Interview with Brian Hanson: From Ranger deployments to Hollywood directing - We Are The Mighty
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Interview with Brian Hanson: From Ranger deployments to Hollywood directing

Brian Hanson has lived a few lives and succeeded in some of the harder endeavors known to man: earning a Ranger tab and making a movie. He grew up in Southern California, worked in Hollywood for awhile and then felt called to serve in the U.S. Army. He left Hollywood and became a Ranger serving on multiple deployments to Afghanistan. Upon returning from his service he fulfilled his dream by writing, directing and producing his first film, The Black String, starring Frankie Muniz.


Interview with Brian Hanson: From Ranger deployments to Hollywood directing

WATM: Can you share about your family and your life growing up?

I was born in Detroit then my parents moved to San Diego. They were tired of the snow and wanted a new lifestyle on the West Coast. My father has always been a huge TV, film and history buff. I grew up in Escondido which is a suburb of San Diego. I had a sister that unfortunately was killed in a car accident when she was sixteen so that was a life changing moment in our lives. It was a paradigm shifter. My parents worked hard, and my youth was in many ways the normal SoCal life — riding bikes with friends, enjoying summers and playing sports. I had a real fascination toward movies and telling stories. It was always in me. I played football and baseball in high school. I also did student government. We did a field trip when I was a senior in high school to see a talk show at Paramount Studios to see The Kathy Lee Gifford Show. Seeing the stage, PAs and cameramen showed me that showbiz was a real industry and that I could do it. Even though I did (short) films with my friends it made me aware that I could direct myself toward the industry. It is a real thing.

I graduated that summer and my sister died, so all bets were off on going into the industry at that time. I did one year at San Diego State and then decided to travel abroad with a friend. We worked as bartenders and lived in the United Kingdom. It is what 18 year olds should do— go see the world. I started reading Syd Field books and Robert Rodriguez books like Rebel Without a Crew, watching El Mariachi, Swingers, Reservoir Dogs, Clerks, Blair Witch, The Following…I was really into the big studio movies (Saving Private Ryan, Back to the Future, The Matrix) and the independents. It was like you can do this, get a camcorder and you can do it. I knew I wanted to join the military, but not at that moment in my life so I came back from Europe and transferred up to Cal State Northridge. I graduated and got my proper film school bachelor’s degree. I knew I wanted to be a Writer/Director. My parents were very supportive of my endeavor in making it in Hollywood and telling stories.

Once US Forces entered Iraq in 2003, I had read voraciously about 9/11 and the invasion of Afghanistan. I knew I was going to join the military at some point, but when? I would be pouring drinks for young, good looking Hollywood people at a bar making hundreds of dollars a night where over their shoulder would be a TV on reporting the Battle of Fallujah. I started to not feel right about that, and I wanted to be an honest storyteller. I would like to be a storyteller that speaks truthfully and authentically and didn’t want to be the person that imitates. I didn’t want to be an imitator of Goodfellas or Full Metal Jacket. I knew I needed that life experience to be an authentic storyteller. I did a TV Pilot with some friends that we raised money for, and Brandon Routh was in it. This was right before he was cast as Superman in Superman Returns. Brandon and I bartended together at that time. He was a great guy to work with. I was also bartending at the Playboy mansion during the end of the glory days for Hefner and the Mansion. It’s tough to just walk away from all of that and you are making decent money in Hollywood. You are just one step or script away from “it” happening.

After not much happened with the TV Pilot I started to realize that Hollywood and LA are still going to be here. I wrestled a year or two of how to leave it behind after I had started a life. As I approached 30, I looked in the mirror and decided to join the Army because if I waited longer, the military wouldn’t let me join – I’d be too old. I would have regretted to my dying day if I did not serve. There were no questions in life. I knew joining as an older guy would be different when compared to most recruits. But I wanted to volunteer my time and some of the years of my life to serve my country, but I had to step up and go do it. I gotta do this and gotta do it now. I knew my goal was to come back to LA with this accomplishment and service to my country being complete.

Interview with Brian Hanson: From Ranger deployments to Hollywood directing

Hanson at Fort Benning. Photo credit BH.

WATM: What made you want to become a Ranger and what was your experience like?

I didn’t know all the details when I enlisted as an 11Bravo (infantry), but I knew that Rangers and Green Berets were the high-speed special-operations units. One day in Basic Training at Fort Benning, the Ranger recruiters came out to ask for volunteers and my Drill Sergeant SFC Metcalfe looked at me and said, “Hanson, you better f’n volunteer.” So, I volunteered on the spot and a few months later I was reporting to Ranger Assessment Selection Program. Unfortunately, SFC Metcalfe was killed in action a year later when he deployed to Afghanistan with the 173rd. I thank SFC Metcalfe for pushing me to go Ranger.

I was stationed at Fort Benning with 3rd Ranger Battalion where it is a high-speed training cycle. You train for six months and then deploy for about 3 to 4 months. There is always a Ranger Battalion deployed. Just operating at that tempo, at all times, is exciting and inspiring to see your NCOs, squad leaders and platoon sergeants are on their sixth or tenth deployment. It was very inspiring to see their commitment to the unit at the cost of their family and personal time. When you are a single young, enlisted person it is very inspiring to see that level of motivation. Rangers hold themselves up to the highest standard of leading the way. You are always being tested. It is uncomfortable and you never have a chance to relax. It is a great way to stay sharp. It is a tough head space to always be in. You are always being watched. The young (new) guys compete like professional athletes to deploy, like trying to make the starting roster. Once you deploy you want to be on that mission every time. I deployed to FOB Salerno in Afghanistan on the border real close to Pakistan. My second deployment was at Camp Leatherneck/Camp Bastion and then my last deployment I was at FOB Shank aka “Rocket City”. That place was hit like all day with nonstop rockets. It’s funny how used to it you get.

The Taliban used a lot of ingenious guerrilla tactics like setting ice on the mortars to eventually melt and then go off at some point during the day. Apaches would launch to try and find the culprits however they were not there. We ran the night shift out there for High Value Targets (HVT) where we went on night raids. To see how targets were acquired and track and intel was gathering where the strike force commander was the CO. From top to bottom the whole thing was a collection of assets. We worked with the Air Force, Navy, Marines, big Army, DIA and had civilians running the drones. It is amazing to see people come together for these task forces where all of these people work together on the fly. Being 30 and seeing this strike force run by young soldiers/civilians is amazing because in Hollywood most 23-year olds close to me are up and coming bartenders/actors/writers/directors. In Afghanistan we had 23-year-old Forward Observers bringing in Chinook helicopters into dangerous LZs to pick us up for a night raid. 24-year-old squad leaders are ensuring that everyone is accounted for and that no one is left behind on the side of a mountain in Afghanistan. It is amazing to see what young people can do where they have been trained at such a high level and have high expectations. They achieve and are motivated. I think Hollywood is an amazing place where things get done, but I think a lot of it is a 10-year delay. It is a bit of an arrested development sometimes.

In a training incident I was a towed jumper. We were doing our yearly training for airfield seizures which is an entire battalion operation to seize an airfield. I was the last guy to jump out of a C-17 at night with a full combat load and got hung up on the plane which made me a towed jumper. I was hanging outside of a C-17 at 1000 to 1500 feet circling Fort Benning banging against the side of the plane and fully conscious. Thinking that I might die at any moment and this is not a normal thing to happen to people. My static line wrapped around my weapons case where when you are jumping your weapons case is attached to your thigh and your harness. Somehow there was too much slack in the static line to where it wrapped around the weapons case so it wouldn’t release me. The static line stays clipped inside the plane and it is supposed to pull the back of the pack tray. You jump and it pulls it out, but it got wrapped around and it pulled me.

I was okay with a tight body position and covered my reserve chute, so it didn’t release. I was out there for six minutes. I thought they were going to cut me loose to where all I have left is my reserve chute to land on some trees at night next to the Chattahoochee River. Then I started looking at my boots flying through the air and thought this is what parasailing must be like. Then I thought, did they forget about me and is the C-17 going to try to land? Do they not know I am out here, and I am going to do some high-speed combat roll on a tarmac as the C-17 lands? You are trained to keep a tight body position out there, so they know you are not unconscious. I kept slamming against the side of the C-17 behind a gigantic turbine engine. I hit the plane and stayed there where I started to get dragged across the skin of the plane. I felt hands underneath my arms and they pulled me in. Everybody was so glad to see I was alive and in one piece. I was just relieved as I was out there so long, I went beyond any initial shock, concern to just cut me loose guys so I can land on a tree with my reserve shoot.

