Video games are known for over-the-top weaponry. In the universe of games, a seemingly tiny blonde dude can easily swing around the giant Buster Sword (see: Final Fantasy VII) and a kid with a mask is given free reign to swing around a ridiculously shaped, dual-bladed sword (see: The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask).
In real life, getting your hands on these incredible weapons is a much more painstaking endeavor than simply showing up at a store and dropping a few rupees or a couple hundred gil. Tony Swatton of Burbank, California’s Sword and Stone and the crew over at Baltimore Knife and Sword take pride in forging authentic, legitimate versions of pop-culture’s finest weaponry. Together, they formed the web series, Man at Arms: Reforged, which you can find on YouTube.
Let’s set the bar extremely high right off the bat with a look at their work on a Warhammer 40K Chainsword:
Swatton is a self-taught blacksmith who got his start working on Steven Spielberg’s Hook and has been creating weapons and armor for film and television ever since. His work can also be seen on the official World of Warcraft channel in a series called Azeroth Armory.
The show expanded to Maryland and added Baltimore’s Knife and Sword crew at the start of the second season. Since then, the channel has achieved internet stardom by bringing the viewers along for the ride as they create some of the most interesting weapons from film, television, and gaming. Behind each weapon is a very long, methodical process. Each weapon takes as long as 200 hours to forge, which is distilled down into a single 10-minute video segment.
They’re also not afraid to take on historical recreations, such as a 400-year old Chinese Dandao:
Each project requires a unique approach but, in general, they employ plasma cutting to get the desired shape out of steel, mold the intricate details out of clay for a bronze cast, spend days perfecting every minute detail, and then finally assemble, sharpen, and test their new weapon.
They create content based off of YouTube comments, so if you can think of an awesome weapon that isn’t in their nearly 150-video-long catalog, leave a suggestion!
During the Battle of Okinawa, one United States Navy ship went up against unbelievable odds — and survived to tell the incredible tale. The Allen M. Sumner-class destroyer USS Laffey (DD 724) faced off against a horde of Japanese pilots — some of whom, now known as kamikazes, were willing to crash into American vessels and sacrifice their lives to complete their mission.
Now, the Laffey’s story is coming to the big screen.
Mel Gibson, acclaimed actor and director of the Academy Award-nominated film Hacksaw Ridge, is currently working on Destroyer, a film based on the Wukovits’ book, Hell from the Heavens: The Epic Story of the USS Laffey and World War II’s Greatest Kamikaze Attack. The film will be centered around the 90 minutes of chaos experienced by the crew of the Laffey on April 16, 1945. In the span of roughly an hour and a half, the Laffey was hit by four bombs and struck by as many as eight kamikazes.
USS Laffey (DD 724) during World War II, packing six dual-purpose five-inch guns and ten 21-inch torpedo tubes.
USS Laffey’s story didn’t start and end with those fateful 90 minutes, however. After Okinawa, she was repaired and went on to see action in the Korean War. After Korea, she served until 1975, when she was decommissioned and stricken from the Naval Register of Vessels. Unlike many of her sister ships that went directly to the scrapyard, she was preserved as a museum and declared a National Historic Landmark in 1986.
USS Laffey (DD 724, right) next to USS Hank (DD 702), a sister ship named after William Hank, the commanding officer of the first USS Laffey (DD 459).
Laffey’s commanding officer, Commander Frederick J. Becton, was awarded the Navy Cross for his actions that April day in 1945. Becton was a well-decorated troop in World War II. He received the Silver Star four times, including once for heroism on D-Day and twice more for actions in the Philippines while commanding the Laffey.
The first USS Laffey (DD 459), a Benson-class destroyer, pulling alongside another ship in 1942.
A previous USS Laffey, a Benson-class destroyer with the hull number DD 459, saw action in the Battle of Cape Esperance, but became a legend during the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal in the early morning hours of Friday, November 13, 1942. The destroyer closed to within 20 feet of the Japanese battleship Hiei and wounded Vice Admiral Hiroaki Abe before being sunk by enemy fire. The sinking of the Laffey cost many US lives, but left the Japanese without command in a pivotal moment.
It seems as though the name ‘Laffey’ is destined to fight the odds.
Check out the video below to see director Mel Gibson’s excitement as he discusses the near-impossible bravery of the USS Laffey at Okinawa.
2019 San Francisco 49ers Season: Playoffs: Super Bowl LIV 2020 Kansas City Chiefs vs San Francisco 49ers Sunday, February 2, 2020 Santa Clara, CA (49ers Photo)
When Air Force Academy football player Ben Garland broke his left hand at practice in 2009, Head Coach Troy Calhoun thought he might miss the rest of the season. Garland played that week.
“You thought, ‘My goodness, this guy, he’s a pretty special human being,”’ Calhoun said.
