Ships at sea have long had to contend with efforts to sink them. Traditionally, this was done by busting holes in the hull to let water in. Another way of putting a ship on the bottom of the ocean floor is to set the ship on fire (which would often cause explosions, blowing holes in the hull).
These days, however, threats to ships have become much more diverse and, in a sense, non-conventional. Chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear (CBRN) weapons have emerged as threats to seafaring vessels.
Marines train for a chemical weapons attack on civilians. While chemical weapons have often been used on land, they can also be used against ships.
(DoD photo by Senior Airman Daniel Owen, U.S. Air Force)
Nuclear weapons are obvious threats. If a ship is in very close proximity to the detonation of such a weapon, it’d quickly be reduced to radioactive dust. Further out, the blast wave and extreme heat would cause fires and do serious damage. Don’t take my word for it, check out Operation Crossroads. In a test, two nuclear blasts sank a number of retired ships, including the Japanese battleship Nagato and the aircraft carrier USS Saratoga (CV 3) that had survived many battles in World War II.
Chemical, biological, and radiological threats, though, are a bit more insidious. They don’t do direct damage to the warship, but can kill or incapacitate the crew. A warship without a crew faces some serious trouble. Thankfully, there’s a way to detect and mitigate such threats.
The Baker shot from Operation Crossroads — with the Japanese battleship Nagato on the left.
Currently, a Finnish company known as Environics is developing gear that monitors for CBRN threats. Once the alarms sound, the ship’s crew can then seal off the ship into a citadel. Afterwards, the decontamination process can begin.
While the use of chemical and biological weapons has been banned by international treaties, recent events in Syria show that, sometimes, political agreements don’t hold weight. Thankfully, systems like those from Environics will crews potentially in danger a way to protect themselves.
A top Ford executive implied on Nov. 25, 2019, that Tesla’s video showing its new Cybertruck beating an F-150 in a tug-of-war might not have been completely fair.
“Hey @elonmusk send us a Cybertruck and we will do the apples to apples test for you,” Sunny Madra, who leads Ford X, the automaker’s mobility-ventures lab, said on Twitter. Not long after, Tesla’s billionaire CEO accepted the challenge, saying “bring it on.”
On Nov. 21, 2019, as part of a laser-filled reveal that didn’t always go to plan, Tesla CEO Elon Musk went out of his way to take shots at Ford and other automakers.
“You want a truck that’s really tough, not fake tough,” he said.
Ford was quick to fight back.
“We’ve always focused on serving our truck customers regardless of what others say or do,” a Ford representative told Business Insider.
Madra’s tweet appears to be the first time since the Tesla reveal that a Ford executive has publicly discussed the Cybertruck. Musk responded to the Ford executive’s challenge on Nov. 25, 2019: “Bring it on,” he said.
For its part, Ford has big plans for its own electric-truck fleet.
Earlier this year, Ford showed off an electric F-150 prototype that handily towed 1 million pounds of train cars for 1,000 feet. (For context, a properly configured Ford F-150 pickup truck can tow 13,200 pounds.)
It’s not clear whether Tesla will take Madra up on the offer of a test, which could be the first of its kind for the nascent electric-vehicle industry — and certainly a treat for automotive fans.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Now that we can thank McDonald’s restaurants for serving breakfast all day, we should take the time to thank fatigue-clad troops for not having to leave our cars to get it.
Despite the Army and Air Force’s current relationship with Burger King, their first love was McDonald’s and Mickey D’s was more than willing to accommodate that love by mediating the one thing which kept our troops from easy access to the Golden Arches.
In 1975, Army regulations near Fort Huachuca in Sierra Vista, Arizona prevented soldiers wearing their olive-drab fatigues to leave their cars.
McDonald’s heard their plight and added its first drive-thru to McDonalds stores in Arizona, then to Oklahoma and Georgia to serve the soldiers in those areas.
The first drive-thru came way earlier, however. In 1931, a Los Angeles franchise called the Pig Stand opened the first restaurant where motorists could roll around and get a bag of food, packaged to take home. The first burger chain to feature a drive thru was an In-n-Out in Baldwin Park, California in 1948.
In May 1999, that historic location closed forever so that a new McDonald’s restaurant could open next to it. The first McDonald’s drive-thru was torn down and replaced by a parking lot to serve the new McDonald’s.
Burgers, cars, and troops: the triad of American life.
During the COVID-19 crisis, President Trump has been holding daily briefings from the White House to provide updates on the pandemic. Now, the president is extending an opportunity for service members and their families to listen in on a conference call hosted especially for them, to discuss the status of COVID-19 and how it impacts the military.
The Department of Defense announced the call on social media, requesting that interested parties RSVP via a provided link.
According to the Center for Disease Control, as of March 31, 2020, there were 163,539 total cases of COVID-19 reported in the United States and 2,860 deaths. The military announced they will no longer be releasing numbers of infected service members due to security reasons.
