The US military has long explored the idea of replacing its M-16 assault rifle with something newer and deadlier. From the 1990s onward, German arms giant, Heckler & Koch, was heavily involved in helping the US Army attempt to reach that objective, creating newfangled firearms that bear considerable resemblances to the guns you’d find in futuristic, sci-fi movies and TV shows.
The XM8 was one of these rifles developed by H&K in the early 2000s as one of a number of alternatives to the M-16 and its derivative M4 carbine. Born as a scaled-down replacement for another H&K prototype — the XM29 — the XM8 entered a limited production run in 2003, concluding just two years later.
Like the M-16 and M4 platforms, the XM8 also utilized the 5.56 x 45 mm NATO round. Built as a modular weapon and based on the G-36 rifle, then in use with the German military, soldiers could adapt their XM8s while in the field to serve in a variety of roles.
A barrel swap and changing the stock could quickly take the XM8 from its carbine variant to a smaller personal defense weapon, similar in size to an MP5 submachine gun. An XM320 (now the M320, the Army’s standard-issue grenade launcher) could be mounted to the weapon with considerable ease for added firepower.
If a platoon out in the field needed a ranged weapon, the XM8 could be retooled accordingly by simply exchanging the barrel for a longer one, adding a more powerful scope, and a collapsible bipod. Should the situation and scenario call for something with more sustained rates of fire, the XM8 could even be turned into a light machine gun with a rate of fire between 600 to 750 rounds per minute.
To top it off, the XM8 wasn’t just light and extremely versatile, it was also cheaper to produce than the M4 carbine — the rifle it was designed to supplant. Proven to be fairly reliable during “dust tests,” even when compared against the M4, the XM8 was, on the surface, the ideal replacement rifle.
In fact, in the latter stages of the XM8 program, even the Marine Corps demonstrated an interest in testing and potentially buying the new rifle. Should the Department of Defense have picked it up, the gun would have been produced entirely in Georgia, in cooperation with other brand-name defense contractors.
In 2005, however, the program was shelved and quickly canceled. According to retired Army General Jack Keane, a huge proponent for replacing the M4, the XM8 program fell victim to the layers of bureaucracy that typically develop in military procurement schemes. Outside of the bureaucratic issues plaguing the new rifle, there were also technical shortcomings H&K addressed very poorly.
The weapon’s integral optical sight was partially electronic and, thus, required battery power. As it turns out, the original batteries for the weapon lost their charge too quickly and needed to be replaced. Unfortunately, the new batteries added weight to the rifle — the exact opposite of what the Army wanted.
Battery woes were the least of the Army’s concerns. Soldiers would have to worry about burning their fingers on the XM8’s handguards, which were very susceptible to overheating and even melting. The solution there was to also replace the handguard, adding even more weight. At the same time, unit production costs began to balloon as a result of the fixes created to refine the weapon.
While the US military was decidedly against the XM8, Heckler & Koch found a new customer overseas just two years after the XM8 program was canned. Though it didn’t meet the DoD’s standards for a new service rifle, the German arms manufacturer argued that it would still be an effective weapon with its kinks worked out.
As it turns out, the Malaysian Armed Forces were very interested in buying a small number of the futuristic rifles for their special operations units, namely Pasukan Khas Laut, their naval special warfare force, also known as PASKAL. By 2010, PASKAL troopers began using the XM8 to reduce reliance on their M4A1 SOPMOD carbines, alongside other H&K products like the HK416 and the G-36.
Relatives of Osama bin Laden, the Al-Qaeda leader behind the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, spoke out in an interview with The Guardian published Aug. 3, 2018, about their family’s dark legacy — and they suggested that the family’s involvement with terrorism hadn’t ended with bin Laden’s 2011 death.
Living sheltered lives as a prominent but controversial family in their native Saudi Arabia, several of the family members opened up about bin Laden’s childhood and his eventual transformation into one of the most notorious figures in recent history.
But while bin Laden’s career as a terrorist and head of Al Qaeda came to an end at the hands of US Navy SEALs in a midnight raid on his hideout in Pakistan, his militancy seems to have taken root in his youngest child.
Bin Laden’s family believes his youngest son, Hamza, has followed in his father’s footsteps by traveling to Afghanistan, where the US, Afghanistan’s national army, and NATO have been locked in a brutal war with Islamic militants since shortly after the Twin Towers were destroyed.
The scene just after United Airlines Flight 175 hit the South Tower on Sept. 11, 2001.
Hamza, officially designated a terrorist by the US, apparently took his family by surprise with an endorsement of militant Islam.
“We thought everyone was over this,” Hassan bin Laden, an uncle of Hamza, told The Guardian.
“Then the next thing I knew, Hamza was saying, ‘I am going to avenge my father.’ I don’t want to go through that again. If Hamza was in front of me now, I would tell him: ‘God guide you. Think twice about what you are doing. Don’t retake the steps of your father. You are entering horrible parts of your soul.'”
After the September 11 attacks, some members of bin Laden’s family remained in touch while others led a quiet life under the supervision of the Saudi government and international intelligence agencies.
Many of the bin Ladens have sought to put their history behind them by avoiding media and politics, but Hamza’s apparent support of his father’s ideas suggests Osama bin Laden’s embracing of terrorism may have come back to haunt them.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
The Taliban says it has appointed five militants who spent more than a decade in the U.S. military prison in Guantanamo Bay to be members of its political office in Qatar, where they will take part in any future Afghanistan peace talks.
