During the Battle of Okinawa, one United States Navy ship went up against unbelievable odds — and survived to tell the incredible tale. The Allen M. Sumner-class destroyer USS Laffey (DD 724) faced off against a horde of Japanese pilots — some of whom, now known as kamikazes, were willing to crash into American vessels and sacrifice their lives to complete their mission.
Now, the Laffey’s story is coming to the big screen.
Mel Gibson, acclaimed actor and director of the Academy Award-nominated film Hacksaw Ridge, is currently working on Destroyer, a film based on the Wukovits’ book, Hell from the Heavens: The Epic Story of the USS Laffey and World War II’s Greatest Kamikaze Attack. The film will be centered around the 90 minutes of chaos experienced by the crew of the Laffey on April 16, 1945. In the span of roughly an hour and a half, the Laffey was hit by four bombs and struck by as many as eight kamikazes.
USS Laffey (DD 724) during World War II, packing six dual-purpose five-inch guns and ten 21-inch torpedo tubes.
USS Laffey’s story didn’t start and end with those fateful 90 minutes, however. After Okinawa, she was repaired and went on to see action in the Korean War. After Korea, she served until 1975, when she was decommissioned and stricken from the Naval Register of Vessels. Unlike many of her sister ships that went directly to the scrapyard, she was preserved as a museum and declared a National Historic Landmark in 1986.
USS Laffey (DD 724, right) next to USS Hank (DD 702), a sister ship named after William Hank, the commanding officer of the first USS Laffey (DD 459).
Laffey’s commanding officer, Commander Frederick J. Becton, was awarded the Navy Cross for his actions that April day in 1945. Becton was a well-decorated troop in World War II. He received the Silver Star four times, including once for heroism on D-Day and twice more for actions in the Philippines while commanding the Laffey.
The first USS Laffey (DD 459), a Benson-class destroyer, pulling alongside another ship in 1942.
A previous USS Laffey, a Benson-class destroyer with the hull number DD 459, saw action in the Battle of Cape Esperance, but became a legend during the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal in the early morning hours of Friday, November 13, 1942. The destroyer closed to within 20 feet of the Japanese battleship Hiei and wounded Vice Admiral Hiroaki Abe before being sunk by enemy fire. The sinking of the Laffey cost many US lives, but left the Japanese without command in a pivotal moment.
It seems as though the name ‘Laffey’ is destined to fight the odds.
Check out the video below to see director Mel Gibson’s excitement as he discusses the near-impossible bravery of the USS Laffey at Okinawa.
The Littoral Combat Ship program has had a rocky history, characterized by many ups and downs. USS Freedom (LCS 1), a variant designed by a team led by Lockheed, notched one of the highs during a 2010 deployment to Southern Command, during which it quickly racked up four drug busts. Unfortunately for the LCS, for every high, there have been many lows.
Both the Freedom- and Independence-class vessels experienced many breakdowns. Last year, one ship got iced in. Additionally, the basic armament suite just doesn’t pack that much of a punch — the littoral combat ships have a single 57mm gun, a launcher for the RIM-116 Rolling Airframe Missile, a few M2 .50-caliber machine guns, and an MH-60R Seahawk.
The littoral combat ship USS Freedom (LCS 1) conducts flight deck certification with an MH-60S Sea Hawk helicopter assigned to the Sea Knights of Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 22.
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Nathan Laird)
That kind of firepower isn’t bad for a Coast Guard cutter, but for a warship, it’s just wimpy. By comparison, Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigates (which the littoral combat ships were to replace) pack a Mk 13 missile launcher that typically carries 36 RIM-66 Standard SM-1 surface-to-air missiles and four RGM-84 Harpoon anti-ship missiles, a 76mm gun, two triple 324mm torpedo tube mounts, and a Mk 15 Phalanx close-in weapon system in addition to an MH-60 helicopter.
As a result, the Navy has cut the LCS program from 52 vessels down to 40. Now, the Navy wants to buy guided-missile frigates. To that end, Lockheed is putting forth a version of the Freedom, called the “Freedom Frigate.” In essence, this is a LCS that will have a lot more firepower.
For starters, it will pack at least 16 cells in a Mk 41 vertical launch system and be able to fire RIM-162 Evolved Sea Sparrow Missiles, the Standard family of surface-to-air missiles, RUM-139 Vertical Launch ASROCs, and BGM-109 Tomahawk cruise missiles. Not only that, the new FFG(X) will also pack eight anti-ship missiles and countermeasures against enemy missiles and torpedoes.
This model at the SeaAirSpace expo in National Harbor, Maryland shows some of the upgraded firepower that the FFG(X) variant of the Freedom-class littoral combat ship will pack.
The Navy plans to pick its new FFG in 2020. The Freedom is facing off against four other contenders, including one from Spain.
There’s an old Yakov Smirnoff joke that goes something like, “in Soviet Russia, it’s freedom of speech. In America, it’s freedom after speech.” And if there was anyone who knew this first-hand, it was Smirnoff himself.
He and all other comedians who used to live under the Soviet regime could have faced jail time or death for any joke deemed “unfit.” In order for this to work, there would be absolutely no improvisation. All comedians would need to run each and every joke they planned on telling in a given year through the Ministry of Culture of the USSR.
