That time one Egyptian soldier held off an entire Israeli advance - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

That time one Egyptian soldier held off an entire Israeli advance

History is written by the victors, so we don’t hear a lot of stories from the armies of those who lost the war. For stories of heroism to spread, it’s essential that some of the losers survive in combat to tell those stories. 

But the story of Sgt. Sayed Zakaria Khalil is said to have spread, not because of his fellow Egyptians, but  because of the Israeli soldier who killed him in combat.

In 1973, Egypt and Syria launched a surprise attack on Israel during the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur, Judaism’s holiest day. The idea was to get the jump on Israel, sneak attacking them the way the Israelis had attacked Egypt in the 1967 Six Day War. That was when Israel had captured the entirety of the Sinai Peninsula from the Egyptians and Egypt wanted it back. 

At first, the move worked. At first. 

Soon, however, the Syrian fighters in the Golan Heights began to crumble and the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) entered Syrian territory. The Israeli focus soon shifted to the Egyptians. Egypt made quick gains in the Sinai but were about to feel the IDF for the first time during the war. 

Egypt lasted much longer than they did in 1967, but not by much, on the scale of wars. And it didn’t end well. The entire war went almost three full weeks, and Israel’s troops not only crossed the Suez and entered Egypt, they came within six miles of the Egyptian capital. 

It was another rout for Egypt, but there was one thing they could be proud of: Sgt. Sayed Zakaria Khalil.

What does it say about a single soldier that can handle a superior force (in numbers, technology, and training) as the rest of his unit fades away? The Israelis were already on the move and the Egyptian army needed time to escape back across the Suez Canal when the 24-year-old Egyptian paratrooper landed along the other side of the Mitla Pass in the Sinai, near Mount Jalala.

The Egyptian Army needed a full extra day to escape across the Suez and return to Egypt or they would be destroyed in the Sinai. It was up to Sgt. Khalil’s unit to give them the time. 

Khalil was waiting for the Israeli advance at the pass and, having traded his food for ammunition due to Ramadan fasting, felt he was as ready as he would ever be. Soon, IDF tanks came rumbling into the area. 

Under the cover of darkness, he and four others attacked and disabled 7 Israeli tanks before blending back into the mountainside. 

Now that the Israelis were aware of the Egyptian presence, they dropped paratroopers of their own in to eliminate the threat. This is where accounts get murky. 

Some say Khalil and his fellow paratroopers were attacked by 100 IDF troops. Some accounts say Khalil shot down an Israeli aircraft from the ground. Some accounts say he destroyed 3 tanks and killed 22 enemy soldiers. What is clear is that Khalil fought the Israelis for hours, until he was the last Egyptian in his unit still alive. 

According to one Israeli account, Sgt. Khalil took a position that allowed him to fend off and kill 22 Israeli troops before being overcome by machine gun fire himself. That account came from the Israeli who killed Khalil. 

The Israeli is said to have picked up Khalil’s belongings, impressed by the defense of the soldier. He then buried his fallen Egyptian adversary and fired a 21-gun salute into the air.

These days, not much is written about Sgt. Khalil and his suicidal stand near Mount Jalala. A city street in Cairo that bears his full name and the 2016 Egyptian war flick “Lion of Sinai” are his enduring legacy.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Here’s why Civil War soldiers had wounds that glowed in the dark

During the Civil War, a strange thing happened at night. In the cover of darkness, the silence of hunkering down during war, soldiers’ wounds would glow. Open, bleeding wounds actually appeared to glow a light, subdued greenish-blue. Almost as though they were human chem lights, only decades before they were even invented. 

This phenomenon was noted at the Battle of Shiloh in 1862, where both sides were met with heavy losses. Taking place in southern Tennessee, wounded soldiers were left in the mud and rain for as long as two days before they were helped by medics. Due to the sheer amount of wounded soldiers, hospitals were overwhelmed and it took days to reach everyone. This perfect storm of disastrous events meant that for two nights, soldiers watched their glowing wounds in the dark Southern background — they named the phenomenon “Angel’s Glow.” 

However, the source of the glow was chalked up to a mystery and left as a strange war story that was passed down to new generations. Not to mention the fact soldiers lived in conditions which normally brought on painful infections and death. Therefore, a legend where Angels seemingly saved the wounded was born.

But in 2001, the mystery was finally solved, once and for all. 

The source of the glowing wounds

Two high school students decided to take on the tale for themselves. At the time, student Bill Martin was a Civil War enthusiast, having visited the battle site and learning about Angel’s Glow. Bill’s mother, Phyllis, worked as a microbiologist and happened to specialize in Photorhabdus luminescence, a soil bacterium that produced its own light. 

Along with his friend, Jonathan Curtis, Bill began researching the war wounds and the origin of their glow. Bill is noted as saying he remembered his mother’s work and wondered if that was the cause. Meanwhile, Phyllis encouraged the high schoolers to research their theory. 

That time one Egyptian soldier held off an entire Israeli advance
The bioluminescence of Photorhabdus luminescens. It was taken with film 72 hours after the bacteria infected Galleria mellonella (waxworms).(Image courtesy Todd Ciche/California Institute of Technology)

Their findings? P. luminescens, as they are often called, make their home within tiny, parasitic worms AKA nematodes in plants and soil. Not only do they glow a pale blue-green color, they make their home in moist, cool environments. Wounded soldiers would have likely had hypothermia.

The worms survive by vomiting up bacteria to kill other microorganisms living in the area — it’s a survival mechanism to fight off anything that could compete for food sources or living space. An example of the amazing intricate of science, the bacteria attracts worms with its glow. The worms then see the light and help regulate the environment by releasing its chemicals that kill off harmful substances.

In other words, by finding this bacteria within their wounds, helped the wounded soldiers to fight off other, more harmful bacteria that could have caused an infection or another illness.

This, of course, was important as soldiers were able to survive for days before receiving medical care, a phenomenon at the time.   

