US military thinks its next war will be underground - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY CULTURE

US military thinks its next war will be underground

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) issued a peculiar request over Twitter on Aug. 28, 2019, asking for underground tunnels to use for research — as soon as possible.

Though DARPA’s request managed to spook Twitter users, DARPA told Insider that the request is related to technology development for underground combat and search-and rescue operations.

While President Donald Trump looks to create a Space Force — an entirely new military branch — the Pentagon itself has put more than half a billion dollars into technology and training to compete on underground battlefields.


US military thinks its next war will be underground

Soldiers of 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, provide security during subterranean operations training, May 17. Lancers of 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, with the assistance of a Mobile Training Team from the Army’s Maneuver Center of Excellence, completed a 5-day exercise focused on subterranean operations, at a remote underground facility in Washington State, May 14-18.

(US Atmy photo by Staff Sgt. Michael Armstrong)

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency asked universities and colleges for underground tunnels to use for research.

Attention, city dwellers,” DARPA tweeted. “We’re interested in identifying university-owned or commercially managed underground urban tunnels facilities able to host research experimentation.”

The agency noted the short notice of the request — it asked for responses within two days — and specified that it was seeking “a human-made underground environment spanning several city blocks” which includes “a complex layout multiple stories, including atriums, tunnels stairwells.”

US military thinks its next war will be underground

Scientists watch soldiers sample simulated leaking chemical weapons in an underground facility in order to get a better idea of both the bulky protective gear soldiers must wear as well as the dark, constrained environments they sometimes work in.

(Stacy Smenos, Dugway Proving Ground)

While the Trump administration is increasingly looking to the skies and pressing for a Space Force, DARPA is focusing on operations underground.

In the agency’s online request for information, DARPA specifies that it’s trying to understand how technology could be used for rapid mapping, search, and navigation operations, likely in the case of urban conflict or disaster-related search-and-rescue operations.

“Complex urban underground infrastructure can present significant challenges for situational awareness in time-sensitive scenarios, such as active combat operations or disaster response,” Jared Adams, a spokesperson at DARPA, told Insider via email.

US military thinks its next war will be underground

The Ultra-Light Robot employing its “arms,” which can be used to climb small obstacles such as stairs, July 3, 2019, in Stafford, Virginia. In the fourth quarter of fiscal year 2019, the Corps will field the Ultra-Light Robot—a small, mobile robot system that enables explosive ordnance disposal Marines to manage or destroy improvised explosive devices or conduct various other reconnaissance activities.

(US Marine Corps photo by Matt Gonzales)

The request comes out ahead of DARPA’s Subterranean Challenge.

The Subterranean Challenge, or SubT Challenge, invites teams of researchers from all over the world to compete and find technological solutions for underground operations. The teams use locations — like the ones DARPA requested information about — to test technologies that can search and navigate in underground terrain where it might be too difficult for humans to go.

Teams in the systems competition focus on technology like robotics that can physically search and navigate in an underground terrain. On the virtual track, teams compete and develop software that can be used to assist in simulations of underground operations.

US military thinks its next war will be underground

Soldiers with 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division provide security while clearing an underground complex during dense urban environment training. The training, provided by a mobile training team from 3rd Squadron, 16th Cavalry Regiment out of Fort Benning, introduces tactics and techniques to the force to prosecute operations within dense urban terrain and populated urban centers.

(Photo by Capt. Scott Kuhn)

The urban circuit of the SubT challenge will take place in February 2020, hence the request for urban underground space.

“As teams prepare for the SubT Challenge Urban Circuit, the program recognizes it can be difficult for them to find locations suitable to test their systems and sensors,” Adams told Insider.

“DARPA issued this RFI in part to help identify potential representative environments where teams may be able to test in advance of the upcoming event.”

US military thinks its next war will be underground

Soldiers perform evacuation procedures at Fort Hood’s underground training facility. The training is part of a week-long training teaching Soldiers how to fight, win and survive in a dense urban terrain.

(Photo by Sgt. Jessica DuVernay)

The military has become more aware that it needs to develop technology and strategy to fight in an underground, urban setting.

Historically, underground warfare has been the domain of special operations troops like Navy SEALs. But military researchers predict that this kind of warfare will be too much for special operators alone to navigate, particularly if dealing with an adversary like China or Russia, which both have extensive underground space. China in particular uses vast underground complexes to store missiles and its nuclear arsenal.

“We did recognize, in a megacity that has underground facilities — sewers and subways and some of the things we would encounter … we have to look at ourselves and say ‘OK, how does our current set of equipment and our tactics stack up?'” Col. Townley Hedrick, commandant of the infantry school at the Army’s Maneuver Center of Excellence at Fort Benning, Georgia, said in an interview with Military.com last year.

The military has encountered underground facilities before — some Vietnam War-era special units explored tunnels dug by the Viet Cong.

ISIS militants also used tunnels in Iraq and Syria. In Israel and Lebanon, Hezbollah fighters used underground tunnels to launch attacks in Israel.

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

MIGHTY HISTORY

Best medics ever: These docs gave absinthe

Everyone wants something from their friendly neighborhood medic: opiates, tourniquets, a quick peek at that rash on their junk. But French Foreign Legion troops could get an additional bit of medicine from their quartermaster or doc: absinthe or quinine-laced wine.

So, was it just that the French knew how to party better than any other army? Or was it that the Legion just gave zero sh*ts and did whatever it wanted?


US military thinks its next war will be underground

The female mosquito sucks so hard.

(Center for Disease Control)

Well, the French propensity to drink and the Legion’s outcast status both played roles. At that time, the wine that was part of a soldier’s daily ration was increasing while most other militaries were cutting back. The reason being that France thought drinking that wine was a good way to cut down a troop’s chances of contracting malaria.

