Parents, it’s time to get those creative juices flowing! Take advantage of extra time with the kiddos and see what everyone can do with their best art skills at work. Look to local inspiration (and plenty of grace for the non-artists among us), for a fun way to spend some of your quarantine.
Stained “glass” decor
This trend has probably blown up your newsfeed. Get some tape, some paint or chalk, and map out a pattern with triangles and squares. It’s perfect for anyone living on post who wants to share some beauty for all to see. Best of all, it’s colorful!
Straight out of elementary art class, this project can be adjusted for any age. Provide kids with a subject (vehicle, animal, design), along with a few art supplies. Let each kid create their own masterpiece, then have a discussion about what they liked most. Kids can even comment on which aspects of their siblings’ pieces they like the best. Take it a step further and set up a gallery.
Let your inner control freak go and let them make a mess! Set up sheets, canvases, paper, or t-shirts in the lawn and let them get wild. Our favorite methods include: paint-filled balloons or squirt guns, and sponges launched from far away.
Grab a piece of wood and strategically place nails. (Older kids can even do the nails themselves.) Next, provide some colored string and let them weave away. Do this in the backyard, or (if open) head to some beautiful open spaces on base for a change of scenery.
These days slime is a big deal. Grab a slab of it and have kids make their own marker drawing, yes, right on the slime. Once done they can stretch and mold the artwork to change its entire look. Mix it all back together and start all over again!
This is a fun project that allows kids to create and transform their art project. Help them grind up old crayons and encourage them to spread it out and make a design on some waxed paper. Once finished, add another layer and iron the whole thing for a lasting project you can hang on the fridge or in a window for colorful light.
What are your favorite art projects to do with kids during quarantine?
While I still have a few years left, I am on the tail end of my military career. I have been fortunate enough to spend most of my time in uniform supporting Special Operations Forces. I have done a wide range of work. I’ve done everything from working out of safe houses to sitting behind a desk doing policy work to ensure the guys down range were covered. Because nothing happens without paperwork.
During my time I have learned a lot about the community and what it takes to do well in it. Over the years, I have made mistakes and I have reached milestones, and both situations taught me valuable lessons along the way. If I had to pass on knowledge to a new support personnel, these are the things I would tell my potential future replacements:
1) Know your place, and be proud of it.
When you very first get to the community, don’t overestimate your worth. I have seen more than a few well-qualified support personnel get fired from SF commands because they forgot they weren’t Operators. If an SF command has taken the time to screen you, hire you, and then provide you additional training based on your MOS/Rate it’s because they needed your specific skillset, and they considered you ahead of your peers. Be proud of that, because it means the SOF community needed your skillset in order for them to accomplish the mission.
And don’t treat your conventional counterparts like sh–. You may very well need them one day. In fact, you probably will.
2) The Q Course doesn’t produce seasoned SF Operators.
I realize that statement should be fairly obvious, but coming into the community, I didn’t quite grasp that. I assumed all Operators were seasoned Veterans and were professional at everything they did. I also assumed that all the support personnel were seasoned as well. It took me years to fully understand that an Operator has to grow into that seasoned and professional warrior.
At some point you will inevitably hear something like, “What do you know, you’re not an Operator!” You need to remember several things when you run into this. First, check yourself, and make sure you didn’t just put your foot in your mouth. If you didn’t, and you are confident about what you are talking about, don’t back down (remember, you were hired for your specific skillset).
The next thing is you need to remember is to not take it personally. And finally, you need to consider if this is an Operator who has been around and understands the role of the support folks, or if this is a new Operator that still learning what role you play in helping accomplish their mission.
This may have been my hardest lesson at the early stages of my career.
3) Find someone senior and make them your mentor.
There is always that one support person. The one that has been in the command forever, and almost seems bitter about it, yet the leadership always comes to them for advice. The Operators don’t give them a hard time when they need something from them, because they’ve proven their worth time and time again.
More than likely, they’ve been there since they were a junior NCO, and is now a senior NCO complete with the crusty attitude. Get on their good side and make them your mentor (whether they know it or not). There is a reason they has been there forever and a reason they have survived. Find out what it took, and imitate their work ethics. But maybe not the attitude, not yet anyway. Get some years in first and earn your “crustiness.”
4) Always put the mission first.
Like any of us in uniform, we all want to advance. We want more responsibility and we want to take on leadership roles. At some point, you will face a decision where you have to make a choice between the mission and something administrative pertaining to your career, or someone else’s.
One of my favorite mentors gave me this piece of advice: “Always put the mission first and everything else will fall into place”. What he essentially meant was that if I was doing what I was supposed to do, the senior leadership would recognize it and take care of me when the time came.
5) Bad news doesn’t get better with time.
This applies to all communities but I think this really hits home in the SOF community. If you mess up, don’t try to hide it, fix it on the sly, and hope no one notices. Own your mistake, tell the people you need to tell. It’s okay to make mistakes. Learn from it and move on with it.
As Admiral McRaven moved through the SOF commands, one of the things he used to put out to the mid-level leadership was for them to allow their people to make mistakes. He said he didn’t want his people to be too afraid to take chances for fear of being punished if they failed. If you find something innovative, don’t be afraid to try new things. Just make sure you have a good plan and that you communicate with your teammates.
6) Your rank doesn’t make your idea better.
One of my favorite things about the SOF community is that good ideas usually don’t wear rank. Listen to your people! If your junior folks have an idea, it may be worth listening to. It may not, but take the time to listen. That one time you do it and it works, you may make a huge impact on your troops’ morale.
7) Always be in good shape.
You ever see that one fat support person that all the Operators asked for advice from? No? That’s because it never happened. Your primary concern should be your job and how well you do it, and your secondary concern should be your physical shape. No Operator wants to hear from a fat, out-of-breath body.