The US Air Force has decided to pull nearly a third of its C-130 transport aircraft out of service after discovering “atypical cracks” on the wings, Air Mobility Command (AMC) revealed.
After consulting with maintenance and engineering teams, AMC Commander Gen. Maryanne Miller decided that it was necessary to temporarily remove 123 of the Air Force’s 450 available C-130s from service after cracks were discovered on the lower center wing joint, or “rainbow fitting,” during depot maintenance.
“General Miller directed an immediate time compliance technical order inspection to identify and correct any cracking to ensure airworthiness of these C-130 aircraft,” Air Mobility Command said in a statement Aug. 8, 2019. “The Air Force takes the safety of its airmen and aircraft very seriously and is working diligently to identify and repair affected aircraft as soon as possible.”
AMC says that that the removal of more than one hundred C-130s, a workhorse for the Air Force, will not affect overseas operations.
A C-130 Hercules.
(U.S. Air National Guard photo by Maj. Dale Greer)
Each C-130 transport aircraft requires roughly eight hours to fully inspect. If a plane is found to have a problem, it will be repaired; otherwise, it will be returned to service. Eight aircraft have been inspected and returned to service, Task Purpose reported, citing an AMC spokesman.
The latest move, as Air Force Magazine notes, follows a decision earlier this year to ground around 60 C-130s due to propeller issues. The Air Force began looking closely at these issues after a damaged blade caused a C-130 tanker crash that killed 16 US service members; a maintenance depot failed to properly fix the blade.
The Air Force has been struggling as mission capable rates for aircraft have declined in recent years, dropping from 77.9 percent in 2012 to 69.97 percent last year. It recently came to light that only 7 of the Air Force’s 61 B-1 bombers are ready to fly.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
When you think of famous musicians who have honorably served in the United States Armed Forces, the mind immediately goes to Elvis Presley — and how could it not? Photos abound of the handsome, young Elvis in a crisp Army uniform. When he arrived at the airport to attend basic training, the airport was mobbed with screaming fans.
Upon being drafted, Elvis Presley entered the United States Army in spring of 1958 and served until spring of 1960, receiving his discharge from the Army Reserve in 1964. At the time of his draft, he was the most well-known entertainer in the Armed Forces, but he didn’t let his fame get in the way of service. Despite being offered a safer, cushier role in the Special Services as more of an entertainer and recruiting tool, Elvis chose instead to serve as a regular soldier.
However, Elvis isn’t the only famed musician to serve their country. Let’s look at eight other musicians you might be surprised to learn served their country in the United States Armed Forces.
Tracy Lauren Marrow, better known by his stage name, Ice-T, is one of many young adults who found themselves turning to military service as a way out of a tough situation. Dealing drugs on the streets of Los Angeles to support himself, he knew he needed to turn his life around when his daughter was born.
Marrow enlisted in the Army and served four years in the 25th Infantry Division at the Tropic Lightning Schofield Barracks in Hawaii.
During his time in Hawaii, Marrow served as a squad leader at Schofield Barracks. It was during this time that he purchased musical equipment and began work to hone his skills, save money, and prepare to launch a career in music. As Ice-T, Marrow went on to a dynamic career, first as a Grammy Award-winning musician, rapper, and songwriter, then as an actor on television on the hit show Law Order: Special Victims Unit.
American rock legend Jimi Hendrix remains one of the most influential guitarists of all time, despite an incredibly short career of only four years.
Well known for his groundbreaking instrumentalization on electric guitar and his legendary performance at Woodstock, Hendrix entered the military as one of two choices given to him by police after being caught twice in stolen cars: it was prison or the military.
Hendrix enlisted in May 1961 and was assigned to the 101st Airborne Division and stationed in Kentucky. Hendrix next completed paratrooper training and was given the prestigious Screaming Eagles Award in early 1962.
However, it seems that Hendrix wasn’t well-suited to military service and was given an honorable discharge just six months later. While Hendrix later claimed that he received a medical discharge after breaking his ankle in a parachute jump, he was actually discharged due to “unsuitability” for service.
Johnny Cash receives an award from a Marine sergeant during his performance for military personnel at the naval station.
The Man in Black was first a man in uniform. Johnny Cash, singer, songwriter, and one of the bestselling musicians of all time, had a career that spanned decades, genres, and generations.
Before he was an award-winning musician, Cash served in the United States Air Force. At age 18 and directly after high school, Cash enlisted and attended basic training at Lackland Air Force Base and technical training at Brooks Air Force Base in Texas.
He was assigned to the 12th Radio Squadron Mobile of the Air Force Security Service in Germany as a Morse code operator, intercepting Soviet transmissions.
