Since transitioning out of the military, I’ve had the, um, “pleasure” of being around a lot more civilians. Some of the questions I’m asked on an annoyingly regular basis are, “Aren’t VA loans awesome? Don’t you get a free house? Did you get yours?”
After polling some veterans, I realized I should give a little brief on the subject. Time to slay the myth around what a VA loan is or isn’t.
First: The VA loan is, in fact, not a loan at all.
The VA Loan Program, created in 1944 as part of the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act, is a service the Department of Veteran Affairs created to help veterans returning from WWII buy a home.
According to the VA website, “VA Home Loans are provided by private lenders, such as banks and mortgage companies. VA guarantees a portion of the loan, enabling the lender to provide you with more favorable terms.”
Essentially, the VA will co-sign a loan with you, and that gives you a few perks.
Why is co-signing helpful?
When new adults try to rent an apartment or buy a car, most people won’t trust them unless they get a “guarantor” to co-sign the loan or the lease, usually in the form of a parent or older family member. After faithfully paying rent and payments on a loan or two, civilians in their 20s build up credit and no longer need anyone to sign off their financial choices.
Military personnel and veterans are a bit different. Our lifestyle inherently makes us look financially untrustworthy.
“How are you 24 with no rental history?” I live in a barracks.
“You seem to have moved every two years...” Yep.
“You disappeared from our system for over a year except for credit card transactions from… Afghanistan. Are you a terrorist?” It’s called deployment!
Luckily, we have an Uncle Sam willing to co-sign on such a big purchase, or what’s called a Purchase Loan. You’ll be able to get better interest rates than your credit alone could get you, and you can skip the down payment.
Just because you can get a loan for down, doesn’t mean you should. Regular people are expected to drop at least 20% value of the house as a down payment.
Here are three different scenarios. Same house, same interest rate, same 30-year loan.
The less you pay upfront, the more you have to pay in compounded interest for the next 30 years. 30 years. That’s your entire military career plus half your next career!
Being able to do less of a down payment is useful in a few scenarios. For example, if you live in California, chances are you won’t ever have 0K cash for a 20% down payment on the crazy prices out here.
A few resources to see how much you can afford while buying a house: RedFin has a quick calculator (above) as well as a more in-depth option. USAA also has one with different loans they offer.
Warning: Anything offered by Uncle Sam comes with a catch
According to the VA website, “VA-guaranteed loans are available for homes for your occupancy or a spouse and/or dependent (for active duty service members). To be eligible, you must have satisfactory credit, sufficient income to meet the expected monthly obligations, and a valid Certificate of Eligibility (COE).”
A few takeaways:
VA Loans are only for houses you will live in, NOT commercial or investment properties.
You have to live in the house for at least one year.
You can’t buy a multi-family or multi-unit property. No duplexes or apartment buildings (Trust me, I tried).
Banks set the terms of the loan (interest rate, payment schedule, etc.) based on your credit and current job, not the VA.
The VA might not approve you.
Requires at least 181 days active duty completed to be eligible.
There is a limit on how much you can borrow without making a down payment based upon where in the country you live.
When good loans go bad
After nearly an hour and being transferred 7 times, I finally spoke to the most unenthusiastic Federal Employee in existence to answer my unanswerable question: “Are VA loans any different in foreclosure or the foreclosure process than a regular civilian mortgage?”
The answer: No, mostly.
The VA will not step in and save you, there are no cash handouts, and the VA will not shield you from the banks that are after their money. The VA will take care of a few fees dealing with the lenders, but that is about it. For more questions: 1-877-827-3702 or visit the payment problems page.
There are certain things that any junior enlisted Marine can expect to find on any Marine Corps base. Morning runs along the fence line, guarded by uniformed men with guns. Hundreds of people standing in lines, mindlessly marching towards the same, processed shelf-stable meat that has been rewarmed and served in precise measurements onto your mechanically-washed lunch tray, used continually since 1978. Daily wake-up times and roll calls. Accountability and uniformity of clothing, housing, grooming, and sanitation alongside weekly white-glove room inspections.
It sounds a lot like prison.
There is an escape, however, and that escape is provided by the United States Air Force. Marine bases are built for efficiency, not comfort, so it comes as a huge surprise for a young jarhead when he breaches the walls of an Air Force base to find all the luxuries of a more refined culture. Here’s what that budding Marine might find:
7. Dorms. They live in dorms.
When I first got to Fleet Marine Force, I was assigned to First Battalion First Marine Division on Camp Horno in a metal squad bay with Vietnam-era graffiti spray-painted on the wall just underneath the “Condemned due to Asbestos” signs.
Imagine a big tin can cut in half, laid cut side down and attached to a community hygiene area that’s void of individual shower stalls and doors for the toilets. Compare that to Air Force dorms: individual rooms with their own bathroom and dining area.
I’ve heard a rumor that they even have laundry services. As in, they have someone who will clean, fold, and return their clothing to them. I have literally had to put hot water and detergent into trash bags with my clothes, twist the end shut, and shake the bag furiously until my uniforms were clean enough for government work. #noexcuses.
6. The food scene is beyond reproach.
Steakhouses, burger joints, sushi restaurants, donut shops, ice cream parlors, and Chinese take-out are all within walking distance of any of the those magical “dorms” in which airmen reside. The real surprise is found in the Air Force “dining facility.” Marines are accustomed to chow halls, the simple, red-headed stepbrother of the proud and capable USAF dining facility. What chow halls lack in variety, they also lack in quality and general palatability.
I was definitely ingesting calories, just not tasty or healthy ones. But Air Force dining facilities provide multiple lines with an assortment of delicious cuisine. Sandwich stations, fresh pizza, and salad bars all complement the hot-line, which has multiple choices of its own. It all balances nicely with an ice cream bar — complete with myriad toppings from which to choose.
When done, you don’t even have to bus your own food tray; they clean up after you.
5. Largest exchanges and MWRs.
Imagine that gas station in the bad part of town where the guy behind the cash register would sell alcohol to the underage you while doing drug deals out the back. Now, picture that place selling PT uniforms and rank insignia. That is your basic Marine Corps Exchange.
The first time I made my way into an Air Force Base Exchange is reminiscent of when Harry Potter wandered through Diagon Alley, shopping for his wand. It was astonishing. It was a mall on steroids, complete with barbers, cars, motorcycles, and gun sales. I felt like I was a kid in a candy store.