Garland, 32, is now entering his sixth NFL season overall and his second season with the San Francisco 49ers. For the last nine years, the offensive lineman has spent his offseasons with the Colorado Air National Guard.
Garland was 5 years old when he attended an Air Force football game with his grandfather, who was a colonel. That experience led the determined boy to vow to play on that field someday and become an officer.
Garland played on the defensive line at the Air Force Academy from 2006 to 2009, earning all-Mountain West conference, second-team honors as a senior. He signed with the Denver Broncos as an undrafted free agent and placed on the reserve/military list for two years so he could honor his military commitment.
Garland became an offensive lineman in 2012 and has been on three teams that reached the Super Bowl — the Broncos after the 2013 season, the Atlanta Falcons after the 2016 season and the 49ers last February. Garland started at center during San Francisco’s 31-20 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LIV in Miami.
“I’m definitely known around the wing as the guy who plays in the NFL,” said Garland, who is 6 feet 5 and weighs 308 pounds.
Capt. Ben Garland. Courtesy photo.
Garland has worked primarily in public affairs with the Air National Guard, handling media and community relations as well as internal communications. He has deployed abroad, including to Jordan in 2013.
He was also the recipient of a 2018 Salute to Service Award, in part, because of actions off the field including donating game tickets each week to service members, visiting the Air Force Academy annually to speak to students, working with Georgia Tech ROTC and mentoring local young officers, according to the NFL.
“Once you join the military, you are always an airman or soldier or whatever branch you choose, but we’re all service members,” said Major Kinder Blacke, chief of public affairs for the 140th Wing of the Colorado Air National Guard. “I don’t really think you take that uniform off. I guess I would say I see him as a guardsman who’s an excellent football player and has pursued both of those dreams at once. It’s really admirable.”
Garland said he cherishes his time at Air Force.
“It was extremely challenging and physical, and you were exhausted at times, but the challenging things in life mean the most to you,” he said. “It was one of the best experiences of my life, and I have some of my closest friends from it.”
Garland served on active duty from 2010-12 after graduation. He was already a member of the Air National Guard by the time he made his NFL debut for the Broncos against the Raiders in Oakland on Nov. 9, 2014.
“The way he is able to have a full plate but to do it with such drive and energy, he has an enormous amount of work capacity,” Calhoun said.
The coronavirus pandemic has altered the sports calendar and left a question mark over Garland’s NFL career. There is no guarantee that Garland will be with his teammates for the 49ers’ scheduled opener against the Arizona Cardinals at home on Sept. 13.
Regardless, Garland still possesses a clear vision for what lies ahead.
“Once my NFL career is over, I’d love to do more stuff with the military,” he said. “It just depends where my body’s at. …[In] the military, you get people from all walks of life to come together to be one of the best teams in the world. These selfless, incredible, courageous people, you get to know and be friends with. I definitely want to be a part of that as long as I can.”
Keep up with Garland’s career updates by following him on Instagram.
When Stephanie Lynn found out that her husband had to work on Christmas, she came up with a way for her family to still celebrate the holiday together. In a letter from Santa that’s going viral, the mom explains to kids of military and first responder families that Christmas will be happening on a different day this year.
“I know sometimes your mom or dad can’t be home on Christmas Day because they’re working — keeping us safe and healthy,” the letter, which Lynn shared to Facebook on Dec. 11, 2018, reads. “I want your whole family to have a very special Christmas morning — together.”
Santa goes on to explain that he and the elves have set up special delivery days for the kids, from Dec. 23 to 27, 2018 (Lynn and husband Brent will be celebrating with her kids on the morning of the 24th, she says). There’s also an “other” option for families who aren’t able to be together during Christmas week.
“Always remember, Christmas isn’t about a box on the calendar, but the feeling we keep in our hearts,” Santa writes. “Thank you for being such great children, and sharing your moms and dads with us all when we need them the most.”
Lynn’s letter is receiving a lot of attention on social media, with almost 42,000 shares so far and over 7,100 likes, as parents in similar situations understand the struggle of “juggling shift work… on-call hours, deployments, TDYs, etc.”
Even NORAD, the popular Santa tracker, is spreading the word about Mr. Claus’ special deliveries, noting that while they do not report on them, those days are “no less special than the date of December 24.”
Because of the letter’s popularity, Lynn has since created other versions (the original was just for military and first responders) for medical professionals, pilots and flight crews, divorced families and just general use. “Merry Christmas- whatever day that may be for your family!” she writes.
This article originally appeared on Fatherly. Follow @FatherlyHQ on Twitter.
The Marine Corps is a very tough and flexible force.
But perhaps the most versatile Marine unit is the Marine Corps Security Force Regiment — a dedicated security and counter-terrorism unit that’s used for everything from guarding nukes to rescuing diplomats.
