Troops carry with them the reminder of their death on the battlefield. Nearly every military since has a variation of identification tags, but it’s American troops who truly intertwine them within their culture.
To the American war fighter, it is as much of a badge of honor as everything else carried with them. The tags give the survivors of the conflict all of the necessary information about the fallen warrior. When they go to meet their maker on the battlefield, one is collected for immediately for notification and the other is used in case cannot be immediately recovered.
Carrying around some sort of identification for a warrior’s remains is a time honored tradition. Going as far back as the ancient Spartans, the phrase “Come back with your shield or on it” had a deeper meaning.
Of course, it’s a cold way for a wife to tell her husband to win the fight or die with honor. But the intricate and deeply personal designs of the Spartan shield meant that the wife could have closure if he fell in battle. Even the Roman Legionaries carried lead disks in a pouch around their neck called “signaculum.”
The first time American troops would use tags to identify their bodies was with Gen. George Meade having his men write their name and unit designation on a piece of paper. In 1906, aluminum tags were introduced and by 1913, it became mandatory to wear.
Through out the years, what was written on the tags has changed, and each branch of the current U.S. armed forces has different information written on them, but what remains constant is the troop’s name, religion, and usually the blood type.
The term “dog tags” actually can’t be found in U.S. military regulations, where instead they’re called “identification tags.” The military always has ridiculous names for everything, right? A shovel is an “entrenching tool,” a bed is a “rack,” the bumbling idiot who just graduated college is “sir.” The list goes on.
Among the first instances of the identification tags being called “dog tags” comes from the Prussian Army in 1870. It comes from the term “hundemarken” which was similar to what each dog in the then Prussian capital of Berlin required. The American adaptation of the name dates to just before WWII.
During the Great Depression, President Franklin D. Roosevelt instituted the Social Security Act. Through enumeration, the idea was to give a social security number to all employees across America. Troops would be an easy group to convince to adopt this change. We already had identification tags and incorporating a social security number into it for further identification was a smooth transition.
Hearst began spreading a rumor about how the Social Security Act would label all workers with tags and probe them for all of their personal information. In reality, only one was ever created as a prototype in the massive brainstorm of ideas and was shot down early in favor of the cards we use today.
As troops adopted the SSN into their tags, it was further proof Hearst needed that FDR wanted to destroy America. The fear mongering of “you’re treated like dogs! Your personal information will be taken away! The government will own you!” continued. Soldiers, sailors, and Marines would read the papers by Hearst with indifference, gave a collective “Meh, we know,” and rolled with it.
As mankind turns their eyes back to space and technology edges us ever closer to a life outside of the atmosphere, there must also be contingency plans established in case the worst happens to astronauts. To date, there is no defined protocol for returning remains back to Earth. This will need to change as more and more astronauts take to the skies.
There have been eighteen deaths during spaceflight. The three deaths to occur in space (above 100 km elevation) were also the only remains properly recovered. The crew of the Soyuz 11 perished on June 29th, 1971 while they were preparing for re-entry. Their names are Georgy Dobrovolsky, Vladislav Volkov, and Viktor Patsayev. Their remains were recovered at the intended landing site — an autopsy ruled the cause of death a capsule-decompression failure — and the astronauts were properly laid to rest. They may be the first and only astronauts to be given this respect.
If an astronaut were to die on a spacewalk and his or her body went unrecovered, they would float lifelessly until caught in the atmosphere, at which point they’d burn in the reentry process. Until then, no bacteria could survive to decompose the body, so it would remain frozen as the days passed.
However, due to the UN’s strict “no littering” policy in space, the family and nation of the astronaut would be required to recover the remains and lay them rest with dignity. A space free-float wouldn’t happen.
This also rules out all possible funerals, like the one given to Spock. (Paramount Pictures’ Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan)
According to Col. Chris Hadfield in his book, An Astronaut’s Guide to Earth, today’s astronauts conduct simulations for onboard deaths, but taking care of the body is tricky and very unpleasant. The remains are placed inside of a GoreTex bodybag. Then, it is isolated immediately in the airlock to avoid contamination to the air supply.
The funeral rites are then given to the deceased. This would include speeches by world leaders, the deceased’s family, and the crew. The body is then exposed to space to freeze. A robotic arm then takes the corpse and vibrates it outside of the spacecraft until the body breaks down into a powder, which is then released into space. As morbid as it is, it saves valuable room in the spacecraft and keeps the other astronauts safe. In a way, the astronaut becomes a part of space.
The powder that remains in the bag is then given to the family on the next return voyage, allowing them to pay the proper respects.
A well-made whiskey cocktail is a nice reward at the end of any day. But sometimes classic cocktails are too much. For one thing, unless you’re a seasoned drink-slinger, many whiskey cocktails are often too complicated — or intensive — to whip up at the end of a long day (Hey if you want to shake the hell out of that classic whiskey sour, go right ahead). For another, the alcohol content of one concoction can quickly equal that of two or three regular drinks. Sometimes this is great; other times, not so much. Because while we’d like this to not be the case, “falling asleep in the chair” is not really a regular item on the nightly to-do list.
That’s what inspired this list of one-shot whiskey cocktails. They’re all great to sip at the end of the day but won’t put you on your ass — or require four kinds of hooch and one of those hilariously long copper mixing spoons. They’re simple, refreshing, and very drinkable. What more do you want from a summer cocktail?