His earnings in the military allowed him to buy his first guitar while stationed in Germany and he actually formed his first band, the Landsberg Barbarians, in the Air Force. Upon his discharge, he took advantage of the GI Bill to attend a radio announcing course in Memphis before launching his country music career.
And if it weren’t for his time in Germany, we probably wouldn’t have this version of “I Walk the Line” to contemplate!
Singer, songwriter, and grassroots activist, Willie Nelson is one the most famous voices in country music. He’s well-known for his work supporting American farmers and advocating for the legalization of marijuana through his role as co-chair of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML).
He grew up in Texas during the Great Depression. After tumultuous early years, he moved to Arkansas to live with his grandparents, and he began playing honkytonks to avoid field work.
After he left high school, Nelson enlisted in the Air Force and served for about nine months before receiving a medical discharge due to back issues.
And while he didn’t serve very long, he has stayed passionate about veteran issues throughout his storied career as a singer, songwriter, author, and actor, advocating for increased medical care for veterans and supporting veteran advocacy groups, helping to raise awareness about homelessness among veterans.
Yes, that MC Hammer.
Stanley Burrell, known professionally as MC Hammer, is an American hip-hop recording artist, dancer, and producer who enjoyed tremendous success during the 1980s and ’90s with hits such as “U Can’t Touch This” and “2 Legit to Quit.”
After graduating from high school in Oakland, Burrell took undergraduate classes in communications. Discouraged by his lack of success, he was at a crossroads. He vacillated between considering work as a drug dealer or a job in the military.
He ultimately decided to join the United States Navy for three years, serving as an Aviation Storekeeper 3rd Class at the Naval Air Station at Moffett Field in Mountain View, California, until his honorable discharge.
Jazz legend John Coltrane was one of the most influential saxophonists and composers of all time. Known for his own recordings (more than 50) and his collaboration with other jazz greats, including Miles Davis and Thelonious Monk, Coltrane died young of liver cancer but leaves behind an exceptional musical legacy.
To avoid being drafted by the Army in 1945 during World War II, Coltrane enlisted in the Navy on the day the first atomic bomb was dropped on Japan. He trained as an apprentice seaman and was sent to Pearl Harbor.
During this time, his musical talents came to light, and he joined the Melody Masters, the base swing band. By the end of his service, he had assumed a leadership role in the band, and it was during this time that he made his first recording with other Navy musicians, playing alto saxophone on jazz standards and bebop tunes.
With a career that has spanned more than six decades, Tony Bennett is the living voice of American pop standards, jazz classics and, more recently, contemporary duets with other legends such as Amy Winehouse and Lady Gaga. He has earned 19 Grammy awards, two Emmy awards and is a Kennedy Center Honoree. He has sold more than 50 million records worldwide.
However, before he was Tony Bennett, he was Anthony Benedetto, who was drafted into the United States Army in November 1944 during the final stages of World War II. As a replacement infantryman, he served across France and into Germany, and in March 1945, he joined the front line.
During active combat, Bennett narrowly escaped death several times and he participated in the liberation of a Nazi concentration camp, where American prisoners of war from the 63rd Division were also freed.
During his service, he also sang with the Army military band under the stage name Joe Bari, and played with many musicians who went on to have post-war music careers. Once discharged, Bennett studied at the American Theater Wing on the GI Bill.
George Strait with U.S. Army Chief of Staff Peter J. Schoomaker at the 2005 San Antonio Stock Show Rodeo, before Schoomaker swore in a new group of Army recruits in front of rodeo fans.
Country music singer, songwriter, and producer, George Strait, AKA the “King of Country,” is considered by many to be one of the most popular and influential country music artists of all time. George Strait is famed for his neo-traditionalist style, his cowboy look and 60 No. 1 Billboard country music hits.
In 1971, Strait eloped with his high school sweetheart, Norma, then joined the United States Army. He was enlisted in the Army from 1971 to 1975 and was stationed in part in Hawaii. While there, he launched what would become a lifelong career, singing with the Army-sponsored band called Rambling Country.
Strait’s commitment to the men and women of the Armed Forces has continued throughout his illustrious career. He even served as the spokesman for the Wrangler National Patriot program, which raises awareness and funds for American wounded and fallen military veterans and their families.
Some weapons are universally loved by the troops that carry them. Others somehow make it past the drawing board, through testing, and into the hands of soldiers — who then hate them. These are the most reviled.
6. The Ross Rifle
The Ross Rifle was a Canadian rifle with some interesting design features that saw service in WWI. For one, it had a single-motion bolt that was supposed to make it quicker to fire than the turn-and-pull style of conventional rifles. However, this feature also allowed for the rifle to be reassembled incorrectly and still fire, which resulted in the bolt flying out the back and killing or maiming the shooter.