Also, there was a candy store!
There are women on an Air Force Base. A solid ratio, too, considering most Marine bases are at around 50-to-1, men-to-women. These numbers are based on personal experience on an infantry base notorious for being in the middle of nowhere and in no way reflects a scientific method of any kind nor census numbers from any reliable source.
It was simply the feeling of a then-twenty-something junior enlisted Marine that the entire Marine base was a giant sausage party, ripe with testosterone. Kadena Air Base however, an Air Force base on Okinawa, was brimming with the fairer sex — a fact all of the Marines on the island are keen to and plan their weekends around.
3. The gym is legit.
Marine gyms are similar to prison weight yards: A bunch of high-protein-diet neanderthals angrily grunting at solid steel weights so old that the numbers have worn off. There is no air-conditioning and the staff is made up of short-term infantry Marines — every one of which know the best way to bulk up, just ask them… or accidentally make eye contact, whichever.
USMC gyms provide only free weights and pull-up bars, so if you want to do cardio, go outside and run. Conversely, Air Force gyms are masterfully designed temples of athletic excellence. All of which come complete with pools, yoga classes, Zumba courses, cardio centers, masseuses, basketball courts, racquetball courts, functional fitness areas, and juice bars!
2. They basically have water parks.
They have indoor pools, outdoor pools, water slides, and lifeguards. Just throw some overpriced hot dog vendors in a USAF water rec center and you’ve got yourself water park. They are open to all active duty service members and their families. Marine bases’ only use for pools is to drown-proof Marines annually… so all this Air Force water fun was crazy to witness.
1. Officers on gate guard duty.
Seeing shiny rank insignia in the Corps is rare at best, and non-existent at the gate. But in the Air Force, you’ll see these young officers leading the charge with regard to showing picture IDs when entering their hallowed ground.
It’s seen as a display of leadership for them to take to the gate on mornings, Fridays, and sometimes even holidays. I’ve never personally been relieved of duty by an officer, it didn’t seem like a thing to hope for, so seeing it from another service — especially the Air Force — brought a single tear to my eye.
Military members tend to make fun of the USAF for their high-maintenance personas, but if you examine the situation further, you may find they’ve earned it. The jokes will continue to fly and Marines will enjoy flaunting their comparative mistreatment, but the reality is that those same Marines know where they’re headed when liberty sounds.
The 6th Marine Regiment color guard marches towards the parade field at Aisne-Marne American Memorial Cemetery in Belleau, France, May 29, 2016. The ceremony marks the 98th anniversary of the Battle of Belleau Wood and continues as a symbol of the everlasting brotherhood between the U.S. Marines and the French military. The cemetery, lined with epitaphs, marks hundreds of plots where military members from all around the world rest after giving the ultimate sacrifice for their country. Photo/Preston McDonald
I nearly died just days after arriving in Iraq. This was my first deployment and although I had never seen combat, I was a well-trained, physically fit, mentally prepared Marine. None of that mattered when a grenade landed near us. Luckily, we all walked away. That first patrol seemed like a blur at the time but years later the memory is still scarred into my brain, like a small burn on a child’s hand. It’s not about what happened that day but the reminder of what could have.
That reminder came just days after I returned home. One of my fellow Marines, a friend, was killed by a sniper’s bullet, then, another fell from a roof and died, and yet another lost his legs in an IED attack. I had survived months without a scratch but my friends who were just as well-trained were killed and injured within a week. My brain couldn’t understand the logic of what happened … because there is no logic in war.
You don’t get to pick where the bullet goes, you just have to face it. Since the founding of the United States, thousands of men and women have stared down our enemies. Many have paid the ultimate sacrifice and are still buried on the battlefields where they said their last words.
Sunrise in Section 35 of Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia, Oct. 25, 2018. (U.S. Army photo by Elizabeth Fraser/ Arlington National Cemetery / released)
Today, the living reminder of the fallen remains in places like Gettysburg, Arlington National Cemetery and Aisne-Marne, France. Over 100 years before I stepped foot into Iraq, thousands of Marines patrolled the forests of Belleau Wood. They were all that stood to protect Paris, and the war effort, from a German assault. Outnumbered, isolated and low on ammunition, they fought and held the line. Their tenacity in battle earned them the name “Teufel Hunden” or “Devil Dogs” by the Germans. This is a name that Marines proudly still use today.
In battle, words matter. “Covering fire” has a completely different meaning than “take cover.” “Fix” is different from “flank” and so on. In peace, words matter even more. When we think of war in terms of winning and losing, we not only do ourselves the disservice of simplifying the chaos of battle but we negate the reminder that the fallen give us.
A Sailor assigned to Special Operations Task Force West folds an American flag during a memorial marking the anniversary of the death of Petty Officer 2nd Class Tyler Trahan, an explosive ordnance disposal technician. Trahan was killed in action April 30, 2009 in Al Anbar Province, Iraq. U.S. Navy photo/Aaron Burden
While war may have a clear victor, there are no winners on the battlefield. The gravestones, memorials and scars – both physical and invisible – that veterans carry are the reminders of that.
We are the land of the free because of the brave. Countless men and women have raised their hand to serve our country with nothing expected in return. As it’s said, “All gave some, some gave all.” The very least we can give those who paid the ultimate price is to honor their memory, acknowledge their unyielding patriotism and cherish their last great act with awe and humility, for they willingly gave their lives in service of our great nation.
First released in 1995 as Air Combat, the Ace Combat franchise has taken gamers to the skies at the speed of sound for over two and a half decades. As of July 2020, the franchise has sold over 16 million copies, making it one of Bandai Namco’s most successful franchises, among legends like Tekken and Pac-Man. The arcade-style flight simulator puts gamers in the cockpit of real-life aircraft, along with a few fictional ones, to engage in high-speed aerial combat.
Coming a long way from its humble and pixelated origins on the original Playstation, Ace Combat now provides players with the most immersive experience yet using the power of Playstation VR. Though the planes recreated in the virtual world are highly detailed thanks to licensing and support from the real-world manufacturers, the paint schemes and designs available to players to customize their aircraft in Ace Combat 7 are all fictional—until now.
