Top 10 most damaging spy missions in history - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

Top 10 most damaging spy missions in history

The Espionage Act of 1917 defined espionage as the notion of obtaining or delivering information relating to national defense to a person who is not entitled to have it. The Act made espionage a crime punishable by death, but there are always men and women willing to risk it — for country, for honor, or maybe just for some quick cash.

Whether they infiltrated the enemy’s ranks or sweet-talked the details out of careless persons who ignore all those “loose lips sink ships” posters, these are the most notorious spies with the most successful espionage missions in history, ranked by the operations they disrupted, the damage they dealt, and the odds stacked against them.


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Top 10 most damaging spy missions in history

The Central Intelligence Agency team that discovered Soviet mole Aldrich Ames. From left to right: Sandy Grimes, Paul Redmond, Jeanne Vertefeuille, Diana Worthen, Dan Payne.

10. Aldrich Ames — COLD WAR

Aldrich Ames is a 31-year CIA veteran turned KGB double agent. In 1994, he was arrested by the FBI for spying for the Soviets along with his wife, Rosario Ames, who aided and abetted his espionage. Following his arrest and guilty plea, Ames revealed that he had compromised the identities of CIA and FBI human sources, leading some to be executed by the Soviet Union.

During a nearly year-long investigation into his subterfuge — and his subsequent trial — it was revealed that Ames had been spying for the Soviets since 1985, passing details about HUMINT sources, clandestine operations against the USSR, and providing classified information via “dead drops” in exchange for millions of dollars.

It was, in fact, the Ames’ lavish spending that finally led to their downfall, but by then, he had already nearly destroyed the American intelligence program in the Soviet Union.

Ames is currently serving his life sentence, while his wife, as part of a plea-bargain agreement, served only five years and walked free.

Top 10 most damaging spy missions in history

Virginia Hall receiving the Distinguished Service Cross from General Donovan in September 1945.

9. Virginia Hall “The Limping Lady” — WWII

Virginia Hall was one of the most successful espionage operatives of World War II, earning not only the contempt of the Gestapo, but the Distinguished Service Cross — the only civilian woman to be so honored. As a spy, she organized agent networks, recruited the local population of occupied France to run safe houses, and aided in the escape of Allied prisoners of war.

Oh, and she did it all with a wooden leg named ‘Cuthbert.’

Known by the Nazis as “The Limping Lady,” she was recruited by British spymaster Vera Atkins to report on German troop movements and recruit members for the resistance in France. Posturing as an American news reporter, she encoded messages into news broadcasts and passed encrypted missives to her contacts.

She signed up with the U.S. Office of Strategic Service and in 1944 she organized missions to sabotage the Germans. She is credited with more jailbreaks, sabotage missions, and leaks of troop movements than any other spy in France.

Top 10 most damaging spy missions in history

Harriet Tubman needs no introduction.

8. Harriet Tubman — CIVIL WAR

Everyone knows that Harriet Tubman helped slaves reach freedom through the Underground Railroad after her own escape in 1849. When the Civil War broke out 11 years later, she continued the fight by becoming a spy for the Union Army.

Though she was unable to read or write, Tubman was exceptionally bright. Her time spent with the Underground Railroad taught her to keep track of complex details and information, scout transportation routes, and arrange clandestine meetings.

She used these skills to build a spy ring, mapping territory, routes, and waterways, and collecting human intelligence about Confederate movements and weaponry. She was the first and only woman to organize a military operation during the Civil War, overseeing the transport of Union boats through Confederate-mined territory based on intel she had collected.

During the same raid, she helped to free 700 local slaves, 100 of whom would take up arms for the North.

Top 10 most damaging spy missions in history

George Blake, far left, along with other Soviet spies.

7. George Blake — WWII-Cold War

George Blake was recruited to the Secret Intelligence Service, otherwise known as MI6, during World War II. During the Korean War, he was taken prisoner by the Korean People’s Army, and during his three year detention he became a communist and decided to betray his country.

In 1953, he returned to Britain a hero, but secretly began his work as a double agent for the KGB, wherein he would compromise anti-communist operations and reportedly betray over 40 MI6 agents and dismantle MI6 operations in Eastern Europe.

In 1961, he was exposed by a Polish defector, arrested, and sentenced to 42 years of imprisonment, but in 1966 he broke out and fled to Moscow, where he was awarded the Order of Friendship by Vladimir Putin.

Top 10 most damaging spy missions in history

(Civil War Harper’s Weekly, April 4, 1863)

6. Agent 355 — AMERICAN REVOLUTION

There were several Patriot spy rings that worked to overthrow British occupation during the Revolutionary War, but very few of these secret groups had women who actively took part in the espionage. The Culper Spy Ring, however, is known mainly for a very unusual agent, a spy known then and now only as ‘355’ — the group’s code number for the word ‘woman.’ The mystery woman’s identity was kept secret to protect herself and likely her family, but her daring contributions to the American cause have been remembered in history. She took part in several counterintelligence missions, including spy operations that resulted in the arrest of major John Andrew — the head of England’s intelligence operations in New York — and the discovery of Benedict Arnold’s treason.

Some historians guess that Agent 355 was likely a shopkeeper or a merchant who learned information about Red Coat military operations from chatty British customers, and that she would then divulge this information to George Washington. Regardless of her methods, Agent 355 made critical contributions to the Revolutionary cause.

Top 10 most damaging spy missions in history

5. Rose Greenhow — CIVIL WAR

Confederate spy Rose Greenhow is credited with obtaining critical intelligence about the Union’s plans to attack in Manassas, Virginia. She established her spy network in Washington DC at the beginning of the Civil War, and it quickly proved its worth when Greenhow uncovered details about Union General Irvin McDowell’s plans in 1861. Greenhow spirited intelligence to Confederate General Pierre G.T. Beauregard, who requested extra troops when he met Union forces at Bull Run on July 21st.

The Battle of Bull Run was the first major land battle of the Civil War and, as a result of Greenhow’s intelligence, the South was able to achieve a major victory and launch their rebellion with momentum. Confederate President Jefferson Davis himself sent Greenhow a letter of appreciation after the battle.

Federal authorities were soon able to trace Greenhow’s activities, however, and she was placed under house arrest before an incarceration in the Old Capitol Prison. After her release, she would continue to fight for the Southern cause until her death at sea while transporting Confederate dispatches aboard a British blockade-runner.

Top 10 most damaging spy missions in history

Ronald Reagan’s July 21, 1987, meeting with MI 6 asset Oleg Gordievsky.

(Image via Ronald Reagan Presidential Library)

4. Oleg Gordievsky — COLD WAR+

Oleg Gordievsky has been given credit for shifting the balance of power during the Cold War. For 11 years, he spied for MI6 while working as a high-ranking KGB officer in London. In 1968, Gordievsky was a junior spy working abroad for the KGB when the Soviet Union invaded Czechoslovakia. He resolved himself to fight the communist system from within. In 1972, Gordievsky was recruited by MI6 after he was referred by a Czech spy who had defected to Canada.

Over the next decade, Gordievsky would provide details of current and former KGB operations as well as the KGB’s attempts to influence western elections. He was exposed to Moscow by Aldrich Ames and managed to survive a KGB interrogation despite being drugged. MI6 managed to recover Gordievsky and smuggle him safely out of the country.

He is one of the highest-ranking KGB officers ever to operate western espionage missions and for this he was sentenced by Soviet authorities to death in absentia.