What is it? The Blinker is a simple, refreshing drink made with grapefruit juice and rye whiskey. While they might not seem like the most obvious combination, one sip and it might just become your new summer go to.
Try it with: Michter’s Rye. It’s bold enough to shine through the intensity of the grapefruit tang.
How to make a Blinker:
2-3oz fresh grapefruit juice
1oz raspberry syrup
Instructions: Shake over ice and strain into a coupe glass.
2. Bourbon and Georgia Peach Coca-Cola
What is it? A way better version of the classic whiskey and Coke.
Try it with: Knob Creek. The strong vanilla notes compliment the peach flavoring.
How to make a Bourbon and Georgia Peach Coca-Cola:
1-2oz Knob Creek Bourbon
4-6oz Georgia Peach Coca-Cola
Garnish with a fresh slice of peach
Instructions: Fill a highball glass with ice and add all the ingredients.
What is it? It’s just an Old Fashioned made with Scotch instead of rye or bourbon. The Old Fashioned is a perfect cocktail and normally we don’t like to tinker with perfection. But, variety is the spice of life and Scotch is, and always will be our first love.
Try it with: Ardbeg 10. This single malt adds a big peaty smoke as well as a touch of salt and pepper for a more layered drink.
How to make a Single Malt Old Fashioned:
1-2oz Single Malt Scotch
2-3 Dashes of bitters
1 Tsp of simple syrup
Top with 1oz club soda
Orange peel for garnish
Instructions: Fill a rocks glass with ice. Add the ingredients.
This article originally appeared on Fatherly. Follow @FatherlyHQ on Twitter.
Saudi Arabia’s state media on Aug 6, 2018, tweeted a graphic appearing to show an Air Canada airliner heading toward the Toronto skyline in a way that recalled the September 11, 2001, terrorist hijackings of airliners that struck the Twin Towers and the Pentagon.
The graphic warned of “Sticking one’s nose where it doesn’t belong!” and included the text: “As the Arabic saying goes: ‘He who interferes with what doesn’t concern him finds what doesn’t please him.'”
Last week, Global Affairs Canada tweeted that it was “gravely concerned” about a new wave of arrests in the kingdom targeting women’s rights activists and urged their immediate release. Saudi Arabia has expelled Canada’s ambassador and frozen all new trade and investment with Ottawa in response to the criticism.
The tweet came from @Infographic_ksa, an account that had just hours earlier tweeted another graphic titled “Death to the dictator” featuring an image of the supreme leader of Iran, Saudi Arabia’s main regional rival.
Saudi Arabia has long stood accused of funding radical Muslim Imams around the world and spreading a violent ideology called Wahhabism. Under the leadership of its new young ruler, Mohammad bin Salman, Saudi Arabia has undertaken several sweeping reforms looking to reduce the funding for and spread of radical ideology as well as to elevate human rights.
But a surge of arrests appearing to target prominent women’s rights activists who previously campaigned to abolish Saudi Arabia’s ban on driving for women has caused international alarm and prompted the tweet from Canada.
The Saudi account deleted the tweet featuring the graphic with the plane and later reuploaded one without the airliner pictured.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
The United States and Russia have agreed on a time and place for nuclear arms negotiations this month and invited China, President Donald Trump’s arms negotiator says.
“Today agreed with the Russian Deputy Foreign Minister [Sergei] Ryabkov on time and place for nuclear arms negotiations in June,” U.S. Special Envoy for Arms Control Marshall Billingslea wrote on Twitter on June 8.
“China also invited. Will China show and negotiate in good faith?” he added, without providing further details.
There were no immediate comments from Russian officials.
Earlier, Bloomberg quoted an unidentified U.S. State Department official as saying that Ryabkov and Billingslea would meet in Vienna on June 22.
The official didn’t rule out that the United States may be willing to extend the New Start nuclear-weapons treaty, if Russia “commits to three-way arms control with China and helps to bring a resistant Beijing to the table,” according to Bloomberg.
New START, the last major arms control treaty between the United States and Russia, is scheduled to expire in February 2021.
The accord caps the number of nuclear warheads and so-called delivery systems held by the two countries.
While Moscow has pushed for a five-year extension, Washington has balked, saying it wants the deal to be broadened to include China.
China, whose nuclear arsenal is a fraction of the size of Moscow’s and Washington’s, has said it was not interested in participating in such talks.
The Trump administration has pulled out of major international treaties, prompting warnings of an increased possibility of an arms race or accidental military confrontations.
Last month, Washington gave notice on withdrawing from the 35-nation Open Skies accord, which allows unarmed surveillance flights over member countries, due to what U.S. officials said were Russia’s violations.
The United States also cited Russian violations when it exited from of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty with Russia.
Moscow has denied the U.S. accusations and said the United States was seeking to undermine international security.
The 1st Expeditionary Civil Engineer Group provides theater-wide engineering technical services, light and heavy troop labor construction and repairs within the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility in order to engineer combat power and establish and sustain combat platforms for USCENTCOM and other joint forces.
