When it comes to armored warfare, Germany and Russia have been two of the foremost practitioners. They even fought the biggest tank battle of all time in 1943 at Kursk. So, what would happen if the two countries fought a tank battle today?
As was the case in World War II, it could easily be a clash between two competing philosophies. Russia has long favored quantity over quality (Stalin even remarked that quantity had a quality of its own). At Kursk, this was seen in the fact that Russia ultimately deployed over 7,000 tanks to that battle. Germany had just under 3,300.
Germany’s best tank at present is the Leopard 2A6. This is a fine tank. Originally deployed with a 120mm main gun, Germany refitted it with a similar gun with a barrel that was 25 percent longer. It just has two problems: There are only 328 of them after major defense cuts after 2010, and Germany also refuses to use depleted uranium in its armor-piercing rounds and tank armor.
Germany is taking steps to design a new tank in conjunction with France. This tank, called Leopard 3, is intended to be a match for Russia’s Armata T-14. This will take time. Russia already has the Armata in prototype form, but some questions are emerging about whether or not it will make it into service.
So, which country would win a tank fight? The money has to be on the Russians, even though most of their tanks are pieces of crap that some countries have to make the best of. Russia has over 4,500 T-80s. And while the German Leopards will trash a lot of Russian tanks, there will be more behind each echelon.
If you’ve ever wanted to be a space shuttle door gunner, pay attention: the weapon you might be operating could look something like this monster – the only projectile weapon designed for and fired in orbit around the Earth. Of course, it was the Soviet Union during the Cold War, who else would do that?
These are the people who taught terrorists to hijack planes just to be dicks to the West.
Despite some initial successes, the Soviet Union ended up losing the Space Race in a big way. Their loss is exemplified by the fact that the same day the Americans put men on the moon, the Soviets failed to land a probe there. So after a while, the disparity in technology irked the Soviet Union.
Most important to the USSR was the idea of American spacecraft being able to literally get their hands on Soviet satellites. Anti-satellite operations were something both powers prepared for, but the idea that the satellite itself would need protection up there all alone prompted the Soviets to arm one of theirs, just to see how that would go.
This is how that would go.
The Soviets built a station code-named “Almaz,” a space station that held spy equipment, radar, and the R-23M, a 37-pound 14.5mm automatic cannon that could fire up to 5,000 rounds per minute that was accurate up to a mile away. There was just one problem: aiming the cannon. The cosmonauts in the station would have to rotate the entire space station to point the weapon.
It was supposed to be the first manned space station in orbit, but the Russians were more concerned with developing the weapon than they were other aspects of the capsule, like sensors and life support. So instead of building their grand space station, they slapped together what they had with the R-23M and a Soyuz capsule, called it the Salyut before launching it into space in 1971.
All this space station and not one Death Star joke.
The CIA knew about every iteration of the Soviet Salyut spy stations, but what they – and much of the world – didn’t know is that they actually fired the R-23M while in orbit. On Jan. 24, 1975, Salyut 3 test fired its weapon before the station was supposed to de-orbit. The crew had not been aboard for around six months at this point. While the Soviets never released what happened during the test, the shots and the station were all destroyed when they re-entered the atmosphere.
Firing a gun in space would be very different from firing on Earth. First, there is no sound in the vacuum of space, so it would not go bang. Secondly, the Soviets would have had to fire some kind of thruster to balance out the force exerted on the capsule by the weapon’s recoil; otherwise the Salyut would have been pushed in the opposite direction. The weight of the projectile fired would determine how fast you would fly in the opposite direction.
Not to mention that shooting the weapon into Earth’s orbit could cause the bullets to hit the station itself from the opposite direction.
With a $716 billion budget and the mission to be the best at everything, the Pentagon finds some pretty creative ways of going about it. No, they didn’t have an actual underground boxing club among the military’s highest-ranking chiefs at the Pentagon (that we know of), but they did have some experiments that could have proven fruitful in giving America’s enemies a black eye.
The only problem is that Congress found out about it. That’s why the first rule is not to talk about it.
The Mantis Shrimp, club cocked (more on that later).
In 2015, Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake decided he was going to take on wasteful spending, releasing a “Wastebook” that detailed what he believed was government spending run amok.
Quoting the movie Fight Club, Flake says,“We buy things we don’t need with money we don’t have,” in the Wastebook, which is titled The Farce Awakens. Flake is referring to a 6,800 research grant given to Duke University researchers, who allegedly used it to pit 68 Panamanian mantis shrimp against each other to see who would win and why.
“To see so much money so outlandishly wasted, it’s clear that Washington’s ballyhooing over budget austerity is a farce,” Flake said. “Hopefully, this report gives Congress – which only ever seems to agree when it comes to spending money – something to Chewie on before the taxpayers strike back.”
This is the cover of the wastebook, no joke.
But the study wasn’t really useless, as it turns out. In fact, there’s an entire field of science called biomimetics dedicated to the idea of solving human problems with abilities and designs from animals found in nature. Duke University was doing research in just that vein. So far, they’ve been able to harness the mantis shrimp’s weapons and armor for human needs. It turns out the mantis shrimp (neither mantis nor shrimp) is one of the ocean’s premier brawlers.
The study didn’t really spend 0,000 on a fight club of shrimp. The grant covered the entire span of research on the mantis shrimp. What they discovered is a roving tank on the ocean floor. Its two main appendages act as underwater clubs to knock its prey out in a single punch – and that punch is what had the researchers so fascinated.
Did you see that? I doubt it. Read on!
The mantis shrimp punch goes from an underwater standing start to 50mph in the blink of an eye. It generates 1,500 newtons of force, the equivalent of a 340-pound rock hitting you in the face. If a human could manage 1/10th of that force with its arms, we’d be chucking baseballs into low Earth orbit. To top it all off, those clubs pop out with the velocity of a .22-caliber bullet (one that isn’t underwater) and the sudden change in water pressure causes the water around them to boil at several thousand degrees Kelvin. If the punch doesn’t kill the prey, the punch’s shockwave still can.
But wait, there’s more.
