How to avoid the awkward phase with your buzz cut - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY SURVIVAL

How to avoid the awkward phase with your buzz cut

COVID-19 lockdown made amateur barbers of many of us, and a lot of men took the clippers into their own hands to give themselves a quarantine buzz cut. If this is you, you may be hoping the Great Re-Opening doesn’t happen before your hair grows out. That’s because, if you’re not careful, growing out a buzz cut — or any quarantine haircut, really — comes with an awkward phase that goes toe-to-toe with any teenager. And no one wants to leave the house with their head looking like a lopsided Koosh ball.

“When it comes to growing out any buzz cut, you’re going to have to deal with an awkward phase, especially if you don’t have access to your barber,” says Robert-Jan Rietveld, aka the Bloody Butcher, a Rotterdam-based barber and co-founder of men’s grooming product company Reuzel “Because a buzz cut means all of your hair is one length, your head is going to have a very round appearance as your hair grows out.”


To avoid looking like a seedy dandelion plant, Robert recommends getting to a barber ASAP. They’ll likely give you a medium fade on the sides which will give your hair a more flattering shape as it continues to grow out — more square-shaped than round.

But with many of us still observing varying levels of stay-at-home orders, a visit to the salon may not be possible. So, if you or your partner are comfortable with clippers, you can try giving yourself a simple fade by trimming the sides. Go gradually, starting with the clipper’s longest guard on and working your way down, going closest at the bottom near your ears.

Still, be advised that you could wind up worse than where you started. “Most guys won’t want to cut fades themselves,” Robert says. “The back of the head can be particularly tricky to do on yourself — one slip and you’ll be right back to needing a buzzcut.” One only needs to look at the many, many, many coronavirus haircut failures to understand the risk.

So, if you’re not comfortable with giving yourself a proper fade, Robert offers a simple suggestion: Use the trimmer or razor to keep your sideburn lines clean and use product to flatten the sides. This will help prevent the tennis ball look and give you some leeway until you can see a professional.

Buzz Cut Styling Tips For Men

As a buzz cut is essentially starting your hair from scratch, it’s a good time to focus on hair care essentials. Here, then, are more hair specific styling tips to get you through the awkward periods.

If You Have Curly Hair…

As curly hair grows out, it’s important to keep it moisturized and healthy. If you have curly hair and only use shampoo, Robert implores you to add a conditioner and, eventually, hair oil. “You can apply oil to towel-dried hair or to dry hair, depending on your personal preference,” he says. “Start small with one or two pumps and build up from there depending on how dry your hair is.”

If You Have Straight Hair…

“After your hair is dry, use a matte, high-hold pomade to give your hair texture and to shape it into more a of a defined style versus letting it lie limp on your head,” Robert says. Never used pomade? Take a pea-sized amount and manipulate it in your hands a bit to warm it up. Then apply it from the crown to the tips. Shape your hair with your fingers.

If You Have Thinning Hair…

“Most guys who have thinning hair are looking to draw attention away from it,” Robert notes. As such, upkeep is the name of the game. You want to keep your buzzcut tight and well maintained to help minimize the appearance of your retreating follicles.

If You Have Graying Hair…

Robert’s advice for gray hair? Embrace it. “It looks badass,” he says. “Gray hair loves moisture, so go ahead and add a conditioner, hair oil, and even a weekly hair mask into your routine.”

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

MIGHTY MOVIES

5 supporting characters you’d want in your squad

War movies are known for their big explosions, epic firefights, and fearless heroes who save the day against an overwhelming, opposing force.


The main characters receive 99.9% of the credit for winning battles, leaving very little recognition for others in the squad, who efficiently executed the orders given to them while under insane pressure.

This article pays homage to those supporting troops.

Related: 7 reasons why you’d want ‘Pvt. Pyle’ in your infantry squad

These are the five supporting characters you’d want in your squad.

5. Rhah (Platoon)

Although we don’t get much of his backstory, as soon as he takes the screen, we know Rhah is someone the troops can trust. Hell, he’s the one who tells us just how hardcore Sgt. Barnes can be.

Rhah is tough enough to survive the film’s final firefight, holding just his rifle and that barbed-wire rod thingy. He even manages to victoriously celebrate with a loud grunt as he sees his pal, Chris Taylor, evacuated alive from the war zone.

How to avoid the awkward phase with your buzz cut
One of our favorite war movie characters, Rhah. (Image from Orion Pictures)

4. Hoot (Black Hawk Down)

Considered the real hero of the film, Hoot believes bringing home all your men is the most critical aspect of any mission. He heroically dismounts his vehicle in the middle of a rescue mission, knowing that moving into the overrun city on foot is the most productive way to save his allies.

Never once does the audience suspect he has any fear in his heart, nor would he ever lost his cool during a firefight. For those reasons, we’d want him in our squad.

How to avoid the awkward phase with your buzz cut
Oh! Let’s not forget that his trigger finger is his safety. (Image from Columbia Pictures)

3. Tania Chernova (Enemy at the Gates)

Women have played a huge part in fighting their nations’ wars. That being said, they’ve gone uncredited for many outstanding military achievements in combat roles for a long time now.

Many people don’t know that Chernova was a real Soviet troop who effectively targeted her German enemies. Reportedly, she had 40 confirmed kills during her time serving in World War II. We’d love to bring Chernova’s sniping skills into our squad as we continue to fight the War on Terror.

How to avoid the awkward phase with your buzz cut
Tania Chernova, a talented sniper. (Image from Paramount Pictures)

2. Animal Mother (Full Metal Jacket)

Animal Mother is one of our all-time favorite war movie characters, as he has no problem busting out his M60 during a firefight. This big Marine is known for running into the face of danger for his brothers without hesitation.

For that reason alone, we’d want him in our squad.

How to avoid the awkward phase with your buzz cut

Also Read: 6 things you’d never hear a Marine recruiter say

1. Pvt. Jackson (Saving Private Ryan)

Who doesn’t want a talented sniper with a heart of gold in their squad? This praying man and talented shot nailed another German sniper right through his scope while it was raining cats and dogs.

Not only could he successfully aim under extreme pressure, but he also took orders like a champ as he ran out in the open, on his own and with little covering fire, to set up a small, strategic shooting post on D-Day.

How to avoid the awkward phase with your buzz cut
Pvt. Jackson as he shoots down his German enemies from a bell tower in Saving Private Ryan. (Image from DreamWorks)

Can you think of any others? Let us know.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Top Chinese officer call for attacks on US ships

The South China Sea is a powder keg, and one senior Chinese military officer seems interested in lighting the fuse.

Dai Xu, a People’s Liberation Army Air Force colonel commandant and the president of China’s Institute of Marine Safety and Cooperation, suggested at a conference in Beijing on Dec. 8, 2018, that the Chinese navy should use force to counter US freedom-of-navigation operations in the South China Sea, Taiwan News reported.

