World War II was so large and all-encompassing that one could spend a lifetime researching and barely scratch the surface of stories to tell. James Shipman, Amazon best-selling author of several historical fiction books, knows this and has a knack for picking interesting stories from this timeframe.
His latest book, Task Force Baum, is no exception as it tells a not very well-known story from the waning days of the war. I conducted an interview with the author of the book so he can talk about his latest offering.
This interview has been lightly edited for formatting and presentation purposes.
Hi, James! Thanks for taking time to talk to us today. Could you please introduce yourself to our readers?
Hello. It is such an honor to be able to contribute to this site dedicated to our military and families. I’m a historical fiction author published by Kensington Publishing. I have five historical novels. My most recent title, Task Force Baum, is the subject of this interview. This book was published on November 26, 2019, and is available on Amazon.com, Barnes Noble, and other book sites. Hudson Booksellers, with stores in most of the airports in the United States, has a special paperback edition that is part of their great reads program.
As for me, I’m an attorney and mediator. I live in the Pacific Northwest, north of Seattle, with my wife and our blended family of seven (yes, that’s seven) kids. Most of them are away at college. I’m a lifelong student of history and the military. My books have covered the fall of Constantinople in 1453, the American Civil War, and my last three books have all taken place during World War II.
Given your occupation as a lawyer, what prompted you to choose historical fiction over mysteries and/or legal thrillers?
I have a degree in history. I constantly read history, particularly military history, and that’s what I have a passion for. When I write, I’m able to dig much deeper into the thoughts and experiences of the people I’m writing about. It’s a delightful process, and I love doing it. The last thing I want to do is write about the legal world. That would feel like I’m working twenty-four hours a day!
Could you briefly tell our readers a bit about the historical ‘Task Force Baum’ and what happened?
Task Force Baum was an unauthorized raid ordered by General Patton late in World War II. He sent three hundred men and a handful of tanks fifty miles behind enemy lines to liberate an officer’s POW camp. LTC Abrams wanted to send an entire Combat Command, but Patton overruled him. The raid was thrown together with no air support and limited intelligence concerning enemy strength, roads and bridges available, and the location and number of prisoners at the POW camp.
Coming close to the end of the war, this seemed like a rather obscure military action. When did you first hear of it, and what drew you to tell a dramatic version of this story?
I came across this reading, John Toland’s The Last 100 Days. I’d never heard of this raid before and decided I had to write a book about it. I was in the middle of another project, and I set that aside and wrote this book instead.
Reading this book, it really did not feel like a ‘war’ book as much as it felt like a book about the people fighting this war. Was this your intent?
Yes. I think the one advantage of historical fiction over narrative non-fiction is the chance to see and feel the events as they unfold, rather than just reporting them. I also like to place imperfect people into the story and see how they act and react as the story moves along. I do not take liberties with real people. For example, Major Alexander Stiller and Captain Abraham Baum are depicted as the brave and hard-working men they were in reality.
One thing I was surprised about was I came away thinking this book was as much about Hauptmann Richard Koehl of the Wehrmacht fighting the Americans as it was about the rescue mission. What were your thoughts on giving his story as much attention as you did?
I like to dig into the Germans as people. I think it’s a mistake to paint the Nazis as simple two-dimensional monsters. People are so much more complex than that. Some people are merely doing their duty. Others are acting one way and intending to do something entirely different. I’m sure members of your site who served overseas in wartime experienced that very thing when interacting with the communities and even the enemies they had to deal with.
What was one historical detail you learned in your research about Task Force Baum that surprised you?
I was surprised at how fiercely the Germans were still fighting on the Western Front in late March 1945. The narrative so often is that after the Bulge and particularly after we moved over the Rhein, German opposition collapsed, and the enemy focused on trying to hold back the Russians while surrendering to the English and the Americans.
I noticed two of your previous works were set in World War II. Is there something about that era which speaks to you specifically as a writer?
World War II is fascinating because it is so easy to see this as an epic battle of survival between right and wrong. Germany in World War II was fighting a war of aggression and perpetuating a massive genocide. This also was the only modern war we’ve fought where our own nation was in significant jeopardy (although more from the Japanese than the Germans).
If there were one era of time and/or specific event you would like to write about, what is it? Why?
I’d like to interview some Vietnam veterans and write either a historical novel or a narrative non-fiction book about that conflict. There is some great work out there already about the Vietnam war, but compared to World War II, I think there is so much that hasn’t been covered.
Looking forward, could you share with us anything about your next project?
My next book, which will come out in December 2020, is about Irena Sendler. Irena Sendler was a social worker living in Warsaw, Poland, during World War II. She was the leader of a cell that smuggled 2,500 Jewish children out of the Warsaw ghetto and hid them with Polish families during the Holocaust. Almost all of these children survived the war while their families were killed at Treblinka and Auschwitz.
Task Force Baum is now available for purchase with book retailers everywhere.
Ever get sore thumbs from loading mag after mag? How about an easier solution that saves not only effort but time as well? Butler Creek has you covered with their EML. This electronic mag loader can hold up to sixty rounds of ammo, and gives shooters the ability to load anywhere from one to forty rounds in their magazine at a time. For speed, efficiency, and thumb relief, don’t pass up an opportunity to check this mag loader out!
The F-15 is an amazing aircraft that was designed to go head-to-head with the Soviet’s MiG-25 and was the top dog for years, most notably during Desert Storm where American and Saudi Eagles took it to the Iraqis in a big way.
The F-15 has endured because its design was years ahead of its time, and a great data point behind that fact is the time Israeli pilot Zivi Nedivi landed his jet with only one wing. Nedivi had one of his wings sheared off in a midair collision with an A-4 Skyhawk during a training event. Nedivi’s Eagle went into a rapid roll by the crash and he told his navigator to prepare the eject.
Nedivi turned on his afterburners in an attempt to stabilize the jet. The move worked. After his aircraft stabilized, he decided to attempt to land at a base 10 miles away. Because of the fuel coming from the damaged fuselage, neither he nor his wingman knew that the F-15 was missing a wing.
