who reach a certain threshold in their training.
So that’s the yes and no. What about the nuance?
While it is true that in most of the world you do not have to register your deadly hands, it turns out the fact that you do have that training is extremely likely to come up in any court case in which you used your skills in a fight, with potentially very serious consequences, as we’ll illustrate later in the famous Con Air Cameron Poe fight, among some real world examples.
But before we get into that, this might all have you wondering how the myth that expert fighters do have to register their hands as deadly weapons became established and so prevalent. While nobody is sure who first got the bright idea, it is the case that professional fighters in the past have occasionally claimed they had to do this. Most notably, for a time it was all the rage for boxers. In these cases, the boxer might, for example, hold up their fists during a press conference and proclaim they had to register said extremities as deadly weapons upon arrival into town and come SUNDAY, SUNDAY, SUNDAY their opponent will find out just how valid that registration is.
Beyond publicity stunts spreading the myth, Taekwondo 7th Dan Grandmaster and former police officer Darwin J Eisenhart states that some among the particularly well trained actually find getting or making these novelty certificates very practical. It would seem a side effect of being a relatively high profile fighter is that random drunk or “tough guys” at bars like to challenge said fighters to fights, similar to what frequently happened to Abraham Lincoln once he gained the reputation as an expert fighter.
Such official-looking certificates help forestall these conflicts via the fighter flashing the certificate or card they made and explaining to the individual suffering from small penis syndrome that the fighter cannot engage in such a contest of manhood because it could result in said fighter getting charged with assault with a deadly weapon, regardless of the outcome of the fight.
As Eisenhart elaborates, “There was no legal standing for these claims, and no one was actually ‘officially’ registered or required to announce in advance that they had training, but most of them did this to avoid fights rather than state it as a brag or boast…”
Hollywood, of course, has done a great job further spreading the myth as well.
Now, all that said, it turns out that while the cards themselves weren’t official, the reasoning these fighters were stating it wouldn’t be a good idea for them to get into such a fight was completely valid.
You see, much like as you’re not required to register a walking stick, car, steak knife, or a dog as a deadly weapon, all four can unequivocally be considered such by the courts in the right set of circumstances. Similarly, regardless of whether you’re an expert fighter, pretty much every part of your body can be considered by the courts to be a deadly weapon in the right set of circumstances, depending on how you use said body part. For example, in the past, U.S. courts have found everything from knees to elbows to teeth to be deadly weapons in court cases.
A very important thing to note about all this is that, again, in many regions of the world, those who are highly trained in hand to hand combat will often have a much greater chance of having a court decide that the person’s body parts are to be considered deadly weapons.
The result of this is that it’s much easier for that person to be found guilty of a criminal or felony assault than a normal person who might be charged with a simple misdemeanor assault for the same set of actions and events.
On top of that, in some regions and sets of circumstances, it doesn’t even matter if you were the one being attacked and simply were defending yourself, as we’ll get into in a bit.
The distinction between these two legal classifications is rather important as, in the U.S. and many other regions, something like a misdemeanor assault might result in only a small fine to pay and/or a little bit of jail time, but not usually significant. In contrast, a Felony assault’s minimums will probably see a fine of at least several thousands dollars and very likely also include lengthy incarceration, even up to life in prison if the assault resulted in a death.
Thus, in all of this, while technically outside of Guam the letter of the law doesn’t distinguish between a random Jimmy Layabout and Bruce Lee, it turns out in criminal and civil proceedings this is most definitely going to be factored in.
As a real world example here, consider the words of Judge John Hurley who was ruling over a road-rage case that included an ex-marine and very skilled mixed martial artist by the name of Fernando Rodrigues. Judge Hurley states, “I’ve always thought that if you are a black belt in karate or you are an expert in martial arts, that your hands and feet would be considered weapons.”
Perhaps it is no surprise from this that said judge ruled, “The court believes at this time that [Rodrigues’] hands and feet are considered, for probable cause, to be deadly weapons.”
Similarly, many a jury member may hold the exact same opinion, ultimately biasing them somewhat against the professional fighter in a given assault case, especially as the opposing attorney will absolutely be shoving this fact down the jurors’ throats.