If you can’t take care of yourself, how can they have any faith you will take care of them as they head out the door? I’m not saying you need to be a triathlete or even keep up with the Operators at the gym, but I am saying that the Operators need to feel comfortable that you can keep up if or when they take you out of the wire.
“I have no idea why I joined the Army,” said Spc. Ken Park, a soldier with the 414th Civil Affairs Battalion, based out of Southfield, Michigan. “My parents were extremely against it. I was a spoiled brat. I was fat.”
Park came from what he considered to be a privileged life. He was constantly told that he was special by his parents and his teachers. But Spc Park never really felt like that was a life for him. “Coming from that sort of privileged background, joining the Army, being told that I was the same as everyone else sort of put me in my place.”
“My recruiter even told me I couldn’t join, the first time. He said I should go to school instead, and I could join later” said Park. He was about 60 pounds overweight at the time, so he joined a gym and, through hard work and discipline, ended up losing 70 pounds. Park was, perhaps unknowingly, starting to re-program himself into the Army life even before he officially enlisted.
By being in the Army, Park said, he has learned life skills that he may not have learned otherwise. “I didn’t know how to do laundry until the first or second day of basic. Actually, my battle buddy looked at me weird. He said, ‘How do you not know how to do laundry as an 18 year old?’ I had someone do that for me my whole life” said Park. “But now I know the value of a dollar. How hard you have to work to be something. And how to do laundry,” he said with a chuckle.
Spc. Ken Parks, a soldier with the 414th Civil Affairs Battalion listens to the range safety officer issue commands targets during a qualification table at his unit’s November drill weekend at Fort Custer, Mich. on Nov. 16th, 2019.
(Photo by Sgt. Bob Yarbrough)
Park went on to say that his Army experience has only gotten better. “In AIT (Advanced Individual Training) I had a case of bronchitis, but I kept going. We had a PT test and I had to pass. “There was [harsh winter] weather like this. And I had to go on. The fast guys came back, because they knew I had bronchitis, but I had to pass. I made it and it was hard, but I don’t know that I would have made it without them.”
Spc. Park isn’t new to the U.S. Army Reserve, but he is new to the Civil Affairs Community, and the 414th, first drilling with the unit in September. He says his time in the 414th has been eye-opeing. “There aren’t many places you can go, in the Army or in normal life, where someone will see you struggling, and say ‘Hey, I know you’re tired, I got you’ and they take care of you so the mission still gets done.”
Park came to the 414th after being contacted by an Officer in the unit. “Cpt. Babcock actually reached out to me on LinkedIn,” said Park, “because I’m fluent in Korean and Japanese. Now I feel proud to be part of the unit, and I hope to live up to the expectations of the Commander and the First Sergeant.”
“Despite being told that I shouldn’t, and couldn’t, join the Army, I’m glad I did,” said Park. “It gave me a higher value, a better reason for doing what I do.”
A merchant vessel burns after being torpedoed by the U-71 off Cape Hatteras, NC in March 1942.
Imagine the following scenario: A bloody war rages overseas as a fanatical, totalitarian ideology conquers entire countries. The U.S. government announces it will send military forces abroad to stem the tide of the aggression. Despite increasingly dire news headlines, however, life in America proceeds uneventfully.
After all, America is thousands of miles from the battlefields and surely far beyond the enemy’s immediate reach.
That sense of security abruptly ends only weeks later when the enemy suddenly launches a fearsome assault against the U.S. homeland itself. Thousands die as American cities witness explosions and raging infernos. Worse yet, the U.S. military seems powerless to stop the assault.
If that story sounds far-fetched, it shouldn’t. It isn’t the plot of Call of Duty– the scenario described above actually happened during World War II. December 1941 saw the U.S. finally join the war against Germany, Japan, and Italy. Many Americans understandably assumed that geography insulated them from any direct threat.
However, while U.S. leaders in Washington debated how to deploy their forces overseas, Adolf Hitler made the first move. In January 1942, Hitler’s forces began a massive naval offensive against the U.S. east coast.
The German navy, or Kriegsmarine, lacked a formidable surface fleet. What the Kriegsmarine did possess, however, was a technologically and tactically sophisticated submarine force: the infamous unterseeboots, or “U-boats.”
The U-boats had proven deadly in World War I, to include a limited number of attacks near the U.S. east coast, but the scale of the U-boat offensive against America in 1942 was without precedent. Only weeks after Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor, war had come to the American homeland.
Rendition of the U-995
(oil painting by Augusto Ferrer-Dalmau)
Cargo ships and even U.S. Navy warships began going down in flames. Many vessels were torpedoed within sight of coastal cities. Coastal residents saw the ships burning off the Jersey Shore and the Outer Banks. Debris and bodies washed ashore for months as the U-boats struck from New England to Texas.
U-boat commanders returning to port in occupied Europe reported that U.S. waters offered more targets than the U-boats had the means to attack. The easy hunting lead German crews to dub 1942 die glückliche zeit: “the happy time.”
(Alamy Stock Photos)
Compounding the fear and destruction was America’s apparent inability to stop it. A combination of factors limited the U.S. military’s ability to stop the U-boats. These included a shortage of warships suited to anti-submarine operations, a lack of convoy procedures, and a reluctance to implement nighttime blackouts of coastal cities to deny U-boat commanders the benefit of ship silhouettes to target.
While U.S. leaders debated how to stem the onslaught, the Kriegsmarine dispatched more waves of U-boats to North America. Hundreds of ships were sunk, and thousands died as desperately needed war material was sent to the bottom of the Atlantic.
The U-123, one of the German subs that prowled the American coast in 1942.
(German Federal Archives)
Fortunately, 1942 would prove to be the apex of Hitler’s U-boat assault against America. The Allies began implementing convoys, and more American air and naval assets were allocated to anti-submarine duties.