Hear the rest of this amazing story from Nedivi himself in this video:
Who can resist the temptation to adopt a retired military working dog?
The Air Force is once again looking for people — military members or otherwise — who want to adopt retired military working dogs.
Take a second to just look at this face.
Meet Fflag, a U.S. Marine Corps military working dog. Fflag is a patrol explosives detection dog, trained to find explosive devices and take down an enemy combatant when necessary.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Brendan Mullin)
Air Force officials at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland issued a news release highlighting the need for adoptive parents for retired dogs. They said that, while there is demand to adopt puppies that didn’t make the cut for the program, there is less interest in the older dogs, even though they are exceptionally well trained and could probably rescue you from a well or warn you about any nearby bombs.
A military working dog from the 366th Security Forces Squadron, Mountain Home, Idaho, poses for a picture during a field training convoy at the Orchard Combat Training Center, south of Boise, Idaho.
(U.S. Air National Guard photo by Joshua C. Allmaras)
Adopting a retired military working dog can be a long process, they warned, and can take up to two years.
Interested potential dog parents must fill out paperwork and answer questions about where the dog will live and how it will be cared for.
And not just anyone can adopt one of these four-legged heroes. To be eligible, applicants must have a six-foot fence, no kids under the age of five, and no more than three dogs already at home. They also have to list a veterinarian on the application, have two references and provide a transport crate.
Military Working Dog LLoren, a patrol and explosive detector dog, stands by his handler Staff Sgt. Samantha Gassner. 386th Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron, during an MWD Expo at an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Robert Cloys)
Interested in adopting a retired military working dog? You can contact officials at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 210-671-6766.
This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.
On the morning of June 7, 1917, after a dry quip to journalists about how he didn’t know whether he and his men’s actions “shall change history tomorrow,” but would “certainly alter the geography,” a British major general ordered a series of mines set off, detonating an almost 1 million pounds of explosives, killing about 1,000 German soldiers, and causing leaders in London —about 130 miles away — to hear the explosion.
A howitzer crew provides fire support during the infantry assault at the Battle of Messines Ridge.
(National Library of Scotland)
It all started soon after World War I descended from a fast-paced maneuver war into the trench-warfare stalemate that would define the conflict. Allied troops facing Germans in Belgium were, like their brethren in the trenches southward across France, quickly demoralized as the war ground on, thousands died, and almost no significant changes were made to the balance of the war.
People were dying by the thousands to seemingly no effect. So, some British officers came up with a plan to shift the line in Belgium by putting in years of work that would guarantee an eventual victory far in the future.
The plan was changed, overhauled, and refined plenty of times in those two years, but the basic underpinnings stayed the same. Near the village of Messines in Belgium, British tunnelers got to work digging towards and then under the German lines along the ridge that dominated the area. This digging operation would continue for two years.
Sappers dig a communication trench near Messines Ridge after the explosion that essentially handed the area to the British. Engineers had worked for nearly two years to dig the original tunnels that made the explosion possible.
(Imperial War Museums)
Shafts were dug across the front, and some were dug as deep as 100 feet and then filled with strong explosives. On top of these subterranean towers of explosives, each major stockpile had a mine that would act as the initiation device.
For German soldiers and officers, this was obviously a nightmare. For those directly over the explosion, the nightmare was over instantly. The Earth erupted around them like a volcano. The earth shook and shot into the sky. Men were wrecked by the blast and then survivors were buried alive in the debris. Approximately 1 millions pounds of explosives were used in the blast.
Soldiers share a smoke on June 10 during the Battle of Messines. The Battle of Messines Ridge had kicked off the British advance and given them a huge advantage when engineers successfully set off nearly 1 million pounds of explosives beneath a key ridge.
(Imperial War Museums)
But the slight breaks between explosions meant that, for minutes afterwards, German troops and officers were terrified that more explosions were coming, that they would be killed or buried in a sudden tower of fire and dirt.
Meanwhile, British troops had been staged to take advantage of the sudden opening in the lines. Many were knocked down by the initial blast despite staging hundreds of yards away. But they stood up and attacked the German lines. What had been a ridge was now a series of major craters, and the British were determined to take them.
The British had known that a large explosion was coming, though many individual soldiers didn’t know the exact details, and so they were able to rally much faster than the Germans. The British infantry assault, preceded by a creeping artillery barrage, successfully captured 7,000 survivors in addition to the 10,000 that the explosions had killed.
And the British were left holding what was left of the ridge. The Germans retreated and this allowed Britain to launch more attacks into Ypres. The Battle of Messines Ridge had been a great success, though the Ypres Offensive it enabled was less so. The idea for the larger offensive had been to capture the German U-Boat pens on the Belgian coast, but the openings at Messines Ridge didn’t eliminate the German defenses further on.
The Ypres Offensive was launched on July 31, just weeks after the explosions at Messines, but Germans fiercely contested the assaults and launched counterattacks of their own. The offensive was, ostensibly, an Allied victory. The Allies took Ypres and a lot of other territory, but suffered 275,000 casualties to Germany’s 220,000.
That’s why most of the world has forgotten the detonation at Messines Ridge. It was one of the largest man-made explosions in history at the time and it allowed the British to pull a victory, seemingly out of thin air. But its strategic impact didn’t last.
Netflix partnered up with huge modern directors to tell the story of five filmmakers who chose to put their careers on hold and serve in World War II.
Based on Mark Harris’ best-selling book, “Five Came Back: A Story of Hollywood and the Second World War,”the new Netflix series “Five Came Back” is about five filmmakers (John Ford, William Wyler, John Huston, Frank Capra, and George Stevens) who served in the war, then returned to share what they learned with the world through their art.
With interviews by Steven Spielberg, Francis Ford Coppola, Guillermo del Toro, Lawrence Kasdan, and Paul Greengrass, and narrated by Meryl Streep, “Five Came Back” explores the role filmmakers have during tumultuous times.
