Exclusive interview with ‘Welcome to Blackwater: Mercenaries, Money and Mayhem in Iraq’ author - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY CULTURE

Exclusive interview with ‘Welcome to Blackwater: Mercenaries, Money and Mayhem in Iraq’ author

Morgan Lerette, a former Army intelligence officer who spent 18 months in Iraq, writes about his experience as a Blackwater operative with countless missions in his new book, ‘Welcome to Blackwater: Mercenaries, Money and Mayhem in Iraq.’ His memoir recounts what it is like to be a modern-day Ronin in the sands of Iraq. At a time when U.S. civilian employers discriminated against hiring veterans, he ventured with Blackwater at the age of 23 at the recommendation of a friend. This was the start of a road bathed in prostitutes, gold, blood and the ruthlessness required to be successful in clandestine operations. Yet, balancing weight retains one’s humanity.

“Blackwater was a real turning point in my life, much more than my stints in the military,” said Lerette, now 40. “I wanted to write about the people, my brothers and how we survived.”

Morgan Lerette, author of Welcome to Blackwater

We Are The Mighty, with the support of Onward Press and United States Veterans Artists Alliance, bring you this exclusive interview with a warrior who lived the dream most combat Military Occupational Specialties dream of: to be set loose upon the enemies of the west and give no quarter – for money.

WATM: Politicians constantly debate the morality of hiring contractors to protect our interests abroad, regardless that the practice of hiring mercenaries is as old as war itself. How has Blackwater impacted the evolution of warfare? 

I think [people] really have to understand the paradigm of where Blackwater came in. The ground combat ended, and the interim government was created in Iraq. As soon as that interim government was created and we gave them sovereignty, it went from a Department of Defense mission to a Department of State mission. 

They didn’t have the power to protect their own diplomats as they were running around all over Iraq. So that’s really where Blackwater came in. The war was not planned well as it was. What compounded it was that Blackwater came in and were told they had diplomatic immunity and the rules of engagement were different than the other soldiers. It opened up this gray space where we could operate autonomously. 

There was no check and balance in place. 

No grownup supervision of what we were doing, when we were doing it, or how we were doing it. I think that’s really when it went bad. If you don’t have the government agency that you are contracted by in the vehicles with you – there is no way for them to supervise. I don’t put the blame on Blackwater entirely or the State Department entirely. They both failed to make sure that people were doing the right thing at the right time. 

Lerette aims a firearm over a humvee

WATM: Your book is brutally honest about a different kind of deployment than is usually experienced overseas. How did you forge a bond between you and your peers to become brothers?

It is very similar to what you go through in the military. You go in there with a number of people you recently met, who you would not normally come into contact with, and are tasked with protecting an individual and each other. You can’t trust that the Iraqis are going to welcome you with open arms. You can’t expect that the State Department people are going to be able to help you out. You have to trust and count on that person sitting next to you with their body armor and rifle. 

The bonding was very similar [in that aspect]. Where it was dissimilar is when you come home from a contract there is no support system. As a unit in the Army or the Air Force, you leave as a unit and come back as a unit. You go to your base and it’s comfortable. 

As a contractor it’s really just you.

Your new buddies, people whom you would literally die for and would die for you, are scattered across the nation. It makes it hard to keep that camaraderie, so people start chasing those contracts. They go back for the camaraderie and adrenaline of war. Whereas in the military they tell you when to go. 

WATM: Some corporations have propaganda that they will hire veterans but when it comes time to put their money where their mouth is, they do not. How has this barrier for veterans to assimilate into the civilian world affected recruitment to companies like Blackwater?

It definitely helped. When I got into Blackwater in 2004 you had a number of special operations soldiers that have trained for years and years and they never really got to do their job. [For example] you had a guy who trained for [a job] for three years and at the end of it they say ‘okay, that was great, but I still want to [keep doing it.’] That’s where a lot of these guys were: special operations, SEALs, Rangers, Recon Marines and they didn’t get to go to war like they were trained for. 

This was their chance to extend that service – to get their war. 

Blackwater definitely took advantage that there were people who haven’t seen combat but were trained for it. Even to this day, since I came out with the book ‘Welcome to Blackwater,’ people say to me, ‘Well, how do I join?’

Those companies are saying, ‘This is your chance at war, Iraq has dwindled down to 2,500 troops and Afghanistan the same way. They get there and they sit as a gate guard and they’re frustrated because they really think this is their chance. It’s just not the way it was back then and you don’t have the option of finding that fortune like you used to. 

WATM: Current and former members of the military have this idea that Private Military Contracting is the final frontier of combat. Would you encourage or discourage their pursuit of fortune?

Yeah, so, the money dried up a number of years ago. It’s definitely not paying what it did when I was with Blackwater in 2004-05. Not only has the money dried up but so have the missions. It used to be a lot of escorting diplomats around combat zones. Now, the majority of jobs are within site security. 

Gate guard, tower guard.

Whereas we were making around $210,000 a year, if you’re a gate guard in Kuwait, you’re going to make around $60,000 a year. I would not encourage anyone to go to the final frontier because the final frontier is no longer available. 

Lerette with kids in Iraq
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WATM: Onward Press is an avenue for warriors to give up the sword and pick up the pen. What was your experience working with them on ‘Welcome to Blackwater’?

Onward press is specifically looking for people who have been in the military community, such as spouses, who want to get their story told and be able to tell that story well. Every veteran has an amazing story and being able to put that on paper, get it done, put it on Amazon and be able to purchase it – it takes professionals to do that. 

So, Onward Press bridged that gap for me.

They were able to say ‘yes, you do have a good story, you have a good voice, but here’s how you should be able to frame it. Here’s how you get started, here’s where you need to add stuff, here’s where you need to take out stuff. In order to make sure the story was entertaining, and it flowed and people would actually be interested in it.

It’s an awesome organization but writing your experience is very cathartic. Even if I don’t become a bestseller, it’s almost a way for me to give my story over to paper. It took some of the burden I have carried with me throughout my almost three years in Iraq. To be able to give that over to something else, for that reason, it is very, very cathartic. 

WATM: Is there anything you would like to say to our readers and the military community? 

There is honor in service. There are a lot of extremely intelligent people that don’t have college degrees that do the same thing as me. I’m not unique or special. What I was, was willing to reach out. I couldn’t get to where I needed to go. That goes all the way back to reaching out to figure out my G.I. Bill, to figure out the VA, to getting my book about Blackwater to a publisher and get published. 

Whether you’ve spent three to 30 years in the military, set that pride aside and ask for help. If I hadn’t asked for help there is no way I could have published Welcome to Blackwater. 

A lot of these stories about soldiers, airmen, sailors, Marines would be lost if we can’t get them documented. 

So, reach out. Heck, reach out to me. Go to my website www.welcometoblackwater.com and shoot me an email and I’ll get back to you. I’m always willing to help. 

‘Welcome to Blackwater: Mercenaries, Money and Mayhem in Iraq’ is available now on Amazon. 

About Onward Press

Onward Press is the publishing imprint of the United States Veterans Artists Alliance, Inc., a 501-c-3 educational non-profit.  www.usvaa.org

Our mission is to publish well-written, compelling books by military veterans, spouses, military brats, and other family members. Also, people who served in other agencies overseas and their family members.

We are interested in great stories well-told, and are not limited to military, veteran or government-service topics. We publish literary novels, non-fiction, memoirs, mystery, true crime, suspense-thrillers, to name just a few.

All books are available as e -books, trade paperbacks, hardcover and audio.  We pay royalties to our authors and provide editorial guidance and engaging cover art.Onward Press is open for submissions.  Please see Submission Guidelines.

Learn more about Welcome to Blackwater: Mercenaries, Money and Mayhem, here.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Air Force sustains operations amid COVID-19 pandemic

Message from the top

On March 18, 2020, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David L. Goldfein emphasized the importance of protecting the force from COVID-19 while maintaining the ability to conduct global missions.

“We’ve got fighters, bombers, and maintainers deployed working to keep America safe,” Goldfein said during a briefing with reporters at the Pentagon. “We’re still flying global mobility missions and conducting global space operations. So, the global missions we as an Air Force support in the joint force, all those missions continue.”

As the COVID-19 pandemic evolves, the U.S. Air Force’s core missions remain unimpeded.


COVID-19 response

Air Mobility Command continued rapid global mobility operations on March 17, when U.S. Airmen transported a shipment of 500,000 COVID-19 testing swabs from Aviano Air Base, Italy, to Memphis, Tennessee. The mission, which was headed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, utilized Air Force active duty, Reserve and National Guard components to ensure timely delivery of the supplies.

