Buying a car in today’s world is a necessity. Even the troops who grew up in a city where they never needed anything more than a subway pass will find themselves needing a set of wheels to call their own. Military installations are way too big and timetables are way too tight for a young private to make it around comfortably on foot.
So, be prepared to fork over a bit of your enlistment bonus just to adhere to a standard. Meanwhile, it’s kind of ingrained into military culture to belittle and mock the unfortunate lower enlisted who thinks they’re getting a good deal on a sports car and ends up paying a 28% interest rate over five years.
Instead, shouldn’t we actually, you know, help the poor soul?
(U.S. Army photos by Cpl. Han, Jae Ho and Dean Herrera)
You can’t throw a rock outside of a military installation’s main gate without hitting a sketchy used-car lot that boasts that “E-1 and above” are automatically approved for a loan. Because so many young troops are told they must get a car and have no idea how to do so intelligently, they’ll usually shop at the first stop — often coming away with a car without even taking it for a test drive.
Yes, a young private has few bills to pay — they’re given a barracks room rent-free and their meal card deductions hit their LES instead of their bank account — but too many troops are crippling their credit report right out the gate. A simple bad decision will follow them for life.
This is where their first line supervisor or their non-commissioned officer can step in and spend a Saturday afternoon making sure their troops are taken care of.
“A new set of wheels and this baby will be good as new! But for you, my special friend, I’ll see if I can sweet talk one of the guys to throw in a few air-freshening trees for the rear view.”
(Department of Defense)
Leaders have been around for a while and generally have a good sense of the installation and its surrounding area. Given that an NCO likely has a vehicle, they could talk the rideless private past all of those sketchy spots and take them to a reputable dealership. Depending on your location, this might be an hour-long drive, but it’s still better letting someone fall prey to months of ridiculously high payments.
Next comes the choice of car. The young troop, fresh out of mama’s basement, might see all those numbers in their bank account and fail to piece together that 00 isn’t really all that much to grown adults. Feeling like Mr. Moneybags, the young troop may casually stroll up to the car of their dreams — and it’s kind of up to the NCO to be the reality check.
Hell, NCOs could even pop out a PMCS checklist right then and there. It’ll establish dominance over any crooked salesmen and show you mean business.
(U.S. Army photo by Spc. Wilmarys Roman Rivera)
That new muscle car seems nice, but it’s not the best fit for for someone who gets paid half of federal minimum wage. So, you’ll want to pinch pennies. You might think that used cars are the best option then, but that opens another can of worms if the NCO isn’t careful.
So, here’s a little trick for you: insist that both the troop and the NCO must take the car for a test drive. The troop should be busy deciding if the car is comfortable for them, while the NCO should be looking out for deficiencies. If the car lot is reputable, they’ll always allow you both to ride. If not, you found a solid reason to move on to the next place.
Nipping this in the butt early can also help prevent even more paperwork if that troop has to go through financial aid.
(U.S. Army photo by Sgt. John L. Carkeet IV, 143d ESC)
Finally, we arrive at haggling. A young, dumb idiot willing to throw cash around is a used car salesman’s wet dream. If the troop doesn’t know the actual cost of a car but is willing to sign the papers because “they threw in a free tank of gas,” then they’re about to get screwed. It’s up to the NCO to be the middleman. A well-placed knife hand and serious demeanor could mean the difference of hundreds — if not thousands — of dollars.
Once the troop has found a vehicle that is within their price range, from a dealership that isn’t trying to ripoff service-members, runs excellently, and makes the troop happy, you move on to the paperwork. Read every single line before the troop signs anything. Make sure they never take the “zero-down” offer and advise them to put at least id=”listicle-2607400034″,500 down — regardless of the vehicle. Just that bit can change a horrific 28% interest rate to a reasonable 8% for someone without an established line of credit.
However, what you cannot do is co-sign the lease with them. It doesn’t matter if you trust them to pay the lease of on time or you’re willing to take the hit for your guy. It’s strictly forbidden by the UCMJ to enter a financial agreement of any kind with a direct subordinate.
What you can do is cattle prod your troop into making the payment every month. Yeah, it won’t be pleasant for them to be reminded every month to do it, but their financial security is at stake. They’ll thank you once they realize that you helped them out immensely.
Throughout March people across the country will celebrate Women’s History Month, paying tribute to the vital role women have played in United States history. Generations of women have courageously blazed trails, broken barriers and fundamentally changed our society. At VA, we are proud to spend this month honoring and celebrating women service members and veterans for their past, present and ongoing service to our country.
As the daughter of a Navy veteran and someone who has had the privilege of working to advance veterans for more than 23 years, supporting women veterans feels very personal to me. My colleagues, mentors and friends are veterans — many of them women veterans. I am proud that here at VA, women are represented at every level throughout our organization. And while studies show that people typically imagine a man when they think “veteran” — women veterans have been around for much of America’s history.
Well before the women’s rights movement came along in 1848, women in the military were breaking barriers to serve our county. During the Revolutionary War, women served in military camps as laundresses, cooks, nurses and spies. Up until World War I, women served as soldiers disguised as men. During the last two years of World War I, women were finally allowed to join the military in their own right. Thirty-six thousand women served in that war, and more than 400 nurses died in the line of duty.
