The 9 best Civil War movies - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY MOVIES

The 9 best Civil War movies

It’s been more than 150 years since Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered to Union Army Commander Ulysses S. Grant at Wilmer McLean’s Appomattox home, but the legacy of the Civil War still lingers.

From the recent controversies over Confederate memorials to the tens of thousands of hobbyists who dress in grey and blue every summer to reenact key battles, Americans continue to wrestle with the causes and ramifications of the War Between the States.

These nine films, which cover the conflict from the hallways of Congress to the scorched earth of Bleeding Kansas, are packed with insights and (usually) authentic historical details. Just as importantly, they’re guaranteed to entertain.


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1. Gone with the Wind

Widely considered one of the greatest films of all time, this four-hour epic won 10 Academy Awards, broke box office records, and introduced the myth of the Lost Cause to generations of moviegoers. For the role of Scarlett O’Hara, producer David O. Selznick considered nearly every leading lady in Hollywood–from Katharine Hepburn to Tallulah Bankhead to Lana Turner–before settling on Vivien Leigh, a relatively unknown English actress. Her iconic performance immortalized the character of the spoiled, strong-willed Southern belle.

To cast Clark Gable as Rhett Butler, Selznick had to delay production and give away half his profits. In return, Gable got the most famous exit line in movie history: “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.” Hewing closely to Margaret Mitchell’s bestselling novel, the screenplay features insightful period details (Confederate blockade runners, Carpetbaggers bribing freed slaves for their votes, etc.) and an epic recreation of the burning of Atlanta. While Gone with the Wind has been rightly criticized for misleading viewers about the horrors of slavery, its emotional impact and sweeping scale make it a must-see for anyone interested in the legacy of the Civil War.

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2. Glory

Denzel Washington won his first Academy Award for his portrayal of a runaway slave turned soldier in this captivating drama about the 54th Massachusetts Voluntary Infantry, the first all-black regiment in the history of the US Army. Matthew Broderick stars as Robert Gould Shaw, the white officer who commanded the 54th.

The Confederate Army had recently announced that any captured black Union soldier would be enslaved or killed alongside his white officers, and Shaw had doubts about the unit’s chances for success. But he was impressed by the soldiers’ grit and determination in the face of relentless discrimination and eventually joined their protest to be paid the same as white soldiers.

Tasked with the impossible mission to take Fort Wagner in Charleston Harbor, Shaw and the men of the 54th fought with incredible courage. Their sacrifice is memorialized in a bronze statue in Boston Common, which inspired screenwriter Kevin Jarre to pay tribute to their story.

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3. Lincoln

Daniel Day-Lewis spent a full year researching Abraham Lincoln’s life in preparation for his Oscar-winning turn as the 16th president of the United States. The result is a tender, lived-in portrayal of the man behind the myth–from his slumped shoulders and high-pitched Illinois twang to his unwavering sense of conviction.

Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Tony Kushner draws on Doris Kearns Goodwin’s biography Team of Rivals to dramatize the political machinations involved in the passage of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution. Lincoln knew that the permanent abolition of slavery was necessary to the nation’s survival but had to race against the clock to get the bill passed before the South could negotiate peace.

By revealing the drama and intrigue behind one of Congress’s most significant pieces of legislation, director Steven Spielberg offers a civics lesson as thrilling as it is necessary.

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4. Gettysburg

Originally planned as a TV miniseries, this four-hour epic based on Michael Shaara’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel Killer Angels stars Tom Berenger, Jeff Daniels, and Martin Sheen. Director James Maxwell convinced the National Park Service to allow him to film on the actual Gettysburg battlefield, and thousands of Civil War reenactors came from all over the country to recreate crucial moments in the three-day campaign, including the assault on Devil’s Den and Pickett’s Charge.

The film, like the novel, focuses on the decisions and actions of key players including General Robert E. Lee (Sheen), Lieutenant General James Longstreet (Berenger), and Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain (Daniels). Daniels, in particular, delivers a rousing performance as the commander of 20th Maine Volunteer Infantry Regiment, whose stout defense of Little Round Top against repeated Confederate assaults helped to turn the tide of the battle and the war. With its massive scale, brilliant cinematography, and rigorous attention to historical detail, Gettysburg does justice to the deadliest battle in US history.

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5. The Civil War

When it was first broadcast on five consecutive nights in September 1990, this documentary miniseries drew an average of 14 million viewers per night–the largest audience in the history of PBS. Over the course of nine episodes, director Ken Burns and his team of researchers, video editors, historians, and actors unspooled the full story of the Civil War, from John Brown’s uprising at Harper’s Ferry to Lincoln’s assassination and the capture of John Wilkes Booth.

Inspired by Matthew Brady’s photographs of the conflict, Burns used a panning and zooming technique (thereafter known as the “Ken Burns effect”) to bring to life roughly 16,000 still images. Excerpts from the letters and diaries of Robert E. Lee, Walt Whitman, Frederick Douglass, and less-known historical figures such as Mary Chestnut and George Templeton Strong provide an intimate perspective on large-scale events like the Battle of Gettysburg and Sherman’s March to the Sea.

The Civil War reignited popular interest in America’s bloodiest conflict and helped to pave the way for bingeable TV documentaries such as The Jinx and OJ: Made in America.

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6. Cold Mountain

Based on Charles Frazier’s blockbuster novel of the same name, this Anthony Minghella-directed epic is the story of W.P. Inman (Jude Law), a Confederate deserter trying to make his way home to North Carolina in the final months of the Civil War. Gravely wounded in the Battle of the Crater and recovering in a field hospital, Inman decides to leave the war when he reads a letter from his beloved, Ada Monroe (Nicole Kidman), imploring him to do just that.

While Inman and the other Cold Mountain men have been off fighting, Ada has been struggling to work her deceased father’s farm. Eventually she’s helped in her efforts by Ruby Thewes (Renée Zellweger in an Oscar-winning performance), an unlettered woman well-versed in the hardscrabble life of a subsistence farmer.

The film brilliantly interweaves Inman’s encounters with all manner of desperate characters–from ribald preachers to villainous Confederate Home Guards –and scenes of Ada and Ruby learning to fend for themselves. Natalie Portman, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Brendan Gleeson, Donald Sutherland, and Jack White round out the all-star cast of this story of war-torn country and lovers.

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7. Ride with the Devil

Starring Tobey Maguire, Skeet Ulrich, Jewel, and Jeffrey Wright, this underrated film is based on Daniel Woodrell’s novel Woe to Live On. Maguire stars as young Missouri farmer Jake Roedel, who joins the Bushwhackers, a pro-Confederate guerrilla force, when his German immigrant father is killed by pro-Union Jayhawkers from Kansas.

Alongside his best friend Jack Bull Chiles (Ulrich), Roedel roams the border between Kansas and Missouri, skirmishing with Union regulars and irregulars. But when the Bushwhackers, led by militiaman William Quantrill (John Ales), raid Lawrence, Kansas and massacre 150 unarmed men and boys, Roedel must ask himself where his loyalties truly lie.

Jeffrey Wright delivers a stellar performance as a freed slave who fights for the South, and director Ang Lee brings deep sensitivity and impressive historical accuracy to this searing portrayal of a largely forgotten chapter of the Civil War.

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8. The Horse Soldiers

This John Ford-directed Civil War Western is loosely based on the real story of Grierson’s Raid, a daring Union cavalry incursion some six hundred miles into hostile territory that set the stage for the siege of Vicksburg, Mississippi.

