This amazing body armor is made from spider silk - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY TACTICAL

This amazing body armor is made from spider silk

Ten years from now, you might be on patrol with new super lightweight body armor. If you feel something tingling, cool it – you aren’t Spider-Man, but your vest might be made from spider silk – and you probably just need to drink more water. The latest armor under consideration by the U.S. Army isn’t a new kind of porcelain or chemical composition over kevlar. It’s spider stuff.


Making clothing from spider stuff isn’t necessarily new, but mass-producing it might be. The photo above is of a vest made of silk from the Golden Orb Spider, native to Madagascar. It took the designers eight years and a million spiders to make the vest, but the designers of the new body armor aren’t going for anything so intricate.

This amazing body armor is made from spider silk

Ballistic spider silk panels.

Spider silk is a protein-rich liquid that dries into a solid filament that can vary in composition depending on what the spider is doing with the web, such as weaving a web for food or creating an egg sac. It’s flexible, able to stretch well beyond its original length, stronger than steel, and most importantly, can create a mesh able to stop a bullet. But until recently, no one has been able to create enough of the stuff to actually make and test viable options for stopping bullets.

Researchers from Utah State University were able to program the DNA of silkworms to integrate spider proteins into their own silk. Silkworms even spin the silk into threads on their own. The result is twice as strong and elastic as silkworm silk and can be created on an industrial scale. The result was able to stop a slow-moving .22-caliber round with only four layers. Standard Kevlar armor uses 33 layers.

This amazing body armor is made from spider silk

A bullet can penetrate 29 layers of kevlar.

In 2018 Kraig Biocraft Laboratories announced it was creating panels like those shown above in large quantities for the United States Army. The fabric, called “Dragon Silk,” was also created without using entire colonies of spiders, who were more likely to eat one another than live in peace and create fabric. Kraig Biocraft created silkworms similar to those created at Utah State, using patented genetic proteins. Beyond standard body armor, the company may be the first to create real, popular protection for the groin area.

“After years of research and investment, developing this ground-breaking technology, we are very excited to now see it in the hands of the U.S. Army,” stated Jon Rice, COO. “For me, personally, and for the Company, the opportunity to help protect the brave men and women whom dedicate themselves to our protection is a great honor.”

MIGHTY HISTORY

Ukraine’s Navy: A tale of betrayal, loyalty, and revival

When Russia seized the Crimean Peninsula in 2014, Ukraine’s navy lost nearly all of its ships and most of its sailors quit or defected. Now, with help from its allies, Ukraine is slowly getting its sea legs back. This is the story of those who remained loyal to Ukraine and were forced to choose between family and country when they left Crimea. But, as they rebuild their lives and their nation’s fleet, rough waters lie ahead with Russia flexing its maritime muscle on the Black Sea.


MIGHTY MOVIES

18 of the best jokes in the Marvel Cinematic Universe

Why are the Marvel movies so damn popular? Well, that might be the wrong question, because the more important question should be: how did the Marvel movies get to be so damn funny? What are the best jokes in the funniest Marvel movies?

From “Iron Man” in 2008 to “Avengers: Endgame” in 2019, one thing moviegoers have always been able to count on from these films is a one-liner quip machine even in the bleakest of installments. Figuring out all the funniest moments in all 22 installments of the official Marvel Cinematic Universe might seem like a task better suited to one of Tony Stark’s supercomputers, but since Jarvis and Friday aren’t real, you’ll have to deal with human bias. So, with that in mind, here are 18 of the best jokes from the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe. And to avoid saying any of these jokes are better or worse than others, we’re just listing these jokes in chronological order.

Warning: Joke spoilers for all Marvel movies ahead!


This amazing body armor is made from spider silk

1. “Let’s face it, this is not the worst thing you’ve caught me doing.”

When Pepper Potts walks in on Tony messing with his Iron Man suit, this classic Stark comeback cannot be beaten.

This amazing body armor is made from spider silk

2. “We have a Hulk.”

From the 2012 “Avengers,” Tony Stark’s rebuttal to Loki’s boast “I have an army” is “We have a Hulk.” This is made all the sweeter when you consider Loki himself says “We have a Hulk” when he stands-up to Thanos in “Infinity War.”

This amazing body armor is made from spider silk

3. “Better clench up, Legolas.”

Tony Stark’s pop culture references are an artform. If you don’t know who Legolas is and why this is funny, I’m sorry that I have to explain this to you: Legolas is an elf archer from “Lord of the Rings.” Hawkeye is an archer. Okay. enough explaining.

This amazing body armor is made from spider silk

4. “I’m a huge fan of the way you lose control and turn into an enormous green rage monster.”

This Tony Stark quip is preceded by him complimenting Bruce Banner on his scientific achievements, which of course, is totally overshadowed by his ability to Hulk-out.

This amazing body armor is made from spider silk

5. “No hard feelings, Point Break.”

I’m not going to explain this reference. I’ll explain “Lord of the Rings” references, but not this one. Either you get it, or you don’t. (If you’re reading this website and you’re a dad, I’m guessing you get this.)

This amazing body armor is made from spider silk

6. “I understood that reference!”

Steve Rogers is great when he gets super-earnest in subsequent Avengers flicks, but he’s pretty much the best when he’s struggling with 21st-century pop culture references. In the first “Avengers,” when Steve actually understands one of Nick Fury’s references to “The Wizard of Oz,” his reaction is pure gold.

This amazing body armor is made from spider silk

7. “The city is flying. We’re fighting an army of robots. And I have a bow and arrow. None of this makes sense.”

One of the funniest meta-fictional lines in any Marvel movie. Hawkeye knows nothing about his role in these movies makes sense.

This amazing body armor is made from spider silk

8. “Why would I put my finger on his throat?”

You could, in theory, do an entire list of just great jokes and funny moments from both “Guardians of the Galaxy” movies and their appearances in “Infinity War” and “Endgame.” I’ve tried to prevent too many “Guardians” jokes from dominating this list. But still, when Star-Lord is trying to reason with Drax in that prison, this visual gag where Drax doesn’t understand the pantomime for killing someone is hilarious.

This amazing body armor is made from spider silk

9. “If I had a black light, this place would look like a Jackson Pollock painting”

A crass joke that flies over the head of kids and into the ears of knowing adults. Nice. Totally on-brand from Chris Pratt’s Star-Lord. Also, fun fact, this line was ad-libbed by Chris Pratt on the spot.

This amazing body armor is made from spider silk

10. “He says he’s an a-hole, and I’m quoting him here, but he’s not 100 percent…a dick”

John C. Reilly’s small role in “Guardians of the Galaxy” is underrated. It just is.

This amazing body armor is made from spider silk

11. “If you say one more word, I’ll feed you to my children! I’m kidding. We’re vegetarians.”

M’baku might not be as famous as T’Challa in the kingdom of Wakanda, but he’s pretty much the funniest person in “Black Panther.”

This amazing body armor is made from spider silk

12. “He’s a friend from work!”

When Thor realizes he’s supposed to fight the Hulk in “Ragnarok,” he’s thrilled and relieved. This line is fantastic because it’s so relatable, but it’s made ten times sweeter when you know that a Make-A-Wish kid actually suggested the line in the first place. True story!

This amazing body armor is made from spider silk

13. “Dude, you’re embarrassing me in front of the wizards.”