Within the Ministry, there was an elaborate department dedicated to jokes and humor. The process of telling a timely joke without angering the committee was exhausting. Any joke that was actually funny against the communist ideology was banned. Even being remotely anti-communist meant the joke was banned.
Smirnoff told The Guardian one of his jokes that didn’t make it through and you can see how “humorous” of a place the Department of Jokes was.
“An ant falls in love and marries an elephant. They have an amazing honeymoon, a night of wild passion that is so passionate, in fact, that the elephant collapses and dies in the middle – the ant, however, is even less lucky. He is forced to spend the rest of his living days digging the elephant’s enormous grave.”
Apparently, that’s anti-communist and needed to be banned.
Because jokes were so generally unfunny, scarce, and hard to get approved, any joke that was both permitted and remotely humorous was immediately borrowed by every other Soviet comedian. Talk show hosts were heavily vetted before being allowed on air, so their works were free game and any joke they told would end up in every comedy club a week later.
This doesn’t mean that rebellious citizens didn’t tell their own jokes. Ukrainians held a deep resentment towards their Russian overlords so their jokes were more common — if not darker.
“A Soviet newspaper reports: Last night the Chernobyl Nuclear Power station fulfilled the Five Year Plan of heat energy generation… in 4 microseconds.”
Winning the lottery has likely never crossed your mind to be anything short of a celebration of newfound riches. Yet, for American men born before 1958, finding your number selected at random on television didn’t generally translate to wealth.
Ever wondered how the Vietnam draft actually worked? We’re combing through the history pages to find out just how birthdates and the Selective Service System mattered throughout the 20th century.
Your grandfather, father and I
Coming of age doesn’t come close to holding the same meaning as it did for the nearly 72 million “baby boomers” born into the Vietnam era draft. Requirements for registration varied over the decades, ranging from eligible age ranges beginning at 21 and eventually lowering to age 18.
Uncle Sam had called upon its fighting-age citizens as far back as anyone alive could recall, as both World Wars and the Korean War utilized draftees. The Selective Service Act of 1917 reframed the process, outlawing clauses like purchasing and expanding upon deferments. Military service was something that, voluntary or not, living generations had in common.
Low was high and high was low
When the lottery took effect, men were assigned a number between 1 and 366. (365 days per year plus one to account for leap year birthdays.) In 1969, a September 14birthday was assigned a number 001. Group 001 birthdays would be the first group to be called upon. May 5 birthdays were assigned number 364 or would have been the 364group to be required to report. Even if called upon, screenings for physical limitations, felony convictions or other legal grounds resulted in candidate rejection.
This method was determined to be a “more fair and equitable process” of selecting eligible candidates for service. Local draft boards, who determined eligibility and filled previous quotas for induction, had been criticized for selecting poor or minority classes over-educated or affluent candidates.
Grade “A” American prime candidates
In addition to a selection group, eligible males were also assigned a rating. These classifications were used between 1948 and 1976 and are available to view on the Selective Service System’s website.
1-A- eligible for military service.
1A-O- Conscientious Objector. Several letter assignments are utilized for various circumstances a conscientious objector may fall under.
4-G- Sole surviving son in a family where parent or sibling died as a result of capture or holds POW-MIA status.
3-A- Hardship deferment. Hardship would cause undue hardship upon the family.
Requests for reclassification, deferments, and postponements for educational purposes or hardships required candidates to fill out and submit a form to the Selective Service.
Dodging or just “getting out of dodge”
Options for refusing service during Vietnam varied. Frequently called “draft dodgers” referred to those who not just objected, but literally dodged induction. Not showing up, fleeing to Canada, going AWOL while in service or acts such as burning draft cards were all cards played to avoid Vietnam.
Failing to report held consequences ranging from fines, ineligibility of certain benefits, to imprisonment. In what has widely been viewed as a controversial decision, President Jimmy Carter pardoned hundreds of thousands of “draft dodgers” eliminating the statuses like “deserter” from countless files.
Researching the history of “the draft” in American history dates back to that of the Civil War. While spanning back generations and several wars, the Vietnam era draft is still viewed as the most controversial and widely discussed period in its history.
In case you’re wondering, The Selective Service System’s website still exists, as men are still required to register even today.
There’s no doubt about it. Steven Spielberg’s 1998 war epic, Saving Private Ryan, was a masterpiece in every aspect of filmmaking. It won five of the eleven Academy Awards for which it was nominated. The immense scale of the invasion of Normandy was expertly recreated for film in a way that hasn’t been replicated since — and likely never will be.
Despite the massive war that characterizes the film, the movie’s primary conflict wasn’t between warring nations, but rather between Tom Hanks’ character, Captain Miller, and his duty to return Pfc. Ryan (as played by Matt Damon), who refuses to leave behind the brothers with whom he’d fought so far.
The film, being the masterpiece that it is, wraps the story up nicely, leaving few loose ends, but there’s that ever-burning question in Hollywood — how do you make that special lightning strike twice? How can you create another story surrounding the incomparable D-Day and find just as much success?