In fact, the more famous counter-terror units like Delta Force, SEAL Team Six, the Special Air Service or GSG 9 are young whippersnappers compared to the Marine Corps Security Force Regiment. Tracing its lineage to the 1920s, the Marine Security Force Regiment was around long before the SAS was a gleam in the eye of David Stirling.
When the Navy’s part of America’s nuclear triad is in port, it’s these Marines that defend it.
The Security Forces Marines get the task for one simple reason: America’s SSBN force may be safe when it’s out at sea, but when in port, it is vulnerable to attack. Not only that, the UGM-133 Trident II ballistic missiles are usually not on the submarines and represent a perfect target for those seeking to cripple the sea-based deterrent.
Part of that effort includes the unit’s Recapture Tactics Teams. According to Military.com, these teams specialize in recovering materials, people, and property tied to the strategic inventory.
AmericanSpecialOps.com notes that they are called the CQB Team, and they are trained to act at the squad level.
According to its official webpage, the Security Force Regiment is also tasked with providing “forward deployed, expeditionary antiterrorism and security forces to support designated commanders and protect vital national assets” and “expeditionary antiterrorism and security forces, deployable from the United States, to establish or augment security as directed by the commander of U.S. Marine Corps Forces Command.”
The units sent in those cases are the Fleet Anti-terrorist Security Teams, and the companies in vulnerable commands are called FAST Companies. Platoons from a FAST company could be sent to bolster an embassy or consulate that has come under attack.
In 2012, those were the Marines called on in the aftermath of the Benghazi attack according to USNI News.
To see what FAST Marines can do, check out this video:
For decades, photography has been the primary means of recording war. The medium began its rise to prominence during the American Civil War, thanks to Mathew Brady, a pioneer of photography, and his mobile darkroom. By World War I, photography had completely taken over as the de facto means of documenting war. Today, some form of photography, either still or motion, is still used to capture the iconic moments of a conflict.
But believe it or not, painting has hung on.
During the Vietnam War, the United States Army’s Center for Military History ran a unique program, selecting soldiers for temporary duty in the Vietnam Combat Artists Program. One such soldier was James R. Pollock, who served on Combat Artist Team IV from August 15, 1967, to December 31, 1967.
According to a 2009 essay written by Pollock, these artists followed various units around in the field for anywhere from one to four days. Equipped with a sketchbook and an M1911, they would share the dangers that those troops faced — if they went on patrol, the combat artists went on patrol, too.
The combat artists followed Army troops everywhere, capturing humanitarian missions like this one.
(U.S. Army Combat Art Program painting by Samuel E. Alexander)
Pollock’s team had orders to spend 60 days in Vietnam assigned to the Command Historian, Headquarters, US Army, Vietnam, followed by another 75 in Hawaii with a Special Services Officer. In Vietnam, they were to make sketches, capturing powerful moments that would be turned into completed paintings while in Hawaii.
Photography took a prominent role among historians, but paintings can still vividly capture combat.
(U.S. Army Combat Art Program by Burdell Moody)
The combat artists weren’t very high-ranking: Pollock’s team had three Specialist 4s, one Specialist 5, and one sergeant, and was supervised by a lieutenant. The artists also had “open Category Z Air and Military Travel orders” — which basically gave them free reign to hitchhike anywhere.
James Pollock was one of the artists who was on a Combat Art Team during Vietnam, and later became a famous painter who has documented the Vietnam Combat Artists Program.
(U.S. Army Combat Art Program painting by James Pollock)
Everyone knows Cuba is a bastion of great music — but most people probably don’t consider Guantanamo Bay when they’re thinking of all that great Cuban sound. They definitely don’t think of the Navy base for having a good time rockin’ in Fidel’s backyard — which happens to be the slogan of the radio station on base.
The truth is, there’s an amazing collection of music in that remote corner of the island — and the Navy takes full advantage by playing all of the greatest hits by the original artists.
Radio GTMO houses an amazing collection of some 22,000 pieces of music — some on reel-to-reel tape and many others on vinyl — including a reel-to-reel of the Beatles anthology. The collection is valued at over $2 million and is carefully cataloged in alphabetical order on a series of index cards.
“I believe this is one of the largest, if not the largest, collection in the Armed Services Network,” Kelly Wirfel, base spokeswoman, told Military Times.
Though the U.S. Navy base at Guantanamo has been in operation since 1903 (it’s the oldest overseas U.S. Navy installation), Radio GTMO has only been in operation since 1940. Unfortunately, Cubans outside of the base don’t get to hear the Classic Rock and Top 40 songs played by Radio Gitmo — the transmission signal stops at the base’s gate (Cubans get music and news from outside Cuba via another U.S. government entity — Radio Marti, run by the same folks who create Voice of America News).
(U.S. Army Photo by Sgt. Benjamin Cossel)
The radio station will still broadcast even its oldest vinyl records, even though Adrian Cronauer (a former Air Force DJ played by Robin Williams in the film Good Morning, Vietnam) says they belong in a museum. So, how did such a stash end up in a remote corner of Cuba? The reason for it is that the station never sent its analog collection back to the Armed Forces Network when it was all recalled in the 1990s in an effort to go digital.