Taiwan News cited a report from Global Times, the nationalist, state-backed Chinese tabloid that hosted the conference, that quoted him as saying: “If the US warships break into Chinese waters again, I suggest that two warships should be sent: one to stop it, and another one to ram it … In our territorial waters, we won’t allow US warships to create disturbance.”


Dai, known for his hawkish rhetoric, argued that the US Navy’s operations are provocations aimed at undermining China’s sovereignty rather than an attempt to ensure freedom of navigation in international waters. The US Navy regularly sails destroyers and cruisers past Chinese-occupied territories in the South China Sea, while US Air Force bombers tear past on routine overflights that often ruffle Beijing’s feathers.

In the latest operation, in late November 2018, the US Navy sent the Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Chancellorsville to challenge China’s claims near the Paracel Islands.

How to avoid the awkward phase with your buzz cut

The Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Chancellorsville.

The Global Times is known for its often provocative articles, designed to differ from the more rigid state media outlets like Xinhua and appeal to an alternative audience. Dai’s rhetoric at the conference appears consistent with that, as he seemed to welcome an increase in tensions and suggest that confrontation in the South China Sea could create an opportunity for mainland China to retake Taiwan.

“It would boost the speed of our unification of Taiwan,” he was quoted as telling the conference, adding: “Let’s just be prepared and wait. Once a strategic opportunity emerges, we should be ready to take over Taiwan.”

Dai’s comments about the use of force in the South China Sea came on the heels of a near-miss incident in September 2018, in which a Chinese Luyang-class destroyer confronted the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Decatur during an operation in the Spratly Islands.

During the incident, which the US characterized as “unsafe,” the Chinese vessel appeared to make preparations to ram the American warship and force it off course. A foreign-policy expert described the showdown as “the PLAN’s most direct and dangerous attempt to interfere with lawful US Navy navigation in the South China Sea to date.”

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

MIGHTY CULTURE

Why you actually want Skynet (and maybe John Connor)

Remember that movie Stealth? It’s the one where Jamie Foxx, Jessica Biel, and the other sexy pilots are forced to fly with a plane that has a computer pilot and, turns out, computer pilots are bad because lightning can strike them and drive them crazy and then they murder all the people?


No? Well certainly you’ve seen or heard of the Terminator movies. You know, the ones where plucky humans and their hacked robot bodybuilder are forced to fight other robots in order to prevent a future apocalypse ordered by military AI?

They’re great films, but they imply that any future where computers are controlling the weapons of war is dystopian AF. In reality, we live in a world that has walls, and those walls are guarded by men with guns. It would be much better if the U.S. could guard those walls with robots with guns controlled by men.

The Genesis of Skynet [Terminator 2]

www.youtube.com

This would provide two advantages. First, if the guards on the walls are robots — not fleshy humans — then people shooting at the walls can only destroy hardware, not kill men and women. But perhaps the bigger factor is that artificial intelligence is enabling robots to become better at some jobs than their human controllers.

In 2016, we wrote about a University of Cincinnati project where a retired colonel and fighter pilot were advising on an artificial intelligence project. The AI was just supposed to control a Red Team well enough to allow fighter pilots to get better experience in simulations, but tweaks to the system made it start winning. And then it beat the general. And then it beat the general even when he was directly piloting one of the aircraft.

How to avoid the awkward phase with your buzz cut

​ALPHA AI was developed with a team from University of Cincinnati. It can run on a cheap computer but has defeated skilled fighter pilots in simulations.

(Journal of Defense Management)

The adviser, Retired Air Force Col. Gene “Geno” Lee, told the researchers that AI was “the most aggressive, responsive, dynamic and credible AI [he’s] seen-to-date.”

And that AI, known as ALPHA, ran on a Raspberry Pi computer that can be picked up for under . So, for , plus probably ,000 or so in retrofitting charged by manufacturers, we could make 4th generation planes do their jobs perfectly while flying in support of a fifth-generation, human pilot who’s calling the shots.

How to avoid the awkward phase with your buzz cut

Stealth‘s artificial intelligence can pilot fighter jets, but, for some reason, needs a special sensor that looks like a robotic eye instead of just using, you know, its radar or even just normal cameras.

(YouTube/MovieClips)

This may sound familiar to people for one or both of two reasons. First, the Air Force is actively pursuing this as the wingman concept. But second, Skynet in the Terminator movies got its start piloting stealth bombers where it achieved a “perfect operational record,” according to Schwarzenegger’s character.

Is this so bad? I mean, sure, we should stop short of handing strategic control of the nuclear weapons to Skynet, but that was never a realistic plot premise. Remember, even during the height of the Cold War, it was rare for launch approval for nuclear weapons to be handed down past the president. If we don’t trust generals to make nuclear decisions without the president approving it, why would we ever let a computer have full control?

So, if we develop Skynet and don’t give it access to the nukes — if we create safe AI — we’re left with a completely new version of warfare where we don’t have to risk our own troops at nearly the same level as we currently do. Doesn’t sound so horrible now, does it?

And, if the other side gets AI, that’s still better for humanity as a whole. Remember when the RAND Corporation anticipated that, by 2025, war with China would be bloody and unwinnable? No? We’re the only people who actually read RAND reports? Alright, then.

Here’s the thing: World War I was so horrible because it was a nearly unwinnable war for both sides. Once nations committed to the conflict, they poured blood and treasure into a never-ending pit of carnage. Millions died and little was gained for anybody.

AI wouldn’t make unwinnable wars winnable — at least not if both sides have it — but it could make them much less bloody, which is still a step in the right direction.

How to avoid the awkward phase with your buzz cut

You know what would be even better than sending F-35s up with human pilots to detect enemy air defenses and suppress them? Sending them up with a bunch of fighters that are basically robots with AI. So, if they do get in a fight, they don’t need to take the hits.

(U.S. Air National Guard Master Sgt. Joshua C. Allmaras)

So, what about poor John Connor, an excellent small-team leader? What’s he going to do when he isn’t allowed to kill Skynet but, instead, Skynet is controlling most of the planes and tanks and ships? Well, he’ll lead small teams or infantry units on the ground while A Few Good Men‘s Col. Jessup gives the marching orders. AI can’t replace all decision-making at the front, and calm heads under fire will be needed to authorize strikes and targets.

So, yes, we all secretly want Skynet on the wall, even more so than we want Col. Jessup up there. But we also need John Connor, as long as we can keep Jessup, Connor, and Skynet from murdering one another.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How a daring hostage rescue raid helped Britain’s elite special operators get their confidence back

Sierra Leone, September 2000.

The West Side Boys, a well-armed but poorly trained gang, has taken hostage 11 British soldiers from the Royal Irish Regiment and is threatening to execute them if London doesn’t meet its demands.


Back in the UK, the British government is dealing with its first significant hostage crisis since the Iranian Embassy Siege of 1980. As negotiators bargain for the hostages’ release, the British military is preparing for a rescue operation.

Enter the renowned Special Air Service (SAS).

