A U.S. Huey helicopter sprays Agent Orange over Vietnam. The U.S. military used at least 11 million gallons of Agent Orange in Vietnam from 1961 to 1972. (Wikimedia Commons)
Proposed amendments to the fiscal 2021 National Defense Authorization Act would add three diseases to the Department of Veterans Affairs‘ list of illnesses presumed to be linked to Agent Orange — measures that, if approved, would provide health care and disability benefits to roughly 22,000 affected veterans.
The House and Senate amendments, proposed by Rep. Josh Harder, D-California, and Sen. Jon Tester, D-Montana, would add bladder cancer, hypothyroidism and Parkinsonism to the VA’s list of 14 conditions considered related to herbicide exposure during the Vietnam War.
In 2016, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine deemed the three named diseases to be associated with exposure to defoliants used during the war.
But the proposals do not include hypertension, a condition that the Academies also linked to Agent Orange in 2018. Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is common among the elderly and, if included, could add more than 2 million veterans to VA disability rolls in the next 10 years, at an estimated cost of $11.2 billion to $15.2 billion, according to department estimates.
Thirty veteran and military groups have backed the proposals and asked congressional leaders to do the same.
On Tuesday, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Vietnam Veterans of America, Military Officers Association of America and 27 other groups wrote House and Senate leaders urging them to get behind the provisions.
“We call on you to lead and pass House Amendment 264 into law and end the waiting for many of our nation’s ill veterans so they can receive disability benefits,” stated letters sent to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.
“There is more work to be done to care for those who are ill from toxic exposures, including adopting hypertension as a presumptive disease … but with your leadership, tens of thousands of Vietnam War veterans will receive their benefits and justice,” they wrote.
A decision on whether to add the three conditions has been delayed since 2017, when then-VA Secretary David Shulkin expressed support for including them but never formally announced his decision.
According to internal VA documents, Shulkin had been on the verge of including the three conditions when the Office of Management and Budget and other White House officials objected, citing what they called “limited scientific evidence” and cost.
Meanwhile, thousands of veterans have waited.
“Vietnam vets have been waiting for this for decades, and it’s a national shame that it’s not fixed yet,” Harder told Military.com. “We have a real chance here to make this right after all this time, and we should seize the opportunity.”
VA Secretary Robert Wilkie told lawmakers late last year he wants the results of two studies — the Vietnam Era Health Retrospective Observational Study, or VE-HEROES, and the Vietnam Era Mortality Study — to be reviewed for publication before announcing a decision on whether to broaden the presumptives list.
But lawmakers and advocacy groups have balked at the delay.
“This is something we are still fighting after how many decades from the Vietnam War?” asked Corey Titus, director of veterans benefits and Guard/reserve affairs at MOAA. “We should be making sure there aren’t any service members with illnesses who aren’t getting the care and benefits they earned.”
In February, Rep. Mark Takano, D-California, chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, penned a letter to President Donald Trump asking him to “take corrective action” and add all four diseases to the list, including hypertension.
“Your administration has the ability to add these conditions to the presumptive list and provide lifesaving benefits to more than 190,000 veterans. Without your action, tens of thousands of sick and aging veterans will continue to go without VA resources and health care in their time of need,” he wrote.
The letter was signed by 77 members, all Democrats.
While hypertension is not included in the proposed amendment, the coalition of veterans and military organizations pledged to continue working on adopting it as a “presumptive disease as linked by the National Academies.”
“This needs to be covered as well. This is not something that we will forget — hypertension,” Titus said.
The House and Senate Armed Services Committees have both passed their versions of the fiscal 2021 defense bill and forwarded them to their respective chambers for consideration. Currently, committees are weighing the rules for amending and deliberating the bills before they move ahead for debate.
Both Harder and Tester’s proposals must make it through that process before coming up for a vote.
A legislative source said Tester’s amendment has been identified for a vote.
“With a bipartisan team of lawmakers and the support of the entire veterans community, we have a strong chance to finally get this done,” Harder said.
American ground fighters must overmatch any potential adversary, now and in the future, the leaders of the Close Combat Lethality Task Force said April 11, 2018.
Robert Wilkie, the undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, and retired Army Maj. Gen. Robert Scales, who serves on the task force’s advisory board, spoke about the effort at the Association of the United States Army’s Sullivan Center. The effort looks to improve the lethality of Army, Marine Corps and special operations light infantry units, and it is personally being pushed by Defense Secretary James N. Mattis.
Scales said the reason behind the task force comes down to three numbers: Ninety, four, and one. Ninety percent of Americans killed in combat are infantry, he noted. “They constitute four percent of uniformed personnel and receive just one percent of the DOD budget for training and equipping,” Scales said.
The United States maintains combat overmatch in every other portion of the battlefield — air, sea and space — yet the small infantry unit, the unit most likely to be under fire, is the one that comes closest to a fair fight with an enemy, Scales said. Success in ground combat “lies not just with technical superiority, but with the human dimension,” Wilkie said.
