By the power of the Constitution, American presidents are the ultimate link between the people and the military. As commanders-in-chief, presidents are responsible for committing the nation to war — a very tall order.
Here are 4 presidents that navigated the vagaries of public sentiment better than most:
1. Polk told Americans that Mexico “shed American blood on American soil!”
President James K. Polk was an expansionist and wanted land from Mexico so that the U.S. would stretch from sea to shining sea. There is a dispute among historians on whether Polk wanted a war or was just willing to accept one, but he sent 4,000 troops under general and future president Zachary Taylor to a portion of land claimed by both Texas and Mexico.
Ten months later on May 8, 1846, Mexican troops attacked what they perceived to be American troops on Mexican land.
Polk acted quickly when he got word of the fighting. On May 11 he asked Congress for a declaration of war with the cry that Mexico had “shed American blood on American soil!” While a very few anti-expansionist Whigs – including then-Senator Abraham Lincoln – protested the fact that it was technically not “American soil,” the rest of the Whigs and the majority of Congress voted for war.
2. Lincoln rode on the coattails of his generals
President Abraham Lincoln, one of the most popular and well-respected leaders in American history, was not always popular in his time. Indeed, during the road to the 1864 election with the war going badly. Even Lincoln expected a crushing defeat in his re-election bid. When the Democrats nominated Gen. George B. McClellan on a platform of peace with the breakaway Confederacy, all seemed lost.
But Lincoln had pushed hard for aggressive generals during the war, and two of them saved him in the final months before the election. Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant had been handpicked by Lincoln for the top job, and Grant’s favored subordinate, Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman, delivered Atlanta to the president on Sep. 3, 1864.
The victory in Atlanta was soon followed by Grant’s wins in the Shenandoah Valley campaign. With the war suddenly going well, Lincoln was able to rally the North to keep going and win the war.
3. Wilson leaked the “Zimmerman Telegram” to the press
President Woodrow Wilson was notoriously reluctant to join World War I despite Germany’s unrestricted submarine warfare which killed hundreds of Americans and sank prized ships. One of the tipping points for Wilson was when Britain revealed the “Zimmerman Telegram” to him.
The Zimmerman Telegram was a secret proposal from Germany to Mexico. Germany promised Mexico Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico if Mexico entered World War I as a German ally against the U.S. Wilson authorized the Navy to begin arming civilian vessels and leaked the telegram to the public. Once the American public was in a fury, he went to Congress and asked for a declaration of war.
4. Roosevelt hid his disability, befriended journalists, and held fireside chats
When he wasn’t glad-handing journalists, he spoke directly to the American public over the radio during his iconic “Fireside Chats” that actually started in the early days of his presidency when the U.S. was more worried about the Great Depression than the wars in Europe and Asia.
In the U.S. Civil War, people on both sides of the conflict decided that their best contribution would come in the form of “irregular resistance,” rather than uniformed fighting, but Southerners joined the bands in larger numbers and provided a more material contribution to the war effort.
Here’s a quick primer on who these men were and how they fought.
Confederate cavalrymen raid union livestock in the west in 1864. Guerrilla forces could often conduct missions like this, but had to be sure and melt away before Union forces caught them.
(A.R. Waud, Harper’s Weekly)
First, we have to define exactly who we’re talking about: the guerrillas and gangs who took up arms to uphold the Confederacy and its values, not the criminal gangs and bands of deserters who used weapons to fight off the law. While these groups overlapped at times, we’re going to ignore (for now) those who did not provide material support to the secession.
Guerrilla operations varied state to state and battle to battle, but usually combined elements of screening, spying, and sabotage.
Remember, these were typically disorganized bands of men, often with even less formality than a state or local militia. They knew they had little chance in a knockdown fight with trained Union companies, so they didn’t fight that way. Instead, they would attack targets of opportunity and melt away.
This was useful for Confederate leaders at times. For instance, John McNeill and his rangers would sometimes screen Confederate troop movements. Basically, McNeill would position his force at the edge of where Confederate troops were marching or conducting river crossings, interrupting Union columns drawing close to the southerners and giving them a chance to form proper defensive lines.
But, they wouldn’t stay for the full fight. They’d melt away into the trees after a few shots, forcing the Union troops to either break up and give chase or re-form to face regular Confederate troops.
John S. Mosby and his men were a terror for Union forces, but they generally fought well within the rules.
(Library of Congress)
But, even better, the guerrillas could move in areas where the Union held control and either nip at the federal underbelly or spy on them and report back. This was the mission where John Mosby and his men made their mark. They were known for hit-and-run fighting, inflicting casualties on Union forces and then riding away before the enemy could form up.
At times, they would steal supplies or even capture buildings and infrastructure for a short time, often disabling bridges and railways that were crucial to federal supply.
In August, 1863, at Lawrence, Kansas, Quantrill’s Raiders attacked and destroyed the city because of its support of abolition policies and pro-Union sentiments.
So, why did the Confederacy see so many more guerrillas join their ranks than the Union? Well, the biggest reason was likely that most irregular forces fought locally, where their networks of friends and supporters could hide and supply them.
Union gangs fighting locally would’ve only happened when Confederate troops crossed the border north, something that was fairly rare during the war.
Also, the Union had a much larger training apparatus and the ability to equip more men, making it less necessary for their supporters to find unconventional ways of fighting. And the North didn’t have such a strong tradition of frontiersmanship, meaning that much of the population was less suited for roughing it deep in the woods and swamps.
Guerrilla leader Capt. William C. Quantrill was reportedly a brutal murderer who sometimes targeted Confederate sympathizers.
