Troops are often told that there are a handful of people that they should always keep in their back pocket. The cooks, the medics, and the supply guys are the most obvious choices — but they shouldn’t count out support from the congressperson who serves their home of record.
That’s right, soldier. All of those people arguing in Washington are there to hear what you have to say. Holders of public office are obligated to answer letters sent by their constituents serving in the military. If you write them with a concern, best case scenario, they’ll come to the aid of the troops without having to navigate the necessary red tape.
Think of them as having the ultimate “open door” policy for the troops.
While there are many veterans serving in politics, most civilians — including politicians — can be intimidated by abject outrage. Be polite.
(U.S. Army Photo by Sgt. April Campbell)
In the military, every problem should be addressed at the lowest possible level. Is your immediate superior abusing their power? The first step should be their superior. But if the problem is systemic in nature and you feel like you’ve got nowhere to turn, don’t worry, you’ve still got options.
One of the most effective ways of getting a situation resolved is by writing simple letter to your congressperson. It might feel like using a sledgehammer to do a flyswatter’s job, but it’ll get things done.
The best way to get the attention of your congressperson is through a short, to the point, and professionally worded letter that offers possible solutions. That last bit in important; simply writing, “this is bullsh*t” on a piece of paper and sending it out will land your concerns in the trash.
Aiding the troops is, thankfully, a nonpartisan issue. It may not feel like it at times, but they, for the most part, have the well-being of troops in mind.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Clayton Lenhardt)
Congressmen can help with a wide variety of topics, ranging from pay or tax issues, immigration concerns, social security problems, terrible accommodations, or trouble with a toxic chain of command. In the past, this has lead to many great outcomes, such as troops receiving better tents while deployed or having an unjust court-martial investigated.
When the 2013 federal government shutdown was looming overhead, an unprecedented amount of troops and veterans wrote their respective members of Congress with concerns about their military pay being affected. Congressman Mike Coffman of Colorado, a retired Major of the Marine Corps who spent his enlisted years in the Army, sponsored the aptly-named “Pay Our Military Act,” which ensured that Congress’ fighting over federal spending will never affect the pay of all members of the U.S. Armed Forces.
Following the suicides of Private Danny Chen and Lance Corporal Harry Lew, the “Harry Lew Military Hazing Accountability and Prevention Act” was put into place by Congresswoman Judy Chu of California. Both men were the subjects of extreme, racially-motivated hazing and mistreatment by their units and were pushed into suicide. The situation was awful; but the concerns of service members and veterans reached lawmakers directly and had an impact.
If you can manage to bring them out to your installation, prepare for the impending dog and pony show.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Michael B. Keller)
But if you write, know that it may not help immediately — a typical response takes around six weeks. Members of Congress receive hundreds of letters and emails every single day, but they’ll take special notice if you mention that you are serving (or have served) in the military.
Keep the letter polite — you don’t want any reason for their aides to avoid putting your letter on their desk. If you don’t feel like your voice is being heard, you can always write to one of your two senators, though their offices are considerably more busy.
Regardless of how you personally feel about their politics, they are still beheld to their constituents — troops included.
There are two primary ways to end up a hero on the battlefield: either slay the enemy in such stunning numbers that even Frank Miller starts to think the story sounds exaggerated, or else place your own body in harm’s way repeatedly so as to save the lives of friendly forces (bonus points for doing both).
These six men put themselves in mortal danger to rescue their peers.
Airman 1st Class William Pitsenbarger poses with his M-16 in front of a rescue helicopter.
(National Museum of the U.S. Air Force)
1. Air Force pararescue joins the ground fight under mortar fire
On April 11, 1966, an Army company became separated and found itself under fierce fire. With mortars landing in their perimeter and machine gun fire racing in, the casualties started to mount. When Airman 1st Class William Pitsenbarger arrived for the wounded, it quickly became apparent that the infantry was losing the ability to defend itself and conduct medevac at the same time. So, he requested permission to join the ground fight.
In the jungle, he directed the evacuations under fire until it became too fierce for the helicopters to stay. Given a last chance to fly out, Pitsenbarger gave up his seat to a wounded man and stayed on the ground to serve as a medic. Overnight, he kept giving medical aid and resisting the enemy until he succumbed to multiple gunshot wounds.
In September, 1966, he posthumously became the first enlisted airman to receive the Air Force Cross. It was later upgraded to the Medal of Honor.
Now, his bravery and the struggle to have his valor honored at the highest level is set to hit the big screen. Check out the trailer below for The Last Full Measure, landing in theatres on January 24th.
The Last Full Measure Official Trailer | Roadside Attractions
2. Navy helicopter pilot turns his lights on in a firefight
When Navy Lt. j.g. Clyde E. Lassen went out on June 19, 1968, he must have known that it was a risky mission: pulling two downed aviators out of a night time firefight.
