There has always been something alluring about lost ships and planes. Maybe it’s the massive treasure some wrecks hold in their belly, or maybe it’s the clues to lost history that some ghost ships provide.
Some of these wrecks were civilian vessels, like the former USS West Point (AP 23), which also had names like SS America. Others were planes that crash-landed like the Akutan Zero did. Mostly, there is just this sense of mystery around them.
Take for instance the Lady Be Good, a B-24 Liberator that got lost during a sandstorm that ended up flying two hours south of its base. It was missing for over a decade until discovered by an oil exploration crew. All but one of the crew were accounted for, but when parts of the B-24 were used on other planes, several suffered mishaps. A curse? Or just coincidence?
The Lady Be Good is not the only B-24D on the list – another one, which landed on Atka Island in the Aleutians, also made the list. This time, the plane was found sooner but left in place. It now constitutes part of the Valor in the Pacific National Monument.
Also on the list is an RB-29 called Kee Bird, whose crew survived, but which caught fire during a salvage attempt.
Perhaps the craziest story is that of the Sverdlov-class cruiser Murmansk. This was a powerful ship, with a dozen 152mm guns in four triple mounts, 10 533mm torpedo tubes in two quintuple mounts, 12 100mm guns in six twin mounts, and 32 37mm anti-aircraft guns. However, her end was sad.
Sold to India to become razor blades, she broke from her towline and ended up on the Norwegian coast.
So, check out the video below to see some of the world’s most fascinating ghost ships and planes.
A video shows the inside of a US military camp overtaken by Russian mercenaries working with Syrian forces, shortly after American troops abandoned it.
US forces left the Manbij camp in northern Syria early Oct. 15, 2019, following an Oct. 6, 2019, directive from President Donald Trump to leave a coalition with the Syrian Democratic Forces fighting the terrorist group ISIS. A spokesman for the US operation confirmed the departure on Oct. 15, 2019.
The US’s decision to pull out gave Turkish forces the green light to invade Syria on Oct. 9, 2019, and drive out the SDF, which contains Kurdish fighters. Turkey considers the Kurds terrorists and has long vowed to destroy them. Over the weekend, the SDF allied with Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government to fight the Turkish offensive.
US troops formerly based at the camp willingly left it to Russian mercenaries from the Wagner Group, an SDF official near Manbij told Business Insider’s Mitch Prothero.
The broader Manbij area is under the control of Assad’s troops, who await an assault from Turkish troops from the north.
The video was first posted on Twitter by a defense blogger known as MrRevinsky. The SDF official confirmed its accuracy to Business Insider.
A second video posted by MrRevinsky appeared to show Blokhin raising and lowering a mechanical checkpoint barrier at the camp.
Trump’s withdrawal of troops from Syria, and Turkey’s subsequent incursion, has unleashed chaos in the region and displaced thousands of Kurds. Dozens of “high value” ISIS prisoners have escaped from detention, something that experts say could help the terrorist organization regroup.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
A former director of the veterans hospital in the nation’s capital who had been fired for poor leadership has been rehired.
Brian Hawkins was put back on the Department of Veterans Affairs payroll after he appealed the decision to the Merit Systems Protection Board. Hawkins was let go last month after audits found mismanagement at the facility.
The board is requiring the VA to keep Hawkins as an employee until the Office of Special Counsel reviews his claim.
In a statement August 9, the VA says Hawkins had been reassigned to administrative duty at VA headquarters in Washington and would not work directly with patients.
It says VA Secretary David Shulkin will explore other ways to fire Hawkins under a newly enacted accountability law signed by President Donald Trump.
It turns out the conspiracy theorists have one more feather in their tin-foil cap: the U.S. military really did test biological agents on Americans in U.S. cities.
In the wake of the attacks of Sept, 11, 2001, a wave of anthrax-laden envelopes came into a number of news media and Congressional offices. Five people died in those attacks, with 17 infected by the biological agent. In the days that followed, a Wall Street Journal writer recounted the times the military sprayed San Francisco, Washington, D.C., New York, and others.