That time one Egyptian soldier held off an entire Israeli advance
Private Columbus Rush, Company C, 21st Georgia, age 22, was wounded during the assault on Fort Stedman, Virginia, on March 25, 1865 by a shell fragment that fractured both the right leg below the knee and the left kneecap. Both limbs were amputated above the knees on the same day. Wounds of this severity frequently caused death during the Civil War due to the high risk of infection.
Photograph Courtesy of: The National Museum of Health and Medicine

The only discrepancy the pair found was how P. luminescens are unable to survive at body temperature, needing cooler temps to thrive. This was accounted for due to damp and colder conditions of the battlefield.  

Phylis Martin, Bill’s microbiologist mother, was quoted in support of their findings, particularly pointing out just how slim the odds were for the conditions to be just right. 

“These bacteria [that glow] don’t grow at human body temperature. This had to happen at a particular time when it was cold enough that the body temperature would be lowered by hypothermia, but not so cold that the soldiers would freeze to death,” she told HealthDay in an interview.

Modern science in play

The two high school seniors worked alongside ARS Plant Science Institute in Beltsville, Maryland to create their theory for their project, “Civil War Wounds that Glowed.” Their project took first place at the 2001 Intel International Science and Engineering Science Fair in San Jose, California. 

Of course, there is no way to prove the findings. The soldiers who experienced Angel’s Glow are long-gone and lab samples were years from being developed during the Battle of Shiloh. However, it’s the best explanation we’ve got. And it’s hard to deny the logic that this glowing bacteria fits the bill. 

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is why the most successful fighter pilots in history are all Nazis

When Erich “Bubi” Hartmann died in 1993, he was still the most successful fighter pilot in the history of aerial warfare. With an astonishing 352 kills, his record is all but assured until World War III comes around. He’s not the only former Nazi Luftwaffe pilot whose name is at the top of the list. In fact, the top ten pilots on that list all have German names, including Gerhard Barkhorn (301 kills), Günther Rall (275), and Otto Kittel (267).

How did one of the most notably absent air forces in history rack up such impressive kill counts?


That time one Egyptian soldier held off an entire Israeli advance

Hint: They had to be good because their bosses were so bad at their jobs.

The reason German pilots scored so high is a combination of skill and time in the air. There’s probably also a dash of luck in there, if they managed to survive the war. Since the Luftwaffe saw its best successes at the beginning of the war, taking on obsolete and unprepared air forces in enemy countries, Nazi pilots were fighting for years before American pilots. When the war came home, the number of German pilots dwindled, and enemy targets over Germany rose.

A skilled pilot could rack up quite a kill count in that time, especially if they had to fight until the whole war was over, or they were killed or captured.

That time one Egyptian soldier held off an entire Israeli advance

And they did.

(U.S. Army)

In contrast, American pilots would be sent home, or rotated out after a certain amount of time spent in the air. At the height of World War II, allied fighter pilots were required to spend at least 200 hours behind the stick of a fighter aircraft before being eligible to be rotated home. American pilots dutifully fought the required amount of time and went home for some RR.

Even Richard Bong, the Army Air Forces’ highest-scoring ace – the “Ace of Aces” – scored 40 kills in the Pacific Theater from September 1942 until December 1944. His stay was extended because he was also training pilots in the Philippines. He ended up spending much longer in the area, leading missions and training pilots. Even though he wasn’t allowed to seek combat opportunities, Bong still racked up an astonishing 40 kills against the Japanese.

That time one Egyptian soldier held off an entire Israeli advance

It seems being one the top aces of any war is just a matter of time… and not getting shot down.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This legendary infantryman just got his own graphic novel

Army Sgt. Alvin C. York was one of the early members of the 82nd Infantry Division and helped establish that unit’s legendary status when he captured 132 German soldiers almost single-handedly after his small detachment was drawn into a fight with a massive force.

Now, the Association of the United States Army has made a graphic novel celebrating his life and the stunning World War I action that earned him a Medal of Honor.


York was born in rural Tennessee near the Kentucky border and was responsible for helping support his mother and ten siblings from a very early age. Most of his work was physical. It included going into the woods to hunt game to be cooked and served on the family table. This developed the young York into a crack shot, something that would come in handy during the World War in his future.

As a teen, York became a zealous, fundamental Christian. When war broke out and he was drafted, he applied for conscientious objector status on the basis of his religion. It was declined and York was sent to the 82nd.

But if Alvin C. York was going to be a soldier, he was going to be a good one.

That time one Egyptian soldier held off an entire Israeli advance

Painting of then-Cpl. Alvin C. York depicting the World War I engagement that made him famous.

(Frank Schoonover)

On October 8, 1918, York went with 16 other men to scout and seize German positions in a valley ahead of a general advance. They spotted two German medics filling canteens and attempted to rush them. The medics managed to stay ahead of the Americans as they fled back to their own lines.

There, the Germans were preparing for an attack with over 100 soldiers — and the pursuing Americans stumbled right into them.

That time one Egyptian soldier held off an entire Israeli advance

Sgt. Alvin C. York stands on the hill where he captured the bulk of 132 German soldiers in 1918.

(U.S. Army)

The Americans were in huge trouble. Nine of them were quickly killed. York, as a corporal, took command and begin sending deadly accurate fire into German machine gunners. As he later said,

“…those machine guns were spitting fire and cutting down the undergrowth all around me something awful…. I didn’t have time to dodge behind a tree or dive into the brush, I didn’t even have time to kneel or lie down…. As soon as the machine guns opened fire on me, I began to exchange shots with them. In order to sight me or to swing their machine guns on me, the Germans had to show their heads above the trench, and every time I saw a head I just touched it off. All the time I kept yelling at them to come down. I didn’t want to kill any more than I had to. But it was they or I. And I was giving them the best I had.”

In case you missed it in that quote, York was yelling for the Germans to surrender before he had to kill all of them.

York aimed to claim either the surrender or the lives of all the Germans attacking him and his men. York fired through all of his rifle ammo and was forced to rely on his pistol as the Germans mounted a rush against him.

The young hunter had learned on turkey shoots to kill from the back of a rush first, as killing the turkeys near the front would cause the flock to split off in all directions. He applied this technique with his pistol against the rush, killing the Germans at the back first so the rest would keep coming towards him.

Finally, a German officer, surrounded by at least 20 of his own dead troops, decided that his own men were too badly outnumbered and outgunned. Thinking he was highly outnumbered, the officer surrendered approximately 90 men to York, who, by this point, was fighting nearly alone.