Tony Stark and Bruce Banner’s reunion in “Infinity War” is full of a lot of great moments, but this joke is easily the best.

This amazing body armor is made from spider silk

14. “OH! we’re using our made-up names!”

The lovable innocence of Tom Holland’s Peter Parker is always great and when he understandably doesn’t understand that Dr. Strange’s real name is Dr. Strange, it’s one of the funniest moments in the entire series.

This amazing body armor is made from spider silk

15. “Kick names. Take ass”

Mantis’ mangling of a pretty common cliche turns it into something very different thanks to her naivite — and impeccable timing.

This amazing body armor is made from spider silk

16. “I get emails from a raccoon, so nothing sounds crazy.”

Black Widow is super tired in this “Avengers: Endgame” one-liner, but her workplace emails are certainly a little different than yours. Or are they?

This amazing body armor is made from spider silk

17. “What’s up, regular-sized man?”

Rhodey gets in on the one-liner action, in one of the best jokes for “Endgame.” Picking on Ant-Man might not be nice, but it is hilarious.

This amazing body armor is made from spider silk

18. “As far as I’m concerned, that is America’s ass.”

Paul Rudd, an actual comedic actor who found his way into the Marvel universe as Ant-Man, gets what is probably the very best line in “Avengers: Endgame.” This joke is so good, it gets repeated by Steve Rogers as he’s staring at former-him’s ass.

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

MIGHTY CULTURE

Coast Guard starts the new fiscal year with big narco sub busts

After several years of increases, Coast Guard seizures of cocaine at sea declined slightly during fiscal year 2019, but that fiscal year ended and the 2020 fiscal year, which began on Oct. 1, 2019, and runs to Sept. 30, 2020, began with major busts.

During the 2018 fiscal year, Coast Guard personnel removed 207,907.6 kilograms, or just under 208 metric tons, of cocaine worth an estimated $6.14 billion, Chief Warrant Officer 4 Barry Lane said in an email.

The amount of cocaine removed by the Coast Guard is the sum of all cocaine physically seized by Coast Guard personnel and all cocaine lost by smugglers due to Coast Guard actions, according to a Homeland Security Department Inspector General report for fiscal year 2018.


This amazing body armor is made from spider silk

US Coast Guard personnel unload bales of cocaine from a “narco sub” in the Eastern Pacific Ocean, Oct. 23, 2019.

(US Coast Guard)

The amount of cocaine lost by smugglers is at times “an intelligence-based estimate of the quantity of cocaine onboard a given vessel that is burned, jettisoned, or scuttled in an attempt to destroy evidence when Coast Guard presence is detected,” according to the report.

The 2019 total is the second year of decline, following the 209.6 metric tons seized in 2018, according to the Inspector General report. The 223.8 metric tons seized in 2017 was up from 201.3 metric tons in 2016 and 144.8 metric tons in 2015.

Narco subs

The Coast Guard has led efforts to intercept narcotics coming to the US by sea from South and Central America, working with partners in the region through Operation Martillo, which involves ships and aircraft scouring the Caribbean and Eastern Pacific.

High-seas busts happen regularly, yielding not only drugs and drug smugglers but also intelligence on the groups behind the shipments.

In July 2019, the Coast Guard’s newest cutter, Midgett, caught a “narco sub” carrying 2,100 pounds of cocaine and three crew in the Eastern Pacific Ocean as the cutter made its first trip to its homeport in Hawaii.

This amazing body armor is made from spider silk

US Coast Guard personnel unload bales of cocaine seized from a “narco sub” in the Eastern Pacific Ocean, Oct. 23, 2019.

(US Coast Guard)

“Narco sub” is often used as a catch-all term, sometimes describing true submarines or semi-submersibles but usually referring to low-profile vessels.

They are all typically hard to spot in the open ocean, but the Coast Guard has seen a resurgence of them.

In September 2019, Coast Guard cutter Valiant tracked down another narco sub in the eastern Pacific, pursuing the 40-foot vessel over night and into the early morning. It was stopped with 12,000 pounds of cocaine aboard, but Coast Guard personnel were only able to offload about 1,100 pounds because of concerns about its stability.

The Valiant’s seizure closed that fiscal year, and the crew of the cutter Harriet Lane opened the current one with another, stopping a semi-submersible smuggling vessel in the Eastern Pacific on October 23 and seizing about 5,000 pounds of cocaine.

Boarding teams from the Harriet Lane got to the smuggling vessel just before midnight, taking control of it before four suspected smugglers aboard could sink it using scuttling valves.

This amazing body armor is made from spider silk

US Coast Guard personnel aboard a “narco sub” stopped in the Eastern Pacific Ocean, Oct. 23, 2019.

(US Coast Guard)

‘A mission enabler’

Coast Guard officials have pointed to narco subs as a sign of smugglers’ ability to adapt to pressure.

The service has pursued what Commandant Adm. Karl Schultz has called a “push-out-the-border strategy,” sending ships into the Pacific to bust drugs at the point in the smuggling process when the loads are the largest.

But Schultz and other officials have cautioned that the service can see more than it can catch.

In the eastern Pacific, where about 85% of the cocaine smuggling between South America and the US takes place, the Coast Guard has “visibility on about 85% of that activity,” Schultz told Business Insider in November 2018. “Because of the capacity — the number of ships, the number of aircraft — [we act on] about 25% to 30% of that.”

Stopping drugs, as well as the Coast Guard’s other missions, are opportunities to employ new technology, Schultz said in October 2019.

“That counter-drug mission, where you’re trying to surveil the eastern Pacific Ocean … you can take the entire United States and turn it on a 45-degree axis and drop it there, it’s the equivalent of patrolling North America with five or six police cars out of Columbus,” Schultz said during an event at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

“You’ve got to bring some technologies in … We’ve fielded small unmanned systems, the Scan Eagle, on the back of our national-security cutters,” Schultz added. “We haven’t fielded them all out yet, but hopefully by the end of next year every national-security cutter will have a Scan Eagle. That’s a mission enabler.”

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

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This is the insane training it takes to earn the Army Expert Infantryman Badge

Through the darkness, the Soldiers pushed forward toward their objective. Sweat was dripping off the chins of some, hitting the ground as each mile passed. This is only the beginning of earning the Army Expert Infantryman Badge.


Their rucksacks seemed heavier with each passing step, their helmets weighing down like lead covers on their heads. They had to complete a full 12 miles before their trek was done.

Once they reached their destination, there was one more task at hand: each Soldier had to treat a simulated casualty and carry him out on a litter.

This amazing body armor is made from spider silk
A Soldier with 1-2 Stryker Brigade Combat Team drags a simulated casualty to the finish line of Objective Bull Dec. 15, 2017, at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington. Objective Bull was the final event of the Expert Infantry Badge testing, which was held Dec. 11-15. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Samuel Northrup)

This was the final event for the Expert Infantryman Badge testing that took place Dec. 11-15, 2017, at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington.

Out of the 324 1-2 Stryker Brigade Combat Team Soldiers who started the Expert Infantryman Badge testing, only 73 successfully completed all the required tasks and earned their Badge — making the attrition rate 78 percent.

