The Civil War was one of the first industrialized wars, helping lead the world from battles conducted by marching men with muskets around each other on a large field to battles fought between small, quick-moving formations with repeating rifles, quick-firing guns, and higher-powered artillery. But not all of the weapon designs that debuted had a lasting effect on warfare.
And one of the designs that fell by the wayside was the quite weird “steam-powered cannon.”
As the world entered the late 1800s, breakthroughs in technology like steam engines and metallurgy allowed the world to make great industrial breakthroughs, and weapon designers hoped to harness those breakthroughs to make the U.S. military more powerful.
Historically, steam powered guns worked similarly to a conventional rifle, but instead of relying on gunpowder exploding to create high pressure and propel the bullet out of the barrel, they featured a chamber filled with water that would be heated into steam.
When water is heated into steam, it expands to 1,600 times its starting volume. So, it can give a bullet plenty of umph, but it takes a lot of time and heat to build up the pressure necessary to fire the weapon.
But Joslin and Dickinson were at the forefront of a new, steam-powered weapon design. Instead of using steam to build up pressure in the firing chamber, a steam engine would quickly rotate a mechanism and fire the round using centrifugal force.
Basically, this is a mechanized version of David and his sling to hit Goliath, but at 400 rounds per second.
The design showed promise, but the inventors had a falling out, so Dickinson created his own version and won funding for a prototype in 1860. By 1861, it was on display in Baltimore. History buffs will notice that the Civil War started in 1861, so this was an auspicious time to show off a new weapon design. Which, yes, could fire 400 balls per minute.
A steam engine powered a rotary wheel that flung ball ammunition in a closed circle before releasing it at high speeds from a barrel that could pivot within a large metal shield protecting the crew. The entire device was weighty, requiring a large boiler in addition to the barrel, rotary, and shield, and typically had to be moved with horses.
A member of the crew needed to keep feeding balls into the weapon as it tore through rounds. And it wasn’t horribly accurate, so they really needed to keep the balls going. While the weapon is sometimes described as a cannon, it fired .38-caliber rounds, larger than a 7.62mm round but still 24 percent smaller than a .50-cal.
But the worst shortcoming of the weapon was the actual speed of the rounds when they left the barrel. The centrifugal force couldn’t generate nearly the velocity that a chemically propelled or even steam-pressured round enjoyed. In fact, the Mythbusters built one and tested it, and they couldn’t get the rounds to pierce a pig at just a few feet.
Media coverage of the weapon at the time managed to muddle up some details, and the weapon became associated with Ross Winans, a states-right activist and steam expert in Maryland. The public became worried that this was a super weapon and Winans could deliver it to the Confederacy. The weapon even became known as the Winans Gun.
Baltimore police seized the weapon and then returned it to Dickinson who later tried to sell it to the Confederates. Union forces seized the weapon and it served during the war in a number of defensive positions at infrastructure in the North, but it never saw combat.
While it would be cool to say that the weapon went on to change warfare or inspire new weapons that were wildly successful, the truth is that the invention of the Gatling gun and then proper machine guns made the steam-powered Winans Gun unnecessary.
And while the Winans showed some promise during the Civil War, when its high rate of fire made it seem worth the effort to improve the weapon’s muzzle velocity, other weapon breakthroughs that were incompatible with the Winans relegated it to the dustbin.
The increased prevalence of rifled barrels didn’t work well with centrifugal weapons, and weapon cartridges allowed other weapons to catch up in rate of fire but didn’t benefit centrifugal weapons. And as it became clear that attacking forces needed to become more mobile, a massive weapon requiring a steam boiler was a clear loser.
Steam obviously still has a role in warfare, nearly all nuclear-powered weapons we’ve ever designed used steam to carry the power from the reactor. But steam projectiles have, sadly, disappeared, ruining our plans for the SteamPunk Revolution.
This past week was a special anniversary for Americans.
We observed the 75th anniversary of the battle of Iwo Jima, and specifically, on Feb. 23, we honored the 75th anniversary of the raising of the flag and the immortal photo taken by Joe Rosenthal.
Around the country, there were special celebrations to honor the men who served in that ferocious and terrible battle. Many politicians, notable figures and average Joe’s took to social media to honor the men who fought and died on Iwo.
With the passage of time, there are fewer and fewer men who fought on the volcanic rock, so events honoring them get more and more special.
Medal of Honor recipient Woody Williams was honored at a Washington Capitals game over the weekend. Williams, who earned Medal of Honor as a flamethrower on Iwo Jima, was showered with applause and adulation by the Capitals fans, players and members of the opposing team, the Pittsburgh Penguins. Williams is the last recipient living of the 27 men who were awarded the Medal of Honor for bravery during Iwo Jima.
Watch Williams being honored at the game:
Williams took to Twitter (yes, Medal of Honor Iwo Jima vets have Twitter too) to express his excitement of being at the game.
Williams, aged 96, shows no sign of stopping. He will be giving a TEDx talk this March at Marshall University.
While many other events took place around the country, a very special commemoration took place in California.
Twenty-eight Iwo Jima veterans and members of the Iwo Jima Commemorative Committee posae for a picture after an event commemoratiing the 75th annivesary of the World War II Battle of Iwo Jima at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif., on Saturday, Feb. 15, 2020.
Camp Pendleton hosted a reunion of over two dozen Iwo Jima veterans last week. Over the course of three days, the Iwo Jima Commemorative Committee held events on Pendleton to honor the men that fought there. Sadly, the Marine Corps put out a statement saying that this would probably be the last formal event as fewer and fewer veterans are alive and in shape to travel.
But as they say, tell that to the Marines.
“It’s very special to be a part of this ceremony,” said William “Bill” Wayne, an Iwo Jima veteran whose fellow Marines of Easy Company, 2nd Battalion, 28th Marines, 5th Marine Division, raised the flag on Mount Suribachi. “I get a real kick out of coming and seeing everyone and talking to the young Marines.”
Western models of spycraft are failing. Traditional models of spycraft seek to inform decision-making based on predictive analysis, but this is no longer effective in today’s environment. By nature, closed and authoritarian regimes, such as Russia and China, have an easier job of spying on their more progressive and open adversaries — the United States and the West — and currently possess the advantage. What follows is the author’s abridged philosophy of intelligence on this revolution in spycraft.
Last year, Foreign Policy magazine introduced a provocative thought piece highlighting the ongoing revolution in espionage: namely, that intelligence agencies must adapt (or die) to disruptive changes in politics, business, and technology.
At the risk of irrelevance, Western intelligence agencies are learning that traditional models of spying are outdated and losing out to more nimble, collaborative, and less fragile adversaries. As the article adeptly notes, “the balance of power in the spy world is shifting: closed societies now have the edge over open ones. It has become harder for Western countries to spy on places such as China, Iran, and Russia and easier for those countries’ intelligence services to spy on the rest of the world.”