“Americans did not realize the extent of the threat Hitler posed,” narrates Streep.
The “five” created films that brought the reality of the war to the American people, and, in doing so, “changed the world.”
Once thought to be the cornerstone of naval power, the advent of Naval Aviation and the rise of the aircraft carrier in WWII was the beginning of the end for the large-gunned ships of the line. Though battleships saw continuous combat in WWII and Korea, the US Navy was left without an active battleship upon the decommissioning of the USS Wisconsin in March 1958; the first time since 1895.
Most military enthusiasts are familiar with the Reagan administration’s 600-ship Navy and the reactivation of the battleships USS Iowa, Missouri, New Jersey and Wisconsin. USS New Jersey would be the first to fire her massive 16-inch guns at enemy targets again during the Lebanese Civil War from 1983-1984. USS Missouri and Wisconsin would return to combat in 1991 during the Gulf War. However, USS New Jersey was brought back into active service once before.
Following the beginning of Operation Rolling Thunder in 1965, the loss of US aircraft over Vietnam increased exponentially. The planes that took part in the sustained aerial bombardment campaign were exceptionally vulnerable to sophisticated Soviet-made surface-to-air weapon systems provided to the North Vietnamese.
In an effort to alleviate these air losses while still delivering ordnance payloads, USS New Jersey was brought out of mothballs in April 1968 and modernized for active service in Southeast Asia. The only active battleship in the world, New Jersey, joined the gun line off the Vietnamese coast on September 25. Five days later, she fired her first shots in over 16 years during an engagement against PAVN targets near the DMZ at the 17th parallel. She would go on to fire 14,891 5-inch shells and 5,688 16-inch shells during the war in support of ARVN, US and even Korean troops.
2. M14 Rifle
An evolution of the famed M1 Garand of WWII and Korea, the M14 battle rifle became the standard-issue rifle for the US military in 1959. Firing the 7.62x51mm NATO round, the M14 was meant to streamline logistics efforts by replacing the M1 Garand, M1903 Springfield, M1917 Enfield, M1 carbine, M3 submachine gun, M1928/M1 Thompson submachine gun, and M1918 Browning Automatic Rifle. While the M14 exhibited outstanding accuracy and stopping power in its semi-automatic setting, its full-power cartridge was deemed too powerful for the submachine gun role and its light weight made it difficult to control during automatic fire as a light machine gun.
Though the M14 was replaced by the M16 as the standard-issue rifle in 1968, it found a new role as a precision rifle platform. It served as the basis of the M21 Sniper Weapon System introduced in 1968 and M25 Sniper Weapon System introduced in 1991. Though both weapon systems have been largely replaced by the M24 Sniper Weapon System, the M14 lives on as the Mk14 Enhanced Battle Rifle. Introduced in 2002, the Mk14 is a truer reincarnation of the M14. Where the M21 and M25 were restricted to semi-automatic fire, designated as Sniper Weapon Systems and saw more restricted issuance as a result, the Mk14 sees the return of selective fire, the designation as a battle rifle for both designated marksman and close combat roles, and issuance by the Army to two riflemen per infantry platoon deploying to Afghanistan.
3. Guns on fighter planes
With the advent of radar-guided and heat-seeking air-to-air missiles, like the AIM-7 Sparrow and AIM-9 Sidewinder, and the new threat of high-altitude, long-range Soviet bombers, US air combat doctrine called for the elimination of gun armament on fighter-interceptor aircraft. Though dedicated attack and fighter aircraft like the A-4 Skyhawk, A-7 Corsair II and the F-8 Crusader retained 20mm cannons for ground attack and close-range aerial combat, interceptors like the F-86D Sabre, F-102 Delta Dagger and the F-4 Phantom II dispensed with any type of gun armament in favor of rockets and missiles. The idea during the late 50s and early 60s was that these types of aircraft would engage in long-range combat without visual contact of their target and, even if they did get close enough to see the enemy that the new Sidewinder missile would be able to dispense with a hostile fighter with ease.
This idea proved to be fatal for pilots over the skies of Vietnam. For Phantom II pilots in particular, who escorted bomber flights over North Vietnam, the lack of a gun often left them without offensive options during a dogfight. Marine Corps General recalled, “Everyone in RF-4s wished we had a gun on the aircraft.” As any Top Gun fan can tell you, the American air-to-air kill ratio in Korea was 12:1. According to the US Naval Institute, the Navy’s kill ratio in Vietnam was just 2.5:1. The drop in kill ratio was attributed to poor missile accuracy at just 10% and lack of dogfighting skills. The latter resulted in the creation of TOPGUN while the former resulted in the addition of an external gun pod to the Phantom II. An internally mounted gun was incorporated on the later F-4E models.
The US Marine Corps says it needs ground-launched missiles that can seek out and eliminate enemy ships sailing in contested waterways.
“Part of the homework that the Navy and Marine Corps have done over the past six months is how we think we’re going to need to operate in the future as an integrated naval force,” Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday.
“That means the Marine Corps assumes a role which we have not had in the past 20 years, which is how do we contribute to sea control and sea denial,” he added.
The Marines have practiced striking stationary ships from land and sea with missiles launched from High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, but now the service wants to take it a step further and hit ships on the move.
Testifying before the House Armed Services Committee on Thursday, Lt. Gen. Eric Smith, commander of Marine Corps Combat Development Command and deputy commandant for Combat Development and Integration, said the Corps wants a system with an active seeker that can chase down a moving ship, something it doesn’t currently have.
“We have to have a system that can go after that,” Smith told lawmakers. “That is what matters in a contested environment in the South China Sea or in the [Indo-Pacific Command] area.”
Changing the calculus of an adversary
The Marines are currently looking at the Naval Strike Missile (NSM), which has a range of roughly 750 nautical miles, as a Ground-Based Anti-Ship Missile (GBASM) solution.
