A secret Cold War unit was the basis for today's special operations - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

A secret Cold War unit was the basis for today’s special operations

If there was one single place that could be called the front lines of the clandestine Cold War, Berlin was it. The city, like the rest of Germany, was divided. It was a bastion, deep inside the heart of the Eastern Bloc, where Westerners could roam relatively freely within their sector by day and sneak into enemy territory under the cover of darkness.

A divided Berlin was the setting for so many stories, many of which are just now coming to light. And many of those stories are about Detachment-A, a Special Forces unit so secret, many in Special Forces couldn’t even know about it.

If World War III broke out, their mission was not to win — they were 110 miles behind enemy lines and couldn’t possibly win a pitched battle. Their mission was to just buy time for NATO. Along the way, their training helped develop the units and tactics used by American special operations the world over.


Retired Special Forces soldier and former CIA agent James Stejskal was among among the members of Detachment A. He served in it for nine years and just wrote a book on the recently-declassified unit, called Special Forces Berlin: Clandestine Cold War Operations of the U.S. Army’s Elite, 1956-90. Working behind enemy lines in an unconventional conflict is one of the foundational duties of the U.S. Army’s Special Forces, but Detachment A had no misconceptions about what would happen in a war with the Soviet Union. They would operate as small teams inside and outside of Berlin, tripping up the Red Army in any way they could.

A secret Cold War unit was the basis for today’s special operations
The veterans of Detachment A today.

“We were going to, basically, break out of the city. Two of the six teams would stay behind and cause trouble inside the city. Four of the teams would go outside the city,” James Stejskal told WATM. “A railway network, basically called the Berliner Ring, would carry the majority of the Russian forces from east to west. Our mission was to report on and sabotage the railway, communications… to cause as much havoc as possible.”

Stejskal grew up with the military. His father was drafted for World War II in 1941, before Pearl Harbor. He would earn a commission during the war as a combat engineer in Patton’s XII Corps. His father even went to Germany during the Korean War. The younger Stejskal was always interested in intelligence, commando, and what he calls the “darker arts.” He read about the British Special Operations Executive and the Office of Strategic Services during WWII and it captivated him. So when it came time for him to join the Army, the Green Beret called to him. He joined with Special Forces on his mind. But Det A was so secret, he didn’t know it existed even after he earned his place among the elite.

“I only found out about it on one of my exercises in Germany,” he recalls. “We jumped into it, into Southern Germany for our annual winter warmer exercise and one of the guys on the ground that met us was a civilian-clothes guy, speaking German. Only later on in the exercise did he start to speak in English to us and, before too long, I figured out that he was actually American. He told us he’s from a unit Berlin and he couldn’t really talk about it.”
A secret Cold War unit was the basis for today’s special operations

(Courtesy Photo)

That piqued Stejskal’s interest. He continued to dig into it and, as one thing led to another, he found himself in Berlin. Detachment A was the closest unit to the old OSS that a soldier could get in to. Speaking German, the men of Det A wore their hair long, civilian clothes, and worked with soldiers from other countries. Their commander was a Czech officer and their Sergeant Major was a German who was in the Bundeswehr, both veterans of World War II.

“It’s a strange feeling. We were 110 miles behind the East German border, with about 12,000 allied troops inside West Berlin surrounded by close to a million Russian and Warsaw Pact soldiers,” He says. “Oddly enough, I think most of us were very energized to be where we were.”
A secret Cold War unit was the basis for today’s special operations

This would be an Emmy-winning TV show today. Mad Men, eat your heart out.

During peacetime, they performed protection duties for VIPs and – most importantly – they trained. Detachment A trained with the British Special Air Service, who taught them to watch how the Germans and Israelis performed anti-terror operations, like clearing a hijacked aircraft. They soon became the U.S. Army’s first counter-terrorism team, long before Delta Force or SEAL Team Six. Charlie Beckwith, Delta’s first commander, came to Berlin to see Detachment A for himself.

“He came over to Berlin to see how we were doing things and took a lot of our training techniques and tactics and exported them back to Fort Bragg, about 1980,” Stejskal says. “The commander of SEAL Team Six, Marcinko, he also came over and observed. We did our operability training with Delta Force later on in the 1980s. We also trained a lot of the SEALs in the city.”

Aside from forming the foundations of modern Special Forces and SEAL Team operations, veterans of Detachment A also took their knowledge back home, joining police departments as local SWAT teams popped up around the United States. They trained law enforcement and military alike in building assault tactics, urban combat, and clearing buildings. But if war broke out, these soldiers had no illusions about their fate.

“I never thought about it being certain death, but it could have,” says Stejskal. “I think we would’ve been hard-pressed to survive more than 72 hours, but you never can tell. You’re anticipating you’re going in to a very bad situation, but you got the best tools, the best cover, and everything else. You have a confidence level that you can do it, but you, there’s always that element of uncertainty that you don’t have everything under control, so that’s part of the energy that fuels you when you’re there.”
MIGHTY TACTICAL

X-20 Dyna-Soar: America’s hypersonic space bomber

Decades before America’s Space Shuttle would roar into the sky, the United States already had plans to field a reusable spaceplane. Born out of Germany’s World War II efforts to create a bomber that could attack New York and continue on to the Pacific, Boeing’s X-20 Dyna-Soar was to be a single-seat craft boosted into the sky atop American rockets.

It would soar in the sky in the blurred line between earth’s atmosphere and the vacuum of space, bouncing along the heavens before releasing its payload over Soviet targets miles below. The X-20 was a 1950s science fiction fever dream born of the nuclear age and the earliest days of the Cold War… And according to some experts, it very likely would have worked.