But when he arrived on site, it was worse than he expected. The downed pilots were repeatedly hampered by thick underbrush, and a firefight was already raging around them. He managed to land his helicopter the first time but the pilots couldn’t get to him. He came to a new spot under an illumination flare, but the flare burned out and Lassen struck a tree in the darkness.
He barely saved his own bird from crashing but, rather than heading home for fuel and repairs, he came back in under another flare. When that burned out, Lassen turned his own lights on, making him a beacon for enemy fire. Doing so let him land long enough to pick up the other pilots and skedaddle for home. He reached the ship with only five minutes of fuel left. He later received the Medal of Honor for his bravery.
Army Maj. (Chaplain) Charles Liteky, far right of four men lined up, waits to receive his Medal of Honor from President Lyndon Johnson in 1968.
(White House Photograph Office)
3. Army chaplain goes full beast-mode and rescues infantry
Army Capt. Charles James Liteky was supposed to hang out in the back and administer to the spiritual needs of the infantry, but on Dec. 6, 1967, a large enemy force suddenly assaulted his battalion and one company was nearly overwhelmed — and so the chaplain ran into the machine gun fire to help.
First, Liteky found two wounded men and carried them to safety. Then he went back out and began giving aid to the wounded and last rites to the dying. When he found a wounded man too heavy to carry, he rolled onto his back with the man on his chest and inched his way through heavy fire to safety. He was credited with saving 20 men despite wounds to his own neck and foot. His Medal of Honor was approved the following year.
U.S. Marine Corps Gunnery Sgt. Allan J. Kellogg, Jr.
(U.S. Marine Corps)
4. Marine rallies his men under machine gun fire, then jumps on grenade
Gunnery Sgt. Allan Jay Kellogg Jr. was leading a platoon on a risky rescue operation on the night of March 11, 1970, when his company was assaulted by a large North Vietnamese force. As the firefight intensified, one enemy soldier slowly crept to the platoon and managed to get a hand grenade into its midst.
That grenade glanced off the chest of Kellogg. He recognized what it was and had the chance to dive away, but he instead dove onto the explosive and hoped that his body and the Vietnamese mud would save his platoon. It worked, but the weapon inflicted severe injuries upon Kellogg.
He survived and would later receive the Medal of Honor for his action.
5. Navy SEAL leads small team to rescue downed pilots after other attempts fail
In early 1972, a pilot was downed behind enemy lines, triggering a race between the U.S. and North Vietnam to reach him. American attempts from the air were a catastrophic failure. In one week, 14 Americans were killed, seven more aircraft were lost, two were captured, and another aviator was stuck behind enemy lines.
With dashed spirits and a depleted force, only Norris and the Vietnamese commander were willing to continue. They dressed up as fisherman, stole a sampan, and grabbed the missing pilot. They were nearly discovered by enemy patrols multiple times, and Norris was forced to call in a series of airstrikes to save them at one point, but it worked.
Norris would receive the Medal of Honor for his actions. The Vietnamese commander received the Navy Cross and later became an American Citizen.
Army Spec. 5 James McCloughan receives the Medal of Honor from President Donald J. Trump for actions in the Vietnam War.
(U.S. Army Eboni Everson-Myart)
6. Army medic continuously ignores orders and runs towards machine gun fire
In May, 1969, Army Spec. 5 John C. McCloughan was part of a combat assault that went sideways right away. Two helicopters were downed and the ground fire became too thick for helicopters to conduct a rescue. McCloughan, a medic, was sent in to help extract the air crews from the ground. When he arrived on site, he immediately dashed over 100 yards across open ground to recover one soldier, despite a platoon attacking towards him.
Then, he charged through American air strikes to rescue two others and gave them medical aid even after he was torn up by shrapnel. He was specifically ordered to see to his own wounds and stop charging into danger, but he just kept charging. Over the course of the 48-hour firefight, he was credited with saving at least 10 men and with destroying an RPG position with a hand grenade.
Members of the military who have long been barred by law from collecting damages from the federal government for injuries off the battlefield will finally be able to do so after Congress stepped in to amend the law.
The legislation represents progress for injured service members – but still limits who among them may press for damages.
Up until the end of World War II, the U.S. government enjoyed “sovereign immunity,” a vestige of British rule when “the king could do no wrong” and the government could not be sued.
But in 1946, faced with the prospect of World War II veterans returning from the front only to be hit and killed in an accident on base, Congress enacted the Federal Tort Claims Act. Congress felt that it was only fair to allow people to recover damages for personal injury from the government when the government was negligent or irresponsible about caring for people’s safety.
There were exceptions. Certainly Congress could not allow a soldier – or his family – to sue the government if, due to the orders of a superior officer, he were wounded or killed in battle. So the Federal Tort Claims Act prohibited suits by soldiers or sailors injured due to wartime combatant activities.
But later rulings limited servicemembers’ rights even more, in ways not suggested by the language of the act.