Circumstances such as unprecedented levels of legislative and judicial scrutiny, technological advances in mobile phones and electronic data, public skepticism of domestic and international intelligence activities, and general political scrutiny in liberal democracies are symptomatic of such difficulties. They represent an underlying revolution that is significantly disrupting traditional notions of Western spycraft.
Standards of Cold War-era surveillance detection disintegrate when applied to modern cities rife with CCTV cameras, such as Beijing or even London. The absence of an online “footprint” (i.e. social media or other publicly available data) instantly warrants additional scrutiny.
Thus, we must examine several philosophical nuances of this intelligence revolution, based on the premise that the Western way of spying is indeed losing out to oftentimes less sophisticated but more effective adversaries, who possess fundamentally less fragile models of spycraft than do Western counterparts.
Lest the author receive undue credit, it must be noted that the framework for this analysis is derived from several schools of thought, ranging from the Roman Stoics to economist-turned-philosopher Nassim Taleb. Indeed, the reader may be familiar with the latter’s concept of anti-fragility, or things that gain from uncertainty, chaos, or randomness. Western models of spycraft certainly do not fit this notion and are, in the author’s opinion, quite fragile.
Western intelligence, and other such similarly traditional systems, are based largely on the value of predictive analysis that can be used to inform decision-making and thereby shape understanding and policy. But what if, as we are now seeing, environments far outmatch capability in complexity, speed, or scope? It is the author’s opinion that the U.S. Intelligence Community is designed on an outdated and fragile premise and, in the face of overwhelming environmental dissonance, must be re-assessed in the framework of anti-fragility.
Put differently, the present U.S. model of spycraft plays to the margins. Western spycraft invests inordinate amounts of manpower and resources into its Intelligence Community only to yield arguably disproportionate and marginal gains in understanding. It is not enough that the intelligence is gleaned in the first place (which remains an altogether impressive feat and a testament to the dedication and professionalism of its practitioners).
Alas, it is growing increasingly challenging to properly inform policy-making in an aggressively partisan and politicized environment. One only need reflect on the overall character of the ongoing Russian bounties discussion as evidence of this model and its debatable effectiveness. And such debatable effectiveness is certainly not for a lack of trying. The effectiveness of the Intelligence Community is a reflection of the broader environment in which it operates.
In the spirit of ancient Roman Stoic philosophers, we must acknowledge that environments cannot be changed and that at best significant national effort is required to “shape” them (and even then, with limited “control” of the exact outcome). In this instance, it is perhaps useful to examine U.S. strategy (or lack thereof) over the course of 20+ years of engagement in Afghanistan in an effort to reflect on any unilateral or coalition efforts taken to shape any semblance of “success” in the country.
Let us introduce a more tangible instance: That brief electronic communication from a foreign diplomat’s privileged conversation? That was probably the result of many factors: Of 17 years of technological research and development; of several successful (and more failed) recruitments to identify and gain sufficient placement and access for an exploit; and immeasurable bureaucratic “churns” to actually manage and manipulate the complex systems and processes in place designed to collect, process, analyze, exploit, and disseminate the information to its consumers. Entire professional careers are the substance of such churns.
While environments cannot be changed, one’s disposition within an environment most certainly can be. Thus, it is perhaps more useful to explore an intelligence model that divorces success from the ability to accurately predict the future. But then, what does this model look like and how is it employed?
In the author’s opinion, an effective spycraft model would maintain the intent to inform policy-making but disregard traditional models of operational risk management in favor of a more aggressive operational culture. In short, the change intelligence agencies must make is largely cultural, but also procedural.
Rather than embark on “no-fail,” highly sensitive (read: events that would cause inordinate damage if learned, i.e. fragile) operations, and futile attempts to accurately predict the future (read: failure to predict or act upon 9/11, Pearl Harbor, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, and countless other so-called intelligence failures), it is more useful to focus efforts on intelligence activities that have, in Taleb’s words, more upsides rather than downsides.
This model would remove, within reason, attempts to mitigate risk and would instead truly accept failure and mistakes — regardless of their perceived damage if made public — as a natural feedback mechanism. Rather than the frenetic New York banking system, we have Silicon Valley’s “fail fast” mentality. Rather than the Sword of Damocles, we have Hydra. Rather than post-traumatic stress, we have post-traumatic growth. Instead of isolated muscle hypertrophy, we have complex, multi-functional movements. The comparative benefit of this model is clear and can apply to intelligence systems as well.
So what does this new model of spycraft look like?
For one, it harnesses the power of publicly available data and information to leverage the power of public opinion and access to technology. What previously was known only to few becomes known to many, and with that knowledge comes the ability to influence. Information, which is the bane of closed societies, but also its favorite weapon against open ones, is harnessed to dismantle closed societies from within.
Here’s the bombshell: such a system, albeit in incomplete and slightly “impure” form, already exists in the form of the Russian intelligence apparatus. Indeed, there is a benefit to be gained by examining the nature and relative effectiveness of this chief U.S. adversary.
While far from a perfect comparison, the oftentimes blunt nature of Russian security services does lend itself to a somewhat anti-fragile system. Namely, despite numerous “failures” (in the sense that its operations are consistently made public), the Russian model is such that its public mistakes do not appear to significantly impact the system’s ability to continue to iterate, adapt, and pester its Western opponents.
An additional example can also be found in the spirit of the CIA’s historical predecessor, the Office of Strategic Services (OSS). Known affectionately as the “glorious amateurs,” the OSS was the first of its American kind that weathered many failures but also effectively operated in complex environments. By nature of relative American intelligence inexperience, the OSS succeeded in exploiting the upside of its activities simply by being a young, nimble, and discovery-based (i.e. tinkering, iterating, or “risk-bearing”) organization. The OSS was an anti-fragile organization.
Thanks to many of the same advances in technology, politics, and business that challenge Western espionage efforts, Russian spies have been caught on CCTV footage, publicly outed or arrested, appropriately accused of dastardly acts, and of possessing an intolerable appetite for disinformation targeting open societies and liberal democracies. However, it was presumably in Russia’s best interests that, knowing full well the possibility of such downsides, it chose to pursue such activities given the major upsides they produce (discord, division, polarization, etc.).
Indeed, as Foreign Policy magazine adeptly wrote, and as the reader can observe by way of reflecting on other seeming successes reaped by Russian active measures, there is an unrefined yet effective nature to the blunt manner in which Russian security and intelligence services operate.
It must be stated that this model does not advocate for recklessly “burning” any sources and methods, nor for engaging in renegade covert activity that lacks oversight or grounding in well-formed policy. However, it does require a significant cultural paradigm shift that will provide more space for downsides that have not been historically well-received (e.g. temporary injury to bilateral relationships, strained diplomatic interactions, etc.).
The U.S. Intelligence Community is already a complex system, comprised of 17 unique agencies that seek to inform policy-making. It is a long cry from the “glorious amateur” days of the OSS. Thankfully, we do not require complicated systems, regulations, or intricate policies to ensure the community’s success. The more complicated a system, the more we experience “multiplicative chains of unanticipated effects.” In other words, less is more; simpler is better.