A 1917 recruitment poster illustrated by Howard Chandler Christy.
Today, about 219,000 women Service members are currently stationed throughout the world filling a diverse range of roles from radio operators, translators, and pilots to rangers. Times have certainly changed.
As the number of women in military service grows, so does the number of women veterans. Today, nearly 2 million veterans are women. As the fastest growing veteran subpopulation, women veterans are making their mark. Before 2012, there had been only three women veterans in Congress in history. Today, a record six female veterans hold office on Capitol Hill.
But while the success of our women veterans is undeniable, the explosive growth in the number of women veterans means VA must continue to adapt to better meet their diverse needs — and we are.
I spent the first eighteen years of my VA career in Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment (VRE) Service — and I know first-hand how essential it is that veterans receive their benefits and services to put them on the path to a meaningful civilian career. It’s our job at VA to anticipate the services women veterans need and to provide that to them.
U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Jessica Domingo, right, and Cpl. Daisy Romero, assigned to a female engagement team.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Marionne T. Mangrum)
For instance, women veterans are the fastest-growing group of entrepreneurs. Between 2007 and 2012, the number of businesses owned by women veterans increased by 296 percent, to reach a total of 384,548 businesses, up from about 130,000. And the number continues to grow: over the past five years the number of companies owned by women veterans has almost quadrupled.
I hope you’ll take a look at the Center for Women Veterans’ new Trailblazers Initiative, which celebrates the contributions of women veterans who served our country — especially those who blazed a trail for others to follow.
At VA we are proud of our women veterans, and we will continue to work to ensure that we anticipate and meet their needs as they continue to be a vital part of our military and nation. I extend my thanks to women veterans who continue your service every day in big and small ways.
This article originally appeared on VAntage Point. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.
Jane Fonda is a star of stage and screen whose career began in 1960. She is the daughter of legendary actor and WWII Naval Officer Henry Fonda. Jane, now 83, is long regarded as enemy #1 among Vietnam veterans (because Ho Chi Minh is dead and even if he weren’t it would be a close vote).
Fonda was a prominent antiwar protestor in the 70’s, focused on the rights of troops while in the military and of those who wanted to resist being drafted. She was primarily associated with Vietnam Veterans Against the War, to which she gave a lot of time and money. Fonda was no more or less a lightning rod for criticism than any other celebrity who spoke against the war during that time, but that all changed in 1972.
She went to Hanoi that year to tour villages, cities and infrastructure. A series of photos of her sitting at an NVA anti-aircraft battery earned her the nickname “Hanoi Jane” and the undying spite of Vietnam veterans everywhere. There were also rumors she turned over secret messages from POWs to their captors. This is not true, but still, her father was probably more than a little disappointed in her.
“There is one thing that happened while in North Vietnam that I will regret to my dying day. I allowed myself to be photographed on a Vietnamese anti-aircraft gun,” she wrote in 2011. “It happened on my last day in Hanoi. It was not unusual for Americans who visited North Vietnam to be taken to see Vietnamese military installations and when they did, they were always required to wear a helmet like the kind I was told to wear during the numerous air raids I had experienced.”
To this day, Fonda feels the scorn of the military veteran community. If you want to get a feel for how much scorn the community feels, just Google “Jane Fonda Vietnam.” I’ll wait.
The hatred persists, even among non-Vietnam veterans and people who weren’t even born in 1972. Despite her attempts at apologies, and given the level of vitriol levied at her even 40+ years later, the anger and hatred is not likely to end any time soon.
“Whenever possible I try to sit down with vets and talk with them, because I understand and it makes me sad,” she told the audience, according to the Frederick News-Post. “It hurts me and it will go to my grave that I made a huge, huge mistake that made a lot of people think I was against the soldiers.”
Under the command of Capt. Adam Aycock, the USS Shiloh became known in the Pacific as the “USS Bread and Water.” It seems Aycock’s favorite non-judicial punishment for his junior enlisted was an old but legal punishment that confines the sailor to the brig with nothing but the world’s simplest combo meal.
According to the Department of the Navy Corrections Manual, “Confinement on Bread and Water (BW)… may be imposed as punishment upon personnel in pay grade E-3 or below, attached to or embarked in a vessel.”
• It may not be implemented for more than three consecutive days.
• Rations furnished a person undergoing such confinement shall consist solely of bread and water. The rations will be served three times daily at the normal time of meals, and the amount of bread and water shall not be restricted.
• The medical officer must pre-certify in writing that a deterioration of the prisoner’s health is not anticipated as a result of such action.
• Prisoners serving this punishment will be confined in a cell and will be bound by the procedures set forth for disciplinary segregation cells. They will not be removed for work or physical exercise.
While the Bread and Water punishment sucks and does seem rather archaic, it’s hardly the worst punishment that can be handed to a sailor at Captain’s Mast — especially for an E-3 or below.
Captains can send sailors to the brig for 30 days, forfeit their pay, take stripes, assign extra duties and restrictions, or any combination of these. As retired Navy Captain Kevin Eyer pointed out in a Naval Institute article on Bread and Water, the “arcane” punishment of Bread and Water only affects the sailor. This is especially important if the sailor is married because the other potential Article 15 punishments would affect the whole family.