The five former Taliban commanders — Mohammad Fazl, Mohammed Nabi, Khairullah Khairkhwa, Abdul Haq Wasiq, and Noorullah Noori — were settled in Qatar following their release from the U.S. detention center in Cuba in 2014, but until now had not been directly involved in political activities, Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said on Oct. 31, 2018.
The men were released as part of a prisoner exchange in return for former Taliban captive, U.S. Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl.
The Taliban announcement came amid gathering momentum for talks to end the 17-year war in Afghanistan.
Qatar has emerged as a principal contact point between the Taliban and the U.S. government. In October 2018, Taliban officials met the recently appointed U.S. special envoy for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, in the Qatari capital, Doha, where the militants have a political office that serves as a de facto embassy.
Recently appointed U.S. special envoy for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad.
They met there in 2018 with U.S. Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Alice Wells.
Taliban officials said the five Taliban commanders were close to the militant group’s late founder, Mullah Mohammad Omar, and are also close to its current leader, Haibatullah Akhundzada.
One Taliban official told Reuters that as former Guantanamo prisoners, they had been subject to restrictions on their movements, but they are now free to travel and attend peace negotiations.
The appointments follow the release by Pakistan in October 2018 of senior Taliban figure Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar.
A Taliban official told AFP the group had requested the release of Baradar and several others at the meeting with Khalilzad.
Heading to supply — also known as Central Issue Facility — is one of the worst experiences troops go through during their career.
The experience is like a bad a roller coaster ride of emotions all while getting treated like sh*t. Since most service members can’t do their jobs without the proper gear supporting their mission, they must go to supply to get those necessary materials.
There are countless stories out there about the hell many of us have gone through during a visit to supply.
Check out our list of why troops hate going to supply.
1. Dealing with grumpy civilians
For the most part, heading to Central Issue Facility means you’re going to encounter a few civilians who may not be in the best of moods when you walk up to their counter. We’re not sure if they’re instructed to be d*cks or not, but it’s nearly impossible to put a smile on any one of their faces.
2. Long a** lines
Typically, from the moment you walked into the supply building, tensions are high. It’s not your fault. It’s just the way the military prefers it. Although you may have an appointment and you’re there on time — you can’t cut in front of anybody if there’s a long line (that’s not cool).
The long line might not be the civilian employee’s fault — for once. It could be because of a few new troops who are just freaking slow and holding everybody up.
Excuse me. Excuse me. Excuse me. (Image via Giphy)
3. Getting used crap
Canteens and warming layers are just some of the items you’re going to be issued that someone else either drank from or wore — probably naked.
Enjoy. (Image via Giphy)
4. Out of pocket costs
In some cases, troops have to pay out-of-pocket costs to replace broken gear. CIF doesn’t care where or how the item was broken, they just want it back so they can re-issue it to someone else. You may have to pay for the item or locate a replacement.
Damn. (Image via Giphy)
5. Neither rank nor reputation matters here
Things commonly go wrong at supply for various reasons. Having a high rank on your collar or telling the supply worker a story of why an item isn’t up to standard won’t get you anywhere.
That’s why the majority of all CIF workers are civilians. Military rank has virtually no power once you enter the building.
It’s because they don’t care. (Image via Giphy)
All you want to do is check in your gear so you can move on with your life, but you need supply’s signature to do so.
But guess what?
You have a small dirty spot on your canteen pouch, and they won’t let you complete your check-in until you clean it. Which means, no civilian life for you until they get everything back.
No one wants to see this. (Image via Giphy)Can you think of any others? Comment below.
Imagine an airplane so quiet that it’s virtually impossible to hear it coming and going from the ground. This may seem like science fiction to most, but for the US Army’s YO-3 ‘Quiet Star’ scout aircraft, it was an incredible and unparalleled reality — still unmatched today.
In the late 1960s, the Army put forward a requirement for a small observation aircraft that could fly just above 1,000 feet without being detected by North Vietnamese and Viet Cong troops. Navy, Air Force and Marine reconnaissance aircraft were too noisy and easily detectable, allowing for NVA commanders to hide their soldiers well in advance of surveillance flights, rendering such missions useless.
To solve this problem, in 1968 the Department of Defense contracted Lockheed’s storied Skunk Works black projects division to build an aircraft suitable for the job. Skunk Works had, by this time, already developed the U-2 Dragon Lady and SR-71 Blackbird spy planes for the Air Force and CIA, so designing something substantially smaller, slower and cheaper would be a considerably easy task, well within their capabilities.
According to Rene Francillon in his book, “Lockheed Aircraft Since 1913,” the aerospace company had already attempted to build something similar two years earlier using a Schweizer glider fitted with a ‘silenced’ powerplant for quiet flights. Known by the codename PRIZE CREW, this glider was sent to Vietnam for operational testing and was determined successful enough that the concept was worth exploring further.
When the 1968 request appeared, Lockheed was already well-prepared.
To meet the Army’s needs, Lockheed took another Schweizer glider and modified it heavily, using fiberglass — a fairly novel technology on aircraft at the time — and lightweight metals to reduce weight and increase endurance. The cockpit was redesigned to hold a pilot and an observer/spotter in a tandem configuration under a large bubble canopy for enhanced visibility.
Propeller aircraft aren’t normally known for being very quiet or inconspicuous. The noise of their piston engines and the propeller blades beating the air around it into submission can be heard from a fair distance off. However, Lockheed’s best and brightest made it work.
