Scott Kelly didn’t always know that he was going to be an astronaut. In fact, he wasn’t even a particularly good student.
“As a student, it’s just really hard, especially at first, when you don’t have the habit-patterns to study and pay attention,” Kelly told Business Insider for the podcast “Success! How I Did It.” “But once I got over that, I was able to go from a kid at 18 years old that was always like a very average, underperforming student and then fast forward almost to the day 18 years later, I flew in space for the first time. It was a pretty remarkable comeback, I think.”
Kelly remained an average student until he went to college, where he stumbled across Tom Wolfe’s book, “The Right Stuff.”
“I read this book, and I could relate to a lot of the characteristics these guys had, with regards to their personalities, their risk-taking, their leadership abilities, ability to work as a team. That made me think,” Kelly said.
“I related to a lot of those characteristics with one exception, and that is I wasn’t a good student, especially in science and math,” he continued. Kelly said he then thought, “Wow, you know, if I could fix just that thing, then I could maybe be like these guys.”
“At the time I was thinking you’ve got to be really smart to be an engineer or scientist. What I realized is really what it takes is just hard work, and it’s not any particular gift you might have.”
He continued: “It was the spark I needed to motivate me to do more with my life than I was currently doing.”
You can subscribe to the podcast and listen to the episode below:
“The Right Stuff” inspired Kelly, but it was a phone call from his brother that showed him what hard work really looks like.
According to Kelly, his twin brother Mark, who also became a NASA astronaut, was also a mediocre students — but Mark turned things around in high school, while Scott kept skating by. Mark pinpoints his turnaround to an event Scott doesn’t remember.
“I was this kid that could not pay attention. Was not a good student,” Kelly said. “Always wondering how in the ninth grade my brother went from being like me to getting straight A’s — I never knew how that happened.”
“But apparently, what [Mark] tells me, is that our dad sat us down in like the eighth grade, and said, ‘Hey, guys. You know, you’re not good students, not college material. We’re going to start thinking about a vocational education for you.'” Kelly said. “And my brother thought, ‘Whoa! I want to go to college and do something more.”I, on the other hand, had no recollection whatsoever of this conversation,” Kelly said. “Probably only because there was like a squirrel running outside the window and I was like, ‘Squirrel!’ Otherwise, I probably would have been a straight-A student, too.”
In his memoir “Endurance,” Kelly wrote that his mind began to wander and he lost focus as a student at the State University of New York Maritime College.
His grades had risen above average and he was studying for his first calculus exam. Having decided to take a break, Kelly planned to attend a big party at Rutgers. When Mark found out about his brother’s attempt to forgo more studying for a party, he scolded Kelly over the phone.
“Are you out of your goddamn mind?” Kelly remembered Mark telling him. “You’re in school. You need to absolutely ace this exam, and everything else, if you want to get caught up.”
Scott Kelly buckled down, became a NASA astronaut, and has been to space four times.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Is it time for America to support regime change in Iran? A growing chorus inside the Beltway says “yes.” According to them, the arc of history bends toward freedom in Iran. Reuel Marc Gerecht and Ray Takeyh argue in TheWall Street Journal that “[d]evising a strategy to collapse the clerical regime isn’t difficult” because “the essential theme in modern Iranian history is a populace seeking to emancipate itself from tyranny.” They see the growing economic chaos in Iran as birth-pangs of emancipation and call for America to act as midwife.
Many intellectuals before Gerecht and Takeyh have advanced theories of unstoppable historical change, driven by forces the wise can interpret and accelerate. In the nineteenth century, Hegel thought history was rushing toward human freedom. Marx thought it drove toward the collapse of capitalism and the rise of socialism. More recently, some thought the end of communism foreshadowed an inevitable global shift toward liberal democracy — an “end of history.” Dictatorships elsewhere, they thought, were living on borrowed time. One small push and the tide of history would do the rest.
They put their theory to the test in Iraq in 2003. They promised regime change in Iraq would lead the whole Middle East into the next stage of history: peaceful, tolerant, and democratic. The exact opposite resulted.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo)
Washington’s foreign policy elite used U.S. military power to bring down a brutal autocracy, only to see barbarism follow. Iraq became a land of looting, torture, and beheadings. A sectarian civil war drove out the majority of Iraq’s Christians and sorted Baghdad into a checkerboard of segregated neighborhoods. The Islamic State group sprung up in the chaos. ISIS—not democracy — spread to Iraq’s neighbors. American troops are still cleaning up the mess in Iraq 15 years later. Shaping history had failed. The regime change experiment’s cost was too high and accumulates to this day.
Those now calling for regime change in Iran insist they do not want a repeat of Iraq. That incorrectly assumes the invasion of Iraq was a tactical rather than a strategic failure. They seem to believe overthrowing the mullahs will not only be easier but also lead to even better outcomes — we are asked to suspend reality and ignore the results from Washington’s post-9/11 foreign policy decisions.
It took hundreds of thousands of American troops to remove Saddam Hussein. Iran regime change proponents suggest economic sanctions, a little covert action, and a few mean tweets can do in Ali Khamenei. Even better, democracy is sure to follow, since it is the next stage in Iranian history’s arc.
(U.S. Army photo)
And that’s possible. Iran is home to a great people with a terrible government. Things can get much better. However, as the regime changers learned the hard way in Iraq, they can also get much worse. Deeper pressure on Iran could strengthen the regime. Sanctions on Saddam’s Iraq did exactly that. As Peter Beinart observed, “sanctions shift the balance of power in a society in the regime’s favor. As sanctions make resources harder to find, authoritarian regimes hoard them. They make the population more dependent on their largesse and withhold resources from those who might threaten their rule.”