The researchers also wanted to know how mantis shrimp defend against this kind of attack – how their natural armor protects them from other mantis shrimp super weapons. This punch goes right through the shells worn by crabs and clams as well as the natural protections of some species of fish (and aquarium glass, FYI. In case you’re thinking you want one). The clubs themselves are also intensely durable, maintaining their performance throughout the mantis shrimp’s lifespan.
Its primary weapon is a complex system of three main regions, all lightweight and durable, tougher than many engineered ceramics. Civilian applications could improve the performance of cars and airplanes while military applications include body armor and armor for vehicles and potentially aircraft.
“That’s the holy grail for materials engineers,” said University of California professor and researcher David Kisailus, who is pioneering such studies these days.
Safe House Project co-founders and military spouses, Brittany Dunn and Kristi Wells hosted SHP’s Freedom Requires Action event in January 2020 in Washington, D.C. in order to promote corporate and community awareness of the sex trafficking epidemic.
Founded and led by military families, The Safe House Project (SHP) is a nonprofit dedicated to empowering victims of human trafficking by providing them a place to call home.
The group is focused on the development of safe houses for survivors of sex trafficking. Its 2030 mission is to eradicate child sex trafficking in America by strengthening networks.
“In 2018, there were less than 100 beds in special care homes [in the U.S.],” Brittany Dunn, a Navy spouse and co-founder of SHP, said.
Without a place to go, many victims are turned over to the foster care system, juvenile detentions or mental institutions, with some even electing to return to their captors.
According to the US Department of Justice, finding adequate and appropriate emergency, transitional, and long-term housing is often the biggest service-related challenge that [human trafficking] task forces face.
Dunn, along with SHP co-founders and fellow Navy spouses Kristi Wells and Vicki Tinnel, began researching ways they could fill the gap. Rather than start a small non-profit organization focused on helping their local community, they thought big.
SHP accelerates safe house development through providing education, resources, funding and government contacts to local nonprofits who seek to establish safe houses within their local communities. These individual safe houses provide specialized counseling and resources to help victims get out of the cycle of abuse. By adopting a business-like organizational structure, SHP partners do not have to work in isolation to solve a problem. They are part of a larger network and better able to solve big-picture problems.
“What most people see as a disadvantage, moving around constantly, we’ve been able to use that to our advantage,” Dunn said. “A majority of our volunteers across the U.S. are military families. That creates networks that most people do not have as a natural resource.”
Many survivors find art therapy to be an important part of processingtheir past. Art allows them to express their pain, while also helping them find their wings.
Why is this so hard?
Like other national problems, sex trafficking issues are often complicated by the division of power between local, state and federal government. If a victim is rescued in a state that does not have an active safe house, SHP will attempt to have them transferred to a neighboring state that can provide the resources they need.
While this is the ideal model, according to Dunn, some CPS [Child Protective Services] don’t want to see their dollars flow out of state.
“That is where education and awareness come in,” she said.
Victim reintegration from a stable treatment environment back into the “real world” must be strategic. Without proper planning, victims could easily run into former “johns” and reenter the cycle of abuse. The reason safe houses are so essential is because victims have specialized needs and many shelters do not have the resources or government mandate to help them.
“There is a need domestically for improved victim services, trauma-informed support, better data on the prevalence and trends of human trafficking,” Congressman Richard Hudson, R-N.C., said at a Safe House Project’s Freedom Requires Action event held earlier this year. Hudson, a cosponsor of the 2019 Put Trafficking Victims First Act, hopes this legislation will “provide stakeholders — from law enforcement to prosecutors to service providers to government officials — with the guidance and information they need to better serve victims of trafficking.”
Congressman Richard Hudson, R-N.C. was a guest speaker at the Safe House Project’s Freedom Requires Action event in January 2020 event held in the U.S. Capitol building. Hudson is also cosponsor of the 2019 Put Trafficking Victims First Act
The majority of trafficked children are not victims of a snatch and grab.
“We live under a perception that our kids are safer because they are in a first world country, but they aren’t. It is the harsh reality,” Dunn said. “It just looks different. Instead of having a red-light district in Thailand, you have kids being recruited on Fortnite or being approached peer-to-peer in schools.”
Every time a child is exposed to sexually-explicit content in conversations, on television or online, underage sex becomes normalized. For some, abusive acts do not feel like the crimes and victims do not feel like they are being victimized.
“Child sex trafficking is a difficult subject to talk about but raising awareness and talking about it is the first step in solving it,” Ria Story, Tedx speaker, author and survivor leader, said.
Safe House Project and Coffee Beanery are teaming up to raise awareness in coffee shops across America. Advocates also marked their hands in red to support the #EndItMovement.
See something. Say something. Do something.
According to Dunn, “any epidemic has two sides to eradication. Prevention and treatment.” She encourages everyone to look for the problems that may lie under the surface.
In addition to providing safe houses, SHP has trained over 6,000 military personnel to recognize and report instances of sex trafficking and hope to more than double this number by the end of 2020. And for those who cannot attend an official training, SHP offers online tools (https://www.safehouseproject.org/sex-trafficking-statistics).
After troops leave the service, many of us are left feeling like the skills we learned while on active duty don’t perfectly apply to the civilian world. While that couldn’t be further from the truth, the idea rings true in the back of many veterans’ minds. The truth is that countless employers around the country would scoop up a veteran in a heartbeat.
Now, whether the civilian job will match the high-energy, high-risk, high-reward aspects of military life is another question. But if you’re looking for your next challenge, your local fire department is usually taking applications.
The most rewarding part of serving was the ability to give back to your country and your community. Working in the fire department is another way for vets to take a hands-on approach to helping out.
Ever wonder why firefighters are always on the scene during emergencies? Because they’re often just as good as paramedics and are usually more readily available.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Jack J. Adamyk)
The skillsets are a near-perfect match
If you look at the entrance requirements for becoming a firefighter, you’ll notice they’re all things satisfied for or by military service: Be 18-30 years old. Be able to pass knowledge-based and physical ability tests. Have a moderate amount of medical training (and be willing to learn more). Finally, you must earn certain third-party certifications, which you can pay for by using your GI Bill by going through an accredited associate’s degree program.