Among the station’s other rare offerings are live performances by Chuck Berry, The Grateful Dead, Led Zeppelin, Bob Marley, and John Coltrane — among many, many others. It’s the third largest collection of music on any military base and the pearls of its collection rivals even the Library of Congress.
General James Mattis once called Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations the one book every American should read. Marcus Aurelius was a philosopher, but he was also a Roman emperor, who bore trials and tribulations throughout his life with a quiet strength that continues to inspire us.
Here are seven things to know about the life of Marcus Aurelius.
1. He was adopted into the imperial family
In the Roman Empire, it was common for the emperor to adopt the man who would later become his heir. At just seventeen years old, the philosophically-minded Marcus Annius Verus was adopted by Antoninus Pius, himself the adoptive son of then-emperor Hadrian. Marcus was renamed Marcus Aurelius, or Marcus the Golden. After Hadrian died and Pius became the emperor, Marcus and his adoptive brother Lucius became successors to the throne. During his time as the imperial heir, the emperor taught Marcus the importance of self-discipline and civic virtue, qualities he would later come to exemplify.
2. He was a co-emperor with his brother
When Antoninus Pius died in 161 AD, Marcus and Lucius became co-emperors. Marcus was an impressive man of impeccable character, who shared his power with Lucius and the Roman Senate and used his power for the benefit of the empire. He was keen on administration but naive in war, having never commanded his own army or province during Pius’ long and peaceful reign. But when war came to Rome, Marcus did not fail in his duty.
3. He faced threats from all directions
In the same year Marcus and Lucius became emperors, the king of Parthia invaded the Roman-controlled Kingdom of Armenia, and replaced its king with a puppet. Despite the presence of hostile German tribes across the Danube River, Marcus withdrew three legions from the Danube front and sent them to Armenia under Lucius’ command. Lucius defeated the Parthians and pushed them out of Roman territory for the next thirty years. Only five years later Rome was invaded by the Marcomanni, a confederation of German tribes. Marcus raised two legions for war, but an epidemic in the empire forced him to wait an entire year before advancing.
4. He was forced to fight Rome’s enemies alone
In 168 Marcus and Lucius finally left for the German front, but were forced back due to the spread of the disease. One year later, Lucius was dead of smallpox and Marcus was the sole emperor of Rome. He never took this responsibility lightly. Now alone, Marcus marched to push the Germans back across the Danube. After a rocky start, the Romans were able to turn the tide of the invasion. Marcus and his legions crossed the Danube, fighting some tribes and negotiating with others to turn the Marcomanni against one another. In 175 he negotiated a peace that allowed thousands of Roman soldiers to return home along with many Germanic warriors to serve in Rome’s legions.
5. He never had the chance to relax
Just as Marcus made his peace with the Germans, there was a rebellion in Syria. Marcus started the journey east to quell the rebellion, only for it to be suppressed before he arrived. Nevertheless he continued his tour of the east to provide the people with an image of strength. He would need his own strength when on the tour his wife Faustina died in 175. Their relationship had been difficult, but he faithfully mourned her death. For the first time in eight years, and now completely alone, Marcus returned to the city of Rome. He could enjoy a brief respite, but it would not last.
6. He spent the rest of his life at war
In the year 177 there was another Germanic rebellion which forced Marcus Aurelius to leave Rome. He would never step foot in the city again. For the next few years, the Romans fought the rebellious tribes in their own territory. The war seemed to be going well until March 17, 180, when Marcus Aurelius died from a mysterious illness in the military outpost of Vindobona. His years of warfare brought him no pleasure, but his sacrifices bought time for an empire that in the coming years would descend into chaos.
7. He is still remembered today
Marcus Aurelius is known as the last of the Five Good Emperors. Even in his own time he was considered an ideal philosopher-king, who always placed his duty above himself. Today he is most famous for his Meditations, the modern name for the private journal he kept during his time on the German front. In this journal he shared his deepest thoughts, on the challenges he faced as an emperor and as a man, and how he struggled to overcome them. Marcus’ Meditations was written to himself, but is really a universal letter to humanity about life and holding one’s head up despite it all.
There are some planes that hang onto service even though time and technology have long passed them by. One of these planes, which first flew in 1947, is something that could’ve once been considered state-of-the-art… in 1918.
And yet, somehow, this plane is still in service with militaries today. The Antonov An-2 Colt is, arguably, an outdated junk-heap. Even the UH-60 Black Hawk is faster than this fixed-wing plane (the Black Hawk has a top speed of 183 mph, the Colt maxes out at a paltry 160). Additionally, the An-2 can haul a dozen passengers while the UH-60 can, in some cases, carry 22. Can you say “outclassed?”
