The little-known stories of smokejumpers working with the CIA - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

The little-known stories of smokejumpers working with the CIA

The CIA had its eye on Tibet. The Buddhist nation of vast plateaus and mountain ranges in Central Asia was completely isolated from the rest of society. A diplomatic relationship with the small country surrounded by China on three of its sides was of utmost importance. On a mission from President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, two Office of Strategic Services (OSS) officers, Capt. Brooke Dolan and Maj. Ilia Tolstoy, traveled through India to Tibet in September 1942 to contact the Dalai Lama, then just 7 years old.

Following the conclusion of World War II, the OSS was disbanded and re-formed as the Central Intelligence Agency in 1947. Only two years later, the CIA watched its new ally from afar and monitored the increased hostilities of Mao Zedong, the founding father of the People’s Republic of China. Mao had threatened to “liberate” Tibet, a strong-armed escalation to retake the government from the Dalai Lama.


In a contested intensification of force, the Chinese military marched through the Himalayas toward Chamdo, the third-largest city in the eastern part of the Tibet Autonomous Region. On May 23, 1951, China forced Tibet to sign a peace treaty called the 17-Point Agreement — declaring its autonomy as long as China oversaw its foreign policy including the civil and military components. If Tibet hadn’t signed the “agreement,” the action would have been a death sentence.

The little-known stories of smokejumpers working with the CIA

Brooke Dolan, second from left, and Ilya Tolstoy, right, with their monk-interpreter, Kusho Yonton Singhe, standing in front of a traditional Tibetan tent set up outside Lhasa for the expedition’s official greeting ceremony. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The young Dalai Lama had his hands tied. Without outside help, his nation’s independence was under threat. The staff types and officers at the CIA with covers as diplomats began searching for a hardy group who had special training in remote and mountainous areas.

The US military had previously established a relationship during World War II with the US Forest Service (USFS). US Army paratroopers from the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions participated in an exchange program with the smokejumpers — an elite firefighting force that parachutes from planes into isolated areas to fight forest fires. The all-Black paratroopers chosen became known as the Triple Nickles, and they were trained to prevent the spread of fires caused by Japanese balloon bombs.

Instead of training airborne paratroopers as the military did before, the CIA contracted smokejumpers who already had all the necessary knowledge in terrain, reconnaissance, weather, and a variety of other critically important skills. Smokejumpers go through their own selection course to get to their units; the CIA could choose from the very best in their ranks.

The little-known stories of smokejumpers working with the CIA

From left to right: Vang Pao, leader and general of the CIA’s Hmong Army in the 15-year “secret war” in Laos; smokejumper Jack Mathews; and Kong Le, the neutralist forces leader. Photo courtesy of the National Smokejumpers Association.

Garfield Thorsrud was a Missoula, Montana, smokejumper tasked with training two CIA officers at the Nine Mile training facility in Montana in 1951. The CIA recruited Thorsrud and six other smokejumpers on a covert operation in Taiwan to train Nationalist Chinese paratroopers to facilitate personnel and cargo drops over mainland China. From 1957 to 1960, however, this covert relationship between the smokejumpers and the CIA went global.

More than 100 smokejumpers were sworn to secrecy on behalf of the US government. Ray “Beas” Beasley, a former Air Force winter survival expert who trained aircrews in airborne operations in Libya and the Korean War, was called upon in multiple capacities.

“We were training air crews for Africa and Ivy Leaguers for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA),” Beasley told Smokejumper Magazine. “Those Ivy Leaguers thought they were special, but they didn’t know a goddamned thing. It was truly unbelievable.”

Smokejumpers, including Beasley, acted as “kickers” or jumpmasters who “kicked” out 10,000 pounds of weapons, ammunition, and equipment to Tibetan resistance forces at elevations as high as 14,000 feet. The pilots from the CIA’s Civil Air Transport (CAT) flew sorties using old China Air Transport civilian routes in C-130B planes across Tibet to arm Khampa guerillas. The first pass dropped the agents, and the second dropped the pallets of supplies. These operations also trained as many as 200 Tibetan commandos at Camp Hale in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado to jump alongside CIA officers.

The little-known stories of smokejumpers working with the CIA

Smokejumpers involved in the Taiwan Project where they trained Nationalist Chinese agents and paratroopers starting in 1951. Standing with Generalissimo and Madame Chiang Kai-Shek are smokejumpers Herman Ball, 2nd from left; Jack Mathews, between Chiang Kai-Shek and his wife; Gar Thorsrud, 2nd from far right; and Lyle Grenager, far right. Photo courtesy of the National Smokejumper Association.

“We were always ‘Romeo,'” Beasley told the Great Falls Tribune in 2014, referring to the call sign for their mission. “When we did these jobs, it was in the full moon and we flew right by Everest.”

When the Dalai Lama fled Tibet to India in 1959, the CIA kickers rigged a yellow parachute to a pallet filled with 300,000 rupees. As the Dalai Lama was in exile, the CIA funded id=”listicle-2647693389″.7 million per year to support Tibet’s resistance against Chinese and Soviet Union influence.

After Tibet, Beasley participated in covert operations in the “secret war” in Laos as well as the Bay of Pigs invasion. During the 1960s, if the CIA was running an operation inside a country they weren’t supposed to be in, flying unmarked aircraft, the smokejumpers often towed along. The smokejumpers’ roles expanded beyond jumpmaster duties to acting as liaison and operations officers in Guatemala, the Congo, India, Guam, Indonesia, and even the Arctic.

Thorsrud and five other smokejumpers dressed in parkas participated in Project Coldfeet, which premiered the ingenious Fulton surface-to-air recovery system (STARS) or Skyhook: The passing plane intercepts a 500-foot line with a smokejumper attached and yanks him into the air to retrieve him. Project Coldfeet was an intelligence-gathering mission at an abandoned Soviet Arctic drifting ice station — and the CIA deemed the mission a success.

The smokejumpers’ clandestine service with the CIA and their heroism was kept in the shadows. David W. Bevan was killed on Aug. 31, 1961, when his Air America C-46 plane crashed into a Laotian mountaintop. The former smokejumper’s mission remained a secret for 56 years, and not even his family were aware of how he had died. In 2017, the CIA publicly acknowledged Bevan and other CIA operations officers with a star on its memorial wall. At that time, there were 125 stars. Since 2019, the wall has grown to 133 stars, some of which honor those whose identity remains classified.