Quinine was known to have anti-malarial effects as far back as the late 1600s when King Charles II was successfully treated with it. Slipping it into the wine of legionnaires and others operating in tropical heat (in places like Africa and Mexico) just made sense.

The artemisia genus of plants, of which wormwood is a member, is a traditional medicine in China for the treatment of parasites in general and malaria in particular, among other ailments. Legion use started with infusing wormwood into wine, and legionnaires who developed a taste for it found they could get a similar fix back in Paris with a new drink known as ‘absinthe.’

US military thinks its next war will be underground

Absinthe looks pretty sweet, but stop burning off all your booze, man.

Absinthe is named for its iconic ingredient, wormwood, which has the Latin name, artemisia absinthium. The drink was invented in 1792 and mass production began in 1797.

Once absinthe became popular, it made as much sense to give that to the troops directly as it did to infuse issued wine with the herb, though the higher costs of absinthe likely limited how much troops got. An article in The Drinks Business gives a barracks rate of 5 centimes for the cheapest wine, 15 centimes for a more popular one, and a stunning 40 centimes for true absinthe.

US military thinks its next war will be underground

“The Green Muse” was the lady who visited you and gave you all your good ideas when you were all messed up on absinthe. She’s also known as the “Green Fairy,” but prefers Samantha, if anyone would ever bother to ask.

(Albert Maignan)

Ballers on a budget were only sucking down absinthe when they received it in their ration — that is, if they didn’t sell it instead.

Still, it must’ve made the quartermaster pretty popular. Any medics in charge of giving out anti-malarial pills should feel free to take on a new nickname: The “Green Fairy” of absinthe lore.

No takers? Weird.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Dashcam footage shows pilot ejecting from armed F-16 just before it crashes into a California hangar

Last Thursday afternoon, commuters driving down the 215 Freeway adjacent to Riverside County, California’s March Air Reserve Base witnessed an incredible sight. A pilot was forced to eject from his F-16 Fighting Falcon carrying live ordnance over the highway, deploying his chute as the fighter careened into the roof of a nearby warehouse.

The single-engine fighter was headed back to March Air Reserve Base after completing a routine training mission in the nearby Moreno Valley when the pilot reported a hydraulics failure in the aircraft. Soon, he was forced to eject, landing safely in a nearby field. The crippled jet, however, continued its uncontrolled descent into the roof a warehouse across the freeway from the base, belonging to a company called See Water Inc.


2019 0516 153242 004

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In a dramatic 20-second clip captured by the dash camera of YouTuber James Dyer, you can see the stricken F-16 losing altitude as it passes from the left to the right of the screen. As the pilot ejects, the aircraft continues to coast and wobble, seemingly toward the freeway until the clip ends.

The warehouse that the armed F-16 crashed into was occupied at the time, and at least one person recorded footage of the aftermath that they later posted to Facebook.

“Holy *expletive* dude. That’s a *expletive* airplane; that’s a military airplane in our building,” one person can be heard exclaiming in the footage.

Damage filmed inside warehouse after fighter jet crash in California- video

youtu.be

Warning – Video contains harsh language

While local officials would not comment on the exact munitions the F-16 was carrying, they did confirm that it was equipped with a “standard armament package,” which suggests 500 rounds for the aircraft’s on-board cannon as well as a number of potential air-to-ground or air-to-air bombs and missiles. All told, the F-16 has hard points for six external weapons, often broken down into two 2,000-pound bombs, two AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles, and two AIM-120 AMRAAM missiles, as well as two additional 2400-pound external fuel tanks when necessary for long-duration flights. Whatever ordnance was on board this Fighting Falcon was quickly secured by Air Force officials.

US military thinks its next war will be underground

F-16 carrying a full combat load including external fuel tanks

(U.S. Air Force)

Suffice to say, as bad as a hole in a warehouse roof may be, this incident could have been significantly worse. No one was killed in the crash, though 13 people were injured with three remaining hospitalized but listed as stable. According to local health officials, none of the injuries sustained were life-threatening.

“Thank God everyone is safe and OK,” Mike Johnson, the CEO of the company located in the warehouse, told the press. “We’ll have to see what this means for the company, but right now our concern is with our employees and their families.”

MIGHTY HISTORY

How the Finns stopped the Soviets with this polka song

There’s a subsection of YouTube dedicated to playing the same song on repeat, over and over again, for hours at a time. Parents think it’s just a part of raising children when they have to listen to the same kids’ song, over and over again, for days at a time. Both of these cases have nothing on the five months of playing the exact same polka song over 1,500 times, continuously, as the Soviets retreated from Finland during the Continuation War.


As the Finns recaptured the city of Vyborg from the Soviets, they would have to travel across land saturated with mines left behind by the Soviets.  When the Finns chased out Soviet soldiers, the Soviets retreated to safety, the mines detonated and devastated the Finns. There were so many mines left that civilians, even after reclaiming the city, were still forbidden to reenter their homes.

US military thinks its next war will be underground
…if they still had one. (Photo via War Archive)

This was until an unexploded mine and the radio equipment next to it was brought to Jouko Pohjanpalo, credited as being the “father of Finnish radio” for his work establishing the Finnish radio field. Jouko tinkered with the explosives and the associated radio device and discovered that it operated at the frequency 715 kHz. Inside the radio receiver were three tuning forks. When a certain three-note sequence was sent over the radio and all three forks vibrated — boom.

Now all they needed to do was send out a signal to jam the sequence. They needed something fast with a lot of chords that wouldn’t also set off the mines. So, they played Säkkijärven Polkka by Viljo “Vili” Vesterinen. It was an immensely popular song at the time and many Finns associated it with great national pride, similar to how Americans feel today hearing America, F*ck Yeah!