The competitive edge of traditional, risk-based intelligence operations is growing smaller. The state of affairs is such that closed societies find it easier to spy on open adversaries more than the opposite. As such, it benefits Western intelligence to undergo aggressive changes that evolve or significantly alter this paradigm. It is time for the Intelligence Community to become a risk-bearing system, rather than a risk management system. It must experience a culture shift that will make it open to accepting failures. This may create short-term downsides for U.S. statecraft but will allow the system to iterate and improve. In the end, it must become anti-fragile.
Master Sergeant George Hand US Army (ret) was a member of the 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta, The Delta Force. He is a now a master photographer, cartoonist and storyteller.
It was 1994 when my Delta Troop and I were training in the desert in preparation to deploy to the Mid-Eastern theater where there was much misbehaving going on. We spent a particular day primarily calling in anti-armor attacks from MH-60 Blackhawk (Hawkers) helicopters toting the venerable and extraordinarily deadly Hellfire missile.
We rotated ourselves onto a hilltop as Forward Observers choosing targets and directing the helo strikes. We used a Vietnam-era LASER designator called the MULE. The MULE “painted” the target with a LASER that the helo-mounted Hellfire could track all the way to the target.
ANPAQ-3 Modular Universal Laser Equipment (MULE)
Some men laughed at the MULE, but theirs was a shallow laugh as none of us could find fault with the noble seeker, and “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.” I intentionally picked armor targets as far away as possible, some 8,000 meters and beyond, to challenge the Hellfire capabilities. The challenge was always accepted, and the missiles never missed.
In addition to calling in fire from aircraft, we also launched Hellfires from our six-wheel drive Austrian-made assault vehicles using an improvised launch pedestal welded by our mechanics. Success was enjoyed as well with that highly mobile platform.
Vehicle-mounted Hellfire launch; we often joked that we got sleepy waiting for the Hellfire to reach its distant targets
Toward late afternoon our troop leadership introduced us to an Air Force lieutenant colonel who heard there was a group of Delta men training nearby and just had to come show off his latest Research and Development endeavor — a remote control pilotless aircraft. None of us really cared about him, or his drone but rank still had its privileges so ok…
He stood proudly amongst us and beamed as he bragged on his miniature airplane. He held his Ground Control Unit in his hands explaining that his drone was at the moment several kilometers to our southwest and that it had a ,000 instrument payload that included a pilot’s Situational Awareness (SA) camera focused ahead of the aircraft.
It was a gasoline-powered, propeller-driven drone with a wingspan of about 12′. Just as interest waned, he brought the drone in tight and had it scream a few feet over our heads. That was actually pretty cool, and questions started coming out for the colonel: how fast, how high, what duration, how many pounds payload… all measure of questions about the drone’s capabilities.
This tragic friendly fire incident destroyed this Abrams tank with a Hellfire
“Sir, what’s the learning curve like on piloting that craft?” came my question.
“I’ll tell you what,” the colonel began as he stepped toward me. “I’ll let you see for yourself; give her a spin!” and he reached the ground control unit with its long whip antenna toward me. I immediately recoiled, not wanting to fool with all this expensive enigma.
“Fly it, a$hole!” the brothers started in on me.
“Yeah, get you some-o-that, chicken $hit!”
“Fly the damn plane, jacka$!”
And so it went, with the colonel thrusting the unit in my hands. All flight controls were there; all health inputs for the drone were displayed: speed, altitude, heading, fuel level, and others that I didn’t recognize. In the center of the unit was a screen displaying the done’s SA camera video feed.
It was very basic. All that was readily recognizable was black for the ground, and white for the sky. The black was toward the bottom of the screen with the majority of the screen white. There was a crosshair that cut across the screen representing an artificial horizon. I had seen similar instruments in the cockpit of an airplane, but as for flying these drones, I was fresh out of any experience whatsoever!
The true horizon on the screen was, of course, the line where the black (ground) met with the white (sky). The true horizon then should be under the aircraft’s artificial horizon for safe, unobstructed flight. To keep level flight like the colonel told me, all I had to do was keep the two horizon lines parallel… and not breathe.
A representative artificial horizon from an aircraft cockpit. Here, brown represents ground and blue represents sky; where the two meet is the true horizon. The yellow horizontal line represents the aircraft’s artificial horizon as it appears with the aircraft parked on the ground.
“Just keep that baby flat and stable; just hold with what you got,” directed the colonel who then stepped back, turned and addressed the men in regard to how any plain-ol’ idiot could fly the thing, just not in those exact words. He really was proud of and loved his job so.
As he babbled to the boys, I imagined somehow that the amount of black seemed to be expanding into the white somewhat… and then I was sure that the black was indeed encroaching more on the white, headed up toward that artificial horizon line… “Hey, Sir…”
“Just keep her flat and stable,” the colonel yawned as he yapped to the yokels. Now the black rose up above the drone’s artificial horizon on the screen. It was time to hit the ejection lever!
“Sir I think you better see this!” I insisted as I stepped up and thrust the control unit in his face.
“Juuuust keep’r flaaaaa… DOH!!”
With that, the colonel snatched the unit from my hands and yanked back on the joystick with Ren and Stimpy bulging eyes. When the colonel had passed off the controls to me, there was flat terrain below. Unfortunately, while he was delivering his dissertation, the drone approached a hill mass that was taller than the drone was high. The video screen blipped out.
“OH MY GOD YOU’VE… YOU’VE… FLOWN IT INTO A MOUNTAIN!”
You see, that right there… that is why I did NOT want any part of the colonel’s toy. That thing was not such a piece of cake to operate as the man would have us believe. Let’s face it, all I was doing was standing with a box in my hand — I was not operating it at all!
A typical modern control unit for a drone; note the SA video feed screen and joy sticks
I was fire-spittin’ mad thinking about that ,000.00 waste. The boys were howling like banshees now which salted the wound. I knew as well as the next man you can’t bleed in the presence of sharks. Visions of myself in the squadron cartoon book filled my head. This event had certainly been most fitting fodder… ah, but as it is with photography, so it is with being the cartoonist: the photographer never has to be in the pictures.
The colonel could see I was mad as hell as he quickly called out:
“Ok, ok… it was absolutely not his fault, not his fault at all… he was just doing exactly what I told him to. It was entirely my fault!” That was true and gracious of him, but I was mad. I was mad at him, at myself, at that stupid airplane… and especially at that Goddamned mountain!
It was two days later my troop leader pulled up in a jeep and approached me carrying… a stick? He reached it out toward me and said:
“Hey, that drone colonel made it out to the crash site and wanted you to have this.”
I held in my hand a two-bladed wooden propeller about 18-inches long. I’m pretty sure that Colonel meant no dig or sarcasm by the gesture, but now I was mad at the world again, and didn’t like his little gift, not one little bit. I walked up to a trash dumpster near our tents. With a swoop of my arm, I cracked that propeller in two on the corner of the dumpster and flung the halves inside.