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

MIGHTY CULTURE

‘I met a hero:’ Air Force Doctor who treated Alwyn Cashe says he’s never forgotten him

Maj. Mark Rasnake was exhausted. The 32-year-old Air Force infectious disease specialist had worked through the night treating some of the worst trauma he’d seen in his life — seven soldiers who’d been brought in after sustaining catastrophic burns when their Bradley Fighting Vehicle hit an improvised explosive device near Daliaya, Iraq, and erupted in flames. But back at his bunk at Balad Air Force Base, north of Baghdad, he couldn’t sleep.

He opened his laptop and began to type a letter home. “I met a hero last night,” he wrote. “I did not realize it at the time … This is a place where the word “hero” is tossed around day in and day out, so much so that you sometimes lose sight of its true meaning. His story reminded me of it.”


As a medical professional, Rasnake never identified his patient, even in a letter only intended for family members. As it happened, though, his words would travel further than he imagined. His local newspaper in Eastern Tennessee took it as a submission and reprinted it; and eventually, Air Force officials reached out to the paper so the service could publish it too.

Rasnake’s letter survives on the Air Force’s official website as the first public account of the bravery of Army Sgt. 1st Class Alwyn Cashe, who sacrificed his life running again and again into the fiery vehicle, ignoring his own burning uniform. It has been 15 years to the day since Cashe hauled his teammates out of the Bradley on Oct. 17, 2005; but Rasnake, now the residency program director for the University of Tennessee’s Division of Infectious Diseases, says he’s never stopped thinking about him.

“I kind of think about the guy all the time,” Rasnake told Military.com in an interview earlier this month. “I’ve got a helmet bag that I use to carry stuff to and from work, and I put a 3rd Infantry Division patch on that thing, just to always have the visual thing to remember what he did. That’s just always been important to me, to at least carry that memory.”

Cashe, the most severely burned of the soldiers, was ultimately evacuated to Germany for intensive treatment, and then to Brooke Army Medical Center in Fort Sam Houston, Texas, where he would succumb to his injuries Nov. 8, at age 35. As the anniversary of his death approaches, those who loved him are newly hopeful: in August, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said he’d support a push to award Cashe the Medal of Honor. The U.S. House of Representatives has already passed a bill waiving a five-year time limitation for awarding the medal; a similar measure is expected to pass soon in the Senate.

Rasnake said he didn’t learn Cashe’s story until a few hours after he and more than a dozen other military medical professionals had finished treating the soldiers and loaded them on an air evacuation flight bound for Germany. He can’t remember who shared the account of what happened in the aftermath of the Bradley explosion. But as word spread among his colleagues and across the base, it provoked a common feeling of awe.

“The discussions we had is, you know, if his actions don’t deserve the Medal of Honor, we had trouble imagining anything that did that would,” Rasnake said.

Cashe was initially nominated for a lesser award, the Silver Star, by his battalion commander, Gary Brito, now a major general. Brito, by his own account, pushed for an upgrade to the Medal of Honor as soon as he learned of the severity of Cashe’s injuries. But as the years passed, no medal upgrade came.

At issue, according to various reports, was difficulty ascertaining accurate witness statements of what took place. While initial accounts led the Army to determine Cashe’s heroism did not take place in active combat, current descriptions — championed by lawmakers — say he dodged enemy fire while hauling body after body out of the vehicle: six soldiers plus an interpreter, who died on the scene. Cashe refused medevac until the others were taken away, according to his Silver Star citation.

The little-known stories of smokejumpers working with the CIA

Mark Rasnake (right) along with doctors Col. Ty Putnam and Maj. James Pollock, Oct 17, 2005. (Photo courtesy of Mark Rasnake)

What Rasnake saw is in none of those accounts, but speaks to the pain and trauma Cashe’s body endured because of his choice not to leave his brothers-in-arms behind.

“The surgeons worked for hours on his wounds and we worked for hours in the intensive care unit to stabilize him for transport. In the end, damage to his lungs made him too sick to be safely transported by plane to our hospital in Germany and then on to a burn center in San Antonio,” Rasnake wrote in his later-published letter home. ” … Our air evac team loaded him into the plane for the six-hour flight to Germany. They had to deliver every breath to him during that flight by squeezing a small bag by hand.”

Rasnake still has clear memories of that night, although the conditions and treatment of specific soldiers is a blur. Off-duty medical staff were called back up before the casualties arrived. A field intensive care unit was heated to treat those suffering from the hypothermia sometimes brought on by severe burns. Doctors had to intubate to keep the badly burned soldiers’ blood oxygenated, and some required surgical incisions to allow burn-traumatized limbs to swell.

Six of the men needed ICU treatment; ultimately, three would succumb to their injuries.

Rasnake had arrived in Iraq earlier that fall, and it wasn’t common for doctors at Balad to keep track of the wounded troops they’d treated once they moved on for additional care. But this case was different.

“It was heartbreaking,” he said. “For the next two weeks … Some of them didn’t make it, including Sgt. Cashe ultimately, and he was the last one to expire of the ones that ultimately died. And it was just heart-wrenching for us to hear what was happening back home … he had the entire [Air Force] 33nd Medical Group following daily what was happening.”

As Rasnake sat typing that first night in his sleeping quarters, not knowing the fate of Cashe or the other men he’d treated, he thought of a hero from his hometown of Greeneville, Tenn.: Marine Sgt. Elbert Kinser, who threw himself on a Japanese grenade in 1945, saving his men and earning the Medal of Honor. A bridge in the city of Tusculum, Tenn., bears his name.

“How many of his friends are still alive to remember the story? How many grew old and had grandchildren because of his sacrifice?” Rasnake wrote. “Did they thank him every day of their lives? The next time I cross that bridge I will stop for just a few minutes of my life to read about a man that gave all of his.”

Now 47, and 13 years out of the Air Force, Rasnake said he never lost hope that Cashe would receive the Medal of Honor that he never doubted the soldier deserved.

“The fact that he’s up for the MOH, reliving this and kind of seeing some closure for him and his family is just amazing,” Rasnake said. “I’m so glad; it’s probably the first piece of good news I’ve gotten in 2020.”

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


MIGHTY MILSPOUSE

Badges and Beards: The Air Force wants your ideas for future uniform updates

Airmen can now tell the Air Force their ideas on where they’d like to see improvements for uniforms, appearance standards, badges and patches and even jewelry, the service announced Thursday.

Starting now, airmen and civilians can submit their recommendations through the Air Force’s website “Airman Powered by Innovation” via a Common Access Card.


“If we want an environment in which Airmen feel valued, we need to create transformative opportunities to foster a culture of innovation and then listen to their ideas,” Lisa Truesdale, Air Force military force policy deputy director, said in a release. “Additionally, wearing the uniform and having pride in your personal appearance enhances esprit de corps.”