Picture yourself on a foot patrol in Afghanistan, one of the most dangerous countries in the world where the majority of the population hates the fact that you’re there.
Now, imagine you’re the “lead” of that foot patrol (typically the combat engineer who is looking for IEDs buried in the ground) and you spot a suspicious device ahead with a command wire sticking out of the dirt.
For most of us, it’s not a good idea to approach, especially if that wire trails off toward a nearby compound — it’s a freaking trap. But for troops serving in Afghanistan, it’s just another day at the office.
Although most IEDs are considered primitively built with limited resources, the grunts on the ground have a clever way of dealing with ’em: the combat scythe.
Famously known as an agricultural tool, ground pounders use them to conduct a “hands-on” inspection of a potential threat from up to 12-feet away. The operator will extend out the scythe and use its rounded tip to tug and drag out the device for an exam.
By deploying his trusty scythe, a troop can safely determine if that bump in the ground is indeed an IED and call for a controlled detonation of the affected area. Of course, if it’s a false alarm, then that foot patrol proceeds onward without fear.
Not every IED can be figured out with a solid poking, though. If that IED is trickier than usual, the patrol will call upon the services of Explosive Ordnance Disposal to access and, typically, blow the sh*t out of the device.
On the bright side, controlled detonations are pretty epic to watch. They’re allied forces’ way of telling the bad guys ,”Not today, f*cker.”
The Air Force Research Laboratory Self-Protect High Energy Laser Demonstrator Advanced Technology Demonstration Program successfully completed a major program milestone with the successful surrogate laser weapon system shoot down of multiple air launched missiles in flight, April 23, 2019.
The SHiELD program is developing a directed energy laser system on an aircraft pod that will serve to demonstrate self-defense of aircraft against surface-to-air and air-to-air missiles.
“This critical demonstration shows that our directed energy systems are on track to be a game changer for our warfighters,” said Dr. Kelly Hammett, AFRL’s Directed Energy Directorate director.
During the series of tests at the High Energy Laser System Test Facility, the Demonstrator Laser Weapon System, acting as a ground-based test surrogate for the SHiELD system, was able to engage and shoot down several air launched missiles in flight.
During the series of tests at the High Energy Laser System Test Facility at White Sands Missile Range, N.M., April 23, 2019, the Demonstrator Laser Weapon System, acting as a ground-based test surrogate for the Self-Protect High Energy Laser Demonstrator system, was able to engage and shoot down several air-launched missiles in flight.
(Air Force Research Laboratory)
The demonstration is an important step of the SHiELD system development, by validating laser effectiveness against the target missiles. The final SHiELD system, however, will be much smaller and lighter, as well as ruggedized for an airborne environment.
“The successful test is a big step ahead for directed energy systems and protection against adversarial threats,” said Maj. Gen. William Cooley, AFRL commander. “The ability to shoot down missiles with speed-of-light technology will enable air operation in denied environments. I am proud of the AFRL team advancing our Air Force’s directed energy capability.”
High Energy Laser technology has made significant gains in performance and maturity due to continued research and development by AFRL and others in the science and technology ecosystem. It is considered to be a game changing technology that will bring new capabilities to the warfighter.
The U.S. Air Force confirmed in mid-2019 that the AC-130U gunship (affectionately known as “spooky”) had finished its final combat deployment. The last Spooky gunship returned from a mission to Hulbert Field, Florida, on July 8. Spooky’s final ride ushers in the new era of the AC-130J Ghostrider. So as Spooky’s illustrious career pridefully rises to the rafters, we look back on some of the coolest facts about the AC-130U gunship.
Each one costs about 0 million
According to the USAF website, one Spooky AC-130U runs about 0 million. Compare this to the infamous “brrrrrt brrrrrt” A-10 Warthog’s total unit cost of million. This makes the AC-130U one of the single most expensive units in the Air Force. The rest of these facts make Spooky’s price tag make a bit more sense.
The cockpit of the AC-130U, 2016.
(Senior Airman Taylor Queen)
It takes a crew of 13 to operate
That’s right, it takes a baker’s dozen airmen to operate Spooky. The 13 crew members consist of: a pilot, a co-pilot, a navigator, a fire control officer, an electronic warfare officer, a flight engineer, a loadmaster, an all-light-level TV operator, an infrared detection set operator, and finally—four aerial gunners.
It can attack two targets simultaneously
The “fire control system” in the AC-130U is capable of targeting two separate targets, up to one kilometer apart, and then engaging each target individually with two different guns. This versatile offensive advantage is referred to, simply as “dual-target attack capability.” And you thought your job required multi-tasking.
The AC-47 “Puff the Magic Dragon”, 1965.
It was originally nicknamed “Puff the Magic Dragon”
The original (and unofficial) nickname was “Puff the Magic Dragon.” This nickname came about for the predecessor of the AC-130U. The predecessor was the Douglas AC-47 Spooky. It was developed and utilized during the Vietnam War. “Puff” ran so that “Spooky” could walk.
It contains over 609,000 lines of software
The versatile functionality of the AC-130U Spooky gunship also calls for extremely advanced onboard computer processing. One single Spooky gunship has over 609,000 lines of software. For reference, a complicated iPhone full of apps would contain about 50,000 lines of software. The software on the AC-130U covers advanced sensor technology, fire control systems, infrared technology, global positioning, navigation, and radar.