John Wayne stars as Colonel John Marlowe, a railroad construction engineer who leads his men on a mission to destroy a railroad and supply depot in Newton’s Station, Mississippi. When a Southern belle overhears the brigade’s plans, Marlowe is forced to take her and her slave, Lukey, captive. Legendary tennis ace Althea Gibson, the first black woman to win a Grand Slam title, was cast as Lukey but objected to the character’s scripted stereotypical “Negro” dialect. Ford had the dialogue changed at her request.

With Ford’s dynamic visual style and a well-matched rivalry between Wayne’s colonel and William Holden as a regimental surgeon haunted by the horrors of warfare, The Horse Soldiers captures the drama and audacity of one of the war’s most brilliant campaigns.

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9. The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Inspired by real-life rumors of lost Confederate gold, this epic spaghetti Western follows three gunslingers across a southwestern landscape ravaged by the Civil War. Clint Eastwood is Blondie (The Good), a lone-wolf bounty hunter with a sense of justice; Lee van Cleef is Angel Eyes (The Bad), a cold-blooded mercenary who never lets a contract killing go unfulfilled; and Eli Wallach is Tuco (The Ugly), a voluble Mexican bandit wanted for a long list of crimes.

As these drifters cross and double-cross each other in pursuit of 0,000 in buried treasure, Union and Confederate forces clash for control of the New Mexico Territory. In director Sergio Leone’s vision of the Civil War, neither side fights with honor. Greed, violence, and stupidity rule the day. With brilliant cinematography and an iconic score by Ennio Morricone, The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly is one of the 20th century’s most unique and influential films.

This article originally appeared on Explore The Archive. Follow @explore_archive on Twitter.

MIGHTY MOVIES

One thing John Wick 3 got right about a firefight no other movie has

With the third installment of the John Wick franchise continuing to see solid returns at the box office and a fourth installment already announced, it seems clear that the Keanu Reeves’ action vehicle is bringing something to the moviegoing audience that they’ve lacked in this era of high-budget blockbusters and CGI-infused epics. I’ve gone on record in the past saying that I believe the secret to Wick’s success is in its approach to violence; melding realism with whimsy in a uniquely American fashion and producing this nation’s first legitimate response to the Brit’s premiere assassin franchise, James Bond.


What makes Reeves’ Wick Bond-like where other successful American franchises have fallen short (culturally speaking) isn’t in its similarities to the spy-franchise, but rather in its willingness to depart so openly from it. While American heroes like Jason Bourne, Jack Ryan, and even Ethan Hunt seem to emulate Bond’s style and approach to varying degrees, Wick diverges from the expected and leans hard into a stylized alternate reality where firefights require grappling skills and the homeless man you gave your change to might actually be a trained assassin hiding his Rolex from your view.

The 9 best Civil War movies

Trained combatants masquerading as homeless men is a common urban legend that may have legitimate roots in some British SAS operations.

(Lionsgate)

This departure from what we’ve come to expect could have been enough to make the Wick-flicks into a Matrix-like fantasy franchise, but it’s where and how these films choose to anchor themselves in reality that makes Wick’s fight scenes so jarring. Every time you start to think you’re watching another superhero movie, the Wick series brings you back to earth with a powerful thud, grounding its over-the-top violence in reality, even when the circumstances are anything but realistic.

One scene in John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum” perfectly captures this combination of gritty realism and seemingly surreal violence in a brief but dramatic fight between the titular Wick and one of the countless assassins he’s forced to dispatch along the path to redemption. As the two wrestle with one another, they fall into an indoor pool, creating separation and offering each an opportunity to level their weapons at one another.

The 9 best Civil War movies

About as effective as this.

(Marine Corps photo by Pfc. Levi Schultz)

With both Wick and his opponent still submerged under the water, the goon opens fire, releasing three rounds into the pool that, in any other film, would have hit Wick square in the chest. Instead, however, the rounds immediately begin to flutter off course, reacting to the dense water separating the two men in what is perhaps the most realistic example of water’s effect on traveling rounds I’ve ever seen depicted in film.

Wick then closes the distance between the two of them, pressing the muzzle of his weapon right into the neck of his opponent and firing, killing the bad guy and allowing Wick a precious moment to regroup.

John Wick Chapter 3 Underwater Gun Fight | John Wick Chapter 3

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While movies may show bullets whizzing through the water (often with the hero dodging them as he swims away), the truth is, water is about 800 times denser than air and has a huge effect on the trajectory and energy of a round. As the bullet strikes the water, its kinetic energy immediately begins to dissipate against the resistance of the thicker medium, allowing that drag to send it fluttering off course, and usually, rendering the bullet near enough to inert to make it no threat to any nearby assassins.

“John Wick: Chapter 3” is the first movie I’ve ever seen so clearly demonstrate water’s effect on a bullet’s path without taking the time to handhold the audience to explain the physics behind it. Instead, Wick simply shows the action as it would unfold and moves on, respecting the viewer enough to assume that you’ll get it–even if it’s something you’ve never seen on screen before.

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Fires weapon under water – with his own life on the line

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As demonstrated by Mythbusters in an episode called “Bulletproof Water” that aired in July of 2005, just about anything you shoot at the water short of a .50 caliber round or a 12 gauge slug will disintegrate in less than three feet when fired into water. If you trust your math enough, you can even devise a rig that lets you shoot 5.56mm rounds at yourself like physicist Andreas Wahl did to prove the point, but I’m inclined to take Wick’s word for it on this one.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This Bearcat has been unjustly overshadowed by history

When you think about Grumman fighters, the Wildcat, the Panther, and the Tomcat all spring to mind. And for good reason — these planes are all classics. But there is one Grumman fighter that didn’t quite get a chance to shine in World War II, but it did see some action in Southeast Asia.


The 9 best Civil War movies

Grumman F8F Bearcats line up on the Essex-class aircraft carrier USS Valley Forge (CV 45)

(U.S. Navy)

During World War II, the Navy was deploying the F6F Hellcat and the F4U Corsair was operated by the Marine Corps. The Hellcat was a very tame plane, but the Corsair — known as the “Ensign Eliminator” and foisted on the Marines — simply had higher performance. The Navy wanted the best of both planes. They wanted the F8F Bearcat.

The 9 best Civil War movies

French F8F Bearcats prepare to take off to carry out a napalm strike in Southeast Asia.

(U.S. Navy)

At the heart of the Bearcat was the Pratt and Whitney R-2800. This was the powerplant used by both the Corsair and Hellcat, but the Bearcat was much lighter, which gave it extreme performance. The Bearcat also packed a significant punch — to the tune of four M2 .50-caliber machine guns. If that wasn’t enough, the Bearcat was also able to haul five-inch rockets or a 1,000-pound bomb.

The Bearcat’s primary mission was to intercept enemy planes. The plane had a “bubble” canopy (pretty much a standard feature on today’s fighters) to improve the situational awareness of pilots. The Bearcat had a top speed of 421 miles per hour and a maximum range of 1,105 miles. It stuck around long enough to see some upgrades, but was quickly replaced by the onset of fighter jets, like the F9F Panther.

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The Bearcat did see some combat, though. The French acquired Bearcats from the United States and used them in Southeast Asia. Some of those same planes were later passed on to the South Vietnamese.

The Bearcat also got some time in the spotlight when it was flown by the Blue Angels, from 1946 to 1950.

Learn more about this almost forgotten Grumman cat in the video below.

Articles

The complete hater’s guide to the US Navy

Editor’s note: This is the fourth in a series about how branches of the military hate on each other. We’ll feature all branches of the U.S. military, written by veterans of that branch being brutally honest with themselves and their services.


The branches of the U.S. military are like a very large family. They deal with one another because they have to, not because they always get along.