Within the 1st CEG are the 577th Expeditionary Prime Base Engineer Emergency Force, or PRIME BEEF, and the 557th Expeditionary Rapid Engineer Deployable Heavy Operational Repair Squadron, or REDHORSE, both sister tenants consisting of two separate construction teams with separate projects at Al Dhafra Air Base, United Arab Emirates.
REDHORSE is a self-sustaining, mobile, heavy construction squadron, capable of rapid response and independent operations in remote, high-threat environments worldwide.
“We have teams all over the AOR building anything from taxiways on airfields to entire logistics support areas, to digging wells to provide water for bases in austere locations,” said Capt. Jared Erickson, 557th ERHS Al Dhafra AB site officer in charge.
Staff Sgt. Thomas Findlay, 557th Expeditionary Rapid Engineer Deployable Heavy Operational Repair Squadron engineering assistant, explains the foundation configuration during construction of airfield damage repair quipment warehouse, Dec. 23, 2018, at Al Dhafra Air Base, United Arab Emirates.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Darnell T. Cannady)
“My team here on (Al Dhafra AB) is almost like a miniature mission support group,” added Erickson. “We have highly-skilled vehicle maintainers that keep our heavy equipment fleet running strong and a supply team that can acquire construction materials from around the world. We are a self-sustaining construction team that can build almost anything, anywhere.”
Two of the current projects the 557th ERHS are working on are a warehouse for airfield damage repair equipment and a new Patriot Missile site.
“We are building a 13,000-square-foot warehouse to store and protect (.7 million) worth of airfield damage repair equipment,” said Erickson. “Additionally, we are in the process of finalizing the new Patriot Missile site, including 15 different projects valued at (.8 million) for roads, launcher pads, sunshades, tents and an electrical distribution system.”
Senior Airman Dekota Newson, 577th Expeditionary Prime Base Engineer Emergency Force heavy equipment operator, remove excess cement from the foundation system to support a build during construction, Dec. 23, 2018, at Al Dhafra Air Base, United Arab Emirates.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Darnell T. Cannady)
The 577th Expeditionary PRIME BEEF Squadron provides a full range of engineering support required to establish, operate, and maintain garrison and contingency air bases.
Prime-BEEF forces maintain the necessary equipment and personnel to support fire emergency services; expedient construction; explosive incident response; emergency management; chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear response and many other specialized mission duties.
“The 577th EPBS is composed of Civil Engineering Air Force Specialty Codes, but have a separate role from base CE as we perform major construction and repair projects for (U.S. Air Forces Central Command),” said Capt. Paige Blackburn, 577 EPBS OIC of troop construction.
Currently, they are constructing a site by building an 18-foot tall mound and foundation to support a tower.
“The foundation system is made entirely from concrete and the site will have several miles of reinforcing steel rebar,” said Blackburn. “The tower and equipment weighs more than 120,000 pounds and is attached by large anchor bolts cast into the concrete piers. The tolerance of anchor bolt placement is extremely critical to ensure the tower frame will fit perfectly.”
Members of the 577th Expeditionary Prime Base Engineer Emergency Force pour cement into the foundation system to support a build during construction, Dec. 23, 2018, at Al Dhafra Air Base, United Arab Emirates.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Darnell T. Cannady)
Projects such as this can be challenging and require the use of different techniques and skillsets to complete the task.
“Setting the anchor bolts perfectly was incredibly challenging,” added Blackburn. “To set this accurately required age-old techniques of steel tape, construction squares, basic trigonometry, true ingenuity and nearly all the ladders on base. Thankfully, we have Master Sgt. James Morgan, a Heavy and Construction Equipment expert Guardsman with 30 years of construction experience. The project involves a 15-person construction team.”
Other completed projects include a 320-room renovation totaling 0,000, a id=”listicle-2625336716″.4 million renovation of the Oasis Dining Facility, and several waterline, sewer line, and communication duct bank construction projects.
“(1st) ECEG is the preferred choice for projects that require a rapid construction completion date, and is also the safer option for construction that intertwines with sensitive and valuable information,” said Blackburn.
With the REDHORSE and Prime BEEF Squadrons providing their expertise throughout Al Dhafra AB, the base continues to improve for the next rotation of deployers and continuation of the mission.
You’ve probably heard of the Memphis Belle, especially after the 1990 film starring Matthew Modine and Harry Connick, Jr.
That film took a lot of liberties with the story of the actual B-17 that was the subject of a documentary done during World War II, “Memphis Belle: The Story of a Flying Fortress.”
But history can also be very malleable, especially in the hands of Hollywood.
When Hollywood director William Wyler was doing a documentary for the U.S. government on the first Allied bomber crew to complete a 25-mission “tour” over Europe, he took some liberties. Why? Because it was World War II, and the bombing campaign over Europe was a bloody affair. In fact, the Directors Guild of America notes that during the filming of the documentary, cinematographer and World War I vet Harold J. Tannebaum was killed when the Nazis shot down the B-24 Liberator he was in.
According to the memoirs of Robert Morgan, the pilot of the Memphis Belle, Wyler had picked a different bomber for the feature film, a B-17 known as “Invasion 2nd.” That plane – and five others – were shot down on an April 17, 1943, mission to Bremen. The Memphis Belle was chosen to replace Invasion 2nd – Morgan related how he was told that another plane had a back-up film crew on a bomber called “Hell’s Angels” in case the Memphis Belle went down. Wyler actually filmed parts of multiple missions for the documentary – the mission portrayed on the film was actually the Memphis Belle’s 24th mission.