These changes eventually led the Kriegsmarine to shift its priorities away from American coasts towards the mid-Atlantic. U-boats would continue to strike in American waters until the end of the war, but the scope and effectiveness of their operations steadily decreased. U-boat losses mounted too as the hunters eventually became the prey.
The U-boat fleet, considered one of the most prestigious assignments for a German serviceman, ultimately suffered the German military’s highest casualties: 3 out of 4 U-boat crewmen did not survive the war.
The crew of the U-550 abandons ship after being crippled by a U.S. Coast Guard attack off Massachusetts in April 1944.
(U.S. Coast Guard photo)
U.S. waters today are littered with the wrecks of U-boats and their victims. Many of these wrecks have become popular sites amongst scuba divers. This chapter of World War II, however, has mostly disappeared from American public memory.
This is to our discredit, as the memory of Hitler’s naval assault against America bears several important lessons for a post-9/11 world. These lessons include the naiveté of assuming that large oceans can be counted on to deter foreign aggression and a sobering reminder of what a small but motivated and capable force can inflict on a much larger power.
The thousands of men lost during this forgotten campaign is a testament to the human cost of global conflict and its ramifications for national security in the 21st century.
The Marine Corps wants to overhaul its force to prepare to be more dispersed and more flexible to deter and, if need be, take on China’s growing military in the Pacific.
“China has moved out to sea, and they have long-range weapons and a lot of them,” Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger said on February 11 at an Amphibious Warship Industrial Base Coalition event on Capitol Hill.
“Those two things have changed the game,” Berger added. “Take those away, in other words, we could keep operating with dominance everywhere we wanted to, as we have. We cannot do that. We can’t get stuck in old things. We are being challenged everywhere.”
Since taking over last summer, Berger has called for a shift from a force suited for fighting insurgencies to one that can square off with China across the Pacific.
What Berger has outlined is a lighter, more mobile force that can operate in small units on Pacific islands. But the amphibious force that will support those units is not where it needs to be, Berger said last week.
That may mean the Corps needs new ships in the future, but he said it also needed to make better use of its current assets, which is where the “Lightning carrier” — an amphibious assault ship decked out with 16 to 20 F-35B stealth fighters — comes in.
“I’m in favor of things like the Lightning-carrier concept because I believe we need to tactically and operationally be … unpredictable,” Berger said. “We’ve been sending out every [Amphibious Ready Group] and [Marine Expeditionary Unit] looking mirror-image for 20 years. We need to change that.”
“You would like to see one of those big decks one time go out with two squadrons of F-35s and next time fully loaded with MV-22s and another MEU with a 50-50 combo. Now that’s how you become unpredictable. How do you defend against that?” Berger added.
The Lightning carrier’s nontraditional configuration is “a force multiplier,” the Corps said in its 2017 aviation plan.
In his commandant’s planning guidance issued in July, Berger said the Corps would “consider employment models of the Amphibious Ready Group (ARG)/MEU other than the traditional three-ship model” and that he saw “potential in the ‘Lightning Carrier’ concept” based on Wasp-class landing-helicopter-dock ships and the newer America-class amphibious assault ships.
The USS Wasp exercised in the South China Sea in spring with 10 F-35Bs aboard, more than it would normally carry.
In October, the USS America sailed into the eastern Pacific with 13 F-35Bs embarked — a first for the America that “signaled the birth of the most lethal, aviation-capable amphibious assault ship to date,” the Corps said.
The Lightning-carrier configuration gives the Marine Air-Ground Task Force aviation element “more of a strike mindset with 12 or more jets that give the fleet or MAGTF commander the ability to better influence the enemy at range,” Lt. Col. John Dirk, a Marine attack-squadron commander aboard the America, said at the time.
Even with the Lightning carrier, more needs to be done, Berger said on Capitol Hill.
“I think our … amphibious fleet has great capability. It is not enough for 2030. It’s not enough for 2025,” he said.
“We need the big decks, absolutely. We need the LPD-17. That is the mothership, the quarterback in the middle,” Berger said, referring to the San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock, the “functional replacement” for more than 41 other amphibious ships. Eleven are in active service, and the Navy plans to buy one in 2021.
“We need a light amphibious force ship, a lot of them, that we don’t have today,” Berger added.
When asked by Military.com, Berger declined to say how many Marines and aircraft those light amphibious ships could carry or whether they would be in the Navy’s new force-structure assessment, which is still being finalized. The Corps is also conducting its own force redesign, which Berger said would be released within the next month.
Berger also said he thought there was a role for the littoral combat ship, four of which the Navy plans to decommission in 2021, and the Navy’s future frigate.
“We cannot put anything on the side right now, not with your adversary building to north of 400” ships, he said, referring to Chinese naval expansion.
“The ships that we have, we need to increase the survivability of them, increase the command-and-control capability of them, arm them where we need to,” Berger added.
Berger and Rep. Mike Gallagher, who also spoke at the Capitol Hill event, both emphasized deterrence in the Indo-Pacific region, and both said that would depend on forces that are stationed forward and dispersed.
The Pentagon is “struggling to figure out how do we do deterrence by denial in Indo-Pacom. How do we deny potential adversaries their objectives in the first place, rather than rolling them back after the fact? That hinges on having forward forces,” said Gallagher, a former Marine officer and a member of the House Armed Services Committee’s seapower subcommittee.
The challenge is “to develop an entirely new logistics footprint, which includes new ships to support, resupply, and maneuver Marines around the first island chain, littorals, and in a high-threat environment, where speed and mobility serves as the primary defense,” Gallagher said.
That may require new classes of ships, added Gallagher, who told industry representatives in the room that “new classes of ships do not have to mean less work, and in the case of the future amphibious fleet — because I believe we need more potentially smaller amphibious vessels — it might actually mean more work.”
In his remarks, Berger called deterrence “the underpinning of our strategy.”