By connecting a small 6-cylinder engine to the propeller using a belt and pulley system, and by adding fiberglass shielding to the engine compartment, the aircraft became nearly noiseless, even with its engines on at full power. Exhaust from the engine would be ducted and funneled to the rear of the plane using a special muffler, further reducing any potential for sound generation.
Lockheed finished developing this new stealth aircraft in 1969, dubbing it the YO-3 Quiet Star. By 1970, nine Quiet Stars were sent on their maiden combat deployment to Vietnam, beginning a 14-month rotation to the country in support of American troops on the ground.
Before a typical observation mission, a YO-3 would be fueled up and launched, then flown around the air base it had recently taken off from so that personnel on the ground could listen for any sounds out of the ordinary — note that “ordinary” for the Quiet Star was almost absolute silence.
If any rattles were heard, the aircraft would land immediately, be patched up with duct tape or glue, and be sent out on its mission.
Though the Quiet Star was designed to fly safely at 1,200 feet and above, it was so undetectable that its pilots were able to take it down to treetop level with NVA or VC troops being none the wiser. The effectiveness of night missions was enhanced through the use of a low-light optical system designed by Xerox, the same company known for building copying machines.
No YO-3 ever took a shot from the bad guys during its deployment to Vietnam, simply because the Communists weren’t able to detect it. With its spindly wings and dark paint scheme, the YO-3 couldn’t be distinguished easily from the darkness of the night, and by the time enemy troops realized something had passed overhead, it was already gone.
Sadly, the Quiet Star arrived in Vietnam far too late to make much of a difference at all. It was pulled out of the country and relegated to testing roles with NASA, though a few of the 11 units produced by Lockheed were acquired by the FBI and the Louisiana Department of Fish and Game.
The FBI used its Quiet Stars to locate kidnappers, while Louisiana game wardens used theirs to catch poachers.
When American servicemen fall and are buried, it’s generally assumed that their resting place will be their last. Whether it’s a troop who was killed in World War I and buried in an American cemetery in France or a hero brought to rest at Arlington National Cemetery, the honored dead are not to be disturbed. However, some of these fallen heroes, whose identities were once unknown, are being disinterred.
One such ceremony took place in mid-July, 2018, at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific near Honolulu, Hawaii. This cemetery, also known as the Punchbowl, is where thousands of servicemen who fell during operations in the Pacific Theater of World War II and the Korean War have been buried (some prominent civilians and non-KIAs are also buried there).
The reason for disturbing this rest is a damn good one, though.
U.S. service members with the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) conduct a disinterment ceremony at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific.
(U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Devone Collins)
Perhaps the most high-profile disinterment for the purpose of identifying a fallen serviceman was of the Unknown Soldier of the Vietnam War, who had been interred at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in 1984. In 1998, evidence pointing to the identity of that soldier resulted in the decision to disturb the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier to conduct DNA testing.
In 1998, the Department of Defense disinterred the Unknown Soldier of the Vietnam War to conduct DNA tests to determine his identity,
The tests eventually led to identifying the remains asthose of Air Force First Lieutenant Michael Blassie, killed in action when his A-37 Dragonfly was shot down. Blassie’s remains were turned over to his family and he was buried in the Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery. You can see the July 2018 disinterment at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in the video below.
Dear John is great movie, but how many times can you watch it? Instead, soak up some real-life military love stories. From the Revolutionary War to a WWII couple that reunited in 2016, these stories will give you a little hope that love is alive and well.
The stories of the GI Brides
During World War II, many of the American soldiers, or GIs, who were stationed overseas didn’t return alone. Many of them fell in love with young European women who followed them back to the States to live an entirely new life.
These women, known as the GI Brides, were walking into unknown territory, saying goodbye to their homeland and culture for love. Their marriages weren’t all perfect, but their stories go to show just how far people will go for their partners.
2. The Civil War soldier who would have died without his wife.
Frank and Arabella Barlow were married on April 20th, 1861. Frank enlisted in the Union Army the very same day. He quickly became an accomplished soldier while Arabella became a nurse. She visited him when she could, but danger often kept them apart. Then came the Battle of Gettysburg. During the conflict, Frank was shot multiple times in the back and side.
A Confederate general, General John Brown Gordon, found him barely alive on the field and took pity on him, offering him some water. Frank told Gordon that his wife, a nurse, was volunteering nearby, and asked if he would pass along a message to her. Despite fighting on opposite sides of the war, Gordon found Arabella and escorted her past enemy lines to her dying husband. She, however, had no intentions of allowing him to die.
She was able to treat his wounds and nurse him back to health, and they remained happily married until she herself succumbed to typhus just a few months later. Tragic as it was, there’s a silver lining. Frank Barlow and John Gordon reunited years later and struck up an unexpected friendship, which lasted until Barlow passed away in 1896. It just goes to show that respect and kindness can cross surprising divides.
3. A vet from America’s first war had the world’s longest marriage
One of the oldest ever vets fought in the Revolutionary War and lived all the way through the conclusion of the Civil War- he lived a remarkable 109 years! His name was Daniel Bakeman, and his marriage is one of the oldest marriages on record. He and his wife Susan married when they were essentially children, around the ages of 12 and 14.
Despite enduring 10 years of war, multiple house fires, and many moves, they raised eight happy children together and remained married until Susan died at 105. Lasting through two major wars and 91 years, their love lasted longer than most lives!