Top 10 most damaging spy missions in history

3. Francis Walsingham — TUDOR ENGLAND

Most spies work in secret, but Francis Walsingham served Queen Elizabeth I with the badass title of Spymaster. A staunch Protestant, Walsingham served as Principal Secretary of State for the Tudor queen before joining her Privy Council, where he devised an intricate spy network during her reign. He uncovered what became known as the Babington Plot of 1586, which lead to the execution of Mary, Queen of Scots the following year.

Encouraged by her supporters, Anthony Babington wrote a letter to Mary concerning “the dispatch” of Queen Elizabeth during Mary’s incarceration in England. Mary’s reply was intercepted by Walsingham and Thomas Phelippes, who copied the letter and forged a damning postscript to the end. Walsingham used the copied letter and the cipher text of the original to convince Elizabeth that for as long as Mary lived, she posed a threat to the Protestant throne.

Elizabeth reluctantly signed Mary’s death warrant and she was beheaded on February 8, 1587. Elizabeth safely reigned until her own death in 1603.

Top 10 most damaging spy missions in history

Former FBI agent Robert Hanssen.

(FBI photo)

2. Robert Hanssen — COLD WAR+

Former FBI agent Robert Hanssen spied for Soviet and Russian intelligence services from 1979 to 2001 and remains one of the most damaging double agents in American history. His espionage activities included delivering thousands of pages of classified material to Moscow, revealing the identities of human sources and agents and details about America’s nuclear operations.

One of his first acts as a Soviet spy was to expose Dmitri Polyakov, a Soviet general and CIA informant who was then executed. During his espionage tenure, he would receive over id=”listicle-2632960319″.4 million in cash and diamonds to betray his country.

The FBI discovered Hanssen’s treachery and he was indicted on 21 counts of spying for the Soviet Union and Russia. He would finally plead guilty to 15 counts of espionage and conspiracy in exchange for 15 consecutive life sentences in prison over the death penalty.

Top 10 most damaging spy missions in history

1. The Rosenbergs — COLD WAR

Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were the first U.S. citizens to be convicted and executed for espionage during peacetime after they were found guilty of delivering classified information about the atomic bomb to the Soviet Union. Julius was an engineer for the U.S. Army Signal Corps and his wife Ethel worked there a secretary. In 1950, they were implicated by David Greenglass, Ethel’s younger brother, who worked at Los Alamos, a secret atomic bomb laboratory in the States and who confessed to providing classified intelligence to the Soviets.

The Los Angeles Times reported that not only did the Rosenbergs do “their best to give the Soviets top atomic secrets from the Manhattan Project, they succeed in handing over top military data on sonar and on radar that was used by [Moscow] to shoot down American planes in the Korean and Vietnam Wars.”

After a controversial trial and global speculation, they were executed via electric chair on June 19, 1953.

MIGHTY TRENDING

All DoD branches will have role at US border

Troops from all the services will take part in the southern border buildup, either on duty to back up U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) in the border states or serving as base support in other areas, according to U.S. Northern Command.

Base Support Installations chosen for Operation Faithful Patriot include Davis-Monthan Air Force Base and Fort Huachuca in Arizona; and Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton; Naval Air Facility El Centro, Naval Base Coronado, Naval Base San Diego, and Naval Base Point Loma in California.


In Texas, the Base Support Installations will be Fort Bliss, Lackland Air Force Base, Naval Air Station Corpus Christi, Naval Operations Support Center Harlingen, and Naval Air Station Kingsville, NORTHCOM said in a statement.

Those bases will serve troops actually going to the border, who will be strictly limited to supporting CBP and will not have law enforcement authorities of detention or arrest in the event of the arrival of the “caravan” of migrants and political asylum seekers now heading north through Mexico.

Top 10 most damaging spy missions in history

U.S. Customs and Border Protection Officers.

The NORTHCOM statement also identified units that have already been notified to deploy in support of CBP, but said the actual number of troops on the border will change daily with the flow of units.

NORTHCOM said the initial estimate is that about 7,000 total active-duty troops will deploy, in addition to the 2,000 National Guard troops who have been on the border since April 2018, although President Donald Trump said earlier at the White House that the number of troops could rise to as many as 15,000.

NORTHCOM said the units slated to deploy are:

From Fort Bragg, North Carolina:

  • Headquarters Command, 3rd Expeditionary Sustainment

Command

  • 2nd Assault Helicopter Battalion, 82nd Airborne Division
  • Headquarters Headquarters Company, 16th Military Police Brigade
  • 51st Medical Company, 28th Combat Support Hospital
  • 172nd Preventive Medicine
  • 264th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion
  • 329th Movement Control Team
  • 403rd Inland Cargo Transfer Company
  • Headquarters Detachment, 503rd Military Police Battalion

From Fort Carson, Colorado:

  • Headquarters Company, 4th Sustainment Brigade, 4th Infantry Division
  • Headquarters Company, 68th Combat Sustainment Support

Battalion, 4th Sustainment Brigade, 4th Infantry Division

From Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado:

  • Joint Enabling Capability Team and Aviation Planner from U.S. Northern Command

From Scott Air Force Base, Illinois:

  • Joint Public Support Element — Public Affairs

From Fort Meade, Maryland:

  • 55th Signal Company (Combat Camera)

From Fort Stewart and Hunter Army Airfield, Georgia:

  • 3rd Combat Aviation Brigade Headquarters, 3rd Infantry Division
  • 90th Human Resources Company, 3rd Special Troops Battalion, 3rd Sustainment Brigade

From Joint Base San AntonioFort Sam Houston, Texas:

  • Defense Logistics Agency Contingency Contracting Team
  • 4th Expeditionary Sustainment Command Assessment Team
  • Headquarters Company, 505th Military Intelligence Brigade

From Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington:

  • 5th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment, I Corps
  • 87th Engineer Sapper Company, 555th Engineer Brigade

From Joint Base Charleston, South Carolina:

  • 1st Combat Camera Squadron

From Fort Bliss, Texas:

  • 24th Press Camp Headquarters, 1st Armored Division

From Fort Hood, Texas:

  • 89th Military Police Brigade, III Corps
  • Headquarters, 62nd Engineer Battalion, 36th Engineer Brigade
  • 937th Engineer Sapper Company, 8th Engineer Battalion, 36th Engineer Brigade
  • 104th Engineer Construction, 62nd Engineer Battalion, 36th Engineer Brigade
  • 289th Quartermaster Company, 553rd Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, 1stCavalry Division Sustainment Brigade

From Fort Knox, Kentucky:

  • Headquarters Detachment, 19th Engineer Battalion, 20th Engineer Brigade
  • 15th Engineer Company (Horizontal), 19th Engineer Battalion
  • 541st Engineer Sapper Company, 19th Engineer Battalion

From Fort Campbell, Kentucky:

  • 887th Engineer Support Company, 101st Airborne Division Sustainment Brigade
  • 372nd Inland Cargo Transfer Company, 129th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, 101st Airborne Division Sustainment Brigade
  • 74th Transportation Company, 129th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion,101st Airborne Division Sustainment Brigade

From Fort Riley, Kansas:

  • Headquarters Detachment, 97th Military Police Battalion, 1st Infantry Division
  • 977th Military Police Company Combat Support
  • 287th Military Police Company Combat Support
  • 41st Engineer Company (Clearance), 4th Engineer Battalion, 36th Engineer Brigade.

At a welcoming ceremony for South Korean officials at the Pentagon on Oct. 31, 2018, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said the deployments are not unusual and should not be seen as other than routine military support occasionally provided for other federal agencies, according to a released pool report.

Top 10 most damaging spy missions in history

U.S. Secretary of Defense James N. Mattis meets with the Minister of Defense for the Republic of Korea Jeong Kyeong-doo during the U.S. hosted 2018 Security Consultative Meeting at the Pentagon, Washington, D.C., Oct. 31, 2018.

