This firebase was once the "evilest place in Afghanistan" - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

This firebase was once the “evilest place in Afghanistan”

On a high plain in the Paktika province of Afghanistan, sits a remote outpost known to many simply as Firebase Shkin. In the early days of the War in Afghanistan, it was a hotspot of insurgent activity. According to Col. Rodney Davis, by 2003 Shkin was known as “the evilest place in Afghanistan.”


The firebase, looking like a cross between an old Wild West fort and the Alamo, sat right on the border in the middle of a major infiltration route for the Taliban from Pakistan. Contact was inevitable. Making matters more difficult was the ambiguous loyalty of the Pakistani Border Guards and armed forces in the area. The remote location meant that help was a long way off if things took a turn for the worse. Finally, the high elevation, 7,700 feet, meant every patrol was grueling.

This firebase was once the “evilest place in Afghanistan”
Paktika Province in Afghanistan (Wikimedia Commons)

Patrols wound through wadis and mountain passes on dirt tracks with names like Route Saturn, Chevy, and Camaro. Friendly Afghan Militia Forces inhabited adjoining buildings and ran the dreaded South Camp – a captured insurgent’s worst nightmare.

The base had first housed Special Forces soldiers and Rangers before being handed over to conventional forces from the 82nd Airborne Division, part of Task Force Panther, in 2002. The first casualty from the 82nd in the War on Terror was incurred here on December 20, 2002 when Sgt. Checo, assigned to D Company, 2nd Battalion 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment (PIR), was killed in action. The firebase was often unofficially referred to as Firebase Checo in his honor.

Task Force Panther was relieved by Task Force Devil in January 2003. The elements of Task Force Devil, particularly those operating out of Firebase Shkin, were essential in establishing the tactics and standards of conventional forces operating in low-intensity conflicts. This information would be used to great effect as the war in Afghanistan grew and more troops came into the country. For the soldiers of Task Force Devil—and those that followed—these were lessons learned the hard way.

This firebase was once the “evilest place in Afghanistan”
Sergeant Ryan Creel (Combat Camera) films soldiers attached to 1-87th, 10th Mountain Divition searching the mountian side, just outside Shkin Firebase in Afghanistan. (US Army Photo by PFC Jory C. Randall)

In April 2003, a contingent centered on elements of B Company 3rd Battalion 504th PIR, supported by gun trucks from D Company as well as artillery and other support, took control of the firebase. Contact began almost immediately. On April 25, a quick reaction force from the firebase was ambushed by Al Qaeda fighters. Using a reverse-slope ambush, a technique taught to them during their war against Russia, the Anti-Coalition Militia (ACM) inflicted significant casualties on the firebase’s most recent inhabitants.

Two Americans were killed in the exchange and several others wounded, including the company commander, a platoon sergeant, and a forward observer. One of the soldiers killed was Jerod Dennis from B Company. The airfield at Orgun-e would later be named Dennis Army Airfield in his honor. The site of the battle, Losano Ridge, took its name from an Air Force Tactical Air Controller, Raymond Losano, who was also killed that day. However, the paratroopers gave better than they got sending the Al Qaeda fighters back across the border into Pakistan with heavy casualties.

The fight was further complicated by its proximity to the border and the fact that it happened in plain view of Pakistani outposts there. The response from the Pakistani side was to deliberately block and draw weapons on the American quick reaction force that was attempting to cut off the fleeing ACM fighters.

The soldiers of Firebase Shkin continued to engage the ACM and expand on their doctrine throughout the summer of 2003. As their commander, Capt. Dave Buffaloe, put it,I was given an opportunity that no other captain in the Army was given: to fight his own combined-arms, coalition, joint, multi-agency fight in his own Area of Operations.” Ambushes were frequent and the operations tempo was demanding, especially as there were only six dismounted infantry squads at the time.  

This firebase was once the “evilest place in Afghanistan”
U.S. Marine Sgt. Zachary Zobrist engages enemy during firefight in Afghanistan. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Ezekiel R. Kitandwe)

By the end of the summer, Task Force Devil began rotating out of the border firebases and handing over responsibility to the incoming 10th Mountain Division task force. For the soldiers of 1st Battalion 87th Infantry that meant it was their turn at Firebase Shkin.

Though contact had tapered off towards the end of the paratroopers’ tour, the ACM came back hard to test the new unit in the area. On August 31, 2003 the task force lost its first soldiers of the tour in a large scale firefight with Anti-Coalition forces. In September Afghanistan’s most intense combat in 18 months claimed the life of another soldier, Evan O’Neill, in a firefight around Shkin. The attack was more sophisticated than earlier Al Qaeda attempts against the American soldiers. This attack involved mortar rounds and what seemed to be an attempt to down an American helicopter. The whole fight, once again, took place within view of the Pakistani Border Guards, who did nothing to aid America or its allies.

The soldiers from the 10th Mountain Division would continue to battle against insurgents in the lonely reaches of Shkin, Afghanistan before they themselves were relieved. The tenacity of the American soldiers at Firebase Shkin would bring relative quiet to the area. Eventually Firebase Shkin would be overshadowed by places like the Korengal Valley and fighting such as the Battle of Wanat. But those who served there in the early days of the war will always remember the hell that was the evilest place in Afghanistan – Firebase Shkin.