Operation Paperclip and the burgeoning Cold War

A secret Cold War unit was the basis for today’s special operations
Kurt H. Debus, a former V-2 rocket scientist who became a NASA director, sitting between U.S. President John F. Kennedy and U.S. Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson. WikiMedia Commons)

As World War II came to a close, the United States and Soviet Union’s relationship with one another was already beginning to sour. Nazi Germany’s war machine had torn through the continent, often on the backs of Germany’s state-of-the-art military technology, but geopolitics is a game of theater and pragmatism in equal measure. While the world ached for justice, defense officials in both America and the Soviet Union already saw the Cold War looming large on the horizon. Justice mattered in the minds of these leaders, but not quite as much as surviving the next great conflict to come.

Nazi technology had given Germany an advantage on multiple military fronts, and both America and the Soviet Union knew the scientists responsible for these technological leaps would soon be looking for a means to escape prosecution for their roles in the conflict. Both nations, recognizing the strategic advantage their knowledge could offer, quickly set about capturing as many Nazi scientists and researchers as they could. In the United States, this effort to leverage Germany’s scientists came to be known as Operation Paperclip.

A secret Cold War unit was the basis for today’s special operations
V-2 rocket launching, Peenemünde, on the north-east Baltic German coast. (1943)

In all, Operation Paperclip, which was organized by the Joint Intelligence Objectives Agency (JIOA) and largely executed by the U.S. Army’s Counter Intelligence Corps, brought some 1,600 German scientists, engineers, and technicians to the United States following the war, where they were given roles in America’s ongoing military and technological efforts. NASA’s famed Wernher von Braun, the man who developed the Saturn V rocket that brought America to the moon, was perhaps the most high profile German scientist to come through Paperclip, but among the others were Walter Dornberger and Krafft Ehricke.

In their newfound roles at Bell Aircraft, an American aircraft manufacturing firm, Dornberger and Ehricke first proposed the concept of a sort of vertical-launched bomber and missile in one. In Germany, they had called this theoretical platform the Silbervogel, or Silver Fish. Today, the plan seems quite logical: The vehicle would be sent aloft atop a rocket booster and propelled all the way into a sub-orbital but exoatmospheric altitude where it would briefly enter space, before gliding down toward the atmosphere and being “bounced” back up thanks to the vehicle’s wings.

A secret Cold War unit was the basis for today’s special operations
Diagram of the planned X-20 Dyna-Soar (WikiMedia Commons)

Today, the idea of launching a reusable spaceplane into a suborbital altitude practically sounds run of the mill, thanks to similar concepts being leveraged by everything from nuclear ICBMs to the most advanced, cutting-edge hypersonic weapons, but Dornberger and Ehricke’s proposal was submitted in 1952 — five years before the Soviet Union would launch the world’s first man-made satellite into orbit. Operation Paperclip was devised specifically to leverage Germany’s scientists to help kick-start America’s own exotic military programs, and in hindsight, it’s hard to argue that the effort wasn’t a success, regardless of the ethical implications.

Working in the shadow of Sputnik

A secret Cold War unit was the basis for today’s special operations
Replica of Sputnik 1 (NASA)

On October 1, 1957, the Soviet Union launched Sputnik 1, the world’s first man-made satellite. It was a small, metal sphere, measuring only about 23 inches in diameter, with four external radio antennas trailing behind it broadcasting signal pulses back to Soviet scientists, as well as the rest of the world. What followed has come to be known as the “Sputnik Crisis” in the Western world.

America had been the de facto world leader in terms of both military and economic might following the end of the Second World War, but the success of Sputnik placed America’s supremacy into question. The Soviets had matched America’s nuclear weapons with a test of their own in 1949, and again with the hydrogen bomb in 1953. Now, instead of matching America’s success, the Soviets were starting to take an intimidating lead.

The United States had taken to developing Dornberger and Ehricke’s concept in three separate programs: a rocket bomber (RoBo), a long-range reconnaissance vehicle (Brass Bell), and hypersonic weapons research. Just days after Sputnik 1 launched, the U.S. re-organized their efforts, combing all three programs into the new single Weapons System 464L program, also known as Dyna-Soar.

A secret Cold War unit was the basis for today’s special operations
Artist’s rendering of the X-20 Dyna-Soar (NASA)

The new Dyna-Soar effort was to mature in three stages. Dyna-Soar 1 would be a research vehicle. Dyan-Soar 2 would add reconnaissance, and Dyna-Soar 3 would incorporate bombing capabilities. America intended to work fast, planning to test the first iteration by 1963 in glide trials, with powered trials to follow the next year. By then, the Dyna-Soar 2 was expected to exceed Mach 18 in powered flight. A missile based on the Dyna-Soar program was expected to enter service by 1968, with the spaceplane itself operational by 1974.

A secret Cold War unit was the basis for today’s special operations
(U.S. Air Force image)

In order to meet these deadlines, proposals were fielded by both Bell Aircraft and Boeing. Despite Bell’s head start, Boeing ultimately secured the contract and set about work on developing what was to be the X-20 Dyna-Soar.

Building a Dyna-Soar

A secret Cold War unit was the basis for today’s special operations
(Boeing photo)

By 1960, the spaceplanes overall design was largely settled, leveraging a delta-shape and small winglets for control in place of a traditional tail. In order to manage the incredible heat of reentry, the X-20 would use super alloys like the heat-resistant René 41 in its frame, and molybdenum, graphite, and zirconia rods all used for heat shielding on the underside of the craft.

“It was a hot-temperature structure using a nickel super alloy,” said Dr. Richard Hallion, former Air Force chief historian.

“The leading edges of the wing would be made of an even more exotic alloy. There was provision for active cooling.”

A secret Cold War unit was the basis for today’s special operations
(Air Force artist rendering of the X-20 Dyna-Soar)

That same year, astronauts were chosen to fly America’s new space bomber. Among them was a thirty-year-old Navy test pilot and aeronautical engineer named Neil Armstrong, who would go on to leave the program in 1962.

