Truth in Fiction: A collection of must-read quotes about war - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY CULTURE

Truth in Fiction: A collection of must-read quotes about war

You can learn a lot about war from books.

While there are plenty of American veterans who might scoff at the idea that book learnin’ can effectively convey the experience of soldiering and combat, former US Secretary of Defense and decorated Marine Gen. Jim Mattis knows a little something about war, and this is his take on the subject:

“Reading is an honor and a gift from a warrior or historian who, a decade or a thousand decades ago, set aside time to write. He distilled a lifetime of campaigning in order to have a conversation with you. We have been fighting on this planet for 10,000 years. It would be idiotic and unethical to not take advantage of such accumulated experiences. … Any commander who claims he is too busy to read is going to fill body bags with his troops as he learns the hard way.”


I would take Mattis’ critique a step further and say that, in some instances, the novelist or fiction writer is even better equipped to capture something like a higher “Truth” about war. American fiction contains an endless repository of brilliant literary passages about soldiering and war, and we’re on a mission to share some of our favorites.

So here’s our inaugural list of some of the most profound passages about soldiering and combat in American fiction.

The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien. Photo by Ethan E. Rocke/Coffee or Die Magazine.

Gates of Fire by Steven Pressfield. Photo by Ethan E. Rocke/Coffee or Die Magazine.

How To Tell a True War Story by Tim O’Brien

As I’ve written previously, How To Tell a True War Story is one of the greatest American short stories ever written, and this succinct passage is a masterful expression of war’s infinite complexity and contradiction in the human experience. It had to top this list.

“War is hell, but that’s not the half of it, because war is also mystery and terror and adventure and courage and discovery and holiness and pity and despair and longing and love. War is nasty; war is fun. War is thrilling; war is drudgery. War makes you a man; war makes you dead.”

Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy. Photo by Ethan E. Rocke/Coffee or Die Magazine.

Gates of Fire by Steven Pressfield

Steven Pressfield’s novel about the battle of Thermopylae in 480 BC is a classic piece of historical fiction that contains a seemingly endless trove of truisms that speak especially to the warrior class. The novel is on the Marine Corps Commandant’s Professional Reading List and is taught at the US Military Academy at West Point and the US Naval Academy. Here are just a few of the book’s countless standout passages:

“When a warrior fights not for himself, but for his brothers, when his most passionately sought goal is neither glory nor his own life’s preservation, but to spend his substance for them, his comrades, not to abandon them, not to prove unworthy of them, then his heart truly has achieved contempt for death, and with that he transcends himself and his actions touch the sublime.”

“Here is what you do, friends. Forget country. Forget king. Forget wife and children and freedom. Forget every concept, however noble, that you imagine you fight for here today. Act for this alone: for the man who stands at your shoulder. He is everything, and everything is contained within him. That is all I know.”

“The secret shame of the warrior, the knowledge within his own heart that he could have done better, done more, done it more swiftly or with less self-preserving hesitation; this censure, always most pitiless when directed against oneself, gnawed unspoken and unrelieved at the men’s guts. No decoration or prize of valor, not victory itself, could quell it entire.”

East of Eden by John Steinbeck. Photo by Ethan E. Rocke/Coffee or Die Magazine.

Blood Meridian (or The Evening Redness in the West) by Cormac McCarthy

Cormac McCarthy is one of America’s greatest novelists. Known for his dense, lyrical prose; dark, heady themes; and disdain for commas, McCarthy is a literary powerhouse, and Blood Meridian is one of his most revered novels. The book’s primary antagonist, Judge Holden, is easily one of the creepiest, most evil villains ever conceived. Archetypically speaking, “The Judge” is literally Satan. He is a complete sociopath, but also a literal genius whose affinity for killing and war is matched by his enthusiasm for waxing philosophical. In one scene from the novel, he sits around a campfire with his band of Old West mercenaries and preaches his own gospel of war in an old-school dialectic whose efficacy is slightly unnerving.

“It makes no difference what men think of war. War endures. As well ask men what they think of stone. War was always here. Before man was, war waited for him. The ultimate trade awaiting its ultimate practitioner. That is the way it was and will be. That way and not some other way … [War] endures because young men love it and old men love it in them. Those that fought, those that did not … War is the truest form of divination. It is the testing of one’s will and the will of another within that larger will which because it binds them is therefore forced to select. War is the ultimate game because war is at last a forcing of the unity of existence. War is god.”

East of Eden by John Steinbeck

East of Eden is — in my not-so-humble opinion — one of the greatest novels ever written. Steinbeck considered it his greatest work, and it’s hands-down my favorite book. It’s a truly transcendent work of fiction.

While it’s not necessarily a war novel, East of Eden does deal with the topics of military service, war, and its aftermath, and Steinbeck’s prose shines in those sections. In one early scene, Cyrus Trask tells his son Adam what to expect before he ships off to the Army:

“I’ll have you know that a soldier is the most holy of all humans because he is the most tested — most tested of all. I’ll try to tell you. Look now — in all of history men have been taught that killing of men is an evil thing not to be countenanced. Any man who kills must be destroyed because this is a great sin, maybe the worst sin we know. And then we take a soldier and put murder in his hands, and we say to him, ‘Use it well, use it wisely.’ We put no checks on him. Go out and kill as many of a certain kind or classification of your brothers as you can. And we will reward you for it because it is a violation of your early training.”

Steinbeck has a great deal more to say about soldiering, and all of it is incredibly poignant and “True,” but if you want more literary awesomeness, you’ll have to go read (or reread) the novel. Same goes for the others. They are all worth the time.

This article originally appeared on Coffee or Die. Follow @CoffeeOrDieMag on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The punk kid who couldn’t stop beating Russia

Prince Charles ascended to the Swedish throne in 1697 at the age of 15 as Sweden, then one of the most powerful countries in the world, was beset on all sides by enemies and rivals that began attacking early into his reign. Unfortunately for them, the new King Charles XII just couldn’t stop winning battles, even when severely outnumbered.


Swedish King Charles XII led a series of successful counter invasions after his country was attacked by a three-way alliance anchored on Peter the Great.