The first of these was a case filed by the surviving family members of a soldier. Lt. Rudolph Feres was a decorated World War II veteran who had parachuted into Normandy on D-Day. He survived that battle and others through the end of the war only to return to the U.S. and die in a barracks fire caused, according to his wife, by the explosion of a boiler known to be faulty.
Feres’ widow also claimed that no fire guard had been posted on the fateful night. Joined to the case were two soldiers who claimed malpractice by army surgeons.
The court decided that the existing benefits scheme for military deaths and injuries was ample and denied the claims. To the further chagrin of the Feres family, the controversial ruling took on the name the “Feres Doctrine.”
Cases sustaining Feres expressed the concern that allowing civilian courts to intervene in cases of this type would interfere with military discipline. Thus, the court declared that soldiers could not sue the government for damages for negligently caused injuries “incident to service,” even if they did not involve combat.
All of these rulings meant that anyone who had the misfortune of getting hurt while on active duty, even if it wasn’t in combat, could never sue for damages – while if the same person had gotten hurt on the job as a civilian, they would have had that right.
This disfavored treatment for servicemen was underscored in the aftermath of the space shuttle Challenger explosion, during which families of civilian crew members were able to file lawsuits against the government, but the family of the pilot who was a Navy captain on active duty could not.
The Feres Doctrine were therefore seen by many as unfair. Others, like the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, criticized Feres because of its departure from the plain language of the Federal Tort Claims Act, which limits the exclusion to wartime “combatant activities.” Still others believe that Feres fails to hold the military accountable for the kind of mistakes for which others are required to pay damages.
The Feres Doctrine nevertheless has continued to hold sway, with the Supreme Court refusing to reconsider the doctrine as recently as May 2019. Justice Clarence Thomas, in a dissent from the court’s denial of certiorari in that case, Daniel v. United States, paraphrased Justice Scalia in stating that “Feres was wrongly decided and heartily deserves the widespread, almost universal criticism it has received.”
In 1950, speaking for the Supreme Court in the Feres case, Justice Robert Jackson admitted, “If we misinterpret the Act, at least Congress possesses a ready remedy.” That “ready remedy” finally came almost seventy years later, due to the persistence of a soldier suffering from terminal cancer.
Green Beret goes to Congress
Sergeant First Class Richard Stayskal is a former Green Beret and wounded Iraq veteran whose military health providers missed a 3-centimeter mass in one of his lungs on a CT scan.
After military physicians repeatedly attributed his health problems to asthma or pneumonia, Sgt. Stayskal learned from a civilian pulmonologist that he actually had stage 4 lung cancer. Sgt. Stayskal continues to receive treatment for his cancer, although he says it is deemed incurable.
But Sgt. Stayskal was barred by Feres from pursuing a malpractice case in court.
So Stayskal enlisted the support of California Congresswoman Jackie Speier, a Democrat, who introduced a bill to allow current and former service personnel to bring medical malpractice claims against government health providers.
A compromise version of the bill was incorporated into the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2020. Adding the bill into a “must-pass” piece of defense legislation assured its passage. It was passed by both houses of Congress with overwhelming bipartisan support. President Trump signed the measure into law on Dec. 20, 2019.
Cup only half-full
The new law does not cover everyone. A lawsuit like the original Feres case, by the survivors of someone who perished in a barracks fire, would still not be allowed. That’s because the legislation only allows claims by those who allege to have been victims of medical malpractice by military health care providers.
And claims cannot be brought in federal court, as is normally the case under the Federal Tort Claims Act. Rather, they must be pursued through a Defense Department administrative procedure under regulations that the Department of Defense is required to draft.
Research suggests that most claimants don’t care whether their cases are decided through a court, an administrative procedure or even mediation. Rather, they care about having a respectful hearing in which a third party has carefully considered their views, concerns and evidence.
Those who worked to pass this legislation will likely scrutinize the Defense Department’s regulations and procedures to see whether such a forum has been provided.
The Expedition 55 crew on board the International Space Station has been working hard to prepare for their May 16, 2018 spacewalk, and they’ll still have a lot of difficult work ahead of them when Flight Engineers Ricky Arnold and Drew Feustel head outside the airlock. If you’ve ever wondered what makes spacewalks such a big deal, check out chapter 17 of the new NASA ebook, The International Space Station: Operating an Outpost in the New Frontier. The book, which was written by space station flight directors, is now available to download for free.
Chapter 17: Extravehicular Activities – Building a Space Station Planning and Training Extravehicular Activity Tasks
On paper, the tasks needed for International Space Station assembly—e.g., driving a bolt, carrying something from one place to another, taking off a cover, plugging in an electrical cord—might not seem too complex. However, conducting such tasks while wearing a spacesuit with pressurized gloves (possibly with one’s feet planted on the end of a long robotic arm), working in microgravity, maneuvering around huge structures while moving massive objects, having time constraints based on spacesuit consumables, and using specialized equipment and tools made these tasks and EVAs challenging.