By the end of that same year, the program was given the designation X-20 and it was unveiled to the public in a ceremony held in Las Vegas. America’s mighty B-52 Stratofortress was chosen to air-drop the X-20 for in-atmosphere flight tests, and the first firing of the rocket booster intended for higher altitude drop-tests was also a success. The project was incredibly ahead of its time, while somehow also being entirely feasible with the technology of the day. In the early 1960s, it seemed all but assured that America would soon be flying space bombers.

A secret Cold War unit was the basis for today’s special operations
(U.S. Air Force photo)

Once built, the X-20 Dyna-Soar’s first mock-up measured 35 and a half feet long with a 20.4-foot wingspan. It used three retractable struts for landing. Although it would have its own A-4 or A-9 rocket engine to help it reach an exoatmospheric trajectory, it would effectively glide throughout most of its mission, dipping down into the atmosphere just far enough to create lift, which it would use to bounce back up, skipping across the air enveloping the earth like a stone over a pond. It would continue to skip until it had lost enough velocity to prevent another bounce back up, at which point the pilot would glide the craft back down to earth just like the Space Shuttle.

The X-20 Dyna-Soar goes extinct

A secret Cold War unit was the basis for today’s special operations
(U.S. Air Force)

Although the X-20 concept was quite literally out of this world, it was still technically feasible, and early tests suggested that the Dyna-Soar may indeed work as advertised. However, the program was also incredibly expensive, and with the new National Aeronautics and Space Administration moving forward with its Gemini program, America’s civilian leaders were becoming more interested in fielding an actual spacecraft they could use to compete with the Soviets, rather than a weapon that offered little in the way of international prestige.

“If we had pursued it as a black-world program like the U-2, it might have gone ahead,” explained Hallion. “I never saw any technical issue that would have been a show stopper.”

A secret Cold War unit was the basis for today’s special operations
Artist’s rendering of an X-20 during a glide (WikiMedia Commons)

On December 10, 1963, the X-20 program was canceled. The United States had invested $410 million in its development, or more than $3.5 billion in 2021 dollars, but the Dyna-Soar was still a long way off from being the space bomber it was intended to become. Even per Hallion’s positive recollection of the effort, the X-20 was still at least two-and-a-half years away from working and would have required at least another $370 million to complete. A space bomber would indeed offer global range, but in 1957, the U.S. Air Force had demonstrated that the B-52, the same bomber tasked with helping test the X-20, could circle the globe all on its own, without any need for pricey rockets.

Upon canceling the X-20 program, the U.S. government diverted its remaining funding to the Manned Orbiting Laboratory effort that used Gemini spacecraft to demonstrate the value of a crewed military presence in Earth’s orbit.

But the X-20 was not completely swallowed up by history. Elements of the program could be found in NASA’s Space Shuttle, and of course, the Space Force’s secretive X-37B bears more than a passing resemblance to the X-20. The X-37B is not touted as a space bomber and almost certainly isn’t, but the reusable spaceplane may, in fact, be one of America’s most capable reconnaissance assets.

MIGHTY HISTORY

7 craziest moments in Army history

The U.S. Army is the oldest American military branch, tracing its lineage back to when the Continental Congress stood up its first riflemen in June 1775. But in over 240 years of Army history, you’re bound to end up with some insane moments.


Here are seven of the U.S. Army’s craziest:

1. When it teamed up with Nazis and prisoners of war to defeat the SS

 

A secret Cold War unit was the basis for today’s special operations
Schloss Itter (Itter Castle) in July 1979. (Photo: S.J. Morgan. CC BY-SA 3.0)

In May 1945, Germany was collapsing and it was obvious that the war in Europe was almost done. As it ended, Allies raced to secure evidence of war crimes and the Nazis worked to destroy it. This led to what has been dubbed World War II’s “strangest battle.”

American tankers rushed to where high-profile prisoners of war were held in Itter Castle in Austria. As a group of drunk SS soldiers marched on the castle to kill the POWs, the Americans offered to help the Wehrmacht defend themselves so that the SS couldn’t kill the POWs and all witnesses.

So, U.S. soldiers, German soldiers, and local resistance fighters fought side-by-side and saved the lives of the prisoners. The friendly German commander was killed in the six hours of fighting before U.S. reinforcements arrived and pushed back the surviving SS members.

2. When it created an imaginary division with inflatable tanks

A secret Cold War unit was the basis for today’s special operations
Plate of Peas Production | YouTube

While the D-Day landings themselves were quite possibly the Army’s finest hour as multiple divisions landed next to its British and Canadian counterparts, the top-secret mission to mislead German intelligence during the Normandy Campaign and invasion of Germany may have been crazier.

Almost immediately after D-Day, the 23rd Headquarters Special Troops began deploying artists, actors, designers, and audio-technicians who were tasked with setting out inflatable equipment and patterns of movement that would make the Nazis think an entire combat division was in the area.

And it worked. The ruse was used on more than 20 occasions, often causing the Germans to redeploy forces to counter the fake division, likely saving thousands of lives during World War II.

3. When it promoted a 12-year-old to sergeant after he shot the Confederate colonel attempting to capture him

A secret Cold War unit was the basis for today’s special operations
Photo: Library of Congress

John Lincoln Clem unofficially joined the Union Army at the age of 10 as a drummer boy. He fought a few times before becoming a national celebrity at the age of 12 in the Battle of Chickamagua. It was there that he was nearly captured by a Confederate colonel, but Clem used a sawed-off musket to shoot the officer and escape.

As he evaded other pursuers, his hat was reportedly hit three times by enemy fire. When he made it back to Union lines, he was promoted to sergeant and became America’s youngest-ever non-commissioned officer. He was later captured in another battle, traded in a prisoner exchange, and then was wounded twice before accepting discharge in 1864 at the age of 13.