Only in terms of maximum range does the An-2 take an edge over the ubiquitous Black Hawk (it’s got a range of 525 miles, which is longer than UH-60’s 363). So, how has this plane survived so long?
This recognition drawing shows just how state of the art the An-2 is… for 1918.
As history has proved, there’s strength in numbers. This plane was in production for over 50 years with the Soviet Union, Poland, and Communist China. A production run that long was responsible for the creation of at least 18,000 airframes. No matter what you use them for, that staggering number of planes won’t be simply disappearing any time soon.
As you might have guessed by now, the An-2 is also very popular because it’s extremely cheap, especially second-hand (some are for sale for as little as ,170).
The last thing you’d expect from a cheap, fragile aircraft is a combat role — but over its long career, it’s seen plenty of action. This plane was used primarily by communist forces in the Korean War and Vietnam War. It also played the part of a makeshift bomber in the 1991 Croatian War for Independence.
An-2s are getting upgrades – this An-2-100 has a turboprop engine.
Like the famous C-47 Skytrain, the An-2 has been continually upgraded throughout its storied career to keep it flying for decades to come. Modern Colts make use of turboprop engines and composite wings.
Learn more about this very common (and somewhat antiquated) biplane cargo hauler in the video below!
Three years of a heavy-casualty war came to a close on this date in 1953 when the Korean War Armistice was signed. This conflict ended America’s first brush with the Cold War concept of “limited war,” which was the first “hot” war of the Cold War, where the aim of US involvement was not the total defeat of the enemy but instead the “limited” goal of protecting South Korea. During the three years of war, over 55,000 American troops were killed in action.
Korea was a Japanese colony for 35 years, from 1910-1045 until the US and the Soviet Union occupied it after WWII. The US proposed that the country temporarily be divided along the 38th Parallel to maintain influence in the region. Three years later, in 1948, the American-baked anti-communist southern government administration declared itself the Republic of Korea. The Soviet-back, communist north was quick to follow and declared itself the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea shortly after. Both governments were unstable, and border skirmishes were frequent before the Korean War officially began.
When the community of North Korea invaded South Korea on June 25, 1950, the U.S. quickly acted and secured a resolution from the United Nations calling for military defense. Within days, US forces had joined the battle by land, air, and sea.
Even though the armistice officially stopped hostilities between North and South Korea, it’s not a permanent peace treaty. The armistice agreement suspended open hostilities and withdrew all military forces.
Lots of brass was on hand to sign several copies. Eighteen official copies were signed in three different languages by US Army Lt. Gen. Willian K. Harrison, Jr., senior delegate, UN Command Delegation, North Korean Gen. Nam II, senior delegate, and delegations from both the Korean People’s Army and the Chinese People’s Volunteers were present for signatures.
It took a while to get to the discussion table. The armistice marked the end of the longest negotiated armistice in history. Spread over two years and 17 days, 158 meetings took place.
The established committee of representatives from neutral countries worked together to decide what would happen to POWs. Eventually, it was decided that POWs could choose what they wanted to do – stay where they were or return to their own country.
There were plenty of high-level POWs. One of the most well known is when US Army Brigadier General Francis Townsend Dodd was held hostage by North Korean POWs during a camp uprising. The incident was used widely to showcase North Korean victories and eventually led to the end of Dodd’s career.
Death tolls on all sides were significant and heavy. Currently, there are still more than 7,000 US soldiers missing in action from the war. There were up to a total of 5 million dead, wounded, or missing on both sides. Half of them were civilians.
New borders were drawn at the discussion table. This new border gave South Korea additional territory and established the Demilitarized Zone as a buffer between the forces.
It took twelve hours for the truce to go into effect. It was signed at 1000 and activated at 2200. But then, the US decided to lengthen the war period to January 31, 1955, to extend benefits eligibility for service members.
The Korean War armistice is strictly a military document, so there’s no nation as a signatory to the agreement. In March 2013, North Korean decided that the 1953 armistice was no longer valid. And, since neither side can claim they won the war, the region is now at an impasse.
It’s often called “The Forgotten War,” partly because of the lack of media coverage about the Korean war, post-conflict. Compared to WWII, there are far fewer movies about the Korean War than WWII. Officially, it’s still classified as a “police action” because President Truman never asked Congress for a formal declaration of war.
Sixteen countries participated in the conflict, but it’s not considered a “World War” by historians, even though it set the tone for the decades of Soviet-American rivalry and profoundly shaped the world we live in today.
Speaking of numbers, the U.S. dropped more bombs in Korean than in the Pacific Theater during WWII. In addition to 32,557 tons of napalm, U.S. forces dropped 635,000 tons of bombs.
It might be the forgotten war, but may we never forget.
The 64th anniversary of the U-2 spy plane’s historic, and accidental, first flight came in early August 2019.