In Iran, the hardline Revolutionary Guards have the inside track on those resources. The last round of sanctions let them buy up struggling businesses and run smuggling rings. New pressure could leave the Guards with an even bigger slice of an even smaller pie.
And if new unrest leads to the clerics’ fall, the Guards have the money and the guns. A military dictatorship may be more likely than a democracy. At a minimum, the military would have a veto over the new government. Revolutions can end up in unexpected places. We need to look no further than Iran’s 1979 uprising for evidence. Few realized Khomeini would be more than a figurehead. Intellectuals and left-wing groups that backed Iran’s revolution faced serious persecution after it. Women’s rights supporters held a massive demonstration against mandatory hijab just weeks after the revolution’s success, chanting “We did not make a revolution to go backwards.”
Even if we do provoke an uprising in Iran, uprisings often fail. As Takeyh and Gerecht note, they failed in Iran in 1999, 2009, and late 2017.
History is full of thwarted revolts and broken rebellions: Tiananmen Square in China, the Prague Spring, the Fronde, the Vendee Rebellion, the 1959 Tibetan Uprising, the 1953 East German protests, the March 1st Movement in Korea, the 2.28 Incident in Taiwan, the 1956 Hungarian revolution, the 1848 Hungarian revolution, the Basmachi revolt against the Soviet Union, the Constitutionalist Revolution in Brazil, and many more. The regimes that led the crackdowns on these uprisings lasted for many more years — and they were often more brutal than before.
Americans should reject calls for new regime change plans abroad. But that does not mean ignoring dictators, abandoning our values, or espousing moral relativism.
Instead, we should embrace the tradition of humility in foreign policy exemplified by our Founders. They, too, witnessed repression abroad. They, too, loved our system of government and hoped for its spread. They wanted America to be, in John Quincy Adams’ words, “the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all.” But they prudently worried that getting involved in other nations’ internal politics would entangle America in new conflicts it could barely understand, let alone solve. (Iraq showed the price of ignoring their wisdom.)
Freedom is not something to be given away or imposed. It emerges organically, and often slowly, in a people. Its success is difficult to predict. This is why the Monroe Doctrine emphasized America would recognize new states that “maintain” their freedom, not those who merely declare it, and why Adams warned that backing revolts abroad “involve [America], beyond the power of extrication, in all the wars of interest and intrigue, of individual avarice, envy, and ambition, which assume the colors and usurp the standard of freedom.”
They were heirs to the complicated, uncertain, centuries-long rise of the rights of Englishmen. The Magna Carta was in its sixth century when the Constitution was written. They were also heirs to the classical tradition and thus knew that the establishment of the Republic in Rome or democracy in Greek city-states had not brought about an end to history. They put checks and balances in the Constitution because they knew their project was uncertain. The same uncertainty helped foster their disinterest in using American power to boost foreign revolutions. Lasting republics take time, and they aren’t inevitable.
Unlike today’s regime changers, America’s founding generations realized that history is not predictable.
Taxes, the season you love to hate depending on how you filed. But if you’re getting a refund this year, it’s time you think tactical and upgrade your gear.
With so many options to choose from, what is necessary and what is arguably a waste of money? What is tactical versus ‘tacticool?’ Military service is the one job where relying on equipment or gear can be the difference between pain or performing above pace. Knowing the difference is what we are here for.
Here are seven tactical upgrades to spend your refund on:
Metal frame rucksacks
The butt buffer before slamming into the earth like a meteor while executing a textbook parachute landing fall absorbs a fair amount of energy, taking a bit of a beating. Loading under fire into vehicles or unloading out of helicopters into the landing zone requires gear you can count on. Standard issue rucksacks come with plastic frames and underwhelming comfort, support, and space. Upgrading to a metal frame with ample padding and pocket space is the best money you’ll spend to ensure your gear holds up in any scenario.
Commercial made boots
Whether you are a door-kicking infantryman or supply, all soldiers spend an enormous amount of time each day on their feet. Standard issue footwear leaves much to be desired in terms of comfort and quality. Investing in the commercial counterparts might just save you from the bad back and bum knees every salty Staff Sergeant you know complains of.
If for no other reason, someone needs to help the Lieutenant find his way. Jokes aside, upgrading to a multipurpose, high-quality watch improves your overall performance as a soldier. Keep an accurate pace in your running group, self-pace during the PT test or maneuver your platoon with accuracy. Knowing exactly where you are is a part of the job.
Standard issue magazines are made of thin metal and temperamental inner springs. Two or twenty minutes into a firefight and the last thing you want to worry about is your magazine malfunctioning. Polymer magazines offer more durability when slamming your body or weapon unexpectedly down on the ground for cover. The peer through window option is a nice touch, giving the shooter a quick round count.
If you plan on hearing anything when you’re eighty or have ever tried communicating with standard-issue earplugs in, you’ll know why this made the list. Optional noise cancellation with radio capability means you won’t hear the bullets but will hear relayed commands. The alternative would mean switching between earplugs and radio handsets, tying up focus and lessening your reactiveness.
It’s not technically tactical, but considering your body is your paycheck in the military, taking care of your feet is critical. Running is a stressful activity for any body in general when practiced daily for years on end, it takes a toll. Generally speaking, shoe price is directly related to the quality and lifespan of a sneaker. Understanding the width and arch of your feet and seeking the correct support will provide the longevity your paychecks depend on.
If you’re wondering why your grandpa was issued the same style flashlight as you just received from basic, it’s because they haven’t changed. During night missions, rucks, or walking in general, having two hands instead of one is obviously beneficial. The range of headlamps outshines that of standard-issue flashlights, are lighter weight and have multiple one-touch color options. Your next land navigation score will thank you.
