For America, there’s a pretty clear idea of what our intelligence agencies should do, and it’s mostly about keeping tabs on new enemy weapons, terrorists plots, and counterespionage. But, American technology and innovations are also a coveted target for other countries, especially ones like China that are developing rapidly.
And China has the money and the culture to do something about it. They have proven capable of stealing secrets, partially to support military programs and partially to support the state-run companies that are in charge of keeping the people happy so President Xi Jinping can keep concentrating on wandering the Hundred Acre Wood.
(He reportedly hates being compared to Winnie the Pooh, so that’s just the best)
Here are six targets of Chinese espionage that you probably wouldn’t guess:
The site of some of the most sinister thefts of secret technology.
China needs to feed millions of mouths, but doesn’t want to spend all the time and money to do the research required. Instead, they’ve sent agents across the U.S. and other nations to steal seeds from suppliers, like Monsanto and Pioneer, either illegally purchasing them or straight ripping them out of the ground.
Self-driving cars like, the Waymo, could remake the economy, and China doesn’t want to get left behind.
(Photo by Dllu)
Self-driving cars and other automation
While self-driving cars seem like a luxury more than anything else, the underlying tech is challenging to create and could, potentially, be extremely lucrative. Add to that the fact that deep-learning algorithms for one task can give you a better idea how to create algorithms for another task, and it’s easy to see why nations, especially China, would target the companies making the new vehicles.
Microbes are an important part in the manufacture of some drugs and recently, chemicals. Yeah, China and other countries like those.
(Agricultural Research Service)
Really any important biological discovery, especially medicinal, could go here, but a particular microbe case is instructive. Ching Wang, a man of Chinese descent who discovered an anti-parasitic drug in the 1970s, told the New Yorker that he received a phone call a little after he and his colleagues published their paper.
Universities are centers of learning and research that China would love to rip off.
(Photo by Ulrich Lange)
Speaking of which, universities are a great place for espionage agents, and it’s not about the co-eds. Many advanced projects being done in a country are typically the result of a partnership between governments, corporations, and universities.
And, as you might imagine, universities are typically the weakest links in these partnerships. So, they’re often the target of spies.
Chinese wind farms are often made possible by technology that was stolen from an American company that nearly went bankrupt thanks to the theft.
(Photo by Land Rover Our Planet)
Wind and solar companies
China made a pledge to generate more clean energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. To do so, they apparently decided to just steal a bunch of U.S. secrets. In one high-profile case, American company AMSC sold 0 million in tech to Chinese firm Sinovel, putting safeguards in place that would, hopefully, prevent theft of their intellectual property.
Yeah… Those safeguards failed. China got help from an insider to download source code, reversed engineer the tech, installed it on all of their projects, and then didn’t pay the 0 million. A U.S. court recently decided a case against Sinovel for million.
The lawsuit might have gone better, except the Chinese military allegedly broke into AMSC’s servers to steal their legal strategy against the Chinese firm.
The Chinese Meng Shi, or “Brave Soldier,” is a vehicle that isn’t at all a ripoff of the AM General Humvee that American troops and their allies drive.
(Photo by Morio)
Oddly enough, despite all of China’s thefts, companies are still super eager to do business with state-run corporations and other entities in the country just to keep their foot in the door. Some even give free samples, something China encourages and regularlytakes advantage of.
That’s likely how China was able to domestically produce the Meng Shi, the “Brave Soldier.” AM General tried to sell them a Humvee and left behind a free sample after a visit in the 1980s. Later, China purchased a few for “oil exploration.” Then, the Meng Shi rolled off the line looking distinctly Humvee-like.
For its part, China insists that the appearance is a coincidence stemming from the vehicles’ similar missions. And besides, the Meng Shi is better on every metric, at least according to papers written by military officials and not subjected to peer review.
Tensions between the U.S. and Russia are dangerously high. Both sides are complaining that the other has ignored military norms in international airspace and at sea, both have accused the other of violating treaties designed to prevent large-scale war, and both are developing systems to counter the other’s strength.
But, while Russia works on new tanks and bombers and the U.S. tries to get its second fifth-generation fighter fully operational, each side is also looking to a nearly forgotten technology from the Cold War, nuclear-armed trains.
The idea is to construct a train that looks normal to satellite feeds, aerial surveillance and, if possible, observers on the ground, but carries one or more intercontinental ballistic missiles armed with nuclear warheads.
The trains, if properly camouflaged, would be nearly impossible to target and could launch their payloads within minutes.
Russia got the missile cars to work first and fielded an operational version in 1991. In the early 1990s, America built prototype rail cars for the Peacekeeper Rail Garrison missile system and tested them, but then the Soviet Union collapsed and the project was cancelled.
The missile cars and fuel tanks are to be disguised as refrigeration cars and will be indistinguishable from regular trains if the weapons live up to the hype. Each will be able to deploy with its own security force and missile personnel for up to 28 days without resupply.
But, budget problems that were biting at the Pentagon then have continued to hound it, and mobile launchers are expensive. Plus, most Americans don’t like the idea of nuclear trains running under their feet any more than they like the idea of nuclear trucks driving through their local streets.
The feasibility of Russia’s plans is also suspect. After all, the Russian Defense Ministry is running into worse budget problems than the Pentagon. It’s ability to fund a nuclear-armed train while oil prices are low and its economy is in shambles is questionable at best.
Right now, America’s main counter to Russian nuclear trains, and any other intercontinental ballistic missile launchers, appears to be its missile shields in Europe which could intercept many outbound nuclear missiles.
A 64-year old civilian passenger was accidentally ejected from a French Air Force twin-seat Rafale B fighter jet as the aircraft was taking off from Saint-Dizier 113 air base on March 20, 2019.
The backseater, whose identity was not disclosed, is said to be a man. He suffered serious injuries, including back injuries and was hospitalized. He’s reportedly in stable conditions and his health is not a cause of concern according to a French Air Force spokesman.
The incident occurred at 13.52 LT as the aircraft was taking off for a training mission. The pilot managed to land the aircraft with minor injuries to his hands (caused by the broken canopy).
A French air force Rafale B aircraft.
What happened is pretty weird: VIPs and journalists (including this Author) are often invited to take part in “orientation” flights, for communication or information purposes. The passenger-for-a-day is always given a detailed briefing that covers standard cockpit operation, emergency procedures, egress etc. You are clearly explained what to touch and what you should not touch in the cockpit. The ejection seat handle is one of those things you should be aware of. For this reason, in a previous post about flying as a backseater in a jet I wrote:
“As for the camera, I strongly recommend removing any type of strap to prevent it from coming into contact with the stick, throttle or, worse, with the ejection seat handle.”
Anyway, we have no clue what activated the ejection: it might have been a voluntary ejection, an involuntary one or even a failure, even though modern ejection seats are extremely reliable and malfunctions are extremely rare.
An investigation is in progress.
This article originally appeared on The Aviationist. Follow @theaviationist on Twitter.