That time one Egyptian soldier held off an entire Israeli advance

Medal of Honor recipient Sgt. Alvin C. York returns after the war to the Tennessee home where he grew up. The woman on the left is his mother, and the girl in the middle is one of his younger sisters.

(Underwood and Underwood)

York accepted the surrender, rounded up the last of his living men, and began escorting the prisoners back to American lines and taking on more Germans as they went. By the time the party reached York’s unit, the handful of Americans were escorting 132 German prisoners of war.

York was nominated for the Medal of Honor for his accomplishments and received it in April, 1919, after the war.

AUSA’s graphic novel celebrating his life is available here.

Articles

That time a bugler led the charge by scaling the walls of Peking

At the turn of the 20th Century, all of the great powers had converged on China seeking to curry favor and carve up the country for trade. This led a secret Chinese organization, the Society of the Righteous and Harmonious Fists (known as the Boxers to the foreigners), to rise up in rebellion.


At the end of 1899, the Boxers rose up against the foreigners and Christians they felt were invading their country. Coming from the countryside, they met in Peking (now Beijing) with the intention of turning the Chinese imperial government to their cause and destroying the foreign presence.

As the situation deteriorated, foreign nationals and Chinese Christians sought refuge in the Legation Quarter of Peking. The increased presence of the Boxers led the international community to send a force of 435 men to guard their respective legations.

The American contingent joined the Marines already stationed there, including one Pvt. Dan Daly.

Throughout the spring, the Boxers gained strength and were actively burning churches, killing Christians, and intimidating Chinese officials who opposed them.

That time one Egyptian soldier held off an entire Israeli advance
Russian cannons firing at Beijing gates during the night. August, 14, 1900.

As the international community stepped up efforts to maintain their positions in China, they put the Imperial Chinese government and Empress Dowager Cixi in a bind. The Empress was being pressured to take the side of the Boxers by officials who felt exploited by foreign nations.

Finally, in June 1900, the Empress’ hand was forced by international attacks on Chinese forts as well as the presence of the Seymour Expedition sent to reinforce the Legation Quarter.

On June 19, she sent word for the international community to leave. The next day the Chinese military, along with Boxer supporters, laid siege to the Legation Quarter.

As the situation was deteriorating, America began planning its response.

Also read: This Marine’s actions against the Chinese during the Boxer Rebellion remain the stuff of legend

Known as the China Relief Expedition the force that assembled in China consisted of the 9th Infantry Regiment, 14th Infantry Regiment, 6th Cavalry Regiment, and Battery F, 5th Field Artillery Regiment totaling some 2,500 men.

After brief fighting at Tientsin, in which Col. Liscum, commanding the 9th Infantry, was killed, the force marched on Peking to relieve the besieged Legation Quarter.

The pressure on the Legation Quarter had been steadily increasing. Through the night of Aug. 13 and into the morning of Aug. 14, Dan Daly was single-handedly holding off a determined assault by the Boxers. When Daly’s relief finally arrived, he inquired about the meaning of “Quon fay,” something the Chinese had been yelling at him all night.

He was amused to learn that it meant “very bad devil.”

For his actions that night Daly was awarded his first Medal of Honor.

Later in the day on Aug. 14, the first units of the Eight-nation Alliance reached the outer walls of Peking.

Leading the American units was the 14th Infantry Regiment.

When they arrived at their assigned gate, they found it already under attack by a Russian unit which was pinned down and taking heavy casualties.

The Americans moved south looking for an opening. The best they found was a lightly defended section of the Tartar Wall. The wall was some 30 feet high, and with no scaling ladders or grappling hooks, Col. Daggett, the regimental commander, asked for a volunteer to climb the wall.

That time one Egyptian soldier held off an entire Israeli advance
I’ll try, Sir,

Cpl. Calvin Pearl Titus, a bugler from Company E, stepped forward and said, “I’ll try, sir.”

With a rope slung over his shoulder Titus began to climb the wall. He grasped to the slightest of holds and he made his way up, undetected by the Chinese defenders.

“All below is breathless silence. The strain is intense.” Daggett would later write, “Will that embrasure blaze with fire as he attempts to enter it? Or will the butts of rifles smash his skull?” 

As Titus cleared the wall, he found it undefended. He called down to his comrades, “The coast is clear! Come on up!”

Following Titus’ lead and using the rope he threw down, more soldiers followed. As the number of Americans on the wall increased, they were finally discovered by the Chinese.

The Chinese opened fire but it was too late — the Americans held the wall.

Shortly after 11am, the 14th Infantry planted the American flag atop the wall.

They then fought their way back to the gate to relieve the beleaguered Russians.

With the Chinese driven back, the American artillery arrived and blasted down the inner gate leading to the Legation.

The Americans then cleared the way to the Legation Quarter only to find that the British had beat them to it. Thanks to the confusion caused by the Russians and Americans, British Indian soldiers had snuck through a water gate and directly into the Legation relieving the siege.

The Americans consolidated their position while the rest of the relief force conducted mopping up operations throughout Peking.

That time one Egyptian soldier held off an entire Israeli advance
Calvin P. Titus, 1905.(Library of Congress photo)

For his heroism in breaking the siege, Cpl. Titus was awarded an appointment to West Point where, during his second semester in the spring of 1902, he was presented the Medal of Honor by president Theodore Roosevelt.

A fellow cadet approached Titus after he received his award exclaiming, “Mister, that’s something!” That cadet was Douglas MacArthur, who would receive his own Medal of Honor during World War II.

Titus went on to serve 32 years in the Army, rejoining his old unit, the 14th Infantry, before seeing action against Pancho Villa in 1916 and occupying Germany after WWI.

He retired as a Lieutenant Colonel in 1930.

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How this 20th century Viking fought in 13 wars

The Vikings of old traveled far and wide. Their settlements ranged from Scandinavia to Italy to Canada and everyone, from the Byzantines to the Kievan Rus to the Iberians, feared them. Their blood runs deep inside Ivor Thord-Gray. Within the span of 31 years, he would wear nine different uniforms to fight in thirteen wars across five continents.