To aid the Italian response to the COVID-19 outbreak, a Ramstein Air Base C-130J Super Hercules delivered a life-saving medical capability, the En-Route Patient Staging System, to the Italian Ministry of Defense. The vital medical capability was transported to Aviano AB via an 86th Airlift Wing C-130J Super Hercules out of Ramstein AB, Germany, on March 20.

The ERPSS is a flexible, modular patient staging system able to operate across a spectrum of scenarios such as humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations. The modular system provides 10 patient staging beds inside two tents, can support up to 40 patients in 24 hours, comes with seven days of medical supplies and can achieve initial operating capability within one hour of notification.

Also, at Luke Air Force Base, Arizona, Airmen assigned to the 56th Medical Group helped minimize the spread of COVID-19 by staffing a drive-thru COVID-19 testing station on March 23.

Airmen assigned to the 56th Medical Group conduct COVID-19 tests March 23, 2020, at Luke Air Force Base, Ariz. To minimize the spread of COVID-19, the 56th MDG is utilizing drive-thru services to conduct tests. The 56th MDG is following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines and working closely with Arizona health officials to decrease the impact of COVID-19 at Luke AFB.

U.S. AIR FORCE PHOTO // SENIOR AIRMAN ALEXANDER COOK

National Guard Soldiers and Airmen are being called upon to assist state and local governments in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. In New York, guardsmen are providing logistical and administrative support to state and local governments, staffing two call centers, assisting three drive-thru COVID-19 testing stations, cleaning public buildings, warehousing and delivering bulk supplies of New York State sanitizer to local governments and helping schools deliver meals to students at home.

The New Jersey National Guard also assisted a COVID-19 Community Based Testing Site at the PNC Bank Arts Center in Holmdel, New Jersey, March 23, 2020. The testing site, which was established in partnership with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, was staffed by the New Jersey Department of Health, New Jersey State Police, and New Jersey National Guard.

Strengthening joint partnerships

The Air Force’s European Bomber Task Force regularly deploys bomber aircraft to the European theater of operations to conduct joint training with allied nations. The task force continues to train with U.S. partners to strengthen relationships and ensure the sovereignty of allied airspace.

U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Trevon Gardner, assigned to the 5th Security Forces Squadron at Minot Air Base, North Dakota, poses for a portrait in front of a B-2 Spirit on March 19, 2020, at RAF Fairford, United Kingdom. Gardner deployed to RAF Fairford in support of Bomber Task Force Europe operations, which tests the readiness of the Airmen and equipment that support it, as well as their collective ability to operate at forward locations.

U.S. AIR NATIONAL GUARD PHOTO // TECH. SGT. COLTON ELLIOTT

One example of the task force’s continued operations tempo is the recent Icelandic Air Policing mission conducted March 16. The mission involved two U.S. Air Force B-2 Spirit aircraft from RAF Fairford, United Kingdom, as well as Norwegian F-35 Lightning IIs and U.S. Air Force F-15 Eagle aircraft.

The Bomber Task Force achieved a new milestone over the North Sea on March 18, when two U.S. Air Force B-2 Spirit stealth bombers successfully conducted a fifth generation integration flight with Norwegian and Dutch F-35 Lightning IIs.

A B-2A Spirit bomber assigned to the 509th Bomb Wing, Royal Netherlands air force F-35A and U.S. F-15C Eagle assigned to the 48th Fighter Wing conduct aerial operations in support of Bomber Task Force Europe 20-2 over the North Sea March 18, 2020. Bomber missions provide opportunities to train and work with NATO allies and theater partners in combined and joint operations and exercises.

U.S. AIR FORCE PHOTO // MASTER SGT. MATTHEW PLEW

“The world expects that NATO and the U.S. continue to execute our mission with decisiveness, regardless of any external challenge,” said Gen. Jeff Harrigian, U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces Africa commander. “Missions like these provide us an opportunity to assure our allies while sending a clear message to any adversary that no matter the challenge, we are ready.”

Sustaining the training pipeline

A formal memorandum released by Air Education and Training Command on March 18 detailed the command’s designation as a mission essential function of the U.S. Air Force during the COVID-19 outbreak.

U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Donald Weaver, 320th Training Squadron military training instructor, leads his flight with a salute during an Air Force BMT graduation Mar. 19, 2020, held at the 320th Training Squadron’s Airman Training Complex on Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas. Due to current world events, the 37th Training Wing has implemented social distancing by graduating 668 Airmen during four different ceremonies at different Airman Training Complexes. The graduation ceremonies will be closed to the public until further notice for the safety and security of the newly accessioned Airmen and their family members due to coronavirus (COVID-19).

U.S. AIR FORCE PHOTO

Lt. Gen. Brad Webb, commander of AETC, stated that the command will continue to “recruit and access Airmen; train candidates and enlistees in Officer Training School, ROTC and basic military training; develop Airmen in technical and flying training; and deliver advanced academic education such as the School of Advanced Air and Space Studies, Air Command and Staff College and Air War College.”

Prior to attending basic military training, potential recruits are required to undergo processing at a Military Entrance Processing Station. MEPS members have virus protocol procedures to observe and take the temperatures of all individuals entering MEPS facilities. Additionally, Air Force recruiters complete a medical prescreen of all applicants which covers all medical concerns including COVID-19.

Although they may be a little quieter, Air Force Basic Military Training graduations will continue to press on at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas. Graduation ceremonies have been closed to the public until further notice while social distancing procedures have been implemented to further protect the health and safety of Airmen.

U.S. Air Force basic military training graduates stand at attention during an Air Force BMT graduation Mar. 19, 2020, held at the 320th Training Squadron’s Airman Training Complex on Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas. Due to current world events, the 37th Training Wing has implemented social distancing by graduating 668 Airmen during four different ceremonies at different Airman Training Complexes. The graduation ceremonies will be closed to the public until further notice for the safety and security of the newly accessioned Airmen and their family members due to coronavirus (COVID-19).

U.S. AIR FORCE PHOTO

On March 19, the 37th Training Wing implemented social distancing procedures by graduating 668 Airmen using four separate ceremonies at four different Airman Training Complexes. Although the events were closed to the public, provisions were made to live stream the Air Force graduation ceremonies through the USAF Basic Military Training Facebook page.

Remaining ready on the homefront

To prevent the spread of viruses, the Air Force is urging its personnel and their families to continue practicing proper hygiene. This includes washing hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol. Also, avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands and avoid close contact with those who are sick. Cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched objects and surfaces should also be done for good measure.

For the Airmen on the flight line, social distancing procedures are rigorously enforced. Additionally, aircrews are having their temperatures taken to ensure aircraft maintain a clean environment that’s safe for their fellow Airmen.

For the latest and most reliable information regarding COVID-19, visit https://www.af.mil/News/Coronavirus-Disease-2019/.

This article originally appeared on Airman Magazine. Follow @AirmanMagazine on Twitter.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Gerard Butler totally gets why troops hate military movie mistakes

There’s nothing more irritating to troops and veterans than sitting down and watching a military film only to be distracted by inaccuracies. We’re not just talking about uniform infractions or other minor goofs — everyone makes mistakes. Sometimes, however, the scripts are just so fundamentally flawed that us veterans can’t help but start chucking things at the screen.

Thankfully, for every stinker that insists on ignoring the on-set military advisor, there’s a great film that gets it right.

The team here at We Are The Mighty recently got a chance to sit down with Gerard Butler, star and producer of the film Hunter Killer, to discuss the production crew’s commitment to portraying the lives of U.S. sailors as accurately as possible in the upcoming thriller.


The wardrobe department pulled off some outstanding attention to detail. From the bottom of our hearts at We Are The Mighty, BZ, ‘Hunter Killer’ wardrobe department! BZ!

(Summit Entertainment)

There really isn’t any better way for filmmakers to faithfully capture the essence of military life than by deferring to those who serve — and that’s exactly what Gerard Butler and the crew of Hunter Killer did throughout pre-production and rehearsal.

Butler spent three days aboard a real Virginia-class submarine, carefully watching every detail and nuance of actual submariner life to better tell their story. Even the tiny details — like the order in which commands are given — were analyzed, written down, and implemented when it came time to shoot. And when they put theory into practice, the authenticity was immediately apparent.

That extra step helped put all the actors into the frame of mind they needed to truly portray submariners in the heat of combat. Butler told us,

“We actually wrote [the details of submariner life] into the script and we realized it was a whole other character in the story. And when we started — the difference that it made!”

Butler knows full-well that the devil’s in the details when it comes to military movies. He told us about his time aboard the USS Houston, when he sat down to watch a much-beloved naval film with the sailors. It was the eye-opener to say the least.