In “Microbes and Mock Attacks,” Jim Carlton tells the story of Edward Nevin of San Francisco, who went to a local hospital in 1950, complaining of flu-like symptoms. The 75-year-old Nevin was dead three days later. The cause: an acute bacterial infection of Serratia marcescens.
The bacterium is now known to cause urinary tract, respiratory, and tear duct infections, as well as conjunctivitis, keratitis, and even meningitis. Strains of S. marcescens are now known to be antibiotic resistant.
But all of this was unknown to the U.S. Army when they were secretly spraying the city with S. marcescens and other biological agents they thought to be harmless, in what they called a “mock biological attack” to Senate investigators. A Navy ship offshore dusted the entire 49-square-mile area with the agents.
“It was noted that a successful BW [biological warfare] attack on this area can be launched from the sea, and that effective dosages can be produced over relatively large areas.”
Over a roughly 20-year period, from the 1940s to the 1960s, the Pentagon conducted similar biological warfare tests across the United States. Cities like New York, Washington, and San Francisco had multiple bacteria tested on its unwitting populace. Serratia was again tested on Panama City and Key West, Florida.
Beyond biological agents, fluorescent compounds like zinc-cadmium-sulfide were released in the Upper Midwest. Carcinogens from these tests were found dispersed all the way in upstate New York.
Military researchers filled light bulbs with bacteria and dropped them into the New York City subway system in Midtown Manhattan, distributing the bacteria for miles across the sprawling metropolis. Another test at Washington’s National Airport found 130 passengers on a plane spread a bacterium to 39 cities in seven states.
Much of what the Pentagon knows about the spread of biological agents come from the 239 tests conducted in this way, the WSJ story reports.
President Nixon ordered the Army’s biological tests stopped and its weapons destroyed after the news of these tests leaked to the American news media in the 1970s. Though many of the agents were thought to be harmless (at least, at the time) it’s not known how many people got sick and died as a result.
By the power of the Constitution, American presidents are the ultimate link between the people and the military. As commanders-in-chief, presidents are responsible for committing the nation to war — a very tall order.
Here are 4 presidents that navigated the vagaries of public sentiment better than most:
1. Polk told Americans that Mexico “shed American blood on American soil!”
President James K. Polk was an expansionist and wanted land from Mexico so that the U.S. would stretch from sea to shining sea. There is a dispute among historians on whether Polk wanted a war or was just willing to accept one, but he sent 4,000 troops under general and future president Zachary Taylor to a portion of land claimed by both Texas and Mexico.
Ten months later on May 8, 1846, Mexican troops attacked what they perceived to be American troops on Mexican land.
Polk acted quickly when he got word of the fighting. On May 11 he asked Congress for a declaration of war with the cry that Mexico had “shed American blood on American soil!” While a very few anti-expansionist Whigs – including then-Senator Abraham Lincoln – protested the fact that it was technically not “American soil,” the rest of the Whigs and the majority of Congress voted for war.
2. Lincoln rode on the coattails of his generals
President Abraham Lincoln, one of the most popular and well-respected leaders in American history, was not always popular in his time. Indeed, during the road to the 1864 election with the war going badly. Even Lincoln expected a crushing defeat in his re-election bid. When the Democrats nominated Gen. George B. McClellan on a platform of peace with the breakaway Confederacy, all seemed lost.
But Lincoln had pushed hard for aggressive generals during the war, and two of them saved him in the final months before the election. Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant had been handpicked by Lincoln for the top job, and Grant’s favored subordinate, Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman, delivered Atlanta to the president on Sep. 3, 1864.
The victory in Atlanta was soon followed by Grant’s wins in the Shenandoah Valley campaign. With the war suddenly going well, Lincoln was able to rally the North to keep going and win the war.
3. Wilson leaked the “Zimmerman Telegram” to the press
President Woodrow Wilson was notoriously reluctant to join World War I despite Germany’s unrestricted submarine warfare which killed hundreds of Americans and sank prized ships. One of the tipping points for Wilson was when Britain revealed the “Zimmerman Telegram” to him.
The Zimmerman Telegram was a secret proposal from Germany to Mexico. Germany promised Mexico Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico if Mexico entered World War I as a German ally against the U.S. Wilson authorized the Navy to begin arming civilian vessels and leaked the telegram to the public. Once the American public was in a fury, he went to Congress and asked for a declaration of war.