An unstable enemy

A brutal civil war had ravaged Sierra Leone since 1991. The West Side Boys, never more than a few hundred members strong, took advantage of the power vacuum, operating with impunity and terrorizing locals. Their trademark was amputating victims’ arms with machetes. Men, women, and children all suffered from their wanton violence.

The West Side Boys’ leader was the self-titled “Brigadier” Foday Khalley, with “Colonel Cambodia” serving as his second-in-command.

Both men and their gang used drugs and alcohol heavily and frequently. Their resulting instability pushed the British toward a military response instead of negotiations. (Khalley’s demands varied from a new satellite phone to the formation of a new government.)

A task force centered around D Squadron of the SAS and A Company, 1st Battalion, Parachute Regiment, and augmented by Special Boat Squadron, or SBS, operators and support troops, gradually deployed to Dakar in neighboring Senegal and then outside Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone.

D Squadron was chosen because of its familiarity with the region. Its operators had been in East Africa conducting jungle and mountain training when the West Side Boys kidnapped the British soldiers. Once they were notified of a potential operation, they were so eager to return to the UK and begin preparing that two troopers were killed in a car accident as they rushed to the airport. The operation had started on the wrong foot.

The gang held the hostages in the small village of Gberi Bana, adjacent to the Rokel Creek. On the other side of the creek, there was a substantial and heavily armed force of gangsters in an abandoned village.

Throughout the negotiations, the British had eyes on the ground from well-hidden SAS observation posts close to the two villages. Additionally, a special-operations signals team intercepted Khalley’s frequent publicity calls to the BBC and pinpointed his location.

Their combined reports led commanders to rule out a ground or waterborne assault because of the gang’s heavily armed roadblocks in the villages and the treacherous currents of the creek. The rescue force would go in by helicopter.

At one point, the negotiators, which included two SAS operators in disguise, were able to secure the release of six men, leaving five British soldiers captive. The freed troops told horror stories of mock executions and psychological violence. But more releases seemed unlikely. A rescue operation was necessary, and time was of the essence.

The assault

At dawn on September 10, the rescue force flew in on three CH-47 Chinook helicopters with two Lynx and one Mi-24 gunships providing close air support. The combined SAS/SBS force would rescue the hostages in Gberi Bana, while members of the Parachute Regiment, known as Paras, would eliminate the gang members on the opposite side of the river.

The British commandos hit Gberi Bana hard. Half the assault force fast-roped into the village while the other half landed in a soccer field. In the first moments, heavy enemy fire pinned down the teams on the soccer field. But the commandos achieved fire superiority and silenced the resistance with machine guns and anti-tank rockets.

Despite some confusion, the SAS and SBS operators swept the village and secured the hostages.

However, on the other side of the river, the Paras were in the thick of it. Because of a lack of Chinooks, the Paras had to be transported in two groups. Alerted by the helicopters’ approach and the firefight on the other bank, the gangster there were better prepared.

The Chinook dropped the first wave of Paras in a chest-deep swamp, which they had to navigate under heavy fire. In the first few moments, they took several casualties, including their commanding and executive officers.

Reinforced by the second wave and displaying their characteristic aggression, the Paras took the initiative and overpowered the gangsters after a fierce firefight that lasted hours.

As the smoke settled, the Chinooks came in to pick up the hostages, rescue force, and some captured vehicles. At the cost of one SAS operator, Bombardier Brad Tinnion, and 12 Paras wounded, the rescue force managed to secure all the hostages and kill scores of gang members.

A wave of change

Operation Barras brought significant changes to British special operations.

The resistance put up by the heavily armed West Side Boys showed the need for a specialized support unit that would assist the SAS and SBS in future large-scale hostage rescues and special operations.

Until that point, the Paras and the Royal Marine Commandos had been called up to complement their elite brethren only when necessary. Even though there were close links between the units — most SAS operators came from the Paras, and the SBS at that time recruited solely from the Royal Marines — they didn’t train together and didn’t use the same procedures.

As a result, the British military created the Special Forces Support Group (SFSG) in 2006.

The SFSG is composed of Paras, Royal Marines, and Royal Air Force personnel who have passed an additional selection process. Its main task is to be a quick reaction force for SAS and SBS operations, but it can also complement those units in domestic counterterrorism operations.

Moreover, Operation Barras was a much needed confidence boost for British special-operations forces after bad publicity in Northern Ireland, where they fought a politically complicated campaign against the IRA. British policymakers could once more be confident in their commandos.

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

MIGHTY HISTORY

9 photos of escort carriers, the U-boat killers

Fleet-sized aircraft carriers, such as the USS Enterprise and USS Midway, captured the public’s attention during the air battles of World War II.

But the majority of the US Navy’s aircraft carriers during the war were actually smaller, lesser known vessels: Escort carriers.

There were five different classes of escort carriers, all of which varied slightly. But in general, they were about half the size of fleet-sized carriers.

The Casablanca-class, which had the largest number built with 50 hulls, typically carried 28 aircraft, including 12 Grumman TBF Avengers torpedo bombers and 16 F4F Wildcats fighters, Timothy Bostic, a reference librarian at the Navy Department Library, told Business Insider.

Referred to as “Jeep carriers” or “baby flap tops” by the press, escort carriers were slow, lightly armored and had few defensive weapons.

But they were also expert at hunting and killing enemy submarines, and exacted a heavy toll on Germany’s U-boats.

Here’s how they did it.


How to avoid the awkward phase with your buzz cut

The USS Long Island underway in May 1943.

When German U-boats began sinking convoy ships in the beginning of the war, Great Britain asked the US for help, which responded by building escort carriers. The first escort carrier was the USS Long Island, which was built from an old freighter and launched in January 1940.

Source: US Navy

How to avoid the awkward phase with your buzz cut

The USS Chenango (CVE-28) off Mare Island Navy Yard, California on 22 September 1943.

The US then built four more from oiler hulls, including the Chenango, which were sent to help with landings in North Africa, where they proved extremely successful in anti-submarine warfare. This led to the building of dozens more and deployments to the Pacific.

In total, the US built and launched 78 escort carriers between 1941-1945.

Source: US Navy

How to avoid the awkward phase with your buzz cut

The USS Sangamon (CVE-26) anchored off the the Solomons in 1943.

Escort carriers had initially been used to protect convoys, ferrying planes, among other duties. But by 1943, the US had evolved its tactics to hunt and kill U-boats.

Source: US Naval Institute

How to avoid the awkward phase with your buzz cut

The USS Bogue (CVE-9) underway near Norfolk in June 1943.

In May 1943, the USS Bogue scored the first escort carrier kill of a German U-boat after spotting the surfaced U-231 and sent a Grumman TBF Avenger torpedo bomber after it, which released four depth bombs and took it out as it tried to submerge.

Source: US Naval Institute

How to avoid the awkward phase with your buzz cut

A US Navy landing signal officer guides a Grumman TBF-1 Avenger on board the USS Card.