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This flying tank destroyer had a much bigger gun than the Warthog

The A-10 is justifiably celebrated for its tank-killing prowess.


After all, it destroyed 987 tanks and a metric buttload of other Iraqi stuff during Desert Storm, and its GAU-8 got a lot of use, including some Iraqi helicopters who felt the BRRRRT! But the Air Force once planned for a tank-buster with a gun that made the A-10’s GAU-8 look puny.

The Beechcraft XA-38 Grizzly was intended to be a close-air support plane to bust up tanks and bunkers in front of the infantry. Beechcraft, ironically, is best known for civilian planes like the King Air.

This firebase was once the “evilest place in Afghanistan”
Beechcraft XA-38 (S/N 43-14407) in flight. (U.S. Air Force photo)

To accomplish that mission, it was given a powerful armament. In the nose was a pair of M2 .50-caliber machine guns and a powerful T15E1 75mm automatic cannon. It had a pair of twin .50-caliber turrets as well (one on the top, one on the bottom), and the ability to carry up to 2,000 pounds of bombs, according to MilitaryFactory.com.

Yeah, you read that right. The Army Air Force in World War II was developing a specialized tank-buster that was two and a half times bigger than the GAU-8. Of course, a 75mm gun had been used on variants of the B-25, but the XA-38’s gun was essentially a semi-auto.

This firebase was once the “evilest place in Afghanistan”
A parked XA-38, with the barrel of the T15E1 prominently visible. Makes the GAU-8 looks like a cute popgun doesn’t it? (U.S. Air Force photo)

The plane had a top speed of 376 miles per hour, a range of 1,625 miles, and a crew of two. With all that performance, it had a lot of promise when it first flew in May of 1944. But that promise was never seen by the grunts on the ground.

The XA-38 project never got past the two prototypes, because a different aviation project took up all the engines that the Grizzly was designed to use. The Wright GR-3350-43 engines were needed by the Boeing B-29 Superfortress, which in 1944 was needed to bomb Japan.

One prototype was scrapped, while the other’s fate remains unknown.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This vet crash-landed a 767 on a race track on family day

Air Canada Flight 143 was supposed to be routine. The crew took possession of their airplane from the departing crew, reloaded on fuel, grabbed the passengers, and headed out of Montreal bound for Edmonton at 41,000 feet.

But then they got a fuel pressure warning. “No big deal,” they may have thought. Pumps fail all the time and gravity can feed these engines, “turn off the alarm.” But then a second one went off. What they would later learn was that the ground crew had entered their fuel measurement using formulas for pounds — but the systems had been converted to work with kilograms.

Shortly after dinner service, the plane ran out of gas.


This firebase was once the “evilest place in Afghanistan”

The “Gimli Glider” was crash-landed on a race track as families watched in horror and fascination after it ran out of gas thousands of feet in the air.

(Aero Icarus, CC BY-SA 2.0)

The crew heard a long warning noise that none of the members had ever heard before, even in the simulators. The warning signaled a total loss of both engines. The plane had ran out of gas. This is an even bigger problem than it would be in your Chevy since the plane needs engine power to run a host of systems, including the hydraulics

Suddenly, the crew was piloting a massive glider with nearly no power, no hydraulics, and limited instruments — and they were still over 1,000 miles from their destination. To make matters worse, air traffic control suddenly had their own issues guiding the flight since the plane’s radio transponders were powered by, you guessed it, the engines.

Luckily, the pilot often flew and towed gliders for fun, and the first officer, a veteran of the Canadian Armed Forces, was intimately familiar with the airspace and landing strips nearby from his time in the service. The two men tapped into their respective skill banks to save the flight and get all 69 people on the plane down safely, eventually netting them awards for their flying in what would later be known as the “Gimli Glider” incident.

This video from Today I Found Out shows how it all went down:

www.youtube.com

An earlier version of this story referred to the race track as a “go-kart track.” The track was being used by small sports cars on the day of the landing, not go-karts.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is why US troops didn’t use drum magazines in tommy guns

The World War I-era U.S. Army was unprepared for fighting a global confrontation in the 20th Century. Hell, it was unprepared for any modern confrontation at the turn of the century. As America prepared to enter the Great War, the War Department called on its military minds to develop a lightweight, short-range, trench-clearing game changer. The result was the Thompson submachine gun.


The “Tommy Gun,” as it came to be called, used the Colt M1911 grip and its dependable .45-caliber ammunition. By 1919, the fully-automatic weapon was perfected, and it was capable of using a 20-round block magazine or a 50- to 100-round drum magazine. But the war was over and the surplus was sold on the civilian market to anyone who could afford one – including notorious gangsters.

It was the outlaws and gangsters who made the Tommy Gun iconic.

This firebase was once the “evilest place in Afghanistan”

Legendary gangster John Dillinger with Tommy Gun.