(DoD photo by U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Angelita Lawrence)

He also rejected the charge that the border buildup is a “political stunt” by Trump to boost support for Republicans in the midterm elections.

“The support that we provide to the Secretary for Homeland Security is practical support based on the request from the Commissioner of Customs and Border police, so we don’t do stunts in this department,” Mattis said.

He likened Operation Faithful Patriot to the military assistance provided after hurricanes.

“We do this following storms, we do this in support of the Department of Homeland Security. This is a different aspect of it, but that’s what we are doing,” he said.

Air Force Gen. Terrence O’Shaughnessy, commander of NORTHCOM, gave the first indication that all services would be involved at the border at a gaggle with Pentagon reporters Oct. 30, 2018.

He said that “every airman, soldier, sailor, and Marine going there” would be fully trained for the mission at the border.

Citing an internal document, The Washington Post reported this week that the deployed force will include a special purpose Marine air-ground task force, among other elements.

However, a Marine Corps spokeswoman said earlier Oct. 31, 2018, that no specific Marine units had yet been tasked by NORTHCOM for the operation.

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

MIGHTY CULTURE

MightyScopes for the week of February 13th

Hump Day Horoscopes in your mouth, you nasty boots. Noadamus here, operator and internet prophet with crystal magic who can see the future. Okay, I made the crystal crap part up, but I was raised by hippies and weaned on goats’ milk, so open your ear holes and listen to PaPa Bear.


Top 10 most damaging spy missions in history

Go crazy. You’re not paying.

Aquarius

Some weeks suck, but not this one — not for you, at least. Your favorite kind of friends want to party, the ones who pay for everything. Money is basically falling into your pocket and your mental capacity is amped up to the max. You might even manage to keep your secret love affair hidden. Just watch your mouth through the weekend, because tempers run hot this week.

Pisces

Can’t go home ’cause you have to work past COB and Household 6 won’t shut up about it? Just take a deep breath, everything starts to look better closer to the weekend. You might even find some time to nerd out on whatever Dungeons Dragons spells you’re casting. By next Wednesday, you’re a powerhouse, smoldering and passionate.

Aries

Seriously dude (or dudette), chill the F’ out, ‘fore you give yo-self a hernia. Your energy is almost unlimited, but everyone’s patience is not. You’re kicking ass and taking names, crushing every PT event, and you’re goddamn Jonny Ringo at the range, but you don’t know everything, and next week, a family member won’t hesitate to remind you, repeatedly.

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You’re gonna get some attention. Doesn’t mean you want it.

Taurus

The weekend brings a surge of energy, useful during CQB and for meeting your future ex-girl/boyfriend. Your tactical knowledge pays off and thrusts you into a leadership role, but causes you more disruption than your stubborn ass would care for. You are likely to be recognized as the subject-matter expert.

Gemini

Wednesday has you on edge. Take a knee and drink water. You’ll live… probably. Not everyone is out to get you, and people still like you, and yes, everybody thinks you’re clever. Snuggle up with your woobie, and if you can suck it up until next week, your silver tongue will return and you’ll be a superstar at work again. Speaking of stars, if you got pipes, middle of next week is a great time to rock an open mic.

Cancer

Whatever secrets you’re hiding are subject to rumor and gossip this Wednesday. Just remember your SERE training: say nothing, and by the weekend, people will move on to more interesting talk. Early next week, everyone from your significant other to the MPs to the crustiest Gunny in the division wants to butt heads with you. And they call you sensitive? By the middle of next week, things are starting to look up.

Top 10 most damaging spy missions in history

You’re really only sabotaging yourself.

Leo

Remember that one time you let your friends talk you into doing the stupid-ass sh*t that almost got you court-martialed? Oh wait, that’s this Wednesday. Pull your head out of your ass, Corporal, and try not to pick any more fights at work. Next week looks good for your wallet; guess all that day-trading is finally paying off.

Virgo

Wednesday is a trifecta of suck. The house (or family) is demanding money, friends and coworkers are overly argumentative, and your buddy told everyone about your browser history. It’s called cyber security. Seriously, sergeant. Next week sucks, too, but at least after the weekend, nobody is busting your balls at work. I’m prescribing some meditation classes — you must chillax.

Libra

Why you stirring up so much shit? Your neighbors are pissed, the morons in your unit are pissed, every damn instructor you have to deal with is pissed. You need to ask yourself — who’s actually the asshole here? Here’s a hint: It’s you, you pretentious snob. You cannot win all of these battles and some of these people are on your side. Don’t be such a blue falcon, buddy f*cker.

Top 10 most damaging spy missions in history

It’s probably for the best that you still live in the barracks.

Scorpio

If all of your idiot friends overdraft their credit cards at the gentlemen’s club, does that mean you will, too? Dumb question, we both know you will. Don’t wake up Thursday morning five bills in the hole. In fact, this Wednesday and every night through this weekend, just stay in the barracks and watch a documentary on Buddha or something. Oh yeah, don’t let your aggression get the better of you next week.

Sagittarius

You’re bleeding money trying to keep up with your rent and your drinking escapades. Don’t get mad when people get pissed off by your scandalous behavior and your inability to commit to a relationship. The good news is that next week you will remember you have a job and, even though you will not have the most squared away uniform, your aggression will inspire others and make peers and supervisors alike forget how much of a flake you are.

Capricorn

Trust me, I really want to lie to you and say things are looking up, but… things continue to be terrible for you and you will continue to be a moody asshole. You can’t use this excuse to be a miserable human being; you’re better than that. If you have children, keep them occupied this week or they might burn down your house, and no one wants to listen to you b*tch anymore.

Articles

5 more women who received the Distinguished Flying Cross

Editor’s Note: An earlier story posted at WATM on this subject claimed that only seven women had been awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. After readers notified us that our list was incomplete, we decided to post a new story with the additional information about women who received the Distinguished Flying Cross. A heartfelt thanks to all our readers for keeping us honest and accurate!


Women make up a smaller percentage of the military than men, but they have proven themselves throughout history to be brave, competent, and heroic. Take these sheroes for example:

1. Col. Andra V.P. Kniep

Top 10 most damaging spy missions in history
Colonel Kniep. (Official U.S. Air Force photo)

When then Capt. Andra Kniep took off for a mission in her A-10 over Afghanistan on March 5, 2002, she had no idea she was about to accomplish a most unlikely feat — receiving two Distinguished Flying Crosses in two days.

On that first day, Kniep coordinated and led deadly night attacks against Taliban vehicles and positions, destroying numerous enemies. Once the nearly eight hour mission was completed, she then led her element to a “remote, unfamiliar, classified location” for recovery, according to her Distinguished Flying Cross citation.

The next day Kniep once again led her element against the enemy, this time taking control of the Operation Anaconda airspace. Kniep successfully coordinated attack elements using multiple platforms totaling fourteen aircraft. Due to her exceptional ability all elements in the congested airspace were able to complete their missions and support coalition ground forces. For her actions on March 6 she was awarded a second Distinguished Flying Cross.

2. Lt. Col. Kim Campbell

Top 10 most damaging spy missions in history
Kim Campbell looks at her damaged hog, which she landed at her base after a mission over Baghdad in 2003. (Photo via National Air and Space Museum)

On April 7, 2003, then-Capt. Kim Campbell, piloting an A-10, was part of a two plane sortie flying close air support over Baghdad. When a call came over the radio of troops in contact, Campbell and her wingman responded. After numerous gun and rocket runs supporting the troops on the ground, Campbell’s aircraft took heavy fire.