They pulled me in and did a great job making sure I was okay. I had to retell the story for weeks to a lot of soldiers, especially Sgt Majors at the DFAC wanted to hear the story of a towed jumper. It was a very bizarre story because no one wants to be a towed jumper. It is a total nightmare scenario short of both chutes failing. It all ended well and twelve stitches in my chin was it. After all of that my 1stSgt checked on me and made sure I was alright. He then told me, “Get ready you are jumping tomorrow.” We had another jump the next day. The 3rd Ranger Battalion was like you are jumping tomorrow to get over any fear of jumping again. Just get out there and do it. I jumped not 24 hours later and believe me I was concerned. I said, “There is no way that can happen twice.” I got out the door and was fine. There is not a lot of pity or sympathy it is like get back up and do it again unless you are truly hurt, alright get up and do it as there is no time to think about. That is something I take with me to this day.

All of the pre-jump training you do these repetitive and boring things you already know, and I did one of those things without even thinking about it. It dawned on me why I do this training every single time. When that one time does happen, you are ready and have gone over the worst-case scenario. You will be that much quicker to save your own life or someone else. It seems so mundane and so repetitive and a waste of time until you need it. That repetitive action like weapons malfunctions….but when you need that instantaneous second nature habit it is the most important thing you could have known at that point.

Interview with Brian Hanson: From Ranger deployments to Hollywood directing

Hanson at Camp Leatherneck. Photo credit BH.

Interview with Brian Hanson: From Ranger deployments to Hollywood directing

Hanson on his last mission at FOB Shank. Photo credit BH.

Interview with Brian Hanson: From Ranger deployments to Hollywood directing

Paratroopers jumping from C-17 Globemasters.

Interview with Brian Hanson: From Ranger deployments to Hollywood directing

View of Camp Salerno. Photo credit wikipedia.com.

WATM: What are you most proud of from your service in the Army?

I am proud I stepped up to the challenge of 75th Ranger Regiment (thank you SFC Metcalfe) and made the team. Severing with my Ranger buddies was like the saying goes: “I was no hero, but I walked amongst a few.” I did my part and I know guys that are still out there doing it. I know squad leaders that are now getting their own platoons. Some guys have gone into elite units like Delta Force and the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment. I still think about them often and stay in touch. I want to make them proud because of the work they are still doing…I try to keep pushing myself in a way that would do right by the effort they are putting on…I am proud to have been on a team with those guys and seen what leadership means…and at such a young age and for so many people. I am proud to have seen it and been associated with that level of person.

Interview with Brian Hanson: From Ranger deployments to Hollywood directing

Frankie and Paige Muniz, Kayli, Chelsea and Brian at Dances with Films. Photo credit BH.

WATM: What values have you carried over from the Army into Hollywood?

One thing that you see among some twenty something bartenders or Hollywood newbies that is unacceptable in the Ranger Regiment and also unacceptable in the Army are excuses. It is the same on production, there are no excuses. There are just no excuses. I don’t want to hear it other than a solution. Maybe an, “I’m sorry,” and that is it where I don’t even want to hear an excuse. Unless there is something disastrous you need to untangle. No excuses, just solutions. The high-level professional types of productions have that mentality where I really appreciate it. I do see the correlation between military units and productions. You have one mission where everyone comes together to accomplish it.

Also, you see this in the military and it is a career everything, keep moving forward just like a twenty-mile ruck march. You worry about the next step, then the next phone pole, then the next quarter mile where they will all add up. You can be overwhelmed by all of it if you look at it all at once where if you do it one step at a time you see that you can do it. Those are two crucial lessons I learned in the Army.

Interview with Brian Hanson: From Ranger deployments to Hollywood directing

Hanson, Frankie and crew at Dances With Films. Photo credit BH.

WATM: What was one of the toughest lessons to learn coming from the service to Hollywood?

Even though I had worked in Hollywood before leaving, I came back a veteran, and still had to learn that there is a system in Hollywood. The system is not as rigid perhaps as the military. It isn’t just this artistic endeavor where you get to be a genius and be Quentin Tarantino or you are Steven Spielberg because you say you are. There is a hierarchy and there is a smart way to navigate. There is a way to get oriented and to a very real map of how this town works and have very realistic expectations. I think that veterans and others think of their prior accomplishments, whether a lawyer or a company commander of an infantry company, where you are not going to be a 1st AD. That is a ten-year path that is very regimented. The biggest challenge is understanding what the path to success is and how to realistically pursue those things. Know that they all take time and embrace that.

***Since leaving the Army I have learned so much by working as a Production Assistant on HBO’s Barry, Silicon Valley, Room 104 and worked as Assistant to Matthew Rhys on Perry Mason. Being on set and working for top level professionals has been an incredible learning experience and given me insight to become a better filmmaker on my own projects. I also greatly appreciate the film/tv mentorships, education and opportunities I was given through Veterans in Media Entertainment (VME), USVAA and WGF. It has been very important to find mentors and work for professionals.

Interview with Brian Hanson: From Ranger deployments to Hollywood directing

Hanson with members of the cast and production staff at the Austin Film Festival. Photo credit BH.

WATM: What was it like writing, producing and directing your own feature film, The Black String?

The story was percolating for a long time before making the film such as Donnie Darko, Repulsion, Jacobs Ladder, which does a great job of blending horror and military, and Rosemary’s Baby. It was conceived with my bartending buddy Andy Warrener before I joined the Army. We wanted to explore in that story what it is like to be on that edge where you are experiencing something and no one else believes. It is you against the world. How do you convince someone of something that crazy of a witch conspiracy or a coven of witches? Or some really wild, evil cabal? The moment you say those words you already sound like you are having mental problems. Doctors will definitely not be going to believe.

The challenge we wanted was for a character to have to convince his family, his friends and his doctors of something that is inconceivable where no one in the real world is going to believe that. We put that in a genre we enjoyed which was horror. Now we thought maybe we would make that movie, but I joined the Army and Andy got married and moved to Florida. The wild thing is that you never know what you write today may be a movie in five or ten years. I lived a whole crazy life in between thinking of the story while tending bar with my buddy and then going into the Army. The difference in the time gap was about seven years. I could not have guessed that would have happened, especially with Frankie Muniz.

The creative part I was very comfortable with in the directing and writing having made many short films. I got an MFA from Mt. Saint Mary’s University with the GI Bill, which is a beautiful thing, loves the GI Bill. I owe so much to the GI Bill. So, I got very comfortable with the directing portion where you get very creative to bring this vision and feeling and this emotion you have to life in a very technical way. It is running the business, the producing part of things, to where you are starting a business, you are an entrepreneur. My producing partner Richard Handley, he is a Navy veteran and was an officer and Physician’s Assistant, he runs a contracting business with the DoD. We ran a business together where many purely creative types don’t understand what that level of dedication and commitment is.

To this day I have had probably had equal amounts of discussions about corporate taxes, LLCs, investor shares and running a business as I have about storyboarding shots. When you are doing an independent film like this, truly a passion project, you are building a team that is not a whole lot different…then opening a small company. You and your business partner are shouldering the burden if not for months, but for years. You have to love it and I do where it has been a great journey to where we had such great crew members and other producers that have helped us along the way. It is a multiple year endeavor when you do something like that in the independent world. You really are from the very beginning of raising money all the way to negotiating with distributors and foreign distributors and how you cut checks to your investors. It’s a true business education and kind of feels like I got this mini MBA education.

That was unexpected but the directing part was just amazing. Working with such talented people and friends that I had before joining the Army…we really were able to bring a lot of relationships such as Ravi Patel I bartended with as well. Cullen Douglas and Ravi and I did a TV pilot in like 2008. It was amazing to be able to reach back to my pre-Army friends that are so talented and my post Army, new team of filmmaking friends and bring everybody together. We called on so many favors. We had such great support from Mt. Saint Mary’s, VME and Vega Baby. We called in every favor where it is such a positive experience. When we landed in Frankie Muniz where he is a champ.

