During World War II, a troop transport ship made from a converted luxury coastal liner was hit by a German torpedo on its starboard side in 1943, dooming the ship and many of the men aboard. Amid the chaos, four chaplains representing three Christian sects and the Jewish faith moved between the wounded and scared, comforting them, distributing survival gear, and ultimately sacrificing themselves.
The passengers were under orders to sleep clothed and in life jackets in case of an attack, but while the upper decks and outer air were cold, large sections of the ship were hot from the engines that propelled the ship. Those housed on the lower decks typically slept in their underwear or just a shirt or pants. Across the ship, life jackets were unpopular off duty because they were uncomfortable.
But on February 3, 1943, 150 miles from Greenland, a German U-boat spotted the convoy which consisted of the Dorchester and two other transport ships as well as three Coast Guard cutter escorts. U-223 was on the hunt for Allied shipping, and troop transports were choice targets. The German vessel fired a spread of three torpedoes.
Two missed, but the third shoved through the hull and exploded in the boiler room.
The ship lurched, knocking men from their beds. The electrical systems failed instantly, and the ship began filling with water. Throughout the ship’s dark passageways, disoriented men stumbled from racks and the ground, struggling to dress and get to the open deck in time.
Some men forgot to get dressed until they emerged into the frigid, open air.
Two of the men had struggled to join the military. Goode was rejected by the Navy before joining the Army, and Washington had to cheat on his eye exam because a BB gun accident had robbed him of most of his sight in one eye.
Lt. George Fox, a Methodist; Lt. Alexander Goode, a Jewish Rabbi; Lt. John Washington, a Roman Catholic Priest; and Lt. Clark Poling, a Dutch Reformed minister, on the deck of the USAT Dorchester as it sinks.
On the deck of the Dorchester, the men ministered to the scared and wounded. They helped organize the men up top, and Goode, the rabbi, gave his own gloves to Petty Officer John J. Mahoney, a sailor who had forgotten his belowdecks. Mahoney would later say that he believes Goode already knew he would stay on the ship.
The extensive damage to the hull and the boiler room ensured that the ship would sink quickly, so the men were rushing survivors off the ship as quickly as possible. The life jackets ran low, and all four chaplains gave their vests up to save others.
Back in the open, the chaplains ministered to the men as the ship sank into the waves only 20 minutes after the torpedo hit. Two Coast Guard cutters were scooping men out of the water and into lifeboats, but it wasn’t fast enough. The last survivors to escape the ship said that their last view of the chaplains was of them on deck, standing arm-in-arm, singing hymns and reciting religious passages to comfort both survivors and those who would drown with them.
1948 stamp commemorating the four religious leaders.
(U.S. Air Force)
Approximately 672 men died, and 230 from the Dorchester survived the attack and sinking. The American public and Congress pushed for the men to receive Medals of Honor, but the medal requires that the heroic actions take place under enemy fire.
The chaplains were posthumously awarded Distinguished Service Crosses instead, and Congress later created a new, one-time medal named the Four Chaplain’s Medal that was awarded by President Dwight D. Eisenhower during his final days in office in January 1961, almost 18 years after the sinking of the Dorchester.
The camouflaged ghillie suits worn by US snipers are vital tools that enhance concealment, offering greater survivability and lethality, but these suits are in desperate need of an upgrade.
The US Army is currently testing new camouflaged ghillie suits to better protect soldiers and make them deadlier to enemies.
Trained snipers from across the service recently gathered at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida to conduct visual testing for several prototypes, an important preliminary evaluation, the Army revealed in December 2018.
The current ghillie suit, known as the Flame Resistant Ghillie System, is shown here. A new suit, called the Improved Ghillie System, or IGS, is under development.
(US Army photo)
What are ghillie suits?
A ghillie suit is a type of camouflaged clothing designed to help snipers disappear in any environment, be it desert, woodland, sand, or snow.
“A sniper’s mission dictates that he remains concealed in order to be successful,” Staff Sgt. Ricky Labistre, a sniper with 1st Battalion, 160th Infantry Regiment of the California National Guard explainedrecently. “Ghillie suits provide snipers that edge and flexibility to maintain a concealed position, which is partial to our trade.”
A 1st Battalion, 175th Infantry Soldier practices camouflage, cover and concealment with the fire-resistant ghillie suit during training at Fort A.P. Hill, Va., in November 2012.
(US Army photo)
What are Army snipers wearing now?
The Flame Resistant Ghillie System (FRGS) suits currently worn by US snipers were first fielded in 2012, appearing at the Army Sniper School, the Marine Corps Scout Sniper School and the Special Operations Target Interdiction Course.
The Army has decided that these suits need a few critical improvements.
The FRGS suits are heavy, uncomfortable, and hot, Debbie Williams, a systems acquisition expert with Program Executive Office Soldier, said in a statement in October 2018.
“The current [accessory] kit is thick and heavy and comes with a lot of pieces that aren’t used,” Maj. WaiWah Ellison, an assistant product manager with PEO Soldier explained, adding that “soldiers are creating ghillie suits with their own materials to match their personal preference.”
But, most importantly, existing US military camouflage is increasingly vulnerable to the improved capabilities of America’s adversaries.
“The battlefield has changed, and our enemies possess the capabilities that allow them to better spot our snipers. It’s time for an update to the current system,” Sgt. Bryce Fox, a sniper team leader with 2nd Battalion, 505th Infantry Regiment, said in a recent statement.
A southern black racer snake slithers across the rifle barrel held by junior Army National Guard sniper Pfc. William Snyder as he practices woodland stalking in a camouflaged ghillie suit at Eglin Air Force Base, April 7, 2018.
(U.S. Army Staff Sgt. William Frye)
What is the Army developing to replace the existing suits?
The Army plans to eventually replace the FRGS suits with Improved Ghillie System (IGS) suits.