How to avoid the awkward phase with your buzz cut

The USS Core (CVE-13) in 1943 or 1944.

But what led to the escort carriers’ eventual success over the German U-boats was the Allies code-breaking U-boat radio traffic in 1943, providing escort carriers with accurate locations of enemy submarines.

Source: US Naval Institute

How to avoid the awkward phase with your buzz cut

USS Card (CVE-11) underway off Virginia in March 1943.

This breakthrough also allowed the Allies to hunt and kill German U-tankers, or “Milch Cows,” which refueled the short-range U-boats at sea.

Source: US Naval Institute

How to avoid the awkward phase with your buzz cut

The US Navy escort carrier USS Santee (CVE-29) anchored in October 1942.

This new knowledge of German U-boat and U-tankers allowed the Allies to evolve their tactics, sending escort carriers with destroyers away from their convoys to hunt and destroy the enemy submarines.

Source: US Navy

How to avoid the awkward phase with your buzz cut

USS Card CVE-11 in 1944.

By the war’s end, escort carriers had sunk a total of 53 German U-boats.

Source: US Naval Institute

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

MIGHTY CULTURE

4 missions of the military working dog

“The relationship between a military working dog and a military dog handler is about as close as a man and dog can become. You see this loyalty, a devotion unlike any other, and the protectiveness.”
– Robert Crais


The United States military has utilized working dogs since the Revolutionary war. They were originally used as pack animals, carrying as much as forty pounds of supplies between units, including food, guns and ammo. Then during World War I, they were used for more innovative purposes, like killing rats in the trenches. However, it was during World War II that there was a surge in the use of military working dogs. The U.S. military deployed more than 10,000 working dogs throughout WWII. These specially trained dogs were used as sentries, scouts, messengers, and mine detectors. It is estimated that there are approximately 2,300 military working dogs deployed worldwide today.

The military working dogs of today are utilized in many different missions and specialties. After intensive training, each dog is then assigned to a specific specialty based on their strengths and abilities. Once the military working dogs are assigned their specialty, they are shipped out to military installations worldwide.

A few of the possible specialties these dogs can be selected for are:

How to avoid the awkward phase with your buzz cut

Sentry dogs

Sentry dogs are trained to warn their handlers with a growl, bark, or other alert when danger or strangers are nearby. These dogs are valuable assets, especially for working in the dark when attacks from the rear or from cover are the most likely. Sentry dogs are often used on patrols, as well as guarding supply dumps, airports, war plants, and other vital installations.

How to avoid the awkward phase with your buzz cut

Scout/Patrol dogs

Scout and patrol dogs are trained with the same skills that sentry dogs are. However, in addition, these dogs are trained to work in silence. Their job is to aid in the detection of ambushes, snipers, and other enemy forces. These particular dogs are somewhat elite among the military working dogs, because only dogs with both superior intelligence and a quiet disposition can be selected for this specialty. Scout and patrol dogs are generally sent out with their handlers to walk point during combat patrols, well ahead of the Infantry patrol.

How to avoid the awkward phase with your buzz cut

Casualty dogs

Casualty dogs are trained in much the same way search and rescue dogs are. They are utilized to search for and report casualties in obscure areas, and casualties who are difficult for parties to locate. The time these dogs save in finding severely injured persons can often mean the difference between life and death.

How to avoid the awkward phase with your buzz cut

Explosive detection

With the current war on terrorism, explosives hidden on a person, in a vehicle, or in a roadside location is a common threat. Explosive detection dogs are trained to alert their handlers to the scent of the chemicals that are commonly used in explosives. These dogs have such a superior sense of smell that it is nearly impossible to package explosives in a way that they cannot detect.

No matter what their specialty or their mission, the reality is these highly trained K9s are an invaluable part of today’s military. There has yet to be a technology created that can match the ability and heart that military working dogs sustain every day. These dogs are the unsung heroes of the U.S. military, and it is only in recent years that there has been a movement to make sure they are given the appreciation and benefits they deserve. There is constant research going into the best ways to protect them in combat. And along with a push to make K9 Veterans Day an official holiday, there is also a movement to make sure these four-legged heroes are taken care of when their time in service comes to an end.

MIGHTY HISTORY

What D-Day means for us today

Visiting France for the first time as an 18-year-old from the Midwest was a trip I will always treasure. After spending several days in and around London. I was ready to put my high school French to the test, and immerse myself in the French culture. I traveled by train from London to the southern coast to board a ferry to Northern France.

As the ferry got further away from the English coastline, the gray skies began to clear and I could see France in the distance. There was a subtle breeze blowing across the English Channel, which created a serine feeling. When the ferry slowed, signaling the final moments of the ride. I gazed at the beauty before my eyes. The lush green fields and trees on top of the slopes leading onto the beaches looked like a slice of heaven.


My first few steps in France were ushered in by the smell of freshly cut flowers being sold on the street. It was only a matter of minutes before the pastel hues of the flowers and landscape revealed their inspiration for the birthplace of Impressionism. For a moment, I felt I had been transported into a Manet painting.

Turning back around to look at the English Channel, I was overcome with an eerie stillness. It had been 55 years since Allied forces stormed the beaches of Normandy, France on June 6, 1944, known as D-Day.

There were two contrasting French coasts viewed by an 18-year-old in 1999, and an 18-year-old in June of 1944. In those waters off the French coast, thousands of Americans boarded transporters that resembled an open-air commercial sized dumpster on water. There were young men from every corner of the country, split between the transport boats. On some of those small boats there were 18-year-old boys, who had never traveled far from home until that moment.

It’s likely they weren’t focused on the beautiful scenery they were about to disembark upon. Their final thoughts before stepping down the ramp into the choppy waters of the Channel weren’t of eager anticipation to sample the French cuisine, or leisurely strolls through street markets of small French villages. They were of their families back home, who were unaware of the impending horror their loved ones were about to endure, or unaware that by the end of the day, history would change course. Within hours, thousands of American families would be forever changed. Sons, brothers, husbands and fathers would meet their destiny on the shores of Northern France.

At the top of those slopes leading to the beach, Nazi forces opened fire on the thousands of Allied forces storming the beaches. Suddenly, dreams of owning a home or business paled in comparison to the hope of surviving long enough to feel the grass beneath their feet as they continued the bloody campaign inland.

For the American GI’s lucky enough to survive long enough to reach the sandy beaches. The water washing ashore was bright red. It became impossible to tell if the blood shed by Allied forces had overtaken the waters of the Channel.

If a famous Impressionist artist like Cezanne were to capture the moment in a painting, the landscape in the artwork would be void of any gentle pastels. Instead, grey, brown and red would capture the ominousness of the harrowing invasion.

Before the horror besieging the shores, the dark, early morning sky was littered with planes depositing thousands of American paratroopers scattered throughout Normandy. Many planes were shot from the sky as paratroopers leaped from them. Some blasts were so violent they knocked weapons out of the paratroopers’ possession. For those who landed safely on the ground, many found themselves alone in a foreign and hostile land. As they dodged German fighters, paratroopers began to link up to form a stronger offensive force.