He brought his “A game” even for the tiny movie it was. He loved the character and the chance to do something different. He gave everything to our tiny project as he would have to our multi-million-dollar project. He treated us with respect, and he treated the script with respect. He came to set daily with a big folder of his personal notes. He was meticulous like a pro and his level of preparation and how he kept track of everything and what he brought was just amazing. He took that movie and made it really something different than perhaps something we thought. Frankie made it his Breaking Bad character. Like his Malcolm in the Middle dad, Bryan Cranston did on Breaking Bad. He was still kind of that funny person but had a much darker take on it. It is a dark twist on that guy you already know. Frankie imbued the role in the film with his Malcolm in the Middle persona, but whoa that is the dark side of it. What happened? Like Breaking Bad, what went wrong? To work with a pro, I learned.

To be able to work with actors like Ravi, Frankie, Cullen, Oded and Chelsea where they are people that do this for a living to be able to work with people like that and be creative partners with them for my first feature was inspiring. To see how a team can really work with everybody really contributing some high-level creativity. Everyone on the team had so much to add. You have to shepherd the project to where everyone stays on track, but still allow personal creative contributions from cast members. A director is like a manager of a company. You have to work with the talent, resources and the money of your company. You still have to get to the goal, but you can’t be resistant to some things that are great new ideas.

Interview with Brian Hanson: From Ranger deployments to Hollywood directing

Poster for The Black String. Photo credit IMDB.com.

Interview with Brian Hanson: From Ranger deployments to Hollywood directing

Screen capture of The Black String. Photo credit BH.

Interview with Brian Hanson: From Ranger deployments to Hollywood directing

Rich and Mari Handley with Yani and Brian. Photo credit BH.

Interview with Brian Hanson: From Ranger deployments to Hollywood directing

Screen capture of The Black String. Photo credit BH.

Interview with Brian Hanson: From Ranger deployments to Hollywood directing

Hanson and Handley on stage at the GI Film Festival. Photo credit BH.

WATM: What leadership lessons in life and from the Army have helped you most in your career?

“No excuses” and intense preparation for a project. It is preparing like you are the best and spending hours a day preparing. Don’t assume, always do pre-combat inspections. It is having everything truly ready to go. Because once you arrive on set and once you arrive at that location it needs to be ready and needs to be operational. If not you, need to have a back-up plan. Research and having contingency plans. Checking your equipment and your team. It can be seen as micromanaging, but it doesn’t have to be that bad. In the military everybody checks their troops. It’s just how it is to make sure your guys and your buddies are ready to go. I think that can be transferred to the civilian world and film production.

Interview with Brian Hanson: From Ranger deployments to Hollywood directing

Frankie Muniz and Richard Handley in The Black String. Photo credit IMDB.com.

Interview with Brian Hanson: From Ranger deployments to Hollywood directing

More of Muniz in The Black String. Photo credit BH.

Interview with Brian Hanson: From Ranger deployments to Hollywood directing

Screen capture of The Black String. Photo credit BH.

Interview with Brian Hanson: From Ranger deployments to Hollywood directing

Screen capture of The Black String. Photo credit BH.

WATM: As a service, how do we get more veteran stories told in the Hollywood arena?

We need support from great organizations to promote veteran voices and veteran creators. Such organizations as We Are The Mighty, Veterans in Media and Entertainment (VME), of which I volunteer heavily with, the USVAA, United States Veteran Artistic Alliance, and the WGA Writer’s Guild Foundation do support veterans. We need the support from industry professionals and organizations. They are out there, and they are growing. I think that with the people in the position in power right now, the producers and executives that can green light things, I do think they do a really good job where there is always a presence of the military and law enforcement. There are always more and different perspectives. To keep in mind and do the rote, stereotypical type of story lines. There are a lot of really nuanced, interesting and unexpected perspectives that veterans can bring to the time-honored tradition of military inspired entertainment. The producers, executives and showrunners should be open to finding those unexpected angles to veteran stories.

Interview with Brian Hanson: From Ranger deployments to Hollywood directing

Hanson with Steve Fiorina and Handley at the GI Film Festival. Photo credit BH.

WATM: What would you like to do next in your career?

I plan on directing my second film in 2021. My first one was the horror genre where my next one is likely going to be a thriller with a military character. I always want to do things that are thought provoking. I definitely want to challenge viewers and explore philosophies. …Christopher Nolan makes great entertainment and with challenging ideas and philosophies. He is an independent filmmaker making giant movies, which is something to strive for. Since I have completed my first film…I have been working to get on great television shows as a writer. There are so many stories to tell and I joined the Army and lived this life to help tell authentic stories. I would love to be in day in and day out be in a room with other story tellers creating an amazing show. Creating stories with a team. I will continue directing but would love to be in that writer’s room doing innovative television.

Interview with Brian Hanson: From Ranger deployments to Hollywood directing

Brian Matthew Rhys on “Perry Mason”. Photo credit BH.

WATM: What are you most proud of in life and your career?

I am most proud of serving in the 75th Ranger Regiment. In a sense in my career I may never do anything as meaningful as that even if I make ten more movies or even if nominated for an Academy Award. I don’t think that I’ll ever be prouder than spending those days with my Ranger buddies in Afghanistan or sweating in Fort Benning. I am also proud of making that first movie and everyone that contributed to that colossal effort from nothing. Rich Handley and I being these recent film graduates decided to make a movie where we built that coalition from the ground up. It is an effort we are very proud of and what we did and everybody that was able to help us achieve that.

On the back end we got distribution through Grindstone and Lionsgate to where we had to find everything from scratch. The studio didn’t fund this. Movie making is a risky endeavor and long commitment over many years. The movie has been out now over a year and we are still making producer phone calls and receiving emails four years later. When you divide the money, you might make on the back end of an indie film and divide the hours by what you put in it, there might not be much money so that passion that drives you to keep working. There is a bond between people that have that level of passion to work 15-hour days. You are not really thinking about the paycheck where you are there to get the job done because you believe it is similar to the military mindset.

My wife Yani Navas-Hanson is from Venezuelan; she left the country and I met her in Atlanta when I was at Fort Benning and she was studying at Georgia Tech. She was the accountant by trade and then was our accountant on the movie. She left her country, learned English here in the US and transitioned from corporate accounting to entertainment accounting and from taking on the challenges of an independent film. What someone like her can accomplish if they are driven and keep pushing forward and to be able to accomplish that in a few years is amazing. People do have to surround themselves with the right people. If you are in a relationship with someone who is not supportive with this career path or your family is not supportive, then you might have a tough time during the ups and downs. Family and friend support is crucial. I have fantastic and supportive friends and family.
Interview with Brian Hanson: From Ranger deployments to Hollywood directing

Brian and Yani at Sitges Film Festival. Photo credit BH.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Russia claims its newest fighter will have hypersonic missiles

Russia’s Su-57 stealth fighter jet will be armed with hypersonic missiles, according to Tass, a Russian state-owned media outlet.

“In accordance with Russia’s State Armament Program for 2018-2027, Su-57 jet fighters will be equipped with hypersonic missiles,” a Russian defense industry source told Tass.

“The jet fighters will receive missiles with characteristics similar to that of the Kinzhal missiles, but with inter-body placement and smaller size,” the source added.


Moscow said the new Kh-47M2, or Kinzhal, air-launched hypersonic missile can hit speeds of up to Mach 10 and has a range of 1,200 miles. The Tass report also said “Kinzhal missiles are practically impossible to detect with modern air defense systems.”

Экипажи ВКС выполнили практический пуск ракеты комплекса «Кинжал»

www.youtube.com

While many western analysts remain skeptical of the Kinzhal’s capabilities, the missile appears to be an adaptation of the Iskander-M short-range ballistic missile that flies at hypersonic speeds.

In March 2018, Russia successfully test fired a Kinzhal from a MiG-31BM and is fitting it to a MiG-31K variant.

But the “missiles with characteristics similar to that of the Kinzhal” will have to be smaller than the actual Kinzhal to fit in the Su-57’s weapons bays, according to The Diplomat.

The Russian military will reportedly receive a small batch of 12 Su-57s in 2019, but Moscow has yet to equip the fighter with theIzdeliye-30 engine, which means it is not yet a true fifth-generation jet.