For yet another real world case, we have an incident involving one Jamal Parks of Texas in 2013. Parks first got in a fight with one of his friends, resulting in the police being called. When police arrived to the scene, Parks beat the crap out of one of the officers as well. In this case, because Parks was a mixed martial arts fighter, the court went ahead and considered his hands to be deadly weapons and he was charged with Felony Aggravated Assault with a Deadly Weapon, rather than going with a lesser charge as would have likely been the case if he was just some Jimmy Crapface. District attorney Bill Vassar noted on this one, “It’s pretty unusual, but in this instance — because he is an MMA fighter — we thought it was appropriate to charge his hands as deadly weapons.”
Jumping across the pond to Merry Ol’ England, we have a rather tragic assault against an 18 year old named Daniel Christie. Christie was walking with friends on New Years’ when they encountered a scuffle where a rather large individual was attacking some much smaller teens, prompting Christie to apparently approach and yell at the man “Why are you hitting kids?”
Well, it turns out the group of teens had offered to sell drugs to the rather muscular man, Shaun McNeil, as well as apparently made some comments about McNeil’s girlfriend which McNeil apparently wasn’t too happy about. The slightly inebriated McNeil declined the offer for drugs, but after the comments about his lady, there was some sort of fight between them, with McNeil knocking one of the teens down.
When Christie and his group approached and Christie yelled his question at McNeil, McNeil subsequently misinterpreted Christie and his friends with being with the other teens and punched Daniel in the face, as well as punched Daniel’s brother, Peter.
Unfortunately for McNeil and the Christie family, while you wouldn’t normally expect a single blow to the face to cause serious long term damage, in this case when Christie hit the ground, said unyielding surface shattered part of his skull. The result was that, 11 days later, Daniel’s family had to say their goodbyes and had the doctors turn off life support.
As to the court case, given McNeil was a highly trained fighter, it was decided to charge him with murder instead of manslaughter, despite it being very questionable that there was any murderous intent.
The court did, in the end, rule McNeil not-guilty of murder. But he wasn’t off the hook. They instead convicted him of manslaughter. As to the ultimate ruling and sentencing, Justice Hulme cited McNeil’s training in MMA and background in body building (thus his hands being more deadly than most), as well as McNeil’s rather large size compared to Daniel’s (thus Daniel could have not possibly posed any real threat to him). On top of that, witnesses claimed that once McNeil approached to punch, Daniel attempted to retreat the situation and put his hands up and said “no”. This, again, demonstrated Daniel had posed no threat to McNeil, despite the somewhat inebriated McNeil allegedly interpreting the situation as him being surrounded by a unified group of drug dealing, potentially hostile teens.
Further going against him, McNeil had something of a history of getting into random, often alcohol induced, fights with his rather deadly hands and seemingly had not learned his lesson from previous more minor run-ins with the authorities over such. Thus, after explaining all his reasoning, for this single punch, Justice Hulme sentenced McNeil to a maximum of 10 years in prison, with the earliest possibility of parole after 7.
The point being in all of this- if one is an expert fighter and is considering attacking anyone, they are in many regions of the world going to be at a higher risk of having the courts level much more severe charges against them than Jimmy Couchpotato.
Now, of course, Jimmy Couchpotato still could potentially have similar charges leveled against him if the court deems he used extreme degrees of force, such as curb stomped someones’ head into the ground or the like- even if that someone had been the one to initially attack. But should Mr. Couchpotato punch someone in the face once and accidentally kill a person with that single blow, they are more likely to face lesser charges than if Bruce Lee did the exact same thing.
So how can Mr. Lee (and indeed your average Joe) help ensure things go smoothly in court when it comes to self defense?
It’s important to note that what constitutes acceptable self-defense is an incredibly nebulous concept with varying laws from region to region, including even varying from state to state in the United States. Beyond varying laws, determining culpability can be extremely difficult, especially when factoring in both civil and criminal courts and often conflicting first hand accounts of what happened and exactly when and how.
That caveat out of the way, while rules differ, there are a handful of things you can do to help yourself out in the general case. First, if evidence shows that you attempted to de-escalate the situation in words or actions, that’s a point in your favor. Further, if it can be shown that you attempted to exit the situation, that’s another point. In fact, there are actually some regions where you are required, if at all possible, to attempt to retreat before defending yourself. (Note even in these regions, if you’re in your home, you usually are not required to attempt to exit the situation. Though, contrary to popular belief, in most regions this still doesn’t give you carte blanche to use whatever force you please to the person who entered your home without your consent. Proportional force to the perceived threat still applies.)