4. When it fought America’s longest battle on its own

A secret Cold War unit was the basis for today’s special operations
German mortars fire towards American positions during the Battle of Hurtgen Forest. (Photo: German Army Archives)

From September 1944 to February 1945, the Army fought the longest single battle of the nation’s history, a five-month meat grinder for control of the Hurtgen Forest during the drive into Germany.

The 9th Infantry Division marched into the forest on Sep. 12, 1944 to root out German defenders. The thick trees and impassable roads created a nightmare for the attackers. Mortar and artillery shells turned trees into explosions of long splinters that speared into American troops.

The 9th pressed forward while suffering heavy losses, and it was reinforced with 3rd Armored Division tanks. Another nine divisions, a tank battalion, and a Ranger battalion fought on the front lines before the battle finally ended in February 1945.

5. When one of its greatest generals attempted to sell the country out to the British

A secret Cold War unit was the basis for today’s special operations

Army Col. Ethan Allen, partnered with then-Col. Benedict Arnold, demands the surrender of Fort Ticonderoga. (Photo: New York Public Library Digital Library)

There’s a reason “Benedict Arnold” is used as another word for “traitor.” He literally tried to sell the defenses he commanded to the British, threatening a strategically important position in the Revolutionary War. What made it so crazy was how important Maj. Gen. Arnold was before he became a traitor.

He had led the forces that won the Battle of Saratoga and led to diplomatic recognition and increased military assistance from the French. He also helped capture a major fort and its guns, and created America’s first purpose-built naval fleet (then sank it).

The closest modern equivalent would have been if Patton had fought his way through North Africa and half of Germany but then changed sides during the Battle of the Bulge because his new wife was German.

6. When all the Army gunners in an entire city fought off an imagined attack

 

A secret Cold War unit was the basis for today’s special operations

The Battle of Los Angeles in 1942 saw the city’s sky lit up with searchlights and anti-aircraft fire as every gun crew in the area attempted to shoot down the Japanese planes bombing the city.

Except there was no air attack. A series of blinking lights had been spotted in the sky near the city and some unknown objects were spotted on radar, leading some military leaders to worry an air raid was coming. Skittish gun crews began firing, and the exploding shells left clouds of smoke that other gunners then fired at as they were illuminated by spotlights.

Over 1,400 rounds were fired in the one-hour “engagement.”

7. That time it rescued over 2,000 prisoners of war with a daring paratrooper raid

A secret Cold War unit was the basis for today’s special operations

Filipino guerrillas worked with the U.S. troops across the Pacific during WWII. (Photo: U.S. Marine Corps)

The Imperial Japanese were famously hostile towards prisoners of war, and a concerted effort was made in 1944 and 1945 to rescue prisoners before Japanese troops could kill them. On Feb. 23, 1945, a group of Americans and Philippine guerillas launched a daring paratrooper raid to liberate over 2,000 prisoners at Los Baños, Philippines.

The raid was shockingly effective, suffering no paratroopers killed and few American and Filipino casualties while freeing 2,147 prisoners. Future-Secretary of State Colin Powell said that he doubted “that any airborne unit in the world will ever rival the Los Baños prison raid.”

Articles

This is why the Air Force is replacing JSTARS

When the B-52 is over 60 years old, and a large number of F-15 Eagles are over 30, it seems surprising that the Air Force is looking to replace a plane that won’t even be in service for twenty years until later this year.


However, according to an Air Force News Service article, the Air Force is looking to replace the E-8 Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System, which didn’t achieve its initial operating capability until December 1997 according to an Air Force fact sheet. This plane is an all-seeing eye that looks for and tracks ground targets, using the AN/APY-7, a 24-foot long synthetic aperture radar, according to a Northrop Grumman data sheet.

A secret Cold War unit was the basis for today’s special operations
The E-8C Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System is a joint Air Force – Army program. The Joint STARS uses a multi-mode side looking radar to detect, track, and classify moving ground vehicles in all conditions deep behind enemy lines. The aircraft is the only airborne platform in operation that can maintain realtime surveillance over a corps-sized area of the battlefield. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Shane Cuomo)

So, why is this system, which isn’t even old enough to drink, suddenly planned for replacement? The answer is in the airframe.

The E-8, like the E-3 Sentry, is based on the Boeing 707, a jet that first flew just over 59 years ago. With the exception of Omega Aerial Refueling Services, nobody operates this aircraft commercially.

Furthermore, according to a 2015 FlightGlobal.com report, the E-8s were produced by acquiring second-hand 707s. A September 2016 Air Force report noted that those second-hand 707s had as many as 60,000 flight hours before they had been purchased for conversion.

One JSTARS that had to be written off was built in 1967, according to DefenseTech.org.

A secret Cold War unit was the basis for today’s special operations
Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron conduct a post-flight systems check on an E-8C Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System Oct. 20, 2016, following a mission supporting Operation Inherent Resolve. JSTARS uses its communications and radar systems to support ground attack units and direct air support throughout the area of responsibility. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Miles Wilson)

In other words, these are old airframes and they’ve had a lot of use – even before the Air Force gave the 16-plane fleet over 1 million flight hours collectively (as of this past September). That is an average of 62,500 flight hours per plane — meaning that some of the E-8 aircraft could have in excess of 120,000 total flight hours.

That’s the equivalent of 5,000 days in the air.

What is the Air Force looking towards in replacing the E-8C? The JSTARS recapitalization project is likely to involve a smaller jet. According to a 2014 report by Aviation Week and Space Technology, Northrop Grumman is testing a new JSTARS based off a Gulfstream V business jet.

Boeing’s web site is touting a version of the 737 jet as its entry, attempting to partially piggyback on experience with the Navy’s P-8 Poseidon.