Featured image: United Aircraft Corporation

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

MIGHTY BRANDED

One of the world’s largest cable companies was founded by a World War II sailor

Ralph Roberts didn’t leave the Navy with the dream of starting the world’s biggest telecommunications provider. When he left the service, television was an emerging technology and radio still dominated the airwaves. The company he would soon found would go on to be America’s largest cable provider at one point – and one of the biggest supporters of military veterans.


The story of Ralph Roberts isn’t a stereotypical rags-to-riches tale set in early 20th Century America. The young Roberts was the son of a wealthy family of immigrants who owned a number of pharmacies in the New York City area. When he was still a boy, his father died of a heart attack and, having lost their fortune, they went to live in Philadelphia. His new stepfather was also a business owner, running a successful cigar company. This early exposure to the freedom of running a self-owned business no doubt influenced Ralph’s decision to attend the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania.

It was 1941 when Roberts graduated. Later that year, the United States would be pulled into World War II with the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Roberts, like many wealthy businessmen, could have probably avoided service with a draft deferment or through government connections. He didn’t. Instead, he opted to join the Navy, where he served for the duration of the war at the Philadelphia Navy Yard.

Interview with Brian Hanson: From Ranger deployments to Hollywood directing

Roberts married his wife Suzanne during his first year in the Navy.

After the war, Roberts became a “serial entrepreneur.” He started by selling a series of golf clubs, most notably a putter with which he persuaded legendary Hollywood personality Bob Hope to pose with, asking him to do a veteran a favor. He marketed it as the “Bob Hope Putter.” He then went to work in subscription sales for the Muzak company, which made… muzak, music for entertainment productions that could be easily licensed and replicated. Eventually he started working for the Pioneer Suspender Company, a business which he eventually owned. When beltless polyester pant hit the market in the early 1960s, Roberts worried it was the death knell for his business, so he began to look elsewhere.

That’s when he discovered a small cable television provider in Tupelo, Miss. that serviced some 1,200 people. Back in the early days of television, rural customers struggled to get clear reception from over-the-air broadcasters like NBC, CBS, and ABC. The focus was in providing services to major metropolitan areas. In those days, cable wasn’t a package of new and diverse channels, it was just a way to get clear reception using cable instead of a broadcast antenna.

Roberts sold his suspenders company and and bought American Cable Systems. He soon redubbed it Comcast.

Interview with Brian Hanson: From Ranger deployments to Hollywood directing

Comcast would eventually become the country’s largest cable provider, a conglomerate that would acquire other, smaller cable companies and internet service providers, all with Ralph J. Roberts in his trademark bowtie at the helm. Though Roberts died in 2015, the company still regards serving veterans as a core corporate responsibility, supporting National Guard and reserve troops when they’re activated, providing low or no-cost internet services and computers to low-income veterans, pledging to hire 21,000 veterans by 2021, and funding veteran-related initiatives through partner organizations.

One such organization is the Military Influencer Conference, a three-day event that brings together important and emerging entrepreneurs, influencers, creatives, executives, and leaders who are connected to the military community. The annual conference focuses on delivering actionable insights from the stories of others and fostering an environment where people of diverse backgrounds and skill sets are motivated to forge legitimate relationships through conversation that lead to powerful collaborations.

For more information on the Military Influencer Conference, visit MilitaryInfluencer.com. To learn more about Comcast’s initiatives for veterans, visit its corporate page.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

How an F15-E shot down an Iraqi gunship with a bomb

America’s F-15 Eagle has long since secured a position in the pantheon of the world’s greatest fighters. With an incredible air combat record of 104 wins and zero losses, the fourth generation powerhouse we call the F-15 remains America’s fastest air superiority fighter, beating out even the venerable F-22 Raptor. But the F-15E Strike Eagle, the F-15’s multi-role sibling, was never really intended to serve as a dedicated air-to-air platform. Instead, the F-15E’s goal was to leverage the speed and payload capabilities of an F-15 for ground attack missions — making it one of the most capable multi-role fighters of its generation.

In 1993, Air Force Capt. Tim Bennett was serving as a flight leader for the 335th Tactical Fighter Squadron out of Al Kharj AB in central Saudi Arabia, in support of Operation Desert Storm. He and his F-15E would fly a total of 58 combat missions through the deployment, but one stands out as particularly exceptional: The time Bennett and his weapons officer, Capt. Dan Bakke, managed to shoot down an Iraqi helicopter using a 2,000 pound laser guided bomb.


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(USAF photo courtesy of Master Sgt. Lance Cheung)

February 14, 1993: Valentine’s Day

On Valentine’s Day of 1993, Bennett and Bakke were conducting an early morning Scud combat air patrol — flying around northwest Iraq looking for mobile Scud missile platforms that could pose a threat to American forces. They were flying above the cloud cover, waiting to receive targeting coordinates from a nearby AWAC, when they received a different kind of call: An American Special Forces team had been operating secretly more than 300 miles from the border identifying Scud launchers for engagement, and they’d been discovered by the Iraqi military.

As the AWAC relayed that there were five Iraqi helicopters closing with the Green Beret’s position, Bennett diverted toward the special operators. He and his weapons officer called back in to the AWAC as they spotted the helicopters on their radar, traveling west to east.

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(U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Aaron Allmon)

“We don’t have any friendlies in the area. Any helicopters you find, you are cleared to shoot,” Bennett was told over the radio.

As Bennett closed with the helicopters, he and Bakke noticed that they were flying and stopping at regular intervals, and it seemed as though they were dropping off ground troops to continue engaging the Special Forces team. In effect, the helicopter and ground troops were coordinating to herd the American Green Berets into an unwindable engagement.

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Polish Mi-24 Hind (WikiMedia Commons)

“By this time, we were screaming over the ground, doing about 600 knots–almost 700 mph. The AAA [Anti-Aircraft Fire] was still coming up pretty thick. Our course took us right over the top of the Iraqi troops to the east of the team. We didn’t know exactly where our team was, but it was looking to us like things were getting pretty hairy for the Special Forces guys,” Bennett later recalled.

Bennett decided to engage the lead helicopter, but not with his Aim-9 Sidewinders which were designed for air-to-air engagements. Instead, he planned to lob a 2,000 pound bomb in its direction. Chances were good, he knew, that it wouldn’t hit the helicopters, but it would kill the troops on the ground and likely startle the Hind pilots, allowing his wingman to get a clear shot with a Sidewinder.

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Polish Mi-24 Hind (WikiMedia Commons)

Because they were moving so quickly, the unpowered bomb actually had a greater range than the Sidewinder missile. Bennett released the bomb 4 miles out from the Hind-24 Bakke was carefully keeping his laser sighted on.

“There’s no chance the bomb will get him now,” Bennett thought as the Hind-24 lifted off the ground and began to accelerate.
“I got a good lock with my missile and was about to pickle off a Sidewinder when the bomb flew into my field of view on the targeting IR screen.”
“There was a big flash, and I could see pieces flying in different directions. It blew the helicopter to hell, damn near vaporized it.”

Of course, scoring the F-15E’s first air-to-air victory might be a point of pride for Bennett and Bakke, but they still had a job to do. They moved on to engage a mobile Scud on a nearby launchpad before heading home.

“The Special Forces team got out OK and went back to Central Air Forces headquarters to say thanks and confirm our kill for us. They saw the helicopter go down. When the helos had bugged out, the team moved back to the west and was extracted.”

This article originally appeared on Sandboxx. Follow Sandboxx on Facebook.


MIGHTY SPORTS

Your guide to 2019 military discounts for Major League Baseball games

Major League Baseball teams are showing their appreciation for service members, both past and present, with military discounts on 2019 game tickets. Many teams also hold military appreciation days to honor those who have served our country.

Look for your favorite team in the list below and take advantage of the military discounts that can help get you to the ballpark for less.

Play ball!


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Sailors and Airmen present a giant American flag before the 2012 major league baseball All-Star Game. More than 30 Sailors and 45 Airman held the flag during the singing of the National Anthem and pregame events.

(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Jason C. Winn/Released)

American League

Baltimore Orioles

The Orioles offer a discount off of all tickets for military and their families, available at the Oriole Park Box Office. You can also find bigger discounts by contacting your nearest ITT/Leisure Travel office.