Before blowing your taxes on activities frowned upon by command, try investing in gear that will give back to you instead. Look the part with gear that makes the cut.
Before 9/11, the last time American forces fought on horseback was on January 16, 1942 when the U.S. Army’s 26th Cavalry Regiment charged an advanced guard of the 14th Japanese Army as it advanced from Manila.
After the terror attacks of Sep. 11, 2001, the United States demanded the extradition of Osama bin Laden from the Taliban, then the recognized government of Afghanistan. When the Taliban didn’t cough him up, the U.S. military went to work.
Official combat operations started on Oct. 7, 2001 in the form of airstrikes and Tomahawk missile strikes against suspected al-Qaeda training sites near Kandahar, Kabul, and Herat. On Nov. 16, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld announced “we have had limited number of American forces on the ground for weeks.”
He was talking about the Horse Soldiers, U.S. Special Forces attempting to secure Northern Afghanistan with the Afghan Northern Alliance.
The elite troops were there to connect with and advise the Northern Alliance fighters who had been fighting the Taliban government since 1996. They were just in time. On Sep. 9, 2001, al-Qaeda operatives assassinated Ahmad Shah Massoud, the longtime resistance fighter who led wars against the Soviet Union and later, the Taliban (Massoud even tried to warn Western leaders about the 9/11 attacks). He rejected the Taliban’s strict interpretation of Islam and was the able political and military leader of the Northern Alliance. When the Americans arrived the Alliance fighters were ready to avenge Massoud. The only way to get around the country was on horseback.
For some of the American commandos, it was their first time on a horse. “It was like riding a bobcat,” Lt. Col. Max Bowers (Ret.) told CNN.
Sergeant 1st Class Joe Jung, the team’s medic and sniper, was thrown from his horse, broke his back, and continued with the mission. “I would not allow myself to be the weak link,” Jung said. “It’s not in my nature, and it’s not in any Green Beret’s nature.”
Bowers carried a piece of the World Trade Center during the entire mission and months later, buried it with full military honors at Mazar-e-Sharif.
The commandos’ horses were trained by the Northern Alliance warriors to run toward gunfire. Charges pitting Alliance forces against the Taliban were much like those centuries ago, but the fighters used AK-47s instead of sabers.
Air Force Combat Controller Master Sgt. Bart Decker used laser-guided airstrikes to support Alliance forces. Abdul Rashid Dostum, leader of Alliance forces, referred to one of the female navigators on an AC-130 gunship providing close air support as the “Angel of Death.”
During the Battle of Mazar-e-Sharif, Jung treated Taliban fighters. The special forces let one go, allowing him to tell other Taliban fighters he was treated humanely and they would be too. This led to mass surrender after the battle. After Mazar-e Sharif, Jung heard an odd accent among the wounded at a prison camp.
That voice came from John Walker Lindh, the infamous “American Taliban.” The Taliban POWs would later rise up against their captors, capturing the arsenal at Mazar-e Sharif, killing CIA operator Mike Spann, the first casualty of American operations in Afghanistan.
It took two months for the Allied forces to defeat the Taliban government.
Kentucky sculptor Douwe Blumberg created a monument of the horse soldiers in his studio in 2011, in honor of the entire military special operations community. That statue, the American Response Monument, is now at the World Trade Center site in New York.
Opium production in Afghanistan dropped by 29 percent in 2017, the United Nations anti-drug agency reported, a decrease attributed mainly to a severe drought.
The United Nations Office for Drugs and Crime (UNODC) said in its annual reportreleased Nov. 19, 2018, that the drop — from 9,000 tons to 6,400 tons — coincided with a decrease in the amount of land area being used for cultivating the crop.
The Afghanistan Opium Survey, which is jointly compiled by the UN agency and the Afghan Ministry of Counternarcotics, said a total of 263,000 hectares of land was used for opium cultivation, representing a decline of 20 percent compared to 2017.
“Despite the decreases, the overall area under opium-poppy cultivation is the second-highest ever recorded. This is a clear challenge to security and safety for the region and beyond,” said UNODC Executive Director Yury Fedotov.
Afghan National Police officers, along with U.S. Special Operations Soldiers, discovered 600 pounds of opium May 7, 2009, during a cordon and search operation of a known Taliban safe house, collection center and trauma center in Babaji Village, in Afghanistan’s Helmand province.
(Photo by Cpl. Sean K. Harp)
The report said the farm-gate prices of dry opium — which fell for the second consecutive year to an average of per kilogram, the lowest level since 2004 — may have contributed to less cultivation of opium poppy.
Eradication of opium poppy has also dropped by 46 percent in 2018 to 406 hectares, compared to 750 hectares last year.
Ten of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces are considered poppy free, unchanged from 2017.
The 2:20 minute video, released on August 1 for China’s Army Day, emotionally underscores the sacrifices made by service members of the PLA while showing off some of the country’s latest weaponry.
At one point in the propaganda video, the narrator says “peace behind me, war in front of me,” which The National Interest said could be interpreted to mean war is “inevitable.”
The National Interest, which provided a translation of the narration, also pointed out that no female soldiers were depicted in the video — just mothers and wives sending their husbands or sons off.
Check out the video:
The high-quality video also likely instilled a lot of pride, something which Eric Wertheim, a naval expert with the US Naval Institute, recently told Business Insider is at least in part China’s reason for building a fleet of new aircraft carriers that may soon be on par with the US’ Nimitz-class carriers.
But China’s grand ambitions for a world-class military likely goes beyond pride and domestic politics, as Beijing continues to set its sights on the East and South China Seas, Taiwan, market access overseas, and more.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Whenever the military takes in a new technology, the troops find ways to train and fight with it. If it’s an effective piece of tech, the military will change its entire war-fighting strategy to fully incorporate it.