Personnel can make recommendations in the following categories, according to the release:

  • Grooming and appearance: such as hairstyles, beards, shaving, etc.
  • Dress uniforms: service dress, mess dress and accessories (e.g. hat, shoes, shirt, belt, tie, ribbons, medals, insignia, etc.)
  • Utility uniform: Operational Camouflage Pattern Uniform associated accessories (e.g. hat, boots, belt, t-shirt, insignia, etc.)
  • Accessories: jewelry, earrings, rings, purses, backpacks, gym bags, phone, headphones, etc.
  • Outer garments: pullover sweater, cardigan sweater, lightweight blue jacket, fleece, etc.
  • Physical Training gear: shorts, pants, jacket, shoes, socks, shirt, etc.
  • Flight Duty uniforms: Two-piece Flight Duty Uniform, Flight Duty Uniform, Desert Flight Duty Uniform and associated accessories (e.g. hat, boots, t-shirt, patches, insignia, etc.)
  • Badges and specialty insignia: organization badges, unit patches, duty identification patches, tabs, etc.
  • Maternity uniforms: service dress, utility, accessories, etc.

A uniform board will review submissions before presenting them to Chief of Staff Gen. Charles “CQ” Brown, who will then move to revise the Air Force Instruction 36-2903, Dress and Personal Appearance Policy. The service will notify those airmen whose ideas were rejected.

The Air Force did not provide a timeline to roll out uniform changes, but said the move is in line with an effort to create a more inclusive culture among the ranks. Criticisms have been recently raised within multiple military services that some uniform and grooming standards, such as hair length and style regulations, unfairly tax or inconvenience non-white troops.

“We want our dress and appearance guidance to be inclusive,” Truesdale said. “We are committed to considering the views of all members. Individuals contribute their highest levels of creativity when they are cared for and feel a sense of belonging.”

The service recently announced it was considering allowing additional hairstyles for women in the service.

During a QA segment during the Air Force Sergeants’ virtual symposium last week, Brown teased the possibility of allowing women to wear ponytails in uniform.

“I just got a package [proposal] yesterday about ponytails for women,” Brown said Aug. 26. “So we’re looking at a number of different things that we’ve got to work through, [where there are] second-order impacts associated,” he said.

That review is part of an ongoing effort to “improve dress and appearance policies,” where applicable, Capt. Leah Brading, a service spokeswoman, told Military.com. “We are looking at hairstyle and grooming policies, including the possibility of various new options for women,” Brading said in an email.

It was not immediately clear if the IdeaScale crowdsourcing project will overshadow the ongoing hairstyle review. The Air Force could not provide additional details by press time.

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

Articles

America’s top strategic bomber once had devastating tail guns

The B-52 has been serving in America’s nuclear deterrent arsenal since 1952. But a lot has changed on the BUFF and its mission since it was on the front line against the Soviet Union during the Cold War.


The strategic bomber has gone from being designed to deliver huge nuclear bombs on Russia to dropping precision-guided conventional bombs on al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. Today, it is far more likely to deliver its nukes using air-launched cruise missiles than a gravity bomb.

But little did most people know that part of its post-World War II heritage equipped the lengthy bomber with tail guns.

The retirement of Chief Master Sgt. Rob Wellbaum is notable since he was the last of the B-52 tail gunners in the Air Force. Most versions of the BUFF had four .50-caliber M3 machine guns – fast-firing versions of the historic Ma Deuce (1,000 rounds per minute, according to GlobalSecurity.org) that were also used on the F-86 Sabre. Two B-52 versions went with different armament options, the B-52B (twin 20mm cannon in some planes) and the B-52H (an M61 Vulcan).

The little-known stories of smokejumpers working with the CIA
This is what a B-52’s tail looks like now, with the M61 Vulcan removed. A sad sight. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

In the B-52G and H, the tail gunners were in the main cabin, using a remotely operated turret. Earlier models had the tail gunners sitting in a shooters seat in the rear of the plane, providing the BUFF an extra set of eyes to detect SAM launches.

Those tail guns even saw some action. During the Vietnam War, three B-52Ds used their tail guns to score kills. All three of the victims were North Vietnamese MiG-21 Fishbeds, who found out the hard way that the BUFFs weren’t helpless targets on their six.

The B-52s up to the G model ultimately used the MD-9 fire-control system for the tail guns. The B-52G used the AN/ASG-15 for its remotely-operated quad .50 caliber turret while the B-52H used the AN/ASG-21 to guide its M61 Vulcan.

The little-known stories of smokejumpers working with the CIA
A F-4G Wild Weasel, the plane involved in the friendly fire incident that prompted the removal of the tail guns and tail gunners from the B-52. (USAF photo)

An incident during Operation Desert Storm, though, would soon change things for the BUFF. A friendly-fire incident occurred when a tailgunner thought an Iraqi plane was closing in. The plane was actually an Air Force F-4G Wild Weasel. The crew of the U.S. jet mistook the B-52G’s AN/ASG-15 for an enemy air-defense system. The Weasel crew fired an AGM-88 High-speed Anti-Radiation Missile, which damaged the BUFF. The BUFF returned to base, and was reportedly named “In HARM’s Way” as a result.

Shortly after the misunderstanding, the Air Force announced that the tail guns were going away.

So, for all intents and purposes, a generation has passed since the B-52 had a tail gunner. Gone are the days when a fighter had to watch its steps when trying to get behind the B-52. To get a glimpse at what was lost, check out the video below.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

The survivalist’s guide to fashioning a blade from scraps

As far as useful tools in a jam go, it’s tough to beat the general practicality of a knife. Whether it’s marking a trail, field dressing an animal, or defending yourself, a sharp piece of steel on your hip can solve a number of problems you may face in a survival situation; which is exactly why so many people maintain a good quality knife in their EDC (Everyday Carry) loadout. But what if you find yourself stuck in a long-term survival situation without ready access to a knife?


You could go on without one, or you could make one, using nothing but a few common hand tools and some scrap metal.


The little-known stories of smokejumpers working with the CIA

I found this scrap carbon steel in a metal recycling bin behind my neighbors shop.

Scrap metal

The first thing you need to do is find yourself a suitable piece of metal. While you can usually get a sense of the sort of metal you’re working with with a visual inspection (stainless steel holds a shine while carbon steel will brown or rust, for instance), your top priority is finding a sturdy piece of metal that’s somewhat close to the size and shape of a knife. The closer it starts in size, the easier a day you’ll have. For a good survival knife that fits well in my hand, I usually prefer a piece of metal that’s somewhere between 10 and 12 inches long, less than a half inch thick, and 1.5 to 2 inches wide, but it may take some work to cut your piece into those dimensions.