To celebrate 25 years of Ace Combat, the liveries of two iconic squadrons have been added to the game. On August 20, 2020, a new package of aircraft skins and emblems was released containing different variations of the US aircraft national insignia and the liveries of Strike Fighter Squadron 103 (VFA-103), the “Jolly Rogers,” and Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 232 (VMFA-232), the “Red Devils.” Previously featured in Ace Combat: Assault Horizon and Ace Combat Infinity, the “Red Devils” livery is only available on the F/A-18F Super Hornet while the “Jolly Rogers” livery is available on both the F-14D Tomcat and the F/A-18F Super Hornet.
“‘Jolly Roger’ logo and aircraft paint pattern used with permission of the United States Department of Defense” (Bandai Namco)
Based at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar under the command of Marine Air Group 11, the “Red Devils” are the oldest and most decorated fighter squadron in the Corps. The squadron can trace its lineage back to VF-3M, which was commissioned at Naval Air Station San Diego on September 1, 1925. The “Red Devils” went through seven redesignations and eight different aircraft until they were temporarily decommissioned on November 16, 1945.
“‘Red Devil'” logo and aircraft paint pattern used with permission of the United States Department of Defense.” (Bandai Namco)
The squadron was reactivated on June 3, 1945 with its current designation. VMFA-232 did not deploy to Korea but saw heavy combat in Vietnam. In September 1973, the “Red Devils” became the last Marine squadron to leave the Vietnam War. Today the squadron flies the F/A-18 Hornet in support of the Global War on Terror. Their livery is erroneously applied to the F/A-18F Super Hornet as it is the only Hornet variant in Ace Combat 7.
The “Jolly Rogers” have a more complex lineage. Currently, the skull and crossbones insignia flies with VFA-103. However, the squadron adopted the insignia from VF-84 who adopted it from VF-61. VF-61 was originally established as VF-17 on January 1, 1943 at NAS Norfolk. The squadron’s commander, Lt. Cdr. John T. “Tommy” Blackburn, wanted the insignia to have a piratical theme that matched to mirror the Corsair name of their F4U fighters; and thus, the skull and crossbones was born. Over the course of two combat tours, the squadron was credited with 313 aerial victories and produced 23 aces, making it the most successful US Navy squadron of WWII. The “Jolly Rogers” were redesignated twice after the war before they were disestablished on April 15, 1959.
In 1959, VF-84’s commander, who had previously flown with the VF-61, requested to change his squadron’s name and insignia to that of the “Jolly Rogers.” His request was approved on April 1, 1960 and the skull and crossbones was revived. The planes of VF-84 proudly flew the insignia until the squadron was disestablished on October 1, 1995. It was then that the insignia’s current bearers, VFA-103, adopted the “Jolly Rogers” name and insignia. Though the “Jolly Rogers” insignia and livery was never applied to the F-14D like it is in Ace Combat 7 (VFA-104 did not fly this variant), the squadron does currently fly the F/A-18F that bears the livery in the game.
Whether you’re an enthusiast or a past or current member of the “Red Devils” or “Jolly Rogers,” Ace Combat’s addition of their liveries is a fitting celebration for its 25th Anniversary. Did we mention that the aircraft skins are free? Simply install the latest game update and you’ll have them. Good hunting.
North Korea has been quietly soliciting coronavirus aid from other countries even though it has publicly denied the existence of any cases on home soil, according to a new report.
Officials in the isolated country have privately reached out to their counterparts in other countries asking for urgent help in fighting the outbreak, the Financial Times reported, citing several people familiar with the matter and an unidentified document.
The country has also asked hospitals in South Korea and several international aid agencies for masks and test machines, Reuters reported last Friday, citing two sources with knowledge of the matter.
“There’s not enough medicine for the country. I’m really concerned about them facing an outbreak,” Nagi Shafik, a former World Health Organization and UNICEF official in Pyongyang, told Business Insider.
The country currently fears it doesn’t have enough testing kits for its citizens, the FT reported.
“The government has testing kits for COVID-19 and they know how to use them, but [the number of kits are] not sufficient, hence, [officials are] requesting all organizations … to support them in this regard,” a source told the FT.
Non-governmental aid agencies have also been trying to help North Korea prepare for an outbreak, but are struggling to get supplies across its shuttered border with China, Reuters reported.
Médecins Sans Frontières told the news agency that emergency supplies bound for North Korea were currently in Beijing and Dandong, a Chinese city bordering North Korea, and that officials were working to get the kit across the border despite the closure.
In a rare admission of weakness, Kim acknowledged on March 18 that his country did not have enough modern medical facilities and called for improvements, the Associated Press reported, citing the state-controlled Korea Central News Agency (KCNA).
On the orders of Kim, construction began on the new Pyongyang General Hospital on Wednesday, according to KCNA.
After nearly two decades of counter-terror operations the world over, the United States military is now shifting its focus back toward great power competition with the likes of China and Russia. Unfortunately, as is so often the case, the past two decades have left the U.S. military particularly well suited for the war at hand, but not very well positioned for the wars that are feasibly to come.
During this era of counter-terror operations, China has had the opportunity to seek higher degrees of technological and tactical parity, while having the benefit of not being actively engaged in expensive combat operations on the same scale. That has allowed China’s sea-faring power to grow at an exponential rate in recent years, with an active fleet of more than 770 vessels sailing under the banners of the People’s Liberation Army-Navy, their militarized Coast Guard, and a maritime miitia that takes its orders from the Chinese military as well.
Chinese Navy on parade (Chinese state television)
The addition of China’s massive ballistic missile stockpile, including hypersonic anti-ship platforms the U.S. Navy currently has no means to defend against, has further established China’s advantage in the Pacific. Even if the U.S. Navy leveraged every vessel in its 293-ship fleet, American forces would still be outnumbered by Chinese ships by more than two to one. Importantly, however, the United States likely couldn’t devote its entire fleet to any single conflict due to its global commitments to security and stability, especially regarding essential shipping lanes.
Today, the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps are both actively seeking ways to mitigate China’s numbers advantage, as well as the area-denial bubble created by China’s anti-ship platforms. Multiple possible solutions are being explored, ranging from hot-loading Marine Corps F-35Bs on austere airstrips on captured islands in the case of the Marines, to the Navy’s ongoing development of the MQ-25 aerial refueling drone that aims to extend the reach of America’s carrier-based fighters. Still, thus far, there has been no magic bullet. In fact, concerns about a near-peer conflict with China has even prompted several high-ranking defense officials to question the practicality of America’s fleet of super-carriers, both because of their immense cost, and because of the likelihood that they could be sunk by China’s hypersonic missiles long before they could get close enough to Chinese shores to begin launching sorties of F-35Cs and F/A-18 Super Hornets.