As she fought with her stricken aircraft, it hurtled towards Baghdad and she faced the possibility of ejecting into hostile territory. Luckily, the A-10 has triple redundancy in its controls, and though both the hydraulic systems were inoperable, the manual reversion system was still functioning. Using this system “of cranks and cables,” Campbell said she was able to “fly the aircraft under mechanical control.”

For her efforts that day Campbell was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross with Valor.

3. Capt. Tricia Paulsen-Howe

Top 10 most damaging spy missions in history
Lt General T. Michael Moseley presents Paulsen-Howe and her crew members the Distinguished Flying Cross. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman Bridget Rapp)

On the same day of Capt. Campbell’s heroics, Capt. Tricia Paulsen-Howe and the rest of the crew of a KC-135 aircraft flew their unarmed tanker into harm’s way. According to the Air Force, Paulsen-Howe and crew entered hostile airspace to assist in the combat search and rescue mission of a downed F-15 north of Baghdad. They provided critical refueling assets during the operation. For their bravery the entire crew were each awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.

4. Col. Tracy Onufer

Top 10 most damaging spy missions in history
Colonel Tracy Onufer. (Official U.S. Air Force photo)

Col. Onufer had been an officer aboard Air Force Special Operations aircraft including the AC-130H and AC-130U flying combat missions in both Iraq and Afghanistan. She is currently serving as the Vice Commander of the 352nd Special Operations Wing and according to her Air Force biography is the recipient of a Distinguished Flying Cross for her actions overseas.

5. Capt. Lindsay Gordon

Top 10 most damaging spy missions in history
A U.S. Army AH-64 Apache attack helicopter prepares to depart Bagram Air Field, Afghanistan, on Jan 7, 2012. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Matt Hecht)

Capt. Lindsay Gordon was serving as an AH-64 Apache pilot with the 101st Airborne Division when she and Chief Warrant Officer David Woodward were called upon to support an exfiltration of a Ranger element in contact.

When 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment helicopters extracting the Rangers came under heavy fire, Gordon maneuvered her Apache into harm’s way to draw fire. Gordon and Woodward’s action were credited with saving numerous lives and aircraft. For their actions they were both awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.

MIGHTY MOVIES

Movies with the most realistic combat scenes, according to veterans

There’s no shortage of media featuring the good, bad, and ugly aspects of life at war or in the military. In fact, as we come out of the biopic zeitgeist and set our sights toward the digital era, the number of films, television shows, movies, and other forms of content featuring these elements is only growing. But not all depictions of combat are created equal.

It’s easier to make a film about war than it is to stay true to its source — so, which movies treat its combat with the most respect and realism? We asked some veterans, and here’s what they had to say.


Dunkirk – Best Air Combat Scene

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“Dunkirk”

While Christopher Nolan didn’t take home the 2018 Oscar for this particular war blockbuster, “Dunkirk” has gained universal acclaim as one of the best World War II films to date. It tells the story of trapped British and French forces attempting to evacuate a war-torn beach in May 1940, while German forces closed in. The clean-shaven soldiers may not be a testament to the details, but “Dunkirk” thrives on its atmosphere and closed cinema, which is used to communicate the overall gravity of the battle.

“‘Dunkirk’ succeeds in recreating the plight of tending to your fellow soldier while being under constant threat of bombardment,” said Tan Vega, a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps. With gritty visuals and stellar performances, the film uses tight angles and extreme close-ups to create and emanate panic, desperation, and fear to its audience. In moments of true cinema, we can examine the bonds forged between the troops, as well as the intense pressure they’re under to survive.

Saving Private Ryan D-Day Scene

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“Saving Private Ryan”

With Empire Magazine lauding the Omaha Beach landing as “the best battle sequence of all time,” this entry should come as no surprise. “Saving Private Ryan” uses its artistic license to enrich its characters and depict realistic events of war in a way that had never been done before. The movie focuses on the personal journey of a few soldiers venturing behind enemy lines to save fellow soldier Private James Ryan.

“The most realistic thing about ‘Saving Private Ryan’ is nothing is off the table,” said Gay Dimars, a veteran of the Vietnam War. “The water’s bloody, the soldiers are nauseous, and as an audience, we’re there with them.” However, Steven Spielberg did sacrifice historic authenticity in favor of dramatic effect — the film’s climax is strewn with inaccuracies, but with top-notch performances depicting the effect of war and symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), the film solidifies its place among the best war movies ever made.

Platoon 1986 Final battle scene with Charlie Sheen

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“Platoon”

“Platoon” is the first Hollywood film to be written and directed by a veteran of the Vietnam War. The script capitalizes on Oliver Stone’s experiences in various combat units to expertly depict the severity of combat as well as the rippling effects of war. As such, the toughest critiques of the movie come from Stone’s former platoonmates, some of whom say they felt too exposed after the film’s release. “Platoon” was shot on location in the Philippines and utilizes long lenses, careful lighting, and talented actors to craft the atmosphere of the Vietnam War and inform the audience of the confusion, psychological trauma, and deep-seated violence Vietnam veterans endured.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZV7O3cuoLp4
Black Hawk Down Battle Scenes 2001 NO FINAL BATTLE

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“Black Hawk Down”

The film “Black Hawk Down” has faced criticism for wavering from the highly accurate book upon which it was based. “The combat is realistic, but many details miss the mark,” said Sharm Ali, a U.S. Air Force veteran. “What it does really well is explain how a noble cause could go south really quickly.”

“Black Hawk Down” tells the story of the Battle of Mogadishu, during which U.S. service members were sent to kill or capture Somalia’s key warlord, Mohamed Farrah Aidid, in a broader effort to stabilize a country in the midst of a humanitarian crisis. However, Somali forces shot down their helicopters and effectively trapped them on the streets of the foreign country, forcing them to fight their way out. The film is most impressive in its depiction of the harsh realities of urban combat that soldiers were forced to endure during the Somali conflict, and was notable in that it lifted the curtain on the types of operations the shadowy Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) were conducting at the time.

Veterans React to MILITARY Movies: EP05

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This article originally appeared on Coffee or Die. Follow @CoffeeOrDieMag on Twitter.

MIGHTY CULTURE

See these awesome photos of an F-35 over Lake Michigan

Crowds of spectators recently had a rare opportunity to see America’s advanced stealth fighter in action at the Chicago Air and Water Show, where the F-35 Heritage Flight Team put on an impressive show.

The F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter, a fifth-generation stealth fighter developed by Lockheed Martin, is the most expensive weapons system ever built, but its superior capabilities supposedly make up for its soaring costs.


The supersonic, multi-mission fighter, according to the developer, features unmatched electronic warfare, air-to-surface, air-to-air, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR), and stealth capabilities designed to enhance the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps. The F-35 program has, however, faced many setbacks.

During the recent airshow in Chicago, Airman 1st Class Alexander Cook captured several stunning photos of Capt. Andrew “Dojo” Olson, F-35 Heritage Flight Team pilot and commander, performing aerial maneuvers in an F-35A. The pictures were posted online by the 56th Fighter Wing Public Affairs Office.

Check them out below…

Top 10 most damaging spy missions in history

Capt. Andrew “Dojo” Olson, F-35 Heritage Flight Team pilot and commander, performs a high speed pass in an F-35A Lightning II over Lake Michigan.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Alexander Cook)

Top 10 most damaging spy missions in history

Vapor builds around the F-35 during a high-speed pass.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Alexander Cook)

Top 10 most damaging spy missions in history

F-35A at the Chicago Air and Water Show.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Alexander Cook)

Top 10 most damaging spy missions in history

Capt. Olson pulls a tactical pitch in an F-35A.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Alexander Cook)

Top 10 most damaging spy missions in history

Capt. Olson performs a high speed pass.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Alexander Cook)

Top 10 most damaging spy missions in history

An F-35A Lightning II and P-51 Mustang fly in formation.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Alexander Cook)

As an added bonus, the show featured an F-35 flying in formation alongside a P-51 Mustang. The performance showcased past and present American airpower.