So twenty-six years ago we scoffed at the colonel’s drone. What was it good for? What was the application? He was some boyish dude out playing with his toy. Little did we know at the time what an impact that research would have on the world, eh? Today the likes of drones are all but taking over in their application in our everyday lives.
Just yesterday my 13-year-old son and I went out to a nearby field to fly a remote Radio Controlled (RC) hobby airplane. After many successful laps my son reached the control my way and asked:
The Air Force recently announced its plan for when the B-21 Raider enters service, and it is not good news for two of the strategic bombers currently on inventory. While the B-52 will continue to serve until 2050, marking nearly a century of service, the B-1B Lancer and the B-2A Spirit will be retired as the B-21 comes online.
The Pentagon’s plan gives the B-52 an incredible 98 years of service from first flight to a planned retirement. An Air Force fact sheet notes that there are currently 58 B-52H Stratofortress bombers in active service, with another 18 in the Air Force Reserve.
The Air Force is planning to buy as many as 100 Raiders, which could see initial operating capabilities in the middle of the 2020s. Given the Air Force’s history of bomber purchases, that number could be concerningly low.
The original production run of the B-2 Spirit was slated to reach 132 airframes but was stopped at 21. Currently, the Air Force has 20 B-2s in the active force. The B-1A, a predecessor to the Air Force’s essential B-1B Lancer, was scheduled for a production run of 270 planes at $102 million each to replace the B-52 in the late 1970s. Then-President Jimmy Carter canceled the B-1A in favor of air-launched cruise missiles, but his successor, Ronald Reagan, had 100 B-1Bs built. Currently, the Air Force has 62 B-1Bs in service.
The Air Force used to have a larger force. “At the end of Desert Storm, in 1991, we had 290 total bombers,” the commander of Global Strike Command, General Robin Rand, said in an Air Force release.
Today, that force has dropped to 157 bombers at five bomb wings and 15 total force bomb squadrons. That’s a 46 percent decrease in our bomber force while we have conducted continuous combat operations, such as Allied Force, Enduring Freedom, Iraqi Freedom, Odyssey Dawn, Inherent Resolve, and Freedom’s Sentinel, in addition to continuous bomber rotations in the (U.S. Central Command) and (U.S. Pacific Command) areas of responsibility.
The favoured instrument of the likes of Lisa Simpsons, former President Bill Clinton, and the co-author of this article and founder of TodayIFoundOut, the saxophone has variously been described as everything from “the most moving and heart-gripping wind instrument” to the “Devil’s horn.” Rather fittingly then the instrument’s inventor, Adolphe Sax, was a similarly polarising figure and led a life many would qualify as fulfilling all of the necessary specifications to be classified as being “all kinds of badass.”
Born in 1814 in the Belgian municipality of Dinant, Sax was initially named Antoine-Joseph Sax but started going by the name Adolphe seemingly almost from birth, though why he didn’t go by his original name and how “Adolphe” came to be chosen has been lost to history.
The son of a carpenter and eventual master instrument maker Charles Sax, Adolphe Sax was surrounded by music from an early age, becoming especially proficient at playing both the flute and clarinet. Sax’s affinity for wind instruments quickly became apparent in his early teens when he began improving upon and refine the designs of these instruments, as well as coming up with many more. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves because Sax was immeasurably lucky to even make it to adulthood given what he went through as a child.
Described as chronically accident prone, throughout his childhood Sax fell victim to a series of increasingly unusual mishaps, several of which nearly cost him his life. Sax’s first major incident occurred at age 3 when he fell down three flights of stairs and landed unceremoniously at the bottom with his head smacking on the stone floor there. Reports of the aftermath vary somewhat, from being in a coma for a week, to simply being bedridden for that period, unable to stand properly.
A young Sax would later accidentally swallow a large needle which he miraculously passed without incident or injury. On that note, apparently keen on swallowing things that could cause him harm, as a child he drank a concoction of white lead, copper oxide, and arsenic…
In another incident, Sax accidentally fell onto a burning stove reportedly receiving severe burns to his side. Luckily, he seemingly avoided severe infection that can sometimes follow such, though part of his body was forever scarred.
Perhaps the closest he came to dying occurred when he was 10 and fell into a river. This fact was not discovered until a random villager observed Sax floating face down near a mill. He was promptly plucked from the river and later regained consciousness.
But wait, we’re not done yet, because in another incident he got blown across his father’s workshop when a container of gunpowder exploded when he was standing next to it.
Yet again courting death, a young Sax was injured while walking in the streets when a large slate tile flew off a nearby roof and hit him right on the head, rendering him temporarily comatose.
All of these injuries led Sax’s understandably worried mother, Maria, to openly say her young son was “condemned to misfortune”, before adding, “he won’t live.” Sax’s numerous brushes with death also led to his neighbours jokingly referring to him as “the ghost-child from Dinant.”
Besides apparently giving his all to practicing for a future audition in a “Final Destination film,” on the side, as noted, Sax made musical instruments.
In fact, he became so adept at this that when the young man grew into adulthood and began submitting his instruments to the Belgian National Exhibition, for a few years running he was recommended by the judges for the Gold Medal at the competition, only to have the Central Jury making the final decision deny him such because of his age. They explained to him that if he won the gold, he would then have already achieved the pinnacle of success at the competition, and thus would have nothing to strive for in it the following year.
In the final of these competitions he entered at the age of 27 in 1841, this was actually to be the public debut of the saxophone, but according to a friend of Sax, Georges Kastner, when Sax wasn’t around, someone, rumored to be a competitor who disliked the young upstart, kicked the instrument, sending it flying and damaging it too severely to be entered in the competition.
Nonetheless, Sax was recommended for the Premier Gold Medal at the exhibition thanks to his other submitted instruments, but the Central Jury once again denied this to him. This was the final straw, with Sax retorting, “If I am too young for the gold medal, I am too old for the silver.”
Now a grown man and having seemingly outgrown what it was possible to achieve in Dinant, Sax decided a move was in order, choosing Paris as is destination to set up shop. As to why, to begin with, in 1839 he had traveled to Paris to demonstrate his design for a bass clarinet to one Isacc Dacosta who was a clarinet player at the Paris Academy of Music. Dacosta himself also had created his own improved version of the bass clarinet, but after hearing and playing Sax’s version was quickly impressed by it and Sax himself. He then subsequently introduced Sax around town to various prominent musicians, giving Sax many notable connections in Paris to start from.
Further, not long after he was snubbed at the Exhibition, Sax had learned that certain members of the French government were keen on revitalizing the French military bands and were seeking new and improved instruments to do so. After mulling it over for some time, he decided to try his hand in the big city.
Upon arriving in Paris in 1842, supposedly with a mere 30 francs in his pocked, Sax invited noted composer Hector Berlioz to come review his instruments, resulting in an incredibly glowing review published on June 12, 1842 in the Journal des debats.
Unfortunately for him, this was the start of an issue that would plague Sax for the rest of his life — pitting himself up against the combined might of the rest of the musical instrument makers in Paris who quite literally would go on to form an organization just to take Sax down.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
As for Berlioz’s review of Sax’s work, he wrote,
M. Adolphe Sax of Brussels… is a man of penetrating mind; lucid, tenacious, with a perseverance against all trials, and great skill… He is at the same time a calculator, acoustician, and as necessary also a smelter, turner and engraver. He can think and act. He invents and accomplishes… Composers will be much indebted to M. Sax when his instruments come into general use. May he persevere; he will not lack support from friends of art.
Partially as a result of this piece, Sax was invited to perform a concert at the Paris Conservatoire to much fanfare and success. This, in turn, along with his former connections from his 1839 visit, ended up seeing Sax making many friends quickly among certain prominent musicians and composers impressed with his work. All this, in turn, saw Sax have little trouble acquiring the needed funds to setup the Adolphe Sax Musical Instrument Factory.
Needless to say, this young Belgian upstart, who was seemingly a prodigy when it came to inventing and improving on existing instruments, threatened to leave the other musical instrument makers in Paris in the dust.
Said rivals thus began resorting to every underhanded trick in the book to try to ruin him, from frequent slanderous newspaper articles, to lawsuits, to attempts to have his work boycotted.
For example, in 1843, one Dom Sebastien was composing his opera Gaetano Donizetti and had decided to use Sax’s design for a bass clarinet which, as noted, was significantly improved over other instrument makers of the day’s versions. Leveraging their connections with various musicians in the opera, many of whom worked closely with various other musical instrument makers around town, the threat was made that if Sebastien chose to have Sax’ bass clarinet used in the opera, the orchestra members would refuse to play. This resulted in Sebastien abandoning plans to use Sax’ instrument.
In the past, and indeed in many such instances where his instruments would be snubbed or insulted by others, Sax had been known to challenge fellow musicians besmirching his name to musical duels, pitting their talents against one another in a very public way. Owing to his prodigious skill at not just making extremely high quality instruments, but playing them, Sax frequently won such “duels”. In this case, it is not clear if he extended such a challenge, however.
Whatever the case, as one witness to the harassment, the aforementioned composer Hector Berlioz, would write in a letter dated Oct. 8, 1843,
It is scarcely to be believed that this gifted young artist should be finding it difficult to maintain his position and make a career in Paris. The persecutions he suffers are worthy of the Middle Ages and recall the antics of the enemies of Benvenuto, the Florentine sculptor. They lure away his workmen, steal his designs, accuse him of insanity, and bring legal proceedings against him. Such is the hatred inventors inspire in rivals who are incapable of inventing anything themselves.
His audacious plans didn’t help matters. As noted, when he got to Paris, one of the things he hoped to accomplish was to land a rather lucrative contract with the French military to see his instruments alone used by them. A centerpiece of this, he hoped, was his new and extremely innovative saxophone.
While it seems commonplace today, in a lot of ways the saxophone was a revolution at the time, effectively combining major elements of the woodwind families with the brass. As Berlioz would note of the saxophone in his review of it, “It cries, sighs, and dreams. It possesses a crescendo and can gradually diminish its sound until it is only an echo of an echo of an echo- until its sound becomes crepuscular… The timbre of the saxophone has something vexing and sad about it in the high register; the low notes to the contrary are of a grandiose nature, one could say pontifical. For works of a mysterious and solemn character, the saxophone is, in my mind, the most beautiful low voice known to this today.”
Exactly when Sax first publicly debuted the saxophone to the world isn’t clear, with dates as early as 1842 sometimes being thrown around. However, we do know that during one of his earliest performances with the instrument at the Paris Industrial Exhibition in 1844, Sax played a rousing solo from behind a large curtain. Why? Well, Sax was paranoid about his instrument’s design being copied and, as he hadn’t patented it yet, decided that the best way to avoid this was to simply not let the general public see what it looked like.
This brings us to the military. As previously noted, the French military music was languishing in disgrace. Thus, keen to revitalize it in the name of patriotism, the French government created a commission to explore ways to reform the military bands in innovative ways. Two months after announcing this to the world and inviting manufacturers to submit their instruments for potential use by the military, a concert of sorts was put on in front of a crowd of 20,000 in Paris on April 22, 1845.
Two bands would perform in the concert, with one using more traditional instruments and the other armed with various types of saxophones and other modifications on existing instruments by Sax. Both bands played the same works by composer Adolphe Adam.
The band using Sax’s instruments won by a landslide. Several months later, on Aug. 9, 1845, they awarded Sax the lucrative military contract he’d set out to get when he first moved to Paris.
This was the last straw — when Sax, a Belgian no less, secured the contract to supply the French military, his rivals decided to literally form an organization who might as well have called themselves the “Anti-Sax Club”, but in the end went with — L’Association générale des ouvriers en instruments demusique (the United Association of Instrument Makers). This was an organization to which the most prominent and talented instrument maker in France at the time was most definitely not welcome to join.
Their principal order of business throughout Sax’s lifetime seemed to be to try to ruin Sax in any way they could. To begin with, adopting the age old practice of “If you can’t beat ’em, sue ’em,” a long running tactic by the organization was simply to tie up Sax’s resources, time, and energy in any way possible in court.
The first legal action of this group was to challenge Sax’s patent application on the saxophone, initially claiming, somewhat bizarrely, that the instrument as described in the patent didn’t technically exist. When that failed, they claimed that the instrument was unmusical and that in any event Sax had simply modified designs from other makers. They then presented various other instruments that had preceded it as examples, none of which the court agreed were similar enough to the saxophone to warrant not granting the patent.
Next up, they claimed that the exact design had long existed before, made by other manufacturers in other countries and that Sax was falsely claiming it as his own. To prove this, the group produced several literally identical instruments to Sax’s saxophone bearing foreign manufacturing markings and supposedly made years before.
The truth was that they had simply purchased saxophones from Sax’s company and sent them to foreign workshops where Sax’s labeling had been removed and replaced with the shop owner’s own.
Unfortunately for the United Association of Instrument Makers, this ruse was discovered and they had to come up with a new strategy.
They then claimed that since Sax had very publicly played the instrument on several occasions, it was no longer eligible for a patent.
At this point, fed up with the whole thing, an infuriated Sax countered by withdrawing his patent application and giving other instrument makers permission to make a saxophone if they had the skill. He gave his rivals a year to do this, in which time nobody was able to successfully replicate the instrument with any quality. Shortly before the year was up, with no challenger apparently capable, he then re-submitted his patent application and this time it was quickly granted on June 22, 1846.
Apparently not content with just trying to metaphorically ruin his life and business, at one point Sax’s workshop mysteriously caught fire and in another an unknown assassin fired a pistol at one of Sax’s assistants, thinking it was Sax, with it being rumored that the United Association of Instrument Makers was behind both of these things.