“When I sat to watch… with the submarine crew, and they’re all like taking ownership of the movie and they’re like, ‘that’s bullsh*t!’ while the captain is like, ‘That’s sh*t! You think that’s good, but that’s bullsh*t! He’d never wear that hat! What are those stripes? He wouldn’t say that!'”

Needless to say, Butler and the rest of the Hunter Killer crew recognized how important these details are for us and our community.

Be sure to check out Hunter Killer when it’s released on October 26th.

MIGHTY CULTURE

That time a US Marine eloped with a Princess from Bahrain

There are roughly 8,500 U.S. personnel stationed at the Navy’s base in Bahrain. In 1999, one of those, Lance Cpl. Jason Johnson, faced a court-martial and legal battle to wed his beloved girlfriend, a Bahraini local named Meriam. The Marine met Meriam at a local mall and, over the objections of her family, the two continued their love affair.

The biggest problem is that Meriam’s full name is Meriam bint Abdullah al-Khalifa, and she was a member of the royal family’s house of Khalifa. So, when Lance Cpl.Johnson smuggled her out of Bahrain and into the United States, it was kind of a big deal.


It wasn’t just that she was a member of the royal family, her family’s Islamic faith was incompatible with Johnson’s Mormon beliefs. She was forbidden to marry a non-Muslim, by both her religion and her family. There was also an age difference, as Johnson was 23 years old and Meriam al-Khalifa was just 19.

There were a lot of reasons why they shouldn’t have gotten married, but with the help of a friend, they still managed to exchange letters. Their affection for one another only grew.

Until it was time for Johnson to return to the United States.

Undeterred by things like “passports” and “legal documents,” he snuck the girl into the United States with forged documents and a New York Yankees baseball hat. By the time they landed in Chicago, U.S. immigration officials were waiting for Meriam, and took her into custody.

Meriam was held for three days by customs and immigration officials. Eventually, she was granted asylum as she worried about the possibility of honor-related violence if she returned to her family.

“She does not believe that she can go back and be safe at this time,” her lawyer, Jan Bejar said at an official hearing. “All the woman did is try to leave a country that does not allow her to live with the person she wants to live with.”

The couple also made the talk show circuit.

(The Oprah Winfrey Show)

They were married just a few weeks after arriving in the United States. Weeks later, her family sent a letter, forgiving her for eloping, but not mentioning her new husband. For a while, the two lived in base housing on Camp Pendleton, but when the Marines found out what had happened, they were understandably upset with Johnson. He was court-martialed, demoted, and eventually left the Corps.

The two settled down to live their lives together in the Las Vegas area where Johnson got a job as a valet, parking cars for wealthy nightclub patrons — patrons like Meriam’s family. The al-Khalifa family hadn’t forgotten about Meriam or Johnson. The FBI alleged that the family paid an assassin half a million dollars to find Meriam and kill her.

But their married life wasn’t everything it was cracked up to be. Johnson told the Associated Press that al-Khalifa was more interested in partying in Las Vegas than she was in enjoying life with her husband, spending the money they made from selling their story to a made-for-TV movie called, The Princess and the Marine. By 2003, the whirlwind romance came to a dead stop, buried in the Las Vegas desert.

The cast of ‘The Princess and the Marine.’

Johnson filed for divorce in 2004, saying “it was what she wanted.”

Deep down inside, she knows that I loved her more than anything in the world,” Johnson told the AP. “I can say I enjoyed every minute I spent with her.”
MIGHTY CULTURE

Old Hickory vets celebrate 75th anniversary of liberation

North Carolina National Guard soldiers escorted four WWII veterans and their families to 75th-anniversary liberation celebrations Sept. 11-17, 2019.

The veterans served in the 30th Infantry Division, known as Old Hickory, and helped to liberate Belgium and the Netherlands from German occupation in September 1944.

Throughout the week, the Old Hickory veterans were honored with ceremonies, dinners, hugs, and a parade through Maastricht in the Limburg Province.

The soldiers and WWII veterans enjoyed the festivities, as well as the smaller, more personal moments.


“The most emotional part for me was when George Ham visited the spot where his battle buddy was killed,” said Maj. Kevin Hinton, deputy commander for the NCNG’s Recruiting and Retention Battalion. “George served in Charlie Company, 120th Infantry Regiment, 30th Infantry Division, and that’s who I served with in Iraq in 2004.”

WWII Veterans who served in the 30th Infantry Division, and North Carolina National Guard soldiers visit the graves of 30th Inf. Div. soldiers buried at the Netherlands American Cemetery in Margraten, the Netherlands on Sept. 12, 2019.

(Photo by Staff Sgt. Mary Junell)

Hinton, vice president of the 30th Infantry Division Association, said he felt a connection to what the WWII veteran was going through.

“Part of George’s emotion is that he was supposed to be that guy, but he switched positions,” Hinton said. “There’s probably some survivor’s guilt on his part, and I’ve been there. I understand that feeling.”

The N.C. Guard soldiers were all veterans of the same unit, having served in Iraq with the now reorganized 30th Armored Brigade Combat Team, and acted as representatives of the Guard and the 30th Infantry Division Association, a membership group for veterans of the unit.

The trip affected not only the 30th Infantry Division veterans but also currently serving soldiers who were part of the liberation celebrations.

“It gives value to my own sense of service and what I’m doing now by serving,” said Col. Wes Morrison, the North Carolina Army National Guard chief of staff. “I see that folks appreciate, across the world, what the United States Army has done for the world at different times. Your service means something and it means something to not just Americans, but people across the world.”

WWII Veterans who served with the 30th Infantry Division were honored with a ceremony and parade through the City of Maastricht in the Limburg Province of the Netherlands that ended in a festival on Sept. 14, 2019, in celebration of 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Limburg Provence by 30th Inf. Div. soldiers in September of 1944.

(Photo by Staff Sgt. Mary Junell)

The group was able to visit the same places where the 30th Infantry Division fought back the German occupation and other places where they were able to rest after almost 90 days of being on the front lines.

One of those places was the Rolduc Abbey in Kerkrade, a rest center for soldiers after the liberation. While there, some of the current Soldiers took a photo in the same courtyard where a formation of Old Hickory soldiers took a photo 75 years ago.

Hinton hoped this trip would help build a bond between the new generation of Old Hickory veterans and the people of the Limburg province to continue the tradition.

“It’s a part of the history of the 30th and the North Carolina National Guard,” Hinton said. “We need to educate our young soldiers on the history of what the 30th has done. When the WWII veterans are long gone, the U.S. and the Netherlands will still exist, and we have to maintain this and remember what they did. Like someone said in one of the speeches, the beginnings of the European Union started with the liberation and the desire for Europe to never go through that again.”

WWII Veterans who served with the 30th Infantry Division, visit the Henri-Chapelle American Cemetery and Memorial in Belgium on Sept. 15, 2019, where more than 300 Old Hickory soldiers who died during WWII are buried.

(Photo by Staff Sgt. Mary Junell)

As the soldiers, veterans, and their families prepared to travel home, many were heard to say “see you in five years,” anticipating the 80th anniversary of the liberation.

Even though the WWII veterans may no longer be able to make the trip, Morrison thought it was important the tradition continues.

“If we honor the veterans of the past, we bring more value to the service that we have today,” Morrison said. “You wear the uniform in the current unit, you’re wearing Old Hickory. You now have the responsibility of that lineage and history of that unit on your back. We can’t let them down. The history they created here, the high bar, high standard for performance of duty and what they did here, 75 years ago is something we have to keep in the back of our minds all the time.”

This article originally appeared on United States Army. Follow @USArmy on Twitter.

MIGHTY CULTURE

These are the 5 deadliest James Bonds by body count

James Bond isn’t quite as deadly on the screen as he was when we all played him on Nintendo 64’s legendary Goldeneye 007 video game, but he still made short work of any number of psychotic evildoer in the name of Her Majesty the Queen. As a matter of fact, the world’s most non-secret secret agent has killed so many people over the years it would take 38 minutes to see them all.

Luckily, someone compiled all those kills for us.


While they didn’t include a count of clever puns, we can be reasonably sure the numbers mirror one another. But there is one other thing the video didn’t break down: who was the deadliest Bond? Unless George Lazenby went on a murder rampage in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, my guess is it was probably one of the other five.

Here they are, the deadliest Bond by average kills per movie.

1. Timothy Dalton

Timothy Dalton takes a hard fall at number five here, with only two movies and 20 kills, giving him an average of 10. But Dalton does get two of the most interesting kills, one for killing someone by sealing them in a maggot-filled coffin and another kill where the murder weapon is a bust of the Duke of Wellington.