The new IGS suits, part of the Army’s increased focus on military modernization, are expected to be made of a lighter, more breathable material that can also offer the stiffness required to effectively camouflage the wearer.
The ghillie suits will still be flame resistant, a necessity after two soldiers from the Army’s 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment burned to death after their camouflaged sniper gear caught fire in Iraq; however, that protection will primarily be provided by the combat uniform worn underneath.
The new suits will also be modular, which means that snipers will be able to take them apart in the field, adding or subtracting pieces, such as sleeves, leggings, veils, capes, and so on, as needed.
An Army sniper scans the terrain in front of him as part of the Improved Ghillie System visual testing at Eglin Air Force Base in November 2018.
(US Army photo)
How are the new suits being tested?
Snipers from special forces and Ranger regiments, as well as conventional forces, came together at Eglin Air Force base for a few days in early November 2018 for daytime visual testing of IGS prototypes, the Army said in a statement in December 2018.
The testing involved an activity akin to a game of hide-and-seek. Snipers in IGS suits concealed themselves in woodland and desert environments while other snipers attempted to spot them at distances ranging from 10 to 200 meters.
In addition to daytime visual testing, the IGS suits will be put through full-spectrum testing carried out by the Army Night-Vision Laboratory and acoustic testing by the Army Research Laboratory.
The Army Research Laboratory will also test tear resistance and fire retardant capabilities.
Once the initial testing is completed, a limited user evaluation ought to be conducted next spring at the sniper school at Fort Benning in Georgia. The Army is expected to order 3,500 IGS suits for approximately 3,300 snipers with the Army and Special Operations Command.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Civilians might think of military hair regulations as one standard look (see: jarhead), but there’s actually some variance among the branches. The “high and tight” sported by soldiers and Marines is much too short for your average airman.
Just ask Air Force captain Mark Harper.
In 2005, Harper deployed to Camp Victory in Baghdad, Iraq as Officer In Charge of the Joint Combat Camera team. Though he deployed with the Air Force, it was a joint environment, so Harper found himself reporting to an Army colonel and supervising about 40 grunts.
The first day he reported to Army HQ, those soldiers jumped on the chance to give him a hard time about his hair (which is probably a good thing — you only haze the people you like, right? Right?).
“I learned my schedule was intense and I wouldn’t be able to get someone else to cut it, but I wasn’t going to endure this mockery again, so I thought, ‘How hard can this be? I’m just going to cut it myself…'”
By March 1918, it appeared that Germany was gaining the upper hand in its fight against allied forces during World War I.
The Russian army on the Eastern Front had collapsed, allowing about a million soldiers from Germany and other Central Powers nations who had been engaged there to move against British, French, Canadian, and a small contingent of U.S. forces on the Western Front.
The German Spring Offensive, March through June 1918, was designed to win the war before U.S. troops arrived in substantial numbers, said Air Force Lt. Col. Mark E. Grotelueschen.
And the Germans nearly succeeded, said Grotelueschen, who authored the U.S. Army Center of Military History World War I pamphlet “Into the Fight: April-June 1918.”
By April 1, the Germans had 26 percent more soldiers than all the allied force, and had captured more territory than they had since the war started in 1914. By May 27, they came within 35 miles of Paris. More than a million people fled the French capital and the British contemplated an evacuation of the continent.
(U.S. Army photo by Travis Burcham)
When the Spring Offensive began March 21, there was just one American division, the 1st Infantry Division, at the line of trenches that marked the front line. The other divisions — the 2nd, 42nd and 26th — were still in their final phase of training by the French in a quiet sector away from the front.
In May and June, around 460,000 U.S. soldiers and Marines poured into France to bolster the war effort, he said.
Battle for Cantigny
On April 17, the 1st Infantry Division marched toward Cantigny, in northern France. Before their march, Gen. John Pershing, commander of the American Expeditionary Force, gave them a pep talk that left a lasting impression, Grotelueschen said.
Pershing said in part: “You are the finest soldiers in Europe today. … Our people today are hanging upon your deeds. The future is hanging upon your action in this conflict.”
Among those soldiers listening intently to Pershing was Lt. Col. George C. Marshall, the future Army chief of staff, who would later lead the Army through World War II, Grotelueschen said.
During the division’s first few weeks, there were no German infantry attacks, Grotelueschen said. But that didn’t mean it was a safe zone.
The artillery fire was nearly continuous and often included mustard gas, he said. Enemy aircraft adjusted artillery fire and occasionally bombed and strafed the American positions.
The battle for Cantigny lasted from May 28-30. It was the first American attack ever to use airplanes, tanks and flamethrowers, in addition to mortars and artillery — what is today referred to as combined arms warfare.
It was also the first American-led battle of the war, with the other participants being French troops, Grotelueschen said.
The bulk of the fighting was done by soldiers of the 28th Infantry Regiment. They suffered 941 killed or wounded, while the German toll was around 1,500.
“In the gruesome calculus of an attritional war, the fledgling AEF had done what it needed to do. It had killed and wounded more of the enemy than it had lost,” Grotelueschen noted, adding that it “showed friend and foe alike that Americans will both fight and stick.”
The Cantigny battle would become a theme for the months to follow until the end of the war, Nov. 11, 2018, he said. “The inexperienced Americans helped stop German attacks with tenacious defense; proved able to push the Germans back at various points along the line; and, with rare exceptions, held on to whatever terrain they seized.”
Defense of Chateau-Thierry
(U.S. Army photo by Travis Burcham)
On May 31, elements of the 3rd Infantry Division began arriving in the vicinity of the Chateau-Thierry in northern France.
House-to-house fighting ensued. At one point, the French thought that the Germans would capture the city, so they blew up the main bridge across the Marne River, leaving some American forces stranded on the other side.