He was born Thord Ivar Hallstrom in the Sodermalm district of Stockholm, Sweden in 1878. Unlike much of his family, his Viking heritage inspired his entire future. While his older brother became an artist and his younger brother an archaeologist, Thord set off to become an adventurer. He first joined the Merchant Marines at age 15 where he first settled in Cape Town, South Africa.

This led him to join the Cape Mounted Rifles in 1897, just before the Second Boer War. After a British victory over South Africa, he enlisted in the South African Constabulary and was back to the Armed Forces within the Transvaal Regiment, where he first became an officer. He was transferred to the Royston’s Horse and fought in the Bambatha Rebellion. After the rebellion, he moved up to Kenya to join the Nairobi Mounted Police.

 

That time one Egyptian soldier held off an entire Israeli advance
South Africa is where he started growing his majestic mustache.

 

Then, he traveled to Germany where he wanted to fight in the First Moroccan Crisis but was told they didn’t need him. So, he went to the Philippines to join the U.S. Foreign Legion under the Philippine Constabulary.

He took a quick break from his life as a badass to become a rubber planter in Malaya (modern-day Malaysia), but true to his Viking nature, he couldn’t stay away from battle for long.  He took up arms again during the Chinese Revolution and rediscovered his love of fighting by joining the French Foreign Legion in Tonkin (Modern-day Vietnam).

He hopped between the Italian Army in the Italian-Turkish War and then again to China directly under Sun Yat Sen, founding father of the Republic of China (also known as Taiwan). This lead him to his first high command position during the Mexican Revolution, where he served as the Commander of the Artillery and, eventually, the Chief of Staff of the First Mexican Army for Pancho Villa.

 

That time one Egyptian soldier held off an entire Israeli advance

He wrote about his time in Mexico in his autobiography, Gringo Rebel. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

Then, the Great War broke out. He rejoined the British Army as a Major, commanding the 11th Northumberland Fusiliers until his battalion was disbanded. After his mercenary status forced his resignation, he joined the American Expeditionary Forces and became the Commander of the Theodore Roosevelt Division. After that unit was also disbanded, he moved to the Canadian Expeditionary Forces to finish World War I.

Thord-Gray, still with the Canadians this time, was sent as part of the Allied Expeditionary Corps to assist and was eventually transferred to the Russian White Army (anti-Communist forces). He finally attained the rank of General, commanding the 1st Siberian Assault Division. He was selected as the Representative to the Provisional Siberian Government until the Bolsheviks seized complete control of Russia. 

 

That time one Egyptian soldier held off an entire Israeli advance
He would also wear all of his badges from his long military and mercenary career. Because, well, he can. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

 

His last official act of military service was as a Lieutenant-General in the Revolutionary Army of Venezuela in 1928. After all this, he finally returned to Sweden to write about his travels and archeological discoveries. Ivar Thord-Gray finally settled down in America until his passing at age 86. Like the Viking he was, he spent the majority of his adult life taking on his enemies. 

For more information on Ivar Throd-Gray, be sure to check out Peter E. Hodgkinson’s British Infantry Battalion Commander in the First World War and Thord-Gray’s own, Gringo Rebel.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is why the Army keeps the Specialist rank around

If you look at the enlisted ranking system put in place by every branch of the United States Armed Forces, everything makes a good deal of sense. You start at the bottom — generally at E-1, but there are ways to get in at a higher pay grade — and work your way up to a certain point where you become an NCO. Officers have their own linear path, starting at O-1, and warrant officers are half way between the two.

But the Army has its very own conundrum with the E-4 ranks. Years ago, the hierarchy of ranks looked a little different: it went private first class, then corporal, then sergeant. Today, both specialist (the highest junior enlisted rank) and corporal (the lowest NCO rank) share the same pay grade. This means that, in a sense, being a specialist is just like being a corporal — only without the NCO benefits.

To understand the specialist rank we know it today, you’ll have to look back at the Army’s long-gone specialist ranks.


That time one Egyptian soldier held off an entire Israeli advance

The same insignia that would later be used for private first class.

(U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Felicia Jagdatt)

In 1920, there was a consolidation that distilled 128 different rank insignia and titles into just seven. The results of this consolidation left us with something similar to what we use today — with a few key differences.

Since warfare involves much more than just general “infantrymen,” there was a need to identify the support soldiers, those who were specialists in their given field of expertise. Back then, it was assumed that all 5th-grade soldiers (corporals) fully understood what their job entails, but there needed to be a way to offer a little incentive to a privates to become known as a “private/specialist,” which was the name of the MOS at the time. That incentive came in the form of bonus pay — despite being paid more, a private/specialist was still officially of lower rank than a private first class.

The insignia of the private/specialist was a single chevron with a single rocker.

That time one Egyptian soldier held off an entire Israeli advance

Think of the difference like today’s version of a master sergeant and a first sergeant. Same pay grade, same respect, but two very different positions and mentalities.

(U.S. Army Reserve photo by Master Sgt. Michel Sauret)

The next major overhaul came in 1942 when a need arose to differentiate between those who earned their rank because of how good they were at their job and those who earned it because of leadership abilities. And so the “technician” ranks were created, ranging from technician fifth grade (or “tech/5”) up to technician third grade (or “tech/3”).

They were distinguished from their peers by placing a ‘T’ under their chevrons. For all practical purposes, a technician third grade and a staff sergeant were on equal footing — same pay and same respect — but the staff sergeant was in a leadership position while the tech/3 was more of an instructor.

That time one Egyptian soldier held off an entire Israeli advance

The joke used back then was “the NCOs may have been the backbone of the Army, but the specialists were the brains.”

(National Archives)

The final shakeup came in 1955 when these two previous iterations of separating specialists in their given field from general leadership culminated an entirely new ranking system — the specialists. This took the original insignia of the 1920s private/specialist, inverted it, and added the Army Eagle to it. Promotions within the specialists meant adding another rocker to the top instead of a chevron.

A young private could prove themselves ready to enter the non-commissioned officers as a corporal — or they could focus on their MOS as a specialist. Between the years 1959 and 1968, it was entirely possible to make it all the way to E-9 as a specialist. Throughout the years, the highest achievable rank dwindled down and down until 1985, when only the Spec/4 remained.