4. Roosevelt hid his disability, befriended journalists, and held fireside chats
When he wasn’t glad-handing journalists, he spoke directly to the American public over the radio during his iconic “Fireside Chats” that actually started in the early days of his presidency when the U.S. was more worried about the Great Depression than the wars in Europe and Asia.
The Air Force has designated the GOLauncher1 hypersonic flight research vehicle as X-60A. The vehicle is being developed by Generation Orbit Launch Services, Inc. under contract to the Air Force Research Laboratory, Aerospace Systems Directorate, High Speed Systems Division.
It is an air-dropped liquid rocket, specifically designed for hypersonic flight research to mature technologies including scramjet propulsion, high temperature materials, and autonomous control.
“The X-60A is like a flying wind tunnel to capture data that complements our current ground test capability,” said Col. Colin Tucker, Military Deputy, office of the deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force for science, technology, and engineering. “We’ve long needed this type of test vehicle to better understand how materials and other technologies behave while flying at more than 5 times the speed of sound. It enables faster development of both our current hypersonic weapon rapid prototypes and evolving future systems.”
(Generation Orbit Launch Services)
AFRL’s motivation for the X-60A program is to increase the frequency of flight testing while lowering the cost of maturing hypersonic technologies in relevant flight conditions. While hypersonic ground test facilities are vital in technology development, those technologies must also be tested with actual hypersonic flight conditions.
Utilizing new space commercial development, licensing, and operations practices, X-60A is envisioned to provide the Air Force, other U.S. Government agencies, and industry with a platform to more rapidly mature technologies.
The X-60A rocket vehicle propulsion system is the Hadley liquid rocket engine, which utilizes liquid oxygen and kerosene propellants. The system is designed to provide affordable and regular access to high dynamic pressure flight conditions between Mach 5 and Mach 8.
This is the first Air Force Small Business Innovative Research program to receive an experimental “X” designation.
Featured image: An artist’s sketch of an X-60A launch.
A Marine Rifleman is a jack of all trades. While our job is to focus on closing with and destroying the enemy, it doesn’t stop us from learning the basics of other jobs. Some times, sure, it’s to fill up training time slots but, why not learn how to use machine guns or mortars? Learning a little bit of everything is exactly why the infantry rifleman would fall under the class of “fighter” when it comes to table-top RPGs.
“Fighters learn the basics of all combat styles…” Is a sentence you’ll find if you look at the Dungeons & Dragons Player’s Handbook if you look under the class of “Fighter.” The writers of the handbook may not have intended for this sentence to also describe the Marine Corps’ main attack force but, it does a nice job of summing it up. But we’re not going to stop there.
Here’s why the infantry rifleman would be a fighter:
Notice how one Marine has a SAW and the other has a standard M16.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Brian M. Henner)
Riflemen are taught to be able to use every weapon on the battlefield. This means we’re meant to be able to pick up anything and know how to use it. Similarly, a Fighter is capable of using most weapons; whatever works.
Even prepared in the case of getting grappled.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Carlos Cruz Jr.)
Fighters can be used in a number of any kind of situations. Some can be defenders of a city or sent to combat in a distant land. Whatever the case is, a fighter is trained for it. Infantry riflemen are the same, there are very few situations that we are not trained for.
Any clime and place, right?
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Charles Santamaria)
A thirst for adventure
Whether it is trekking through a jungle with thick vegetation or across knee-deep snow on a mountain, you bet an infantry rifleman will find their enemy where they live and break everything they own. There is a slight difference here since, in reality, we have rules where players of a table-top don’t necessarily have that.
Look how they’re just charging in, ready for anything.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Staff Sgt. Dengrier M. Baez)
Fearing no enemy
Fighters are capable of facing down dragons and all sorts of beasts fearlessly, depending on how you’re playing. Dragons, in the sense of a table-top RPG, may not exist (for all we know) in our world. But that doesn’t mean an infantry rifleman couldn’t fight one if they did. Hell, there was even a recruiting ad that depicted Marines slaying a volcano monster… You know the one.