Just another quick note here as well, also contrary to popular belief, in most regions, you are not required to wait for the attacker to throw the first blow. If the attack is very clearly imminent, such as someone running at you and yelling they are going to put a dent in your face, you can strike first and have that be considered self defense. It’s simply that, once again, in many cases it can potentially be another point in your favor if the other person is the one that attempts the first blow.
So you’ve done all that, and the fight starts anyway. What now? Most laws concerning this sort of thing in many parts of the world usually say something like that the person defending themselves is free to use up to the minimum force required to protect themselves from harm.
As you can imagine, what constitutes “minimum force required” can vary considerably from case to case. You can also see from this why an expert fighter might be much more prone to getting into trouble while defending themselves. They are much better at inflicting an awful lot of damage with a single blow compared to most, and, on top of that, have much more experience than most at knowing what kind of damage they will do with a given blow- thus more likely that a judge or jury might deem that inflicting that excessive damage was intentional.
So, for example, if Jimmy Crapface comes at Bruce Lee with his fists, and Lee responds by a quick and decisive kick to the head which then breaks Jimmy’s skull, killing him, there’s a non-zero chance the prosecutor might level some rather serious charges against Lee and leave it up to a judge or jury to sort the matter out. After all, while Jimmy was the attacker- and being Jimmy absolutely deserved death- he only brought fists and being a Grade A asshole to the fight. In contrast, Bruce Lee knowingly brought a deadly weapon- his foot, and then used it in a way that he was expert enough to know could cause deadly damage. Thus, Lee could be deemed to have, essentially, brought a gun to a fist fight, and then used it.
Further, even if the criminal court ultimately decided to let Mr. Lee off (because Lee did the world a favor by offing Jimmy), should Jimmy’s family choose to sue Lee over the death, there’s yet another round of proceedings to contend with where the ruling very much might go against Lee. (That said, on the civil case side of things, this is region dependent as, for example, 22 states in the U.S. have rules against an attacker suing for subsequent injuries, even if excessive force was ultimately used by the defender.)
Of course, if you feel your life is in danger for some reason, such as if the attacker is coming at you with a knife, you are free to use deadly force to a point. As to the limits, let’s say the attacker comes at you, tries to stab you, and you then deflect the blow. In so doing, you cause the attacker to drop their knife. After the knife is dropped, you then use a severe blow that has the possibility of causing deadly damage. Unfortunately for you, given that the attacker no longer offers a deadly threat to you, having just dropped the knife, you once again are in danger of the court ruling that you used excessive force and, given you are an expert fighter, more likely they’ll also rule that your hands be deemed deadly weapons.
Of course, in all of this, a variety of factors are also considered including, among many other things, your size relative to your opponent (such as was brought up in the aforementioned Daniel Christie case), whether there are multiple attackers, whether it was likely that the attacker might recover the knife and try to use it against you, if the attacker seemed to be on some sort of drugs that might require deadly force to get them to stop, even if they are unarmed themselves, etc. etc. And, of course, what the exact sequence of events were in the fight is going to be closely looked at, though is a rather difficult thing to accurately determine in many cases, further muddying the waters.
So let’s now look at the Con Air fight which illustrates many of these points. In it, at no point did Cameron Poe try to de-escalate the situation with words, nor try to exit the approaching fight. In fact, when the attackers first started to approach from a distance, Poe was standing right next to his open car door with no imminent threat present. Thus, he could have simply got in and drove away, as his wife was begging him to do. Instead, he stepped away from the car towards the attackers, actually purposefully escalating the situation. The group of “hounddogs” then attacked and Poe defended himself against all of them but one in a perfectly reasonable way that would have caused him no issue in court.
But, of course, there was the matter of the person he killed. Unfortunately for him, there were no witnesses other than the combatants to that part of the fight. It was simply his word against the remaining attackers that the one he killed tried to use a knife against him. With no physical evidence that the attacker posed a deadly threat, as the knife was taken (and presumably the other attackers claiming no such knife existed), it is not out of the question for the court to rule both that Poe used excessive force to defend himself, and that he intentionally brought and used a deadly weapon to a fight where the attackers only brought fists.