So, how did this all pan out for the South? Well, of course, they lost the war. And there’s an argument to be made that they lost partially because of the support of guerrilla forces rather than despite it.
He and his men committed massacres of Union troops but also of men and boys that they suspected of being Union sympathizers. They and other groups stole supplies from farms, tore down fences, and burned homesteads whenever they felt like doing so.
And they allegedly felt that way often. Combine the actions of these guerrillas and those of deserter bands and gangs of pro-Union southerners, and state governments often found that they needed armies at home just to instill law and order, limiting the forces they could send to the front. In some cases, formerly pro-secession Confederate citizens welcomed their nation’s surrender simply because they wanted a return to normalcy.
The Cold War spawned decades’ worth of bizarre weapon ideas as the West and the Soviet Union strove towards gaining the strategic upper hand over their superpower rival.
The US was responsible for at least seven nuclear weapon designs during the Cold War that now seem outlandish or ill-advised. But the US wasn’t alone in its willingness to build seemingly absurd weapons systems to gain some kind of advantage over the Soviets.
In the 1950s, the UK designed a nuclear landmine that would be placed in West Germany to stop a hypothetical Soviet assault on the rest of Europe, the BBC reports. The landmine, dubbed Operation Blue Peacock, would be operated remotely so that it could be detonated at the moment when it could inflict maximal damage on the invading Red Army.
But the weapon had a major hitch. Buried underground, it was possible that the mine would become cold to the point that the detonator would be unable to trigger a nuclear blast. In 1957, British nuclear physicists found a solution: chickens
“The birds would be put inside the casing of the bomb, given seed to keep them alive and stopped from pecking at the wiring,” the BBC notes. The chickens’ body heat would be enough to maintain the triggering mechanism’s working temperature. In all, the chickens would be estimated to survive for a week, after which time the bomb would return to a possibly cooled and inoperable state.
In all, the landmines designed in Operation Blue Peacock were thought to yield a 10-kiloton explosion which would produce a crater 375 feet in diameter, according to the American Digest. Such destructive potential ultimately led to the abandonment of the project as the British realized that there would be an unacceptable amount of nuclear fallout from such a blast — never mind the complicated issue of burying nuclear weapons within the territory of an allied nation.
By 1958, after the production of only two prototypes, Operation Blue Peacock was abandoned.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Think it’s hard making it month to month in the barracks on just an E-1 pay? Well, the recruits who won America’s earlier wars had to make ends meet with much, much less to draw on. See how much troops made in each conflict, both in their own currency and adjusted for inflation:
Author’s note: The pay structure changed over time. From the Korean War to today, military pay has been relatively consistent across the services and the numbers listed in entries 8-11 reflect the financial realities of an E-1 enlisted servicemember. For earlier conflicts, pay was calculated using the salary of a first-year Army private or a junior infantryman.
1. Revolutionary War
Privates in 1776 earned $6 a month plus a bounty at the end of their service. That pay would equate to $157.58 today, a pretty cheap deal for the poor Continental Congress. Unfortunately for soldiers, Congress couldn’t always make ends meet and so troops often went without their meager pay.
That $8 translates to $136.28 in 2016. The bounties ranged from $528.10 to $2,112.40 for terms of five years to the duration of the war.
3. Mexican-American War
Young infantrymen in their first year of service during the Mexican-American War pocketed $7 per month, according to this Army history. That’s $210.10 in 2016 dollars.
4. Civil War
Union privates in 1863 brought home $13 a month which translates to $237.51 in modern dollars. Confederate privates had it a little worse at $11 a month. The Confederate situation got worse as the war went on since the Confederate States of America established their own currency and it saw rapid inflation as the war situation got worse and worse.
5. Spanish-American War
An undated photo shows soldiers manning a battle signal corps station during the Spanish-American War. Photo: Naval History and Heritage Command
While Army private pay in the Spanish-American War was still $13 like it had been in the Civil War, a period of deflation had strengthened the purchasing power of that monthly salary. In 2016 dollars, it would be worth $356.26.
6. World War I
A private, private second class, or bugler in his first year of service in 1917 was entitled to $30 a month. In exchange for this salary, which would equate to $558.12 today, privates could expect to face the guns of the Germans and other Axis powers.
World War I was the first war where, in addition to their pay, soldiers could receive discounted life insurance as a benefit. The United States Government Life Insurance program was approved by Congress in 1917 and provided an alternative to commercial insurance which either did not pay out in deaths caused by war or charged extremely high premiums for the coverage.
7. World War II
In 1944, privates serving in World War II made $50 a month, or $676.51 in 2016 dollars. It seems like toppling three Fascist dictators would pay better than that, but what do we know.
8. Korean War
The minimum payment for an E-1 in 1952 was $78 a month which would equate to $700.92 in 2016. Most soldiers actually deploying to Korea would have over four months in the Army and so would’ve received a pay bump to at least $83.20, about $747.64 today.
This was in addition to a foreign duty pay of $8 a month along with a small payment for rations when they weren’t provided.
9. Vietnam War
E-1 wages were not increased between 1952 and 1958, so Korean War and Vietnam War troops made the same amount of money at the lower ranks — except inflation over the years drove the real value of the wages down. New soldiers pocketing $78 would have a salary that equates to 642.71 now, while those with over four months of service who pocketed $83.20 were receiving the equivalent of $685.56 in today’s dollars.
10. Persian Gulf War
Grunts who went into Iraq to topple Saddam Hussein were paid the princely sum of $753.90 a month in basic pay, unless they somehow managed to make it to Iraq with less than four months of service. Then they received $697.20.