Air Force AC-130U Gunship Close Air Support Live-Fire Training
In a testament to both the maintainers quality of work, and the exorbitant price tag—only 47 AC-130s (of any variant) have ever been built… since the Vietnam War. Another reason why so few have been built is because their role in nighttime counter insurgency is incredibly specific. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
And only 7 AC-130s have been lost
Six of these were lost during the Vietnam conflict, when the AC-130s humble beginnings were just recently developed. In modern conflicts, the most significant lost AC-130 was the Spirit 03 that was tragically lost in the Iraqi conflict on Jan. 30, 1991, from a lone shoulder-fired surface to air missile. The attack came after the ship had battled through the cloak of night, but doubled back after refueling to defend ground forces after dawn had broke. There were no survivors, but the bravery and service of the Spirit 03 lives on.
Earlier this week, images surfaced out of the reclusive nation of North Korea showing Kim Jong Un posing with a bevy of senior military leaders as they show off their fancy new pistols. The pistols were handed out by the nation’s Supreme Leader in celebration of the 67th anniversary of the Korean War armistice, and according to North Korean media, the pistols were awarded to Kim’s top generals as a symbol of his trust in them.
Of course, after looking at the pictures for a minute… you might start to wonder if that trust is all that founded.
Literallychillin’ like a villain. (North Korea’s KCNA)
Long before a recruit earns the right to call him or herself a Marine, they’re ingrained with the four weapons safety rules. This essential training step comes before being bestowed the title of Marine for good reason: If you can’t handle your own weapon safely, you represent a potential threat to your fellow Marines. Let’s run through those rules again, just in case you’re not familiar with them:
Treat every weapon as if it were loaded.
Never point the weapon at anything you do not intend to shoot.
Keep your finger straight and off the trigger until you’re ready to fire.
Keep the weapon on safe until you intend to fire.
The first thing I couldn’t help but notice in these pictures is the egregious lack of trigger discipline on display in this photo of what should theoretically be North Korea’s most competent military minds. The third weapons safety rule says clearly that you should keep your finger straight and off the trigger until you’re ready to fire. Why is that rule so important? Well, in this case, it would be so you don’t accidentally blow the leader of your country’s head off…
But this guy is clearly thinking about it.
And this guy might just want to replace the 3-Star sitting in front of him.
Dude on the left is literally pointing a pistol at Kim with his finger on the trigger.
Of course, even if you violate the keeping your finger straight and off the trigger rule, the people around you should still be fairly safe if you’re careful not to ever point your weapon at anything you don’t intend to shoot.
I’m pretty sure these two guys think they’re in a water gun fight.
“I’ll just point this weapon safely at Bob’s face.”
Maybe they’re all trying to rob each other?
Of course, it’s safe to assume that none of these weapons were loaded, as Kim Jong Un almost certainly didn’t intend to equip his generals to overthrow him — but that’s not really the point. The whole idea behind firearm safety is not to grow complacent about the rules; a Navy SEAL and a food service specialist learn and exercise the same basic tenants of firearm safety because it serves as the foundation from which you can develop more advanced skills. Snipers still keep their fingers straight and off the trigger until they’re ready to fire for the same reason professional race car drivers wear helmets: Because no matter how good you are, everybody has a bad day.
But like… has this guy ever even seen a pistol before?
Of course, North Korean troops are regularly starving, are poorly equipped, and almost certainly receive sub-par training even by a third-world standard, so we shouldn’t be terribly surprised to see how uncomfortable and awkward its military leaders seem to be with pistols. In that case, it’s the photo op that might be the most confounding.
Pabst Blue Ribbon beer is celebrating its 175th birthday the same way most people celebrate their (18th, 19th, 20th and…) 21st birthday–with a whole lot of beer. However, PBR has a new spin on their own birthday gift this year. They are debuting two very different beers: one a totally non-alcoholic beer, and the other a more alcoholic beer (from 4.6% ABV to 6.5% ABV).
In true yin and yang fashion–they come in black and white cans. Debauchery and purity. Dark and light. Stumbling into a Little Caesars at 2 a.m. Being the DD driving your buddies to buy Little Caesars at 2 a.m.
According to PBR, both beers are modeled after the same taste profile as standard PBR. In case you are unfamiliar with binge drinking on a budget, that taste can only be described as “fun water.” This is not to say that PBR tastes bad. It’s arguably the best bang-for-your-buck beer out there.
Please do not let beer snobs fool you. There is a reason most beer snobs end up brewing their own god-awful wheat sludge in a basement– because they are ashamed, deep down, that the neighbors will see their pretentious witchcraft-beer rituals.
It’s really refreshing to know that PBR is finally going to bring some easy drinkability to the non-alcoholic beer market. Gone are the days of choking down a couple of lukewarm O’Douls (gag) with your dad. We’re so happy you’ve kept the promise for yourself to bend your situation towards self-improvement and hold yourself accountable all these years…but damn it those things taste like liquid saltines with no salt.