The differences don’t stop at uniforms. Each branch has its own goals, mission, and its own internal culture. At the upper levels of the services, they compete for funds and favor from civilians in DoD. In the lower ranks, they compete for fun and favor from civilians in bars and strip clubs (especially in North Carolina). The branches are like siblings, competing for the intangible title of who’s “the best” from no one in particular.

“The Soviets are our adversary. Our enemy is the Navy.” —Gen. Curtis LeMay, U.S. Air Force

Of course, when it comes to joint operations downrange, a lot of that goes out the window. But when the op-tempo isn’t as hectic and frustration has time to build, the awesome Army platoon who saved your ass last month become a bunch of damn stupid grunts who steal everything you don’t lock down and leave their Gatorade piss bottles everywhere. Parsing out the best and worst of our services isn’t hard if we’re honest with ourselves.

Here’s how the other branches hate on the Navy, how they should actually be hating on the Navy, how the Navy hates on the Navy, and why to really love the Navy.

The easiest ways to make fun of the Navy

Sailor harassment has its roots in the age-old reality that since man first decided to put military power to sea in ships, those aboard those ships were forced to spend weeks and months underway before being afforded a few days of downtime in a foreign port. As a result of this ratio, sailors may have had a tendency for exuberance while on liberty over the years. And that exuberance may have caused a scuffle or two that caught the attention of bar owners and other locals who may have developed impressions that were less than positive.

The 9 best Civil War movies

Over time these locals spread rumors that these sailors couldn’t hold their liquor and tended to burn through what little cash they had in a short time. Word of these phenomena returned stateside, which gave birth to the saying, “spending money like a sailor on liberty.”

Because sailors spend time on the water, service members from other military branches wanted to give them a nickname that was both sufficiently pejorative and germane. Naturally marine life came to mind. “Sharks” was too cool and tough and “guppies” was too cute, so they settled on “squids.” So if you want to make fun of a sailor call him or her a “squid.” They really hate that because squids are spineless and ugly and otherwise devoid of personality. (They can swim fast, but nobody really cares about that.)

The 9 best Civil War movies

Because SEALs. In the wake of the Bin Laden raid, SEALs have managed to morph from silent professionals to the warfare specialty that is quick to tell all to land book and movie deals.

The 9 best Civil War movies

Because Top Gun. No other military movie in history has done more to give the public the wrong idea about what it means to serve. And it’s got a lot of homoerotic imagery, which leads to . . .

. . . The quickest way to strike a squid’s nerve is to make “gay” jokes. Yes, you know the kind, “100 sailors go out, 50 couples come back,” or “it ain’t gay if it’s under way,” and many, many more. It also doesn’t help that sailors are a popular gay fantasy.

The 9 best Civil War movies

Henri Belolo created the Village People around macho male stereotypes that gays fantasize about. The cowboy, cop, construction worker, leather-clad biker, Indian, and the sailor. The band became popular, moved into the mainstream and took the sailor in the cute Crackerjack uniform along with it. Yes, we said “cute.” Admit it, the sailor dress uniform has more in common with the Japanese school girl uniform than with the other service branches.

The 9 best Civil War movies

Not that there’s anything wrong with being gay, of course. This is, after all, the post-DADT world.

Because nuclear power. While the introduction of this science gave Navy ships the ability to sail a long, long time without refueling, the existence of it also created a zero-tolerance culture that has raised the bar of fun suppression to heights that can never be lowered. And this ability to sweat the load has crossed over into other warfare specialties and other branches of the military. Thanks, Nukes . . .

The 9 best Civil War movies

Why to actually hate the Navy

Every service tries to imitate the Marine Corps when it comes to celebrating its birthday, and the Navy’s history makes this in many ways the biggest joke (which is a polite way to say “the biggest lie”). While the Navy uses October 13, 1775 as the birth date, they leave out the fact that the first version of the U.S. Navy was dismantled completely after the Revolutionary War because the ragtag bunch of vessels they managed to assemble on the fly did little to protect ports or disrupt the British in any way.

The 9 best Civil War movies
John Paul Jones kicks some British butt. Congress appreciated it so much they dismantled the Navy after the war.

And this anti-Navy sentiment in and around DC lasted a while after that. Thomas Jefferson hated the idea of a standing Navy and few in Congress thought any differently about it. It wasn’t until early Navy badass Stephen Decatur decided to take a couple of ships to Tripoli to raise some Yankee hell against the Barbary Pirates. His successes made lawmakers take notice and actually warm to the idea of a standing Navy, and one with an over-the-horizon outlook.

The 9 best Civil War movies
Decatur Boarding a Tripolitan Gunboat. (Painting by Dennis M. Carter)

So the real birth date of the Navy would be somewhere around 1810 when Decatur took the USS United States up and down the east coast to show the American public what they had in terms of seagoing capability.

Hate SAPR training and the CYA leadership atmosphere you’re currently serving under? Blame the Navy.

The 9 best Civil War movies

All the mechanisms that surround using the military as a social experiment and other morale-sapping things that get labeled as “politically correct” started with the Tailhook Scandal in the early ’90s. Of course, sexual battery, never mind harassment, is a bad thing that should never be tolerated, but Navy leadership over the years has done little to stop agenda-based over-corrections that have marginalized the culture in undesirable ways (in the eyes of those who intimate they know about warfighting and such).

So, regardless of your branch, if you feel like you’re serving in a nanny state, blame the Navy.

Because Jimmy Carter. He’s a Naval Academy grad and a submariner, but he never really acted like it when he was Commander-in-chief. His “man is inherently good” naivete made for some very bad foreign policy, most notably in how he de-fanged the CIA and emboldened the Iranian government to take Americans hostage for 444 days. And the Desert One rescue attempt was a disaster. Basically his time in the White House made the country very happy to see Ronald Reagan.

The 9 best Civil War movies

And because the Navy is the absolute worst when it comes to changing uniforms. Remember aviation greens? How about service dress khaki? No? Well, here’s one for you: aquaflage. What are you hiding in, the water? And if a sailor is in the water don’t you want to be able to see him or her? We rest our case.

The 9 best Civil War movies

Because they wrecked most of what was cool about the band Godsmack and made them corporate sellouts.

The 9 best Civil War movies

Because sailors don’t have to eat MREs when they deploy. Ships are built with mess decks and Navy cooks (and supply officers) generally take pride in serving the crew good food.

Why to love the Navy

Because Navy SEALs. They popped OBL and the Somali pirates and many more high value bad actors since 9-11. Their warfighting skills are second to none.

The 9 best Civil War movies

Because Hollywood remains enamoured by Navy life, it keeps teeing up Navy-themed shows like “The Last Ship,” and as a result, the general public has a favorable opinion of the military.

The 9 best Civil War movies

Because strike warfare. As has been the case throughout history U.S. Navy carriers and surface combatants were the first on the scene after 9-11, and because of that we were able to take it to the enemy a mere three weeks after the homeland was attacked.

The 9 best Civil War movies

Because the U.S. Navy really is, as the commercials state, “a global force for good.” From Hurricane Katrina to the Haitian earthquake to the tsunami in Thailand, when a country needs humanitarian assistance, the Navy has always been first on the scene.

The 9 best Civil War movies
U.S. Navy air crew assigned to Helicopter Mine Countermeasures Squadron (HM) 15, Detachment 2, help Pakistani Soldiers load relief supplies aboard a U.S. Navy MH-53E Sea Dragon during humanitarian relief efforts. (U.S. Navy photo by Capt. Paul Duncan)

Because the Navy continues to fight “the war between the wars.” The Navy goes to potentially hostile places like the littorals of Yemen and Chinese-claimed islands to prove to those nations that we’re willing to protect the sea lanes to keep goods moving safely to and from our shores.

The 9 best Civil War movies
And the Navy also gets to show Jessica Simpson how to shoot a machine gun!