(David von Krafft)

Charles’s forebears had built Sweden into a massive country for the time, consisting of modern-day Sweden, Finland, and Estonia as well as sections of Russia, Latvia, Norway, and Germany. By the time that Charles XII ascended, some small sections had been lost, especially in Norway, but Sweden still had a firm grip on the Baltic Sea.

Meanwhile, Russia wanted a year-round port on that sea, and the Tsar Peter the Great created an alliance with the Frederick IV of Denmark-Norway and Augustus II of Saxony and Poland-Lithuania. This three-way alliance mustered the power of six nations and marched on Sweden with the belief that support for the young king was weak and the nobility would rebel in case of armed conflict.

They were wrong. The Swedish people rallied around their young king in 1700 at the beginning of the invasion, and Charles XII marched with his men to meet the threat. The first two attacks came from Poland-Lithuania and then Denmark-Norway, but both were weak and easily beat back, and Frederick IV was knocked out of the war.

The true threat would come that November when Peter the Great marched on Livonia, a Swedish province that bordered Poland-Lithuania and Russia.

Great Northern War – When Sweden Ruled the World – Extra History – #1

youtu.be

It’s important to note here that Sweden’s armed forces were the envy of much of Europe. Their army was known for discipline, and the navy was highly capable. But the Russian and Polish-Lithuanian forces arrived first and laboriously dug into the frozen ground to prepare for a siege.

But Charles the XII, riding high after his battlefield success against Danish troops, sailed to Narva and prepared to attack despite the freezing cold. Some of his father’s top advisers pushed hard against that plan. Swedish forces would be outnumbered 4 to 1 while fighting against a dug-in force.

Peter the Great, certain that Charles XII wouldn’t attack until his men could rest and refit from their long movement, left the battlefield to attend to other matters of state. Charles XII, meanwhile, figured his 10,000 men would perform just as well now, tired from their long march from the coast, as they would after weeks of “resting” in the snow and ice.

So, near the end of November (November 30 by our modern calendar, but the 19th or 20th by calendars in use at the time), Charles XII ordered his men into formation for an assault despite a blizzard that was blowing snow into his own men’s faces.

The advisers, again, begged Charles to back off. But then the winds shifted. For some number of minutes, the Russians and their allies would be blind while the wind was at the Swedish back. Despite the string of questionable decisions leading up to this point, he was now in perfect position to crush the primary rival attempting to break up his empire.

His men attacked, appearing like ghosts in the wind-driven snow. They fired their weapons at close range and then dived into Russian trenches, fighting bayonet against saber for control of the battlefield.

The Battle of Narva in 1700 saw Swedish forces break Russian lines despite being horribly outnumbered.

(Alexander Kotzebue)

The Russians and their allies, despite outnumbering the Swedes 4 to 1, were driven from their defenses and fled east, attempting to ford a swollen, freezing river or cross one bridge near the battlefield which collapsed under the weight of the retreating forces.

Charles XII had broken Russia’s only major force, seized much of its supplies, and was well-positioned to invade the motherland before Peter could raise a new force. But instead, Charles XII wintered in Livonia and then pushed south into Poland-Lithuania, quickly driving Augustus II into Saxony, allowing Charles to name his own puppet to the Polish-Lithuanian crown.

In six years of war, Charles XII had won nearly every engagement, had knocked one of Russia’s allies out of power and crippled the second, and had forced Peter the Great to rebuild his broken army from scratch.

But all of this success had gone to the young king’s head. It was 1706, and he was now 24 and the power behind the throne of a large kingdom that bordered his own empire. Charles XII struck north with all the bravado that the early successes could muster in his young soul.

But while he was marching to victory in Poland, Peter the Great had been battling Swedish generals to the north, winning more than he lost and cutting through the Baltic provinces to create St. Petersburg on the shore of the Baltic Sea. Peter had his port and offered to give everything else back if he could keep it. Charles XII declined and headed north to re-take his coastline.

But Charles had been so successful against Russia in 1700 thanks to a bit of luck and the high discipline of Swedish troops against less experienced and drilled conscripts. By 1706, Peter had a large core of battle-hardened troops that were real rivals for Swedish forces, and he would exploit most any mistake Charles XII would make.

A portrait of Peter the Great.

(Paul Delaroche)

Charles XII marched on Russia, and his initial thrusts were even more successful than his first forays against Russian forces. His men would hit Russian lines before the troops could even dig in, forcing Peter to pull back faster and faster.

But Peter was secretly cool with this. Remember, he just wanted to keep his fort, and he was steadily fortifying it as his men withdrew. Swedish advisers still thought they could take St. Petersburg, but it would be a hard-fought thing by the time they arrived.

But Charles would reach even further, overreaching by far. He marched against Moscow instead. The advisers begged him not to do so. It was impossible, they thought.

Peter launched a destructive defense just like Russians would do for generations after him, stopping invasions by Napoleon and Hitler. They burned bridges behind them, sent horsemen to harry the Swedish attackers, and waited for the cold to drain Swedish strength.

Peter began picking good ground to defend, but the Swedish king was still successful in battle after battle. At Grodno, Holowczyn, Neva, Malatitze, and Rajovka, Swedish forces were victorious despite often fighting outnumbered both in terms of total men and artillery strength. Some of these, like at Holowczyn and Malatitze, were decisive victories where Sweden inflicted thousands of casualties while only suffering hundreds of their own.

But Peter the Great had traded space for time. Sweden was racking up tactical victories, but his men lacked sufficient supplies as the Russian winter set in, and this was the Great Frost of 1709, the coldest winter in 500 years of European history.

Russian forces smashed Swedish troops at the Battle of Poltava in 1709.

(Louis Caravaque)

Both sides lost forces to the cold, but disease and starvation took out over half of Charles XII’s army. Charles tried supporting a revolution by Cossacks in Ukraine to gain more troops and supplies there, but it failed, and Peter was able to pen Charles XII in, cutting him off from Swedish lines of re-supply.

At the Battle of Poltava, Charles XII tried to conduct a siege without artillery and with only 18,000 men ready to fight. Peter arrived at the fort with 80,000 men. Charles XII, unable to walk or ride because of a shot to his foot during the siege, ordered an attack anyway.