Houston Astros

Members of the military are invited to purchase discounted tickets (online only) to 2019 Houston Astros home games. There is a limit of 6 tickets per person per game. Choose from all Monday through Thursday games and for the Mariners Weekend Series on 9/6 – 9/8. Blackout dates include the Yankees Series (4/8 – 4/10) and Cubs Series (5/27 – 5/29).

Kansas City Royals

Active duty and retired military may purchase up to 4 half-price tickets for all regular season Kansas City Royals games (excluding Opening Day and Marquee game dates) in the Field Plaza, Outfield Plaza and View Level seating areas.

Los Angeles Angels

The Los Angeles Angels offer discounted tickets to military personnel. Specially priced tickets can be purchased online with verification.

Minnesota Twins

The Minnesota Twins offer Military Mondays. For select games throughout the season, active military members or veterans, plus four guests, receive half-price tickets in Home Plate View seating locations.

Oakland Athletics

The A’s offer a military discount to all 2019 home games. Active-duty, reserve, veterans, and retired military personnel are able to purchase tickets at 25% off the dynamic rate in any Field Level or Plaza Level section.

Seattle Mariners

Military members receive 10% off select Main, Terrace and View Level seats at all regular season home games, excluding Opening Night. Limit four tickets per ID.

Tampa Bay Rays

Military members can receive two complimentary tickets to select Monday home games, additional bonus dates and special ticket offers throughout the season. MacDill Air Force Base ITT also offers discounted tickets to Tampa Bay Rays games.

Texas Rangers

Military members receive special pricing on game tickets. Specially priced tickets can be purchased online with verification.

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Sailors man the rails while Marines hold up the American flag during the pre-game ceremony of the 2016 Major League Baseball All-Star Game at Petco Park.

(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Chad M. Trudeau)

National League

Arizona Diamondbacks

Military members receive special pricing on game tickets for the Arizona Diamondbacks. Specially priced tickets can be purchased online with verification. Service members can enjoy up to 50% off select locations for every game of the season.

Atlanta Braves

The Atlanta Braves offer discounted tickets for all regular season home games during the 2019 season. They are offering off seats in the Terrace Infield and Home Run Porch, along with 50% off seats in the Grandstand Reserved seating locations. Get this discount online after verification or at the SunTrust Park ticket windows with valid ID.

Cincinnati Reds

The Cincinnati Reds offer special pricing on tickets to active-duty, reserve, veteran, and retired service members and families. Tickets are available in a variety of locations on a first-come, first-served basis. Get discount online after verification.

Philadelphia Phillies

The Phillies offer active duty, retired military, reservists and veterans discounted tickets to select home games throughout the 2019 season.

Pittsburgh Pirates

The Pirates offer military and their families special pricing on game tickets (up to half off) after verification online.

San Diego Padres

The San Diego Padres offers military discounts, including 50% off Sunday Military Appreciation tickets. Tickets for military and their families are available online through verification or at the Padres Advance Ticket Windows at Petco Park. And military personnel can also get discounted Padres tickets at the San Diego MWR.

Washington Nationals

The Nationals have a special ticket offer for active-duty, reserve, veteran, and retired military personnel. Military service members can also receive discounted tickets through MWR and ITT offices at area bases and the Pentagon.

Keep up with all military discounts

Whether you’re an active duty service member, a military family member, or a veteran, stay on top of all the military discounts you’re eligible for, from travel accommodations to auto and entertainment deals. Sign up for a free Military.com membership to get full access to all discounts.

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

Articles

5 differences between Navy and Air Force fighter pilots

Both the Navy and Air Force fly jets, right? So what’s the difference between fighter pilots from the two branches of service?


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T-45 Goshawks (Photo: U.S. Navy)

1. Training

Both Air Force and Navy flight schools take just less than two years to go from indoc to winging. Air Force training starts with introductory flight training, which consists of 25 hours of hands-on flying for ROTC or Officer Training School graduates who don’t already have a civilian pilot’s license. The first phase also includes 25 hours of classroom instruction in flight techniques. This initial training takes place at one of three places: Columbus Air Force Base in Mississippi, Laughlin Air Force Base in Texas, or Vance Air Force Base in Oklahoma.

After that students go into specialized undergraduate pilot training, a year-long program of 10- to 12-hour days that include classroom instruction, simulator training and flying. Next, student go into one of four advanced training tracks based on class standing (fighter slots go to the top performers) and learn how to fly a specific type of aircraft like the T-1 or T-38.

Navy flight training starts at Training Air Wing Five at NAS Whiting Field, Florida or Training Air Wing Four at NAS Corpus Christi, Texas, where Student Naval Aviators learn to fly either the Beechcraft T-6B Texan II (JPATS) or the T-34C Turbo Mentor. This primary flight training teaches the basics of flying in approximately six months.

Upon successful completion of primary, student naval aviators are selected for one of four advanced flight training paths: E-6B Mercury, multi-engine propeller (maritime patrol) aircraft, helicopters, or tailhook aircraft. Selection is based on the needs of the service (USN, USMC, etc.), the student’s performance, and, lastly, the student’s preference.

SNAs selected for tailhook aircraft report to NAS Kingsville, Texas or NAS Meridian, Mississippi to start the advanced strike pipeline, which takes about 23 weeks.

The biggest difference between the USAF and USN training pipelines – what many would say is the biggest difference between the services period – is the fact that Navy pilots have to learn how to land on an aircraft carrier. This is very demanding and time consuming and many otherwise talented SNAs find they fall short when it comes to this requirement.

After pinning on either silver or gold wings, newly-minted fighter pilots report to a variety of operational bases to learn how to fly the airplane they will operate in defense of the nation.

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USAF T-6A Texan II (Photo: U.S. Air Force)

2. Career path

Both services try to strike a balance between operational, educational, and staff tours. Much of how a career goes is up to world events (ask those who joined just before 9/11) and individual aspirations. But, in general, pilots get two flying tours (five or six years worth) by the ten-year mark of a career and more after that if they are chosen to command squadrons or air wings.

It must also be noted that starting a few years ago, the Air Force has made more drone pilots than fighter pilots annually – something those with long-term career aspirations should keep in mind.

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(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Amber E. N. Jacobs)

3. Missions

Currently, Air Force fighter pilots are generally more specialized and focused on the air-to-air role. That focus involves a lot of radar training and intercept work as well as some dogfighting. In the event of a conflict against an adversary that poses a valid air threat, USAF assets would assume the offensive role, manning combat air patrol stations or conducting fighter sweeps through potentially hostile airspace.

Navy fighter pilots fly multi-mission aircraft so therefore they wind up flying a lot of missions beyond air-to-air while still striving to stay proficient in the dogfighting arena.

And Navy fighter pilot missions often begin and end aboard an aircraft carrier, which involves a level of training and focus foreign to Air Force pilots. (Air Force pilots seldom stress over the stick-and-rudder skills it takes to land their jets.)

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Lobby of the Wolf Pack Lodge at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio.

4. Duty stations

Both the Air Force and Navy have air stations dotted along the coasts of the United States. (Air Force bases are generally nicer in terms of facilities – including golf courses.) The Air Force also has bases around the world, some in garden spots like Bagram, Afghanistan and Incirlik, Turkey. Once again, the big difference between the two services is Navy fighter pilots spend a lot of time aboard aircraft carriers at sea.

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Super Hornet catching an arresting wire. (Photo: U.S. Navy)

5. Aircraft

Navy fighter pilots currently fly either the one or two-seat version of the Super Hornet. Air Force fighter pilots are assigned to fly either the F-15C Eagle or the F-22 Raptor.

In the future, both services will have the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

And the Blue Angels fly F/A-18s and the Thunderbirds fly F-16s. If you’re still on the fence, pick the service that has the flight demonstration team you like better.

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MIGHTY HISTORY

This is why the 3rd Infantry Division is called ‘Rock of the Marne’

The 3rd Infantry Division, then known simply as the 3rd Division, was activated in November 1917 for service in World War I. They were fighting the Germans by April 1918. The green troops of the 3rd Division were thrown into the line in the midst of a strong German attack along the Marne River.


The Marne had been the site of a significant battle that had turned back the German onslaught into France in 1914. It would be remembered once again in 1918.

Also read: This is why 3/2 Marines call themselves ‘the Betio Bastards’

After the Germans’ Spring Offensives had ground to a halt, they still sought a breakthrough of the Allied lines. Hoping to draw forces away from Flanders, where the Germans hoped to eventually drive through to Paris, they launched a large scale offensive to the south in the vicinity of Reims.