Of course, the Memphis Belle did complete the tour – and she got all the accolades of being the “first” to do so. The crew of Hell’s Angels, though, actually flew their 25th mission a week before the Memphis Belle flew her 25th mission. The documentary, though, became a classic.
Wyler went on to direct a documentary about the Republic P-47 Thunderbolt’s operations in Italy, titled, “Thunderbolt!” He was wounded by an exploding anti-aircraft shell, losing some of his hearing.
After the war, he went on to direct the classic films “The Best Years of Our Lives” — a movie about veterans who returned home that won nine Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director — and “Ben Hur,” featuring former B-25 gunner Charlton Heston, which won 11 Oscars.
Today, “Memphis Belle: The Story of a Flying Fortress” is available via the Internet Archive and Netflix is also streaming the film. It is also on Youtube. Feel free to watch it below. The Memphis Belle is currently being restored at the National Museum of the United States Air Force at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, near Dayton, Ohio.
The axiom we know as “Murphy’s Law” today has been kicking around for centuries. Instances of similar phrases can be found as early as 1877, and even George Orwell (himself a veteran of the Spanish Civil War) used it in his diaries. But when something truly catches on, it’s kept alive for posterity – and that’s how “Murphy’s Law” is remembered nowadays.
What was once quoted as, “It is found that anything that can go wrong at sea generally does go wrong sooner or later.” Is now – forever – the much snappier “Whatever can go wrong, will.” But who was the Murphy whose name is now synonymous with accidents and mishaps?
A strapping young man, that’s who.
Edward Aloysius Murphy was a West Point graduate, Army Air Forces veteran of World War II and an Air Force officer. Later in life, he would continue his work with the Air Force in testing experimental vehicles. This, of course, required a degree of delicacy; not only because building rocket sleds is as incredibly dangerous as testing them, but also because testing them requires exact parameters to record exact results.
*Rocket* Science. DAB.
Seriously, after World War II, Murphy became the research and development officer at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base’s Air Development Center, where they conducted rocket sled tests. A rocket sled is exactly what it sounds like: a chair, a rocket, all on a sled-like slab on which someone sits. And is then propelled forward. In order to remind his crews to plan for the worst-case scenario in every experiment, he began telling them “whatever can go wrong, will.”
This was especially true when they decided that 18 Gs was probably not the most a human could withstand and set out to test the limitations of G-forces on the human body. One Air Force officer, John Stapp, proved that humans could take at least 35 Gs and that anyone who passed out after 18 probably shouldn’t be in his Air Force. Murphy was designing new sensor setups to measure everything that would happen on these sled runs. One day, something went wrong.
Here’s Stapp’s face as he becomes the fastest man ever, in what is essentially an open-top rocket convertible. Man, the Air Force used to be fun.
The details of the snafu that caused Murphy to remind his crews to check every detail are disputed. All we need to know is that something went wrong and Stapp’s test run did not acquire any sensor data. Basically, Stapp put his life on the line for funsies, because other than a rocket boom, nothing else was recorded. Upon realizing this, Murphy apparently yelled at an assistant, “whatever can go wrong, will.”
And it became their mantra. Then it became everyone’s mantra when Stapp told a group of reporters at a press conference that they keep fatalities at zero because everyone on their team repeats “Murphy’s Law” to prevent any oversights or mishaps. Once the press got hold of it, that was it. Murphy’s Law is now enshrined in everyone’s lexicon, not just the military’s.
Service members and veterans of all ages love to document their military experiences and life milestones through tattoos. It’s a solid way to remember all the cool things you did while wearing the uniform.
For many, the art of the tattoo is the perfect balance between self-expression and reflection, but some people don’t have the greatest experience when they sit in the artist’s chair for one reason or another. We’ve got a few tips to make sure you’re a happy camper as you walk out of that next long ink session.
It’s no secret that veterans and active duty personnel like to enjoy alcoholic beverages from time to time. But it’s simply not a good idea to hit the bars prior to getting a tattoo — and not just because it’ll cloud your judgement. Alcohol is an anti-coagulant. If you’ve had too much, the tattoo artist is going to have to contend with you bleeding everywhere as they try to precisely settle ink into the skin.
So, consider getting a drink to celebrate your new tattoo — after it’s done.
Get a good night’s rest
Depending on the size and complexity, tattoos can take hours to complete. Not only that, but you may be sitting or laying in an uncomfortable position as the artist does their work. This can cause certain body parts to fatigue quickly, which is only made worse if you’re not well rested — both mentally and physically.
Get a solid night of sleep. Your tattoo artist will thank you afterward for not continually flopping around trying to get comfy.
Like we said earlier, the tattoo process can take some time to complete and it puts a level of stress on your body. The person getting tattooed will lose some blood and, if it’s your first time, there’s a small chance you might pass out during the session.
The majority of tattoo artists recommend that you scarf down a good amount of carbohydrates to help give your body the energy it needs to withstand the tattooing process.
Take a shower
Most people find it aggravating to stand next to a smelly person while in line at the grocery store. Now, imagine how a tattoo artist feels when they have spend hours inking a stinky someone. Do yourself a favor and clean up before getting tatted up.