Snipers live by the mantra of “one shot, one kill.” Whenever they find themselves in combat, they must remain true to this law. They can take whatever time they need to calculate all the variables, but they have to make it count. That single shot must land exactly where it needs to be, and a sniper needs to get the heck out of dodge as soon as possible.
But in some cases, one shot means more than one kill. Such was the case with an unidentified Lance Corporal in the British Army who stopped a massive assault by Taliban insurgents all by himself, with one perfectly placed bullet.
The Coldstream Guards also famously guard Buckingham Palace and rotate into combat zones like the rest of the British Army.
(UK Army photo by Capt. Roger Fenton)
Not much is known about the sniper, as the British military has kept his identity classified for safety concerns. What is known, however, is that he was a 20-year-old Lance Corporal with the 1st Battalion of the Coldstream Guards.
This Lance Corporal must have made a name for himself within his unit because he was handed the bolt-action L115A3 AWM .338-caliber sniper rifle early on in his career. Another story about him says that his very first shot fired in combat went directly into the chest of a Taliban machine gunner from 1,465 yards away.
His skill with a sniper rifle is unquestionable — so don’t go calling his amazing shot a matter of luck.
On a cold December morning in 2013, somewhere in Helmund Province, Afghanistan, the Coldstream Guards were out on a routine patrol when this unknown sniper spotted a large group approaching their location, so he radioed in their suspicious activity. There was about to be a massive assault by the Taliban. It wasn’t long before the group pulled out their weapons and opened fire in the direction of the British forces.
The distant end on the radio gave him the all-clear to engage all hostile forces, and he quickly calculated his shot. The Taliban insurgents were peeking from outside of a rock, but he couldn’t get the right angle. Six of the insurgents made their way into a ditch, and everything was perfect for the Lance Corporal. From 930 yards away, he fired directly into the chest of the terrorist in the middle… And boom!
A massive explosion detonated inside the ditch. The round penetrated a suicide vest that was said to have 44 lbs of explosives, and the round prematurely detonated the vest, in what could have been a devastating attack on the Brits. It’s unknown what substance was in the vest, but for reference, this is what 42 lbs. of tannerite will do:
I like to imagine that he’s relaxing at some British pub, drinking a beer, and laughing to himself when someone can’t even throw a dart properly from 2.37 meters away.
(Photo by Jim Linwood)
The fighting ended immediately, and the remaining Taliban forces dispersed like cockroaches in the light. When everything went quiet, he was also said to have gotten on the radio and awkwardly said “I… I… think I’ve just shot a suicide bomber.“
His single shot saved the lives of countless British soldiers that day. The identity of this heroic badass is still unknown and, frankly, may never be revealed. As he was a member of the Coldstream Guard, it wouldn’t be uncommon for him to have rotated back to England and pulling guard duty at Buckingham Palace. A skilled marksman like him is perfectly suited to protect Queen Elizabeth II.
It’s a testament to the everlasting mythology of the SEAL Teams when a screenwriter – who also happens to be an Air Force Pararescue Jumper – and his Marine veteran dad team up to write a TV show about them. That’s exactly what happened with History’s show Six, now in its second season.
David Broyles is the son of Hollywood (and Vietnam) veteran William Broyles, writer of some of the best military films and television in recent memory, including China Beach, Apollo 13, Jarhead, and Flags of Our Fathers. Now father and son can add Six to that list.
Before David joined the military, he watched the Twin Towers fall with his father, who was a lieutenant of Marines in Vietnam. He had just finished his degree at the University of Texas at Austin. Within a week, he was looking at joining the military, judging them by their special operations teams.
Yes, he considered joining the Navy to be a SEAL. What he chose was Air Force Pararescue.
(Courtesy of David Broyles)
“I looked at the SEALs, I looked at the Marine Corps, and I found Pararescue,” says David Broyles, co-creator and one of the main writers on Six. “It seemed really challenging with the high washout rate. But also the job was to save lives, so after watching the towers come down I wanted to help. I want to make a difference. And probably like most of us, I wanted to challenge myself.”
There were 82 would-be pararescue jumpers in Broyles’ initial class. By the time he graduated there were only two (and four more would graduate later). Broyles spent his career in places like Iraq, Afghanistan, Karshi-Khanabad in Uzbekistan. There were good times and there were bad.
“I never felt more alive and never felt more terrified,” Broyles says. “The bonds of brotherhood that I experienced have always stuck with me and the things I saw and did have always powered my writing.”
Broyles always knew he would be a writer. After the military, he attended Columbia Film School in New York City. When the opportunity came to write Six, it was a chance to express in writing what it all meant to him and his friends that went through the war together.
“It was a way to work through that through writing,” he told We Are The Mighty. “A cathartic way to explore it and really honor the guys that were still in there and the guys that didn’t come back.”
With his father William Broyles, the two wrote the pilot for Six, the elder Broyles bringing his experience in Vietnam while the younger Broyles brought his experience in Iraq and Afghanistan. For Six, however, William Broyles was also bringing his experience as a father who watched his son go off to war.
(Photo courtesy of David Broyles)
William Broyles went off to Vietnam as a youth and didn’t really think about how his mother or father felt during his time away. his recent experiences with war put him in just that position. While his son was deployed, William Broyles would go to his cabin in the mountains and not answer the phone. It was a trying time for the families back home.
So while Six highlights the military family in the field, it doesn’t forget the family at home that gets left behind.
The father-son duo knew they couldn’t please everyone (they acknowledge how hard it is to please the entirety of the military-veteran community) but were determined to zero-in on the emotional truth of those moments of what it meant to serve and to be part of a brotherhood.
And they succeeded.
David’s friends and colleagues in the special operations community reached out to him to voice their support and admiration for the show and appreciate his message of what it means to be part of that team.
“I think they respect what we’re trying to do,” Broyles says “But, it’s the toughest group to please. There’s no doubt about it. We’re constantly straddling the line between reality and drama. We try to straddle the worlds between the hard authenticity, the tactics, the equipment, the movement. We wanted to make it as real and authentic as possible without putting any of the guys who are actually doing the job at risk.”
The other side of the coin is telling the story to those who have no experience in war and loss, but making them come to understand what is to be part of that bigger picture.
“That is drilling down to the emotional truth of the moment,” he says. “It’s not just about war, it’s about brotherhood and loss and family. I think people respond to those kind of broader, deeper issues regardless of whether or not you have military experience.”
It might surprise the casual student of history to learn that the United States was not alone in supporting South Vietnam during the Vietnam War. America’s traditional list of allies joined us in trying to contain the spread of Communism in South East Asia, including Taiwan, South Korea, and Australia. Each one of them brought the pain to the enemy in their own way.
South Koreans were so zealous in their fight against Communism that everyone else actually had to restrain them at times. Aside from the powerful bombing campaigns, America employed precision special operations units, which North Vietnamese called “the men with green faces.” It was the Australians they feared most, however.