Tasks such as working with cables or fluid hoses are hand-intensive work—fingers and forearms get quite a workout in pressurized gloves that feel like stiff balloons and resemble oversized garden gloves. Added to these complexities, space “walking” is mostly done with the hands. The astronaut grasps handholds and maneuvers the combination of the Extravehicular Mobility Unity, Simplified Aid for EVA Rescue, tools, and himself or herself around the structure.
The team on the ground has to come up with a choreography and order of events for the EVA, in advance. The flight control team creates the EVA timelines based on a high-level prioritized list of tasks determined by ISS management (e.g., move a specific antenna, install a particular avionics box). The flight controllers start with the top ISS priority task and assesses the other tasks that can fit into the EVA based on multiple factors such as how long the tasks will take based on past experiences, whether both crew members need to work together, task location on the ISS, how much equipment will fit into the airlock, the tools required, crew experience level, and the level of crew effort to complete the task. A task that might fit (but only if the team is efficient) is put on the list as a “get-ahead” task.
Real-time discussions in Mission Control of EVA time remaining, crew fatigue, and suit consumables could allow the get-ahead task to be accomplished in addition to the planned tasks. Some tasks are performed on a “clock”; i.e., if power is removed from an item, it might get cold and need heater power in a matter of hours or sometimes within minutes to prevent damage. While a timeline is still in a draft version, the team conducts testing as required to prove out the operations. The team then trains the crew and refines and/or changes the timeline, sometimes up to the day of the EVA.
Both bones and the red stuff are fully organic, though vegetarians have been known to complain about produce grown with meat products.
Of course, while limited bayonet charges in a garden may provide plenty of fertilizer for the plants without causing too much destruction, full-scale battles do more harm than good.
Explosions and metal fragments destroyed large swaths of the European countryside in the world wars. Tanks driving over mushy fields can create long-lasting scars as the ground is torn up. Burning fuel and oil from destroyed vehicles poison the ground.
Still, it’s pretty great that the drill sergeants or instructors making recruits yell out, “Blood! Blood! Blood makes the green grass grow!” are actually teaching something.
It has been 25 years since the culmination of the so-called Russian constitutional crisis, when the country’s president, Boris Yeltsin, sought to dissolve the parliament and then ordered the military to crush opposition led by the vice president at the time, Aleksandr Rutskoi, and the chairman of parliament, Ruslan Khasbulatov.
I was working in Central Asia when the crisis broke out in September 1993, and heard bits and pieces from Radio Mayak every now and again from the Uzbek village I was working in at the time.
I traveled regularly to Moscow for my job — heading a Central Asian sociology project for the University of Manchester and the Soros International Fund for Cultural Initiative — to hand over material from our Central Asian colleagues, pick up their salaries, and restock my own household supplies for the next period of village life.
By chance, I arrived in the Russian capital on October 1. Friends there explained the rapidly changing situation. (I was more interested in the party that some friends told me was set for the Penta Hotel on Saturday night, October 2.)
I had my first look at the Russian parliament building, known as the White House, on the way to the Penta. It was surrounded by trucks, the Soviet-era tanker trucks that had big letters on the sides showing they carried moloko (milk) or voda (water), or something. There was also barbed wire around the building. Small groups of people were milling about on both sides of the barricade.
Sunday, October 3, was shopping day for me. There were always too many people at the Irish store on the Arbat on the weekend, but there was another Irish store on the Ring Road. There was a smaller selection but I was only looking for basic products, like toilet paper.
‘Some snap drill’
Just before I reached the store, a convoy of Russian military trucks full of soldiers drove by. They were moving rather fast. I didn’t think too much of it. I’d seen military convoys drive through cities before, especially in Moscow. “Some snap drill,” I thought.
I hadn’t been back at my accommodation long when the phone rang. It was an Italian friend, Ferrante. He was doing business in Russia and lived not far from the flat I stayed in when I was in Moscow. We knew each other from parties and had seen each other at the Penta on Saturday night.
Our conversation went something like this:
“Are you watching this?” he asked.
“Watching what? I just got back,” I replied, “What’s going on?”
“There’s shooting at Ostankino,” Ferrante said in reference to the TV tower. “It’s on CNN. Come over.”
Now I knew what the military trucks were doing. I hurried over to Ferrante’s place and sat down to watch.
“Here,” Ferrante said, handing me a shot of vodka.
We both downed the shot and watched, then downed another shot, and watched.
We were also listening to a local radio station, and Ferrante was getting calls from people around Moscow. It was clear Ostankino was not the only place where serious events were unfolding.
Ferrante poured us both another shot. We downed it and Ferrante started speaking.
“You know,” and he paused. It seemed like a long pause, then he said exactly what I was thinking: “I always wished I was here in 1991,” a reference to the events that brought about the collapse of the Soviet Union. “Something big is happening. Let’s go out and see.”
Ferrante called his Russian driver to come over and get us, and we headed to the parliament building just as the sun was setting.