“I believe that because whatever the cost of deterrence is,” Berger said, “is going to be lower than the cost of a fight, in terms of ships and planes and bodies. So we need to pay the price for deterrence. I’m 100% there.”
Marines in the Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force-Crisis Response Africa are prepared to rescue American civilians and fellow service members in the massive continent where they operate. And they recently went on an exercise focusing on saving downed aircrews, a mission known as tactical recovery of aircraft and personnel that often requires Marines entering enemy-held territory and providing medical aid.
The mission is simple enough to understand. When an aircrew crashes to earth, the personnel could be spread out, injured, and in imminent danger of an enemy patrol or other force finding them with their pants down. So the SP-MAGTF flies in, conducts search and rescue, renders medical aid, and extracts everyone.
But that simple mission comes with a lot of complications. There’s obviously the problem of enemy forces, since they get a vote on what happens. But aircraft shoot downs and crashes are naturally chaotic events, so the personnel the Marines are looking for could easily be spread out over miles of debris-strewn ground.
And there’s always the chance, though slim, that the enemy will try to get a mole into U.S. forces by having them impersonate a crew member or passenger, so the Marines have to verify everyone’s identity while also caring for the injured, some likely catastrophically.
And extraction is no picnic either. The Marines will have to carry out the litter wounded and possibly guide the ambulatory. They’ll often have to select and prepare their own landing zone and then secure it to keep out baddies. Only when all the wounded are aboard and safe can they collapse their perimeter and withdraw.
That’s why the Marines spend so much time and energy training for this and other emergencies. On game day, there won’t be much time to prepare, and their performance will determine life and death for themselves and potentially dozens of others.
Every job has its unexpected perks. Even being a Marine Corps aviator in World War II had some unexpected benefits. This is because Marines make do, as the saying goes, and are used to making the most out of whatever Uncle Sam provides them to get the mission done. They will even make miracles happen when it’s not part of the mission.
That’s just what Marines do, even when it comes to ice cream.
You read that right.
Everyone loves ice cream and I state that firm belief as someone who has been lactose intolerant his entire life. Marines these days give the Air Force a lot of smack for (almost) always having sweet treats present wherever there’s an Air Force dining facility. But let’s be real, after a few days, weeks, or however long being deprived of even the simplest luxury, a bit of ice cream goes a long way. Marine aviators in the Pacific Theater thought so, too.
The United States captured the island of Peleliu from Imperial Japan after more than two months of hard fighting toward the end of 1944. Marines on Peleliu were within striking distance of the enemy, but since there was no real threat at the time, they were not on combat patrols or supporting operations elsewhere in the theater. The Marines were getting bored and if you’ve ever made it past basic training in any branch of the military, you know there are few things more inventive or more dangerous than bored Marines.
The crew of the USS Lexington raided the ice cream stores after being torpedoed by the Japanese in 1942. That’s not a joke.
One squadron commander, J. Hunter Reinburg, figured he could probably raise morale among his men if he could fix one of his F4U Corsair fighter-bombers to become a high-altitude ice cream maker. It wouldn’t be that hard. His crews cut the ends off a drop tank, created a side access panel, and strung a .50-caliber ammo can in the panel. He instructed the mess sergeant to fill the ammo can with canned milk and cocoa powder. All he had to do was get it cold enough to freeze – no problem for a high-altitude fighter.
There was something to Reinburg’s thinking. Ice cream has long been a staple of American morale. During the years of Prohibition, ice cream and soda jerks replaced bar nuts and bartenders for many Americans. Ice creams were marketed toward helping people cope with suffering during the Great Depression. When World War II broke out, other countries banned ice cream to enforce sugar rations — but not the United States. Americans loved the sweet treat so much the U.S. military even planned to build a floating ice cream factory and tow it into the Pacific Theater.
For Marines stranded on a hot island with no fresh food and no refrigeration, high-altitude ice cream was a great idea.
I need to get me one of those old-time ice cream makers.
Army Air Corps bombers had been making the sweet treat in the same way for years, flying at frigid high altitudes while the hum and vibrations from the engine churned the milk and sugar into frozen ice cream. For the Marines, the first run was a disaster. Reinburg circled the island at 33,000 feet for 35 minutes. When he landed, the mixture was still liquid. But Marines don’t give up so easily.
The second run saw ammo cans bolted onto the underside of wings to keep the ice cream base far from the hot engines. The mixture froze, but didn’t have the creamy texture the men wanted so badly. The third run was the most inventive of all. This time Marines rigged the ammo cans themselves with propellers which turned a screw inside the ammo cans, churning the ice cream as it froze.
This time the ice cream was perfect. The only hitch was they forgot to let the Operations Officer, a Colonel, have a ration of ice cream.
Three months ago, Navy SEAL and NASA Astronaut Chris Cassidy slogged through the dirt roads of Normandy with a 44lbs rucksack on his back. Captain Cassidy and several dozen other SEALs (myself included) had just swam 11 miles through the English channel to commemorate the pre-D-Day mission of the first Naval Commandos. The 11-mile swim / 25-mile ruck run on the 74th anniversary of D-Day had a purpose: to raise money for fallen SEALs and their families.
It was an act of service for those who had died in service.
Cassidy, who earned a Bronze Star in Afghanistan, sweated out this epic charity challenge in the middle of training for another kind of walk — one that will take place at 17,000 miles per hour, 400 kilometers above the earth’s surface. If all goes well, Cassidy will return to space and conduct a spacewalk to make repairs on the International Space Station. But, in the midst of endless days of preparation and training, he took time to honor his military roots — a heritage he shares with a long line of astronauts before him. Captain Chris Cassidy said,
It’s truly been an honor to have a role in our nation’s manned space program. We have had astronauts and cosmonauts living continuously on the International Space Station for the last 18 years which has only been possible because of the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo programs. That history is also deeply intertwined with the military. Personally, I love how in both our nation’s space program and military, laser focus on mission success is balanced with detailed planning and operational rick controls. It’s also an amazing feeling to be among such motivated and talented people.