Now next time that weird distant uncle nobody really knows shows up to the 4th of July party ready to turn it into a rager–you can just toss him a white non-alcoholic can of PBR. It’ll taste great, and he won’t know the difference. You just may save that above-ground pool from his antics this year…
On the flip side– think of all the possibilities now that PBR can get you drunk before 20 beers! Think about all the conversations you can see through to the end, instead of going to take a whiz every 6 minutes! Think of the 10s of dollars you can save! Think about only having to use your car keys to shotgun 10 PBRs instead of 12!
All joking aside this is great news. You and your buddy fresh out of AA can still enjoy some PBRs together in the summer heat. Throw some brats on the grill. Get too hot and move inside. Watch some underwhelming baseball game. Live life.
This is of course, if you’re over the age of 21.
If you’re a 20-year-old man or woman, you can ship out overseas. You can be trusted with millions of dollars of equipment. You can be trusted with the responsibility of defending your life and your brothers in arms.
But for some reason, you still can not be trusted with a six pack of PBR. Hell, depending on the state, you can’t even buy that nice new white can of non-alcoholic PBR.
Deploying is just one of those things every troop knows will happen eventually. There are two ways troops look at this: Either they’re gung-ho about getting into what they’ve been training to do for years or they’re scared that they’ll have to do what they’ve been training years to do for years. No judgement either way, but it’s bound to happen.
The truth is, combat only makes up a fraction of a fraction of what troops do while deployed. There are some troops who take on an unequal share of that burden when compared to the next, but everyone shares some of the same downsides of deployment.
Today’s troops have it nicer than those that came before them and some units may inherently have an easier time of things. Still, everyone has to deal with the same smell of the “open air sanitation pits” that are lovingly called “sh*t ponds.”
Yep. And the VA is still debating whether this is unhealthy or not.
Sand will get everywhere no matter how many times you sweep. Black mold will always creep into your living areas and cause everyone to go to sick call. That’s normal.
What’s not normal is the amount of lazy, disgusting Blue Falcons that decide that using Gatorade bottles as piss pots is more convenient than walking their ass to a proper latrine but get embarrassed by their disgusting lifestyle so they horde that sh*t under their bunk in some sick, twisted collection. True story.
That is, if you can get to an uncrowded USO tent to actually talk to your folks back home.
(U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Jonathan Carmichael)
Everyone knows they’re going to have to be away from their family, but no one really prepares you for the moments when you’re going to have to tell them you can’t talk a few days because something happened — “Comms Blackouts.” They’re totally normal and it freaks out everyone back home. it’s up to the troops to explain the situation without providing any info that would incur the wrath of the chain of command.
We’ve all heard the constant, nebulous threats. “The enemy is always listening!” “All it takes is one puzzle piece to lose the war!” Such concerns aren’t unfounded — and it leaves troops clammed up, essentially without anything interesting to talk about while deployed.
I’m just saying, we’re doing you a favor by not saluting you where there could be snipers…
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Alejandro Pena)
Other units’ officers
Every unit falls under the same overarching rules as set forth by the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So, if someone’s doing something that breaks said code, any troop can (and should) step in to defuse the situation. That being said, every unit functions on their own SOPs while downrange and there’s always going to be a smart-ass butterbar who raises hell about not being saluted in a combat zone.
Don’t worry, though. This guy will probably have a a “totally legitimate” copy of all the seasons of ‘Game of Thrones’ on DVD.
(Official Marine Corps Photo by Eric S. Wilterdink)
Everything you’re going to miss out on
Being deployed is kind of like being put in a time capsule when it comes to pop culture. Any movie or television show that you would normally be catching the night of the release is going to end up on a long checklist of things to catch up on later.
To make matters worse, troops today still have an internet connection — just not a very good one. So, if some big thing happened on that show you watch, it’s going to get spoiled eventually because people assume that, after a few weeks, it’s all fair game to discuss. Meanwhile, you’re still 36 weeks away from seeing it yourself.
You’d think this isn’t comfy. But it is.
Sleep (or lack thereof)
Some doctors say that seven to nine hours of sleep are required for the human body to function. You will soon laugh in the face of said doctors. You’ll be at your physical peak and do just fine on five hours of constantly interrupted sleep.
War is very loud and missions occur at all hours of the day. What this means is just as soon as you get tucked in for the night, you’re going to hear a chopper buzz your tent while a barely-working generator keeps turning over which is then drowned out by the sounds of artillery going off. Needless to say, when the eventual IDF siren goes off, you’ll legitimately debate whether you should get out of bed or sleep through it.
Ever wonder why so many troops make stupid films while in the sandbox? Because we’re bored out of our freakin’ minds!
The fact that you’re actually working 12-hour days won’t bother you. The fact that you’re going to get an average of five hours of sleep won’t bother you. Those remaining seven hours of your day are what will drive you insane.
You could go to the gym and get to looking good for your eventual return stateside. You could pick up a hobby, like learning to play the guitar, but you’d only be kidding yourself. 75 percent of your time will be spent in the smoke pit (regardless if you smoke or not) and the other trying to watch whatever show is on at the DFAC.
“Oh, look! It seems like everyone came back from deployment!”
All that money (and nothing to spend it on)
Think of that episode of The Twilight Zone where the world’s end comes and that one dude just wants to read his books. He finally finds a library but — plot twist — he breaks his glasses and learns that life is unfair. That’s basically how it feels when troops finally get deployment money. It’ll be a lot more than usual, since combat pay and all those other incentives are awesome, but it’s not like you can really spend any of it while in Afghanistan.