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

MIGHTY HISTORY

That time engineers at China Lake MacGyvered a laser-guided missile

Laser-guided bombs had proven to be a winner during the Vietnam War. There was just one minor problem: Their range was relatively short. This was actually a big deal for pilots, who had to deal with surface-to-air missiles and anti-aircraft guns trying to shoot them down.

Some geeks at the Naval Weapons Center in China Lake, though, had a thought. They took a typical GBU-16 Paveway II laser guided-bomb, which was centered on the Mk 83 1,000-pound general purpose bomb. Now, a 1,000-pound bomb might seem small compared to the 2,000-pound bombs many planes carry today, but in World War II, the 1,000-pound bomb was good enough to sink carriers.


But what these geeks did was add a rocket motor from the AGM-45 Shrike, an anti-radar missile used to shut down enemy air defenses, to the back of the Paveway. The result was a weapon that gave the A-6 Intruder one heck of a punch. It certainly worked out better for Navy pilots than that JATO rocket did for a Chevy Impala driver who may or may not have existed.

Top 10 most damaging spy missions in history

The Skipper’s primary component is, for all intents and purposes, a GBU-16 laser-guided bomb. Engineers at China Lake stuck a Shrike’s rocket motor on the back, and got a weapon that could hit a target 14 nautical miles away.

(US Navy photo)

The missile took some time to win over the brass, but they eventually gave it a designation – the AGM-123 – and a name: Skipper. Over 2,500 were purchased. The Skipper got its name because of the way the guidance fins on the Paveway worked: They tended to make very sharp turns, so it would appear like the missile was skipping like a stone across a pond.

The Skipper was primarily intended to take out enemy ships from beyond the range of their defenses. They had their moment in the sun during Operation Preying Mantis, the American retaliation in the wake of the mining of the guided-missile frigate USS Samuel B. Roberts (FFG 58).

Top 10 most damaging spy missions in history

The Iranian frigate Sahand was on the receiving end of two Skippers and a bunch of other weapons during Operation Preying Mantis.

(US Navy photo)

Four Skippers were used against the Iranian frigate Sahand, which was eventually sunk. The Skipper also saw some action during Operation Desert Storm. It had an effective range of almost 14 nautical miles, although its rocket could propel it up to 30 nautical miles. The real limitation came not from its improvised nature, but from the range of laser designators currently in service.

The Skipper was retired in the post-Cold War drawdowns of the 1990s, which also claimed the plane that wielded it most of the time, the A-6 Intruder. Still, for a while, it gave the Navy a very powerful and precise punch.

MIGHTY HISTORY

‘The Rock of Chickamauga’ is the only Union General who never lost a battle

There’s ongoing debate among historians and military history buffs about which general was better, Grant or Lee? Or maybe the question should be Sherman or Jackson? The name you never hear in these debates is George H. Thomas, who is arguably better than all of them, because he would not publicize himself or allow history to give him the credit he richly deserves.


Thomas cut his teeth in the Mexican War under General Zachary Taylor. There, he learned the harsh lessons that come with poor planning and poor logistics. He also learned to trust the fundamentals of fielding an Army and keeping it secure — a lesson that would later earn him the nickname “The Soldier’s Soldier” from enlisted Union Men.

But when Civil War came, Gen. Thomas was not well-trusted by President Lincoln, seeing as Thomas was born a Virginian — and your home state really meant something at the time. Thomas remained a loyal Union man because his wife was born in the North and, considering his skill as a leader, we should be glad he was. Still, his family turned their backs on him, President Lincoln never accepted him, and other officers never trusted him, but that didn’t matter. He did whatever was asked of him with whatever tools his superiors gave him without complaint.

Top 10 most damaging spy missions in history
Because real bosses don’t need to talk shit.

The main tool they gave him was the battered, bloodied, and often undisciplined rabble from Tennessee, Kentucky, and Ohio, many of whom were basically thrown into the meat grinder at Shiloh by General Ulysses S. Grant (whose mismanagement of the battle nearly lost it for the Union). Conversely, Thomas, known by his fellow officers at the beginning of the war as “Slow Trot,” emphasized planning, preparation, and attention to detail — and how it made a difference when the bullets started to fly.

Thomas did not get an easy start in the Civil War, however. His first opponent was General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson’s cavalry shortly before the Battle of Bull Run. Though first Bull Run pitted even numbers of Northern troops against Southern, the North performed terribly. They broke and ran in a disastrous rout — all except Thomas’ cavalry. Thomas earned a promotion to brigadier for manhandling Jackson’s cavalry.

His next opponent was Albert Sidney Johnston, the Texan whom Confederate President Jefferson Davis considered the best officer before Robert E. Lee’s rise. The North needed a win — any win — to boost morale. Thomas gave it to them, plowing the Confederates at Mill Springs and pushing them into the Cumberland River. In doing so, he completely smashed Johnston’s hold on Kentucky.

Top 10 most damaging spy missions in history
Epic mustaches, all of them.

By 1863, Thomas was moving into Tennessee as second to Gen. William Rosecrans, pushing Confederate General Braxton Bragg out of Chattanooga. Believing Bragg was in full retreat, Rosecrans marched the Army of the Cumberland into a trap. Bragg hit Rosecrans at a place called Chickamauga Creek — “the River of Death” according to the the Cherokee.

As James Longstreet committed his men, veterans returning from the fighting at Gettysburg, to the battle, the Union right flank began to fold. Rosecrans began riding for Chattanooga, some of his officers in tow — but Thomas wasn’t going anywhere. As fleeing men came into his sphere, he reorganized them along a ridge and implored them to hold the line at any cost. With the support and guidance of General Thomas’, or “Old Reliable,” as he was called by his men, they held off the Confederates long enough to save the Army of the Cumberland, along with the Union hold on Tennessee.

Rosecrans lost his job, but Thomas, now called “The Rock of Chickamauga,” inherited the Army.

Grant wrote off Thomas’ army as used-up during the Battle for Chattanooga. Thomas and the Army of the Cumberland were to hold until all the attacking armies in position to advance on Chattanooga. But when Grant’s plan fell apart, Thomas had to move his army to support General Sherman’s troops, who were struggling. Not only did Thomas’ men relieve Sherman’s troops, they forced the Confederate Army from the field.

Top 10 most damaging spy missions in history
Because once you take one hill, you just can’t stop.

Despite his higher rank and superior ability, Grant instead chose William T. Sherman to lead the march on Atlanta. Still, Thomas commanded most of Sherman’s infantry and protected the column as it moved south into Georgia. After they took the city, Confederate General John B. Hood moved North, deftly avoiding the Union Army and moving into Nashville. Sherman reduced the Army of the Cumberland and ordered Thomas to take the remaining troops north in pursuit.

He destroyed Hood’s entire army, earning the nickname the “Hammer of Nashville.”

After the war, Thomas stayed in the military for the rest of his days. He was never celebrated like his contemporaries and he never bothered to publish memoirs of his time in combat. He even deliberately burned his notes to keep someone else from doing it in his stead. Grant, Sherman, and Sheridan would sometimes give him credit, but always with the caveat that he was slow.