GOP Sen. John McCain said Tuesday he wants the U.S. to consider stationing troops permanently in Estonia, which borders Russia.
While on a tour of Baltic nations wary of the prospect of Russian aggression, McCain said stationing troops permanently in Estonia, in addition to fulfilling existing obligations to NATO, would increase military ties with the country, The Associated Press reports.
Part of the reason for McCain’s visit to the region is to reassure Baltic countries like Lithuania and Latvia that even though GOP President-elect Donald Trump has somewhat soured on NATO, the U.S. will nevertheless maintain its security commitments. During his presidential campaign, Trump said he’d think about withdrawing from NATO because the “obsolete” institution costs the U.S. a lot of money
“And the best way to prevent Russian misbehavior is by having a credible, strong military and a strong NATO alliance,” McCain added.
Additionally, McCain has taken special interest in the area because he’s a trenchant critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin and has blasted Russia’s military incursions in Ukraine. McCain noted he doesn’t expect U.S. sanctions on Russia to lift anytime soon.
He’s also pushed for a congressional panel to examine Russia’s reported attempts to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
However, McCain downplayed the idea that the U.S. can say with any certainty that Russian interference changed the course of the election.
“There is no doubt that the Russians were hacking, but there is doubt whether it had any effect on the outcome of the election,” McCain said. “There is no evidence right now that indeed the Russian cyber attacks and the leaking of the information had any tangible effect on the outcome of the American election.”
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More than 90 percent of those who attempt to become an Army diver fail in the first 14 days of training.
The hopefuls are often overcome, physically and mentally, by rigorous drills meant to winnow down recruits to the elite few.
The journey to become an Army diver begins (and often ends) at the Phase I course of the U.S. Army Engineer Dive School at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. In fiscal year 2018, only six enlisted soldiers attained the 12D (Engineer Diver) military occupational specialty. Although nine graduated Phase I of their Advanced Individual Training, or AIT, only the six went on to graduate from Phases II and III held at the Naval Diving and Salvage Training Center in Panama City Beach, Florida.
Sgt. 1st Class Eric T. Bailey, noncommissioned officer in charge and master diver for the 12D Phase I course, said a lot of the recruits arrive for training ill-prepared for what awaits them. The recruits have to pass a Diver Physical Fitness Test that, besides curl-ups and pushups, includes a timed 500-yard swim using the breast or side stroke, six pull-ups and a 1.5 mile run in 12 minutes and 30 seconds or less. They also need to pass the Class I Advanced Survival Swimmer Test. The ASST has five events including an underwater breath hold in which the trainees, in their full uniform, descend to the bottom of a 14-foot pool and swim the entire width of the pool on a single breath, touching the first and last of seven lane lines, before ascending. And that’s just Day 1.
Soldiers going through Phase I of Army Engineer Dive School honed their performance skills with the assistance of Performance Experts, or PEs, from the Fort Leonard Wood R2 Performance Center.
(US Army photo)
Throughout Phase I, students have to do increasingly arduous breath-holding drills, including “ditch and dons” which involve ditching their gear at the bottom of the pool then donning it again, making sure to clear their mask and snorkel. Bailey said the hardest part of the drill is for students to remain calm enough to don their gear even as their body urges them to breathe.
“They give up on themselves mentally, before they physically can’t do any more,” said Bailey.
As a result of the insanely high attrition rates, Bailey set out to find a way to “make soldiers better, faster.” And he thinks he has found it in the Fort Leonard Wood Ready and Resilient Performance Center or R2PC.
The R2PC is staffed with master resilience trainers-performance experts, or MRT-PEs, who are not only trained to increase soldier’s mental resilience but also have degrees in sports and performance psychology which they use to enhance soldier’s physical performance.
Dr. Kelly Dantin and Deanna Morrison, the performance experts on contract at the Fort Leonard Wood R2PC, observed the diver training and talked to the cadre and graduates of Phase I to get their input and develop a customized block of instruction for the 12D trainees. They found that if the students were physically prepared for the Phase I course, their next biggest challenge to graduating was their mindset. So they set about instilling in the students the mentality that quitting was “off the table” and simply not an option, Dantin said.
