The nation's only military film festival just announced this year's lineup - We Are The Mighty
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The nation’s only military film festival just announced this year’s lineup

The nation’s only military film festival just announced this year’s lineup
Crowd outside of last year’s GI FIlm Festival outside of Washington DC. (GIFF.com)


The GI Film Festival just announced its complete lineup for the 10th annual event, running May 21 – 29, 2016 in Washington, D.C. and Fairfax, VA.

“This is the most power-packed and diverse lineup of movies we have featured over our ten-year history,” says GI Film Festival President Brandon Millett. “This festival will confront every challenge facing our nation’s military veterans and their families, showcasing some of the most incredible stories of heroism you have ever seen. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, and you’ll be on the edge of your seat, covering your eyes. Come to GIFF X and you’ll experience every single conceivable human emotion. It will be unforgettable.”

Hailed by Bloomberg News as “Sundance for the Troops,” the GI Film Festival’s mission is to preserve the stories of military veterans through film, television and dynamic live special events. Since 2007, the GIFF has spearheaded the lead-up to Memorial Day in our nation’s capital by offering the country’s most expansive view of military themes on film. Including, for the first time this year, on Sunday night May 22, a special event honoring women in the military including a short film showcase and panel discussion.

Kicking off this year’s 10th -anniversary festival will be world-renowned actor Gary Sinise, a supporter of GIFF since year one. Sinise and his Lt. Dan Band will play a concert featuring favorite cover tunes at the Howard Theater on Saturday, May 21.

“The GI Film Festival has become the ‘go-to’ place for military-themed movies,” Sinese said. “Anyone and everyone with a military-themed film will end up at the GI Film Festival, or at least trying to get in.”

Also highlighting the festival will be a 30th -anniversary screening of the military classic “Top Gun,” with a scheduled appearance from actor Val Kilmer, on Wednesday, May 25 at Angelika Film Center in Fairfax, VA, followed by an 80’s after party.

On Thursday, May 26, GIFF will host an advance screening of the new film X:MEN: Apocalypse, for Wounded Warriors, including a special message from Director Bryan Singer.

Friday night, May 27, will see the world premiere of the zombie action comedy Range 15, starring William Shatner, Sean Astin, and Danny Trejo, followed by an after party. This year’s nine-day program boasts a dynamic lineup of 75-plus films.

In addition, GIFF will offer interactive QAs with filmmakers and on-screen talent, embassy soirees, live music, stand-up comedy, star-studded red carpets, and awards ceremonies, all honoring and lending a voice to the veteran community.

Watch the GIFF trailer:

https://player.vimeo.com/video/164105070

For the full 2016 festival and events schedule, please visit: www.gifilmfestival.com.

Articles

4 rare things you learn about yourself serving as a Corpsman

Everyone has a different reason why they decided to join the military. Some are looking to prove themselves, while others were looking for a way out of an unsatisfying home life — or both.


After speaking with a local recruiter who probably made every job in the book sound awesome, you chose the rate of a Hospital Corpsman because it was the right move for you.

Related: 5 things you learned about America while being deployed overseas

After five long contracted years of service, you learned a thing or two about yourself. Here are a few things that may have made your list.

1. Mental strength

Most people rarely tap into their full potential and allow their minds to convince their bodies that they can’t succeed. The truth is when sh*t hits the fan and bullets are flying, you’ll quickly learn if you have what it takes to break free from your mental limitations.

Mind over matter. (Images via Giphy)

2. Gut check

Many sailors who graduate Corps school are highly motivated to put their newly learned knowledge to use and pursue a medical career after the military. Fast forward to the middle of a combat deployment, and many wonder if practicing medicine was the right choice for them. Many young minds grow fatigued and change career paths after taking care of several of their dying brothers.

It’s not for everyone.

You get the point. (Image via Giphy)

3. You matured quickly

The vast majority of the lower enlisted are barely old enough to drink when they shipped out to the front lines. Witnessing the dramatic action that takes place on deployment can make the most immature 20-year-old feel weathered, and it changes the way they see the world.

Heading off to war will make you grow up real fast. (Images via Giphy)

Also Read: 7 life lessons we learned from watching ‘Full Metal Jacket’

 4. Am I tough enough?

We’d all like to think we’re the bravest and strongest of the bunch, but being tough isn’t about how much you can bench. Instead, being tough is simply about not ever giving up or tossing in the towel.

If Mary-Kate and Ashley can be tough, then so can you. (Images via Giphy)Can you think of any others? Comment below.

Articles

Army arms Stryker with laser weapon

The Army and General Dynamics Land Systems are developing a Stryker-mounted laser weapon aimed at better arming the vehicle to incinerate enemy drones or threatening ground targets.


Concept vehicles are now being engineered and tested at the Army’s Ft. Sill artillery headquarters as a way to quickly develop the weapon for operational service. During a test this past April, the laser weapons successful shot down 21 out of 23 enemy drone targets.

Also read: Army Stryker gets lethality upgrade

The effort marks the first-ever integration of an Army laser weapon onto a combat vehicle.

“The idea is to provide a solution to a capability gap which is an inability to acquire, track and destroy low, slow drones that proliferate all over the world,” Tim Reese, director of strategic planning, told Scout Warrior in an interview.

The weapon is capable of destroying Group 1 and Group 2 small and medium-sized drones, Reese added.

The laser, which Reese says could be operational as soon as 11-months from now, will be integrated into the Fire Support Vehicle Stryker variant designed for target tracking and identification.

General Dynamics Land Systems is now working on upgrading the power of the laser from two kilowatts of power to five kilowatts. The laser weapon system uses its own tracking radar to acquire targets in the event that other sensors on the vehicle are disabled in combat and has an electronic warfare jamming system intended to jam the signal of enemy drones. Boeing is the maker of the fire-control technology integrated into the laser weapon. The laser is also integrated with air-defense and field artillery networks

“The energy of the laser damages, destroys and melts different components of the target,” Reese explained.

The nation’s only military film festival just announced this year’s lineup
US Army photo

The Army is now in research and test mode, with a clear interest in rapidly deploying this technology. Reese added that GDLS anticipates being able to fire an 18-kilowatt laser from the Stryker by 2018.

One of the challenges with mobile laser weapons is the need to maintain enough exportable power to sustain the weapon while on-the-move, developers have explained.