Reports indicate the Air Force plans to start retiring the JSTARS in 2019.

popular

4 powerful weapons you didn’t know were built by Ford

The automobile company with the most American of origin stories is way more ‘Merica than you might think. Ford, as a brand, is so well-known for making cars and trucks that it might surprise you to know it also pumped out nuclear weapons and heat-seeking missiles at one point.


Ford Aerospace was established in 1956 and operated until sold in 1990. In that time, it designed and produced some of the Cold War’s most recognizable weapons, laser targeting pods, and even an attempt at a stealthy air-to-air missile.

Here’s what you didn’t know Ford built:

4. AIM-9 Sidewinder Missile

Sure, it was in Top Gun and Independence Day, but once a missile has been featured on The Simpsons, you know it’s made pop-culture history.

A secret Cold War unit was the basis for today’s special operations

The Sidewinder has more than 270 kills over its 60-plus year history and is scheduled to be in service until at least 2055. That’s built Ford tough. Not bad for a weapon that debuted in 1958!

3. LGM-30G Minuteman

First developed in 1962, the LGM-30G is the only land-based intercontinental ballistic missile still in service to the United States. It was the first multiple re-entry vehicle ICBM, which means it releases three warheads with one missile.

A secret Cold War unit was the basis for today’s special operations
Artists’ rendering.

The United States has just under 400 Minuteman III missiles in its arsenal and is a component of the U.S. “nuclear triad.”

2. Trident SLBM

The second component of the American nuclear triad is the submarine-launched Trident missile. Currently in its second life, the Trident missile was first developed in 1971 and is planned to serve until at least 2040.

A secret Cold War unit was the basis for today’s special operations
The launching of a Trident I C-4 missile from a submerged strategic missile submarine and its re-entry as they plunge into the earth’s atmosphere and into the Atlantic Ocean. (U.S. Navy photo)

1. LGM-118 Peacekeeper

The Peacekeeper earned its name because its mission was designed to be a major deterrent to a Soviet sneak attack. It was designed to target individual missile silos, to retarget in-flight, and to survive a first strike.

(jaglavaksoldier | YouTube)

 

Because the Peacekeeper could launch an astonishing 12 warheads on one ICBM, it was given up by the U.S. in the Start II Treaty and disappeared from service in 2005. It reappeared as the Minotaur IV rocket, sending satellites into orbit.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

This is the difference between a magazine and a clip

Pop Quiz: Identify the clip/s in the image above.


If you pointed to the bullet-holder-thingy on the left, congratulations! You know your weapons. Or you’re gifted at taking stupid tests. Either way, you’ve got a bright future here in America.

While people often confuse the terms, clips and magazines serve different purposes. The simple way to think of it is this: the magazine feeds the weapon whereas the clip feeds the magazine.

A magazine is what you’re used to seeing in films or loading into your weapon or snuggling with at night.

A secret Cold War unit was the basis for today’s special operations

Don’t google “gun jokes” — it’s depressing af. (Image of 9mm magazine via wiki user Scoo)

The magazine stores ammunition and feeds it to the weapon. It commonly holds rounds under spring pressure for fast loading into the chamber. The name comes from the French word for storehouse or storage place, but some guy in this forum says the word goes back to the time of Christ, and dammit, I believe him.

(I don’t. I’m not saying Mike is a liar, I’m just saying I need to see some proof.)

Also read: 9 ISIS weapon fails that you have to see to believe

Now, anyone who has loaded cartridges into a magazine can testify that it can be a bitch labor intensive. A clip, therefore, holds cartridges together for easy loading into the magazine.

A secret Cold War unit was the basis for today’s special operations
An M1 Garand en-bloc clip (left) compared to an SKS stripper clip (right).

If you want to dive a little deeper into it, this gent is all about them gunzzz:

He’s actually pretty forgiving about mixing up the lingo, but not me. I don’t want you guys to run around looking like a bunch of idiots, so…you’re welcome.

Oh, and while we’re on the subject. A cartridge goes into a gun (and contains the case, the projectile, the propellant, etc) and a bullet shoots out of it.

MUSIC

The unexpected history of the hilarious ‘Spirit of 76’ meme

The historic piece of art that’s featured in the hilarious meme showcasing three marching Revolutionary War musicians has a long, long history. While it might not date as far back as the Revolutionary War, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone to learn it was inspired by and modeled after drunken American war veterans.


A secret Cold War unit was the basis for today’s special operations

Ohioan Archibald Willard was a Civil War veteran who enlisted with the 86th Ohio Volunteer Infantry. During the Civil War, the 86th saw action at the Battle of the Cumberland Gap and headed off Confederate General John Hunt Morgan as he made the furthest incursion northward during the war, but it only lost 37 men total — all due to disease. Willard began to draw pictures of the things he saw as he moved with the unit. He and a business partner began to finish and sell the drawings throughout the war.

A secret Cold War unit was the basis for today’s special operations

Archibald Willard, Civil War veteran and creator of “The Spirit of ’76.”

Before moving back to Cleveland, Willard studied art in New York City. He stayed for a number of years, but it was back in his native Ohio that Willard was inspired to paint a humorous picture he called, “Yankee Doodle.” It was the first incarnation of what would become his most famous and celebrated work, with three Revolutionary War musicians marching in tune to their martial music. But this first pass was less of a serious work and more of a funny comic-book painting.

The original featured three natives of Wellington, Ohio — all slightly intoxicated veterans of the War of 1812 — goofing around and creating mock battles with instruments in the town square. He also used Wellingtonians as models to paint the patriots seen in the famous painting. These models included his father, the Reverend Samuel Willard, fellow Civil War veteran Hugh Mosher as the fife player, and a local named Henry Devereaux, a military academy cadet and the son of a local railroad president, as the drummer boy.


