10 time-honored military traditions that civilians find weird - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY CULTURE

10 time-honored military traditions that civilians find weird

Some military traditions make sense to nearly everyone — little things that show mutual respect, like leaders serving food to their subordinates on holidays or NCOs electing to eat after their guys. Other traditions are odd at first blush, like messing with the new guy or passing through an archway after graduating a class or achieving a higher rank, but civilians can generally understand where they come from.

But then there are the ones that require a lot of explaining to your civilian family members. Every time, these story begins with a, “well, you see. It kinda goes back to…” and more often than not, the explanation just makes them tilt their head in confusion.

At one point, the following traditions may have meant something to one person or a group, but today, the original meaning is buried beneath decades of military bearing and tradition. We mostly just do them because, well, if it ain’t broke — and no one’s getting UCMJ’d for it — why bother stopping?


10 time-honored military traditions that civilians find weird

Ever since Hostess kinda went under, the tradition changed to use red helmets instead — which is definitely cleaner.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Katrine M Brisbin)

10. Paratroopers and cherry pies

When you finish going through Army Airborne School, your head will be spinning, filled with all of the information you’ll need to not shatter every bone in your body when you make a landing. You’ll have to master the art of hooking up your static line and perform countless parachute landing falls before you’re even able to get the chance to actually jump out of a perfectly good airplane.

Finally, the moment of truth arrives — you finally get to jump with your unit in the 82nd. Your superiors will recommend that you fill your cargo pockets with Hostess Cherry Pies first. They’ll often say it’s for some reason like, “in case you get hungry when you land” or whatever. Who are you to argue?

When your big moment finally comes and you take in the sights while falling gracefully, you’ll hopefully have your PLFs burnt into the back of your mind as second nature. Everything will happen so fast that you’ll forget those cherry pies in your pants. When you land, you’ll squish all those pies and leave a nice red stain on your uniform.

10 time-honored military traditions that civilians find weird

There are great call signs out there, you just need to be lucky enough to snag one.

(Fox News)

9. Actual callsigns

In pop culture, callsigns are the coolest things ever. You’ll often see some badass names, like Iceman, Maverick, or Snake used in TV and movies. They’re always just made up because they sound cool and the storytellers don’t really know how the military works.

In reality, callsigns are usually unit designations followed by a number to signify who they are in said unit. So, for example, the commander of the Alpha company “Black Sheep” would be known as “Black Sheep 6,” and the first sergeant of the same unit is “Black Sheep 7.”

If you’re looking for unique callsigns, those are in the aviation world, and they’re typically less cool and more nonsensical. For example, if you eat a Pop-Tart one time in front of another pilot, your callsign is now forever “Pop-Tart.” Good going, Pop-Tart. That’s your callsign until the end of time.

10 time-honored military traditions that civilians find weird

You (and everyone else in the unit) will have to drink whatever you put in. Or do what most people do and hide in the bathroom until this bit is over.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Don Peek)

8. The grog bowl

At civilian parties, if there’s a punch bowl, it’ll be centrally placed and it may or may not have some kind of alcohol in it. Whenever the military throws a unit ball, that punch bowl will most certainly have alcohol in it… plus a whole slew of other random things that would make anyone throw up.

Most of the leadership of the unit gets a chance to add one ingredient to the grog bowl (which is a toilet bowl) and offer some kind of nonsense to explain why their chosen ingredient has some kind of significance to the unit.

You can expect classic grog bowl ingredients, like hot sauce, because of the deserts the unit deploys to, ground coffee, because of the long hours the troops works, a cup of salt, because of the sweat that troops give to the cause, and a dirty sock because… reasons?

7. Blood wings and blood stripes

When civilians get promoted or graduate some school, the accomplishment is usually met with a party or a card that’s signed by everyone in the office. That sounds pleasant. Troops, on the other hand, almost always lose a bit of blood over it.

Blood wings and blood stripes are, essentially, the same thing. You get the wings from a school and the stripes from a promotion. Then, everyone takes turn punching it in. It’s technically considered hazing, but the troop receiving the blood wings/stripes usually agrees to it. There (typically) isn’t any malice or hate involved in the ceremony and troops usually walk away with a bit more pride in whoever bled for their new badge/rank.

10 time-honored military traditions that civilians find weird

“A Mickey Mouse Challenge Coin? Really?”

6. Challenge coin “duels”

There’s nothing really odd about challenge coins in general. It’s basically the same thing as collecting trading cards as a kid, but instead of aiming for a holographic Charizard, you’re aiming for the coolest-looking coin with the most badass backstory.

Usually, officers will keep the coolest coins on their desk in their office to casually gloat about and enlisted troops keep them in some drawer at home, but sh*t gets real when troops take their coins to the bars. The ensuing game basically goes like this:

Troops unsheathe their coolest coin. If you don’t have your coin on you, you buy the drinks. If everyone has a coin, whoever has the “least valuable coin” buys the drinks. Since the “value” is determined by backstory and design — both of which are subjective — this game almost always ends in a shouting match over who has to pick up the tab.

10 time-honored military traditions that civilians find weird

Every airman thinks they can grow a mustache like Col. Robin Olds. The only reason his mustache is so majestic is because he literally gave zero f*cks about the rules. Rules all airmen have to follow.

(U.S. Air Force)

5. ‘Stache contests

In case you haven’t nailed down the common thread between all of these traditions, the military is engaged in a perpetual pissing contest. Troops are in constant contest to see who can do literally anything better than the next guy; to see who is the most macho of the troops. It should come as no surprise that one of the most macho things out there, facial hair, gets quantified into some sort of challenge.

The problem with this is that the military doesn’t allow most versions of facial hair — that is, with the exception of a very thin mustache. A word of warning: The first two weeks of a mustache-off makes every contestant look pathetic.

Mustache contests usually begin at the start of the deployment (presumably, when troops’ wives have less of a say in the matter) and, after a certain point, someone is declared a winner. Yet, the Air Force has unanimously decided to make March their official contest month. Whichever airman grows the best mustache by the end of March wins a high five or whatever.

4. The West Point pillow battle royale

At some point during the first years of the most intense academy for the U.S. Army’s future officers, students are offered a unique way of handling the stresses of simultaneously earning a college education while enduring four years of constant military training. These future warriors, trained in all things warfare with the intention of becoming the Army’s next generation of great leaders, settle things the exact same way as children at slumber parties — with a pillow fight.

As goofy as this sounds, things got serious. Yes. “got” — very much in the past tense, as this tradition was unceremoniously banned in 2015 in response to numerous injuries. Most cadets donned full kevlars and vests and beat the hell out of each other with pillows. More than thirty plebes that year were sent to the hospital for serious injuries, despite the strict no-hard-objects-in-the-pillows rule.

Thankfully, they had PT belts on or this could have gotten even more out of hand.

10 time-honored military traditions that civilians find weird

Don’t think you can just bring a spare cap that won’t be blown up. The troops will find it and make sure it’s also blown to smithereens.

(U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Christopher M. Gaylord)

3. Blasting up the lieutenant’s patrol cap

In the technical terms, a “blasting cap” is a small, sensitive primary explosive device used to detonate a larger, more powerful and less-sensitive secondary explosive. Soldiers in the artillery world take this term literally whenever they welcome a new platoon leader.

When the platoon first goes out for a live-fire exercise with a brand new lieutenant, they’ll take the officer’s patrol cap (either willingly or otherwise) and tape it to the end of the barrel or backplate of a rocket pod. Then, the first round goes off; it’ll take the cap with it. The officer is then expected to retrieve the nearly-burnt-to-a-crisp cap so they can remain in uniform after the ceremony is done.

No one really knows when or where this began, but every artillery officer since then has had to buy a new cap the following day.

10 time-honored military traditions that civilians find weird

The real question is, if they’re both military, do neither of them get spanked — or both?

(U.S. Air Force photo by Samuel King Jr.)