In the early morning darkness of July 15, 1918 the Germans began crossing the Marne River in assault boats.

Under a massive artillery barrage, the German Seventh Army smashed into the French Sixth Army. Under the brutal bombardment and onslaught of German stormtroopers, the French fell back in disarray. All along the line the Germans were quickly gaining ground – except for one spot on their right flank.

This was the position held by the 3rd Division. Particularly stubborn resistance came from the 38th Infantry Regiment under the command of Col. Ulysses McAlexander. It was dug in along the riverbank with a secondary line holding a raised railroad embankment. As the Germans crossed the river they were met with murderous fire from the Americans.

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As they landed, the Germans quickly found themselves engaged in brutal hand-to-hand combat.

Unfortunately for the Americans, there were simply too many Germans and slowly but surely the advanced platoons on the riverbank were wiped out. The Germans were then met at the railroad embankment, where according to Capt. Jesse Woolridge, they gave a thousand times more than they took, but even those positions became untenable. Reinforcements were quickly rushed in and smashed the beleaguered German troops.

This effort finally broke up the attack.

In Woolridge’s account, he states “it’s God’s truth that one Company of American soldiers beat and routed a full regiment of picked shock troops of the German Army.”

While the rest of the 3rd Division was pushed back, the 38th Infantry was giving the Germans hell.  Refusing to relinquish his position despite his exposed flanks, Col. McAlexander pulled his two battalions on the flanks back to form a horseshoe shape. The shape of his defense and the stubbornness with which he held it earned McAlexander and the rest of the regiment an enduring nickname – the Rock of the Marne.

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General Ulysses Grant McAlexander.

The nickname eventually came to encompass the entire division for their stellar defense of their sector during the massive German attack. The Division would later adopt the special designation The Marne Division as well for their part in the battle.

At the Second Battle of the Marne, the 3rd Division also received its official motto. As French troops retreated, 3rd Division soldiers rushed to the scene to hold the line. The division commander, Maj. Gen. Joseph Dickman, gave his famous orders, in French so their allies would understand, “Nous resterons la!” – We shall remain here!

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The battle was significant. Not just to the 3rd Division but to the entire American war effort. The Americans were relatively untested at the time and their success in holding back the Germans at the Marne garnered great respect from their European counterparts.

Stopping the German offensive also opened the way for the immediate counterattacks of the Aisne-Marne Offensive and finally the Hundred Days offensive that would eventually lead to Germany’s capitulation. The division’s stand was called “one of the most brilliant pages in the annals of military history” by the commander of the American Expeditionary Forces, Gen. John Pershing.

The 3rd Infantry Division would go on to distinguish itself once again during the Second World War. The 3rd was the only division to meet the Nazis on every front fighting from North Africa to Sicily, onto the Italian mainland, into Southern France before ending the war in Germany.

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The 3rd Infantry Division starts the long road home after WWII.

During its spectacular march against the Axis, some 35 members of the division were awarded the Medal of Honor for their action in combat including their most famous member, Audie Murphy.

The Marne Division later fought in the Korean War before spending the Cold War guarding Germany against possible Russian aggression. Since 2003, the division has been actively involved in the Global War on Terror and led the US Army’s invasion of Iraq.

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The U.S. 3rd Infantry Division secures an abandoned UN position on the Kuwait-Iraqi border in March 2003.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

The Marines want a missile to chase down moving ships in the South China Sea and other contested waterways

The US Marine Corps says it needs ground-launched missiles that can seek out and eliminate enemy ships sailing in contested waterways.


“Part of the homework that the Navy and Marine Corps have done over the past six months is how we think we’re going to need to operate in the future as an integrated naval force,” Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday.

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“That means the Marine Corps assumes a role which we have not had in the past 20 years, which is how do we contribute to sea control and sea denial,” he added.

The Marines have practiced striking stationary ships from land and sea with missiles launched from High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, but now the service wants to take it a step further and hit ships on the move.

Testifying before the House Armed Services Committee on Thursday, Lt. Gen. Eric Smith, commander of Marine Corps Combat Development Command and deputy commandant for Combat Development and Integration, said the Corps wants a system with an active seeker that can chase down a moving ship, something it doesn’t currently have.

“We have to have a system that can go after that,” Smith told lawmakers. “That is what matters in a contested environment in the South China Sea or in the [Indo-Pacific Command] area.”

Changing the calculus of an adversary

The Marines are currently looking at the Naval Strike Missile (NSM), which has a range of roughly 750 nautical miles, as a Ground-Based Anti-Ship Missile (GBASM) solution.

Smith said the service will test fire the system in June.

The NSM is “capable of sea-skimming, high-g maneuverability, and the ability to engage targets from the side, rather than top-down,” according to written testimony submitted to the HASC.

The missile is already deployed aboard Navy littoral combat ships, one of which deployed to the Pacific with the missile last year.

The NSM would be fired from a mobile launch platform based on an unmanned Joint Light Tactical Vehicle called the Remotely Operated Ground Unit for Expeditionary Fires, or ROGUE-Fires, vehicle. The missile and the vehicle together are the Navy Marine Expeditionary Ship Interdiction System (NMESIS), the testimony says.

The GBASM and ROGUE-Fires vehicle are “rapid prototyping and development initiatives” for the Corps, according to documents submitted as part of the service’s 2021 budget proposal.

Both have proven successful in war games and simulations, Berger said Thursday.

“Game-changer is probably an over-the-top characterization, but it definitely changes the calculus of an adversary,” Berger said.

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US Navy guided-missile destroyer USS Dewey conducts a Tomahawk missile flight test in the western Pacific, August 17, 2018.

US Navy/MCS 2nd Class Devin M. Langer

Range beyond restrictions

The fiscal year 2021 budget proposal included a request for 48 Tomahawk missiles, likely the maritime variant, which appears to be first for the Corps.

“What we need is long-range precision fires for a small unit, a series of units that can, from ship or from shore, hold an adversary’s naval force at risk. That missile is going to help us do that,” Berger told the SASC.

The Navy is pursuing a number of long-range anti-ship missiles, among them the Maritime Strike Tomahawk, a maritime variant of the land-attack cruise missile with an active seeker to track moving ships.

Berger said the Tomahawk “could be the answer or could be the first step toward a longer-term answer five, six, seven years from now.”

With the collapse last year of the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty — which banned ground-launched missiles with ranges between 500 km and 5,000 km (310 miles and 3,100 miles) — after the US withdrew in response to alleged Russian violations, the Marine Corps has more freedom when it comes to ground-launched missiles.

Asked if the request for Tomahawks was a result of the US withdrawal from the INF Treaty, Berger said he “would assume so” but “hadn’t linked the two together.”

“We just knew we need a long-range precision fires beyond the range that we were restricted to before,” he added.

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

MIGHTY TRENDING

Heroic dad punches shark to save daughter

Any dad would put himself in danger to save his child, but a North Carolina dad proved he’s truly a hero. When Charlie Winter’s 17-year-old daughter Paige was attacked by a shark at Fort Macon State Park’s Atlantic Beach, he sprang into action. Winters punched the shark five times, fighting off the predator and ultimately saving his daughter’s life.

Family friend Brandon Bersch described the frightening attack to TODAY Parents: “They were standing in waist-deep water and chatting and then Paige suddenly got pulled under.” Winters quickly reacted by punching the shark repeatedly. “Charlie wouldn’t stop until it released his little girl,” Bersch continued. “He lives for his children.”


Winters’ quick response is likely due to his experience as a firefighter and paramedic, which allowed him to know to apply pressure to Paige’s wounds and was able to remain calm. “Paige is alive today because of her father,” Bersch said.

Teen survives shark attack in North Carolina

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Paige was airlifted to Greenville’s Vidant Medical Center 80 miles away, where she had emergency surgery and unfortunately, lost her leg. “Paige has more surgeries upcoming, but she’s really optimistic,” Bersch said of the teen’s recovery. “As soon as Paige woke up at the hospital, she made a comment about how she doesn’t have animosity toward sharks and she still loves the sea.”

This was hardly the first time Charlie stepped in to save a life. In 2013, he rescued a then 2-year-old boy from a burning home. “Charlie is the bravest man I know,” Bersch said of his friend. Absolutely no arguments here.