Smith said the service will test fire the system in June.
The NSM is “capable of sea-skimming, high-g maneuverability, and the ability to engage targets from the side, rather than top-down,” according to written testimony submitted to the HASC.
The NSM would be fired from a mobile launch platform based on an unmanned Joint Light Tactical Vehicle called the Remotely Operated Ground Unit for Expeditionary Fires, or ROGUE-Fires, vehicle. The missile and the vehicle together are the Navy Marine Expeditionary Ship Interdiction System (NMESIS), the testimony says.
The GBASM and ROGUE-Fires vehicle are “rapid prototyping and development initiatives” for the Corps, according to documents submitted as part of the service’s 2021 budget proposal.
Both have proven successful in war games and simulations, Berger said Thursday.
“Game-changer is probably an over-the-top characterization, but it definitely changes the calculus of an adversary,” Berger said.
The fiscal year 2021 budget proposal included a request for 48 Tomahawk missiles, likely the maritime variant, which appears to be first for the Corps.
“What we need is long-range precision fires for a small unit, a series of units that can, from ship or from shore, hold an adversary’s naval force at risk. That missile is going to help us do that,” Berger told the SASC.
Berger said the Tomahawk “could be the answer or could be the first step toward a longer-term answer five, six, seven years from now.”
With the collapse last year of the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty — which banned ground-launched missiles with ranges between 500 km and 5,000 km (310 miles and 3,100 miles) — after the US withdrew in response to alleged Russian violations, the Marine Corps has more freedom when it comes to ground-launched missiles.
Asked if the request for Tomahawks was a result of the US withdrawal from the INF Treaty, Berger said he “would assume so” but “hadn’t linked the two together.”
“We just knew we need a long-range precision fires beyond the range that we were restricted to before,” he added.
Babasoloukian — aka “Babalou” — tells a story that illustrates how easy it is for trainees to fall into traps set by their drill sergeants…or just actually fall…even when they’re told specifically not to fall (common sense would suggest that you wouldn’t have to tell someone that but…boots amirite?)
A genius moment is when one of the enlistees doesn’t know the difference between an Armenian and a Kardashian.
Maybe genius isn’t the right word?
But hey, when it comes down to it, all military personnel are well aware that our great nation faces threats of all shapes and sizes, whether it’s ISIS, al Qaeda, or Kardashian.
“On a dusty road in western Iraq, Corporal Dunham gave his life so that others might live.”
Those words were spoken by President George W. Bush during the Medal of Honor ceremony for Corporal Jason Dunham, who became the first Marine honored with the MOH since the Vietnam War.
After years of friendship with the family and friends of Dunham, Navy veteran David Kniess has joined with Army vet Vince Vargas to tell the story of the men of Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines — and the story of how Dunham sacrificed himself for his brothers.
“This film truly is by veterans, for veterans,” shared Kniess, stressing the significance that “all of them understand the importance of telling this story.”
“Many years ago, I had a chance meeting with Corporal Dunham before he went to Iraq. That chance meeting led to life-long friendships with the Dunham Family and a core group of Marines who served with Corporal Dunham. I have seen the good, the bad, and the ugly over the past 15 years… PTS, drug and alcohol abuse, and in some cases suicide. It’s been an extremely hard road for some of them,” he said.
This is why he has chosen to create this film, one that will feel very familiar to those who have lost someone to war.
“What do you say to the parents of the guy who gave his life for you? What do you tell them?” asked Cpl Kelly Miller, who served with Dunham.
Kniess has tried to make the film before, “but the Marines of Kilo weren’t ready, and quite frankly, neither was I. It was too soon. Every year during the month of April and the anniversary of Corporal Dunham’s death, I would remind myself of the story I needed to finish. 15-years later that time is now.”
On Nov. 10, 2019, Kniess and 4 Kilo Marines went to San Diego to record Jocko’s Podcast, episode 203, One Man Can Make a Difference. The next day, they launched an Indiegogo campaign to try and raise more funding to keep the project moving forward.
“The story will be told through present day interviews with the Dunham family as well as the Marines who served with Corporal Dunham, including Kelly Miller and Bill Hampton whose lives he saved. You will learn the circumstances surrounding Corporal Dunham’s sacrifice and the tragic outcome of his actions.”
To learn about the day Dunham was attacked in Western Iraq, including images of the team and first-hand reporting, check out their indiegogo campaign. If you feel moved to contribute, great. If you can share their story, that’s important, too.
[instagram https://www.instagram.com/p/B5vdtZQJmTi/ expand=1]The Gift on Instagram: “A decision… Do nothing and we all die… do something and my Marines will live. This is what was left of Corporal Dunham’s Kevlar helmet…”
We love supporting veteran-owned businesses, especially when they give back to the community. Yesterday, Redline Steel founder and owner Colin Wayne took to Instagram with superstar Megan Fox to announce that this Memorial Day, they’ll be donating $2M worth of products to the military community. Keep reading to find how to claim yours.
[instagram https://www.instagram.com/tv/CAa15AQhLVr/?utm_source=ig_web_button_share_sheet expand=1]Colin Wayne on Instagram: “@meganfox / @redlinesteel and I partnered up to create a Memorial Piece and plan to donate over M in product for the month of May to…”
Colin Wayne on Instagram: “@meganfox / @redlinesteel and I partnered up to create a Memorial Piece and plan to donate over M in product
While this offer sounds extreme, serving the military community is embedded in who Wayne is. WATM sat down with Colin to talk about everything from his military career, his close encounter with death in Afghanistan, his pivot to creating home decor, lessons in entrepreneurship and what this community means to him.
WATM: Alright man. First question: Tell us how your military career started. Like the early stuff.
Wayne: It started with JROTC. And you know, most people would say it’s kind of nerdy, my brother — even he was a nerdy guy — but I loved, I did the Raider team because it was the Army side and I genuinely enjoyed it. I gave up sports to do all of that and a lot of my friends. I was criticized to a degree on that, but it was a tight knit bond. It was a good culture. We had a solid program. We had Colonel Walker, he was the O6 and then we had a first Sergeant Jones. Great examples, great leadership and that was kind of the early adaptive days of joining the military was through that.