While much about the Dragon Lady has changed in the past six decades — most of the 30 or so in use now were built in the 1980s, and they no longer do overflights of hostile territory, as in the 1960 flight in which Francis Gary Powers was shot down over the Soviet Union — the U-2 is still at the front of the military’s intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance mission, lurking off coastlines and above battlefields.
The U-2 is probably best known for what pilots call “the optical bar camera,” Maj. Travis “Lefty” Patterson, a U-2 pilot, said at an Air Force event in New York City in May 2019.
“It’s effectively a giant wet film camera,” about the size of a projector screen, that fits in the belly of the aircraft and carries 10,500 feet of film, Patterson said during a panel discussion about the U-2 and its mission.
The camera has improved greatly since the 1950s. “What we can do with that, for instance, in about eight hours, we can take off and we can map the entire state of California,” Patterson said. “The fidelity is such that if somebody is holding a newspaper out … you can probably read the headlines.”
US Air Force Senior Airman Charlie Lorenzo loading test film into an onboard camera for a test in preparation for a U-2 mission at a base in Southwest Asia in 2008.
(Air Force photo by Senior Airman Levi Riendeau)
The aircraft’s size and power allow it to carry a lot of hardware, earning it the nickname “Mr. Potato Head.”
“We can take the nose off, and we can put a giant radar on the nose, and you could actually image … out to the horizon, which, if you think about it, from 70,000 feet, is about 300 miles,” Patterson said. “So if you’re looking 360 degrees, you can see 600 miles in any direction.”
Another option is “like a big digital camera,” Patterson said. “It’s got a lens about the size of a pizza platter, and it has multiple spectral capabilities, which means it’s imaging across different pieces of the light spectrum at any given time, so you can actually pull specific data that these intel analysts need to actually identify what is this material made out of.”
“We also carry what’s called signals payloads, so we can listen to different radars, different communications,” Patterson said. “We have a number of antennas all across the aircraft [with which] we’re able to just pick up what other people are doing.”
“Some of these sensors can see hundreds and hundreds of miles, so even if we’re not overflying, you can get a real deep look at what you actually want to see,” Maj. Matt “Top” Nauman, also a U-2 pilot, said at the event.
99th Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron airmen preparing a U-2 pilot for a mission at Al Dhafra Air Base in the United Arab Emirates on March 13, 2019.
(US Air Force photo by Senior Airman Gracie I. Lee)
‘Just a sensor’
The U-2 is “just a sensor in a broader grid that the United States has all over the world … feeding data to these professionals,” Patterson said.
Whether it’s radar imagery or signals intercepts, “We bring all that on board the aircraft, and we pipe it over a data link to a satellite and then down to the ground somewhere else in the world where we have a team of almost 300 intel analysts,” Patterson said.
“So while we’re sitting by ourselves over a weird part of the world doing that ISR mission, all the information we’re collecting is going back down to multiple teams around the globe,” he added. “They’re … distilling it, turning it into usable reports for the decision makers, and [getting] that information disseminated.”
Capt. Joseph Siler, the chief of intelligence training with the 492nd Special Operations Support Squadron, was tasked leading those efforts.
“I loved talking to the [U-2] pilots, and … having that pilot [who] is actually understanding the context of where they’re at and is able to dynamically change direction and help us, it just brings something to the fight,” especially when sudden changes require a new plan, Siler said at the same event, during a panel discussion about the mental and physical strain of Air Force operations.
A U-2 pilot signaling flight-line personnel while taxiing at Beale Air Force Base in California on Sep. 20, 2019.
(US Air Force photo by Senior Airman Valentina Viglianco)
“I got more of the quick-time, actionable intelligence” from U-2s, Siler said. “It’s all going into this common picture, but that’s where they fit into it.”
That doesn’t mean the U-2 can’t play a role in the action on the ground as it unfolds.
“We have multiple radios on board,” Patterson said. “So let’s say you’re flying a mission over a desert somewhere and we have troops on the ground that are in contact. We’ll be talking directly to them sometimes, providing imagery.”
That imagery isn’t going straight from the U-2 to the troops, but “they can tell me what they need to listen to, where they need to look, and we’ll move the sensors to that spot, snap an image, kick it back over whatever data links we need to get it to the intel professionals,” he said. “They will do their rapid analysis and send that, again, to the forward edge, where those folks can take a look at it.”
“You can see troop movements. You can see things like that,” Patterson said. “We’ve spent a lot of time looking for [improvised explosive devices] and providing [that information] real-time to convoys and things like that. I’ve done that personally.”
US Air Force Maj. Sean Gallagher greeting his ground support crew before a mission in a U-2, at an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia in 2010.
(US Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Eric Harris)
‘Constant, constant stress’
Patterson analogized the relay of information to a game of telephone.
It’s on “the airmen that are receiving that to be able to make that decipherable and useful,” Siler said of intelligence gathered by U-2s. “When I was in there, in that environment, receiving all that information and how that work, it’s just such a weird place. It’s different from traditional conflict.”