Since all other grades of specialists were obsolete, the rank is now just called “specialist.” In essence, the rank holds the same meaning as it did in the 1920s — except now it’s more of a holdover rank before most E-4s make sergeant.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Drones vs. Delta: Who do you think won the first round?

Master Sergeant George Hand US Army (ret) was a member of the 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta, The Delta Force. He is a now a master photographer, cartoonist and storyteller.

It was 1994 when my Delta Troop and I were training in the desert in preparation to deploy to the Mid-Eastern theater where there was much misbehaving going on. We spent a particular day primarily calling in anti-armor attacks from MH-60 Blackhawk (Hawkers) helicopters toting the venerable and extraordinarily deadly Hellfire missile.

We rotated ourselves onto a hilltop as Forward Observers choosing targets and directing the helo strikes. We used a Vietnam-era LASER designator called the MULE. The MULE “painted” the target with a LASER that the helo-mounted Hellfire could track all the way to the target.


That time one Egyptian soldier held off an entire Israeli advance

ANPAQ-3 Modular Universal Laser Equipment (MULE)

Some men laughed at the MULE, but theirs was a shallow laugh as none of us could find fault with the noble seeker, and “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.” I intentionally picked armor targets as far away as possible, some 8,000 meters and beyond, to challenge the Hellfire capabilities. The challenge was always accepted, and the missiles never missed.

In addition to calling in fire from aircraft, we also launched Hellfires from our six-wheel drive Austrian-made assault vehicles using an improvised launch pedestal welded by our mechanics. Success was enjoyed as well with that highly mobile platform.

That time one Egyptian soldier held off an entire Israeli advance

Vehicle-mounted Hellfire launch; we often joked that we got sleepy waiting for the Hellfire to reach its distant targets

Toward late afternoon our troop leadership introduced us to an Air Force lieutenant colonel who heard there was a group of Delta men training nearby and just had to come show off his latest Research and Development endeavor — a remote control pilotless aircraft. None of us really cared about him, or his drone but rank still had its privileges so ok…

He stood proudly amongst us and beamed as he bragged on his miniature airplane. He held his Ground Control Unit in his hands explaining that his drone was at the moment several kilometers to our southwest and that it had a ,000 instrument payload that included a pilot’s Situational Awareness (SA) camera focused ahead of the aircraft.

It was a gasoline-powered, propeller-driven drone with a wingspan of about 12′. Just as interest waned, he brought the drone in tight and had it scream a few feet over our heads. That was actually pretty cool, and questions started coming out for the colonel: how fast, how high, what duration, how many pounds payload… all measure of questions about the drone’s capabilities.

That time one Egyptian soldier held off an entire Israeli advance

This tragic friendly fire incident destroyed this Abrams tank with a Hellfire

“Sir, what’s the learning curve like on piloting that craft?” came my question.

“I’ll tell you what,” the colonel began as he stepped toward me. “I’ll let you see for yourself; give her a spin!” and he reached the ground control unit with its long whip antenna toward me. I immediately recoiled, not wanting to fool with all this expensive enigma.

“Fly it, a$hole!” the brothers started in on me.

“Yeah, get you some-o-that, chicken $hit!”

“Fly the damn plane, jacka$!”

And so it went, with the colonel thrusting the unit in my hands. All flight controls were there; all health inputs for the drone were displayed: speed, altitude, heading, fuel level, and others that I didn’t recognize. In the center of the unit was a screen displaying the done’s SA camera video feed.

It was very basic. All that was readily recognizable was black for the ground, and white for the sky. The black was toward the bottom of the screen with the majority of the screen white. There was a crosshair that cut across the screen representing an artificial horizon. I had seen similar instruments in the cockpit of an airplane, but as for flying these drones, I was fresh out of any experience whatsoever!

The true horizon on the screen was, of course, the line where the black (ground) met with the white (sky). The true horizon then should be under the aircraft’s artificial horizon for safe, unobstructed flight. To keep level flight like the colonel told me, all I had to do was keep the two horizon lines parallel… and not breathe.

That time one Egyptian soldier held off an entire Israeli advance

A representative artificial horizon from an aircraft cockpit. Here, brown represents ground and blue represents sky; where the two meet is the true horizon. The yellow horizontal line represents the aircraft’s artificial horizon as it appears with the aircraft parked on the ground.

“Just keep that baby flat and stable; just hold with what you got,” directed the colonel who then stepped back, turned and addressed the men in regard to how any plain-ol’ idiot could fly the thing, just not in those exact words. He really was proud of and loved his job so.

As he babbled to the boys, I imagined somehow that the amount of black seemed to be expanding into the white somewhat… and then I was sure that the black was indeed encroaching more on the white, headed up toward that artificial horizon line… “Hey, Sir…”

“Just keep her flat and stable,” the colonel yawned as he yapped to the yokels. Now the black rose up above the drone’s artificial horizon on the screen. It was time to hit the ejection lever!

“Sir I think you better see this!” I insisted as I stepped up and thrust the control unit in his face.

“Juuuust keep’r flaaaaa… DOH!!”

With that, the colonel snatched the unit from my hands and yanked back on the joystick with Ren and Stimpy bulging eyes. When the colonel had passed off the controls to me, there was flat terrain below. Unfortunately, while he was delivering his dissertation, the drone approached a hill mass that was taller than the drone was high. The video screen blipped out.

“OH MY GOD YOU’VE… YOU’VE… FLOWN IT INTO A MOUNTAIN!”

You see, that right there… that is why I did NOT want any part of the colonel’s toy. That thing was not such a piece of cake to operate as the man would have us believe. Let’s face it, all I was doing was standing with a box in my hand — I was not operating it at all!

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A typical modern control unit for a drone; note the SA video feed screen and joy sticks

I was fire-spittin’ mad thinking about that ,000.00 waste. The boys were howling like banshees now which salted the wound. I knew as well as the next man you can’t bleed in the presence of sharks. Visions of myself in the squadron cartoon book filled my head. This event had certainly been most fitting fodder… ah, but as it is with photography, so it is with being the cartoonist: the photographer never has to be in the pictures.