Charles was nearly captured during the fight, narrowly rescued by a Swedish major who sacrificed himself to save the king. 14,000 Swedish soldiers were captured, and Charles XII barely escaped to the Ottoman Empire, a historical rival of Russia. Charles would overstay his welcome here.

While he was stuck, Norway and Poland began war against Sweden once again, and Prussia and England joined the fray. Charles XII was killed in the trenches near Frederiksten in 1718, in some ways the victim of his own early success as a boy-king. Sweden would see its territory chipped away, much of it lost in 1720.

MIGHTY TRENDING

An American ally is buying $5 billion in arms from Russia

President Vladimir Putin is traveling to India on Oct. 4, 2018, for a two-day visit aimed at deepening Russian ties to the fastest-growing economy in the world.

Putin and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi were set to review defense cooperation and discuss regional and global issues at an annual bilateral summit in New Delhi on Oct. 5, 2018, according to India’s Foreign Ministry.

Putin’s top foreign policy aide, Yury Ushakov, has said that the Russian president’s talks with Modi will focus on “further development of the especially privileged Russian-Indian strategic partnership.”


More than 20 agreements were expected to be signed during Putin’s visit in areas such as defense, space, and economy, Ushakov said, insisting that the “key feature” of the trip will be the signing of a billion deal to supply India with S-400 air-defense systems.

Moscow has been negotiating to sell the long-range surface-to-air missiles to India for months, and the Pentagon warned New Delhi it would run afoul of U.S. sanctions if it purchases the sophisticated weapon systems.

A Russian S-400 air-defense system.

The U.S. Congress enacted legislation in 2018 allowing the president to waive the sanctions for countries that are developing defense relationships with Washington, but U.S. officials have signaled there was no guarantee India will get an exemption from the sanctions.

Washington and New Delhi have vowed to cooperate more closely on defense matters, but Russia remains India’s main arms supplier, followed by the United States.

During Putin’s visit, the sides were also expected to discuss deals to supply India with four frigates and Ka-226 helicopters, as well as the possible construction of a second Russian-built nuclear power plant in India, reports said.

This article originally appeared on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Follow @RFERL on Twitter.

MIGHTY SPORTS

Why the NFL used to have barefoot kickers

The 1980s were a crazy time for America and its institutions. The White House was occupied by a B-movie actor, Hollywood seemed to want to make any cocaine-fueled idea for a movie that it could find, and football kickers were punting and scoring field goals in the dead of winter. Shoeless.


Barefoot kickers, cats and dogs living together, MASS HYSTERIA.

You don’t see barefoot kickers in the National Football League anymore but there was a time when kicking with their shoes off was so common, it was cause for zero notice. Players for the Eagles, Broncos, Rams, and Steelers were all known to kick off their shoes before kicking off the game (except for the Rams – their kicker always wore shoes on kickoffs). The New England Patriots kicker Tony Franklin even made a 59-yard field goal while completely shoeless.

The video below features Franklin kicking in the 1985 AFC Championship game. It’s not the 59-yarder, but at 23 yards, you can’t even tell he’s kicking barefoot, just as he had during every other game of his career.

The reasons some kickers preferred a barefoot kick were twofold: kickers believed they could control their kicks better with their feet than they could wearing kicking cleats of the time period. Other kickers had trouble hitting the football’s “sweet spot” wearing their issued uniform cleats.

Why barefoot kicking went away is because the rise of the NFL as a big money sport finally created a market for shoe companies to create an athletic shoe designed for kickers. And nowadays teams have so much invested in their players, kickers and punters included, that kicking a ball barefoot poses an undue risk for a potentially season-ending toe injury, to say nothing of the idea that the opposing team always seems to fight their way to the kicker these days.

Also, it can get really cold out there. For you barefoot kicking fans, here’s a better video of Franklin kicking barefoot, this time for the Philadelphia Eagles.

MIGHTY CULTURE

5 ways to make clearing CIF less of a headache

It’s the dreaded last step in clearing out of a unit to either PCS to another duty station or ETS back into the civilian world — turning gear into the Central Issuing Facility.

We get it. Nobody wants to stand around for six hours to have a grouchy civilian give you hell for having a tiny bit of Afghanistan dust stuck to your rucksack, but it’s just one of those things that needs to be done. Uncle Sam gave you a bunch of high-priced gear and he expects it back — even if the gear is well past its issuing date.

You likely won’t ever have a fantastic, enjoyable time at CIF, but it doesn’t have to be terrible. Here’re a few tips that many troops and vets before you have used to breeze through.


There’s nothing a little elbow grease and a bit of “f*ck you” can’t solve.

(U.S. Army photo by Spc. Sean McCallon, 91st Training Division public affairs)

Clean. Everything. Spotlessly. 

This is a no-brainer. CIF wants their gear clean and they’ll kick it right back if they see dirt. If you know that you’ve used your gear at least once since getting it, give it a wash. Your more well-used stuff is going to require a lot more extra attention. Give yourself a week to get it all done. It might take all manners of cleaning products to get that one friggin’ stain out of the knee pads you know you barely used, but it’s got to be done.

It helps to volunteer for working parties that involves the supply room. Stay on their good side.

(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Dominick A. Cremeans)

Sweet talk your supply NCO.

Everyone takes for granted how much the supply NCO can really help with missing, broken, or un-returnable gear. They have connexes upon connexes of gear that isn’t really accounted for that could easily help you out.

Depending on what the supply room has to offer, you could save a lot of money by simply asking nicely. Sure, they probably can’t swing you an entire sleeping bag system without doing a bunch of paperwork — but they could probably take yours and swap it out with another… Maybe.

Some times those “tacticool” retirees know what’s up.

(Photo by Anna Frodesiak)

Buy what you’re missing off-post.

But the supply NCO can’t help you with everything — and you’re not going to want to take that hit from the Statement of Charges that says you owe the government 0 for a single missing ammo pouch. Thankfully, there’s an entire market dedicated to selling used military gear just outside the main gate.

First of, it’s best to simply not consider the legality of how the place received all that gear — there’s a non-zero chance it was pilfered from some poor sap’s wall locker at reception and sold by some grade-A blue falcon. Just pay the , get your replacement gear, and tell yourself that it was probably surplus — or it “fell off some truck somewhere.”

