Which military branch SHOULD you join? - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY CULTURE

Which military branch SHOULD you join?

So you’re thinking about joining the military. Good for you, you little patriot! Whether it’s for the experience or the benefits or maybe just the emptiness inside you that makes you want to be a hero call to serve a higher good, the military has a lot to offer.

But not all military experiences are equal. There’s a major difference between being a Marine Scout Sniper and an Air Force Linguist. Both have pros and cons, so let’s talk about some of them, starting with the culture and mission of each branch.

Keep in mind that these are broad generalizations. A Special Operations mission in any branch will differ significantly from, say, a Public Affairs perspective, which will also influence the training requirements and deployment tempos for the individual.


As a note, this article was written based on a compilation of Department of Defense publications, interviews with veterans and my own experience. It cannot cover everyone’s experience, so it’s important to do your own research and talk to veterans (not just the first recruiting officer you meet).

As an additional note, the Boot Camp descriptions here are for enlisted personnel – officers have shorter boot camps because they undergo less academic training during boot camp itself and more during additional officer training. This isn’t the only difference between being an officer and an enlisted member; from the mission to the pay to the benefits, the experiences are extremely varied — once you’ve found a branch you like, make sure you check out our article about commissioning compared to enlisting.

If you want to join the military, it’s wise to reflect on why that is and what you want your life and job to look like. This is a good place to start:

What New Marine Corps Recruits Go Through In Boot Camp

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U.S. MARINE CORPS

Boot Camp:

“What you’re really made of can only be revealed at the brink of exhaustion. Marine Recruit Training will take you there. Only those who possess the never-quit spirit required of every Marine will find the strength they never knew they had, the willpower they never knew they needed and the commitment to find that second wind even when it hurts to breathe to overcome the Marine boot camp requirements.”

Phase One — Weeks 1-4

Recruits transition from civilian to military life with strenuous physical training and martial arts as well as Marine Corps history and classes. They learn Marine Corps culture and values, including how to wear the uniform and handle weapons.

Phase Two — Weeks 5-9

The second phase consists of combat skills and marksmanship training. Recruits undergo gas chamber training and the Crucible.

Phase Three — Weeks 10-13

Recruits undergo specialty training such as combat water survival and defensive driving.

Physical Fitness Test:

  1. Pull-ups or push-ups (as many as you can; you can only max out on pull-ups — with push-ups you can get a maximum score of 70 points)
  2. Crunches or plank pose (as many crunches as possible in two minutes or holding plank pose for up to four minutes and twenty seconds)
  3. Timed run (three mile run in 28 minutes or less for men, 31 minutes or less for women)

Combat Fitness Test:

  1. Movement to Contact (timed 880-yard sprint)
  2. Ammunition Lift (lift 30-pound ammo can as many times as possible overhead in set amount of time)
  3. Maneuver Under Fire (300-yard course that combines battle-related challenges)

Deployments: The Marines remain at a 1:2 deployment-to-dwell ratio (or 1 year deployed with 2 years at home), which Commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps General Robert Neller referred to as “unsustianable.” The goal is to achieve a 1:3 deployment-to-dwell ratio.

Culture: Marines are trained for combat and they are very good at that mission, which they should be proud of.

Unfortunately, the Marine Corps still struggles with health and care of its service members. A 2018 Annual Suicide Report showed the Marine Corps had the highest rate of active duty suicides, with a rate of 31.4 per 100,000 (compared to the Army with 24.8, Navy with 20.7 and Air Force with 18.5).

The Marine Corps also had the highest reporting rate of sexual assault with 5.7 percent, followed by the Army at 5.5 percent, Navy at 4.8 percent and the Air Force at 4.3 percent.

What Army Recruits Go Through At Boot Camp

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U.S. ARMY

Boot Camp:

Army Basic Combat Training comes in three phases and lasts about ten weeks depending on your military occupational specialty (MOS) — in other words, your job for the Army.

During the Red Phase, you learn the basics about Army life, such as how to wear the uniform and comport yourself. You also get your ass in line with physical readiness training and formation marching. Also, as a treat, you get your introduction to Chemical Radioactive Biological and Nuclear readiness, including getting gassed proper usage of breathing masks.

During the White Phase, you receive weapons and hand-to-hand combat training. You continue your physical readiness training, including obstacle courses and rappelling from the 50-foot Warrior Tower.

During the Blue Phase, you receive advanced weapons training, including machine guns and live grenades. You embark on a multiple-day land navigation course to test your survival skills. If you pass all of your challenges, you become a fully qualified Army Soldier. Huzzah.

Physical Fitness Test:

  1. Two minutes of push-ups
  2. Two minutes of sit-ups
  3. Timed two mile run

Army Combat Fitness Test:

  1. 3 repetition maximum deadlift
  2. Standing Power Throw
  3. Hand release push up arm extension
  4. Sprint-Drag-Carry
  5. Leg Tuck
  6. Two mile run
Deployments: The Army has maintained a high operations tempo when it comes to deployments. Current high deployment thresholds consist of 220 days deployed out of the previous 365 days, or 400 days deployed out of the previous 730 days.

In 2017, the Secretary of Defense’s standard was a 1 to 2 deploy-dwell ratio — or one year deployed with two years at home, for example — with the “red line” at 1 to 1. At the time, that ratio was at about 1 to 1.2 or 1.3, according to Army Times. It isn’t uncommon to expect 12-18 month deployments.

Culture: Like the Marine Corps, the U.S. Army has a proven history on the battlefield. Soldiers are trained to operate under a “suck it up” attitude to endure long deployments and combat as well as physical and mental stress. The Army has the second highest reported incidents of suicide and sexual assault, just behind the Marine Corps. Anyone joining the Army can expect to join a branch with a proud lineage, but it’s wise to evolve your own sense of self-care and to learn how to protect your health and the health of your battle buddies.
US Air Force Recruit BOOT CAMP Documentary

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U.S. AIR FORCE

Basic Military Training:

Air Force BMT consists of eight and a half weeks where recruits are introduced to military life through academics and uniform wear as well as physical fitness and weapons training. Academics and certifications, such as learning the Code of Conduct and becoming CPR certified, remain peppered throughout training.

Air Force recruits will complete a Tactical Assault Course and M9 pistol training, but unlike the Army or the Marine Corps, airmen are not required to qualify on the weapon during BMT. Active duty enlisted personnel and officers will qualify on their weapon only as required by their job or deployment status.

Compared to the Marine Corps and Army and even the Navy or Coast Guard, with firefighting and water survival, the Air Force BMT is probably the least strenuous of the branch boot camps.

Physical Fitness Test:

  1. One minute of push ups
  2. One minute of sit-ups
  3. Timed one and a half mile run

Note that this test is less strenuous than the Army/Navy/Marine Corps fitness tests. Soldiers and Marines are more likely to become “boots on the ground” in combat zones.

Deployments: The Air Force maintains an Air and Space Expeditionary Force (AEF) deploy-to-dwell tempo system, depending on career fields: The deployment categories are called tempo bands. Air Force officials have created five tempo bands: A through E. Tempo Band A reflects the original AEF cycle of a 1:4 dwell ration based on 120-day deployments. Bands B through E are based on 179-day deployments. Tempo band B is a 1:4 dwell ratio — or six months deployed 24 months home. Tempo band C is a 1:3 dwell, band D is a 1:2 dwell and band E, reserved for the most stressed career fields, is a 1:1 dwell, or six months out, six months in.