(H/t: SB and OV)

Now: The hater’s guide to the US Marine Corps

OR: The hater’s guide to the US Air Force

OR: The hater’s guide to the US Army

MIGHTY TRENDING

Fighter pilot who flew last WWII combat mission dies

Capt Jerry Yellin, World War II fighter pilot, who flew the last combat mission in August 1945, was laid to rest with full military honors Jan. 15, 2019, at Arlington Cemetery, Virginia.

Yellin enlisted two months after Pearl Harbor on his 18th birthday. After graduating from Luke Air Field, Arizona, as a fighter pilot in August 1943, he spent the remainder of the war flying P-40, P-47 and P-51 combat missions in the Pacific with the 78th Fighter Squadron. He was part of the first land-based fighter mission over Japan on April 7, 1945, and was the lead on the last mission of the war on Aug. 14, 1945.


He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross with an oak leaf cluster and the Air Medal with four oak leaf clusters.

The 9 best Civil War movies

Capt Jerry Yellin, World War II fighter pilot, who flew the last combat mission in August 1945, was laid to rest with full military honors Jan. 15, 2019, at Arlington Cemetery, Va.

(US Air Force photo)

Although his flying career was short, he witnessed more turmoil than any human being should ever have to witness. Yellin was discharged in December 1945 and suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, before it was recognized as such.

After thirty years of suffering, his wife introduced him to the topic of transcendental meditation and it turned out to be the key to a better life. Yellin shared his positive experience with transcendental meditation as a motivational speaker and worked tirelessly in his efforts to help other service members with PTSD.

Additionally, he wrote two books on his experiences in the war, and he was profiled in volume 5 of “Veterans in Blue,” showcasing his contribution to the legacy of the Air Force.

Yellin passed away on Dec. 21, 2017, at the age of 93. His wife of 65 years, the former Helene Schulman, was interred with him. A flyover of four A-10 aircraft from the 23rd Wing at Moody Air Force Base, Georgia, paid him the final tribute.

This article originally appeared on the United States Air Force. Follow @usairforce on Twitter.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

This is why the US doesn’t export the F-22

Lockheed Martin, the leading manufacturer of stealth aircraft in the world, proposed a new hybrid between the F-22 Raptor and the F-35 Lightning on April 22, 2018, for Japan to purchase, and it could easily outclass the US Air Force.

Japan has, for decades, wanted in on the US Air Force’s F-22, a long-range, high-capacity stealth fighter that perfectly suits its defense needs, except for one problem — the US won’t sell it.


While completing the F-22, the US ruled out its sale to allies as the technology involved in the plane was too advanced for export. But this decision took place 11 years ago in 2007.

Today, the US is in the process of selling Japan the F-35 multi-role strike aircraft, but according to Justin Bronk, an air combat expert at the Royal United Services Institute, the plane’s design makes it less than ideal for Tokyo.

The 9 best Civil War movies
An F-35 Lightning II
(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Joely Santiago)

“The F-35 is primarily a strike aircraft, intended to hit well defended targets on the ground, and is limited in air-to-air combat because of its size, its single engine, and way it was designed,” Bronk said.

But because Russian and Chinese jets constantly pester Japan’s airspace, Tokyo wants a more air-dominance focused jet.

The F-22 can cruise at 60,000 feet going about 1.5 times the speed of sound without igniting the afterburners, meaning it can maintain its stealth while covering incredible distances in short times. The F-35 is a capable fighter, but can’t touch those numbers.

“Along with a bigger missile load out, it’s a much much more capable for air superiority tasks,” Bronk said of the F-22. “The strike role that Japan really really cares about is not really the one that the F-35 is designed for.”

He added that Japan would love a jet that can fire anti-ship missiles, but that the F-35 is just too small to hold them inside its stealthy weapons bays.

Beast of both worlds

The 9 best Civil War movies
(U.S. Air Force photo)

President Donald Trump has moved to loosen up restrictions on foreign military sales, and could potentially revisit the decade-old ruling on selling the F-22, as the sensitive technology it uses has aged and become less cutting-edge, but that same advancement in technology has likely doomed the F-22’s restart.

Bronk said the costs of restarting F-22 production were “not trivial,” and even if Japan offered to pay, “a lot of the electronic components, computer chips and things, are not built anymore.” The F-22 had a decades-long development that started off with 1980s-era technology.

“If you were going to put the F-22 into production now, it’s hard to justify doing without updating the electronics,” Bronk said. Once the electronics become updated, and take up less space and throw off the balance of the jet, the flight software would need an update. Once the flight software starts getting updated, “it starts to look like a new fighter program,” Bronk said.

This would create a serious headache for the US Air Force

In the end, Lockheed’s proposal looks like an F-22 airframe jammed with F-35 era technology, essentially stripping the best part of each jet and combining them in a plane that would outclass either.

“If it can stomach the costs, then not only would Japan have a fantastic fighter on its hands, but perhaps problematically it would be more capable than anything the US Air Force is flying,” Bronk explained.

In the end, the US Air Force would end up in a very difficult position — having to live with Japan getting a better fighter, or spending money earmarked for F-35s, which the US sees as the future of its force, on another aircraft it didn’t come up with.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Petition for Fort Hood ‘Hug Lady’ goes viral

For 12 years, she was there for Fort Hood, Texas, troops going to and coming from deployments to combat zones with her engaging smile, words of comfort and, always, that great big hug — maybe a half million of them.

Now, an online petition has been started requesting the Defense Department to rename the place that served as her second home — the Fort Hood Arrival/Departure Airfield Control Group terminal (A/DACG) — for Elizabeth Corrine Laird, aka the “Hug Lady.”

The petition, launched May 25, 2019, on the Change.org for-profit petition platform, had gathered more than 63,000 signatures through mid-morning May 30, 2019.


Laird, an Air Force veteran who enlisted in 1950, was a volunteer with the Salvation Army and began coming to the A/DACG in 2003 during the big deployments to Iraq. She continued until her death in 2015 at age 83, after a long battle with breast cancer.

The 9 best Civil War movies

From left to right: Maj. Gen. Lester Simpson, Elizabeth Laird, and Command Sgt. Maj. John Sampa at Fort Hood’s Robert Gray Army Airfield Sept. 13, 2015.

(36th Infantry Division photo by Maj. Randy Stillinger)

At first, she offered handshakes, but that quickly progressed to hugs from “Miss Elizabeth,” of Copperas Cove, Texas. She would also hand out cards printed with Psalm 91, which says in part: “Thou shalt not be afraid for the terror by night, nor for the arrow that flieth by day.”

Christopher Peckham, of Savannah, Georgia, started the petition. He posted to the Change.org site, “I am honestly shocked that this took off so fast in the last 48 hours. I am going to do further research so we can make this happen!”

Some of those signing the petition also wrote that they had been hugged by Laird.

Jonathan Glessner of Somerset, Pennsylvania, wrote: “3 deployments from Ft. Hood and at least 6 hugs from her. My last deployment, she sat with me and some friends and told jokes and stories. She was truly a wonderful person.”

Matthew McCann of Maryneal, Texas, wrote: “She was there to say goodbye and give a hug when we left. She was a welcoming sight and a hug when we got home. She was a very special lady and she is sorely missed.”

Fort Hood’s “hug lady” loses battle with breast cancer

www.youtube.com

A month before she died, Laird told Today.com about how she approached her mission.

“When they enter the room, they give me a hug, and then we talk about anything from their family to what it was like overseas or if they got a civilian job upon returning,” she said.

“My hugs tell the soldiers that I appreciate what they’re doing for us,” she added.

Her funeral in Killeen, Texas, was attended by hundreds of troops, including generals, and Cecilia Abbott, wife of Texas Gov. Greg Abbott.