In nearly every photo of the era, the gangsters can be seen using the drum magazines, which provided them more ammunition for the weapon’s high rate of fire. It makes sense for an outlaw to use more ammo when trying to make a quick, clean getaway from the fuzz. Shouldn’t it make sense for U.S. troops to do the same when advancing in World War II?

The answer is no, and not just because a 100-round magazine will help deplete ammunition much faster than having to conserve 20- or 30-round box mags. It turns out, the Thompson was really bulky and not so easy to carry while slung with a drum magazine. More than just being unwieldy, the rounds tended to rattle inside the drum magazine and produced a lot of unwanted noise, noise that could get an entire unit killed in combat.

But the most important reason was reloading.

This firebase was once the “evilest place in Afghanistan”

Yeah, gangsters look cool and all, but have you ever seen Marines fighting to take Okinawa?

Switching between a drum magazine and a box magazine required an extra set of tools. To load a drum magazine also required the user to have a special tool that would lock the bolt back to the rear. And, unlike spring-loaded box mags that were already under tension, reloading a drum magazine required a tool to rotate the spring in the magazine enough to put the rounds under the necessary tension.

Worst of all, if you lost any of the tools needed to reload the weapon, you would be hard-pressed to actually be able to do it without assistance. Drum mags also weighed more and took up more space in a very limited kit. Whereas the box magazine could be loaded and dropped from the rifle in seconds, shared with a buddy, and reloaded just as fast.

The difference between 30 second and 3 seconds under fire in World War II could have been the difference between life and death. In gangland Chicago, all you needed was time for your V8 Packard to speed away before the Untouchables swooped in.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The United States worst military defeat came at the hands of native tribes

In the earliest days of the American republic, the United States military was as disorganized as the rest of the American government under the Articles of Confederation. When that document was replaced by the U.S. Constitution in 1789, the government became more organized but the military still needed some work. 

The Treaty of Paris that ended the American Revolution awarded all lands east of the Mississippi River and south of the Great Lakes to the new American government, but the areas were still not as developed as the original 13 colonies. Still, Americans were determined to expand westward. 

Though Britain ceded its claims to the land, no one consulted the countless native tribes that still lived in the area. Native leaders did not recognize American sovereignty over the region but the U.S. government needed to sell the land to pay its Revolutionary War debts – and settlers were willing to buy. 

White settlers clashed with the natives in sporadic violence, forcing the U.S. government to step in, but the American Army was not the army that won the revolution. There were few professional soldiers available to fight the natives. When Gen. Joshua Harmar first moved on the natives in Ohio and Kentucky, where they were chewed up and spit out by the Miami and Shawnee tribes. 

Illustration from Theodore Roosevelt’s article on St. Clair’s Defeat, featured in Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, February 1896.

Harmar’s failure forced now-President George Washington to get more aggressive in the new territory. Washington dispatched Gen. Arthur St. Clair at the head of 2,000 men, some on six-month enlistments and some Kentucky militia to quell the native violence. 

Arthur St. Clair
Portrait of Arthur St. Clair

Aside from the lack of organization of both the Army and the U.S. government, St. Clair’s army had a lot going against it from the start. Being comprised of short-term enlistees and militiamen, they were poorly trained and poorly equipped. Supply issues cause a shortage of food and horses, and what the army did have was not the kind of quality it needed. St. Clair suffered from gout, and the army’s bad fortunes caused a series of desertions and delays. 

But, as the saying goes, you go to war with the army you have, not the army you’d like to have.

Which, in this case, turned out to be a terrible mistake, maybe the army’s worst-ever mistake in its nearly 250-year history.

St. Clair’s objective was the Miami settlement of Kekionga, which served as a sort of capital for the tribe. He moved out in October of 1791 on his way Kekionga and the natives harassed his army the entire way. But they never really made it to attack the natives, the natives came to them.

miami leader turtle
A 13 foot, bronze statue of Miami leader Little Turtle (Photo by Mark Christal, Flickr)

By Nov. 3, 1791, the tribes in the area had amassed a force of more than 1,000 warriors and they attacked at the worst possible time for the Americans. They had just broken for an evening meal, and many were without weapons. Even so, the militiamen immediately fell apart and fled. 

The regulars stayed, grabbed their weapons and formed battle lines, knowing their organization was all that could save them from certain death. As Miami leader Little Turtle began to focus on the U.S. regulars, the American artillery attempted to get into the fight. The artillery was quickly taken out by native snipers. 

In a desperate attempt to win a last-second rout, some of the regular troops attempted a bayonet charge, only to be fooled into following the native warriors into the woods. Once in the woods, the soldiers were trapped and killed by the indians. 

After two hours, it was all over. St. Clair ordered a retreat and one last bayonet charge was run. This time, the charging Americans never stopped, instead making a break for the nearest American fort. They were pursued for miles before the native tribesmen turned around and headed back for the camp.

The Americans suffered a staggering 97% casualty rate, a quarter of the entire U.S. Army was wiped out in one engagement. It was the worst military defeat the United States ever suffered.