4. This couple who were reunited after being separated by war for 11 years.
An American man named Woodford McClellan met his future wife, Irina, in Russia in 1972. He was just a tourist and was planning on returning back to the states right after his vacation, but he was instantly taken with her. He was able to acquire a visa, and by 1975 the couple was married. Sadly, his visa was only temporary. A few months after they said their vows, he was forced to return to the US.
One would think that a legal marriage would make it simple for the couple to reconnect, but Russia’s harsh policies during the Cold War made it impossible. He wasn’t permitted to visit her in Russia, and she wasn’t allowed to move to America. Plenty of people would have given up and moved on, but they waited it out. After 11 years, she was finally given permission to emigrate and resume her life with her long lost love. She even wrote a book about it after.
5. Possibly the most surprising military love story, one couple reconnected after 70 years because of a Google search.
During World War II, an American soldier named Norwood Thomas was stationed in London. He fell in love with a local named Joyce, and they proceeded to send love letters to each other for the rest of the war. Still, they were young and war proved to be chaotic. Norwood joined the 101st Airborne when they parachuted into Normandy on D-Day, and after that, he went home.
Meanwhile, Joyce moved to Australia. The two didn’t speak for years and moved on with their lives. They each married someone else, but they never forgot each other. Eventually, Norwood lost his wife and Joyce separated from her husband. Out of curiosity, she looked up her old flame and found him on the internet. They began chatting over Skype and soon realized they still had feelings after 70 long years. They launched a GoFundMe to help them raise the money to meet in person. The campaign was a success, and Norwood flew to meet Joyce in Australia on Valentine’s Day.
6. Last but not least, a different kind of military love story; that of a man and his dog.
Not all kinds of love stories are romantic. Some are about brotherhood. After an Airman named Robert Bozdech was shot down, he came across a tiny, orphaned German Shepherd puppy. He escaped with the pup and named him Ant. Over the course of WWII, the pair became inseparable. They saved each other’s lives countless times, and Ant was eventually awarded the Dickin Medal for his remarkable loyalty.
The moral of this story? Love conquers all, even war. But if you’re single on Valentine’s Day, don’t sweat it. Just adopt a dog.
You signed up for the military, and now you’re on that bus headed toward training to be the best Marine, airman, sailor, coastie, or soldier you can be — you think you’ve got things all figured out.
News flash: you don’t.
With all the things traveling through your brain like high school graduation and finding a way to leave the nest, it’s likely you failed to think about these important aspects of your new military life.
So check out seven things you didn’t think about before you went off to boot camp:
7. Getting a haircut — do show up in regs; don’t go crazy
We mention this tip for a couple of reasons, and we’re not suggesting you show up with a buzz cut. You lower the chances of getting picked on by the drill sergeant if your haircut doesn’t stand out from the rest of the recruits.
Secondly, your scalp will thank you after the PX barber only spends mere seconds shaving your head with dull clippers.
6. Showing up in better shape
All military branches partake in some sort of physical activity — some more than others. That said, you’re going to have to pass a timed run and other requirements (or wind up getting held back from graduation) — not to mention a sh*t-ton of push-ups and runs in formation.
Military PT can be pretty freakin’ tough so train hard while you can.
5. Modifying your sleeping habits
Boot camp is specially designed to add massive amounts of structure to your life. This means you’re going to eat, sleep, and work every day at the same time. If you adapt your sleeping habits before hitting your open squad bay, those first early morning wake-ups might not be so freaking bad after all.
4. What you could have studied prior to arrival
You’re going to learn a crapload of new material during your multi-week stay in boot camp. Consider memorizing those general orders or different military terminology if you’re looking to make your recruit life that much easier.
3. You’re not as funny as you think you are
After you hit boot camp, you’re going to be living with people from different parts of the country that may not understand your humor. If you ever make a “humorous” remark to one of your drill instructors, prepare to do some push-ups.
How many you ask? All of them.
2. Researching the other branches before deciding on one
Many teens make the mistake of joining the first branch that comes to mind, but it’s too late to switch after you ship off. So do your research before signing on the dotted line if you have a shred of doubt.
That is all.
You messed up and joined the Army. (Image via Giphy)
President Donald Trump signed legislation Saturday that will broaden options for troubled veterans in the legal system and expand a home renovations grant program for disabled and blind veterans.
The new Veteran Treatment Court Coordination Act directs the Justice Department to support the development and establishment of veterans treatment courts at the state, local and tribal levels.
At more than 400 veterans treatment courts across the U.S., vets with substance abuse issues or mental health conditions who commit nonviolent crimes may enter court-supervised medical treatment and get access to veteran-centric services and benefits in lieu of going to jail.
The law will encourage the development of a grant program to expand these courts across all 50 states.
“We’ve wanted this for a long time. They’ve been trying to get it for a long time, and now we have it,” Trump said after signing the bill, proposed in the House by Rep. Charlie Crist, D-Fla., and in the Senate by Martha McSally, R-Ariz.
“With this new law, thousands more veterans across the country facing the criminal justice system will have an alternative to jail time, ensuring they get the treatment they need,” Crist said in a statement following the signing ceremony.
“These courts have turned veterans’ lives around in Arizona, and now they will be able to do the same for veterans across our nation,” McSally said, also in a prepared statement.