Former III Corps and Fort Hood Command Sgt. Maj. William “Joe” Gainey, who spoke at the funeral, admonished the troops in attendance, “You do not let her legacy die,” the Killeen Daily Herald reported.

Gainey said he was certain that Laird had taken her mission to another venue in heaven.

“Miss Elizabeth is there now, hugging my scouts,” he said, according to the Daily Herald.

This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Fighting fire with chainsaws

The sun was already bright and warm when I pulled up at the Twin Springs Preserve in Williamson County, Texas just before 9 a.m. on a Sunday morning. Stepping out of my car, I shielded my eyes to take in the dense stands of ash juniper and white oak trees against the cloudless blue sky. It felt unusually spring-like for early February; I opted to shuck my jacket.

With my back to the road and neighborhood, I could imagine this area north of Austin as the verdant forest it once was. But the human population of Williamson County has tripled over the last several decades, encroaching on the wildland. In 2009, the county bought 175 acres to create a preserve and mitigate against the destruction of natural habitat. In addition to wild turkeys, foxes, deer, and raccoons, Twin Springs is home to several threatened or endangered species, including the bone cave harvestman spider, Salido salamander, and golden-cheeked warbler.


The beauty and peacefulness of the preserve belie a hidden danger. Here, the forest floor is strewn with grasses, shrubs, and the litter of fallen leaves and branches. In hot, dry conditions, those materials become tinder. All it takes is a sustained wind and an errant spark—from a discarded cigarette, say, a car’s exhaust system, or a lightning strike—for the tinder to catch fire. Unchecked, the flames can climb to the upper canopy and then quickly spread from tree to tree.

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Cleaning up after the West Fire that hit Alpine, CA, in 2018.

Canopy fires are intense, fast-moving, and virtually unstoppable says Kyle McKnight, an Emergency Management Specialist with Williamson County. “A canopy fire could very rapidly progress to these homeowners, causing millions of dollars of losses and potentially loss of human life as well,” he said. “Look at what is happening in California. We’ve seen a huge loss of life and property.”

id=”listicle-2646945029″ OF PREVENTION VS. OF CURE

Greater Austin, which includes Williamson County, ranks fifth in the nation among metropolitan areas at risk for wildfires according to a recent report by CoreLogic, an online property data service. The only areas at greater risk are all in California.

Rather than wait to react to the inevitable wildfires, Williamson County officials put together a comprehensive plan to mitigate risk. “According to FEMA, [the Federal Emergency Management Association], on average, every id=”listicle-2646945029″ spent in mitigation results in of saved cost from fighting the fires and recovery from damage,” says McKnight. In some areas with more expensive real estate, he says, the return is as high as for every id=”listicle-2646945029″ invested in prevention.

The Williamson County mitigation plan calls for creating a 50-foot wide shaded fuel break along the perimeter of Twin Creeks Preserve, McKnight explains. The idea is to take out debris and shrubs, and remove tree limbs up to about 8 feet above ground, leaving the shaded canopy to keep the forest cooler and discourage the growth of flammable understory plants.

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Clearing a blowdown on a road after Colorado’s Spring Creek fire.

What Williamson County didn’t have, however, was the budget or manpower to carry out the work. That’s where Team Rubicon came in. For two weekends in February, teams of about 50 volunteers—known by Team Rubicon as Greyshirts—worked steadily to make the forest and surrounding neighborhoods safer by creating a shaded fuel break.

A BLUE-SKY OPERATION

The morning I arrive, the preserve is a beehive of activity. The insistent buzz of chainsaws and mechanical drone of woodchippers cut through the morning air. It smells amazing, like walking into a freshly built cedar closet.

Oscar Arauco, the Texas State Administrator for Team Rubicon, has me don a hard hat, goggles, and earplugs before we survey the worksite. As we walk, he explains that Team Rubicon coordinates “gray skies” operations to provide relief after disasters such as Hurricane Harvey, which roiled the Gulf coast in 2017, and “blue skies” prevention operations such as this that help mitigate risk. Often, Team Rubicon uses such mitigation work to further educate and train sawyers and other Greyshirts, too.

Like 70% of the people involved in Team Rubicon, Arauco is a military veteran, having served for 28 years as a U.S. Army artillery officer and chaplain. (The remaining members are affectionately known as kick-ass civilians, he explains.) Once Team Rubicon identifies a need and defines a project, a call for help goes out to members living within a 450-mile radius. With the exception of a couple of paid project managers, everyone here is a volunteer. Most have driven in for the weekend and are bunking on cots at the nearby First Baptist Church of Georgetown.

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Clearing debris for fire mitigation in the Twin Springs Preserve.

Arauco points out that the busy work site is well organized into sets of three teams, each supervised by a strike leader. People known as “sawyers” use pole saws and chainsaws to take out tree limbs and vegetation up to the 8-foot mark. “Swampers” carry the woody material to the perimeter where the “chippers” feed it into wood chippers to turn it into mulch that goes back into the preserve.

I’m struck by the diversity of Greyshirts and the lack of traditional hierarchies—a young woman is just as apt to be leading a team as an older man. That’s one of the things Arauco says he likes most about his work. “I love that Team Rubicon values service over any other factor,” he says. “There are no age- or gender-specific roles. It’s all about pulling your weight and getting the job done.”

FORMER ARMY MEDIC TURNS HER FOCUS TO HEALTHY FORESTS

M.D. Kidd, who takes a break from the chainsaw to talk, is one of the younger faces in the group. She served as a medic in the U.S. Army from 2011 to 2015 and then trained as a wildland firefighter for the Southwest Conservation Corp in Colorado. In 2017, she joined Team Rubicon and underwent training to become a regional chainsaw instructor. Now a full-time college student majoring in sociology and public health, Kidd says she would eventually like to work for the Peace Corps. For her, volunteering with Team Rubicon is the way to serve both people and the environment.

She points out that fire is a natural part of the cycle for healthy forests, but for more than a century people have focused on suppressing fires, leaving the tinder-like material to build up. “The longer we suppress fires and leave the fuel sitting there, the worse it is in the long run,” she said. “So efforts that mitigate the risk of fire are hugely important. As with medicine, I think prevention is really the way to go.”

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To mitigate against fire, Greyshirts take tree limbs out up to the 8-foot mark.

Kidd and others say a big reason they volunteer on mitigation projects like this for Team Rubicon is the break from routine it provides, and the camaraderie. “The reason I am so passionate about this organization is that it provides a purpose for veterans,” says Patrick Smith, a 23-year U.S. Army veteran who is coordinating logistics for the operation. Smith works as a Deputy Sheriff in charge of animal cruelty for Harris County and as a physician’s assistant at Memorial Herman Hospital in Houston. “Team Rubicon takes our skills and experience and finds a place where they can be put to good use,” he says.

Greyshirt Keith Elwell, a former project engineer for the defense industry, joined in 2018 after seeing people in Houston trying to cope with the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey on the news. “Man, I’m sitting there just watching. I’m thinking ‘I’ve got some skills. I can help. I can do stuff’,” he says. He has now gained enough training and experience as a sawyer to mentor others.

Since then, he says, he’s “been all over the place”—from clearing trees felled by a fierce storm in Wisconsin to tearing down homes destroyed by Hurricane Michael in Panama City, Florida to cleaning up after the Mississippi River Flooded in Vicksburg, Tennessee. “There are all different roles and no two situations are the same,” he says. “I’ve been fortunate enough to help people on the worst day of their lives.”