MIGHTY HISTORY

World War II battleship Wisconsin celebrates 76th birthday

In 1939, Congress authorized the construction of the USS Wisconsin. The build began at the Philadelphia Naval Yard in 1941. The United States was still doing everything she could to avoid being involved in the war in Europe, but preparing nonetheless. The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor eleven months later would change everything.

The world was now at war for the second time and the USS Wisconsin would join the fight.
This firebase was once the “evilest place in Afghanistan”

In 1943 on the second anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack, the USS Wisconsin launched. She was commissioned on April 16, 1944. She left Norfolk, VA, and began her work. A few months later, the USS Wisconsin earned her first star in battle by supporting carriers during Leyte Operation: Luzon Attacks. She would go on to prove her seaworthiness by surviving a typhoon that took out three ships.

In January of 1945 while heavily armed, she escorted fast carriers who completed air strikes against Formosa, Luzon. By supporting these strikes, she earned her second battle star. Shortly after that she was assigned to the 5th Fleet. She went on to assist in the strike against Tokyo, which was a cover for the eventual invasion of Iwo Jima.
This firebase was once the “evilest place in Afghanistan”

Under the cover of terrible weather, the USS Wisconsin supported landing operations for Iwo Jima, earning her third battle star. She would earn her fourth in an operation against Okinawa. Following that, she showed her might by keeping the enemy at bay with her powerful weapons and taking down three enemy planes. The USS Wisconsin earned a fifth star after operations against Japan. After putting in over 100,000 miles at sea since joining the fleet, she dropped her anchor in Tokyo Bay. She was vital to the support of the Pacific naval operations for World War II and earned her rest. She was inactivated in 1948 and decommissioned. It wouldn’t last long.

The USS Wisconsin rejoined the fleet in 1951 to assist in the Korean War operations. Following that war, she was placed out of commission yet again in 1958, and sat idle for 28 years until she was needed once more. She would go on to support operations in the Gulf War in 1991. Throughout her six months there, she played an absolute vital role in restoring Kuwait. She was decommissioned for the third and final time — she definitely earned her retirement.

The USS Wisconsin now sits in Norfolk, VA open to the public as a museum.

MIGHTY HISTORY

These are the 4 inmates on the military’s death row

Every service member knows the result of not living up to the expectations placed upon them by donning the uniform of the Armed Forces of the United States. Most will never receive a punishment beyond Article 15 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, non-judicial punishment. For repeat offenders, the threat of “turning big rocks into little rocks” at Fort Leavenworth looms large.


Actually being sent to the Kansas-based U.S. Disciplinary Barracks at Leavenworth is, in reality, a tall order. The facility houses only the worst offenders. It’s the only maximum-security facility in the U.S. military and hard time there is reserved for commissioned officers, enlisted personnel with sentences longer than ten years, and those who are convicted of crimes related to national security. It’s reserved for the worst of the worst — which includes those on the military’s death row.

Since the end of World War II, the facility has executed some 21 prisoners, including more than a dozen Nazi German prisoners of war convicted of war crimes. The last time an American troop was executed for his crimes was in 1961, when Army Pfc. John Bennett was hanged for the rape and attempted murder of a young Austrian girl after spending six years on death row. There are currently four inmates awaiting execution at Leavenworth, but these four will not face the gallows.

Executions for military personnel will likely be by lethal injection and performed at the United States Penitentiary in Terre Haute, Indiana.

This firebase was once the “evilest place in Afghanistan”

Ronald Gray

In 1986 and 1987, then-Specialist Ronald Gray was a cook stationed at Fort Bragg, N.C., when he committed the series of crimes that landed him on the military’s death row. Gray raped and murdered four women, both on Fort Bragg and in the area around nearby Fayetteville. He was sentenced to death in 1988 and his execution was approved by President George W. Bush in 2008. He has since filed a petition to be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court, but it was turned down, meaning Gray might soon be the first prisoner executed by the military in over 50 years.

His first victim was 27-year-old civilian Linda Jean Coats and his second was also a civilian, 18-year-old Tammy Cofer Wilson. He next turned his attention to female soldiers, abducting, raping, and murdering 18-year-old Pvt. Laura Lee Vickery-Clay. Vickery-Clay’s body was discovered a block from her home on Fort Bragg. He then raped and attempted to kill 20-year-old Pvt. Mary Ann Lang Nameth, stabbing her in the throat after entering her barracks room, but leaving her alive. She was able to identify him as her attacker when Gray was arrested for another crime.

Just three days later, he raped and murdered another civilian, 23-year-old Kimberly Ann Ruggles. It was this crime that would lead to his capture and conviction. Ruggles was a taxi driver dispatched to pick up a “Ron” at Gray’s address. Her body was discovered later that night near her empty cab. Police identified the gag on Ruggles’ body as one belonging to Gray after holding him for another crime just hours before. Gray’s fingerprints were all over the cab and Ruggles’ prints were on money Gray was holding during his arrest.

Gray was tried and convicted in both civil and military courts in 1988. Civilian courts sentenced Gray to eight consecutive life sentences. His military court martial sentenced him to die. He is currently the longest-serving death-row inmate at Fort Leavenworth.