The waves of incoming information are a source of “constant, constant stress,” added Siler, who has spoken about his recovery from post-traumatic stress disorder.
“I’m getting information from the U-2. I’m getting information from satellites. I’m getting information from an MQ-9, and I have an Army task force that’s about to go in, and there’s people’s lives that are going to be tested,” Siler said.
“What the intelligence community does is we look at all the information we can get, from whatever sensor it is, we pipe that together, and then we say, ‘All right, based upon what the U-2 is saying and what the Global Hawk is saying and what the satellites are saying, we believe this is the best route, this is the best time.'”
Final decisions about when and where to go are made by operators. But, Siler said, “you can imagine the sense of responsibility that these young airmen, 19, 20 years old, feel as they make those calls, and we say, ‘is that the bad guy or is that his 16-year-old son?'”
A U-2 pilot driving a high-performance chase car on the runway to catch a U-2 during a low-flight touch-and-go at Al Dhafra Air Base in the United Arab Emirates on March 15, 2019.
(US Air Force photo by Senior Airman Gracie I. Lee)
The reason the U-2 funnels that intelligence back to crew members on the ground is that “it’s so much data that we just simply can’t process all of it on board,” Patterson said.
A U-2 pilot can key on an interesting signal picked up by a sensor, sending imagery to intelligence analysts on the ground. Those analysts can decide to look into it, routing a satellite to take a look or sending a drone to get photos and video.
The process can run the other way as well. A tip from social media can lead an analyst on the ground to send in a U-2 to gather photos and other imagery. If necessary, assets like a drone or an F-16 with video capability can be sent in for a closer look.
“As you start networking [these assets], using these algorithms and using these processing capabilities, if I hear a signal here, and somebody hears the same signal but they’re over here, you can instantly refine that” if the assets are in sync, Patterson said. “We’re able to map down some pretty interesting stuff pretty quick.”
A U-2 high above the earth.
(US Air Force)
But the goal is do it quicker, and the Air Force has been looking at artificial intelligence and machine learning to sort through all the data gathered by U-2s and other aircraft and sensors and make sense of it.
Integrating that into the broader intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance mission is still in its “infancy,” Nauman said.
“We know the capability’s there. We know the commercial sector is really doing a lot of development on that. They’re ahead on that frankly,” Nauman said. “We’re trying to figure out, A) how to catch up and be as good, and then Part B is what do we do with that, how do we make ourselves more effective with that.”
“Processing is getting really good, really fast, so there are a number of efforts to actually take a lot … of the stuff that we collect, running it through an algorithm at … what we call the forward edge — like right on board the aircraft — [and] disseminate that information to the fight real-time, without having to reach back, and those some of the projects that we’re working right now,” Patterson said, describing what senior leaders have called “algorithmic warfare.”
“It’s easier to put racks and racks of servers and [graphics processing units] on the ground, obviously, to do the processing, but how do we take a piece of that and move that to the air?” Nauman said. “I think that’s going to be kind of the follow-on step.”
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Janine Stange is looking for a lot of people to acknowledge what a few people have obtained over the past 156 years.
Stange, who, in 2014, became the first person to perform the national anthem in all 50 states, is in her third year of asking people to write letters of appreciation to those who have received the Congressional Medal of Honor.
“I didn’t realize how many people wanted to do this,” Stange said over the telephone from her Baltimore, Maryland, home.
Janine Stange performing the National Anthem for the 2016 National Medal of Honor Day gathering.
The Medal of Honor is the highest award for valor in action against an enemy force which can be bestowed upon an individual serving in the military.
March 25th is National Medal of Honor Day. During the last week of March, recipients meet for an annual event in Arlington, Virginia. In 2016, Stange was invited to sing the national anthem at that gathering.
In the weeks leading up to the event, she had an idea. “I thought I would ask people if they wanted to write them,” she said.
Just some of the packages and letters Janine has received to pass onto MOH recipients.
The response was encouraging.
During the first two years, Stange and event organizers reminded them of their service years. “We handed the letters out in packages, ‘mail-call style,'” she said.
There are currently 72 living Medal of Honor recipients. The honor was first issued in 1863 and has been bestowed upon 3,505 recipients since. The oldest living recipient is Robert Maxwell, 98, who served in the Army in World War II. The youngest recipient is William Kyle Carpenter, 30, who served in the Marine Corps in Afghanistan during Operation Enduring Freedom.
“If they didn’t have their medal on, you’d think you were talking to the nice guy in the neighborhood,” Stange said about her moments getting to know the ones who have been honored. “They are so in awe that people take the time to write them. Many take time to write people back.”
Stange said humility is a common trait among the recipients.
“This is an opportunity for people to learn about these selfless acts of valor. They were not thinking of their lives, but their buddies, and something bigger than themselves. They were not concerned about their own life, they were looking at future generations,” Stange said.