Low carbon scrap steel is soft and doesn’t make for excellent knives, but in a pinch, even a rusting blade that needs sharpening is better than no blade at all.

Tools

There’s no getting around the need to have a hack saw when working with metal. In fact, if the scrap metal you locate is too long, it’s the only tool you can’t do without. Beyond that, all you really need is a metal file or access to plenty of sidewalks or blacktop. Any of the three will do.
The little-known stories of smokejumpers working with the CIA

Other tools that could help are a C-clamp or vice, sharpie, clips, and sandpaper.

Cut the steel into the general shape of a blade

Use your hacksaw to cut your scrap steel until it meets your general length and width requirements. The harder the steel (based on carbon levels and if it’s been treated) the harder the cutting will be. Be patient and careful not to hurt yourself. If you need to make this knife, chances are good no ambulances will be coming if you suffer a nasty gash.

The little-known stories of smokejumpers working with the CIA

If you don’t have a clamp, you can step on the handle and saw near your feet for leverage.

Once you’ve got it cut somewhat to shape, saw off a corner to create what will become the point of the blade. If the steel is too wide to fit into your hand comfortably, you can keep on hacking to narrow down the handle portion as well. This is a lot more work, but can also provide a ridge if you’d like to add a handguard down the road.

The little-known stories of smokejumpers working with the CIA

The ridge between the handle and blade creates a stop on one side for a handguard when you’re making more elaborate knives.

Grind, grind, grind

If you have a metal file, hold the knife in one hand while carefully using the file to shape the profile of the blade. Be careful, if you have access to a vice, put the blade in it while you work. If not, finding a pair of work gloves can help keep the skin on your fingers.

The little-known stories of smokejumpers working with the CIA

By using the width of the metal to dictate the size of the blade, you only need to shape one corner.

Once the rough profile of the blade has been shaped, re-orient how you hold the knife to work on the blade’s edge. This will take a long time, and if you’re so inclined, you could spend a whole day or more making one very pretty, even edge. If you’re in a hurry, however, file it down until you have a reasonably fine point and a good sharp edge and leave looking pretty for the guys that aren’t making their own knives out of garbage.

The little-known stories of smokejumpers working with the CIA

If you don’t have a metal file, you’re not out of luck. Sidewalks and black top are very abrasive surfaces, and you can whittle away at the metal edge of your blade using either with enough patience and care. This is a great way to shave your knuckles, and you will ruin your driveway, but I’ve managed to fashion a workable blade or two using this method.

Making a handle

Depending on the tools you have on hand, there are probably rough metal splinters hanging off the edges of your knife and once your hand gets sweaty (or bloody) keeping a grip will be impossible. Fortunately, there are lots of materials that make for decent handles.

The little-known stories of smokejumpers working with the CIA

You can put some real time in to weave a leather strap, or just tightly wrap 550 cord around the handle.

Lots of military guys are familiar with making things out of paracord, and knife handles are no exception. Leather belts, rope, and duct tape are all excellent knife handle materials. Wrap the material around the handle of the knife as tightly as you can, overlapping it by however many layers as necessary to make the handle a comfortable girth.

Then get your ass out of dodge with your new prison-shank in hand.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

Check out this jetpack suit’s debut with Royal Navy ships

Inventor and former Royal Marines reservist Richard Browning tested a jet-powered suit that allows the wearer to hover and hop between surfaces — in this case, the fast patrol boat HMS Dasher and Royal Navy test boats.

Browning tested his jet-powered suit in the Solent, a body of water between mainland Britain and the Isle of Wight in the UK.

“Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No it’s Rocket Man! Inventor, pilot and former Royal Marines Reservist Richard Browning, along side HMS Dasher, tested his jet-powered body suit over the water of the Solent for the very first time,” the Royal Navy announced via Twitter on July 30, 2019.


The jetpack had been tested on land, but Browning wanted to test whether it could be used on moving ships. A small landing and launch pad was set up on the Dasher, from which Browning could move between the vessels.

Video shows Browning easily hopping between the Dasher, a P2000 patrol vessel, and two rigid-hull inflatable boats, all moving at 20 knots.

Real life Rocket Man debuts over water

www.youtube.com

“Richard made taking off and landing on the P2000 look so easy,” Lt. Lauren Webber said in a Royal Navy press release.

The jet suit, built by Browning’s Gravity Industries, can fly for five to 10 minutes, and has a maximum speed of 32 miles per hour, according to the company’s website. Five turbines — one on each forearm, one on each side, and one on the user’s back, allow the user to control movement and blast up to 12,000 feet in the air.

The Drive reports that the suit is highly automated, with information about the suit’s fuel level and other technical statuses transmitted to the user’s helmet display. The Drive also reports that the suit has a wi-fi link so a ground team can keep track of the suit and its wearer.

Despite the excitement about the jet suit, the UK Ministry of Defence has not purchased any as of yet, The Drive reports. At Bastille Day celebrations in June 2019, French inventor Franky Zapata zoomed over the crowd in his Flyboard Air, which allows for a 90-minute flight time. French Prime Minister Emmanuel Macron tweeted video of the display, hinting that the device might eventually be used in combat.

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

MIGHTY TRENDING

The Navy used to have nuclear-powered cruisers

While nuclear-powered carriers and submarines are all the rage in the U.S. Navy today, the sea-going service used to have a much wider nuclear portfolio with nuclear-powered destroyers and cruisers that could sail around the world with no need to refuel, protecting carrier and projecting American power ashore with missiles and guns.


The little-known stories of smokejumpers working with the CIA
The USS Long Beach fires a Terrier missile in 1961. (U.S. Navy)

 

The first nuclear surface combatant in the world wasn’t a carrier, it was the USS Long Beach, a cruiser launched in 1959. That ship was followed by eight other nuclear cruisers, Truxtun, California, South Carolina, Virginia, Texas, Mississippi, and Arkansas. The Arkansas was the last nuclear-powered cruiser launched, coming to sea in 1980.

During the same period, a nuclear-powered destroyer, the USS Bainbridge, took to the seas as well. Due to changes in ship nomenclature over the period, it was a frigate when designed, a destroyer when launched, but would be classified as a cruiser by the time the ship retired.