“Time and history will do me justice,” Thomas said before his death in 1870.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How Panama actually started its war with the United States

On Dec. 20, 1989, President George H. W. Bush launched Operation Just Cause, the U.S. invasion of Panama. The goal was to oust Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega and maintain the neutrality of the Panama Canal while protecting American citizens there. Some 27,000 U.S. troops toppled Noriega’s regime in just over a month and they started it – just like the U.S. planned.


Some people would swear that a small Central American dictatorship with a patronage-based military starting a war with a world superpower is a terrible idea. Those people would be correct, especially considering the superpower already controlled a huge chunk of the country, and staged military units from inside that zone of control.

Until 1979, it was known as the Panama Canal Zone. By 1989, that area was full of U.S. military personnel.

Top 10 most damaging spy missions in history

Just a sliver. No big deal.

At the time, the United States still controlled the canal. The terms of the Carter-Torrijos Treaty stated that Panama would gain full control of the canal on Dec. 31, 1999. But even after the canal was given to Panama, the U.S. retained the right to defend the canal to keep it a neutral lane for all ships of all countries. So, the United States already had 12,000 combat-ready forces in the country before the invasion even began.

Still, the United States worked to provoke the Panamanians into committing overtly hostile acts toward U.S. troops. The Americans gave money to the campaign of Guillermo Endara, a politician in direct opposition to Noriega’s regime. When Endara won the national election over Noriega’s chosen candidate, the dictator ruled the vote invalid and then declared himself the sole ruler of Panama.

Top 10 most damaging spy missions in history

Drug and human trafficker-in-chief, Manuel Noriega.

Alarmed at Noriega’s shocking display of power, the U.S. military began stepping up its provocation efforts, staging military exercises in former Canal Zone areas, driving through Panamanian territory, and challenging the Panamanian Defense Forces to stop them from moving as they pleased. The Bush Administration also expanded sanctions on Panama and even funded a coup attempt against Noriega.

On Dec. 15, 1989, Noriega even declared war on the United States — but even that didn’t precipitate the invasion. The next day, four military officers were stopped by the Panamanian military on their way to dinner at the Marriott in downtown Panama City. The four officers were driving in a private vehicle when they hit a roadblock and were suddenly surrounded by PDF troops. The Panamanians fired at the vehicle, hitting Marine Capt. Richard E. Hadded in the foot and wounding Marine 1st Lt. Robert Paz, who was rushed to the hospital, where he died of his wounds.

Two Americans, a Naval officer and his wife, witnessed the event. They were detained and beaten by the PDF. That’s when President Bush called down the thunder.

Top 10 most damaging spy missions in history

Cue the Van Halen song.

The Panamanian Defense Forces got hit hard. In the middle of the night, tens of thousands of American troops using mechanized infantry, Special Forces, and even airborne assaults, made a move to cripple the Panamanians and capture Noriega. It was the largest combat operation since the Vietnam War, an invasion of an area the size of South Carolina.

By one in the morning on Dec. 20, 1989, U.S. troops installed Endara as Panama’s new President. Meanwhile, Army helicopter gunships and USAF F-117 Nighthawks were hitting targets around the country and the U.S. Army Special Forces, Navy SEALs, and U.S. Marines hit the ground in full force. They first captured special military targets, like the PDF’s La Comandancia and the Bridge of the Americas over the canal itself. SEALs destroyed Noriega’s personal boat and jet as the dictator took refuge inside Vatican City’s diplomatic mission in the capital.

He would not be there long.

Top 10 most damaging spy missions in history

Netflix, here’s your next season of Narcos.

Noriega hid under the protection of the Holy See as the United State military cleaned up the remnants of the Panamanian Defense Forces. Meanwhile, the Americans blasted rock and heavy metal music at the mission in an attempt to force Noriega to leave the building and face justice.

Related: Listen to the playlist that ousted Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega

He finally did on Jan. 3, 1990. Noriega was flown back to the U.S., where he faced indictments for drug trafficking in Miami. The onetime dictator would spend the rest of his life in prison.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Another US combat drone has been shot out of the sky

A US military combat drone has been shot down over Yemen, marking the second time in three months the US has lost an unmanned aerial vehicle over the war-torn country.

Yemen’s Houthi insurgency claimed responsibility, announcing that it downed a US MQ-9 Reaper hunter-killer drone, a $15 million unmanned aerial combat vehicle developed by General Atomics, in Dhamar, an area to the southeast of the Houthi-controlled capital of Sanaa.

“We are aware of reporting that a US MQ-9 was shot down over Yemen. We do not have any further information to provide at this time,” US Central Command initially said in response to Insider’s inquiries Aug. 20, 2019.


Two officials speaking to Reuters on the condition of anonymity confirmed the that a drone was shot down. While one said it was the Houthis, another cautioned that it was too early to tell.

“It’s the Houthis, but it’s enabled by Iran,” another US official told Voice of America.

In a follow-up response to media questions, CENTCOM said Aug. 21, 2019, it is “investigating reports of an attack by Iranian-backed Houthis forces on a U.S. unmanned aircraft system (UAS) operating in authorized airspace over Yemen.”

The US military has, to varying degrees, for years been supporting of a coalition of mostly Sunni Arab states, led by Saudi Arabia, fighting to restore the internationally-recognized government in Yemen as the Houthi rebels backed by Shia Iran push to topple it.

“We have been clear that Iran’s provocative actions and support to militants and proxies, like the Iranian-backed Houthis, poses a serious threat to stability in the region and our partners,” CENTCOM said in its statement Aug. 21, 2019.

The Houthis shot down an US MQ-9 in mid-June 2019 with what CENTCOM assessed to be an SQ-6 surface-to-air missile. The US believes that the rebel group had help from the Iranians.

“The altitude of the engagement indicated an improvement over previous Houthi capability, which we assess was enabled by Iranian assistance,” CENTCOM said in a statement

Top 10 most damaging spy missions in history

An MQ-9 Reaper unmanned aerial vehicle flies a combat mission over southern Afghanistan.

(Photo by Lt. Col. Leslie Pratt)

Around that same time, Iranian forces fired a modified Iranian SA-7 surface-to-air missile at an MQ-9 in an attempt to “disrupt surveillance of the [Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps] IRGC attack on the M/T Kokuka Courageous,” one of the tankers targeted in a string of suspected limpet mine attacks the US has blamed on Iran, CENTCOM revealed, USNI News reported at the time. The Iranians failed to down the aircraft.

Toward the end of June 2019, Iranian forces successfully shot down a US Navy Broad Area Maritime Surveillance (BAMS-D) aircraft, specifically a RQ-4A Global Hawk high-altitude long endurance (HALE) drone operating over the Strait of Hormuz.

President Donald Trump had initially planned to retaliate militarily against Iran but cancelled the mission after learning that striking would result in significant Iranian casualties, which would make the response disproportionate as the Iranians attacked an unmanned system.

Tensions between Iran and the US have spiked in recent months, as Washington put increased pressure on Tehran, leading it to push back with carefully calculated displays of force just below the threshold of armed conflict. The Houthis in Yemen have taken shots at the US before, firing not only on US combat drones but also US warships.

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

MIGHTY HISTORY

That time American POWs refused a CIA rescue mission in Vietnam

Mental torture, starvation, and daily physical beatings were just a few of the dreadful aspects American POWs had to endure on a daily basis during their stay at the “Hanoi Hilton.”


Although prisoner leadership secretly spoke of escape between one another, the odds of a successful attempt was near impossible. But what the prisoners didn’t know was that the CIA had already approved a plan to have a sub-transport take SEAL Team One to an island off the coast of North Vietnam to intercept them upon escape.