OVER TWO WEEKENDS, MONTHS GET WHITTLED AWAY

It’s hard to put into words how meaningful the mitigation effort is to the county officials and inhabitants of this scenic area, says Mark Pettigrew, a Trails and Preserves Steward for Williamson County. We sat down on a couple of flat rocks in front of the trailhead and he gestured to the activity around us. “I’m one of only two main employees for the Williamson County Conservation Foundation. To get all this done would have taken us months and months,” he says.

Pettigrew points to the area in front of us, where the preserve abuts a busy road and neighborhood. The teams are mostly finished here and it looks like an arboretum with a wide, mulched path shaded by a graceful canopy of trees. “The most hazardous area is along this road and we’ve got the whole place completely cleared out and ready to go,” he says. “It’s phenomenal.”

Without the help of the Team Rubicon Greyshirts, it’s not clear when—or if—fire mitigation in the preserve would get done. As the county’s Emergency Management Specialist, McKnight says he knows that there’s currently no budget for the work. Grants often require extra steps and cost matching. “It’s a creative strategy for getting projects like this done,” says McKnight. “It requires a minimal investment on our behalf—some food and porta-potties—and we’re saving hundreds of thousands of dollars in labor costs. It’s a win-win.”

By the time I’d wrapped up, the day had shaped up to be unseasonably warm with low humidity—pleasant, but concerning, too, given what I had learned about wildfire risk. Climate change is bringing wave after wave of record heat to the Austin area. Last September was the hottest on record, with nearly three straight weeks of triple-digit temperatures.

On the way back to my car another Team Rubicon Greyshirt, Sam Brokenshire, stopped me. He wanted me to leave with a sense of scale for just how much the group had accomplished. At the end of the two-weekend project, he says, the team will have removed about 4,000 cubic yards—about 90 dumpsters worth—of brush.

Seeing people out working for the common good means a lot, says Brokenshire. “Yesterday, a guy from the neighborhood pulled up to thank us for the work we are doing,” he says. “That makes it all worth it.”

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Some of the Team Rubicon Greyshirts who worked on the Williamson County fire mitigation project.

This article originally appeared on Military Families Magazine. Follow @MilFamiliesMag on Twitter.


MIGHTY TACTICAL

The government is quiet about plutonium missing for the last year

Two Department of Energy security experts took off to San Antonio in March, 2017. Their mission was to retrieve potentially dangerous nuclear material from a nonprofit research lab. Just to be certain they were getting the goods, they were issued radiation detectors along with a disc of plutonium and a small amount of cesium to calibrate their sensors.

When these two security experts stopped for the night along the 410 beltway, they left the nuclear materials in their rented Ford SUV in a Marriott parking lot that was not in the best neighborhood. The next morning, they were surprised to find the vehicle’s windows smashed in and the nuclear materials gone.

The cesium and plutonium were never recovered, according to the Center for Public Integrity.


For the uninitiated, plutonium is one of the most valuable substances on Earth. It’s also one of few elements that will undergo nuclear fission, which is used in nuclear reactors and nuclear weapons. It’s an extremely deadly and dangerous substance with a half-life of just over 24,000 years. One kilogram of plutonium can explode with the force of 10,000 tons of TNT. Luckily, the Idaho National Laboratory says the amount stolen isn’t enough to make a nuclear bomb — that requires nine pounds of uranium or seven pounds of plutonium.

Something the size and weight of a kettle bell could fill the material need for a nuclear weapon.

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Pictured: terrorism.

Cesium is an element that can be used in highly accurate atomic clocks and dirty bombs. It’s one of the most active elements on Earth and explodes on contact with water.

No one briefed the public, no announcement was made in the San Antonio area, and no one would say exactly how much fissile material was stolen and is currently in the hands of someone who thinks they’re just holding cool pieces of metal while slowly irradiating themselves and those around them.

And the military doesn’t have to do any of that, so they don’t. In fact, it happens so often there’s now an acronym for it: MUF – material unaccounted for. An estimated six tons of fissile material is currently considered MUF.

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If there’s an acronym AND a powerpoint about it, you know that sh*t is happening all the time.

The Government Accountability Office doesn’t even have a thorough record of material it loaned to other nuclear nations, what the status of that material is, and if their systems are rigorously inspected. At least 11 of those sites have not been visited by U.S. inspectors since before the September 11, 2001, attacks.

In one instance, 45 pounds of enriched uranium — enough for five nuclear detonations — loaned from the military was listed as safely stored when it was actually gone as of 2009 and had been missing for as long as five years. Since 1993, the International Atomic Energy Agency tracked 270 incidents where dangerous fissile materials were trafficked with the intent of doing harm.

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“He seems totally trustworthy to me. Let’s transfer our plutonium immediately.”

The security contracting firm who lost the equipment was given an award, government bonuses, and a renewed contract. Since the Idaho National Lab considered the amount of nuclear material stolen to be of little consequence, they closed the case.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Soldiers can now serve their country…playing video games

Over 6,500 soldiers are already hoping to be part of a new Army esports team that will compete in video game tournaments nationwide in an effort to attract potential recruits.

“It’s essentially connecting America to its Army through the passion of the gaming community,” said Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Jones, NCO-in-charge of the budding team.


About 30 soldiers are expected to be picked for the team and some of the first positions could be filled summer 2019. Only active-duty and Reserve soldiers are currently allowed to apply.

Those chosen will be assigned to the Marketing and Engagement Brigade for three years at Fort Knox, Kentucky, where the Army Recruiting Command is headquartered.

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More than 6,500 Soldiers have already applied to join the Army esports team, which was created to boost recruiting efforts in the gaming community.

(Photo by Staff Sgt. Ryan Meaux)

While they will not become recruiters, team members will receive a crash course on Army enlistment programs to answer questions from those interested in learning about the service.

Once built up, the team will fall under an outreach company that will also include an Army rock band and a functional fitness team.

Not everyone on the team will compete. Those who will may train up to six hours per day on video games, Jones said, adding that gameplay sessions would be live streamed or recorded for spectators to watch.

Esports has ballooned in popularity in recent years with millions of followers.

In August 2018, the Washington Post reported that esports could generate about 5 million in revenue this year in North America. In 2017, a major esports tournament in China also drew a peak of more than 106 million viewers — roughly the same number of those who watched 2018’s Super Bowl.

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“It’s something really new and it’s been gaining a lot of steam,” Jones said.

While on the team, soldiers will still conduct physical training, weapons qualifications and other responsibilities that come with being a soldier. They will also have to maintain certifications in their military occupational specialty.

“Outside of that, there will be esports training,” Jones said. “So whatever game they’re playing in, they’ll not only be playing it, but be coached in it to get better.”

The team, he said, shares a similar concept to that of other Army competitive teams that continually train, such as the Golden Knights parachute team, World Class Athlete Program and Army Marksmanship Unit.

“Esports is like traditional sports,” he said. “Nobody can just walk in and expect to play at a competitive level.”

The Army, he said, already has talented gamers out there who can compete in events.

in January 2019, a few soldiers competed at PAX South in San Antonio as a way to introduce Army esports to the greater gamer community.

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A few Soldiers competed at PAX South in San Antonio as a way to introduce Army esports to the greater gamer community Jan. 18-20, 2019.

(Photo by Staff Sgt. Ryan Meaux)

In one of the events, a Street Fighter V tournament, two soldiers placed first and second.

“This is the perfect opportunity to showcase not only to the Army, but to the civilian populace and the esports industry that we also have what it takes,” Jones said of the events.

Recruiters from the San Antonio Recruiting Battalion also joined them and were able to generate some leads with potential recruits, he added.

There are plans to do the same at the PAX East exposition in Boston in late March 2019.

As a gamer and a recruiter himself, Jones said the team can help bridge the civilian-military gap by breaking down misconceptions some young people may have about the Army.