The colonel could see I was mad as hell as he quickly called out:

“Ok, ok… it was absolutely not his fault, not his fault at all… he was just doing exactly what I told him to. It was entirely my fault!” That was true and gracious of him, but I was mad. I was mad at him, at myself, at that stupid airplane… and especially at that Goddamned mountain!

It was two days later my troop leader pulled up in a jeep and approached me carrying… a stick? He reached it out toward me and said:

“Hey, that drone colonel made it out to the crash site and wanted you to have this.”

I held in my hand a two-bladed wooden propeller about 18-inches long. I’m pretty sure that Colonel meant no dig or sarcasm by the gesture, but now I was mad at the world again, and didn’t like his little gift, not one little bit. I walked up to a trash dumpster near our tents. With a swoop of my arm, I cracked that propeller in two on the corner of the dumpster and flung the halves inside.

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So twenty-six years ago we scoffed at the colonel’s drone. What was it good for? What was the application? He was some boyish dude out playing with his toy. Little did we know at the time what an impact that research would have on the world, eh? Today the likes of drones are all but taking over in their application in our everyday lives.

Just yesterday my 13-year-old son and I went out to a nearby field to fly a remote Radio Controlled (RC) hobby airplane. After many successful laps my son reached the control my way and asked:

“Want to give it a try, Dad?”

…to which I replied to my now confused son:

“NO, DAMNIT… NO, NO, NO!!!”

MIGHTY HISTORY

Teddy Roosevelt volunteered for World War I service but was turned down

There’s no physical activity that America’s 26th President would turn a blind eye to, especially when it came to the defense of the United States. No matter how old he was, Roosevelt was game for any challenge. 

Even if that meant years in the trenches of World War I Europe, Roosevelt wanted to be there, serving his country with his fellow Americans. 

When the Spanish-American War broke out in 1898, then 40-year-old Roosevelt was serving as Assistant Secretary of the Navy, but resigned the office when he received an offer to join Leonard Wood’s 1st Volunteer Cavalry and head to Cuba to fight. 

Even as an older man, he distinguished himself during the war in Cuba. After Wood was promoted, Col. Roosevelt took command of the unit. His most famous action came at San Juan Hill, where he led his Rough Riders up the hill against dramatic odds, taking the formidable position from its Spanish defenders. 

The action propelled him to the governor’s mansion in New York and eventually to the Vice-President’s office. When President William McKinley was shot in 1901, Roosevelt took the White House. He was 42 years old when he took office but that didn’t stop his love for physical vigor. He was still the youngest person to ever take the office.

Roosevelt practiced all forms of physical activity, even as President of the United States. From Boxing to Judo, to Hunting, Horseback Riding, and Running, he was there for it all. He even challenged the U.S. military’s physical fitness standards, which is the reason the military has such standards today. 

teddy roosevelt
What a boss.

After finishing McKinley’s term, he was elected to a term of his own before his successor, William Howard Taft took office in 1909. Roosevelt took a safari to Africa. 

Although he failed in an attempt to return to politics in 1912, he was still a larger-than-life figure in American politics. His legacy as president has stood the test of time, as TR is consistently ranked in the top five presidents of all time, even today.

But to Roosevelt, the biggest disappointment of his life was yet to come. World War I broke out during President Woodrow Wilson’s second term, and there were many German provocations that led to American involvement in the war. A telegram from the German foreign ministry to Mexico revealed a ploy to bring Mexico into the war against the U.S. outraged many American. 

It was unrestricted submarine warfare from the Germans, and the sinking of the British liner Lusitania that killed 128 Americans, only increased the outrage. The U.S. broke diplomatic ties with the German Empire. 

Then, a few days later, an unrepentant Germany sunk the American liner Housatonic because it was carrying food to the British Isles. The United States declared war on Germany soon after. 

Roosevelt, then 58 years old, disliked Wilson personally but supported the war. He volunteered his services in raising troops to go fight the Germans on the Western Front. In March 1917, Roosevelt received authorization from Congress to do just that. The Congressional resolution authorized the former president to raise four divisions, just like he’d raised the 1st Volunteer Cavalry to fight the Spanish in Cuba. 

But President Wilson, the Commander-in-Chief, intervened. He declined to send Roosevelt’s volunteers. Instead, he sent the American Expeditionary Force under Gen. John J. Pershing. It was one of Roosevelt’s biggest disappointments. Then, in 1918, his son Quentin was shot down while flying against the German Air Force. Roosevelt never recovered from the loss. The 26th President died in his sleep in January 1919. 

Articles

The hilarious way a CIA agent was able to leave Iran with a fake passport

One of the Central Intelligence Agency’s biggest intelligence coups (without instigating a real coup) came in Tehran in 1980. While every westerner was scrambling to escape Iran in the days following the Iranian Revolution of 1979, the CIA was trying to shuffle people in.

After all, the embassy staffers were being held hostage and six Americans were hiding out from Iranian police in the Canadian Embassy. Those six Americans might have met the same fate as the 52 embassy employees, being held hostage for 444 days, were it not for Canadian intervention.

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Iranian students climbing the U.S. Embassy gates in Tehran (Wikimedia Commons)

When the six Americans were safely out of Iranian airspace, the CIA agents on the ground who aided the effort to extract them still had to get home. They were also running out of time. One of them was detained as he was leaving Tehran on a false West German passport. 

The CIA made a serious error in creating the fake passport, and it might have gotten their man killed – were it not for his quick thinking. 

Documents released in the CIA’s Reading Room website list details that were later dramatized in the 2012 film Argo. The CIA document essentially picks up where the film left off during the credits. Carter announced the successful extraction of employees hidden by Canadian officials in Tehran in January 1980.

Carter directed the CIA to enter Tehran as a film crew and in other capacities to train the embassy employees on how they could best be extracted from the suddenly hostile country. He also said that Canadian Ambassador to Iran, Ken Taylor, was “justifiably an American hero.” 

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Kenneth Taylor (Wikimedia Commons)

The former president went on to say that the two or three of the agency were experts in documentation and were critical to securing the visas for the trapped Americans suddenly using Canadian passports – with no entry stamps. 

Canada was not severing diplomatic ties with the Islamic Republic in its effort to rescue the Americans. It was simply sending its personnel home under the cover of temporarily shuttering the Embassy in Tehran. The Americans were smuggled out of Iran on a morning Swiss Air flight, while the ambassador left on a later flight the same day. 