The truth is, simply, that you can’t. The story has already been perfectly told by one of the finest filmmakers in Hollywood at just the right moment. But that doesn’t mean that the story has necessarily ended…
What made this scene so great wasn’t the million put into it — it was Tom Hank’s reaction to everything happening around him.
As stated by Jack Knight of War History Online, there is serious interest in following-up Saving Private Ryan by continuing the story of the Rangers at D-Day and the mission that occurred at Pointe du Hoc. What made the beach landing scene so spectacular wasn’t the battle itself, but rather how the battle was seen — through Capt. Miller’s eyes.
The audience felt the immense gravity of war in a truly human way. In one moment, we’re listening to a guy joke on the landing craft; one second later, his blood is splattered on Miller’s face. This is the essence of what made Saving Private Ryan so great. World War II was just the backdrop to a more personal story, but the sheer, raw horrors of war were still very much present.
The audience saw the enemy in the distance, but the focus was entirely on the Capt. Miller. Any spiritual successor (or direct sequels) should keep that in mind.
It’s a grim reality, but it’s comforting in it’s own way.
Such a sequel, a movie that follows someone’s personal life after a major conflict, has been dreamt up before. One film, known as “the greatest war film never made,” that was to explore this theme was to be called The Way Back.
The 1955 film To Hell and Back was an amazing anomaly. It was the World War II experience of Audie Murphy, based on the autobiography of the same name that was written by Audie Murphy and David McClure, starring Audie Murphy himself. But this wasn’t the only film the war hero wanted to make. Everyone wanted to see his heroic stand on the back of the Sherman, but he never got the finances for the script that told the story of what happened after he was bestowed the Medal of Honor.
He struggled daily with post-traumatic stress. His family life was, to put it lightly, troubled. He turned to drugs and alcohol to cope with the pain. He even famously locked himself in a dirty motel room to kick his morphine addiction. He was lost in a world that wanted “him,” but not the real him. But he knew countless children looked up to him, so he put one foot in front of the other with a forced smile on his face.
This movie, were it ever made, would’ve been a powerful piece. Audie Murphy, arguably the greatest soldier to ever don a uniform, would’ve told everyone that not everything is fine when the war’s over. There’s a pain there that nobody can see, but many of us feel.
It’s not like there are too many war films out there specifically made for Post 9/11 vets. The bar is set kinda low…
War films are a dime a dozen in Hollywood and rarely will they have any impact on the public because they’re just action scenes after action scenes until the credits roll. If Hollywood really wanted a powerful message to send to the world, they could make a grounded story following the life of one of the Rangers after D-Day. Use Saving Private Ryan’s personal approach and make it about one soldier. They could keep the action scenes, but make them a background to the story of just surviving. Then, as Act II rolls around, shift the story to show how a returning soldier survives this world he left behind to fight in D-Day.
Hollywood could have their cake and eat it to while also sending a powerful message to the countless returning veterans of the Post-9/11 wars, telling them that they’re not alone.
They’re your loyal companions, your four-legged best friends, the kind of pal that will be there with the love and enthusiasm you need on a bad day, and the joy and light on a good one. For many of us in the military community, dogs are the cornerstones of our lives.
Not only do they bring us joy at home, but dogs are also an important part of military squads and have been for hundreds of years. They’re useful in times of war and disaster, and service dogs often outrank their human counterparts! Why is that? One reason is because it ensures that the lower-ranking service member will always respect and honor their military dogs. Other lore suggests it’s because they’re just that important to unit morale and readiness. Either way, we love the fact that mil-working dogs are high ranking officers. Let’s take a look at some of the most well-known military service dogs.
America’s First War Dog, Stubby
Stubby started life as a wayward stray but found himself in an Army training center in New Haven, CT, during WWI. He ended up on the front lines for much of the war, and on his return from Europe, Stubby participated in several parades and even met three presidents.
What you might not know is that his frequently used moniker, “Sgt. Stubby” wasn’t accurate. In fact, historical biographies report that his rank might have been added posthumously.
Either way, Stubby earned a Purple Heart and more than a dozen awards for his effort in combat. Apparently, he was so well trained that he could sense incoming rounds and helped warn soldiers. There are even reports of Stubby attacking a German spy who tried to sneak into camp.
Stubby died in 1926, and his coat is on display at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History.
Bak, Hero in Afghanistan
Working with his handler, Sgt. Marel Molina and the 93rd Military Working Dog Detachment, 385th Military Police Battalion, 16th Military Police Brigade, Bak was out looking for explosives in Afghanistan’s Jalrez district on March 11, 2013, when local forces opened fire on a blue-on-green attack.
Having been deployed since June 2012, Bak made six major IED finds. On that fateful day in March, Capt. Ander Pedersen-Keeland and Staff Sgt. Rex Schad lost their lives. Bak died later that day from his injuries.
Cairo, part of SEAL Team 6
Like other military working dogs, Cairo was trained to stand guard and alert team members of anyone approaching. The Belgian Malinois was also trained in crowd control, discovering booby traps and had the ability to sniff out bombs. As part of the perimeter security during the mission to Pakistan as part of the bin Laden raid, Cairo’s mission was to enter the building if the SEAL team couldn’t find bin Laden right away.