US military thinks its next war will be underground

And so began Operation: Säkkijärvi Polkka. The Finns blasted the song at 715 kHz so the mines wouldn’t explode and they continued to fight. The Soviets learned what was going on and changed the radio frequency for their mines. Because the Soviets didn’t change the mines, just the frequency, the Finns played the song on repeat on every frequency the mines could possibly operate on. Out of the one thousand or so mines in the city, only 12 went off.

In a press interview years later, Jouko told them,

In the crowds and the homeland, the operation received a legendary reputation because of its mystery. Säkkijärvi’s polka went together about 1,500 times. All kinds of rumors circulated about somebody crazy enough to have emitted it on every radio station.

To hear the majestic polka song that helped win a war, check out the video below.

(Dallape30 | YouTube)

Articles

This flying tank destroyer had a much bigger gun than the Warthog

The A-10 is justifiably celebrated for its tank-killing prowess.


After all, it destroyed 987 tanks and a metric buttload of other Iraqi stuff during Desert Storm, and its GAU-8 got a lot of use, including some Iraqi helicopters who felt the BRRRRT! But the Air Force once planned for a tank-buster with a gun that made the A-10’s GAU-8 look puny.

The Beechcraft XA-38 Grizzly was intended to be a close-air support plane to bust up tanks and bunkers in front of the infantry. Beechcraft, ironically, is best known for civilian planes like the King Air.

US military thinks its next war will be underground
Beechcraft XA-38 (S/N 43-14407) in flight. (U.S. Air Force photo)

To accomplish that mission, it was given a powerful armament. In the nose was a pair of M2 .50-caliber machine guns and a powerful T15E1 75mm automatic cannon. It had a pair of twin .50-caliber turrets as well (one on the top, one on the bottom), and the ability to carry up to 2,000 pounds of bombs, according to MilitaryFactory.com.

Yeah, you read that right. The Army Air Force in World War II was developing a specialized tank-buster that was two and a half times bigger than the GAU-8. Of course, a 75mm gun had been used on variants of the B-25, but the XA-38’s gun was essentially a semi-auto.

US military thinks its next war will be underground
A parked XA-38, with the barrel of the T15E1 prominently visible. Makes the GAU-8 looks like a cute popgun doesn’t it? (U.S. Air Force photo)

The plane had a top speed of 376 miles per hour, a range of 1,625 miles, and a crew of two. With all that performance, it had a lot of promise when it first flew in May of 1944. But that promise was never seen by the grunts on the ground.

The XA-38 project never got past the two prototypes, because a different aviation project took up all the engines that the Grizzly was designed to use. The Wright GR-3350-43 engines were needed by the Boeing B-29 Superfortress, which in 1944 was needed to bomb Japan.

One prototype was scrapped, while the other’s fate remains unknown.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

How Marines of the future will get their heavy vehicles to the beach

The Navy’s first newly built Ship-to-Shore Connector maritime warfare craft launched on the water in early 2018, paving the way for stepped up production and introducing a new era in modern amphibious warfare for the Marines.

Naval Sea Systems Command recently awarded a deal to Ship-to-Shore connector-maker Textron to acquire long-lead early procurement materials for the new fleet of watercraft. The new SSC mobile amphibious connectors are able to transport larger armored vehicles, such as an Abrams tank, from amphibious assault ships to combat ashore.

The new SSCs are designed to replace the existing fleet of Landing Craft Air Cushions (LCAC) able to move Marines, weapons and supplies from ship to shore for amphibious operations. The connectors will integrate emerging computer technology able to reduce the needed crew size and perform more functions independently.


The upgraded amphibious ship-to-shore craft includes lighter weight composite materials, Increased payload capacity, modernized engines, and computer automated flight controls, Textron Systems Vice President of Marine Systems Scott Allen told Warrior Maven in an interview in early 2018.

The SSC’s new Rolls Royce engines will have more horsepower and specialized aluminum to help prevent corrosion. The lighter weight be enable a better lift capacity, allowing the craft to transport up to 74-tons — enough to transport heavy armored vehicles from ship to shore for an amphibious assault, Allen said.

US military thinks its next war will be underground

Textron Ship-to-Shore Connector.

The Navy’s 72 existing LCACs, in service since the 80s, can only transport up to 60-tons, reach speeds of 36-knots and travel ranges up to 200 nautical miles from amphibious vehicles, Navy officials explained.

Textron engineers also say the SSC is built with digital flight controls and computer automation to replace the traditional yoke and pedals used by current connectors. As a result, on-board computers will quickly calculate relevant details such as wind speed and navigational information, they explained.

The new SSC’s have also moved to a lower frequency for ship electronics, moving from 400 Hertz down to 60 Hertz in order to better synchronize ship systems with Navy common standards, Textron developers explained. Along with these properties, the new craft reduces the number of gear boxes from eight to two.

With some of the existing fleet of LCACs approaching 30-years of service, the Navy needs to begin replacing them with new ones, service officials have told Warrior Maven.

The new Rolls Royce engine is the same one currently used in an MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft, Textron developers said. The new SSCs also increases the strength of the deck and improve the propellers when compared with existing LCACs.

US military thinks its next war will be underground

An amphibious assault vehicle assigned to 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, embarks the well deck of the amphibious transport dock ship USS Green Bay (LPD 20).

(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Chris Williamson)

LCACs can access over 70-percent of the shoreline across the world, something the new SSCs will be able to do as well, service officials said.

Designed with over-the-horizon high-speed and maneuverability, LCACs are able to travel long distances and land on rocky terrain — even driving right up onto the shore.