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Mohamed Labanieh/Released)
The fundamental challenges a war with China would present are clear: Finding a way to mitigate the risks posed by advanced anti-ship missiles and offsetting the significant numbers advantage Chinese forces would have within the region. In the past, we’ve discussed the possibility of arming commercial cargo ships with modular weapons systems in a “missile barge” fleet as a means to bolster American numbers and capabilities. Another feasible option that could even work in conjunction with this strategy would be issuing “letters of marque” to private operations, effectively allowing non-military forces to serve as privateers for the U.S. government.
The Capture of a French Ship by Royal Family Privateers by Charles Brooking
American Privateers or Pirates?
The concept of issuing letters of marque to American privateers was recently discussed by retired Marine Colonel Mark Cancian and Brandon Schwartz in the U.S. Naval Institute’s publication, “Proceedings.” Although the idea seems almost ridiculous in the 21st Century, the legal framework outlined by Cancian and Schwartz is sound, and one could argue that their assertions about the viability and strategic value of privateer fleets are as well.
Cancian and Schwartz argue that privateering is not piracy, as there are laws governing it and precedent for the practice established in past U.S. conflicts, including the American Revolutionary War and the War of 1812.
“Privateering is not piracy—there are rules and commissions, called letters of marque, that governments issue to civilians, allowing them to capture or destroy enemy ships. The U.S. Constitution expressly grants Congress the power to issue them (Article I, section 8, clause 11).” -“Unleash the Privateers!” In Proceedings
However, despite their argument being technically right, it’s difficult to dismiss how the piracy narrative would almost certainly affect public perception of the use of privateers, and potentially even the conflict at large.
While the United States could argue that privateers operate with specifically outlined rules and commissions, even the American public would likely see American privateers as pirates. And because America has found itself trailing behind nations like China and Russia in terms of manipulating public narratives, that narrative could indeed hurt not only public support for the conflict; it could even jeopardize some international relationships.
The Pride of Baltimore, left, and the Lynx, two privateer vessels, reenact a battle of the War of 1812 in Boston Harbor during Boston Navy Week 2012. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Elisandro T. Diaz/Released)
Privateers are not pirates in the literal sense only because a government is sanctioning their piracy. In the eyes of those who don’t recognize America’s authority to grant such permissions in far-flung waterways, the two terms would be interchangeable.
Regardless of vernacular, the United States has used this approach to great success in the past. Although the last time American privateers set sale was more than 200 years ago, their approach was modern enough to set precedent for a return to the concept.
“The privateering business was thoroughly modern and capitalistic, with ownership consortiums to split investment costs and profits or losses, and a group contract to incentivize the crew, who were paid only if their ship made profits. A sophisticated set of laws ensured that the capture was ‘good prize,’ and not fraud or robbery. After the courts determined that a merchant ship was a legitimate capture, auctioneers sold off her cargo of coffee, rum, wine, food, hardware, china, or similar consumer goods, which ultimately were bought and consumed by Americans.” -Frederick C. Leiner in “Yes, Privateers Mattered“
In the event of a large-scale conflict with a nation like China, that potential narrative blowback may be a necessary evil. However, the ramifications of that evil could be mitigated through a concerted narrative effort to frame privateer actions in the minds of the populous as an essential part of a broader war effort that has the American people’s best interests in mind.
In the War of 1812, privateering saw such public support (in large part thanks to the profits it drove) that some took to calling the conflict the “War of the People.” Managing the narrative surrounding American privateers could make the concept far more palatable to the American people.
As for the legal aspects of privateering, you can read a thorough legal justification for the practice in a separate piece written by Schwartz called “U.S. Privateering is legal.”
(Italian Center for International Studies)
The role of American privateers at war
China’s massive fleet of vessels in the Pacific can be broken down into their three command groups, all of which ultimately answer to China’s People’s Liberation Army. China’s maritime militia accounts for approximately 300 vessels, the militarized Coast Guard has 135 more, and the PLA-Navy itself boasts an ever-growing roster expected to reach 450 surface vessels by the end of the decade.
In the event of a war with China, the American Navy would have more than its hands full engaging with such a massive force, limiting its ability to cut China off from one of its most significant revenue sources, overseas trade. China’s reliance on shipping products to other nations has helped its economy grow rapidly, but it also represents a strategic disadvantage, as Cancian and Schwartz point out, if America can find the means to disrupt this exchange.
“Thirty-eight percent of its gross domestic product (GDP) comes from trade, against only 9 percent of U.S. GDP. Chinese social stability is built on a trade-off: The Chinese Communist Party has told the people they will not have democratic institutions, but they will receive economic prosperity.” -“Unleash the Privateers!” In Proceedings
In 2018, China’s merchant fleet was already approaching 2,200 total vessels, thanks to massive external demand for inexpensive Chinese exports. America’s Navy would likely be stretched too thin to actually blockade such an expansive merchant fleet. Like with aircraft, America’s preference for large and expensive ships that are capable of fulfilling multiple roles has offered increased capability but significantly decreased numbers. At its peak during World War II, the U.S. Navy boasted more than 6,000 ships. Today, the Navy has 293 far more capable vessels, but none can be in more than one place at a time.
American Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyers, for instance, are too big and expensive to task with waiting out Chinese ships hiding in foreign ports, and would likely largely be assigned to Aegis missile defense operations. This is where American privateers could offer an important service.
American privateers wouldn’t be tasked with engaging the Chinese Navy or even with sinking merchant ships. Instead, they would be tasked with capturing Chinese cargo vessels, offering them a multi-million dollar bounty on each, and quickly compromising China’s ability to sustain its export sales.
“Since the goal is to capture the hulls and cargo, privateers do not want to sink the vessel, just convince the crew to surrender. How many merchant crews would be inclined to fight rather than surrender and spend the war in comfortable internment?” -“Unleash the Privateers!” In Proceedings
Of course, despite Cancian and Schwartz’ dismissive take on how apt Chinese crews would be to fight to maintain control of their ships, it’s important to remember that these privateers would likely be engaging in close quarters fighting with Chinese crews or security on board. As American privateers proved more costly to the Chinese government, an increased emphasis on protecting these cargo ships would almost certainly follow.