The U.S. soldiers put up a brave counterattack, making a “critical contribution to the massive French effort to stop the Germans,” who were now within artillery shelling distance of Paris, Grotelueschen said.
Philippe Petain, commander of the French army, wrote a special citation for the U.S. 7th Machine-Gun Battalion, he said. It read in part: “In the course of violent combat, particularly the 31st of May and the 1st of June, 1918, it disputed foot by foot with the Germans the northern outskirts of Château-Thierry, covered itself with glory, thanks to its valor and its skill, costing the enemy sanguinary losses.”
While the 1st and 3rd Infantry Divisions were engaged in battle, the 2nd Infantry Division, made up of a conglomeration of Army and Marine regiments, was arriving in the vicinity of Lucy-le-Bocage, also in northern France.
Some of the most brutal fighting of the war was done by U.S. Marines in a forest known as Belleau Wood June 6-26.
“The allies were desperate not merely for good news, but especially for reassurances to the tired French and British forces that the Americans had entered the fight at last,” Grotelueschen said. “For their part, the Germans could not ignore the fact that in those battles the rookie 2nd Infantry Division (had) severely damaged regiments from four experienced German divisions. The tide was turning.”
Video games are extremely popular in the military community. It’s a favorite pastime and even troops who grew up playing outside will take part at some point. But what might surprise you is that it’s not just the nerds among us who’ve made videos games less of a time-killer and more of a hobby.
The military brings people from all different backgrounds together under the same roof — nerds and jocks alike. In fact, in the past two decades, a countless number of young hopefuls have showed up at the recruiter’s office looking to live out fantasies they’ve had while playing games.
Sure, not all of them make it and, yes, the harsh reality of military life sets in and you’ll quickly realize it’s not anywhere close to your favorite video game, but those who make it hold on tightly to their hobby. You just might be surprised at what types of games are popular among troops.
There was a movie that came out recently based on the original game. You should probably just stick to the games, though…
The predecessor to the insanely popular massively multiplayer online role playing game, Warcraft is a real-time strategy series set in a grim fantasy world. If anyone from any walk of life brings this game up in conversation, they are most definitely a nerd — but by that barometer, there are a lot of nerds in the military.
Service members often feel the need for speed after a long week.
Any Mario game
Mario Kart, Mario Party, and Super Smash Brothers are all great games to play in the barracks on the weekend. These bring people together, just like a split-screen game of Call of Duty, but you’d never expect to see the bright colors and cartoony characters of a Nintendo title glowing on the faces of hardened war fighters.
You’ll still find an amazing following within the military, though.
(Sony Interactive Entertainment)
‘God of War’
Judging by the title alone, you’d think this series was a smash hit among service members, but it’s not wildly popular. Here’s why: You might get the opportunity to kill a bunch of gods in a bloody frenzy, but most games in the series follow a linear storyline. Troops generally aren’t interested until it comes time to fight.
This game takes quite a bit of skill, actually.
‘The Last of Us’
Of course a zombie shooter made it onto this list, but the best part of The Last of Us isn’t its gunplay, it’s the engaging and tragic story. Anyone can pickup Call of Duty and get their fill of zombie killing, but it takes a true dork to buy a game for the zombies and stay for the story.
Nerds love fighting giant monsters!
One of the greatest game series to ever be developed, Dragon Age is a fantasy RPG that offers great story that evolves based on player choices. Much like the Witcher series (see below), you wouldn’t expect this to come up in conversation, but if you bring it up in the barracks, you’ll turn a few heads.
(CD Projekt Red)
A role-playing fantasy game based on the novels of the same name by Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski, this series is renowned for its engaging story and open-ended choices. This game requires patience, preparation, and a good amount of reading — and it’s still popular among service members. It’s just that good.
It’s not that I have anything against the good-natured jokes of April Fool’s Day, it’s just that I don’t believe anything for an entire day. Sure, you have your ridiculous ads from companies, like the McPickle burger from McDonald’s, but then there’s the ones that sound plausible until you stop and think about it for more than a second.
Tom Brady saying he’s going to retire? The dude still has four more fingers to go. Lockheed Martin saying they now have the technology to smell Space? That’s not how Space works. The Army announces that it’ll take the well-being of the troops into consideration and allow them to wear protective masks, under AR 670-1, in areas of with hazardous air quality? Good one.
At least there was a solid selection of memes to choose from this week! Enjoy!
(In all seriousness, the protective mask one is real — and it’s about freakin’ time.)
(Meme via Coast Guard Memes)
(Meme via Broken and Unreadable)
(Meme via I Am An American Soldier)
(Meme via Disgruntled Vets)
(Meme via Valhalla Wear)
(Meme via Sh*t My LPO Says)
It took me longer than I’m willing to admit to get that the left side was port and right was starboard.
And the only way I still remember it is because ‘left’ has four letters, and so does ‘port.’ Don’t judge me.
(Meme via Decelerate Your Life)
(Meme via 1st Civ Division)
(Meme via Private News Network)
(Screengrab via The Salty Soldier, Credit to Reddit user u/patientbearr)
If you happen to ever find yourself slated to have society as a whole decide it would be best if they killed you, the silver lining is that in many parts of the world where this is still a thing, the last meal you ever eat is likely to be significantly better than the ones you’ve been consuming up to that point in prison. So how did this rather odd meal tradition come about and is it actually true death row inmates can get anything they want to eat?
To begin with, while it’s commonly stated that the whole idea of the last meal request came about due to Christ’s famed last supper, there doesn’t seem to be any direct evidence of this.
So how did the tradition actually start?