“As power goes up, the range increases and time to achieve the melt increases. You can achieve less than one-half of the burn time,” he said.

This initiative is of particular relevance given the current tensions in Europe between Russia and NATO. US Army Europe has been amid a large-scale effort to collaborate with allies on multi-lateral exercises, show an ability to rapidly deploy armored forces across the European continent and up-gun combat platforms stationed in Europe such as the Stryker.

Lasers at Forward Operating Bases

The Army is planning to deploy laser weapons able to protect Forward Operating Bases (FOB) by rapidly incinerating and destroying approaching enemy drones, artillery rounds, mortars and cruise missiles, service leaders told ScoutWarrior.

Forward-deployed soldiers in places like Afghanistan are familiar with facing incoming enemy mortar rounds, rockets and gunfire attacks; potential future adversaries could launch drones, cruise missiles, artillery or other types of weapons at FOBs.

Adding lasers to the arsenal, integrated with sensors and fire-control radar, could massively help U.S. soldiers quickly destroy enemy threats by burning them out of the sky in seconds, Army leaders said.

Laser weapons have been in development with the Army for many years, Mary Miller, Deputy Assistant Secretary, Research and Technology, told Scout Warrior in an interview several months ago.

The nation’s only military film festival just announced this year’s lineup
U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command

“We’ve clearly demonstrated you can takeout UAVs pretty effectively. Now we are not only working on how we take out UAVs but also mortars and missiles–and eventually cruise missiles,” she said.

The emerging weapons are being engineered into a program called Indirect Fire Protection Capability, or IFPC Increment 2. Through this program, the Army plans to fire lasers to protect forward bases by 2023 as part of an integrated system of technologies, sensors and weapons designed to thwart incoming attacks.

At the moment, Army soldiers at Forward Operating Bases use a system called Counter Rocket, Artillery, Mortar – or C-RAM, to knock down incoming enemy fire such as mortar shells. C-RAM uses sensors alongside a vehicle-mounted 20mm Phalanx Close-in-Weapons-System able to fire 4,500 rounds per minute. The idea is to blanket an area with large numbers of small projectiles as a way to intercept and destroy incoming artillery, rocket or mortar fire.

Also, lasers bring the promise of quickly incinerating a wide range of targets while helping to minimize costs, Miller explained.

“The shot per kill (with lasers) is very inexpensive when the alternative is sending out a multi-million dollar missile,” Miller said.

Boeing’s Avenger Laser weapon successfully destroyed a drone in 2008 at White Sands Missile Range. Army weapons developers observed the test.

The Army is also developing a mobile high-energy solid-state laser program called the High Energy Laser Mobile Demonstrator, or HEL MD. The weapon mounts a 10 kilowatt laser on top of a tactical truck. HEL MD weapons developers, who rotate the laser 360-degrees on top of a Heavy Expanded Mobility Tactical Truck, say the Army plan is to increase the strength of the laser up to 100 Kilowatts, service officials said.

The nation’s only military film festival just announced this year’s lineup
U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command

“The supporting thermal and power subsystems will be also upgraded to support the increasingly powerful solid state lasers. These upgrades increase the effective range of the laser or decrease required lase time on target,” an Army statement said

In November of 2013, the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command/Army Forces Strategic Command used the HEL MD, a vehicle-mounted high energy laser, to successfully engage more than 90 mortar rounds and several unmanned aerial vehicles in flight at White Sands Missile Range, N.M.

“This was the first full-up demonstration of the HEL MD in the configuration that included the laser and beam director mounted in the vehicle. A surrogate radar (Enhanced Multi Mode Radar) supported the engagement by queuing the laser,” an Army statement said.

Miller explained how the Army hopes to build upon this progress to engineer laser weapons able to destroy larger targets at farther ranges. She said the evolution of laser weapons has spanned decades.

“We first determined we could use lasers in the early 60’s. It was not until the 90’s when we determined we could have the additional power needed to hit a target of substance. It took us that long to create a system and we have been working that kind of system ever since,” Miller added.

Articles

13 high-value terrorists we’ve killed or captured since 9/11

All eyes are on the Pentagon as it assesses the effects of the strike that may have killed “Jihadi John,” the British terrorist who conducted high-profile executions for ISIS.


The downfall of JJ is an awesome win for the U.S. and U.K. militaries, but it’s just the latest in a list of “high-value targets” that have been brought down. Here are 13 of America and her allies’ greatest hits against terrorism.

1. Osama Bin Laden

The nation’s only military film festival just announced this year’s lineup
Photo: Wikipedia/Hamid Mir

You don’t need an intro to this a–hole. He was killed by SEAL Team 6 in a daring raid into Pakistan on May 2, 2011.

2. Saddam Hussein

The nation’s only military film festival just announced this year’s lineup
Photo: US Army

Like Osama Bin Laden, you really shouldn’t need an intro for this guy. Saddam Hussein was captured by U.S. forces on Dec. 13, 2003 in Tikrit, Iraq where he was hiding in a tiny hole. He was executed Dec. 20, 2006 by hanging after being found guilty of crimes against humanity.

3. Muhammad Atef

The head of military planning and Osama Bin Laden’s security from the late 90s through 2001, Muhammed Atef was killed in an air raid near Kabul in Nov. 2001.

4. Abu Sayyaf

The nation’s only military film festival just announced this year’s lineup
On the left, Abu Sayyaf as a mujahideen commander in 1984. Photo: Wikipedia/Erwin Franzen

The Army’s Delta Force led the raid against Abu Sayyaf and killed him when he resisted May 16, 2015. Sayyaf ran ISIS’s gas and financial operations as well as a limited number of military operations.

5. Atiyah Abd al-Rahman

Atiyah Abd al-Rahman became al-Qaeda’s top operational planner and number 2 leader overall after Bin Laden was killed. His tenure near the peak was short-lived and he was killed in a drone strike Aug. 22, 2011.

6. Abu Musab al-Zarqawi

An expert at coordinating suicide attacks, a kidnapper, and an executioner, Zarqawi’s presence in Iraq was one of the “proofs” that Saddam Hussein was tied to al-Qeada and had to be taken down. He died Jun. 8, 2006, of wounds sustained in an airstrike.