Culture: Other branches like to tease the “Chair Force” due to its reputation for cleaner housing and higher quality chow halls. The average Air Force mission will be less physically strenuous or dangerous than that of the Marine Corps or Army.

You might say the Air Force operates with the motto of “work smarter not harder,” and for better or for worse, this pays off. In recent reports, the Air Force had the lowest number of active duty suicides and sexual assaults. That being said, if you want to join the military to get in the fight and kick down doors in a combat zone, there are few Air Force positions available.

Boot Camp: Behind The Scenes at Recruit Training Command (Full documentary, 2019)

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U.S. NAVY

Boot Camp:

Recruit training or “boot camp” is about seven weeks long for the U.S. Navy. It will include physical fitness and Navy heritage, as well as seamanship and firearms training. The first two weeks are a challenging adjustment period filled with medical screenings and physical training as well as military education, including uniform wear and rank recognition.

The next four weeks include class and hands-on training environments that cover everything from firefighting and shipboard damage control to water survival and weapons training. Navy sailors aboard a ship must know how to respond to ship emergencies including flooding and fires as well as how to survive at sea. Every sailor is a qualified swimmer, able to swim 50 yards and complete a five minute prone float.

The final hurdle for Navy recruits is called Battle Stations, which includes numerous obstacles to test everything learned in the weeks prior.

Physical Readiness Test:

(Note, in 2020, the U.S. Navy will be introducing changes to the PRT)

  1. 1.5 mile run for time
    1. Alternate per commander’s discretion: 500 yard swim for time
    2. Alternate per commander’s discretion: Stationary cycle calorie burn in 12 minutes
    3. Alternate per commander’s discretion: 1.5 mile treadmill; run/walk for time
    4. (2020 alternate per commander’s discretion: 2 kilometer row machine test)
  2. Two minutes of curl-ups
    1. (To be replaced by forearm plank test)
  3. Two minutes of push ups
Deployments: Deployments will depend on what type of ship and mission sailors are assigned to, but they are often around seven months and during that time, sailors might not see land for long periods of time. While at sea, there are no breaks: you stand a 6-12 hour watch, even on Sundays, although there are often “holiday routines” with modified shifts. Ship/shore rotation tends to happen after about three years, depending on the job. Some career fields have longer ship rotations and some have only shore duty stations. It’s important to research ahead of time to try to secure the best job suited for you and your capabilities.

Culture: Navy ships especially continue to operate in historical fashions, so change is slow. Segregation of ranks is still strictly enforced (junior enlisted does not mingle with senior enlisted and fraternization with officers is especially prohibited in such close quarters). While women do serve at all ranks, there is still sexism and harassment in alarming numbers (though statistically less than the Marine Corps and the Army).

What It Takes To Survive Coast Guard Boot Camp

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U.S. COAST GUARD

Boot Camp:

U.S. Coast Guard boot camp consists of eight weeks that begin with military and physical fitness fundamentals and mature to hands-on application of Coast Guard proficiencies. Recruits learn firefighting and marksmanship as well as seamanship and water survival. Recruits must pass a three part swimming test (swim circuit) that includes a six-foot jump followed by a 100 meter swim and treading water for five minutes.

Physical Fitness Test:

  1. One minute of push ups
  2. One minute of sit-ups
  3. Timed 1.5 mile run
  4. Swim circuit

Deployments:

The Coast Guard consists of about 40,000 active duty members. As such, it is a very selective branch with missions that involve everything from Search and Rescue to Maritime Protection. Coast Guardsmen “deploy” every day in their duties and units and cutters can be away from port for months at a time. Coast Guard deployments tend to be more frequent, but can be as short as a few days or as long as several months.

Not all Coast Guard assignments are on “the coast” — there are inland assignments protecting inland waterways and lakes. The Coast Guard will also deploy to combat zones to provide additional support to maritime operations or to augment the Navy throughout the world.

Once you’ve researched the differences between each branch, there is still one more major consideration that can affect your military experience: whether to enlist or commission. We go into the benefits and downsides of each right here — check them out!

MIGHTY HISTORY

This Air Force SLAM jet was designed to kill at Mach 5

Russia is getting a lot of attention lately for things like hypersonic missiles and nuclear doomsday weapons but all that is just old hat to the Pentagon. The United States has been working with doomsday weapons for years; we just never went around bragging about it.

Or blowing up our own nuclear reactors.


The Cold War was a pretty good time for America, especially where defense is concerned. Even though we may have thought of ourselves as trailing the Soviets with ridiculous things like “missile gaps,” the truth was we were often further ahead than we thought. Hell, we were going to nuke the moon as a warning but decided the PR would be better if we landed on it instead. If the Russians wanted to impress us, they could have taken a photo next to our flag up there.

When it came to weapons, the U.S. had no equal. We built horrifying, terrifying, and downright unbelievable devices that were an excellent show of force at best and – at worst – absolutely batsh*t crazy. Project Pluto was one of the latter.

Simply put, Pluto was a cruise missile that flew at a low altitude with a nuclear payload. Sound pretty Cold War-level simple, right? The devil is in the details. The actual acronym for the weapon was SLAM – supersonic low altitude missile. This meant a giant missile that flew around below radar, around treetop height, faster than the speed of sound, so it could penetrate enemy territory without anyone seeing it or being prepared for what came next.

Which was about 16 hydrogen bombs dropping on Russian cities. But that’s not all!

Which military branch SHOULD you join?

The SLAM Jet’s ramjet engine.

The weapon isn’t unique because of the number of weapons it carried. Intercontinental ballistic missiles, the weapons that would eventually make SLAM jets obsolete, carried multiple warheads that could be targeted at multiple cities. No, the unique part of the SLAM jet weapon is what it is. The missile is designed around a single, nuclear-powered jet engine which is sent aloft by rocket boosters but soon becomes indefinitely sustainable via the power of the nuclear jet engine’s intake.

So, the weapon could drop its payload and then keep flying forever, creating sonic booms above the treetops, murdering anyone on the ground. The fact that the engine is just an unshielded nuclear reactor meant its exhaust would spew radioactive material all over any area unlucky enough to have it pass by overhead.

Which military branch SHOULD you join?

Luckily for everyone on the planet, this project was dumped with the invention of ICBM technology. So the United States and the Soviet Union could kill each other more directly, rather than leave a path of destruction as it went to destroy another country en masse.

MIGHTY CULTURE

This is why its important for troops to go through the CS chamber

Corson-Stoughton Gas, commonly known as “CS gas” or tear gas, has been a part of military culture since it was first mass produced in the 50s. Technically, it’s less-than-lethal — death from inhaling CS gas is rare, but it still hurts like hell to breathe in. You’re going to cry and all of the mucus in your body will try to escape at once. It’s not pretty.

So, why not subject troops to it regularly, on a every-six-months basis? What could possibly go wrong?

No really, I’m not being sarcastic. There are actually many good reasons to subject troops to a bi-annual deep cleanse in the CS chamber — and it’s a much more valid reasoning than the standard “it builds character” excuse that first sergeants use.