2. The sword butt tap at weddings

Most of the traditions on this list are kept within the realm of the military and don’t often affect civilians directly — with the major exception of military weddings. They are one of the most beautiful ways to introduce a new civilian spouse into our world. The troop’s comrades will attend wearing full dress uniforms, each carrying a sword to signify the protection they’ll offer the new spouse, as he or she is now kin.

The new comrades will serve as either groomsmen or bridesmaids and post guard outside of the chapel, or wherever the ceremony is held, and form a beautiful archway with their swords under which the married couple will walk.

Then, whoever is at the very end of the archway on the civilian spouse’s side will give a loving spank with their sword. Not a hard one, mind you, just a nice gentle way of letting them know that they’re now a part of the grander military family.

10 time-honored military traditions that civilians find weird

Every weird little detail of the “Crossing the Line” ceremony has been replicated as far back as anyone can remember. It can’t be THAT weird if your sailor granddad was also doing it, right?

(U.S. Navy)

1. The Court of Neptune

Whenever a Navy vessel crosses a certain point on the globe, all sailors who’ve never done so get to be initiated into an unofficial fraternity of sailors who’ve been there before. The most famous example of these ceremonies is the moment a vessel crosses the Equator at any point in the world.

Officially, it’s called the “Crossing the Line” ceremony, but sailors know it as “the Court of Neptune.” The uninitiated (known as “slimy polliwogs”) must bow before King Neptune (as portrayed by the ship’s captain) and entertain his queen, Davy Jones, the Royal Baby, and his dignitaries (portrayed by other high ranking members of the crew) with a talent show.

Regardless of how the young sailors perform, they’re found guilty of being polliwogs and must answer for their crimes. They’re “punished” by eating an extremely spicy or disgusting breakfast and are forced kiss the Royal Baby’s greasy belly. Only then can they have their slimy polliwoginess washed in seawater to finally become trusty shellbacks.

Follow any of that? Neither did any of us other slimy polliwogs…

MIGHTY TACTICAL

The first Japanese aircraft carrier in 75 years begins conversion

At the Japan Maritime United Isogo shipyard in Yokohama, JS Izumo DDH-183 has entered into the process of being converted to a genuine aircraft carrier. Currently designated as a helicopter destroyer, Izumo does not have the capability to operate fixed-wing aircraft from her deck. In the first of two main stages of her conversion, coinciding with her regular 5-year refit and overhaul programs, Izumo will receive upgrades to accommodate Japan’s new F-35B Lightning II fighter jets.


Following the surrender of the Japanese Empire in WWII, the Imperial Japanese Navy had only three aircraft carriers left in its fleet: Hōshō survived the war as a training carrier, Junyō had been damaged during the Battle of the Philippine Sea and was awaiting repairs, and Katsuragi could not be equipped with enough fuel, aircraft, or pilots by the time she was completed in late 1944. Hōshō and Katsuragi would ferry Japanese servicemen back to Japan until 1947 when all three surviving carriers, along with three unfinished carriers, were scrapped.

Article 9 of Japan’s post-war 1947 Constitution renounced war as “a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as a means of settling international disputes.” As a result, a Japanese Navy could not be formed as a military branch for power projection. Rather, Japan created the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force as a branch of the Japan Self-Defense Forces in 1954. Though the JMSDF is tasked with the naval defense of the Japanese islands, Japan’s partnership with Western countries during the Cold War led its focus on anti-submarine warfare to combat the Soviet Navy.

In 2007, Japan launched two Hyūga-class helicopter destroyers. With their flat-top decks, the Hyūgas were often called Japan’s first aircraft carriers since WWII. However, they were only capable of operating rotary-wing aircraft from their decks and had no launch or recovery capabilities for even VTOL fixed-wing aircraft. Doctrinally, the Hyūgas were used as flagships for anti-submarine operations.

Launched in 2013, Izumo is the lead ship in her class and the replacement for the Hyūgas. Displacing 27,000 long tons fully loaded, Izumo and her sister ship, Kaga DDH-184, are the largest surface combatants in the JMSDF. Like the Hyūgas before, Izumo is a helicopter destroyer that carries rotary-wing aircraft and is tasked with anti-submarine operations. However, in December 2018, the Japanese government announced that Izumo would be converted to operate fixed-wing aircraft in accordance with new defense guidelines.

Japan’s updated defense policy called for a more cohesive, flexible, and multidimensional force in response to growing Chinese aggression in the South China Sea and the completion of the Shandong, China’s first domestically-built aircraft carrier.

Estimated at million, the modifications to Izumo include a cleared and reinforced flight deck to support additional weight, added aircraft guidance lights, and heat-resistant deck sections to allow for vertical landings by F-35Bs. At this time, no specifications have been released regarding a ski-jump, angled flight deck, or catapults.

The first stage of modifications will be evaluated in a series of tests and sea trials following completion. Final modifications in stage two of the ship’s conversion are expected to take place in FY 2025 during the next overhaul and further evaluation. Izumo‘s sister ship, Kaga, will also be converted to an aircraft carrier, though no timeline has been released for her modifications.

The conversion to accept fixed-wing aircraft will provide Izumo and Kaga increased interoperability with allies. As aircraft carriers, they would be able to support not only Japanese F-35Bs, but also American F-35Bs and V-22 Ospreys. During a meeting on March 26, 2019 with General Robert Neller, Commandant of the United States Marine Corps, the Japanese government asked for guidance and advice on how to best operate F-35Bs from the decks of the future carriers; General Neller said that he would, “help as much as possible.”

On the creation of the new carriers and their joint capabilities, Japanese Defense Minister Takeshi Iwaya is quoted as saying, “The Izumo-class aircraft carrier role is to strengthen the air defense in the Pacific Ocean and to ensure the safety of the Self-Defense Force pilots. There may be no runway available for the US aircraft in an emergency.”

The conversion of the helicopter destroyers into aircraft carriers has received some opposition both domestically in Japan and abroad. Some people fear that the new capabilities will be a catalyst for future Japanese military expansion and aggression. Already, the JMSDF is the fourth largest world naval power by tonnage, behind only China, Russia, and the United States. However, the Japanese government remains adamant that the modernization efforts are only meant to bolster the country’s self-defense capability against growing threats from China.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Why State Department bomb squads clear an area without the military

In northern Iraq, fleeing ISIS militants adopted a “scorched earth” policy in many of the areas they once occupied, making it virtually impossible for civilians to return to their communities safely. In countless neighborhoods, ISIS either destroyed critical infrastructure such as power plants, water treatment facilities, hospitals, and schools, or emplaced explosive hazards to target returning Iraqis and prevent them from rebuilding. In the city of Mosul, after six months of hard work funded by the U.S. Department of State, al-Dawassa Water Treatment Facility has been cleared of deadly improvised explosive devices (IEDs) deliberately left behind by ISIS, as well as unexploded ordnance (UXO) from the battle to liberate the city from ISIS’s three-year occupation.


Unexploded ordnance and improvised explosive devices removal is a crucial precursor in stabilizing post-conflict areas because explosive remnants of war impede humanitarian assistance and stabilization efforts. The presence of these hidden hazards coupled with an explosive incident that killed three people prevented repair crews from approaching al-Dawassa facility, leaving families without access to clean water and people without jobs. With support from the Department of State and U.S. Embassy Baghdad, our implementing partner, Janus Global Operations, undertook the methodical and dangerous work of carefully surveying the site and removing explosives hazards. In all, teams safely cleared a total of 168 explosive hazards from the site, allowing maintenance teams to get the plant back on line.

10 time-honored military traditions that civilians find weird
A Janus team member surveys the remains of a room in al-Dawassa facility for UXO and IEDs.
(Janus Global Operations photo)

Al Dawassa consists of three main units: the pumping station which takes water from the nearby Tigris River, the treatment plant which purifies and distributes the water, and on-site employee housing. The facility suffered only light damage during the fight for Mosul, but three years of ISIS’s occupation reduced the facility to an inoperable state, requiring a significant amount of repairs. When fully operational, the facility can process approximately 750 cubic meters (26486 cubic feet) of water per day; however, after years of ISIS occupation, the facility’s production capacity declined to 300 cubic meters (10594 cubic feet) per day, well below half of its original capability.