“The test has evolved over the years,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Walter A. Tagalicud, the I Corps command sergeant major. “It certainly differs from the one I participated in to earn my EIB in 1989. But, the spirit and intent remain. There is no greater individual training mechanism to building the fundamental warrior skills required in our profession, than the EIB.”

There is a lot of train up to the EIB, said Spc. Tyler Conner, an infantryman with Company A, 2nd Battalion, 3rd Infantry Regiment. Even if a Soldier is not trying out for the EIB, the train up for the testing is valuable to see the right way of doing infantry tasks. When a Soldier finally earns the EIB, it shows that they have honed their skills enough to be called an expert infantryman.

The EIB evaluation included an Army Physical Fitness Test, with a minimum score of 80 points in each event; day and night land navigation; medical, patrol, and weapons lanes; a 12-mile forced march, and Objective Bull (evaluate, apply a tourniquet to and transport a casualty).

Also Read: These 3 soldiers fought their way back to the front lines after losing legs

“These crucial skills are the building blocks to our battle drills and collective gates,” Tagalicud said. “The Expert Infantryman Badge is as much about the training, leading up to and through the testing, as it is about proving your mettle.”

“Earning the EIB was one of the best experiences I had in the Army,” said Sgt. Wilmar Belilla Lopez, a Soldier with 2nd Battalion, 3rd Infantry Regiment. “Being tactically and technically proficient is the core of being a Soldier. When a Soldier earns their EIB, it signifies they have achieved a level of proficiency all Soldiers should strive for.”

“The Greek Philosopher Heraclitus said, ‘Out of every 100 men, 10 shouldn’t even be there, 80 are just targets, 9 are the real fighters and we are lucky to have them – for they make the battle. But the one, one is a warrior, and he will bring the others back,'” Tagalicud said while addressing the new EIB holders.

“You are that warrior. You Infantrymen, you Soldiers, you leaders, and candidates are the one in a hundred,” he said. “Many stepped forward to answer the question am I good enough. For you the answer in a resounding yes!”

This amazing body armor is made from spider silk
A Soldier with 1-2 Stryker Brigade Combat Team gets pinned his Expert Infantryman Badge after successfully completing the testing Dec. 15, 2017, at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington. The number of candidates was 324 when testing began Dec. 11, but only 73 earned their badge on Dec. 15. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Samuel Northrup)

The Expert Infantryman Badge was developed in 1944 to represent the infantry’s tough, hard-hitting role in combat and symbolize proficiency in infantry craft.

For the first Expert Infantryman Badge evaluation, 100 noncommissioned officers were selected to undergo three days of testing. When the testing was over, 10 NCOs remained. The remaining ten were interviewed to determine the first Expert Infantryman.

On March 29, 1944, Tech. Sgt. Walter Bull was the first Soldier to be awarded the Expert Infantryman Badge

MIGHTY CULTURE

Meet the crews who make sure fellow Marines can fight from ship to shore

It is a tough job and not everyone is lining up to work at their pace.

Combat cargo Marines have one of the most demanding jobs aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Bataan (LHD 5). This is especially evident during Composite Training Unit Exercise (COMPTUEX).

Combat cargo’s mission is to support the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit’s (MEU) logistical requirements across the three classes of ships featured in MEU operations.

“We are in charge of anything and everything that comes on and off the Bataan,” said Lance Cpl. Brandon Novakoski, combat cargoman with the 26th MEU.


This amazing body armor is made from spider silk

US Marines with the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit move and secure cargo aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Bataan during Composite Training Unit Exercise in the Atlantic Ocean, Oct. 9, 2019.

(US Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Tanner Seims)

This amazing body armor is made from spider silk

US Marines with the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit move and secure cargo aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Bataan during Composite Training Unit Exercise in the Atlantic Ocean, Oct. 9, 2019.

(US Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Tanner Seims)

This amazing body armor is made from spider silk

US Marines with the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit move and secure cargo aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Bataan during Composite Training Unit Exercise in the Atlantic Ocean, Oct. 9, 2019.

(US Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Tanner Seims)

This amazing body armor is made from spider silk

US Marines with the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit move and secure cargo aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Bataan during Composite Training Unit Exercise in the Atlantic Ocean, Oct. 9, 2019.

(US Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Tanner Seims)

This amazing body armor is made from spider silk

US Marines with the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit move and secure cargo aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Bataan during Composite Training Unit Exercise in the Atlantic Ocean, Oct. 9, 2019.

(US Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Tanner Seims)

This amazing body armor is made from spider silk

Combat Cargo Marines with the Bataan Amphibious Ready Group wait for a Landing Craft, Air Cushion to give the signal it is safe to board to prepare for training operations during an exercise aboard the San Antonio-Class amphibious transport dock ship USS New York, off the coast of North Carolina, Aug. 26, 2019.

(US Marine Corps photo by Staff Sgt. Patricia A. Morris)

This amazing body armor is made from spider silk

US Navy Boatswain’s Mate 3rd Class James Thomas, with the Bataan Amphibious Ready Group, signals a Landing Craft, Air Cushion while US Marines and sailors wait to retrieve cargo to prepare for training operations during an exercise aboard the San Antonio-Class amphibious transport dock ship USS New York off the coast of North Carolina, on Aug. 26, 2019.

(US Marine Corps photo by Staff Sgt. Patricia A. Morris)

This amazing body armor is made from spider silk

Combat Cargo Marines with the Bataan Amphibious Ready Group finish off-loading a Landing Craft, Air Cushion during an exercise aboard the San Antonio-Class amphibious transport dock ship USS New York, off the coast of Virginia, Aug. 23, 2019.

(US Marine Corps photo by Staff Sgt. Patricia A. Morris)

“Combat cargo is a vital part of daily ship life,” said Novakoski. “If we didn’t have Marines to work the long hours in combat cargo, ship supplies would struggle and missions wouldn’t be completed.”

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

MIGHTY TACTICAL

This Spanish aircraft carrier was an elegant warfighter

The Spanish Navy has always operated an aircraft carrier. Its most recent carrier is SNS Juan Carlos I, which is, in essence, an amphibious assault ship capable of operating Spain’s force of EAV-8B Harriers. Juan Carlos I’s predecessor, though, was Spain’s first home-built aircraft carrier.


The Principe de Asturias, named for the heir to the Spanish throne, replaced the Dedalo, which began its life as the Independence-class light carrier USS Cabot (CVL 28). The Dedalo had been modified to operate AV-8S Harriers, which were very similar to various the Harriers in service with both the United States Marine Corps and the Royal Air Force.

This amazing body armor is made from spider silk
The Spanish aircraft carrier SPS Principe De Asturias (R 11) steams through the Atlantic Ocean while participating in Majestic Eagle 2004. Majestic Eagle is a multinational exercise being conducted off the coast of Morocco. (U.S. Navy photo by Photographer’s Mate 3rd Class William Howell)

The fact of the matter was that Independence-class light carriers were good ships — of the nine vessels to serve in World War II, eight survived — but they were designed to launch a piston-engine fighter, like the F6F Hellcat. The Principe de Asturias was designed to be a Harrier carrier from the getgo. One of the primary features of that ship was the ski-jump ramp on the bow.

According to GlobalSecurity.org, the Principe de Asturias displaced 17,190 tons and had a top speed of 25 knots. It could operate a mix of Harriers and anti-submarine helicopter and had four Meroka 20mm close-in weapon systems.