Lucca, the wounded warrior
This half-German shepherd, half-Belgian Malinois went on 400 patrols, and not a single Marine died under Lucca’s service. On a routine patrol, Lucca had already found nearly 40 explosive devices while an undetected blast went off. Cpl. Juan Rodriguez, Lucca’s handler at the time, ran past the knowing IED and applied a tourniquet to Lucca, carrying the dog back to the safety of a tree line. Lucca lost his left front leg as a result of the blast.
In total, Lucca served six years of active duty before retiring to California with Gunnery Sgt. Christopher Willingham. In 2016, Lucca flew to London to receive the Dickin Medal, the highest valor award for animals.
JJackson, Air Force Hero
As part of the tribute to those who served in Iraq and Afghanistan wars on display at the National Museum of the US Air Force at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio, JJackson, or “JJ” as his handlers called him didn’t have any fancy pedigree to separate him from the rest of the military working dog recruits. But what he did have was heart.
JJ was the first on the field and the last to leave, proving time and again to his handlers that he was unwilling to quit. During one of his missions to Iraq, JJ found a man hiding in an abandoned bus that the platoon he was with had missed. For his time in service, JJ earned an ARCOM.
These five pooches prove that two legs aren’t better than four, and when in need, it’s great to have a dog around.
When the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Mason (DDG 87) came under attack multiple times in October 2016, the ship was able in at least one instance to use its defenses to shoot down the incoming Noor anti-ship missiles.
But there are times when a ship can’t shoot down the missiles – and thankfully, U.S. Navy vessels have plenty of options.
There are a number of reasons why a U.S. Navy ship may not be able to fire. In some cases, it may be due to restrictive rules of engagement. Other times, the inability to shoot may be due to battle damage. Perhaps there’s concern about what a miss might do.
In those cases, the Navy relies on decoying an inbound missile in one of several ways.
One option is via electronic countermeasures, or “ECM.” Specifically, the goal is to interfere with the guidance systems on the missiles by confusing or blocking the seekers on radar-guided ones.
The confusion angle is very simple. An ECM system like the AN/SLQ-32 would create false targets. This gets the missile to hopefully chase into empty ocean. Another method is to reduce the seeker’s effective range with jamming. This would allow the ship to get outside the seeker’s ability to acquire a target — again sending the missile off on a merry chase to nowhere.
However, missile makers are wise to the countermeasures and haven’t stood still. The field of electronic counter-countermeasures exists to help make seekers both more powerful and more intelligent, enabling them to beat the ECM. Thankfully, there is another option.
Most U.S. Navy ships also have launchers for chaff. Like the deception portion of ECM, it creates a false target for a missile seeker. Unlike the deception portion of ECM, since it is actually physically metal, it creates a real “target” for the seeker to home in on.
Furthermore, firing a bunch of the rockets makes a bigger “target” – which the incoming missile will hopefully go for.
You can see a Burke-class destroyer launch a chaff rocket in the video below.
These are known as “soft” kills. The enemy missile is negated, but it is misdirected as opposed to being shot down. “Soft” kills do have a potential to go bad, though.
During the Argentinean air attacks on the Royal Navy on May 25, 1982, a Royal Navy frigate, HMS Ambuscade, fired off chaff to decoy incoming Exocet anti-ship missiles. The missiles flew through the chaff cloud and locked on to the Atlantic Conveyor, a merchant vessel carrying supplies for the British forces. Two missiles hit the vessel, which sank three days after being hit.
When Saddam Hussein ordered the invasion of Kuwait, the Marines were one of the first units to respond. By Feb. 23, 1991, I Marine Expeditionary Force was controlling two reinforced Marine Divisions poised to strike Iraqi forces in Kuwait.
Facing the Marines were two massive minefields and some ten Iraqi divisions.
In the lead up to the invasion, the Marines worked furiously to find gaps in the minefield that they could strike through. They also frequently clashed with Iraqi forces when conducting artillery raids and during the pre-emptive Battle of Khafji.
That battle convinced the Marines that maybe the task ahead was not as formidable as they might have assumed. The Marines realized the Iraqis lacked aggression and coordination, and if hit hard they would back down.
But before that could happen they still had to find a way through the minefields. The commanders of the two Marine divisions had their own ideas of how that would happen.
The 1st Marine Division, commanded by Maj. Gen. Mike Myatt, was divided into four task forces – Ripper, Papa Bear, Taro, and Grizzly. Two task forces would clear lanes through the minefields before allowing the other two to pass through to spearhead the attack.
The 2nd Marine Division, commanded by Maj. Gen. William Keys, had a different plan. Keys ordered the Division to breach the minefields before storming across Kuwait to meet the Iraqis.
Before the ground war even started, the Marines of Task Forces Taro and Grizzly were infiltrating into Kuwait and through the minefield in order to take up blocking positions when the invasions started.
Then, on Feb. 24, 1991 at 0430 local time, the invasion officially began. The 1st Marine Division’s two task forces, Ripper and Papa Bear, began their assaults through the gaps provided by Taro and Grizzly.
On their flank, the 2nd Marine Division, augmented by the U.S. Army’s 2nd Armored Division’s 1st Brigade, began breaching operations at the minefield. Mine-clearing line charges and plow-equipped tanks blasted a path through the mines.