Al-Dawassa is critical to the daily functioning of Mosul. The treatment facility not only provides families with clean drinking water, but also supports local businesses and agriculture. With these critical functions restored, families can return to their homes.

10 time-honored military traditions that civilians find weird
Unexploded ordnance and other dangerous hazards are hard to spot and often blend in with other debris on the ground.
(Janus Global Operations photo)

With smart investments in the work of partners like Janus to support stabilization, the United States demonstrates its enduring commitment to bolstering the safety of the Iraqi people. These efforts are not only making a difference in the lives of ordinary Iraqis, but they are also removing the insidious legacy that ISIS left behind, a key priority of the United States and the entire 75-member Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS.

The United States is the world’s single largest financial supporter of efforts to clear explosive remnants of war. Since 1993, the United States has contributed more than $2.9 billion to more than 100 countries around the world to reduce the harmful worldwide effects of at-risk, illicitly proliferated, and conventional weapons of war. To learn more about the United States’ global conventional weapons destruction efforts, check out our annual report, To Walk the Earth in Safety, and follow us on Twitter @StateDept.

This article originally appeared on the U.S. Department of State. Follow @StateDept on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Before his death, Bush did a final, touching favor for Pence’s son

Vice President Mike Pence recalled Dec. 3, 2018, how he asked a last favor from an ailing George H.W. Bush in August 2018 on behalf of his son, Marine 1st Lt. Michael Pence — never expecting that the former president would be able to comply.

The young Pence had just made his first tailhook carrier landing on the aircraft carrier George H.W. Bush, earning his wings as a Marine pilot. Could the former president please autograph a photo for his son?


Pence said Bush’s staff replied that he was no longer signing autographs, so he thought that was the end of it. But within a week, a handwritten letter and a signed photo from Bush arrived.

“Congratulations on receiving your wings of gold,” Bush wrote to Pence’s son. “Though we have not met, I wish you many days of CAVU ahead” — a reference to the Navy acronym meaning “Ceiling and Visibility Unlimited” that he adopted as his motto in public service.

10 time-honored military traditions that civilians find weird

U.S. service members walk the casket of George H.W. Bush, 41st President of the United States, towards the hearse, Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, Dec. 03, 2018.

(DoD photo by U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Kalie Frantz)

Pence told the story upon the arrival of Bush’s casket at the Capitol as an example of the former president’s basic decency and humility. Even in death, Bush performed another public service in the form of a brief respite from the partisan infighting and mudslinging of the warring factions of the White House and Congress.

As Bush’s flag-draped casket was borne to the Capitol’s Rotunda to lie in state, President Donald Trump and Congress were nearing a tentative agreement to put off a battle on the budget and the funding of the border wall that could have led to a partial government shutdown.

The House and Senate also postponed what would have been a contentious series of hearings on veterans and military issues.

In their remarks in the Rotunda, Congressional leaders and Pence made clear that the usual partisanship would have been unseemly while paying tribute to the 41st president, known for his inability to bear a grudge.

As James Baker, Bush’s secretary of state and chief of staff, has often said, Bush got to be president by “being nice to people.”

A siren-blaring cortege led the hearse bearing Bush’s casket down Pennsylvania Avenue to the Capitol on a crisp and clear evening in Washington, D.C., with enough breeze to give a steady ripple to the flags at half-staff in mourning.

At the East Front of the Capitol, honor units from all the services snapped to attention and then to “Present Arms” as military bearers took the casket from the hearse and then up the steps of the East Front to the Rotunda.

Ceremonial cannon boomed a 21-gun salute, and a military band played “Hail to the Chief” in a somber rhythm.

At the top of the steps, former President George W. Bush, the corners of his mouth sharply downturned, waited with former first lady Laura Bush, their hands on their hearts.

10 time-honored military traditions that civilians find weird

President George W. Bush, and his wife, Laura Bush, arrive at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, Dec. 03, 2018. Military and civilian personnel assigned to Joint Task Force-National Capital Region provided ceremonial and civil affairs support during President George H.W. Bush’s state funeral.

(DoD photo by U.S. Army Pfc. Katelyn Strange)

Also waiting was the rest of the late president’s immediate family — his children, including former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Neil, Marvin and Doro; and the Bush grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

The military bearers placed Bush’s flag-draped casket with great care on the catafalque that once bore the body of Abraham Lincoln.

In folding chairs arranged around the casket sat the Joint Chiefs, the justices of the Supreme Court, and members of the House and Senate, along with former Cabinet members who served under the late president, including former Vice President Dick Cheney.

In his invocation, Rev. Patrick Conroy, chaplain of the House, gave thanks to God for granting the blessing of Bush’s “example of service to all Americans, indeed to all the world.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, said that honoring Bush had brought Congress together “on democracy’s front porch” in the Rotunda, “a good place to talk as neighbors and friends.”

“Here lies a great man,” said House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin. He called Bush “a great leader and a good man, a gentle soul of firm resolve. His memory will belong to glory.”

Trump and first lady Melania Trump did not attend the arrival of Bush’s casket but were expected to pay their respects later Dec. 3, 2018 evening.

Bush will lie in state at the Capitol until Dec. 5, 2018, when a funeral will be held at Washington National Cathedral. His casket will then return to Houston for interment.

This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.

Articles

What would happen if modern Marines conducted the Iwo Jima landings

The invasion of Iwo Jima was one of the most costly battles in the Pacific in World War II, largely because the aerial bombings and naval artillery bombardments that preceded the invasion failed to do serious damage to the 22,000 Japanese troops or their network of 1,500 bunkers and reinforced rooms carved into the island.


The Marines were forced to fight bitterly for nearly every yard of the island, and Japanese defenders emerged from hidden caves and bunkers at night to kidnap, torture, and kill American invaders.

10 time-honored military traditions that civilians find weird
Two flags were raised over Mount Suribachi during the fight to take Iwo Jima. The raising of the second flag became one of the most iconic photos of the war and Marine Corps history. (Photo: U.S. Marine Corps Archives)

Modern Marines would enjoy two big advantages that their predecessors lacked — night vision devices, including thermal and infrared technologies and bunker-busting weapons like thermobaric warheads. Other modern advances like counter-fire radar would play a role as well.

When the invasions first hit the beaches in 1945, the Japanese defenders refused to heavily contest the landings. Instead, they huddled in their miles of tunnels and waited for the Marines to come to them across minefields or to group up where mortars and artillery could kill many Americans in one hit.

10 time-honored military traditions that civilians find weird
Harriers, Hornets, and potentially even F-35 Lighting IIs could fly missions over Iwo Jima, annihilating Japanese mortar and artillery positions pinpointed by counter-fire radar. (Photo: U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. Gregory Moore)

In those first hours, the counter-fire radar would shine. Japanese mortar positions and artillery were well protected and hidden. The counter-fire radar would be able to nearly pinpoint those weapons’ locations and the fire direction center would feed those locations to Marine Corps aviation assets.

Harriers and Hornets launching from amphibious assault ships could then hit these positions with guided bombs. Destroying the weapons would require accurate hits, but that’s sort of the point of precision weapons. And, if the Marine pilots brought along their F-35Bs, they could potentially carry the high velocity penetrating weapon, a bunker buster small enough to be carried on a smaller jet.

10 time-honored military traditions that civilians find weird
The SMAW-NE explosive warhead fills the target area with reactive metals and then ignites the cloud, creating a massive explosion. (GIF: YouTube/Discovery)

Meanwhile, the infantry Marines would find themselves with more options than their World War II counterparts. While the flamethrower — which was so important at Iwo Jima — is now a thing of the past, thermobaric rounds for the SMAW and other missiles would make up the difference.

The SMAW-Novel Explosive warhead is fired through an opening or thin wall of a a cave, building, or bunker and disperses a metal cloud that is then ignited, causing a large explosion that overpressurizes the area, killing or severely wounding everyone inside.

And other missiles like the TOW and Javelin are no slouches against bunkers.