And then it got weird
We had trouble reaching the area. Some streets were blocked off. Once, our car turned a corner and there was a group of around 50 men marching toward us carrying sticks and crowbars. “Go back,” Ferrante yelled, though the driver was already trying.
We parked by the Hotel Ukraina, across the Moscow River from the parliament building. The bridge across the river was barricaded on the side near the parliament building but pedestrians could pass easily enough. We walked around watching apparent supporters of Rutskoi and Khasbulatov turn over those tanker trucks, light fires, and rearrange the barbed wire.
There was lots of drinking everywhere.
The crowd was growing. Men in military uniforms had arrived carrying a Soviet flag, and they were trying to form a column of several hundred of the seemingly hard-drinking supporters of Rutskoi and Khasbulatov. It was clear things were about to get ugly.
We noticed and were already talking, in English, about departing. I lit a cigarette, and a Russian man who had obviously had a few shots of vodka himself approached me and asked for a light. After I lit his cigarette, he stared at us and said, “Well guys, are we going, or are we going to sit here taking a piss?”
“Sit here taking a piss,” I replied immediately. “Sorry, we’re foreigners and this isn’t our fight.”
That was enough for him, and he left.
So did we. Back across the river to the Metro, which, amazingly, was working. It was packed, but we were easily able to make it to Tverskoi Boulevard, where the pro-Yeltsin side was assembling. They were drinking, too, but there were places where the atmosphere was more party than political upheaval. I remember a truck lay overturned and there was a guy on top of it playing the accordion and singing with a voice like iconic balladeer Vladimir Vysotsky. A lot of people were just sitting around on the street, drinking and talking.
I got back to my apartment at about 3:00 a.m. “What would daylight bring?” I wondered.
The phone woke me up on Monday, October 4. It was Ferrante again.
“I just got back from the center. I was on the bridge when the tank fired at parliament,” he said quickly.
A lot to digest
It was a lot for me to digest, first thing out of bed. There was an assault on the parliament building, a lot of shooting, people killed…
As I sat at the table drinking tea, more calls came in from friends. Did I know what happened? Had I heard? What had I heard? They told me what they heard.
Several people called just to see where I was, since they knew I was in Moscow but I had not answered the phone all Sunday night.
I remember best the call from my friend Samuel. “Where were you last night?”
When I told him I had been out roaming around in both camps, he screamed, “Are you totally stupid? People are getting killed out there.”
The call ended with me promising I wouldn’t leave my apartment. And I would have kept that promise if I had not run out of sugar for my tea.
I figured the odds of finding someone selling sugar were probably not so good in such times, but I don’t like tea without sugar, so I headed out and got on the subway, which was still running, and went to the Arbat stop.
There was no traffic on the road. I tried walking to where the Irish store on the Arbat was located, but that side of the street was blocked off. On the other side of the street, there was a long line of people behind metal barriers, so I crossed to see. The crowd stretched all the way down the road in the direction of the Moscow River until the about the last 100 meters from the intersection where the Aeroflot globe was. The other side of the intersection was the road that sloped down to the parliament building.
There were several thousand people behind this barrier, and I made my way toward the intersection, where eventually I could see four armored vehicles parked in the center of the road.
I made it to where Dom Knigi (House of Books) used to be. Across the street was that massive block of stores that included, at the time, the Irish store, the Yupiter furniture and appliance store, the Aeroflot office, and dozens of other businesses. Some of the windows were shot out. On top of the building, in plain sight, were OMON, the elite Interior Ministry troops, in their black uniforms gazing down at the streets. There were a lot of police and OMON troops on the other side of the road, at street level also.
Snipers, tracer rounds
But behind the waist-high metal barricades on my side of the street it was a carnival atmosphere. People were talking about snipers where the intersection was, but no one seemed particularly concerned. At least until a sniper finally did take a shot at the armored vehicles.
One of the armored vehicles turned in the direction of a building on the cross street and unloaded. The tracer rounds could be seen flying toward it and dust was kicked up off the side of the building from the bullets.
The crowd roared like it was a sporting event. “Give it to them!” people yelled.
The shooting stopped, the crowd calmed, and then a thoroughly inebriated, shirtless young man jumped over the metal barrier and danced around with his arms outstretched.
Burned facade of the Russian White House after the storming.
Two OMON troops jumped over the barrier on the other side of street, ran to the drunken dancer, and beat him with their clubs, each grabbing one of the now-unconscious drunk’s ankles and dragging him over the curb to their side of the street.
Another shot at the armored vehicles, another volley of return fire, and more cheering from the spectators on my side of the street.
About that time, I was thinking this was too bizarre and decided to leave. But just as I was making my way back, a roar went up from the direction I was headed and the ground started rumbling. A column of armored vehicles, including many tanks, was making its way up the road toward the intersection.
People were calling to the soldiers: “Be careful!” and “There are snipers there.”
I took one last look at the intersection. Two of the armored vehicles were peppering a building with bullets.