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Willard drew the original as a comic scene, but a friend who saw his sketch suggested that Willard take it a little more seriously, perhaps draw it up with a patriotic theme. The idea intrigued Willard because it was outside the realm of anything he’d ever done before. He preferred to paint landscapes and comical scenes of everyday life. Thinking back to old stories his grandfather would tell him about fighting in the American Revolution, Willard created an eight-by-ten foot masterpiece, re-titled “The Spirit of ’76.”

“The Spirit of ’76” first went on display in 1876 as part of a celebration of the American Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia. Willard went on to paint several different versions of the painting but there were none so iconic or reproduced in American culture than the original. In the years following the Civil War, years characterized by mixed feelings, resentment, and Reconstruction, “The Spirit of ’76” was a work of art that evoked a shared sense of national unity.

A secret Cold War unit was the basis for today’s special operations

And lived on in many different iterations.

After the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia, the original painting was sold to General John H. Devereux, father of the drummer boy in the painting, who took it to his home in Marblehead, Mass. where it remains on display to this day. The drum used by the younger Devereux and Hugh Mosher’s fife can be seen in the Spirit of ’76 Museum in Wellington, Ohio.

MIGHTY CULTURE

This is what it’s like to enlist after growing up in the post-9/11 world

It was a cold February in 2014 when I was staying at a tiny U.S. Army installation right near the Demilitarized Zone in South Korea with the rest of my company. We hadn’t been there long before we got our first mail drop, right before Valentine’s Day. Some of us got care packages, but everyone in my platoon got a letter.

These letters were sent by elementary school kids back in the States — probably around third grade — and they were just as you’d expect: immaculate spelling, artwork that rivaled the classic greats, and fine calligraphy. Jokes aside, receiving that letter put me in an interesting head-space.

At that point, the war in Iraq had mostly died down. Marines were still being sent to Afghanistan, but just a handful of months prior, we were reflecting upon the 12th anniversary of the September 11th, 2001 terrorist attacks that kick-started the whole shebang.


A secret Cold War unit was the basis for today’s special operations

1st platoon, Golf Company, 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment in South Korea. C. 2014.

(Dave Grove)

What I realized then and there is that, just a decade earlier, I was the elementary school kid writing a letter to some service member who was, at that time, fighting in Iraq or Afghanistan. In fact, I was even younger than whoever penned my letter when I saw the events of that fateful September day repeated on the news. The kid who wrote the letter in my hands now wasn’t even around in 2001.

It never occurred to me, especially back at the turn of the century, that I would one day enlist to fight in the same war that started when I was a kid.

When I was growing up, you’d hear this left and right: “Don’t join the military, you’ll go to war and die.” I always dismissed it as ignorant. After all, my father fought in the war before this one and he came back, didn’t he? But, at the time, half of that statement was true. If you enlisted immediately after 9/11, there was a near guarantee you’d go to war.

That sentiment followed me through boot camp.

A secret Cold War unit was the basis for today’s special operations

I joined the Marine Corps at the age of 17 and I was still sure I’d go to war. But, with time comes change — and that’s exactly what happened. From the time I went to MEPS and had an old guy tell me to turn my head and cough to the time I walked across the parade deck at Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego, everyone said I would go to war. My recruiter, my drill instructors, everyone.

But once I got to the School of Infantry, things had mellowed out a bit.

I never went to war. In fact, a lot of people I served with never did. The crazy thing is that it was the reason we enlisted. We were kids when 9/11 happened and we grew up during the war that it spawned. We had time to grow angry about what had happened and we enlisted for a lot of the same reasons as our predecessors.

A secret Cold War unit was the basis for today’s special operations

Marine Corps Ball in 2014. That’s me on the left.

(Dave Grove)

What blows my mind the most, however, is that I completed my service over two years ago and that war is still going on, even if the Marine Corps infantry isn’t actively involved. Meanwhile, that kid who wrote me the letter is probably sitting in a high school classroom learning about 9/11 as a historical event — not as something that happened to them.

Makes you feel old, doesn’t it?

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is how sailors named the ‘cup of Joe’

Coffee is, without question, one of the most popular drinks in the entire world. Service members around the globe wake up every morning to enjoy a tasty cup of Joe and drink it throughout the day to get a critical mid-day boost.

It’s reported that coffee was discovered centuries ago on the Ethiopian plateau — which covers the majority of the country and the Horn of Africa — by a goat herder named Kaldi. After his goats ate the beans from a nearby tree, they had crazy energy that kept them from falling asleep. Humans gave it a shot and, unsurprisingly, felt the same things.

Since then, the bean has been sold throughout the world. People of all ages consume countless gallons of the special drink we commonly refer to as a “cup of Joe.” But have you ever wondered where that nickname came from?

Turns out, it was used long ago as a way to talk sh*t about a man who changed Naval history forever.


 

A secret Cold War unit was the basis for today’s special operations
There’s nothing troops like more than a hot cup of coffee on a cold morning.

Way back in the day, drinking alcohol on Navy ships was the norm for sailors. However, during President Woodrow Wilson’s administration, Josephus Daniels was appointed as the newest Secretary of the Navy.

After he took the position, Daniels decided that the United States needed to clean up a negative image surrounding sailors. To do this, he increased the number of religious chaplains in service, (officially) banned prostitutes from Naval bases and, worst of all, banned personnel from consuming alcohol on vessels.

A secret Cold War unit was the basis for today’s special operations
Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels

(Hampton Roads Naval Museum)

Although sailors hated the idea (big shocker), General Order 99 was issued on Jun. 1, 1914.

Because of the alcohol ban, sailors found their beverage options very limited on ships — but they had plenty of coffee to sip on. In the absence of anything stiffer, a cup of black coffee was strongest option for sailors. So, they began referring to it as a “cup of Josephus Daniels” as a bitter reminder of the man who took the booze away.