At any given moment, everything would be fine and then, suddenly, you’d see all your men killed in the blink of an eye. That’s how they knew the Aussies were in the area.
Even though Aussies had been in Vietnam since 1962, the Australian Special Air Service Regiment first arrived in Vietnam in April 1966 with the mission of conducting long-range reconnaissance patrols in the dense Vietnamese jungles.
They were so effective in the field, the NVA called the Australians the “Ghosts of the Jungle.” They even provided instructors to the United States’ Long-Range Reconnaissance Patrol school. They would operate on 24-hour missions in the areas surrounding friendly bases.
Small fire teams of four to six men moved much more slowly than any other unit, even other special operations units. But once in contact with the enemy, the Australians unleashed a barrage of fire, designed to make the enemy believe there were more men on the opposing side than there really were.
The slow, quiet movement and hellish raking fire the Australians brought to the NVA and VC made them the most feared enemy unit in the areas of South Vietnam. Even the most quiet VC infiltrators could easily walk into a devastating Aussie ambush.
An SASR patrol during Operation Coburg, South Vietnam 1968.
(Australian Defense Ministry)
Each Aussie SASR unit operated with an attached New Zealand SAS trooper and each of the three “Sabre” squadrons did, at least, a one-year tour in Vietnam, operating throughout Phuoc Tuy province as well as in Bien Hoa, Long Khanh, and Binh Tuy provinces. They also deployed with American Special Forces and Navy SEALs throughout the country.
The Australian SASR first came in contact with the enemy in May, 1966, when they met a Viet Cong force in the area around Nui Dat. It did not go well for the VC. From there, the Aussies spread their recon patrol range by several kilometers. By the end of their time in Vietnam, the unit performed 1,200 combat patrols with one killed in action, one dead from wounds, three accidentally killed, one missing, and one death from illness. Another 28 men were wounded in action.
Before leaving in 1971, the ANZACs killed 600 enemy troops, the highest kill ratio of the entire war.
“The language was much tougher today,” a source told Reuters. “His harshest words were directed at Germany, including by calling her Angela — ‘You, Angela.'”
Trump emerged from the session to make an unscheduled statement where he said that he had communicated to other NATO countries he would be “extremely unhappy” if they didn’t quickly up their spending but that they had agreed to do so.
“We had a very intense summit,” Merkel told reporters after the session, per Reuters.
The 2018 NATO Brussels Summit.
Trump’s NATO grudge
Trump and other US presidents before him have pressed European leaders to spend more on defense to contribute to NATO, but Trump has consistently advocated an accelerated timeline.
NATO countries agreed to each spend 2% of their gross domestic product on defense by 2024, but so far only a handful meet that mark. Germany, Europe’s richest country, spends 1.24% of its GDP on defense, and it’s an unpopular topic there.
Not only did Trump demand on Twitter on July 12, 2018, that countries meet the 2% level by this year, not 2024, but he also said they should eventually hit 4%, which is more than even the US currently spends. Spending 4% of GDP on defense would represent nearly wartime levels of investment.
Trump has repeatedly slammed Merkel for supporting a new pipeline that would cement Berlin’s client relationship with Russia and increase Moscow’s influence. Energy exports represent Russia’s main source of revenue, and Trump argues that the pipeline undermines NATO’s purpose, as it’s designed to counter Russian aggression.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
No analogy better describes life in the military than being on a sports team. From the obvious comparisons (you’re operating in a team environment) to the more nuanced (there’s always some kind of competition going on within that team), there’s no denying a strong correlation between the two lifestyles.
As anyone who’s part of the military community knows, there’s an eternal inter-service rivalry running between the branches of the US Armed Forces. This competition is played out in hypotheticals shared between bored troops because, truthfully, there’s no real way to determine which single branch ‘better’ than the rest.
At the end of the day, it’s all a matter of taste, much like choosing a favorite sports league to follow. Well, don’t worry, sports fans, we’ve selected a league for each branch so you don’t have to.
US Army = Major League Baseball
In a lot of ways, this is the easiest parallel to draw. The Army is the oldest of all the armed services, founded in June, 1775, which makes it less than a hundred years older than Major League Baseball, which was founded in 1869.
The Army is also the first branch that comes to mind when most people think of the US Armed Forces. All of us service members, current and prior, have been viewed as a “Soldier” by uninformed friends, family, or weal-meaning passersby. And if you’ve traveled abroad, you also know that most people assume every American loves baseball.
In many ways, the Army is “America’s service” in the same way that baseball is “America’s pastime.”
(U.S Air Force Photo by Zachary Perras)
US Navy = National Hockey League
There are some abundantly clear parallels here, as well. The most literal of these connections is that the the Navy is known for its astonishing power on the seas and NHL players are known for being immense forces on ice — frozen water.
The Navy was founded second, in the fall of 1775, and the National Hockey league, founded in 1917, is America’s second-oldest league.
Furthermore, there’s a lot more to the Navy than most people realize, but everyone knows about their elite, the Navy SEALs. Hockey has a long, storied history, filled with amazing athletes — many of which are unknown by most, but everyone knows of Wayne Gretzky.
(National Football League)
US Marines = National Football League
This one truly is the easiest to see. First, they both have the coolest uniforms. The much-worshipped Marine Dress Blues is, without a doubt, the most iconic uniform in the American military — and there’s nothing that says “American sports” quite like an NFL helmet.
Both require peak physical conditioning. If you’ve ever seen a NFL player in person, you knew right away that they’re capable of some abnormally amazing physical feats. The same is true for most Marines; their physical appearance announces their membership before they open their mouths.
The last and most prominent similarity is their popularity. The USMC is respected and recognized all over America. If their body, posture, or uniform doesn’t give them away, their conduct will. Though the public perception of the NFL is currently suffering, there’s no denying that, historically, football has held a firm foothold in American hearts.
The general public cheering on the Air Force but calling in the Army
US Air Force = National Basketball Association
Simply put, the USAF is the youngest and most fly.
The NBA gets a lot of greats that would’ve likely played football or baseball in generations past. They constantly get the newest uniform and technological updates — and it’s the hardest league to get into (by percentage. There are 494 total NBA players and 1,696 NFL players).
US Coast Guard = Major League Soccer
Look, we know you’re important and there are tons of fans out there, but the American public just hasn’t caught on yet. I mean, soccer didn’t even make the cover photo of this article, so…
When the U.S. military entered World War II, American businesses geared their entrepreneurial efforts toward supporting the war effort as a means of survival. This meant the majority of raw materials were used to produce weapons, ammunition, armor, aircraft, and other necessary equipment. Zippo Manufacturing Company had a decade of experience selling their flip-open lighters to the consumer market, but during the war they exclusively produced Zippo lighters for American service members.
The classic Zippo design garnered respect among the millions of Americans serving overseas. These steel-cased lighters had a black crackle finish and no customization, engravings, or art work on them but were durable and could function no matter what elements troops found themselves in. An ad in 1942 wrote, “Zippo Windproof LIGHTERS have acted as rescue beacons for men in open boats, as a guide through dense dark jungles and as a means for lighting fires for food and warmth.”