Sure, it might seem like stating the obvious to say that a new type or version of a vehicle calls for a change in strategy, but even something as small as an updated camo netting can drastically alter the way leaders approach the battlefield.
It’s see-through from the inside while being virtually invisible from the outside. Sound like something that might come in handy for troops?
(Fibrotex USA, Inc.)
It’s called the Ultra-Light Camouflage Netting System (or ULCANS) and, according to the manufacturer, Fibrotex USA, Inc., it will act as concealment from ultraviolet, near-infrared, short-wave infrared, thermal, and radar detection while providing a near-perfect visual match to most environments.
With a container that is small by size, compact and very light-weight, the new kit “Sophia” holds within the next generation of 2D, Reversible, ultralight, multispectral, multipurpose net.
Provided with more than 30 running meters of our new “crushed” 2D reversible ultralight net and built-in cutting system, our operators will be able to decide for the first time in the field what size shape of system they need.The United States Army awarded Fibrotex USA, Inc. a 10-year indefinite delivery/indefinite quantity contract valued at 0 million in 2018. Results so far, have been fantastic.
The product is as good as advertised.
As awesome as that looks, I can almost assure you that some private is going to mess up the application when they get stuck on a working party to do so.
(Fibrotex USA, Inc.)
The implementations of this netting are limitless. Nearly every unit in the Army could use this technology in one variation or another. The single netting could be made into a shelter-half for snipers and forward observers. Larger netting could be used to conceal vehicles or Tactical Operation Centers.
The netting also comes in a Mobile Camouflage Solution, or MCS, variant that can be applied to the surface of vehicles and remain on them while they’re in motion. This sort of technology offers an unprecedented amount of protection for retrans vehicles that would otherwise need to remain motionless and obvious on tops of mountains.
With the looming possibility of war with a near-peer nation that’s reliant on sophisticated detection technologies, this netting could realistically be used by every soldier in one way or another.
To see Fibrotex’s ULCANS in action, check out the video below.
Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis called on America’s allies to combat Chinese efforts to dominate the contested South China Sea during a trilateral meeting in Singapore Oct. 19, 2018.
“I think that all of us joining hands together, ASEAN allies and partners, and we affirm as we do so that no single nation can rewrite the international rule to the road and expect all nations large and small to respect those rules,” Mattis said during a meeting with his Japanese and South Korean counterparts, according to The Hill.
“The United States, alongside our allies and partners, will continue to fly, sail, and operate wherever international law allows and our national interests demand. We will not be intimidated, and we will not stand down, for we cannot accept the PRC’s militarization of the South China Sea or any coercion in this region,” he added.
“China wants nothing less than to push the United States of America from the Western Pacific and attempt to prevent us from coming to the aid of our allies,” Pence explained. He called attention to the recent showdown in the South China Sea as evidence of “China’s aggression.”
An EA-18G Growler assigned to Electronic Attack Squadron (VFA) 141 lands on the flight deck of the Navy’s forward deployed aircraft carrier, USS Ronald Reagan.
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Kenneth Abbate)
“A Chinese naval vessel came within 45 yards of the USS Decatur as it conducted freedom-of-navigation operations in the South China Sea, forcing our ship to quickly maneuver to avoid collision,” he said, describing a dangerous encounter that the US military characterized as “unsafe” and “unprofessional.”
The Trump administration has taken a hard-line stance against China, targeting Beijing for perceived violations of the rules-based international order. In the South China Sea, tensions have been running high as the US challenges China through freedom-of-navigation operations, bomber overflights, and joint drills with regional partners — all aimed to counter China’s expansive but discredited territorial claims.
A pair of B-52H Stratofortress bombers flew through the disputed South China Sea Oct. 16, 2018, in support of US Indo-Pacific Command’s Continuous Bomber Presence mission, which is notably intended to send a deterrence message to potential adversaries.
Mattis met with his Chinese counterpart Gen. Wei Fenghe Oct. 18, 2018, for an hour and a half on the sidelines of a security forum in Singapore. The talks, described as “straightforward and candid,” focused heavily on the South China Sea, but it is unclear if the two sides made any real progress on the issue.
“That’s an area where we will continue to have differences,” Assistant Secretary of Defense for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs Randall Schriver said after the meeting concluded.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
The U.S. military has always been fertile soil for firsts throughout our nation’s history, and the promotion of Carol A. Mutter to become the nation’s first female lieutenant general serves as a perfect case in point for Women’s History Month.
Women have served in the military from the earliest years of our representative republic.
Deborah Sampson (Gannett) served covertly when she disguised herself as a man under the assumed name of Robert Shurtleff, to join the Continental Army and fight in the Revolutionary War in 1782. Sampson went so far as to cut a musket ball out of her own thigh to prevent a battlefield surgeon from discovering her true gender. She was honorably discharged as a private in 1793.
Women gained the opportunity to serve openly in World War I when Congress opened the military to women in 1914. However, it took more than two centuries between the time Sampson first shouldered a musket to the time when women served as general (flag rank) officers in the American military. Mutter achieved one-star brigadier general rank in 1991.
Three years later Mutter became the first woman in the history of America’s military to achieve two-star major general rank in 1994, and two years after that in 1996 she became the first woman to become a three-star lieutenant general in any American military branch.
Lieutenant General Carol A. Mutter, Marine Corps, was the first woman in the U.S. military to achieve the rank of three star general.
Born in 1945 in Greeley, Colorado, Mutter graduated in 1967 from officer candidate school at the University of Northern Colorado as a second lieutenant in the Marine Corps.
Mutter had a number of firsts during her 32-year career in the Corps:
First woman to qualify as Command Center Crew Commander/Space Director at U.S. Space Command.