(U.S. Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Matt Hecht)
“There is nothing more important than focusing our energies now on developing and nurturing the unique capabilities of human performance,” he added. “That means bringing fresh vigor, renewing our sense of urgency and enhancing the lethality of our front-line Army and Marine Corps units.”
Success comes from repetition, training
The task force will look at how the services select the right people for this crucial job, and what the services need to do to retain them. It also will examine how the services judge fitness and provide fitness. “Finally,” Wilkie said, “do we understand, as do our greatest athletic leaders, that success comes with constant repetition and training?”
Some aspects do not require legislation or extra money. Willke said the Army personnel system can be changed to keep units together and allow infantry personnel to bond with their unit mates. Programs can also be put in place so soldiers and Marines are actually training with their units and not performing an ancillary duty.
“Every plane and ship we purchase comes with sophisticated simulators to train personnel to overcome every conceivable contingency,” Wilkie said. “We would not buy a plane of a ship that was not packaged along with that technology. But we don’t do that for our ground forces.”
But it can be done, he added, and when combined with exercises at Fort Irwin’s National Training Center, the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center in California, or at the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk, Louisiana, this training can be invaluable with keeping infantry alive.
Wilkie and Scales said the task force will also look at weapons, protective systems, communications gear, unmanned tactical systems, doctrine and many other issues as it continues its work.
And all this will be done quickly, both men said, noting that Mattis is intensely interested in seeing this program succeed.
We call it “the Korean War;” the North Koreans call it the “Fatherland Liberation War.” Whatever you call it, on June 25, 1950, North Korean tanks rolled across the 38th Parallel, the border that separated the Communist-controlled and supported North from the capitalist and Western-backed South. It was the first test of Western adherence to the Cold War doctrine of containment, a strategy to stem the forced spread of Communism worldwide.
It was a brutal war that pitted the Soviet Union, People’s Republic of China, and North Korea against the United Nations, led by the United States and South Korea. The war started with a wildly swinging pendulum of momentum that almost drove Western forces into the Sea of Japan. They were saved only by a heroic UN stand at the Pusan Perimeter and one of the most daring amphibious landings in history at Inchon. The Western counterattack drove the Communists all the way to the Yalu River, the North Korean border with China. The subsequent Chinese intervention pushed the then-heavily outnumbered Americans back to the original border and a subsequent two-year stalemate until an armistice ended the fighting in 1953.
It was in Korea that some of the most legendary American military heroes said their most famous lines, made their most famous stands, and overcame seemingly insurmountable odds. The Korean War came just after the long, good fight of World War II, at a time when the world was weary of war. Just a few years later, the cultural fabric United States would be forever altered with coming of the war in Vietnam. Being sandwiched between and subsequently overshadowed by these other two, the Korean War has come to be called the Forgotten War, both by historians and the men who fought there. In an effort to relegate that nickname to the dustbin of history, here are some facts about the Korean War you may not have already known.
1. A U.S. Army sergeant in Moscow was the catalyst
Stalin prevented a war on the Korean Peninsula since the end of World War II, for fear of an all-out war with the West. When the KGB recruited an Army NCO from the code room at the U.S. Embassy, they discovered the U.S. had moved the bulk of its forces in the region to Japan. Stalin now believed the U.S. would not move to defend Korea and gave North Korean dictator Kim Il-Sung the green light to invade the South. Stalin was wrong. The Army sergeant’s identity was never discovered.
2. The South was far from Democratic
The first President of South Korea, Syngman Rhee, jailed or assassinated his political opponents. He also had an active secret police force to root out North Korean agents, but they detained, tortured, and killed many innocent civilians. Days after the start of the Korean War, he ordered the Bodo League Massacre, killing more than 100,000 suspected communist sympathizers and their families. Rhee was ousted when thousands of protesters overran the Blue House in 1960.
3. The U.S. knew about the North’s military buildup
The nascent CIA noticed the North Koreans moving their army toward their Southern border but thought it was more of a defensive measure. They reported to Secretary of State Dean Acheson that an invasion was unlikely. They didn’t know the Soviets already broke American military and diplomatic codes and knew the U.S. couldn’t mount an effective response to an invasion.
4. It was technically a “police action”
President Truman never asked Congress for a declaration of war, and Congress didn’t offer one. That was back when we cared about these kinds of things. Instead, Truman placed the fighting under the aegis of the United Nations, since Korea itself was a construct of UN agreements. For the first time since WWII, U.S. troops fought in combat at Osan, thirty miles South of Seoul.
5. The U.S. dropped more ordnance on Korea than in the entire Pacific during WWII
The Korean War absolutely devastated North Korea, and this memory is a major reason why so much animosity still exists to this day. The United States dropped 635,000 tons of bombs on the North, compared to 503,000 pounds dropped on the entire Pacific Theater in WWII, killing an estimated 12-15 percent of the population. Curtis LeMay estimated an even higher proportion – he claimed 2o percent.