That heritage is one of the centerpieces of the new blockbuster film, First Man, featuring Ryan Gosling starring as NASA Astronaut Neil Armstrong. People know Armstrong as the man who walked on the moon; they often don’t know that Armstrong was a decorated Navy fighter pilot and Korean War veteran.
Neil Armstrong in 1964, while in training to be an astronaut.
The film is largely focused on Armstrong’s life and the mission to get to the moon — but it explores a theme familiar to military audiences: the challenge of maintaining a family while deploying to do dangerous work. The film depicts Armstrong’s family and their sacrifice, particularly that of Armstrong’s wife, Janet. And it shows scenes that any military family has faced: how to speak to your children about the danger of the mission; the enormous stress before the deployment; the uncertainty while your loved one is far away. All of this is shown with raw and real emotion.
What was true then and is true now is that service member families often bear a heavy and overlooked burden during times of conflict. While First Man is primarily a movie about the first moon walk, it’s important to remember that that mission, and the space program in general, was the byproduct of a conflict: the Cold War and the tension between the USSR and the US. The frontlines of the early space race were the frontiers of space, and its foot soldiers were military test pilots who strapped themselves to rockets and ventured into the stratosphere in service of their country.
Apollo 11 astronauts with families, 1969
(Ralph Morse for LIFE)
I had an opportunity to speak with Academy Award-winning director Damien Chazelle (the director behind the smash-hit films La La Land and Whiplash) and ask him about these themes of the connection between military service and the space program:
1. Tell us a bit about the inspiration behind ‘First Man’
After I made Whiplash, I was approached by producers Wyck Godfrey, Isaac Klausner, and Marty Bowen about the idea of doing a movie on Neil Armstrong. I didn’t know much about space travel and didn’t know what my angle would be. But I started reading Jim Hansen’s incredible book, First Man, and started to think of Neil’s story as a story about the cost of great achievement — similar to what I had looked at in Whiplash, only on a much bigger canvas.
What was the toll that the mission to the moon took? I was awed by the sacrifice, the patriotism, the ambition, and the vision that made the impossible possible — and the reminder that it was human beings who did it, ordinary people thrust into extraordinary circumstances and overcoming daunting odds — and even great tragedy — to accomplish something for the ages.
The crewmen of the Apollo 11 lunar landing mission leave the Kennedy Space Center’s (KSC) Manned Spacecraft Operations Building (MSOB) during the prelaunch countdown. Astronauts Neil A. Armstrong, commander; Michael Collins, command module pilot; and Edwin E. Aldrin Jr., lunar module pilot, ride the special transport van over to Launch Complex 39A where their spacecraft awaited them. Liftoff was at 9:32 a.m.
2. What’s woven through the movie are themes of duty and sacrifice. And as a Navy veteran myself, I could identify not just with the astronauts (especially Neil, Navy pilot), but with their families and what they went through. Can you talk a bit about those themes and how they affected your work on this?
The family aspect was paramount — showing these famous events through the eyes of not just Neil, but his wife Janet and his sons, Rick and Mark. How did they all cope with the demands of the job? Funerals were a normal part of life. Two of Neil’s closest friends died while he was in the program. Neil himself almost died several times. And yet, balanced with the danger and the risk, he and Janet also had to take out the trash, clean the pool, make breakfast for their kids. That combination of the intimate and the epic, and the selfless way Neil and Janet confronted all of it, was extraordinary to me.
But I also think it’s worth remembering, as you note, that Neil had been in the Navy. He was someone who believed deeply in service for country. He risked his life in the Korean War. He became a test pilot to forward our understanding of aeronautics, to contribute to knowledge. He went to space to keep seeking those answers. This is someone who was not acting in his own self-interest, who was not seeking fame or fortune. This is a man who believed, in all aspects of his life, that his duty to the mission came first, and without that willingness to risk it all and to sacrifice it all I don’t believe the moon landing ever would have happened.
3. Can you talk a bit about Janet Armstrong and her role?
Ryan and I were lucky enough to meet with Janet and spend time with her. She was an incredible woman, and the stories she told us and memories she shared with us were invaluable. Like Neil, Janet was tough — she had a grit to her that I think made her uniquely qualified for her role in the space program. It’s worth remembering that astronaut wives like Janet played an enormous part in the overall endeavor of going to the moon: they were the ones to had to find the balance between space and home, between the demands of their husbands’ work with the lives of their kids and the necessities of home. They had to do it all while putting on a smile for the cameras — even when they couldn’t know for sure if their husbands would ever return from space. One of my greatest joys in making this movie was in watching Claire Foy embody Janet’s spirit and resilience and pay tribute to such an amazing person.
The Apollo 11 crewmen, still under a 21-day quarantine, are greeted by their wives, Janet Armstrong, Patricia Collins, and Joan Aldrin.
4. There’s a scene in the film where Neil Armstrong is talking to his boys about what’s about to happen — the mission and the risks. Can you give us a sense of what you were thinking with that scene and what you wanted to convey?
That’s a scene that many families across the country have their own version of: the mom or dad about to go off to work, and the knowledge that he or she may not come back. It again speaks to a willingness to sacrifice in the name of service that I find awe-inspiring. In this movie’s case, the scene at the dinner table between Neil and Janet and their boys Rick and Mark was almost word-for-word what actually happened. Janet insisted to Neil he talk to his kids and explain to them what he was doing and what the risks were; much of the scene was taken verbatim from Rick and Mark Armstrong’s recollections. It was a tremendously important scene for all of us — a moment where the characters have to come to a stop and confront the dangers of what they are doing, and what it all means.