These amounts would translate in 2016 dollars to $1318.12 and $1,218.98 respectively.
11. War in Afghanistan and the Iraq War
Troops bringing the American flag back to Iraq in 2003 or deploying to Afghanistan in the same time period received just a little more than their Persian Gulf War predecessors, with $1064.70 for soldiers with less than four months of service and $1,150.80 for the seasoned veterans with four months or more under their belts.
In 2016 dollars, those salaries equate to $1377.93 and $1,489.36, a modest increase from the Persian Gulf War.
The atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August of 1945 marked the end of the World War II, and the beginning of the age of nuclear weapons.
During the Cold War, the policy of mutually assured destruction between the US and the Soviet Union — appropriately referred to as “MAD” — meant that if one nation used nuclear weapons on another, then an equal response would have been doled out as soon as possible.
Over the course of the Cold War, and several times after it, the citizens of the world were forced to hold their breath as the superpowers came close to nuclear war.
Here are nine times the world was at the brink of nuclear war — but pulled back:
1. October 5, 1960 – The moon is mistaken for missiles
Early warning radar quickly became one of the most important tools in the nuclear age. American radar stations were built all around the world with the hope that they would detect incoming Soviet missiles, warning the homeland of a strike and allowing for the president to form a response.
On October 5, 1960, one such warning was issued from a newly constructed early warning radar station in Thule, Greenland (now called Qaanaaq). Dozens of missiles were reportedly detected, and at one point were said to reach the US in 20 minutes.
A panic ensued at the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) HQ in Colorado, and NORAD was placed on its highest alert level.
The panic was put to rest when it was realized that Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev was visiting New York at the time. A later investigation found that the radar had mistaken the moon rising over Norway as Soviet missiles.
2. November 24, 1961 – A single switch causes a mechanical failure
Just over a year later, Strategic Air Command (SAC) HQ in Omaha, Nebraska lost contact with the Thule radar station. SAC officials then tried to contact NORAD HQ in Colorado, but the line was reportedly dead.
It was determined before that the probability that both Thule and NORAD’s communications would shut down due to technical malfunction was very low, making SAC believe that an attack was underway.
SAC’s entire alert force was ordered to prepare for takeoff, but crisis was averted when a US bomber managed to make contact with Thule and confirm no attack was underway.
It was later discovered that a single malfunctioning switch managed to shut down all communications, even emergency hotlines, between SAC, Thule, and NORAD.
3. October 25, 1962 – A bear almost turns the Cuban Missile Crisis hot
The Cuban Missile Crisis is perhaps the closest the world has ever come to global nuclear war. Four instances over the 13-day event stand out in particular, the first one happening on October 25, 1962.
Tensions were already high during the crisis, and the US military was placed on DEFCON 3, two steps away from nuclear war.
Just after midnight on October 25, a guard at the Duluth Sector Direction Center in Minnesota saw a figure attempting to climb the fence around the facility. The guard, worried that the figure was a Soviet saboteur, shot at the figure and activated the sabotage alarm.
This triggered air raid alarms to go off at all air bases in the area. Pilots at Volk Field in neighboring Wisconsin to panic, since they knew that no tests or practices would happen while the military was on DEFCON 3.
The pilots were ordered to their nuclear armed F-106A interceptors, and were taxiing down the runway when it was determined the alarm was false. They were stopped by a car that had raced to the airfield to tell the pilots to stop.
The intruder turned out to be a bear.
4. October 27, 1962 – A Soviet sub almost launches a nuclear torpedo
Two of the instances actually occurred on the same day — October 27, 1962, arguably the most dangerous day in history.
On the morning of October 27, a U-2F reconnaissance aircraft was shot down by the Soviets while over Cuba, killing its pilot, causing tensions to escalate to their highest point.
Later, a Soviet submarine, the B-59, was detected trying to break the blockade that the US Navy had established around Cuba. The destroyer USS Beale dropped practice depth charges in an attempt to make the submarine surface.
The captain of the B-59, Valentin Savitsky, thought the submarine was under attack and ordered to prepare the submarine’s nuclear torpedo to be launched at the aircraft carrier USS Randolf.
All three senior officers aboard the B-59 had to agree to the launch before it happened. Fortunately, the B-59’s second in command, Vasili Arkhipov, disagreed with his other two counterparts, and convinced the captain to surface and await orders from Moscow.
5. October 27, 1962 – The US Air Force sends out nuclear armed fighters
On the very same day, US Air Force pilots almost caused WW III to break out over the Bering Sea, the body of water between Alaska and Russia.
A US Air Force U-2 reconnaissance aircraft was en route to the North Pole for an air sampling mission. The spy plan accidentally crossed into Soviet airspace and lost track of its location, spending 90 minutes in the area before turning East to leave.
As it did so, at least six MiG fighter jets were sent to shoot down the U-2 while it was trespassing. Strategic Air Command, worried about the prospect of losing another U-2, sent F-102 Delta Daggers armed with nuclear Falcon air-to-air missiles.
Upon learning of the situation, Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara reportedly yelled “this means war with the Soviet Union!” President John F. Kennedy reportedly said that “there’s always some son of a b—- that doesn’t get the word.”
Luckily, the F-102s never encountered the MiGs, and escorted the U-2 back to Alaska.
6. October 28, 1962 – Radar operators get confused over an unknown satellite
One day after those events, radar operators in Moorestown, New Jersey reported to NORAD HQ just before 9:00 AM that Soviet nuclear missiles were on their way, and were expected to strike at exactly 9:02 near Tampa, Florida.