The performance experts started working with the 12D trainees in October 2018. The week prior to the students starting Phase I, Dantin and Morrison gave them training on techniques such as deliberate (or tactical) breathing, labeling (which includes the act of reframing a situation as a challenge instead of a threat) and Activating Events, Thoughts, and Consequences , or ATC.
ATC is a model that conveys that it’s thinking that determines what people do and how they feel, not the events that happen.”
Deanna Morrison (left) and Dr. Kelly Dantin make a list of what a person physically feels when they are calm during a block of instruction for students of the Army Engineer Diver Phase I course.
(US Army photo)
Students who fail from the Phase I course do so because they feel overwhelmed by the physical demands and don’t believe they can continue to perform over the entire course, Bailey said. To address this mental obstacle, the R2 performance experts teach the students a technique called segmenting. They teach them to break down the course into small chunks, and instead of thinking about the entirety of the course, just to think about making it until lunch. And then making it until dinner. And then making it until bedtime.
“Evolution by evolution, lap by lap, you can segment anything, breaking it up into bite-sized pieces,” that are manageable, Bailey said.
“We teach them how to perform better under pressure,” using both mental resilience and sports psychology, Morrison said.
In the four months since they started the R2 training, the course has achieved what previously took an entire year: graduating nine students out of Phase I. Bailey said that if the numbers bear out, he is looking at doubling the graduation rate in FY2019 from the previous year.
Bailey said he knows that the R2 training is working and has been a contributing factor with helping to reduce the attrition rates.
“Every time that we have done a debrief with a soldier that graduated, they said that training helped,” Bailey said. The students even start talking about the specific techniques, repeating what they learned from the R2 training. That success led to Bailey asking the MRT-PEs to continue to give the block of instruction in all future Phase I courses.
“Because of the R2 performance training we are sending to Florida soldiers that are better prepared, not only physically, tactically and technically, but also mentally,” Bailey said.
American women risk their lives for their country every day. In fact, women have served alongside men in combat long before they were legally “allowed.” That being said, women didn’t have the option of joining the military in fields outside of nursing until after the Vietnam War. With such a history, it’s important to tell the stories of the women who served and lost their lives while defending our country.
Honoring our fallen warriors is a longstanding, sacred traditional in our military. It’s part of our DNA to recognize the sacrifice of those that die in combat.
Piestewa is the first American Indian woman to die in combat on foreign soil. (U.S. Army photo)
Hailing from her hometown of Tuba City, Ariz., Piestewa was from a military family. She was the daughter of a Vietnam veteran and the granddaughter of a World War II veteran. Her own interest in the military began in high school, where she participated in a junior ROTC program. Piestewa enlisted in the Army and was attached to the 507th Maintenance Company in Fort Bliss, Texas and deployed to Iraq after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.
Piestewa was driving the lead vehicle in a convoy when one of their vehicles broke down. They stopped to make a repair, then continued north to catch up to the rest of the convoy. Along the way, they made a wrong turn and were ambushed by Iraqi troops.
The missing numbered 15 total.
A few days later, Pfc. Jessica Lynch was rescued from an Iraqi hospital. Nine members of the 507th were killed in action, including Piestewa. A rocket-propelled grenade hit the Humvee she was driving.
Piestewa left behind a son, a daughter, and a mother and father, Terry and Percy Piestewa, who toured the country attending memorial services held in her honor.
She was posthumously promoted to Pfc. Lori Ann Piestewa and Arizona’s offensively-named “Squaw Peak” was renamed Piestewa Peak. It was “given the name of hero,” as her tribe described it.
Lori Piestewa will live forever in our memory and in the memory of her fellow soldiers as the Hopi woman warrior that gave her life for her country: White Bear Girl.
Here’s the new video, showing Tesla’s lead designer, Franz von Holzhausen, throwing what appeared to be a metal ball at the Cybertruck’s windows:
Musk captioned the video: “Franz throws steel ball at Cybertruck window right before launch. Guess we have some improvements to make before production haha.”