5. The military and the space program have a long joint history. At the simplest, a lot of veterans became astronauts. The SEAL community, which I’m a part of, for example is proud of the fact that there are two astronauts currently in training who are SEALs. Did that joint history play into your research at all, or the end product?
It did, in several ways. First, I liked to think of the film as almost a war movie. The moon mission was initially a product of the Cold War, and the astronauts who risked their lives for their country were all former or current servicemen. The dangers were almost combat-like, too — this was not the glossy, glamorous, sleek-and-easy space travel I grew up seeing in movies. These capsules were like old tanks and submarines; the rockets carrying them out of the atmosphere were essentially converted missiles. The dangers were front and center — and, with them, the immense bravery required to face them.
This photograph of astronaut Neil A. Armstrong, Apollo 11 commander, was taken inside the Lunar Module (LM) while the LM rested on the lunar surface.
6. The film’s story and title come from James Hansen’s biography of Neil Armstrong, but I was curious: Did you have any other creative influences that helped you make this — books, films, etc?
Yes, many! As I alluded to, certain war movies were big inspirations: Saving Private Ryan, Paths of Glory, The Deer Hunter. Movies about submarines like Das Boot. I also read as many books on the subject matter as I could — one of my favorites was “Carrying the Fire” by Mike Collins, who flew with Neil on Apollo 11. “Deke!” by Deke Slayton and “Failure Is Not An Option” by Gene Kranz were also key. And, finally, documentaries! The archival material shot by NASA, much of which is compiled in incredible films like For All Mankind and Moonwalk One. Documentaries of the period like Salesman and Hospital and Gimme Shelter. An amazing documentary by Frederick Wiseman, about training at Vandenberg Air Force Base, called Missile. All of these taught and inspired me.
First Man, starring Ryan Gosling, arrives in theaters October 12, 2018.
Kaj Larsen is an award-winning journalist whose work has appeared on CNN, ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, VICE, Huffington Post, and numerous other outlets. He also served as a US Navy SEAL earning the rank of Lieutenant Commander and completing multiple deployments in the Global War on Terrorism. His family member, Judith Resnick, was the second American woman in space and was killed on launch during the 1986 Challenger space shuttle explosion.
On April 1, 2001, a U.S. Navy EP-3E intelligence-gathering aircraft hit a Chinese J-8II fighter in mid-air, forcing the Navy intel plane to make an emergency landing on nearby Hainan Island – on a Chinese military installation. One Chinese pilot was killed, and the American crew was held captive and interrogated by the Chinese military.
Meanwhile, a trove of Top Secret American intelligence and intel-gathering equipment was sitting in Chinese hands.
A Chinese J-8 fighter.
The EP-3E Airborne Reconnaissance Integrated Electronic System, also known as ARIES, aircraft is used for signals intelligence gathering. Much of what these planes do is a close secret, and no one except its crew members really know how or what information they track, which makes what is now known as the “Hainan Island Incident” all the more damaging. When the crew of the EP-3E was forced to land – without permission – on the Chinese military base, it was basically handing China some of the U.S. military’s most secret equipment.
At the end of the EP-3’s six-hour mission, it was intercepted by Chinese jets near Hainan Island, itself an extremely important signals intelligence base for China. One of the Shenyang J-8 interceptors made three passes on the EP-3E, accidentally colliding with it on the third pass. The hit damaged the Navy plane and tore the Chinese fighter in two. After recovering from a steep, fast dive, the Navy crew tried to destroy all the sensitive equipment aboard. Sadly, they had not been trained on how to do that. Protocol for such an event would have been to put the plane into the sea and hope for rescue. Instead, the crew poured coffee into the electronic equipment and threw other sensitive documents out a hatch.
The EP-3E spy plane was flown out by a third party in an Antonov-124 cargo plane, the world’s largest.
The crew conducted an emergency landing on Hainan Island’s Lingshui Airfield, where they were taken into custody by the People’s Liberation Army. They were interrogated and held for ten days as the United States negotiated their release. The Chinese demanded an apology for both the illegal landing and for their dead pilot, which the U.S. publicly announced. The plane required extra negotiation, as the Chinese wouldn’t let the United States repair it and fly it out. The Navy had to hire a Russian company to fly it away.
When the Russians came to pick up the plane, they found it torn apart by the Chinese. It was returned to the Navy in pieces months later – and the Chinese presumably learned everything about America’s most sensitive signals intelligence equipment. A later inquiry didn’t fault the crew. In fact, the pilot received the Distinguished Flying Cross for saving the crew and the aircraft. Documents later released by Edward Snowden revealed the Navy didn’t know how much sensitive material was aboard and inadequately prepared the crew for this eventuality.
In the northwest Chinese region of Xinjiang, many locals read endlessly, write often, and sing loudly.
But not by choice.
In extrajudicial indoctrination camps around Xinjiang, ethnic Uighur men and women are forced to study Chinese history, write personal reflections, and sing songs like “Without the Communist Party, there is no New China.” Many are beaten, tortured, and are unable to go home.
China considers this process “re-education.” It runs outside the court system with people dragged away for infringements like talking to a loved one overseas or having a beard, and there is no course for appeal.
A recent estimate put the number of people who have been, or are currently, interned since April 2017, in the hundreds of thousands, or even just over one million.
Though the exact total is unknown, Adrian Zenz, a social researcher at the European School of Culture and Theology, pored over local job ads and government bids to find new evidence of the system’s existence and scale.
Since 2016, there were government bids to construct or upgrade 73 facilities in Xinjiang that, despite various names, appeared as though they will operate, wholly or at least in part, as re-education centers.
Re-education centers are often disguised as vocational training hubs, as many were in these bids, but the details betray their hidden purpose.
Together, the facilities required guard rooms, video surveillance, security fences, police equipment, police living quarters, handheld security inspection devices, steel-reinforced concrete walls, and even iron chains.