While history is absolutely littered with various cultures having feasts associated with death, such as the public feast for Roman gladiators the night before their potential date with death, called the coena libera, it wouldn’t be until slightly more modern times where we start seeing those being executed widely granted such a courtesy en masse. Once this did start to become a thing, in the early going, while wealthy individuals slated for execution, as ever, could generally request whatever they wanted any time, and were even often allowed servants to attend them as they awaited their execution, common things granted to the poor before their execution seem to have been at best a swig of some alcohol or the like.
Things began to pick up steam considerably on this front around the 16th century, however. Or, at least, things appear to have. It is entirely possible that such courtesies were widely granted before this to even the poor, with documented evidence of it simply not surviving. On that note, things like the printing press’ invention in the 15th century began making documented history of rather mundane events like the executions of random Joe Citizens more, well, documented. Thus, it may or may not be coincidence that accounts of such courtesies started to pop up more and more around the 16th century and progressing from there.
Whatever the case, by the 18th century, particularly in places like England, such practices were definitely around and relatively common. For example, in London it was common to allow the condemned to enjoy a meal with various guests, generally including the executioner, on the eve of the execution. Further, there is record of Newgate Prison death row inmates being allowed to stop at a pub on their march to their death at the Tyburn Fair gallows. At the pub, they would typically share drinks with their guards and executioner.
Over in Germany, perhaps the best documented case of the food practice around this time was that of Susanna Margarethe Brandt of Frankfurt. On January 14, 1772, Brandt, a poor servant girl, was executed for allegedly killing her newborn child. Eight months before this murder, she’d become pregnant by a journeyman goldsmith who she never saw again after they had sex. She subsequently successfully hid her pregnancy all the way to the eighth month when she gave birth secretly and alone in a laundry room on August 1, 1771. Unfortunately, when the baby came out, whether because newborn babies are insanely slippery or she just failed to realize it was about to drop, it fell from her and smacked its head against the stone floor. The child then, according to her, wheezed momentarily and then ceased to breathe. Brandt subsequently panicked, hid the baby in a stable and fled the scene. However, having no money or means to support herself, the next day she returned to Frankfurt where she was eventually arrested for murdering the child. Whether she did or not, and even if it would have survived anyway given it was premature, is a matter of debate even today, but she was nonetheless convicted of the murder and sentenced to death.
Shortly before her execution, however, she was the guest of honor at what has been dubbed the “Hangman’s Meal”- a rather large feast prepared for the condemned and various officials who had condemned her. If you’re curious, the meal in this case supposedly was “three pounds of fried sausages, ten pounds of beef, six pounds of baked carp, twelve pounds of larded roast veal, soup, cabbage, bread, a sweet, and eight and a half measures of 1748 wine.” Of course, the young Susanna reportedly ate none of it, merely drinking a little water as the officials feasted around her. Not long after, her head was lopped off.
Moving over to the United States where the idea of the “last meal” is perhaps best known today, it would appear this tradition did not initially jump across the pond when Europeans began setting in the Americas. Or, at least, surviving accounts of executions don’t seem to mention such courtesies, with some exceptions usually having to do with drink or something to smoke. For example, in 1835, the New York Sun reported shortly before his execution, murderer Manuel Fernandez requested and was granted a bit of brandy and some cigars, courtesy of the warden at Bellevue prison.
As the 19th century progressed, this sort of thing became more and more reported, as did eventually the practice of granting last meal requests, which by the early 20th century became quite common.
This all leads us to why. Well, as far as more historic cases, such as the early known instances in Europe, it’s generally hypothesized that people did it as a way for officials and executioners to more or less say to the prisoners “We’re going to kill you, but it’s nothing personal.” In essence, offering a bit of kindness to the condemned before their death with the prisoners themselves seemingly appreciating the courtesy, at least when it came to the alcohol.
On that note, it’s widely reported from this that the practice was instituted as a way to ensure the ghosts of the executed would feel friendly towards their condemners and executioners and thus not come back and haunt them, but we couldn’t find any primary documentation backing such a notion.
Whether that’s true or not, moving on to more modern times, the underlying reason why prison officials started doing this is not any better documented and there doesn’t ever seem to have been any laws requiring it, for instance. It’s just something people did on their own and the idea spread, presumably thanks to the media’s then love of reporting everything about the last hours of those being executed, and the general public eating it up across the nation.
Whatever the case, law professor Sarah Gerwig-Moore, co-author of Cold (Comfort?) Food: The Significance of Last Meal Rituals in the United States, posits of all this,
Last meals may be an offering by the guards and prison administrators as a way of seeking forgiveness for the impending execution, signaling that ‘it’s nothing personal.’… There are standard operating procedures that put up a wall between guards and prisoners, but nevertheless, there is a fondness between them… The last meal as a tradition is really a way of showing humanity between the caregivers of people on death row who are completely powerless and who come to care about these people — they feel complicit, and conflicted. The last meal is a way to offer, in a very, very small way, a show of kindness and generosity.
On this point, she also notes from her research, “The most generous meals correlate to the states that execute the most people — except for Texas…”
Texas, of course, having executed about 1,300 people in the last two centuries and trending the opposite of everyone else- actually increasing the number of executions in recent decades. For reference here, they’ve conducted 562 executions (almost half their couple century total) since 1982- apparently doing their best to adhere to the supposed 13th century Papal decree at the Massacre at Béziers, “Caedite eos. Novit enim Dominus qui sunt eius.” This translates to, “Kill them. For the Lord knows those that are His own.” Or to put it in the form that is apparently Texas’ state motto- “Kill ’em all and let God sort ’em out.” (Joking asside, Texas’ state motto is actually the single word- “friendship”, owing to the fact that the name of the state derives from the Caddo word for “friends” or “allies”.)
On the note of Texas, last meals, and being friendly, in 2011 Senator John Whitmire very publicly pushed for an ultimately got the special meal requests for those about to be executed abolished, at least officially. He noted of this, “It is extremely inappropriate to give a person sentenced to death such a privilege… enough is enough… If you’re fixing to execute someone under the laws of the state because of the hideous crime that someone has committed, I’m not looking to comfort him… He didn’t give his victim any comfort or a choice of last meal.”