The head of the Navy’s nuclear program for decades was Adm. Hyman G. Rickover who had a vision for an entirely nuclear-powered carrier battle group. This would maximize the benefits of nuclear vessels and create a lethal American presence in the ocean that could run forever with just an occasional shipment of food, spare parts, and replacement personnel.

The little-known stories of smokejumpers working with the CIA
The Navy launched Operation Sea Orbit where nuclear-powered ships sailed together in 1964. This is the USS Enterprise, a carrier; the USS Long Beach, a cruiser; and the USS Bainbridge, classified at the time as a destroyer. (U.S. Navy)

 

The big advantage of nuclear vessels, which required many more highly trained personnel as well as a lot of hull space for the reactor, was that they could sail forever at their top speed. The speed thing was a big advantage. They weren’t necessarily faster than their conventionally fueled counterparts, but gas and diesel ships had to time their sprints for maximum effect since going fast churned through fuel.

That meant conventional vessels couldn’t sail too fast for submarines to catch them, couldn’t sprint from one side of the ocean to the other during contingency operations, and relied on tankers to remain on station for extended periods of time.

Nuclear vessels got around all these problems, but their great speed and endurance only really helped them if they weren’t accompanied by conventional ships. After all, the cruisers and destroyer can’t sprint across the ocean if that means they are outrunning the rest of the fleet in dangerous waters.

The little-known stories of smokejumpers working with the CIA
The Navy detonates an explosive charge off the starboard side of the USS Arkansas, a nuclear-powered cruiser, during sea trials. (U.S. Navy Photographer’s Mate 1st Class Toon)

 

That’s why Rickover wanted a full nuclear battle group. It could move as a single unit and enjoy its numerous advantages without being slowed down by other ships.

And the ships were quite lethal when they arrived. Nuclear carriers at the time were similar to those today, sailing at a decent clip of about 39 mph (33.6 knots) while carrying interceptor aircraft and bombers.

The 10 nuclear cruisers (counting the Bainbridge as a cruiser), were guided-missile cruisers. Four ships were Virginia-Class ships focused on air defense but also featuring weapons needed to attack enemy submarines and ships as well as to bombard enemy shores.

The other most common nuclear cruiser was the California Class with three ships. The California Class was focused on offensive weaponry, capable of taking the fight to enemy ships with Harpoon missiles, subs with anti-submarine rockets and torpedoes, and enemy shores with missiles and guns. But, it could defend itself and its fleet with surface-to-air missiles and other weapons.

The little-known stories of smokejumpers working with the CIA
Ticonderoga-class cruisers like the USS Hue City, front, and Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyers like the USS Oscar Austin, rear, replaced the nuclear cruisers. (U.S. Navy Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Kristopher Wilson)

 

But the nuclear fleet had one crippling problem: expense. Rickover knew that to ensure that the larger Navy and America would continue to embrace nuclear power at sea, the ships had to be extremely dependable and secure. To do this, ships needed good shielding and a highly capable, highly trained crew.

Nuclear cruisers had about 600 sailors in each crew, while the Ticonderoga-class that took to the sea in 1983 required 350. And the Ticonderoga crew could be more quickly and cheaply trained since those sailors didn’t need to go through nuclear training.

Also, the reactors took up a lot of space within the hull, requiring larger ships than conventional ones with the same battle capabilities. So, when budget constraints came up in the 1990s, the nuclear fleet was sent to mothballs except for the carriers.

And even at that stage, the nuclear cruisers cost more than their counterparts. Conventional cruisers can be sold to allied navies, commercial interests, or sent to common scrap yards after their service. Nuclear cruisers require expensive decommissioning and specially trained personnel to deal with the reactors and irradiated steel.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How US special-operations forces helped the US military win its first post-Cold War victory

  • As the threat from the Soviet Union declined in the early 1990s, a new challenge for the US arose in the Middle East.
  • The first Gulf War was a textbook conventional war, but it featured an array special-operations missions that helped secure victory.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

Soon after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War, the US military shifted its focus from Russia to the Middle East.

In August 1990, Saddam Hussein’s Iraq invaded neighboring Kuwait, starting an international crisis that would end with Iraq’s defeat by a US-led coalition six months later.

Although Operation Desert Storm is considered a textbook conventional war, it was full of special-operations missions.

Let us into the fight!

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Delta Force personnel in civilian clothes guarding Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf during the first Gulf War in 1991. 

The first and biggest hurdle US special-operations units faced was getting into the battle.

Army Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, the four-star commander of US Central Command and the war’s military leader, viewed unconventional-warfare units with skepticism.

Initially, Schwarzkopf was adamantly against special-operations units having any significant role in the conflict — though he did accept some Delta Force operators as personal bodyguards.

Conversely, his second-in-command, British Gen. Sir Peter de la Billière, immediately called in the Special Air Service (SAS), which he had served in and commanded, and Special Boat Service (SBS). The SAS and SBS, the British equivalents of Delta Force and SEAL Team 6, respectively, offered unconventional-warfare options to the war effort.

Meanwhile, after some persuasion from the White House and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Schwarzkopf relaxed his no-commandos policy.

Here is a brief breakdown of the notable operations they conducted.

US Army Special Forces

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Members of US Army Special Forces Operational Detachment Alpha 525. 

Army Special Forces operators set up observation posts on the Saudi-Kuwaiti border to monitor Iraqi moves. Special Forces teams also conducted prisoner-snatching operations to provide the Coalition with more human intelligence, perhaps the most valuable form of intel.

One team, Special Forces Operational Detachment Alpha 525, was compromised when Iraqi boys spotted its members conducting a special reconnaissance operation 150 miles inside Iraq.

Alpha 525 chose not to kill the boys and instead tried to escape and evade. Over the following hours, the Iraqi Army almost overwhelmed them numerous times. The Green Berets escaped only because of their disciplined marksmanship and the close-air-support they received.

Special Forces teams also conducted Foreign Internal Defense (FID) by training allies and partner forces. Although not as shiny as raids and ambushes, FID was key to the victory because it brought Coalition units up to speed and was the glue that kept the multi-national force together.

Green Berets embedded with coalition units also served as liaisons, primarily between coalition units and US aircraft, and called close-air-support.

British Special Air Service and Special Boat Service

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British infantry during Operation Desert Storm. 

British special-operations units played a vital role in the military buildup during Operation Desert Shield and during combat in Operation Desert Storm.

Alongside their US counterparts, SAS and SBS operators hunted for SCUD missiles in the Iraqi desert and conducted special reconnaissance along the Saudi-Iraqi border and within Iraq.

SBS operators also conducted a highly publicized assault on the British Embassy in Kuwait City, which the Iraqis had captured.