As time passed, the insult was shortened to, simply, a “cup of Joe” — a term we use today.

popular

This is what the DoD has planned for a zombie apocalypse

We’ve all thought it. If the zombie apocalypse broke out right now, what would you do?


Rush to the nearest gun store or shopping mall like everyone else? Which are both a terrible ideas. Parents lose their sh*t over toys for Christmas, let alone survival for their kids.

Well, the Department of Defense has you beat.

The much belittled CONPLAN 8888, also known as the “Counter-Zombie Dominance” plan was created as a training guide. The guide accompanies the scenario of political fallout, a broken chain of command, and a target rich environment. The very first words of the manual are “This plan was not actually designed as a joke.” Think of how the modern U.S. military trains combating the fictional “Pinelandians,” “Krasnovians,” and those damned diabolical “Donovians.”

Also read: Why a zombie apocalypse will never happen on America’s watch

The scenarios are fun instead of setting off some political red flags. After the forward, detailing how it’s a tongue-in-cheek way of planning around complete and utter chaos, it jumps head first into the absurd — to “undertake military operations to preserve ‘non-zombie’ humans from the threats posed by a zombie horde” in varying levels of Zombie Conditions (Z-CONs.)

At the bottom Z-Con Levels are Chicken Zombies and Vegetarian Zombies (and yes, they are referring to Plants vs Zombies). The zombies you do have to worry about are Pathogenic Zombies (created from a virus or bacteria), Radiation Zombies, Evil Magic Zombies, Space Zombies, and Weaponized Zombies.

CONPLAN 8888 has a six-step operational chart — because even in the apocalypse, you can’t escape those things. They are:

Phase 0: Shape

This phase is the current state of things. Training continues as normal. Doctrine is written. Contingency plans are formed. No zombie outbreak has happened as of yet.

 

A secret Cold War unit was the basis for today’s special operations

Phase 1: Deter

This is when things kick off. Unless they are controlled by a nation state or non-governmental organization, zombies aren’t cognizant and can not be reasoned with, there’s only one thing to do. Get ready to kick some ass!

A secret Cold War unit was the basis for today’s special operations

It’s useless talking to zombies — because you know, they’re zombies. (Television series “The Walking Dead” by AMC)

Phase 2: Seize the Initiative

All units must be ready and willing to deploy for 35 days. Troops will head out to infected areas to provide security and aid and to quarantine the area.

A secret Cold War unit was the basis for today’s special operations

Phase 3: Dominate

Now is the time for ass kicking and the fun part every zombie movie is based on. Control through superior firepower. Prepare to shelter in place for up to forty days in case the worst happens.

A secret Cold War unit was the basis for today’s special operations

Phase 4: Stabilize

Repeat all steps until the location is rendered safe enough. Seek and destroy all remaining threats. Deploy counter-zombie teams to weed out pockets of zombie resistance.

A secret Cold War unit was the basis for today’s special operations

Phase 5: Restore Civil Authority

The zombie threat is gone and damage is probably widespread. Time to rebuild the world.

A secret Cold War unit was the basis for today’s special operations

As silly and as ridiculous as the publication may seem, it takes the matter seriously. It does touch on many of the pop culture elements of zombie lore, but it breaks things down to become applicable to most situations that would similar to an actual outbreak.

MIGHTY SPORTS

The best and worst cities to be a football fan may not surprise you

Another football season is nearing its end and the excitement surrounding this season, the surprise Clemson win, the NFC Championship controversy, and the upcoming Super Bowl inspired the people over at WalletHub to do yet another study on the habits and happiness of your average Americans – this time, with a focus on the gridiron.


Keep in mind, this isn’t just about NFL football, but you will find familiar NFL franchise cities on the top of the list. It also includes NCAA football. Some 244 American cities were graded on 21 different metrics using a 100-point scale, with 100 being a perfectly favorable score. WalletHub included one professional team or one college team, and assigned weights to each category based on its popularity with fans. The weighted averages comprise the list and are grouped by city size.

A secret Cold War unit was the basis for today’s special operations

“Terrible.”

The top ten will likely not be a surprise to anyone. Pittsburgh, home of die-hard Steelers fans and the Panthers of the NCAA’s Atlantic Coast Conference, tops the list. That’s followed by the homes of the New England Patriots, Green Bay Packers, Dallas Cowboys, Giants, Dolphins, Saints, and so on. The first time the home of a nationally-ranked college football team comes is at the end of the 30 cities where NFL franchises are housed.

At the top of the college football list of best cities for football fans sits another unsurprising winner.

A secret Cold War unit was the basis for today’s special operations

Roll Tide.

Clemson, S.C., may have defeated the Crimson Tide for the BCS National Championship, but they’re in second place when it comes to fandom. As you scroll the list you’ll find the homes of the Florida State Seminoles, the LSU Tigers, and the Penn State Nittany Lions. What might surprise you is the high ranking for the North Dakota State Bison, Appalachian State Mountaineers, and the U.S. Military Academy’s Black Knights.

In case you were wondering, West Point, N.Y. sits at number 39 while Annapolis, Md. is all the way at number 123, sandwiched between the home of the Cal Poly Mustangs and the Eastern Michigan University Eagles. Colorado Springs, the home of the U.S. Air Force Academy, is number 115.

A secret Cold War unit was the basis for today’s special operations

There’s always next year, Navy.

As for the bottom of the list, the lowest ranked NFL city is Cleveland, which is unsurprising considering they once dubbed the Browns’ FirstEnergy Stadium the “Factory of Sadness.” In terms of the NCAA, the biggest surprise at the bottom of the college football list is the low, low ranking for the homes of the Oregon State Beavers and the Purdue Boilermakers, who scrape the bottom of a list of 244.

Check out the full list in the WalletHub Infographic.