Plus, that moment when you correct them and say, “as you can clearly see” while pointing to the relevant document is priceless.

(U.S. Army Reserve photo by Spc. Brianna Saville / 416th Theater Engineer Command)

Bring any and all paperwork from previous visits to CIF.

Don’t just show up with your clearing paperwork and the slip of what your supply NCO says you were issued. Bring any document that may even remotely have anything to do with your gear.

Best case scenario: Everything goes without a hitch and you can jam that paperwork back into the plastic box you keep in the closet. Worst case scenario: They say that you were issued something that you clearly never were and you have proof that there was some kind of mistake.

This goes double if the CIF is using troops to help with the workload. Just don’t be an asshole.

(U.S. Army Reserve photo by Spc. Brianna Saville/ 416th Theater Engineer Command)

Don’t give the workers a hard time.

This one should be basic human knowledge — or at least ingrained in military customs and courtesies. Don’t be a dick to the civilians who work at CIF. The reason the lines are so long is because they’re constantly helping loads of troops, each and every day.

Rank and position don’t mean the same thing to them because you’re in their world, they’re not in yours. They will help each and every troop, from private to general, when their number is called. It doesn’t matter if they’re as pleasant to be around as that slug lady from Monster’s Inc., don’t give them any extra incentive to kick your stuff back — even if that means swallowing your pride.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

Why the US Navy is training sailors on a weapon it’s getting rid of

The US Navy is having its sailors train on an aircraft carrier weapon system that the service is planning to rip out of its Nimitz-class carriers due to its ineffectiveness.

Sailors continue to train on the Anti-Torpedo Torpedo Defense System (ATTDS), a weapon system that was designed to counter one of the single greatest threats to an aircraft carrier — torpedoes, The War Zone reports, noting that the Navy recently released images of sailors aboard the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower training on the ATTDS for a Board of Inspection and Survey.

The most recent training, which involved firing the weapon system, took place in late July 2019. The material survey for which the crew was preparing requires proficiency with all onboard systems, and that they are functional and properly maintained.


The ATTDS, part of the broader Surface Ship Torpedo Defense (SSTD) system, is installed and operational aboard the Eisenhower, as well as the USS Harry S. Truman, USS George H.W. Bush, USS Nimitz, and USS Theodore Roosevelt. But that doesn’t mean it actually works to intercept incoming torpedoes in time to save the ship.

Sailors stow an anti-torpedo torpedo aboard the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower.

(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Joseph T. Miller)

The Navy has abandoned its plans to develop the SSTD and is in the process of removing it from the carriers on which it has been installed, the Pentagon’s Office of the Director of Operational Test and Evaluation said in a report released earlier this year.

The anti-torpedo system was a 0 million project that never really went anywhere.

In principle, the Torpedo Warning System (TWS), a component of the ATTDS, would detect an incoming threat and then send launch information to another piece, the Countermeasure Anti-Torpedo (CAT), an interceptor that would be launched into the water to neutralize the incoming torpedo.

The DOTE report noted that the “TWS demonstrated some capability to detect incoming torpedoes,” but there were also false positives. It added that the “CAT demonstrated some capability to defeat an incoming torpedo” but had “uncertain reliability.”

The report also said that the anti-torpedo torpedo’s lethality was untested, meaning that the Navy is not even sure the weapon could destroy or deflect an incoming torpedo. The best the service could say is that there’s a possibility it would work.

Fire Controlman 2nd Class Hector Felix, from Atlanta, fastens a bolt on an anti-torpedo torpedo aboard the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower.

(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Joseph T. Miller)

Despite having plans to remove the SSTD from its carriers, a project that should be completed by 2023, the Navy continues to have sailors train on the system, even as the service reviews training to identify potential detriments to readiness.

“The Navy is planning to remove ATTDS from aircraft carriers incrementally through fiscal year 2023 as the ships cycle through shipyard periods,” Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) spokesperson William Couch told The War Zone.

“The Navy is sustaining the ATTDS systems that are still installed on some vessels, where it is necessary for the sailors to train with the system to maintain their qualifications in preparation for future deployments,” he added.

In other words, it appears that the reason for the continued training is simply that the system is on the ship and won’t be removed until ships have scheduled shipyard time, making the ability to operate it an unavoidable requirement.

INSIDER reached out to NAVSEA for clarity but has yet to receive a response.

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

MIGHTY CULTURE

Special Operations hand-to-hand combat in Vietnam

During the Vietnam War, it became very clear that the U.S. military needed to revise its hand-to-hand training. This was particularly apparent amongst SOF units, especially Army Special Forces, Long Range Reconnaissance Patrols (LRRPs), Navy SEALs, and Recon Marines since these units were often sent in small teams deep into enemy territory for extended periods of time.

These types of missions required not just CQB, but silent, quick killing techniques, typically with the knife, garrote, or bare hands. But, again, training remained the “flavor of the month” and it was dependent upon traditional Asian martial arts systems and trial and error lessons learned through field operations. Illustrating that, SF veteran Joe Lenhart said in the 1960s, “In SF if you were around the Hawaiians, you had the opportunity to learn some good MA.”


Lenhart’s comment is a testament to three things: First, the need to tap martial arts talents within units and amongst the ranks, even in SF. Second, the underlying ignorance of, or unfamiliarity with, established Army hand-to-hand training and programming. And third, the richness of Hawaiian martial arts culture, which was due mostly to the Japanese diaspora in the 1920s that scattered Japanese across the U.S. West Coast, Hawaii, and South America.

Jerry Powell, another SF veteran, said, “In Training Group in 1963, and subsequently in the 5th Group, any hand-to-hand training that I saw was pretty much on my own time.” Tom Marzullo, a third SF veteran, said of his time in SF Training Group in 1969, “Hand-to-hand was absent during my SF time and I was deeply disappointed.” In wartime, in all militaries, even in SOF units, training is changed and bars are raised and lowered to meet the manpower needs of the engaged units.