They also participated in a lesser-known operation on the outskirts of Baghdad, in which nearly a full squadron of SBS operators, accompanied by some American commandos from a Tier 1 unit specializing in signals intelligence, went after the Iraqi Army’s underground fiber-optics communications network. Saddam had used the network to communicate with his mobile SCUD launchers in the desert.

Ferried in by two special-operations Chinook helicopters, the joint commando force spent close to two hours on the ground digging for the cables. With dawn approaching, the operators managed to locate the cables and rig them with explosives, destroying them and frustrating Saddam’s communication with his most dangerous weapons.

US Navy SEALs

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Members of Navy SEAL Team 8 and French commandoes hang on a special patrol insertion/extraction rope secured to a CH-46D helicopter as part of an exercise during during Operation Desert Storm, February 1991. 

Navy SEALs conducted special reconnaissance operations along the Iraqi and Kuwaiti coasts to gather intelligence on Iraqi moves.

In the first hours of the ground war, SEALs conducted diversionary raids on the coast to fool the Iraqis into thinking that a large-scale amphibious operation was coming. The diversion — bolstered by the presence of US battleships — worked, allowing Coalition ground troops to arrive from the desert in the opposite direction and overwhelm the Iraqis.

SEALs conducted Visit, Board, Search, and Seizure (VBSS) operations in the Persian Gulf, often assaulting suspicious ships, and a SEAL element from SEAL Team Two went ashore to destroy a Tomahawk missile that had failed to detonate in order to prevent the Iraqis from getting the technology.

A SEAL platoon was also one of the first US units to enter Kuwait City during its liberation.

US Army Rangers

A battalion of Rangers was sent to Saudi Arabia as a quick-reaction force for the Tier 1 units.

The Rangers were also to assist Delta Force if it mounted a hostage-rescue operation in Iraq or Kuwait to free any of the hundreds of Westerners who Saddam captured in during the invasion and held as human shields.

Rangers also conducted a raid against a telecommunications tower near the Jordanian-Iraqi border, destroying it and capturing several prisoners.

US Air Force Commandos

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A Pararescueman meets a Navy F-14 pilot during the Gulf War’s first successful combat search-and-rescue operation, January 21, 1991. 

Air Commandos don’t usually get as much publicity as their sister-service comrades because more often than not Pararescuemen, Combat Controllers, Special Operations Weather Technicians (now Special Reconnaissance operators), and Tactical Air Control Party airmen are attached to other special-operations units as individuals.

During Desert Shield and Desert Storm, Air Commandos mainly saw action alongside Delta operators in the hunt for the SCUD missiles. But they also did some traditional Air Commando tasks.

A Pararescue element conducted the first rescue operation of the war on January 21, 1991, after a Navy F-14 Tomcat was shot down in Iraq. A special-operations MH-53J Pave Low helicopter carried the team behind enemy lines to save the pilot, though the F-14’s radar officer was captured.

But not all missions went well. During the Battle of Khafji, in a Saudi city close to Kuwait’s border, an AC-130H Spectre gunship was shot down by an Iraqi portable surface-to-air missile, killing its 14-man crew—the largest loss of life in a single incident in Air Force Special Operations Command’s history.

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

MIGHTY HISTORY

7 insane American inventions from the Victorian Era

The steampunk movement is most associated with a definitive style of fashion and design which incorporates aspects of Victorian fashion accessorized with industrial materials. Most steampunk-inspired pieces — be it costumes or objects — are fantastical in nature and pull inspiration from science fiction. In honor of the United States Patent and Trademark Office issuing their historic 10 Millionth utility patent, take a look at some of our favorite steampunk-style patents!


1. Diving Dress

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Why choose between a submarine and a dress when you can have both? This 1810 patent offers divers the convenience of being submerged underwater in a spacious tent-like dress.

2. Birthday Cake Dish

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This birthday cake dish and candle holder would surely be the prize of any steampunk enthusiast’s collection. With its elaborate tiers and Victorian elements, this patent would be perfect for any birthday celebration.

3. Coffin for Preserving Life

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Pulling from Steampunk’s strong ties to science fiction, this 1845 coffin is designed to deliver air to its occupants when death is “doubtful.”

4. Harp Guitar

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This 1831 patent features a design for a harp guitar. Steampunk enthusiasts often use pieces of various instruments in their designs, so we think this patent would make any collector proud.

5. Flying Machine

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Flying apparatuses are a mainstay of steampunk culture. Take a look at this patent from 1869! Perfect for crashing a party or escaping a villain’s lair in the sky.

6. Toy Gymnast

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This drawing features the plans for an 1876 toy gymnast, with a variety of gears and mechanisms that have inspired much of the steampunk fashion movement. It’s the perfect gift for the steampunk baby’s nursery.

7. Chicken goggles

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Goggles are a classic part of the steampunk look. Whether your avian companion is traveling in your dirigible, or just hanging out in the backyard pecking at the dirt, your chicken will be ready for any kind of adventure.

This article originally appeared on National Archives. Follow @USNatArchives on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

5 lesser-known facts about the most decorated soldier in American history

No other soldier in American history has ever come close to earning the level of respect dutifully given to Lieutenant Audie Murphy. To date, no other soldier has managed to earn every single award for valor — including the Medal of Honor, two Silver Stars, and three Bronze Stars.

His legendary story has humble beginnings — he was a 5’5″, 17-year-old kid from Texas who tried to enlist with every branch and wasn’t admitted until he falsified his age to get into the Army. His heroic exploits are countless: Jumping on a burning tank and mowing down Nazis, single-handedly taking out German armor, and out-shooting snipers at every turn. If you’ve seen it in an action film and thought to yourself, “no way,” Audie Murphy probably did it.

But this isn’t a retelling of his high-profile heroics. If you’ve served in the U.S. military and don’t know the story of this man, then you should probably be doing push-ups and ordering a book about him right now. For the rest of you, enjoy these lesser-known facts about the legendary Audie Murphy


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Then, of course, came what he would be known for — fighting in Germany.

(Signal Corps Archives)

His rise in the ranks

After Pearl Harbor, Murphy was desperate to enlist. He finally got into the Army as a private on June 30, 1942 — just ten days after his 17th birthday. By February 20, 1943, he was shipped to Casablanca as part of the North Africa Campaign.

He was promoted to PFC while training for Sicily in May and, upon landing at Licata in July, he made corporal. After taking Campania in December, he was promoted to sergeant. He was again promoted to staff sergeant just a month later. He earned the Bronze Star with a “V” device and an oak leaf cluster before finishing up in Italy and moving onto the rest of Europe.