This firebase was once the “evilest place in Afghanistan”

Hasan Akbar

In March, 2003, just days after U.S. troops initially crossed into Iraq, Army Sgt. Hasan Akbar was at Camp Pennsylvania, a rear-staging area for the invasion of Iraq, located in Kuwait. In the early morning hours, Akbar lobbed fragmentation and incendiary grenades into the tents of sleeping officers, then assaulted other members of his unit with his issued M-4 rifle. He killed Army Capt. Christopher Seifert and Air Force Maj. Gregory L. Stone. and wounded 14 other service members.

Even though his defense team cited repeated attacks and insults on his Muslim faith from fellow soldiers as a primary motivator for the attack, it was later discovered that Akbar decided to plan and execute the attack once he was in Kuwait, writing in a journal on Feb 4, 2003:

“As soon as I am in Iraq, I am going to try and kill as many of them as possible.”

Hasan was convicted of two counts of premeditated murder and three counts of attempted premeditated murder. The commander of the 18th Airborne Corps affirmed the death sentence and an appeal to the Army Court of Criminal Appeals is pending.

This firebase was once the “evilest place in Afghanistan”

Timothy Hennis

In 1985, a mother and two of her children were found murdered in their Fayetteville, N.C. home. Kathryn Eastburn was stabbed to death with two of her three daughters while her husband, an airman, was training in Alabama. The family was getting ready to move away from the country and put an ad in the paper to sell their dog. Timothy Hennis was a Fort Bragg soldier who admitted to police he responded to the ad. An eyewitness identified Hennis as a man who left the Eastburn home in the early morning hours after the killings would have taken place.

Hennis was tried, convicted, and sentenced to die in North Carolina civilian courts but that verdict was later overturned and Hennis was acquitted in a retrial. As a free man, Hennis returned to the Army and retired as a Master Sergeant in 2004. But the Army wasn’t done with the Hennis case. Semen samples taken from Kathryn Eastburn’s body were analyzed as DNA evidence that wasn’t available in the original case.

The Army again charged Hennis with the crime, this time framing the evidence to the matching DNA samples. In 2010, A military court finally found Hennis guilty of the crimes, stripped him of rank and pay, and sentenced him to death.

This firebase was once the “evilest place in Afghanistan”

Nidal Hasan

Also known as “The Fort Hood Shooter” Hasan was an Army officer, a psychiatrist stationed at Ft. Hood, Texas. On Nov. 5, 2009, Hasan entered the Soldier Readiness Center, pulled a handgun, and, for 10 minutes, began shooting at the personnel there. He killed 13 people and injured another 30 before being shot himself by Fort Hood’s Army Civilian Police. The gunfight rendered Hasan paralyzed from the waist down.

The Army charged Hasan with 13 counts of premeditated murder and 32 counts of attempted murder, with the Army announcing early on that Hasan was eligible for the death penalty and that the Army would seek that sentence. Hasan defended himself at the trial and in doing so was found guilty of all charges. He was unanimously sentenced to Fort Leavenworth to await execution.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The spy who gave nukes to the USSR applied for a veteran’s pension

In 1999, a U.S. Army World War II veteran applied for his Social Security pension. There would have been nothing out of the ordinary for any other vet down on his luck. He knew that any veteran of WWII was able to apply at the Social Security office for special benefits for Army vets during that war. Later that year, 1999, he received a notification by mail, with just one line:

“We are writing to tell you that you do not qualify for retirement benefits.”

The veteran applying for that bit of extra cash every month applied from the U.S. Embassy in Moscow. His name was George Koval, and just 50 years prior, he was giving the Soviet Union the information it needed (and couldn’t produce itself) to build an atomic bomb.

This firebase was once the “evilest place in Afghanistan”

What a tool.

The American-born Koval actually moved to Russia in his early years with his family. It was there he was recruited by Soviet intelligence to return to the United States and work as a spy. He came back to the mainland U.S. by way of San Fransisco, moved to New York, and became an electrical engineer for a company subcontracting to General Electric. Except this company was a front company owned by Soviet spies. Koval soon became the head of his own GRU-led cell.

Then, he was drafted to fight in World War II. But instead of fighting in the Infantry, he was sent to the City Colleges of New York to study more and prepare for his real assignment – the Manhattan Project.

This firebase was once the “evilest place in Afghanistan”

George Koval (middle row, first from the right) and classmates at CCNY.

Koval was transferred to Oak Ridge, Tenn. where he became the projects public safety officer. He had unfettered access to everything in the Manhattan Project, especially the radioactive elements necessary to trigger the fission that would create the world’s largest explosions. He sent everything back to the Soviet Union, including production processes for plutonium, uranium, and polonium. The coup de gras, however, was the polonium initiators that triggered the fission reaction. The Soviets got those designs too.

Agent DELMAR, Kovals code name, was given unrestricted access to all the top sites of the Project. He freely walked around the halls of the Dayton, Ohio facility where polonium triggers were manufactured. He had free access to the Los Alamos National Laboratory where the triggers were integrated into the greater design. Koval was basically able to guide Soviet scientists through the process, step-by-step. He sent information back to the Soviets for three years, between 1943 and 1946.