I actually dropped out of high school and got my GED. I got held back in first grade, so I did first grade twice. I was already kind of older in my class. And then I got kicked out of my mom’s house. I wasn’t a bad kid, but I didn’t listen. I was stubborn by nature. And so she’d ground me and I’d just walk out the front door and be like, ‘Okay, mom,’ and just do whatever I wanted. The first thing that I ever had as a kid was, “I’ll do it myself.” And that’s was literally my first sentence ever that I put together is what my mom says was, “I’ll do it myself.” And so I’ve always had that mentality of that exact statement.
WATM: You dropped out of high school?
Wayne: I got kicked out of my mom’s, moved in with my dad. I was mid-junior year and I ended up going from block schedule to seven periods and it was going to hold me back an entire year. We didn’t find that out until midway through the semester. And at this point, I was just about to be 17. I didn’t want to be 19 years old and graduate high school. That sounds horrible. I didn’t like school as it was. And so I convinced my parents to emancipate me and ended up getting my GED and joining the military a few days after my 17th birthday.
Wayne: I enlisted as Military Police in 2006. When I graduated from AIT, for the military police school, OSUT training, I came back to my unit and I remember the first thing, me and my brother were both in the same unit. It was 128 Military Police Company. And we had a unit that was deployed to Iraq at that time. And this was in ’07 and there they were there from ’07 to ’08, but they needed a backfill — they had to backfill 10 slots. They needed 10 MPs and five medics. He was a medic. I was an MP. We both volunteered to go backfill, basically people that were severely wounded and injured.
That’s one of the first things that I remember as kind of an early private, volunteering to go to that. They ended up, I don’t know, maybe they pulled from another battalion to make up that info strength, but we ended up not going. And I ended up transitioning to another battalion and going to Egypt for Operation Brightstar about six months later.
That was an incredible deployment to Cairo, West Egypt. Civilian clothes the whole time. And I did a cruise on the Nile River, got to see the Sphinx, got to see the pyramids. We went shopping in some of the plazas there. We had to have Egyptian police escorts. And there’s a platoon of those guys, but we definitely stood out like a sore thumb. We still had to wear high and tights and shades. We definitely looked like we did not belong there.
WATM: Hilarious. Not to jump ahead here, but I do want to get to the Redline stuff. Was Afghanistan your next deployment?
Wayne: No, Iraq. Iraq in ’09 and ’10. And then Afghanistan 2012.
WATM: And you were wounded in Combat? Can you tell us a a little bit more about your injury, recovery, some of the struggles that you had and how that changed you.
Wayne: Yes. It was May 3, 2012 and I was in the Paktika province, which is right near Pakistan. And it was, I would say it’s another traditional day. Spring fighting had just started a couple of months before that March. At that point, I was at a base called FOB Boris, which has been shut down. Our base got overran twice, to kind of paint a picture, with Taliban, literally on the inside of our base. We got rocketed. May 3 in particular, we had at least three or four IDF attacks prior to this point, so it was kind of just happening throughout the entire day.
I was in the gym and I heard the IDF alarm siren going off. And my thinking was, ‘I’m in a concrete structure,’ and you don’t have long — you’ve got seconds to make a decision. ‘Okay. I’m not outside. I’m in somewhat of a secured location.’ It’s a small gym. It’s literally the size of half of a single wide trailer, to kind of give you perspective. You could easily throw a tennis ball and hit the other wall with very little effort. And so I started running to the middle of the gym because there was two big open wood doors and so I just went to the middle. There was concrete on all sides, except the roof. The roof was just a normal structured roof, no concrete. My thinking really, really quick was, ‘Hey, if this explodes, shrapnel is going to come, I’ve got to get away from the weakest points, which are the doors.’ And so I ran and it was essentially a direct impact on me. I ran right where the rocket exploded and it was like three and a half feet from me.
WATM: Oh %*#.
Wayne: Right. So you know how big the concrete cylinders that they have, those concrete blocks, like a traditional one. They’re not wide, but it was a direct impact on the corner of that building, right in the middle, dead center. And it was right under that corner structure. It took out a quarter of the wall, right at the very top corner and you can see shrapnel and the roof was caved in. And if it would have been a couple of inches lower, because you’ve got to think, the concrete barrier’s only like 15 inches.
If it wouldn’t have hit that, it would have been literally a direct impact right where I was running to. And so I just say it’s through the grace of God I survived and was shielded. And I sustained nerve damage at L1 through L3. And my back had to have lumbar block fusion surgery for it. I had shrapnel that went all the way through my leg and had to have six months of physical therapy for it. I have permanent tinnitus in my left ear and then treated for TBI. And then I was medevaced twice. The first time we were still under fire. And then we were also a fire support team as well. There’s about 85 people on the entire base. It’s pretty small. And we were returning fire as incoming rounds were coming in and two Black Hawks, just like you’d see on a movie, flew in while rounds are coming in, we’re shooting back at them.
And you know, obviously, I don’t know what the hell is going on. They ended up flying me through a Black Hawk, with priority to Bagram and then they did full CT scans and x-rays and all kinds of different testing there, to figure out what was going on. Come to find out the, I guess the, whoever the, what do they call them? Crew chiefs? Or the medics on the helicopter? They gave me too much morphine. And obviously I don’t remember any of that, but it depletes your white blood cell count and restricts your oxygen flow. And that’s what ended up happening. It took three days for that to recover back to normal rates without oxygen. And I had to do breathing treatments from all the dust and debris. To kind of paint a more vivid picture of the incident, I remember that I blacked out — I remember regaining consciousness. I couldn’t see my hand in front of my face. I knew I was hit, but I didn’t know the impact. I could feel something dripping from my leg, but I couldn’t see it. It’s pitch black; we’re a blackout FOB. And I was yelling for a medic, but nobody would come.