The result in the video was different from Nov. 21, 2019’s live Cybertruck unveiling, where the truck’s armored glass dramatically cracked twice in a row after being hit by a metal ball. During that demo, multiple hard objects were used to hit the truck, including a large sledgehammer.
Though Musk laughed off the mishap onstage, exclaiming, “Oh my f—ing god” and “room for improvement,” the video went viral and Tesla’s stock price sank.
On Nov. 25, 2019, Musk tried to explain why the windows had broken during the live demo but not in earlier tests.
“Sledgehammer impact on door cracked base of glass, which is why steel ball didn’t bounce off,” he said. “Should have done steel ball on window, *then* sledgehammer the door. Next time …”
The Cybertruck is Tesla’s bold, brash first foray into the pickup-truck market — a market it has gradually primed itself to enter as its battery technology has become more powerful. It is made from various tough-sounding materials, including stainless steel and ultra-strong “Armor” glass.
According to Tesla’s website, Tesla plans to begin production of the Cybertruck, which starts at ,900, in late 2021. The vehicle’s most expensive version starts at ,900, and the company says it will have a maximum range of over 500 miles, a maximum towing capacity of over 14,000 pounds, and the ability to accelerate from zero to 60 mph in under 2.9 seconds.
Musk wrote over the weekend that Tesla had received 200,000 preorders so far.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Among defense experts the world over, there’s little doubt that warfare in the 21st century will be an orbital affair. From communications and reconnaissance to navigation and logistics, you’ll be hard-pressed to find an element of any modern nation’s military that operates without the use of space-born satellites, and as such, many nations are developing weapons aimed specifically at causing trouble high above our heads.
While the U.S. government may be no exception, as the reigning space-race champ, America has the lead, and as such, much more to lose in orbit than its national competitors. At least one element of the Pentagon has a plan to help keep it that way: an orbiting space station purpose-built to support a fleet of defensive space drones.
Which beats out my proposal to just start dropping bombs from the ISS, I suppose.
You might be imagining a space station equipped with the latest defense gadgets, science experiments meant to usher in the next era of orbital weapons, and of course, enough utility to support a wide variety of Pentagon directives in the dark skies around our pale blue dot… and you’d be right on all counts… but where this new initiative breaks from fantasy is in its size. The Pentagon’s proposed space station wouldn’t be built to sustain any kind of manned presence whatsoever, at least for now.
The proposed orbital outpost received a great deal of media attention recently thanks to an industry solicitation posted by the Pentagon’s Defense Innovation Unit (DIU). Put simply, the solicitation is seeking companies that want to compete for a chance to help launch a self-contained orbital facility that’s “capable of supporting space assembly, microgravity experimentation, logistics and storage, manufacturing, training, test and evaluation, hosting payloads, and other functions.”
“Rock, paper, scissors. Winner gets a new space station.”
(Courtesy of NASA)
The DIU envisions an orbital outpost that’s equipped with robotic arms to manage assembly and even potentially repair duties for other orbital assets. That means this unmanned installation could feasibly be used to build autonomous satellite drones in space meant to help protect America’s large and rather undefended constellation of satellites.
The tiny outpost would have a payload capacity of just 176 pounds (or 80 kilograms if you live in a nation that’s never sent people to the moon), and would offer only a small 3 foot by 3 foot by 4 foot enclosure. That may not be enough room to house any members of the space infantry, but it would be enough to work on things like cube-sats, which are small, inexpensive satellites built to serve specific purposes in orbit and beyond.
Because the reality of war in space could be as mundane as simply nudging a satellite out of its orbit, cube-sats and other small platforms could actually play a massive role in orbital combat operations. A fleet of inexpensive satellites could provide system redundancy by temporarily filling service gaps as other assets are destroyed or interfered with by enemy platforms. They could also engage with or deter enemy systems (be they satellites or weapons themselves).
The X-37B sits on the Vandenberg Air Force base runway after spending months in space without any grubby human mitts changing the radio station.
(U.S. Air Force photo/ Michael Stonecypher)
Thanks to advances in 3-D printing and a rash of commercial interest in orbital manufacturing in recent years, it seems entirely possible that an orbital outpost like the one proposed by the DIU could eventually support a broader space defense initiative, but it also seems unlikely that this specific enterprise would ever expand far enough to add human support to the equation, but then, humans may need to be present anyway.