7. Abu Ayyub al Masri and Abu Omar al Baghdadi

The top guy in al-Qaeda Iraq and his number two, Abu ayyub al Masri and Abu Omar al Baghdadi were killed in a joint-U.S. and Iraqi security operation in Anbar, Iraq in Apr. 2010.

Note: This is not the Baghdadi who leads ISIS. That’s Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi who may have been killed or injured in Oct. 2015.

8. Abd al Rahim al Nashiri

A suspected planner of the USS Cole attack and a number of others, Abd al Rahim al Nashiri was captured in an airport in Nov. 2002.  He is currently detained in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba..

9. Anwar al-Awlaki

The nation’s only military film festival just announced this year’s lineup
Photo: Wikipedia/Muhammad ud-Deen

The Youtube imam caught frequenting prostitutes by the F.B.I, Anwar al-Awlaki was a U.S. citizen. He fled the states and eventually took a leadership role in al-Qaeda Yemen. He was killed in Sep. 2011 in a drone strike.

10. Abu Layth al-Libi

The number 3 in al Qaeda at the time of his death, Abu Layth al-Libi got his start in another terror network before becoming a field commander and spokesman for al Qaeda. He was killed in a drone strike Jan. 29, 2008.

11. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed

The nation’s only military film festival just announced this year’s lineup
Photo: Wikipedia

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, suspected to be the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, was captured Mar. 1, 2003 by the C.I.A after an informer known as “Asset X” texted his handler, “I M W KSM.” Mohammed is still in custody at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

12. Mustafa Abu al-Yazid

The head of finance for al Qaeda and possibly the director of operations when he was killed, Mustafa Abu al-Yazid was killed by a missile strike in May 2010.

13. Abdul Basit Usman

A leader of a Islamic terror organization in the southern Philippines, Abdul Basit Usman may have been killed by his own bodyguards. They tried to claim a bounty from U.S. and Philippine authorities after Usman was shot to death May 3, 2015.

Articles

This Nazi submarine was looted by American divers

It is always interesting to dive on wrecks. This can include wrecks of sunken warships, which can serve as an eerie glimpse into the past. Some ships, like the Essex-class aircraft carrier USS Oriskany (CV 34), are old warships being put to use as artificial reefs.


Others were sent to Davy Jone’s Locker the hard way during the war. One such vessel is the Nazi U-boat U-85. According to U-Boat.net, this sub sank three vessels during its wartime service before it ran into USS Roper (DD 147). The Roper put U-85 on the bottom of the Atlantic. All hands went down with the Nazi sub less than twenty miles off the coast of North Carolina.

The nation’s only military film festival just announced this year’s lineup
The Nazi submarine U-52, a Type VIIB U-boat similar to U-85. (British government photo)

The story, though, doesn’t end there. According to Outer Banks Sentinel’s web site, in 2001, divers Jim Bunch, Roger Hunting, and Rich Hunting retrieved the sub’s Enigma machine. The site claimed that Navy divers had attempted a similar objective shortly after the U-boat sank in 1942. The Sentinel noted that the Enigma was worth as much as $200,000, although appraisals supposedly for tax purposes were in the range of $50,000 to $75,000.

A 2003 release by the United States Navy’s Naval Historical Center noted that “the retrieval of the Enigma machine by the private divers was illegal without proper authorization from the German government to do so.” The Navy, the divers, and the German government later arranged for the Engima machine in question to be donated to the Atlantic Graveyard Museum, where it is today.

The nation’s only military film festival just announced this year’s lineup
A collection of enigma machines at the National Cryptologic Museum. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

The looting of war graves has become an epidemic in the East Indies, including the battleship HMS Prince of Wales, the battlecruiser HMS Repulse, and a number of other allied vessels.

Articles

13 funniest military memes for the week of May 19

Another week down, another flurry of military memes from the comedy blizzard that is the internet.


Here are 13 of the funniest we found:

1. Huh. Didn’t know “Queen of the Bees” was a new MOS (via Pop smoke).

The nation’s only military film festival just announced this year’s lineup
A couple of stings will remind you that you’re alive pretty quickly.

2. Guess someone is rucking home (via Team Non-Rec).

The nation’s only military film festival just announced this year’s lineup
And that’s not how you carry a helmet.

ALSO SEE: 7 things you should know before joining the infantry

3. Sure, you’ll look fabulous until that first splash of hot coolant or grease (via Sh-t my LPO says).

The nation’s only military film festival just announced this year’s lineup
Oh, and you don’t look fabulous. You look like an idiot.

4. Pretty unfortunate fortune cookie (via Sh-t my LPO says).

The nation’s only military film festival just announced this year’s lineup
Especially if the cruise gets extended.

5. It’s a rough gig. Ages you fast (via Sh-t My Recruiter Said).

The nation’s only military film festival just announced this year’s lineup
Not sure how he lost that eye, though.

6. Seriously, every briefing can be done without Powerpoint (via Why I’m Not Re-enlisting).

The nation’s only military film festival just announced this year’s lineup
And if you choose to use Powerpoint, at least punch up the briefing with some anecdotes and keep the slide number low.

7. Think the platoon sergeant will notice? (via Team Non-Rec)

The nation’s only military film festival just announced this year’s lineup
Just keep your eyes forward and only the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th ranks will see it.

8. God, Romphims took over the military pretty fast (via Weapons of Meme Destruction)

The nation’s only military film festival just announced this year’s lineup
Photoshoppers must have been working overtime.

9. We’re all the same. Except for these as-holes (via Weapons of Meme Destruction).

The nation’s only military film festival just announced this year’s lineup

10. It’s all fun and games until someone has to clean up (via Valhalla Wear).

The nation’s only military film festival just announced this year’s lineup
Did anyone else notice the uniform change in this meme? You’re Marines while you’re shooting, but you’re Army when you’re cleaning up.

11. Oh yeah? You completed selection and training but decided against the green beret? (via Decelerate Your Life)

The nation’s only military film festival just announced this year’s lineup
You can’t refuse Special Forces until they offer you the tab, and no one turns it down right after earning it.

12. “Headhunter 6? Never heard of her.” (via The Salty Soldier)

The nation’s only military film festival just announced this year’s lineup

13. You poor, stupid bastard (via Why I’m Not Re-enlisting).

The nation’s only military film festival just announced this year’s lineup
They’re all equally bad.