Don’t worry, the mundane is still there… Paperwork and pre-safety checks and all that…
(U.S. Air Force photo by Airman Eugene Oliver)
The workload is similar
There’s no doubt about it: firefighting is one hell of a job. Despite what pop culture teaches us, it’s not all about getting cats out of trees or high-stakes rescues from burning buildings. Firefighters are called in for nearly every emergency, from bad traffic accidents to responding to natural disasters, even when things aren’t on fire.
Many veterans find the average 9-5 job too mundane and could use a little bit of excitement. What better way to keep your life moving than by being on-call for an emergency 24/7?
You won’t get featured as “Mr. June” in the sexy fireman calendars without working for it!
(U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Bryan Boyette)
The physical intensity is the same
All of those fireman carries you did back in the military make for a regular day as a firefighter. We hate to put it so bluntly, but most people just aren’t physically capable of cutting it in either field. The average weight of society keeps growing higher and higher, but the physical fitness required of firemen remains extreme.
Thankfully, the average day in the military does your body favors when it comes to applying for a role at the fire department. Why not put that body that Uncle Sam gave you to good use and help extinguish fires?
No one ever said being a firefighter was easy. But then again, no one ever dressed up as an accounts manager for Halloween.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Jeremy T. Lock)
Both roles share a burden of responsibility
The life of a firefighter isn’t as glamorous as many are led to believe. There will be bad days. The kind of bad days that you won’t be able to fully explain to your friends and family because it hurts in a certain, unique way.
That pain is nothing new to veterans. Time spent in the military teaches you (implicitly) how to handle those hard times cand your experience with those coping mechanisms might just come in handy for your brothers and sisters working in the fire department.
Oh, and just so you know, all of the firefighters in the images in this articles are military firefighters. Just goes to show how much crossover there really is between our two worlds.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Charles Haymond)
There’s that same sense of camaraderie
In the service, downtime is sacred. It’s where you get the know the guys to your left and right who will lay their life in the line just to make sure you get home. Honestly, it’s something that can’t be easily be explained to someone who hasn’t experienced it firsthand.
It’s a feeling that only comes with professions that can put you in harm’s way – and it’s something firefighters know well.
The desert screams by below. The clouds scream by above. Both stretch on into the horizon. It’s deceptively calm in the cockpit. There’s a constant, seemingly discordant stream of chatter coming through his helmet. The digital screens in front of him, along with images projected onto his visor, provide enough information to save lives and take a few as well. In the sky ahead are more than 60 advanced enemy aircraft, flown by some of the best fighter pilots in the world. They are hunting — looking to kill him and his wingmen. He just graduated pilot training. Welcome to Red Flag.
“I haven’t been flying that long. There are things that stand out in my career. My first solo flight, my first F-35 flight and my first Red Flag mission. I don’t think I’ll ever forget those things,” said 1st Lt. Landon Moores, a 388th Fighter Wing, 4th Fighter Squadron, F-35A Lightning II pilot.
Moores is one of a handful of young F-35A pilots who recently graduated their initial training and are currently deployed to Nellis Air Force Base as part of exercise Red-Flag 19-1. Now they are being battle-tested.
An F-35A Lightning II takes off at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., Feb. 1, 2019.
(U.S. Air Force photo by R. Nial Bradshaw)
“Going from F-35 training a little over a month ago to a large force exercise with dozens of aircraft in the sky is pretty crazy,” Moores said. “For the initial part of the first mission, I was just kind of sitting there listening. I was nervous. I was excited. Then the training kicked in.”
Red Flag is the Air Force’s premier combat training exercise where units from across the Department of Defense join with allied nations in a “blue force” to combat a “red force” in a variety of challenging scenarios over three weeks.
“For us, the biggest difference between this Red Flag and our first with the F-35A two years ago is that we have a lot of pilots on their first assignment,” said Lt. Col. Yosef Morris, 4th FS commander. “Putting them alongside more experienced wingmen is what Red Flag was designed for.”
Combat training has changed dramatically over the years, Morris said.
“When I was a young pilot in the F-16, I had a couple of responsibilities in the cockpit. One, don’t lose sight of my flight lead. Two, keep track of a bunch of green blips on a small screen in front of me, and correlate the blips to what someone is telling me on the radio,” Morris said. “Now, we’re flying miles apart and interpreting and sharing information the jets gather, building a threat and target picture. We’re asking way more of young wingmen, but we’re able to do that because of their training and the capabilities of the jet.”
Capt. James Rosenau flew the A-10 in four previous Red Flags, but he’s brand new to flying the F-35. He graduated from the transition course in December 2018.
Pilots from the 388th Fighter Wing’s 4th Fighter Squadron prepare for launch at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., Jan. 31, 2019.
(U.S. Air Force photo by R. Nial Bradshaw)
“I loved the A-10 and its mission. It’s like a flying tank. Like Chewbacca with chainsaw arms. A very raw flying experience,” Rosenau said. “Obviously the F-35 is completely different. It’s more like a precision tool. After seeing the F-35 go up against the near-peer threats replicated here at Nellis (AFB), I’m a big believer.”
The two aircraft are similar in one way. They do very specific things other aircraft aren’t asked to do.
“In the A-10, I liked being the guy who was called upon to directly support troops on the ground. To bring that fight to the enemy,” Rosenau said. “Now I like being the guy who can support legacy fighters when they may be struggling to get into a target area because of the threat level. We have more freedom to operate. We have this big radar that can sniff out threats. We can gather all of that and pass it along or potentially take out those threats ourselves.”
The threat level is high at Red Flag. From the skill and size of the aggressor forces in the air to the complexity and diversity of the surface to air threats, there is a real sense of the ‘fog and friction’ of war. The adversary force also uses space and cyber warfare to take out or limit technology that modern warfighters rely on. Cutting through the clutter is a strength of the F-35A.
“One of the jet’s greatest assets is to see things that others can’t, take all the information it’s gathering from the sensors and present them to the pilot,” Moores said. “One of our biggest jobs is learning how to process and prioritize that. For the more experienced pilots it seems like it is second nature. … If we don’t, it’s not like we’re getting killed (in the F-35), but we could be doing more killing.”