In order to bridge the gap from existing LCACs to the new SSCs, the Navy implemented a special service life extension program for the LCACs — many of which are now approaching three decades of service.

The LCACs were re-engined with new engines, given new rotating machinery, new command and control systems, new skirts and fixes to corrosion issues. The effort is designed to put another 10 years of life back into the LCAC, Navy officials described.

The idea with the service life extension is to bridge the time-lapse or gap until the new SSCs are ready to enter the force in larger numbers, senior Navy officials explained.

Some of the enhancements being engineered into the SSCs are designed to address the changing threat landscape in a modern environment, a scenario that is expected to change how amphibious operations will be conducted in the future.

Since potential adversaries now have longer-range weapons, better sensors and targeting technologies and computers with faster processing speeds, amphibious forces approaching the shore may need to disperse in order to make it harder for enemy forces to target them. This phenomenon, wherein potential adversaries have advanced weaponry designed to make it harder for U.S. forces to operate in certain areas such as closer to the shore, is described by Pentagon analysts as “anti-access/area-denial.”

This article originally appeared on Warrior Maven. Follow @warriormaven1 on Twitter.

popular

How this squeegee handle saved 6 people on 9/11

Necessity is the mother of invention. Sometimes, the military translates this axiom as “if it’s stupid and it works, it isn’t stupid.” So while the idea of this simple squeegee handle saving lives sounds silly, there are six people who sure are glad to be window washers that day.


As if being a window washer on a New York City skyscraper wasn’t harrowing enough, the sheer terror didn’t stop for these six men that day, even though they were in the building. Polish immigrant Jan Demczur and five others were in an elevator in the North Tower on Sept. 11, 2001, when the building was struck by American Airline Flight 11.

The cleaners were on their way up to work when the elevator suddenly started plummeting down to earth.

Victoria Dawson, in her July 2002 article in Smithsonian magazine “Handed Down to History,” wrote that Demczur or one of the other men managed to press the emergency stop button on the elevator. But stopping their sudden descent was only half of the problem – they still needed to get out.

“We felt a muted thud,” said Shivam Iyer, one of the other workers. “The building shook. The elevator swung from side to side, like a pendulum.”

 

US military thinks its next war will be underground
The North Tower was hit between the 93rd and 99th Floors.

(Reuters)

When they finally forced open the elevator’s doors, they were faced with walls of sheetrock and smoke started to fill the elevator shaft. A voice warned them of an explosion in the building. They were on the 50th floor and the express elevator they were on didn’t stop there. It was lucky that someone had a pocketknife and the men were able to start cutting through the wall. Then, Demczur dropped the knife down the elevator shaft.

“I was very upset with myself,” he told Smithsonian. “We had a problem and now a bigger problem.”

There was no time to think. One of his coworkers simply grabbed up the squeegee from their work bucket and resumed working on that wall. The men took turns going to town on the wall with the squeegee handle. Eventually, they punched through four layers of sheetrock, finally punching into a tile wall under the sink of a men’s room. They escaped from the building – via a stairwell – as soon as they could. It took them 90 minutes.

Moments after leaving the building, it collapsed.

Demczur donated the squeegee handle to the National September 11 Memorial and Museum, where it was on display until loaned to the Smithsonian. A coat of the white debris is still on the handle.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Trump’s IRR Recall Order: What you need to know

You may have heard that President Trump signed an executive order Friday, March 27 allowing the military to recall members of the selected reserve and some former service members to active duty in support of the government’s response to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.

While this sounds ominous, the executive order is mainly a formality giving the Pentagon the authority to recall reserve members as necessary. A federal law (10 U.S. Code § 12302) that has been around since 1953 authorizes the president to recall up to one million reservists for up to two years in times of national emergency.


The military branches have also started to gauge interest from recently separated members on volunteering to return to active duty in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Army, for example, recently contacted 800,000 retired members asking about their willingness to return to active duty and help the service fight the pandemic. More than 17,000 retirees, representing various specialties, have responded at the time of this writing.

US military thinks its next war will be underground

Maryland National Guard Transports Citizens During COVID-19 Pandemic.

DoD

Who Will Be The First To Be Recalled?

If the coronavirus pandemic worsens and requires a major military mobilization, an involuntary recall would begin only if there aren’t enough active-duty members, selected reserve and guard members and volunteers returning to active duty. The order of recall is as follows:

  1. Retirees and inactive reservists under 60 who have been off active duty for less than five years
  2. Retirees and inactive reservists under 60 who have been off active duty for five years or more
  3. Retirees and inactive reservists, including those retired for disability, who are over 60 years old

Again, the needs of the service are tantamount, and some military specialties may have different rules than others. A medical officer who has been out of the military for 15 years may be recalled before an aircraft mechanic who separated last month.

US military thinks its next war will be underground

PA National Guard support COVID-19 test site in Montgomery County.

DoD

10 U.S. Code § 12302 also says that recall consideration will be given to:

  1. the length and nature of previous service, to assure such sharing of exposure to hazards as the national security and military requirements will reasonably allow;
  2. family responsibilities; and
  3. employment necessary to maintain the national health, safety, or interest.

That means if you are a health care professional and can do society more good as a civilian, you may be exempted from recall. Also, if you have serious family responsibilities you may be exempted.

The law may also exempt veterans with some disabilities or medical conditions from any involuntary recall. Those with less than honorable discharges and certain separation codes may also be exempted from involuntary recall.

What Happens If You Are Recalled?

You will most likely get a certified letter from the military directing you to an intake center. If you don’t answer the letter, they will send another one to your home of record. If you still don’t respond, you will be identified as a deserter and possibly face legal action.

If you are recalled, you have the same responsibilities as any active-duty member: no drug use, adherence to grooming and physical readiness standards, support of the needs of the military and obedience to the chain of command.