Articles

Russian fighter in ‘near miss’ with US aircraft over Syria

On the first day of the Mosul offensive in Iraq, a Russian fighter came close to colliding with a U.S. warplane in a “near miss” over northeastern Syria, U.S. military officials said Friday.


Air Force Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Harrigian, commander of U.S. Air Force Central Command, told NBC News that the nighttime incident Oct. 17 was a “near miss” but said he tended to believe the Russians’ explanation that their pilot simply did not see the U.S. aircraft in the dark.

Also read: NATO is boosting deployments after Russian threats

However, Harrigian said similar close calls between Russian and U.S. aircraft over Syria have increased in the past six weeks amid rising tensions between Moscow and Washington over Syria’s civil war and now occur about every 10 days.

The nation’s only military film festival just announced this year’s lineup
Two Russian Sukhoi Su-24 attack aircraft flying over USS Donald Cook in the Baltic Sea on April 12, 2016. | U.S. Navy photo

In a later statement on the incident, Air Force Central Command said that the Russian fighter was escorting a Russian surveillance aircraft and inadvertently flew across the nose of the U.S. aircraft.

The close call was the result of a “mistake” by the Russians and the U.S. believed that it was “fully unintentional,” the statement said.

“The Russians cooperated by looking into the incident, calling back, and explaining themselves and their pilots actions as an error,” it said.

In a separate briefing to the Pentagon, Air Force Col. John Dorrian, a spokesman for Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve, said the Russian fighter came within a half-mile of the U.S. aircraft, but “we don’t believe there was any nefarious intent” on the part of the Russians.

Dorrian did not name the types of aircraft involved, saying only that the Russian aircraft was a fighter and the U.S. plane was a “larger aircraft.” He said the Russian fighter “passed close enough that the jet wash from that flight was felt within the larger aircraft,” but “no one declared an in-flight emergency or anything of that nature.”

Immediately after the incident, the Russians were contacted over the “deconfliction” hotline set up by the Russian and U.S. militaries to avoid close calls by aircraft on missions in the region.

Harrigian, speaking from a U.S. base in the Mideast, said that, in some cases, U.S. and Russian aircraft flying in close proximity are “not a big deal,” but added, “I think it’s important to recognize this one got our attention.”

“We called the Russians about it and made sure they knew we were concerned,” Harrigian said. “They didn’t have the situational awareness to know how close some of our airplanes were.”

When asked why the Oct. 17 incident wasn’t disclosed until Oct. 28, Dorrian said, “There wasn’t anybody playing ‘I’ve got a secret.’ ”

He said Army Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend, the task force commander, was immediately informed of the close call but did not feel that it merited being disclosed as a “breaking news event.”

Articles

This is how the remains of a WWII hero made it home after 75 years

A New York military aviation researcher got more than she bargained for on a dream trip to a battle-scarred South Pacific island — the chance to help solve the mystery of an American soldier listed as missing in action from World War II.


Donna Esposito, who works at the Empire State Aerosciences Museum in upstate Glenville, visited Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands this spring and was approached by a local man who knew of WWII dog tags and bones found along a nearby jungle trail. The man asked if Esposito could help find relatives of the man named on the tags: Pfc. Dale W. Ross.

After she returned home, Esposito found that Ross had nieces and nephews still living in Ashland, Oregon. A niece and a nephew accompanied Esposito on her late July return to Guadalcanal, where they were given his dog tags and a bag containing the skeletal remains.

The nation’s only military film festival just announced this year’s lineup
Marines rest in this field during the Guadalcanal campaign. (Photo under Public Domain.)

Although it’s not certain yet the remains are the missing soldier’s, the nephew who made the Guadalcanal trip is confident they will be a match.

“It’s Uncle Dale. I have no doubt,” said Dale W. Ross, who was named after his relative.

The elder Ross, a North Dakota native whose family moved to southern Oregon, was the third of four brothers who fought in WWII. Assigned to the Army’s 25th Infantry Division, he was listed as MIA in January 1943, during the final weeks of the Guadalcanal campaign. He was last seen in an area that saw heavy fighting around a Japanese-held hilltop.

When the Japanese evacuated Guadalcanal three weeks later, it was the first major land victory in the Allies’ island-hopping campaign in the Pacific.

The nation’s only military film festival just announced this year’s lineup
Members from Coast Guard Air Station Barbers Point and the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency transfer a case of unidentified remains believed to be military personnel onto a Coast Guard HC-130 Hercules airplane to be transferred to Oahu from the Solomon Islands, Aug. 9, 2017. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Tara Molle.)

Ross’ relatives handed the remains — about four dozen bones, including rib bones — to a team from the Pentagon agency that identifies American MIAs found on foreign battlefields. On August 7, the 75th anniversary of the start of the Battle of Guadalcanal, an American honor guard carried a flag-draped coffin containing the bones onto a US Coast Guard aircraft.

The Pentagon said the remains were taken to Hawaii for DNA testing.

“Until a complete and thorough analysis of the remains is done by our lab, we are unable to comment on the specific case associated to the turnover,” said Maj. Jessie Romero of the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency.

The other three Ross brothers made it back home, including the oldest, Charles, who served aboard a Navy PT boat in the Solomons and visited Guadalcanal in the vain attempt to learn about his brother Dale’s fate.

The nation’s only military film festival just announced this year’s lineup
Gen. Robert B. Neller lays a wreath during the 75th Anniversary of the Battle for Guadalcanal ceremony. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Armando R. Limon, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division.)

Ross’ niece and nephew made their trip last month with Esposito and Justin Taylan, founder of Pacific Wrecks, a New York-based nonprofit involved in the search for American MIAs from WWII. They met the family whose 8-year-old son found the dog tags and remains. They also were taken to the spot on a slope in the jungle where the discovery was made.

“I never met this man, but I was a little emotional,” Ross, 71, said of the experience.

For Esposito, 45, finding evidence that could solve a lingering mystery in an American family’s military history is the most meaningful thing she’s ever done in her life.

“I can’t believe this has all happened,” she said. “It has been an amazing journey.”

MIGHTY MOVIES

Ex-CIA agent and ‘Red Sparrow’ writer on Russian threats

Red Sparrow is an unapologetically adult, complicated, and ambitious spy thriller based on the Edgar Award-winning novel by former CIA agent, Jason Matthews. Set in current times, it’s a throwback to the darkest Cold War spy thrillers and earns its R rating with a mix of sex and violence that hearkens back to the best 70s spy movies.