The very first moment troops are exposed to CS gas is the most important one — during initial training. This serves many different functions.

For starters, it builds confidence in your equipment. All of the “lowest bidder” jokes tend to go away when you realize that the mask you were assigned is perfectly capable of stopping the painful gas from entering your lungs.

It also serves as a way of teaching troops that pain is temporary. Troops have nothing to fear from temporary discomfort. Yeah, it’s going to hurt like hell, but you shouldn’t cower from it — just accept it and move on. Think of it like the scene in Dune when Paul Atreides faces the pain box.

“Fear is the mind killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.”
Which military branch SHOULD you join?

This is one of those moments where the phrase “suck it up, buttercup” is completely applicable because it will get easier the more you do it.

(U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Caleb Barrieau)

Troops will walk in with their mask on, knowing that they’re to take it off in the middle of the chamber. And before you start coming up with a plan, no, you can’t just hold your breath to escape the pain. The drill sergeant will likely ask you to recite the Soldier’s Creed, sing the Marines’ Hymn — whatever gets you to open your mouth and take in a breath. And then you can leave.

Feeling the pain of CS gas is universal experience throughout the U.S. Armed Forces — but it doesn’t last long. Twenty or thirty minutes later and you’re back on your feet — until the exercise is put back on the training calendar.

Heading into the CS chamber twice a year can actually help you build up a tolerance to the gas that lasts a lifetime. The first time hurts like a motherf*cker. The second time just hurts like hell. The third time is a little better than that, and so on, until it just makes you slightly uncomfortable. It’s not a complete immunity, but it’s a strong tolerance.

Your eyes will still water but you’re not vomiting in the corner at the very least — so that’s good.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Crazy kings: Why was Henry the 8th so weird?

According to Disney, princes are the most charming, handsome men in all the land. Historically, that’s far from the truth. Royal families were typically pretty obsessed with power. No matter how much they had, they wanted more, and they wanted to keep it. One way to do that was by keeping it in the family; AKA, they slept with their cousins. Back then, incest wasn’t so taboo. Marriages between uncles and nieces and other close relations happened frequently.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t just power that was passed down to future generations. Genetic disorders that were uncommon among the general population were condensed in royal bloodlines to the point that sickness was as much of a royal inheritance as wealth. The result? A ton of really weird royals, including the infamous Henry the 8th who was known for his paranoia and tyrannical behavior. Keep scrolling to discover all the strange effects that inbreeding had on the royal families of yesteryear.


The Habsburg Jaw

The German-Austrian Habsburg family had an empire encompassing everything from Portugal to Transylvania, partially because they married strategically to consolidate their bloodline. Because of their rampant incest, the Habsburgs accidentally created their own trademark facial deformities, collectively known as the Habsburg jaw. Those who inherited the deformity typically had oversized jaws and lower lips, long noses, and large tongues. It was most prevalent in male monarchs, with female family members experiencing fewer external deformities. Charles II had such a severe case that he had trouble speaking and frequently drooled…yikes.

Hemophilia

For most people, cuts and bruises are no big deal. For those with hemophilia, a scraped knee can turn serious. Hemophilia is a rare blood disorder in which your body doesn’t produce enough clotting factor. When someone with hemophilia starts to bleed, they don’t stop. The disease is recessive, so it’s very uncommon; both of your parents must carry the gene for you to develop symptoms. Unfortunately, it was easy for inbred royals to produce unfortunate gene combinations.

Queen Victoria and her husband, Prince Consort Albert, both carried the gene for hemophilia, as they were first cousins. Their son, Leopold, struggled with the disease until it eventually killed him when he was only 31. Hemophilia was passed down to Russian Czar Nicholas II’s family. His son and heir, Alexei, suffered from hemophilia, inherited from his great-grandmother, Queen Victoria. Even in the early 1900s, the life expectancy of someone with hemophilia was only about 13 years.

Hydrocephalus

Spanish royalty was particularly prone to the genetic condition of hydrocephalus, in which fluid builds up deep in the brain. The extra fluid puts pressure on the brain and spinal cord, causing everything from mild symptoms to death. It occurs most frequently in infants, which was often the case in inbred royalty. The royal children who suffered from it were born with abnormally large heads and often suffered from growth delays, malnourishment, muscular atrophy, poor balance, and seizures.

Hydrocephalus also affected British royalty, including Prince William, the oldest surviving child of Queen Anne and Prince Consort George of Denmark. The two royals were cousins, and they were so genetically similar that they struggled to reproduce any healthy offspring, losing 17 children to genetic disease. You’d think they’d figure it out after the first few, but they were determined to produce an heir. Prince William made it until age 11, when he died of hydrocephalus combined with a bacterial infection.

Limb malformations

Royal inbreeding existed before the European monarchy was even a thing. Ancient Egyptians practiced marriage within the royal family with the intent of keeping their bloodline pure, and it backfired big time. King Tutenkhamen, AKA King Tut, was one of Egypts most famous pharaohs, but he was a bit of a genetic mess. Modern-day studies showed that he had a cleft palate, a club foot, and a strangely elongated skull. Some researchers believe King Tut’s mother wasn’t really Queen Nefertiti, but King Akhenaten’s sister. Sibling-sibling inbreeding tends to have severe effects, giving poor King Tut a compromised immune system that led to his eventual death.

Infertility

King Charles II married twice, yet he never successfully fathered an heir. Like many other royals, he struggled with fertility, likely the result of his inbred heritage. Queen Anne, the first monarch of Great Britain, was a great ruler, but not so great at producing healthy children. Only one of 18 of her offspring made it past their toddler years, with eight miscarried and five stillborn. Considering the great pressure to produce heirs to inherit the throne, infertility caused a great deal of royal strife. In some ways, however, it was a boon. Since Charles II never had children, his laundry list of genetic issues, including the infamous Habsburg jaw, died with him.

Learning disabilities

Speaking of Charles II, he didn’t say a word until he was four and didn’t learn how to walk until he was eight. He was the child of Philip IV of Spain and Mariana of Austria, who were uncle and niece. His family’s long history of inbreeding was so severe that he was more severely inbred than he would have been had his parents been siblings. While inbreeding doesn’t automatically lower intelligence, it does make it more likely to inherit recessive genes linked to low IQ and cognitive disabilities, resulting in a royal family with just as many mental challenges as physical ones.

Mental Illness

George III was King of England at the time of the American Revolution, and many wonder if his mental illness had something to do with his failure as a ruler. Another member of Queen Victoria’s highly inbred family, George III was known for his manic episodes and nickname of “The Mad King”. Initially, historians believed that he had porphyria, a chronic liver disease that results in bouts of madness and causes bluish urine. Today, it’s believed that George III actually suffered from bipolar disorder, causing his sudden manic episodes and rash decision making.

Other royals suffered from mental illness as well, including Queen Maria the Pious. She was so obsessively devout that when her church’s confessor died, she screamed for hours about how she would be damned without him. She shared a doctor with King George III, who employed all kinds of strange and ineffective treatments, like ice baths and taking laxatives.

Joanna of Castile, also known as Joanna the Mad, also struggled with irrational behavior and uncontrollable moods. Like most women, she was furious when she discovered her husband’s mistress. Unlike most people, she proceeded to stab her in the face. She remained obsessed with her husband after his infidelity, however. She loved him so much that she slept beside him even after he died. You read that right. She snuggled a corpse. M’kay then.