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Americans showing their gratitude for Canada’s role during the Iran hostage crisis (State Department)

The Americans all made it through the airport terminal and boarded their Swiss Air flight without incident. The CIA agents who were leaving later were not so lucky. One of them was traveling with a false West German passport, one that featured a fatal mistake, a middle initial. West German passports did not use initials and one Iranian immigration official noticed. 

If caught using a suspected fake passport, and discovered to be intelligence agents for the United States, the clandestine CIA operatives could look forward to beatings, torture, mock executions and, of course, a hanging in Tehran’s Azadi Square. 

The official told the undercover operative that in all his time working in immigration, first for the Shah’s government and then for the Islamic Republic, a total of 25 years, he’d never seen an initial. The operative, thinking quickly, asked for the official to speak with him privately. The two men stepped aside and talked in low tones. 

The CIA officer leaned in and told the Iranian official that he was born in the early 1930s, and that his middle name was “Hitler,” given to him by his parents. Because of this, the West German government had always allowed him the special privilege of using an initial, rather than having “Hitler” on his passport. 

He was allowed to leave the country.

MIGHTY HISTORY

7 things you didn’t know about Memorial Day

Although we commemorate Memorial Day each year, the holiday’s origins are rarely discussed. Many countries, especially those that were involved in World War II, have their own iteration of the monument to the soldiers who dedicated their lives to their country’s cause. From its earliest version as Decoration Day, Memorial Day has been a part of an important, reflective moment in the United States. Trace the history of the holiday from its earliest incarnation to the major occasion it is today with these little-known Memorial Day facts.


1. Memorial Day began as a day honoring Union soldiers killed during the Civil War.

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Aftermath of the Civil War

After the end of the Civil War, General John A. Logan became the Commander-in-Chief of the Grand Army of the Republic, a group of Union veterans. Logan issued a General Order declaring May 30 as Memorial Day for fallen Union soldiers. For the first years of celebration, Memorial Day and Decoration Day were used interchangeably to refer to the day.

2. Some Southern states still have a separate day of remembrance for Confederate soldiers.

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Presidents of Ladies Memorial Association

Not long after the Grand Army of the Republic established Memorial Day, Confederate groups organized to create their own commemorative holiday. Although a number of women’s groups, primarily the Ladies Memorial Association, had started to organize day outings to tidy graves and leave flowers, a larger movement began in 1868. By 1890, there was a specific focus on commemorating the Confederacy as well as the soldiers lost. Today, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, and South Carolina continue to celebrate a separate day for the fallen soldiers of the Confederacy.

3. The original date of ‘Decoration Day’ was May 30, chosen because it was not associated with any particular battle.

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1870 Decoration Day parade in St. Paul, Minnesota

General Logan chose the date of the original Memorial Day with great care. May 30 was chosen precisely because no major battle occurred on that day. Afraid that choosing a date associated with a major battle like Gettysburg would be perceived as casting soldiers in that battle as more important than other comrades, May 30 was a neutral date that would honor all soldiers equally.

4. The tradition of red poppies honoring fallen soldiers comes from a Canadian poem written during WWI.

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Although the wearing of red poppies to honor fallen soldiers is more popular in the United Kingdom and throughout the former British empire, poppies are also associated with Memorial Day in the United States. This tradition was started after Moina Michael, a young poet, was inspired by Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae’s poem “In Flanders Fields”. The opening lines read, “In Flanders field the poppies blow/Between the crosses, row on row”. The imagery moved Moina, and she decided to wear a red poppy as a symbol of her continued remembrance of those who fought in World War I.

5. The Vietnam War was responsible for Memorial Day becoming a national holiday.

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A wounded solider being carried away during the Vietnam War in 1968

Memorial Day was celebrated regularly across the United States from the mid-1800s on—while it nearly ceased in the early 20th century, the world wars made its commemoration important once more. Yet Memorial Day was not federally recognized until the height of the Vietnam War. In 1968, Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, which moved a number of holidays to a Monday rather than their original day, including Memorial Day, Labor Day, and Veterans Day. In 1971, the Act took effect, making each holiday federally recognized and giving workers additional three-day weekend—in part thanks to the lobbying efforts of the travel industry.

6. Rolling Thunder, a nonprofit that brings attention to prisoners of war and those who remain missing in action, holds a rally every Memorial Day.

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The annual ride by Rolling Thunder as it crosses the Memorial Bridge in Washington D.C.

In 1987, a group of veterans visited the Vietnam Memorial in D.C. While there, they realized just how pervasive the issue of missing Vietnam soldiers was. The status of over 1,000 soldiers remains unknown to this day. In the ’80s, as many as 2,700 soldiers’ fates were unknown. The men decided to organize a motorcycle rally the day before Memorial Day, hoping to create enough noise—both literal and figurative—that political groups would be forced to pay attention. Since the outset of their rally, an additional 1,100 unknown soldiers have been identified or discovered.

7. Although many towns claim to have been the birthplace of Memorial Day, Waterloo, New York is officially recognized as the first to commemorate the day.

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Waterloo Downtown Historic District

General Logan may have made the first call for a national Memorial Day, but, as discussed earlier, it was far from the only day of remembrance. As early as 1866, people throughout the North and South gathered to memorialize fallen soldiers. Waterloo, New York was one of many towns to have a city-wide commemoration of those lost in the war. And while over two dozen towns and cities claim to be the first to have celebrated this day of remembrance, in 1966, President Lyndon B. Johnson declared Waterloo, New York the official birthplace of Memorial Day—in part because it was the only town to have consistently memorialized the day since its inception.

This article originally appeared on Explore The Archive. Follow @explore_archive on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is the American who left to claim the throne of Afghanistan

The first American to visit Afghanistan decided he was going to take the wild land by force. That’s just what Americans did back then, I suppose. The young man was born into a privileged life for the time, and lived a life of globetrotting adventure as a young man. When the love of his life decided to marry another man, Josiah Harlan decided to make his world a little more interesting.


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But so were the Afghan rulers and warlords.