With the Marines capable of destroying bunkers anytime the Japanese compromise their camouflage by firing from them, the defenders would fall back to their other major tactic on Iwo Jima, creeping out under cover of night to hit the Americans.

10 time-honored military traditions that civilians find weird
The Marines can see at night now. Your move, Imperial Japanese defenders in this imaginary battle. (Photo: U.S. Marine Corps Ashley Calingo)

But this would go even worse for them. While night vision was in its infancy in 1945, modern systems can amplify ambient light (what’s typically happening in green-tinted night devices), detect infrared energy (black and white night vision), or provide a detailed thermal map (blue, green, orange, yellow, and red vision). Any of these night optics would be able to see Japanese troops.

Aviation assets with infrared and light-amplifying devices could watch any defenders crawling from their bunkers and either hit them or report their locations to infantry and artillery units. The infantrymen could strongpoint their camps with vehicle and tripod mounted machine guns and missile systems with night optics.

10 time-honored military traditions that civilians find weird
When your artillery spotter is wearing night optics, there’s really no reason to stop firing when the sun goes down. (Photo: U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Juan Bustos)

Between the two, the Marines would enjoy a massive advantage in night fighting. Even if the defenders had their own systems, the 2017 Marines would be in a better position than their 1945 counterparts since in 1945 the Japanese were able to own the night. In 2017, they would be evenly matched at worst.

With the shift in power with modern technology, the Marines might even take Iwo Jima while inflicting greater casualties than they suffered. As it was, the Iwo Jima invasion was the only major engagement in World War II where they didn’t inflict more casualties than they suffered.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Mattis outlines the threats to the US and our strategy

Defense Secretary James N. Mattis shared the thinking behind the new National Defense Strategy during a discussion at the United States Institute of Peace in Washington on Oct. 30, 2018.

The strategy, released in January 2018, sees Russia and China as the greatest threats with Iran and North Korea as regional threats. Violent extremism rounds out the threat matrix.

The strategy is based on a return to great power competition among the United States, Russia and China.


Power, urgency, will

Mattis told Stephen Hadley, the moderator of the event and former national security advisor to President George W. Bush, that in setting up the strategy, officials looked at threats from three different angles: Power, urgency and will.

“In terms of raw power right now, I look at Russia and the nuclear arsenal they have,” he said. “I look at their activities over the last 10 years from Georgia and Crimea to the Donetsk Basin to Syria and I can go on and on and on. In terms of just power, I think it is Russia that we have to look at and address.”

10 time-honored military traditions that civilians find weird

U.S. Secretary of Defense James N. Mattis speaks at the United States Institute of Peace, in a discussion moderated by the chair of the institute’s board of directors, Stephen J. Hadley, Washington, D.C., Oct. 30, 2018.

(DOD photo by Lisa Ferdinando)

There are two threats that are most urgent right now: North Korea and the continuing fight against violent extremism. North Korea’s nuclear and missile program — in clear violation of United Nations sanctions — remains a problem, and the current fight against violent extremists from the Islamic State to al-Qaida to Boko Haram to other transnational terror groups must be fought.

“In terms of will, clearly it is China,” he said.

China is different than Russia. “Russia wants security around its periphery by causing insecurity among other nations,” he said. “They want a veto authority over the economic, the diplomatic and the security decisions of the nations around them.

“China seems to want some sort of tribute states around them,” he continued. “We are looking for how do we work with China. I think 15 years from now we will be remembered most for how … we set the conditions for a positive relationship with China.”

Cooperation

The United States is looking for ways to cooperate with China and that has been beneficial to both countries, Mattis said. He pointed to China’s vote against the North Korean nuclear program in the United Nations Security Council as an example. The United States will also confront China when it must as he pointed to the United States continuing freedom of navigation operations in international waters and airspace.

“I have met with my counterpart in Beijing and in Singapore 10 days ago, and he will be here 10 days from now to continue that dialogue as we sort it out,” Mattis said.

Also part of the strategy are U.S. strengths, and foremost among them is the country’s network of alliances and friends around the world. This network requires constant tending, the secretary said. He noted that just in the last month he has attended NATO meetings, consulted with Central and South American allies and journeyed to Manama, Bahrain, to meet with Middle Eastern allies and friends.

All of these were part and parcel of forming the National Defense Strategy.

South Asia Strategy

The secretary also spoke about the South Asia Strategy announced in August 2017 and how that is proceeding. Officials continue to follow the strategy and it is making progress, but it is slow. It entails far more than just the military and far more than just the United States, he said.

The strategy is a regional approach to the problem. It also reinforced the commitment to the area and realigned those reinforcements with Afghan forces. This was needed because the Afghans had an Army that wasn’t ready to have the training wheels taken off the bike, Mattis said. “Only the Afghan special forces had mentors from NATO nations with them,” he said. “And every time they went against the enemy, the Taliban, they won.

10 time-honored military traditions that civilians find weird

U.S. Secretary of Defense James N. Mattis speaks at the United States Institute of Peace, in a discussion moderated by the chair of the institute’s board of directors, Stephen J. Hadley, Washington, D.C., Oct. 30, 2018.

(DOD photo by Lisa Ferdinando)

But the rest of the Afghan forces were spread out around the country with no mentorship and no air support. The strategy changed that. The air support is crucial in giving Afghan forces the high ground in the mountainous country, “and that changes the tactical situation,” the secretary said.

Afghan forces are carrying the burden. They took more than 1,000 dead and wounded in August and September 2018, the secretary said, and they stayed in the field fighting. “And the Taliban has been prevented from doing what they said they were going to do, which was to take and hold district and provincial centers, also disrupt an election that they were unable to disrupt,” he said.

But the most important aspect of the strategy is reconciliation. U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad agreed to serve as a special envoy in Afghanistan specifically aimed at reconciliation between the Taliban and the government in Kabul. “He is hard at work on this, on an Afghan-led, Afghan-owned peace and reconciliation effort,” Mattis said. “So this is the approach we’re trying to sustain right now. It is working from our perspective, but what is heartbreakingly difficult to accept is the progress and violence can be going on at the same time.”

This article originally appeared on the United States Department of Defense. Follow @DeptofDefense on Twitter.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

This is the iconic European fighter that can operate anywhere

The Saab Gripen is a beautiful fighter with a nifty little mane on its nose, and it’s popular with small militaries around the world because it’s cheap to operate, has high-mission readiness, and can take off from nearly anywhere. Seriously, if you’ve got a half mile of level pavement, you can probably get a Gripen in the air from it.


Gripen – Always combat ready

www.youtube.com

You might need to cut down some light poles or whatever, but that’s on you.

The Gripen fighter, which recently saw its E-variant enter serial production, is squarely aimed at fighting whatever it needs to, including fifth-generation fighters like Russia’s Su-57. That might be surprising since it’s not as fast. Or have as many weapons. Or have much stealth coating or many materials.

But the Gripen’s manufacturer, Saab, isn’t trying to win at air shows, and it isn’t accepting the price point required to develop stealth aircraft. (Even Russia can’t actually afford its stealthy Su-57, which might not even be that stealthy.)

That’s because Saab makes weapons for Sweden and for export to countries like Thailand, Hungary, and South Africa. These countries don’t have the money to drop 0 million per F-35, a plane that costs ,000-,000 per hour of flight. And they don’t have the billion to develop a Su-57 and fail like Russia did.

10 time-honored military traditions that civilians find weird

A Saab Gripen takes off from a public road.

(San Diego Air and Space Museum)

So Saab built the Gripen around a few complementary ideas. The first was that they could develop a capable jet fighter with a low cost per flight hour. Right now, new Gripens cost up to million per copy and come out to ,000 per flight hour.

Part of this low-cost per flight hour is making it easy to refuel, rearm, and maintain the plane on the ground. And, the way they did this allows operators to work the plane from nearly anywhere a 20-foot cargo container can be delivered on a truck, provided there are at least 875 yards of runway-ish concrete for the plane to take off from. So, Gripens can easily disperse during combat. Sure that’s not scary for an aggressor who has to face them.