The first veterans treatment court was established in early 2008 in Buffalo, New York. After noticing an increase in the number of veterans appearing in the city’s drug and mental health treatment legal programs, Judge Robert Russell brought in veterans and Department of Veterans Affairs advisers to help create the specialty court.
Since 2011, the Justice Department has supported the development of veterans treatment courts, providing more than million to states and localities.
Trump on Saturday also signed a law that will give more veterans access to VA grants to renovate their homes to accommodate their disabilities.
The Ryan Kules and Paul Benne Specially Adaptive Housing Act of 2019 expands the program to include blind veterans and raise the maximum funding veterans can receive from ,000 to ,000. The bill also will let eligible veterans access the funds six times, instead of three, and gives them access to the full amount every 10 years — a provision that will let them change residences as their needs change.
At the start of the president’s press conference Saturday, Trump sowed some confusion about which bills he had just signed, referencing two he often mentions in stump speeches: the VA Mission Act, which he consistently refers to as “VA Choice,” and the VA Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act, which became law in 2018 and 2017, respectively.
“Before we begin, I’ve just signed two bills that are great for our vets. Our vets are special. We passed Choice, as you know — Veterans Choice — and Veterans Accountability,” Trump said before extolling the benefits of those laws.
“We passed Choice … they’ve been trying to get that passed for decades and decades and decades, and no president has ever been able to do it. And we got it done so veterans have Choice,” he said. “And now you have accountability — that if you don’t love your vets, if you’re in the VA and you don’t love the vets or take care of the vets, you can actually get fired if you don’t do your job.”
The president then went on to talk about the treatment courts and adaptive housing laws before moving on to other subjects.
Trump consistently refers to the VA Mission Act as VA Choice — the program established in 2014 by President Barack Obama to widen veterans’ access to health care treatment from non-VA providers.
The legislation, the Veterans’ Access to Care through Choice, Accountability, and Transparency Act, was created in response to a nationwide scandal over delays veterans encountered when making medical appointments — for months and sometimes years — and secret waiting lists kept by some VA facilities to hide the scope of the problem.
The VA Mission Act, signed by Trump in 2018, replaced the Veterans Choice Program and gave more veterans access to private health care paid for by the VA.
The legislation also broadened the VA’s caregiver program to include disabled veterans who served before Sept. 11, 2001 — an expansion that will begin in October — and ordered the department to inventory its 1,100 facilities with an eye to closing or selling outdated or excess buildings.
At the end of Saturday’s press conference, a reporter asked why Trump “keeps saying [he] passed ‘Veterans Choice,'” when it was “passed in 2014.”
Trump told the reporter she was “finished,” and he abruptly ended the press conference.
Embellished with the American flag, the presidential seal, and the words “United States of America,” the world’s most famous plane is as tall as a six-story building and gives an undeniable authoritative presence wherever it flies.
The three-leveled “flying Oval Office” is a custom Boeing 747-200B that has 4,000 square feet of interior floor space, including a conference room, dining room, private quarters for the president, offices for senior staff members, a medical operating room (a doctor flies on every flight), press area, two food-preparation galleys that can provide 100 meals, and multifrequency radios for air-to-air and air-to-ground communication.
Former President Barack Obama’s Air Force One cost taxpayers $206,337 every hour it was in flight, according to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) letter obtained by Judicial Watch.
Seventy years ago, with Adolf Hitler’s crumbled Third Reich still fresh in their memories and Joseph Stalin’s Soviet Union having a choke hold on their future, Berlin’s children were starving.
With the Nazi surrender in 1945, the Allies divided the defeated Germany. The French, British, and Americans took the western half of the nation spreading the ideals of democracy, while the Communist Russians occupied the eastern half of Germany. Berlin itself was divided into sectors between the allies, but was completely surrounded by the Soviet-controlled sector of Germany.
More than three years after World War II ended, Russian forces blockaded the Allied-controlled areas of Berlin on June 24, 1948, shutting off access to food, coal, and medicine to two million German citizens.
Berlin became the first front line of The Cold War and the nine-month old U.S. Air Force was charged with keeping Berliners alive while keeping the Cold War from turning hot.
The Berlin Airlift began two days later, with U.S. Air Force C-47 Skytrains and C-54 Skymasters delivering milk, flour, and medicine to West Berlin. Throughout the duration of the blockade, U.S. and British aircraft delivered more than 2.3 million tons of supplies. At the height of the Berlin Airlift, aircraft were landing every three minutes, supplying up to 13,000 tons of food, coal and medicine a day, according to the Air Force Historical Support Division.
German children who live near the Tempelhof Air Base use model American planes which were sold in toy shops throughout the western sector of Berlin to play a game called “Luftbrucke” (air bridge) while pretending they are American pilots delivering food and supplies for “Operation Vittles” during the Berlin Airlift in West Berlin.
(National Archive photo)
Then-1st Lt. Gail Halvorsen, who retired from the Air Force as a colonel in 1974, was one of the American pilots flying around-the-clock missions from Rhein-Main Air Base in West Germany to Tempelhof Air Field in Berlin. He flew 126 missions delivering supplies and food from July 1948 to February 1949.
“We learned very clearly that the new enemy was Stalin. He was taking over where Hitler left off. We knew exactly what Stalin had in mind,” Halvorsen said.
However, some Airmen had mixed emotions about aiding the former enemy that had been shooting at American pilots just three years before. Halvorsen admitting that he had issues at first with the mission, but it quickly changed when he talked with a fellow crewmember.
“He told me that it is a hell of a lot better to feed them (rather) than kill them and that he was glad to be back. That is service before self. That is what causes your enemy to become your friend,” Halvorsen said.
On one of his first missions, the American pilot learned in a conversation with German youth through the perimeter fence at Templehof, that West Berliners may have needed food, but they were even more hungry for hope and freedom.
Between missions, Halvorsen was filming aircraft landings with his Revere movie camera when he encountered about 30 German children between the ages of 8 and 14, he said in his autobiography, “The Berlin Candy Bomber.”
Lt. Gail Halvorsen, “The Candy Bomber,” greets children of isolated West Berlin sometime during 1948-49 after dropping candy bars from the air on tiny parachutes.
(US Air Force photo)
He greeted them with practically all the German he knew, but surprisingly, one of the group spoke English. Halvorsen was soon answering questions about how many sacks of flour and loaves of bread the airplanes carried and what other types of cargo were being airlifted.
He talked with the children for an hour before he realized not one had asked him for anything. Instead, they gave him something he didn’t expect: the best lesson on freedom he’d ever heard.
“I got five steps away from them, and then it hit me,” said Halvorsen, commonly known as the Berlin Candy Bomber. “I’d been dead-stopped for an hour, and not one kid had put out their hand. Not one.”
The contrast was so stark because during World War II, and dating all the way back to George Washington, if you were in an American uniform walking down the street, kids would chase you and ask for chocolate and gum.
“The reason they didn’t was they were so grateful to our fliers to be free. They wouldn’t be a beggar for more than freedom,” said Halvorsen. “Hitler’s past and Stalin’s future was their nightmare. American-style freedom was their dream. They knew what freedom was about. They said, ‘Someday we’ll have enough to eat, but if we lose our freedom, we’ll never get it back.’ These were kids, and they were teaching me about freedom. That’s what just blew me away… That was the trigger. I reached into my pocket, but all I had were two sticks of gum. Right then, the smallest decision I made changed the rest of my life.”
Lt. Gail Halvorsen, “The Candy Bomber,” greets children of isolated West Berlin sometime during 1948-49 after dropping candy bars from the air on tiny parachutes.
(US Air Force photo)
When he reached into his pocket for the two sticks of Wrigley’s Doublemint gum, Halvorsen debated the wisdom of giving it to them. Perhaps they’d fight over it. Yet, he broke each in half and passed four halves through the barbed wire, then braced for the rush of children to the fence.
It never came.
The children who didn’t get any of the gum only asked for a piece of the wrapper so they could smell the aroma. Their reaction, along with the surprise the pilot felt when they didn’t beg for anything, led to his decision to do more for them.
The man the German children would later call “Onkel Wackelflugel” or Uncle Wiggly Wings, came up with an idea that would not only change the lives of those children, but would also help the West win the ideological war with the Soviets for Germany’s future.
Halvorsen told the kids he would drop something to them on his next landing at Templehof if they promised to share. He would signal them on approach that it was his plane by wiggling the wings, something he’d done for his parents after he received his pilot’s license in 1941.
Back at Rhein-Main Air Base, just 280 miles away, he combined his candy rations with those of his co-pilot and engineer, made parachutes out of handkerchiefs and string and tied them to chocolate and gum for the first “Operation Little Vittles” drop from his C-54 Skymaster July 18, 1948.
“The only way I could get back to deliver it was to drop it from the airplane, 100 feet over their heads, on the approach between the barbed wire fence and bombed-out buildings,” Halvorsen said. “A red light came on that said you can’t drop it without permission. But I rationalized it by saying that starving 2 million people isn’t according to Hoyle, either, so what’s a few candy bars?”
The amount of candy steadily increased, along with the number of waiting children, for three weeks until a Berlin newspaper published a photo of the now famous “Candy Bomber.”
Soon, stacks of letters began arriving at Templehof base operations addressed to “Der Schokoladen Flieger” (the Chocolate Flyer), or “Onkel Wackelflugel.”
U.S. Air Force Lt. Gail Halvorsen, known as “The Candy Bomber”, reads letters from grateful West Berlin children to whom he dropped candy bars on tiny parachutes during the Berlin Airlift.
(US Air Force photo)
One day, after he returned from Berlin, Halvorsen was summoned by Col. James R. Haun, the C-54 squadron commander. Haun had received a call from Brig. Gen. William H. Tunner, deputy commander of operations during the airlift, who wanted to know who was dropping parachutes over Berlin.
Halvorsen knew he was in trouble when Haun showed him the newspaper with the picture of little parachutes flying out of his C-54.
“You got me in a little trouble there, Halvorsen,” Haun told him.
“I’d had a long relationship with him, but he was put out because he was sandbagged,” Halvorsen said. “So when I talk to kids, especially high school kids, I say, ‘when you get a job, don’t sandbag your boss.’ He said to keep [dropping candy], but keep him informed. It just went crazy after that.”
Fellow pilots donated their candy rations. Eventually, they ran out of parachutes, so they made more from cloth and old shirt-sleeves until noncommissioned officers’ and officers’ wives at Rhein-Main AB began making them.
Later, the American Confectioners Association donated 18 tons of candy, mostly sent through a Chicopee, Massachusetts school where students attached it to parachutes before sending to Berlin through then-Westover Air Force Base.
By the end of the Berlin Airlift in September 1949, American pilots had dropped 250,000 parachutes and 23 tons of candy.
“Willie Williams took over after I left Berlin,” Halvorsen said. “And he ended up dropping even more candy than I did.”
Since the Berlin Airlift ended, Halvorsen has met countless Germans whose lives were changed because of “Operation Little Vittles.”
During the Berlin Airlift, then Lt. Gail S. Halvorsen dropped candy attached to parachutes made from handkerchiefs to German children watching the airlift operations from outside the fence of the Tempelhof Airport in West Berlin. One of those children was then seven-year-old Mercedes Simon whose father was killed during WWII. She and Halvorsen became pen pals and friends meeting many times later in life. The beginning of their friendship is recounted in the children’s book, “Mercedes and the Chocolate Pilot” by Margot Theis Raven held by Halvorsen.
(US Air Force photo)
One of them, a 7-year-old girl named Mercedes, wrote in a letter in 1948 that she loved “Der Schokoladen Flieger,” but was concerned for her chickens, who thought the airlift planes were chicken hawks. Mercedes asked him to drop candy near the white chickens because she didn’t care if he scared them.
Halvorsen tried, but never could find Mercedes’ white chickens, so he wrote her a letter and sent her candy through the Berlin mail.
The two would finally meet face-to-face 24 years later when Halvorsen returned to Berlin as Templehof commander in the early 1970s.
Mercedes’ husband, Peter Wild, convinced the Templehof commander to come to his home for dinner. Mercedes showed him the letter he’d written her in 1948, along with the chickens she’d written about in her own letter.
It was a friendship immortalized in Margot Theis Raven’s children’s book, “Mercedes and the Chocolate Pilot.”
Crews unload planes at Tempelhof Airport during the Berlin Airlift.
(US Air Force photo)
Halvorsen has returned to Berlin nearly 40 times since the airlift. In 1974, he received one of Germany’s highest medals, the Grosses Bundesverdienstkreuz, and carried the German team’s national placard into Rice-Eccles Stadium during the opening march for the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.
Halvorsen participated in a re-enactment of “Operation Little Vittles” during the 40th and 50th anniversaries of the Berlin Airlift and also dropped candy from a C-130 Hercules during Operation Provide Promise in Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Even at the age of 97, Halvorsen keeps a busy schedule as he and his wife, Lorraine, split their time between their homes in Arizona and Utah. Several times a year he would fly the C-54 “Spirit of Freedom,” with FAA certification to fly second-in-command.
He’s also visited many schools, both stateside and overseas, and visited Iraq to review Air Mobility Command transport operations and visit troops deployed in Southwest Asia.
Seventy years since the Berlin Airlift, the colonel remains universally beloved as the “Candy Bomber,” but enjoys one thing about his perpetual notoriety the most.
“The thing I enjoy the most about being the ‘Candy Bomber’ is seeing the children’s reaction even now to the idea of a chocolate bar coming out of the sky,” he said. “The most fun I have is doing air drops because even here in the states, there’s something magical about a parachute flying out of the sky with a candy bar on it.”
Halvorsen believes the praise he receives for bringing hope to a generation of Germans through his candy bombing deflects much of the credit to that first group of children at the barbed wire fence at Templehof.
Their gratitude and thankfulness for the pilots’ efforts to keep them free during the Berlin Airlift inspired him to reach into his pocket for those two sticks of gum.
That “smallest decision,” as Halvorsen calls it, led to 23 tons of candy dropped from the sky to the children of West Berlin and changed countless lives, not to mention the life of the Candy Bomber, himself.
Halvorsen’s dedication to helping those in need didn’t end after he retired with 31 years of service in the Air Force. In 1994, his request to assist in another humanitarian airlift was approved. He would fly with the Air Force again, this time delivering food to 70,000 refugees fleeing from the conflict in Bosnia.
“We have our freedom to choose, and when the freedom is taken away, air power is the only quick way to answer a crisis like that,” he recalled.
Retired U.S. Air Force Colonel Gail S. Halvorsen, known commonly as the “Berlin Candy Bomber” stands in front of C-54 Skymaster like the one he flew during WWII at the Pima Air and Space Museum in Arizona.
(US Air Force photo)
This article originally appeared on Airman Magazine. Follow @AirmanMagazine on Twitter.
Shooting games are loved across the military, whether it’s Battlefield, Call of Duty, or any other video game that breaks up the monotony of the hurry-up-and-wait lifestyle.
Open-world shooters make for some of the best games available on the market today. They give you full freedom to choose when and how you go about accomplishing each mission, offering fast-paced, frenetic gameplay without the linear monotony of yesterday’s titles. But along with this freedom of choice comes a hefty dose of challenge that’ll give any player a run for their money.
While most troops have the skills and knowledge they need to survive the digital battlefield just long enough to not feel compelled to throw a controller through the T.V., we’ve got some general tips to take you to the next level.
In the absence of cover, go prone and use concealment.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Pfc. Trevor Rowett)
Stick to cover
If your goal is to stay alive (which it probably is), then cover is your best friend. And just to be clear: bushes are not cover, they’re concealment. Cover is solid and should be able to take a beating from incoming bullets.
Just remember, if you can see the enemy, they can see you. Your goal is always to make yourself the smallest target you can.
Only run when you absolutely must.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Antonia E. Mercado)
Slow is smooth and smooth is fast. So, take your time. If you must cover a large area, sprint between pieces of cover, not in a straight line toward your objective. Plus, in most games, sprinting across an open area will cause your character to run out of stamina — making you a slow, exposed target.