Monarchs have a reputation for reckless, harsh, and sometimes cruel behavior. Is it possible that many of their worst deeds were tied to inbred insanity? Totally. Does that make their tyrannical reign any less terrifying? Not even a little bit. While their stories are fascinating to read about, let’s keep the inbreeding and dictatorships in the history books, okay? Okay.

MIGHTY CULTURE

This is how US military dogs train for dangerous missions

By now, everybody has seen the picture. A tan dog in a tactical vest, sitting up at the position of attention, perky ears framing a black face. The mouth wide open, the tongue hanging out the side of the mouth, the dog looks happy, almost goofy.

This is the dog that chased down ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi this past weekend, leading to al-Baghdadi’s death when he detonated a suicide vest he was wearing. The dog was injured in the blast, but has since returned to duty. Assigned to Delta Force, the dog’s identity is classified, even as the dog is being hailed as a hero, with the picture shared on Twitter by President Donald Trump, who called it Conan.

Read on to find out what we know about this dog.


Which military branch SHOULD you join?

U.S. Marine military working dog Argo rides into the ocean on a combat rubber raiding craft at Red Beach.

(US Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Andrew Cortez)

They are the special forces of military working dogs, attached to special operations forces, such as the Navy SEALS and Army Rangers. Trained to find explosives, chase down human targets, and detect hidden threats, these Multi-Purpose Canines, or MPCs, are also trained to rappel out of helicopters, parachute out of airplanes, and conduct amphibious operations on Zodiac boats. Highly skilled, an MPC named Cairo even assisted in the raid that killed Osama bin Laden in 2011.

These dogs are specially selected and trained to handle the most stressful situations while keeping their cool. In the spirit of the Marine Recon motto, these dogs are swift, silent, and deadly. Barking is forbidden. With the secretive nature of their work, much of the information regarding the selection and training of these dogs is classified.

Which military branch SHOULD you join?

A military working dog chases a suspect during a demonstration.

(Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Jacob Derry)

Four times per year, a team of canine handlers, trainers, veterinarians, and other specialists from the 341st Training Squadron at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio Texas — the home of the Military Working Dog Program — make the trip abroad to buy dogs. They evaluate each dog to ensure that they will not have any medical issue that will prevent them from serving for at least 10 years. They perform x-rays to ensure that there is no hip or elbow dysplasia or other skeletal defects. Dogs with skin conditions, eye issues, or ear problems are ruled out.

If they pass the medical screening, they are further assessed on their temperament. Over up to 10 days, the dogs are judged on their ability to search and detect, their aggressiveness, and their trainability. While the special forces have their own programs to procure dogs, which are confidential, the traits that they look for are the same. The standards are just higher.

Which military branch SHOULD you join?

Caro, a five-year-old Belgian Malinois with the 96th Security Forces Squadron, stands by her handler.

(US Air Force photo by Samuel King Jr.)

This hero dog from the al-Baghdadi raid is a Belgian Malinois, one of the most popular breeds among working dogs.

This hero dog from the al-Baghdadi raid is a Belgian Malinois, one of the most popular breeds among working dogs. W

While the military uses labs, retrievers, and other breeds including a Jack Russell or two for detection, the most popular breeds of war dogs are Belgian Malinois, Dutch Shepherd, and the ever popular German Shepherd. These dogs are valued for their intelligence, trainability, work ethic, and adaptability.

The Malinois in particular is valued for its targeted aggression, speed, agility, and ability to survive in extreme heat. Handlers are known to refer to their dogs as either a “fur missile” or a “maligator.”

Which military branch SHOULD you join?

A Multi-Purpose Canine with U.S. Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command (MARSOC), prepares for Zodiac boat training inserts on Camp Pendleton, Calif.

(US Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Maricela M. Bryant)

The dogs are hand selected from the best kennels in Europe and around the world, brought to the United States, and trained to the highest level.

They are taught patrolling, searching, explosive or narcotic detection, tracking, and are desensitized to the types of equipment around which they will work. They are familiarized with gunfire, rappelling out of helicopters, riding in Zodiac boats, or even skydiving. All said, the dogs and their training cost up to ,000 each. Including the highly specialized gear of MPCs, the cost can be tens of thousands of dollars higher.

Wearing bulletproof vests outfitted with lights, cameras, communications equipment, and sensors, the dogs can operate off leash, providing a real-time view to the handler while taking verbal commands through the radio.

Which military branch SHOULD you join?

A Multi-Purpose Canine handler with U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Special Operations Command prepares his canine for a parachute jump.

(US Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Scott Achtemeier)

Over their years of service, a multipurpose canine will conduct dozens of combat missions over multiple deployments, most of which the public will never hear about.

One of these missions resulted in the death of Maiko, a multi-purpose canine with the Army’s 75th Ranger Regiment. Leading the way into a secure compound in Afghanistan in November 2018, Maiko caused the Al Qaeda fighters to open fire, giving away their position, allowing the Rangers to eliminate the threat without injury.

Which military branch SHOULD you join?

A multi-purpose canine handler with U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Special Operations Command, checks for a pulse while administering medical care to a realistic canine mannequin.

(US Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Bryann K. Whitley)

When dogs are injured on the battlefield, their handlers are trained to provide first aid.

Using specially developed, highly realistic dog mannequins, the handlers are trained to treat massive bleeding, collapsed lungs, amputations, and more. The mannequins respond by whimpering and barking.

Many of the developers of this dog mannequin came from the Hollywood special effects world, working on productions like the Star Wars or Harry Potter films. The simulated dog, with its pulse and breathing responding to the treatment, costs more than ,000.

Which military branch SHOULD you join?

Military working dog handlers with the U.S. Army Rangers and U.S. Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command multipurpose canine handlers fast-rope from a U.S. Navy MH-60 Seahawk helicopter.

(US Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Drake Nickels)

If a dog is injured in combat or in training, or is showing signs of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, he can be sent to a dog hospital at Lackland Air Force Base for surgery, rehabilitation, or assessment for retirement.

While PTSD is not well understood in dogs, veterinarians, dog trainers, and specialists at Lackland Air Force Base agree that dogs show symptoms of combat stress as much as humans do. Whether they become fearful of loud noises, become more aggressive, forget how to do tasks, or decide that they don’t want to work, these dogs are rehabilitated with the goal of returning them to service. If this is not possible, the dogs are evaluated for transfer to non-combat jobs or potential retirement.

Which military branch SHOULD you join?

Nero proudly displays his U.S. Military Working Dog Medal during his retirement ceremony aboard Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif. on May 21, 2018. During his five years of service, Nero served two deployments. Nero will be adopted and spend his retirement as a companion to his handler.

(US Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Bryann K. Whitley)

Before being retired, the dogs are assessed to ensure that they do not pose a risk to the public.

After up to a decade of devoted service, the goal is to let the dog live out its life on a soft bed, preferably with one of its former handlers.

This article originally appeared on Insider. Follow @thisisinsider on Twitter.

MIGHTY CULTURE

The 13 funniest military memes for the week of April 19th

It looks like the Department of Defense is finally retiring the Cyber Awareness Challenge training. Sure, it’s outdated, uses graphics from the early 2000s, and barely scratches the surface of cybersecurity in a world where new threats emerge every other minute. But the campiness is what made it so ridiculous that it was enjoyable.