Also, despite excellent accuracy in range conditions, the rifle proved very susceptible to jamming when caked with the dirt and mud of combat. Additionally, the bayonet of the Ross also had a tendency to fall off when the weapon was fired. The performance of the rifle was so poor that many Canadian soldiers discarded them in favor of Lee-Enfields they took from dead British soldiers.
5. Breda 30
The Breda 30 was an Italian light machine gun used in WWII. Italian designers were having trouble with round extraction and arrived at a solution that arguably made things worse. The gun had a system that lubricated each cartridge as it entered the chamber with the idea that it would make extraction easier. In reality, the oil attracted dust and dirt, which fouled the action and slowed the gun’s rate of fire. Despite the slowed rate of fire, the barrel would still heat up, which would inevitably heat up the oil and, in turn, cook off a round in the chamber.
If that wasn’t a poor enough design, the gun also had a fixed, 20-round box magazine that had to be loaded with stripper clips. To say the troops weren’t fond of the Breda would be an understatement. The Breda was such a poor weapon, Italian troops often had battles turn against them because they could not keep up sufficient fire.
4. Sten gun
The Sten gun is one of those weapons that, despite serious drawbacks, was able to stay in service after much-needed improvements. Designed and built under the threat of a German invasion, the early models of the Sten, especially the Mk II’s and Mk III’s, were cheap and poorly made, earnings them nicknames, such as “Plumber’s abortion” and “the Stench gun.”
Sten guns were notoriously unreliable and had issues with misfires, even when simply set down. The issues were so pervasive that units would extensively test their Sten guns before combat in order to weed out the bad ones. Eventually, as improvements were made and quality improved, Mk V versions of the Sten would see combat with British paratroopers and other frontline units.
3. FP-45 Liberator
The FP-45 Liberator was a small gun meant to be distributed to guerrillas and resistance forces throughout Europe and Asia. The pistol, though firing a .45 caliber round, was only single-shot and required a wooden dowel to remove the spent cartridge. It also had an effective range of about 25 feet.
This was meant to have a great psychological effect on the enemy. However, the pistol never really got a chance to be hated by the troops as neither the generals in Europe or the Pacific saw the weapon as worth using. Large numbers of the pistols were passed on to the OSS, but they didn’t find them worth giving out either.
Like the Sten gun, the M16 had a troubled beginning but, after improvements, later found affection from the troops who carried it. In its early days, in the jungles of Vietnam, the supposedly self-cleaning rifle failed in combat conditions. The major problem was a “failure to extract,” or when the chamber became fouled due to excessive firing. U.S. troops, not issued sufficient cleaning kits, were often found killed with their rifles disassembled as they tried to clean them and remove the jammed cartridge in the middle of a firefight.
American troops hated the new rifle. However, the U.S. military quickly made changes to the rifle that increased its reliability. Despite early issues, it has gone on to be the longest-serving standard rifle in the U.S. military.
The Chauchat is perhaps the most-hated weapon on this list. Designed by the French to operate as a light machine gun carried by one man, it had numerous shortcomings. One major problem was its open-sided, half-moon magazine. The open side allowed mud and dirt to enter the magazine, impeding the ability to feed and causing stoppages. The long recoil operation of the gun also caused stoppages when it heated up and jammed the barrel to the rear.
The weapon was so unreliable that, in combat conditions, it frequently jammed after only 100 rounds. Unfortunately for the troops, there was no alternative for a light machine gun until the Americans brought the BAR into action near the end of the war.
Think of a military helicopter. Think of it in combat. Is it a Black Hawk dropping off operators in urban combat? A Chinook picking troops up from a remote ridge or rooftop? Maybe you’re old school and you see a Piasecki H-25 or H-19 Chickasaw from the Korean War. But few people will think all the way back to World War II when German and American helicopters all served on the front lines.
The Sikorsky R-4 helicopter was one of America’s only helicopters to see active service in World War II, acting predominantly as a rescue and transportation asset in the China-Burma-India Theater.
(U.S. Coast Guard photo)
America’s military helicopter program was largely carried by two companies, both prominent helicopter manufacturers today who, oddly enough, are now competing to create the Army’s next generation of vertical lift aircraft. Sikorsky’s founder, Igor Sikorsky, was a Russian-American immigrant who wanted to help his adopted country fight in World War II.
He received financial backing from friends to start manufacturing aircraft, predominantly fixed-wing planes, for the U.S. military. But, off to the side, he was developing new helicopter designs including the VS-500, an aircraft that used one large rotor blade to generate lift and another, smaller rotor blade mounted on a long boom to generate anti-torque. This is the same blade configuration now used on everything from the UH-60 to the AH-64 Apache.
The VS-300 prototype quickly gave way the R-4, a two-seater helicopter that would serve most predominantly with the U.S. Army but also the Navy, Coast Guard, and the Royal Air Force. It first began rolling off the production line in 1942 and was primarily used for observation and to ferry supplies.