All of NORAD was immediately alerted and scrambled to respond, but the time passed without any detonations, causing NORAD to delay any actions.
It was later discovered that the Moorestown radar operators were confused because the facility was running a test tape that simulated a missile launch from Cuba when a satellite unexpectedly appeared over the horizon.
Additional radars were not operating at the time, and the Moorestown operators were not informed that the satelite was inbound because the facility that handled such operations was on other work related to the situation in Cuba.
7. November 9, 1979 – A training drill almost turns real
At 3:00 AM on November 9, 1979, computers at NORAD HQ lit up with warnings that thousands of nuclear missiles had been launched from Soviet submarines and were headed for the US.
SAC was alerted immediately and US missile crews were on the highest alert level possible, and nuclear bombers were preparing for takeoff.
The National Emergency Airborne Command Post, the airplane that is supposed to carry the president during a nuclear attack to ensure his command over the nuclear arsenal even took off, though without President Jimmy Carter on board.
National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski knew that the president’s decision making time was somewhere between three to seven minutes, and so decided to hold off telling Carter in order to be absolutely sure there was a real threat.
Six minutes of extreme worry passed, and satellites confirmed that no attack was taking place. It was later discovered that a technician had accidentally inserted a training tape simulating such a scenario into one of the computers.
Marshall Shulman, then a senior US State Department adviser, reportedly said in a now-declassified letter that was designated Top Secret that “false alerts of this kind are not a rare occurrence. There is a complacency about handling them that disturbs me.”
8. September 26, 1983 – A Soviet colonel makes the biggest gamble in history
Just after midnight on September 26, 1983, Soviet satellite operators at the Serpukhov-15 bunker just south of Moscow got a warning that a US Minuteman nuclear missile had been launched. Later, four more missiles were detected.
Tensions between the US and Soviet Union were strained earlier in the month, when the Soviets shot down Korean Air Lines Flight 007 near Sakhalin Island, killing all 269 people on board — including US Congressman Larry McDonald.
The commanding officer at the bunker, Stanislav Petrov, was to inform his superiors of the launches, so an appropriate response could be made. Soviet policy back then called for an all-out retaliatory strike.
Knowing this, Petrov decided not to inform his superiors. “All I had to do was to reach for the phone; to raise the direct line to our top commanders — but I couldn’t move. I felt like I was sitting on a hot frying pan,” he recalled of the incident.
He reasoned that if the US were to strike the Soviet Union with nuclear weapons, they would send hundreds of missiles, not just five.
But Petrov had no way of knowing if he was right until enough time had passed, by which time nuclear bombs could have hit their targets, arguably making his decision the biggest gamble in human history.
After 23 minutes, Petrov’s theory that it was a false alarm was confirmed. It was later discovered that a Soviet sattelite had mistaken sunlight reflecting off the top of clouds as missiles.
9. January 25, 1995 – Nuclear worries remain after the Soviet Union
Four years after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the Russian Federation’s first president, Boris Yeltsin, almost started a nuclear war.
Russian early warning radar detected a launch of a missile with similar characteristics to a submarine-launched Trident missile off the coast of Norway.
The detected missile was actually a Norwegian Black Brant scientific rocket which was on a mission to study the aurora borealis. Norwegian authorities had informed the Kremlin of the launch, but the radar operators were not informed.
Yeltsin was given the Cheget, Russia’s version of the nuclear briefcase (sometimes known as the Football), and the launch codes for Russia’s missile arsenal. Russia’s submarines were also placed on alert.
Fortunately, Yeltsin’s belief that it was a false alarm proved correct, and Russian satellites confirmed that there was no activity from US missile sites.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
North Korea’s awful record of human rights violations may place it as the worst regime in the world in how it treats its people, but first-hand tales of the abuses rarely slip the secretive country’s borders.
In the video, women defectors who formerly served in North Korea’s military sit down with a South Korean host in a military-themed restaurant famous for its chicken. The cultural divide between the two Korean women becomes palpable when the North Korean points to mock ammunition decorating the restaurant, and the South Korean says she recognizes them from comics.
“Aww, you’re so adorable,” the North Korean replied.
(Digitalsoju TV | YouTube)The defector explained that all North Korean women must serve in the military for six years, and all men must serve for 11. During that time, she said she was fed three spoonfuls of rice at mealtimes.
Unsurprisingly, malnutrition is widespread across all sectors of North Korea. And despite North Korea being a communist country, the defector still said that even within the military, people badly want money and withhold or steal each other’s state-issued goods, like military uniforms.
The defector said that in North Korea, women are taught that they’re not as smart, important, or as strong as men.
A second defector said that the officers in charge of uniform and ration distribution would often leverage their position to coerce sex from female soldiers. “Higher-ranked officers sleeping around is quite common,” said the second woman.
But the first defector had a much more personal story.
“I was in the early stages of malnutrition… I weighed just around 81 pounds and was about 5’2,” said the defector. Her Body Mass Index, though not a perfect indicator of health, works out to about 15, where a healthy body is considered to have a BMI of about 19-25.
“The major general was this man who was around 45 years old and I was only 18 years old at the time,” she said. “But he tried to force himself on me.”
“So one day he tells everyone else to leave except for me. Then he abruptly tells me to take off all my clothes,” she said. The officer told her he was inspecting her for malnutrition, possibly to send her off to a hospital where undernourished soldiers are treated.
“So since I didn’t have much of a choice, I thought, well, it’s the Major General. Surely there’s a good reason for this. I never could have imagined he’d try something,” she said. But the Major General asks her to remove her underwear and “then out of nowhere, he comes at me,” she said.
The Major General then proceeded to beat her while she loudly screamed, so he covered her mouth. She said he hit her so hard in the left ear, that blood came out of her right ear. She said the beating was so severe her teeth were loose afterwards.
“How do you think this is going to make me look?” the Major General asked her after the beating. He then instructs her to get dressed and tell no one what happened or he would “make [her] life a living hell.”
“There wasn’t really anyone I could tell or report this too,” she said. “Many other women have gone through something similar.
“I don’t know whether he’s dead or alive, but if Korea ever gets reunified, I’m going to find him and even if I can’t make him feel ten times the pain I felt, I want to at least smack him on the right side of his face the same way he did to me,” she said.
Military forces live and die by their weapons, but those aren’t the only tools that matter in a battle. There are all sorts of gadgets and gizmos that can make troops safer and more lethal. Here are 7 of the best:
1. Backpack that can listen to enemy communications
The Wolfhound is an electronic warfare device that allows troops to both locate where radio operators are at and listen in on enemy communications. Operators who can speak the enemy’s language carry the backpacks on patrols and interpret what is said for ground commanders. If no soldiers who can speak the local language are available, the system can still record signals so that they can be analyzed later.
2. Virtual reality headsets
The Norwegian Army currently has tanks equipped with four spherical cameras an Occulus Rift headset that allows tankers to “see” the battlefield through the tank’s armor like it isn’t there. The Norwegian Army still wants to improve the system though, hoping to make it more rugged and responsive. While other apparatuses like the F-35 helmet have given this capability to some U.S. forces, the Occulus Rift is relatively free at only $600 compared to the F-35 helmet’s $600,000 price tag.
Breaching an enemy door can be one of the most dangerous parts of a clearing operation, but the Simon Grenade-Rifle-Entry-Munition makes it safer and easier. Riflemen fit the GREM on the end of their barrel and fire a round. The round sets off the GREM which launches 50-100 feet to explode just outside the door. The blast shatters the door and leaves an opening for troops to assault through.
5. Tablet and app for close-air support
DARPA’s Persistent Close Air Support program was designed to allow troops to quickly call in close air support missions and get rounds or bombs on target within six minutes. The final program uses an off-the-shelf Android tablet with special software installed. Ground troops enter the requested mission into the tablet app and it is beamed to a tablet in an aircraft. The pilot receives all the information and conducts the mission accordingly.
One of the most challenging parts of deployment for many soldiers is being away from friends and family. Soldiers and family members alike often lean on others who share a similar experience during long periods apart.
But one family in the 1st Cavalry Division’s 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team is sharing an experience here to make deployment just a little bit easier.
Army Capt. Andrea Wolfe and her son, Army Spc. Kameron Wideman, both assigned to Brigade Support Medical Company, 215th Brigade Support Battalion, deployed to Kuwait recently from Fort Hood, Texas, for nine months in support of U.S. Army Central.
Wolfe, a native of Kingston, Jamaica, began her Army career as an enlisted lab technician 24 years ago.
“I had two sisters who were in the Army,” she said. “I followed them in. In a family of nine, we couldn’t afford college, so I had to do something to be able to get some kind of college education, and that was the way.”
As far back as she can remember, she said, she wanted to be a nurse. “It’s just something I wanted to get into to help people,” she added.
That aspiration propelled her through her career, taking advantage of educational opportunities in an effort to make her dream a reality. “I tried to get into the nursing program,” she said. “When I was a lab tech instructor in San Antonio, I put in my packet three times for the nursing program.”
After 17 years of enlisted service and multiple attempts, the frustrated sergeant first class decided to try something different.
“So I put in a packet to the [physician assistant] program, got picked up the first time, so I figured that was my calling, and I’ve been doing that since 2009,” she said.
Meanwhile, Wolfe was raising a family. Her son, Kameron Wideman, was born in 1996 at her first duty station in Fort Lewis, Washington. Brought up in a devoted military household, it was no surprise when he enlisted in the Army, Wolfe said.
“I was good in school, but I didn’t take it seriously enough, but the Army was always my fallback plan,” said Wideman, a behavioral health technician. “I initially wanted to join just so I could help people. That’s why I got into the medical field.”
Meanwhile, Wolfe and Wideman are tending to the physical and mental well-being of the soldiers deployed to Camp Buehring, Kuwait. Wolfe said that while her focus is on her job and taking care of the soldiers, the mom in her can’t help but feel some of the same concerns stateside parents feel about having a child deployed.
“As a mother, you still have that deep-down concern of ‘What if something happens to my baby? What am I going to do?'” she said. “But I can’t let him see that, because I need him to focus on his job and what I need him to do, and that’s to provide mental health, which is something that is very much needed in this day and age.”
Wideman said he enjoys having his mother right down the road. “I’m blessed,” he said. “I’m blessed to have her with me.”
Although Wideman has served only two years in the Army, he is no stranger to the deployment experience from a family member’s perspective. His mother, father, and stepfather all serve on active duty.
“All three of my parents have deployed at some point,” he said. “It was tough as a little kid saying goodbye to your parents. When you’re little, you tend to have a big imagination. You’re thinking, ‘Oh no! I’m probably never going to see my parents again,’ because you’re little, and you’re in your own head about it.”
But the experience of being the kid who was left behind didn’t prepare him to actually be deployed himself, he said.
“I still didn’t really know what deployment was,” he said. “It was like this random place that my parents were going to for like a year and then coming back. I didn’t really know how to picture where they were.”
Thankfully, he said, he had a source close to home to answer his questions.
“I had the normal questions like, ‘How are we going to be living?” and me being a millennial, ‘Is there going to be Internet?’ and things like that,” he said.
Wolfe and her husband, Army 1st Sgt. Andrew Wolfe, a company first sergeant at Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center at Fort Hood, Texas, help mentor Wideman through his Army career with advice and guidance.
Drive, Motivation, Discipline
Echoes of the same drive, motivation, dedication and discipline that exemplify Wolfe’s career path are evident in Wideman’s.
“We cross paths every now and then,” she said. “I don’t see him all the time. I let Kameron be Kameron. We are passionate about the military. This is our Army. My husband is a first sergeant, and I used to be an E-7 before I switched over, so that leadership is instilled in both of us, and that comes out in the way we raise our kids — the leadership, the discipline, the morale, the ethics, everything. This is the way you’re supposed to live.”
Wolfe said she often finds herself giving the same advice to her soldiers that she gives to her son.
“Get all you can out of the military, because it’s going to get all it can out of you, and that was my insight coming up,” Wolfe said.
“I don’t know how many colleges I went to, because I needed classes. I went to school all the time, and I was just taking advantage of the opportunities that were out there. That’s what I tell all my soldiers coming up in the military. You have to take advantage of it. No one’s going to give it to you. You have to go and get it.”
The man who would construct American armored units in France in World War I and lead combined arms units, with armor at the forefront, in World War II got his start leading cavalrymen and cars in Mexico. In fact, he probably led the first American motor-vehicle attack.
Pancho Villa, 5, Gen. John J. Pershing, 7, and Lt. George S. Patton Jr., 8, at a border conference in Texas in 1914.
He attended West Point, became an Army officer, designed a saber for enlisted cavalrymen, and pursued battlefield command. When Gen. John “Black Jack” Pershing was sent to Mexico to capture raiders under Pancho Villa, Patton came along.
Patton was on staff, so his chances of frontline service were a bit limited in the short term. But he made his own opportunities. And in Mexico, he did so in May 1916.
U.S. Army soldiers on the Punitive Expedition in 1916.
(U.S. Department of Defense)
Patton led a foraging expedition of about a dozen men in three Dodge Touring Cars. Their job was just to buy food for the American soldiers, but one of the interpreters, himself a former bandit, recognized a man at one of the stops. Patton knew that a senior member of Villa’s gang was supposed to be hiding nearby, and so he began a search of nearby farms.
At San Miguelito, the men noticed someone running inside a home and Patton ordered six to cover the front of the house and sent two against the southern wall. Three riders tried to escape, and they rode right at Patton who shot two of their horses as the third attempted to flee. Several soldiers took shots at him and managed to knock him off his horse.
An Associated Press report from the 1916 engagement. Historians are fairly certain that this initial report got the date and total number of U.S. participants wrong, believing the engagement actually took place on May 14 and involved 10 Americans.
(Newspapers.com, public domain)
It was a small, short engagement, but it boded well for the young cavalry officer. He had made a name for himself with Pershing, America’s greatest military mind at the time. He had also gotten into newspapers across the U.S. He was his typical, brash self when he wrote to his wife about the incident:
You are probably wondering if my conscience hurts me for killing a man [at home in front of his family]. It does not.
Patton’s bold leadership in Mexico set the stage for even greater responsibility a few short years later.
Lt. col. George S. Patton Jr., standing in front of a French Renault tank in the summer of 1918, just two years after he led a motor-vehicle charge in Mexico against bandits.
(U.S. Army Signal Corps)
When America joined World War I, Pershing was placed in command of the American Expeditionary Force.
Patton, interested in France and Britain’s new tanks, wrote a letter to Pershing asking to have his name considered for a slot if America stood up its own tank corps. He pointed out that he had cavalry experience, experience leading machine gunners, and, you know, was the only American officer known to have led a motorized car attack.
Pershing agreed, and on Nov. 10, 1917, Patton became the first American soldier assigned to tank warfare. He stood up the light tank school for the AEF and eventually led America’s first tank units into combat.
A U.S. official and an official from the Iraqi government told the AP that talks about keeping U.S. troops in Iraq were ongoing.
The U.S. official emphasized that discussions were in early stages and that “nothing has been finalized.” Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.
In his statement, Haider al-Abadi emphasized that there are no foreign combat troops on Iraqi soil and that any American troops who stay on once IS militants are defeated will be advisers working to train Iraq’s security forces to maintain “full readiness” for any “future security challenges.”
While some U.S. forces are carrying out combat operations with Iraqi forces on and beyond front lines in the fight against IS, al-Abadi has maintained that the forces are acting only as advisers, apparently to get around a required parliamentary approval for their presence.
Any forces who remained would continue to be designated as advisers for the same reason, the Iraqi government official had told the AP.
Regardless of how the troops are designated, talks about maintaining American forces in Iraq point to a consensus by both governments that a longer-term U.S. presence in Iraq is needed to ensure that an insurgency does not bubble up again once IS militants are driven out — a contrast to the full U.S. withdrawal in 2011.
Currently, the Pentagon has close to 7,000 U.S. troops in Iraq, many not publicly acknowledged because they are on temporary duty or under specific personnel rules. At the height of the surge of U.S. forces in 2007, there were about 170,000 American troops in the country. The numbers were wound down eventually to 40,000, before the complete withdrawal in 2011.
The U.S. intervention against the Islamic State group, launched in 2014, was originally cast as an operation that would largely be fought from the skies with a minimal footprint on Iraqi soil. Nevertheless, that footprint has since expanded, given the Iraqi forces’ need for support.