Some people like to rub lotion onto their skin after a shower to help moisturize. Usually, that’s a great idea. Moist, well-kept skin is easiest to work with, but you should avoid applying that lotion on the day you’re scheduled for new ink. The slick surface may interfere with the tattoo machine.
Wear loose clothing
If you don’t want to remove your shirt or pants in order to expose the body part you want to get tattooed, then consider wearing baggy clothing. You don’t want anything to interfere with the tattoo process — and you also don’t want to have to hold your sleeve or pant leg for hours on end.
Americans today would have a hard time recognizing the all-out war effort citizens of the United States made during World War II. The idea of government dictating what and how much big business could produce, restricting the use of civilian products available to the public, and the mobilization of civilians in a war effort are all things that we just haven’t faced in the generations since. During World War II, these civilians were putting their lives on the line to hunt submarines.
The Civil Air Patrol was born of that mobilization. Civilian pilots and their resources were marshaled by the military to support the war effort here at home, even before the war began. Some 200,000 men and women of all races served in CAP in every state during World War II. After Nazi submarines sunk more than 400 ships off the U.S. Atlantic coast in the first six months, these civilian pilots took to the skies in their private planes to help hunt them down.
Civil Air Patrol pilots who were forced to bail out of their planes into the sometimes icy water below joined an exclusive club: the Duck Club.
The Civil Air Patrol was open to all races and genders from the get-go. All you needed was a radio and a plane you could fly.
(Civil Air Patrol)
The single-engine civilian aircraft flown by CAP volunteers in those days weren’t nearly as reliable as ones they depend on these days. CAP pilots would fly up to 50 miles off the U.S. coast, looking for enemy submarines in planes with engines that could quit at any given moment. Maybe this isn’t so bad for the pilot if their mission takes them into the Gulf of Mexico, but in the North Atlantic, having to bail could be deadly.
Even wearing their rubber “zoot suits,” designed to protect them from frigid northern waters, was no guarantee of survival in case of a bail out. These civilian pilots lost 59 of their own during the course of the war — 26 of whom were simply lost at sea. Maybe they survived the elements, maybe they didn’t. Being adrift in the middle of nowhere in the 1940s was tantamount to a death sentence.
Protection from the elements did these pilots no good if they were never found.
(Civil Air Patrol)
For those who bailed out, each CAP station had amphibian planes who would attempt to come to the rescue. But even those were susceptible to being lost at sea – and some were. If a CAP pilot was successfully recovered after a bailout, he became a member of “The Duck Club,” those who were forced to ditch their planes by taking a dip in the ocean.
CAP pilots who joined this elite club earned a special badge: a patch featuring Donald Duck, his eyes crossed by the red propellers that symbolized the Civil Air Patrol. The Congressional Gold Medal the CAP received came much later, signed not by President Roosevelt, but President Obama. Their recognition came decades too late.
The Civil Air Patrol “Duck Club” Patch.
The history of the Civil Air Patrol is such a big deal because these were volunteers who put their life and property on the line to protect the liberties of their fellow citizens. They would not receive the GI Bill benefits received by veterans who fought overseas, despite finding Nazi subs operating in American water, rescuing airmen adrift at sea, reporting mines, distressed vessels, escorting convoys, and, in some cases, sacrificing their lives.
That’s just the history of the CAP and the tip of the iceberg. Their mission also extended along the southern border, in the wild forests, and elsewhere. Today, the Civil Air Patrol is an auxiliary of the United States Air Force, and an underrated, oft-forgotten total force partner in U.S. air defense. More than 60,000 civilian airmen still dedicate their time, energy, expertise, money, and personal property to the defense of the U.S. homeland and supporting aerospace education.
For most soldiers in the Vietnam-era, the time between getting drafted or volunteering and their heading to war was short. The Army had each draftee for only two years. After they were shipped to basic, trained, shipped overseas, plus the time needed to ship home and use their two months of accrued leave, each draftee could expect a year of deployed time preceded by 4-6 months of training.
Volunteers, especially officers, had it a little better. They may train for up to a year before deploying — attending advanced training like Ranger School after basic and job training.
A recently recovered film of the Battle of Dak To shows two hours of fighting in and around Hill 724, another tough terrain feature captured. Bob Walkoviak, one of the veterans in the discussion above, fought on the hill and helped find the lost footage.
Developed over the course of decades, GPS has become far more ubiquitous than most people realize. Not just for navigation, its extreme accuracy in time keeping (+/- 10 billionths of a second) has been used by countless businesses the world over for everything from aiding in power grid management to helping manage stock market and other banking transactions. The GPS system essentially allows for companies to have near atomic clock level precision in their systems, including easy time synchronization across the globe, without actually needing to have an atomic clock or come up with their own systems for global synchronization. The problem is that, owing to a quirk of the original specifications, on April 6, 2019 many GPS receivers are about to stop working correctly unless the firmware for them is updated promptly. So what’s going on here, how exactly does the GPS system work, and who first got the idea for such a system?
On Oct. 4, 1957, the Soviet Union launched Sputnik. As you might imagine, this tiny satellite, along with subsequent satellites in the line, were closely monitored by scientists the world over. Most pertinent to the topic at hand today were two physicists at Johns Hopkins University named William Guier and George Weiffenbach.