This method counters the recoil and increases your overall accuracy.
(U.S Marine Corps Photo by Lance Cpl. Patrick Osino)
Fire in controlled bursts
Automatic weapons are great but the recoil degrades your accuracy more the longer you hold the trigger down. This is one thing that video games get right — though it’s often exaggerated. The way to solve this issue in a video game is the same as it is in real life: fire 5-to-6-round bursts.
If you aren’t used to it, simply repeat the phrase, “run, fuzzy bunny, run” in your head. That’ll take about 6 rounds to say.
These bad boys are your worst enemy on the battlefield in Battlefield.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Austin Livingston/Released)
Vehicles are priority targets
If you’ve played any iteration of Battlefield, then you know how irritating it is when other players only focus on enemy infantry and not the tanks or helicopters. This ought to be common sense, but let’s talk about it anyway: vehicles take priority over infantry.
They are your biggest enemies on the battlefield and they’ll inflict the largest amount of casualties. So, always go for helicopters, tanks, or any other vehicle that has a big gun attached to it.
Indirect fire is your best friend.
(U.S. Marine Corps Photo by Pfc. Heather Atherton)
High-explosives win the day
Military commanders will preach this all day, and rightfully so. Explosives are your greatest asset on the battlefield and you ought to utilize them as much as possible. They allow you to eliminate large groups of enemies with minimal effort and destroy vehicles quickly, allowing infantry to work on individual targets.
That being said, don’t waste your grenades on one person. This might work in Halo or Call of Duty, where multiplayer matches are more like a series of duels, but in open-world shooters, you’ll want to wait until you’re fighting a large group dumb enough to cluster together.
Your muzzle goes where your eyes go.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Austyn Saylor)
Aim with your eyes
It’s easy to look to different parts of the screen while playing a game to acquire targets but, just as you would in real life, move your weapon with your eyes so, when you find a target, you can engage immediately.
Don’t do this.
(U.S. Marine Corps Photo by Pfc. Heather Atherton)
Avoid making a silhouette
If you need to look through a window, stick to the edges to avoid being seen by enemies outside.
It turns out a massive flood control project is an excellent way to unearth dinosaurs. At least, that’s what happened back in 1993 in Coralville, Iowa.
In 1993, Coralville, Iowa, experienced 28 days of rain. More than 17,000 cubic feet of water flowed over a spillway, wiping out the state’s yearly crop of soybeans and corn. Roads were obliterated, people’s lives were in jeopardy, and the city was literally drowning.
The Coralville Dam was built in the 1950s by the US Army Corps of Engineers to help provide flood protection for the Iowa River Valley to the south. It was named after the city, which had weirdly received its name from the ancient fossilized reefs that stud the river’s limestone.
Once the rains stopped and the citizens of the city could step outside without being swept away, the Corps returned to the site to assess the damage and explore the choices for reconstructing the dam. What they discovered shocked everyone.
The Corps discovered that the floods eroded five feet of limestone from the edge of the spillway. This created a gorge and unearthed several fossil beds, most of which were about 375 million years old. The fossils were mainly marine creatures that had once lived in the sea that used to cover Iowa. Because the Corps discovered them, all the sea creatures immediately became the property of the US Army.
That’s not to say that the Army will be opening a theme park filled with these fossils any time soon, but it’s pretty exciting to think that the Army has done its part to help advance the field of paleontology.
The survey archaeologist for the Corps, Nancy Brighton, said that the collection spans the entire paleontological record. So anything relating to animals and the natural world that existed before humans are included in that.
Because the Corps of Engineers manages more than 8 million acres of land across the United States, finds like the one in Iowa aren’t super uncommon. In fact, the Corps asl owns one of the most intact T. rex skeletons ever found. More on that later.
All thanks in part to the Flood Control Act, signed by Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1936 that decreed the need for dams, levees, and dikes all across the country. But before construction could begin on those early-iteration dams, the Corps had to complete a thorough survey. Those surveys almost always exposed ancient fossil beds.
In fact, it’s assumed that most of what American archeologists have discovered are thanks in part to the efforts of the Corps. All of the hydropower and flood control projects that started back in the 1950s certainly paved the way for new discoveries.
The greatest of all of these discoveries didn’t happen way back, though. It was just a few decades ago, in 1988, on Labor Day. That morning, Kathy Wankel, a hiker, and amateur fossil collector, was trekking through Montana’s Fort Peck Reservoir when something caught her eye.
At first, she thought it was a shoulder blade pushing up through the rocky soil. The lighting was perfect, according to Wankel, which allowed her to see the webby pattern of bone marrow, and that’s when she knew she’d discovered something big.
And by big, of course, we mean enormous. Wankel and her husband had stumbled on the remains of a T. rex thought to have roamed the Montana area some 66 million years ago. The discovery that Wankel and her husband made was one of just eight at the time. Since then, about 50 other skeletons have been discovered.
It took nearly a year to figure out who owned the land where the skeleton was found. At long last, the Corps began to dig. It took several years and a large team to unearth the 38-foot skeleton weighing in at nearly six tons. The most astonishing part? It was almost one hundred percent complete, making it the first specimen to be discovered with small lower arm bones fully intact.
Since 2017, the T. rex has called the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History home. The Corps of Engineers has agreed to a 50-year loan to ensure that all Americans have a chance to see it – when the world’s not locked down with COVID, at least.