This amazing body armor is made from spider silk
An EAV-8B Harrier II from the Spanish aircraft carrier Principe de Asturias (R 11) prepares to land after a live-fire exercise as part of a passing exercise with ships assigned to Standing NATO Maritime Group Two (SNMG-2). (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Leonardo Carrillo)

25 knots seems quite low when compared to American Nimitz-class supercarriers. This is because the Principe de Asturias wasn’t meant to take on the Soviet Navy in the Norwegian Sea. Her mission was to help protect convoys heading across the Atlantic. The Harriers might not be able to destroy a regiment of Backfires, but they could kill the occasional Tu-95 “Bear D” search aircraft. Meanwhile, her helicopters could keep an enemy submarine at bay — or better yet, sink it.

This ship gave Spain 25 years of excellent service. Despite reports of a number of countries wanting to buy it, she was sold for scrap.

Learn more about this vessel in the video below.

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rIFsez062MY
(Dung Tran | YouTube)
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How one commander tried to get his men to leak D-Day plans

British Lt. Col. Terence Otway and his men were to be charged with assaulting the Merville battery on June 6, 1944, at the height of the D-Day invasions of occupied France. For their mission – as well as the overall invasion – secrecy was of the utmost importance, so Otway wanted to ensure his men held that secret close and wouldn’t divulge anything under any circumstances.

So he turned to one of the oldest tricks in the intelligence-gathering book to test their mettle: using women to try to draw the information out of them.


This amazing body armor is made from spider silk
The Merville Gun Battery. (Wikimedia Commons)

Otway and the British 9th parachute battalion were going to assault the series of six-foot-thick concrete bunkers that housed anti-aircraft guns, machine gun emplacements, and artillery from a special artillery division. In all, 150 paratroopers would attempt to take down 130 Germans in a hardened shelter. Since the assault would come just after midnight and well before the main landings, operational security was paramount. The Lieutenant Colonel decided to test his men to see if they could be trusted with the information.

According to the 2010 bookD-Day: Minute by Minute, Otway enlisted the help of 30 of the most beautiful women of the Women’s Auxiliary Airforce and sent them out to the local pubs with the mission of trapping his men into divulging their secret plans. It was an important test; if the men of the 9th weren’t able to take down those guns, the entire landing might be in jeopardy.

D-Day
A memorial to the commander of the 9th at the former location of the battery (Wikimedia Commons)

But Otway would be pleased with the discipline of his men. Throughout the nights, they caroused as they always had, drinks in hand, singing the night away. But not one of Otway’s men ever gave up their secret. The attack would go on as planned. His 150 now-proven loyal men landing in the area by parachute and by glider that day in June. Even though the winds disbursed the fighters throughout a large area, they still managed to take down the gun site, albeit taking heavy casualties in the process.

After the Merville Gun Battery was down, the exhausted and depleted British paratroopers then moved on to secure the occupied village of Le Plein. Their assault on the guns cost them roughly 50 percent of their total strength – but they were able to accomplish their mission because of the total secrecy surrounding it from lift off to completion.


Feature image: “The Drop” by Albert Richards (public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

MIGHTY TRENDING

Private Care Program allegedly enriched companies and hurt vets

For years, conservatives have assailed the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs as a dysfunctional bureaucracy. They said private enterprise would mean better, easier-to-access health care for veterans. President Donald Trump embraced that position, enthusiastically moving to expand the private sector’s role.

Here’s what has actually happened in the four years since the government began sending more veterans to private care: longer waits for appointments and, a new analysis of VA claims data by ProPublica and PolitiFact shows, higher costs for taxpayers.


Since 2014, 1.9 million former service members have received private medical care through a program called Veterans Choice. It was supposed to give veterans a way around long wait times in the VA. But their average waits using the Choice Program were still longer than allowed by law, according to examinations by the VA inspector general and the Government Accountability Office. The watchdogs also found widespread blunders, such as booking a veteran in Idaho with a doctor in New York and telling a Florida veteran to see a specialist in California. Once, the VA referred a veteran to the Choice Program to see a urologist, but instead he got an appointment with a neurologist.

The winners have been two private companies hired to run the program, which began under the Obama administration and is poised to grow significantly under Trump. ProPublica and PolitiFact obtained VA data showing how much the agency has paid in medical claims and administrative fees for the Choice program. Since 2014, the two companies have been paid nearly billion for overhead, including profit. That’s about 24 percent of the companies’ total program expenses — a rate that would exceed the federal cap that governs how much most insurance plans can spend on administration in the private sector.

This amazing body armor is made from spider silk

(Lucas Waldron/ProPublica)

This amazing body armor is made from spider silk

(Lucas Waldron/ProPublica)

This amazing body armor is made from spider silk

(Lucas Waldron/ProPublica)

According to the agency’s inspector general, the VA was paying the contractors at least 5 every time it authorized private care for a veteran. The fee was so high because the VA hurriedly launched the Choice Program as a short-term response to a crisis. Four years later, the fee never subsided — it went up to as much as 8 per referral.

“This is what happens when people try and privatize the VA,” Sen. Jon Tester of Montana, the ranking Democrat on the Senate veterans committee, said in a statement responding to these findings. “The VA has an obligation to taxpayers to spend its limited resources on caring for veterans, not paying excessive fees to a government contractor. When VA does need the help of a middleman, it needs to do a better job of holding contractors accountable for missing the mark.”

The Affordable Care Act prohibits large group insurance plans from spending more than 15 percent of their revenue on administration, including marketing and profit. The private sector standard is 10 percent to 12 percent, according to Andrew Naugle, who advises health insurers on administrative operations as a consultant at Milliman, one of the world’s largest actuarial firms. Overhead is even lower in the Defense Department’s Tricare health benefits program: only 8 percent in 2017.

Even excluding the costs of setting up the new program, the Choice contractors’ overhead still amounts to 21 percent of revenue.

“That’s just unacceptable,” Rick Weidman, the policy director of Vietnam Veterans of America, said in response to the figures. “There are people constantly banging on the VA, but this was the private sector that made a total muck of it.”

Trump’s promises to veterans were a central message of his campaign. But his plans to shift their health care to the private sector put him on a collision course with veterans groups, whose members generally support the VA’s medical system and don’t want to see it privatized. The controversy around privatization, and the outsize influence of three Trump associates at Mar-a-Lago, has sown turmoil at the VA, endangering critical services from paying student stipends to preventing suicidesand upgrading electronic medical records.

A spokesman for the VA, Curt Cashour, declined to provide an interview with key officials and declined to answer a detailed list of written questions.

One of the contractors, Health Net, stopped working on the program in September 2018. Health Net didn’t respond to requests for comment.

The other contractor, TriWest Healthcare Alliance, said it has worked closely with the VA to improve the program and has made major investments of its own. “We believe supporting VA in ensuring the delivery of quality care to our nation’s veterans is a moral responsibility, even while others have avoided making these investments or have withdrawn from the market,” the company said in a statement.