As they studied the orbits and signals coming from the Sputnik satellites the pair realized that, thanks to how fast the satellites were going and the nature of their broadcasts, they could use the Doppler shift of the signal to very accurately determine the satellite’s position.
A replica of Sputnik 1.
Not long after, one Frank McClure, also of Johns Hopkins University, asked the pair to study whether it would be possible to do this the other way around. They soon found that, indeed, using the satellite’s known orbit and studying the signal from it as it moved, the observer on the ground could in a relatively short time span determine their own location.
This got the wheels turning.
Various systems were proposed and, in some cases, developed. Most notable to the eventual evolution of GPS was the Navy’s Navigation Satellite System (also known as the Navy Transit Program), which was up and running fully by 1964. This system could, in theory, tell a submarine or ship crew where they were within about 25 meters, though location could only be updated about once per hour and took about 10-15 minutes to acquire. Further, if the ship was moving, the precision would be off by about one nautical mile per 5 knots of speed.
Another critical system to the ultimate development of GPS was known as Timation, which initially used quartz clocks synchronized on the ground and on the satellites as a key component of how the system determined where the ground observer was located. However, with such relatively imprecise clocks, the first tests resulted in an accuracy of only about 0.3 nautical miles and took about 15 minutes of receiving data to nail down that location. Subsequent advancements in Timation improved things, even testing using an atomic clock for increased accuracy. But Timation was about to go the way of the Dodo.
By the early 1970s, the Navigation System Using Timing and Ranging (Navstar, eventually Navstar-GPS) was proposed, essentially combining elements from systems like Transit, Timation, and a few other similar systems in an attempt to make a better system from what was learned in those projects.
Fast-forward to 1983 and while the U.S. didn’t yet have a fully operational GPS system, the first prototype satellites were up and the system was being slowly tested and implemented. It was at this point that Korean Air Lines Flight 007, which originally departed from New York, refueled and took off from Anchorage, Alaska, bound for Seoul, South Korea.
What does this have to do with ubiquitous GPS as we know it today?
On its way, the pilots had an unnoticed autopilot issue, resulting in them unknowingly straying into Soviet airspace.
Convinced the passenger plane was actually a spy plane, the Soviets launched Su-15 jets to intercept the (apparently) most poorly crafted spy plane in history — the old “It’s so overt, it’s covert” approach to spying.
A Soviet Sukhoi Su-15 interceptor.
Warning shots were fired, though the pilot who did it stated in a later interview, “I fired four bursts, more than 200 rounds. For all the good it did. After all, I was loaded with armor piercing shells, not incendiary shells. It’s doubtful whether anyone could see them.”
Not long after, the pilots of Korean Air 007 called Tokyo Area Control Center, requesting to climb to Flight Level 350 (35,000 feet) from Flight Level 330 (33,000 feet). This resulted in the aircraft slowing below the speed the tracking high speed interceptors normally operated at, and thus, them blowing right by the plane. This was interpreted as an evasive maneuver, even though it was actually just done for fuel economy reasons.
A heated debate among the Soviet brass ensued over whether more time should be taken to identify the plane in case it was simply a passenger airliner as it appeared. But as it was about to fly into international waters, and may in fact already have been at that point, the decision was made to shoot first and ask questions later.
The attacking pilot described what happened next:
“Destroy the target…!” That was easy to say. But how? With shells? I had already expended 243 rounds. Ram it? I had always thought of that as poor taste. Ramming is the last resort. Just in case, I had already completed my turn and was coming down on top of him. Then, I had an idea. I dropped below him about two thousand metres… afterburners. Switched on the missiles and brought the nose up sharply. Success! I have a lock on.
Two missiles were fired and exploded near the Boeing plane causing significant damage, though in a testament to how safe commercial airplanes typically are, the pilots were able to regain control over the aircraft, even for a time able to maintain level and stable flight. However, they eventually found themselves in a slow spiral which ended in a crash killing all 269 aboard.
As a direct result of this tragedy, President Ronald Reagan announced on Sept. 16, 1983, that the GPS system that had previously been intended for U.S. military use only would now be made available for everyone to use, with the initial idea being the numerous safety benefits such a system would have in civil aviation over using then available navigation tools.
This brings us to how exactly the GPS system works in the first place. Amazingly complex on some levels, the actual nuts and bolts of the system are relatively straightforward to understand.
To begin with, consider what happens if you’re standing in an unknown location and you ask someone where you are. They reply simply — “You are 212 miles from Seattle, Washington.”
You now can draw a circle on a map with radius 212 miles from Seattle. Assuming the person giving you that information is correct, you know you’re somewhere along that circular line.
Not super helpful at this point by itself, you then ask someone else, and they say, “You are 150 miles from Vancouver BC.” Now you’re getting somewhere. When you draw that circle on the map, you’ll see it intersects at two points. You are standing on one of those two points. Noticing that you are not, in fact, floating in the ocean, you could at this point deduce which point you are on, but work with us here people.
Instead of making such an assumption, you decide your senses are never to be trusted and, after all, Jesus stood on water, so why not you? Thus, you ask a third person — they say, “You are 500 miles from Boise, Idaho.” That circle drawn, you now know exactly where you are in two dimensional space. Near Kamloops, Canada, as it turns out.