Related: 3 heroes who became POWs twice

After sending a coded message to Washington, the Hanoi prisoners asked for “an unmistakable signal from the heavens” to show President Nixon supported the mission.

So on May 2nd, 1972, three S-71s delivered that message. As they approached the Hanoi prison, they flew so close to the sound barrier that the ensuing roar alerted the prisoners of their presence, and the message was received.

Top 10 most damaging spy missions in history
Prisoners were paraded before angry crowds in Hanoi, where loudspeakers blared insults and encouraged the crowd’s added abuse. Many from the crowd did attack the near defenseless POWs. (Source: National Museum)

Some of the Hanoi prisoners never thought the rescue mission would get approved, which caused conflict among them as they questioned whether they should take the chance.

For the next three days, the SEAL Team would monitor the coast, awaiting their American brothers.

After several intense discussions, the prisoners came to a final decision whether they should embark on the daring escape: they voted no — and with good reason.

If the attempt failed, the remaining prisoners might face even harsher punishment, and they couldn’t allow that. They made the right decision.

Also Read: Clint Eastwood once helped fund a Vietnam POW rescue mission

Towards the end of the war, Nixon ordered a bombing run to force the enemy to accept the peace terms. After the aerial attack had ceased, the North claimed the Hanoi POWs had all been killed, but with a smuggled transmitter, the brave prisoners sent out a coded message that reached the White House which read:

“Vietnamese lie, we’re okay.”

The incoming message sparked Nixon to continue the bombing raids. Then, in early 1973, the North accepted Nixon’s terms, ending the Vietnam war and the strong-willed Hanoi prisoners finally came home safely.

Watch the Smithsonian Channel‘s video below to witness the heroic story unfold for yourself.

(Smithsonian Channel, YouTube)

MIGHTY MOVIES

New combat medic show ’68 Whiskey’ might be playing too safe

Ron Howard and Brian Grazer have teamed up to create 68 Whiskey, a new series about combat medics in Afghanistan, premiering on Jan. 15, 2020. In a hopeful twist, it’s going to be a comedic drama, which is what serving in the military actually feels like.

It’s Ron Howard, the man who gave us Willow, so I don’t think we’re going to see gallows humor, but the scale of the production looks cinematic.

Here’s the first look:


Here’s your first look at 68 Whiskey, a new series from Executive Producers @RealRonHoward and @BrianGrazer, premiering Jan 15 on @paramountnet. #68WhiskeyTVpic.twitter.com/LMyhuYpiwi

twitter.com

Behind the Scenes

Roberto Benabib (Weeds, The Brink), the Emmy-nominated series writer and showrunner, designed 68 Whiskey to be an “honest and realistic look” at deployed troops. It’s hopeful that there is a military consultant on-board. Greg Bishop, a retired U.S. Army Lt. Colonel, served for 21 years before joining Musa Entertainment as a military consultant.

“We’re always striving for authenticity and the set design of the show — interiors and exteriors — are just fantastic,” he said in the first look featurette.

Related: 3 major reasons you should hire vets in Hollywood

It does look visually great but I can’t help but wonder how many veterans were involved in the writing process. I know firsthand how challenging it is to navigate the line between authenticity and entertainment, but it can be frustrating when Hollywood gets it wrong.

Check out the first official trailer right here and let us know what you think:

’68 Whiskey’ Official Trailer | Paramount Network

www.youtube.com

Top 10 most damaging spy missions in history
MIGHTY CULTURE

Mat Best Has Something to Say…

My first impression is that Mat Best is the kind of guy you want to party with. Or at the very least take a shot with. Whether it’s bikini snaps, whiskey or coffee, you can tell within seconds of meeting Mat that he is all about living life to the fullest. For real.


The former Ranger turned contractor is the internet icon behind Article 15 clothing, Leadslingers Whiskey, and most recently Black Rifle Coffee Company. But that’s just the beginning of Mat’s second act. He’s walking into the WATM office as the author of his newly released memoir, Thank You For My Service, and he has something powerful to say to us all…(spoiler alert).

For the first time, Mat’s taken down some walls and opened himself up in his book in a way that even his business partners have never seen. He’s honest. He’s vulnerable, and even better he’s embraced the awkward. Especially when it comes to the most cliche statement in the history of veterans, “Thank you for your service.” A statement that has been awkward and fallen flat to so many veterans is now Mat’s source of strength.

As we mic up for the interview, I am just beginning to realize that my initial impressions don’t even scratch the surface of Mat’s world. This is man and warrior who has garnered billions of views across the internet with his hilarious videos, yet, his humour is the tool that has lifted him from tragedy. This is a very different Mat than we have seen on Youtube or Instagram and for damn sure I am going to listen to what he has to say.

WATM: Can you give us a brief intro about you?

Mat Best: My name is Mat Best. I am an internet influencer. I hate that, just kidding. My name is Mat Best, and I’m the co-founder of Black Rifle Coffee.

WATM: Are you a Navy Seal?

Mat Best: I am not a Navy Seal, although I am taking tips from their hairstylists.

WATM: So if you’re not a Navy Seal, why’d you write a book?

Mat Best: I thought we have to get the message out about the amazing individuals of the 75th Ranger Regiment, which is where I came from and grew up. So that’s the story I wanted to tell.

WATM: I love it. All right, Good.

Mat Best:You were happy with that one. He was like, “I gotta hit the Navy Seal jokes.”

WATM: I didn’t even write that joke but yes, it makes me happy. Ok, let’s go back to when you’re in the Army. What kind of soldier would you say you were?

Mat Best: I would say that I was the team room jokester, but then took my job very serious, and I would like to think of myself as an absolute professional while I’m doing my job.

WATM: Is there anything you’ve learned, especially being in the Ranger Regiment, that’s helped you in business and now writing a book?

Mat Best: Absolutely. I think being in the military, specifically the Ranger Regiment, you consistently solve complex problems. It’s you and your buddies on the ground and you’re presented with all these crazy situations, and you can’t ask for help. It’s up to you and the team to execute and follow through with the mission plan. And I think that is so attributable to business, because no one tells you what to do, what the right answer is. You’re just in a gunfight, and you got to fix it. And sometimes it’s ugly. And so, all those lessons learned in the military directly apply to business. And that’s why at Black Rifle, we try to hire so many veterans, because they come from such a diverse background, that they have so many applicable skills that a lot of civilians don’t have.

WATM: What do you think makes Black Rifle Coffee Company special compared to other companies?

Mat Best: Mainly, I would say what makes Black Rifle Coffee so special is our mission statement and our values. We’re very transparent with what we put out there, and we always say, “Vote with your dollar.” And I think it’s refreshing in American culture to know who you’re supporting when you purchase a good, and not only a good, but a very high quality good. So that’s what we take pride in. When you buy Black Rifle Coffee, you know what our mission statement is, and you know what we’re going to do.

WATM: Was there anything specifically from your time in uniform that transformed you into who you are today?

Mat Best: I’ve had a few tragedies with friends while deployed, and honestly, it just really gave me this profound perspective on life. That it’s insanely short, you never know when it’s going to end, and that only supported my goal to make people laugh, humor through horror. We have one shot at this life, there’s no dress rehearsal, let’s just live it to its fullest. And it’s okay to enjoy life. Have fun, laugh. We don’t know how long we’re going to be here. And so those experiences really helped develop me to who I am today, to not really sweat the small stuff. Let’s focus on the big stuff, health, well-being, and all that.

Top 10 most damaging spy missions in history

WATM: Did you ever get an article 15?

Mat Best: No. That’s why I laugh. People will say, “You started a company called Article 15 Clothing.” I’ve got a good conduct medal, man.