TriWest did not dispute ProPublica and PolitiFact’s estimated overhead rate, which used total costs, but suggested an alternate calculation, using an average cost, that yielded a rate of 13 percent to 15 percent. The company defended the 5-plus fee by saying it covers “highly manual” services such as scheduling appointments and coordinating medical files. Such functions are not typically part of the contracts for other programs, such as the military’s Tricare. But Tricare’s contractors perform other duties, such as adjudicating claims and monitoring quality, that Health Net and TriWest do not. In a recent study comparing the programs, researchers from the Rand Corporation concluded that the role of the Choice Program’s contractors is “much narrower than in the private sector or in Tricare.”

Before the Choice Program, TriWest and Health Net performed essentially the same functions for about a sixth of the price, according to the VA inspector general. TriWest declined to break down how much of the fee goes to each service it provides.

Because of what the GAO called the contractors’ “inadequate” performance, the VA increasingly took over doing the Choice Program’s referrals and claims itself.

In many cases, the contractors’ 5-plus processing fee for every referral was bigger than the doctor’s bill for services rendered, the analysis of agency data showed. In the three months ending Jan. 31, 2018, the Choice Program made 49,144 referrals for primary care totaling .9 million in medical costs, for an average cost per referral of 1.16. A few other types of care also cost less on average than the handling fee: chiropractic care (6.32 per referral) and optometry (9.25). There were certainly other instances where the medical services cost much more than the handling fee: TriWest said its average cost per referral was about ,100 in the past six months.

Beyond what the contractors were entitled to, audits by the VA inspector general found that they overcharged the government by 0 million from November 2014 to March 2017. Both companies are now under federal investigation arising from these overpayments. Health Net’s parent company, Centene, disclosed a Justice Department civil investigation into “excessive, duplicative or otherwise improper claims.” A federal grand jury in Arizona is investigating TriWest for “wire fraud and misused government funds,” according to a court decision on a subpoena connected to the case. Both companies said they are cooperating with the inquiries.

Despite the criminal investigation into TriWest’s management of the Choice Program, the Trump administration recently expanded the company’s contract without competitive bidding. Now, TriWest stands to collect even more fees as the administration prepares to fulfill Trump’s campaign promise to send more veterans to private doctors.

This amazing body armor is made from spider silk
(US Air Force photo by Kemberly Groue)

Senate veterans committee chairman Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., said he expects VA Secretary Robert Wilkie to discuss the agency’s plans for the future of private care when he testifies at a hearing on Dec. 19, 2018. A spokeswoman for the outgoing chairman of the House veterans committee, Phil Roe, R-Tenn., didn’t respond to requests for comment.

“The last thing we need is to have funding for VA’s core mission get wasted,” Rep. Mark Takano, a California Democrat who will become the House panel’s chairman in January 2019, said in a statement. “I will make sure Congress conducts comprehensive oversight to ensure that our veterans receive the care they deserve while being good stewards of taxpayer dollars.”

Many of the Choice Program’s defects trace back to its hasty launch.

In 2014, the Republican chairman of the House veterans committee alleged that 40 veterans died waiting for care at the VA hospital in Phoenix. The inspector general eventually concluded that no deaths were attributable to the delays. But it was true that officials at the Phoenix VA were covering up long wait times, and critics seized on this scandal to demand that veterans get access to private medical care.

One of the loudest voices demanding changes was John McCain’s. “Make no mistake: This is an emergency,” the Arizona senator, who died in August 2018, said at the time. McCain struck a compromise with Democrats to open up private care for veterans who lived at least 40 miles from a VA facility or would have to wait at least 30 days to get an appointment.

In the heat of the scandal, Congress gave the VA only 90 days to launch Choice. The VA reached out to 57 companies about administering the new program, but the companies said they couldn’t get the program off the ground in just three months, according to contracting records. So the VA tacked the Choice Program onto existing contracts with Health Net and TriWest to run a much smaller program for buying private care. “There is simply insufficient time to solicit, evaluate, negotiate and award competitive contracts and then allow for some form of ramp-up time for a new contractor,” the VA said in a formal justification for bypassing competitive bidding.

But that was a shaky foundation on which to build a much larger program, since those earlier contracts were themselves flawed. In a 2016 report, the VA inspector general said officials hadn’t followed the rules “to ensure services acquired are based on need and at fair and reasonable prices.” The report criticized the VA for awarding higher rates than one of the vendors proposed.

The new contract with the VA was a lifeline for TriWest. Its president and CEO, David J. McIntyre Jr., was a senior aide to McCain in the mid-1990s before starting the company, based in Phoenix, to handle health benefits for the military’s Tricare program. In 2013, TriWest lost its Tricare contract and was on the verge of shutting down. Thanks to the VA contract, TriWest went from laying off more than a thousand employees to hiring hundreds.

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Senator John McCain.

(Photo by Gage Skidmore)

McIntyre’s annual compensation, according to federal contracting disclosures, is .36 million. He declined to be interviewed. In a statement, TriWest noted that the original contract, for the much smaller private care program, had been competitively awarded.

The VA paid TriWest and Health Net 0 million upfront to set up the new Choice program, according to the inspector general’s audit. But that was dwarfed by the fees that the contractors would collect. Previously, the VA paid the companies between and 3 for every referral, according to the inspector general. But for the Choice Program, TriWest and Health Net raised their fee to between 5 and 0 to do essentially the same work on a larger scale, the inspector general said.

The price hike was a direct result of the time pressure, according to Greg Giddens, a former VA contracting executive who dealt with the Choice Program. “If we had two years to stand up the program, we would have been at a different price structure,” he said.

Even though the whole point of the Choice Program was to avoid 30-day waits in the VA, a convoluted process made it hard for veterans to see private doctors any faster. Getting care through the Choice Program took longer than 30 days 41 percent of the time, according to the inspector general’s estimate. The GAO found that in 2016 using the Choice Program could take as long as 70 days, with an average of 50 days.

Sometimes the contractors failed to make appointments at all. Over a three-month period in 2018, Health Net sent back between 9 percent and 13 percent of its referrals, according to agency data. TriWest failed to make appointments on 5 percent to 8 percent of referrals, the data shows.

Many veterans had frustrating experiences with the contractors.

Richard Camacho in Los Angeles said he got a call from TriWest to make an appointment for a sleep test, but he then received a letter from TriWest with different dates. He had to call the doctor to confirm when he was supposed to show up. When he got there, the doctor had received no information about what the appointment was for, Camacho said.

John Moen, a Vietnam veteran in Plano, Texas, tried to use the Choice Program for physical therapy in 2018 rather than travel to Dallas, where the VA had a six-week wait. But it took 10 weeks for him to get an appointment with a private provider.

“The Choice Program for me has completely failed to meet my needs,” Moen said.

Curtis Thompson, of Kirkland, Washington, said he’s been told the Choice Program had a 30-day wait just to process referrals, never mind to book an appointment. “Bottom line: Wait for the nearly 60 days to see the rheumatologist at the VA rather than opt for an unknown delay through Veterans Choice,” he said.

This amazing body armor is made from spider silk

(Flickr photo by Rob Bixby)

After Thompson used the Choice Program in 2018 for a sinus surgery that the VA couldn’t perform within 30 days, the private provider came after him to collect payment, according to documentation he provided.

Thousands of veterans have had to contend with bill collectors and credit bureaus because the contractors failed to pay providers on time, according to the inspector general. Doctors have been frustrated with the Choice Program, too. The inspector general found that 15 providers in North Carolina stopped accepting patients from the VA because Health Net wasn’t paying them on time.