I just want to throw out there that everyone freaking hated that training when it came out. Eventually, everyone started to like it in spite of it being silly – kind of like Tommy Wiseau’s The Room. Then as soon as too many people started to actually enjoy the ridiculousness of it… They pull the plug on it.

Coincidence? I think not.


Pour one out for the dude who always believed in your cyber security abilities when you doubted yourself. Jeff, you’re never going to be forgotten. These memes are for you.

Which military branch SHOULD you join?
Which military branch SHOULD you join?

(Meme via Infantry Follow Me)

Which military branch SHOULD you join?

(Meme via Not CID)

Which military branch SHOULD you join?

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Which military branch SHOULD you join?

(Meme by Yusha Thomas)

Which military branch SHOULD you join?

(Meme via Disgruntled Vets)

Which military branch SHOULD you join?

(Meme via Valhalla Wear)

Which military branch SHOULD you join?

(Meme via Uniform Humor)

Which military branch SHOULD you join?

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Which military branch SHOULD you join?

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Which military branch SHOULD you join?

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Which military branch SHOULD you join?

(Meme via Decelerate Your Life)

Which military branch SHOULD you join?

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Which military branch SHOULD you join?

(Meme via The Salty Soldier)

BONUS: You guys have a good, safe, and UCMJ-free four-day weekend! Happy Easter. 

In the famous words of my old First Sergeant… “Don’t do dumb shit.”

popular

Troops pick which Army job is the best

People approach joining the Army as if all soldiers are the same, but there are actually a ton of different jobs recruits can enlist for. And since soldiers are willing to leave reviews on sites like Glassdoor.com, it’s easy to see which recruits might re-enlist without prompting and which will spend the next few years counting down to the end of their contract.


1. Human Resources Specialists

 

Which military branch SHOULD you join?
Photo: US Army Sgt. Jason Means

Human resource specialists apparently love being in the Army, giving it a rating of 4.3 out of 5. It looks like sitting behind a desk at headquarters isn’t a bad way to earn the GI Bill.

2. Psychological Operations

Which military branch SHOULD you join?
Photo: US Air Force Staff Sgt. Samuel Bedet

Psychological Operations soldiers gave their career a 4.3 as well. Multiple reviewers cited their free foreign language training and incentive pays as reasons they like their job.

3. Artillerymen

Which military branch SHOULD you join?
Photo: US Army

Artillery has the highest rating of the combat arms branches with a 4.1. Considering the fact that they get to pull strings and make stuff go boom all day, this isn’t a huge shocker.

4. Combat Engineer

Which military branch SHOULD you join?
Photo: US Army Sgt. 1st Class Michel Sauret

 

Considering the fact that combat engineers are stuck with missions like route clearance, it’s surprising that they rated their time serving as a 4 out of 5. But sappers are crazy like that and explosives are fun.

5. Communications specialists

 

Which military branch SHOULD you join?
Pfc. Chris McKenna

 

The Commo guys also gave the Army a 4 out of 5. This is a broad category, including everyone from Satellite Communications Operators to Cable Systems Installer-Maintainers.

6. Army Pilots

 

Which military branch SHOULD you join?
Photo: Staff Sgt. Elizabeth Rissmiller

 

Helicopters are awesome, and their pilots rated serving at 3.9 out of 5. Some of the lower ratings came from OH-58 pilots who are understandably disappointed that the Army has gotten rid of their scout aircraft.

7. Cavalry

 

Which military branch SHOULD you join?
Photo: US Navy Chief Photographer’s Mate Edward Martens

 

Cavlarymen cited their long work hours and the danger of combat arms as drawbacks, but the adrenaline rush, The benefits, and working outside were huge positives. The average review was a 3.9.

8. Army Special Forces

 

Which military branch SHOULD you join?
Photo: US Air Force Tech. Sgt. Bradley C. Church

Like the cavalry, Special Forces soldiers gave the Army a 3.9. Reviews cited the incentive pays for Special Forces and the professional environment as big positives. SF guys also get free language training.

9. Intel Analyst

Which military branch SHOULD you join?
Photo: US Army Spc. Nathan Goodall

 

Intelligence analysts gave the Army a 3.8 out of 5. In charge of collecting data from the battlefield and figuring out what the enemy is doing, these guys spend a lot of time locked in secure offices seeing photos and reports no one else gets to.

10. Army Infantry

 

Which military branch SHOULD you join?
Photo: US Army Staff Sgt. Shane Hamann

 

The iconic rifleman may be all over the recruiting posters, but sleeping on rocks and rucking 100 pounds of gear isn’t exactly an ideal weekend. They still gave their employer a 3.7 rating, so it must not be all bad.

11. Army Medic

 

Which military branch SHOULD you join?
Photo: US Army Staff Sgt. Kaily Brown

Everyone loves medics, but they only rated the Army as a 3.6, so the feeling isn’t mutual. That 3.6 probably comes from their easy access to IV bags for curing hangovers, not from having to look at everyone else’s infections.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The US accidentally built a fort to repel Canada… in Canada

The War of 1812 was a conflict between the United States and Great Britain, though it could be argued that Canadians and Native Americans were most affected by it. The northern theater of the war, especially near the border of Canada and the Great Lakes, saw some of the most intense fighting — so much so that, after the Treaty of Ghent, President James Madison ordered a heavy fortification be built at the northern end of Lake Champlain to prevent future invasion.


The only problem… was that the fort was built on the wrong side of the border.

The Americans didn’t discover the error until two years later, when a surveyor found the fort was being built north of the 45th parallel.

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Oops.

Construction halted on the fort, which earned the moniker “Fort Blunder,” until 1842, when the U.S. moved the boundary line north (see the current boundary in the image above) — because pride.

Also read: This War of 1812 veteran saw the Battle of Gettysburg from his porch – then joined it

The Webster-Ashburton Treaty resolved a number of border issues between what would one day become Canada and the United States, who promptly began to build another fort — this one named for revolutionary war hero General Richard Montgomery. The fort was built from the same limestone slabs that helped raise the Brooklyn Bridge, and, though it was never fully garrisoned, it was armed and ready for action.

As the United States’ relationships with Great Britain and Canada flourished, Fort Montgomery’s function dwindled. In 1926, it was auctioned off by the U.S. government and sold to a private bidder.

War of 1812: This is the only time since the War of 1812 that enemy forces occupied US soil

Today, it’s actually for sale… but no one wants it (except for me — I absolutely want it and I am currently looking for a $3 million donation for this cause. The parties there will be epic. Bring your boat and everyone you know…), though in 2009, it was placed on The Preservation League of New York State’s list of Seven to Save.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Heroic UNC Charlotte cadet buried with full military honors

On April 30, Riley Howell was killed while resisting an active shooter where he attended school at the University of North Carolina Charlotte.

Chief Kerr Putney of the Charlotte-Mecklenberg Police Department credited Howell’s efforts in disarming the gunman. “Unfortunately, he gave his life in the process. But his sacrifice saved lives.” Howell was among six victims in the attack.

On Sunday, May 5, Riley Howell was buried with full military honors.