And I think mentally what hurt the most is I was working out with a couple of battle buddies and they left. I was there by myself and it felt like, I would say realistically, like 20, 30 minutes, it definitely was not that long. But you know, when you’re going through that, it felt like eternity. I’m sitting in pain. I don’t know what’s going on. My ears are ringing. It’s just a crazy scenario. And you know, I remember yelling for a medic and ‘I’m hit,’ and I just kept saying it, ‘Medic, medic!’
And I couldn’t — I tried to stand up, but I couldn’t see anything. I literally couldn’t see anything. And then they came in, they had flashlights and I actually have the raid tower footage. One of those Raytheon towers that go up 107 feet, we have the actual footage of them carrying me out of the gym, so it’s kind of cool. They sent me the CD. They mailed it to me when I got home.
WATM: That’s kind of hilarious.
Wayne: And it says ‘Superman returns.’
WATM: It’s good that you can watch it.
Wayne: Yeah, I love it.
WATM:You pull that out at the parties?
Wayne: I think that helps mental fortitude to get past something like that. It’s one of those pivoting moments that you can either adapt and overcome it, or you’re going to let that absorb you. And that really defines you as a person, is how you adapt to that comfortability. Even openly talking about it. It doesn’t bother me. It’s just a chapter and we’re past it and I can block it off and keep going.
WATM: Did that end your Army career, at that moment?
Wayne: No, I came back and transitioned into recruiting and I really enjoyed my time in recruiting. I did a photoshoot with a local photographer, right when I got done doing my physical therapy. Started a Facebook page and it started to go viral, so I had over a hundred thousand followers in the first 30 days of having the page. And you know, I’m just a guy from Alabama. I didn’t know what the hell I was doing. I got a change of lifestyle discharge.
WATM: And at that point, had you considered bodybuilding and modeling?
Wayne: I didn’t know what to expect. I’ll be honest, but I was making about three times more than the Army was paying me. And I was just like, ‘Man.’ I didn’t know if it was going to be a career, but it was working and I was like, ‘Why not focus on this? This is really cool.’ Within the first six months, I had over a million followers across social media and I just kept leveraging that and growing it and then what a lot of people don’t know is I actually own five other pages within the fitness space on Facebook and have over 4.2 million followers on it.
And so I leveraged it to grow my personal brand. And so I started to understand the power of social media. If I could go back, I would have done things a little bit different. I would have put more of a focus into YouTube. But you know, it is what it is. Grew those pages and that helped leverage pretty much everything that I wanted from landing over 50 plus magazine covers. Covers with Iron Man, Muscle Fitness, Men’s Fitness, Men’s Muscle Health. I mean, even fashion magazines, like Vanity. Hype, in Europe. And for that, I did kind of a Gary Vaynerchuk approach of give, give, give, take.
WATM: I’m just curious. What’d your Army buddies say about all this? Were they like, ‘Bro, what are you doing?’
Wayne: (laughs) Yeah, yeah. That’s exactly what it was at the beginning until they saw, you get half a million followers within a few months and then a million, and then you start working with Under Armor and Nike and they’re like, ‘Oh my God.’ Everybody questioned it. Everybody questioned, ‘What the hell are you doing? How are you going to model in Alabama? That’s not a thing.’ And I’m like, ‘Well, I don’t really know, but it’s working, I’m doing the social media thing and I’m able to reach out, I can kind of cold call. I can establish a rapport.’ And I just kind of instinctively knew the inner workings of how to market and brand myself. And that’s without a coach and the highest level of education a GED. Just kind of started to understand the power of value and leveraged my value to get whatever it is that I wanted.
WATM: How was your physical journey into bodybuilding and modeling? Did you have issues with that? How did your combat injuries help you in that regard or make it even more challenging to find success?
Wayne: I would say 100% made it more challenging. I can’t do compression style training. And so a lot of it is adaptive, just HIIT style, high intensity interval, they call it, it’s like an 80s style. It’s like cut training, time under tension. I wanted to get lean, but also gain lean muscle at the same time. And so I just had to adapt and pivot my work training to kind of sustain the injuries and I didn’t want to make it worse than what it was. And so I’ve kind of just found my own routine and adapted and not put limitations with what I can and can’t do. There’s always a workaround.
WATM: Awesome. So how did you get into the steel business? And when did it occur to you that you thought I can add value to Red Line and start working on that front?
Wayne: I started Red Line in January of 2016, that’s officially when we started the LLC. Initially I just wanted to be a customer. I have a son, his name’s Carsyn. At the time, he was about four years old, loved baseball. He’s in T-ball, but absolutely loved baseball. And I reached out to a local shop and wanted to have a piece made and he reached back out and said ‘I’m backlogged about 10 to 12 weeks, but when we get caught up, I’ll let you know.’ And I said, ‘Okay, no worries.’ Ten minutes later, swear to God, 10 minutes later, he reached back out and says, ‘Holy shit, it’s Colin Wayne. I can’t believe it’s you!’ He said, ‘I can do this for you and have it done this week. And just let me know anything you want. I got you.’
And I pivoted the entire thing from, I said, without hesitation, ‘Maybe I can help you. And I do consulting, would love to kind of look at your business plan.’ And I spit out some information that kind of was like, ‘Look, man, I wanted to be a consumer. You didn’t have a followup sequence. You’re missing the mark. This is obviously an incredible product. I was willing to pay a premium for it for myself. You’re backlogged 10 to 12 weeks. There’s no way for very next day, and so that shifted the entire paradigm of my business plan. The plan for me was he already has the product, he has a preexisting business. He knows how to manufacture. He knows how to do CAD work. He already has the basics. I just need to come in here, create an infrastructure and help on the marketing backend. And so now, I had to figure out how in the hell to even run this machine. I didn’t have a clue and I still don’t really know, which is ironic because we have the largest customized steel manufacturing plant in the United States. And that was within three and a half years of an E-com business.