The VA shares the blame, since it fell behind in paying the contractors, the inspector general said. TriWest claimed the VA at one point owed the company 0 million. According to the inspector general, the VA’s pile of unpaid claims peaked at almost 180,000 in 2016 and was virtually eliminated by the end of the year.

The VA tried to tackle the backlog of unpaid doctors, but it had a problem: The agency didn’t know who was performing the services arranged by the contractors. That’s because Health Net and TriWest controlled the provider networks, and the medical claims they submit to the VA do not include any provider information.

The contractors’ role as middlemen created the opportunity for payment errors, according to the inspector general’s audit. The inspector general found 77,700 cases where the contractors billed the VA for more than they paid providers and pocketed the difference, totaling about million. The inspector general also identified .9 million in duplicate payments and .5 million in other errors.

TriWest said it has worked with the VA to correct the payment errors and set aside money to pay back. The company said it’s waiting for the VA to provide a way to refund the confirmed overpayments. “We remain ready to complete the necessary reconciliations as soon as that process is formally approved,” TriWest said.

The grand jury proceedings involving TriWest are secret, but the investigation became public because prosecutors sought to obtain the identities of anonymous commenters on the jobs website Glassdoor.com who accused TriWest of “mak[ing] money unethically off of veterans/VA.” Glassdoor fought the subpoena but lost, in November 2017. The court’s opinion doesn’t name TriWest, but it describes the subject of the investigation as “a government contractor that administers veterans’ healthcare programs” and quotes the Glassdoor reviews about TriWest. The federal prosecutor’s office in Arizona declined to comment.

“TriWest has cooperated with many government inquiries regarding VA’s community care programs and will continue to do so,” the company said in its statement. “TriWest must respect the government’s right to keep those inquiries confidential until such time as the government decides to conclude the inquiry or take any actions or adjust VA programs as deemed appropriate.”

The VA tried to make the Choice Program run more smoothly and efficiently. Because the contractors were failing to find participating doctors to treat veterans, the VA in mid-2015 launched a full-court press to sign up private providers directly, according to the inspector general. In some states, the VA also took over scheduling from the contractors.

“We were making adjustments on the fly trying to get it to work,” said David Shulkin, who led the VA’s health division starting in 2015. “There needed to be a more holistic solution.”

Officials decided in 2016 to design new contracts that would change the fee structure and reabsorb some of the services that the VA had outsourced to Health Net and TriWest. The department secretary at the time, Bob McDonald, concluded the VA needed to handle its own customer service, since the agency’s reputation was suffering from TriWest’s and Health Net’s mistakes. Reclaiming those functions would have the side effect of reducing overhead.

“Tell me a great customer service company in the world that outsources its customer service,” McDonald, who previously ran Procter Gamble, said in an interview. “I wanted to have the administrative functions within our medical centers so we took control of the care of the veterans. That would have brought that fee down or eliminated it entirely.”

The new contracts, called the Community Care Network, also aimed to reduce overhead by paying the contractors based on the number of veterans they served per month, rather than a flat fee for every referral. To prevent payment errors like the ones the inspector general found, the new contracts sought to increase information-sharing between the VA and the contractors. The VA opened bidding for the new Community Care Network contracts in December 2016.

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David Shulkin.

But until those new contracts were in place, the VA was still stuck paying Health Net and TriWest at least 5 for every referral. So VA officials came up with a workaround: they could cut out the middleman and refer veterans to private providers directly. Claims going through the contractors declined by 47 percent from May to December in 2017.

TriWest’s CEO, McIntyre, objected to this workaround and blamed the VA for hurting his bottom line.

In a Feb. 26, 2018, email with the subject line “Heads Up… Likely Massive and Regrettable Train Wreck Coming!” McIntyre warned Shulkin, then the department secretary, that “long unresolved matters with VA and current behavior patterns will result in a projected million loss in 2019. This is on top of the losses that we have amassed over the last couple years.”

Officials were puzzled that, despite all the VA was paying TriWest, McIntyre was claiming he couldn’t make ends meet, according to agency emails provided to ProPublica and PolitiFact. McIntyre explained that he wanted the VA to waive penalties for claims that lacked adequate documentation and to pay TriWest an administrative fee on canceled referrals and no-show appointments, even though the VA read the contract to require a fee only on completed claims. In a March 2018 letter to key lawmakers, McIntyre said the VA’s practice of bypassing the contractors and referring patients directly to providers “has resulted in a significant drop in the volume of work and is causing the company irreparable financial harm.”

McIntyre claimed the VA owed TriWest million and warned of a “negative impact on VA and veterans that will follow” if the agency didn’t pay. Any disruptions at TriWest, he said, would rebound onto the VA, “given how much we are relied on by VA at the moment and the very public nature of this work.”

But when the VA asked to see TriWest’s financial records to substantiate McIntyre’s claims, the numbers didn’t add up, according to agency emails.

McIntyre’s distress escalated in March 2018, as the Choice Program was running out of money and lawmakers were locked in tense negotiations over its future. McIntyre began sending daily emails to the VA officials in charge of the Choice Program seeking updates and warning of impending disaster. “I don’t think the storm could get more difficult or challenging,” he wrote in one of the messages. “However, I know that I am not alone nor that the impact will be confined to us.”

McIntyre lobbied for a bill to permanently replace Choice with a new program consolidating all of the VA’s methods of buying private care. TriWest even offered to pay veterans organizations to run ads supporting the legislation, according to emails discussing the proposal. Congress overwhelmingly passed the law (named after McCain) in May 2018.

“In the campaign, I also promised that we would fight for Veterans Choice,” Trump said at the signing ceremony in June 2018. “And before I knew that much about it, it just seemed to be common sense. It seemed like if they’re waiting on line for nine days and they can’t see a doctor, why aren’t they going outside to see a doctor and take care of themselves, and we pay the bill? It’s less expensive for us, it works out much better, and it’s immediate care.”

The new permanent program for buying private care will take effect in June 2019. The VA’s new and improved Community Care Network contracts were supposed to be in place by then. But the agency repeatedly missed deadlines for these new contracts and has yet to award them.

The VA has said it’s aiming to pick the contractors for the new program in January and February 2019. Yet even if the VA meets this latest deadline, the contracts include a one-year ramp-up period, so they won’t be ready to start in June 2019.

That means TriWest will by default become the sole contractor for the new program. The VA declined to renew Health Net’s contract when it expired in September 2018. The VA was planning to deal directly with private providers in the regions that Health Net had covered. But the VA changed course and announced that TriWest would take over Health Net’s half of the country. The agency said TriWest would be the sole contractor for the entire Choice Program until it awards the Community Care Network contracts.

“There’s still not a clear timeline moving forward,” said Giddens, the former VA contracting executive. “They need to move forward with the next program. The longer they stay with the current one, and now that it’s down to TriWest, that’s not the best model.”

Meanwhile, TriWest will continue receiving a fee for every referral. And the number of referrals is poised to grow as the administration plans to shift more veterans to the private sector.

This story was produced in collaboration with PolitiFact.

This article originally appeared on ProPublica. Follow @ProPublica on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The last stand of 3/395: how one US Army battalion helped win the Battle of the Bulge

By December 1944, Allied armies had reached the western border of Germany itself. The US Army’s 99th Infantry Division, recently arrived in Europe and untested in combat, was assigned to the northern “shoulder” of the Allied front line in the Ardennes Forest.