That said, proponents on the other side of that argument generally state that part of the point of offering such courtesies is to demonstrate that while the state is killing someone on behalf and with the express consent of the public as a whole, if it’s not done in a humane way, the public and the state are no better than the person being killed. As Professor Kathy Zambrana of the University of Florida sums up, “It comes down to how do you treat one human being when you’re about to take someone’s life.”
History professor Daniel LaChance of Emory University further chimes in, “These last meals — and last words — show the state is democratic and respects individuality even as it’s holding people accountable. As horrible as the deed they’ve been convicted of [is], the person still has some kind of dignity that we’re acknowledging.”
As to what drew the ire of Senator Whitmire to come against the then almost century old Texas tradition of the last meal, it was the meal request of death row inmate Lawrence Russel Brewer, who was sentenced to death for taking part in the rather horrific and senseless racially motivated murder of James Byrd Jr in 1998. So what did Brewer ask for? A couple chicken fried steaks, a triple decker bacon cheeseburger, a beef and cheese omelet, fried okra, a full pound of BBQ, a half loaf of bread, three fajitas, and a meat lover’s pizza. For dessert, he requested a container of Blue Bell ice cream and peanut-butter fudge. To wash it all down, he asked for three root beers.
When the time came, however, he ultimately ate nothing.
This all brings us to whether inmates can actually request and receive basically anything they want. While the media widely reports this is the case, including with this specific example of Brewer, this isn’t correct at all. In fact, in the vast majority of cases where inmates request something elaborate like this, what they actually get is just a simple, one-person version of it.
As famed “death row chef” Brian Price, who prepared well over 100 such meals, states, “The local newspaper would always say they got 24 tacos and 12 enchiladas, but they would actually get four tacos and two enchiladas… They only get items in the commissary kitchen. If they order lobster, they get a piece of frozen pollack. They quit serving steaks in 1994. If they order 100 tacos, they get two or three.”
That said other states and prisons sometimes do it differently. For example, in nearby Oklahoma, they allow the meal to be purchased from a local restaurant if desired, though capping it at … Other states that allow similar, such as Florida, are more generous, allowing for a budget of .
Of course, as you might have guessed from all we’ve said so far, those actually involved in making or acquiring the last meal may or may not pitch in if they so choose to go beyond. For example, in Cottonport, Louisiana, when one unnamed death row inmate requested lobster, the warden at the Angola prison, Burl Cain, went ahead and paid for a full lobster dinner, with Cain then dining with the inmate. You see, much like many historical instances of this sort of thing, before Cain’s recent retirement, he would always extend an invitation to the condemned to have their last meal with him and sometimes other select guests.
Of course, as with Susanna Brandt and Lawrence Brewer, it’s quite common for death row inmates to forgo eating their “last meal”, as the whole impending death thing generally leaves many without an appetite. To try to get around the problem, the so-called last meal is sometimes not actually the last meal at all, with it generally designated the “special meal” by prison officials. Even when it is literally the person’s last meal, it is usually scheduled far enough ahead that they might still be able to eat, but not so far away that they’ll have to go an extended time without eating before their execution. For example, in Virginia the rule is the meal must be served at least four hours before the execution. In Indiana, they go even further with the special meal often coming a few days before the big show, in a time when the person can actually enjoy it on some level.
For those who don’t have an appetite, they often share. For example, in places like Florida, in certain cases family or friends may be allowed to enjoy the meal with the condemned. Some inmates instead donate it to others. For example, in 1951, Raymond Fernandez, one of the “Lonely Hearts Killers” along with his lady love Martha Jule Beck, made a request that his meal be given to another inmate to enjoy.
On a similar note, in the early decades of this tradition in Texas, it was relatively common for the condemned to order and be given large portions of food for their special meal precisely so they could have enough to share with every other inmate on death row in the prison. This extra food request was usually honored by prison officials because it was seen not just as a mercy, but something that helped keep all those on death row in line directly before executions.
That said, not all inmates have trouble eating. Perhaps the most famous case of this was murderer Rickey Ray Rector. After committing two rather senseless murders, he attempted to kill himself by shooting himself in the head. However, he ended up living through the ordeal owing to shooting himself in the temple- a common way to kill one’s self in the movies, but in reality very survivable if medical aid is nearby, with the person effectively having just given themselves a lobotomy.
Despite his rather deficient mental faculties as a result of the whole bullet through the brain thing, Rector was controversially sentenced to death. The issue became even more of a media sensation after the fact when it was learned that while he happily ate his last meal, he chose not to eat the pecan pie that he got with it. Why? He told the guards he was “saving it for later.”
Once again showing the humanity of the guards involved, they went ahead and saved the piece of pie just in case there was a last minute stay of execution.
This all brings us to what prisoners actually usually request for their last meal. While exact fare is rather diverse (for example in one case a person simply requested a “jar of pickles” according to the aforementioned Brian Price), if categorizing this into groups, it often comes down to either things you’d find at McDonald’s or KFC (or literally McDonald’s or KFC meals in many cases), something fancy, or a favorite home cooked meal from the person’s childhood or the like.
As for the first two categories there, it’s noted that the vast majority of death row inmates come from rather impoverished backgrounds, and thus often go with favorite food items they are accustomed to and haven’t gotten while in prison- things like fried chicken, cheeseburgers, french fries, and soda, or the like. That said, some go the other way, picking foods they couldn’t really afford when in the land of the free, or may have never even tried at all, like lobster or filet mignon. As for favorite home cooked meals, the aforementioned Brian Price states when he prepared these meals, he always did his best to make it just as the inmate described, or even potentially getting a specific recipe from the condemned’s loved ones.