As the Marines cleared the minefields, they prepared to engage Iraqi forces. However, instead of an immediate fight, they were confronted with waves of surrendering Iraqi soldiers.
Unable to handle the large numbers of POWs, and with objectives to meet, they simply pointed the Iraqis towards the rear and drove on.
On the first day, the Marines only encountered light resistance and captured all of their objectives.
However, the next day, Feb. 25, the Iraqis launched counterattacks in force against the Marine positions.
Using the burning Burqan oil fields as concealment, the Iraqis were able to infiltrate very close to the Marines before launching their attacks.
The sudden appearance of an Iraqi brigade to the Marine’s flank caused quite a stir. The 1st Tank Battalion of TF Papa Bear bore the brunt of the Iraqi advance. The Marine commander reported, “T-62s everywhere, scattering like cockroaches from the Burqan oil field.”
As the Marine’s M60 Patton tanks engaged the Iraqis, daring Marine aviators came in low under the smoke to blast Iraqi tanks with Hellfire missiles. In three and a half hours of hard fighting, the Marines drove off the Iraqis while destroying 75 armored vehicles.
On TF Papa Bear’s other flank, another Iraqi force was massing to attack the 1st Marine Division’s forward command post. A platoon of infantry and another of LAV-25s commanded by Cpt. Eddie Ray were all that guarded the CP.
When artillery rounds began raining down around the Marines Ray raced forward to assess the situation. What he found was a numerically superior Iraqi force of tanks and armored personnel carriers approaching their position.
Ray’s small force immediately began engaging the Iraqi’s as they made a move for the CP. Seeing the attack developing, Brig. Gen. Draude, the assistant division commander, quipped, “If I die today, my wife is going to kill me.”
Another officer quickly called for reinforcements from TF Ripper and I MEF headquarters. He was told everyone was in a fight and there was no available air support.
He responded by simply holding the radio headset in the air for a few seconds before vehemently stating, “We are in a REAL fight at division forward!”
I MEF sent two Cobra gunships to support the beleaguered Marines. With the gunships on station, Ray made a bold move — he counterattacked. Despite overwhelming odds, Ray’s small force hammered the Iraqis and drove them from the vicinity, destroying 50 vehicles and capturing 250 prisoners.
In the 2nd Marine Division’s sector, the Iraqis were fighting just as tenaciously. B Company, 4th Tank Battalion — a reserve unit and the only Marines armed with the new M1 Abrams — awoke on the morning of Feb. 25 to see a massive Iraqi armored column moving in front of their position.
In what became known as the Reveille Engagement, the men of B Company, despite being outnumbered 3-to-1, maneuvered on line and engaged the Iraqis. In just 90 seconds, the Marine tankers wiped out the entire Iraqi force of 35 tanks and APCs.
After defeating the Iraqi counterattacks, the Marines continued their drive north the next day. They took the vital Al Jaber airfield and made it to the outskirts of Kuwait City and the international airport.
While the 2nd Marine Division cut off the Iraqi’s retreat, the 1st Marine Division attacked and secured the airport with support from two battleships firing from the gulf.
The 100-hour ground war cost the Marines five killed and 48 wounded. In that time they fought over 100 miles through occupied territory, crushed seven Iraqi divisions, destroyed over 1,600 tanks and armored vehicles, and took over 22,000 prisoners.
In order for a horror film to work, you need to have relatable characters. The more easily the audience can put themselves in the shoes of the cast, the more real the terror. That’s why, when a horror film is geared towards a younger crowd, the characters are primarily teenagers who are made to be as average and generic as possible.
Of course, while veterans come from every walk of life, one thing they all have in common is that they aren’t average. We’re generally brash, crude and perform well in environments that would freeze your average horror film character.
And to be fair, there have been horror films that feature characters with military backgrounds, like Predator. The problem here is that troops and vets would easily turn any horror film into an action film. In fact, the 2018 sequel to the Schwarzenegger classic seems to be embracing this action/horror dynamic of “vets versus monster.”
But here’s why vets wouldn’t make the best fit in most horror flicks:
We’re not easily scared
Veterans often have a desensitized “fight or flight” reflex. When vets are spooked, it’s rare for them to freeze in place or scream like children. They’re conditioned to hop right into fight mode.
If a twig snaps, vets look in that direction. When someone screams off in the distance, they’re not just going to shrug it off and continue their party in the middle of the woods.
We would organize survivors
Veterans instinctively take control of situations when everyone stands around confused. It doesn’t need to be a life-or-death situation, either. At a kid’s birthday party, for example, vets expertly knifehand their way into getting balloons inflated and cake cut.
Vets would identify who’s useful and smack some sense into the idiots that say, “let’s split up!”
We could make due with few resources
In horror films, survivors often run around looking for supplies. Most would probably settle for finding a pair of safety scissors that they would then inexplicably throw at the unkillable monster.
Meanwhile, the veteran has fashioned a ghillie suit using mud, sticks, and leaves and they’ve found the sturdiest club they could get their hands on — and set it on fire.
We’d probably be carrying
Chances are, the veteran probably doesn’t need to scavenge. The moment the idiot who went skinny-dipping starts screaming bloody murder, a veteran would chamber a round.