Even if you meet those obligations, you won’t be eligible for any promotions as a recalled member. Instead, you will be paid at your current rank or the rank at which you separated. Your retirement pay and any VA disability benefits will also stop for the duration of your revitalized active duty service.

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

MIGHTY MOVIES

From convicted felon to George Lucas Scholar: USC student brings a fresh perspective to filmmaking

Jeremy Lee MacKenzie is an artist & filmmaker whose career began after being incarcerated as a teenager. His artwork, “Hidden Blueprints,” is a collection of wood-scrollwork cut from blueprints that were hidden in the prison system. He discovered the blueprints while serving sentences that totaled eight years, for bank robbery & drug trafficking.

He was inspired to become a filmmaker while working as a prison movie projectionist where he studied screenwriting and was released with scholarships to Champlain College. In 2015, he was awarded a screenwriting fellowship to Stowe Story Labs and that same year, won gold in the PAGE International Screenwriting Awards in LA.

In 2017, MacKenzie completed his film “Hidden Blueprints: The Story of Mikey,” and received the James Goldstone Emerging Filmmaker Award. In 2018, he was chosen for the Vermont Symphony Orchestra Award and was then admitted to the USC School of Cinematic Arts to pursue his MFA on a George Lucas Scholarship.


US military thinks its next war will be underground

C. Craig Patterson and J. Lee MacKenzie

(Photo by: Feyza Nur Safoglu)

Annenberg Media: Tell me about where you are from and your life growing up?

MacKenzie: I’m from Burlington, VT and my childhood was complicated. I had a lot of challenging things happen while growing up and I ended up in adult prison at the age of 17 for bank robbery. Looking back, it feels like it was 100 years ago, like I’ve lived in quantum time where every year contained the events of five years.

Annenberg Media: What is the most distinct memory you have of your mother and father?

MacKenzie: A positive memory I have of my mother is how she always encouraged me to be an artist and be creative. She was always very honest and encouraging if she thought I was good at something. My father encouraged storytelling and read me a lot of books growing up. He tested me on the stories to see if I was listening. He would reread me the same story and then change certain plot lines to see if I was paying attention. I would stop him and tell him, “no dad, the storyline goes like this…”

Annenberg Media: What challenges did you face at school and in the community?

MacKenzie: My parents separated after my younger sister passed away. I lived with my mother most of the time and my father during summers. When I was really young, I did well in school. At a certain point in my childhood we moved into a trailer park where we were living in poverty. A lot of the people living in that trailer park did not care much about school and were into drugs. Those became really tough years since I valued education but was now being punished for valuing academics.

At first I had to fight kids often when getting off the school bus because I was into focusing on school. My parents always tried focus my attention on education. I was very young and got sick of fighting and being an outsider, so I ended up joining the crowd. I got into drugs to succeed in that world. I often wondered if people around me who chose the drug path, went through those same bad experiences as I did.

At the age of 12 or 13, I transitioned into selling drugs and became a drug dealer. I wanted to excel in a world I was way behind in. By 14-years-old, my parents had lost full control. I had an 18-year-old stripper girlfriend living with me. I was deep into the world of drug dealing: at age 14, it was cocaine, 15, it was opiates, at 16, I was arrested for dealing heroin and at 17, I was locked up for bank robbery.

Bang, that escalated quickly! My parents were baffled at how things changed so rapidly.

Annenberg Media: Where did this lifestyle lead you?

MacKenzie: I served three sentences totaling eight years. During one of those sentences, I earned my high school diploma but was still struggling to separate from the drug world. During the course of one of my sentences, I was sent to a corporate prison in Kentucky. When I got there, I got my first college opportunity. Hazard Community College selected 20 inmates who they gave grants to start college while incarcerated.

Due to overcrowding and the mistreatment of inmates, a lot of violence was going on in the facility. It was a for-profit prison and the administration was not friendly. I had to make a choice between focusing on college or joining an uprising in the prison. A group of inmates were planning a revolt and ended up having a riot at the facility. The riot took over the facility for a night and the administration building was burned which included the education facility. The college opportunity went up in smoke. We were in lockdown for many months while they rebuilt the prison around us. This gained a lot of national media attention.

Annenberg Media: Did you have any creative outlets while incarcerated?

MacKenzie: Isolation can be a powerful tool. After the riot, while in lock down I started designing artwork. I would design blueprints for big pieces of wood-scrollwork. I had learned this wood cutting technique as a teenager from an old clock maker in prison and I taught myself how to design. I was designing on taped-together pieces of paper but we weren’t allowed to have the paper so I had to hide my blueprints until I could bring them home.

Those blueprints came to be my artwork years later. I used them as a tool for storytelling. Many of the blueprints I drew didn’t directly depict prison but told the stories of our experience on the inside through ancient themes. When I was not designing I started getting into TV and movies and I started watching this show called “Medium.” Everybody watched it. It was a way to escape from prison.

US military thinks its next war will be underground

Scrollwork by J. Lee MacKenzie.

(Photo by: Mike Jacobs)

Annenberg Media: Did you ever hit rock bottom?

MacKenzie: My darkest moment came during my third sentence when I could no longer hide from my darkest truths and my responsibilities. I couldn’t hide the impact my actions had on my friends, family and community; I experienced a paradigm shift. I was in a segregation cell where I had more charges coming. The drug dealers who had been supplying me since I was an adolescent, who I had been protecting my whole life, were not protecting me or anyone else. The whole veil of that world came crashing down.