This is more or less what’s happening with GPS, except in the case of GPS you need to think in terms of 3D spheres instead of 2D circles. Further, how the system tells you your exact distance from a reference point, in this case each of the satellites, is via transmitting the satellites’ exact locations in orbit and a timestamp of the exact time when said transmission was sent. This time is synchronized across the various satellites in the GPS constellation.
The receiver then subtracts the current known time upon receiving the data from that transmission time to determine the time it took for that signal to be transmitted from the satellites to its location.
Combining that with the known satellite locations and the known speed of light with which the radio signal was propagated, it can then crunch the numbers to determine with remarkable accuracy its location, with margins of error owing to things like the ionosphere interfering with the propagation of the signal, and various other real world factors such as this potentially throwing things off a little.
Even with these potential issues, however, the latest generation of the GPS system can, in theory, pinpoint your location within about a foot or about 30 centimeters.
You may have spotted a problem here, however. While the GPS satellites are using extremely precise and synchronized atomic clocks, the GPS system in your car, for example, has no such synchronized atomic clock. So how does it accurately determine how long it took for the signal to get from the satellite to itself?
It simply uses at least four, instead of three, satellites, giving it the extra data point it needs to solve the necessary equations to get the appropriate missing time variable. In a nutshell, there is only one point in time that will match the edge of all four spheres intersecting in one point in space on Earth. Thus, once the variables are solved for, the receiver can adjust its own time keeping appropriately to be almost perfectly synchronized, at least momentarily, with the much more precise GPS atomic clocks. In some sense, this makes GPS something of a 4D system, in that, with it, you can know your precise point in not only space, but time.
By continually updating its own internal clock in this way, the receiver on the ground ends up being nearly as accurate as an atomic clock and is a time keeping device that is then almost perfectly synchronized with other such receivers across the globe, all for almost no cost at all to the end users because the U.S. government is footing the bill for all the expensive bits of the system and maintaining it.
Speaking of that maintanence, another problem you may have spotted is that various factors can, and do, continually move the GPS satellites off their original orbits. So how is this accounted for?
Tracking stations on Earth continually monitor the exact orbits of the various GPS satellites, with this information, along with any needed time corrections to account for things like Relatively, frequently updated in the GPS almanac and ephemeris. These two data sets are used for holding satellite status and positional information and are regularly broadcast to receivers, which is how said receivers know exact positions of the satellites in the first place.
The satellites themselves can also have their orbits adjusted if necessary, with this process simply being to mark the satellite as “unhealthy” so receivers will ignore it, then move it to its new position, track that orbit, and once that is accurately known, update the almanac and ephemeris and mark the satellite as “healthy” again.
So that’s more or less how GPS came to be and how it works at a high level. What about the part where we said many GPS devices may potentially stop working very soon if not updated?
Near the turn of the century something happened that had never happened before in the GPS world — dubbed a “dress rehearsal for the Y2K bug”. You see, as a part of the time stamp sent by the GPS satellites, there is something known as the Week Number — literally just the number of weeks that have passed since an epoch, originally set to Jan. 6, 1980. Along with this Week Number the number of seconds since midnight on the previous Saturday evening is sent, thus allowing the GPS receiver to calculate the exact date.
Artist’s conception of GPS Block II-F satellite in Earth orbit.
So what’s the problem with this? It turns out every 1024 weeks (about every 19 years and 8 months) from the epoch, the number rolls back to 0 owing to this integer information being in 10 bit format.
Thus, when this happens, any GPS receiver that doesn’t account for the Week Number Rollover, will likely stop functioning correctly, though the nature of the malfunction varies from vendor to vendor and device, depending on how said vendor implemented their system.
For some, the bug might manifest as a simple benign date reporting error. For others, such a date reporting error might mean everything from incorrect positioning to even a full system crash.
If you’ve done the math, you’ve probably deduced that this issue first popped up in August of 1999, only about four years after the GPS system itself was fully operational.
At this point, of course, GPS wasn’t something that was so ubiquitously depended on as it is today, with only 10-15 million GPS receivers in use worldwide in 1999 according to a 1999 report by the the United States Department of Commerce’s Office of Telecommunications. Today, of course, that number is in the billions of devices.
Thankfully, when the next Week Number Rollover event happens on April 6, 2019, it would seem most companies that rely on GPS for critical systems, like airlines, banking institutions, cell networks, power grids, etc., have already taken the necessary steps to account for the problem.
The more realistic problems with this second Week Number Rollover event will probably mostly occur at the consumer level, as most people simply are not aware of the issue at all.
Thankfully, if you’ve updated your firmware on your GPS device recently or simply own a GPS device purchased in the last few years, you’re probably going to be fine here.
However, should you own a GPS device that is several years old, that may not be the case and you’ll most definitely want to go to the manufacturer’s website and download any relevant updates before the second GPS epoch.
That public service announcement out of the way, if you’re now wondering why somebody doesn’t just change the specification altogether to stop using a 10 bit Week Number, well, you’re not the first to think of this. Under the latest GPS interface specifications, a 13 bit Week Number is now used, meaning in newer devices that support this, the issue won’t come up again for about a century and a half. As the machines are bound to rise up and enslave humanity long before that occurs, that’s really their issue to solve at that point.