This firebase was once the “evilest place in Afghanistan”

Koval, later in life.

Eventually, the heat started getting to Koval, so he decided to apply for a passport. He told friends and colleagues he was going to Europe or Israel, but he left one day and never returned. Koval escaped to the USSR, where he was discharged from the Soviet military as an unskilled rifleman and given the appropriate pension… which probably wasn’t much. That’s likely the first step in what led him to apply for special benefits at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow that day in 1999. The United States never suspected his involvement until the mid-1950s. By 1999, he was an FBI legend.

Koval lived until 2006 when President Vladimir Putin posthumously declared him a Hero of Russia for being the only spy to ever get into the Manhattan Project – much too late to get that pension.

MIGHTY HISTORY

7 facts about the Gracchi Brothers of Rome

In the late second century BC, the Roman Republic seemed to be flourishing. After over a century of war with its ancient enemy Carthage, Rome now stood as the sole superpower of the western Mediterranean Sea. Under the brilliance of this victory, however, there was a storm coming. As Rome expanded, the Republic became increasingly stratified between rich and poor, and tensions were on the rise. It was in this turbulent time that the Gracchi brothers Tiberius and Gaius entered the political scene. Their reforms would result in both of their deaths, but their actions would change the course of Roman history. Here are seven things to know about the Gracchi brothers.

1. Rome was becoming a powder keg

As Rome had expanded from a small settlement in central Italy to the master of the Mediterranean, there opened a gulf between the upper and lower classes. The old ideal of the citizen-farmer, the self-sufficient man who owned his own land, was increasingly out of reach. Lands once divided into independent family farms were being absorbed into massive private villas owned by aristocrats and worked by slaves. Many Roman citizens were forced into the city, where they were forced to depend on handouts from the state. This left many Romans from all classes discontent.

Buildings in Rome were stunning like this one, but most citizens were poor.

2. Tiberius was tribune of the plebs

The tribune of the plebs was the representative of the plebeians, or Roman masses; he was responsible for checking the power of the Senate, which was dominated by the patricians, the nobility. In the year 133 BC, Tiberius Gracchus was elected tribune on a platform of land reform. He invoked the Lex Licinia Sexta, an ancient set of laws that placed a limit on land ownership, to redistribute excess land from the wealthy to the poor. The problem was, the laws had not been enforced in decades, and enforcing them would be an uphill battle.

3. Tiberius was the first populist

The elder Gracchi was known for violating Rome’s political traditions. It was customary to bring a new bill to the Senate for debate, but Tiberius took his land reform bill directly to the citizen-assemblies to be voted on. When the infuriated Senators stepped in to prevent the bill from passing, Tiberius spent the rest of his time as tribune disrupting other attempts at legislating, in order to hold the Senate hostage.

4. Tiberius’s murder changed Roman politics

The position of tribune was considered sacred, so the Senate could not touch Tiberius until his one-year tenure was over. Tiberius attempted to run for tribune a second time in a row, which was illegal. The Senate responded by storming one of the Gracchi’s rallies, beating Tiberius and many of his supporters to death. This was the first time in centuries that Roman politics had been determined by violence, but it would not be the last.

Ancient forum in Rome
An ancient Roman forum is now a historical site.

5. Gaius was also tribune

Ten years later in 123 BC, the younger Gracchi Gaius was elected tribune on the same platform as his brother. Where Tiberius was more idealistic and placed his trust in the people, Gaius knew that he would need the upper classes on his side. He appealed to the equestrians, the class just below the patricians, to push forward his reforms. He promoted land reform, limiting military conscription to the age of 17 or older, providing grain for the poor citizens and equipment for the poor soldiers (before, Roman conscripts had to pay for their own armor and weapons), and various other public works projects.

6. Gaius couldn’t keep the support of the people

His popularity, however, would not last forever. In the late Republic many Italian peoples were allied with Rome, but were not full Roman citizens. Gaius proposed extending citizenship to these allies, but this was a political miscalculation. The Roman people realized they would have to share the redistributed land with an influx of new citizens, and this they could not abide. Gaius’s days were numbered.

7. Gaius took his own life

Tensions eventually boiled over when a massive pro-Gracchi rally ended in violence. One of Gaius’s opponents was killed, as Gaius’s supporters were illegally carrying weapons within the city of Rome. This prompted the Senators to pass for the first time in history the Senatus consultum ultimum, a law that empowered the Senate to put a citizen to death without a trial. For a Roman man capture and execution was less honorable than suicide, so Gaius fell on his own sword.

The Gracchi brothers were only the start of the crisis in the late Republic. The tensions between upper and lower classes would become more extreme, prompting the rise of newer, more ruthless politicians. The Senate would continue to abuse its power over life and death. For the first time in centuries, Roman law was made secondary to violence. The Republic would eventually descend into civil war, but thanks to Romans like the Gracchi, the dream of Rome would continue to inspire us for centuries.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Ernest Hemingway was almost impossible to kill

If there ever was a candidate for history’s real “Most Interesting Man In the World,” the frontrunner for the title would have to be famed writer, boxer, veteran, and adventurer Ernest Hemingway. He drove an ambulance in World War I, covered the Spanish Civil War, hunted Nazi submarines in the Pacific, gave relationship advice to F. Scott Fitzgerald, and even drank with Castro after the 1959 Cuban Revolution.