Ernie Pyle, a famous war correspondent and newspaperman, developed a special relationship with George Blaisdell and personally received a shipment of 50 Zippos prior to the D-Day invasion. “And another 100 will be sent to Ernie every month for the duration,” Blaisdell added.
Pyle famously penned a letter to Blaisdell on Oct. 29, 1944: “If I tried to tell you how much these Zippos are coveted at the front and the gratitude and delight with which the boys receive them, you would probably accuse me of exaggeration,” he wrote. “There is truly nothing the average soldier would rather have.”
Following Pyle’s tragic death in the Pacific in 1945, Blaisdell immediately sent 600 Zippo lighters engraved with “In memory of Ernie Pyle” to the captain of the USS Cabot to hand out to the crew who counted Pyle as one of their own.
Post-World War II, the increasingly popular Zippo lighters became available to the general public once again. The connection between Zippo and the U.S. military didn’t stop there, and during the Vietnam War Zippo emerged as the most popular item carried in the pockets of American service members. Unlike the cigarette lighters from previous wars, these Zippos were personal mementos specifically customized with unit logos, maps of Vietnam, and both humorous and crude slogans.
“You had people who were discontent people who wanted to express heartfelt emotions,” said Bradford Edwards, a Vietnam-era Zippo collector and artist. “And here was a small canvas that may be the last thing some of these guys had to say.”
One soldier’s Zippo had the logo for the United States Army Air Defense Center in Fort Bliss, Texas, on the front, while the lid reads, “When I die bury me face down so the whole world can kiss my ass.” On the back, the case reads, “5th Special Forces Group – 1st Special Forces Viet Nam 69-70” with an engraving of a U.S. Army Special Forces green beret. The lid reads, “Nha-Trang Viet Nam.”
During the Vietnam War, Zippos were sold at the PX or by locals operating the street side black markets. Their popularity in wartime culture surged with “Zippo Tracks” being adopted as a nickname for flame throwing tanks, and “Zippo Raids” used to describe the actions of soldiers burning down hooches or villages.
Although Zippo remained a treasured collector’s item, during the 1980s a surge of fake lighters saturated the market. Zippo continues to produce military-themed lighters to commemorate their storied legacy, although the artwork is more general. The Zippo/Case Museum in Bradford, Pennsylvania, is home to Zippo and Case Knives flagship stores, where collectors and tourists alike can take a deeper dive into the history of Zippo and their involvement with American service members.
It’s one of the most nerve-wracking moments for a young specialist or sergeant hoping to move up in the ranks: stepping in front of the promotion board. In preparation, troops feel compelled to study and memorize every last question that the battalion’s first sergeants and sergeant major could possibly ask.
Throughout the process, each first sergeant will ask you questions that they believe to be paramount to both your role in particular and to NCOs in general. The subjects span the gamut, ranging from something like handling medical emergencies to spouting off regulations verbatim. And there’s no clear way of knowing what they’ll ask, so it’s best to study everything.
With that being said, you don’t have to go insane trying to fit every last regulation number in your head right before stepping into the board. You should still study and if you say that you didn’t because of an article you read on We Are The Mighty, you will be laughed by your chain of command — and me, as I hold my DD-214. Okay, especially by me, who may or may not screencap the conversation and send it to US Army WTF Moments. I digress.
Passing the board is about much more than your ability to parrot off semi-relevant information to higher ranking NCOs. It’s about your chain of command gauging your competency and potential to lead.
If your squad leader didn’t have faith in you, they never would have put you on that list.
(U.S. Army photo by Timothy Hale)
Long before your name even appears on any kind of candidate list, your first sergeant will consult your first line supervisor. If they think you’re ready, they will have a quick chat and your squad leader or platoon sergeant will argue for your promotion. If not, they aren’t even going to raise your hopes.
Your squad leader is (or should) always going to fight for you to advance your career. The moment your first sergeant is convinced that you’re ready for the next level of responsibility, you’ve successfully persuaded one-fifth of the board members.
It’s the big moment. Don’t lose your cool or else you’ll get rejected and have to come back again when they think you’re ready.
(U.S. Army photo by Timothy Hale)
Then it comes time to actually study. Your squad leader can’t cheat for you and give you the answers, but they can find out which topics each first sergeant might ask about. This means you should definitely take their advice if they advise you to study certain areas.
Next, we arrive at the big day: the promotion board. Keep as level of a head as you can. I don’t know if this will help you or stress you out further, but in the time between the previous person walking out and you showing up, they’re discussing you among themselves. It could be nothing more than a simple nod and a “I like this guy” but, make no mistake, they are talking about you.
Something as small as that nod of approval could seal your fate before you march in. The rest of the proceedings are just to convince anyone still on the fence.
Another bit of advice, try to take the board while you’re deployed. The questions tend to be easier (since your deployment is proving your worth to the Army) and you don’t need to get your Blues in perfect order.
(U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Kimberly Hackbarth, 4th SBCT, 2nd Infantry Division Public Affairs Office)
You’re sitting in the chair now and the first sergeants are hitting you with questions. You find yourself stumped. There are two old tricks I’ve heard from NCOs but, as always, read your audience and choose wisely.
Some say you should give an answer and be confident about it, even if you’re not sure that it’s right.This shows that you’ll stick to your guns — but it could also make you seem like a complete dumbass.
Others say you should be humble, and respond with a respectful, “first sergeant, I do not know the answer to that question at this time.” If you admit you don’t know, it shows that you are honest — but it could also mean you’re unprepared if it was an easy question.
Both are technically good responses, but they could bite you in the ass. It all depends on the board members.
The first sergeants may drop some heavy-hitters on you, but the heaviest of all will come from the sergeant major. Impress him and you’re as good as gold.
Every unit and promotion board is different but, generally speaking, the sergeant major will ask you situational questions to determine your worth as an NCO. One question that stuck out for me was as follows:
You and a friend are drinking heavily by the lake. Your friend gets seriously injured and needs to get to the hospital. It’s fifteen minutes away on a path that no one takes, including law enforcement. Your cell phones are both out of service but you know the park ranger will make their rounds in one hour. Do you take the risk and drive there drunk? Or do you wait it out and risk them bleeding out?
It’s a trick question. You should answer in a way that demonstrates your understanding of military bearing and being an NCO. The only correct answers are, “I would never put myself in a position where myself and a passenger get drunk without having a legal way home” or “I would stabilize their wound then get to a point with better reception.”
Then again, I’ve also heard of a sergeant major asking a quiet and shy specialist to sing the National Anthem at the top of their lungs. It’s nearly impossible to know what’s going on in a sergeant major’s head.
U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. Diego Marmalejo, an air traffic controller with Headquarters and Headquarters Squadron at Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Iwakuni, Japan, went on vacation with a fellow Marine to Bali, Indonesia during July of 2018.