But operators, obviously, still need them to be lethal. Paper planes are cheap and hard to spot, too, but there’s a reason they aren’t popular with militaries. But the Gripen is lethal, partially because it can fire most NATO-produced missiles and partially because the entire plane was designed around electronic warfare.

10 time-honored military traditions that civilians find weird

A Saab JAS-39 Gripen in flight.

(Oleg V. Belyakov, CC BY-SA 3.0)

Electronic warfare, using radar and other signals to mask your own forces while also jamming the enemy’s machines, is one of the tools that’s supposed to keep the F-35 safe. But where the F-35 was laboriously and expensively built with its antennas and sensors in the stealth skin of the aircraft, Gripen took a more traditional route and just built fighters with electronic and conventional weapons, akin to the EA-18G Super Hornet.

But the Gripen’s electronic warfare is robust, so much so that Saab believes the plane can blind nearly all of the Russian fighters the Gripen is designed to deter, especially the large number of Flankers in Russia’s inventory but also the Su-57. Even better, Saab thinks the E-variant can fight the Su-57 on equal terms.

There is one serious caveat, though. Sweden doesn’t want the fighter jet’s electronic warfare tools recorded by adversaries who could create exploits against them. (Electronic warfare in combat turns into a game of tit-for-tat as each side tries to reconfigure their signals to defeat the other.) So, Sweden has rarely allowed pilots to turn on the full electronics suite in exercises with England.

And so, no one can be really certain how the Gripen E will perform against advanced air defenses and fighters. They can hide in the brush, they can take off from anywhere, but they can only probably cut their way through Russia’s air force.

MIGHTY HISTORY

10 reasons everyone in the military community should watch Hamilton

Hamilton, the phenomenal Broadway musical, landed on Disney’s streaming service, Disney+ on Friday. Here are 10 reasons why every service member and veteran should watch it.


1. It tells the story of an unlikely American Hero

How does a bastard, orphan, son of a whore
And a Scotsman, dropped in the middle of a forgotten spot
In the Caribbean by providence impoverished
In squalor, grow up to be a hero and a scholar?

The ten-dollar founding father without a father
Got a lot farther by working a lot harder
By being a lot smarter By being a self-starter
By fourteen, they placed him in charge of a trading charter

(Song: Alexander Hamilton)

The opening lyrics to the now legendary Broadway musical call out to all history buffs, patriotic Americans, hip-hop fans and lovers of culture and just takes off from there.

When Lin-Manuel Miranda first floated the idea of doing a hip-hop concept album about Alexander Hamilton, people scoffed. There is even a famous video of him performing the opening (and only song at that point) at the White House for President Barack Obama. Everyone laughs, but by the end he got a standing ovation.

Lin-Manuel Miranda Performs at the White House Poetry Jam: (8 of 8)

www.youtube.com

Miranda likened Hamilton to a hip-hop artist. A young man who came from an impoverished background and worked his way to the top. Growing up in the Caribbean, he worked his way off the British West Indies and ended up in New York City.

2. If you love American history, you will love Hamilton

Raise a glass to freedom

Something they can never take away
No matter what they tell you
Raise a glass to the four of us

Tomorrow there’ll be more of us

Telling the story of tonight

(Song: The Story of Tonight)

The play starts off while America is in the throes of Revolutionary fervor. Hamilton meets several men that will be his brothers during the Revolution (Aaron Burr, Marquis de Lafayette, John Lawrence and Hercules Mulligan). He also meets the women that will shape his life (Eliza, Angelica…. And Peggy)

The songs that follow take us on the journey that Americans felt while championing for their rights to be free.

3. You like to poke fun at the British

Oceans rise, empires fall

We have seen each other through it all
And when push comes to shove
I will send a fully armed battalion to remind you of my love!

(Song: You’ll Be Back)

Yeah, there are a lot of jokes at England’s expense, especially the Monarch we despise; King George III. Hamilton makes him a fool instead of a villain, a king from afar that is very out of touch with his colonies. He comes off like a bad boyfriend and just to make sure we know the English are different; he sings his songs in a Beatles-like style.

4. It’s got a great love story

So, so, so
So this is what it feels like
To match wits with someone at your level
What the hell is the catch?
It’s the feeling of freedom
Of seein’ the light
It’s Ben Franklin with a key and a kite!
You see it, right?

(Song: Satisfied)

Hamilton takes on its namesake’s love story by being as honest as possible. His love for his wife Eliza, his connection with her sister Angelica and his affair with Maria Reynolds. That affair was one of the first political scandals in the young United States’ history and would be pivotal in shaping Hamilton’s career and his marriage to Eliza.

5. We win our independence

We negotiate the terms of surrender.

I see George Washington smile.
We escort their men out of Yorktown.
They stagger home single file.
Tens of thousands of people flood the streets.
There are screams and church bells ringing.
And as our fallen foes retreat
I hear the drinking song they’re singing

The world turned upside down

(Song: Yorktown – The World Turned Upside Down)

The play’s most thrilling moment is the Battle of Yorktown. Hamilton and his buddies rally together and beat the British, under the leadership of General George Washington. The thrill of victory and, later King George’s agony of defeat, make this such an amazing moment.

6. You love politics

Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness

We fought for these ideals we shouldn’t settle for less
These are wise words, enterprising men quote ’em
Don’t act surprised, you guys, ’cause I wrote ’em (ow)

(Song: Cabinet Battle #1)

In the second act, we meet two of the men that would be a thorn in Hamilton’s side as a new country finds its footing. Thomas Jefferson and James Madison make their appearance and Miranda famously portrays their bitter Cabinet arguments as rap battles. Nothing like learning about big government vs small government with two men spitting lyrics at each other.

7. If you want to know why our country is set up the way it is

No one else was in

The room where it happened
The room where it happened
The room where it happened

My God

In God we trust
But we’ll never really know what got discussed
Click-boom then it happened

And no one else was in the room where it happened

(Song: The Room Where it Happened)

Ever wonder why we had a strong central bank? Ever wonder why Washington D.C. ended up being the capitol instead of New York? Ever wonder who made those decisions? Hamilton does an amazing job of bringing up political intrigue and quid pro quo. Hamilton has a closed-door meeting with Jefferson and Madison to discuss how the country should be organized. The event spurs Hamilton’s acquaintance Aaron Burr to seek more political power as he now wants to be “In the room where it happens”.

8. It has heartbreak

There are moments that the words don’t reach

There is suffering too terrible to name
You hold your child as tight as you can
And push away the unimaginable
The moments when you’re in so deep
It feels easier to just swim down

(Song: It’s Quiet Uptown)

In a precursor to his own fate, Hamilton deals with the death of his son Philip who dies after a duel while defending his father’s reputation. Hamilton and his wife (who were on the rocks after his affair) find solace with each other as they grieve for their son together.

9. It has duels

It’s the Ten Duel Commandments
Number one

The challenge, demand satisfaction
If they apologize, no need for further action

Number two

If they don’t, grab a friend, that’s your second

Your lieutenant when there’s reckoning to be reckoned

Number three
Have your seconds meet face to face

Negotiate a peace

Or negotiate a time and place

This is commonplace, ‘specially ‘tween recruits

Most disputes die, and no one shoots

(Song: The Ten Duel Commandments)

Of course, you know that Alexander Hamilton, our first Secretary of the Treasury, and Aaron Burr, a Vice President under Thomas Jefferson, have a duel which results in Hamilton’s untimely death. Can you imagine if Timothy Geithner dueled with Dick Cheney? Yeah, crazy times back then. Miranda, over the course of the whole play builds up the relationship with Burr and Hamilton from their days pre-Revolution to political rivals. Unfair of not, it makes Hamilton to be Mozart while Burr is his Salieri. It comes to a head on that fateful day in New Jersey.

10. It is our story and we shouldn’t forget it

President Jefferson:

I’ll give him this: his financial system is a work of genius
I couldn’t undo it if I tried
And I’ve tried

Who lives, who dies, who tells your story?