If you’re married, that money you’re be making is going to be used to take care of your family. Single troops will just keep seeing their bank accounts rise until they blow it all in one weekend upon returning.
If there was one single place that could be called the front lines of the clandestine Cold War, Berlin was it. The city, like the rest of Germany, was divided. It was a bastion, deep inside the heart of the Eastern Bloc, where Westerners could roam relatively freely within their sector by day and sneak into enemy territory under the cover of darkness.
A divided Berlin was the setting for so many stories, many of which are just now coming to light. And many of those stories are about Detachment-A, a Special Forces unit so secret, many in Special Forces couldn’t even know about it.
If World War III broke out, their mission was not to win — they were 110 miles behind enemy lines and couldn’t possibly win a pitched battle. Their mission was to just buy time for NATO. Along the way, their training helped develop the units and tactics used by American special operations the world over.
Retired Special Forces soldier and former CIA agent James Stejskal was among among the members of Detachment A. He served in it for nine years and just wrote a book on the recently-declassified unit, called Special Forces Berlin: Clandestine Cold War Operations of the U.S. Army’s Elite, 1956-90. Working behind enemy lines in an unconventional conflict is one of the foundational duties of the U.S. Army’s Special Forces, but Detachment A had no misconceptions about what would happen in a war with the Soviet Union. They would operate as small teams inside and outside of Berlin, tripping up the Red Army in any way they could.
“We were going to, basically, break out of the city. Two of the six teams would stay behind and cause trouble inside the city. Four of the teams would go outside the city,” James Stejskal told WATM. “A railway network, basically called the Berliner Ring, would carry the majority of the Russian forces from east to west. Our mission was to report on and sabotage the railway, communications… to cause as much havoc as possible.”
Stejskal grew up with the military. His father was drafted for World War II in 1941, before Pearl Harbor. He would earn a commission during the war as a combat engineer in Patton’s XII Corps. His father even went to Germany during the Korean War. The younger Stejskal was always interested in intelligence, commando, and what he calls the “darker arts.” He read about the British Special Operations Executive and the Office of Strategic Services during WWII and it captivated him. So when it came time for him to join the Army, the Green Beret called to him. He joined with Special Forces on his mind. But Det A was so secret, he didn’t know it existed even after he earned his place among the elite.
“I only found out about it on one of my exercises in Germany,” he recalls. “We jumped into it, into Southern Germany for our annual winter warmer exercise and one of the guys on the ground that met us was a civilian-clothes guy, speaking German. Only later on in the exercise did he start to speak in English to us and, before too long, I figured out that he was actually American. He told us he’s from a unit Berlin and he couldn’t really talk about it.”
That piqued Stejskal’s interest. He continued to dig into it and, as one thing led to another, he found himself in Berlin. Detachment A was the closest unit to the old OSS that a soldier could get in to. Speaking German, the men of Det A wore their hair long, civilian clothes, and worked with soldiers from other countries. Their commander was a Czech officer and their Sergeant Major was a German who was in the Bundeswehr, both veterans of World War II.
“It’s a strange feeling. We were 110 miles behind the East German border, with about 12,000 allied troops inside West Berlin surrounded by close to a million Russian and Warsaw Pact soldiers,” He says. “Oddly enough, I think most of us were very energized to be where we were.”
This would be an Emmy-winning TV show today. Mad Men, eat your heart out.
During peacetime, they performed protection duties for VIPs and – most importantly – they trained. Detachment A trained with the British Special Air Service, who taught them to watch how the Germans and Israelis performed anti-terror operations, like clearing a hijacked aircraft. They soon became the U.S. Army’s first counter-terrorism team, long before Delta Force or SEAL Team Six. Charlie Beckwith, Delta’s first commander, came to Berlin to see Detachment A for himself.
“He came over to Berlin to see how we were doing things and took a lot of our training techniques and tactics and exported them back to Fort Bragg, about 1980,” Stejskal says. “The commander of SEAL Team Six, Marcinko, he also came over and observed. We did our operability training with Delta Force later on in the 1980s. We also trained a lot of the SEALs in the city.”
Aside from forming the foundations of modern Special Forces and SEAL Team operations, veterans of Detachment A also took their knowledge back home, joining police departments as local SWAT teams popped up around the United States. They trained law enforcement and military alike in building assault tactics, urban combat, and clearing buildings. But if war broke out, these soldiers had no illusions about their fate.
“I never thought about it being certain death, but it could have,” says Stejskal. “I think we would’ve been hard-pressed to survive more than 72 hours, but you never can tell. You’re anticipating you’re going in to a very bad situation, but you got the best tools, the best cover, and everything else. You have a confidence level that you can do it, but you, there’s always that element of uncertainty that you don’t have everything under control, so that’s part of the energy that fuels you when you’re there.”
The folks over at The Infographics Show have asked a question that’s come up repeatedly over the last few years: If NATO and Russia actually get into a full-on war, could Russia successfully invade Eastern Europe and hold it for its own use or use it as a bargaining chip for greater power at the peace table?
(Jump to 6:30 in the video to skip the intro and political discussions and go straight to the potential military campaigns.)