Historically, hand-to-hand training has been one of those things that have always been reduced or cut in order to get more troops trained faster and off to the fight. Another factor of that time was culture and how boys were raised. According to Lenhart:

“Like many or even most [boys] my age [late 60s], we grew up wrestling and boxing with towels wrapped around our fists, had rival school “meetings” every now and then, and there was the county fair that… usually escalated into a scuffle or three. Thing is, back then, when it was over, it was over, at least for a while. Maybe a broken nose, shiner, busted lip, or jammed finger or so was about as bad as it got, except for a few bruised egos. But when the city boys got involved, there would be a couple switch blades and chains produced only to be met with pitchforks and corn cutters and a ball bat or two. Those engagements did not last very long.”

The point is that back in those days, few boys entered adulthood not having been in at least a few fights. American boys in the past fought and wrestled more growing up and thus were more acclimated to and prepared, especially mentally, for hand-to-hand combat. American culture has changed in that respect.

Now it is probably the reverse: Few boys enter adulthood having been in any fights. There are, of course, exceptions. There are still rough neighborhoods and cities. But today, even country kids are more likely to do their fighting in video games than at county fairs or Friday night football games. (Parenthetically, many SF NCOs worry that the same dynamic is eroding innate land navigation skills.)

Here, Bruce Lee and his Jeet Kune Do system deserve mention. He had a major impact on U.S. and international martial arts throughout the 1960s and 1970s, and therefore on military combatives. Lee believed that martial arts had become rigid and unrealistic. He taught that real combat is unpredictable and chaotic and that the fighter or warrior must prepare for that.

Editor’s Note: This article, which was originally published in 2015, is part of a series. You can read part I here, part II here, and part III here.

This article originally appeared on SOFREP. Follow @sofrepofficial on Twitter.

Articles

That time a fighter pilot ejected into a thunderstorm and rode the lightning

Marine Corps Lt. Col. William H. Rankin had flown combat flight operations in both World War II and the Korean War, but it wasn’t enemy fire that came closest to killing him during his military flying career. It was a summer thunderstorm over the east coast of the United States.


On July 26, 1959 Rankin and his wingman, 1st Lt. Herbert Nolan, were flying a pair of F-8 Crusaders from South Weymouth, Mass back to their home base at Beaufort, S.C. when they encountered a line of severe thunderstorms over North Carolina. Shortly after the fighters climbed up to 47,000 feet to go over the growing cumulonimbus clouds, Rankin heard a loud grinding noise followed by a loss of power from the jet’s only engine. About that time the jet’s fire warning light illuminated.

Rankin tried pulling the auxiliary power handle but it came off in his hand. He tried to restart the engine several times but had no luck. At that point, with the fighter in an uncontrollable dive and going nearly supersonic, he knew he only had one option left. He keyed the radio and matter-of-factly told his wingman he “had to eject” and then pulled the handle.

An F-8 Crusader on the deck of the USS Midway.

The senior Marine pilot wasn’t wearing a pressure suit, so as soon as he hit the surrounding atmosphere at that altitude his body was put through the ringer. The sudden decompression caused his stomach to swell, his ears, nose and mouth to bleed. The ejection tore his left glove from his hand, leaving it exposed to the brutally cold air. His skin immediately froze, which resulted in numbness and severe frostbite.

But things were about to get worse. In his memoir, The Man Who Rode the Thunder, Rankin describes his free fall like this:

I became conscious of my body tumbling, spinning, and cartwheeling through space. I spun like a pinwheel, my limbs trying to go in every possible direction at once. I spun on the vertical, diagonal and horizontal axis. I felt the enormous pulling, stretching effects of g forces. I was a huge stiff blob of helplessness! I recognized that my body was literally spreadeagled and the force was so great I could not move my hands or legs. Several times I tried to bring my arms in to my body but it was like pulling on a stone wall. The effect of the g forces on my arms and legs must have been to multiply their weight many times.

During his fall Rankin managed to strap his oxygen mask to his face, which was a crucial element if he was going to survive his ordeal. From his training he knew that it would take about three and a half minutes to fall from just under 50,000 feet to 10,000 feet where his parachute was designed to automatically deploy. He looked at his watch and saw that more than four minutes had gone by. He figured his ejection seat automatic chute mechanism had malfunctioned, so he manually deployed it.

But Rankin’s seat hadn’t malfunctioned. His descent had simply been slowed by massive updrafts created by the thunderstorm next to him, and as soon as his chute opened another powerful updraft filled it and rocketed him several thousand feet vertically a velocity of nearly 100 mph. Lightning flashed all around in what he later described as “blue blades several feet thick” and the thunder boomed so loudly he feared it would burst his eardrums. Rain pelted him from all directions. He felt like he was going to drown.

When he reached the top of the thunderstorm the updraft turned into a downdraft. It was totally dark as he was pulled into the center of the thunder cloud, and he plummeted downward at a rate he was sure would prevent his chute from opening. But his chute did open once he was under the storm, and as it did he caught another updraft that catapulted him back to the top of the cloud. Once at the top he was dragged back into the center of the storm and thrown as if by Thor himself toward the ground again.

Rankin was repeatedly buffeted through this cycle . . . a living hell he feared might never end. In The Man Who Rode the Thunder he describes what was going through his mind at that time:

There were times when I felt I might die of sheer exhaustion because it seemed as if either the storm might never end, or I was going to be swept along with it on its insane journey up the coast for as long as that journey might take—hours, days. This feeling was most intense when I decided to look at my watch and glimpsed the time during a flash of lightning. At first I thought what a wonderful thing it was not to have lost my watch all through ejection, decompression, blasts of air, and now this; and, then, what a silly thing, looking at the time! But when I saw that it was twenty minutes past six, I thought: My God, you should have been on the ground at least ten minutes ago! You are really trapped. You are really in the pattern of the storm and a part of it, a speck of human dust, up-over-and-down, up-over-and-down and that’s the way it’s going to be. But how long? For how long?

Finally the storm dissipated enough that he wasn’t dragged back up after shooting through it, and he was unceremoniously blown into a thicket of brush in the middle of a field near Ahoskie, N.C. He was wet and beat to hell and had to draw on his survival skills to make it through the dark to a dirt road where — after being passed by a number of vehicles that refused to stop — someone was finally kind enough to take him to the nearest hospital.