2. Sean Connery

Connery had two runs as the dashing secret agent hero, with a total of seven Bond films and an average kill count of 12.5. If Connery’s Bond is in some way riding in a motor vehicle, look out: chances are good that someone is going to meet their maker very soon.

3. Daniel Craig

While Craig may not be the deadliest Bond, he is definitely the drunkest, averaging at least five drinks per movie.

Film and Television.

4. Roger Moore

Roger Moore’s Bond is long-known to be both the quippiest and at times creepiest Bond, but he’s also the second deadliest. The Bond films with the least number of kills, The Man With The Golden Gun, and the most number of kills, Octopussy, are both Roger Moore films. Still, it wasn’t enough because even if you take out the one-kill outlier, it’s not enough to catch up with…

5. Pierce Brosnan

Pierce Brosnan’s Bond was Murder, Incorporated, far outpacing the kill rate of his nearest competitor (including one of Sean Bean’s onscreen deaths). Keep this man away from any kind of explosives or firearms, almost every time he touches one, someone in the movie goes to walk with god.

MIGHTY CULTURE

How vets kicked out under DADT can upgrade their discharges

On Sept. 20, 2011, Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was repealed. The policy served as a sort of compromise between people who wanted to continue to ban gay men and women from serving in the military, which had been the case prior to 1993, and those who felt that Americans should be eligible to serve regardless of sexual orientation.

In other words, until Sept. 20, 2011, service members were punished and even discharged with prejudice for being gay or bisexual. Now, it’s time to restore their honor and give them the benefits they deserve. Here’s how:


82-Year-Old Gay Veteran Receives Honorable Discharge

www.youtube.com

There are several different types of discharges:

  • Honorable — For service members who meet or exceed the required standards of service. An honorable discharge comes with four major benefit programs, including disability compensation and medical care as well as pension programs and education.
  • General — For service members whose performance is satisfactory but is marked by a considerable departure in duty performance and conduct. A general discharge will also come with the benefit programs available to those honorably discharged.
  • Other Than Honorable — The most severe form of administrative discharge, representing a serious departure from the conduct and performance expected of military members. The majority of veterans’ benefits are not available to individuals who receive an Other Than Honorable discharge.
  • Bad Conduct — A punitive discharge that can only be given out by a court-martial. Virtually all veterans’ benefits are forfeited by a Bad Conduct Discharge.
  • Dishonorable — A punitive discharge handed out by a court-martial for the most reprehensible conduct, including sexual assault and murder.

Downgraded discharges not only result in the loss of benefits, they carry with them shame and stigma, as well.

As reported by The Bay Area Reporter, “Advocates for LGBT veterans estimate that roughly 114,000 U.S. service members were “involuntarily separated” from the military due to their sexual orientation between the end of World War II and the repeal in 2011 of the homophobic “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy that barred LGBT people from serving openly in the military. While many of those veterans could likely qualify to correct or upgrade their discharges, just 8% had done so as of 2018, according to a report presented that April at a conference held at the Legal Services Center of Harvard Law School.”

Vets can also receive help from non-profit organizations like Modern Military Association of America, dedicated to advancing fairness and equality for the LGBTQ military and veteran community, or Swords to Ploughshares, which provides assessment and case management, employment and training, housing, and legal assistance to veterans.

Veterans are being encouraged to upgrade their discharges to finally receive the benefits they deserve. Veterans can start by reading some of the literature shared by Swords to Ploughshares about what to expect from the process. They can reach out to a non-profit to ask for help and advocacy, or they can go directly to the Veterans Affairs website and apply for a Discharge Update.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Is Putin the richest person in the world?

While many a news outlet regularly reports when Jeff Bezos and Bill Gates flip-flop as to who is the richest person in the world, with Bernard Arnault and Warren Buffet nipping at their heals, as we previously noted in our article on the richest people in history, Bezos and Gates’ combined wealth barely matches that of the known fortune of former Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi who ruled over that oil rich country for over three decades before being ousted and then killed in 2011. So how wealthy was Gaddafi? In the years since his death, so far nearly $200 billion dollars have been found in secret accounts, real estate holdings, and other investments directly belonging to him. No matter whether he acquired it ethically or not, assets are assets, and Gaddafi had the most of any known person so far this century by a huge margin.

Another individual who has more or less ruled a petroleum-rich nation for about two decades now is likewise rumored to secretly have a net worth in excess of $200 billion. We are, of course, talking about Vladimir Putin. But is Putin actually the richest person in the world, or are these just rumors?


To begin with, as you might imagine being born in the Soviet Union in 1952, Putin didn’t exactly start out life in the lap of luxury. In a bit of 1950s-era role reversal, his father was a cook and his mother a factory worker. Putin himself would grow up to join the KGB in 1975 working a variety of positions with that institution over the years. While you might envision Hollywood spy type scenarios were his daily life, in fact, according to journalist and biographer Masha Gessen, “Putin and his colleagues were reduced mainly to collecting press clippings, thus contributing to the mountains of useless information produced by the KGB.”

Putin in the KGB.

The first rumor that Putin was using a government position to stash away quite a lot of money for his own personal gain came in the early 1990s when he, in his then position as head of the Committee for External Relations at the Mayor’s Office in St. Petersburg, allegedly helped broker a million deal to acquire various food supplies for the city. In a nutshell, various companies were granted permits that would allow them to supply a huge amount of materials to foreign entities, and in exchange would be given an equivalent value back in foodstuffs to then be used within the famished city. The thing was, as far as anyone can tell, while the companies did send out the materials, no foodstuffs came back in return. The matter was ultimately investigated by one Marina Salye at the behest of the city council, with Salye in turn claiming Putin’s signature could be found authorizing the deals.

She states, “The raw materials were shipped abroad but the food didn’t materialise. There’s 100% proof that in this Putin was to blame. As a result in 1992 – when there was no food at all – the city was left with nothing. The evidence I have is as solid as it gets…. Putin – well, his committee – made bartering contacts to get food for the city. He issued licenses. And commodities – wood, metal, cotton, heating oil, and oil – flew out of the country.”

That said, while she states Putin was to blame and, at least according to her, she had definitive proof, she did not find any evidence that Putin had received anything in return for the apparently botched deals. As for Putin, he claimed the companies that had been given the export permits in the deal were to blame for foodstuffs not coming back as they were supposed to have- implying that Putin had no knowledge the deals wouldn’t be completed as originally brokered when he issued the licenses.

The city council would move forward with further investigation, but ultimately Mayor Anatoly Sobchak put a stop to it and the matter was dropped. While you’ll read in many outlets reporting this story that Salye would die of so-called natural causes mere weeks after she made these accusations and the investigation was killed, in truth she would go on to help found the Free Democratic Party of Russia and more or less continually rail against Putin to anyone in the media and public who would listen, until eventually giving up in 2000 after the election and moving to the countryside. There she lived until her death at the age of 77 in 2012, though she did give a handful of interviews during that span, still unabashedly anti-Putin.

A portrait of Marina Salye during the 2012 Protests after the 2011 Russian elections.

As for Putin, from that 1992 political position, he worked his way up to becoming one of a trio of Deputy Prime Ministers, and was known to be Boris Yeltsin’s preferred successor, despite before this being a relative unknown among the wider public. Ultimately he did indeed become president in 2000 after winning the majority vote.

Once elected, Putin, like his predecessor, reported his finances and holdings publicly, including his salary and exact amount in his many bank accounts. He has continued to do so since. The result? Over the years while his salary has changed regularly from year to year, he has made approximately 0K-0K annually in that span, for example in 2018 reporting an income of 5K. Today between his wife’s and his own accounts, the couple seem to have a little over a half a million in cash in various bank accounts, though why he isn’t investing this is rather curious given his apparent lack of any other investments and almost complete lack of actually needing any cash for his day to day life given the government foots the bill for most everything. Of this, Putin states, “Honestly speaking, I don’t even know what my salary is. They deliver it to me, I take it, put it my bank account and don’t even count it…”

As for his other assets, he also owns a studio sized apartment in Saint Petersburg, a slightly larger apartment in Moscow, owns a small garage, a couple cars, a small plot of land outside of Moscow, and otherwise has various minor assets of no great worth.

Of course, over the years people can’t help but notice that Putin has a collection of watches he wears very publicly whose purchase price combined is around that of his reported entire net worth, ringing in at about 0,000-0,000 if various reports are to be believed. For reference, the highest valued watch he has been spotted wearing costs around 0,000- a Patek Philippe Perpetual Calendar watch.