First woman of flag rank (general officer rank) to command a major deployable tactical command.
First woman Marine major general, and senior woman in all the services at that time.
First woman nominated by a U.S. president (Bill Clinton) for three-star rank.
First female lieutenant general in the U.S. Armed Forces.
During a 2014 interview for the documentary Unsung Heroes: The Story of America’s Female Patriots, Mutter explains why she joined the Marine Corps during the early years of the Vietnam War.
“Because they’re the best, there’s no doubt about that,” she said. ” … when I joined, (the Corps) was only one percent female and there were no women in the deployed forces at all. So, as long as the women were back in the rear doing the jobs that the men didn’t want to do, there was not much of a problem.”
The general has been recognized as a trailblazer by several different organizations. Among them is the National Women’s Hall of Fame which inducted the general in 2017.
Mutter retired from the Corps in 1999 and lives with her husband at their home in Lookout Mountain, Tennessee.
Information for this article is drawn from several different sources including:
It’s no secret that there are solid arguments against the American M4 rifle. Its “varmint” caliber chambering and fouling-prone gas impingement operating system have formed the foundation of complaints against the platform for decades.
In fact, U.S. Special Operations Command responded to those concerns in the early 2000s with the SOCOM Combat Assault Rifle program, which sought to replace aging M4 carbines with something more powerful and reliable. The one that was ultimately fielded turned out to be the Mk-17 SCAR Heavy battle rifle.
Chambered in 7.62×51 and feeding from detachable box-type magazines, the SCAR-H took the world-class ergonomics of the M4 and married them to a harder-hitting round and a more reliable operating method — a short-stroke, piston-driven action. The SCAR is an awesome weapon; literally every unit fielded with it raves about its performance, reliability, and incredibly-light recoil.
Plus, the short-stroke piston system is adjustable, so shooters can crank the gas to high if their SCAR becomes too dirty or fouled up in a prolonged firefight. This same system makes the platform more modular as well, since unlike the M4 it doesn’t require a different buffer or spring with different barrel lengths.
With all the inherent advantages of the SCAR, it’s hard not to wonder how someone didn’t invent something like it before.
Except they did. In fact, the same company responsible for the SCAR’s production and development designed a rifle with many of the same features more than 70 years ago – the FN FAL.
For the uninitiated, the FAL or Fusil Automatique Leger (light automatic rifle), isn’t some unknown prototype that never saw action. It was fielded by more than 90 countries, many of which belonged to NATO, earning it the nickname, “The Right Arm of the Free World.”
Having seen more than 60 years of combat use, the FAL also holds the distinction of being one of the few rifles to be fielded by two opposing armies, including during the Falklands War where Argentine and British forces both wielded FALs. Hell, the FAL has been fired in anger on nearly every continent on Earth, cementing its reputation as a die-hard reliable battle rifle.
Given that much of America’s war on terror groups takes place in the Middle East, it’s important to note that Israel’s armed forces, the IDF, equipped its soldiers with the FAL before replacing it with American-donated M-16 rifles.
In all fairness, some in the IDF claimed issues with the FAL in dusty and sandy conditions led to its replacement by the M-16. This claim should be viewed with heavy skepticism for several reasons, the largest being that no politician wants to be seen as the impetus behind equipping their military with, ‘cheaper’ equipment. Plus, the FAL served all over Africa without similar concerns emerging.
In fact, many believe the FAL should have been the rifle America adopted as its DMR for use in both the plains of Europe, and the Middle East.
Truth be told, the FAL isn’t perfectly suited for the role as it ships from the factory. If it were to see even a small fraction of the developmental evolution of the M16, it would have been a world-class fighting rifle in no time.
For instance, as it arrives from the factory, the FAL lacks an optics rail, and the available solutions aren’t suited to hard, combat use. However, the receiver itself could easily be modified by a competent engineer to incorporate a full-length, integral optics rail — much like the A3 version of the M4.
Just like the SCAR-H, the FAL features an adjustable gas block, similar heavy-duty box-type magazines and a robust, piston-driven action. The biggest difference between the FAL and the SCAR-H is the FAL’s lack of a railed receiver and its weight.
The SCAR utilizes extruded aluminum to reduce both cost and overall weight. The FAL, however, uses steel stampings and a milled receiver. The FAL’s use of all-steel components makes it very durable but also vastly heavier than the SCAR. Still, the mothballed M-14s that were pressed back into service post-9/11 were even heavier (especially with some of the accurizing chassis that were attached to them later).
Another advantage of the FAL over the M14 is its ability to retain proper zero under harsh conditions. The M14 and its civilian counterpart, the M1A, both have a bad reputation for losing battle zero if the upper handguard is disturbed. Plus, since the rifle uses a hunting-style stock, the action needs to be bedded (essentially a fancy term for glued) into the stock to ensure it doesn’t shift inside it.
Overall, the FAL is objectively a superior combat arm than the M14; one designed for harder use, while offering similar performance. The FAL isn’t an ideal designated marksman rifle in its current form. But it could have been an incredible asset to infantry dealing with distant treats and priority targets.
On Oct. 9, 1944, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill walked into Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin’s study, got super blitzed on whiskey with the Soviet, and then proceeded to split up Eastern Europe with Stalin by writing a list of countries and percentages next to them. He would later call it his “Naughty Document,” and it’s going on display with other World War II and Cold War Era documents.
Soviet troops march in 1943.
(RIA Novosti Archive, CC BY-SA 3.0)
World War II brought together unlikely allies, and possibly none of the unions was weirder than Soviet Russia teaming up with Great Britain and the United States. The U.S., Britain, and Russia were members of the Allied Powers in World War I, but Russia withdrew as the Bolsheviks rose up against the tsar.