Colonel Rankin spent about 3 weeks in the hospital recovering from severe decompression shock, welts, bruising, and other superficial wounds. He eventually returned to flight status.

In 2009 he died of natural causes at the age of 89.

Here’s a video about his harrowing ordeal:

Articles

4 of the funniest boot camp stories we’ve ever heard

Far from just marching around and being yelled at by sadistic drill sergeants, basic training can be the source of hilarious stories.


Case in point comes from an awesome AskReddit thread. The thread, which originated with Reddit user mctugmutton, asked the military community for “the funniest thing they witnessed while in boot camp.” The answers run from LOL to LMFAO and glimpse at basic training differences between service branches.

Reddit user sneego: The time half my squad decided to clean their training gear naked.

Our last week of basic training, we basically spent days cleaning all of our TA-50 (pretty much all your issued gear- rucksacks, ponchos, etc).

The drill sergeants decided it would be more efficient for us to pile up some of the major items as a platoon and organize cleaning teams. Well, the cleaning team in charge of doing ponchos decided to use the showers to make things go faster and to free up the faucets in the laundry room for others to use. So they begin cleaning and then decide to go one step further: Why be careful about getting wet when you can just get naked and get things done even quicker?

Next thing you know, half of first squad is butt naked chatting like nothing unusual is going on when our drill sergeant walks in. The DS just looks in, makes a David Silvermanesque WTF look, says in his thick Puerto Rican accent, “Jesus LORD privates, what the F–K!” and walks out.

Reddit user allhailzorp: The time my friend got an imaginary bathroom siren.

Photo: Sgt Reece Lodder/USMC

Not me, but my best friend who recently went through USMC boot camp.

It’s about Week 2. All the recruits are still scared s–tless. Literally, some of their a–holes are clenched so tight they haven’t gone number two since they got there. And by this point, with Marine chow being what it is, there’s quite a backlog building up. My buddy desperately needs to go. He wanted to wait until his individual time that night, but it was too late, he was touching cloth. So, braving his fear of the DIs, he speaks out. “Sir, this recruit requests a head call, SIR”. Then, he blurts out, “Sir, it’s an emergency, Sir!”

The DI, with his infinite sense of humor, “Oh really? An emergency huh? Well, you better put on your SIREN.” My buddy has to wave his hands above his head, and scream “Bee-Boo Bee-Boo” as he ran to the restroom. This continued for the entirety of boot camp, every time he needed the bathroom.

One Reddit user witnessed E.T. phone home during Air Force basic training.

Photo: imdb screen grab

We had a really pasty kid with huge coke bottle glasses with a really high pitched almost robotic voice in our flight that seemed to be a lightning rod for TI abuse.

One morning our TI told the kid that he was on to him and he wasn’t going to allow him to complete his mission. Suffice to say the kid was extremely confused and asked the TI what he was talking about to which he replied “You’re an alien and I know you’re here to gather intelligence about our military.”

At this point, I couldn’t hold in my laughter any longer and went to the other side of the barracks as quick as possible before I got dragged into it. Well, I just got to the other side when the kid comes barreling around the corner and stops right in front of his locker and starts screaming into it that the TI was on to him and that the mission was unsuccessful.

I guess the TI told him that he had to report to the mothership through the communicator in his locker that the mission was unsuccessful and he’d been found out.

From Dan Caddy, author of Awesome Sh*t My Drill Sergeant Said: The time the DS found a Chinese boy in a wall locker. (Not in the book)

My Basic Training Battery had twin brothers in it, Chang L , and Chang K . Chang L was in fourth platoon and his brother was in third. One evening, there were combatives happening in the fourth platoon barracks. Chang K had sneaked into our bay to be a part of this unsanctioned event, specifically so that he could wrestle his brother. Everyone was wearing PT uniforms, except for some reason our Chang, who was wearing nothing but his issued brown briefs, and had removed his glasses for the fight. Suddenly, a wild Drill Sergeant appeared! Chang L, in his underwear, was grabbed by someone and stuffed into their wall locker.

His twin brother, Chang K, ran up to the front of the bay to take his brothers place for mail call. It was a disaster waiting to happen. After mail was handed out, the Drill Sergeant decided to hang around for a bit and have a serious heart to heart talk with us about something that had happened recently (an attempted suicide). The Drill Sergeant had gathered us close and was quietly talking about loyalty and brotherhood when all of the sudden, he was interrupted by the metallic squeal of a wall locker opening.

There was a hushed silence as the skinny little Chinese man, blind without his glasses, peeked out around the door and stepped out, in plain view of the Drill Sergeant. Apparently, we had been so quiet, that he thought we had all left.

DS: “WHY IN THE F–K IS THERE A NAKED CHINESE BOY IN YOUR WALL LOCKER?!”

Pvt 1:”Drill Sergeant, I put him there, Drill Sergeant!”

DS: What the f–k?

Pvt 2: “We were wrasslin’, Drill Sergeant.” It was silent for a few seconds as the DS’s face contorted as though he were about to have an epileptic seizure. His eyes were cartoonishly huge.

The DS pointed at the practically nude Chang L and screamed at him to get his f–king ass over to the third platoon barracks. Chang L started to interject, presumably to inform the DS that he had confused him for his brother, but was unable to finish because at this point the DS was knocking things over and screaming his lungs out. Chang ran away, blind and naked, stumbling into furniture as he fled, leaving his terrified twin brother in his place. I don’t believe that we actually got our Chang back until PT the next morning, when they were able to switch back.

Get Awesome Sh*t My Drill Sergeant Said via Amazon or Barnes and Noble locations nationwide.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Prison inmates are training dogs for wounded warriors in record time

Prison time is hard time. Depending on where an inmate is locked up, they can spend anywhere from 21-23 hours a day in their cells, regardless of the severity of their crimes. Wherever possible, inmates who really want to get out are making the most of that time. But it turns out there is one job that is perfectly suited to someone with that much time on their hands: training service dogs for wounded veterans.


America’s VetDogs employs inmates like Tyrell Sinclair, an inmate at Connecticut’s Enfield Correctional Facility, to train service dogs destined for wounded veterans – and the dogs work wonders for the inmates as well. For Sinclair, it gives him something to do, something to look forward to every day. More than that, the increased attention the inmates are able to give the trainee dogs cuts the training time down to just one year instead of two to five years.

“After committing a crime, being in here, you just sit around and think about how bad things are, how bad a person I am for being in this predicament,” said Sinclair. “Once I got the dog and got into the program, things were better. It’s like a whole different outlook.”

Sinclair says he was amazed at the abilities the dogs have once they are subject to the proper training and skills.

“It amazed me,” he said.

But it’s not just the constant companionship of man’s best friend that helps inmates like Sinclair through their jail time. The inmates know the dogs will not be with them for very long if all goes according to plan. It’s knowing that the dogs they train are destined to help someone who served their country that gives the inmates the boost in confidence.

“It almost makes me feel like a proud dad.”

Mark Tyler, who oversees the Enfield program for America’s VetDogs, believes the prisoner’s inclination toward the dogs (and vice versa) is a natural one and the program is a win-win situation for everyone involved. The numbers support that belief. Around 85 percent of Enfield inmates will end up back in Enfield after their release, for the same crime or another crime. For inmates who train dogs, that number drops to 25 percent.

“They know all too well the crime they committed will likely become an extension of who they are,” Tyler said of the prisoners. “The dog doesn’t care what that person did in the past, he cares about who they are today.”

MIGHTY HISTORY

The infamous Polish cavalry charge against the Nazis actually worked

On Sept. 1, 1939, the Nazi war machine rolled into Poland, touching off World War II in Europe. Nazi propaganda would have the world believe Polish cavalry were intentionally charging Nazi tanks, thinking they were no more than the toothless dummies the Treaty of Versailles allowed them. In the aftermath of these battles, the dead horses and cavalrymen appeared to back this claim and the world would believe the myth of the Polish cavalry for much of the war. But in reality, there was a Polish cavalry charge that was a tactical success.


(Laughs in Polish)

The Poles had very little chance of retaining their country during World War II. The Nazis invaded Poland at one of the heights of their military power. The Soviets invaded Poland from the other side. Poland stood little chance of fighting them both off – but that doesn’t mean the Poles didn’t try. The Polish had already fought off the Red Army in the 1919-1921 Polish-Russian War, but this time, things would be different.

Poland has a pretty spectacular military history, even if it wasn’t a country for much of that time. Napoleon recruited Polish troops, as did the Russian Tsar and the Hapsburg monarchy. It was probably Polish forces who kept Eastern Europe from falling to Muslim invaders in the 1600s, as Polish troops were critical to winning the Battle of Vienna. The final death blow to the Ottoman invaders was the now-famous cavalry charge led by the elite Polish Winged Hussars. The Hussars cleared the Ottomans from the battlefield and delivered a rout so hard, Muslim armies would never threaten Vienna or Western Europe again.

So yeah, the Poles are no joke – but time passed, and Poland fell behind in its military development while Nazi Germany famously re-armed in a way that would make any dictator’s mouth water. The Soviet Union had a large army, even if it wasn’t as well-trained or well-equipped. The Poles still fought both valiantly and nowhere was that more apparent than at Krojanty.

On the first day of the Nazi invasion, the Germans broke through the Polish Border Guard very early in the day, which forced the rest of the Polish defenders in the area to fall back to a secondary defensive position. In order to make an orderly retreat and not lose all of the defenders to German infantry, someone had to cover the retreat and force the Germans to slow their advance. That fell to the 18th Pomeranian Uhlan Regiment, a cavalry regiment that saw action fighting the Red Army in the 1919 war with the USSR. They would make one of history’s last great cavalry charges.

No, they weren’t wearing wings but that would have been awesome.

The 18th Pomeranian Uhlan Regiment found the Nazi German 76th Infantry Regiment, comprised of 800 armored reconnaissance vehicles along with 30 heavy guns, waiting to advance on the free city of Danzig. The 76th was actually part of the left wing of the XIX Panzer Corps under Gen. Heinz Guderian, which had been slowed across the line by Polish resistance. In order for the Poles in the area to get to the secondary defense of the River Brda, the 76th would have to take heavy losses, which would cause a delay for the entire motorized division on the Nazi left flank.

What would a cavalry unit do in a situation where the enemy is sitting around, waiting for orders? Charge, of course. The Poles took the enemy by surprise with a heavy cavalry charge of two squadrons, consisting of 250 angry Poles on horseback. They completely disbursed the German 76th. It was a complete tactical success, allowing for the rest of the defenders to make it to the relative safety of the River Brda. The Polish cavalry was quickly disbursed itself, however, by a German counterattack of heavy machine guns from nearby armored vehicles. They lost a third of their cavalry, but the rest of the defenders lived on to fight again.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Remember: All troops and DoD civilians can get TSA Precheck

Service members are trusted to defend the nation, surely they can be trusted when boarding a plane.

This is the thinking of the Transportation Security Administration, which is pushing to ensure that service members and DOD civilians know they can use the TSA Precheck program.

“Service members are already enrolled in TSA Precheck, but many do not know they are,” TSA Administrator David Pekoske said in a recent interview. Pekoske, a retired Coast Guard vice admiral, wants all those eligible to use this free program.


Smart security

All service members of all components of the armed forces and students at the armed forces’ service academies are automatically enrolled in TSA Precheck. Their DOD ID numbers — a 10-digit number that should be on the back of your Common Access Card — serve as their Known Traveler Numbers.

Civilian employees must opt into the program using milConnect website at https://milconnect.dmdc.osd.mil/milconnect/. Their DOD ID number is also their KTN.

Again, there is no cost for military members or civilians. For the general public that enrolls in the program, the cost is .

Navy Adm. James A. Winnefeld Jr., vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, makes remarks during a Veterans Day ceremony at Transportation Security Administration headquarters in Arlington, Va., Nov. 10, 2014. The event highlighted TSA’s new initiatives which include efforts to hire more veterans and to make travel easier for service members and veterans.

“This is a real benefit for being a member of the armed forces, and it is good for us from a security perspective,” Petoske said.