MIGHTY TRENDING

Check out video of volcanic lightning caused by erupting volcano

Video footage captures the moment a rare occurrence called “volcanic lighting” occurred in the Philippines.

As can be seen in the video below, volcanic smoke and ash are erupting from the volcano as lightning strikes the sky.

The smoke appears to make the lightning more visible and pronounced to onlookers, who are heard screaming in the background at the terrifying scene.


Lightning strike from the ash cloud during the Taal Volcano Eruption – Philippines

www.youtube.com

A closeup of the footage seen below was re-posted by meteorological institution MetSul on Twitter.

Volcanic lighting is a rare natural phenomenon believed to be caused by ash particles rubbing together in volcanic clouds, creating friction and static electricity.

The Taal volcano began spewing lava on Monday morning local time.

A day prior, the volcano emitted a huge plume of ash across the surrounding area, and put an estimated 450,000 people at risk, according to the UN OCHA office in the Philippines.

The ash covered the area in a blanket of volcanic dust, and as of 6.a.m Monday local time 7,700 people had been evacuated by authorities.

The volcano is one of the world’s smallest in size, but has recorded 34 eruptions over the last 450 years, according to the BBC.

This article originally appeared on Insider. Follow @thisisinsider on Twitter.

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Podcast

Combat poetry reveals what life is like on the Afghan front lines

Justin Eggen had some things stuck in his head for a long time during — but especially after — his two deployments to Afghanistan. These thoughts became poems and short stories that reflected his feelings and personal experience as a Marine in Marjah and in Afghanistan’s Sangin Valley. Like so many writing combat poetry, they are Eggen’s way of handling the overwhelming series of emotions from and memories of his time there.


In this episode of Mandatory Fun, We Are The Mighty’s Blake Stilwell talks to Justin Eggen on what it was like to write poetry as a Marine Corps combat veteran — and why every U.S. troop needs some creative outlet for thoughts and feelings like his.

Subscribe: Apple Podcasts | Google Play | Stitcher | Spotify

“When I was younger I wrote a bit of poetry,” Eggen says. “And I realized this is a good outlet for releasing a lot of pent up memories and aggression.”

That was then, this is now.

Eggen wrote up a few poems for “shits and giggles” after he returned from his deployments with the Corps, but the response was better than he ever imagined. He sent it to people who said he needed to share his combat poetry with the world.

Initially, however, he wasn’t apt to publish his works and share them with the world. At first, it was just a way to release the mental anguish. Eggen didn’t really take poetry or writing seriously, especially as a way to cope with what he describes as his mind “still living over in Afghanistan.”

“Ten years ago, I didn’t even think I would deploy to Afghanistan,” Eggen says, describing the drawdown of troops in Afghanistan while he was entering the Marine Corps. “When I joined, Afghanistan wasn’t even in people’s minds. Our Drill instructor said if we’re lucky, we’d go to Iraq.”

But don’t expect Justin Eggen’s combat poetry to look like anything a stereotypical beret-wearing beatnik might write. Eggen was a .50-cal machine gunner on a route clearance platoon, searching for IEDs in the roads around his area of responsibility.

 

Which military branch SHOULD you join?
Eggen at PB Alcatraz, Sangin 2011.

 

The enemy was like a ghost: They were very good at making IEDs that were hard to detect because they were composed of very few metal elements. His second book, which is currently being written, will be about fighting such a ghostly enemy.

His first book is about the struggle of having your mind stuck back over there.

“A huge part of being home after the Marine Corps is trying to face what happened,” he says. “You get blown up and you’re never the same, regardless of if you’re in a vehicle or on foot. You hit an IED and that rattles you to an extent and you’re changed for the rest of your life. I have friends who are not the same. I am not the same person.”

For Eggen, writing down a lot of what happened, especially as combat poetry, is a powerful thing. Not just for him but for anyone who is struggling emotionally or mentally from a traumatic experience in their life.

He enjoys his work a lot and even enjoys reading them. Each one tells its own little tale. While the longer stories and poems are deeper to him, he also revives the ancient art of the warrior writing haiku. They’re just as deep, but short and sweet and he loves the challenge of writing them.

“You get 17 syllables to portray a story,” he explains. “if you can build something that makes people think in 17 syllables, that’s a huge challenge. That’s what Japanese warriors used to do after battle, write haikus. That was the first version of “combat poetry.” That’s how they dealt with a battle. So that’s what I did for three weeks straight, counting syllables on my fingers.” 

For more of Justin Eggen, catch the rest of the show and then check out his book of poetry and short stories, Outside the Wire: A U.S. Marine’s Collection of Combat Poems and Short Stories on Amazon.

Resources Mentioned

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MIGHTY TRENDING

North Korea’s dictator was cheered like a rock star in Singapore

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, the man who has held Asia on the brink of nuclear war for years, was loudly cheered and celebrated as he made his way around Singapore on a night out.

Around Singapore, media outlets stood perched and ready to catch a glimpse of the young leader as he toured the city’s finer establishments. Meanwhile, US President Donald Trump has not been seen outside since getting off his airplane, as he crams for June 12, 2018’s summit.


Video taken at the Marina Bay Sands hotel and shopping center shows Kim heading in and likely up to SkyPark, the famous rooftop of the iconic hotel.

SkyPark features swimming pools, bars, and restaurants and is a big tourist attraction.

Hear the enthusiasm in the room as he enters:

Kim has lived in North Korea much of his life, and didn’t leave the country between 2011 and early 2018, when he went to Beijing to meet Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Kim was also photographed with Singapore’s minister of foreign affairs in what’s likely the first selfie of his life.

Kim lives under constant fear of assassination, as the administrator of a state that keeps untold thousands in political prisons while it seeks to threaten the world with nuclear weapons. He likely hasn’t had many nights out on the town like this.

Meanwhile, less than half a mile away, Trump is preparing for their historic meeting.

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

MIGHTY HISTORY

These insane defenses allow Switzerland to remain neutral

The tiny mountainous country of Switzerland has been in a state of “perpetual neutrality” since the major European powers of the time declared it as such during the Congress of Vienna after the end of the Napoleonic wars in 1815.

Why did they do this?

The French conquered Switzerland in 1798, establishing the Helvetic Republic in attempt to make Switzerland something of a strategically positioned French satellite state. Not long after, Austrian and Russian forces invaded the country in their war against France. The Swiss, rather than fighting alongside their French overlords, largely refused. This ultimately led to the Act of Mediation, giving the Swiss back much of their former independence. Twelve years later, they got the rest thanks to the aforementioned Congress of Vienna in which their neutrality in the wars of their neighbors was officially recognised.


Beyond the Swiss themselves having long tried to stay out of the conflicts of Europe (since the early 16th century after a devastating loss at the Battle of Marignano), part of the reason Switzerland was granted neutrality in perpetuity in 1815 is because the European powers of the time deemed that the country was ideally located to function as a “a valuable buffer zone between France and Austria.” Thus, granting their neutrality in wars, so long as they continued to stay out of them, would “contribute to stability in the region.”

Since that time, with a few minor exceptions, Switzerland has steadfastly refused to compromise its neutrality for any reason, though on the war-front they did suffer an exceptionally brief civil war in the mid-19th century resulting in only a handful of casualties. While minor in its scale, this civil war drastically changed the political landscape of the Swiss government, including the establishment of a constitution partially borrowing from the then less than a century old United States constitution.