This begs an essential question: Where do you find privateer crews?
Private security contractors in Iraq (DoD photo)
Private infrastructure already exists
While the concept of American privateers seems borderline fantastical, the truth is, the United States has already leveraged the premise of using non-military personnel for security and defensive operations the world over. American security firm Blackwater (now Academi) is perhaps the highest-profile example of America’s use of private military contractors. In fact, contractors in Iraq have reached numbers as high as 160,000 at some points, nearly equaling the total number of U.S. military personnel in the region. At least 20,000 of those private contractors filled armed security roles.
So while the term “privateer” or even pirate suggests an entirely unconventional approach to modern warfare, the premise is already in play. Terminology may dictate perception to a significant degree, but in practice, privateering wouldn’t be all that different from existing relationships the United States maintains with private security outfits. Further, private security firms, including Blackwater, have already operated at sea in a similar manner to privateers, from Blackwater’s armed patrol craft policing Somali pirates off the Horn of Africa to countless armed and privately owned boats patrolling the Indian Ocean today.
In 2007, Blackwater acquired the McArther from the NOAAS. (WikiMedia Commons)
Many such organizations, with existing infrastructure and established relationships with the U.S. government, would likely seek and win contracts, or letters of marque, in the early days of a burgeoning Sino-American war, and stand up their own forces far more quickly than the United States could expand its naval force in the same volume. Rather than building ships and enlisting crews, the United States could simply authorize existing ships with existing crews to go on the offensive against China’s commercial fleets.
The American government’s experience with military contractors throughout the War on Terror means these relationships would not be as without precedent as they may seem, and the existing private military industry would make American privateers a quick and effective means to grow America’s offensive capabilities.
China claims sovereignty over much of the South China Sea (shown in red). A conflict with China would undoubtedly play out here. (WikiMedia Commons)
A complicated solution to a complex problem
Of course, there are many variables at play when discussing a future conflict with China. Incorporating privateers into such a strategy admittedly seems rather extreme from our vantage point in 2020, but it’s important to note that there is no precedent for what something like a 21st Century Sino-American war might look like. The massive sea battles of World War II may offer some sense of scale, but the rapid advancement of technology in the intervening decades creates a hypothetical war that is simply incongruous with the World War II models.
America does boast the largest and most powerful military in the world, but China’s rapidly expanding and modernizing force has not been growing in a vacuum. From space operations to warship construction, China has been developing its war-fighting apparatus with America specifically in mind. China isn’t interested in competing with the United States on its terms and instead has been focused on identifying potential American vulnerabilities and tailoring new capabilities to leverage those flaws.
China’s Type 002 Aircraft carrier (Tyg728 on WikiMedia Commons)
Large scale warfare between technological and economic giants would play out differently than any conflict we’ve ever seen. In order to emerge from such a conflict successfully, America has to do much more than win. Once the price of victory begins to compromise America’s ability to sustain its way of life thereafter, that victory becomes less pronounced.
In order to win in such a conflict, the United States will need to dig deep into its bag of tricks. On the home front, it would mean finding ways to rapidly expand America’s industrial base to replenish vehicles, supplies, and equipment as they’re expended or destroyed on the front lines. The U.S. Navy, Marine Corps, Army, Air Force, and Space Force will all be required to communicate and rely on one another in ways never before accomplished on a battlefield.
And China’s massive numbers advantage would have to be mitigated somehow. American privateers, or pirates as the press would surely call them, might just do the trick.
Women have played a part in war and the military ever since the birth of our nation, whether it be disguising themselves as men to secretly join the Army during the Civil War, tending to the wounded on the battlefield as nurses in WWII, or, more recently, taking up arms alongside their brothers in combat positions.
Elsie Ott, for example, made a name for herself in the world of flight nursing. Ott was born in 1913 in Smithtown, New York, and attended nursing school at Lenox Hill Hospital School of Nursing in New York City right after high school.
It was 1941 when Ott joined the Army Nurse Corps, and she became a true trailblazer for women in the military. She was commissioned as a 2nd Lt. and stationed in Louisiana and Virginia before flying on a mission that would make history.
Take Elsie Ott, for example, who was one such woman that made a name for herself in the world of flight nursing. Ott was born in 1913 in Smithtown, New York, and attended nursing school at Lenox Hill Hospital School of Nursing in New York City right after high school.
It was 1941 when Ott joined the Army Nurse Corps, and she became a true trailblazer for women in the military. She was commissioned as a 2nd Lt. and stationed in Louisiana and Virginia before flying on a mission that would make history.
During WWII air evacuation of casualties was in its infancy and procedures, as well as training of flight nurses, was not perfected. Before aeromedical evacuation, the injured would have to wait weeks and often months, to be sent back home to the U.S.
The Army Air Corps started to spin up a program for flight nurses in 1941 in order to aeromedically evacuate patients from the field.
Ott had never even been on an airplane, nor had training on the aircraft when she was assigned to fly a week-long mission. On Jan. 17, 1943 the flight originated in Karachi, India, and was to fly to Walter Reed Medical Center in Washington, D.C. Five patients were assigned to the flight and Ott was only given a simple first aid kit to care for all of them.
It was a week later when Ott reached Walter Reed with the patients, all of them alive and well. She made sure to take detailed notes throughout her journey to improve the procedures and training for future flight nurses. Some of the suggestions she noted included, oxygen bottles, blankets, more medical supplies, and a change of uniform from skirts to pants.
Above, Army nurses tend to patients on aircraft.
Ott’s contributions didn’t go unnoticed and were used to improve aeromedical evacuation processes, to this day. Two months after her groundbreaking first flight she was awarded the U.S. Air Medal. She was the first woman in U.S. Army history to obtain such and honor.
Brigadier General Fred Borum presents the Air Medal to 2nd Lieutenant Elsie Ott
(Photo by the U.S. Air Force).
Due to Elsie Ott’s unwavering persistence while caring for her patients and individual contributions, flight nurses today can give their patients the highest level of care in the air while returning them safely home.
Being promoted comes with a lot of responsibilities. Having power over those below you, vested in you by your rank, is one of those challenges that never seems to get easier, even with time.