For countries that were part of the U.S.S.R., this can be a true, existential threat. Ukraine used the be the heart of Russia’s shipbuilding industry, but most of the country doesn’t want to return to Russian rule. And Estonia first earned its independence in 1918, but then spent decades under Nazi and Soviet rule during and after World War II. It’s not exactly nostalgic for that period.
And with Russia becoming even more aggressive than it was in the already-tense last few years, countries both inside and outside of NATO are looking westward for strength and comfort.
So, if Russia goes from seizing Ukrainian ships on the Sea of Azov to seizing cities in Lithuania and Latvia, what happens next?
On a rural highway in northern Estonia, a pilot flies an A-10 Thunderbolt II from Lielvarde Air Base, Latvia, while practicing austere landings and take offs during the Exercise Saber Strike 18 on June 7, 2018.
(U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. David Kujawa)
In their video above, The Infographics Show postulates that Russia will attempt to seize Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia before invading Finland, Sweden, and Norway. NATO has openly practiced for just this scenario, but Russia would enjoy large advantages in the early days of such a conflict.
While the U.S. military is much larger and more technologically capable than Russia’s, it would take weeks or months to build sufficient strength in Europe for NATO to seize back the territory if Russia was successful in its early drives. In the meantime, Russia would build up its defenses in seized territory, just like it did when it grabbed Crimea from Ukraine.
The real question at this point becomes one of political will and nuclear brinkmanship. Crimea is part of Ukraine, which is not a member of NATO, so fighting a resurgent Russia for it would’ve required a lot of political will from nations that weren’t obligated to protect it.
American and European tanks wait for their turn to compete in Operation Iron Tomahawk, a shoot-off between tank crews in Latvia.
(U.S. Army Command Sgt. Maj. Haynes)
Fighting for Estonia, on the other hand, is a requirement for NATO, but it still takes a lot of political will to send American tankers to Europe. And Russia may seek the peace table right as NATO builds sufficient combat power, offering to give back territory in some countries if it can keep what it’s already gained.
See the video above to see how one situation, an invasion of Eastern Europe and the Baltics, in which Russia seeks to gain some territory and then end the fighting.
(Writer’s note: This article contains descriptions of real-world violence and there is a video embedded that shows attack helicopters firing on insurgents on the burning outpost. Obviously, viewer/reader discretion is advised.)
View of the 120mm mortar at COP Kahler days before the Battle of Wanat.
(U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Jesse Queck)
The attack on the U.S. forces near Wanat in Afghanistan centered on Kahler, a combat outpost in the area. COP Kahler was a strong position, but it faced a number of defensive weaknesses. First, it wasn’t the high ground in the valley. That’s a compromise military leaders sometimes have to make, but you really don’t want to have to defend a position where an enemy can fire on it from above.
Another problem was that civilian buildings came close to the outpost. This included a mosque that the attackers would misuse as a fortress to get an advantageous position against the defenders.
Finally, and probably most importantly, COP Kahler was not yet done. Engineers had been working for weeks to prepare for construction, but the actual building only began on July 9, four days before the attack would come. And a number of important defensive measures wouldn’t be complete for weeks or potentially months.
Some of the defensive positions on July 13 were still just concertina wire and guns, though some positions were protected by boulders, HESCOs, or hasty earthworks. The task force had planned for the possibility that an attack would come early, while the outpost was still vulnerable. But the intelligence estimates did not anticipate an attack by hundreds, and the assets at the base didn’t either.
But Chosen Company of the 503rd Parachute Infantry Regiment was holding and building Kahler, and they had prepared well for an attack with what they had.
The defenders’ TOW missile launcher was mounted on a HMMWV that could be driven around the site, but a platform was quickly built to give it better fields of view and fire. And there were two mortars, a 120mm and a 60mm, to provide additional muscle.
And the Americans had built observation posts in the territory around the outpost. These would allow American forces to inflict casualties from higher ground, but it would also deny the enemy a chance to occupy those three positions, meaning that was three fewer positions the insurgents could attack from.
And the engineers were busy from July 9 to 13, filling as many HESCOs and digging out as many fighting positions as they could. They were able to provide significant protection to the 120mm and many fighting positions before the attacks came. The 60mm mortar had a pit and a few sandbags, providing some protection. (Some of the defenses and fighting can be seen in this video.)
There were signs in the buildup to the attack that it was coming. Men in the nearby bazaar were seen watching the Americans and seemingly doing pace counts to figure out distances. The number of children in the village slowly dropped, and Afghan contractors refused to bid on some services for the base.
So when Capt. Matthew Myer saw five shepherds traveling together near the base he immediately prepared for a complex attack, using his TOW and mortars to hit the men shifting around the base. Five shepherds will rarely travel together because that many shepherds signals that there are either too many shepherds or too many goats in one area for normal grazing.
But before Myer could give the order to attack, two bursts of machine gun fire signaled the enemy forces, and then a rain of rockets came onto the U.S. warriors. The Battle of Wanat was on, and the enemy had seized the initiative.
A Army graphic shows the defenses at COP Kahler during the Battle of Wanat. Notice OP Topside which is physically separated from the rest of the defenses. The hotel and mosque were key buildings controlled by insurgents during the battle.