Which military branch SHOULD you join?

Swiss officer barracks in the Umbrail Pass during World War I.

In any event, as for those aforementioned “minor exceptions”, Switzerland has occasionally taken part in some global peacekeeping missions and prior to 1860 Swiss troops did sometimes take part in various skirmishes, despite their neutrality.

In more modern times, Switzerland needed to defend its borders from both Allied and Axis (see: How Did the Axis and Allies Get Their Names) air incursions during WW2. For instance, they shot down nearly a dozen German planes in the spring of 1940 alone, as well as shot down some American bombers and forced down countless others on both sides. This included grounding and detaining the crews of over a hundred Allied bombers that tried to fly over the country. When Hitler tried to counter Swiss measures at keeping the Luftwaffe from their skies by sending a sabotage team to destroy Swiss airfields, the Swiss successfully captured the saboteurs before they could carry out any bombings.

You might think it a bit silly for the Swiss to risk war with both sides by shooting or forcing down foreign aircraft from their skies, but on several occasions Allied bombers accidentally attacked Swiss cities, mistaking them for German ones. For instance, on April 1, 1944, American bombers, thinking they were bombing Ludwigshafen am Rhein, bombed Schaffhausen, killing 40 Swiss citizens and destroying over fifty buildings. This was not an isolated incident.

So how exactly did Switzerland, surrounded on all sides by Axis (or Central in WW1) and Allied powers during the wars to end all wars, manage to keep enemy troops at bay without much in the way of any fighting?

Officially Switzerland maintains a policy of “Aggressive Neutrality” meaning that although it actively avoids taking part in conflicts, as evidenced by their air-force activities during WW2, it will defend its own interests with vigour. How vigorous? To ensure other countries respect its neutral stance, Switzerland has long put itself into a terrifyingly over prepared position to fight, and made sure every country around them was, and is, well aware of this fact.

As for specifics, to begin with, a common misconception about Switzerland is that because it doesn’t actively take part in global military conflicts, that it doesn’t have a strong or well prepared military. In reality the Swiss military is a highly trained and competent fighting force, and due to the country’s policy of compulsory conscription of males (today women may volunteer for any position in the military, but are not required to serve) is surprisingly large for a country of only around eight million people.

Which military branch SHOULD you join?

Swiss border patrol in the Alps during World War II.

In fact, approximately two-thirds of all males are ultimately deemed mentally and physically fit enough to serve in the Swiss military, meaning a huge percentage of their population is ultimately military trained. (Those who are not, and aren’t exempt because of a disability, are required to pay additional taxes until they are 30 to make up for not serving.)

As for what fighting force is actively maintained, the Swiss military today is only around 140,000 men strong and just this year it has been voted to reduce that to 100,000. This is a major downsize from just two decades ago when it was estimated the Swiss military had some 750,000 soldiers. For reference, this latter total is about half the size of the United States military today, despite Switzerland having only about eight million people vs. the United States’ three hundred million.

In addition to this, Switzerland has one of the highest rates of gun ownership in the world and many Swiss people are highly competent in handling said firearms due to both compulsory military service and a strong culture of recreational shooting (half a million Swiss children are said to be part of a gun club of some kind).

This said, in recent years the rate of gun ownership has declined somewhat after a series of gun related incidents, such as one where a man shot his estranged wife with his old military issued rifle. Prior to the shooting, military conscripts would take their rifle home with them after their service ended and were expected to keep it ready for use in defending the country should the need arise.

After these incidents, the military curbed this and implemented a new policy stating that any conscript wishing to keep their gun after service must buy it and apply for a permit. As part of this new policy, the Swiss military also no longer provides ammunition with the guns, instead keeping it in secure locations that citizens must get to in the event of an emergency.

Speaking of emergencies, generally speaking, Switzerland is prepared for near any global catastrophe from nuclear fallout to a surprise invasion from an enemy force thanks to a defensive plan it has been implementing since 1880, but which was doubled-down upon during WW2 and later during the Cold War.

Dubbed the Swiss National Redoubt, in a nutshell Switzerland has taken advantage of it unique natural geography, which includes mountains that surround it on nearly all sides, to build countless bunkers, fortifications and warehouses across the country that can be accessed at a moment’s notice. The full scale of the fortifications is a closely guarded secret, but some of them are kept in plain view as part of a comprehensive campaign of deterrence.

Initially the National Redoubt consisted of tunnels bored into the many mountains of Switzerland in key strategic positions for retreating troops and citizens to take shelter in, but over the years these have evolved to encompass a host of ingenious defensive and offensive structures. Along with tunnels and bunkers (which are fully stocked and contain everything from bakeries and hospitals to dormitories), the mountains of Switzerland also hide countless tanks, aircraft, and hidden artillery guns (some of which are pointed directly at Switzerland’s own roads to destroy them in the event of invasion).

Oddly for a landlocked country, Switzerland does maintain an active navy of sorts, though they don’t store any boats in its mountains as far as we could find. The naval branch of the Swiss forces’ primary role is in patrolling the country’s lakes on the border and providing aid in search and rescue operations.

As for more specifically how they kept themselves out of the world wars, during WW1, the Swiss military, under freshly appointed General Ulrich Wille, mobilised well over 200,000 Swiss soldiers and deployed them across its major entry points to deter any outside forces from considering waging war on the country. After it became apparent that Switzerland’s neutrality would be recognised by all powers in the first Great War, the vast majority of the Swiss troops were sent home. (In fact, in the final year of the war, the Swiss military had shrunk its numbers to just 12,000.) Nothing further was required to keep the Swiss out of WW1.

WW2 was a different beast altogether with Switzerland not banking on Hitler respecting their long-held neutral stance in European conflicts. Thus, newly appointed Swiss General Henri Guisan was given the unenviable task of trying to figure out a way to defend the small country from their neighbors, Hitler and his allies, despite that said powers drastically outmatched the Swiss army in a variety of ways.

Towards this end, leading up to the war, the Swiss withdrew from the League of Nations to help ensure their neutrality, began to re-build their military (bringing the number up to 430,000 combat troops within three days of the start of the war), and strongly encouraged its citizens to keep at minimum two months’ worth of supplies on hand at any given time. On top of that, they also began secret negotiations with France to join forces against Germany, should Germany attack Switzerland (a risky move that was discovered by the Germans after France fell to them).

But even with all that, knowing the Swiss couldn’t win if Hitler really wanted to invade, Guisan and co. made the decision to drastically ramp up their WW1 era strategy of making invading Switzerland as unsavory an option as possible. Guisan noted that by utilizing Switzerland’s harsh terrain, a comparatively small amount of Swiss soldiers in a secure defensive position could fight off a massive fighting force if the need ever arose. So the plan was essentially to perpetually defend and retreat to some fortified position over and over again, ultimately conceding the less defensible populated areas of the country once the government and citizens had managed a retreat into secret fortified positions in the Alps. They’d then use the Alps as a base from which to both launch guerrilla attacks to make life miserable for any successful invasion force and to use highly defensible positions there to keep crucial supply lines from the invaders.

More controversially, Switzerland continued to trade with Nazi Germany during the war in order to further de-incentivise Hitler from invading. (There is some speculation that some of the Allies’ “accidental” attacks on Switzerland were really not accidents at all, given that some of the buildings that were blown up were factories supplying the Axis powers.)