The three regiments of the 99th ID—the 393rd, 394th, & 395th Infantry Regiments—were thinly spread across this frigid but quiet portion of the front. A few miles to the east lay the Siegfried Line, the enemy’s final defensive line guarding the German heartland.

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99th Infantry Division soldiers putting up a winterized squad hut.

(Source: U.S. Army)

The 3rd Battalion of the 395th Infantry Regiment (3/395), commanded by Lieutenant Colonel McClernand Butler, occupied the town of Höfen on the German border. Höfen, along with the nearby town of Monschau, was strategically vital because it sat on elevated terrain overlooking an important road junction.

Although 3/395 had only 600 men to defend a large area, they had been told that the German army, or Wehrmacht, was no longer capable of major offensive operations and that their winter in the Ardennes would be a quiet one.

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99th Infantry Division vehicles en route to the battle zone.

(Source: U.S Army)

Unknown to the Allies, the Germans were preparing a surprise counter-offensive through the Ardennes with the goal of splitting the Allied armies and recapturing the Belgian port city of Antwerp. The Germans planned to use massed infantry assaults to punch holes in the American lines, after which the feared German tanks, or panzers, would race through these gaps while the winter weather kept Allied planes grounded. Höfen-Monschau was vital to the operation’s success because the nearby road junctions would enable rapid movement of tanks.

This northern shoulder of the American line where the 99th ID was entrenched would be the hinge on which the German assault would pivot northwest toward Antwerp. The Germans were counting on something else, too—they knew that this sector was thinly manned by untested troops.

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German Panzer tanks en route to the Ardennes.

(Source: US Army)

In the pre-dawn hours of December 16th, Hitler’s final major offensive began. The ferocious assault caught the Allies off-guard and the rapid German advance famously caused a “bulge” on Allied maps.

The Germans were operating under a tight timetable, however, and the assault’s center of gravity—the 6th Panzer Army—had only one day to breach the 99th ID’s line. Any delay would jeopardize the plan to cross the Meuse River and advance on Antwerp before the skies cleared and the Allies regained their balance.

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German troops pass burning American equipment during the Ardennes offensive.

(Source: US Army)

The German pre-dawn artillery bombardment on December 16th destroyed 3/395’s communication wires at Höfen, but the stunned soldiers soon witnessed an even more ominous sight: enemy searchlights, reflecting off the dense clouds, illuminated the snowy open ground east of Höfen. Through this eerie artificial moonlight, the 326th Volksgrenadier Division advanced on 3/395’s position.

This, however, was the moment that Hitler’s master plan collided headfirst with American fortitude. 3/395 greeted the Volksgrenadiers with a punishing hail of bullets, mortars, and artillery. The Germans, moving across illuminated open ground without cover, fell by the hundreds against the murderous American fire. Some toppled directly into US foxholes as American troops engaged them at point-blank range. Those Germans who made it into the town itself were quickly mopped up. Höfen remained in American hands—for now.

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American troops from the 290th Regiment near Amonines, Belgium.

(Source: US Army)

Despite mauling the Germans on their first attempt to take Höfen, 3/395’s situation was grim. The battalion was badly outnumbered and nearly surrounded.

To make circumstances worse, just beyond the bloodied-but-not-beaten Volksgrenadiers waited the tanks of the 6th Panzer Army. It was not just the lives of 3/395 at stake; a German breakthrough here would have enabled the Sixth Panzer Army to outflank the 2nd ID and 99th ID and achieve a direct route to the Meuse River.

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Location of the 99th ID sector (red box) on a map of the “Bulge”.

(Source: US Army)

The Germans were not finished with Butler’s men, either. After failing to capture Monschau on the battle’s second day, the 326th Volksgrenadier Division turned its attention back to Höfen on December 18th. The Germans threw wave after wave of infantry, and a unit of panzers, at the town. The situation became so dire that Butler deliberately called in artillery on his unit’s own position to prevent them from being overrun—one of six times this would occur at Höfen.

When the Germans finally broke through 3/395’s lines and established a foothold in the town, the Americans recaptured the buildings by firing anti-tank guns through the walls. Later that night, another enemy assault was similarly unsuccessful. One Wehrmacht officer captured at Höfen asked his interrogators which unit had defended the town. When told it was 3/395, the prisoner replied, “It must be one of your best formations.”

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Lieutenant Colonel McClernand Butler, commander of 3/395.

(Source: US Army)

The Germans would never take Höfen, nor most of their other ambitious objectives in the Ardennes, due in large part to the soldiers of 3/395 and the 99th ID as a whole. The failure to breach the 99th ID’s sector stalled the entire German advance and a decisive breakthrough was never achieved. 3/395, soon to be nicknamed “Butler’s Blue Battlin’ Bastards”, was one of the only US Army units that did not retreat in the opening days of the battle.

For their actions the battalion was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation which read, in part: “outnumbered 5 to 1, [3/395] inflicted casualties in the ratio of 18 to 1. Despite fatigue, constant enemy shelling, and ever-increasing enemy pressure, [they] guarded a 6,000-yard front and destroyed 75 percent of three German infantry regiments.”

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Captain Ned Nelson, veteran of 3/395 and the battle at Höfen.

(Source: author)

MIGHTY MOVIES

4 things you didn’t know about Oliver Stone’s classic ‘Platoon’

There are a lot of war movies to choose from, but not many of them are directed from the perspective of a man who lived through the mental torture that was the Vietnam War.

With Platoon, critically acclaimed writer-director Oliver Stone (an Army veteran) transports audiences back to that politically charged time in American history where the war efforts of our brave service members were met with disdain upon returning home.


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Filmmaker and Vietnam veteran Oliver Stone.
(oliverstone.com)

Platoon, fueled by Stone’s unique vision, features some of the most electric, emotionally driven scenes to ever hit the big screen. Although the film won several awards, there are a few things you probably didn’t know about this iconic war movie.

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Filipino protesters linked arms whenever forces attempted to disperse them.

(Photo by Romeo Mariano)

The Philippines Revolution of 1986

Talented actor Willem Dafoe, who played Sgt. Elias in the film, decided that he needed to head to the Philippines before the rest of the cast to get acclimated before shooting. After arriving and taking a brief nap, Dafoe awoke and opened his hotel room’s curtains only to watch a column of tanks drive down the street.

The Philippines Revolution had just kicked off.

From the moment the actors landed, they were treated like infantrymen

Capt. Dale Dye (a Marine veteran) made the actors get haircuts and speak to one another using only character names. Many of the actors were sitting pretty stateside just 48 hours earlier. Suddenly, they were being treated like soldiers.

While the actors were digging their fighting holes with e-tools in the jungle, one of the special effects masterminds on set, Yves De Bono, planted explosive charges nearby to help transform the thespians into hardened grunts.

Once Capt. Dye gave the signal, the charges exploded as planned, taking the actors by complete surprise.