President Madison:
He took our country from bankruptcy to prosperity
I hate to admit it
But he doesn’t get enough credit for all the credit he gave us

(Song: Who lives, Who dies, Who Tells Your Story)

Before the play Hamilton came out, there was actually a movement to replace Hamilton on the bill as many didn’t know the impact he had on our country’s foundation. That plan was scrapped after the play was released as Miranda did bring awareness to the complexities of our Founding Fathers. They weren’t perfect, they weren’t without sin and they were perfectly human. But when you hear their words, you find that regardless of your background, political beliefs, race, religion, gender or sexual orientation, you have a lot in common with the men that founded the United States. There is a reason why many younger people have been inspired by the musical.

Check it out on Disney+ and let us know what you think!


MIGHTY CULTURE

This is what makes joint terminal attack controllers so deadly

Air Force joint terminal attack controllers, JTACS for short, are airmen who go forward with special operators, infantry, and other maneuver forces to call down the wrath of god on anyone with the cajones to engage American troops while they’re around.

Here’s what they do and what makes them so lethal:


10 time-honored military traditions that civilians find weird

A Joint Terminal Attack Controller from the 116th Air Support Operations Squadron, 194th Wing, Washington Air National Guard, observes a U.S. Air Force F-35 Lightning during close air support training at the Utah Test and Training Range, April 11, 2018.

(U.S. Army National Guard Sgt. 1st Class Jason Kriess)

JTACs are an outgrowth of the “forward air controllers” who tipped battles in World War II through Vietnam. Their job is to keep track of all aircraft available in the area they’re sent into while supporting any maneuver force to which they’re attached. If that maneuver force comes into contact with the enemy, intentionally or otherwise, the JTAC gets to work.

They can fire their personal weapons quickly and accurately if needed, but their priority is fixing the locations of all friendly forces, enemy elements, and civilians on the battlefield. Once the tactical air control party, or TACP, has a map of where he can’t shoot and where he should, he starts calling in help from planes, helicopters, and drones flying overhead.

10 time-honored military traditions that civilians find weird

U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Clayton Eckstrom, Train, Advise, and Assist Command-Air Joint Tactical Air Controller advisor, observes the target accuracy of an Afghan Air Force training strike on Forward Operating Base Hunter, Afghanistan, June 18, 2018.

(Operation Resolute Support)

With the powers of all U.S. air assets at their command, JTACs can do a lot of damage. One of the most common weapons dropped in Iraq and Afghanistan is the JDAM, an older, dumb bomb upgraded with a kit that allows it to be guided to a target. JDAMs can be a 500, 1,000, or 2,000-pound bomb.

But JTACs can also call for bunker busters against hardened targets or strafing runs against personnel and light vehicles. If they think the best way to end the threat to friendlies under their umbrella is to call for attack helicopters to lay down a cloud of rockets, then all they have to do is set it up and tell the pilot that they’re “cleared hot.”

But the Air Force puts a priority on training their JTACs to not only call in fires from the air to the surface, but also “surface-to-surface” fires, employing artillery, like howitzers and rockets. In other words, JTACs are expected to be able to call in Army, Marine Corps, and naval artillery with just as much lethality as they call down fires from the air.

10 time-honored military traditions that civilians find weird

A joint terminal attack controller from the 18th Air Support Operations Group checks an M4 Carbine during an exercise aimed at pushing JTACs to their limit, Aug. 3, 2018, at Moody Air Force Base, Georgia.

(U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Janiqua P. Robinson)

So, for those keeping score at home, TACPs can kill you with nearly any artillery that rolls on the ground as well as any bombs and bullets that can be fired from the sky. And they can also kill you with AC-130s, which are planes that fire artillery from the sky.

But, of course, these are also special operations airmen, so even if all of those weapons aren’t available, they’re also well-trained in shooting you in the face.

All of this can quickly become more complicated than it might sound, because the JTAC has to organize all of this chaos, making sure that he never requests artillery that will cross the line of flight of the helicopters and aircraft in the area, since that would end with the aircraft being shot down by friendlies.

10 time-honored military traditions that civilians find weird

A Slovenian Armed Forces joint terminal attack controller moves through a building during training in Slovenia June 4, 2018.

(U.S. Air National Guard Staff Sgt. Michelle Y. Alvarez-Rea)

But the JTAC community has proven itself equal to the tasks, and often surpassed the call of duty while supporting their friends on the front lines.

For instance, Master Sgt. Thomas Case is the recipient of two Silver Stars, both awarded for actions taken as a JTAC-certified member of the TACP. The first award came for directing hundreds of strikes over a three-day battle in 2003, and the second award came for exposing himself to enemy fire while directing danger-close support from an AC-130.

And Tech Sgt. Robert Gutierrez received the Air Force Cross for directing air strikes in 2009 that saved his entire team, despite the fact that he was severely wounded with a “softball-sized” hole in his back that he didn’t expect to survive. At the time, Guteirrez was just shy of full JTAC certification, and had to get another operator to give the final OK for the mission. But it was his math and decision making, calculated while under fire and medical treatment, that saved the day.

Meanwhile, when British Prince Harry, the Duke of Sussex, went to war in Afghanistan, he went as a JTAC. And even he ended up deep in the fight, once manning a .50-cal. machine gun to fend off an insurgent attack alongside a bunch of British Gurkhas.

As a matter of fact, the Air Force’s JTACs have been so successful that the Marine Corps has actually adopted the term for referring to some of their forward air controllers, and has launched new efforts to recruit the best Marines into the job.

So yeah, don’t mess with the JTACs. Or do. We’re not your parents, and we’re not here to tell you how to lose your life.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The top-secret plan to cripple Berlin during a Soviet invasion

During the Cold War, an Army Special Forces unit was tasked with sabotaging Soviet infrastructure and crippling an invasion force to buy NATO time should war break out. The mission was so secret that the entire thing was almost forgotten — until a few veterans of the unit stepped forward.

We spoke to two of these veterans to find out what it was like serving as clandestine soldiers in an occupied city on what was likely a suicide mission if the seemingly-imminent war ever started


10 time-honored military traditions that civilians find weird

U.S. and Soviet forces standoff across Checkpoint Charlie in 1961, one of the many Cold War flare-ups that occurred in occupied Berlin after World War II.

(U.S. Army)

Master Sgt. Robert Charest is a veteran of Detachment A who has started the push for recording the unit’s history. Chief Warrant Officer 4 James Stejskal is the man who literally wrote the book on Detachment A.

The specific mission of Detachment A changed over the years, but the overarching goal was always preparing to counter and stall a Soviet invasion.

“If the Soviets decided to come across Checkpoint Charlie, we would just try to slow them down so that the rest of the folks, they’d get out of Berlin and all that stuff,” said Charest while describing the mission.

This meant that Charest, Stejskal, and others assigned to the unit — which had about 90 people in it for most of its existence — had to know what infrastructure to hit and how best to reach it. They also had to maintain all of the materials and weapons needed to complete their mission.

10 time-honored military traditions that civilians find weird

Berlin was criss-crossed by a network of trains, like this train for travelers on the U-Bahn. Another railway ran around the outside of the city carrying heavy freight, and Detachment A members were prepared to blow up train engines on the railway in case of war.

Some of the targets were obvious, like the railroad that ran around divided Berlin.

“Around Berlin, there was a railway network, basically called the Berliner Ring,” said Stejskal. “It was that railway network that would carry the majority of the Russian forces from east to west. So, you got the guys that are on the ground already and then you got all these troops that are going to be coming from Poland and the Czech Republic and then you’re heading for the Fulda Gap.”

Shutting down the railroad would slow the Soviet advance, but the teams that made up Detachment A needed a way to do it without getting caught. The more stuff they could break before getting captured and killed, the better chance NATO forces would have in building a defensive line and eventually launching a counter attack.

So, they rigged up pieces of coal, filled with explosives. Were these ever loaded into a train, the engineer would eventually blow up his own engine, blocking the rail line with a shattered train until authorities could clean up the mess, drastically slowing reinforcements.

Other targets included factories and other centers of manufacturing, transportation, and command and control.