Unless the vet is fighting some supernatural force, the credits would start rolling shortly after the knife-wielding clown starts rushing them.
We know how to actually run and start cars
From the most macho grunt to the wimpiest supply guy, everyone has done Land Nav enough times to not trip on their own feet every ten seconds while running through the forest.
If the monster couldn’t be shot to death, the vet probably wouldn’t even bother and, instead, would leave. Especially if the monster just comes at them at a walking pace…
We’ve secretly been preparing for this forever
Ask any veteran why they stockpiled arms and supplies and they may joke that it’s for the zombie apocalypse. The moment an actual zombie apocalypse happens, that cache is definitely coming in handy.
We also have at least seven different plans on what to do in every situation. Catching us completely off-guard isn’t a realistic plot point.
*Bonus* The downside to being a veteran in a horror film
But realistically our f*ck-off attitude would get us killed. The masked killer would probably show up, covered in blood, and we’d mock them for whatever reason. That’s maybe not the best idea…
Let’s chat retirement for a quick minute. You took the Blended Retirement System training, right? Probably because your boss told you to get it done so she could report 100 percent completion for your unit, right? And it was probably the most boring two hours of your life, right? So, now that we’re halfway through 2018, how much do you actually remember about BRS and retirement from that training? Not much, am I right?
Exactly. So let’s break it down.
Who’s eligible for BRS?
Anyone who was in the military as of Dec. 31, 2017, is automatically grandfathered into the High-3 Legacy retirement system. Remember, that’s the one where you multiply the number of years you serve by the average of your highest 36 months of basic pay by 2.5%. This option requires you to serve at least 20 years to qualify for retirement. However, if you have less than 12 years of service (active duty) or less than 4,320 points (Reserves/National Guard), then you have a choice to make. You can either stick with the High-3 system or opt into BRS.
First, let’s be frank. This is a highly personal decision, and quite honestly, we support you either way. But we (the Department of Defense) want to ensure you have the right tools and information to make the best choice for you and your family.
So. You need to take a hard look at your finances and your goals. Chat with your spouse or family. Make an appointment with your installation’s personal financial manager or another trusted advisor and run the BRS calculator. See which choice is best for you.
If you want to stick with the High-3, great! Enjoy that retirement and ride off into the sunset!
If you choose BRS, that’s great too! There are some great benefits to BRS, IF you decide it’s the best choice for you. So let’s look at how you can 1) take ownership of your retirement, and 2) make the most of it.
(National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Caycee Watson)
Remind me again what BRS is?
Through the Blended Retirement System, you don’t have to serve 20 years to walk away with government-provided retirement benefits. So, if you don’t think you’ll make a career out of your military service (and that’s FINE!), BRS would be a great choice for you. If you do plan to serve 20 years, the important thing to remember is that if you opt into BRS early and maximize your Thrift Savings Plan contributions, you could have a retirement that is potentially equal to or more than what you might earn with the legacy retirement system.
There are three main parts of BRS that make it different from the High-3 Legacy system:
Defined benefit: Monthly retired pay for life after at least 20 years of service. This is part of BOTH retirement options. However, under BRS, the defined benefit multiplier changed from 2.5% to 2.0%. So apply this to the formula:
High-3: Number of years you serve X Average of your highest 36 months of basic pay X 2.5%
BRS: Number of years you serve X Average of your highest 36 months of pay X 2.0% (This results in about a 20% reduction in monthly retired pay. However, you have the opportunity to make up the difference by maximizing your TSP contributions and receiving the government matching funds.)
Defined contribution: Government automatic and matching contributions of up to 5 percent of basic pay to your Thrift Savings Plan. Even if you’re sticking with the legacy system, TSP is still something you should consider. While the government won’t match your contributions (that’s BRS only), TSP is a great way to augment your monthly retired pay.
Continuation pay: A one-time, midcareer bonus in exchange for an agreement to perform additional obligated service. It’s a direct cash payout, much like a bonus, and is only available to service members enrolled in BRS. Service members who are eligible may receive a payment of at least 2.5 times your monthly basic pay. Reservists and members of the National Guard are eligible to receive 0.5 times their monthly basic pay as if serving on active duty. However, this is unique to each service, so ensure you check with your Manpower/Personnel office to find out more information. You can find more information on continuation pay here.
So, if you opt into BRS and serve 20 years or more and qualify for retirement, you have a pretty sweet deal. But the cool part is that even if you DON’T stay for retirement (which again, is totally OK), you still walk away with your TSP. And don’t worry, you’re always vested (entitled to) your own contributions and earnings. However, to become vested in the Service Automatic Contribution (1%), you must have completed two years of service. After two years of service, you are considered fully vested.
AND what’s even cooler is that, say you get out of the military completely and you get a civilian job with a 401(k) — you can roll your TSP into that company’s retirement fund. Or, you can choose to leave your TSP alone until you’re of the age to tap into it (which is 59 1/2, btw). Even if you’re not contributing to it anymore, your TSP will continue to grow over time based on the market’s performance. So, you could potentially have a tidy sum that you can access when you finally retire from working. Let’s just call this what it is … a win-win.