Granted, there were multiple attackers and one Cameron Poe, so it might have been possible for Poe’s lawyer to try to argue that even without evidence of a knife, Poe feared for his life given he was surrounded- as ever nothing is black and white. However, given Poe more or less willingly entered the fight, arguing that he was afraid for his life is a bit of a stretch. Further, at the point he killed the attacker, he had already incapacitated everyone else. So it was just one on one. So that argument probably wouldn’t have gone far.
Thus, given all the pertinent facts that the court was aware of (including, again, no evidence of a knife outside of Poe saying there was), the ultimate ruling was perfectly reasonable given the letter of the law. Just because someone attacks you doesn’t give you the right to intentionally use deadly force against them, and the court is especially not going to be on your side if they know you had a chance to leave the situation and, rather than doing that, actually willingly entered it.
Granted, what the Judge said in his ruling about Poe not being subject to the same laws as a normal person was all a bunch of crap, and his lawyer seemingly screwed him over to boot, but the ultimate ruling even if he hadn’t plead guilty wasn’t unrealistic.
At least one thing Poe did have in his favor was that Alabama law does not allow attackers to sue for damages should the one they are attacking inflict such. So while he was convicted in the criminal court, he at least wouldn’t have faced any civil suits later.
But to sum up, while outside of Guam nobody is actually registering their hands as deadly weapons, should you actually be highly trained in hand to hand combat, you still want to approach any fight as if the courts will consider your body parts deadly weapons, whether you are attacking or are the one being attacked.
If being attacked- attempt to de-escalate the situation with words and/or leave. If that fails, then use the absolute minimum force possible to end the fight, and then resist the urge to do anything else after your opponent is incapacitated. Even a single blow after they are no longer a threat to you could be awfully expensive for you in a civil court proceeding, and may have very serious criminal ramifications on top of it.
The plus side of all of this is that, while you the expert fighter might not be able to use “my hands are registered as deadly weapons” as a pick up line for the ladies, you could technically rephrase it a bit for the same effect- “Parts of my body are more likely to be considered a deadly weapon in court given the right set of circumstances, varying based on region and exactly what I do with them in the fight. And baby, I know what to do with my body parts.”
And when that doesn’t work. Well, move to Guam. No doubt the ladies will throw themselves at you when you have the official certificate.
The Disneyland iteration of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge is finally open. Early reviews — from those who were able to navigate a less-than-stellar ticket reservation system — are positive. An especially bright spot: the souvenir lightsabers available exclusively at the park.
As we’ve reported before, the lightsabers are customizable — guests choose their components and assemble their saber themselves — and pricey. The total price with tax comes to $215.49, exactly $215.49 more than a souvenir coaster from Olga’s Cantina. Still, the sabers themselves and the experience of designing your own are getting rave reviews from the lucky fans who’ve already had the chance to get theirs.
The Los Angeles Times has a good rundown of what the experience is like, and it seems that, in true Disney fashion, narrative is front and center. The story created around Savi’s Workshop, the exclusive home of the customizable lightsaber, is that it has to masquerade as a simple scrap metal shop.
Light-up blades come in red, blue, green, and Mace Windu purple.
The employees who work there play along, reminding visitors who say the l-word that they don’t want any trouble from the First Order.
They will help you pick out the pieces of “salvaged” scrap metal you’ll need to build your lightsaber, with drawers full of hilts of four different themes. Pick your hilt and you’ll get a corresponding pin when you set up an appointment to build your saber as part of a group with 13 other “Builders.”
After some practice assembling lightsabers outside — which may be interrupted if Stormtroopers happen to walk by — you’re ushered inside to a room dominated by a large table. You’ll hear a spiel about Jedi history and the power of the Force before guiding you through the process of choosing the remaining parts and assembling your lightsaber.
Once assembled, everyone inserts their assembled blade into a pod for a final ceremony that ends with everyone igniting their lightsabers.
Whether or not that experience and the saber itself are worth the steep cost depends on your budget and how much time you’re willing to spend at Savi’s (line are, predictably, quite long). But if your trip won’t feel complete without bringing a lightsaber home, it looks like Disney has created an attraction that goes beyond a simple gift shop to create an immersive, narrative experience.
This article originally appeared on Fatherly. Follow @FatherlyHQ on Twitter.