Ever notice that your cell phone tends to lock on to your GPS position extremely quickly, even after having been powered off for a long time? How does it do this when other GPS devices must wait to potentially receive a fresh copy of the almanac and ephemeris? It turns out cell phones tend to use something called Assisted GPS, where rather than wait to receive that data from the currently orbiting GPS satellites, they will instead get it from a central server somewhere. The phone may also simply use its position in the cell phone network (using signals from towers around) to get an approximate location to start while it waits to acquire the signal from the GPS satellites, partially masking further delay there. Of course, assisted GPS doesn’t work if you don’t have a cell signal, and if you try to use your GPS on your phone in such a scenario you’ll find that if you turn off the GPS for a while and then later turn it back on, it will take a while to acquire a signal like any other GPS device.
Starting just before the first Gulf War, the military degraded the GPS signal for civilian use in order to keep the full accuracy of the system as a U.S. military advantage. However, in May of 2000, this policy was reversed by President Bill Clinton and civilian GPS got approximately ten times more accurate basically overnight.
The military also created the ability to selectively stop others from using GPS at all, as India discovered thanks to the Kargil conflict with Pakistan in 1999. During the conflict, the U.S. blocked access to the GPS system from India owing to, at the time, better longstanding relations between the U.S. and Pakistan than the U.S. had with India. Thus, the U.S. didn’t want to seem like it was helping India in the war.
This article originally appeared on Today I Found Out. Follow @TodayIFoundOut on Twitter.
Each year, the United States Armed Forces projects the amount of troops that will exit the service and how many new bodies it needs to fill the gaps in formation. This number is distributed accordingly between the branches and then broken down further for each recruiting station, depending on the location, size of the local population, and typical enlistment rates of each area.
This is, at a very basic level, how recruiter quotas work. If the country is at war, the need for more able-bodied recruits rises to meet the demand. When a war is winding down, as we’re seeing today, you would reasonably expect there to be less pressure on recruiters to send Uncle Sam troops — but there’s not. Not by a long shot.
“Come show off at the pull-up bars for the low, low price of taking a business card!”
(Dept. of the Army photo by Ronald A. Reeves)
The most obvious fault with “recruiter goals,” or the quota policy, is that it makes fulfilling the quota the single most important responsibility of the recruiter. So, recruiters will go out and put their best foot forward in the name of their branch in hopes that it’ll inspire someone to enlist — despite all of the other things they need to be doing.
Recruiters generally love going to county fairs or air shows and having loads of civilians flock to their booth — otherwise, they wouldn’t be recruiters. These events give civilians, some of whom may have never interacted with a service member, a friendly one-on-one that could — maybe, just maybe — inspire them to one day serve their country.
At the end of the day, that’s all recruiters can ultimately do to bring in recruits, sow the seeds of military service. Recruiters can’t put a gun to anyone’s head to make them sign on the dotted line and they have to respect a person’s decision to turn down Uncle Sam’s offer.
By all means, we should commend and praise the recruiters who go above and beyond — but the hammer that’s dropped is unjustly cruel.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Daniel Butterfield)
Still, recruiters are expected to enlist a certain amount of recruits into military service — despite the fact that it’s outside the scope of their responsibilities to direct herds of civilians to their offices. They still have to handle all the day-to-day operations of the recruiting station, the plethora of paperwork required by each new recruit, limiting the stress of and mentoring potential recruits, teaching delayed-entry recruits, and acting like a chauffeur between the recruiting depot and MEPS. You could be the most attentive recruiter the military has ever seen, constantly doing everything in your power to best prepare the recruit for military life, but the only metric that matters in the eyes of Big Recruiting is that one, big number.
To make matters worse, the pool of eligible recruits is dwindling as the criteria for service keeps getting stricter.
My honest opinion? Scrap the negative consequences for not meeting quota but institute minor, but enjoyable benefits that would encourage recruiters to try harder — like a half a day of leave added to their LES for each recruit they bring in or whatever seems more applicable.
(Photo by Dan Desmet, New York District Public Affairs)
All this being said, the quota isn’t entirely without merit. It lets the higher-ups know, at a glance, that a recruiter is keeping their word to the Pentagon. Some might even say that it motivates recruiters to get out there and keep hustling bodies into their office. But the quota has caused much more undue stress than it should.
To put it as bluntly as possible, recruiters are killing themselves for not reaching an arbitrary number, set outside of their control. Recruiters are forced to work longer hours and weekends (up to 15 hours per day, seven days per week in some cases) when crunch time comes. Recently, recruiters were almost denied holiday time — not as in block leave, but spending Christmas morning with their families — because they didn’t meet numbers.
This is nothing new and the stress military recruiters face has been front and center of national discussion for ages now.
The fact is, there’s no simple solution because the numbers still need to be met — but just because it’s not a simple problem doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to fix it. Perhaps we should shift the focus on strengthening the recruits that willingly walk in the door, or we should bring more troops into recruiting stations to lighten the load of the already-overworked recruiters. Something, anything, needs to be done.
It is completely understandable that the military needs new recruits. Check roger. But we cannot sit idly by without addressing the major stressor that causes recruiters to commit suicide at three times the rate of the rest of the Army — which already has a suicide rating twice of the general population.