This article originally appeared on Fatherly. Follow @FatherlyHQ on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Navajo airman is heir to ‘code talker’ legacy

Airman 1st Class Phillip Rock is part of his family’s legacy of military service — a legacy that, in fact, would not have continued if it weren’t for that military service itself.

Stationed at Whiteman Air Force Base, Rock is a B-2 Spirit weapons load crew member in the 509th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron. It is his first Air Force assignment and the most recent in his family’s military history.

“I was raised in Kayenta, Arizona, which is an hour away from the four corners,” said Phillip, who is three-quarters Navajo American Indian. “It is really the heart of the reservation.”


Raised by his grandparents, he learned much about his cultural heritage from them. He also learned where his family’s long military lineage began.

This Rock family tradition started with his great grandfather, Joseph Rock — Grandpa Joe — who served in World War II.

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Airman 1st Class Phillip E. Rock, a 509th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron B-2 weapons load crew member, weaves a dream catcher on Nov. 15, 2018, in his dorm at Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Kayla White)

“At first, I didn’t know much about what my great grandfather had done,” Phillip said.

Grandpa Joe died in 2004 at age 92 when Phillip was 5 years old. It wasn’t until he was nearly a teen that Phillip realized his great grandfather was a war hero.

One day, when Rock was 12 years old, he was flipping through TV channels with his grandfather, Ernest Rock Sr., in their living room. They stopped to watch a historical documentary about World War II.

Rock recalled asking his grandfather about his great grandfather’s role in the major world conflict which spanned across Europe and the Pacific.

“I said, ‘Isn’t that the war Grandpa Joe fought in? What did he do?'”

His grandfather told Phillip “He was a code talker.”

Western expansion, cultural repression

It was the early 1900s and Joseph Rock was a young boy living on a Navajo reservation in Arizona. As the country expanded westward, much of the tribe’s land was taken by the U.S. government. Joseph was sent to school, where his long hair was cut and his name was changed.

“He went up to a chalkboard, pointed at a random configuration of letters, and that’s how he became Joseph Rock,” Phillip said. “Four generations later, we still carry on that last name.”

Grandpa Joe was also punished in school if he spoke his native language — the same language that would later save countless lives.

By 1941, shortly after the U.S. had entered WWII, the Marine Corps began to recruit Navajo tribal members for a top-secret code-communications program that wouldn’t be declassified until two decades later.

At first, fewer than 30 Navajo Indians were recruited as code talkers. In total, only about 400 of the 44,000 American Indians who served in WWII were Navajo code talkers. Joseph Rock was asked to work among them, and he accepted.

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Airman 1st Class Phillip E. Rock, a B-2 weapons load crew member assigned to the 509th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, poses for a portrait on Nov. 15, 2018 in his dorm at Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Kayla White)

“He was told if he served, the family would get some of their land back and a house,” Phillip Rock said. “None of that happened.”

But those promises weren’t what enticed Grandpa Joe to join the military. He wanted to serve his country, and did so honorably.

“My great grandfather was proud of his service,” Phillip Rock said. “It’s his legacy.”

Military recruitment

This was not the first time American Indians were recruited for U.S. military service, either as combatants or code talkers. During the first World War, American troops relied on messages transmitted in Cherokee and Choctaw tribal languages to pass secret information. However, the languages used were eventually all deciphered by enemy troops.

The Navajo language, though, is considered particularly linguistically difficult. And at that time, it had not been written down. The U.S. government knew it would be nearly impossible for a non-Navajo to learn.

So, in the early 1940s, Navajo code talkers used their language to create more than 200 new words for military terms and then committed them to memory.

“The enemy never understood it,” a Marine general was quoted as saying after the Navajo code was first used in WWII. “We don’t understand it either, but it works.”

The Navajo code is the only spoken military code that has never been deciphered, and Navajo code talkers are credited with saving thousands of Americans’ and allies’ lives.

Winning the war

Before he knew his Grandpa Joe served as a code talker, Phillip learned about his tribe’s role in WWII as a boy in school.

“We were taught that we should be extremely thankful for what they did,” Phillip said. “Without the code talkers, we wouldn’t have won the war.”

During the Battle of Iwo Jima in 1945, Navajo code talkers worked around the clock sending and receiving thousands of messages. One Marine later stated, “Were it not for the Navajos, the Marines would never have taken Iwo Jima,” according to the Naval History and Heritage Command.

Joseph Rock was one of those code talkers involved in the critical battle to claim the Pacific island.

During the battle, a grenade landed only feet away from Joseph Rock, who “watched it hit the ground,” Phillip said. Then, Joseph Rock saw one of his fellow Marines dive on top of it, giving his life to save Grandpa Joe.

“He wanted to save the life of a code talker,” Phillip Rock said. “It’s inspiring what people will do to continue with the mission. My Grandpa Joe owed his life to that man.”

Neither Joseph Rock nor the Rock family was ever able to find out who the Marine was, but know future generations of Rocks have their lives thanks to his valor.

“I owe my life to that man, too,” Phillip said.

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Traditional native american jewelry is laid out on the couch of Airman 1st Class Phillip E. Rock, a B-2 weapons load crew member assigned to the 509th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron. Each piece of jewelry was gifted to rock throughout his childhood.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Kayla White)

Culture and service

Since Grandpa Joe, many members of the Rock family have answered their nation’s call including his grandfather, his father, uncles and an aunt.

For Phillip, his great grandfather’s service as a code talker influenced Philip’s own decision to join the Air Force.

Phillip is the most recent member of his family to serve in the military.

“I feel like it was a prideful thing to carry on that lineage of service,” said Phillip. “It felt like the right calling. My Grandpa Joe was the first to wear this name on a uniform. I am very proud of this name. I knew I wanted to carry that on and wear it on a uniform.”

Meanwhile, Navajo principles have taught him respect, perseverance, and determination.

“My culture really shapes who I am,” Phillip Rock says. “I wear my culture on my sleeve and my name on my chest.”

This feature is part of the “Through Airmen’s Eyes” series on AF.mil. These stories focus on a single Airman, highlighting their Air Force story.

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

MIGHTY HISTORY

That time the British ate dinner and burned the White House

A few years after the onset of the War of 1812, the British Army marched into Washington D.C and set it ablaze as many Americans fled. The Redcoats then hiked their way to one of the most historic buildings in the world, the White House, and torched it to avenge an American attack on the city of York in Ontario, Canada, just a few years prior.

Before the British arrived, President James Madison had left the area to meet with his military officials. While many fled in terror of the anticipated Redcoats, First Lady Dolley Madison bravely stayed behind, ready to retrieve important documents and irreplaceable valuables.

Interview with Brian Hanson: From Ranger deployments to Hollywood directing
President James Madison (left) and his wife, Dolley.

As dawn broke, Dolley and some of the White House staff kept a close eye out as they waited for either Madison or the British to return. Once the British Army came into view, Dolley made preparations to leave.


Instead of taking her personal belongings, Dolley Madison made it her priority to retrieve a full-length portrait of George Washington — to keep it out of British hands. Since the painting was screwed to the wall, members of the White House staff broke the frame and rolled the canvas up.

Dolley managed to escape safely and later met up with her husband at a secondary location.

Interview with Brian Hanson: From Ranger deployments to Hollywood directing
The original plans for the White House.

Soon after Dolley’s departure, the British stomped their way to the White House. They went up the iconic front steps and through double doors. Upon entering the house, British troops were surprised to discover that dinner had been laid out for about 40 patrons. So, like any hungry set of soldiers, they sat down to eat. They enjoyed a civilized meal before setting the presidential manor on fire.

President Madison and his wife returned a few days later; the British had already moved on, leaving only ashy rubble in their wake. Most of the walls survived the brutal heat of the flames, but the majority of the President’s home had to be rebuilt.

This historical act of destruction is the first and only time the enemy has successfully brought harm to the White House.

Military Life

Everything you need to know about the Merchant Marine

There is another maritime “service” you may not have heard much about, yet, the United States Merchant Marine is arguably incredibly important to the Armed Forces. They also help keep America’s economy moving. But what exactly is this?


6. It is civilian-manned ships

Merchant Mariners are not part of the military. Now, some of them run a number of ships that support the U.S. Navy, like the Henry J. Kaiser-class replenishment oilers and Lewis and Clark-class dry cargo ships, as well as the sealift vessels like the Bob Hope-class vehicle cargo chips.