The pilots say seeing the F-35A’s capabilities being put to use as part of a larger force has been invaluable.
“When we mission plan with other units, it’s not always about kicking down the door,” Rosenau said. “It may be about looking at what the enemy is presenting and ‘thinking skinny.’ With the F-35, we can think through a mission and choose how we want to attack it to make everyone more survivable.”
Heat, smoke, and that loud “wop-wop” sound make helicopters easy targets on the battlefield. For these reasons, helicopters make the unlikeliest candidates for stealth technology. But during the 1990s and early 2000s, Boeing-Sikorsky challenged that notion with the RAH-66 Comanche helicopter.
The Light Helicopter Experimental program is the brainchild of the U.S. Army. It charged Boeing-Sikorsky with developing armed reconnaissance and attack helicopters. The result incorporated stealth technologies that minimized radar and human detection. It used advanced sensors for reconnaissance intended to designate targets for the AH-64 Apache. The helicopter was also armed to the teeth with tucked away missiles and rockets to destroy armed vehicles. Two prototypes were built and tested but the project was ultimately canceled in 2004.
Mildred Gillars was born in Portland, Maine on November 29, 1900. As she grew up in Ohio, she developed big aspirations for becoming an actress. In pursuit of those hefty dreams, Gillars enrolled in the drama department at Ohio Wesleyan University. But Gillars never completed her degree. She would instead find herself winding down a sordid path that would led to her notoriety as Axis Sally.
After dropping out, Gillars moved to New York City to pursue her acting dreams. Unfortunately, life in the big city didn’t bring her the instant success she had hoped. After bouncing around between various odd jobs, appearing in the vaudeville circuit, and ultimately floundering in the professional theatre business, Gillars packed her bags up yet again.
In 1929, she left America all together. First, she moved to Paris, then Algiers, and eventually made her way to Germany in 1934 to study music. It was there that she would start down the precarious path that led her to commit treason against the United States.
In 1940, Gillars found a job introducing music on the German public radio network Reichs-Rundfunk-Gesellschaft. As the Nazis rolled over Europe in their brutal bid for conquest, RRG was ubiquitous. Gillars was finally getting some of that attention she’d always wanted, even as the full outbreak of WWII was looming.
By 1941, the U.S. State Department began advising all American nationals to abandon all German occupied territories. Gillars ignored this advice and resolved to stay in Berlin. By this time, she was engaged to the naturalized German citizen Paul Karlson, who told her he wouldn’t go through with their marriage if she fled.
Not long after Gillars decided to stay for her fiancé, Karlson was deployed to the Eastern Front and killed in action. Soon after, Gillars began an affair with her married radio manager, Max Otto Koischwitz. Koischwitz had a creative mind. In 1942, he cast his lover in a new radio show called Home Sweet Home, Gillars’s once apolitical broadcasts took a turn towards propaganda.
Home Sweet Home was created with the purpose to unsettle American forces stationed in Europe, playing on the soldiers’ homesickness and their fears about life back home. Gillars would speculate about whether or not the women on the homefront were remaining faithful. The goal was to convince American soldiers that their time at war would end with them alone, spurned, and maimed upon their return home.
This wasn’t Gillars’s only show aimed at fostering doubt in the American people. She also starred in the show Midge at the Mike, which consisted of playing popular American music—swing in particular—interspersed with rants that were largely anti-Semitic and verbal attacks filled with a hatred for Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Her other show GI’s Letter-box and Medical Reports was particularly gruesome. This broadcast targeted those on American soil, as Gillars struck worry into the hearts of families as she delivered accounts of soldiers who were captured, wounded, or dead, citing specific information about their grim fates.
It seemed Gillars’s betrayal of her country gave her everything she wanted. She was pulling in a generous paycheck. The comfort of financial security was a strong draw after a childhood spent in Midwestern poverty. Additionally, after so many failures throughout her short-lived stage career, her pleasant voice and mocking propaganda made her a prestigious name in European radio.
Gillars’s despicable persona was known among the soldiers by many names—Berlin Bitch, Berlin Babe, Olga—however, the one that had the most traction was Axis Sally. And before long, she wasn’t the only woman spinning doubt behind the microphone. In an effort to recreate the successful broadcast formula, the German Foreign Office had Italian radio announcer Rita Zucca broadcasting from Rome under the name of Sally. Gillars was, of course, furious that listeners frequently confused the two of them.
Over in Japan, yet more women crooned over radio waves into the ears of American soldiers. This was largely due to Japanese propaganda officials forcing Allied prisoners of war to broadcast anti-American shows.
Most notable of these broadcasters was Iva Toguri, also known as Tokyo Rose. Toguri, along with prisoner of war/producer, Australian Army Major Charles Cousens, did their best to keep their broadcasts satirical, leaning heavily on the propaganda official’s lack of cultural understanding of America. Toguri also used her meager earnings from the show to feed POWs in Tokyo.
After the war, Mildred Gillars would claim that her time on the radio was under similar duress as Toguri’s. She said that, upon hearing about Pearl Harbor in 1941, she broke down in horror and boldly denounced Germany’s Japanese allies. Then, fearing she would find herself in a concentration camp for her indiscretion, she later signed a written oath of allegiance to Germany.
Gillars also claimed that, upon being aggressively approached by her new lover Koischwitz to spin his propaganda, she felt she had no choice. Saying no wasn’t an option in Nazi Germany.
It’s impossible to tell whether her claims were true or desperate grabs to change the public’s opinion of her. Regardless, she continued to broadcast propaganda until two days before Germany’s surrender. She was arrested on March 15, 1946 and spent the next two and a half years in an Allied prison camp until her trial. Once convicted on one count of treason, Gillars spent 12 years in prison, followed by parole.
During her stint in prison, Gillars converted to Catholicism. Upon her release in 1961, she went to live at the Our Lady of Bethlehem Convent in Columbus, Ohio. There, she became a private tutor to high school students, and, at age 72, finally earned enough credits to complete her degree from Ohio Wesleyan University.
In 1988, Mildred Gillars died of colon cancer, leaving behind a complicated legacy. Her body lays in the St. Joseph’s Cemetery south of Columbus in an unmarked grave.
When Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was released in March of 2016, the thought of two colossal superheroes clashing on the big screen brought out huge box office numbers for its opening weekend. But despite the initial hype, the pedestrian offering saw a huge drop-off in enthusiasm the following week, as poor word-of-mouth reviews plagued it: the final product, as usual, not living up to expectations
Batman versus Superman, on its face, seems such an intriguing construct though. We are unabashedly drawn to comparisons like Willie v The Mick, the US Government v John Gotti, et al, and iPhone v Android.
But what if we were to compare two REAL superhero castings? Let’s say, the US Army’s Rangers and the US Navy’s SEALS. And just for sh*ts and giggles, what if we compared their individual crucibles — their selection processes — and attempted to discern which was the harbinger for guaranteed future toughness or success? Let’s attempt to glean which selection program applied the most pain to its candidates. Is graduating from Ranger School a more daunting task than making it through the Navy’s difficult Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL training? And is earning a Ranger tab easier or more difficult than being awarded a SEAL Trident?
And, which course actually results in more drop on requests–a fancy term for quitting? And how can we compare completion rates?
The comparative analysis is difficult. To my knowledge, I haven’t heard of any former Rangers or SEALS transferring service branches and then embarking on the pursuit of their new branch’s most elite distinction. Maybe there does exist the unique American stud — or committed glutton for punishment — who chose this path of dual misery, and accomplishment. But I haven’t come across any stories chronicling some. With this in mind, I am going to share my reflections on some unique experiences I was privileged to have been afforded during my thirty-three years of government service.
That professional service began when I graduated from West Point in 1987 and was branched as an officer into the Infantry. During the course of my four-year military career, I attended Army Ranger school and graduated with class 4-88. I turned 23 while incarcerated in the mountain phase, endlessly trekking up and down the formidable peaks of the Tennessee Valley Divide. While I wasn’t the class Honor Graduate, I did fairly well throughout the demanding course of instruction and was lucky enough to graduate with my tab, on time, and without being recycled to repeat a phase.
I served during the Cold War Era and the American military buildup precipitated by President Reagan’s stare-down of the Soviets. The 10th Mountain Division had just been reconstituted in 1985, following its long dormancy beginning when WWII ended. Officers and non-coms were selected for the unit’s rebirth only if they possessed the coveted tab. Division brass was intent on modeling the 10th after the Ranger battalions. My assignment to the 10th was contingent on my graduation from Ranger School. Failure to graduate meant a reassignment to the 197th Infantry Brigade (Mechanized), and the embarrassing stigmatization that would assuredly follow that failure.
From those fledgling days of (re)existence, the 10th Mountain Division has now distinguished itself as a solid and repeatedly deployed war-fighting machine in the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq. But it’s mid-1980’s formation with Ranger leadership was critical to its early success and reestablished prestige as a unit. So, in mid-March of 1988, I arrived at 2-14 Infantry battalion headquarters in my starched BDU’s with freshly attached Ranger tab.
The tab carries with it a certain distinction. And that respect for its woven black and gold threads stems from the hardship endured to earn it — the US military being one of the last bastions of meritocracy in this new 21st century era of everyone-gets-a-trophy.
Historically, the failure rate at the US Army Ranger School fluctuates between 50% – 65%. A portion of those failures, DORs, are self-inflicted. There doesn’t appear to be available statistical data that highlights just how many of those failures are related to DORs.
So, after ETSing from the Army on February 1, 1991, I packed up my quarters at Ft. Drum, NY, loaded my then-wife, newborn son, and two rescue dogs into my ’88 Chevy Blazer, and headed south to the FBI Academy at Quantico, VA, where I began the 20-week course to become an FBI Special Agent. In June of same year, I posted to the FBI’s New York City Office’s Brooklyn-Queens Metropolitan Resident Agency, and began a proud 25-year career as a Fed.
Along the way, I was selected for the FBI’s elite Hostage Rescue Team, where I served as a counter-terrorist operator on Echo Assault Team from 1997 – 2001.
And in the Fall of 1998, while serving as one of Echo Team’s divers, and recently returned from deployments to Africa (US Embassy bombings) and North Carolina’s Nantahala Forest (search for ’96 Olympics bomber Eric Rudolph), I was suddenly tapped to deploy to Coronado, California, with three of my fellow HRT diver teammates, for a once in a lifetime experience.
I was an “old man,” all of 33 years. And though I was in peak physical condition, having spent almost a year and a half lifting, and running, and training at a HIGH level … I was in for a rude awakening.
It was September of 1998, and Dave, Jeff, Matty, and I checked into the Naval Special Warfare Center at Naval Amphibious Base Coronado and were officially informed we’d be joining BUD/S class 220. We had just offloaded our rental cars and strode across the sand dunes separating the BUD/S compound from the Pacific Ocean. Worst thing we could have done was to time our arrival with the conduct of Hell Week for BUD/S class 221. Long before casual observers had been treated to Discovery Channel documentaries on the course of instruction to become a SEAL, the four of us took in the spectacle.
Exhausted youngsters — many between 18 – 20 years old — slogging along at the water’s edge, ferrying inflatable RHIBs, lifting massive logs over their heads, performing a staggering amount of “corrective actions” — flutter kicks, crunches, push-ups, and bear crawls. All accompanied by the monotonous, annoying, and ever-present Instructor “motivationals” echoed through a hand-held loud-hailer.
After we’d ingested all the observed pain and misery we could and signed in at NWSC, my HRT colleagues and I made our way over to the Second Phase HQ, a low-profile, nondescript group of single-story military buildings, and introduced ourselves to the cadre.
“All good,” the congenial class proctor stated. Get over to the BOQ on Mainside. Drop your gear off, change into UDT shorts and your yellow HRT PT shirts, and we’ll meet you at the pool for your qualifying PT test — 500 meter swim, push-ups, sit-ups, pull-ups, and mile and a half run in Bates brand combat boots. We even rolled our wool socks down over our boots exactly the way the SEALs did.