Britain and America—as well as Canada, France, and others—sent troops to back up the tsar, but the intervention failed. So, the Soviet Union began its existence with a grudge against the foreign troops that had tried to prevent the revolution.
Then, Russia’s first foray into World War II was signing a non-aggression pact with Hitler and then following Germany into Poland, capturing sections of that country. Russia didn’t join the Allied effort until after Hitler invaded the Soviet Union.
And, in 1944, Soviet forces began to take back Poland, and they were not supporting the Polish Home Army that was part of the Allied forces against Germany. This was a problem for Churchill since the U.K. had joined the war in 1939 largely in response to the invasions of Poland.
The Soviet relationship with the U.S. and Great Britain was fraught, is what we’re saying.
The man in the middle represents Yugoslavia. This will not go well for him.
(W. Averell Harriman Papers)
But the Soviet Union benefited greatly from allying itself with the U.K. and America. Russian troops drove American vehicles, and the British and U.S. navies kept the sea lanes open for Russian ships, submarines, and supplies. And the invasions of Italy and Normandy had greatly reduced the pressure on Soviet troops in the east. And remember, the German invasion of the Soviet Union had made it deep into Russia before being turned back.
So, in October 1944, Allied-Soviet relations were healthy, but it wasn’t clear what would happen after Germany was defeated and peace returned. On the night of the 9th, Churchill and Stalin got blitzed and tried to figure out how they would avoid new conflict in the future.
And so Churchill started writing on a scrap of paper. He wrote a list of countries that would be between the Western and Soviet spheres of influence. Romania, Greece, Yugoslavia, Hungary, and Bulgaria made the list.
(Photo by Vints, public domain. Original document by Winston Churchill)
Next to these countries, Churchill listed how much “influence” Russia and Britain should have in the countries after the war. Romania would go 90 percent to Russia, 10 percent to Britain. Greece would go 90 percent to the U.S. and U.K. and 10 percent to Russia. Yugoslavia would get an equal split. And Churchill thought Bulgaria should go 75 percent Russian and 25 percent to the other Allies, but Stalin scratched that out and made it a 90-10 split.
And then Stalin put a big blue check mark on it, and the two men looked at it. Churchill proposed burning it, worried about how posterity would look at that casual splitting up of Europe. Stalin told him to keep the document instead.
For what it’s worth, Churchill credited this late night visit and seemingly cavalier negotiation with protecting Greece from a communist takeover. There was evidence discovered after the war that Stalin had already decided to back off of Greece, but Churchill hadn’t known that at the time.
Indeed, there was plenty of conjecture after the “Percentages Document” came to light in the 1990s that the British prime minister was trying to navigate the upcoming peace that would be unforgiving for Britain. The British Empire was clearly in decline, the Soviet Union was on the rise, and America had announced its plans to leave Europe as soon as possible after the war.
So, for Churchill to secure room for democracy after the war, he would have to do it by negotiating with the Soviet Union, at least in part. And if that sucked for Yugoslavia, well, that sucks for them.
The building has withstood the test of time. It has seen generations of Marines enter and leave its halls. It has seen Marines off to several wars from the shores of Pacific Islands, the mountains of North Korea, the jungles of Vietnam, and the deserts of the Middle East. It has served as the operational and cultural epicenter of the 1st Marine Division — the most storied and consequential Division in the United States Marine Corps. It has seen its share of history both for the division and the Corps.
The building has even been reviewed as a historical site, still bearing the simple style and white paint associated with World War II era buildings, which were originally meant to be temporary. Few of its kind are still standing across the nation, yet it remains, bold in both color and design, while its peers have been replaced over the decades. If you walk through the musty halls that were once treaded by the likes of Chesty Puller and James Mattis, you can see the artwork — paintings of past commanders, old battle scenes ripped from the pages of history and photos of Marines from modern wars.
“It’s a unique building,” said Colonel Christopher S. Dowling, former Chief of Staff of the 1st Marine Division. “When it was built in 1942-1943 it was supposed to only last five years, five years — that was it.”
U.S. Marine Corps Col. Christopher S. Dowling.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Audrey M. C. Rampton)
Humanity creates things that last; tools which pass through dozens of hands before becoming worn beyond use, structures that stand strong for decades, centuries and even several millennia. There are also occasions where we make things for a simple and easy use, where they are only meant to last for short periods of time. Building 1133 of Camp Pendleton, better known as “the white house” was one such structure. Acting as both a headquarters and administration building for the growing conflict in the Pacific, it even expanded to accommodate the needs of the 3rd, 4th and 5th Marine Divisions that also participated in World War II’s Pacific Theatre.
“The sergeant major’s office is my favorite room,” said USMC Sgt. Maj. William T. Sowers, former sergeant major of the 1st Marine Division. “The amount of detail in the wood and the fire place gives it that really old feeling and gives off the air of a museum.”
In the early years it did not have the nickname “the white house”. It stood amongst many buildings that were painted the same cheap, bare off-white and was not unique beyond its purpose. Styled like many of the buildings to ensure the security of the command, it served many Marines throughout the Pacific for the course of World War II.
The 1st Marine Division Headquarters Building on Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, California.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Joseph Prado)
The structure grew upon the Marines that called it home and in 1946 it was officially ordained the 1st Marine Division Headquarters building. This would lead to it being modified decades later, not once, but twice to ensure the building could continue to function and support the many Marines that passed through its halls. Though the renovations have ensured the building has stayed with both the times and technology of the era from phone wiring to internet within its walls, its overall structure and design are still the same as it was when first built.
“It was not as iconic to us during our time,” said U.S. Marine Corps Retired General Matthew P. Caulfield. “We never knew it as ‘the white house’. We never thought about the fact it was the division command post during World War II. We simply knew it as the place we work, though we sometimes referred to it as ‘the head shed’.”