“Many of these facilities are heavily secured, to an extent that they do not just aim to keep potential intruders out, but to keep those inside under tight surveillance.” Zenz told Business Insider.
Twenty bids listed new or upgraded monitoring or video surveillance. One bid from January 2018, wanted 122 cameras to cover the whole facility without leaving any “dead angles.”
One center required security nets, the renovation of a guard room, and “four watchtowers.” Another, submitted on April 25, 2018, requested an 86,000 square-foot “underground facility.”
These security features, according to Zenz, confirm reports that vocation centers frequently function as internment camps, though many facilities likely sit on a continuum.
“All we know is that a substantial number of facilities, likely capable of holding at least several hundred thousand, are geared more towards the re-education side. Some are explicitly and directly marked as re-education facilities. More than likely, facilities with a stronger vocational training focus can likewise hold several hundred thousands,” said Zenz.
“Some even specifically state that they are designed to perform ‘re-education.’ An official government notice from April 2017, pertaining to these facilities in a particular prefecture mandated that training topics include military drill, Chinese language, legal knowledge, ethnic unity, religious knowledge and patriotic education.”
Job ads are also a huge giveaway
As easy as it may be to silently whisk away thousands of people to new re-education centers, skyrocketing prisoner would also require a huge recruitment drive.
According to Zenz, from May 2017, counties with large ethnic minority populations “initiated a wave of recruitments” for so-called education and training centers.
But ads for such staff were often listed in the same ads as open police positions, and some ads even preferred recruitees with a military or police background.
Other job ads conflated the two roles, hiring “training center policing assistants.” If the staff were being hired to work at a regular vocation center the high number of security personnel would be “difficult to explain,” said Zenz.
Ads also frequently lacked required skills or qualifications that would normally be crucial to providing vocational training. Many required only a middle-school education whereas other provinces, where few Uighur would live, usually require at least a bachelor degree.
In one Xinjiang country, where Uighurs make up 95% of the population, 320 jobs available at a “training center” had three criteria: have a middle-school education, be loyal to the Chinese Communist Party, and be part of the ethnic majority Han.
Re-education isn’t the only problem Uighurs face
In an attempt to crack down on religious extremism, authorities in Xinjiang have targeted almost any form of religious expression by Uighur Muslims.
Women have been banned from wearing burqas and veils. Residents were barred from fasting during Ramadan with restaurants ordered to stay open despite religious obligations. And in 2016, millions of Xinjiang residents were ordered to surrender their passports and must seek permission to travel abroad.
Authorities have installed surveillance apps on residents’ phones and begun collecting DNA samples, fingerprints, iris scans, and blood types from all Xinjiang residents aged between 12 and 65. They have also collected voice samples that may be used to identify who is speaking on tapped phone calls.
Former jack-of-all trades Marine Reservist Lance Cpl. David Roach spent six years learning infantry tactics, machine gunnery, bulk fuels, and heavy equipment while serving in the Marine Corps from 2002-2008.
Throughout his security career, he’s gone from a mall cop and security guard to being in charge of security personnel for hospitals, airports, and companies. Currently, he’s a global security manager focused on crisis management, disaster monitoring and open source intelligence.
He also worked with the Coast Guard, doing search and rescue missions and anti-drug interdiction out of Monterrey Bay, California. He used all of his experience for material for his books.
“In security, I’ve been shot at. I’ve had people try to stab me. I’ve gotten into lots of fights and take downs,” Roach said. “I hate going into crowded places. I’m definitely a person who enjoys being out in the wilderness.”
He also used the military family experience of his wife, Amanda, to add to the realism behind the fantasy of his characters in his five-novel Vikings series called Marauder.
“I come from a Marine family,” Amanda said. They’ve been married 11 years. “My grandmother and grandfather actually met in the Marines. She was Marine in the 1950’s. She was tough as nails. My brother and cousins are also Marines.”
Former Marine Lance Cpl. David Roach, writer of the Marauder series, uses his real-world Marine Corps and security training for his characters, as well as the experiences of his friends and family who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan.
(Photo by Shannon Collins)
Roach said he researched the history of Vikings, Scandinavian culture and the realities of their lives during that time period.
“I try to keep it as realistic as possible and then throw in the monsters and the Gods. That’s when it gets fun and exciting,” he said smiling. “But everything else, I try to keep as realistic and close to real life as possible so that the readers can relate.”
He said his books reflect his military experience because he doesn’t shy away from dark humor, cursing or the brutality of war. “These are not kids’ tales. They’re brutal. I’m always trying to find the historical curse words, the slang they would’ve used at the time. This is what it was like during that time. That was what real life was like,” he said. “I started going to re-enactment battles as well,” Roach said. “I got to get into a shield wall. I saw how easy it is for a shield to splinter or for weapons to bend or how quickly things could go wrong if you get flanked or if someone is careless.”
For Roach’s Civil War book, When the Drums Stop, he wrote in the footsteps of his ancestor, a low-ranking Union soldier. He drove cross-country and visited the National Civil War Museum and stopped at battlefields for inspiration.
Roach said that anyone in the military who even has an inkling of becoming a writer, whether it be for a novel or for a website should just start doing it.
“Don’t wait for somebody’s permission. Don’t wait for a publication or publisher to tell you you’re good enough because most of them will say, ‘No’ because they want to make sure you’re a sure thing before they even spend a dollar on you,” he said. “Just do it. As I take up more virtual book space, more people are finding me. More people are starting to pay attention.”
Roach started with self-publishing his first few novels but a positive review from a professor of Norse archaeology, he picked up a publisher.
“Just like with the military, if you work hard at it and have that perseverance, eventually it’s going to pan out for you,” he said.