Medal of Honor recipient Roger Donolon with some of the mail he’s received via Ms. Stange.
Stange said she doesn’t use the word “win” for a recipient.
“They don’t ‘win’ this. It’s not a contest. I don’t say ‘winner.’ It’s because of their selfless sacrifice.”
In addition to the letters, Stange said people have included small gifts, ranging from pieces of art and carved crosses to postcards from the writers’ homes and pieces of quilts.
“Don’t limit it to letters. These small mementos make it feel very homegrown,” she said.
Stange said the letter writing is open to anyone, from individuals to group leaders (school teachers, community organization leaders, sports coaches, businesses, etc). Those interested in leading a group in this project can go online to www.janinestange.com/moh – recipient(s) will be assigned to ensure an even distribution of letters.
Pete Hegseth is set to host Fox Nation’s 2nd annual Patriot Awards on Friday, celebrated virtually this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But that’s not all he does.
Although well known as the co-host of Fox & Friends Weekend, he is also a proud Army National Guard combat veteran with a passion for service and holds a deep love for his country. “I love the Patriot Awards because it’s the one award show in America that celebrates what we should be celebrating,” he explained. Hegseth shared that the show honors people like service members and law enforcement but also unsung heroes — ordinary people doing extraordinary things.
One thing that Hegseth feels really sets this award apart from others is the highlighting of values and honoring of everyday Americans serving their communities. “These people didn’t do these things because they thought they would get an award or because they thought they would get recognition which I think makes it all the more special,” he said. “We think it’s exactly the kind of thing that people want to be hearing right now.” Not only does the Patriot Awards want to showcase these stories but they hope to inspire viewers to recognize that they too can make a difference.
Hegseth appears to be a complete natural in front of a camera but his path to becoming one of the most recognizable faces on television started with wanting to serve his country. The seed was planted within him as a young boy watching small town parades showcasing veterans but it kept growing as he got older. After graduating from Princeton in 2003, he was commissioned into the Army National Guard as an infantry officer. A year later, he was called to active duty and deployed to Guantanamo Bay where he was an infantry platoon leader. Despite finishing his deployment and being able to return home to the states, he volunteered to deploy to Iraq.
When Hegseth returned from that deployment in 2007, he spent a lot of his time as an advocate on veterans issues. He was a frequent commentator on national talk shows and even testified before Congress. Hegseth was one semester away from completing his master’s degree in 2011 when he deployed to Afghanistan.
During his time in service, Hegseth was awarded the Bronze Star twice. After 12 years, he left the Army National Guard as a major, although he still remains part of the Individual Ready Reserve. “What motivates me is love of country and wanting to fight for it. It’s why I signed up to join the military in the first place… when I got out, like a lot of vets, I was like, what do I do now?” Hegseth said. Looking for purpose, he spent some time running advocacy groups and continued to speak on veterans issues.
Slowly, Hegseth began gaining traction and recognition for segments he was involved in on television. “Eventually some producers at Fox & Friends said, ‘Hey, have you ever thought about asking questions instead of answering them?” Hegseth said with a smile. Although not sure how it would pan out, he gave it a shot. “It’s not the same but once you’ve been shot at or been there on missions, you can handle a couple of tough questions on live television.” The rest is history.
Being a combat veteran in television is a rarity, but something that Hegseth takes pride in. “I never wanted to be on TV; that was never my goal. But here I am and I want to use it to serve the country that I love so much,” he explained. He does this through his continued advocacy and co-hosting the Fox & Friends Weekend show, but even more so on the streamed special series Modern Warriors, airing on Fox Nation. Modern Warriors highlights the experiences and lives of post 9/11 veterans, giving them the opportunity to truly share their truth. Although it really allowed him to dig deep into their stories, Hegseth wanted to do more. So, he wrote a book.
Modern Warriors will be out on shelves on November 24, 2020 and it’s a body of work that Hegseth is excited to get out into the world. “The book is really a series of interviews. It’s 15 chapters, 15 modern warriors. It’s mostly in their own words,” he explained. “You meet the human side of these guys…They were really honest in the challenges they’ve seen and how our country takes regular dudes from regular places and gives them extraordinary training. Then they send them off to the most dangerous places in the world and bring them home and effectively say ‘good luck’…you know you are signing up for that, but it doesn’t make it any easier.”
Hegseth was very vocal about recognizing the impact that being a soldier had on his life. It’s his hope that his story will inspire others to step forward and use their voice, even when it’s uncomfortable. Hegseth’s words of advice are simple — in those moments of overcoming adversity and stepping out in courage, other patriots are just waiting to support you.
To watch the Patriot Awards live on Friday, November 20 at 8pm Eastern, subscribe to Fox Nation. You can also catch the encore presentation on Fox News Sunday, November 22.