A secret Cold War unit was the basis for today’s special operations
MIGHTY HISTORY

The US kamikaze plan to end the Nazi nuclear program

In August 1942, Joseph Kennedy, Jr. died aboard a B-24 Liberator loaded with explosives – and almost nothing else. He was part of Operation Aphrodite, an all-out effort to destroy reinforced Nazi weapons bunkers. But there was one bunker in particular that appeared to resist every Army Air Forces bombing attempt. This one was critical because it developed off the merciless V-2 and maybe even V-3 rocket programs that terrorized London – and the United States thought it would be the delivery agent for a Nazi nuke.


It had to go – but to do that required a developing technology and a lot of bravado. More airmen than Nazis would die trying.

A secret Cold War unit was the basis for today’s special operations

These things were built to last.

For months, the Allies worked to destroy the bunker, called the Fortress of Mimoyecques, that might be developing the V-3 rocket, one that was possibly capable of guiding a nuclear weapon over London. Time and again, the United States would conduct a massive bombing operation over the site, but like clockwork, the resupply trains would be back the very next week. It seemed like nothing could be done using conventional explosives. So the USAAF turned to the unconventional. It turned to Operation Aphrodite.

The plan was for a remotely operated, obsolete bomber to be packed with the bare minimum of machinery and equipment necessary to get the craft over the target. The rest of the plane was filled with high explosives. While nowadays drone technology is pretty par for the course, back then it was something entirely different – not quite as reliable and it required a crew to get a plane up in the air, two at the bare minimum. So two men would be aboard a ticking time bomb as it took off for enemy territory and would have to bail out shortly after.

A secret Cold War unit was the basis for today’s special operations

The men were supposed to get the plane off the ground then bail out over the English Channel to be picked up. Then the plane would be guided using cameras on the instrument panel and the view ahead of the plane via remote control. Once at the target the plane would be flown into whatever was too protected for a conventional bombing run. The volunteer who wanted to fly the plane that was destined for the Fortress of Mimoyecques was none other than Lt. Joseph Kennedy Jr., brother to future President of the United States John F. Kennedy and son to prominent businessman Joseph P. Kennedy.

Unfortunately for the Kennedy family, the B-24 Liberator bomber Kennedy and his wingman Lt. Wilford J. Willy flew took off from RAF Fersfield in England, bound for the bunker complex in Northern France. The 20,000 pounds of Torpex explosive the B-24 was carrying ignited from an electrical fault in the plane shortly after takeoff. The resulting explosion was the largest conventional explosion in history at the time. Kennedy and Willy were likely vaporized instantly.

A secret Cold War unit was the basis for today’s special operations

Luckily for the Allies, the Aphrodite plan for Mimoyecques would be unnecessary. Canadian D-Day invaders reached the complex site on Sept. 4, 1944. What they found was not the vast underground death factory planners assumed was below the surface. It turned out the heavy bombing campaign – especially the use of Tallboy earthquake bombs – was enough to disrupt work at the complex. Hitler just kept sending fake resupply trains to the site in order to keep the Allies bombing a disused factory instead of massing German troops elsewhere in Europe.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

US Army official tests out smart combat glasses

The U.S. Army’s new boss recently got a chance do shoot-house training with the latest Microsoft-based, smart soldier glasses.

Ryan McCarthy, who is now serving as acting secretary of the Army, and incoming Army Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville traveled to Fort Pickett, Virginia earlier this spring to try out early prototypes of the Integrated Visual Augmentation System, or IVAS.

The Army awarded a $480 million contract to Microsoft in November 2018 to develop IVAS — a high-tech device that relies on augmented reality to create a synthetic training environment for soldiers. The experience is reportedly similar to first-person shooter video games. The system is being designed to also be worn in combat, projecting the operator’s weapon sight reticle into the glasses.


“He and I literally put them on, and we went through a shoot house together,” McCarthy told Military.com on a flight to Fort Knox, Kentucky.

“Here’s the thing — they are empty rooms, because we had the synthetic feed.”

A secret Cold War unit was the basis for today’s special operations

The Army’s new Integrated Visual Augmentation system is a single platform that uses augmented reality where soldiers and Marines can fight, rehearse, and train.

McCarthy then described how the IVAS device presented targets that resembled enemy fighters from terrorist groups such as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.

“I literally came in a room … and they looked like Taliban targets and ISIS guys with black turbans,” he said. “They had one where they had a guy holding a civilian. It looked like a very good video game.”

IVAS is part of the Army’s effort to create a synthetic training world so soldiers can run through many repetitions of combat scenarios, such as clearing urban areas and engaging enemy forces, without having to leave home station and travel to training facilities.

Leaders can view the data compiled by IVAS during the training to show soldiers where they need improvement.

McCarthy and McConville were joined by Army and Marine Corps sergeants who also took a turn with IVAS.

“We had a bunch of NCOs from the 75th Ranger Regiment and the 1st Marine Division, and they did the shoot house and reminded me that I have been out for a while,” McCarthy chuckled, referring to the days when he served in the Ranger Regiment. McCarthy served in the Army from 1997-2002.

A secret Cold War unit was the basis for today’s special operations

Secretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy.

McCarthy acknowledged that these were early prototypes of IVAS that need further development.

“You would do it for a little bit, and they would go out and [engineers] had to make a tweak and they would get the screen back up,” McCarthy said.

Rangers and Marines liked the technology, he said.

“The one thing that they all really liked about it was the greater depth perception,” he said.

“It was like a pair of glasses … and literally when you are walking through a room and seeing the target, I had depth perception to my left and right, so I could see down the hallway.”

IVAS replaces the service’s Heads-Up Display 3.0 effort to develop a sophisticated situational awareness tool soldiers can use to view key tactical information before their eyes.

Officials hope to complete the prototyping phase on IVAS by 2020; when the system might be fielded to soldiers is still unclear.

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

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