The invasion took years to plan, and careful coordination between American, British and Canadian forces comprised of over 150,000 troops. Among the 150,000 troops, 14 Comanche “code-talkers” relayed critical messages in their Native American tongue, which German forces were unable to translate.

By the end of June 6,1944, the Germans had been bombarded by air, land and sea from Allied forces. The Atlantic theater began to shift from Nazi control of Europe to a liberated Western Europe. More than 4,000 Allied troops lost their lives in the D-Day invasion.

The success of D-Day was the turning point, and beginning of the end for the Nazis.

In the 76 years since D-Day, millions of people have blissfully explored the rich history, beauty and diverse cultures of Europe. It was the bravery and sacrifices of hundreds of thousands of Allied forces on D-Day that helped save the world.

I was privileged to experience all the beauty Europe offers as an 18-year-old, because thousands of 18-year-olds on June 6, 1944 had the courage to face evil directly in the face.

Winston Churchill summarized it best, “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.”

This article originally appeared on Military Spouse. Follow @MilSpouseMag on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

U.S. Navy veteran detained in Iran freed, on his way home

U.S. Navy veteran Michael White, who has been detained in Iran for nearly two years, is returning home as part of a prisoner swap between Washington and Tehran.

White’s release on June 4 is part of a back-channel deal involving the release of an American-Iranian doctor prosecuted in the United States, U.S. and Iranian officials said.


U.S. President Donald Trump said on Twitter he had spoken by phone with White, who took a Swiss plane to Zurich on his way to the United States.

“Thank you to Iran, it shows a deal is possible!” Trump wrote, in an apparent olive branch to Iran.

White was sentenced to 13 years in prison last year for allegedly insulting Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and posting private information online.

In March, he was temporarily released on medical grounds amid the coronavirus pandemic to the Swiss Embassy, which represents U.S. interests in Iran.

The navy veteran was detained in July 2018 while he was visiting a woman he had met online and fallen in love with.

White’s mother, Joanne White, said in a statement that “the nightmare is over, and my son is safely in American custody and on his way home.”

The AP news agency quoted U.S. officials as saying his release was part of an agreement involving Majid Taheri, an Iranian-American physician prosecuted by the Justice Department.

Taheri served 16 months for violating U.S. sanctions against Iran and on June 4 a federal judge released him to go see family in Iran.

The developments follow the deportation to Iran this week of Sirios Asgari, an Iranian scientist detained in the United States.

U.S. and Iranian officials have denied that Asgari’s release was part of a prisoner swap.

Switzerland, the intermediary between the U.S. and Iranian governments, has facilitated months of quiet negotiations over prisoners, reports said. Qatar, which has good relations with both the United States and Iran, reportedly also facilitated the prisoner swap.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on Twitter he was pleased the two Iranians and White will join their families.

“This can happen for all prisoners. No need for cherry picking. Iranian hostages held in — and on behalf of — the U.S. should come home,” he said.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Iranian authorities had been “constructive” on freeing White but urged the release of three other U.S. citizens, all of Iranian descent, who are detained in Iran.

Observers have speculated that prisoner swaps can offer a rare opportunity for back-channel diplomacy between the two adversaries to start official dialogue, but few see any serious progress before the U.S. election in November.

Relations between Washington and Tehran have become increasingly hostile since 2018, when Trump withdrew the United States from a landmark nuclear deal between Iran and world powers.

This article originally appeared on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Follow @RFERL on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

These were the daring WWII female pilots known as the ‘Night Witches’

Throughout the 1930s pilots around the world were continually trying to push the limits of anything that had been done before in the air. While the likes of Charles Lindbergh and Amelia Earhart are more familiar names in the Western World, the Soviets had their own equivalents such as Mikhail Gromov who, in 1937 along with his two man crew, managed to break the world distance record for non-stop flight, flying 6,306 miles from Moscow to California via a rather dangerous North Pole route. Hailed as heroes upon their return, Premier Joseph Stalin decided the Soviet Union should follow this up in 1938 by having a group of women pilots attempt to set the distance record for non-stop flight for a female crew. The selected trio, who each already held one or more world records for female aviators, were Polina Osipenko, Valentina Grizodubova, and Marina Raskova.


And so it was that on Sept. 24, 1938 the three ladies took off from an airfield in Shchcyolkovo near Moscow, in a Tupolev ANT-37, which normally had a range of about 5,000 km or 3,100 miles. Their destination was Komsomolsk-on-Amur over 3600 miles away. Unfortunately for them almost immediately upon departing they encountered a number of issues including a thick layer of clouds and icing conditions which forced them to climb above said clouds, in the process losing all sight of the ground for the duration. Not long after this, their radio stopped working. Without a clear view of the ground for almost the entire flight, Raskova used the stars, a compass, and their airspeed to roughly determine their position as they flew. When the clouds finally broke, they found themselves flying over Tugur Bay in the Sea of Okhotsk, about 500 km or 300 miles directly north of their intended destination.

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1938 photo of Marina Raskova.

(Public Domain)

Low on fuel, they desperately attempted to find an alternate place to land, but the engines died first. With some form of a crash landing inevitable and a navigator no longer having anything to do, Grizodubova ordered Raskova to parachute out of the plane from about 6,500 feet with the hope that it would increase her odds of survival. Of course, decreasing her odds slightly, she chose to leave her emergency survival kit for the other two women, reportedly only taking two chocolate bars with her for rations to trek through Siberia with. When Raskova safely hit the ground, she noted the direction the plane was gliding and began hiking after it.

As for the pilot and co-pilot still aboard, they were forced to make a gear up, dead-stick landing in a frozen swamp near the upper part of the Amgun River, in the end successfully executing what is termed in pilot-speak as a “good landing”- in that all occupants survived and were able to walk away from the wreckage.

As for Raskova, she hiked for a full ten days before finally locating the downed aircraft and her comrades. Not long before she arrived, a search crew located the plane. While this was a good thing for the women, unfortunately two of the search planes collided overhead and killed all 15 aboard as the horrified pilots watched from below. A few days later, the women were picked up via boat.

When they arrived back in Moscow, their harrowing journey, which managed 3,671.44 miles in 26 hours and 29 minutes (though in truth they had flown some 6,450 km or 4,007 miles total), had indeed set the distance record for a straight line, non-stop all-woman crew. That, along with how they handled themselves in such adverse conditions saw them lauded as heroes across the Union, including quite literally being given the “Hero of the Soviet Union” award, among other honors.

Fast-forwarding about three years later in June of 1941, Germany decided to invade. During Operation Barbarossa, almost 4 million troops were thrown at the Soviet Union, and in one fell swoop the Axis managed to destroy approximately 66 airfields and about 80% of the military aircraft in the Soviet Union at the time.