6. It featured the first all-jet dogfight
On November 8, 1950, 1st Lt. Russell Brown engaged a MiG-15 in his F-80 Shooting Star. The MiG was clearly a superior fighter and this discovery led to the development of the F-86 Sabre. It wasn’t superior enough to allow the MiG to win the dogfight, however. Lt. Brown downed the Communist jet. The skies over Northwest Korea featured many dogfights in the war years and soon became known as “MiG Alley.”
7. Frostbite was one of the most prevalent injuries
Thousands suffered from frostbite, while many suffered from trench foot or a combination of both. Temperatures during some of the coldest fighting were as low as -54 degrees fahrenheit. The MASH unit (Mobile Army Surgical Hospital) was just one of many battlefield medical innovations designed to stay close to the front and save the lives of more combat injured troops.
8. Seoul changed hands four times
The South Korean capital sits just 35 miles from the North-South border. It was first captured by the North Koreans on June 28, 1950, just three days after the North invaded. It was retaken by UN forces that September. The Chinese seized the city in January 1951 but lost it two months after that.
9. The first year was the deadliest
Roughly a quarter of all Americans killed during the Korean War died between August and December 1950, during the battles of the Pusan Perimeter, the Chosin Reservoir, and Kunu-ri Pass. 178,426 UN troops died in Korea, compared to more than 700,000 Communists. The first American, Pvt. Kenneth Shadrick died near Osan.
10. Army Special Forces created an army of their own
The 8240th Army Unit, Army Rangers and other soldiers with experience in partisan warfare from World War II raised and advised local partisan armies in Korea on how to fight behind enemy lines and sabotage the Communists. The 8240th would advise more than 38,000 partisan fighters.
11. It was more than just Americans and Koreans fighting Communists
Being a UN police action, other countries joined the coalition of forces fighting to keep the South safe for capitalism, if not democracy. Significant forces came from Great Britain and the Commonwealth countries, especially Australia and Canada. Turkish forces faced their biggest military challenge since World War I at the Battle of Kunu-ri Pass. Other countries who gave significant troops included Ethiopia, Colombia, Thailand and the Philippines.
12. Generals weren’t far from the fighting
These days, you don’t hear much about general officers in the thick of the action unless they’re visiting a combat unit or are on some sort of tour or inspection. That wasn’t true during the Korean War. General Douglas MacArthur went to Korea himself during the Battle of the Pusan Perimeter to assess the situation there and determine how to proceed (the Inchon Landing is what he came up with).
Army General William F. Dean was among the last to retreat from Taejon as the North advanced. He wanted to make sure all his men and material made it out as orderly and safely as possible. While trying to help a wounded troop, Dean was knocked unconscious and captured by the Communists.
As the war raged on in and around the peninsula, a slew of Generals would find themselves in combat. Oliver P. Smith directed the breakout of the Marines surrounded at the Chosin Reservoir and led them back to the port of Hungnam. Chesty Puller was still racking up awards and decorations in Korea. He was promoted to Brigadier General after landing at Inchon and fighting at the Chosin.
13. The Korean War never ended
Armistice talks took more than two years to complete. The real hang-up was over the repatriation of POWs. Eventually, the North conceded and an armistice was signed. The signatories didn’t end the war, however, just the fighting. The war continues to this day.
14. Korean War veterans are becoming just as rare as WWII vets
The conflict itself fizzled out quietly. The men who fought in Korea didn’t come home to parades or parties and kissing in Times Square. The job of fighting the Communists fell to the generation who bore the burden of combat without hesitation or complaint, even after the world forgot the heroism they displayed or the people they kept safe. At the rate of an estimated 500 per day, they are slowly and silently passing into history, just as their war did.
These days, when a plane sets off to drop bombs on a target, all the pilot needs to do is punch the coordinates into their Global Positioning System and follow the steering cues on the heads-up display — pretty straightforward. In fact, GPS has become so enmeshed in the military that the Air Force ran some training on how to fight without it.
But back in World War II, such technology didn’t exist. They used only the classic navigational tools: a map, a compass, and some intuition.
Today’s navigators have GPS and a host of other technologies that make getting from Point A to Point B easy.
(U.S. Air Force photo illustration by Tech. Sgt. Anthony Nelson Jr.)
So, how did they figure out their position using just a map and a compass in the cramped quarters of an airplane? The answer is old-fashioned hard work and diligent training.
Back then, navigators undertook about 500 hours of ground instruction. Assuming they had ten hours of classes per day, five days a week, that amounts to ten weeks spent on the ground. Then, they did another another 100 hours of training in the air. At the end, they needed to be able to plot a route with a course error no greater than 11 degrees, being no more than one minute off per hour of flight time. They also had to get within fifteen miles of an objective during a night flight.
This 1946 photo shows the level of technology available to World War II air crews. Much of it was done with maps, a compass, radar (if the plane was really advanced), and a fair bit of guesswork.
During World War II, some new navigation technology, like radio beacons, helped navigators bring their planes home. Over 50,000 personnel were trained to navigate aircraft to the precision requirements mentioned above.
Check out the video blow to see some of what would-be navigators were taught about maps and compasses.
If you think that troops marched at each other with muskets and rifles in the Civil War because they were too dumb to maneuver, you’re dead wrong. