On Dec. 7, 1941, Japan’s Imperial Navy infamously attacked the U.S. at Pearl Harbor. For the men and women working on Navy ships that morning, their normal peacetime duties were suddenly and violently interrupted with the outbreak of war.
The officers on watch helped lead the immediate defense and rescue efforts, and they also maintained the deck logs that detailed what happened in the hours immediately preceding the attack and throughout the day.
While few of the logs from that day maintained by the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration have been scanned into digital copies, the White House released a few on its Facebook page to mark the 75th anniversary of the attacks.
The USS Maryland survived the attacks and went on to fight at the Battles of Midway, Tarawa, Saipan, Leyte Gulf, and others. The ship was decommissioned in 1947 with seven battle stars. At Pearl Harbor, the ship engaged Japanese planes and a suspected submarine
The deck log of the USS Maryland detailed the ship’s quick defense during the attack, getting her guns firing within minutes of the first Japanese planes flying overhead. (Photo: U.S. National Archives)
The USS Solace was a hospital ship which quickly began taking on wounded. It went on to serve throughout the Pacific and survived the war.
The USS Vestal, a repair ship, took multiple bomb hits and was forced to beach itself. Fires onboard the ship created such thick fumes that crewmembers were evacuated to the Solace. The ship survived the battle and served in the Pacific during the war, repairing such famous ships as the USS Enterprise and USS South Dakota after major battles.
The Vestal’s log details the progression of the fight as vessel after vessel took heavy damage on Battleship Row.
The USS Dale was a Farragut-class destroyer that was heavily engaged throughout World War II, earning 12 battle stars before the surrender of Japan.
At Pearl Harbor, it’s officers took detailed notes on the reports coming into the ship and show the chaos of the day. The ships were warned of probable mines, parachute troops, submarine attacks, and other dangers — many of which were false — as the military tried to get a handle on the situation.
The USS Conyngham was a destroyer that screened ships from air attack for most of the war. It fought at Midway, the Santa Cruz islands, Guadalcanal, and others. The ship received 14 battle stars in World War II.
At Pearl Harbor, the Conyngham had just taken on a resupply of ice cream when the attack began. Alongside other destroyers, it set up a screen to shoot down Japanese planes attempting further attacks.
Dressed in civilian clothes with long hair, the men looked like any other on the streets of East Berlin.
Their German accents didn’t give away their true identities as American Special Forces soldiers, part of a clandestine military unit operating during the Cold War.
Berlin, a divided city located 100 miles behind the Iron Curtain, was a focal point in the tensions that developed between NATO forces and the Soviet Union after World War II.
With a literal line drawn between the forces — American troops and their allies in West Berlin and Soviet troops and their supporters in East Berlin — the city became the “Grand Central Station of East-West espionage” and a “playground for all sorts of secret agents,” according to Bob Charest, a retired Army master sergeant and former Green Beret.
It was there that, for nearly 30 years, an elite Special Forces unit operated. Today, those veterans are decades removed from their secretive mission, but are only now receiving recognition for their efforts.
The little-known unit, called Detachment A, held various missions during its short-lived history, but the longest-standing was the “stay behind” mission.
In the event of World War III — with Soviet forces expected to come pouring across the Berlin Wall — members of the detachment, who never numbered more than 100 men, were expected to blend into the city and make life difficult for the much larger Communist force.
Teams were assigned sabotage missions, ready to destroy key transportation lines, military equipment, and other targets. They also would be expected to train and lead guerrilla forces that would then be tasked with harassing the Soviet troops from behind enemy lines, buying important time to allow NATO forces to mount a counterattack.
Charest, twice a member of Detachment A, recalled one of his team’s forays across the Berlin Wall recently during a visit to Fort Bragg.
Despite the soldiers’ efforts to go unnoticed, it was not unusual for the men to realize they were being followed, Charest said.
When that happened, the soldiers were trained to evade the extra attention and disappear into the city. Failure was not an option.
“You’re a spy,” Charest said, decades after having served in the city. “You didn’t have any dog tags. You weren’t there, officially.”
“If they caught you, they would either kill you or put you in jail,” he said.
Despite the high stakes, Charest said, the men were highly trained and able to stay calm under pressure.
Part of that training involved how to surveil targets amid the busy city and, if needed, lose the enemy when under unwanted scrutiny.
“We knew we were being watched,” Charest said.
Luckily, the men also knew their way around the city. Unlike other American troops in Berlin, these soldiers were trained to blend into Berlin. They had to immerse themselves in the city, becoming as knowledgeable on its nooks and crannies as the locals.
As the team led their tail through the city, Charest said, the soldiers made their way to a train station, part of the city’s subway, or U-Bahn, network.
Instead of stepping onto a train, the men let the first one pull out of the station. A second train arrived and the men were seemingly set to let that one pass, too.
But at the last moment, just before the doors closed, Charest said, the soldiers stepped onto the train.
He turned just in time to lock eyes with the man who had been following them. Charest is unsure who he worked for. It could have been the East German Secret Police, known as the Stasi, or the Soviet KGB.
As the train pulled out of the station, Charest looked at the man. Then he smiled, and as he pulled out of sight, Charest waved goodbye.
For most of its history, Detachment A — sometimes known simply as “the detachment” or “Det ‘A'” — was as elusive as the men who served in the unit.
When it was formed in 1956 with the cover story of a “security platoon” assigned to another US Army unit in Berlin, only about 10 officers knew the true makeup of the unit, according to James Stejskal, a Special Forces veteran who spent two tours of duty in Berlin and later served with the CIA.
Stejskal, a retired chief warrant officer 4 who now lives in Alexandria, Virginia, has written what might be the only definitive history of Detachment A.
His book, “Special Forces Berlin: Clandestine Cold War Operations of the US Army’s Elite, 1956-1990,” was published this year by Casemate Publishers, following a two-and-a-half-year effort to research and write the book and another year-long review by the Department of Defense.
Stejskal was one of dozens of Detachment A veterans who gathered on Fort Bragg earlier this month.
Once covered in shadows — to the point that even the US Army has little official documentation on the unit — the veterans of Detachment A are becoming increasingly vocal, with the hopes of bringing the unit the recognition it deserves before all of its former members are gone.
Charest, who now lives in Campobello, South Carolina, has been a key part of those efforts.
Since Detachment A was first publicly acknowledged in early 2014, he has worked to tell the unit’s untold story.
Previously recognized by veterans of the unit as “The Man Who Brought Detachment A In From the Cold,” Charest is the group’s webmaster, maintaining a website — detachment-a.org — along with his wife, Linda. He’s also become their organizer, facilitating annual reunions.
The most recent gathering was at Fort Bragg, the same place where veterans of the unit unveiled a monument stone honoring Detachment A outside of U.S. Army Special Operations Command in early 2014.
Detachment A has long been a small, elite group. Over its nearly 30-year history, an estimated 800 men served among its ranks or with the Physical Security Support Element-Berlin, a similar unit that replaced the detachment from 1984 to 1990.
Charest said the annual gatherings, which once attracted more than 100 veterans, are starting to dwindle. Detachment veterans are growing older. They’re dying, he said. Or they don’t travel as well as they used to.
“We’re starting to slow down,” Charest said. “I can see the handwriting on the wall.”
That makes his mission to spread the word about the unit even more important.
“We’re getting the recognition we didn’t have,” he said.
In the years after the Cold War, the Army declassified many of Detachment A’s secrets. But its veterans were largely unaware that they were now free to speak about their experiences.
The breaking point came in 2014, Charest said. The ceremony outside the USASOC headquarters was a first for Detachment A.
In addition to unveiling the monument stone, the veterans also took the symbolic step of casing the unit’s colors, a flag used to identify the detachment, for the first time.
“No force of its size has contributed more to peace, stability, and freedom,” Army Special Operations Command officials said during the ceremony.
Lt. Gen. Charles T. Cleveland, then-commander of USASOC, said the men operated amid untold risk, fraught with uncertainty.
“Detachment A was literally in the eye of the Cold War hurricane,” he said.
The next day, a story about the ceremony was on the front page of The Fayetteville Observer.
Charest said it was the first public exposure for the unit, whose existence and missions had been highly classified secrets. It began a flurry of queries from veterans of the detachment, some of whom had never even told their families about the unit.
“We were out of the cold,” Charest said. “This unit — nobody knows about it. Nobody knew we ever existed.”
Stejskal, who interviewed 65 veterans of Detachment A for his book and dug through what little information was available from official sources, said it was long past due for the unit to receive its recognition.
“No one became famous because of his exploits in Berlin; they were classified,” he said. “The Army has no history on us. They know of it, but they don’t know anything about it.”
Stejskal said that when he visited the Army’s Center for Military History to research his book, the organization had six pages of documents and little information. Most of the unit’s actual documents have been lost or destroyed.
“After 25 years, I figured it was about time,” Stejskal said of his decision to put together a history of the unit. “We’re on the verge of dying out and losing it all, all that historical knowledge.”
Detachment A, also known by its classified name — the 39th Special Forces Operational Detachment — was formed in August 1956 from carefully screened and selected members of the 10th Special Forces Group based in Bad Toelz, Germany. The unit was first housed at McNair Barracks and later, at Andrews Barracks in West Berlin.
Over the years, the men assigned to Detachment A remained a select group. They were highly trained, often with experience in World War II or, later, in Vietnam.
Members of the unit had to be Special Forces qualified. They needed to have a top-secret clearance. And they needed to be able to speak fluent German or another Eastern European language.
In the early days, nearly half of the unit came from soldiers who joined the Army under the Lodge Act — often refugees from Europe whose families remained under Soviet rule. Those immigrants provided important knowledge to the detachment members, who needed to appear to be German.
Charest, who served with the clandestine unit from 1969 to 1972 and again from 1973 to 1978, said the slightest mistake could blow a soldier’s cover.
“The Germans handle a knife and fork different than we do,” he said. “They count with their fingers different.”
Detachment members had to study the habits of locals, Charest said. They needed to dress like a local, wear their hair like a local, and talk like a local.
They carried paperwork provided by German authorities or passports from Eastern European nations that supported their cover stories. Even their ranks were classified, Charest said. Instead, members usually referred to each other by their first names.
Even within the Special Forces community, Charest said, the detachment was largely an unknown.
Some soldiers were assigned to the unit assuming it was a conventional support unit. They wouldn’t learn the truth until they were in Berlin being debriefed by leaders.
“They knew it existed, but nobody knew what they did,” Charest said.
At first, Detachment A had about 40 soldiers, but it would grow to about 90 troops for most of its history. Most soldiers stayed in Berlin for three years.
Amid the backdrop of the Cold War, the detachment would have been little more than a speed bump against Soviet forces in a conventional fight.
But Charest said the detachment never intended to “fight fair.”
With Berlin more than 100 miles behind enemy lines, encircled by what could have become the front lines of a war, those allied forces stood little chance at stopping the Soviet forces.
Stejskal wrote that the city would likely have become the world’s largest prisoner-of-war camp. He compared the hypothetical plight of the detachment to the 300 Spartans who faced a superior Persian force at the legendary Battle of Thermopylae.
“If the Russians decided to roll across the wall, that would have been World War III,” Charest said. “It was a suicide mission.”
“The odds were against us,” he added. “But that’s part of the game.”
The most the detachment could hope for, Charest said, was slowing the Soviet juggernaut.
Stejskal described the detachment mission as a “Hail Mary plan.”
He said the soldiers were there to buy time and disrupt the enemy, much like World War II’s famed Office of Strategic Services, the predecessor of the modern CIA.
Charest said the soldiers were constantly “poking and prodding” German and Soviet defenses. Sometimes, that would mean sneaking into East Germany via canals and tunnels.
“We were constantly trying,” he said. “If you heard the stories, you wouldn’t believe them.”
As the Cold War stayed cold, the detachment would see its missions expand.
It was tasked with probing and testing allied security vulnerabilities across Europe.
At the same time, it would become more of a counterterrorism force, training to respond to hijacked airplanes and participating in the famed Operation Eagle Claw — the failed mission to rescue American hostages in Iran in 1980.
Detachment soldiers were tasked with rescuing three diplomats being held by Iran, and two detachment members were stationed in Tehran, providing information on the target buildings and preparing to receiving the rescue force.
When the mission was scrapped and disaster struck a staging site — resulting in the deaths of several troops — the detachment members in Iran were left to escape the country on their own.
Retired Maj. Gen. Sidney Shachnow, who commanded Detachment A from 1970 to 1974 and later commanded all American forces in Berlin, said the city was full of spies and the Soviet KGB had known about the detachment since the late 1960s.
But, Shachnow said, the Soviets greatly overestimated the size of the unit, assuming it was about 500 men instead of less than 100.
“They knew our capabilities but did not know what our targets were,” he said.
Shachnow is a Holocaust survivor who was born in Lithuania and spent three years imprisoned in a Germany concentration camp as a young boy. He moved to the United States in 1950 and became a legend in the Special Forces community.
He said he had the privilege of deactivating the Special Forces presence in Berlin.
“It was a sad ceremony in an empty room with only about 12 guest spectators seated in folding chairs,” he said. “I awarded some medals, made some short remarks, and the ceremony was over in a matter of minutes.”
“Det A was a small, covert unit staffed with incredibly talented people willing to make the ultimate sacrifice,” Shachnow said on Fort Bragg earlier this month. “They served on the front lines of the Cold War and never fired a shot in anger. No force of its size in history has contributed more to peace, stability, and freedom.”
Fauquier County, Virginia, might not be the place you think of when you imagine covert ops training, but that’s exactly what’s happened at an isolated farmhouse and working dairy.
In use since 1803, “Vint Hill,” as it was initially known, had several owners before the Army purchased it in 1942 – just in time to train a group of service members in the fine art of espionage. Reframed and repurposed throughout the years, Vint Hill has served as one of the most essential intel-gathering sites you’ve probably never heard of.
Vint Hill is situated near the Signal Intelligence Service headquarters in Arlington but was far away enough from the city that its location and its purpose remained a secret. It was here that the Army housed its Monitoring Station No. 1, a covert spy base.
Established by the Army’s Signal Intelligence Service, the 701-acre farm was built in part because the Army needed a secure location near the SIS and a cryptography school.
The geography of Vint Hill was key in the Army’s decision to train there. Not only did it boast a quiet countryside vibe where trainees could really get into their coursework, but it also provided “quiet electromagnetic geology,” which made it the perfect place for intercepting radio signals. During WWII, that’s exactly what service members stationed at Vint Hill did.
Perhaps the most famous is the interception of a message from a Japanese ambassador to Germany. That message, sent in 1943, described German fortifications, contingency plans, and troop strength information.
Once the message was decoded, the information was instrumental in planning the D-Day invasion of June 6, 1944.
The NSA recently released documents that further detail the influence that Vint Hill had on WWII planning. It was a crucial intelligence-gathering station throughout all of WWII and beyond.
After WWII, Vint Hill became the first field station of the Army Security Agency, an arm of the NSA. The facility conducted signals intelligence operations.
Declassified Army intelligence lists Vint Hill as one of the largest intercept facilities in the world.
Not only did it serve as an intercept facility, but Vint Hill was also a signal school, signal training center, and a refitting station for selected signal units returning from or heading to deployments.
During and following the Korean War, the station’s footprint was expanded significantly, making it a major intelligence hub during the Cold War. Vint Hill personnel intercepted key Soviet diplomatic and military communication sent over teleprints that helped form and shape America’s military posture.
In 1961, the Army Electronic Material Readiness Activity moved to Vint Hill and took over the management of signals intelligence and electronic warfare maintenance for the Army Security Agency.
By 1973 however, Vint Hill’s mission had changed to research. Its main goal was to aid and assist in the development and support of intel and electronic warfare info gathering for the Army, DoD, and our partner allies. The EPA took over operations of Vint Hill’s photographic interpretation center from the DIA, and Vint Hill was renamed as the Environmental Photographic Interpretation Center.
However, that didn’t last long. By the late 1979s, Vint Hill was on the list of installations to be closed, and all projects on site were halted. A change in policy in 1981 reversed that decision, and Vint Hill remained open.
Serving as the “giant ear” of the NSA was the core focus of Vint Hill in the early 1980s and eventually became a development and testing site for signal equipment for the CIA and FBI. IN 1993, Vint Hill was once again on the chopping block. This time, the closure stuck. Most personnel were reassigned to Fort Monmouth and Fort Belvoir.
Vint Hill closed officially on September 30, 1997. Now, the site hosts several engineering and tech companies, including the FAAs Air Traffic Control System Command Center. There’s a Cold War museum open on-site, but most notably, the former intel-gathering installation is home to the Vint Hill Craft Winery and the Old Bust Head Brewery. There’s even a dance school and a gymnastics school run on the property. Talk about reinvention after time in service.
On Aug. 10, 2020, a video surfaced on the internet of Indian Army troops using various tools to smash Chinese military vehicles made by state-owned manufacturer Dongfeng Motor Corporation.
The video was released on the internet at the height of tensions between China and India in the Ladakh region in June 2020.
A Chinese internet user alleged the vehicles produced by Dongfeng, which are one of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army’s version of humvees, are practically useless for military purposes. Dongfeng is the PLA’s largest vehicle supplier.
In the Galwan Valley, the site of skirmishes between Chinese and Indian troops that led to the deaths of 63 soldiers between both armies, the rumors say the Dongfeng vehicles failed to protect the lives of Chinese soldiers.
To South Asia’s World Is One News, the representatives from the Chinese military say the reports are “rubbish” and that they forced the video leaker to apologize. According to a story on an official Chinese military website, the allegation all stem from a WeChat post from user Zhou Liying. He was arrested and reportedly confessed his whistleblowing “crime.”
Zhou’s handwritten letter of apology was published on the same website while India’s news media called the Dongfeng “fragile.”
The rumors of the vehicles’ low quality persisted on the Chinese internet, along with stories about corruption in the corporation and investigations into wrongdoing from the government in Beijing. Another rumor says a Dongfeng official was arrested for “violating Party discipline.”
A Hong Kong newspaper backed the claim, saying that low quality steel could have been used to build the vehicles. The owner of that newspaper was soon arrested under the new state security law implemented by the Chinese government. That law says “crimes of secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces” are punishable by a maximum sentence of life in prison.
WIO News’ Palki Sharma says the Dongfeng vehicle represents everything that is wrong with China and the Chinese government.
“First, this military vehicle is a copy of the Hummer,” the journalist says. “The second reason is Dongfeng has faced corruption charges before… in 2015 a Dongfeng executive was under investigation for what? For severe violation of discipline.”
Aside from the internet allegations and newspaper reports, there is no proof of the vehicles’ inferior quality. In the leaked video featuring the destruction of a Dongfeng vehicle, however, Indian soldiers are seen cracking the windshields using only a helmet.
The video reportedly caused widespread uproar in China. The Chinese government won’t acknowledge the authenticity of the video or if it was related to the border skirmishes, though India says it’s unrelated.
Dongfeng’s Chinese military vehicles are used by Chinese border troops in the Ladakh region and were used in the Jun. 15, 2020 clashes that saw Chinese and Indian troops fight each other with makeshift clubs.
It had to have been a simultaneously proud and awkward moment in his career: The day U.S. Navy Commander James Kirk got promoted to captain.
Of course any Trekkie would know the reason, as the real-life captain shares the name of the fictionalized character played by William Shatner on “Star Trek.” But the real Kirk is a serious officer, taking the helm of the futuristic USS Zumwalt (DDG-1000), a ship christened earlier this year.
“Unfortunately I can’t be with you when your vessel is commissioned and obviously your captain, Captain Kirk, is dear to my heart,” Shatner wrote. “So forgive me for not attending, my schedule won’t allow me, but know that you are in our thoughts — Mr. Mrs. Shatner — and that we bless you and hope that you have a safe journey wherever your ship takes you.”
Wright-Patterson Air Force Base — affectionately called “Wright-Patt” for short — is located just outside of Dayton, Ohio. If you ask the locals or the airmen stationed there, they will tell you about the Air Force Museum, the Oregon District, and maybe even the Dayton Dragons baseball team.
But if you get a couple of beers in them or earn their trust by shouting “O-H,” the locals may even tell you about all the alien bodies, ghosts, and secret tunnels the Air Force hides there.
1. The Roswell Aliens (and their ship) are there.
Many Americans believe a UFO – and its extraterrestrial crew – crash-landed in the New Mexico desert near Roswell on July 2, 1947. They also believe the site was cleaned up by the Air Force from nearby Roswell Army Air Force Base.
Eyewitnesses reported that 3-foot tall, grey-skinned aliens died in the crash. According to Loren Coleman, the co-author of “Weird Ohio,” they and their space vessel were shipped off to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base’s notorious “Hangar 18.”
Everyone else has been trying to get in there ever since.
Senator Barry Goldwater supposedly asked USAF Gen. Curtis LeMay if he could see what was inside. LeMay told the Senator that not only could he not get in, but he should never ask again.
2. The tunnels under a Wright State University were originally meant for the Air Force.
Just down the street from Wright-Patterson Air Force Base is Wright State University. The school has a convenient system of underground tunnels that allow students and faculty to make their way to class despite the sometimes chilly weather outside. There are almost two miles of tunnels.
Some locals believe that during the Cold War the base was a prime target for Soviet ICBMs. So naturally they assumed the tunnels were part of the base’s plan to escape nuclear blasts and radioactive fallout. Others think the tunnels are part of an abandoned, separate military facility.
When the next building went up two years later, the electrical systems of the two needed to be merged, so they built a simple tunnel between the two buildings. Eventually, they started allowing everyone to use the maintenance tunnels to move between buildings.
3. Hap Arnold’s house is haunted…
Henry H. “Hap” Arnold was the only person ever to be dubbed “General of the Air Force.” As a major, he once lived on a house near Huffman Prairie, where the Wright Brothers worked on their planes – now on Wright-Patt Air Force Base.
Many commanders lived in the house, but the Arnold House (as it’s called today) is named for its most famous resident. For years, visitors reported strange noises, objects moving on their own, odd shadows, and other phenomena.
The ghost hunters heard sounds from the bathroom, girls laughing in the dining room, spectres turning on lights (at the request of the show’s hosts). One of the hosts even interacts with a ghost through a series of taps as responses to questions.
4. … and so is the Air Force Museum.
Chris Woodyard, author of “Haunted Ohio,” believes she is constantly followed while walking through the cavernous museum as she tries to read the information panels. She writes that many airmen were very attached to their planes and some of the pilots seemingly live in them still.
“The Hopalong” is a Sikorsky UH-19B that would medevac troops in Korea and Vietnam. The museum staff say they see the pilot in the seat, flipping switches and “trying to get home.” The seat is actually still stained with that pilot’s blood.
A young Japanese boy is said to hang around “Bockscar,” the B-29 that dropped the “Fat Man” atomic bomb on Nagasaki, Japan. He supposedly comes out at night, when few people are around.
The “Black Mariah” is a Sikorsky CH-3E helicopter transport used for classified missions. It sits at the museum, still filled with bullet holes. People say you can hear the moans and voices of the troops it carried.
Parts from the “Lady Be Good,” a B-24 that disappeared during a bombing run on Italy, are said to rearrange themselves. The POW exhibit is supposed to make visitors feel an inexplicable sense of “sick dread” as they approach. Some airmen report that the ghosts actually “show up for work,” by walking in the doors, opening lockers, and going into the break room. Even Nazis are reported to show up to the WWII exhibit.
And finally, the museum’s “Strawberry Bitch” supposedly houses the only malevolent spirits at the USAF museum. Reports of rattles and clanks, shadowy figures, and strange lights are common. One former janitor claims a ghost from the B-24D even slapped him in the face.
5. The Air Force is engineering alien technology.
The Roswell Crash wasn’t the only extra-terrestrial crash in the U.S. — depending on who you ask. Some allege there were more before 1952, and all the debris and their pilots (with blue-green skin this time) were all taken to Wright-Patt. One of the crashes held as many as 16 alien bodies.
When there were any survivors, American medicine killed the aliens trying to save them. Cellular genetic research is supposedly conducted by the Air Force there.
Another crash yielded a ship made of lightweight material, impenetrable by any earthly means. Whenever a UFO crash happens, the wreckage is sent to Wright-Patt to be reverse engineered, or so the story goes.
Some believe technologies gleaned from UFOs at Wright-Patt include fiber optics, lasers, night vision, the integrated circuit, and particle beams.
6. The whole base is pretty much haunted.
The “Ghost Hunters” crew actually had their hands full at Wright-Patt. Building 70 in Area A houses a “waxy” figure clad in a blue polyester dress with a ruffled white shirt.
Others reported footsteps, electronics turning themselves on, and unexplained whispers in the same building.
In building 219, an old hospital converted to an office, children running and playing interrupted a Judge Advocate General’s meeting in the basement — which used to be the morgue. The doors on the third floor once slammed shut all at the same time.
Since its official field debut in 1983, the MRE has come a long, long way. Today’s current iteration seems like veritable fine dining compared with previous versions, but they’re still widely considered “Meals Rejected by Everyone,” and “Meals Rarely Edible.” Take a look at how MREs have evolved over time and what the DoD is doing to make them more palatable.
1907: The Iron Ration becomes the first individual combat ration issued to military personnel and included three 3-ounce cakes made from beef bouillon powder and cooked wheat, three 1-ounce bars of chocolate, and salt and pepper.
1917: Reserve Rations are issued to soldiers during the end of WWI. These included 12 ounces of fresh bacon or one pound of canned meat, two 8-ounce cans of hardtack biscuits, 1.16 ounces of ground coffee, 2.4 ounces of sugar, and .16 ounces of salt—no pepper in sight.
1938’s C-Ration is closest to what many now think of as the MRE. It consisted of an individually canned, wet, pre-cooked meal. Service members had three choices: meat and beans, meat and vegetable stew, or meat and potato hash.
Just four years later, the 1942 K-Ration saw an increase in both calories and options. This MRE included meals for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, but the choices (canned ham and eggs, bacon and cheese for lunch, and a beef and pork loaf for dinner) weren’t that appetizing.
By 1958, the Meal, Combat, Individual (MCI) included canned wet rations averaging about 1,200 calories each. The majority of all service members disliked the MCI, but this remained the only field option available for almost twenty years.
Adopted as the official DoD combat ration in 1975, large scale production of Meals Ready to Eat began in 1978, and the first delivery went out just three years later. The 25th ID ate nothing but MREs for 34 days, and service members rated the food “acceptable,” but only about half of the meals were consumed. Translation: the food was super gross, and the soldiers only ate them out of necessity. Three years later, the same experiment was performed … with the same results.
(U.S. Air Force Photo)
So, starting in 1988, the DoD made some changes. Entrée size was changed from 5 ounces to 8 ounces, and nine of the 12 entrée options were replaced. Candies were added to four choices, as was hot sauce, and for all 12 menus, cold beverage choices were made available.
But the MREs were still pretty gross.
Field testing and early feedback from Operation Desert Storm (ODS) brought another round of changes. This time, the DoD replaced old mil-spec spray-dried coffee with commercially freeze-dried coffee. Hot sauce was made available to all 12 menus, dehydrated fruits were swapped out for wet-pack fruit, and candy was made available to an additional four menus choices.
During ODS, service personnel ate MREs for as many as 60 days in a row, which resulted in another round of changes. Shelf-stable bread inside an MRE pouch was created, a chocolate bar able to withstand high heat was developed, and flameless ration heaters were developed as an easy method for service members to heat their entrees since the only thing grosser than eating MREs for two months is eating cold MREs for two months.
In 1994, more changes were field-tested. The DoD decided that commercial-like graphics should be added to increase consumption and acceptance. MRE bags became easier to open, and biodegradable spoons were added.
1996 saw MREs available for special diets to help increase calorie intake for service members in the field. Menu counts increased to 16 items and included ham slices and chili. One year later, there were 20 entrée items, including cheese tortellini and boneless pork chops with noodles.
Current menu offerings include southwest style beef and black beans, pepperoni pizza, creamy spinach fettuccine, and vegetable crumbles with pasta in taco style sauce. While none of those sound exceptionally appealing, they’re far better than beef bouillon cakes of 1907.
Ranked as the best MRE available, the chili mac menu comes with pound cake, crackers, a jalapeno cheese spread, and candy. The worst choices tie between the veggie burger (which includes a knockoff Gatorade powder, two slices of snack bread, and a chocolate banana muffin) and the Chicken a la King, which sounds yummy but is, in fact, just a gelatinous goo of shred of “chicken.”
MREs are useful for FTXs and good to have on hand in case of natural disasters. They’re convenient and shelf-stable, so they’re a good addition to emergency preparations. But don’t count on them tasting that great.
Iwo Jima was one of the bloodiest battles in Marine Corps history. Amid heavy losses on an island of questionable strategic importance, it also became one the most controversial battles of World War II. Heroes emerged and countless books and movies were created about Iwo Jima, but how much do you really know about the battle? Test your knowledge with this quiz:
Military service members are all familiar with chaplains, the qualified religious leaders who serve troops and their families, but they are somehow still shrouded in mystery.
If you ever get the chance to talk to one, especially someone with a few deployments under their belt, you’ll start to get an appreciation for what they offer to troops (also, the more I talk to chaplains, the more combat ghost stories I hear…but I’ll just sort through that on my own time…).
Here are seven fascinating facts about chaplains:
U.S. Army chaplain Capt. Thomas Watson, left, and Spc. Timothy Gilbert arrive at Hunter Army Air Field in Savannah, Ga., Jan. 17, 2010 after returning from a nearly year-long deployment in Iraq.
(DoD photo by Tech. Sgt. Brian E. Christiansen, U.S. Air Force/Released)
1. Chaplains don’t fight in combat
Chaplains are in the military — but they do not fight in combat. Chaplains are non-combatants as defined by the Geneva Convention. Chaplains may not be deliberately or indiscriminately attacked and, unless their retention by the enemy is required to provide for the religious needs of prisoners of war, chaplains must not become POWs. And if they are captured, they must be repatriated at the earliest opportunity.
But that doesn’t mean chaplains have never seen combat…which leads us to…
U.S. Air Force Capt. Norman Jones, a chaplain with the 20th Fighter Wing, prays over a draped casket during a simulated ramp ceremony as part of Patriot Warrior 2014 at Fort McCoy, Wis., May 10, 2014.
(DoD photo by Master Sgt. Donald R. Allen, U.S. Air Force/Released)
2. Despite non-combatant status, many have been killed
419 American chaplains have died in the line of duty, including Confederate chaplains during the Civil War.
Father Emmeran Bliemel, a Catholic priest serving in the Confederate Army, became the first American chaplain to die on the field of battle. He was administering last rites to soldiers during the Battle of Jonesborough during the Civil War when he was killed in action by cannon fire.
In 2010, Army Chaplain Dale Goetz was killed in Afghanistan, becoming the first chaplain to die in combat since the Vietnam War.
3. Nine chaplains have been awarded the Medal of Honor
Nine chaplains have been awarded the Medal of Honor.
Four served during the Civil War, one served during World War II, one served during the Korean War, and three served during the Vietnam War.
U.S. Army Chaplain Maj. Carl Phillips, assigned to the U.S. Army Garrison Wiesbaden, leads worship with a hymn during the garrison’s Easter sunrise service, April 1, 2018, in Wiesbaden, Germany.
(U.S. Army photo by William B. King)
4. They represent 200+ denominations
Chaplains in the military represent more than 200 different denominations.
Denominations recognized by the Pentagon include many variations of the major religions of the world — including Christianity, Judaism, and Islam — but Chaplains provide care for people of all faiths.
U.S. Army Capt. Demetrius Walton, a chaplain with the 316th Expeditionary Sustainment Command, navigates a confidence course at Fort Dix, N.J., March 26, 2012.
(DoD photo by Sgt. Peter Berardi, U.S. Army/Released)
5. They hold rank, but not command
In the United States, service members have a constitutional right under the first amendment to engage in religious worship. While chaplains are commissioned officers and can obtain the rank of major general or rear admiral, they will never hold command.
Within the Nuremberg jail, Chaplains Henry Gerecke and Sixtus O’Connor created a 169-square-foot chapel and honored their duty to offer the nazis a chance to return from the darkness and into the light.
Chaplain Emil J. Kapaun moved from foxhole to foxhole under direct fire to provide aide and reassurance to soldiers fighting in the Battle of Unsan. He recovered wounded men and dragged them to safety or he dug trenches to shield them from enemy fire. He was captured and tortured by the Chinese, but even then he continued to resist and provide comfort to his fellow prisoners. He died in captivity on May 23, 1951.
A lot of crazy sh*t happened in the Iran-Iraq War. The backbone of the Iranian Air Force at the time was the beloved F-14 Tomcat, a plane the Iranians still fly. Purchased by the Shah of Iran before the rise of the Islamic Republic, Iran’s Air Force consisted of dozens of the two-seat fighter aircraft, which gave them an edge in the air war against neighboring Iraq.
But tech can only take you so far. And it was the skills of Iranian pilots that allowed the IRIAF to claim three kills with one missile.
Iranians are really good behind the stick of the Tomcat. In fact, the highest scoring ace in a Tomcat is an Iranian named Jalil Zandi. According to the U.S. Air Force, Zandi is credited with 11 kills in an F-14 — an amazing achievement for any fighter pilot. But he was in good company during the Iran-Iraq War because his fellow pilots were keeping the skies clear of any offending Iraqi aircraft.
The Iran-Iraq War was in full stalemate by the end of 1981 and the fighting on the ground was so brutal, it might literally have been illegal. Iraq invaded Iran in 1980 for a number of reasons, mostly to take advantage of political instability following the fall of the Shah, but also to keep Shia Islamic Revolution from being exported to neighboring countries.
Before the Iraqi ground troops crossed the border, however, Saddam’s air forces attempted to destroy the Iranian Air Force while it was still on the ground. They missed and it cost them big time. From that point on, Iraqi MiG and Sukhoi fighters were flying the highway to the danger zone every time they flew into Iran – Tomcats were on patrol.
Iranian F-14 Tomcats carrying Phoenix missiles.
In the opening days of the war, Tomcats took their toll on the Iraqi Air Force, downing fighters and bombers alike. Their most deadly weapons, Phoenix missiles, carried an explosive payload that was much larger than other anti-aircraft missiles. They were designed to take down Soviet-built Tupolev bomber aircraft, the same kind the Iraqis were trying to fly over Tehran.
By 1981, the war on the ground had devolved into an exchange of chemical weapons against human wave attacks. The war was just as brutal in the air, but the Tomcats gave Iran a decisive edge. A single F-14 in the area was enough for Iraqi pilots to scatter and head for home. What happened on Jan. 7, 1981 was a clear example of why.
Iranian pilot Asadullah Adeli and his Radar Intercept Officer Mohammed Masbough responded to reports of unidentified aircraft headed toward Kharg Island in the Persian Gulf. The Tomcat determined the intruder was actually three Iraqi MiG-23s, presumably headed toward an oil rig near the island. Iranian ground radar couldn’t see all three, but authorized Adeli and Masbough to engage the MiGs anyway.
“They were flying really low,” Adeli recalled. “Even though it was night, they were flying at around 2,000 feet.”
Masbough told him to target the one in the middle, just hoping to damage the other two enough that they might break off. That’s almost what happened. The American-built Phoenix missile’s explosive delivery was so powerful, it downed all three enemy aircraft. The wreckage of all three MiGs was found on Kharg Island the next day.
The Air Force’s special operations candidates are encouraged to complete a tailored fitness program before they report for selection.
This 26-week guide is designed to get them physically ready for the challenges of the grueling training pipeline that features 1-3 workouts per day split into cardio, physical training, and swim workouts.
Old military favorites like pushups and planks are included along with creative stuff such as dragon flags, sliding leg curls, and handstand pushups.
Dragon flags are basically leg raises, except you keep raising your legs until all your weight is on your shoulder blades:
Sliding leg curls hit the glutes, hamstrings, and core:
Handstand pushups are exactly what they sound like, and they work the shoulders and triceps:
Those interested in trying out the Air Force’s 26-week fitness program can download the guide as a PDF here. But be advised: It starts tough and gets tougher as it goes on.
Unlike the Marine Corps’ fitness app, the Air Force guide does not include instructions for individual exercises. Take some time to research proper form before attempting any unfamiliar exercises. (And WATM’s Max Your Body series can help.)
A recent poll from the Pew Research Center shows some pretty surprising statistics when it comes to how countries see the threats around them.
Pew says that most of the world thinks terrorism from the ISIS is the biggest threat to security, followed closely by climate change.
But when researchers dug deeper and asked major countries — including longtime U.S. allies — how they saw the influence of the United States, China and Russia, the results were a major bummer for Uncle Sam.
The country most fearful of the United States is Turkey, with 72 percent of those surveyed seeing the U.S. as a major threat.
By a large margin, NATO ally Greece sees the U.S. as a “major threat” to their country, with 44 percent of those surveyed worried about too much U.S. influence as opposed to 22 percent who see the U.S. as a minor threat. And that’s 5 percentage points lower than a similar survey three years ago.
In a true head scratcher, 59 percent of Spaniards see the U.S. as a major threat — a 42 percent swing over the 2013 survey. Are there some plans lurking around to lure Lionel Messi to the U.S. we don’t know about?
“The proportion of the public that views American power as a major threat to their country grew in 21 of the 30 nations between 2013 and 2017,” Pew says.
But hey, at least we got Poland and India who each swung 8 percentage points more in favor of the U.S. than three years ago — with 15 and 19 percent seeing the U.S. as a major threat respectively.
Shockingly, fewer Russians see the U.S. as a major threat than do Canadians, with 39 percent of our northern brothers seeing the U.S. as a major threat as opposed to 37 percent of Russians.
“Just in the past year, perceptions of the U.S. as a major threat have increased by at least 8 percentage points among several long-standing American allies, including Australia (13 points) and the UK (11 points),” Pew said. “Concern about U.S. power is up 10 points in Canada, Germany and Sweden, and 8 points in France and the Netherlands.”
Japan? Don’t get us started on Japan. The Pew survey finds about the same amount of Japanese think the U.S. is a major threat at 62 percent as they see China as a major threat, with 64 percent saying Beijing worries the heck out of them.
But, hey, we’ve always got Israel, right? Just 17 percent of Israelis see the U.S. as a major threat with neighbor Jordan coming in at 24 percent. So at least we got that going for us.
When considering the most courageous and indomitable soldiers of World War II, the likes of Jack Churchill, Leo Major, and Audie Murphy come to mind. But New Zealand had their own contribution to that list: Charles Upham.
If it hadn’t been for the outbreak of World War II, Charles Upham would have likely passed his days in anonymity on a farm in New Zealand.
Instead, when war broke out in Europe, Upham, despite being college educated and 30 years old, enlisted as a private in the New Zealand Army. He was assigned to the 20th Battalion before accepting a position in an Officer Cadet Training Unit from which he was commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant.
Upham rejoined the 20th Battalion before they shipped out for Greece in 1941. In the face of an overwhelming German invasion, Upham and other Allied forces were evacuated to Crete, where they awaited an inevitable Axis offensive.
In May 1941, German Fallschirmjager (paratroopers) conducted a parachute assault on Crete. Upham was part of the heavy fighting around the Maleme Airfield.
During an attack by his battalion on the airfield, Upham led his platoon at the front of the assault. Through his undaunted courage, he and his men advanced over 3,000 yards against the Germans. During the advance, Upham single-handedly attacked three separate German machine gun positions, silencing two of them with grenades and allowing his men to take out the other.
As his platoon withdrew, he carried a wounded soldier from the field under heavy fire.
Upon his return to friendly lines, Upham was sent back to return a beleaguered company to the battalion’s new position. Without Upham’s effort, the company likely would have been cut off and annihilated.
But Upham was far from done on Crete.
Over the next two days, Upham and his men endured bombardment by the Germans, during which time he was wounded by shrapnel in the shoulder and shot in the foot. However, he remained on duty with his men and refused to be evacuated.
On the fourth day, Upham led his platoon against a German attack and drove them back. He then moved forward to, once again, pull back another unit. During his withdrawal, he was fired upon by two Germans. Upham feigned death before crawling into a firing position. With his arm disabled by the shrapnel wound, he cradled his rifle in the crook of a tree branch and gunned down his attackers as they charged him.
Finally, Upham led his men one more time against the Germans as they attempted to assault the Force Headquarters and utterly annihilated the attacking unit.
Despite Upham’s valiant efforts, the Allied forces on Crete were defeated and he and his unit were evacuated to Egypt.
While in Egypt, Upham was promoted to Captain and placed in charge of a company in the 20th Battalion.
In October 1941, Upham was conferred the Victoria Cross for his actions on Crete.
But back in Egypt, Upham would once again distinguish himself. This time, during the fighting at El Ruweisat Ridge during the First Battle of El Alamein. Early in the fighting, Upham was wounded twice, once while crossing open ground under fire and again when he personally attacked and destroyed a truckload of Germans with hand grenades.
Despite his wounds, Upham stayed with his men.
After personally conducting an information gathering mission armed with an MG42, Upham led his unit against a strongly defended German position. Through force of personality and an indomitable spirit, Upham motivated his men forward to seize the positions. During the attack, Upham personally destroyed a German tank as well as several other vehicles. During his daring offensive, he was wounded a third time by a bullet to the elbow.
Upham continued to lead his men in a courageous defense of their hard-won position from a German counterattack. Finally, weakened by blood loss, Upham was evacuated to the Regimental Aid Station. However, as soon as his wound had been dressed, he left the aid station to return to his men. When a final German counterattack severely wounded him and decimated his company, Upham fell into German hands as a prisoner of war.
For most soldiers, their story would end here. But Upham was not “most soldiers.” Discontent with being a POW, Upham tried numerous times to escape. He jumped from a moving truck in one instance and from a moving train in another. He tried to climb over a fence, in broad daylight, before being caught. And even once, while placed in solitary confinement, made a run for it and was able to clear the gates before being recaptured.
Upham’s repeated escape attempts earned him a spot at the notorious Colditz Castle in late 1944.
When Colditz was liberated by American forces, Upham declined immediate repatriation and instead insisted on fighting with the Americans who gladly accepted him.
However, he was soon returned to Britain where he married his sweetheart, a nurse from New Zealand, in June 1945, shortly after the end of hostilities.
Upham was presented his first Victoria Cross in May 1945 by King George VI. When another recommendation came through for Upham’s actions at El Alamein, King George questioned whether he deserved a bar to his Victoria Cross as it has only been done twice before. Major General Howard Kippenberger replied, “in my respectful opinion, Sir, Upham won this VC several times over.”
He received a bar, indicating a second award of the Victoria Cross, in September 1945.
Upham returned to New Zealand and took up farming, avoiding the fame that came with his exploits during the war as much as possible.