First and foremost, like we said already, it’s critically important that you make this decision fully armed with the information you need to make the best choice possible for your financial future. That means going to your installation’s financial manager, talking with your spouse or someone you trust. Deeply consider what you want your life after the military to look like, how you’ll get there and how either the High-3 system or BRS can help you get there.
(Photo by Staff Sgt. Michael E. Davis Jr., Maryland National Guard Public Affairs Office)
If you are one of those folks who is grandfathered into High-3 and choose to stay there, then there’s nothing you need to do. Just keep going to work, doing great things and getting closer and closer to retirement.
If you decide that BRS is the way to go, remember that you have until Dec. 31, 2018, to opt in. That can be done via MyPay if you’re a Soldier, sailor, Airman or Coast Guard member, or MarineOnline for you Marines. Once it’s done though, you can’t change your mind. The decision is final.
Then, after that, double check your TSP contribution to ensure that you receive the government matching benefit. If you opt in, you automatically receive the 1 percent government contribution. But YOU have to physically adjust anything after that to ensure you receive the government matching. If you don’t make any TSP changes, your existing contribution rate stays the same, even if that is zero. And if you can’t afford to contribute the full amount right now, that’s totally OK. But think about what you can contribute now and then factor in pay raises or bonuses for potential opportunities to increase your contribution when you can.
If you’re a Reservist, this applies to you, too. But your TSP contributions come from your weekend drill pay. But, any time you’re on long-term active duty orders, your contributions will continue, but come from your basic pay.
So, let’s recap for a hot minute.
While planning for retirement might not be on your mind now, it’s really, really important that you take a second to thoroughly think through your options: BRS v. High-3. And if you’ve made your decision and BRS is it, ensure you opt in by the deadline, Dec. 31, 2018. However, after Dec. 31, 2018, your retirement choice will be irrevocable. If you’ve already opted in, or once you do so, ensure your TSP contributions are adjusted to maximize your TSP and ensure you receive the government matching capability. You’ll be able to adjust your TSP contributions at your leisure any time moving forward.
We just ran through a lot of pretty dense stuff. But, like we said, we, the Department of Defense, are totally cool with whatever choice you make. We just want to ensure you have the tools and resources to make an educated decision. Your retirement is your future – be sure you’re financially prepared for it — and give yourself a high five for making the right choice for you!
Top video game players are currently playing for a pool of almost $25 million’s worth in prizes in a game called DOTA 2, but one event that will take place on the main stage will be the most public display yet of a growing technology that will likely re-shape warfare in the way that the maturation of gunpowder or military aviation once did.
A team of artificial intelligence bots from OpenAI will take on a team of five professional human players and the AI will likely win. It will likely be the closest thing AI gets to a Billy Mitchell bombing the Ostfriesland moment.
The details of the game aren’t super important for this discussion, but you can read about it here if you care. Basically, the game is much more complex than the board games that AIs have been taking on in the last few years, and requires a much more complex system of evaluations and executions to win against humans, especially in team play.
Fans watch the proceedings during the 2014 DOTA 2 invitational.
So, what does this all have to do with war? OpenAI doesn’t exist to win video games. It’s a nonprofit started by big names like Elon Musk in order to advance safe AI (Artificial intelligence restricted to working for the benefit and safety of humans). In fact, most of OpenAI’s projects have nothing to do with video games. They just use DOTA 2 as a flashy way to get and keep people interested in their AI work.
What OpenAI really cares about is fueling breakthroughs in AI research and development for use in everything from managing cities to controlling factories. And while they don’t pursue military research, it’s not hard to see how a computer that can control a mage throwing fireballs across a digital battlefield might be taught how to control cruisers firing artillery shells across the water.
Other researchers have already created an AI that can outperform humans in small aerial dogfights. If an AI created with OpenAI’s deep-learning was aimed at that milestone, it could be expected to take on human opponents within a few months of creation, then win against teams within another year or less, and be able to dominate most human teams soon thereafter.
The U.S. Navy’s unmanned X-47B jet aircraft.
And that’s while we make the computer fly jets designed for humans and if it’s forced to treat its planes as assets it can’t sacrifice. But jets flown by humans don’t need to be constrained by the limits of the human body, meaning they can take tighter turns at higher speeds. And we don’t have to treat losing jets the same as we would losing jets with humans on board. The computer could treat them like DOTA 2 heroes: valuable, but ultimately disposable for the right gain.
And the U.S. and Chinese militaries, among others, know about these advantages of AI, and are pursuing AI technology for just that reason. And it won’t just apply to jets, but also submarines, armored vehicles, and potentially even infantry. After all, OpenAI has helped AIs train each other for controlling human-like bodies in everything from digital sumo matches to high winds.
So it’s easy to imagine that, in the next war, China and America will start turning more and more to their robot partners for help against their enemies, potentially each other.
For at least the next few decades, larger ships will still need human crews, which means that hundreds or thousands of sailors will still be at risk while fighting.
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Jacques-Laurent Jean-Gilles)
But this will create an even more frightening change in warfare than aerial bombing did. Sailors and soldiers will be asked to go forward either knowing that the decision has been made by an unfeeling machine or knowing that there was a chance the decision was made by a machine, and that they will be fighting a mix of machines and humans.