The German-made Flettner 282 helicopter was employed against Allied naval assets near the end of World War II, but was then captured by Allied troops. In this photo, it’s undergoing testing with the U.S. military.
But, the helicopter was also employed in two daring rescue missions in the challenging terrain of the China-Burma-India Theater. The helicopters could just barely make it through the high mountain passes that planes could easily fly over, but the rotary aircraft could land in small clearings that were impossible for planes to stop in or take off from.
Other helicopters were in development during the war. The Bell Aircraft Corporation, later known as Bell Helicopters and now Bell Flight, created the Bell Model 30 that would see limited use on the home front, but it would not be deployed overseas.
Meanwhile, Germany’s helicopter program was much more advanced than America’s or the Allies’. They debuted experimental helicopter designs before the war and even flew prototypes in front of adoring crowds for weeks in 1938.
The Focke-Angelis Fa-223 helicopter was a German machine popular during the war. It had a heavy lift capability for the day that allowed it to re-position artillery in forward positions.
(U.S. Air Force)
This pre-war research led to the Fa-223, the “Dragon.” Five types were planned with missions from anti-submarine, to search and rescue, to cargo carrying. But it really predicted future developments when it was used to recover crashed aircraft and to move artillery batteries to inaccessible mountaintops where they would have greater range and better defenses.
Meanwhile, the Flettner-282 Hummingbird was designed to seek out enemy submarines at sea and other threats. It was completed late in the war with early models going through testing in 1943. But the first 24 were completed in time for limited deployments to the Baltic Sea, the Mediterranean, and the Aegean Sea.
This is more or less the Army’s summer intern program, where young future officers get hands-on experience as a kind of “third lieutenant,” under the tutelage of a commissioned officer for three or four weeks. This gives cadets going into their final years of pre-commissioning training the opportunity to experience life in an active duty unit. Specifically, it allows them to try their hands at officership, and to get a feel for the kinds of officer/NCO relationships that are essential to the success of our Army.
CTLT happens in all kinds of units, both in the US and OCONUS. As far as I know, there are no CTLT positions in combat zones. But short of that, cadets can end up in just about anywhere. While CTLT is a useful and important mentorship and developmental activity, many units see CTLT as a drag, and dealing with cadets as a hassle. Sometimes cadets are relegated to less-meaningful duties, or endure some modicum of hazing as part of the experience.
I was recently in a conversation with a senior noncommissioned officer in an elite US Army unit, when the subject of CTLT came up. I wondered how he, as a senior NCO in a highly specialized unit, felt about having cadets around. I asked if he gave the cadets in his unit a hard time as part of their CTLT experience.
“No, I always salute them and treat them as officers, and I make sure everyone else does too,” he replied in total sincerity. Somewhat surprised by this, and thinking back to my own experiences in CTLT, I asked why he felt that way.
“Because according to the Army, they outrank me, sir.”
I was floored. Everyone knows that the lowest Army private outranks the highest cadet… right? I mean, that certainly seemed to be the case at Airborne School back in the day.
The NCO referred me to AR 600-20, Army Command Policy, which makes it pretty clear that West Point cadets do, in fact, outrank Army NCOs. This regulation shows that cadets rank after commissioned and warrant officers, but before NCOs. Very interesting. I learned something that day. You’re right, Sergeant, a West Point cadet DOES outrank you. Technically.
OK, fine. That’s what the reg says, but how does that work in practice?
But having learned this, it made me wonder when this would actually matter in any meaningful way. Outside of authorized developmental training events such as CTLT, no NCO is going to allow a cadet to swoop in and take charge of his platoon, squad, or section. So when would a cadet actually “be” in charge?
AR 600-20 again provides the answer:
AR 600-20, Section 2:
2-8. Death, disability, retirement, reassignment, or absence of the commander
a. Commander of Army element.
(1) If a commander of an Army element, other than a commander of a headquarters and headquarters element, dies, becomes disabled, retires, is reassigned, or is temporarily absent, the senior regularly assigned Army Soldier will assume command.
(2) If the commander of a headquarters and headquarters element dies, becomes disabled, retires, is reassigned, or is temporarily absent, the senior regularly assigned Army Soldier of the particular headquarters and headquarters element who performs duties within the element will assume command. For example, if a division headquarters and headquarters company commander is temporarily absent, the executive officer as the senior regularly assigned Army Soldier who performs duties within the headquarters company would assume command and not the division commander.
(3) Senior regularly assigned Army Soldier refers (in order of priority) to officers, WOs, cadets, NCOs, specialists, or privates present for duty unless they are ineligible under paragraphs 2-15 or 2-16. They assume command until relieved by proper authority except as provided in 2-8c. Assumption of command under these conditions is announced per paragraph 2-5. However, the announcement will indicate assumption as acting commander unless designated as permanent by the proper authority. It is not necessary to rescind the announcement designating an acting commander to assume duties of the commander “during the temporary absence of the regularly assigned commander” if the announcement gives the time element involved. A rescinding announcement is required if the temporary assumption of command is for an indefinite period.