While in Bali, Marmalejo used ingenuity and skills that he learned through Marine Corps training to perform first aid, and he saved two lives — which earned him the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal. He was awarded the medal at MCAS Iwakuni, Sept. 21, 2018.
“We spent 10 days in Bali just hanging out there,” said Marmalejo. “So, for the most part, we were just at the beach, hanging out and having a good time relaxing.”
Marmalejo’s vacation took a different turn on the second to last night of his stay on the island. While traveling to a beach in the area where he was staying, he came upon a traffic accident.
“I ran to the accident, and I basically forgot about everybody else,” said Marmalejo. “I was just focused on the accident.You enter a state of panic, at least from what I remember.”
Upon reaching the accident, Marmalejo quickly assessed the situation and surveyed that there were two injured civilians.
“The female was screaming at the time, and she was bleeding out from her leg,” said Marmalejo. “The male was unresponsive so on the surface it appeared that the female needed a lot more medical attention. That was my initial thought. I went to work on her at first.”
U.S. Marine Corps Lt. Col. Jason P. Kaufmann, left, commanding officer of Headquarters and Headquarters Squadron, presents Cpl. Diego Marmalejo, an air traffic controller with HHS, with a Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan, Sept. 21, 2018.
U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Akeel Austin)
By assessing the situation and applying lifesaving skills that he learned during basic training and a combat lifesaver course, his Marine instinct was to search for something to use as a tourniquet.
“I was asking for a belt because that was the first thing that came to mind for a makeshift tourniquet,” said Marmalejo. “Nobody was wearing a belt because everyone was wearing board shorts so I used a shirt that I found on the street. I basically ripped up the shirt and just like we learned in boot camp, I tied it two inches above the wound.”
Marines are taught to write the time that a tourniquet is applied on the victim as a means to communicate with first responders. If tourniquets are left on for too long, they can cause more harm than good. Marmalejo did not have a writing utensil so he adapted to the situation and wrote the time with the victim’s blood on her leg.
After administering first aid to the wounded woman, Marmalejo moved on to the injured man who was fading in and out of consciousness with a possible head injury.
“I just looked around for nearby things and found a mug that I put underneath his head, and that’s honestly the best thing I could do,” said Marmalejo.
U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. Diego Marmalejo, left, an air traffic controller with Headquarters and Headquarters Squadron, is awarded a Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan, Sept. 21, 2018.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Akeel Austin)
Marmalejo went on to ensure that the two victims were able to find proper medical treatment and stayed with them overnight until 5 a.m. when he returned to the hostel where he was staying. At the hostel he met back up with Sgt. Derrick Usry, an air traffic controller with HHS who was also in Bali and was separated from him the night before.
“When I first saw Marmalejo I was worried, seeing him walk into our room with blood on his shoes,” said Usry. “He explained what happened, and he seemed fine. He was worried less about his emotions and more about the people he helped save.”
Marmalejo went back to the hospital later that day to make sure the victims were alright. In the days after the accident, he kept in contact with the victims’ families and received updates on the woman’s recovery.
Usry, who works with Marmalejo, said that he is proud to work alongside him and his actions were nothing short of extraordinary.
“Cpl. Marmalejo has outstanding character and is constantly looking out for others, even if it means putting aside his self-interests,” said Usry.
Marmalejo is still working at MCAS Iwakuni as an air traffic controller, and he currently serves on the HHS color guard.
December 7, 1941, is a day which lives in infamy. But it dawned normally at 7:13 a.m. in Washington, D.C., and the attack on Pearl Harbor didn’t begin until the afternoon in Washington. For leaders like Army Chief of Staff Gen. George C. Marshall, the expectation would have been that it would be another tense day of preparing for war, at least until a single note was presented to him.
Then-Lt. Col. George C. Marshall in World War I.
(National Archives and Records Administration)
Marshall had spent years growing as an Army officer before he was tapped in 1939 to become the chief of staff. By that time, he had 37 years of experience in the military and had served in the mud of the Philippine-American War and of France in World War I, rising to colonel and serving as the chief of staff to then-chief of staff Gen. John J. Pershing.
After World War I, he led a number of units before taking over the Army as a whole, and he was experienced in making do with short spending. But it was probably by late 1939 that the growing regional wars would become a world war. (In an odd twist of history, Marshall’s first day as chief of staff was September 1, 1939, the same day Germany invaded Poland.)
Even though the president, secretaries of State, Navy, and War, and the chiefs of Army and Navy war plans and Chief of Naval Operations had all known for hours about the building intelligence signaling war, Marshall was the first one to order the likelihood of war be briefed to the commanders in the trenches. Unfortunately, transmitting that intelligence would take over 8 hours, and Short wouldn’t receive it until seven hours after the attack began.
So when the day dawned on December 7, Marshall was likely hoping that he could keep shifting resources to where he thought they were needed most, that he had a little more time to reinforce and improve positions across the Atlantic and Pacific. By noon, he knew he was likely out of time and that December 7 would be the day.
A digital scan of the actual note given to Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. George C. Marshall.
(U.S. Army War College)
Within hours, he would receive a message. It was not addressed to him, though most papers destined for the chief of staff’s desk were laboriously drafted and then addressed to him. It was not typewritten or printed. It wasn’t even written with particularly good handwriting.
But it likely made Marshall’s blood run cold. In just 14 words, it confirmed that the suspected attack was underway.
To all ships Hawaiian area Air raid on PH This is no drill. Urgent
Marshall would learn over the following weeks that over 2,300 Americans had died. He likely second-guessed some of his own decisions about Pearl Harbor after the stunning losses there, though it’s unclear that any of the assets he removed from the island base would have made a difference.
(One of the biggest redeployments from Pearl was nine heavy bombers which, if they had survived the attack, would have been used in the hunt for the Japanese fleet and vengeance on December 7, but American hunters had almost no idea where the Japanese carriers were.)
The air raid pulled America firmly into World War II, awakening the “Sleeping Giant.” America would chase Japanese forces all the way back across the Pacific and would pummel the island nation’s allies in Europe.
Hanson at the GI Film Festival San Diego. Photo credit BH.
Brian Hanson has lived a few lives and succeeded in some of the harder endeavors known to man: earning a Ranger tab and making a movie. He grew up in Southern California, worked in Hollywood for awhile and then felt called to serve in the U.S. Army. He left Hollywood and became a Ranger serving on multiple deployments to Afghanistan. Upon returning from his service he fulfilled his dream by writing, directing and producing his first film, The Black String, starring Frankie Muniz.
WATM: Can you share about your family and your life growing up?