Regardless of what camp one goes with, some choose their last meal not on what they necessarily intend to eat, but rather to make a statement.
As for such statements, going back in time a bit in 1963, murderer Victor Feguer requested nothing more than a single solitary unpitted olive for his last meal. He then requested the seed be buried with him in the hopes that it would grow an olive tree as a symbol of peace and rebirth.
On a similar note, one Jonathan Wayne Nobles, who apparently had been on drugs since he was 8 years old living in foster homes, as an adult murdered two women while high on a cocktail of substances. In prison, however, he got off the drugs and became a devout Catholic and, not just model inmate, but model person. As one example, at one point he attempted to save the life of a random woman he heard about who was dying from kidney failure. However, while he did successfully find a doctor willing to perform the procedure to take one of his kidneys out and give it to the woman, it ultimately turned out the pair were did not have matching blood types and the woman died. Doubling down, Nobles later attempted to have all his organs donated after his execution, but this request was denied as Texas did not allow death row inmates to donate their organs. Going back to his last meal request, he simply asked for the Eucharist (communion).
To end on a lighter note- well… relatively speaking…- in the 1940s Wilson De la Roi, who murdered a man while in prison, was slated to be killed via a somewhat newly minted poison gas chamber in San Quentin. When asked what he wanted for his last meal, he merely requested a bunch of indigestion tablets. When asked why, he stated that he felt sure he was soon to have rather severe case of gas…
Several new technologies are being developed that, once combined, will provide Soldiers an unprecedented overview of the battlefield.
That assessment came from Army personnel at Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center’s Night Vision and Electronic Sensors Directorate here, who hosted a recent media visit.
Those technologies involve the marriage of micro-displays with augmented reality.
The Army’s preferred method of acquiring new technologies is to use what industry is already developing for consumers, or modifying that technology for its own use, said Rupal Varshneya, an electrical engineer at CERDEC.
The Army employs its scientists and research laboratories for designing needed technologies that industry is not interested in pursuing, she said. Such was the case when the Army needed a very bright, high-definition micro-display, about the size of a postage stamp.
(U.S. Army photo by David Vergun)
First off, the Army approached makers of smartphone, tablets, TVs and even the gaming industry, she said. None of them were interested in making the micro-display because they didn’t foresee consumer demand or profit potential.
So Army researchers at CERDEC went to work.
David Fellowes, an electrical engineer at CERDEC, said researchers worked in stages building displays with progressively greater capability. About eight years ago, they developed a monochrome version.
Then, several years later, researchers developed a new silicone technology and manufacturing methods that enabled the micro-display to increase in brightness, he explained.
“If you’ve ever tried looking at your cellphone on a sunny day, it’s really hard,” he said. The increase in display brightness was such that Soldiers would now be able to see the tiny micro-display in sunlight.
Although the technology was being developed for dismounted Soldiers, other program managers took notice, he said. For example the program manager responsible for Apache helicopters wanted their pilots to have them for head-mounted displays.
They are not yet fielded for the Apaches, but a contract for them has already been signed. Other program managers wanted them for night vision goggles and even for weapons sights, he added.
(U.S. Army photo by David Vergun)
The next step, he said, was to develop an extremely high resolution, 2048-by-2048-pixel display in full color. That advancement came to fruition recently, and some of them were on display.
The next phase of development had to do with taking the improved micro-display and pairing it with augmented reality, using the Nett Warrior system.
Sgt. 1st Class Justin Nelson, in charge of Soldier testing at CERDEC, was suited up in the Nett Warrior System, with a helmet-mounted micro-display attached. The media could see what he was seeing in his micro-display on a large TV screen.
Previously, Soldiers had a small radio attached to their chest, he said. Whenever they needed to get location coordinates or other data they had to look down and lost situational awareness to their front. Nelson compared it to a person walking across a busy street looking down at a cellphone. “Not good.”
The micro-display attachment to the helmet allows Soldiers to stay focused on what’s in front of them, he said.
The micro-display not only gives Soldiers a clear view of what’s ahead of them, night or day, it also can accommodate overlays such as maps and symbols showing friendly forces and enemy forces. In this way, it replaces traditional night vision goggles.
Furthermore, information that’s wirelessly fed into the micro-display, such as maps and symbols, can be shared among other Soldiers using the device, as well as leaders in the tactical operation center, he said.
(U.S. Army photo by David Vergun)
They all have the ability to share the same picture of the battlefield and can add or manipulate the symbols as needed, he said.
Researchers are also adding micro-displays on the Soldiers’ weapons and feeding that display into the one attached to the
Soldiers’ helmets via a tablet worn on the waist. That enables Soldiers to get a split view of what’s around them plus the target the weapon is trained on, he said.
So if the rifle is pointed rearward and the Soldier is looking forward, the image shows both views, he explained, adding that creates novel ways for Soldiers to fire their weapons, such as shooting over a wall without being exposed.
The entire system is currently being tested by Soldiers at Fort Benning’s Maneuver Center of Excellence, he said.
“One of the coolest, most creative videos I’ve ever seen produced by a military journalist.”
That comment from a Vimeo user is a pretty spot-on assessment of Steel Rain — a brief but beautiful video of a Marine artillery unit mercilessly raining fire on ISIS in Syria.
In the spring of 2017, then-Sgt. Matthew Callahan deployed to an undisclosed location in Syria with the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit to tell the story of artillery Marines deployed in support of Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve. The Marines conducted 24-hour all-weather fire support for the Syrian Democratic Forces as they fought the Battle of Raqqa.
drone footage captures U.S. artillery Marines conducting strikes against ISIS”
After the SDF recaptured the city in the fall of 2017, Army Sgt. Maj. John Wayne Troxell told Business Insider that US-led coalition forces were firing on ISIS in Raqqa “every minute of every hour” in order to keep pressure on the terrorist group, and the Marine fire supporting them was so intense that the barrels on two of the howitzers burned out.