When in Rome…
And so it began. After easily completing the fit test required of all BUD/S aspirants, we joined class 220 as they began the initial stages of Phase Two. The classroom portions on Dive Physics weren’t too daunting — the four of us had the benefit of college degrees — but the daily regimen of early morning PT was an eye-opener. Yes, the four of us were quite fit. But we were also in our thirties, and didn’t take part in the same skill-specific training one receives in the BUD/S preparatory course the Navy offered its young sailors interested in becoming frogmen. And we didn’t have the benefit of true youth. If we were professional athletes, we’d be desperately trying to find an organization to sign us, so we could come off the bench, with a head coach “managing our minutes.”
We also didn’t have the benefit of having taken part in the first phase of BUD/S; that unforgiving crucible that weeds out the weak and strengthens the committed. The relationship between the USN and HRT was a long and durable one. Many of the early generation FBI-HRT operators had been SEALs (as well as former Rangers, Green Berets, and Marines). Compared to the military’s special operations units, HRT was an infant, having come on line in 1983, as a civilian counter-terrorist option for the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. The ’72 debacle in Munich was a not-so-distant memory. And US law precluded the military from acting as law enforcement inside the United States.
So, here’s the thing: While I was certainly younger and my body more resilient as a 23-year-old when I completed Ranger School, ten years later, when I attended the Dive Phase of BUD/S — open circuit (SCUBA) and closed circuit (LAR-V rebreather) — with my HRT colleagues, I was certainly more experienced, savvy, and skillful at my craft. But that didn’t aid in the recovery time my body desperately needed between evolutions at BUD/S. Every night, the four of us limped back to our BOQ and attempted to “heal” before the fun began again the next morning, bright and early.
On the ground (or in the sand), we were the BUD/S students equals. We four were strong runners and could complete the grinders of push-ups, pull-ups, sit-ups, flutter kicks, and crunches as well as any of the kids in 220. On the beach, during timed four mile runs, we were more than their equals, often having to hold back so as not to bring the SEAL Instructors’ wrath down upon our classmates, as in:
“Hey, you pathetic pieces of human filth and fecal matter, why are you letting these old-ass FBI-HRT guys beat you on a timed run? You’ll all be ‘paying the man’ if you allow this to happen again!”
Yes, the typical SEAL Instructor was wicked smart and imbued with a great sense of wit and timing.
We reined in our run times, not wanting to cause any more pain to the young men who so graciously accepted us into their fraternity — despite the fact we hadn’t shared the excruciating pain of First Phase and Hell Week with them.
One of the most special gifts I’ve ever received in the course of my life was to be afforded a Hell Week t-shirt from BUD/S class 220. This class-specific attire made us feel a part — if only for a moment — of their exclusive club. It was truly an honor and I cherish the now tattered shirt emblazoned with the class motto that borrowed from William Ernest Henley’s short and powerful Victorian poem Invictus:
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.
During the course of our “internment” at BUD/S, we also participated in the required weekly SEAL Obstacle Course completion. It was an ass-kicker. And again, as I reminisced about my days at Ranger School and tangling with the infamous Darby Queen Obstacle Course, I have to give this round to the SEALs, as well. In the summer of 1998, we HRT guys were fit, relatively young, nimble, agile, and strong. We had all the necessary tools required to excel at the SEAL Obstacle Course. But it was still a daunting task to make the required times. We did so, narrowly, and aided by the Instructor allowance for us to use a rope traversing technique that wasn’t available to the BUD/S students in Second Phase. [Full disclosure: we were also permitted to discreetly utilize calculators for the long division and multiplication required in the classroom on the dive physics exams]
Well, as proficient as we HRT guys found ourselves in PT, on the sand dunes and while partaking in the dreaded “soft sand runs,” we quickly ascertained that the water, however, was a different story altogether. Here’s where those same young kids flat-out kicked our assess. On the weekly open-water two-mile swims, Dave, Jeff, Matty, and I were “competent.” We were all notably strong swimmers who had been hand selected by HRT Dive Team cadre to “represent” at BUD/S.
While we consistently barely made the required times, we were often the last, or next to last teams to come in.
But we were in no condition to compete with the damn dolphins that BUD/S students typically morphed into by Second Phase. The water became our Waterloo of sorts.
But it was pool competition, or pool comp in SEAL shorthand, that really cemented for me what the BUD/S experience was about, and just why SEALs are a cut above all others in the Special Operations community.
And, yes, we four HRT guys participated in pool comp.
And, again, it was another eye-opener.
SEAL Instructors had their own comically dreadful names for the knots they would tie in your hoses underwater. As a BUD/S student, your job was to diligently cycle through a sequence of trouble-shooting procedures to untangle the mess of knotted hoses and restore your air supply…while on a breath-hold. And you had to do so without exhibiting any signs of panic. We were treated to the Matlock and the Babilock — two impossibly difficult and deviously conceived knots named after two particular SEALs on the cadre. Failure to extricate your gear from the wicked devices of the seasoned knot-tying instructors OR failure to work through the prescribed sequence for trouble-shooting your crippled gear led to a failure. Two failures in the same event and you earned a rollback — just like the nefarious recycle at Ranger School — to the next class, if you were lucky not to be dropped from the course.
There’s a reason that, as Rob O’Neill, former SEAL Team Six counter-terror operator — the man who killed Bin Laden — stated to Howard Stern recently, on his eponymous Sirius radio program, that some 85% of BUD/S attendees don’t graduate.
BUD/S is tough — even the teensy-weensy taste of it that I experienced. It’s REALLY tough. And it sucks.
Ranger School was “uncomfortable” and difficult for all the reasons that include sleep deprivation, starvation, and relentless physical overexertion. It was a grind. And reports from recent graduates confirm it’s STILL a grind.
At BUD/S, however, they fed you lots of chow, and in Second Phase, getting eight solid hours of sleep was never an issue. But just as in Ranger School, you had to perform, to make sound decisions, to accomplish critical military tasks and objectives when your body was futilely attempting to heal, and always with the overzealous instructors omnipresent in your ear…
…but you did it at depth.
Whether at the bottom of the 15-foot pool, on the Coronado Bay side, or in the unforgiving waters of the Pacific Ocean, performing at depth takes special operations training to another level entirely. We were forced to conduct doff and don procedures, and buddy-breathing exercises — you know, like sharing the same oxygen supply at depth and while performing tasks like an equipment exchange. There were insanely long breath-holds, while enduring the Instructor-assaults associated with the dreaded pool comp. Then there was the archaic (by design) and cumbersome Jacques Cousteau era twin 80’s tanks and leaky two-hose regulators which made for a purposeful panic-induced set of pass/fail evolutions. Yes, I believe the experiences to be the closest thing to waterboarding — sanctioned “almost-drowning” — that there is. And it’s legal!
Learning to dive with the Dräger (or Draeger) closed circuit rebreather gear — the LAR-V — was the purpose behind sending HRT divers to BUD/S. So, no, in a civilian law enforcement capacity, there’s no need to learn the craft of placing limpet mines on enemy ship hulls. However, learning the advanced system of transit-diving that allows an operator to approach a target underwater, bereft of telltale bubbles is a key skillset for HRT to have at its disposal. That was the purpose behind the relationship we had with the Navy and is how we ended up enrolled in the Second Phase of BUD/S.
The advanced dive skills we learned were necessary. The voluntary participation in PT and mild hazing — being dropped for push-ups or forced to become “wet and sandy” — the “sugar cookie” punishment — was part of earning our stripes and being accepted as outsiders within the close-knit SEAL and BUD/S community.
Make no mistake about it — we weren’t to become SEALs and weren’t subjected to a fraction of what the Navy candidates endured, but we certainly gained a modicum of appreciation for the process.
And again, as difficult as Ranger School was to complete, the 8 weeks I spent at BUD/S proved that there’s a clear distinction between difficult and difficult-at-depth.
Apologies, fellow Rangers, but this round goes to the Navy’s SEALs. I’ve been up close and personal with both Selection processes. 81 torturous days at Ranger School did not compare to the tiny portion of the year of misery available to BUD/S candidates that I experienced.
Rangers, can I get a Hooah!
And SEALs, while we’re at it, how about a Hooyah!
And let’s forever remember that we’re ALL part of the same team!
God bless the United States of America and God bless and protect our brave Special Operators who continue to confidently stride into places full of wrath and tears, and do so bravely, selflessly and willingly.
Usually, when someone or something retires, it’s because they’ve grown a little older — and maybe a little slower — over time. Maybe their skills aren’t as useful as they once were, so they opt to spend their sunset years peacefully watching others take over their old duties.
But not the SR-71 Blackbird. It went out with a sonic boom.
The SR-71 was in the prime of its amazing life. This was a titanium bird designed to outrun and spy on the Russians, a bird that was fooling Russians even before it was assembled.
(Laughs in Blackbird)
When the Blackbird was retired in 1990, not everyone was thrilled with the idea. Much of the debate around the SR-71’s mission and usefulness was because of political infighting, not because of any actual military need the plane couldn’t fill. Still, the program was derided by Congressional military and budget hawks as being too costly for its designated mission. Some speculate the old guard of Air Force Cold Warriors had long since retired and newer generals couldn’t explain the plane’s mission in the post-Soviet order.
Whatever the reason for its retirement, the Air Force’s most glorious bird was headed for the sunset — but not before making history and setting a few more records.
An SR-71 refuels in mid-air during sunset.
(U.S. Air Force)
When it was operationally retired in 1990, a Blackbird piloted by Lt. Col. Raymond E. Yeilding and Lt. Col. Joseph T. Vida was tasked to fly one last time from Palmdale, Calif. to its new home at the Smithsonian Institution’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia. Apparently, they had somewhere to be in the D.C. area that day, too.
West Coast of the United States to the U.S. East Coast – 2,404 miles in 68:17.
Los Angeles, Calif., to Washington, D.C. – 2,299 miles in 64:20
Kansas City, Mo., to Washington, D.C. – 942 miles in 25:59
St. Louis, Mo., to Cincinnati, Ohio – 311 miles in 8:32
(U.S. Air Force)
The SR-71 refueled in mid-air over the Pacific Ocean before beginning its transcontinental journey. It arrived at Dulles International Airport to a throng of onlookers and well-wishers who knew a good thing when they saw one.
Addressing the full Senate after the historic, record-setting 1990 flight, Senator John Glenn told the assembly that the flight would be remembered as “a sad memorial to our short-sighted policy in strategic aerial reconnaissance.”
Colby Buzzell was almost killed when his entire battalion was ambushed by insurgents in Iraq.
“I heard and felt the bullets whiz literally inches from my head, hitting all around my hatch and making a ping, ping, ping sound,” Buzzell said, recalling how the enemy armed with rifles and RPGs attacked from rooftops, alleys, windows from every imaginable direction.
Even worse, a few minutes after the battalion fired their way out of the kill zone, they were ordered to go back to where they got ambushed.
“I literally felt sick to my stomach,” Buzzell said. “I felt like throwing up. My gut, my body, my mind, my soul, my balls were all telling me loud and clear not to go back. I was scared to death, but we had to go back. And, we did.”
Watch how (a scared) Buzzell musters the courage to do things most Americans couldn’t imagine doing in this riveting short video:
If there’s one thing every military veteran has in common, it’s that we all went through a recruiter — but experiences may vary. For example, some recruits had either high-value skills or were willing to take any job the recruiter might offer and, thus, were pursued by military recruiters. Others had to seek one out. Either way, our feelings about our recruiters rise and fall as our career progresses.
At first, many feel like they were bamboozled by their recruiter. As if somehow, they lied to us.
Maybe they made us promises they had no intention of keeping. Maybe they said we were going to get a bonus when we didn’t, or maybe the bonus wasn’t as big as promised. Or maybe the recruiter told us we could go in “Open General” and then choose to be an Airborne Cryptologic Language Analyst when we’re in basic training and we wouldn’t have to take whatever the Air Force chose to give us.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Ave I. Pele)
The fact of the matter is that every U.S. enlisted troop has a recruiter story. The recruiting process is the one thing every branch of the military has in common. From MEPS to the naked duck walk to going on a trip with a group of strangers whose only common bond is a manila envelope full of personal information, this is the area of the military that transcends branch of service — one that all Coast Guardsmen, soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines experience equally.