That brief paragraph barely scratches the surface of the man’s epic life. But truthfully, Hemingway should have died many, many times during his epic journey. In the end, he was the only one who could have ever ended such a life. The Grim Reaper was probably afraid to come around.


As the man himself once said, “Death is like an old whore in a bar. I’ll buy her a drink but I won’t go upstairs with her.”

This firebase was once the “evilest place in Afghanistan”

Hemingway on crutches in World War I.

He was hit by a mortar in World War I

While driving an ambulance on the Italian Front of the Great War, Hemingway was hit by an Austrian shell while handing out chocolate. The blast knocked him out cold and buried him in the ground nearby. He was peppered from head to toe by shrapnel while two Italian soldiers next to him were killed almost instantly.

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Just not all at once.

He carried more diseases than an old sponge.

Throughout his life, Hemingway was struck down hard by things like anthrax, malaria, pneumonia, dysentery, skin cancer, hepatitis, anemia, diabetes, high blood pressure, and mental illness. Even so, he hunted big game in Africa while suffering from malaria, and even boxed the locals.

This firebase was once the “evilest place in Afghanistan”

Hemingway sparring with locals in Africa.

He got into a lot of fights.

The original Big Papa was a fan of fisticuffs. He took any and every opportunity to accept challenges to his boxing prowess, fighting the aforementioned African locals, Caribbean friends, and even contemporary authors who besmirched his good name. If anyone challenged his manhood, they could count on a physical challenge of their own.

This firebase was once the “evilest place in Afghanistan”

“Never sit at a table when you can stand at the bar.”

“I drink to make other people more interesting.”

Hemingway enjoyed a good cocktail or three. An entire book has been published with just the cocktails Hemingway enjoyed the most. His favorite was a double frozen blended daiquiri from his favorite bar in Havana, the Floridita. On one occasion, he and a friend drank 17 of the double-strength concoctions. Eventually, he had to stop drinking to mitigate liver damage. No kidding.

This firebase was once the “evilest place in Afghanistan”

Hemingway giving pointers on growing a vet beard. Probably.

The Nazis couldn’t kill him.

Hemingway was writing in Madrid when Spain was devastated by Fascist bombers and was in London when the Luftwaffe bombed that city. He was covering the D-Day landings of World War II, coming onto the beaches with the seventh wave and then moving inland through hedgerow country, moving with the Army through the Battle of the Bulge – all while suffering from pneumonia. All this after hunting Nazi submarines off of Cuba.

He even formed French Resistance members into a militia and helped capture Paris.

This firebase was once the “evilest place in Afghanistan”

God couldn’t kill him.

While on vacation in Africa, Hemingway and company were nearly killed in a plane crash. On their way to Uganda to receive medical care, their plane exploded upon takeoff. The resulting concussion caused him to leak cerebral fluid, and he suffered from two cracked discs, a kidney and liver rupture, a dislocated shoulder, and a broken skull. He still went on a planned fishing trip… where a brushfire burned his legs, front torso, lips, left hand, and right forearm.

He responded by getting up and winning a Nobel Prize.

Articles

5 real life games you can play to get ready for war

Most service members played Army when they were kids. And throughout our childhood educational years, we were presented with a host of games that stretch our minds and hone our analytical skills.


In the military, the goal isn’t much different — though the information is just delivered through alternative means like “death by PowerPoint.” And isn’t nearly as much fun

Related: 5 crazy games you played while in the military

So to avoid the boredom of paper and screens, we compiled a list of real life games you can play stateside that will increase your unit’s communication, physical stamina, and mental toughness.

1. Laser Tag

Running into a low-lit terrorist cell with weapons at the ready with your adrenaline pumping and still being ready to “expect the unexpected” while you clear the room can be incredibly stressful.

Dial back the dangerous nature of the mission and you could have a friendly game of laser tag.

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2. Treasure hunt

In grade school, we used to bury or hide objects at the playground, draw a detailed map where we left them and dare our friends to hunt down the prize — sounds easy.

Pretty much what land navigation is today minus the prize, it’s now your objective.

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3. Flag football

It was in the late 1860s that the football game kicked off between Princeton and Rutgers — and at the time, players typically played both offense and defense. This game requires plenty of communication and sets each player into different jobs and rolls.

While on patrol or in a convoy, if allied forces take contact from the bad guys, it’s up to the leader to “quarterback” the defensive strategy and instruct men how to bring the fight to the enemy.

This firebase was once the “evilest place in Afghanistan”
The Company Grade Officers Council goes for another touchdown during their flag football game at Eglin Air Force Base, (U.S. Air Force photo/Samuel King Jr.)

4. 52 cards

You can pull many different infantry games from a deck of playing cards. The main focus is to develop a game to build muscle memory. Assign an exercise or action drill for every suit in the deck and use the cards’ face value for the number of repetitions.

First one through the deck is the winner.