That being said, being picked up for promotion can also elevate you into an entirely new level of slacking off — if that’s your thing. Of course, skipping out on everything makes you a sh*tbag leader who will be the subject of much behind-the-back trash talking. That being said, there are ways of doing the things expected of a leader while deflecting the burden of minor inconveniences.
These are guidelines born from observations, but, as always, know you can only get away with that your rank can afford.
“Don’t worry, Private Snuffy. We’ll get you back up there… in a bit…”
(U.S. Army National Guard photo by Spc. Hannah Tarkelly)
You’re not slowing down, you’re “motivating the slow runners”
It happens every time during a higher-echelon run. Private Snuffy got too drunk the night before and, despite many warnings, cannot keep up with the mindbogglingly fast pace that the commander set. Instead of embarrassing yourself in front of everyone, you, as a leader, can slow down a bit to go “motivate” Private Snuffy in the back. Let’s not mention that running a bit at their pace is helping you catch your breathe.
The same could also be said for calling cadence. Think about it. After everyone turns on auto-pilot to run, they’ll fall in sync with the cadence. If you decide to take initiative and call a few cadences yourself, you can slow down your voice and everyone will instinctively slow down with you.
“It’s been a long day, let’s grab a bite to eat. My treat.”
(U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Thomas Karol)
You’re not swinging by the PX for snacks, you’re “escorting the new guy around the installation”
First impressions mean a lot. The very first kindness shown to someone will forever leave them with a positive impression of you. NCOs are often the first ones tasked with sponsoring the new person added to the unit. You’ll have to show them around, take them where they need to go, and, basically, work at their pace for a while.
You can also show them the cozier spots that they’d find eventually, like the food court at the PX or where the cheapest place to get liquor around post is — because that’s just how helpful you are.
“You don’t have your MOPP boots, Private Snuffy? You get a pass this time.”
(U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Liane Hatch)
You’re not skipping out on having your own stuff checked, you’re “busy checking others”
Not everyone is perfect at all times. Take packing list inspections, for instance. You know that those MOPP boots are bullsh*t and you probably won’t even bother taking them out of the plastic bag, but the first sergeant put them on there anyways.
Instead of having your ass chewed out for not following the packing list to the letter, you can instead not mention your own list and assist with helping the other NCOs square away the Joes.
“Oh? This will take how long? That’s not a problem.”
(U.S. Army photos by Staff Sgt. Felicia Jagdatt)
You’re not missing formation, you’re “handling business”
Ever see a Chief Warrant Officer 5 make it to a standard weekend safety brief? Even if you’re certain that they’ve got to be on the roster, you’ll never see them. That’s because they’re busy… Or so we’re told.
You could instead give a heads up to one of your peers that you won’t be making it to the BS formation beforehand by convincing them that you’re going to be “super busy” at battalion. Battalion S-1 shops are notoriously packed, so no one will bat an eye if you “just happen” to make it in time for the 100% accountability formation.
“Yep. That’s a thing. Check.”
(U.S. Air Force photo by Lt Col Max Despain)
You’re not avoiding working parties, you’re “supervising”
Even subordinates will catch on if you pull this one off lazily. Everyone is trying to lift the heavy junk out of the connex and, if you’re sitting there with your thumb up your ass, expect to get called out for your laziness if, when questioned, you simply say, “I’m making sure you’re doing the work.”
Instead, employ the oldest trick in the book and the greatest open secret in the military: Hold a clipboard and check things off. Occasionally, help lift the heavy stuff and earn a bit of admiration. It’ll look like you’re going out of your way to help. In actuality, you’re just skipping the majority of the manual labor.
“It’s good to be the king commander.”
(Department of Defense photo by Chuck Cannon)
You’re not just missing an entire day, you’re doing “Commander business”
No names, obviously, but once I saw a Lt. Colonel walk out of his office with a set of golf clubs. The staff duty NCO jokingly said, “busy day, sir?” The Lt. Colonel replied with, “ehh, the brigade commander wanted to see us. I don’t even know how to use these damn things” and proceeded to go play golf for the day. At face value, the full-bird colonel just went out for a day of golfing with his battalion commanders and no one dared to say anything about it.
Once you’re at a certain rank, the whole “check down, not up” policy will protect your ass — even as you blatantly just take a day off.
Writers Gil Kenan and Jason Reitman have made a very, very smart decision.
By the looks of things, they’re giving the belovéd Ghostbusters universe a complete makeover by honing in on supernatural mystery while still maintaining the comedic levity of the original film. After the underwhelming 2016 reboot (ahhhh there was so much potential there and yet…so much disappointment), it looks like Juno’s Reitman (who will also direct) just might strike the perfect chord for this franchise.
Hop in your Ectomobile (because the kids in this film sure do) and let’s go for a ride:
Opening on a sleepy rural town plagued by unexplainable earthquakes, Ghostbusters: Afterlife is a true sequel to the original films, including references to the supernatural activity of the 80s.
Single mother Carrie Coon (who is fantastic in everything she does — did you see Gone Girl? Why isn’t everyone talking about her at every moment?) and her kids (Stranger Things’ Finn Wolfhard and The Haunting of Hill House’s Mckenna Grace, who is also a killer talent) inherit a family farmhouse that’s definitely definitely haunted.
With the help of Paul Rudd, they learn that they are descended from an OG Ghostbuster, which explains the ghost traps and Ectomobile on the property.
I’d watch him do anything. Honestly, anything. He’s perfect.
Ghostbusters: Afterlife, Sony Pictures
The trailer hints at a great Stranger Things-like vibe, which is very sexy right now, mixed with just the right amount of nostalgia and humor. And if that’s not enough to tingle your Twinkie then I’ll remind you that the film is rumored to include cameos from Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, and Ernie Hudson.
Ghostbusters: Afterlife will open in theaters July 2020.
Believe it or not, some of the greatest pioneers in the use of military helicopters were Coast Guardsmen. These early breakthroughs took place during World War II when the Navy was too busy expanding traditional carrier operations to focus on rotary wing, and the Army had largely sequestered helicopters to an air commando group. The Coast Guard, meanwhile, was working on what would be the first-ever helicopter carrier.
USCGC Governor Cobb underway after its conversion into a helicopter carrier.
(U.S. Coast Guard)
Obviously, we’re talking about a ship that carries helicopters, not an aircraft carrier that flies like a helicopter. The Avengers aren’t real (yet).