When the Red Army crossed the border into Finland in 1939, along with them came a battalion of remote-controlled tanks, controlled by another tank some 1000 meters behind them. Along with the usual heavy armaments, the tank drones shot fire from flamethrowers, smoke grenades, and some were even dropping ticking time bombs, just waiting to get close to their target.
It’s a surprising technological feat for a country that had only just recently undergone a wave of modernization.
The Soviets had this remote technology in its pocket for a decade, having first tested the tanks on a Soviet T-18 in the early 1930s. While the earliest models were controlled with a very long wire, the USSR was soon able to upgrade to a more combat-friendly radio remote. By the time the Nazis invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941, the Red Army had two battalions of the drones, which it called teletanks. At this time, the teletank technology was in Soviet T-26 tanks, called the Titan TT-26, and there was a big list of tanks, ships, and aircraft on which the Soviets wanted to equip with tele-tech.
Unfortunately, the TT-26 wasn’t able to fully participate in the Soviet Union’s Great Patriotic War. In the beginning of Operation Barbarossa, Hitler’s Luftwaffe was able to destroy the vast majority of the Red Army’s TT-26 teletanks. In the months that followed, it proved to be more economical and timely to produce a regular version of the T-26 and man them with human crews.
T-20 Komsomolets Teletanks
It would have been unlikely that the teletank technology would have made the difference on the Eastern Front of World War II anyway. They were notoriously unreliable in unfamiliar terrain and were easily stopped by tank spikes. If a teletank managed to outpace the range of its controller, it simply stopped and did nothing. The Soviets mitigated this by mining the hatches of the tanks, but an inoperative tank is still not very useful to the Allied cause.
Eventually, the USSR’s remaining teletanks were converted to conventional tanks in order to join the fight against the Nazis. Perhaps the emerging technology of the time was an interesting aside for military planners before the war, but the fun and games must stop when you have to start fighting for survival.
World military spending decreased steadily in the years after the 2008-2009 global financial crash but has risen in each of the five years since 2015, the latest in what SIPRI researcher Nan Tian described as four phases in military spending over the past 30 years.
The post-Cold War years saw spending decline in what many saw “as a peace-dividend period,” Tian said Tuesday during a webcast hosted by the Stimson Center and SIPRI.
That decline bottomed out around 2000, when the September 11 attacks prompted years of defense-spending increases that peaked around 2010 and 2011, Tian said. Spending fell again in the early 2010s.
“But more recently, in the last three years, we really see that spending has really picked up,” Tian said. “The reason is the US announcing really expensive modernization programs … and also the end of austerity measures in many of the world’s global spenders.”
US military spending grew by 5.3% in 2019 to a total of 2 billion — 38% of global military spending. The US’s increase in 2019 was equivalent to all of Germany’s military expenditure that year, SIPRI said.
Military spending in Asia has risen every year since 1989, with China and India, second and third on the list this year, leading the way. (Tian said SIPRI’s numbers for China are higher than Beijing’s because SIPRI includes spending it defines as “military-related.”)
“In the case of India and China, we’ve seen consistent increases over the last 30 years,” Tian said. “While India and China really [were] spending in the early 1990s far less than Western Europe … Chinese spending really starts to pick up since about 2000.”
China’s spending, now several times that of France or the UK, and India’s growing expenditures point to “a change in the global balance,” Tian said.
“Whereas a few years ago we saw … [for] the first time that there are no Western European countries in the top five spenders in the world, this is the first time where we see two Asian countries, in India and China, being within the top three spenders, followed by Russia and Saudi Arabia.”
Data is not available for all the countries in the Middle East, but Saudi Arabia is by far the biggest spender for which SIPRI could estimate totals. In terms of arms imports, the Middle East “has now the largest share it has ever had since 1950, as a region,” SIPRI senior researcher Siemon Wezeman said on the webcast.
“That’s partly related to ongoing conflicts [and] very strong tensions, Iran vs. the Gulf States, Saudi Arabia. It is a very strong driver of arms imports, especially by the Gulf States,” Wezeman added, noting that Iran, under arms embargo, is not a major weapons importer.
Most of Africa’s military spending, 57%, is done by North African countries. “They have the money,” Wezeman said, “especially Algeria, and Morocco to a lesser extent, are basically the big ones buying there.”
“Many of the other African countries buy a couple of armored vehicles — a helicopter here, a little aircraft there — and do that every few years. That’s basically their armed forces,” Wezeman said, adding that fighting insurgencies, like Boko Haram, or peacekeeping, as in Somalia, also drove increased military spending.
Sub-Saharan Africa has seen “extremely volatile spending” in recent years, related to the many armed conflicts there, Tian said.
“As countries need to fight … they need to allocate resources to the military. But conflicts, of course, are extremely destructive on a country’s economy,” Tian added. “So we see that countries are increasing spending one year, decreasing spending another year.”
Overall military expenditures by Western European nations fell slightly between 2010 and 2019, but Eastern European countries have increased their military spending by 35% over the past decade.
“Some of this is really down to a reaction to the perceived threats of Russia,” as well as the replacement of Soviet-era equipment and purchase of US and NATO equipment, Tian said.
“European countries, aside from seeing a bigger threat from Russia, also are going through a cycle of replacing their fourth-generation combat aircraft with fifth-generation combat aircraft. So there is a big load of new combat aircraft, mostly or almost all of them US-exported weapons, going to Europe,” Wezeman added.
But an economic contraction sparked by the coronavirus pandemic is likely to bring down military expenditures.
“We’ve seen this historically following the ’08-’09 crisis, where many countries in Europe really cut back on military spending,” Tian said, noting that military spending as a share of GDP might increase if “GDP falls and spending doesn’t decrease as much as GDP.”
This time around, spending in Europe may “be stronger in the coming years” despite the coronavirus, Wezeman said, “because the contracts … in many cases have been signed.”
Below, you can see who the top 10 defense spenders were and how much of the world’s military expenditures they accounted for in 2019.