Jason Matthews talked to us about his own experiences in the CIA and why post-Soviet Russia is still a threat to democracy.

 

In the movie, Jennifer Lawrence plays Dominika Egorova, a Bolshoi ballerina who’s recruited to Russian intelligence after an on-stage injury ends her dancing career. Her uncle happens to be deputy director of the SVR and he sends her to Sparrow School, where she’s trained to use her sexuality as a weapon against Russian enemies.

Also read: 6 military movies you need to watch in 2018

Dominika pursues her own agenda as she’s tasked with seducing an American CIA agent (Joel Edgerton) and finding the identity of a mole in Russian intelligence. There’s a lot of methodical tradecraft punctuated by bursts of violence and sex. Red Sparrow isn’t aimed at the Hunger Games audience and makes no apologies about being a movie for adults.

Jason is a CIA veteran who doesn’t hedge his thoughts about Russia. The good news for fans of the movie is that the two additional novels in his trilogy might make even better films.

The nation’s only military film festival just announced this year’s lineup
Novelist and former CIA agent, Jason Matthews.

You left the CIA in 2010. How did you become a novelist?

I left after 33 years. In the clandestine service part of the agency, our careers were very experiential, 24/7. You were always on, you were always looking for surveillance, you’re always wondering about rooms being bugged.

When that lifestyle ended, it ends with the crash. One of the familiar Hollywood tropes of retired spies is the big black car pulls up to your house and they recruit you back into service. In reality, that never happens. When you’re out, you’re out.

I started writing fictionalized little snippets of accounts of people that we’ve known, fictionalized mosaics of places we’ve been and things we’ve done. Before I knew it, I had a novel together.

The novel Red Sparrow is a throwback to the old-school spy novels that emphasize tradecraft, as opposed to a lot of the contemporary books that are action novels with spy plots grafted onto them.

Absolutely. There are lots of great thriller writers out there, but they mostly write about counterterrorism and catching the briefcase nuke. I wanted to write a classic, old spy yarn with the Russians as the main opponents.

Related: 7 movie quotes that perfectly apply to military life

You were born in the 50s. Did you grow up on that kind of fiction and those movies?

Sure. There were a lot of great spy movies in the 60’s and 70’s, really iconic sort of film-noir kinds of things. But I think my worldview was formulated by 33 years in the service.

My wife was also in the service, we were a tandem couple. We lived in ten foreign capitals and we worked on a lot of different human targets, but we also kept our eye out for the Russians because that was the gold ring.

You wrote these novels and then this film got developed at a time when Americans probably weren’t thinking as much about the Russians. Here we are in 2018 and the Russians are at the front of everyone’s mind again.

I wake up every morning and I thank Vladimir Putin for providing endless content for books and movies. He’s doing a great job as a PR director for us.

Russia is always gonna be sort of a conundrum, they’re always gonna be meddling. They love those active measures, political influence campaigns. They’ve been doing them since the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917. Vladimir Putin’s singular goal is to stay in power. That will take a weakened America, a weakened NATO, and a weakened Atlantic Alliance. He just wants to stay in power.

If he can fuss with the American democracy – and I don’t care whether you’re Democrat or Republican — all the partisanship, all the squabbling just plays into the Russian hands. They’re rubbing their hands in delight in the Kremlin.

The nation’s only military film festival just announced this year’s lineup
Vladimir Putin. (Photo from The Russian Presidential Press and Information Office)

There’s a school of thought that the Russian love of espionage is a trait that goes back centuries and that it’s not something that started with the Soviets.

I think that’s absolutely right on. You hesitate to generalize, but Russians are xenophobic. The only people they hate more than foreigners are themselves. They don’t like to be ignored, they don’t like to be belittled. They want a seat around the table. Russia is always caught between the European elegance of Catherine the Great and the Slavic beastliness of Ivan the Terrible.

As an expert, what do you think the United States should be doing right now to deal with this current wave of Russian influence, or can we say, interference?

I think that we have to show resolve, we have to show solidarity, we’ve got to stop our partisan squabbling, and create a unified front. Russia, historically, stops what they’re doing when the cost of it becomes more than the profits that they imagine they’re getting.

Putin has got elections coming up this year and, if you have any doubt what he considers the vulnerable spots in any election process, he has unplugged his internet, he controls state television and radio, he has disqualified his major opponents from running, and he makes demonstrations in the streets illegal. That’s the Russian playbook and, if we could find the cracks in the cement between all those elements and give him a headache, he’ll be too busy to start messing around with our process.

More reading: 4 reasons why it’s impossible to make movies about the military

Obviously, people with an interest in Russian spy tales are going to line up to see Red Sparrow. Do you think the movie can act as a wakeup call for the broader Hollywood audience, the Jennifer Lawrence fans who don’t think about our current situation with Russia?

Using a broad brush, maybe audiences will take back home the fact that the Cold War never ended, we’re going through a second Cold War, and the Russians mean to do us harm. The movie itself, you know it’s sexy, it’s violent, it’s got a tremendous cast and terrific characters, but I don’t know how much American theatergoers will bring home besides the realization that Russia is not our ally.

You created a spy character who’s a woman. I don’t think there’s been a woman this prominent in spy fiction before. Was that a conscious choice or something that just happened based on the stories you knew from your career?

Yes and no. I thought it would be interesting and evocative to make the main character the heroine. I had read a little bit about the famous Sparrow Schools in the 60s and the 70s in the Soviet Union and how horrible they were. It was almost like slavery, making women go to those kinds of schools.

Apart from the sexpionage, Dominika falls in love with the CIA officer who recruits her. So, there’s mortal danger and a love affair and Sparrow School. I thought it was an interesting combination.

Related: 4 military movies whose hero should be dead

Is that sexpionage something that’s still in the playbook?

Western intel services never got into sexpionage because they thought that anyone recruited by sexual blackmail would be a not trustworthy source. I think the old Sparrow School in the Soviet City of Kazan is probably closed. But if a human target with access to classified information went to Moscow, he’d probably see a modern-day Sparrow at one of the bars of the five-star hotels in Moscow. They would be there ready and waiting.

What are you working on now? What’s next?