June 15th will be our four year anniversary of the website. We’ve shipped over four million products. We just hit our one millionth order about three weeks ago. And we’re about to hit 1.1 million projected probably Friday of this week. We have over 215,000 verified customer reviews on our website. And we’ve got over a billion, with a B, impressions for our business Redline Steel through paid ads.
WATM: That’s impressive. And you met the President?
Wayne: We attended the White House for Made in America week, which was really cool. Got a selfie with the president, which you probably saw on Fox News. And what was awesome, what I really, really appreciated a lot and it was kind of like an overwhelming feeling, just like when we hit our one millionth order, that was an overwhelming feeling, was President Trump, I tried to give him a flag and he wouldn’t take it. He wanted to buy one. And so that to me, yeah, that to me meant a lot because this was exactly what he said was, ‘If you donate the flag, it stays within the White House. But if I buy one, I can actually bring it with me.’ And so I don’t know, a month or two after the event, his administration reached out and said, ‘President Trump wanted to purchase a flag.’ And so we invoiced him, he paid it and we mailed him a flag. Then he actually wrote a letter. I asked him for a photo; he wrote us a letter that’s hanging up on my wall and he’s thanking me for the flag that he bought. That was a few months after the event. That was really cool. And what’s weird is as an entrepreneur, I’m always looking ahead. So it’s hard to reflect on what we’ve done and accomplished. Especially given the amount of time. Time is very valuable, but it almost becomes irrelevant because I’m so forward thinking that when I hit a hundred thousand orders, it was an overwhelming feeling. And that never took place again until three weeks ago, when we hit our one millionth. Even at 999,000, it didn’t sink in.
I’m a pretty, I would say a pretty dominant, strong-willed character, kind of an alpha, but I teared up, bro. I’m not going to lie. It was such an overwhelming, like, ‘Oh my God.’ Because I wanted this so bad. So I set, I’m really, really big on goal orientation and like setting something and you follow through with it. And so last year my goal was to hit that one million benchmark and I didn’t. Mentally, it really messed with me, man. I was upset at myself. I felt like a let down. I told my customers, I was kind of prophesying it. I was telling employees, man, we’re going to hit this and we didn’t hit it. I think that I have to kind of what I call being from Alabama, that fixated mentality of I don’t care if we’re up a hundred to zero, we missed the field goal. We missed this tackle. We missed these core principles, this KPI, what can we do to improve and sustain that growth? If we mess up, what can we do to not have that again? It’s kind of that AAR that goes into effect on a mass scale.
When you think about it, a million orders within that three year benchmark as an online business is very, very, very rare. You’re at that one of one tenth of a percent, but to me, it’s so realistic that it should have happened a while back. And so I lose track of that time and you don’t really appreciate what it is until you finally hit it.
WATM: How did you move past that? Improved comms? Leadership? Something different?
Wayne: We hired a recruiting firm, and I know that that was a pivoting moment for us when we actually invested into very, very solid leadership. My goal is to step down as the CEO within the next 18 to 24 months. I’ve never really publicly talked about it, but I’m big on passion and what’s in the best interest of the business. And so I would rather be the dumbest guy in the room and have other people very strong at what they do in those positions. And so hiring a recruiting firm to bring on talent that are very, very vetted has definitely played a significant role.
The challenge for me, most of the time has been, I can oversell and we can’t manufacture and produce product fast enough. I guess you could call it a rich man’s problem.
It’s been a challenge because I don’t want a bad customer journey experience, but at the same time, you want cashflow to keep up with the fixed and variable expenses. And so it’s a very thin line of balance between the two and running a lot of different departments at a business that’s scaling 30, 40 times year over year. We have an incredible team that’s been able to implement what is actually needed and applying an ERP system and looking at ways to advance our business so much further than what it currently is. So that the next four to five years we transition to that billion dollar valuation at that three, 400 million EBITDA. I think investing in the right leadership and then from the military stance, I would say, I was a Staff Sergeant, so I was kind of rounded for leaders. I liked the leaders that led from the front. I was fortunate enough to have compadre leaders that you can learn from and some great leaders, ones that you would genuinely walk into battle with and feel very comfortable that they have your sticks.
Applying that to my business in the sense that I’m not going to step on their toes, I trust their judgment calls. So I’ve allowed them to run those departments and essentially there’s a chain of command and they work through that. And that’s how we operate here. I’m not here to tell your department how you do it, go to your department head. And from there, you’ll follow the chain.
With COVID, we had to pivot our business model. So mid-March, I think it was actually exactly March 15. It was on a Sunday, somewhere right around there. I was driving to work. I had something on my heart to give back to the medical staff. My step-mom passed away earlier in the year and she did 35 years as a registered nurse. And we had a nurse piece, a stethoscope with the shape of a heart and it said, ‘Nurse life,’ in it. And so that was our first product and it kind of evolved from there. I did a live stream on Redline’s page and I said, ‘I want to give a thousand of these away for free.’ The response was incredible. Within about 30 to 45 minutes, we were completely sold out and started to see a massive demand and just requests for other items. So we pivoted to an entire give back collection.
That was on Sunday. I came in Monday when my team was here and I said, ‘Look, every day this week, we’re going to create a product category and we’re going to launch it.’ The first day, we launched, we ended up launching 19 products in total from military and all first responders to even mail carriers, even airline. And then we went into more recently with teacher appreciation day. We launched a teacher apple and now with Memorial Day, we have a fallen soldier Memorial piece that we’re going to release.
WATM: What’s the why behind that?
Wayne: One, I’m a humanitarian. I love to give back. I really do. I genuinely do. But from a business side that allowed free cashflow to sustain the business so that I didn’t have to furlough any of my employees. And then to take it a step further, we ended up putting in a purchase order of over 250,000 units through a local company and source them to cut the pieces for us. And that ended up giving them over 1400 working hours for their employees that would have gotten furloughed. So it’s not just the impact within Redline. We also helped hundreds of families across North Alabama sustain a job and working hours.