(U.S. Army Combat Studies Institute)
That first volley came in the first hours of July 13, and it contained a very large amount of RPGs. While the Army history of the battle gives no official number to the rockets that hit the base, quotes from the men who fought in the battle described an absolute rain of rockets that left dozens and dozens of tail fins on the ground around the Americans. A radiotelephone operator later said that the “RPG fire was like machine gun fire.”
The insurgent forces had sneaked up close to the outpost and unleashed hell, and the volume of fire indicated that there had either been a major buildup of rockets at these positions or else runners were keeping the shooters well supplied. This rain of explosions took the TOW launcher out of the fight and suppressed a mortar and some machine guns and grenade launchers.
Myers and his men were suddenly struggling to achieve fire superiority. The mortar crew got at least four high-explosive rounds off despite the incoming fire, but were driven back from the weapon by the RPGs and machine gun fire. Rounds were flying in from buildings and trees near the outpost, and the fire was concentrated on the mortarmen.
But they weren’t the only ones in trouble. Another main objective of the enemy force was cutting one of the observation posts, OP Topside, off from the main force. While the OPs provided protection to the COP, they would also be vulnerable to enemy attack until the engineers were done clearing vegetation from the fields of fire.
A mortar crewman was injured by an RPG, and then another was hurt while dragging the first casualty to safety at the command post. The TOW launcher and HMMWV exploded, and it injured an Afghan soldier, knocked out some American communications equipment, and dropped two unexploded but unstable missiles back onto the defenders.
The artillery assets supporting the outpost sent death back at the attackers whenever they could, but they were firing 155mm howitzers at high angle. Danger close starts at just over 700 yards, and anything closer than 600 yards in rough terrain is simply too risky to fire. The automatic grenade launchers on the base had a similar problem.
Defenders at Kahler the day before the Battle of Wanat.
(U.S. Army soldiers)
The weapons that were available were fired at such a high rate that many of them began to overheat, and then the only .50-cal went down after an enemy round struck it in the feed tray cover.
But the worst of the fighting for the Americans took place at OP Topside. Only nine Americans were there at the start of the fighting, and the insurgent activity made reinforcing them a dangerous and tricky task, though the paratroopers would do so successfully multiple times.
The OP had its own artillery observer, but he was wounded in that first RPG volley. A paratrooper at Topside was killed in that same volley, and another died just moments later while attempting to throw a grenade. Another was wounded so badly that he could not fight.
The six men able to fight, including the forward observer, were forced to work through their own injuries and beat back the attack. Fortunately, the observer had sent a list of pre-planned targets back to the gun lines days before, and so artillery was able to send some assistance despite the fact that the observer could not conduct the calls for fire.
The defenders attempted to get the upper hand, but their own crew-served weapons went down from overheating or ammo shortages, and then one gunner was killed while firing his M4.
Finally, reinforcements from the main COP moved out. But the three-man team lost one soldier en route to a wound in the arm. Soon after they arrived, the enemy made it through the wire.
The attack was repulsed, but the two reinforcements were killed, and so was another soldier. A short time later, a sergeant moved forward to suppress fighters in a nearby building and was killed. Only one soldier was left in fighting shape with another three seriously wounded.
The defender managed to take out an enemy position with a light anti-tank weapon, giving most of the survivors just enough time to fall back to another position. But in their haste, they missed that the forward observer was severely wounded but still alive.
This artilleryman grabbed a grenade launcher and fired every round he had and threw every hand grenade he could reach. Just before he was forced to make a last stand at the OP, four men from the COP reinforced him, and Topside remained in American hands.
But a new attack, once again led by RPGs, strained this control. Every paratrooper on the OP was wounded, and one would die soon after. A platoon sergeant gathered a new force of seven paratroopers and two Marines and once again reinforced the OP, arriving shortly before the Apache attack helicopters.
Gun runs by the helicopters with their 30mm cannons finally drove the attackers back and allowed this larger force to protect the OP. Another platoon from Chosen Company arrived to help out their brothers-in-arms. This force brought multiple machine guns and two automatic grenade launchers with them on HMMWVs as well as multiple anti-tank rocket launchers.
The quick reaction force assaulted into the bazaar, driving the enemy from nearby buildings while suppressing other positions with the trucks. QRF fighters threw out smoke to mark insurgent positions and the Apaches eliminated them. Slowly, the volley of RPG fire lessened and, four hours after the attack began, the terrorist forces finally began to retreat.
Medical evacuation crews landed under fire to get the wounded out, in at least one case evacuating a casualty while an Apache made a gun run just 30 yards away. This limited American losses to the nine paratroopers already killed. A massive surge in U.S. and Afghan forces occurred July 13 with Afghan commandos coming in to clear the nearby village house-to-house and gain intelligence.
The biggest surprise for the Afghan commandos came when they searched the Afghan National Police station near the compound. A massive cache of weapons was there with most of them having been recently fired. But the evidence was that they had fired in support of the insurgents, not against them. The police chief and others were arrested.
Over the following days, American air assets pummeled insurgent positions, and future Chief of Staff of the Army Mark Milley set up operations in Wanat. An estimated 20-50 enemy fighters were killed in the fighting.
Despite the hard-won tactical success, senior leaders decided that holding Wanat was simply too costly and drained resources from more fruitful fights elsewhere. Chosen Company was pulled out.