On top of that, the clothing he can often be seen wearing is likewise extremely expensive, such as his 00+ tailored suits from outlets like Kiton and Brioni. Not just expensive suits, in one photo of him working out, Putin can be seen wearing sweatpants that cost over id=”listicle-2641610333″,400 a pair, apparently made from silk, cashmere and the tears of impoverished children, along with a similarly priced top.

Giphy

On top of that, among other mansions, he is long rumored to own an estate known as “Putin’s Palace” near Praskoveevka, widely reported to be worth id=”listicle-2641610333″ billion by media outlets. However, this was actually sold in 2011 to one Alexander Ponomarenko, a former associate of Putin’s, for somewhere around 0 million. (Note, the exact amount has not been publicly disclosed, but Ponomarenko has indicated it’s in the ballpark of that widely reported figure.)

Ponomarenko purchased the estate from a group led by businessman Nikolai Shamalov. Ponomarenko claims he decided to buy the company behind the estate project, and thus the mansion, as it was a steal of a deal owing to the project being stalled from lack of funds to complete the estate and the business group wanting to cut their losses on it rather than complete it.

That said, Russian businessman Sergei Kolesnikov, who is exiled from Russia, claims the palace was built specifically for Putin’s use. He claims Putin was able to afford its construction in part thanks to a gift given him by the aforementioned Nikolai Shamalov in the form of 94% of the shares in a company called Lirus Holding. Among other personal knowledge of the development of the palace, Kolesnikov claims Shamalov himself told him this and, to quote him, “I have no reason not to believe (him).”

However, no documents concerning any ownership connected to the project seem to indicate Putin, or any holdings of Putin’s, ever were directly involved with this estate. That said, some contract documents concerning its construction allegedly have the signature of one Vladimir Kozhin, one of Putin’s inner circle of confidants. Of course, this still doesn’t definitively indicate whether Putin actually owned the palace or even was behind its building at all- simply, allegedly someone he is close to was involved in some capacity and later someone else he is close to bought it- a bit of a theme for a lot of these rumors.

Putin himself denies he had anything to do with the palace being built. Nevertheless, Putin allegedly frequents the palace and Federal Protective Service guards have been seen at the mansion, along with locals reporting seeing Putin in the area regularly.

Of course, among the extremely wealthy with such mansions, it’s not uncommon at all to allow friends to guest in one’s estates whenever they please, so Putin would not have to actually own the thing to stay there, nor would it be a big ask to do so- more or less par for the course among the exorbitantly wealthy.

That said, on top of all this estate, Putin has been connected to causing to have had built or secretly owning several other mansions, yachts, planes, etc.

Whether he actually owns any of these or, like Putin’s Palace, seemingly is just using them when he pleases, his flashing of extreme wealth in the case of his watches and other such items, along with an awful lot of not implausible allegations of widespread corruption within his government connected to him, has led to the belief that he has boatloads of money secretly stashed away in accounts throughout the world.

Giphy

Others speculate Putin is simply using the government coffers to finance all these extravagances. For many items, this would not actually be that uncommon for a major world leader, if a lot more excessive than most. For example, the replacement Air Force One planes the U.S. President will soon have at his disposal has a budget of over billion. The U.S. President also gets a pretty posh mansion (The White House) and vacations spots to go to at their leisure with the tax payer footing the bill for quite a lot of such perks with few batting an eye at this.

But, of course, the U.S. government isn’t funding 0,000 watches for the President (though bullet proof tailored suits occasionally worn by the president are presumably paid for by the U.S. taxpayer. To attempt to clarify these items, requests have been made to the Russian government asking if, for example, Putin’s watches are actually his or property of the state that he is just wearing, but no answer to this question has been given that we could find.

Whatever the case, yet others claim Putin is simply enriching many people around him and it is they who are then happy to provide Putin with anything and everything his Judo-master heart can desire.

Yet others claim it is all three- Putin is enriching himself through shady means and using government funds and people he is helping make wealthy to get whatever he wants while he’s in office.

But the question of the hour is not whether Putin’s net worth is more than he is letting on- that is very apparently true by his watch collection alone, whether he purchased them or they were gifted. The question of the hour is whether he is secretly the richest person in the world with a net worth in excess of 0 billion as so many claim.

So what does the man himself say about all these rumors? “I am the wealthiest man, not just in Europe but in the whole world…”

Case closed, right? He admitted it! Well, in truth, he wasn’t finished talking. He goes on, “I collect emotions. I am wealthy in that the people of Russia have twice entrusted me with the leadership of a great nation such as Russia. I believe that is my greatest wealth.”

Of course, whether he collects emotions or not doesn’t inherently negate the first part of that statement, simply that he considers that a greater wealth than whatever he has possession-wise.

Argue amongst yourselves whether this was Putin cleverly admitting to being the wealthiest person in the world while making it seem like he was saying he wasn’t, and also simultaneously admitting he’s a Lizard Person given a hallmark of these creatures is apparently feeding on human emotions… ?

For a more direct answer to the question about the rumors of his extreme wealth, he clarifies, “It’s just chitchat, nonsense, nothing to discuss… They picked it out of their noses and smeared it on their pieces of paper.”

The Press and Information Office of the President of the Russian Federation’s also asserts of these rumors, “This information has no substance. As you may know, the declarations of Mr. Putin’s income and property are published annually… We recommend you to use only reliable sources henceforward and not to believe fake news in 2018.”

Naturally, nobody seems satisfied with these assertions given his apparent and frequent flashing of wealth far beyond what anyone with his salary should be able to afford.

So what do others who might know a little more say? First, we have political analyst and noted critic of Putin Stanislav Belkovsky who claimed to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism in 2012 that Putin had net worth of approximately billion, though how he came up with this figure isn’t exactly definitive nor inspiring confidence in his hard knowledge here. In his own words, “The figure of billion emerged in 2007. That figure could now have changed, I believe at the level of -70 billion…. Maximum we cannot know. I suspect there are some businesses I know nothing about.”

Mildly more concrete, at least in terms of given something more specific, he also claims much of this wealth is because of Putin’s alleged 4.5% stake in Gazprom, 37% stake in Surgutneftegas, and allegedly 50% ownership of Gunvor. How he knows this, however, isn’t fully clear. Belkovsky simply states he got this information through sources he has within the companies. It’s also noted that for a time Gunvor was co-owned by a friend of Putin’s, billionaire Gennady Timchenko.

So what do the three companies say? For whatever it’s worth, Corporate Affairs Director of the Swiss-based Gunvor Group, Seth Thomas Pietras, states, “President Putin has never had any interest in, investment in, or involvement with Gunvor Group either directly or indirectly… Mr. Belkovsky’s claims are based on absolutely nothing and are fundamentally ridiculous. And the U.S. government, despite its statement has never sanctioned Gunvor in any capacity, nor has it provided any evidence of its own.”

Moving on to Surgutneftegas, they likewise deny Putin owns any shares.

Gazprom, which is majority owned by the Russian government itself, with the rest of the stock publicly traded, likewise shows no records of Putin owning any shares.

Belkovsky counters these denials by the companies and lack of records stating Putin has a rather elaborate network of off-shore companies and funds that own the shares, which all ultimately mask that he himself actually owns, or at least, controls them.

Moving on to the CEO of Hermitage Capital Management, Bill Browder, he is the one that seems to have started the widespread rumor that Putin’s personal wealth is in excess of 0 billion, stating before a Senate Judiciary Committee

I believe he is worth 0 billion. The purpose of the Putin regime has been to commit terrible crimes in order to get that money…He keeps his money in the West and all of his money in the West is potentially exposed to asset freezes and confiscation. Therefore, he has a significant and very personal interest in finding a way to get rid of the Magnitsky sanctions.

On this latter note, one of Browder’s former associates, Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, was investigating corruption within the Russian government and allegedly found evidence of various Russian officials taking part in a near quarter of a billion dollar tax fraud scheme. Magnitsky himself was then arrested for allegedly being the mastermind behind the tax fraud, and died while in jail before his trial. At the partial encouragement of Browder, the U.S. then passed the Magnitsky Act in 2009. In an oversimplified nutshell, this allows the U.S. government to sanction various individuals thought to be human rights offenders, ban them from entering the U.S., and more importantly freeze their assets where the government is able. The bill was essentially meant to allow the government to legally hold somewhat accountable those thought to have been involved in Magnitsky’s death.

As for hard data, however, Browder offers little.