It’s been years since knights were last sent into battle wearing insanely heavy and uncomfortable metal suits for protection against swords and arrows.
But as it turns out, while knights are now a thing of the past, their armor is still in use today with at least one special operations police unit in Germany. That’s right… Germany’s elite “SEK” Spezialeinsatzkommandos (Special Deployment Commandos in English) are sometimes sent into sticky situations wearing chain mail suits of armor.
Though they’ve traded in long swords and sabers years ago for Heckler Koch submachine guns and Sig pistols, these German cops still utilize chain mail armor to protect themselves in close quarters missions against terrorists, hostage takers, or even just your run-of-the-mill deranged knife-wielder.
While chain mail armor isn’t enough to stop bullets or anything that can penetrate at high velocities, it’s still pretty effective against close-in attacks using blades or sharp objects. Mail consists of small metal ringlets woven together to form a mesh-like sheet. These sheets are then fashioned into wearable coats and pants which still allow the wearer a fair degree of movement.
Last year, SEK operatives were spotted wearing chain mail while responding to a mentally-disturbed 21 year-old threatening to kill randomly with a pruning saw. Later on, images began surfacing of commandos donning mail shirts and hoods in urban settings, wearing a weird blend of modern tactical gear and the ancient mesh armor.
These German commandos have been known to wear their mail suits above or beneath their gear, depending on the scenario they face and their role in resolving it. Hostage or suicide negotiations would generally prompt the wearing of the armor above a Kevlar bulletproof vest and radio, for example.
According to Stefan Schubert in his book, “Inside Police: The Unknown Side of Everyday Police,” the SEK are easily some of the most high-speed special operations police units in the world, having been formed in the 1970s in West Germany to tackle hostage situations, provide protection for dignitaries, and rapid armed response to terrorist threats.
Around the same time, a similar East German police force known as Service Unit 9 was also established. Both were merged under the SEK name and mission after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the reunification of Germany at the end of the Cold War.
SEK teams are more like highly-developed SWAT teams in the US, attached to German state police agencies across the country. Their federal counterpart is the legendary GSG 9 of the Bundespolizei, home to some of the best counterterrorist operatives today.
An SEK commando covering an assault during a demonstration in Dortmund, circa 2013 (Photo Wikimedia Commons)
The recruitment process to join an SEK team is extremely strenuous, and the ensuing selection phase has a high attrition rate. Candidates typically face between 6 to 8 months of physical, tactical and environment-specific training before being declared operational. Additional training includes skiing, snowmobiling and scuba diving.
When placed on active status, an SEK commando can choose virtually any tactical loadout that fits their preferences and mission. Operatives are also given a lot of leeway in uniforms, often choosing to be in plainclothes in order to blend into crowds and work unnoticed.
However, when on mission, you can generally tell an SEK commando apart from a regular police officer by the fact that they always cover their faces with balaclavas to protect their identities — standard procedure for all SEK teams throughout Germany.
But if ever the balaclava isn’t enough to give away their presence, just look for the guy toting a tricked-out carbine wearing Medieval armor and tennis shoes.
Seattle Seahawks rookie long-snapper Nate Boyer may be a long shot to make the team’s final 53-man roster, but overcoming long odds is nothing new to the 34-year-old former Green Beret.
Boyer admits he was “stoked” the first time he saw a No. 48 jersey hanging in his locker at the Seahawks training facility, but he quickly re-focused on the task at hand.
“I’m really excited to be here and I am taking advantage of every second,” he said after meetings at the Seahawks training facility. “I am training as much as they will let me, and on my own I am doing things to get myself to where I need to be to have a legitimate shot at competing for the job. It is work, fun work, but I am considering it like a job.”
Though multiple teams contacted him at the conclusion of the NFL draft, Boyer says it was a “no-brainer” to sign with the Seahawks as an undrafted free agent.
“In some ways, I didn’t make it easy on myself, but I never do,” said Boyer, a University of Texas graduate who will have to unseat a veteran long-snapper to earn a place on the Seattle roster. “This is the best team in football. Everything is built around toughness and grit. They like guys with a chip on their shoulder. In that sense it’s ideal for me, but at the same time it means I am competing with guys with the same mindset who have done it at a high level for a long time.”
Boyer served six years in the Army, with tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, before deciding in 2010 to walk-on to the Texas football team. At the Longhorns’ tryout, Boyer had two strikes against him. He was 29 years old – a decade older than most first-year college students – and, more importantly, he never had played a down of high school football.
What he lacked in skills, Boyer made up for in grit, determination and leadership, so much so that then-Longhorns coach Mack Brown was willing to give the undersized athlete a chance as a walk-on safety.
“You always want to give back to our military guys,” Brown explained. “We thought it would be great to give him a shot. He was older and we thought his leadership skills would be good for our team.”
Boyer red-shirted his first season and played in one game on special teams the following year as a redshirt freshman. When Boyer asked Brown about his chances of ever playing in the Longhorns’ secondary, the coach pulled no punches and told the 5-11, 195-pound athlete he did not have the skills to crack the game-day lineup.
“He wasn’t as talented as a lot of players on our defense,” Brown explained. “We had a lot of great players at that time in our secondary.”
Boyer told Brown his goal was to make an impact on the field, but the head coach had his doubts that could happen. Brown said he told Boyer, “You are helping us out. You are being a good teammate.”