Russia and China are both already believed to operate orbital weapons platforms that behave like autonomous satellites and the Air Force’s secretive space plane known as the X-37B operates in orbit for months at a time without any use for human hands. Star Wars may indeed eventually come to fruition, but at least for now, it looks like the fighting will be up to R2-D2, with all of us Skywalkers just watching anxiously from the ground.
Once dubbed “the world’s most dangerous road,” the 7.5-mile stretch from Baghdad’s Green Zone to the airport was called “Route Irish” during the American-led occupation of Iraq.
It was a fitting introduction to the country during the height of the war. For years, Route Irish was a trial by fire: if you survived the drive from the airport, you would be ready for anything.
The Americans and British had a hard time controlling the road for nearly two years. Most taxi drivers refused to go anywhere near it and those that did sometimes got caught up in the mix between the insurgency and the occupation forces. It wasn’t just dangerous for troops; it was dangerous for everyone.
1. It was an easy target.
Irish was the direct airport road, connecting the International Zone (aka the “Green Zone”) with BIAP and the Victory Base Complex. Insurgents of all brands, from loyalists to al-Qaeda in Iraq terrorists knew coalition forces were based along the road and knew they would have to use the road and the areas adjacent. Irish became a magnet for bullets, rockets, mortars, VBIEDs, and hidden IEDs.
Suicide bombers lurked on the exit ramps and road crews repairing holes from previous attacks buried IEDs. It became so bad, that by December 2004, State Department personnel were banned from using Irish and troops began calling it “IED Alley.”
2. The road was a bumpy ride.
All those explosive impacts created craters in the asphalt and littered the road with husks of destroyed vehicles. Besides making the trip seem like you were riding a bucking bronco for miles on end while dodging obstacles, the hastily filled-in holes created by explosions made the trip much longer than it had to be. The craters and garbage also made it easy for insurgents to hide IEDs.
Riding in a Bradley in 127-degree heat with little light and less air flow makes the 8-minute ride seem like it takes hours. Bumping your head on the side of this hotbox a few times will make anyone appreciate a foot patrol or IED sweep.
3. Getting aboard “the Rhino” was intimidating.
“The Rhino” was a Rhino Runner, a 22-seat bus with heavy armor, designed by Florida-based Labock Technologies. Troops, contractors, and VIPs traveling to and from Victory Base, BIAP, or the Green Zone had to mount up into the belly of this behemoth. Looking at this veritable mountain of a vehicle made the first time fobbit on his or her way to Iraqi Freedom’s nerve center think twice about whether or not they could conduct their business via email.
In November 2004, a three Rhino convoy was ambushed on Route Irish with a 250-pound suicide VBIED that made a crater 6 feet wide and 2 feet deep. A dust cloud over 1,000 feet long could be seen for miles around the city. There were no injuries to the 18 people in the vehicle.
4. The road required constant patrols.
Eventually, Irish would be secured by American troops using concrete obstacles, Iraqi Army units, and taking control of the neighborhoods adjacent to the road. Until then, Coalition forces had to keep the road as clean as possible and remove the blown-up car carcasses.
At one point, the Boston Globe reported the U.S. Army dedicated an entire battalion of the 10th Mountain Division to keeping the road as clear and safe as possible. This opened the troops up to constant attacks from suicide bombers, a tactic the military could do little to prevent short of destroying the car before it reached the target.
5. If the attacks weren’t dangerous enough, the Iraqi drivers were.
Because of the frequency and severity of attacks on American and other Coalition personnel (and sometimes sectarian violence) drivers in the city put the pedal to the metal while driving along the road. They so slow down for U.S. vehicle convoys because the turret gunners have no problem taking a few shots at a tailgater.
Iraqis drove the highway at high speeds, veering away from the median (a potential source of IEDs) except when they were veering away from the exits (a source of suicide VBIEDs), and randomly weaved while driving under overpasses for fear of someone dropping something on them.
Civilians who wanted a ride from the Sheraton to the airport could easily hire their own armored shuttle service – for the deeply discounted price of $2,390 each way.