To supply these missions, Detachment A relied on a series of spy-like gadgets and hidden caches of conventional weapons buried deep all over West Berlin. But the targets were in East Berlin, and Detachment A had to plan on how to strike across the city and, later in the war, across the Berlin Wall, to hit targets.

10 time-honored military traditions that civilians find weird

Special Forces sergeant Robert Charest while assigned to operation in Berlin, clearly rocking a different grooming standard than most soldiers in the Cold War.

(Photo courtesy of Bob Charest)

This required missions deep into Soviet-held Berlin. While Detachment A members usually enjoyed relaxed grooming standards and wore civilian clothes, spying across the wall was done in uniform surprisingly often.

“You put on a uniform, shaved your hair, got in the military vehicles, went through Checkpoint Charlie, and you had access to East Berlin,” Charest said, “Alexanderplatz and stuff like this. You drove around and that was your cover story. The Russians would do the same thing in West Berlin. They had their little system. That was how we conducted surveillance of our targets.”

The men had a huge advantage when spying on the East, though. Thanks to the 1950 Lodge Act, foreign nationals could obtain U.S. citizenship after a five-year stint in the military. This allowed Detachment A to recruit people from the neighborhoods and areas where their targets were without rousing suspicions. These recruits and leaders proved invaluable.

10 time-honored military traditions that civilians find weird

Soviet workers build the Berlin Wall, breaking up the city and reducing Detachment A’s ability to surveil its targets.

(U.S. National Archives)

“Our commander was great,” said Stejskal. “Our commander was Czech Officer who had served in the Resistance during World War II. Our Sergeant Major was a German who had served in the German Army, sort of, at the end of World War II. Just, nothing like you could imagine.”

“… several of the guys that reconned these targets were the actual Lodge Act people that lived in Berlin and had come from Berlin,” said Charest. “They knew where these targets were and the intel, G2 and above, knew what targets would be best to slow the Soviets down if they decided to come across.”

Detachment A practiced crossing the wall, swimming through deep canals with SCUBA gear, or making their way through sewer and water pipes under the city. One recon of the sewer pipes even got a senior officer in trouble.

10 time-honored military traditions that civilians find weird

Allied troops in West Berlin were deep behind Soviet lines. When the Soviets attempted to cut off re-supply to those troops, America launched the massive “Berlin Airlift” to keep them alive. The airlift was a success, but it drove home for many just how vulnerable West Berlin was.

(U.S. Air Force)

“He, along with somebody else, went into the sewer system to check the situation out for crossing points, okay,” Charest said. “Well, little did he know that the CIA had these things monitored with all kinds of stuff. They triggered the alarms.”

While the plans were well laid, they still relied on brave men willing to take on huge risks to make the mission a success. After all, West Berlin was still deep inside East Germany.

“It’s a strange feeling,” said Stejskal. “We were 110 miles behind the East German border, about 12,000 allied troops inside West Berlin surrounded by close to a million Russian and Warsaw Pact soldiers. Oddly enough, I think most of us were very energized to be where we were.”

And the men had a good idea of how dangerous that situation was.

10 time-honored military traditions that civilians find weird

Soviet forces prepare to leave Hungary. If the Cold War had gone hot, Detachment A members, like the rest of the allied troops in Berlin, would have been outnumbered and outgunned over 100 miles from friendly forces.

(RIA Novosti Archive, CC-BY-SA 3.0)

“Well, it was basically a suicide mission,” Charest said. “If we got in and hit anything and then we had to face escape and evasion, all right? You were on your own. There was nothing set up, formally, for escape and evasion, yet. You were on your own. That’s why you spoke the language, that’s why you were familiar with the countryside. You knew, essentially, you had to get to the coast or wherever NATO withdrew to and stuff like this. But, you had nothing formal, you were on your own.”

“I think we would’ve been hard-pressed to survive more than 72 hours, but you never can tell,” Stejskal said. “How did the OSS agents feel when they parachuted France or into Yugoslavia during World War II? Same kind of feeling. You’re anticipating that you’re going in to a very bad situation, but you got the best tools, the best cover, and everything else.”

Luckily, Detachment A never had to slow a Soviet invasion, despite flare-ups, like the tank standoff at Checkpoint Charlie. Instead, they spent their time training and conducting surveillance, preparing to save American forces in a war that never came and quietly saving American lives while building the framework and doctrine for units that followed them, like SEAL Team 6 and Delta Force.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is the only country in South America to send troops to the Korean War

While the Korean War Battles of Old Baldy, Triangle Hill, and Geumseong may not be the first battles that come to mind when we think of the Korean Conflict, for Colombia, they were certainly important. Like their Brazilian neighbors in World War II, the Colombians saw the importance of stemming the advance of an aggressor as essential to the world’s collective security. Three Colombian frigates along with more than 5,000 troops saw action alongside their U.N. allies there.


10 time-honored military traditions that civilians find weird

A Colombian veteran returns home from the Korean War.

While the country’s then-President, Laureano Gomez, was also looking for economic support from the West, the Colombians were also eager to remove the pro-German brush that had painted them during the Second World War. By 1951, for the first time in 127 years, Colombia was fully engaged in the fighting on the Korean Peninsula, attached to the U.S. 7th and 24th Infantry Divisions.

Over the course of the rest of the war, Colombia would send battalion after battalion over to fight, numbering more than a thousand men each. They were eager to prove Colombia’s bravery to the rest of the world, like the Turkish and Ethiopians before them. They were unlike any Colombian soldiers who came before them, but when returning home, they found a cold indifferent world.

10 time-honored military traditions that civilians find weird

Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Joseph Dunford meets a Colombian Korean War veteran at the Korean War Memorial, Headquarters of the Military Forces of Colombia.

Their service went largely unnoticed when they returned home. Colombians rejected many of the ideals the Korean War veterans held as they fought to earn their respect in the halls of the U.N.. They suffered the way many veterans the world over suffer after their wars end. While abroad and fighting, they found themselves honored and beloved by veterans from every nation they fought. When they came home, they found it was hard to win over their own nation.

They received no benefits, no pension. Many wounded veterans would come home and one day die without so much as a thank you from the nation for which they were willing to give their lives.

10 time-honored military traditions that civilians find weird

Colombian Army veterans.

Eventually, the Colombian government would relent and offer a pension to Korean War veterans who could prove they were indigent. By then, many of those fighting men were well into their 60s and 70s. Some of those veterans were never recovered and remain in Korea to this day. The unit also suffered 213 dead and 567 wounded. They were the last force to arrive but the 9th largest to join in the effort to keep the South free. Still, the men who fought there don’t hold regrets about going.

“It was a really extraordinary experience,” said General Álvaro Valencia Tovar. “I never regretted going, despite the hardships suffered during war, the bitter winter we lived through there…resisting subzero temperatures, but that was all part of a chapter in my life that I’ve always regarded with great sympathy and with pleasant memories.”

Articles

11 of the craziest lines ever spoken in battle

In the heat of battle, some people freeze up, some charge forward, and some drop awesome lines like they’re trying to win a rap battle.


These quotes are from the third category.

1. “Two kinds of people are staying on this beach! The dead and those who are going to die! Now, let’s get the hell out of here!”

10 time-honored military traditions that civilians find weird
Troops in an LCVP landing craft approach Omaha Beach on D-Day, June 6, 1944. (Photo: public domain)

This was shouted by Army Col. George Taylor as he urged his men forward at Normandy on D-Day. According to survivors, Taylor yelled a few different versions of this quote during the landings at Omaha Beach and all of them had the desired effect, spurring American soldiers forward against the Nazi guns firing on the beach.

2. “All right. They’re on our left, they’re on our right, they’re in front of us, they’re behind us … They can’t get away this time.”

10 time-honored military traditions that civilians find weird
(Photo: U.S. Marine Corps)

Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Lewis B. “Chesty” Puller gave us tons of great quotes. This particular one he spit out while Chinese forces surrounded his men at the Chosin Reservoir. The Marines were expected to fight what essentially amounted to a doomed delaying action as the Chinese wiped them out. Instead, the Marines broke out and slaughtered their way through multiple enemy divisions.