For Boyer, that wasn’t enough. The Longhorns were graduating two long-snappers, and Boyer decided he would win the job to replace them. There was one obstacle to overcome, however. Boyer had never snapped a football. Undeterred, he taught himself to deep snap and won the starting job in 2012, playing in the final 12 games as the snapper on point-after-touchdowns and field goals.
Though Boyer had joined the 19th Special Forces Group of the Texas National Guard and spent the summers of 2013 and 2014 deployed to Afghanistan, he continued to refine his deep-snapping skills while deployed by snapping into goal posts and creating a target out of plywood.
Boyer says he had no doubt he would find a way to contribute to the Longhorns’ success.
“To do anything great you have to sacrifice an incredible amount,” Boyer said. “You have to be willing to give up things, so during any time off I had overseas, I would go snap a football for a half-hour instead of watching an episode of ‘Entourage’ or playing video games. Other guys sit around and B.S., and there’s nothing wrong with that, but what I wanted meant every spare moment I had was going to be focused on football and extra time in the weight room.”
Boyer ultimately played in 38 consecutive games for the Longhorns, recording more than 500 snaps for Texas without one bad snap.
Boyer was a two-sport athlete (baseball and basketball) at Valley Christian High School in Dublin, Calif., which did not field a football team. However, Boyer says he learned the true meaning of teamwork while in the military. He also credits his Special Forces experiences with providing lessons in trust and selflessness that laid the foundation for him to become one of the oldest athletes to play Division I college football.
“You have to have trust in your teammates in the military, especially when you are deployed and working with a Special Forces team,” the former staff sergeant said. “You have to trust that they are going to do their job, and then you do your job and everybody stays in their lane. Everything is all about serving for the guy next to you, that selfless mindset. That’s why I eventually was able to play college football even though I was 29. I knew what it would take and what I would have to sacrifice to make it happen.”
A would-be filmmaker, Boyer is following a unique script for his own life. After graduating high school in 1999, he worked on a fishing boat in Southern California and did other odd jobs to fund month-long backpacking trips across Europe. After September 11th, he participated in relief work in the Darfur region in Sudan, an experience that motivated him to join the military.
“I had gained this patriotism and realized how fortunate we are for what we have,” said Boyer, who received a Bronze Star for service in Iraq in 2008.
At Texas, Boyer excelled on the field and in the classroom. He earned his undergraduate degree in kinesiology in 2013 and received a master’s degree in advertising in December 2014, earning first-team academic All-Big 12 honors following the 2012, 2013 and 2014 seasons.
While Boyer’s goal one day is to make films that spotlight “unsung heroes” and “situations that need attention,” the next act in his own football life story is continuing to be written.
“I think he’s going to be able to hit somebody,” Seattle head coach Pete Carroll said of his newest Seahawk, who has added 25 pounds since leaving college. “It’s a great opportunity for us to have a guy come to the program with his background. We cherish competitors, we cherish tough guys, we cherish guys that can overcome odds, and he’s done all that. We’ll see what happens. Gresh [starter Clint Gresham] better get ready.”
ISIS is currently facing one of its greatest military challenges since the group proclaimed a caliphate following the seizure of Mosul and much of western Iraq and eastern Syria last summer.
According to an intelligence brief from The Soufan Group, ISIS is experiencing losses around its “capital” of Raqqa, representing both an operational and symbolic setback for the group.
Although ISIS has continued to expand and hold onto territory in Iraq, the militants have come under increasing pressure in Syria.
ISIS has lost territory in a number of key battles. Most notably, Kurdish YPG forces have dealt ISIS defeats at the towns of Tal Abyad and Ayn Issa.
ISIS once hoped to cut off major Syrian Kurdish regions from one another by holding these towns near the Turkish border. Now, the Kurds have foreclosed on that strategy, beating back the jihadists’ momentum and even moving into some of ISIS’s most important territory.
“With the most recent YPG moves against the town of Ayn Issa, the Islamic State is facing perhaps its most serious symbolic and meaningful threat since it declared itself a caliphate almost one year ago,” The Soufan Group notes. “Its capital, Raqqa, the center of the group’s authority and image, is under threat.”
By seizing and securing Ayn Issa, the YPG, in conjunction with US-led coalition airstrikes, have embedded themselves only 31 miles away from ISIS’ de facto capital. The YPG also seized the Syrian military base Liwa-93 from ISIS in the surrounding region. The rapid advance of the Kurdish forces, which ISIS nearly overwhelmed during a crucial battle in the border city of Kobane last summer, has dealt a blow to the militant group, which promoted itself through a doctrine of “remaining and expanding” on multiple simultaneous battlefronts.
Following the YPG’s gains, ISIS forces began digging trenches around Raqqa in an attempt to fortify their capital, Reuters reports. ISIS spokesman Abu Muhammad al-Adnani also addressed the losses in a Ramadan audio broadcast stating that “God never gave the mujahideen a promise of victory every time.”
Although the Kurds do not have immediate plans to attack ISIS in Raqqa, the seizure of territory around the city could deal a significant blow to the militant organization. Tal Abyad, located by the Turkish border, functioned as a key smuggling point through which fighters and supplies could reach the jihadists.
With its opponents taking control of the territory north of Raqqa, ISIS could experience significant logistical disruptions — and face the crisis of enemy forces advancing closer to the heart of the group’s power.
Speaking to The Wall Street Journal, Edgar Vasquez, a spokesperson for the US State Department’s Near Eastern Affairs Bureau, said that “should anti-ISIL forces continue to hold the city, there is the potential for a significant disruption of ISIL’s flow of foreign fighters, illicit goods, and other illegal activity from Turkey into northern Syria and Iraq.”