Next up, noted economist Anders Aslund, author of the book Russia’s Crony Capitalism: The Path from Market Economy to Kleptocracy, states, “I would estimate that Putin is worth around 0-160 billion. We can see that Putin and his friends have taken -15 billion from Gazprom every year since 2004. That’s just Gazprom. There are large numbers of transactions being made… What’s much more difficult is to see where the money goes. It’s typically Cyprus, Cayman Islands, British Virgin Islands and Willmington, Delaware…”

(Kremlin.ru)

As to how he came up with these figures, he states, “My assessment is that since Putin’s circle got its looting fully organized around 2006, they have extracted -25 billion a year, reaching a total of 5-325 billion, a large share of the Russian private offshore wealth. Presuming that half of this wealth belongs to Putin, his net wealth would amount to 0-160 billion. Naturally, Putin and his cronies cannot enjoy their wealth. It is all about power. If they are not the wealthiest, they fear they will lose power.”

Why he assumes Putin would get half of these alleged amounts instead of some other percentage isn’t fully clear.

On that note, like so many before, nobody seems to be able to actually offer hard evidence that Putin has any money stashed away anywhere not publicly known, which when talking sums of allegedly 0 billion, is a pretty neat trick for someone who has been so highly scrutinized, including by the U.S. Senate, who presumably if they wanted could just ask the CIA or other entities good at collecting such data to look into it. Given, instead, they are asking the likes of Browder, it has been presumed and widely claimed, that the CIA and other such government entities have no definitive intelligence on this either.

From this lack of a paper trail directly linking money or assets to Putin, yet his clearly lavish lifestyle indicating he does indeed have access to an awful lot of money, this has led many to conclude that Putin himself doesn’t actually officially own most or all of the wealth attributed to him, but rather he is leveraging his position and connections to enrich those close to him who, in their gratitude, are then more than happy to provide Putin with any money or items he wants, from access to mansion to yachts to sweatpants that keep his Judo-jubblies ultra comfortable when working out.

As alleged evidence for this, we turn to 11.5 million documents from the Panama Mossack Fonseca law firm made public in 2016, dealing in off-shore holdings by over 200,000 entities. While Putin himself is not listed in any of them, the documents do reveal three close associates of Putin’s among those having off-shore holdings partially managed by the law firm, with a combined amount of around billion between the trio.

Despite not owning these assets, there are many claims by various individuals that Putin uses some of these like his “personal bank account”, most notably the holdings of a man claimed by many in the media as Putin’s best friend- famed Russian musician and conductor Sergei Roldugin. Not just a friend, Roldugin is also the godfather to one of Putin’s children and was the man who introduced Putin to Putin’s wife.

As for where Roldugin supposedly got his extreme wealth, beyond his noted music career, starting in the 1990s Roldugin began investing in various oil and other business entities, to great success. Beyond all of this, in 2019, Roldugin also was accused of being involved in a massive multi-billion dollar money laundering scheme in conjunction with Sberbank CIB, which allegedly profited him greatly.

That said, for those using these records as proof of Putin having money elsewhere via his associates, it should be again noted these are the records of well over 200,000 entities throughout the world. And the vast majority who are using the firm are doing so completely legitimately, including actor Jackie Chan who reportedly had six perfectly above board off-shore companies the law firm helped manage various facets of. So that three among Putin’s numerous friends who are exorbitantly wealthy should be included isn’t necessarily proof of anything other than they wanted to have some assets outside of Russia, which isn’t uncommon among the wealthy in Russia. As some formerly close to Putin who have had their assets stripped and forced to flee the country demonstrate, having some off-short holdings is probably a good security blanket of sorts, just in case.

Giphy

On this note, political scientist professor and author of Putin’s Kleptocracy, Karen Dawisha, stated before her death from lung cancer in 2018, “Why is it that 0 billion left the country last year? Because they believe that their wealth can only be secured in the long term outside their own country.”

Coming back to the posed question of whether Putin is secretly the richest person in the world, whether these funds are being held for him or not, this is still not Putin’s money, not just technically, but we’re guessing regardless of the amount of good-will Putin has built up with these various businessmen and women, should he no longer be in power, they might quickly find themselves less than willing to continue to support his lifestyle, if that is what has been happening as is widely believed. And some speculate he might even find himself in a rather unsafe circumstance in that case.

For example, one-time billionaire and the man formerly known as “Putin’s banker”, but now exiled from Russia, Sergei Pugachev, says “Everything that belongs to the territory of the Russian Federation Putin considers to be his. Everything – Gazprom, Rosneft, private companies. Any attempt to calculate it won’t succeed. He’s the richest person in the world until he leaves power.”

As for leaving power, he goes on that Putin chose not to leave office after his first term and beyond, not because of a desire for continued power, but rather because he feared for his own safety should he no longer be in that position. Even today, Pugachev claims, “I don’t see any guarantees for him [if he steps down]. Putin doesn’t see them either,” which is why he finds it unlikely that Putin will ever willingly leave office. Though it should be noted that Putin himself has stated he will not be running for president at the end of his current term in 2024.

Also for whatever it’s worth, Pugachev, despite having billions stripped from himself by the Russian government, being currently in fear for his life, and in exile, states, in his opinion, Putin himself is not evil, nor did Putin originally plan to setup a corrupt government when he took power, simply that, “He surrounded himself with like-minded people whom he didn’t know very well and who had served with him in the KGB. They immediately began enriching themselves….Putin wanted to get rich, too. He was a pragmatic person. We talked about this. He didn’t want to leave office poor.”

As for the Russian government’s position with regards to Pugachev, it is claimed that Pugachev defrauded the government of hundreds of millions of dollars which is why the one-time bosom-buddy of Putin originally had to go on the run.

Pugachev counters, “The state steals something then has to defend its theft. In my case the scale is huge, but in other respects this is a normal contemporary practice in Russia.” This has all left the one-time billionaire with, by his own account, only about million to his name which he kept in off-shore holdings. It must be rough…

In truth, this amount is unfortunate for him because Pugachev allegedly was offered a deal from a Russian official that if he paid 0 million to certain entities, his legal issues in Russia would be made to be resolved to his benefit and he could return to Russia.

Further siding in the camp that Putin doesn’t have hundreds of billions stashed away he officially owns, the aforementioned Karen Dawisha, who perhaps gives some of the best account and most concrete details of the alleged corruption within the Russian government in her Putin’s Kleptocracy book, states that Putin’s real wealth comes from his position. “He takes what he wants, When you are the president of Russia you don’t need a written contract. You are the law.”

Again backing up this position, financial investigator L. Burke Files, states, “Putin controls wealth through proxies.” He then makes up examples to illustrate, “Sergey owes his fortune to Putin, so when Putin asks Sergey a favor, the favor must be honored. A luxury cruise, use of a private dacha, expensive consumer goods, etc….Ivan owns a shipping company and owes his wealth to Putin, so when Putin requests a favor, Ivan— like Sergey—honors the request.”

So, is Putin the richest person in the world? While, as Gaddafi demonstrated, it is possible to squirrel away 0 billion secretly, given the level of scrutiny thrown Putin’s way by governments the world over looking into the matter, with nobody seemingly able to come up with any hard evidence, most think this figure grossly inflated, though it is generally accepted that he probably does have at least some significant amount stashed away somewhere.

For most, however, the explanation for his rather luxurious lifestyle is more reasonably explained by the simple fact that he can pretty much have the Russian government foot the bill for anything he wants without much uproar or oversight. And it does seem like an awful lot of his compatriots have gotten exceedingly wealthy during his tenure at least in part thanks to their connections with Putin and him leveraging his position to help facilitate their enrichment. Thus, if that is what has happened, it’s reasonable enough that many of those are happy to scratch his back whenever he feels the need for a new yacht or the like, without Putin needing to have anything in his name to avoid the backlash that would result should he be discovered to have such.

But as to answering the question of Putin’s own wealth, as the consensus seems to be that most of his wealth is tied up in his position and associates, rather than funds he directly has, it seems a bit of a stretch to call him the richest man in the world, though not a stretch at all if talking the money he currently has strong influence over. His position as President of Russia alone would be enough for that.

And as to the idea that he really does have 0 billion simply being held in other people’s names, as alluded to, we’re guessing even if many of these individuals are actually holding money for Putin, that should he step down from power and ask for that money be given to him en masse, or even remain in power and ask for a combined sum of 0 billion, that shortly thereafter memorials and monuments would be being built for the former Russian leader who sadly died in his sleep of natural causes…

Thus, to sum up, while given his lifestyle and various possessions, Putin most definitely does have access to quite a lot of wealth between the Russian government and a lot of friends in high and wealthy places, when talking his own assets, there simply isn’t any real hard data to date backing up the claim that he is the wealthiest person in the world. And, while not impossible certainly, it would be quite the hat trick to squirrel away a couple hundred billion without any world governments able to find hard evidence that he owns a dime of it. Of course, while some might argue access to vast sums should still count- access is not ownership, even if one can benefit from it on some level.