Of course, there is another reason to treat West Point and ROTC cadets with respect: they are not going to be cadets forever. The best way to train cadets to be officers that their soldiers will look up to and their NCOs will respect is to treat them the way you want them to act. While it might be fun to haze the new “margarine bar” (he hasn’t even worked his way up to “butter bar” yet), is that really the impression you want him taking with you when he gets commissioned and reports to his first unit?
So yes, a West Point cadet DOES outrank a sergeant. Or a sergeant major for that matter. But only a complete cadidiot would get his or her cadet rank confused with an NCO’s authority and influence.
The P-51 may have been the plane that won the skies over Europe, and the Me-262 and Gloster Meteor may have been the first operational jet fighters on the sides of the Axis and Allies.
But those planes weren’t the fastest. That honor goes to the Me 163 “Komet.”
The Me 163 was short (about 19.5 feet long), with a wingspan of about 30 feet and looks like a miniature version of the B-2 Spirit. It was armed with two Mk 108 30mm cannon intended to rip apart Allied planes and it had a top speed of almost 600 miles per hour.
So, why isn’t it more well-known? Well, for starters, the way the plane got its speed — by using a rocket engine — tended to burn up a lot of fuel. That gave it a little over seven minutes of powered flight. The short flight time meant the Me 163 really didn’t have much range — about 25 miles.
After the fuel ran out, the Me 163 was an armed, fast glider. When it landed, it had to be towed. That meant it was a sitting duck until help arrived, and Allied pilots would just wait for the plane to start gliding down before putting a burst into it.
According to MilitaryFactory.com, despite operating for about 10 months, the Me 163 just didn’t get a lot of kills – anywhere from nine to 16, depending on the estimate. That’s less than one pera month. Furthermore, only one fighter group ever operated the plane, which was also hobbled by a shortage of rocket fuel.
AcePilots.com notes that the Me 163 was also dangerous to fly. The rocket fuel ingredients were very nasty – and when they leaked through the suit, it did bad things to the pilot. It wasn’t unheard of for Me 163s to just explode on landing as residual amounts of fuel would mix.
For all intents and purposes, the Me 163 was a manned, reusable surface-to-air missile that could make two attacks. Eventually, the Nazis decided to just use an expendable rocket instead of a manned plane for these types of missions.
The fate of some 5,000 Taliban prisoners jailed in Afghanistan is threatening to turn into a major stumbling block in efforts to end the 19-year war in the country.
The Taliban is demanding the release of the detainees before the launch of direct negotiations between Afghans and the Taliban over a permanent cease-fire and a future power-sharing arrangement.
Those intra-Afghan talks, slated for mid-March, will begin after the United States and the Taliban sign a historic peace deal that will trigger the phased withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan.
Experts said the issue of Taliban prisoners could be a key obstacle in launching the country’s peace talks or, conversely, be used as a bargaining chip to exact concessions from the militants.
There are fears that the release of thousands of Taliban fighters could deprive the Kabul government of a key amount of leverage and undercut the peace process by strengthening the Taliban’s position on the battlefield.
Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen told RFE/RL’s Radio Free Afghanistan on February 26 that Kabul will free 5,000 Taliban prisoners in exchange for the release of 1,000 members of the Afghan security forces held by the militants.
Shaheen said the “trust-building measure” was a prerequisite for the launch of the intra-Afghan talks.
He added that the prisoner release was part of the U.S.-Taliban peace deal, although Afghanistan is not a signatory to that bilateral agreement.
But the Taliban and the United States have not yet disclosed the contents of the deal.
The Kabul government has ruled out releasing the prisoners before the start of talks.
“When we, as the government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, enter into negotiations with the Taliban and they demand the release of their prisoners, it will naturally be discussed, and will take into account the laws and interests of our people and [our decision] will be based on the consensus that will arise at that stage,” said Sediq Sediqqi, President Ashraf Ghani’s spokesman, on February 20.
‘Quid Pro Quo’
Omar Samad, a former Afghan diplomat who is now a senior fellow at the Washington-based Atlantic Council, said the issue could be used as a “political stumbling block or a bargaining chip.”
“Bargaining chip can mean quid pro quo,” he said.
Michael Kugelman, South Asia associate at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, said the Afghan government could offer the Taliban a major concession before intra-Afghan talks with the expectation that the militants will reciprocate.
Kugelman said that could mean the insurgents agreeing to reduce violence during the negotiations, which analysts expect to be complicated and protracted.
The United States and the Taliban agreed to a weeklong reduction of violence across Afghanistan before the signing of the peace deal. The partial truce has largely held, with a dramatic decrease in Taliban attacks from around 75 per day down to under 15.