But what we don’t realize until we’re grown up a little and have a little rank on our sleeves or collars is that recruiting is a really, really tough job.
“Yeah, we all totally love this uniform.”
1. Everyone thinks recruiters are g*ddamn liars.
I know I kinda covered this one, but it’s a big deal. Not because the recruits think recruiters are lying — who cares what they think? They can go home if they want to. It’s that people already in the military think recruiters are liars. That’s the whole thing about recruiters — the one tired joke that never stops playing.
People think you’re out there luring high school kids into a Marine Corps-painted Astro van with promises of chest candy. Or that you somehow prey on minorities and low-income communities. Or that you’re filling the ranks with sub-par people just to make an invisible quota of some kind. The Army doesn’t exactly sell itself, so recruiters must be tricking these kids somehow.
“What’s the matter, you already have the haircut.”
2. Recruiters are competing with a great job market.
The unemployment rate of Americans between 16 and 24 — prime military recruiter targets — fell to a 50-year low in 2018. For recruiters, people who have to bring in a certain number of recruits to keep the Army, Air Force, and Navy Departments going for the foreseeable future — this is a terrible thing.
For some, joining the military is something that provides access to opportunity. If someone from Podunk, Conn. (which is a real place, by the way) has the choice of working at the Ice Cream Factory (which does not exist in Podunk, it’s just an example) or joining the Marines during a 17-year-long war, which do you think they might be more inclined toward? As a Marine Recruiter, you have to convince him that a lifetime of mud, dirt, paperwork, and potentially killing ISIS fighters is a better choice than riding dirtbikes at the bonfire Saturday night.
3. Most wannabe recruits aren’t cut out for service.
The Pentagon believes that 71 percent of American youth aren’t able to enlist for a number of reasons. They may be overweight, they may have drug use issues or ear gauges, or maybe they can’t score well on the ASVAB. No matter what the issue is, of the 29 percent left, the Army estimates only seven percent of the remainder is even interested in serving.
So, your job is basically to find those needles in all that haystack.
“Pew pew! … And that’s how you do Army. Just sign your name in crayon.”
4. Training and living as a recruiter is actually incredibly difficult.
Recruiters train to go into a local community and pull out the most potentially exceptional recruits from neighborhoods that might hate you. At the same time, the recruiter has to typify everything that makes the perfect U.S. troop, from physical fitness and on down the line. If you even pass the screening process, every branch of the military has an in-depth intense training school that involves professional development and very detailed instructional lessons on all the ins and outs of your chosen branch of service.
Remember, recruiters are supposed to be demi-gods with all the answers, so it makes sense that to be an example for youth to follow, potential recruiters have to train incredibly hard at it.
In case you didn’t believe me when I said people will hate you. Because they will.
5. You’re (mostly) alone out there.
More than that, a recruiter lives far from a military community, where things might be way more expensive than in your standard military base area. There may be no other military personnel to lean on except for the other recruiters in your area and since none of you are exactly keeping banker’s hours, a potluck jamboree might be hard to schedule.
So you only need to be the perfect picture of physical, mental, and financial health with unlimited energy and money to stay up all night to recognize talent and have all the answers required to get them to give you the first years of their adult life while their parents (who might really, really hate you) look on. No sweat, right?
Most experiments in which biologists — or, more accurately, epidemiologists — study how a disease spreads are done theoretically, involving only a pen and paper. They do their best to simulate the spread of various contagions and study outbreaks of the past, but nobody would dare spread a disease simply to study it.
In 2005, however, they were given the perfect test conditions and subjects: World of Warcraft players.
World of Warcraft is a massively multiplayer online role-playing game made by Blizzard Entertainment set in a fantasy realm called Azeroth. In September of 2005, a new “raid” encounter — an experience that required 20 players — opened up, called Zul’Gurub. This was, basically, an ancient city loosely based on Mayan culture that belonged to a savage tribe of Trolls.
When players finally fought the final boss, the Serpent God Hakkar, they would contract a temporary “debuff” (or weakness) called “Corrupted Blood” that would slowly drain their health before spreading to another player.
Once a player was infected, they’d have to wait out the sickness or die in the process. It wasn’t much more than a nuisance to high-level players, as they could simply heal themselves and continue fighting, hoping to pry an epic sword from the Serpent Lord’s cold corpse. But the in-game plague didn’t just affect players.
In the game, you play one of several different fantasy roles, including paladins, druids, rogues, and (most relevant to this scenario) hunters. Hunters specialized in taming beasts that would then fight in their name. If a hunter’s pet contracted Corrupted Blood, the player could “dismiss” their pet, making it effectively disappear. The next time that pet was called to help, however, it would still have the disease — and it would still spread to nearby characters.
Hunters of the world would (sometimes) inadvertently bring their infected pets back to large population hubs after completing the raid. There, they’d call forth their beast without realizing it was still infected. Then, the Corrupted Blood was transmitted to other players outside of the raid. This time, the infected players weren’t powerful heroes attempting to kill a god, but rather low-level noobies that would quickly die once affected by the plague, causing it to infect others.
This spread just like a real plague. Players, in search of safety, would evacuate large cities, bringing Corrupted Blood to outlying hamlets, just as with real plagues. Some players would knowingly infect themselves just to harass other players, akin to bio-terrorism.
It was fixed within a week and the game developers apologized for the bug (even though they intentionally recreated it a few years afterwards). But this was the perfect scenario that every epidemiologist dreams of recreating without risking their medical license.
Years after the virtual incident, many researchers published documents using information gathered from the digital plague. They tracked how animals that humans keep as pets might be the most prone to infecting others. They monitored how the disease spread through major population centers and how it traveled along pathways towards the outer reaches of the game. It even simulated surprisingly lifelike actions of bio-terrorists and how they can be dealt with.
(Photo by Jerry Stillwagon)
All in all, it was a mild annoyance to the players but it gave the Center for Disease Control and many researchers a realistic and ethically-sound testing environment.