WATM: What did that transition look like for you?

Mat Best: Yeah, mainly when I got off active duty, I moved here to Los Angeles, and I had absolutely no clue what I was going to do. I went through a pretty deep and heavy transition and learned a lot about myself, what I wanted to do. Kind of regaining that sense of purpose and what I wanted to devote my life to, which subsequently made me be a contractor, because I really missed the team mentality and the brotherhood. For a while, I thought I really missed war, but what I really missed was the camaraderie and the brotherhood that was enveloped in that experience. And so, once I became a contractor, that made it very clear in my mind that this is what I want to do. I want to live in this community, and I want to provide value in this community.

WATM: How did you decide to go down this route of entrepreneurship, especially on video content and being an influencer?

Mat Best: I needed an outlet creatively. So I just started making YouTube videos to make five people laugh, and five turned to a thousand, a thousand turned to 100,000 and it kind of snowballed effect. And what I realized is that there was such a want and need for that style of content that hadn’t been done before. And it’s pretty cool to see a lot of other influencers in the military making people laugh, doing callback jokes to basic training, just creating that military experience so we can not relive it, but have those fond memories of service post-service.

WATM: What do you think about the term ‘influencer?’

Mat Best: I think ‘influencer’ applies to certain people. I think influence means you have influence, you’re not just famous for posting a likable photo. And I think people are finding that out on Instagram, where they have followers, and they have certain engagement metrics, but they’re not able to influence a message or a culture or something like that. It’s a tricky term. Overused.

WATM: What do you feel when somebody says, “Hey Mat, thank you for your service?”

Mat Best: It’s a challenging question when people say, “Thank you for your service,” I think there is a sense of empathy and appreciation in the statement, but I think civilian culture has been so conditioned just to say that. Everybody wants to support veterans until it’s time to support veterans. I think a basic statement of, “Thank you for your service,” isn’t enough. Let’s go work on treatment of individuals that have moral grief and transition issues. Let’s actually impact people rather than just say that. And again, that’s my personal opinion. There are a lot of people out there that really appreciate that statement, but that’s why I named my book. “Thank You for My Service,” because I really, really appreciated being part of the community I was in special operations and doing the job. I mean, taxpayers let me go jump out of planes and fast rope out of helicopters. How cool is that?

Top 10 most damaging spy missions in history

WATM: So let’s get into the book, ‘Thank You For My Service.’ Why should we ‘thank YOU for your service?’

Mat Best: We shouldn’t thank me for my service. I want to thank you for your service and my service. No, I thought it was a funny play. Some people read it immediately and go, “Whoa, that’s super douchey.” And they go, “Oh, I get it. What he’s trying to say there.” So it was a play on that whole societal thing of people don’t know if they should thank veterans for their service. And most importantly, what an amazing experience for me to grow up. I would never even be close to the man I am today if I didn’t serve in such an amazing unit, like 75th ranger regiment. So I’m just proud of it, and I want to share that experience that I’m not a victim. It made me a better individual, even with all the stuff I saw. So I want to be a good steward of that community, and hopefully influence people to serve their country, serve their communities, and know that’s a powerful thing.

WATM: So is writing a book. Congrats man, that is a huge step and powerful.

Mat Best: Thank you. And it’s not in crayon. My book’s not in crayon, guys. This is a big moment.

WATM: Obviously, you put a lot of time into doing this.

Mat Best: I don’t think I ever really set out to write a book. It was never a part of that. I had not journal entries, but I guess you could say that I documented some of the worst times in my life, because I didn’t ever want to forget how crappy it felt. And so whenever I’m feeling down, I can look back at transitioning out of the military. I can look back at losing friends and being like, “This is why I’m here. This is what’s going to motivate me. Get off your suck. Wake up, let’s go f*cking work.” And so it really just transcribed into me talking to people, having influence, and people said, “I want to know Mat’s whole story.” And really for me, the only way to tell my entire story is to put it on paper. I mean you can do videos, you can chat about it, but a lot of people just see the extension of my personality through the entertainment and the skits that I do, which I fully enjoy. But that’s a singular perspective on my personality. So, kind of wanted to put it all in there, make people laugh, write something that no one else has ever seen in their life before, because it’s a completely different book than an average military book, that’s for sure.

WATM: In the book, you talk about how you’ve used humor as a way to get through some very tough points in your life. Are there specific instances in the book that [were] very powerful for you?

Mat Best: Yeah, I think that’s a loaded question, but it’s a good one. I think there’s certain aspects and stories in the book that you’ll see where humor, I applied humor in a very dark situation, where people were just trying to kill us, and now we’re cleaning up the aftermath, and you can tell people are a little shook up and rattled. So I just used humor to kind of offset that, get their head in the game, realize we’re here for a mission. This is really messed up. Because when do you expect ever to, as an individual, to just see people blowing up and body parts flying and shooting people? No one sets you up for that experience until it happens. You’ve got to combat it with humor a little bit. Still being a professional, obviously, but easing the moment, I would say.

WATM: Was there ever a moment you looked at the book and said, “I can’t believe I’m writing this right now?”

Mat Best: There were multiple times in the book, absolutely, where it was very challenging for me to relive a few things and I got kind of caught up and almost definitely pretty much cried a few times where I’m like, “I’ll set that down.” And there was definitely other times in the book where I had to go get a shot of whiskey or a glass of wine because I’m like, “I don’t want to be that open about this, you know? And I’m like, “But that’s how I make a good book. I have to be honest and transparent and show my struggles and my successes, because that’s what’s going to influence people to live their own quality of life.” If I just write this top level crap book that’s like, “Look at me, I served the country, I’m awesome. I do business,” what value does that bring?

WATM: We don’t want to give it all away. But do you think there’s something that maybe the audience doesn’t know that they’re going to find in this book?

Mat Best: For sure. Yeah. I put a lot in this book that no one’s ever known. To quote Evan Hafer, my business partner at Black Rifle Coffee, he said, “I didn’t want to read your book. I didn’t want to read it.” And I’m like, “Well, thanks for being honest, man.” He’s like, “Well, I’ve known you for six-plus years. I know your stories.” And then when he finally read it, he went, “Dude, I couldn’t put it down. It was so interesting, and I got to a see side of my friend I didn’t even know.”

WATM: Would you say you’re fully transitioned out? Do you feel like you’re a civilian at this point, or is there always going to be a part of you that’s related to the military?

Mat Best: At least now in the workings of Black Rifle, I’ll always be part of the military for sure. To say that I don’t go look back at old photos or old experiences and miss it and for some reason still wish I was deployed fighting a war when I have a beautiful wife and a successful business, it’s still in there. So it’s always there, and I’ll always be a part of the community for sure, because I just want to see it be successful.

WATM: You offer a lot, especially to veterans out there, but not always just the veterans. Is there any advice or things that you would love your followers or people that read the book to know that you really live by?

Mat Best: Yeah, I would say as far as the transition piece, it’d be proper planning prevents piss poor performance. You have to have a mission plan going into anything. It’s just like when you’re going to the grocery store, and you have kids, all right, I need the car seat. You’re planning, you’re in that planning phase. And I think what I didn’t do when I got out, I didn’t plan for anything. I’m like, “I’ll figure it out,” in my absolute stubborn ways. And that set me up for a nosedive. And so going forward, I’ve always tried to plan, plan for the worst, expect the best, kind of thing. I know I’m just saying catchphrases, but they actually are applicable if you follow them. I mean, anybody can read a Pinterest quote, right? But if you live it, that’s a different story.

Learn more about Mat and his journey in his new book, Thank You For My Service.

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