Being able to play their favorite video games with others who share the same passion is also a bonus.

“For a lot of soldiers, to include myself, it’s like a dream come true,” Jones said. “This is just one of those ways we can start the conversation.”

This article originally appeared on the United States Army. Follow @USArmy on Twitter.

Articles

EOD airmen can build and defuse anything from a pipe bomb to a nuclear weapon

Somewhere in southern Afghanistan, an explosive ordnance disposal technician spots a glint in the soft dirt. He moves deliberately, but steadily, as he tries to determine if it’s a harmless piece of trash or a bomb. In the back of his mind, the technician can’t help but wonder if this will be the improvised explosive device that kills him.


Since 2003 similar missions have taken the lives of 20 Air Force EOD technicians, when Airmen began diffusing bombs in Iraq and Afghanistan.

With combat missions winding down, EOD is now able to divert attention to its nine other mission sets: aerospace systems and vehicle conventional munitions, weapons of mass destruction, nuclear inventory, UXOs, operational range clearances, mortuary services, defense support for civil authorities, irregular warfare (where EOD teams serve as combat enablers for general forces or special operations), and VIP support.

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Staff Sgt. Jeffrey Queer wears a Med-Eng EOD 9 Bomb Suit. The EOD 9, the latest version of the bomb suit, was designed with direct input from bomb disposal technicians. Queer is the 325th Fighter Wing Explosive Ordinance Disposal unit non-commissioned officer in charge of EOD operations. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Andrew Lee)

As the career field shifts into a post-war posture they’re refocusing on these other skill sets. One of these they used to support the Secret Service when two teams from the 325th Civil Engineer Squadron’s EOD flight at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, worked President Barack Obama’s trip to Orlando, Florida, after the nightclub massacre where 49 people were killed in June. The Secret Service tasked EOD teams to sweep venues for explosives, areas en route to the venues, or on any person or object that could be used to harm the president or VIPs they’re protecting.

“For so many years, we have been going 150 mph,” said Senior Master Sgt. Robert K. Brown, 325th CES EOD superintendent, “so when you slow down to 85 mph, you feel like you’re crawling, even though you’re still going faster than most other people on the highway. We’d been doing that for the 12 years of combat operations, and now I think we feel we’re at a snail’s pace.”

Post-war life at the Tyndall AFB flight, one of 52 active-duty EOD flights Air Force-wide, ranges from responding to flares that wash up on the beach after being dropped by the Navy to mark items in the ocean to the occasional unexploded ordnance. The flight is responsible for assessing, rendering inert or safely destroying everything from small arms to guided missiles, although any EOD flight could be called upon to handle anything explosive in nature up to and including a nuclear incident.

The 325th EOD flight’s primary mission is flightline support for the wing’s four fighter squadrons, but it also provides counter-IED support for several tenant organizations.

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Staff Sgt. Darius Bailey, 325th Fighter Wing EOD team member and liaison with the U.S. Secret Service. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Andrew Lee)

By the time EOD Airmen left Afghanistan in 2014, they had completed almost 20,000 missions, responded to over 6,500 IEDs, and received more than 150 Purple Hearts for their actions and service in Iraq and Afghanistan. They also deployed often, with a third of the service’s 1,000 EOD members overseas and another third in pre-deployment training preparing to replace them, Brown said. At times the pace was so heavy that EOD Airmen would often be replaced by the same person who replaced them on their last deployment.

“For some of us old-timers in this particular generation, we’ve had a chance to kind of breathe,” Brown said. “In doing so, that’s given us the opportunity to regroup, restock and prepare for the next iteration of conflict that may or may not be coming. So right now is the best time to share the experiences and prepare the next generation for the hard lessons that we’ve had over these past 12 years.”

Fluid tactics

The two wars might be over, but EOD remains one of the Air Force’s most dangerous jobs. In addition to the 20 EOD technicians lost in the two wars, about 150 have suffered extensive injuries. It is a continuing evolving because of the constantly changing tactics of the enemy.

“The enemy is always going to try to continually be better than us, so we have to ensure that we never sleep in preparation for any force that we’re going to encounter,” said Chief Master Sgt. Neil C. Jones, the EOD operations and training program manager with the Air Force Civil Engineer Center at Tyndall AFB. “We don’t have the opportunity to make a mistake, so we train relentlessly to never get it wrong.”

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325th Fighter Wing Explosive Ordinance Disposal team member Senior Airman Anthony Deleon (middle) carries a Micro Tactical Ground Robot (MTGR) into a simulated village to prepare for a training scenario. The man-carried system is compact and lightweight, weighing approximately 20 pounds. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Andrew Lee)

During the transition, which has begun gradually in the past couple of years, the focus has been on getting everyone back from deployments and training them in the other nine skill sets to reestablish pre-OIF levels of proficiency. But equally important is the challenge of reducing attrition rates during EOD technical training without lowering the standards, Jones said.

EOD students first attend a 20-day preliminary school at Sheppard AFB, Texas, before they go through the Naval School EOD at Eglin AFB, Florida. An average school day is more than 13 hours, and it takes several years for a student to become a fully functional EOD member and a couple of years longer to be a team leader. About 75 percent of students fail to make it through the course.

Two recent changes to reduce attrition rates are the use of computer tablets for rehabilitation training and the addition of a couple of wounded warrior EOD technicians to help students at the school.

Derrick Victor, a retired technical sergeant who was wounded in his last deployment to Afghanistan when a bomb blast killed one Airman and hurt four others, is one of the new instructors. He’s seen the career field evolve through the wars and is now part of its post-war transition.

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Staff Sgt. James Vossah (Left), Staff Sgt. Brian Wirt (Middle) and Senior Airman Anthony Deleon configure a Micro Tactical Ground Robot (MTGR) to begin a training exercise at Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Andrew Lee)

“Those two wars obviously changed the way that wars are fought as far as being on the ground and in third-world countries where they have to improvise,” Victor said. “It created a bit of a change from being based on supporting aircraft to things that were improvised. We got very good at that skill set, using robotics and working out all of that kind of stuff.

“Even though those two wars have dwindled down, we know that threat is not going to go away,” he continued. “So, as a whole, the career field is trying to keep that skill set rolling through the generations from those of us for who all we knew was Iraq and Afghanistan to all of these young kids coming fresh out of school, so they don’t have to learn on the fly like we did.”

EOD leadership is also placing a priority on training when Airmen get to their flights after graduation. Because the consequences of mistakes are so severe, the goal is to have those mistakes made in training, Brown said.

“I often refer to it as ‘the good, the bad, the ugly and the stupid,'” he said. “That just refers to what went right, what went wrong, what worked that probably shouldn’t have and what did we do that was just plain dumb, which happens in training. That’s OK as long as we learn lessons from it. But it’s not OK if it’s unsafe. Those are sometimes the hardest parts to learn. We want to make sure that if these guys (make a mistake) in training, they don’t do it when it’s for real. Explosives don’t care about peacetime or wartime.”

Another factor that’s evolving is the way the EOD field trains to recover from both emotional and physical trauma. More emphasis is being placed on instilling resiliency before something happens to an EOD technician in the field, Jones said.

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The Micro Tactical Ground Robot (MTGR) is a unique and lightweight system that allows Explosive Ordinance Disposal teams and other tactical units to explore areas of interest and examine suspected explosive devices prior to sending in personnel. The approximately 20-pound robot is a man-carried system which can operate in all terrains and is controlled remotely by EOD technicians with a unit that includes a high-resolution screen and gamepad controllers for maneuvering. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Andrew Lee)

Tech advances

Along with the cultural shift from the war years, the field has also been making major transitions in technology. The robot EOD technicians used in Afghanistan has been replaced by, among others, the Micro Tactical Ground Robot. The world’s lightest EOD robot can be carried by a single Airman, travel at 2 mph, climb stairs and see beyond 1,000 feet. Airmen previously carried 100-pound robots attached to their rucksacks. The new 25-pound robot can be carried on their backs.