Armed with a camera and drone, Callahan was there to capture all the steel-raining glory of the M777-A2 Howitzers and their crews. Now a civilian video producer for the Navy’s All Hands Magazine, Callahan was the first service member ever named Department of Defense’s military videographer of the year and military photographer of the year simultaneously.
In this roughly two-minute piece of cinematic wizardry, the award-winning filmmaker and photographer captures some of the sexiest footage you’ll ever see of the King of Battle raining righteous hellfire on America’s enemies. Watch Steel Rain above; then check out the four-minute extended cut that’s just as beautiful and more detailed here. You’ll be glad you did.
Shortly after the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, the Russian 101st Motorized Rifles were caught in a firefight with the Mujahideen near the city of Herat. A young soldier, 20-year-old Bakhretdin Khakimov, was wounded in the fighting, lost on the battlefield, and presumed dead.
Khakimov was a draftee from Samarkand who had only been in the Red Army a short time when he was injured in Herat Province, near Shindand. Some 30 years later, a group of Soviet war veterans founded the Committee for International Soldiers, a group whose mission is to find and identify missing Soviet soldiers or their remains. Most, like Khakimov, are presumed to be dead.
The young soldier now goes by the name of Sheikh Abdullah. He was rescued from the battlefield by locals, nursed back to health and opted to stay with those that helped him survive. He later married an Afghan woman and settled down to a semi-nomadic life. His wife has since died and he does the same work as the man who rescued him.
“I was wounded in the head and collapsed. I don’t remember much about that time,” he told TOLO news.
There are an estimated 264 Soviet soldiers currently missing from the 1979-1989 Afghan War. The Committee for International Soldiers actually found 29 living servicemen, 22 of which were repatriated to the former Soviet Union. The rest stayed in Afghanistan. The CIS has also identified 15 graves of Soviet war dead, exhuming and identifying five of those.
It is estimated that the decade-long war cost the Soviet Union 15,000 lives — not to mention those of an estimated one million Afghan civilians.
Bakhretdin Khakimov was an ethnic Uzbek, with family roots not far from Afghanistan’s northern borders. Staying in the country was dangerous for Khakimov and those like him. The USSR would trade submachine guns to locals in exchange for “turncoats” trying to defect from the Red Army.
Russians captured by the Mujahideen did not fare so well — they could expect to be tortured to death. Caught between a rock and a hard place, the Soviet soldiers were often brutally mistreated by their own officers. They would then take out their rage on the civilian population, sometimes even wiping out entire villages.
The last two battalions of Russian spetsnaz crossed the “Friendship” Bridge into neighboring Uzbekistan on Feb. 15, 1989. At that moment, Lt. Gen. Boris Gromov, commander of Soviet forces in Afghanistan, told reporters, “There is not a single Soviet soldier or officer left behind me.” He was wrong.
A firewall used by the CIA to communicate with its spies in China compromised their identities and contributed to their executions by the Chinese government, several current and former intelligence officials told Foreign Policy magazine in a report published Aug. 15, 2018.
In a two-year period starting in 2010, Chinese officials began accurately identifying spies working for the US.
Chinese authorities rounded up the suspects and executed or imprisoned them before their handlers were able to determine what was going on.
“You could tell the Chinese weren’t guessing,” one of the US officials said in the report. “The Ministry of State Security were always pulling in the right people.”
“When things started going bad, they went bad fast.”
US intelligence officials cited in the report are now placing the lion’s share of the blame on what one official called a “f—– up” communications system used between spies and their handlers.
This internet-based system, brought over from operations in the Middle East, was taken to China under the assumption that it could not be breached and made the CIA “invincible,” Foreign Policy reported.
Police officer, Beijing, China.
(Photo by Shawn Clover)
“It migrated to countries with sophisticated counterintelligence operations, like China,” an official said.
“The attitude was that we’ve got this, we’re untouchable.”
Intelligence officers and their sources were able to communicate with each other using ordinary laptops or desktop computers connected to the internet, marking a stark departure from some of the more traditional methods of covert communication.
This “throwaway” encrypted program, which was assumed to be untraceable and separate from the CIA’s main communication line, was reportedly used for new spies as a safety measure in case they double-crossed the agency.
Unbeknownst to the CIA, however, this system could be used to connect with mainstream CIA communications, used by fully vetted CIA sources.
According to the report, the vulnerability would have even allowed Chinese intelligence agencies to deduce it was being used by the US government.
The Chinese set up a task force to break in to the throwaway system, Foreign Policy said, but it was unclear how they ultimately identified people.
The consequences for this breach were grim.
About 30 spies were reportedly executed, though some intelligence officials told Foreign Policy that 30 was a low estimate.
The US officials were reportedly “shell-shocked” by the speed and accuracy of Chinese counterintelligence, and rescue operations were organized to evacuate their sources.
The last CIA case officer to meet with sources in China reportedly handed over large amounts of cash in hopes that it would help them escape, Foreign Policy said.
The CIA has since been rebuilding its network in China, but the process has been an expensive and long endeavor, according to The New York Times, which in 2017 first reported on the suspected vulnerability and sources’ deaths.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
What makes a movie “the most Russian movie possible?” In this case, it isn’t the long takes and subtle camera movement that trademarked films of the late Soviet Union. It instead features modern-day Soviet-level superheroes drawn together from all corners of the former USSR in order to fight an evil super villain who destroys Moscow and wants to take on the whole of Russia.
One of them is a military-trained, literal Russian Bear who mows down robotic drones with a minigun.