Interview with Brian Hanson: From Ranger deployments to Hollywood directing
The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Stethem (DDG 63) receives fuel from the fleet replenishment oiler USNS Rappahannock (T-AO 204). The oiler is manned by merchant mariners. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Kelsey L. Adams/Released)

5. The United States Merchant Marine is small

The total civilian merchant fleet of the Untied States is 393 vessels, according to the CIA World Factbook. It ranks 27th in the world, behind Russia (11th with 1,143 merchant ships) and China (2nd, with 4,052 merchant ships). This includes privately-owned ships, as well as those owned by the federal government.

Interview with Brian Hanson: From Ranger deployments to Hollywood directing
The Maersk Alabama is one of only 84 container ships in the U.S. Merchant Marine. (U.S. Navy photo)

4. The United States has a special agency for the Merchant Marine

The United States Maritime Administration, under the Department of Transportation, handles programs that administer and finance the United States Merchant Marine. This includes supporting the United States Maritime Service, which helps to train officers and crew on merchant ships.

Interview with Brian Hanson: From Ranger deployments to Hollywood directing
Seal of the Maritime Administration (Department of Transportation graphic)

3. You can become an officer by going to one of seven “maritime academies”

To become the captain of a merchant ship, your best route would be to attend a “maritime academy.” There are seven of them located across the country: The United States Merchant Marine Academy, the California State University Maritime Academy, the Great Lakes Maritime Academy, the Maine Maritime Academy, the Massachusetts Maritime Academy, the State University of New York Maritime College, and the Texas AM Maritime Academy.

Interview with Brian Hanson: From Ranger deployments to Hollywood directing
An aerial view of the United States Merchant Marine Academy. (United States Merchant Marine Academy photo)

2. A lot of famous people were in the Merchant Marine

Some very familiar names have served in the Merchant Marine at one point or another. While today’s most famous merchant mariner is Richard Phillips, former captain of the Maersk Alabama, others include filmmaker Oliver Stone, writers Louis L’Amour and Jack Vance, as well as playwright and screenwriter David Mamet.

Interview with Brian Hanson: From Ranger deployments to Hollywood directing
Capt. Richard Phillips, former Captain of the container ship MV Maersk Alabama, publicly thanks Sailors assigned to the guided-missile destroyer USS Bainbridge (DDG 96) for his dramatic rescue at sea. On Easter Sunday, April 12, 2009, Navy SEALs positioned on the fantail of the Bainbridge opened fire and killed three of the pirates who were holding Phillips hostage. (U.S. Navy photo)

1. There is a merchant mariner’s equivalent to the Medal of Honor

While merchant mariners cannot receive the Medal of Honor or other military decorations, valor doesn’t go unrecognized. The Merchant Marine Distinguished Service Medal is awarded by the Department of Transportation to those who show “outstanding conduct or service in the line of duty.” A list of awardees from World War II can be seen here.

Interview with Brian Hanson: From Ranger deployments to Hollywood directing
Front and back views of the Merchant Marine Distinguished Service Medal. (DOD graphic)

MIGHTY TRENDING

US pilots’ close calls with Russian aircraft are likely to continue, experts say

The U.S. Navy last week watched a single-seat Russian Sukhoi Su-35 Flanker-E come within 25 feet of a P-8A Poseidon reconnaissance aircraft while at high speed and inverted, causing wake turbulence and putting the U.S. “pilots and crew at risk” over the Mediterranean Sea.

Days later, another Flanker mimicked the move over the same waters, zooming in front of a P-8 and exposing the sub hunter aircraft to its jet exhaust.


Top U.S. officials in Europe and the Defense Department said the incidents involved Russian pilots behaving in an unsafe, unprofessional manner. Experts argue that, while the intercepts expose a pattern of behavior from the Russian military, they also show that Russia is willing to capitalize on the publicity the aerial maneuvers bring, even during a global pandemic.

The Russian military “feels as if it’s necessary to let everybody know that they’re still on the world stage, that they’re still on the scene, and that they have pretty good military power,” said retired Gen. Frank Gorenc, the former commander of U.S. Air Forces in Europe. Gorenc, an F-15 Eagle pilot, headed the command during Russia’s annexation of Crimea, when the U.S. sent sophisticated aircraft such as the F-22 Raptor to the theater in show-of-force missions to deter Russian aggression.

“It’s not only the pandemic, which obviously is keeping the western countries occupied, but also the oil [crash] too,” he said in an interview this week.

In recent weeks, Russia, one of the world’s leading oil exporters, was also hit by the unprecedented collapse in the market for crude oil.

“Declining powers have to do [something],” Gorenc said.

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Opportunity to Go Viral

Unlike the Cold War, when pilots would return to their squadron and file a debrief of an aerial intercept, then simply move along to their next mission, being buzzed or barrel-rolled is gaining more visibility with the help of social media, said Doug Barrie, senior fellow for military aerospace for the International Institute for Strategic Studies, a London-based think tank.

“You know, it goes kind of viral,” Barrie said. “So you wonder if there’s an element of that, of how it plays on social media and in wider Western media, whether or not if it’s valuable.”

Notably, the recent incidents involved Russia’s multi-role Su-35 fighter jet, which has received improvements over the last few years — a significant upgrade from other aircraft used in past intercepts, such as the Su-27 Flanker or the Su-24 Fencer, Barrie said.

“It’s perhaps unsurprising that these aircraft have been bumped into [the rotation] more often than we’ve previously seen them; the imagery of the Flanker is great,” he said.

“The Su-35 is a highly capable airplane that they produce,” Gorenc added. “They’re obviously … trying to sell it. And this is a good way to show it off.”

Predictable Response

Gorenc stressed that, while these incidents tend to flare up once in a while, pilots need to stick to the rules of engagement and try to be as predictable as possible.

The 1972 bilateral Russia-U.S. agreement “Prevention of Incidents On and Over the High Seas,” followed by Incidents at Sea Agreement (INCSEA), are accords that establish basic “rules of the road” for both countries to safely navigate near one another.

Holding Russia accountable for its behavior in international airspace can be tricky, Barrie explained. “To some extent, these things are difficult to kind of legislate around because it really comes down to the units, the pilots [and their behavior],” he said.

More often than not, intercepts are conducted in a safe manner, but errors happen because of a loss of communication or a human or technical mistake, officials have said.

For example, then-Gen. Petr Pavel, the former chairman of the NATO Military Committee, told reporters in 2018 that most aerial scrambles are seen as “routine.”

“From time to time, we can see some measures as provocative, especially in the areas that we exercise … both to the ships and in the air,” he said. “But it’s up to the captain [or pilot] to judge if it’s dangerous or not.”

Last week, Air Force Gen. Tod Wolters, NATO supreme commander and head of U.S. European Command, described the first incident on April 15 as the result of “unprofessional” conduct by a Russian fighter pilot acting on his own, rather than a deliberate attempt by Moscow to provoke an incident.

“My conclusion at this point is that it was probably something more along the lines of unprofessional as opposed to deliberate,” Wolters said April 16.

“Given the unpredictability, you have to make sure that you maintain a safe distance and don’t assume anything. Don’t assume that they even see you, because they may not see you,” Gorenc said.

Not Backing Down

Like the U.S., it’s unlikely that Russia will back down from what it sees as military priorities despite the pandemic, Barrie said.

“We’re not completely dissimilar. … You can see the messaging coming out of these NATO nations, including the U.S., which says, ‘OK, we recognize a pandemic is an enormous problem … but [we’re still] taking care of the day-to-day national security needs,'” he said.

Air Force Gen. Terrence J. O’Shaughnessy, head of U.S. Northern Command, told reporters Tuesday that the U.S. military should be mindful that rivals like Russia will look to test any weaknesses among the U.S. and its allies during the coronavirus crisis.

“We are postured and maintain that ability to respond at a moment’s notice,” he said.

On Friday, Defense Secretary Mark Esper renewed the message. “Our adversaries are not standing down,” he said. “We will continue to make sure that the [Defense Department] is ready to protect the USA.”

Barrie added: “The Russian Su-35 incident, in part, is simply a reflection of that [response]. It is simply a reflection of Russia doing what it does.”

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

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