Having grown up learning Greek and Latin and reading medical books and journals for fun, Harlan decided to join the British East India Company’s expedition to Burma as a surgeon, even though he had never attended medical school. But he didn’t stay for all of the company’s wars. He left the company in 1826 to live in an Indian border town called Ludhiana. That’s where he met Shuja Shah Abdali Durrani, the deposed ruler of Afghanistan that would shape Josiah Harlan’s future.

The two men hatched a plan to oust the leader who deposed the Shah, Dost Mohammed Khan using a coalition of Sikh, Hindu, and Muslim fighters, then foment a full-scale rebellion in Afghanistan. Once the Shah was back on the throne, he would make Harlan his vizier. Things did not go according to plan. Khan defeated Shah at Kandahar and was forced to flee once more.

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Dost Mohammed Khan can sleep soundly knowing the British got what was coming to them.

Harlan next fell in with Maharajah Ranjeet Singh, a great warrior king who had conquered most of what is today Northwest India and Pakistan. Singh, it turns out, knew how to party unlike anyone since the good ol’ days of insane Roman emperors. He was also a hypochondriac, one that “Doctor” Josiah Harlan could treat. Harlan did treat the Maharajah, earning his trust and the governorship of Nurpur, Jasota, and later, Gujerat. But he eventually fell out of Singh’s favor and turned to Dost Mohammed Khan – the man he tried to usurp in the first place.

Acting as a special military advisor to Khan, Harlan took to the battlefield against armies allied to the Maharajah, having taught the Afghans the “Western way of war,” which basically meant using numerical superiority to your supreme advantage. With Khan, he was made royalty and led armies against the Sikhs in India, against Uzbek slavers, and even led punitive expeditions in the Hindu Kush. But upon returning from those raids, he found Khan was deposed, and the British occupied Kabul and had replaced Khan with ol’ Shuja Shah.

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The Maharajah’s life was so great it gave him Forest Whitaker Eye before that was even a thing.

Even though Harlan was the Commander-In-Chief among all Afghans by Khan’s decree, Khan was out and Shah was in. All the tribes and their warlords were now allied with Shah – that was just the Afghan way. Khan already fled, so it was time for Harlan to return to America and to his life in Pennsylvania.

Unsurprisingly, Pennsylvania had a marked lack of exotic spices, royal orgies, and international intrigue, so Harlan found himself trying to drum up American support to challenge Russia and Britain for supremacy in Afghanistan. America, however, had enough problems back home around the time the man returned in 1841, and there was little interest in it. Josiah Harlan moved to San Francisco where he spent the rest of his days practicing medicine.

MIGHTY HISTORY

5 ways troops accidentally ‘blue falcon’ the rest of the platoon

Every now and then, the pricks known as ‘Blue Falcons’ come and ruin things for everyone else. They break the rules and make everyone else suffer. They rat out their brothers- and sisters-in-arms. They even damage the reputation of others to make themselves look better.


Blue Falcons (also known as Buddy F*ckers) are the most hated people within the military. But as much hate as these troops get from others, most of the time, it’s not done on purpose. Even if they do it with the best of intentions, when a troop f*cks over their buddies, they’re a Blue Falcon and will receive hate accordingly.

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Just what everyone wants to do right before they were supposed to get out of there…

(Photo by Capt. John Farmer)

Reminding the chain of command anything before close-out formation

Every Friday afternoon, every troop looks to their clock, counting down the minutes. The weekend is to begin just as soon as the weekend safety brief is done. Then, the Blue Falcon chimes in with something like, “weren’t we supposed to be helping in the motor pool today?”

Okay, so it’s not always as obvious as that — that’s actively being a Blue Falcon. Most of the time, it’s something small like, “man, I can’t wait until me and my buddy Jones go out drinking tonight!” The platoon sergeant hears this and remembers Jones is in second platoon, which reminds him that second platoon is doing lay-outs because First Sergeant said so.

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And the military tends to use a sledgehammer-sized solution for a nail-sized problem.

(Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class William Cousins)

Making a mistake and saying “but we didn’t know that”

When troops mess up and accept responsibility for their actions, they get their wrists slapped, take their punishment, and move on. No one’s perfect and the chain of command knows this (even if they like to pretend otherwise).

Blue Falcons who try to cover their tracks and hide behind ignorance might get a pass if they genuinely do not know better. This, in turn, forces the chain of command to verify that everyone knows what the Blue Falcon did was wrong.

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You really can’t tell when dental appointments end. Best to assume it’s all day unless you know for sure.

(Photo by Lance Cpl. Ricardo Davila)

Telling the truth when silence is better

Honesty is a well-respected quality in a subordinate. If something is wrong, it’s great to have someone who tells the truth and speaks out to correct problems. This becomes an issue, however, if the problem isn’t that big of a deal and it involves others in the unit.

Now, don’t get this twisted. Speak out if you ever see something unsafe, criminal, or unbecoming of a service-member. But if it’s something like, “when did Sgt. Jones say that his dental appointment would end?” You don’t need to answer and screw him over. Just shrug.

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Seriously. If you must fulfill your cactus-destroying urges, do it in New Mexico.

Breaking some bizzare, off-the-wall law that nobody knows about

Certain laws are pounded into everyone’s head at every safety brief. Don’t drink and drive. Don’t physically or sexually assault anyone. Don’t do dumb sh*t. And every now and then, the commander needs to brief the entire unit because one person screwed up.

Let’s pretend that a soldier stationed at Fort Huachuca, Arizona accidentally destroys a saguaro cactus. That’s actually a 25-year prison sentence. If one troop screws up and gets charged, the commander must throw “don’t destroy cacti” into their weekly safety brief and everyone else has to sit and listen.

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At least with “Soldier of the Whenever” boards, just attending is good enough.

(Photo by Staff Sgt. John Etheridge)

Going above and beyond what’s required

Every leader wants their unit to be the best possible unit, both for bragging rights and for pride. When one troop does amazing work, they’re showered with praise rarely given in the military. Most troops strive to be the best they can give to earn praise and accolades. BZ! Good job! Keep up the good work!

The problem comes when leaders see how great one troop is and questions why the rest aren’t at that same level. This tip isn’t meant to discourage everyone from trying hard, it’s meant for leaders who try to push unrealistic expectations.

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