The multi-pronged plan worked and, while Hitler did have a detailed plan in place to invade Switzerland eventually, the cost of doing so was always too high given the Axis power’s troubles both on the Eastern and Western fronts. Thus, Switzerland was largely ignored by both Allies and the Axis throughout WW2, despite its amazingly well placed location right next to Germany, Italy, France, and Austria.

Switzerland stepped up their level of defence during the Cold War, again mostly out of a desire to deter any potential invaders. This time, however, the focus was on “aggressively” defending Switzerland’s borders instead of defending them only long enough to cover a retreat into the well fortified mountains.

Towards this end, Switzerland’s roads, bridges and train lines were rigged with explosives that could be detonated at any time. In many cases, the engineers who designed the bridges were required to come up with the most efficient way, using explosives, to ensure the complete destruction of those same bridges. Once the destruction plan was developed, hidden explosives were installed at the appropriate locations in the bridges. On top of that, the military also lined hundreds of mountains flanking major roads with explosives to create artificial rockslides. All total, over three thousand points of demolition are publicly known to have been implemented throughout the small country.

Which military branch SHOULD you join?

Large-scale construction of hangers were conducted by the Swiss military in the 1950s.

With ground attacks covered, the Swiss looked to the skies. Unfortunately for them, attack by air is much harder to defend against for a country so small that enemy air forces could penetrate anywhere within its borders before an adequate defence could be mustered to defend its cities. To protect against this, the Swiss government constructed thousands of bomb shelters in homes, towns and cities to such a degree that it’s estimated that anywhere between 80 to 120 percent of the country’s population could hide in them for extended periods. Many of these shelters also included small hospitals and the necessary equipment to set up independent command centers. In fact, homes built after WW2 were often made with over 40 cm (16 in.) thick concrete ceilings to help them survive aerial bombings. If your home didn’t accommodate such a shelter, you had to pay a tax to support places that did.

It’s also rumoured that much of Switzerland’s gold supply as well as vast supplies of food stores have been similarly squirreled away somewhere in the Alps, which comprise just over half of the country’s total land area.

As a further example of how ridiculously well prepared the Swiss are for any and all threats, there are things like hidden hydroelectric dams built inside of unmarked mountains so that in the event of mass bombings, they’ll still have electricity from these secret facilities. And, remember, these are the things the Swiss government has let us know about. It is thought that there are probably more fortifications and hidden goodies scattered about the country’s landscape.

Since the end of the Cold War (see How Did the Cold War Start and End), similar to how the Swiss government has been slowly disarming its population and reducing its standing army, decommissioning some of these fortifications has begun in order to reduce government spending. The Swiss government is somewhat coy about the extent of this disarming, but it has been reported that many of the more extreme defenses, such as the explosives that used to be hidden inside the country’s bridges and along its road and railways, have been removed. As for the bunkers, unfortunately, simply abandoning many of these facilities is not an option, and it’s fairly expensive to decommission them.

As such, as the head of security policy for the federal Department of Defense, Christian Catrina, said “…in most cases we’d be glad if someone would take them off our hands for no price”.

In some cases, this has resulted in companies using the ridiculously well protected and secure mountain facilities as data repositories and server farms. In one such converted bunker, the servers inside are even completely protected from outside electromagnetic impulses that result from nuclear explosions.

In another, detailed instructions on how to build devices for reading all known data storage formats, even older formats like floppy disks, are kept, so that if that knowledge is otherwise lost, future generations can still decode our data storage devices to access the data within correctly. Essentially, the researchers involved in this particular project have attempted to create a “Rosetta Stone” of data formats and are using a ridiculously secure Swiss bunker as the storage point for that knowledge.

As a result of military downsizing, the fate of the rest of the fortifications is unclear and there are calls to decommission all of them, despite the estimated billion dollar price tag to do so. There is even a growing minority of the Swiss population who would like to see the entire military disbanded, including ceasing mandatory conscription.

But for now, at least, any country that wishes to ignore Switzerland’s long-held neutrality in military conflicts will find the tiny country an exceptionally difficult one to conquer and occupy. And presumably if war ever again threatens Swiss’ borders, regardless of how small they make their military today, they’ll likely keep themselves in a position to rapidly ramp back up their defences as they did for WW1 and WW2.

Bonus Facts:

  • Shortly before WW2, Switzerland passed the Swiss Banking Act, which allowed bank accounts to be created anonymously, in no small part to allow German Jews to squirrel their liquid assets away into accounts that the Third Reich would have difficulty finding out about or getting access to.
  • The term “Swiss Army Knife” was coined by United States soldiers after WWII. The soldiers had trouble pronouncing the original name of “Schweizer Offiziersmesser” (Swiss Officer’s Knife) and thus began calling the multi-tool a “Swiss Army Knife”. The company that makes Swiss Army Knives is Victorinox, named after the founder, Karl Elsener’s, deceased mother, Victoria. The “nox” part comes from the fact that stainless steel is also known as “inox”, which is short for the French term “inoxydable”.
  • Karl Elsener himself was originally the owner of a surgical equipment company. He later took over production of the original Modell 1890 knives, which were previously made in Germany. He moved the production to Switzerland and greatly improved the design of the original multi-tool. His big breakthrough came when he figured out a way to put blades on both sides of the handle using the same spring to hold both sides in place. This allowed him to put twice as many features into the multi-tool as was previously possible.
  • There has been a “fact” floating around that Switzerland has the highest number of guns per citizen and the lowest rate of people killed by firearms per year, but this isn’t correct. Switzerland is actually 4th in number of guns per 100 people (at 45.7 guns per 100), though does maintain a relatively low number of deaths per year due to firearms at just 3.84 per 100,000, which is good enough for 19th place overall. However, it should also be noted that 3.15 of those deaths per 100,000 are suicide. Their homicide rate (.52 per 100,000) is good enough for 31st place, with the rest of deaths from firearms (.17 per 100,000) being either accidental or undetermined.
  • While the United States has by far the most guns per capita at 94.3 guns per 100 residents, it is only 12th in firearm related deaths per capita at 10.3 per 100,000 people. 6.3 of those 10.3 firearm related deaths are suicides. This equates to the U.S. being in 14th place on the number of firearm related homicides per 100,000 and overall 103rd as far as total murders per 100,000 at 4.8. For reference, that’s four times the murders per 100,000 than the United Kingdom, which sits in 169th place in murders per 100,000.
  • Number 1 by far in firearm related deaths per 100,000 is Honduras with 64.8 deaths per 100,000 from firearms. Surprisingly, Honduras only has 6.2 guns for every 100 people in the country. Honduras also has the highest rate of murders per 100,000 overall at 91.6.
  • On average, more people commit crimes in Switzerland who aren’t Swiss citizens than who are every year, which has very recently led to harsher deportation laws. In fact, of the top 25 nationalities to commit crimes in Switzerland, 21 of them commit more crimes than the Swiss while on Swiss soil, with the average of all those immigrants being 390% more crimes than are committed by Swiss citizens. Immigrants specifically from Austria, France, and Germany to Switzerland, however, commit an average of only 70% of the crimes the Swiss do on Swiss soil.

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