I was born in Detroit then my parents moved to San Diego. They were tired of the snow and wanted a new lifestyle on the West Coast. My father has always been a huge TV, film and history buff. I grew up in Escondido which is a suburb of San Diego. I had a sister that unfortunately was killed in a car accident when she was sixteen so that was a life changing moment in our lives. It was a paradigm shifter. My parents worked hard, and my youth was in many ways the normal SoCal life — riding bikes with friends, enjoying summers and playing sports. I had a real fascination toward movies and telling stories. It was always in me. I played football and baseball in high school. I also did student government. We did a field trip when I was a senior in high school to see a talk show at Paramount Studios to see The Kathy Lee Gifford Show. Seeing the stage, PAs and cameramen showed me that showbiz was a real industry and that I could do it. Even though I did (short) films with my friends it made me aware that I could direct myself toward the industry. It is a real thing.
I graduated that summer and my sister died, so all bets were off on going into the industry at that time. I did one year at San Diego State and then decided to travel abroad with a friend. We worked as bartenders and lived in the United Kingdom. It is what 18 year olds should do— go see the world. I started reading Syd Field books and Robert Rodriguez books like Rebel Without a Crew, watching El Mariachi, Swingers, Reservoir Dogs, Clerks, Blair Witch, The Following…I was really into the big studio movies (Saving Private Ryan, Back to the Future, The Matrix) and the independents. It was like you can do this, get a camcorder and you can do it. I knew I wanted to join the military, but not at that moment in my life so I came back from Europe and transferred up to Cal State Northridge. I graduated and got my proper film school bachelor’s degree. I knew I wanted to be a Writer/Director. My parents were very supportive of my endeavor in making it in Hollywood and telling stories.
Once US Forces entered Iraq in 2003, I had read voraciously about 9/11 and the invasion of Afghanistan. I knew I was going to join the military at some point, but when? I would be pouring drinks for young, good looking Hollywood people at a bar making hundreds of dollars a night where over their shoulder would be a TV on reporting the Battle of Fallujah. I started to not feel right about that, and I wanted to be an honest storyteller. I would like to be a storyteller that speaks truthfully and authentically and didn’t want to be the person that imitates. I didn’t want to be an imitator of Goodfellas or Full Metal Jacket. I knew I needed that life experience to be an authentic storyteller. I did a TV Pilot with some friends that we raised money for, and Brandon Routh was in it. This was right before he was cast as Superman in Superman Returns. Brandon and I bartended together at that time. He was a great guy to work with. I was also bartending at the Playboy mansion during the end of the glory days for Hefner and the Mansion. It’s tough to just walk away from all of that and you are making decent money in Hollywood. You are just one step or script away from “it” happening.
After not much happened with the TV Pilot I started to realize that Hollywood and LA are still going to be here. I wrestled a year or two of how to leave it behind after I had started a life. As I approached 30, I looked in the mirror and decided to join the Army because if I waited longer, the military wouldn’t let me join – I’d be too old. I would have regretted to my dying day if I did not serve. There were no questions in life. I knew joining as an older guy would be different when compared to most recruits. But I wanted to volunteer my time and some of the years of my life to serve my country, but I had to step up and go do it. I gotta do this and gotta do it now. I knew my goal was to come back to LA with this accomplishment and service to my country being complete.
Hanson at Fort Benning. Photo credit BH.
WATM: What made you want to become a Ranger and what was your experience like?
I didn’t know all the details when I enlisted as an 11Bravo (infantry), but I knew that Rangers and Green Berets were the high-speed special-operations units. One day in Basic Training at Fort Benning, the Ranger recruiters came out to ask for volunteers and my Drill Sergeant SFC Metcalfe looked at me and said, “Hanson, you better f’n volunteer.” So, I volunteered on the spot and a few months later I was reporting to Ranger Assessment Selection Program. Unfortunately, SFC Metcalfe was killed in action a year later when he deployed to Afghanistan with the 173rd. I thank SFC Metcalfe for pushing me to go Ranger.
I was stationed at Fort Benning with 3rd Ranger Battalion where it is a high-speed training cycle. You train for six months and then deploy for about 3 to 4 months. There is always a Ranger Battalion deployed. Just operating at that tempo, at all times, is exciting and inspiring to see your NCOs, squad leaders and platoon sergeants are on their sixth or tenth deployment. It was very inspiring to see their commitment to the unit at the cost of their family and personal time. When you are a single young, enlisted person it is very inspiring to see that level of motivation. Rangers hold themselves up to the highest standard of leading the way. You are always being tested. It is uncomfortable and you never have a chance to relax. It is a great way to stay sharp. It is a tough head space to always be in. You are always being watched. The young (new) guys compete like professional athletes to deploy, like trying to make the starting roster. Once you deploy you want to be on that mission every time. I deployed to FOB Salerno in Afghanistan on the border real close to Pakistan. My second deployment was at Camp Leatherneck/Camp Bastion and then my last deployment I was at FOB Shank aka “Rocket City”. That place was hit like all day with nonstop rockets. It’s funny how used to it you get.
The Taliban used a lot of ingenious guerrilla tactics like setting ice on the mortars to eventually melt and then go off at some point during the day. Apaches would launch to try and find the culprits however they were not there. We ran the night shift out there for High Value Targets (HVT) where we went on night raids. To see how targets were acquired and track and intel was gathering where the strike force commander was the CO. From top to bottom the whole thing was a collection of assets. We worked with the Air Force, Navy, Marines, big Army, DIA and had civilians running the drones. It is amazing to see people come together for these task forces where all of these people work together on the fly. Being 30 and seeing this strike force run by young soldiers/civilians is amazing because in Hollywood most 23-year olds close to me are up and coming bartenders/actors/writers/directors. In Afghanistan we had 23-year-old Forward Observers bringing in Chinook helicopters into dangerous LZs to pick us up for a night raid. 24-year-old squad leaders are ensuring that everyone is accounted for and that no one is left behind on the side of a mountain in Afghanistan. It is amazing to see what young people can do where they have been trained at such a high level and have high expectations. They achieve and are motivated. I think Hollywood is an amazing place where things get done, but I think a lot of it is a 10-year delay. It is a bit of an arrested development sometimes.
In a training incident I was a towed jumper. We were doing our yearly training for airfield seizures which is an entire battalion operation to seize an airfield. I was the last guy to jump out of a C-17 at night with a full combat load and got hung up on the plane which made me a towed jumper. I was hanging outside of a C-17 at 1000 to 1500 feet circling Fort Benning banging against the side of the plane and fully conscious. Thinking that I might die at any moment and this is not a normal thing to happen to people. My static line wrapped around my weapons case where when you are jumping your weapons case is attached to your thigh and your harness. Somehow there was too much slack in the static line to where it wrapped around the weapons case so it wouldn’t release me. The static line stays clipped inside the plane and it is supposed to pull the back of the pack tray. You jump and it pulls it out, but it got wrapped around and it pulled me.