3. “Nuts!”

10 time-honored military traditions that civilians find weird
(Photo: U.S. Army)

Army Brig. Gen. Anthony McAuliffe led the 101st Airborne Division during the Battle of the Bulge. The Americans were outnumbered, surrounded, and running short on supplies when a German delegation requested their surrender. McAuliffe was awoken with the news and sleepily responded “Nuts!” before heading to meet his staff who had to draft the formal response to the German commander.

The staff decided that the general’s initial response was better than anything they could write. While under siege and near constant attack, the paratroopers typed the following centered on a sheet of paper:

December 22, 1944

To the German Commander,

N U T S !

The American Commander

4. “Damn the torpedoes, Full speed ahead!”

10 time-honored military traditions that civilians find weird
Admiral David Farragut during the Civil War. (Photo: Public Domain)

In April 1862, Vice Adm. David Farragut was leading a fleet to capture Mobil Bay, Alabama, and cut off the major port. While sailing into the city, a Union ship hit Confederate mines in the water that were then known as torpedoes. Farragut yelled his now immortal line, sailed through the mines, and was victorious.

5. “Another running gun battle today … Wahoo runnin’, destroyer gunnin'”

10 time-honored military traditions that civilians find weird

The USS Wahoo was an enormously successful U.S. submarine in World War II that sank five Japanese ships totaling 32,000 tons — including an entire four-ship convoy — during its third cruise. Near the end of the patrol, the Wahoo tried to sink a second convoy but was surprised by a previously unspotted Japanese destroyer outfitted for anti-submarine operations.

The Wahoo was forced to run, evading a barrage from the destroyer’s cannons and a depth charge attack. The commander signaled Pearl Harbor with the above message and escaped. The quote was slightly changed and ran as a headline in the Hawaiian Advertiser after the patrol.

6. “I may sink, but I’m damned if I’ll strike.”

10 time-honored military traditions that civilians find weird
John Paul Jones was vilified as a pirate in Britain, but was a hero in America. (Photo: Public Domain)

Navy legend John Paul Jones helped create the sea service during the American Revolution and, in an epic battle with the HMS Serapis, gave at least a couple of epic quotes including this one when he was asked to surrender.

A more famous quote from the battle was “I have not yet begun to fight!” but the Navy isn’t sure that Jones actually said it since the words were first attributed to him 46 years after the battle.

7. “Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition!”

10 time-honored military traditions that civilians find weird
(Photo: U.S. Navy)

During the attack on Pearl Harbor, a Navy chaplain was trying to keep the men of the USS New Orleans going. He saw a group of men tiring as they carried anti-aircraft ammunition to the guns and patted one of them on the back while speaking this phrase to motivate them. It was later incorporated into songs during the war.

8. “They’ve got us surrounded again, the poor bastards.”

10 time-honored military traditions that civilians find weird
(Photo: U.S. Army Sgt. Bill Augustine)

While Gen. George S. Patton gets most of the headlines for liberating the 101st during the Battle of the Bulge, another tank legend was leading the charge through German lines, Col. Creighton S. Abrams, who allegedly uttered the awesome words above.

Stephen E. Ambrose’s famous book “Band of Brothers” attributes a similar quote, “They’ve got us surrounded — the poor bastards,” to an unknown Army medic. As the story goes, the medic was telling an injured corporal why none of the wounded had been evacuated.

9. “Goddamn it, you’ll never get the Purple Heart hiding in a foxhole! Follow me!”

10 time-honored military traditions that civilians find weird
(Photo: U.S. National Archives)

A few different books attribute this quote to Marine Capt. Henry P. Jim Crowe. Crowe commanded a regimental weapons company during the land battle on Guadalcanal. A Japanese machine gun had pinned down a Marine advance and Crowe yelled these words to the men huddling in a shell hole. As a group, they charged the guns behind Crowe and took out the enemy position.

10. “Don’t fire until you see the whites of their eyes!”

10 time-honored military traditions that civilians find weird
(Painting: The Battle of Bunker’s Hill by E. Percy Morgan)

Americans most often associate this line with the Battle of Bunker Hill, but there’s evidence it was said by different officers at a few points in history. At Bunker Hill in 1775, the order was given by at least one of the leaders of Patriot forces building new fortifications on Bunker and Breed’s Hills near Cambridge, Massachusetts. The intent was to preserve the limited powder and shot.

The gambit worked, allowing the Patriots to inflict major damage with their initial volleys, but it wasn’t enough for the outnumbered and outgunned Americans to hold the hills.

11. “Come on, you sons of bitches! Do you want to live forever?”

10 time-honored military traditions that civilians find weird
(Photo: U.S. Marine Corps)

The above line is commonly attributed to Marine Corps legend Sgt. Maj. Dan Daly, though there’s some question on whether he said it and — if he did — if those were his exact words. Daly once told a Marine historian that he yelled “For Christ’s sake, men — Come on! Do you want to live forever!”

The Marine who recounts hearing “Come on, you sons of bitches! Do you want to live forever?” was in another part of the battlefield, so it’s possible that two Marines yelled similar lines in different parts of Belleau Wood or that someone misremembered a line yelled in one of World War I’s most dramatic battles.

Either way, the quote is pretty awesome.

MUSIC

The unexpected history of the hilarious ‘Spirit of 76’ meme

The historic piece of art that’s featured in the hilarious meme showcasing three marching Revolutionary War musicians has a long, long history. While it might not date as far back as the Revolutionary War, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone to learn it was inspired by and modeled after drunken American war veterans.


10 time-honored military traditions that civilians find weird

Ohioan Archibald Willard was a Civil War veteran who enlisted with the 86th Ohio Volunteer Infantry. During the Civil War, the 86th saw action at the Battle of the Cumberland Gap and headed off Confederate General John Hunt Morgan as he made the furthest incursion northward during the war, but it only lost 37 men total — all due to disease. Willard began to draw pictures of the things he saw as he moved with the unit. He and a business partner began to finish and sell the drawings throughout the war.

10 time-honored military traditions that civilians find weird

Archibald Willard, Civil War veteran and creator of “The Spirit of ’76.”

Before moving back to Cleveland, Willard studied art in New York City. He stayed for a number of years, but it was back in his native Ohio that Willard was inspired to paint a humorous picture he called, “Yankee Doodle.” It was the first incarnation of what would become his most famous and celebrated work, with three Revolutionary War musicians marching in tune to their martial music. But this first pass was less of a serious work and more of a funny comic-book painting.

The original featured three natives of Wellington, Ohio — all slightly intoxicated veterans of the War of 1812 — goofing around and creating mock battles with instruments in the town square. He also used Wellingtonians as models to paint the patriots seen in the famous painting. These models included his father, the Reverend Samuel Willard, fellow Civil War veteran Hugh Mosher as the fife player, and a local named Henry Devereaux, a military academy cadet and the son of a local railroad president, as the drummer boy.


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Willard drew the original as a comic scene, but a friend who saw his sketch suggested that Willard take it a little more seriously, perhaps draw it up with a patriotic theme. The idea intrigued Willard because it was outside the realm of anything he’d ever done before. He preferred to paint landscapes and comical scenes of everyday life. Thinking back to old stories his grandfather would tell him about fighting in the American Revolution, Willard created an eight-by-ten foot masterpiece, re-titled “The Spirit of ’76.”

“The Spirit of ’76” first went on display in 1876 as part of a celebration of the American Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia. Willard went on to paint several different versions of the painting but there were none so iconic or reproduced in American culture than the original. In the years following the Civil War, years characterized by mixed feelings, resentment, and Reconstruction, “The Spirit of ’76” was a work of art that evoked a shared sense of national unity.

10 time-honored military traditions that civilians find weird

And lived on in many different iterations.

After the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia, the original painting was sold to General John H. Devereux, father of the drummer boy in the painting, who took it to his home in Marblehead, Mass. where it remains on display to this day. The drum used by the younger Devereux and Hugh Mosher’s fife can be seen in the Spirit of ’76 Museum in Wellington, Ohio.

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