The militants contest or control nearly half of the country.
A similar truce during intra-Afghan talks has been mooted, although the Taliban has not commented on the possibility.
But analysts warned that there was a risk in the government giving away one of its primary bargaining chips at such an early stage of the peace process.
“The Taliban has ample leverage because it’s in no hurry to conclude a peace deal,” said Kugelman. “If it receives a major concession it may hold out and demand more before giving something up in return.”
10,000 Taliban Prisoners
There are an estimated 10,000 Taliban prisoners being held in Afghanistan. But the militants have said that some of those detained were accused of being sympathizers or members of the group, often to settle old scores, and are not actually combatants.
There have been several high-profile prisoner swaps and releases of insurgents since the U.S.-led invasion in 2001 that toppled the Taliban regime.
In November 2019, two Western hostages were released from Taliban custody in exchange for three senior Taliban prisoners, including Anas Haqqani, the younger brother of Sirajuddin Haqqani, the leader of the Haqqani network, a powerful Taliban faction.
The prisoner swap was seen as an attempt to kick-start U.S.-Taliban peace negotiations after U.S. President Donald Trump abruptly ended the talks over rising Taliban attacks.
In 2014, five senior Taliban members were released from the U.S. military detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in exchange for a captured U.S. soldier, Bowe Bergdahl.
All five former Guantanamo Bay detainees are based in Qatar, where they have taken part in negotiations with U.S. officials.
In 2013, former President Hamid Karzai controversially released scores of Taliban prisoners from a formerly U.S.-run prison near Kabul as an attempt to convince the militants to open direct talks with Kabul.
The move failed to convince the Taliban to come to the negotiating table. Analysts said some of those freed returned to the Taliban, bolstered their ranks, and increased the insurgency’s efficacy on the battlefield.
On April 6, 2008, two Special Forces operational detachments and more than 100 Afghan commandos began an air assault into a mountain fortress above the Shok Valley.
Six and a half hours later, two members of the assault were killed and nine seriously wounded, over 100 enemy fighters were dead or captured, and eleven men had earned some of the nation’s highest awards for valor. This is what happened.
Entering Shok Valley
The assault was to capture leaders in Hezeb Islami al Gulbadin, a regional insurgent group in Afghanistan. The targets were holed up in a mountain top village surrounded by farm terraces and tall cliffs, providing tough ground for an assaulting force to cover. The village itself was made of strong, multistory buildings that would provide defenders cover while allowing them to fire out.
The American and Afghan force flew to the valley in helicopters. Their initial plan called for a quick insertion close to the village so they could assault while they still had the element of surprise. Their first landing zone was no good though, and so they were dropped into a nearby river and forced to climb up from there. The delay allowed insurgent forces to set up an ambush from the high ground.
Combat breaks out
After the helicopters departed, enemy fighters directed automatic weapon and rocket fire on the American and Afghan National Army soldiers. Their interpreter was killed almost immediately and the communications sergeant, Staff Sgt. Dillon Behr, received a life-threatening wound to his leg. He continued fighting, attempting to suppress some of the incoming fire.
Meanwhile, the assault team had already reached the village, and so found themselves cut off when the forces behind them began taking fire. Despite the precarious position he and the lead Afghan commandos were in, Sgt. David Sanders began relaying the sources of incoming fire to the Air Force joint tactical air controller on the mission.
The mission commander, Capt. Kyle Walton, told an Army journalist later that year about the initial bombings on the target. They were all danger close, meaning friendly forces were within range of the bombs’ blast.
“I was standing next to the combat controller, and when we got to a place where we could talk, he called in close air support, and the F-15s rolled in immediately. I knew my guys were up there, and I know that when you call in danger close air, you are probably going to get injured or killed. I called back to Sanders and asked if he was too close. He said, ‘Bring it anyway.’ Bombs started exploding everywhere. When I called to see if he was still alive, all I could hear him saying was, ‘Hit them again.’ ”
The Air Force JTAC, Airman Zachary Rhyner, would go on to call over 70 danger close missions that day, using eight Air Force planes and four Army attack helicopters to achieve effects on the target.
Three-story explosion and sniper warfare
As the battle continued to rage, both sides were using controlled, focused fire to wound and kill enemies. But a massive explosion after an American bomb hit a three-story building in the village brought on a brief lull in the fighting.
“Good guy or bad guy, you’re going to stop when you see that,” Staff Sgt. Luis Morales, a Special Forces intelligence sergeant, told the Army. “It reminded me of the videos from 9/11 — everything starts flushing at you, debris starts falling — and everything gets darker.”
The Americans and Afghan commandos used this time to consolidate some of their forces.
Both before and after the explosion, snipers on each side were playing a key role. For the Americans, one of their top assets was Staff Sgt. Seth E. Howard, a Special Forces weapons sergeant.