WATM: You’re doing amazing things, Colin. Thanks for your time.
Wayne: It’s been an incredible journey, man. I’m excited for what happens next. Thank you.
Laser-guided bombs had proven to be a winner during the Vietnam War. There was just one minor problem: Their range was relatively short. This was actually a big deal for pilots, who had to deal with surface-to-air missiles and anti-aircraft guns trying to shoot them down.
Some geeks at the Naval Weapons Center in China Lake, though, had a thought. They took a typical GBU-16 Paveway II laser guided-bomb, which was centered on the Mk 83 1,000-pound general purpose bomb. Now, a 1,000-pound bomb might seem small compared to the 2,000-pound bombs many planes carry today, but in World War II, the 1,000-pound bomb was good enough to sink carriers.
But what these geeks did was add a rocket motor from the AGM-45 Shrike, an anti-radar missile used to shut down enemy air defenses, to the back of the Paveway. The result was a weapon that gave the A-6 Intruder one heck of a punch. It certainly worked out better for Navy pilots than that JATO rocket did for a Chevy Impala driver who may or may not have existed.
The Skipper’s primary component is, for all intents and purposes, a GBU-16 laser-guided bomb. Engineers at China Lake stuck a Shrike’s rocket motor on the back, and got a weapon that could hit a target 14 nautical miles away.
(US Navy photo)
The missile took some time to win over the brass, but they eventually gave it a designation – the AGM-123 – and a name: Skipper. Over 2,500 were purchased. The Skipper got its name because of the way the guidance fins on the Paveway worked: They tended to make very sharp turns, so it would appear like the missile was skipping like a stone across a pond.
The Skipper was primarily intended to take out enemy ships from beyond the range of their defenses. They had their moment in the sun during Operation Preying Mantis, the American retaliation in the wake of the mining of the guided-missile frigate USS Samuel B. Roberts (FFG 58).
The Iranian frigate Sahand was on the receiving end of two Skippers and a bunch of other weapons during Operation Preying Mantis.
(US Navy photo)
Four Skippers were used against the Iranian frigate Sahand, which was eventually sunk. The Skipper also saw some action during Operation Desert Storm. It had an effective range of almost 14 nautical miles, although its rocket could propel it up to 30 nautical miles. The real limitation came not from its improvised nature, but from the range of laser designators currently in service.
The Skipper was retired in the post-Cold War drawdowns of the 1990s, which also claimed the plane that wielded it most of the time, the A-6 Intruder. Still, for a while, it gave the Navy a very powerful and precise punch.
In July 1918, militaries were experimenting with aircraft carriers, especially the American and British navies. But, as far as any of the Central Powers knew, carrier operations were an experiment that had borne only limited fruit. No carrier raids had significantly damaged targets ashore. And that was true until July 19, when a flight of Sopwith Camels took off from the HMS Furious and attacked German Zeppelin facilities at Tondern, Denmark.
The British carrier HMS Furious with its split deck.
(Imperial War Museums)
America was the first country to experiment with aircraft carriers after civilian pilot Eugene Ely flew a plane off the USS Birmingham, a modified cruiser, in 1911. But as World War I broke out, the naval power of Britain decided that it wanted to build its own carrier operations, allowing it to float airfields along the coasts of wartime Europe and other continents.
This required a lot of experimentation, and British aviators died while establishing best practices for taking off, landing, and running the decks of carriers. One of the ship experiments was the HMS Furious, a ship originally laid down as a light battlecruiser. It was partially converted during construction into a semi-aircraft carrier that still had an 18-inch gun, then converted the rest of the way into a carrier.
After its full conversion, the Furious had a landing-on deck and a flying-off deck split by the ship’s superstructure. This, combined with the ship’s exhaust that flowed over the decks, made landing tricky.
The Furious and other carriers and sea-based planes had scored victories against enemies at sea. But in 1918, the Royal Navy decided it was time to try the Furious in a raid on land.
Sopwtih Camels prepare to take off from the HMS Furious to attack German Zeppelin sheds in July 1918.
(Imperial War Museums)
On July 19, 1918, two flights of Sopwith Camels launched from the decks with bombs. There were three aircraft in the first wave, and four in the second wave. Even these takeoffs were tricky in the early days, and the second wave of aircraft suffered three losses as it was just getting going. One plane’s engine failed at takeoff, one crashed, and one made a forced landing in Denmark.
But the first wave was still strong, and the fourth bomber in the second wave was still ready and willing to get the job done.
Building housing German Zeppelins burns at Tondern in July 1918.
Hitting Tondern was especially valuable as it was a convenient place from which to attack London. So the four remaining pilots flew over German defenses and attacked the Zeppelins there, successfully hitting two sheds which burst into flames.
Luckily, each of those housed an airship at the time, and the flames consumed them both. They were L.54 and L.60. The Zeppelin L.54 had conducted numerous reconnaissance missions and dropped over 12,000 pounds in two bombing missions over England. The Zeppelin L.60 had dropped almost 7,000 pounds of bombs on England in one mission.
While the destruction of two Zeppelins, especially ones that had already bombed England and so loomed in the British imagination, was valuable on its own, the real victory for England came in making exposed bases much less valuable.
The Western-most bases had been the best for bombing England, especially Tondern which was protected from land-based bombers by its position on the peninsula, but they were now highly vulnerable to more carrier raids. And the HMS Furious wasn’t Britain’s only carrier out there.
Germany was forced to pull its Zeppelins back to better protected bases, and it maintained Tondern as an emergency base, only there to recover Zeppelins that couldn’t make it all the way back home after a mission.
This wasn’t the first or only time a fighter had caught a Zeppelin in the air, but it was one of the highest fights that had succeeded against a Zeppelin, and it meant that sea-based fighters had taken out three Zeppelins in less than a month, and all three losses had taken place in facilities or at an altitude where Germany thought they were safe.