The Metro train I took was on a line that briefly emerged from underground to cross a bridge, and everyone looked out the window at the White House, whose upper floors were on fire.
I got my sugar, went home, and had tea. I went to Ferrante’s place that evening to drink more vodka. There were many people there, some with spent shell casings they had gathered after the raid on the parliament building. Everyone had a story to tell.
I packed my bags the next day and by October 6 I was safely back in Central Asia.
United States special operators needed a custom, remotely-controlled vehicle, one that had mapping abilities, infrared sensors, and the ability to send a video live feed back to a waiting vehicle. The defense industry told the operators it would take at least 10 months and cost $1.7 million.
That wasn’t going to cut it. So a group of operators decided to do it themselves. You can probably imagine what a group of people who get the U.S. military’s dirtiest jobs can do when pressed.
So can a lot of people, most of whom are dead now.
It took the U.S. military’s best-trained troops just four days and ,000 to do what the military-industrial complex said would take nearly a year. The industry’s proposal was “unresponsive,” according to Gen. Richard Clarke, the new head of Special Operations Command said on May 19, 2019. Rather than give up the mission because of big defense’s proposed waste of time and money, the operators put their thinking caps on.
They “took stock of their own in-house skills and commercially available equipment and they filled their own system that fulfilled the requirement,” Clarke said. The General went on to describe how this wasn’t the military’s first DIY defense project – and it likely won’t be the last.
Because improvising in tough situations is kinda what they’re known for.
“The nature of industry and SOF collaboration is changing as our personnel learn and adapt to new technological possibilities,” he said. “They are establishing their own garage labs, frequently well forward in the operating environment to develop solutions to technical and tactical problems they’re facing.”
The Battle of the Philippine Sea was the kick that broke down the door to the Philippines and the Japanese home islands during World War II. The American 5th Fleet squared off against the Imperial Japanese Navy’s 1st Mobile Fleet in a fight that would help decide the success of the ongoing Marine invasion of the Marianas Islands and determine which side controlled the air surrounding Japan.
This footage from the Smithsonian Channel shows what sailors and pilots actually experienced during the largest ever carrier-to-carrier battle.
It was to be a gamble for the Japanese no matter what, but it’s impossible that Jisaburo knew just how badly the next two days would go for him and the rest of the Japanese forces. The Japanese chose this engagement as the “decisive battle,” and pitted all serviceable ships and planes in range into the fight in order to break the back of the American amphibious forces.
But problems for Japan began before the battle. On June 15, an American sub spotted the Japanese fleet headed toward the islands, allowing the U.S. commanders to favorably redistribute their forces for the massive surface and aerial fight to come.
A plane lands on the USS Lexington during the Battle of the Philippine Sea.
The American fleet had a thick screen of anti-aircraft guns on battleships and heavy cruisers positioned ahead of the escort and fleet carriers. They had almost twice as many carriers and about 20 percent more planes. U.S. pilots and crews were well-trained veterans flying against predominantly green, under-trained pilots that were rushed into place after previous losses, like the Battle of Midway.
These fuses used radar to determine their distance from a plane and then detonated at an optimal range, drastically increasing the chance that shrapnel would kill the pilot or destroy the targeted plane.
The Imperial Japanese Navy’s 1st Fleet tries to maneuver out of harm’s way June 20, 1944, during the Battle of the Philippine Sea.
And then the U.S. planes took to the air. The Americans, with better crews and radar, facing Japanese wings broken up by anti-aircraft fire, were able to absolutely slaughter the enemy. It would later be described as the “Great Marianas Turkey Shoot.” The Japanese units suffered so much damage that some lost their way back to ship and were attacked while trying to reach the friendly airfield on Guam.
But of course, a group of naval aviators in a carrier battle don’t want to just take down the enemy planes — they also want a piece of the carriers. Sinking just one of those can set the enemy industry back a few years’ worth of mining, smelting, and ship construction.
American planes failed to find the Japanese fleet on the first day of battle, but U.S. submarines spotted two fleet carriers, the Taiho and Shokaku, and sank them with torpedoes.
A Japanese carrier attempts to outmaneuver American bombs and other ordnance during the Battle of the Philippine Sea.
Overnight, the two fleets maneuvered around one another and put planes up once again the following morning. Again, the forces clashed and America came away the clear winner. The American planes hunted for the fleet and, this time, spotted it late in the afternoon.
Despite the setting sun, America decided to press it’s luck and a torpedo plane managed to sink a third Japanese fleet carrier, the Hiyo.
All told, America destroyed well over 500 aircraft, sank five ships (including three carriers), and protected the invasion forces at Saipan. The engagement cost the U.S. over 100 sailors and aircraft as well as a battleship, but so weakened the Japanese navy that it was seen as a sort of second Midway, permanently tipping the balance of power even further in America’s direction.
Iran threatened to respond to economic sanctions against its oil exports imposed by the US with military action to shut down the Strait of Hormuz, the sea passage into the Persian Gulf that sees around 30% of the world’s oil supply pass — but if they did, the US would shut them down in days.