I was okay with a tight body position and covered my reserve chute, so it didn’t release. I was out there for six minutes. I thought they were going to cut me loose to where all I have left is my reserve chute to land on some trees at night next to the Chattahoochee River. Then I started looking at my boots flying through the air and thought this is what parasailing must be like. Then I thought, did they forget about me and is the C-17 going to try to land? Do they not know I am out here, and I am going to do some high-speed combat roll on a tarmac as the C-17 lands? You are trained to keep a tight body position out there, so they know you are not unconscious. I kept slamming against the side of the C-17 behind a gigantic turbine engine. I hit the plane and stayed there where I started to get dragged across the skin of the plane. I felt hands underneath my arms and they pulled me in. Everybody was so glad to see I was alive and in one piece. I was just relieved as I was out there so long, I went beyond any initial shock, concern to just cut me loose guys so I can land on a tree with my reserve shoot.
They pulled me in and did a great job making sure I was okay. I had to retell the story for weeks to a lot of soldiers, especially Sgt Majors at the DFAC wanted to hear the story of a towed jumper. It was a very bizarre story because no one wants to be a towed jumper. It is a total nightmare scenario short of both chutes failing. It all ended well and twelve stitches in my chin was it. After all of that my 1stSgt checked on me and made sure I was alright. He then told me, “Get ready you are jumping tomorrow.” We had another jump the next day. The 3rd Ranger Battalion was like you are jumping tomorrow to get over any fear of jumping again. Just get out there and do it. I jumped not 24 hours later and believe me I was concerned. I said, “There is no way that can happen twice.” I got out the door and was fine. There is not a lot of pity or sympathy it is like get back up and do it again unless you are truly hurt, alright get up and do it as there is no time to think about. That is something I take with me to this day.
All of the pre-jump training you do these repetitive and boring things you already know, and I did one of those things without even thinking about it. It dawned on me why I do this training every single time. When that one time does happen, you are ready and have gone over the worst-case scenario. You will be that much quicker to save your own life or someone else. It seems so mundane and so repetitive and a waste of time until you need it. That repetitive action like weapons malfunctions….but when you need that instantaneous second nature habit it is the most important thing you could have known at that point.
Hanson at Camp Leatherneck. Photo credit BH.
Hanson on his last mission at FOB Shank. Photo credit BH.
Paratroopers jumping from C-17 Globemasters.
View of Camp Salerno. Photo credit wikipedia.com.
WATM: What are you most proud of from your service in the Army?
I am proud I stepped up to the challenge of 75th Ranger Regiment (thank you SFC Metcalfe) and made the team. Severing with my Ranger buddies was like the saying goes: “I was no hero, but I walked amongst a few.” I did my part and I know guys that are still out there doing it. I know squad leaders that are now getting their own platoons. Some guys have gone into elite units like Delta Force and the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment. I still think about them often and stay in touch. I want to make them proud because of the work they are still doing…I try to keep pushing myself in a way that would do right by the effort they are putting on…I am proud to have been on a team with those guys and seen what leadership means…and at such a young age and for so many people. I am proud to have seen it and been associated with that level of person.
Frankie and Paige Muniz, Kayli, Chelsea and Brian at Dances with Films. Photo credit BH.
WATM: What values have you carried over from the Army into Hollywood?
One thing that you see among some twenty something bartenders or Hollywood newbies that is unacceptable in the Ranger Regiment and also unacceptable in the Army are excuses. It is the same on production, there are no excuses. There are just no excuses. I don’t want to hear it other than a solution. Maybe an, “I’m sorry,” and that is it where I don’t even want to hear an excuse. Unless there is something disastrous you need to untangle. No excuses, just solutions. The high-level professional types of productions have that mentality where I really appreciate it. I do see the correlation between military units and productions. You have one mission where everyone comes together to accomplish it.
Also, you see this in the military and it is a career everything, keep moving forward just like a twenty-mile ruck march. You worry about the next step, then the next phone pole, then the next quarter mile where they will all add up. You can be overwhelmed by all of it if you look at it all at once where if you do it one step at a time you see that you can do it. Those are two crucial lessons I learned in the Army.
Hanson, Frankie and crew at Dances With Films. Photo credit BH.
WATM: What was one of the toughest lessons to learn coming from the service to Hollywood?
Even though I had worked in Hollywood before leaving, I came back a veteran, and still had to learn that there is a system in Hollywood. The system is not as rigid perhaps as the military. It isn’t just this artistic endeavor where you get to be a genius and be Quentin Tarantino or you are Steven Spielberg because you say you are. There is a hierarchy and there is a smart way to navigate. There is a way to get oriented and to a very real map of how this town works and have very realistic expectations. I think that veterans and others think of their prior accomplishments, whether a lawyer or a company commander of an infantry company, where you are not going to be a 1st AD. That is a ten-year path that is very regimented. The biggest challenge is understanding what the path to success is and how to realistically pursue those things. Know that they all take time and embrace that.
***Since leaving the Army I have learned so much by working as a Production Assistant on HBO’s Barry, Silicon Valley, Room 104 and worked as Assistant to Matthew Rhys on Perry Mason. Being on set and working for top level professionals has been an incredible learning experience and given me insight to become a better filmmaker on my own projects. I also greatly appreciate the film/tv mentorships, education and opportunities I was given through Veterans in Media Entertainment (VME), USVAA and WGF. It has been very important to find mentors and work for professionals.
Hanson with members of the cast and production staff at the Austin Film Festival. Photo credit BH.
WATM: What was it like writing, producing and directing your own feature film, The Black String?
The story was percolating for a long time before making the film such as Donnie Darko, Repulsion, Jacobs Ladder, which does a great job of blending horror and military, and Rosemary’s Baby. It was conceived with my bartending buddy Andy Warrener before I joined the Army. We wanted to explore in that story what it is like to be on that edge where you are experiencing something and no one else believes. It is you against the world. How do you convince someone of something that crazy of a witch conspiracy or a coven of witches? Or some really wild, evil cabal? The moment you say those words you already sound like you are having mental problems. Doctors will definitely not be going to believe.
The challenge we wanted was for a character to have to convince his family, his friends and his doctors of something that is inconceivable where no one in the real world is going to believe that. We put that in a genre we enjoyed which was horror. Now we thought maybe we would make that movie, but I joined the Army and Andy got married and moved to Florida. The wild thing is that you never know what you write today may be a movie in five or ten years. I lived a whole crazy life in between thinking of the story while tending bar with my buddy and then going into the Army. The difference in the time gap was about seven years. I could not have guessed that would have happened, especially with Frankie Muniz.
The creative part I was very comfortable with in the directing and writing having made many short films. I got an MFA from Mt. Saint Mary’s University with the GI Bill, which is a beautiful thing, loves the GI Bill. I owe so much to the GI Bill. So, I got very comfortable with the directing portion where you get very creative to bring this vision and feeling and this emotion you have to life in a very technical way. It is running the business, the producing part of things, to where you are starting a business, you are an entrepreneur. My producing partner Richard Handley, he is a Navy veteran and was an officer and Physician’s Assistant, he runs a contracting business with the DoD. We ran a business together where many purely creative types don’t understand what that level of dedication and commitment is.