And AIs will likely be better at strategic decisions eventually, but it will still carry an added moral weight for troops knowing that they aren’t executing the will of a senior human, but a robot.
But, of course, it won’t be all bad. In isolated areas with little need for humans to safeguard against collateral damage, entire battles could be fought with little or no human losses.
A U.S. Marine leads a robot on a simulated patrol.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Kyle J. O. Olson)
Imagine a few decades into the future, one where robots can control warships and planes, submarines, and anti-aircraft guns. Now imagine the historic Battle of Midway where Japan lost five ships and 292 aircraft while suffering 2,500 casualties. The U.S. lost two ships and 145 aircraft while suffering 307 casualties.
Now, combine those two visions, a Battle of Midway where two of the world’s largest navies clash with almost no sailors having to fight at the front. Yes, the ships and planes would still be lost, and control of vast swaths of the world would still be decided by violent clashes, but the human sacrifice would be in the single or double digits.
And the victory for the winner will still be complete. After all, if the U.S. fleet survives at Midway, whether it is crewed by robots or humans, that’s still a physical fleet that can move towards the Japanese home islands.
So, yes, AI will almost certainly revolutionize warfare, and it will happen in the secrecy of classified labs until exploding into the open in a large war.
Until then, if you want to see the progress AI is making, watch the OpenAI Twitter and YouTube streams. Robots may prove their supremacy this week, if only in digital space…
The Mass Effect series has had its share of ups and downs, but one thing is undeniable — the world-building was done insanely well. One such piece of world-building that is worth mentioning is the existence of the Special Tactics and Reconnaissance agents. For those who don’t know, SPECTREs are special agents, granted authority by a government council to essentially carry out special missions that standard military cannot. This authority also gives them an insane amount of freedom.
If there is any unit, fictional or otherwise, to live up to the “Own F***ing Program” mantra, it’s definitely SPECTREs. Why? Because they’re rarely even assigned tasks; often times they just find their own and occasionally check in with the council that granted them their authority in the first place.
So, here are the biggest reasons being a SPECTRE would be awesome:
Although, you may still have to answer to military and government officials when the time comes.
You can choose your missions
You can also decide which ones take the most precedence. Do you want to rescue colonists before defeating a rogue who’s threatening life in the galaxy? Have at it. For the most part, military officials won’t breathe down your neck about what you’re doing — you just do you.
This allows you to put together your own personal A-team.
You choose your crew
You don’t have to go planet-side with a team that was assigned to you. You can essentially recruit whoever you want, including mercenaries, to watch your back.
Like signing out a duty van — just make sure you fill up the tank.
You get your own ship
Who doesn’t want their own ship to travel where and when as they please at the expense of their government? That ship is basically yours to do with as you please and go where you see fit, even if there aren’t any missions tied to that distant moon you just dropped in on.
Or you can just go with what they give you.
You get the best weapons and gear
“Military grade” doesn’t apply to you. In fact, you can buy whatever you need for your missions, and no higher-up is going to yell at you for it. You want that scope for your rifle? Cool. Do you want to use that alien’s blaster that they just dropped? Go for it. Is the military issued armor not best on the market? Pick up your own.
No more relying on that government salary.
(U.S. Air Force photo)
You can get paid by whoever you want
One thing that may not have been covered is whether SPECTREs earn a salary or not. But, one thing’s for sure — if someone offers to pay you credits for a job, you’re allowed to take it. Remember how we said you can pick your own missions? One being more lucrative than another may actually be part of which ones you take.
He is widely known as a Hollywood animation legend who worked at the studios that created Bugs Bunny and Mickey Mouse. But Hal Geer also flew 86 combat missions as a combat cameraman in World War II.
According to a report by the Hollywood Reporter, Geer died Jan. 26 at the age of 100. According to IMDB, his credits included the movies “Daffy Duck: Fantastic Island,” “Bugs Bunny: All-American Hero,” and “The Bugs Bunny Mystery Special” as well as over twenty short cartoons.
Geer’s World War II service took him over the China-Burma-India Theater, flying in Consolidated B-24 Liberator heavy bombers and North American B-25 medium bombers assigned to the 14th Air Force under Major General Claire Chennault, who founded the legendary Flying Tigers of the American Volunteer Group.
According to a 2007 report in the Ventura County Recorder, Geer made the documentary film “China Crisis” while serving. Geer told the Recorder that this World War II film was the one he was the most proud of.
In a 2005 interview with China Youth Daily, Geer discussed more about his time with the 14th Air Force. “China Crisis” discussed how the United States supported the 14th Air Force, getting supplies over what was called “The Hump.”
Today, it’s better known as the Himalaya Mountains. The film also covered the Japanese Army’s 1944 offensive in China (which doesn’t get as much press when compared to how America advanced in the Pacific that year). Thirteen combat cameramen shot over 300 hours of footage to make a film that was less than an hour long. Five cameramen were killed in action.
“China Crisis” had been slated to be shown along as part of a 1946 War Bonds drive. That drive would not take place, as Japan surrendered in August 1945 after atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Perhaps, someday, DOD will find a way to make that film, and many others, available online for Americans to view.