“As the dominant power in the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz, (Iran) has been the guarantor of the security of shipping and the global economy in this vital waterway and has the strength to take action against any scheme in this region,” Armed Forces Chief of Staff Major General Mohammad Bagheri said, according to Reuters.
But Iran’s military wouldn’t last more than a few days against the US and its allies, and according to experts, Iran must know this, and is likely bluffing as they have in past threats to close the strait.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani
“In the event Iran choose to militarily close the Strait of Hormuz, the U.S. and our Arabian Gulf allies would be able to open it in a matter of days,” former Adm. James Stavridis told CNBC on July 23, 2018.
Stavridis, who served as NATO’s supreme allied commander Europe, said that Iran would likely try to mine the waterway to ward off traffic, and may also resort to sending out its small, fast attack craft on suicide runs against US Navy ships that could do some damage.
But the US wouldn’t go it alone, and Iran would quickly find the waterway unmined, its fast attack craft at the bottom of the strait and its coastal missile batteries destroyed.
This map shows maritime traffic along the Strait of Hormuz, where about 30% of the world’s oil experts pass through.
Former US Ambassador to Turkey James Jeffrey, now an expert at the Washington Institute, told Business Insider that it’s “highly unlikely” Iran would move on the Strait of Hormuz, “but just the threat of doing that sent oil prices up.”
President Hassan Rouhani, in warning Trump about the “mother of all wars” tried “to warn not so much Trump, but all of the customers of Iranian oil that if they all stop buying Iranian oil when US sanctions take effect on Nov. 4, 2018, it will hurt prices,” said Jeffrey.
Manipulating oil prices and wielding its massive oil production infrastructure represent “the weapon that the Iranians can most easily use,” in combatting US sanctions, Jeffrey said. Rather than violating the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or the Iran deal, Iran prefers to force nations to trade with it in spite of US sanctions by putting pressure on overall supply.
“If they would have violated the JCPOA,” said Jeffrey, “they’d lose the support of western Europe.”
“They’re doing this to spook consumers,” of Iranian oil, said Jeffrey.
“If the Iranians want to escalate” tensions into fighting along the Strait of Hormuz, “we saw that movie in ’88 and in the end they lost their navy,” said Jeffrey, referring to the Operation Praying Mantis, when the US responded to Iran mining the strait with an aircraft carrier strike group that decimated its navy.
After the Second World War ended, Germany was split in two. The Allies took control over Western Germany while the communists shrouded the eastern half behind the Iron Curtain. Berlin, Germany’s capital, was also famously split in two. The city is nestled deep into the heart of Eastern Germany, leaving the West Germans living there to fend for themselves in a war-torn city without supplies.
Starting in June of 1948, the communists tried their best to cut West Berlin off from the outside world. In what was later dubbed the “Berlin Blockade,” the Soviets shut down all railway, road, and canal access to Western citizens. Just as quickly, allied humanitarian missions were carried out to get food and supplies to the starving people of West Berlin. Between June 24th, 1948, and September 30th of the following year, 278,228 air missions, collectively called “Operation Vittles,” delivered over 2,326,406 tons of supplies to keep the city alive.
But one man, Lt. Gail Halvorsen, went behind his commander’s back to deliver a little extra and help raise the children’s spirits. His personal mission was dubbed Operation Little Vittles.
For this, the kids gave him the exceedingly clever nickname, “Uncle Wiggle Wings.”
Lt. Gail Halvorsen arrived in Germany in July, 1948, and was given orders to fly one of the C-54 Skymasters into the city to ferry supplies. On his day off, he decided to walk around the airfield with a camera to get a couple good shots of aircraft taking off and landing. When he made it to the fence at the end of the runway, he noticed that a group of children were gathered to watch the planes.
They asked him all sorts of questions about the planes and their mission and, as a demonstration of good faith, he gave them the two sticks of gum he had in his pocket. The impoverished kids divvied the two sticks, splitting it evenly amongst the large gathering — they didn’t fight over who got the biggest piece. In fact, it was said that the kid missed candy so much that just smelling the wrapper was good enough.
Halvorsen was heartbroken. He promised the children that he’d return with more. He told them that he’d always “wiggle his wings” when he was flying overhead with candy.
Among all the fan mail and shipments of candy, Halvorsen also received plenty of marriage proposals from the ladies back home. Take notes, fellas.
The very next day, he tied a bunch of candy to handkerchief parachutes and tossed it out of his plane to the kids waiting below as he took off. Halvorsen continued to do this every single day and, as he did, the daily gathering of kids grew larger.
His commanding officer, Lieutenant General William H. Tunner, heard of what he was doing and was reportedly upset. It wasn’t until every newspaper in the region (and back home) started reporting on the heroics of “Uncle Wiggly Wings” or “The Chocolate Flier” that the general officially allow Halvorsen to continue.