In less than a year, he went from private to staff sergeant.

The little-known stories of smokejumpers working with the CIA

Murphy wanted to make a second film, titled ‘The Way Back,’ that chronicled his life after service, but it never came to fruition.

(Universal Pictures)

His acting career

After the war, he was offered the opportunity to attend West Point, but instead decided to pursue a career in acting. He practiced Shakespeare in his free time until he landed his first major role in The Kid From Texas, in which he played Billy the Kid.

Meanwhile, Murphy was working alongside one of his Army buddies to write a semi-autobiographical novel, To Hell and Back, which was adapted to film — Murphy played the lead role. In both the book and resulting film, he downplayed some elements of his service during the war as to avoid accusations of exaggeration. That’s how badass his actual actions were.

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Even in his darkest hours, he was still a fantastic human being.

(Whispering Smith)

He never wanted to sell out 

To put it bluntly, Audie Murphy had hit rock bottom in the 60s. He suffered from an addiction to the prescription drug Placidyl – a habit that he kicked by locking himself in a motel room until he was clean – became reclusive, attempted suicide several times, and lost much of his money to gambling and poor investments.

Throughout all of his struggles, however, he got offers to star in commercials for cigarettes and alcohol. Taking a single deal would have put him back on his feet, but he knew that if he took the money, he’d be setting a bad example for the countless children who looked up to him — so he declined them all.

The little-known stories of smokejumpers working with the CIA

The gravestone was made before it came to light that he and his sister had falsified his year of birth so he could serve in WWII. He was actually born in 1925.

His grave is one of the most visited graves at Arlington

On May 28, 1971,Audie Murphy boarded a private jet in Atlanta, Georgia, and made hisway toward Martinsville, Virginia. There was heavy fog but the pilot chose to fly through it. The Aero Commander 680 carrying Murphycrashed into the side of Brush Mountain, 20 miles west of Roanoke. There were no survivors.

He was buried with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery,Section 46, headstone number 46-366-11. Outside of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldierand President John F. Kennedy, Murphy’s headstone is the most-visited grave. The volumeof tourists visiting to pay respects was so great that they had to buildan entirely new flagstone walkway to accommodatethe foot traffic.

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I’ve had the honor of serving under a few S.A.M.C. members. To this day, many years later, I know that they’d gladly give me the shirt off their back at the drop of a dime.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Kamaile Chan)

A club of the finest NCOs in the Army is named in his honor

The spirit of Audie Murphy lives on through the outstanding non-commissioned officers of the United States Army. Formed in 1986, the Sergeant Audie Murphy Club recognizes the most professional, most intelligent, and most decorated leaders in the Army today.

The requirements for entry into this club are stringent, but above all, an NCO must be known for putting the well-being of his or her soldiers above their own. Earning the medallion is one of the surest ways to let the troops serving under you know that they’ll be well taken care of.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Why the LEGION Act is a big deal for veterans

In July 2019, President Trump signed into law the Let Everyone Get Involved in Opportunities for National Service Act – the LEGION Act. In brief, the legislation says the United States has been in a period of constant warfare since Dec. 7, 1941, the day the Japanese Empire bombed Pearl Harbor and brought the United States into World War II.


What this means for other areas of the law is up for other people to debate. What this means for veterans is that servicemen and women who were killed or wounded in previously undeclared periods of war are now eligible for expanded benefits.

The most apparent benefit of the new LEGION Act legislation is that now every veteran who served since the bombing of Pearl Harbor is eligible to join the American Legion. This will affect some 1,600 veterans who were killed or wounded during their service, which just so happened to be during a previously undeclared period of global conflict. The American Legion says this act honors their service and sacrifice.

“This new law honors the memories of those veterans while allowing other veterans from those previously undeclared eras to receive all the American Legion benefits they have earned through their service,” said American Legion National Judge Advocate Kevin Bartlett.

This also means the eligibility window will run until the U.S. is no longer at war, which – historically speaking – may never happen.

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The war in Afghanistan alone has outlasted two uniform designs.

Veterans with an interest in joining the American Legion still need to meet the other requirements of membership, such as having an honorable discharge. Joining the Legion means more than finding cheap drinks at the local post. The American Legion is not only a club for veterans, it’s also a powerful lobby in Congress and offers its membership benefits like temporary financial assistance, scholarship eligibility, and even help in getting VA disability claims through the system.

By expanding its network to include thousands of new veterans, the American Legion is better able to leverage its membership with members of Congress as well as state and local elected officials and legislative bodies – after all, it was the American Legion who drafted the first GI Bill legislation and helped to create the Department of Veterans Affairs.

So feel free to stop by for more than just a cheap beer.

Articles

These two ironclad ships almost allowed the South to win the Civil War

Birkenhead, England, is an odd place for a discussion of the U.S. Civil War, but two ships built in the Laird and Sons Shipyard there nearly provided the seapower necessary for the South to break the blockade, get recognized as a sovereign nation, and win their war for independence.


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The HMS Wivern was originally commissioned by the Confederate Navy and was expected to tip the Civil War for the Confederacy. (Photo: U.S. Naval Historical Center)

All that stood in the South’s way was a group of dedicated diplomats and spies who managed to get the ships seized, guaranteeing Union naval superiority and helping end the war.

The Laird shipyards had a strong preference for Confederates during the war and had constructed a number of ships ordered through Confederate Comdr. James D. Bulloch, an uncle to future-President Theodore Roosevelt.

The most famous Laird ship ordered by Bulloch for the Confederacy was the CSS Alabama. The Alabama was technically ordered as a British merchant ship but was outfitted with a Confederate crew and weapons after launch. It went on to destroy 67 Union vessels — mostly merchant ships — before it was sunk.

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Confederate officers aboard the CSS Alabama, 1863.

But Bulloch and the Laird company had plans for two even more ambitious and imposing ships. The “El Tousson” and “El Monassir” were, on paper, destined for Egypt but were actually commissioned by Bulloch for the Confederacy.

The two ships are often described as the most powerful in the world at that time and they were custom-built for breaking the Union blockade of the South and with it the Union’s grand “Anaconda Plan” for the war. The Anaconda Plan rested entirely upon Union control of the seas and rivers.

The “Laird Rams” — as they were known — were nearly identical copies of one another. Each ship was 242 feet long and equipped with a seven-foot ram at the front that would allow them to punch holes in enemy ships below the waterline. Each ship also boasted iron armor and two turrets carrying 220-pounder Armstrong cannons.