This firebase was once the “evilest place in Afghanistan”

Also Read: 5 things I wish I knew before deployment

5. Blindfolded tag

We conduct military operations at night, attacking the enemy once the sun goes down when they least expect it. There’s no better way to learn to fight if your night vision goes down while you’re stateside than blindfolded tag.

This firebase was once the “evilest place in Afghanistan”

 

MIGHTY HISTORY

A day in the life of a Vietnam War chopper pilot

Hollywood tends to get military life wrong — and portrayals of helicopter pilots in the Vietnam War are no exception. Despite what you’ve seen in movies, daily operations didn’t always involve pulling troops from a hot landing zone or going in with guns and rockets blazing — and it wasn’t always done in a Huey, either.

In fact, while it’s best-known for playing a key role in Operation Enduring Freedom, the CH-47 Chinook saw a lot of action in the Vietnam War. This helicopter has served with the Army for over half a century and year and is still going strong — new variants, the CH-47F and MH-47G, are rolling off the production lines as we speak!


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CH-47 Chinooks and UH-1 Hueys load troops during Operation Crazy Horse. Over 30,000 troops were moved into difficult terrain in that 1966 operation.

(US Army photo)

For a lot of helicopter pilots, especially those who flew the CH-47A, CH-47B, and CH-47C models of the Chinook, the Vietnam War was mostly about moving cargo from one part of the operating theater to another, often hauling upwards of 7,000 pounds of cargo inside its cavernous cabin. The Chinook has a history of doing precisely that, whether in Operation Enduring Freedom, Operation Iraqi Freedom, Desert Storm, or any number of peacetime operations.

In Vietnam, CH-47s were also used to recover planes and helicopters. These would often be taken back to repair depots, like USNS Corpus Christi Bay (T ARVH 1). Chinooks were also often used for moving artillery pieces — and their crews and ammo — to new locations. It was faster and safer than going by ground, even though the helicopters sometimes found themselves overloaded by troops. In 1966, the Chinook made a name for itself during Operation Crazy Horse, during which over 30,000 troops were transported by chopper into very difficult terrain.

This firebase was once the “evilest place in Afghanistan”

A CH-47F in Afghanistan. The latest versions of the Chinook carry three times as much cargo as the ones that flew in Vietnam.

(US Army photo by Staff Sgt. Nathan Hoskins)

At least 200 CH-47s were lost during Vietnam, either to enemy action or operational losses. Those harsh experiences, however, led to improvements. Today’s CH-47s haul 24,000 pounds, more than three times the 7,000 pounds carried by early Chinooks in Vietnam.

See what a day in the life of a Vietnam War Chinook pilot was like in the video below!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vvXcgz-2u9g

www.youtube.com

MIGHTY HISTORY

Russian nuclear warheads provided electricity for the US for 20 years

Even today, people can go on YouTube and watch videos of old military parades from the days of yore, when the Soviet Union was a constant threat to the United States. Part of those old parades included a drive by of Soviet intercontinental ballistic missiles driven on the back of trucks. If you watched one of those old videos between 2005 and 2013, there’s an excellent chance your computer was being powered by one of the nuclear warheads driving by. 

For two decades, the United States received uranium shipments from the former Soviet Union to use in its electric-generating nuclear power plants. The Russians would take their old warheads, get the weapons-grade nuclear material from them, turn it into fuel and sell it to private companies in the U.S. 

It all started after the fall of the Iron Curtain, and the newly-formed Russian government had neither the will nor the funds to secure its nuclear stockpile. 

Philip Sewell was an employee of the Department of Energy in the early 1990s. It was his job to go to Russia’s old Soviet nuclear sites and determine the situation there. What he reported back was unsurprising at best, downright scary at worst. 

He told NPR the military facilities he found were mostly abandoned shells, with very few people around them. Windows were broken, gates and doors were unlocked, and it seemed like anyone could walk right in, take some nuclear material and walk out. 

There were 20,000 warheads’ worth of decommissioned nuclear material in the buildings. He and the U.S. State Department needed to find a means of securing it in a way that the new Russian government would care about. So he pitched the idea of creating an entire industry around it. The Russians were hesitant. 

energy plant fueled by nuclear warheads
Nuclear power produced electricity in the US for decades.

“It was a matter of pride, principle and patriotism,” Sewell told NPR. “Even though they didn’t need that excess material, [and] they didn’t have the money to protect it, they didn’t want to let go of it.”

But they needed the money. The Russian economy was in ruins after the fall of the Soviet Empire. Millions were out of work and the country had to rebuild a capitalist system in a hurry. Sewell’s solution was a winner for everyone involved. 

The United States was able to secure weapons-grade uranium, nuclear power companies got much-needed material to power their businesses, and the Russians got a $17 billion income stream from the deal. 

But the deal came to an end in 2013 when the last of the agreed-upon uranium was delivered to the United States. Russia was not in as much financial hardship as it was in the early 1990s and now it can find more and better uses for uranium. 

Still, with the weapons decommissioned and the nuclear fuel spent, we can sit comfortably in front of our smartphones knowing 20,000 fewer nukes are pointed at us.

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