Soon enough, people began sending candy to Halvorsen’s unit. Folks back in the States started sending candy by the box, large candy makers donated to Halvorsen’s cause, and the West German children shared the bounty amongst themselves.
As Christmas, 1948, drew nearer, Halvorsen knew he’d have to do something big. By this point, candy makers had supplied him with 18 tons of candy and another 3 tons was given by private donors. In a single night, instead of tossing it to the kids gathered by the runway’s end, Halvorsen spread it across the entire city.
For one night, the spirit of Christmas was brought to the people of West Berlin. The kindness of Lt. Halvorsen, his crew, and the innumerable candy donors would never be forgotten.
To more on this story, listen to the silky smooth narration of Tom Brokaw below.
A Spanish air force Eurofighter Typhoon fighter jet accidentally fired an air-to-air missile during an a routine training exercise over southeast Estonia on Tuesday afternoon, and authorities have not been able to locate the missile or what is left of it.
The Spanish jet fired the missile — an advanced medium-range air-to-air missile, or AMRAAM, made by US defense firm Raytheon — a little before 4 p.m. local time over the village of Pangodi as it returned from an exercise with another Spanish jet as well as two French Mirage 2000 jets.
The exercise was carried out in an area reserved for such activity about 60 miles from the Russian border. All of the planes are based in Siauliai in northern Lithuania, and the jet that launched the missile was able to return to the base.
An AIM-120 AMRAAM being loaded onto an F-16 fighter jet.
The missile’s last location was about 25 miles north of the Estonian city of Tartu. It was reportedly fired northward, but the trajectory and its final location are not known. The 12-foot-long missile has a range of about 60 miles and carries a roughly 50-pound high-explosive warhead.
The missile has a built-in self-destruct mode for such occasions, but it’s not certain that it was activated, and the weapon may have landed on the ground.
The Estonian Defense Ministry has launched a search for the missile using helicopters, and emergency services in the area have asked residents who happen upon the missile or parts of it not to approach it.
Estonian Prime Minister Juri Ratas
Estonian Prime Minister Juri Ratas said on Facebook that there were “thank God no human casualties,” and called the incident “extremely regrettable.”
“I am sure that the Estonian defense forces will, in cooperation with our allies, identify all the circumstances of the case and make every effort to make sure that nothing like this happens again,” he added.
Estonia’s defense minister also ordered the suspension of all aerial military exercises in the country’s air space until the incident was resolved.
The Spanish Defense Ministry also opened an investigation.
“A Spanish Eurofighter based in Lithuania accidentally fired a missile without causing any harm,” the ministry said in a statement. “The air-to-air missile has not hit any aircraft. The defence ministry has opened an investigation to clarify the exact cause of the incident.”
NATO’s Baltic air-policing missions were set up in 2004 , after Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania the alliance, to assist the new members with air defense and deter Russian aerial incursions in the area. Spanish jets have done five of the three-month air-policing tours, leading them in 2006 and 2016 and taking part in 2015 and 2017.
The current Spanish deployment is composed of 135 personnel and Eurofighters jets. It began on May 1 and will conclude on August 31.
Jets from NATO countries deployed on air-policing missions have had regular encounters with Russian jets over the Baltics, though there were no reports of Russian aircraft in the area when the missile was fired on Tuesday.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Vladimir Putin‘s KGB career may have ended decades ago, but that didn’t stop the Russian president from citing his spy credentials during July 16, 2018’s press conference with US president Donald Trump.
Dissmissing the idea that Trump’s presidential campaign colluded with Russia in 2016 and disputing the credibility of the Steele dossier, Putin said, “I was an intelligence officer myself, and I know how dossiers are made up.”
Putin has denied hacking the election. Trump has argued that he “doesn’t see any reason” why Putin would meddle in the election, despite the consensus of the US intelligence community that Russia interfered in order to ensure a Republican victory.
Here’s a look into Putin’s early career as a KGB spy:
“The Shield and the Sword” (1968)
As a teenager, Putin was captivated by the novel and film series “The Shield and the Sword,” writes Steven Lee Myers in “The New Tsar: The Rise and Reign of Vladimir Putin.”
He attended training at the heavily fortified School No. 401 in Saint Petersburg, where prospective officers learned intelligence tactics and interrogation techniques, and trained physically. In 1976, he became a first lieutenant.
In the biography “Mr. Putin,” Fiona Hill and Cliff Gaddy speculate his mission may have been to recruit top East German Communist Party and Stasi officials, steal technological secrets, compromise visiting Westerners, or travel undercover to West Germany.
As America’s elite, U.S. Navy SEALs are constantly called for operations around the globe.
With a motto of “the only easy day was yesterday,” the average day in the life of a SEAL is usually anything but. Whether they are deploying to global hotspots, honing new skills in some of the military’s toughest schools, or going through training evolutions stateside, SEALs learn to be ready for anything.
Here are 19 photos showing what they do best around the world.