For those unfamiliar with naval armaments, “220-pounder” doesn’t refer to the weight of the gun, it refers to the weight of each shell. And each gun was “rapidly firing” for the time.

And that iron armor was a game changer in the Civil War. Sufficient iron armor made a ship nearly invulnerable, as the navies learned after the first battle between ironclads took place in 1862. The three-hour battle on March 9, 1862, ended as a tie because neither ship could sufficiently damage the other.

The little-known stories of smokejumpers working with the CIA
(Painting: J.O. Davidson)

The “Laird Rams” were so imposing that Assistant Secretary of the Navy G. V. Fox wrote to John M. Forbes, an American sent to England to either get the rams for the Union or else stop the delivery to the Confederates:

You must stop them at all hazards, as we have no defense against them … As to guns, we have not one in the whole country fit to fire at an ironclad…it is a question of life and death.

Early indications were that the British would allow the rams to launch and eventually join the Confederate cause, but diplomats pressuring Great Britain to follow its neutrality obligations slowly made headway.

At the start of the war, the British position was that it couldn’t allow its shipbuilders to sell any warships to a belligerent in war, but that they could sell unarmed merchant ships to anyone without concern as to whether the ship would be later outfitted with weapons.

This was how the Confederacy received many of its early ships. But the Union State Department pressured the English government to start blocking the launches of ships that were destined for wartime duty by basically threatening war if they didn’t.

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The HMS Scorpion was originally ordered by the Confederate Navy. (Engraving: U.S. Naval Historical Center)

But the British required a high threshold of proof that a ship was destined for the war before they would seize it from the shipyards. American consuls and spies in England gathered information on every ship as fast as they could.

Their first major target, the CSS Florida, was still able to reach the water because the evidence against the ship was improperly collected and documented and therefore inadmissible. The consuls and spies tried again with the Alabama and were successful, but not in time. The Alabama launched just before British forces could arrive to seize her.

When it came to the two Laird rams, though, the U.S. pulled out all the stops. They bribed dock officials, recruited spies and informants, and even promised a young mechanic help getting a job in America if he first worked in the Laird shipyards and collected information for them.

The mechanic agreed but was just a boy. When the child’s mother learned of the plan, she threatened to expose the spy operation and the U.S. backed off.

The first ram, the El Tousson, was launched into the water and was being equipped for sea while its sister ship was receiving final touches in the shipyard in October 1863. The U.S. made its final, last-ditch case to the British that the ships were destined for the Confederate war effort.

To add to the pressure, the U.S. ambassador promised war if the ships were allowed to launch, and the English government gave in.

The British Royal Navy deployed two warships, the HMS Liverpool and the HMS Goshawk, to prevent the rams leaving the docks. British sailors were deployed aboard each ship to ensure that no Confederate or allied crew could steal them from the docks. The ships were eventually purchased by the British as the HMS Scorpion and HMS Wivern.

This likely saved the war for the Union. While other Confederate ships made their names sailing the high seas and attacking Union merchant ships, the rams were designed to break the back of the Union ships enforcing the blockade.

Two nearly indestructible ships capable of sinking almost any ship in the blockade would have allowed the Confederacy to sweep it away, re-opening the smuggling trade that helped finance the land war early on. The Union Army would have been hard pressed to win with the two rams erasing the Union’s naval dominance.

MIGHTY MOVIES

Leaked Star Wars Episode IX poster makes a huge change

The first promotional poster for the long-awaited Star Wars: Episode IX has hit the internet and it’s pretty shocking. What’s shocking about the poster isn’t what it depicts, but rather, what — and who — is missing. In fact, this is the first promotional image for a new Star Wars movie since 2005 that hasn’t contained a big-deal character from the original classic trilogy. (The Force Awakens had Han and Leia, and The Last Jedi had Luke and Leia. Even the Rogue One poster had Darth Vader!) So, sure, with this one, you’ve got Chewbacca and a hardcore version of C-3PO repping for the ’70s and ’80s, but Leia and Luke (who are both confirmed for the film!) are missing from this poster. What could that mean?


On March 27, 2019, the Star Wars fan-run site Making Star Wars posted leaked art for what they are calling a “retail” poster for Star Wars: Episode IX. This image does not contain the long-awaited title for that movie but also notably omits any depiction of the Skywalker twins — Leia Oranga and Luke Skywalker. (Note: StarWars.com has not posted this yet. This is a leak discovered by a fan site.) Is this legit? Seems like it.

Still, though this leak looks legit, this isn’t necessarily the “official” movie poster. It could be a promotional collage created for anything from a toy package to a cereal box. The point is, we’re not sure what this image is intended for. But there are several things about it that are interesting. In order, here’s the big stuff.

  • Kylo Ren is wearing his helmet, which, we saw him break into a million little pieces during a hissy fit in The Last Jedi. (So is it really Kylo Ren? Or someone rocking his style?)
  • Kylo Ren is holding his lightsaber at a weird angle, which really makes you wonder if it’s actually him. Like is this his new fighting style?
  • Rey’s lightsaber seems to be in one piece. (It was destroyed in The Last Jedi. What’s up with that?)
  • On the upper right, we can see Naomi Ackie as “Jannah.” (She’s rumored to be Lando’s daughter.)
  • The masked character behind Poe Dameron on the right is thought to be “Zorri.” This is probably who Kerri Russell is playing in the movie!
  • The Knights of Ren are back, and seemingly, not in a flashback. (Are they gonna take their masks off or what?)
  • C-3PO is holding a weapon, that looks almost exactly like Chewbacca’s famous bowcaster. Most Star Wars pundits don’t think this a cropping mistake. It seems like this is totally real. (Does this mean C-3PO is gonna be a badass now?)
  • New all-red Stormtroopers are revealed. The rumor here is they only report to Kylo Ren.
  • The title is not revealed.
  • And finally…Rose, Luke, Leia, and R2-D2 are all missing from the poster.

Jason Ward, who runs Making Star Wars has theorized, that this leaked art isn’t final. His theory — which makes sense — is this is an early concept piece which might not reflect what is actually happening in the movie.

Right now, the first trailer and title-reveal for Star Wars: Episode IX are both expected in a few weeks at Star Wars Celebration, a convention that takes place from April 11- April 15, 2019, in Chicago. Back in 2017, the title for The Last Jedi dropped before the first trailer, but the trailer itself did debut at Star Wars Celebration.

Star Wars: Episode IX is out everywhere on Dec. 20, 2019.

This article originally appeared on Fatherly. Follow @FatherlyHQ on Twitter.

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