Near the command node, Howard was well-positioned to see the enemy fighters draw close to Walton and the JTAC. To prevent them being killed or captured, Walton stepped away from his position and moved into the open to engage the advancing fighters. He halted their advance, allowing Rhyner to continue calling in bombs.
Rhyner’s bombs would also be instrumental in protecting the command node. He sometimes had to order bombs within 100 meters of his and Walton’s position.
Planning to leave
American forces and Afghan commandos had more problems as the day wore on. The weather at the outset of the mission had been tricky, but the team was getting reports that a dust storm was getting worse and would stop air support before nightfall. That would leave them without bombs, helicopters, or an exit strategy. Meanwhile, surveillance platforms showed another 200 enemy fighters moving to the battlefield.
Walton had requested medical evacuation multiple times, but enemy fire made it impossible. And with six seriously wounded men, a closing window to exit the battlefield, and the serious danger of being overrun, Walton began looking at pulling the team out. But there was a problem. The initial plans had called for the team to leave by descending back down the terraces, a route now closed due to intense enemy fire.
Sanders had managed to break out of his besieged position in the village when another green beret forced a route open. Now, Walton asked him to recon a route down the sheer cliffs to the north of the village.
Sanders told the commander that the route was bad and it was possible that some climbers might break their backs or necks attempting it, but they’d probably live. The situation was so dire, Walton approved it as an exit strategy.
Leaving Shok Valley under heavy fire
Team Sergeant Master Sgt. Scott Ford led the organization at the top of the cliffs. He had less wounded team members carry the more seriously wounded down. One team member made the climb while carrying his leg that had been amputated by a sniper round early in the battle. Others were nursing wounds sustained from both insurgent fire and the effects of all the “danger close” bomb drops.
Ford was defending the top of the cliff other soldiers were climbing down when he was struck in the chest plate by a sniper round. He jumped up and continued fighting, but he was struck again. This time, his left arm was nearly amputated. Ford then finally began his own climb down the mountain, continuing to lead his men as he did so.
Howard, the sniper from above, stayed until all the other Americans and the Afghan commandos had left the mountain. He defended the top of the cliffs with his last magazine before pulling out.
One Afghan commando and an interpreter died, but all of the Americans survived the battle. The Army estimated the insurgents suffered over 150 dead and an untold number of wounded, according to an Army article. Eight insurgents were captured.
After the battle
Many of the wounded members of the team returned to service, including Ford and Sgt. 1st Class John Walding, the team member who lost his leg early on and carried it down the cliffs. Walding is attempting to return to his team, an ambition he describes near the end of this Army video about the battle. He later became the first amputee to graduate the Special Forces Sniper Course.
In a ceremony on Dec. 12, 2008, 10 members of the team were awarded Silver Stars. Rhyner was awarded the Air Force Cross during a separate ceremony in 2009.
Star Wars boasts some of the most hardcore fans of any franchise, but some might not know the impressive military background of the Empire’s most fearsome warlord. Darth Vader, the main villain of the original Star Wars trilogy and the tragic protagonist of the prequel trilogy, is one of the most recognizable figures in movie history. His black samurai armor, flowing cape, and red lightsaber are known the world over. What most fans may not know is that before he was the Emperor’s enforcer, Vader earned his Ranger Tab.
James Earl Jones, the iconic voice behind Vader’s wheezing mask, accepted a commission into the Army in 1953, just as the Korean War was ending. He attended the Army’s Infantry Officer Course and later Ranger School. Jones even sharpened his teeth in the Rocky Mountains, where he helped establish a new cold-weather training program.
The elite few who have earned the right to wear the prestigious Ranger Tab on their left shoulder are known for their prowess in combat and aggressive approach to every armed conflict they find themselves in. Maybe that’s where Darth Vader learned to kick ass and take names as one of the galaxy’s most infamous killers. The fan-favorite scene where Vader single-handedly slaughters an entire rebel defense force at the end of Rogue One looks a lot like a direct-action raid (a Ranger specialty), complete with an explosive-breach entry.
Vader isn’t the only Star Wars legend with a military background. Adam Driver, who plays Kylo Ren in the recent trilogy, was a Marine mortarman. Christopher Lee, who plays Count Dooku, was a World War II veteran of the famed British Long Range Desert Group and later the Special Operations Executive (SOE). Alec Guinness, the original Obi-Wan Kenobi, also served in World War II. He commanded a British landing craft during the invasion of Sicily. Young Kenobi, played by Ewan McGregor, has a brother who was a pilot in the Royal Air Force and adopted the coolest call sign of all time: Obi-2. Jason Wingreen, the original voice of Boba Fett, was a World War II veteran who served in Europe with the US Army Air Force, before using the GI Bill to study acting.
The movie franchise named after space combat has a roster full of real-life warfighters. May the Force be with you.