In the end, unless he really is one of the Lizard People, he’s probably not immortal, so at some point in the next few decades he will shuffle off this mortal coil and, perhaps then, like Gaddafi, more definitive data will be revealed. Or perhaps sooner when he no longer has the protection of his position in 2024, as he is constitutionally unable to run for the presidency that year. Although, of course he could always do as he did in 2008 and take a different position while remaining in power.

Whatever the case, for now, at least, while it is technically possible he does have 0 billion in secret, and even probable that he has drastically more than he is letting on publicly, which isn’t difficult given his paltry public assets for a man in his position, given the current data at hand, the needle is seemingly tilted more towards Gates and Bezos being wealthier than Putin, at least in terms of money and assets they officially own.

This article originally appeared on Today I Found Out. Follow @TodayIFoundOut on Twitter.

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MIGHTY CULTURE

6 things that made the Infantry Training Battalion terrible

For the ten days immediately after you graduate Marine Corps boot camp, you’ll feel like the world’s biggest badass. That brief high comes to a crashing halt when you report to the School of Infantry. If you’re a poor crayon-eater who signed an infantry contract, you go to the Infantry Training Battalion. You’ll arrive thinking that becoming a Marine means you’ve been given superhuman abilities only to very quickly find your all-too-human limits.

There, you’ll be deprived of sleep (yet again) and you won’t be fed on a regular schedule. It’s not a fun experience, but you’ll come out the other side a better warrior, a lethal Marine. Still, that doesn’t mean we should ignore all the following reasons why the Infantry Training Battalion is terrible.


In retrospect, boot camp isn’t so bad…

(U.S. Marine Corps)

You thought boot camp was as bad as it gets…

…and you were wrong. So, so wrong. Your Drill Instructors built you up to think that earning the title of Marine was the toughest task on Earth. You used that promise to reason with yourself — nothing else will ever be this bad, right? Then you get to the School of Infantry and realize that boot camp was only the worst time of your life up until that point.

Spoiler alert: You’re not as tough as you think you are.

(U.S. Marine Corps)

You’ll show up cocky

There’s a level of pride that comes with becoming a Marine. Fresh out of boot camp, many of us take that pride a step too far and become just plain cocky. When you get to SOI, you learn the hard way the pride comes before the fall. You’re quickly put in place and realize you’re just a small detail in a much bigger picture. You are far from the toughest guy around.

Truth hurts.

You actually get some time off

West Coasters know what we’re talking about — you get your weekends, if you’re lucky enough to be spared the wrath of your Combat Instructors, that is. This sounds like a good thing, but it makes Sunday mornings unbearable. Dread sets in as you anticipate the return of the week… and your Combat Instructors.

You’re sleep deprived the entire time

In boot camp, Drill Instructors are required to allow you eight hours of sleep per night — with the exception of the Crucible. Maybe that’s a rule for Combat Instructors, too, but, if you’re a grunt, it sure as hell doesn’t seem like it is. You’ll find yourself standing in front of your wall locker at 2 a.m. wondering what the f*** you’re doing.

Combat instructors are just… scary.

(U.S. Marine Corps)

The Combat Instructors are scarier

Drill Instructors are scary at first, but you get used to them. Your Combat Instructors are plain terrifying and they never stop being that way, not even after you graduate.

You get used to them after a while.

(U.S. Marine Corps)

You eat MREs all day

Nobody likes MREs — nobody. This sucks, but it’s best to consider it training in its own right because, as a grunt, you’re going to eat a lot of them.

Still, that doesn’t make them taste any less like cardboard dog sh*t.

MIGHTY CULTURE

The 13 funniest military memes for the week of June 8

So, I finally got around to binge-watching Netflix’s Space Force recently. It’s nowhere near as bad as critics are making it out to be. The writers knew enough about military culture to poke fun at our soon-to-be real sister branch while simultaneously giving it a solid storyline to keep me invested. And, uh. Yeah. That’s about it. Pretty solid and I enjoyed it. I hope it gets a second season, but I hope it can flesh out some of its side characters a bit more.

If you can’t tell, my normal schtick of riffing on military news in the opener of these memes pieces is going to be a lose/lose situation this time for fairly obvious reasons. There are many more voices out there that could probably articulate the proper words for this situation far better than I could. I don’t want to take anything away from those conversations. I curate memes and practice a stand-up routine that will probably never get me to a late-night writer gig. I think I’m funny, but I’m probably not.


But that’s why we love memes, isn’t’ it? It’s a brief distraction from the sh*tstorm of daily life and outside is currently a Cat-5 Sh*ticane. It’s the slight exhale of breath at a mildly funny meme followed by a, “Heh. That sucks. I remember doing that sh*t.” That gets us through whatever we’re doing. Memes won’t undo whatever it is that’s going on around us, but it’s a good quick break from it all.

So just sit back. Relax. And remember what Bill and Ted taught us… Just be excellent to each other. Anyways, here’s some memes.

(Meme via Army as F*ck)

(Meme via Disgruntled Vets)

(Meme via US Army WTF Moments Memes)

(Meme via Not CID)

(Meme via I Am an American Soldier)

(meme via The Enlisted Club)

(Meme via The Army’s Fckups)

(Meme via Coast Guard Memes)

(Meme via Private News Network)

(Meme via Decelerate Your Life)

(Meme via Pop Smoke)

(Meme via US Space Force WTF Moments)

(Meme via Air Force Nation Humor)

MIGHTY CULTURE

7 veterans that can really hook you up in your civilian life

It’s always appreciated when civilians go out of their way to thank a veteran, but when veterans look out for each other — even if they’ve never met — great things can happen. A Vietnam-era sailor could welcome in a Post 9/11-era soldier with open arms. A Desert Storm Marine could go out of their way to aid a Korean War airman. Veterans of all eras are family to all other veterans.

The bond is something that comes from shared experience; serving in the military is unique, both as a life event and as a professional move. Other veterans understand that and can help navigate anything from benefits to healing to hooking a brother up.


Civilians have gotten better about not asking the “have you killed anyone” question but it’s never not awkward.

College classmates

Getting out and using your GI Bill can be an abrupt transition. One moment every detail of your life is dictated to you by Uncle Sam and the next you’re surrounded by college kids who’re asking if your time in was like Call of Duty. Finding a veteran friend in college makes it at least a little smoother.

In the great unknown of civilian life, vets will stick together as close as if they served together.

Even if they’re not a veteran, they still have the same sense of humor as us.

(Bath Township Police Department)

Police officers

There are countless veterans who hung up their green uniforms and put on a blue one. Chances are good that the police officer who pulled you over for speeding might also be a veteran. If you play your cards right, they may let you off the hook with just a warning.

Don’t ever assume you can play the veteran card at every opportunity, though. If you pull the “well, actually officer, I’m a veteran” move, they still might just thank you for your service and hand you the ticket. You’ve got to be subtle and let the officer figure it out that you’re a veteran or else they’ll stare at you like the entitled fool you’re being.

Don’t ruin your friendship with a vet bouncer when a drunk civilian friend opens their mouth.

Security guards or bouncers

Another common job for the gym rat grunts is to work security, and if you’re lucky they just might be working at your favorite bar or club. They won’t help you out if you’re trespassing but they could probably let you slide through if you’re, say, at a concert or waiting in a long line.

If you’ve got a light sprinkling of veteran on you (like a memorial band, “veteran” on your driver’s license, or a shirt that only vets would understand), then they can even slip you into the club without paying a cover.

…or so I’ve been told.

Personal fitness trainers

Getting back into shape is a chore most veterans still keep up with. If they’re looking for someone to help give the right push, they can get a personal fitness trainer at a gym. Finding another veteran who became a trainer makes working out so much easier because you can both speak the same language.

Most trainers need to break everything down Barney-style to the people who only ever go to the gym once a year. It’s even worse when the civilian gets offended by “verbal motivation.” Just clicking back to NCO mode will benefit both of you.

Retail workers

Let’s be realistic. Not every veteran gets out and becomes millionaire beer tasters, bikini model judges, or woodsmen. Some end up in the service industry to help pay the never ending stream of bills. Finding another veteran when your usual clientele raise hell and demand to speak to the manager makes life so much easier.

Spark up a normal human conversation with them. Be friendly. They may even let you use their discount or toss you a free meal.

Many years out and even the old-timers can hang with the young troops.