The potential advantages of helicopters in military operations were clear to many of the military leaders who witnessed demonstrations in the early 1940s. Igor Sikorsky had made the first practical helicopter flight in 1939, and the value of an aircraft that could hover over an enemy submarine or take off and land in windy or stormy weather was obvious.
But the first helicopters were not really up to the most demanding missions. For starters, they simply didn’t have the power to carry heavy ordnance. And it would take years to build up a cadre of pilots to plan operations, conduct staff work, and actually fly the missions.
The Army was officially given lead on testing helicopters and developing them for wartime use, but they were predominantly interested in using it for reconnaissance with a secondary interest in rescuing personnel in areas where liaison planes couldn’t reach.
So, the Coast Guard, which wanted to develop the helicopter for rescues at sea and for their own portion of the anti-submarine fight, saw a potential opening. They could pursue the maritime uses of helicopters if they could just get a sign off from the Navy and some money and/or helicopters.
The commandant of the Coast Guard, Vice Adm. Russell R. Waesche, officially approved Coast Guard helicopter development in June 1942. In February 1943, he convinced Chief of Naval Operations Navy Adm. Ernest King to direct that the Coast Guard had the lead on maritime helicopter development. Suddenly, almost every U.S. Navy helicopter was controlled by the Coast Guard.
A joint Navy-Coast Guard board began looking into the possibilities with a focus on anti-submarine warfare per King’s wishes. They eventually settled on adapting helicopters to detect submarines, using their limited carrying capacity for sensors instead of depth charges or a large crew. They envisioned helicopters that operated from merchant ships and protected convoys across the Atlantic and Pacific.
The Coast Guard quickly overhauled the steam-powered passenger ship named Governor Cobb into CGC Governor Cobb, the first helicopter carrier. The Coast Guard added armor, a flight deck, 10 guns of various calibers, and depth charges. Work was completed in May 1943, and the first detachment of pilots was trained and certified that July.
Coast Guard Lt. Cmdr. Frank A. Erickson stands beside an HNS-1 Hoverfly and his co-pilot Lt. Walter Bolton sits within.
(U.S. Coast Guard)
The early tests showed that the HNS-1 helicopters were under-powered for rough weather and anti-submarine operations, but were exceedingly valuable in rescue operations. This was proven in January 1944 when a destroyer exploded between New Jersey and New York. Severe weather grounded fixed-wing aircraft, but Coast Guard pilot Lt. Cmdr. Frank A. Erickson took off in an HNS-1s.
He strapped two cases of plasma to the helicopter and took off in winds up to 25 knots and sleet, flew between tall buildings to the hospital and dropped off the goods in just 14 minutes. Because the only suitable pick-up point was surrounded by large trees, Erickson had to fly backward in the high winds to get back into the air.
According to a Coast Guard history:
“Weather conditions were such that this flight could not have been made by any other type of aircraft,” Erickson stated. He added that the flight was “routine for the helicopter.” The New York Times lauded the historic flight stating: It was indeed routine for the strange rotary-winded machine which Igor Sikorsky has brought to practical flight, but it shows in striking fashion how the helicopter can make use of tiny landing areas in conditions of visibility which make other types of flying impossible….Nothing can dim the future of a machine which can take in its stride weather conditions such as those which prevailed in New York on Monday.
Still, it was clear by the end of 1944 that a capable anti-submarine helicopter would not make it into the fight in time for World War II, so the Navy slashed its order for 210 helicopters down to 36, just enough to satisfy patrol tasks and the Coast Guard’s early rescue requirements.
This made the helicopter carrier Governor Cobb surplus to requirements. It was decommissioned in January 1946. The helicopter wouldn’t see serious deployment with the Navy’s fleet until Sikorsky sent civilian pilots in 1947 to a Navy fleet exercise and successfully rescued four downed pilots in four events.
But the experiment proved that the helicopters could operate from conventional carriers, no need for a dedicated ship. Today, helicopters can fly from ships as small as destroyers and serve in roles from search and rescue to anti-submarine and anti-air to cargo transportation.
Rank has its privilege. It goes far beyond just getting a slight bump in pay that finally puts your base pay above minimum wage.
As a lower enlisted, if you mess up, you’ll get smoked — or at least get a talking-to. Once you become an NCO or an officer, your ass is grass if you act like a young Private (there’s some leeway for butterbars, but not much). Be warned, young lower enlisted with your eyes on the prized NCO rank: There’s a line in the sand. Once you enter the NCO Corps, you can no longer do any of the following.
6. Shaming / skating
Don’t expect much downtime as a junior NCO — training meeting over here, command and staff meeting over there. There’ll be a lot of dog and pony shows between the moments you need to actually do your freaking job.
There’s literally no time to sit on your phone and ask the daily, “why haven’t they cut us lose yet?”
5. Mistakes out of ignorance
Young Privates botch setting up a radio and no one bats an eye. A Sergeant messes up with that same radio and someone is on their ass about why they didn’t take the time to download all the manuals in their free time to learn a piece of equipment that was just fielded.
Lower enlisted learn things as they progress, so mistakes are common. Senior NCOs can rely on other people to know how to do it, so mistakes are rare. As for junior NCOs… you’re on your own.
4. Failing to meet standards (even just barely)
Standards are there for a reason. If a private just barely misses their run time or just barely misses weapons qualification, it’s not the end of the world even if it seems like it is. Their NCO should help get them back up to the standard and things are good again. No harm, no foul, and everyone looks good.
The subordinate looks good because they improved even though it’s just to the standard. The NCO looks good because they helped nudge them to where they were supposed to be.
3. Doing dumb sh*t with your free time
Depending on your unit and immediate chain of command, team-building exercises off duty, like when your entire squad goes out to get smashed after payday, is the norm. If you’re a Private, go nuts! Enjoy your time. NCOs and officers usually attend to see what their troops are really like, and it’s worth it even if they have to play the sober babysitter.
Even when the boots finally come off, an NCO’s job isn’t done. If you can manage to do something other than make up the work you couldn’t get to earlier in the day (meaning filling out bullsh*t paperwork, reading useless manuals, and getting ready for the next day), it doesn’t matter — someone f*cked up! Even if you’ve just met the kid and haven’t drilled into them how your unit operates, you’re in trouble with them. Never a day off.