This year, the third book in the Sparrow trilogy came out, Kremlin’s Candidate. I told myself I was going to take a little break, but the next morning I found myself staring at my computer screen trying to figure out a new plot. I don’t have anything yet, but I can’t stop.

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Pentagon reveals covert Chinese fleet disguised as fishing boats

The Pentagon’s new report on China’s developing military capabilities exposes the fighting force on the front-line of China’s quest to control the seas.


The Chinese Maritime Militia, a paramilitary force masquerading as a civilian fishing fleet, is a weapon for gray zone aggression that has operated in the shadow of plausible deniability for years. Supported by the People’s Liberation Army Navy “grey hulls” and Chinese Coast Guard “white hulls,” the CMM “blue hulls” constitute China’s third sea force.

The CMM engages in “low-intensity coercion in maritime disputes,” according to the Department of Defense report.

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A Pentagon report reveals that China has a covert fleet of fishing trawlers intended to wreak havoc in the maritime ‘grey areas’ of the South Pacific. (US Navy photo)

“China has used coercive tactics, such as the use of law enforcement vessels and its maritime militia, to enforce maritime claims and advance its interests in ways that are calculated to fall below the threshold of provoking conflict,” the report explains. For instance, after the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague discredited China’s claims to the South China Sea last July, Beijing dispatched the CMM to the territories China aims to control.

“China is building a state-owned fishing fleet for its maritime militia force in the South China Sea,” the Pentagon report introduced.

China presents the CMM as a civilian fishing fleet. “Make no mistake, these are state-organized, -developed, and -controlled forces operating under a direct military chain of command,” Dr. Andrew Erickson, a leading expert on Chinese naval affairs, explained during a House Committee on Armed Services hearing in September.

The maritime militia, according to the Pentagon, is a “subset of China’s national militia, an armed reserve force of civilians available for mobilization to perform basic support duties.” In the disputed South China Sea, “the CMM plays a major role in coercive activities to achieve China’s political goals without fighting, part of broader [People’s Republic of China] military doctrine that states that confrontational operations short of war can be an effective means of accomplishing political objectives.”

The Department of Defense recognizes that the CMM trains alongside the military and the coast guard. A 2016 China Daily article reveals that the maritime militia, a “less-noticed force,” is largely “made up of local fishermen.” The article shows the militia training in military garb and practicing with rifles and bayonets.

“The maritime militia is … a component of China’s ocean defense armed forces [that enjoys] low sensitivity and great leeway in maritime rights protection actions,” explained a Chinese garrison commander.

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A helicopter attached to Chinese Navy ship multirole frigate Hengshui (572) participates in a maritime interdiction event with the Chinese Navy guided-missile destroyer Xi’an (153) during Rim of the Pacific. (Chinese navy photo by Sun Hongjie)

The CMM is not really a “secret” weapon, as it has made its presence known, yet throughout the Obama administration, government publications failed to acknowledge the existence of the maritime militia. “We have to make it clear that we are wise to Beijing’s game,” Erickson said in his congressional testimony.

The CMM harassed the USNS Impeccable in 2009, engaging in unsafe maneuvers and forcing the U.S. ship to take emergency action to avoid a collision. The maritime militia was also involved in the 2011 sabotage of two Vietnamese hydrographic vessels, 2012 seizure of Scarborough Shoal, 2014 repulsion of Vietnamese vessels near a Chinese oil rig in disputed waters, and 2015 shadowing of the USS Lassen during a freedom-of-navigation operation. China sent 230 fishing vessels, accompanied by several CCG vessels, into disputed waters in the East China Sea last year to advance China’s claims to the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands administered by Japan.

Commissar of the Hainan Armed Forces Department Xing Jincheng said in January that the members of the Maritime Militia should serve as “mobile sovereignty markers.” He stated that this force is responsible for conducting “militia sovereignty operations” and defending China’s “ancestral seas,” territorial waters “belonging to China since ancient times.”

“I feel that the calm seas are not peaceful for us,” he said. “We have to strengthen our combat readiness.”

While the maritime militia has been mentioned by Navy officials, as well as congressional research and commission reports, the new Department of Defense report is the first high-level government publication to address the third sea force. “The fact is that it is there,” U.S. Pacific Fleet Commander Admiral Scott Swift said in November, “Let’s acknowledge that it is there. Let’s acknowledge how it’s being command-and-controlled.”

Dragging the maritime militia into the light significantly limits its ability operate. “It is strongest—and most effective—when it can lurk in the shadows,” Erickson wrote in the National Interest.

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That time pirates mistook a Navy warship for a target

Remember when Somali pirates made headlines for seizing an oil tanker? That batch of Somali pirates was pretty smart. Others have managed to be very dumb. How dumb were they? Well, some pirates tried to hijack a pair of U.S. Navy warships.


 

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An armed suspected pirate looks over the edge of a skiff, in international waters off the coast of Somalia. (U.S. Navy photo.)

According to a United States Navy release, on March 18, 2006, the Ticonderoga-class guided missile cruiser USS Cape St. George (CG 71) and the Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer USS Gonzalez (DDG 66) were patrolling off the coast of Somalia as part of Task Force 150 to deter piracy. During their patrol, they were approached by a vessel towing a number of skiffs.

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Confiscated weapons lay on the deck of guided missile cruiser USS Cape St. George (CG 71) following an early-morning engagement with suspected pirates. (U.S. Navy photo.)

A boarding party from the Gonzalez was sent to investigate, but noticed a number of people were brandishing rocket-propelled grenade launchers. The pirates on board the skiffs then opened fire on the Cape St. George, inflicting minor damage.

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Evidence of small arms fire impact is visible on USS Cape St. George’s (CG 71) hull after suspected pirates opened fire on USS Gonzalez (DDG 66) and Cape St. George. (U.S. Navy photo.)

The Cape St. George and the Gonzalez, as well as the boarding party, proceeded to return fire, using what a contemporary CNN.com report described as “small arms.” The main pirate vessel was set afire and sank. Two smaller skiffs were captured, along with 12 pirates and one body. A Somali pirate group would claim that 27 “coast guardsmen” had been sent out.