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German troops at the Soviet state border marker, June 22, 1941.

(Public Domain)

With an abundance of pilots and few planes, you might think this was not exactly an ideal environment for female pilots of the era to be given a job- especially not in combat- but two factors saw Stalin convinced establishing all female squadrons was something they should do. First, Raskova wouldn’t stop berating Stalin about it, noting both in the air and on the ground that forgoing using half your populace when the enemy was almost at the doorsteps of Moscow was foolish. Another factor was that among the planes still available were a large number of Polikarpov Po-2’s- an open cockpit two seat 1928 biplane made of wood and fabric, mostly meant for flight training and crop dusting.

Slow and plodding, the Polikarpov cruised along at a breakneck pace of about 68 mph (109 km/hr) and a never exceed if you don’t want your wings to fall off speed of 94 mph (151 km/hr). Combine that with a maximum climb rate of a mere 500 feet per minute (152 meters) while traveling at a speed not that much faster than Usian Bolt while ascending, and these weren’t exactly planes male pilots were itching to fly to the front in…

For reference here, the Luftwaffe were flying such planes as the Focke-Wulf Fw 190 Würger, which had an engine possessing about 25 times the horsepower as the Polikarpov, cruised along at 280 mph (450 km/hr), with maximum speeds of 426 mph (685 km/hr), and could climb in excess of 3,000 ft/min. That’s not to mention this plane came equipped with dual 13 mm MG 131 machine guns. The pilots of the Polikarpov Po-2’s, on the other hand, were given hand pistols as their air to air combat weapon… No doubt when in a dog fight, they also were instructed to make “pew pew pew” sounds to increase the effectiveness of their arsenal.

If all that wasn’t bad enough, should one get shot down or the fabric of the aircraft catch fire, which occasionally happened when tracer bullets ripped through them, as weight was at a premium, the pilots weren’t given parachutes… On top of that, the planes themselves did not come equipped with radios or any other such equipment. A map, a compass, a pistol, and their wits were what the stick and rudder Po-2 pilots brought with them on their combat missions.

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A damaged and abandoned Po-2 forced to land in Ukraine, and subsequently captured by German troops, 1941.

(CC BY-SA 3.0)

Now, you might at this point be wondering what possible use these pilots could serve flying these planes into combat other than reducing the Soviet population by a couple hundred pilots. Well, the one marginally potent weapon the planes did come equipped with was bombs- up to six of them, weighing approximately 110 lbs each (50 kg).

Planes few wanted to fly sitting on the ground and Raskova refusing to shut up about it, Stalin ordered her to form three all female squadrons, though the 588th Bomber Regiment, who would come to use the Polikarpov Po-2’s, was the only one to remain exclusively staffed by women throughout the war.

As for the young ladies who volunteered to fly in these death traps, they ranged from about 17 years old to their early 20s. And while you might think the name they’d soon be given would be something along the lines of “Target Practice”, their incredible effectiveness and near non-stop bombardment of the Germans at the front starting on June 8, 1942 and continuing all the way to Berlin, earned them another nickname — The Night Witches.

So just how effective were they? For the approximately four years they were active, they flew close to an astounding 30,000 missions, with an average of about 250 missions each. To put this in perspective, airmen aboard a B-17 Flying Fortress in 1944 had a 1 in 4 chance of surviving to the 25 mission mark for their rotation. But in the case of the Night Witch bombers, some flew near or greater that number in under a week. One, who we’ll discuss shortly, almost managed that number of missions in a single night. Despite the incredible number of missions they flew, over the course of the war, of the 261 women that flew in the 588th, only 32 died, and a handful of those not from combat, but tuberculosis.

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A Polikarpov Po-2, the aircraft type used by the regiment.

(CC BY-SA 3.0)

This bring us to Nadezhda Popova, who managed the record of 18 missions in a single night when she helped chase the Axis as they retreated from Poland. Popova, who started flying at aged 15, was a flight instructor by 18, and decided to join up not long after her brother, Leonid, was killed in the early stages of the conflict. She states, “I saw the German aircraft flying along our roads filled with people who were leaving their homes, firing at them with their machine guns. Seeing this gave me feelings inside that made me want to fight them.”

The Nazis would soon come to regret making an enemy of Popova, who shortly was about to go all John Wick on them for killing her brother. But before that, unfortunately for her, when she tried to enlist, she was turned away, with Popova later stating of this, “No one in the armed services wanted to give women the freedom to die.”

Nevertheless, given her credentials, when the 588th was formed when she was 19 years old, they had a place for her. She would go on to fly an incredible 852 missions during the war, despite, as she stated in an interview in 2009, “Almost every time, we had to sail through a wall of enemy fire. In winter, when you’d look out to see your target better, you got frostbite, our feet froze in our boots, but we carried on flying…. It was a miracle we didn’t lose more aircraft. Our planes were the slowest in the air force. They often came back riddled with bullets…”

On that note, after returning from one mission where she was tasked with dropping supplies to ground troops who were bottled up in Malaya Zemlya, she found 42 bullet holes in her plane, one in her helmet, and a couple in her map. It was then that she joked with her navigator, “Katya, my dear, we will live long!”

In truth, Popova, who became a squadron commander, survived the war, among other honors receiving the Hero of the Soviet Union, the Order of Lenin, and was a three time Order of the Red Banner recipient (awarded for extreme heroism and courage demonstrated in battle), twice awarded the Order of the Patriotic War 1st class… and the list goes on and on- badass. She was a badass basically.

As for her life after, she married an airmen, Semyon Kharlamov, who she met after the two had separately been shot down on Aug. 2, 1942. While she couldn’t see his face as it was covered in bandages, they hit it off as they joked around together during their trek back to safety. They got hitched almost immediately on war’s end. For work after, she continued her pre-war career as a flight instructor, ultimately living to the ripe old age of 91 years old, dying on July 8, 2013.

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Nadezhda Popova.

(Public Domain)

Going back to the squadron as a whole, given their extreme vulnerability in the air, you might at this point be wondering how these women not only almost all survived, but proved to be so incredibly effective?

Well, given their slow speed, the fact that in a dogfight they’d quickly be made into Swiss cheese by enemy planes, and the fact that they needed to deploy their paltry payloads at extremely low altitudes to actually accurately hit a target, meaning ground based crew could likewise easily turn the pilots of these craft into wreckage riders, flying missions in daylight with any regularity wasn’t really an option if one liked to keep breathing.

Thus, in an era before incredibly accurate terrain mapping and GPS systems to help avoid said terrain, these women voluntarily hopped inside their antiquated pieces of equipment and ascended to the heavens in darkness- the darker the better.

Stealth was their only way of surviving, and they used it to their advantage at every opportunity. Navigating in darkness towards their assigned enemy targets, usually hugging the ground as much as possible until getting close to their targets to avoid being spotted by enemy aircraft, once they located their targets, the women would employ a number of strategies to actually get close enough to deliver their deadly payloads. These included doing things like flying in groups and intentionally having one or two of the planes up high attract the attention and fire from those on the ground, while others would idle their engine and try to slip in closely undetected. Another strategy was to do what is generally considered in aviation 101 as a great way to die, especially in the often frigid environments these women were flying in- cut their engines completely in flight and at relatively low altitudes.