Bar-goers

Back in the barracks, it was a 24/7 party. Booze flowed freely and our tip top shape bodies were able to make the hangovers less severe. Fast forward many years down the line and the same vets will frequent their local bars.

Spark up a conversation with a vet and you’ll quickly make a friend. Chances are that the other vet will buy your next round just for being a brother.

Potential bosses

If there’s any one person you want to have on your side immediately is the person hiring you for a position. If they notice on your resume that you’re also a veteran and can back up whatever you wrote on it, you’re golden.

The civilian workplace is very much a “good ‘ol boy” system that relies on who you know rather than what you know. Getting that leg up on everyone else is going to take you far.

MIGHTY CULTURE

5 episodes of the Jocko Podcast you can’t miss

Jocko Willink’s podcast “Jocko Podcast” hits hard, talks openly and bluntly about real topics and is unapologetic for every bit of it. These are the stories that need to be told and heard, especially by the military community. Tuning in requires headspace because the content flowing through your ears is so completely captivating that the monotonous life dragging on the other side of your ear buds becomes unimportant.

With well over 200 episodes, there’s a lot of ground to cover. Instead of going for an all-time must listen to list, we opted for our top five out of our recent listening history.


#221 Jonny Kim

In this episode, Jonny Kim — United States Navy lieutenant, physician and NASA astronaut — tells story after story, unimaginable events that are scattered throughout his young life that had every right to break him but didn’t. Kim’s outlook on these pivotal moments are completely inspiring, humbling and exactly why he’s accomplished all that he has.

He talks eloquently and intelligently through failed endeavors and perspective gained that we’re sitting here wondering how in the world he doesn’t have his own book already, let alone motivational speeches written from his comments.

Another unbelievable point in Kim’s story is the unplanned paths that led him to become a Navy SEAL, Doctor and Astronaut. Instead, he speaks clearly on specific events that shaped his journey and have led him to the next chapter in an already remarkable life.

#219 Ruth Schindler

Stories of the Holocaust are fading in both media, airwaves, and from the survivors themselves as time passes on. In this episode, like many others, Willink reads excerpts from the guest’s book and discusses passages in depth. Ruth Schindler’s book, “Two Who Survived” is the dual story of both her and her husband’s separate experiences as Auschwitz Holocaust survivors.

Reminding ourselves of both the magnitude and depth of the horrors experienced less than 100 years ago is critical to ensure nothing remotely close ever occurs again.

#118 Dan Crenshaw

Texas Congressman and former Navy SEAL Dan Crenshaw’s interview details a lot about the grit and determination of a warrior. From losing an eye in combat to running a successful first-time congressional campaign on a shoestring budget, this man knows how to push ahead.

Fun fact, Willink was one of Crenshaw’s BUDS instructors and the two discuss the dynamic in this episode. The interview goes on to discuss the differences in each’s paths to becoming a SEAL and how each approached life before and after. He’s on in episode #222 too.

#192 Sean Parnell

Leadership. Willink wrote an entire book dedicated to its ins and outs. This episode with Sean Parnell, author of “Outlaw Platoon,” talks a great deal about various seasons and types of leadership as the book is read throughout the episode.

Combat forges men in ways known and unknown to those undergoing its transformation. Who emerges on the other side says a lot about what’s in a man’s heart, in his soul. Jarring experiences and the forging of a seasoned soldier make up quite a bit of the air space in this episode. It’s a long talk, but well worth every minute.

#115 Dakota Meyer

Like we said up top, make headspace when you’re listening. The reading from Dakota Meyer’s book “Into the Fire” is emotional and vivid. There’s a refreshing amount of honesty going on when Meyer discusses his separation from the Marine Corps, PTSD and finding a new path after service.

This episode tops a lot of charts for good reason. Meyer’s book describes events surrounding a single choice- the choice to head in the direction everyone was trying to escape to look for his team. Revisiting the events of a single day in such detail will have you holding on to every word, analyzing every detail alongside Willink and Meyer in awe.

Honestly, there’s no wrong choice when listening. Pick up anywhere and you’ll find motivation, strength and zero bull. It’s American, it’s raw, it’s real.

MIGHTY CULTURE

7 ways Navy SEALs overcome sleep deprivation

Growing evidence suggests that poor sleep habits harm our health, our relationships, and even our jobs. So if you’re having trouble sleeping, then it’s time to get back to the basics — military style.

Special operators, who are sent on the US military’s most dangerous assignments, must sleep when they can and often face extreme sleep deprivation to complete their missions. Whether you’re a new parent, have a stressful job, or are dealing with a difficult situation, there’s a lot you can learn from these elite operators.


To get a sense of how to sleep like a champ in the worst situations, we pored over sleep techniques for special operators and interviewed a former Navy SEAL who trains pro athletes, firefighters, and police tactical teams on how they maximize their performance.

“There’s not a harder job out there than being a mom or dad, working or stay at home,” said Adam La Reau, who spent 12 years as a Navy SEAL and is a cofounder of O2X Human Performance, a company that trains and advises groups from the Chicago Blackhawks to the Boston Fire Department. “There’s definitely a sleep debt that could occur over time.”

Small tweaks to your routine — what La Reau called “1% changes” in a March 19, 2019 phone interview — will make a huge difference to your sleep.

These are the basics of sleep boot camp. Know these before you nod off.

An airman catches some zzz’s on a C-17 Globemaster flight.

(US Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Jordan Castelan)

Have a presleep game plan.

“It’s like a warm-up routine you do for a work out,” La Reau said. He then ticked off a list of do-nots: eat within two hours before bed, stare at bright lights, or start playing “Fortnite.”

During this time, La Reau suggests activities that will calm your nerves, maybe reading, meditation, listening to music, or dimming the lights.

Definitely: turn off your electronics.

TV watchers, e-tablet readers, “Fortnight” gamers — “They’re getting crushed with light,” La Reau, whose O2X team includes a half-dozen sleep scientists. “And that’s just going to disrupt their circadian rhythm, it’s going to trick your body into thinking it’s day and your body should be up.”

La Reau recommends writing a daily list to help you mentally prepare for the next day.

(US Navy photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Abe McNatt)

Put together a list or a reminder of what you need to do the next day.

We all have a lot going on, especially new parents. La Reau says you need to tackle that head-on.

In the hours before bed, put together a list or reminder of what you need to do the next day.

“Every time I go home, I have a list of what I need to do the next day … I feel like I’m prepared when I wake up in the morning,” La Reau said. “I know exactly what I’m going to do, and I sleep better at night for it.”

Aerobic exercise boosts the amount of rejuvenating deep sleep you receive, according to researchers at the John Hopkins Center for Sleep.

(US Navy photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Abe McNatt)

Exercise is important, but do it well before bedtime.

Obviously. These are Navy SEALs.

The Navy SEALs’ Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL training is notoriously exhausting.

(US Navy photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Abe McNatt)

Sleep when you can.

One military sleep manual advises special operators to use the lulls in combat to nap. “Uninterrupted sleep for as little as 10 minutes may partially recover alertness,” the Naval Health Research Center report said.

A nap can boost your energy but don’t zonk out too close to your bedtime, La Reau said.

“Naps are really helpful, and any sleep is better than no sleep at all,” La Reau said. “When the baby takes a nap, that could be a good time for you to take a nap.”

Just think of it as a lull in combat.

Set yourself up for nighttime right.

(US Army photo by Scott T. Sturkol)

Get a high-quality mattress, black-out shades, and a white-noise machine.

“The bedroom should be a sanctuary for sleeping and relaxation and recovery, it’s not to be used as an accessory or a work station,” La Reau said.

He suggests black-out shades, a white-noise machine, and a quality mattress.

“Sleeping on a high-quality mattress is the best investment you’ll ever make,” he said.

Light from devices such as your phone can delay the release of the hormone melatonin, which regulates when you’re tired.

(Photo illustration by Senior Airman Destinee Sweeney)

Put away that phone. Seriously.

It’s not just because of that blue light, either. It’s about stress. You want to use the two hours before bed to relax and unwind — not get yourself worried.

“If you’re going to check your email and you realize you have 10 emails — that doesn’t help you be very settled at night,” La Reau said.

Recognize when you’re exhausted and ask others to help you.

(US Navy photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Abe McNatt)

Sleep can be a team sport.

An exhausted parent needs to recognize it and call in reinforcements: friends, family, or their partner.

“I think there’s opportunities to have those open and honest conversations,” La Reau said. “Be like, ‘You know, I’ve got a huge meeting tomorrow, I’m on a long period of travel, I’ve got a lot going on,’ or someone’s just completely exhausted.”

“‘Let me take care of all issues that come up with the kids tonight.'”

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