In the Russian action flick “Zaschitniki” (which translates to “Guardians“), the bear and other Russian superheroes are formed as an Guardians of the Galaxy-meets-Suicide Squad super unit who must take down a force of robots and henchmen who threaten all of Russia after they destroy the Russian Army and burn Moscow to the ground. The Guardians are superheroes formed through science during the Cold War, intended to protect the USSR from invaders.
Xenia has the power of invisibility and can change her body into water, Lernik can control Earth and rocks with his mind. Temirkhan has super speed and kills people with curved swords, and Arseniy turns into a giant bear-man who wields an equally giant machine gun. The creator of a subsequent superhero creation program flees the Soviet government and hides in Siberia, continuing his experiments and turning himself into a cyborg and creating clones of himself.
All of the heroes hide for decades after the fall of the USSR, emerging only because the Russian government wants to restart the program.
You see where this is going.
To shots like this.
The Guardians are quickly captured by the evil cyborg doctor. While he’s off controlling an army of robots and tanks to gain control of all the Russian satellites in orbit so he can control all the technology in the world. Somehow, a Russian officer frees the Guardians. She trains them to fight and gives them special suits and weapons. An all-out Avengers-level brawl takes place in Moscow with the Guardians just murdering the other side.
Eventually they have to come together to defeat the villain. They touch each other and release a blast of energy, which the Russian officer forgets to tell them while they’re training for this big battle.
Listen, what you need to know is that Guardians isn’t a great movie, even by international action flick standards. What it does have is an awesome werebear and some other cool action scenes, which is all we ever really wanted. It also has a setup for a sequel which will be the worst movie I ever watch from start to finish.
U.S. Army training officials have finalized a plan to ensure new recruits in Basic Combat Training receive more trigger time on their individual weapons.
In the past, new soldiers would learn to shoot their 5.56mm M4 carbines and qualify with the Army’s red-dot close combat optic. Under the new marksmanship training effort, soldiers will qualify on both the backup iron sight and the CCO, as well as firing more rounds in realistic combat scenarios.
“We just want to make sure at the end of the day, they can still pull that weapon out and engage the enemy effectively,” Col. Fernando Guadalupe Jr., commander of Leader Training Brigade at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, told Military.com.
Guadalupe’s brigade, which falls under the Center for Initial Military Training, is responsible for the new training program of instruction for Basic Combat Training that the Army announced early 2018.
The new BCT is designed to instill more discipline and esprit de corps in young soldiers after leaders from around the Army noted trends among soldiers fresh out of training displaying a lack of obedience, poor work ethic and low discipline.
The restructured training program will place increased emphasis on marksmanship training and other combat skills.
Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley tasked Fort Jackson to lead the effort to toughen standards so soldiers will be more prepared for combat upon completion of BCT, Guadalupe said.
(U.S. Army photo)
“He wanted us to create the absolute best soldier that we can create coming out of Basic Combat Training prior to their advanced individual training,” he said.
Fort Jackson has been tasked to develop “best practices as we slowly implement the new program of instruction,” Guadalupe said.
The goal is to have initial operating capability by July 15, 2018, and to have the new BCT fully operational at Jackson and the other three BCT centers at Fort Benning, Georgia; Fort Sill, Oklahoma; and Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, by Oct. 1, 2018, he said.
The redesigned BCT marksmanship program includes more instruction time and requires trainees to spend more time on the range.
In the past, new soldiers in BCT shot 500 rounds and received 83 hours of marksmanship instruction over a 16-day period. The redesigned standards have soldiers shooting 600 rounds and receiving 92 hours of training.
Much of that time will be devoted to shooting and qualifying with front and rear backup iron sights to ensure soldiers become more familiar and more disciplined with their weapons, Guadalupe said.
Trainees start out working in marksmanship simulators, “but the real difference is made when they feel the percussion of that weapon and the effect that it has once actually shooting bullets down range,” he said.
For nearly two decades, soldiers have relied upon sophisticated weapons optics such as the M68 CCO as the primary sight in combat.
But Army senior leaders, for many months now, have been stressing the importance of making sure soldiers can operate in technology-degraded environments since potential enemies such as Russia and China are investing in electronic warfare.
In addition to giving recruits more range time, this new reality is driving the return to learning to shoot with basic iron sights designed to work in any condition.
“While technology is critically important to us, we’ve got to make sure they understand the minimum basics of how you shoot that weapon without any of the technology that you could put on it,” Guadalupe said.
(U.S. Army photo)
Basic trainees will have to qualify with both iron sights and the CCO as a graduation requirement. For the qualification course, soldiers are still given 40 rounds to engage 40 targets.
But on CCO qualification day, soldiers will run through the course twice to give them more time to become effective with the optic.
“We did that so they would have more range time, more bullets for that CCO,” said Wayne Marken, quality assurance officer at Jackson.
“They spend the predominance of training time on the backup iron sight, and because they complete backup iron sight and then transition to CCO, we have built in extra time for them to get more range time,” he said.
The best qualification score soldiers receive during the CCO record firing day will determine which marksmanship badge they wear — marksman, sharpshooter or expert.
“Let’s say you go out and shoot 37 rounds and you are an expert the first time you qualify,” Guadalupe said. “We are still going to let you go back to the range and shoot again.”
The new emphasis on marksmanship is also designed to expose young soldiers to more realistic shooting scenarios.
At the end of the final field training exercise known as The Forge, soldiers are required to do a battle march and shoot event.
Soldiers march four miles with 40-pound rucksacks and then go immediately into a close-combat firing range, do 25 pushups and engage 40 targets at ranges out to 100 meters with 40 rounds of ammunition.
“This is at the end of The Forge, so the soldiers over a four-day period … have marched over 40 miles already,” said Thriso Hamilton, training specialist for the Basic Combat Training POI.
“The soldiers are extremely tired, they are hungry, they’re under a stressful situation and we want to see at that point how much focus they can garner to be able to … engage targets,” he said.
This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @military.com on Twitter.