They’d then silently descend onto their targets until almost literally right over the heads of the enemy and finally drop their bombs, kick the engine back to life (hopefully) and get back to base as fast as possible to be loaded back up and sent out again and again to the front line.

Describing this, the chief of staff for the 588th, Irina Rakobolskaya, noted, “One girl managed to fly seven times to the front line and back in her plane. She would return, shaking, and they would hang new bombs, refuel her plane, and she’d go off to bomb the target again.”

Popova would state of this strategy, “We flew in sequence, one after another, and during the night, we never let them rest… the Germans made up stories. They spread the rumor that we had been injected with some unknown chemicals that enabled us to see so clearly at night…. This was nonsense, of course. What we did have were clever, educated, very talented girls…”

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Popova with Russian president Medvedev in 2009.

(President of the Russian Federation, CC BY 4.0)

Effective, one German soldier would later state in an interview after the war of the Night Witches, they were “precise, merciless and came from nowhere.”

Dedicated to delivering their payloads no matter what, one former 588th member stated that occasionally the bombs would get stuck when trying to drop them just over the target. The solution was simply to have one of the two women in the plane scramble out on the wing and kick it loose, often while under heavy enemy fire- all leading author Kate Quin to note, “You women are crazy. You’re incredibly brave, but my god you’re crazy.”

A sentiment Popova would later echo in her waning years, stating, “I sometimes stare into the blackness and close my eyes. I can still imagine myself as a young girl up there in my little bomber and I ask myself, Nadia, how did you do it?”

Moving on to the nickname the Germans gave them and which they would so proudly embrace once they learned of it, it is widely speculated that this was because of the wooshing sound the planes made as they glided down through the air, like the sound a witch flying on her broomstick. However, there is no primary documentation backing this speculation up at all, despite it being almost universally repeated. And, for our part, we’re just guessing not a single German soldier ever actually had heard the wooshing sound of a witch flying on a broomstick to compare. So allow us to suggest our own alternate hypothesis- that it wasn’t so much the sound that was the inspiration, but, instead, the name “The Night Witches” was actually because these were women, flying at night, on aircraft made of wood, not unlike a witch flying on a broomstick.

Whatever the case, in the end, for their heroism, almost 1 in 10 of the women of the 588th were honored with the Hero of the Soviet Union award. For reference here, while that award was given out almost 13,000 times over the entire life of the Soviet Union, the badass ladies of the 588th accounted for approximately 1/4 of all women who ever received it.

This article originally appeared on Today I Found Out. Follow @TodayIFoundOut on Twitter.

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MIGHTY TRENDING

The Army is sending 200 soldiers to combat US wildfires

The US Army is preparing to send hundreds of soldiers to fight the deadly wildfires raging in 11 states across the Western US.

Two hundred active-duty soldiers from the 7th Infantry Division’s 14th Brigade Engineer Battalion at Joint Base Lewis McChord in Washington state will be mobilized to assist in ongoing firefighting efforts, according to a statement from US Army North, which provides operational control for ground forces deployed in support missions during national disasters.


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Pvt. 1st Class Jon Wallace, 3rd Platoon, 570th Sapper Company, 14th Engineer Battalion, 555th Engineer Brigade uses a fire extinguisher to put out a tire fire. The fire department offers classes to Army units to ensure that they are well trained in putting out mine resistant ambush protective vehicle fires during convoy operations.

(US Army)

The Army unit will be sent out as early as this weekend after a couple of days of training. The soldiers will be organized into teams of 20 members and deployed to combat fires in an unspecified area. The deployment location will be determined based on which area is in greatest need of assistance, a US Army North spokeswoman told Business Insider.

The 14th Brigade Engineer Battalion reportedly specializes in construction and demolition, skills that the unit has used in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to Fox News. The soldiers will be “working side by side with civilian firefighters,” as well as experienced firefighting personnel from the wildlands fire management agencies, US Army North explained to BI, adding that the soldiers will be involved in activities like clearing brush or constructing fire breaks.

Prior to deployment, soldiers will learn fire terminology, fire behavior, and fire safety. They will also be issued personal protective gear, such as boots that will not melt on the fire line, masks, and so on. Once on the fire line, the soldiers will be given tools — axes, chainsaws, etc.

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(U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Donald C. Knechtel)

“More than 127 wildfires are burning on about 1.6 million acres in California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Utah, Nevada, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, Arizona and Alaska,” according to a statement from the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho also announcing the deployment of US soldiers to combat the wildfires out west.

At least nine people have died in the wildfires spreading across the Western US, according to CBS News. President Donald Trumpdeclared the situation in California a “major disaster” Sunday, making it easier for local residents to secure access to much-needed government aid.

In many cases, the state National Guard units are already assisting state and federal agencies working tirelessly to put out the devastating wildfires. The US Army soldiers being sent to lend support are expected to be deployed for at least 30 days. The deployment could be cut short if necessary or extended, as long as doing so does not interfere with higher priority Department of Defense missions.

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

MIGHTY MOVIES

Breaking: Air Force veteran and host of Inside the Actors Studio, James Lipton, dead at 93

James Lipton, best known for his role in creating and producing Inside the Actors Studio died earlier today from bladder cancer at his home in Manhattan. His wife, Kedaki Turner, told TMZ, “There are so many James Lipton stories but I’m sure he would like to be remembered as someone who loved what he did and had tremendous respect for all the people he worked with.”


While Lipton was known for his conversational style with countless actors during the show’s run from 1994 through his retirement as host in 2018, less is known about his early life. Lipton was born in Detroit on Sept. 19, 1926 to Betty and Louis Lipton. His mother was a teacher and librarian and his father was a columnist and did graphic design for The Jewish Daily Forward. Following high school, Lipton enlisted in the Air Force during World War II.
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In an interview with AOPA Pilot, Lipton said, “I always wanted to fly.” Unable to afford lessons he joined the military and qualified as an aviation candidate. When peace broke out—like any performer Lipton doesn’t want to reveal his age, but we’re guessing it was sometime after World War II—pilots were suddenly required to sign on for four years. “I didn’t want to spend the next four years doing that,” he said, so he mustered out and moved to New York to study law. Being in law school he couldn’t afford not to work, so to pay for law school he worked as an actor.

While his career may have had a slow start in the acting business, Lipton went from unknown to iconic with the launch of his project Inside the Actors Studio.