Whether true or not, things took a turn for the worse for Sax after King Louis-Philippe fled the country in 1848. In the aftermath of the revolution, and with many of Sax’s high placed friends now ousted, the United Association of Instrument Makers were able to simultaneously petition to have Sax’s contract with the military revoked and, by 1849, were able to have his patents for the bugles-a-cylindres and saxotromba likewise revoked, freeing his rivals up to make the instruments themselves. They also attempted to have his patent for the saxophone squashed, but were unsuccessful on that one.
Sax, not one to take this sitting down, appealed and after a five year legal battle, the Imperial Court at Rouen finally concluded the matter, siding with Sax and reinstating his patents, as well as ordering the Association to pay damages for the significant loss of revenue in the years the legal battle had raged.
Nevertheless, before this happened, in 1852, Sax found himself financially ruined, though interestingly, his final downfall came thanks to a friend. During this time, as noted, Sax was fighting various legal battles, had lost his military contract, and was otherwise struggling to keep his factory afloat. That’s when a friend gave him 30,000 francs to keep things going. Sax had originally understood this to be a gift, not a loan. Whether it was or wasn’t isn’t clear, but when said individual died a couple years later in 1852, his heirs certainly noticed the previous transaction and inquired about it with Sax, demanding he repay the 30,000 francs and giving him a mere 24 hours to come up with the money.
Unable to do so, Sax fled to London while simultaneously once again finding himself embroiled in yet another legal drama. In this case, the courts eventually demanded Sax repay the 30,000 francs, causing him to have to file for bankruptcy and close down his factory.
But this is Adolphe Sax we’re talking about — a man who had survived major blows to the head, drowning, explosion, poisoning, severe burns, beatings by thugs presumably hired by the United Association of Instrument Makers, an assassination attempt, and literally the combined might of just about every prominent instrument maker in his field in Paris leveled against him.
Adolphe Sax in the 1850s.
Fittingly for a man who is quoted as stating, “In life there are conquerors and the conquered; I most prefer to be among the first”, Sax wasn’t about to quit.
And so it was that continuing to work at his craft, in 1854, Sax found himself back on top, appointed Musical Instrument Maker to the Household Troops of Emperor Napoleon III. His new benefactor also helped Sax emerge from bankruptcy and re-open his factory.
It’s at this point, however, that we should point out that, as indicated by his childhood, it clearly wasn’t just other instrument makers that were against Sax, but the universe as well.
A year before his appointment by Napoleon III, Sax noticed a black growth on his lip that continued to grow over time. By 1859, this tumor had grown to such a size that he could not eat or drink properly and was forced to consume sustenance from a tube.
Just to kick him while he was down, shortly before this, in 1858, Sax’s first born child, Charles, died at the age of 2.
Going back to the cancer, his choice at this point in 1859 was to be subjected to a risky and disfiguring surgery, including removing part of his jaw and much of his lip, or submit himself to experimental medicine of the age. He chose the latter, ultimately being treated by an Indian doctor by the name of Vries who administered some private concoction made from a variety of herbs.
Whether the treatment did it or Sax’s own body simply decided that it would not let something trivial like cancer stop it from continuing to soldier on, within six months from the start of the treatment, and after having had the tumor for some six years at this point, Sax’s giant tumor began to get smaller. By February of 1860, it had disappeared completely.
The rest of Sax’s life went pretty much as what had come before, variously impressing the world with his talents in musical instrument making, as well as fighting constant legal battles, with the United Association of Instrument Makers attempting to thwart him in any way they could, while simultaneously the musical instrument makers behind it profited from Sax’s designs as his patents expired.
Finally fed up with everything, a then 72 year old, near destitute Sax attempted to get justice outside of the courts, with an aptly titled article called “Appeal to the Public”, published in the La Musique des Familles in 1887. The article outlined the many ways in which Sax had been wronged by the United Association of Instrument Makers and the near constant, often frivolous, legal battles he fought throughout his time in Paris with them. He summed up,
[B]efore me, I am proud to say, the musical instrument industry was nothing, or next to nothing, in France. I created this industry; I carried it to an unrivaled height; I developed the legions of workers and musicians, and it is above all my counterfeiters who have profited from my work.
While none of this worked at getting the general public to rally to his defense, it did result in many prominent musicians and composers around Paris petitioning that Sax, who had indeed contributed much to the French musical world, should be given a pension so that he could at least be comfortable in the latter years of his life. The results of this was a modest pension ultimately granted towards this end.
On the side when he wasn’t fighting countless legal battles and inventing and making instruments, Sax also had a penchant for dreaming up alternate inventions, such as designing a device that could launch a 500 ton, eleven yard wide mortar bullet, he called — and we’re not making this up — the Saxocannon. He also designed a truly massive organ intended to be built on a hillside near Paris, capable of being heard clearly by anyone throughout the city when it was played.
In the end, Sax died at the age of 79 in 1894 and was buried in the Montmartre Cemetery in Paris.
This article originally appeared on Today I Found Out. Follow @TodayIFoundOut on Twitter.
When you first get that precious, beautiful DD-214, it feels like good things are coming. You’re invincible. You just completed your military service and you’re ready to enjoy the sweet taste of civilian freedom. One thing you might not expect, though, is that you get lonely. Like, really lonely — and it’s the worst feeling.
After some introspection, you’ll realize it’s because all of your best friends are hundreds (or thousands) of miles away, scattered across this beautiful country, doing their own thing. You know, deep down, that the civilian friends you make will probably never compare to the brothers and sisters you just left.
So, how do you remedy that? How can you start to feel like you belong? Here are a few ideas to look into if you want to make some awesome new friends:
Prove to everyone that you’re not just another crayon-eating doofus.
(U.S. Air Force Photo by Capt. Jefferson S. Heiland)
Go to school
You spent years dealing with sh*tty chains of command and you’ve listened to too many people tell you that you’re going to exit the service only to be a hobo. Well, now’s your chance to prove ’em wrong. You earned your G.I. Bill, now go to school.
There, you’ll meet plenty of potential friends and, despite what your fellow service members have you believing, it’s a better place to find a significant than your local exotic dancing joint.
You spent almost every morning working out in the military anyways, right?
(U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Dennis Sloan)
Join a CrossFit gym
If school isn’t your thing, check out your local CrossFit gym. The exercise routines are the main course, but most have a type of community attached. Start working out there and you’ll get to know most of the others. Chances are you’ll meet another veteran while you’re at it.
You also get to refine your fighting skills.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Jordyn Fetter)
Join a martial arts dojo
It’s easy; just pick a school you’re interested in and make the commitment. There are plenty of veterans out there who do this across all sorts of different styles, so you’ve got a good chance of meeting one or two.
You can also volunteer at a place run by veterans, like a decommissioned war ship.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Randall A. Clinton)
Join your local veteran organization
These things exist for the very purpose of bringing veterans together. If you miss the brotherhood, check one out. You’ll notice pretty quickly that it doesn’t matter what generation you’re from, everyone had that same sh*tbag NCO.
These are kind of like their own veteran’s organization.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class George Goslin)
Join a motorcycle club
Few other areas of life mimic the brotherhood of the military like an MC. If you’re into motorcycles and leather and surrounding yourself with great people, look for one or, hell, start your own. Just, you know, be mindful of the law.
One of the enduring images of the Vietnam War is one of the Army or Marine Corps’ infantry troops, sitting out in the jungle or around a rice paddy, wearing a helmet covered in graffiti. Maybe it’s ticking off the number of days he’s been in country. Maybe it’s announcing to the world that the wearer is a bad motherf*cker. Or it could be simply the troop’s blood type and drug allergies.
Truth be told, troops in Vietnam didn’t “get away” with writing on their issued helmets, and neither do the troops who do it today.
As one might imagine, it would be considered counter to good order and discipline to write on one’s helmet cover. The helmet is, after all, a uniform item, usually owned by the government. To deface it would be defacing government property while at the same time violating the rules of wearing your uniform properly. But none of this ever prevented the troops from doing it.
Some troops in Vietnam only ever wore their helmets when doing perimeter duty or moving materiel from one area to another and didn’t really have the downtime with their helmets to make any sort of writing on it. For those who did write on their helmet covers, they’ll tell you there were more important things happening than worrying about what was written on their helmets.
Of course, the difference between troops back then and troops today is that yesteryear’s combat troops could be draftees, which means they’re not the professional army the United States uses as the backbone of its military power. Even so, those who wrote on their helmets were not allowed to wear the helmet with its cover on while in the rear. The MPs would make sure of that. In any case, soldiers were required to wear a cap while in the rear, and the helmet would go back on only when they went back into the sh*t, where no one cared what they wrote anyway.
Vietnam veterans say the graffiti depended on which outfit you were moving with, and was usually okay as long as it didn’t defeat the purpose of camouflage in combat. Others say that as long as the graffiti didn’t disparage the Army, the United States, or the chain of command, it didn’t matter what you wrote or how you wrote it.
If a new NCO or lieutenant was coming into Vietnam for the first time and all he cared about was helmet covers, his troops would call him “dinky dao” anyway.
Military pay raises in 2020 could be in the range of 3.1 percent, an increase of 0.5 percent over the 2.6 percent raise in 2019, according to federal economic indicators that form the basis for calculating the raise.
The first indications of what the Defense Department and White House will recommend for troops’ 2020 pay raise are expected to come March 12, 2019, in the release of the Pentagon’s overall budget request for fiscal 2020.
By statute, the major guideline for determining the 2020 military pay raise will come from the quarterly report of the U.S. Employment Cost Index (ECI) put out by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
In a January report, BLS stated, “Wages and salaries increased 3.1 percent for the 12-month period ending in December 2018” for the private sector, according to the ECI. The 3.1 percent figure will now be a major factor in gauging the military pay rate that will go into effect in January 2020.
(U.S. Army photo by C. Todd Lopez)
According to the Pentagon’s website on military compensation, “Unless Congress and/or the president act to set a different military basic pay raise, annual military basic pay raises are linked to the increase in private-sector wages as measured by the Employment Cost Index.”
However, the ECI formula, while setting a guideline, has often served as the opening round of debate over military compensation between the White House and Congress.
Congress is not expected to take action on military pay rates for 2020 until approval of the National Defense Authorization Act in 2019.
By law, the NDAA should be enacted before the start of the next fiscal year on Oct. 1, 2019, but Congress has often missed the deadline and passed continuing resolutions to keep the military operating under the previous year’s budget.
The debate over the NDAA could be more complicated and heated this year since the Democrats took control of the House.
Here are the basic military pay raises going back to 2007, according to the Defense Department:
January 2007: 2.2%
April 2007: 0.5%
January 2008: 3.5%
January 2009: 3.9%
January 2010: 3.4%
January 2011: 1.4%
January 2012: 1.6%
January 2013: 1.7%
January 2014: 1.0%
January 2015: 1.0%
January 2016: 1.3%
January 2017: 2.1%
January 2018: 2.4%
January 2019: 2.6%
This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.
You may never have heard of Basil Zaharoff. He’s not the Lord of War depicted by Nic Cage in the 2005 film; Zaharoff was actually around much, much earlier. Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, the “Lord of War” the Nic Cage movie is based on, has nothing on the original “Merchant of Death.”
It didn’t matter that they didn’t often work as directed.
Basil Zaharoff, the world’s richest arms dealer… eventually.
In the days before anyone actually cared about international arms trafficking, men like Zaharoff were renowned for their salesmanship. The Greek gun dealer and industrialist would become one of the richest men to live in his lifetime, selling weapons to anyone who was willing to purchase them, even if they were on opposing sides of a conflict. But his business cunning didn’t stop with getting people to buy. He was also adept at edging out his competition, selling the latest and greatest in military tech.
By the late 1880s, countries like the U.S., Britain, the Ottoman Empire, Germany, and Russia all sought out the Maxim Machine Guns, which Zaharoff had just gotten the rights to produce, along with the new submarines he was suddenly able to sell. While many of the world’s major powers eventually lost interest, the sub was especially interesting to Greece, the Ottoman Empire, and the Russian Empire.
Isaac Peral’s submarine in 1886.
Until this time, the use of submarines was intermittent and untrustworthy in combat. But when a Spanish sailor created one that was actually functional, useful, and fired weapons without killing the crew, it raised some eyebrows. After Zaharoff was able to sell one to the Greek Navy, it wasn’t long before the Ottoman Turks, Greece’s longtime nemesis, noticed. The arms dealer was able to convince the Turks the submarine was a game-changer. He later told the Russian Tsar the same thing, and that Russia needed two of its own to balance power in the region.
The only thing was, no one needed Isaac Peral’s submarine. While it was an advanced invention, none of the models Zaharoff sold to the Greeks, Turks, or Russians actually worked as advertised. It still had a few bugs to work out, and besides – Zaharoff didn’t have the actual submarines; he was working from stolen plans.
None of the submarines actually worked like Peral’s original.
How you walk when you sell five useless submarines to three countries who will never tell out of sheer embarrassment.
For all his failures of morality, Basil Zaharoff didn’t stoop to cheating the Allies out of much-needed cash after World War I broke out. Far from it. He used his skills as a merchant and salesman to further the Allied cause, ensuring Greece would stay in the Entente alliance and convincing the new Greek government to open a front against the Ottomans.
Of course, after the war ended, he went right back to his old tricks. He was selling weapons until the day he died in 1936, providing weapons to the Spanish government during the Spanish Civil War.
A lot of great things happened this week. The U.S. is in a full-on trade war with everyone. There’s a news draft of the latest tax form for this year, the Supreme Court’s wildcard justice announced plans to retire, and Trump is going to meet Putin face-to-face.
Is this good? Is this bad? We’re not here to tell you that. And honestly, you should decide for yourselves. We’re here right now to give you memes. Dank memes. And in the world of dank military memes, the fallout from the Space Force is ongoing.
Imagine the Space Force JROTC.
Just add salt. A lot of salt.
(Decelerate Your Life)
They already left for their dream job at American Airlines.
Ice 101 and shrimp are never going to happen.
But welcome to the Navy.
A 0.00 ring, but still.
In nomini paratus.
We hardly knew ye.
Moon dust. Moon dust everywhere.
He just gained the knowledge of Enlisted Jesus.
Glad someone can talk to those animals below decks.
On the night of Aug. 5 through Aug. 6, 2011, one of the worst tragedies in modern special operations history occurred. By this point in the war, the men who made up the special operations community were some of the most proficient and combat-hardened warriors the world had ever seen. Even so, the enemy always has a vote.
The men of 1st Platoon, Bravo Company, 2nd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment were on a longer-than-normal deployment as the rest of their company was on Team Merrill and they surged ahead with them.
Coalition security members prepare to conduct an operation in search of a Taliban leader. Photo by SGT Mikki L. Sprenkle, courtesy of Department of Defense.
They had yet another raid mission in pursuit of a high-value target in the Tangi Valley, which was in Wardak Province, Afghanistan, on the night of August 5.
The mission was not easy. The Rangers took contact not only during their movement to the target but also on the target. Despite the tough fight that left some wounded, the enemy combatants were no match for the Ranger platoon. They secured the target and were gathering anything of value for intelligence when it was suggested by the Joint Operations Center (JOC) back at the Forward Operating Base (FOB) that a platoon of SEALs from a Naval Special Mission Unit be launched to chase down the three or four combatants that ran, or squirted, from the target.
This was a notoriously bad area, and the Ranger platoon sergeant responded that they did not want the aerial containment that was offered at that time. The decision was made to launch anyway. The platoon-sized element boarded a CH-47D Chinook, callsign Extortion 17, as no SOF air assets were available on that short of notice.
U.S. Special Forces Soldiers, attached to Special Operations Task Force-Afghanistan, alongside Afghan agents from the National Interdiction Unit, NIU, load onto CH-47 Chinooks helicopters for their infiltration prior to an operation in the Ghorak district, Helmand province, Afghanistan, Sept. 12, 2016. Photo by Sgt. Connor Mendez, courtesy of U.S. Army.
As Extortion 17 moved into final approach of the target area at 0238 local time, the Rangers on the ground watched in horror as it took a direct hit from an RPG (rocket-propelled grenade). The helicopter fell from the sky, killing all 38 on board. The call came over the radio that they had a helicopter down, and the platoon stopped what they were doing to move to the crash site immediately. Because of the urgency of the situation, they left behind the detainees they fought hard to capture.
The platoon moved as fast as possible, covering 7 kilometers of the rugged terrain at a running pace, arriving in under an hour. They risked further danger by moving on roads that were known to have IEDs (improvised explosive devices) to arrive at the crash site as fast as they could, as they were receiving real-time intelligence that the enemy was moving to the crash site to set up an ambush.
Upon their arrival, they found a crash site still on fire. Some of those on board did not have their safety lines attached and were thrown from the helicopter, which scattered them away from the crash site, so the platoon’s medical personnel went to them first to check for any signs of life. With no luck, they then began gathering the remains of the fallen and their sensitive items.
Footage of the Extortion 17 crash site revealed mangled weapons and melted metal. Screen capture via YouTube.
Similar to the Jessica Lynch rescue mission almost a decade prior, the Rangers on the ground decided to push as many guys as possible out on security to spare them from the gruesome task. Approximately six Rangers took on the lion’s share of the work. They attempted to bring down two of the attached cultural support team (CST) members, but had to send them back as they quickly lost their composure at the sight of it all. On top of that, the crashed aircraft experienced a secondary explosion after the Rangers arrived that sent shrapnel into two of the medics helping to gather bodies.
Despite their injuries, they kept working. Later in the day they had to deal with a flash flood from enemy fighters releasing dammed water into the irrigation canal running through the crash site in an attempt to separate the Ranger platoon, cutting them in half. Luckily, because of the sheer amount of water heading toward them, they heard it before it hit them and were moved out of the way before anyone was hurt. If that wasn’t enough, there was also an afternoon lightning storm that was so intense it left some of their equipment inoperable and their platoon without aerial fire support.
Meanwhile, 3rd Platoon, Delta Company from 1st Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment was alerted after coming off a mission of their own. They took a small break to get some sleep before they flew out to replace the other platoon, which would hold the site through the day. Once they awoke, they were told to prepare to stay out for a few days. They rode out and landed at the nearest Helicopter Landing Zone (HLZ), 7 kilometers from the crash site, and made their way in with an Air Force CSAR team in tow.
Austin Williams visits the gravesite of U.S. Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Christopher C. Campbell in Section 60 of Arlington National Cemetery on Memorial Day, May 30, 2016. Campbell was one of 30 Americans killed when a CH-47 Chinook helicopter, with the call sign Extortion 17, crashed in Afghanistan. Photo by Rachel Larue, courtesy of Arlington National Cemetery.
After arriving, the platoon from 2/75 had to make the 7-kilometer trek back to the HLZ, as that was the nearest place a helicopter could land in the rugged terrain. The men were exhausted, having walked to their objective the night before, fighting all night, running to the crash site, securing it through the day only to execute another long movement to exfil.
New to the scene, the platoon from 1/75 did what they could to disassemble the helicopter and prepare it to be moved. The last platoon evacuated the bodies and sensitive items on board, so now the only thing left was the large pieces of the aircraft spread out across three locations. They were out for three days straight, using demolitions as well as torches to cut the aircraft into moveable sections and then loading them onto vehicles that the conventional Army unit that owned the battlespace brought in.
Despite the gruesome and sobering task, Rangers worked until the mission was accomplished. The third stanza of the Ranger Creed states that you will never fail your comrades and that you will shoulder more than your fair share of the task, whatever it may be, 100 percent and then some. The Rangers of these two platoons more than lived the Creed in response to the Extortion 17 tragedy.
The original CZ-75 pistol (non-machine version) was designed during the 1970s by the Kouchy brothers for the Czechoslovakian—now Czech Republic—owned Ceska Zbrojovka (CZ) arms company. When the Communist nation dissolved, the company looked at two of its best-selling products—the CZ-75 and the Skorpion VZ-61 submachine gun—to come up with the fully automatic machine pistol.
You won’t find this weapon on the market; it’s nearly impossible to obtain one. CZ stopped offering the machine pistol after 2010. But it’s still popular in movies and video games, such as Call of Duty, according to Guns.com.
While it’s not the most accurate weapon due to its violent recoil, Larry Vickers mitigates the pistol’s action with short two to three round bursts in the video below.