I realized the effect my life was having on everyone around me and the people I had protected and followed didn’t care about me anymore. I was in the segregation cell and I noticed there was a broken razor blade on the floor. “This is my out,” I thought. This was one of the few moments in my life where I contemplated suicide. But, I looked out the window and thought to myself, “No one could explain this to my dog, she’s never gonna know what happened.” I just wanted to see my dog again. She probably saved my life. Tests find a way of placing themselves in your path, especially at your darkest moments. I needed to let things play out until the end.

US military thinks its next war will be underground

Scrollwork by J. Lee MacKenzie.

(Photo by: Mike Jacobs)

Annenberg Media: How was your life impacted after making the decision to stay alive?

MacKenzie: That was a very challenging period of time, but it passed. And I ended up getting a job as a prison movie projectionist. It was a makeshift movie theater with prison walls. We screened everything from the original “Star Wars” to “Casablanca” and “Chinatown.” It was a powerful experience watching “Star Wars” projected onto a prison wall.

While working as a prison movie projectionist, I started writing stories with the women’s prison. The women were relatable and had similar situations to mine. But we weren’t allowed to write to other prisons so I would send the letters to my father and he would re-address them to the women I was writing. I invited them to write a story where the women and I could insert our own characters and set them off on a journey together. I was very grateful to the women for that, as it provided a creative medium that was very valuable. It also provided companionship and helped with loneliness.

Working with the prison movie theater was a crucial time for me. All those earlier years of my father testing me on stories came back to me. I decided I wanted to become a filmmaker. I focused on screenwriting and reached out to different colleges to get the books they used in their screenwriting courses. I was no longer in a corporate prison and I made a deal with teachers to recycle prison paperwork. The education offices would print scripts on the back of the recycled paperwork I brought them. Filmmaking was like life or death- in my previous life I was going to die and this new life was the only way out. There were no other choices.

US military thinks its next war will be underground

Scrollwork by J. Lee MacKenzie.

(Photo by: Mike Jacobs)

Annenberg Media: Did you plan on getting further education?

MacKenzie: I got a scholarship to go to college when I came home. The scholarship letter came from Bernie Sanders, which I still have. When I came home I realized there was all this time that I had missed. I did a lot of catching up in college.

As soon as I got to undergrad, I won gold in the Page International Screenwriting Awards for a screenplay. The award and screenplay got me connected with Julie Pacino, Al Pacino’s daughter. I began to excel and was pushed more towards directing. Julie ended up producing my film, “Hidden Blueprints.” Things began to happen much more rapidly and I ended up using “Hidden Blueprints” to apply to USC.

Back then, Ben Stiller was making his show “Escape at Dannemora” and his group reached out to have me in the show as an inmate. I have an escape on my record- at one point I tried to run away from prison- so I was not able to get security clearance to enter prison. But, I took a role as an extra on a different part of his show so I could still be apart of the production. I had this really funny moment where I was standing on set with Ben Stiller to my right and I was quietly watching him work. Then, the main actress comes out and I’m suddenly hit with this really familiar feeling: the actress was Patricia Arquette who I watched in the TV show, “Medium” years ago in that destroyed prison in Kentucky. I realize I’m standing in the middle of a show about escaping from prison starring the actress of the show we all used to watch to escape from the prison we were in. It was an interesting and affirming moment.

I sent the production staff of the show an email about it. It made me reflect on how far my arc had brought me. Within a matter of days the George Lucas Scholarship came in for USC. It gave me chills. I had projected “Star Wars” movies on a prison wall. Now I was headed to LA.

US military thinks its next war will be underground

Aron Meinhardt, J. Lee MacKenzie, and Julie Pacino

Annenberg Media: Why Hollywood and why now?

MacKenzie: This is the epicenter of storytelling. I came here to fully engage in storytelling and USC helped me get here. I knew this was the path. This is the place to begin and branch off. This is a time when people from all different places and backgrounds can tell stories. I felt like I was one of those people that could have a place here.

US military thinks its next war will be underground

Riley Lynch, J. Lee MacKenzie, Polina Yamschikov.

(Photo by: Aron Meinhardt)

Annenberg Media: What is it like to be a George Lucas Scholar at the School of Cinematic Arts?

MacKenzie: From where I come from, it has been extremely helpful and it has been an honor to have the opportunities I’ve had. I had the opportunity to work with some incredible people like Riley and Austin Lynch, Julie Pacino, Aron Meinhardt and many others. I got to collaborate with C. Craig Patterson who is a great friend, he is on a George Lucas Scholarship as well. I look forward to seeing who else I get to meet and work with.

Annenberg Media: What are your career and life goals?

MacKenzie: I want to direct movies. I direct films not because I love it, but because I feel compelled to. Telling stories was my only way out and it is the only pathway I see forward. I am going to continue on that path and see where it leads. It took a lot of people helping and believing in me to get this far. It didn’t start out that way. I deeply appreciate the people that helped me along the way. Wherever this path goes, I hope it is fruitful for both myself and for those that helped.

Annenberg Media: How is the coronavirus social distancing affecting you and do you have any recommendations?

MacKenzie: As I said, isolation can be a very powerful thing. I know a lot of people are stuck inside right now, for much longer than they are used to. A lot of movies are not getting made. People are scared and they are experiencing their own moments of darkness. But some of the most creative years of my life began with isolation and darkness like this. It wouldn’t surprise me if the solitude of this pandemic inspires and gives birth to a lovely period of filmmaking in its wake, the likes of which the world has perhaps never seen. I really hope to be a part of that movement and I think we will all feel fortunate when we see it happen.

Featured image shows J. Lee and Isabela Penagos—USC arts students.

This article originally appeared on Annenberg Media. Follow @AnnenbergMedia on Twitter.

Military Life

Why the US has a base 695 miles north of the Arctic Circle

Every military installation has its ups and downs. You could be assigned to a tropical paradise, but you can’t afford anything off-base. You could be assigned to a breathtaking foreign country, but learning the local language will take some time. Or, you could be assigned to Thule Air Base in Greenland, where there’s literally nothing but ice and rock for 65 miles (and, even then, it’s just a remote Eskimo village).


The multinational team stationed there consists of around 400 Danish troops, 150 American troops, and a handful of Canadians. Team Thule is charged with tracking satellites and orbiting debris using a Ballistic Missile Early Warning System (BMEWS), a remnant from the Cold War by being strategically placed roughly halfway between Moscow and New York City.

US military thinks its next war will be underground

The BMEWS is still manned and operated by both American and Danish troops. Denmark holds territorial claim over Greenland but gave them “Home Rule” in 1979 and Greenlanders voted for self-governance in 2008. Denmark still handles much of the defense of Greenland, however.

Troops at Thule are locked out from the rest of the world by the ice for nine months, so during the three “summer” months, everyone loads up on supplies that’ll last them the rest of the year. Thule is also home to the Air Force’s only Tug Boat, the Rising Star, which it uses for these resupply missions.

US military thinks its next war will be underground
Just an average day at Thule Air Base. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Dennis Hoffman)

The Military One Source Pamphlet hilariously tries to downplay the roughness of Thule while also telling you that there are no ATMs, no commissary, the PX is extremely limited, and there’s all of one bar and a single “base taxi.”

But hey! At least every barracks room comes with free WiFi and it’s kind of accepted that everyone shelters-in-place during the four-month-long Polar Night where winds can reach 200 mph and the temperatures are -28.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Don’t believe it: Chuck Norris is not dead

The celebrity dead rumor mill is at it again. This time the (supposed) victim is Chuck Norris. According to rumors circulating on social media, the 80-year-old martial arts action movie star and Air Force veteran was felled by the novel coronavirus.

What fools these mortals be.


Norris, who served in the Air Force in Korea and beyond, is alive and well still, and maybe forever. He’s just the latest target of the endless rumor mill surrounding celebrity deaths — a rumor mill that had better watch its back.

US military thinks its next war will be underground

Especially if it’s going to target Chuck Norris. (U.S. Marine Corps/Lance Corporal Ben Eberle)

Celebrities are frequently the targets of such rumors, dating all the way back to Mark Twain, who was famously reached for comment about his own death in a June 1897 issue of the New York Journal. Beyonce, Clint Eastwood and — arguably the most famous — Paul McCartney have all supposedly died before their time.

The age of COVID-19 has brought out a lot of new rumors surrounding celebrity deaths, given the misunderstandings about the virus and its lethality. Many celebrities have (really) contracted it, including actors Tom Hanks and Tony Shalhoub, singer-songwriter Pink and even the UK’s Prince Charles. All went into isolation to prevent the spread of the virus.

Chuck Norris isn’t one of those. Chuck Norris puts the coronavirus in isolation.

According to the Poynter Institute, the Chuck Norris rumor comes from a Facebook post on June 11th in the group “Are You Not Entertained?” It read:

“Corona Virus claims a black belt. Carlos Ray ‘Chuck’ Norris, famous actor and fighter, died yesterday afternoon at his home in Northwood Hills, TX at the age of 80.”

Like many things on Facebook, readers apparently only read one part of the gag and then ran with it to spread the “news” among their networks. If they had kept reading, they would have arrived at the obvious joke.

“However, after his minor inconvenience of death, Chuck has made a full recovery, and is reported to be doing quite well. It has also been reported that the Corona virus is in self isolation for 14 days due to being exposed to Chuck Norris.”

US military thinks its next war will be underground

(Are You Not Entertained/Facebook)

Remember to keep a skeptical eye toward rumors of celebrity deaths. Just because your favorite celebrity’s name is trending somewhere, doesn’t mean they’ve met their maker. They might have instead met Chuck Norris.

As for Chuck, when Chuck Norris actually decides to die, you’ll know. Chuck Norris doesn’t cheat death, he wins fair and square.

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

MIGHTY MILSPOUSE

11 sure-fire gifts military dads will actually love

It’s June! Soon we will be honoring our dads and reminding them how much we care this Father’s Day. While it can be tricky to get the perfect gift for your spouse “from your kids,” we have put together some sure-fire, military-themed gift ideas for the military dad in your life. AND they are SUPER reasonably priced for as awesome as they are… Order now and get them delivered in time for June 21st. Check it out!


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1. Grenade Cufflinks

Yes, these really are as bad@$ as they look…class up any outfit. Grenades.

Made in the USA.
Best. Gift. Ever.

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2. Engraved Ammo Box

Who says gifts have to be serious?! This pistol is so detailed no one would ever guess it’s made out of soap! Whether it’s used as decoration at a party or gathering or in the shower, these are sure to be a great conversation starter (maybe not in the shower…) Be sure to check out this entire store of military replicated soaps and candles!

(Who doesn’t need 5.56mm candles?!)

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3. American Flag Tie Clip

This company offers military tie clips to the max! You can choose from various types of aircraft, nautical replicas, ammunition and weapons. No matter what their branch or specialty, you’re sure to find the perfect addition to their suit and tie. At such great price points, you can buy a few!

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4. Personalized Engraved .50 Cal or .30 Cal Caliber Ammo Can

“These mil-spec ammo-cans are tough, steel constructed and 100% brand new. Great for storing ammunition or other items. The lid features rubber gaskets to form a tight moisture proof seal that keeps water and dust out. These cases are also stackable.”

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5. AR15 CAT Scan Gun Print

This is by far one of the coolest things we’ve ever seen. These are CAT scan images of actual weapons. After two years of effort and tweaking, they were finally able to take high-res, detailed images of over 40 different guns. With statements assuring you no one else in the world has perfected this technology, you can be positive this will be a one-of-a-kind man cave gift!