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Lerner (played by Johnny Depp) carries a young girl through a Vietnam village

(Orion Pictures)

Johnny Depp fell asleep on post

While in training, Depp was assigned to man a post when he started drifting off to sleep. The young actor woke to a gun pressed to the back of his neck. Capt. Dye informed Depp that he had just been killed.

www.youtube.com

They were too high to film a scene the right way

Remember that scene where everyone got high? Well, that was real, according to actor Willem Dafoe. During an interview for a behind-the-scenes documentary, the cast got pretty high before the lights and camera were set up. However, once they were ready to film, their marijuana “high” was more like a “Mary Jane down.”

The castmates became very sleepy and, according to a chuckling Dafoe, everyone was “useless.”

MIGHTY FIT

How to actually use that back extension machine

It’s in a dark and wet corner of the gym. Half the gym-goers ignore it altogether. The other half use it to torture their spine as if it owes them money.

The back extension machine can be a valuable tool for your training progression. It could also be the reason you’re spending more time at the physical therapist than making gains. This article is going to set you on the path to a strong, resilient, and pain-free posterior chain.


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Don’t write a check your back can’t cash…

(media.giphy.com)

When you look at a back extension machine, is your first thought to lay face down/ass up, or face up/ass down? If you’re ass up, you’re working ass, and if you’re abs up, you’re working abs.

Using the back extension machine to work abs

Though the machine is intended for the back extension exercise (abs down), it is much more commonly used to train abs, and often unsafely and ineffectively.

Here’s the proper way to train your abs on the machine.

The key is to not over-extend the back when doing your “sit-ups” on the back extension machine. This probably runs counter to every single person you’ve ever seen doing this exercise, including many of the athletes at the Crossfit Games. The below video is a great example of proper form.

The GHD Sit-Up

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Using the machine for your posterior chain

When used as intended, lying belly down, the back extension machine trains your hamstrings, glutes, and low back. Back extensions are a great supplemental exercise to the squat and the deadlift for developing your posterior chain. The key to all exercises on the back extension machine is to keep a straight (neutral) spine.

Your spinal erectors–those muscles on either side of your lower spine–are designed to work mainly isometrically in these movements. That’s when a muscle contracts to maintain position, rather than to move a part of the body–think planks, not crunches.

In all of the movements that are possible on the back extension machine, the primary purpose is not to actually put the back into extension. If taken literally, the machine is poorly named.

It should be called the hip extension machine, because that’s what you are primarily doing: extending your hips.

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The muscles of the back extension.

(@weighttrainingguide)

The back extension works your spinal erectors in the same way that the squat or deadlift does. You are using the spinal erectors to maintain your spinal integrity.

The way to target different levels of your posterior chain is conquered in the setup. Set yourself up for success by properly setting the machine to target the muscles you want. This is where the pad should hit your legs to properly train different muscle groups.

  • Hamstring focused: low balance point (around mid-thigh)
  • Glutes focused: middle balance point (just below hip-flexors)
  • Low back focused: high balance point (hip-flexors on the pad) (not recommended)

Let’s take a look at these three setups.

All About Back Extensions

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Hamstring-focused back extensions

In truth, the back extension is not the exercise you actually want to be doing to target your hamstrings specifically. To use the back extension machine for glutes, you want to be doing the glute ham raise. It’s a leg curl using your entire body as the counterweight rather than a machine. It has the benefit of including your glutes and back in the movement as well, which is completely neglected when doing the same movement in a leg-curl machine.

Glute-Ham Raise

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Pick your profession wisely.

(media.giphy.com)

Glutes-focused back extensions

To focus your back extension on the glutes, start by finding the sweet spot on the back extension machine where:

  • Your hips aren’t too high above the pad.
  • Your hips aren’t covered by the pad (too low). This forces rounding in the back and takes the glutes out of the equation.
  • Your feet are splayed out at 45 degrees or further and separated as wide as possible (think the same stance as Parade Rest in drill).

Bret Contreras is the global authority on all things glutes. The guy literally has a Ph.D. in butts (see, kids, you really can be whatever you want to be when you grow up…even an assman.) Below, he takes you through the optimal setup and cadence for the glutes-focused back extension.

Back Extension Instructional Video

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Back-focused back extensions

As previously mentioned, the back extension machine’s name is a misnomer. You do not want to actually target your low back through repeated flexion and extension of the lumbar (low) spine.

Think of your back like a paper clip. When it is in a neutral position, it’s strong and can easily hold together the first draft of your romance mystery novel. But if you bend it back and forth repeatedly, eventually the stress will cause the paperclip to snap, and your novel will scatter to the winds.

Likewise, repeated unnecessary extension and flexion of the spine can cause similar damage.

Lift with your back.

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Before you claim fear mongering think of it like this…

Sure, we have muscles that can flex and extend the spine, but we also have complex joints like the hips, knees, and ankles that have the strongest and largest muscles of the body attached to them, that provide better range of motion and function than a bent spine ever could.

Why would you want to train a muscle group to do something it is designed to do as a fail safe (extend and flex the spine) when you could instead train the spine to isometrically hold strong while huge and powerful muscles like the glutes and hamstrings allow you to pull a truck, lift a pool table, or deadlift 400 lbs with ease.

Allow reason to prevail.

This amazing body armor is made from spider silk

(i.pinimg.com)

This amazing body armor is made from spider silk
MIGHTY CULTURE

What all the letters and numbers in Navy ship designations mean

Even to the other branches of service, the Navy can be a deep dark mystery of rates and rankings, Captains that have a lot of authority and wearing name tapes on your pants. But it doesn’t have to be that way. And one of the biggest questions posed by vets of other branches and civilians alike is just what the heck do all those letters on these ships mean anyway?


It means you’re in for a history lesson.

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Hmmm… maybe not that far back.

In 1920, the Navy was producing so many new kinds of ships, they needed a better way to keep track of them all. So, acting Navy Secretary Robert Coontz decided to standardize a numbering system that included a two-letter code that would identify the ship and its status as well as its number in the series, type, and sub-type. If the ship didn’t have a sub-type, the first letter would just be repeated

So the Battleship USS Missouri, being a battleship with no sub-type and the 63rd ship in that series was designated USS Missouri BB-63.

Easy, right? Well, Mostly.

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Welcome to the military, where nothing is really that easy.

That was the early 20th Century. World War I had only just introduced a number of new technological innovations to the battlefield, and there were a lot more to come. Training ships, aircraft carriers, nuclear submarines and so, so much more were still to come to the U.S. Navy, and they would need even more designation letters, ones that would describe their purpose and even their power source.

So where do aircraft carriers get the designation CVN, as in the USS Gerald Ford CVN-78? The C is for carrier, and the N means it’s a nuclear-powered ship. The V, well, that’s not that simple. According to the publication “United States Naval Aviation 1910-1995, Appendix 16: US Navy and Marine Corps Squadron Designations and Abbreviations,” the V means it carries heavier-than-air aircraft (as opposed to, say, blimps), but no one really knows for sure why the letter V was chosen, though many believe it was to represent the French vol plané, the word for “glide.”

This amazing body armor is made from spider silk

Meanwhile Russia’s carrier just smokes and slowly retains more water, like your mom.

But there is now more than a century’s worth of Naval Ship Designations for you to peruse, far too many for me to list in their entirety. There are even four-letter designations now, like the SSGN (Attack Submarine, Guided Missile, Nuclear Powered).

Luckily for the curious, there’s always Wikipedia, where someone took the time to list them all, including all the historical designations, like monitors and coastal defenses. Be sure to leave a tip.

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