Due to the era in which ‘the white house’ was made, there were many developmental needs required of it during that time. One of the largest was the need to withstand a possible attack. A Japanese invasion of the U.S. was a realistic threat in the 40s. To ensure the safety of the command staff, the building was meant to be indistinguishable from the rest. To those born in the last 40 years, the very concept of a military attack on the U.S. is simply something that would not and could not happen. But in 1940, when Camp Pendleton was officially opened, thousands of Marines marched up from San Diego for combat exercises against a fake enemy. It caused a panic within the civilian population. People initially thought a Japanese invasion had occurred. The base’s presence even led to a drop in the housing market, a fact that is inconceivable to most Southern California home owners today.
The main gate of Camp Pendleton.
The threat of attack from the skies influenced much of what would become Camp Pendleton as we know it today. The camps on base are spread wide across the camp’s more than 195 square miles, originally designed to protect the base from being crippled in one decisive airstrike, according to Dowling. In the attics of the White House and other buildings from the era, there is still evidence of the original plywood roofing used. Pressed wood was used at the time for two reasons: actual wood planks were in immediate need to build and replace decks of Navy ships, and pressed wood was less likely to create deadly wood debris if the buildings were stuck by a Japanese bomber.
“The white house” was designed by Myron B. Hunt, Harold C. Chambers and E. L. Ellingwood. Their firms handled the development of several buildings across Camp Pendleton during the 1940s. Based on the U.S. Navy B-1 barracks, which was a common design to further make the building indistinguishable from other building on base at the time, making it less of a target for Japanese bombers after Pearl Harbor. Few of these barracks are still left standing after the 70 plus years since their development. The B-1, much like its sibling structure, “the white house” was only a temporary design meant to last for the duration of the war. In 1983 congress would pass the Military Construction Authorization Bill of 1983, which demolished many of the older temporary structures of World War II in favor of new designs. Some structures were renovated due to their historical significance. “The white house” interior was included in these renovations. The building underwent changes to its exterior but maintained its current shape with only a few minor changes.
Since its construction many people have entered “the white house” and many more have driven past it. It is an iconic symbol of the 1st Marine Division with dozens of memorials surrounding it, capturing the sacrifice of every Marine who fought with the Division during its many battles through our history. From officers arriving at its doors in 1940 Ford staff cars, to 1968 Volkswagen Beatles, and even more recently, a 2018 name your make and model. When one steps out of their vehicle, they would gaze up at the white building marked by the iconic blue diamond and the battle streamers the division has earned.
The 1st Marine Division Headquarters Building on Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, California, May 17, 2018.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Joseph Prado)
In the old days it would support the entire command staff, but now much of the command is spread out across Camp Pendleton. Many Blue Diamond alum have even thought of making it into a museum, given the many historical pieces that already line its halls. It gives off that feeling of having entered a place engrained with history.
“The iconic building of the ‘Blue Diamond,’ it is the division,” said Sowers. “Many people assume that this is the main command post for the Marine Expeditionary Force or even the Marine Corps Installations West.”
Many of the older veterans were not using to dealing with the commands of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, said Sowers. When they thought of “the white house” they’d think of the commanding general who presided over all they knew of the Marines on the West Coast at that time.
Generals, majors, sergeants and lance corporals have walked its halls over the last 70 years. Some still live amongst us while others have given the ultimate sacrifice. Their memories and actions live through both the 1st Marine Division and “the white house” itself, which has been an unchanging monument to the Marines of the 1st Marine Division. No matter the age in which one served the Division, all have known that building in one way or another. It is a testament to both the Division and the Marines that have served. Our ideals have become engrained into its very structure and it has become a permanent member in both the hearts and minds of the Marines of the 1st Marine Division.
On Dec. 8, 2018, cadets from the Military Academy will take to the field to defend its current winning streak against the Naval Academy midshipmen in the 119th annual Army-Navy football game.
“America’s game” is no typical rivalry. Cadets and midshipmen, including the players on the field, endure rigorous challenges that extend far beyond the classroom.
Which of these prestigious institutions outperforms the other is an enduring debate. To settle the question, we compared the academies in terms of academics, the “plebe” experience, location, career options and football statistics — read through to find out which of these rivals has the edge.
Full disclosure: The author of this post graduated from the US Naval Academy in 2010. This comparison is based on totally objective analysis, but you can weigh in with your perspective at the links on her author bio.
The US Naval Academy’s sprawling campus, known to midshipmen as ‘the yard,’ is located in Annapolis, Maryland.
(US Naval Academy Flickr photo)
LOCATION: The Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland is nestled in an idyllic location on the Chesapeake Bay.
Annapolis, the “sailing capital of the world,” is just outside the Naval Academy gates. Midshipmen are part of life in the picturesque town.
The correct term for students at the Naval Academy is “midshipmen,” not cadets like their counterparts at West Point.
The US Military Academy in West Point, New York.
(US Military Academy Flickr photo)
Army’s West Point is a bit more isolated, and located on the western bank of the Hudson River.
Cadets have to travel much farther to experience the joys of time-off in a city.
On the rare occasion they get to experience extracurricular activities, midshipmen have an abundance of options in closer proximity.
In terms of location, the Naval Academy takes the trophy.
Midshipmen toss their midshipmen covers at the end of their class graduation in May 2018.
(US Navy photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Kaitlin Rowell)
ACADEMICS: US News ranks the Naval Academy as the #2 Public School for an undergraduate degree.
The student-faculty ratio is 8:1 at Annapolis, and about 75% of classes there have fewer than 20 students, according to US News.