“James Lipton was a titan of the film and entertainment industry and had a profound influence on so many,” Frances Berwick, president of NBCU Lifestyle Networks and home to Bravo, said in a statement on Monday. “I had the pleasure of working with Jim for 20 years on Bravo’s first original series, his pride and joy Inside the Actors Studio. We all enjoyed and respected his fierce passion, contributions to the craft, comprehensive research and his ability to bring the most intimate interviews ever conducted with A-list actors across generations. Bravo and NBCUniversal send our deepest condolences to Jim’s wife, Kedakai, and all of his family.”

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upload.wikimedia.org

Inside the Actors studio was incredibly popular, with such A-list guests as Ben Affleck, Meryl Streep, Brad Pitt, George Clooney, James Cameron; after 22 seasons the list goes on and on. Lipton was always prepared for his interviews and humbled by the show’s continued success.

According to The Daily Mail, one of Lipton’s favorite moments in the show’s history was when a former student returned as a guest.

‘What I’ve waited for is that one of my graduated students has achieved so much that he walks out and sits down on that chair next to me,’ Lipton said.

www.youtube.com

‘It happened when Bradley Cooper walked out on that stage. We looked at each other and burst into tears. It was one of the greatest nights of my life.’

As Lipton told THR‘s Scott Feinberg in June 2016: “If you had put a gun to my head and said, ‘I will pull the trigger unless you predict that in 23 years, Inside the Actors Studio will be viewed in 94 million homes in America on Bravo and in 125 countries around the world, that it will have received 16 Emmy nominations, making it the fifth-most-nominated series in the history of television, that it will have received an Emmy Award for outstanding informational series and that you will have received the Critics’ Choice Award for best reality series host — predict it or die,’ I would have said, ‘Pull the trigger.'”

Rest in peace, Sir.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

Can shooting plastic explosives really set them off?

James H. asks: How realistic is the idea presented in video games of shooting explosives to set them off?

Given that their main and really only purposes is violently exploding, you might be surprised to learn that most explosives utilized by the military are shockingly stable. So much so, in fact, that, contrary to what is often depicted in movies and video games, plastic explosives like C-4 won’t explode if you shoot them or set them on fire. In fact, C-4 won’t even explode if you shoot it while it is currently on fire.

Indeed, beyond the benefit of being able to shape the explosive in a variety of ways to accomplish a given destructive goal, one of the main reasons plastic explosives like C-4 are utilized so extensively by the military is precisely because they are largely inert and can be handled without specialized equipment.


Further, creating C-4 is noted as being a relatively simple process that involves mixing a plasticizer with a conventional explosive (in this case usually cyclotrimethylene-trinitramine, often referred to as “RDX” or “Royal Demolition Explosive”- or for the non-Brits “Research Department Explosive”). While exact ratios vary somewhat, for reference in its C-4 the U.S. military currently uses a mixture of 91% RDX, 5.3% of the plasticizer dioctyl sebacate, 2.1% of the synthetic rubber Polyisobutylene, and 1.6% mineral oil or, for civilian use, motor oil, giving such C4 its telltale odor of, well, motor oil.

Commonly likened to ordinary modeling clay in texture and consistency, C-4 and most other plastic explosives can be shaped, stored and molded just as easily. The key difference being that, unlike modeling clay, a mere half kilogram of C-4 can turn a typical vehicle into a pile of scrap metal. The key to making this happen, though, is attaching some form of blasting cap.

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As the name suggests, these blasting caps rely on a smaller, controlled explosion which will in turn cause the explosive components within the C-4 to go off, resulting in the C-4 producing a wave of gasses, including nitrogen and carbon oxides, that rapidly expand out at upwards of 18,000 mph. So fast is this effect that it actually creates something of a temporary vacuum around the core blast area. This results in a second, much less violent, wave of air collapsing in on the vacuum after the initial blast.

Not keen to just rely on theory, the US Army has conducted countless sensitivity tests on C-4 and other plastic explosive compounds, shooting them with bullets of varying calibres and even putting them within feet of things like hand grenades to see if that explosion or subsequent shrapnel could set the C-4 off. The Army has even conducted tests to see if things like fire will cause C-4 to explode, all with little effect. In fact, it turns out C-4 not only remains stable while on fire but it actually burns quite slowly, making it a good fire starter if you don’t mind the poisonous fumes.

While you might think soldiers would be scared to use this compound in this way, both because of perhaps worrying about an accidental explosion or from the noxious gasses given off, amazingly, during the Vietnam war using small chunks of C-4 as tinder to light campfires, or even as the sole source of the fire itself, was indeed a thing many soldiers did, despite military brass advising against it owing to the poisonous gasses given off.

Further, beyond its use as an explosive, fire starter, and badass modeling clay, it turns out that when eaten in extremely small amounts, C-4 is known to produce a mild high likened to being drunk, something soldiers in Vietnam also took advantage of.

It’s probably worth mentioning at this point that when consumed in anything other than extremely tiny quantities, C-4 can cause a host of health problems, as noted in a case study published in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine in 2002 where a soldier decided to swallow about a cubic centimeter of the substance… Potential resulting complications of mimicking this moronic act include “generalized seizures, lethargy, coma, muscular twitching, hyperreflexia, myalgias, headaches, vomiting, mild renal injury, and haematuria (blood in your pee).”

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Inserting blasting caps into blocks of C-4 explosive.

Back to the extreme stability of C-4- as they often do, the show Mythbusters took the idea of testing this to its logical extreme, shooting a piece that was currently on fire with a high-explosive incendiary round. The C-4 stubbornly refused to explode even then, despite the incendiary round giving a nice little blast on impact.

There is one caveat to all this, however. It turns out there is a way to set off C-4 by shooting at it. How? While there are a variety of designs for blasting caps, some may be set off via being hit with a bullet, thus providing the needed energy to cause the C-4 itself to explode. Why this is an extremely unlikely scenario in the real world is because these blasting caps are typically very small (think a half used pencil) and anyone trying to shoot at them would presumably want to be a fair distance away just in case they were successful.

This all becomes an even less likely in real world scenarios given that you don’t put the blast cap in the C-4 until you yourself are preparing to actually make it go boom.

So, in the end, while there are certainly many unstable explosives that will happily release their destructive power if you were to shoot them, it turns out plastic explosives and pretty much the majority of explosives used by militaries and for industrial use the world over are almost always shockingly stable precisely because these organizations aren’t keen on deploying explosive devices that might go off unexpectedly.

Bonus Fact:

  • Speaking of shooting at explosive devices, during WWI there are documented instances of soldiers using shotguns to destroy thrown hand grenades before they could reach their target. For example, in Leroy Thompson’s U.S. Combat Shotguns book, he notes the following account where a group of soldiers acted in concert in this way: “Their first warnings were German ‘potato masher’ hand grenades lobbing through the air. Few landed as most of them were exploded in the air by the experts in the outposts. Upon the failure of the grenade attack, the enemy launched a mortar attack. Again the trapshooters proved their worth, deflecting the slowly arching bombs. Finally, a vast grey wave of the Kaiser’s best surged forward.”

This article originally appeared on Today I Found Out. Follow @TodayIFoundOut on Twitter.

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