To obtain their positions, service members and DOD civilians undergo background checks, and most have security clearances. They are trusted to carry weapons in defense of the United States or to safeguard America’s secrets. So the TSA decided that there was no need for them to take off their shoes and belts at a checkpoint to get on an aircraft.

Using TSA Precheck

All travelers must add their DOD ID number to their Defense Travel System profiles to access TSA Precheck while on official travel, but eligible service members and civilians can also use it on personal travel, Pekoske said.

“If you go on any airline website, when you are making flight reservations, there is a box for the KTN and that is where they put their DOD number in,” he said. “Once you put the number in — especially if you are a regular flier on that airline — every time you make a reservation, or a reservation is made by the DOD travel service for you, they will automatically pick up that number.”

“The effort makes sense from an agency perspective and it is also a way to say thanks to members of the military and the civilian members of DOD and the Department of Homeland Security who sacrifice so much,” the administrator said. “It’s a really good program and it provides a direct benefit to those who keep us free.”

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

Articles

21 of the US military’s most-overused clichés

There are certain phrases military service members hear on the regular, and by regular, we mean they are over-used like crazy.


While every workplace has its own cliche buzzwords — we’re talking about you there, “corporate synergy” — the military has plenty to choose from. The WATM team put its collective heads together and came up with this list of the cliche phrases we’ve heard way too many times in the military.

1. “All this and a paycheck too!”

Usually uttered by a staff NCO at the moment of a 20-mile hike where you wish you could just pass out on the side of the road.

2. “If you’re on time, you’re late.”

Military members are well aware of the unwritten rule of arriving 15 minutes prior to the time they are supposed to be somewhere. Of course, if there’s a senior officer involved, that might even mean 15 minutes prior to 15 minutes prior.

3. “We get more done before 6 a.m. than most people do all day.”

The time can always be changed, but the phrase remains the same. Military members across the world are usually waking up way earlier than most, and as the saying goes, it probably means they have done personal hygiene, conducted an insane workout, ate breakfast, and started training before average Joe hit the snooze button on the alarm clock.

4. “Don’t call me sir. I work for a living.”

Among the enlisted ranks, it’s a common cliche that officers don’t do any real work. “There’s a reason why they have office in their name” is a popular saying. So when an enlisted service-member is incorrectly addressed as “sir,” this is one of the most popular responses.

5. “If it ain’t raining, we ain’t training.”

No matter what the weather, the U.S. military is guaranteed to be training or conducting some sort of exercise. But this cliche phrase is guaranteed to come out when a torrential downpour hits your unit.

6. “This ain’t my first rodeo there, cowboy.”

Let’s not ask the sergeant any stupid questions. He knows what he’s doing, because he’s done this a million times before. Cowboy.

7. “Best job in the world!”

Calling your particular field in the military “the best job in the world” usually happens during the times when you would never think it’s the best time in the world. These times include freezing cold on patrol in Afghanistan, running out of water while training in Thailand, and/or not showering for a month-and-a-half.

8. “Complacency kills.”

You’ll find this phrase spray-painted to every other Hesco barrier on the forward operating base, on a sign outside the chow hall, and on the lips of every sergeant major in a half-mile radius. Troops need to stay alert while they are out in combat, and this one gets drilled into the dirt.

9. “Keep your head on a swivel.”

This one is similar to “complacency kills” but is often said to troops about to go into dangerous situations. Before heading out on patrol, a squad leader might tell his troops to “keep their head on swivel,” meaning: keep alert and look everywhere for potential threats.

10. “Got any saved rounds?” or “Any alibis?”

At the end of a briefing, you’ll usually hear either of these phrases. “Any questions?” just doesn’t pack the same punch as using terminology straight off the rifle range.

11. “Another glorious day in the Corps!”

It could be the Corps, the Army, the Navy, or the Air Force, but it’s always a glorious day there, according to whoever utters this phrase. This is meant to motivate but it’s usually met with eye-rolls.

12. “This is just for your SA.”

This is another way of saying FYI, but with a military spin. SA, or situational awareness, is all about being aware of what’s happening around you, so this is often said by a subordinate to a leader so they know what’s going on.

13. “We’re putting on another dog and pony show.”

We’ve never actually been to a real dog and pony show, but we have put on plenty of them in the military. A military “dog and pony show” is usually some sort of ceremony or traditional event for troops to show off their weaponry and other stuff. For example, Marines may put one on by standing around and answering questions about their machine-guns, rocket launchers, and other gear for civilians who are visiting the base for an event.

14. “Roger that.”

This is a phrase that should be uttered only over the radio (it’s actually just “roger, over” and “roger, out,” respectively), but troops often say this instead of saying “I understand.”

15. “Bravo Zulu.”

Bravo Zulu is a naval signal that can be conveyed via flag or over the radio, and it means “well done.” But plenty of troops will use this as a way of saying good job or congratulations.

16. “Like a monkey f–king a football.”

A favorite of NCOs and staff NCOs, this comes out when junior troops have screwed something up pretty bad. As you can probably guess, a football is not a good object for a monkey’s sexual relations.

17. “Let’s pop smoke.”

Smoke grenades are used for signaling and/or screening movements. When under fire, troops may want to pop smoke so the enemy can’t really see where they are headed. On the flip side, troops at a lame bar may want to “pop smoke” and go somewhere else.

18. “Let’s break it down, Barney style.”

Barney the dinosaur loves you, and some military members like to invoke his name to explain things. When a task is complicated, a leader may explain it “Barney style,” or so simply that a child could understand it.

19. “Look at this soup sandwich.”

This refers to someone who has usually screwed up the wear of their uniform in some way.

20. “Ok, gents, we need to be heads down on this.”

A favorite of WATM’s own ex-naval aviator Ward, this is actually a twofer. First, the use of “gents” (oh Lord please make it stop), and then referring to working hard as heads down. Apparently we’ll be more productive as long as our heads are not up or to the side.

21. “You are lost in the sauce.”

This will often be said of someone who has no idea what the hell is going on. In order to rectify, a leader will probably break things down “Barney Style.”

Got any to add to the list? Leave a comment.

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