Cadets enter Michie Stadium for their graduation ceremony at West Point. 936 cadets walked across the stage in May 2017 to join the Long Gray Line, as West Point’s graduates are known.
(US Army photo by Michelle Eberhart)
West Point is ranked at #1
At West Point, the student-faculty ratio is 7:1, and about 97% of classes have fewer than 20 students. West Point also offers 37 majors, compared to the 26 offered at the Naval Academy.
Based on self-reported data compiled by US News, West Point has an edge over Navy in academics.
A new cadet reports for ‘Reception Day’ in summer 2016. Cadets must endure a difficult 7-week training regimen before being accepted into the Corps of Cadets at the beginning of the academic year.
(US Army photo by Staff Sgt. Vito Bryant)
MILITARY TRAINING: Academics are only part of the curriculum at these federally-funded academies. Students begin with tough summer training to kick off their military careers.
These training regimens are generally comparable to basic training for officers and enlisted, and provoke a lot of debate about whether they’re easier than what other officers must go through.
Plebes must endure difficult challenges during their first summer at the Naval Academy.
(US Navy photo by Seaman Danian Douglas)
At the Naval Academy, “plebe summer” involves rigorous physical activities, including PT in the surf.
At both academies, freshmen are referred to as “plebes” to indicate their lesser status. These students are also known as midshipmen fourth-class; first classes are seniors.
Cadets from the class of 2022 ‘ring the bell’ at the end of their March Back, marking the culmination of Cadet Basic Training.
(US Army photo by Michelle Eberhart)
At the end of their first summer, cadets conduct a 12-mile ‘March Back’ to West Point from Camp Buckner before being formally accepted into the Corps of Cadets.
The initial summer training at both institutions are physically and mentally challenging. In terms of difficulty, the two stand on even ground.
But Naval Academy midshipmen have to endure one more week than their cadet brothers and sisters, so we have to give the edge to Navy’s plebe summer.
(When the last real plebe summer took place remains an open debate among graduates).
30 cadets ended up injured during the pillow fight in 2015.
(CBS / Screenshot from Youtube)
At West Point, plebes celebrate the end of their difficult summer with a giant pillow fight.
In 2015, cadets took the fight to the next level, and The New York Times reported 24 freshmen got concussions from the bloody brawl.
Navy doesn’t have a pillow fight, and it’s unclear whether that should count as a win or a loss.
Midshipmen run across the Naval Academy bridge during the Sea Trials event at the U.S. Naval Academy.
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Jonathan L. Correa)
CULMINATION OF TRAINING: Midshipmen must endure a rigorous 14-hour set of physical and mental challenges known as “Sea Trials” at the end of their freshman year.
Cadets do not have a “Sea Trials” equivalent.
Overall, the Naval Academy’s plebes face more hurdles than plebes at West Point — the scales therefore tip towards Annapolis for a more challenging regimen that they can, and will, brag about.
Naval Academy plebes climb Herndon monument.
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Brianna Jones)
The plebes then climb a monument called Herndon, which their upperclassmen have greased with tubs of lard, to replace the iconic ‘plebe’ dixie hat with an upper class cover.
The tradition is also a competition among classes — bragging rights belong to the class that can replace the cover in the shortest period of time.
Plebes climbing Herndon.
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Brianna Jones)
The tradition has seen various iterations throughout Naval Academy history, but can sometimes get ugly — and even bloody.
The Herndon climb is considered the final rite of passage for ‘plebes’ at the Naval Academy.
An F/A-18F Super Hornet takes off from the USS George H.W. Bush on November 2, 2018 during a routine training exercise. Every year roughly 1,000 Navy and Marine officers are commissioned from the Naval Academy to join units like these around the world.
(US Navy photo by Seaman Kaleb Sarten)
CAREERS: Upon graduation, newly commissioned Navy and Marine Corps officers ‘join the fleet.’
Marines will be selected for either an air or ground option. Once they graduate from a common officer training course, the officers will go on to receive specialized training in their fields, which include infantry, artillery, intelligence, aviation, and several more.
Navy officers are commissioned for roles in surface, subsurface, aviation and special operations communities. A handful will be selected as Navy SEALs. A select few may be accepted into medical school.
A new cadet shoots an M203 grenade launcher for the first time at West Point on July 31, 2018 during cadet basic training.
(US Army photo by Michelle Eberhart)
West Point commissions its cadets into one of over 17 branches of the Army when they graduate, sending them into careers ranging from artillery and infantry to intelligence and engineering.
While West Point has an impressive selection of career options, when considering both Navy and Marine Corps communities, Annapolis offers more options and therefore has an edge.
(U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Brian Stephenson)
ATHLETICS: On Dec. 8, 2018, the cadets and midshipmen will face off in the 119th Army-Navy football game.
In terms of their football team’s 2018 statistics, Army has the edge to beat Navy for the third year in a row.
West Point’s current record stands at 9-2, and holds a current 7-game winning streak this season.
Navy’s record is bleak: 3-9 this season overall.
A player from the U.S. Naval Academy Midshipmen football team is stopped inches from the goal line by a University of Virginia Cavaliers player at the 2017 Military Bowl.
(U.S. Coast Guard Photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Ronald Hodges)
Overall, midshipmen have won the majority of Army-Navy games, in football and most other sports.
Historically, Navy is the better team. In football, and most other sports as well.
Navy holds 60 wins over Army, who has won only 51 games. (Seven games have ended in a tie).
Midshipmen also hold the longest streak — 14 wins between 2002 and 2015. The Army will have to defend its 2-year streak.
Though other sports are largely overlooked by the public, the Army-Navy rivalry extends well beyond the gridiron. The all-time Army-Navy competition record holds Navy as the better athletic program, with a 1071-812-43 win-loss-tie ratio.