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A suspected pirate vessel ignites in flames before burning to the waterline. (U.S. Navy photo)

The Virginian-Pilot reported that the wounded were first taken to the amphibious assault ship USS Nassau (LHA 4) for treatment. The pirates who survived this near-catastrophic failure in their victim-selection process were eventually released and repatriated back to Somalia.

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Rocket propelled grenades (RPGs) and other armaments lay on the deck of USS Cape St. George (CG 71) after being confiscated during an early-morning engagement with suspected pirates. (U.S. Navy photo.)

Four years later, the guided-missile frigate USS Nicholas (FFG 47) also came under attack, according to a CBS News report. The BBC reported that five captured pirates were given life sentences for piracy.

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Mercury 13: The first female astronaut candidates that time forgot

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Visiting the space center as invited guests of STS-63 Pilot Eileen Collins, the first female shuttle pilot and later the first female shuttle commander, are (from left): Gene Nora Jessen, Wally Funk, Jerrie Cobb, Jerri Truhill, Sarah Rutley, Myrtle Cagle and Bernice Steadman. (Photo: NASA)


Dr. Randy Lovelace was a Harvard-educated flight surgeon with the U.S. Army who became a pioneer in aeromedicine and aviation physiology — particularly with the issues surrounding high-altitude flight. He was instrumental in developing the first oxygen masks and other adaptive equipment that allowed aviators to survive in low space.

In 1940 Lovelace met Jackie Cochran, a record-holding air racer who petitioned First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt to use women as pilots on the homefront in a variety of non-combat missions. That idea turned into the Women’s Airforce Service Pilots, better known as “WASPs,” during World War II. These female aviators served in crucial roles — test pilots, ferry pilots and maintenance check pilots — that freed up more male pilots to fight the battles that were raging across the globe. A few years later Cochran, by virtue of her friendship with Chuck Yeager, became the first woman to break the sound barrier. After that, she became the first woman to land an airplane on an aircraft carrier.

So when NASA started fielding candidates for what would eventually become the Mercury 7 astronauts, Lovelace and Cochran started a parallel effort that mirrored NASA’s rigorous testing — doable because Lovelace was a key player in designing the official program for the space agency. Along the way they asked another record-breaking female aviator, Jerrie Cobb, to join the effort. The three of them scrubbed the veteran WASP community — a population of over 700 pilots — and came up with 13 qualified females willing and able to go through their NASA-like testing.

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Jerrie Cobb with Mercury capsule. (Photo: NASA)

Cobb dubbed the group “Fellow Lady Astronaut Trainees” or “FLATs.” The 13 went through a series of stressful evaluations designed to see if they could hold up under the conditions in space. Ice water was injected into their ears to induce vertigo. Painful electric shocks were administered to test reflexes. Weighted stationary bicycles were used to rapidly push candidates to exhaustion. And that was just Phase I of the testing.

All 13 of the women passed Phase I, but because of family and job commitments, only three of them — Jerrie Cobb, Rhea Hurrle, and Wally Funk — were able to travel to Oklahoma City for Phase II. Phase II involved psychological evaluations — including one that had them sit in an isolation tank for an extended period. All three woman passed.

After Jerrie Cobb passed Phase III, which included actual flights in military jet aircraft, the rest of the FLATs were invited to follow suit. But before they could gather at Naval Air Station Pensacola, the designated location, U.S. Navy officials at the base sent a telegram to the candidates that informed them that support for the project had been withdrawn because the request hadn’t come through NASA channels.

That ruling infuriated Cobb, and in 1962 she flew to Washington, D.C., to petition lawmakers to make the FLATs program an official part of NASA. Her efforts led to Rep. Victor Anfuso, R-NY, convening public hearings before a special Subcommittee of the House Committee on Science and Astronautics. Cobb’s testimony introduced gender discrimination into the Hill’s conversation well before the Civil Right Act of 1964 made it illegal.

But the way forward for the FLATs was plagued by infighting among the principals more than unresponsive congressmen. Jackie Cochran, of all people, sensing she was losing clout among her peers, testified that setting up a special program to help women would hurt NASA. Cochran’s negative view was multiplied by the opinions of a handful of Mercury 7 astronauts, including John Glenn, who said that the absence of women in the program was “a fact of our social order.”

Glenn also pointed out that astronaut candidates were required to be graduates of one of the military’s test pilot schools, something women were not qualified to apply for in 1962, and NASA had already indicated it had no desire to waive the requirement by giving females credit for the massive amount of flight experience they had — in some cases many more flight hours than the Mercury 7 selectees. Although some in congress were sympathetic to the FLATs’ plight, Cobb’s Capitol Hill visit didn’t result in any meaningful support.

Soviet cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova became the first woman in space on June 16, 1963. In response, “Life” magazine published an article criticizing NASA and American decision makers. The article included photographs of all 13 FLATs, which made the entire group of women public for the first time.

NASA did not select any female astronaut candidates until 1978. Astronaut Sally Ride became the first American woman in space in 1983, and in 1995 Eileen Collins was the first woman to pilot the Space Shuttle. At Collins’ invitation, seven of the surviving FLATs attended her launch.

In 1995, while working on a film adaptation of the FLATs’ story, Hollywood producer James Cross coined the label “Mercury 13” for the FLATs. (Look for that title in a theater near you in the years to come.)

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These are the 7 most disappointing military commanders in Westeros

Daenerys Targaryen FINALLY landed on Westeros in HBO’s “Game of Thrones.” She’s even started using the dragons and Dothraki on Westerosi armies! Even though she hasn’t (yet) moved on King’s Landing, there’s a lot of reason to believe it’s just a matter of time before the “game” is over.


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The face you make when you have the only Air Force.

This gives us a chance to stop and reflect on all the battles and strategies in the game that led us here. Even better, it gives us a chance to laugh at the worst leaders in the place and question why the hell they thought they could hang in the first place. At least Tommen knew he just wasn’t cut out for it.

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Tommen performs an actual king’s landing.

7. Theon Greyjoy

Theon’s big victory wasn’t even really a fight. He told the Stark Army there was an attack somewhere else, and when they left he forced Bran to concede Winterfell to him. Then, right before the Iron Born immediately turned on him, he killed some farmer’s family and torched their two kids. Cool.

You know who the real loser was in the sack of Winterfell?

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Yes, an argument could be made for Ser Rodrick.