2. Complaining in general
No one likes hearing complaining about minor things. If a Private is told, “suck it up, buttercup,” then that’s the end of the conversation. Plenty of things suck, and it’s not like crying will make things better. Best of all, no one cares if a lower enlisted complains. Things get better or they suck it up.
If an NCO or an officer whines that it’s too hot, everyone from the lowly Private to the full-bird Colonel laughs at the pansy. Complaining about mundane crap will destroy a hard-ass reputation and open the floodgates for their subordinates to keep b*tching.
1. Being protected from the sh*t rolling downhill
This one depends on if you’re a good NCO/Officer. A good leader stands in front of that incoming sh*t-boulder rolling at their troops and tries to keep them out of the suck as much as possible. If it splashes, that’s fine. If a leader throws their troop under said boulder, they don’t deserve to be called a leader.
Let’s say, for example, a Private is driving a Humvee and rear ends the Brigade Commander’s personal car. The Brigade Commander will want their head on a spike. Each leader along the way has the choice to talk the previous link on the chain of command out of decapitating an idiot and displaying their severed head for an honest mistake.
Eventually, this particular boulder rolls into the first-line supervisor. Any leader worth their rank would pull an excuse out of their ass as to why it was actually not the private’s fault, but their own. If getting smoked until they’re sore is the only consequence, that Private has a damn good leader.
Just after completing the final flight of the Southern Hemisphere winter Antarctic season, the 304th Expeditionary Air Squadron was alerted there was a medical emergency at the National Science Foundation’s McMurdo Station Aug. 25, 2018.
In the face of rapidly deteriorating weather conditions, the 304th EAS was able to redirect a mission to respond to the medical evacuation and use a local Christchurch New Zealand Life Fleet medical team to save time.
“We were in alert position to leave for Guam, and when I woke up, there was a note under my door that read we were now going to do a medevac mission,” said Lt. Col. Bruce Cohn, 97th Airlift Squadron pilot.
Planners worked throughout the night to switch from a ‘go home’ mission to medevac mission in order to airlift two patients to medical facilities in Christchurch. During the flight to the Antarctic, aircrew were able to interact with the New Zealand Life Fleet medical team to orient them to the C-17 Globemaster III.
“The team was great to work with, and this was their first aeromedical evacuation mission and flight on a military aircraft,” Cohn said.
Upon landing, weather impacted the medevac mission.
“Weather was favorable for the arrival except temperatures at the time of landing were much colder than previously forecasted,” said Lt. Col. Trace Dotson, the 304th EAS commander.
The crew worked quickly in negative 65.2 Fahrenheit conditions to safely evacuate one critically ill patient and another patient needing medical care.
A Christchurch New Zealand Life Fleet medical team loads response equipment onto the C-17 Globemaster III for an emergency medevac from the National Science Foundation’s McMurdo Station.
“There was a lot of coordination with the New Zealand Life Fleet medical personnel as we usually work with Air Force Aeromedical Evacuation teams,” said Tech. Sgt. Seth Lewis, 7th Airlift Squadron loadmaster. “The increased coordination helped us perform the medevac safely. It was so cold that we weren’t able to open up the back of the aircraft, so the patients were loaded through the crew door, which is located on the front left side of the aircraft.”
With a wind-chill of negative 94 Fahrenheit, crew minimized time on the ground due to the extreme cold and returned the patients to Christchurch within 24 hours from the time we were notified of the evacuation request, Dotson said.
“This mission was outside normal operations since it was an emergency situation,” Cohn said. “The rapidness of how we changed gear to respond really showed the teamwork of all who were involved.”
The rapid, life-saving response demonstrated the flexibility and capabilities of the Joint Task Force-Support Forces Antarctica to respond quickly to emergency situations in the Antarctic. The patients were treated in New Zealand medical facilities.
“This was a complete different mission from what we typically do,” Lewis said. “It was really special to be part of something that you weren’t expecting. I was expecting to go home, but then I got to participate in a medical evacuation to help two people.”
The last dedicated medevac mission the 304th EAS supported was in 2013. The 304th is comprised of blended aircrews from the active duty 62nd Airlift Wing and the reserve 446th Airlift Wing.
The NSF manages the U.S. Antarctic Program. Operation Deep Freeze is the logistical support provided by the DoD to the U. S. Antarctic Program. This includes the coordination of strategic inter-theater airlift, tactical intra-theater airlift and airdrop, aeromedical evacuation support, search-and-rescue response, sealift, seaport access, bulk fuel supply, port cargo handling, and transportation requirements supporting the NSF.
This is a unique mission that demonstrates U.S. commitment to stability in the Pacific and research programs conducted for the betterment of all mankind.
Featured image: A C-17 Globemaster III sits on the runway at McMurdo Station in Antarctic.
Many Hollywood war movies focus on the action-packed set pieces that go into the film’s trailer, leaving out a lot of room for the character elements that elevate good stories.
When David Ayer’s “Fury” debuted in theaters, the film’s realistic and diverse characters like Gordo, Bible, and the seasoned Don “War Daddy” Collier made audiences feel the dangers of being a tanker in WWII.
Brad Pitt plays the German speaking tank commander War Daddy must to deploy his leadership skills to manage the different personalities that make up his crew.
No one said you can’t have feelings while you’re deployed in a combat zone, but leaders have to control their emotions to help maintain order. That’s exactly what War Daddy did after losing a crew member as he walked off for a moment of self-reflection.
War Daddy reminds us every great warrior needs a moment. (Images via Giphy)
2. Make your expectations clear
The Army quickly replaces the fallen crew member with an untrained boy named, Norman.
War Daddy gives the newly assigned tanker some sage advice for the hell he’s about to witness.
It sounds cold-hearted, but it’s realistic advice. (Images via Giphy)
3. Rank doesn’t always have its privileges
It not uncommon that war films feature both the war-hardened and the inexperienced “shot caller” tropes. But having a high-rank insignia on your collar or sleeve is only as good as the man wearing the shirt. Write that down.
True leaders get true reactions from their comrades. (Images via Giphy)
4. Live in the moment
Having fought the Germans for a good amount of time and seeing plenty of death, War Daddy knows the importance of embracing a special moment.
To feel alive in a time of death is priceless. (Images via Giphy)
5. Take care of each other
Even though their world is currently under a pile of sh*t, they still have their brotherhood and it’s stronger than ever.
Words only veterans can relate too. (Images via Giphy)