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US military thinks its next war will be underground

6. 50 BMG Bullet Bottle Opener

This is a bottle opener is handmade from a real expended .50 caliber round. They measure 5.5 inches long and 0.75 inches in diameter. It is guaranteed to look good while opening the service member’s beverage of choice. Made in the good ol’ US of A. Be sure to check out the different shell options!

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US military thinks its next war will be underground

7. Shotgun Shell Pocket Knife

It seems pocket knives are a dime a dozen these days. But pocket knives shaped like Beretta shotgun shells? Now those are a rarity. With a 2-inch stainless steel blade, it’s just as functional as it is esthetic.

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8. Paracord Bracelet with Metal Fish Hook Rope

“The paracord cord bracelet is made with 550 rope and one fish hook closure. The bracelet is also accented with customizable wrapped bands that secure the bracelet on your wrist. Leather (Leather available in black and brown only). The picture shows black leather accent wrap near the fish hook and near the opposite end of the loop.”

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9. Custom Cornhole Set

This company offers customization to the max! They have every branch to choose from in addition to branch neutral/American themes as well. Handmade from the best materials out there, these cornhole sets are perfect for a little RR in the backyard! Contact them today to customize names, logos, colors, bags, etc…they have every add-on imaginable!

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10. Personalized Custom Flip Style Lighter

These custom made, personalized lighters are available to be engraved with the military rank insignia of your choice. Each lighter comes in a case which can be laser engraved on the lid or even the bottom. Whatever satisfies your desires.

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US military thinks its next war will be underground

11. Engraved Whiskey Stones

Service members lead strong, full-bodied lives…they don’t need watered down whiskey. These stones are made out of cubes of solid soapstone. They retain their temperature much longer than ice, so they will cool the whiskey or liquor of choice and provide a more sustained chill.

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This article originally appeared on Military Spouse. Follow @MilSpouseMag on Twitter.

MIGHTY MILSPOUSE

What the payroll tax deferment means, and why you shouldn’t spend that extra money

President Trump recently signed an executive order that will defer payroll taxes for all employees, including service members, from Sept. 1, 2020 to Dec. 31, 2020. The move was made to increase the funds federal employees have over the next few months so they will be able to help stimulate the economy, and to help with any financial burdens caused by COVID-19, according to the memorandum.

“This modest, targeted action will put money directly in the pockets of American workers and generate additional incentives for work and employment, right when the money is needed most,” Trump stated in the August guidance to the Secretary of the Treasury.


The payroll tax deferment only applies to those who make $4,000 or less per paycheck, or less than $104,000 per year. In military terms, this applies to the ranks of E-1 up to O-4 if no additional income is applicable.

The complicated nature of payroll taxes and the lack of guidance on implementation has created confusion for many. The memorandum put out by the president does not address if the deferment is mandatory for federal employees, and some tax experts believe that businesses may continue withholding the taxes from employees simply because it will be too complicated — and expensive — to change payrolls for just a portion of their employees.

As of Sept. 1, Defense Finance Accounting Services had not sent any notification to service members or DOD civilians in regard to payroll taxes being withheld over the next few months. DFAS confirmed in an email response they would begin deferring payroll taxes on Sept. 12 and continue to defer those taxes until the end of the year. Defense Department Federal employees, including service members, do not have the option to opt-out of the deferment program.

It is unclear if non-DOD employees themselves can opt-out of the deferment, or if they can pay the deferred taxes back ahead of tax season to avoid a hefty tax bill in the new year.

It has to be repaid

It is important to think of the payroll tax deferment as simply a “tax loan.” Although Trump said in an earlier press conference that he would like to make this deferment permanent, which would require an act of Congressional approval, it currently stands that any payroll tax funds that go into a federal employee’s pocket for the next few months will have to be repaid by Apr. 30, 2021, according to IRS Notice 2020-65.

See IRS Notice 2020-65

For service members, this means any money withheld on a LES under the “social security” tab would compound and has to be paid back using tax form 1040 when filing taxes.

This can lead to a hefty tax bill for service members, right after Christmas, especially if they do not set that money aside to be repaid during tax season.

The intent

The purpose of the payroll tax deferment is to provide relief for those in need, Lacey Langford, The Military Money Expert®, stated in an email.

“If you need the money to pay your bills, then yes, spend it on your bills. Do not spend in on wants like trips or new clothes. If you don’t need the money, it’s best to put it aside in a savings account,” Langford said.

DFAS will participate in the tax deferral program 

The offices of Management and Budget (OMB) and Personnel Management (OPM) also confirmed via email DFAS will start the deferment of payroll taxes this month.

“Partnering with the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), DFAS will implement the guidance according to the expectation that all Federal Civilian Payroll Providers will act in unison. As such, no Payroll Providers, Departments/Agencies, nor employees will be able to opt-in/opt-out of the deferral. The elimination of the withholding of employee deductions for the applicable employees will be effective the second paycheck in September, pay period ending September 12, 2020.
DFAS will defer the Social Security (Old Age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance or OASDI) employee deductions for all employees whose gross social security wages that are less than ,000 in any given pay period through the end of 2020. The deferrals will apply to all federal employees making less than 4,000 per year, or ,000 per pay period. In the short term, federal workers will see an increase in take-home pay, but absent action by Congress to forgive the debt that is effectively incurred on employees, workers will likely be expected to pay that money back sometime next year.”

Service members should check their LES bimonthly to see if social security is deferred and plan appropriately to pay those taxes back in the new year.

This article originally appeared on Military Families Magazine. Follow @MilFamiliesMag on Twitter.

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