Rickon Stark. Rickon is the real loser in all this. By the time the Starks retake Winterfell, Bran can see through time, Arya has face-melting assassin skills, Jon Snow is hanging with the Mother of Dragons, and Sansa runs the place. What did Rickon get?

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Oh riiiiiiiiiight…

Theon sucks. He knew it, his men knew it, the Boltons knew it. And he’s at number seven on this list because we knew it too.

6. Ramsay Bolton

Sure, he seized the North (after it was decimated by the Iron Born, but whatever). We’ll give that to him. But the thing about the way a ruler like Ramsay Bolton operates is that there has to be an element of fear to fighting for him. That also means that there has to be a good chance you’ll survive. If you know you’re going to die no matter what, it makes it difficult to fight for survival.

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Also, when his gimmick is a bunch a flayed dudes, you have to wonder who’s getting flayed next.

In the Battle of the Bastards, Ramsay so casually mows down his own troops with arrows to the point that they’re indistinguishable from the enemy in the pile of bodies. See if you can spot the point when a bunch more guys from the Bolton Army would have really come in useful during the Battle of the Bastards:

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Look closely.

Where was the shirtless Ramsay Bolton who fought the Iron Born at the Dread Fort?

5. Joffrey Baratheon

If only Stannis Baratheon had attacked King’s Landing with a bunch of prostitutes, then Joffrey would know how to kill the enemy. Donning the King’s Armor in the one time he had a chance to be a real leader, he bravely left the battlefield to go see what his mom wanted.

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And don’t forget, Arya was embarrassing Joffrey before it was cool…and before she even had face-wrecking assassin powers.

4. Balon Greyjoy

Remember Balon? No? Funny how the worst among us are completely forgotten as soon as someone with skills and ability comes along.

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(Stares in Iron Born)

The thing about Balon that’s different from most of the people on this list is that the other people had a reputation for valor, daring, and strategic thinking before the events depicted on the show. Not Balon. Before the events of the show, Balon led a rebellion from the Iron Islands and was quickly owned by Ned Stark. His biggest win was having Theon taken hostage.

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We all know how that turned out.

Everyone spends the first season making fun of Balon in front of Theon. Only Yara gave a damn when Euron threw the old man over a bridge. In fact, the whole Game of Thrones series got exponentially better as soon as someone killed Balon.

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The world actually cheered as Balon was helped off the show. Probably.

3. The Night King

The Night King has existed since the age of the Children of the Forest. He has practically unlimited manpower that only grows the more he fights. And it’s next to impossible to stop his army in close quarters combat…unless you can figure out the three things that can actually hurt them.  And the Night King is giving the living SO MUCH TIME TO FIGURE IT OUT.

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¯/_(‘   ‘)_/¯

Seriously, what is he doing beyond the wall? Every time we see him, he and his army of White Walkers look like they’re just walking around endlessly. Don’t they know they’re supposed to attack in the winter? I know it’s supposed to be the longest winter ever but that doesn’t mean he has to wait until the last minute to attack.

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One step at a time? Oh jeez this is going to take FOREVER.

If he just started attacking now, he could swarm The Wall before Jon Snow can mine the Dragon Glass. Or before Dany can beat Cersei and focus the dragons on the North. But no, he’s going to walk around the land beyond The Wall because it’s apparently much more fun than winning.  People who are older than history love to take walks.

2. Jaime Lannister

For all the stories you hear about Ser Jaime’s fighting ability, all he ever seems to do is get captured or almost die. When he does win, it’s not because he’s actually fighting. He makes the disappointment list because you feel like he should be better at fighting. And yet we have come to love him anyway.

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But you could choose someone who isn’t your sister.

Jaime didn’t kill Tyrion even though he believed Tyrion killed his son. Jaime failed to kill a small child by throwing him out a window. Even in combat, we’ve seen more success from Samwell Tarly. Tyrion managed to get a few kills in at the Blackwater — the most Jaime ever did was kill his cousin and lose a hand for his trouble.

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Yeah, nice.

It’s mind-boggling why Tyrion is the most disappointing Lannister (to the Lannisters, I mean). Jaime is the biggest liability in Westeros and all Tyrion has to do is tell an Army, “Let’s go kill those dudes attacking our city,” and he wins the day.

“But what about Riverrun?” you might ask. Early on, we hear about Jaime taking Riverrun from the Riverlords but by season six, he has to go retake it from the Blackfish. Taking a castle doesn’t do you any good if you can’t keep it. Ask Theon Greyjoy about that.

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You’ll have to catch him first.

For the ultimate in Jaime Lannister’s bad decision-making skills, see the last five minutes of the seventh season episode “The Spoils of War” and remember Jaime’s quote: “We can hold them off.” Hey bud, everyone knows she’s got fire-breathing dragons and a barbaric horde of Dothraki horse archers.

Not only did Jaime do nothing for his troops, he didn’t even get the anti-dragon gun ready to fight. That thing stayed in the wagon waaaaaaaaaay too long.

1. Stannis Baratheon

For what all the bookreaders have to say about Stannis Baratheon, we sure expected some magic from this guy. The only magical thing about Stannis came out of Melisandre.

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Run, Jon Snow. This will not end well.

At the Battle of the Blackwater, Stannis drove his Navy into the bay, which would seem like the best idea. But a little bit of intel work and he would have known the Lannisters poured a ton of electric green stuff into the bay in anticipation of the battle, which everyone knew was coming. Then, Stannis did exactly what everyone expected him to do – a frontal assault. No wonder the Lannisters knew exactly how to wipe the floor with his gate crashers.

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If Baratheon leadership could be summed up in one clip, this would be it.

Also, underestimating the wealthiest family on the continent was a terrible call. They control Casterly Rock and King’s Landing. Why did Stannis never consider the possibility of a relief force from Casterly Rock? Tywin Lannister was known for his ability as a soldier and general and the Lannisters were allied with the Tyrells. Stannis, whose moves surprise no one, never considers outside forces. Like…did he forget he was in The War of Five Kings?

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Stannis has never been good at showing emotion. Or leadership ability. Or fatherhood. Or anything, really.

To top that, the real heir to Robert Baratheon led a depleted army against Winterfell. A real commander would work to prepare the army, maybe get some more allies at the last minute, work on a secret plan or weapon to even the odds of assaulting a fortified position. Not Stannis. His ace in the hole was to roast his daughter alive.