To this day I have had probably had equal amounts of discussions about corporate taxes, LLCs, investor shares and running a business as I have about storyboarding shots. When you are doing an independent film like this, truly a passion project, you are building a team that is not a whole lot different…then opening a small company. You and your business partner are shouldering the burden if not for months, but for years. You have to love it and I do where it has been a great journey to where we had such great crew members and other producers that have helped us along the way. It is a multiple year endeavor when you do something like that in the independent world. You really are from the very beginning of raising money all the way to negotiating with distributors and foreign distributors and how you cut checks to your investors. It’s a true business education and kind of feels like I got this mini MBA education.
That was unexpected but the directing part was just amazing. Working with such talented people and friends that I had before joining the Army…we really were able to bring a lot of relationships such as Ravi Patel I bartended with as well. Cullen Douglas and Ravi and I did a TV pilot in like 2008. It was amazing to be able to reach back to my pre-Army friends that are so talented and my post Army, new team of filmmaking friends and bring everybody together. We called on so many favors. We had such great support from Mt. Saint Mary’s, VME and Vega Baby. We called in every favor where it is such a positive experience. When we landed in Frankie Muniz where he is a champ.
He brought his “A game” even for the tiny movie it was. He loved the character and the chance to do something different. He gave everything to our tiny project as he would have to our multi-million-dollar project. He treated us with respect, and he treated the script with respect. He came to set daily with a big folder of his personal notes. He was meticulous like a pro and his level of preparation and how he kept track of everything and what he brought was just amazing. He took that movie and made it really something different than perhaps something we thought. Frankie made it his Breaking Bad character. Like his Malcolm in the Middle dad, Bryan Cranston did on Breaking Bad. He was still kind of that funny person but had a much darker take on it. It is a dark twist on that guy you already know. Frankie imbued the role in the film with his Malcolm in the Middle persona, but whoa that is the dark side of it. What happened? Like Breaking Bad, what went wrong? To work with a pro, I learned.
To be able to work with actors like Ravi, Frankie, Cullen, Oded and Chelsea where they are people that do this for a living to be able to work with people like that and be creative partners with them for my first feature was inspiring. To see how a team can really work with everybody really contributing some high-level creativity. Everyone on the team had so much to add. You have to shepherd the project to where everyone stays on track, but still allow personal creative contributions from cast members. A director is like a manager of a company. You have to work with the talent, resources and the money of your company. You still have to get to the goal, but you can’t be resistant to some things that are great new ideas.
Poster for The Black String. Photo credit IMDB.com.
Screen capture of The Black String. Photo credit BH.
Rich and Mari Handley with Yani and Brian. Photo credit BH.
Screen capture of The Black String. Photo credit BH.
Hanson and Handley on stage at the GI Film Festival. Photo credit BH.
WATM: What leadership lessons in life and from the Army have helped you most in your career?
“No excuses” and intense preparation for a project. It is preparing like you are the best and spending hours a day preparing. Don’t assume, always do pre-combat inspections. It is having everything truly ready to go. Because once you arrive on set and once you arrive at that location it needs to be ready and needs to be operational. If not you, need to have a back-up plan. Research and having contingency plans. Checking your equipment and your team. It can be seen as micromanaging, but it doesn’t have to be that bad. In the military everybody checks their troops. It’s just how it is to make sure your guys and your buddies are ready to go. I think that can be transferred to the civilian world and film production.
Frankie Muniz and Richard Handley in The Black String. Photo credit IMDB.com.
More of Muniz in The Black String. Photo credit BH.
Screen capture of The Black String. Photo credit BH.
Screen capture of The Black String. Photo credit BH.
WATM: As a service, how do we get more veteran stories told in the Hollywood arena?
We need support from great organizations to promote veteran voices and veteran creators. Such organizations as We Are The Mighty, Veterans in Media and Entertainment (VME), of which I volunteer heavily with, the USVAA, United States Veteran Artistic Alliance, and the WGA Writer’s Guild Foundation do support veterans. We need the support from industry professionals and organizations. They are out there, and they are growing. I think that with the people in the position in power right now, the producers and executives that can green light things, I do think they do a really good job where there is always a presence of the military and law enforcement. There are always more and different perspectives. To keep in mind and do the rote, stereotypical type of story lines. There are a lot of really nuanced, interesting and unexpected perspectives that veterans can bring to the time-honored tradition of military inspired entertainment. The producers, executives and showrunners should be open to finding those unexpected angles to veteran stories.
Hanson with Steve Fiorina and Handley at the GI Film Festival. Photo credit BH.
WATM: What would you like to do next in your career?
I plan on directing my second film in 2021. My first one was the horror genre where my next one is likely going to be a thriller with a military character. I always want to do things that are thought provoking. I definitely want to challenge viewers and explore philosophies. …Christopher Nolan makes great entertainment and with challenging ideas and philosophies. He is an independent filmmaker making giant movies, which is something to strive for. Since I have completed my first film…I have been working to get on great television shows as a writer. There are so many stories to tell and I joined the Army and lived this life to help tell authentic stories. I would love to be in day in and day out be in a room with other story tellers creating an amazing show. Creating stories with a team. I will continue directing but would love to be in that writer’s room doing innovative television.
Brian Matthew Rhys on “Perry Mason”. Photo credit BH.
WATM: What are you most proud of in life and your career?
I am most proud of serving in the 75th Ranger Regiment. In a sense in my career I may never do anything as meaningful as that even if I make ten more movies or even if nominated for an Academy Award. I don’t think that I’ll ever be prouder than spending those days with my Ranger buddies in Afghanistan or sweating in Fort Benning. I am also proud of making that first movie and everyone that contributed to that colossal effort from nothing. Rich Handley and I being these recent film graduates decided to make a movie where we built that coalition from the ground up. It is an effort we are very proud of and what we did and everybody that was able to help us achieve that.
On the back end we got distribution through Grindstone and Lionsgate to where we had to find everything from scratch. The studio didn’t fund this. Movie making is a risky endeavor and long commitment over many years. The movie has been out now over a year and we are still making producer phone calls and receiving emails four years later. When you divide the money, you might make on the back end of an indie film and divide the hours by what you put in it, there might not be much money so that passion that drives you to keep working. There is a bond between people that have that level of passion to work 15-hour days. You are not really thinking about the paycheck where you are there to get the job done because you believe it is similar to the military mindset.
My wife Yani Navas-Hanson is from Venezuelan; she left the country and I met her in Atlanta when I was at Fort Benning and she was studying at Georgia Tech. She was the accountant by trade and then was our accountant on the movie. She left her country, learned English here in the US and transitioned from corporate accounting to entertainment accounting and from taking on the challenges of an independent film. What someone like her can accomplish if they are driven and keep pushing forward and to be able to accomplish that in a few years is amazing. People do have to surround themselves with the right people. If you are in a relationship with someone who is not supportive with this career path or your family is not supportive, then you might have a tough time during the ups and downs. Family and friend support is crucial. I have fantastic and supportive friends and family.
Brian and Yani at Sitges Film Festival. Photo credit BH.