“The technology advances that we have out there with the global economy, and more importantly, being able to make things lighter, faster and stronger, have allowed us to develop new tools and techniques and robotic platforms that are much smaller, lighter and leaner than what we had 14 years ago,” Jones said.

Technological progress hasn’t just been in robotics. There has also been a dramatic change in treating traumatic injuries downrange.

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Staff Sgt. Guadalupe Corona, 325th Fighter Wing Explosive Ordinance Disposal unit, wearing NCOIC EOD Equipment. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Andrew Lee)

“I think one of the biggest things that we’ve seen as far as technology has been in the medical arena. We have changed the way we treat people for trauma,” Jones said. “If we can stop the bleeding downrange and get that Airman alive into a helo and back to a field surgical team, we’re running about a 98 percent success rate of saving their lives. So as our enemy continues to develop with technology to use against us, we will continually use our technology to develop a better way to take care of that threat.”

As much as life changes after years of war, one area that remains constant is the role tragic events play in training new EOD technicians. As sobering as the memories are of losing members of the EOD family, their sacrifice provided important training lessons.

“What our fallen have done is the same as our World War II EOD bomb disposal predecessors – with very brave men going down and disarming German rockets and bombs,” Brown said. “If they made a mistake, we would then know not to take that step, that last step. Unfortunately, a lot of bomb disposal techs died that way, but our fallen have taught us how to be better at this craft; they have never failed.”

AirmanMagazineOnline, YouTube

MIGHTY TACTICAL

The first shots of World War III will almost certainly be digital

Last March, the White House announced plans to levy new sanctions against Russia for a list of digital transgressions that included their efforts to meddle with the 2016 presidential election.

This apparent admission from a Trump administration official drew headlines all over the nation, but another facet of that round of sanctions that failed to draw the same level of attention could actually pose a far greater threat to America’s security: the revelation that the Russian military had managed to infiltrate critical portions of America’s commercial power grid.


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Power lines are like the nation’s veins and arteries.

(Brett Sayles via Pexels)

“We were able to identify where they were located within those business systems and remove them from those business systems,” one official said of the infiltration, speaking on condition of anonymity.

America does not have a single power grid, but rather has multiple interlinked systems dedicated to supplying the electrical lifeblood to the nation — and if calling it “lifeblood” seems like a bit of poetic license, consider that the U.S. Commission to Assess the Threat to the United States from Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) Attack predicted a whopping 90% casualty rate among American citizens in the event of a prolonged nationwide power failure. Money may make the world go ’round, but without electricity, nobody would be alive to notice.

It’s not just civilians that would find their way of life crippled following a blackout. More than a decade ago, a report filed by the Pentagon’s Defense Science Board warned that, “military installations are almost completely dependent on a fragile and vulnerable commercial power grid, placing critical military and homeland defense missions at unacceptable risk of extended outage.”

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With no power in people’s homes, they would rely on other forms of fuel until they ran out as well.

(Dave Hale via Flickr)

One would hope that Uncle Sam took that warning to heart and made an effort to insulate America’s defensive infrastructure against such an attack, but the truth is, very little has been done. In fact, one law passed by the State of California in 2015 actually bars military installations from using renewable energy sources to become independent of the state’s commercial power suppliers.

This means a cyber attack that managed to infiltrate and take down large swaths of America’s power grid would not only throw the general public into turmoil, it could shut down America’s military and law enforcement responses before they were even mounted.

Today, fighting wars is still largely a question of beans, bullets, and Band-Aids, but in the very near future (perhaps already) it will be time to add buttons to that list. Cell phones don’t work without power to towers, and without access to telephone lines or the internet, communications over distances any further than that of handheld walkie-talkies would suddenly become impossible.

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Without refrigeration or ready access to fuel, cities would rapidly be left without food and people would grow desperate.

(denebola2025 via Flickr)

Coordinating a large scale response to civil unrest (or an invasion force) would be far more problematic in such an environment than it would be with our lights on and communications up. But then, if previous government assessments are correct, an enemy nation wouldn’t even need to invade. They could just cut the power and wait for us to kill one another.

Today, we still tend to think of weapons of mass destruction as bombs and bacteria, but in the large scale conflicts of the 21st century, a great deal can be accomplished with little more than keystrokes. Destabilizing a nation’s economy and unplugging the power can ruin an entire nation. Not even one of Russia’s massive new nuclear ICBMs can do that.

The United States isn’t alone in this vulnerability. In fact, similar methodologies have already been employed in conflict-ridden places like Eastern Ukraine. As cyber attacks become more prevalent, it’s not just likely, it’s all but inevitable that cyber warriors will become the true tip of the spear for the warfare of tomorrow.

MIGHTY TRENDING

The Army found disease immunity secrets in bat genes

Scientists examining the genome of Egyptian fruit bats, a natural reservoir for the deadly Marburg virus, have identified several immune-related genes that suggest bats deal with viral infections in a substantially different way than primates. Their research, published online today in the journal Cell, demonstrates that bats may be able to host viruses that are pathogenic in humans by tolerating — rather than overcoming — the infection.

Bats are known to harbor many viruses, including several that cause disease in humans, without demonstrating symptoms. To identify differences between antiviral mechanisms in humans and bats, the research team sequenced, assembled, and analyzed the genome of Rousettus aegyptiacus, the Egyptian fruit bat — a natural reservoir of Marburg virus and the only known reservoir for any filovirus.


Jonathan Towner, Ph.D., of the Viral Special Pathogens Branch at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, provided the bats from which the DNA was extracted. Towner had traveled to Uganda to investigate the colony of Egyptian fruit bats implicated in a Marburg fatality there.

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An Egyptian fruit bat in flight.
(Photo by Zoharby)

“Using that DNA, we generated the most contiguous bat genome to date and used it to understand the evolution of immune genes and gene families in bats. This is classical comparative immunology and a good example of the link between basic and applied sciences,” explained co-senior author Gustavo Palacios, Ph.D., who heads the Center for Genome Sciences at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases.

In the process, Palacios and colleagues at CDC and Boston University made some striking findings. Specifically, they discovered an expanded and diversified family of natural killer (NK) cell receptors, MHC class I genes, and type I interferons, which dramatically differ from their functional counterparts in other mammals, including mice and nonhuman primates. A theoretical function evaluation of these genes suggests that a higher threshold of activation of some component of the immune system may exist in bats.

NK cells are immune cells that play a crucial role against viral infections. To be tolerant against healthy tissue and simultaneously attack infected cells, the activity of NK cells is tightly regulated by an array of activating and inhibiting receptors. In this publication, the authors describe finding genomic evidence of a bias toward the inhibitory signal in NK cells.

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An Egyptian fruit bat.

“Further evaluation of these expanded sets of genes suggests that other key components of the immune system like the MHC- and the IFN-loci in bats may have evolved toward a state of immune tolerance,” said Mariano Sanchez-Lockhart, Ph.D., of USAMRIID.

The team’s initial work focused on advancing the characterization of the bat animal model, as well as on generating antibodies that recognize bat-specific proteins and other reagents to characterize the bat animal model of infection. These tools will allow further characterization of the bat unique immune system.

According to Palacios, their next step is to build on the knowledge gained thus far to compare antiviral responses between bats and nonhuman primates. Ultimately, this information will be used to understand correlates of protection in bats and to develop therapeutics against Marburg virus and other lethal filovirus infections.

This article originally appeared on the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases. Follow @usarmy on Twitter.

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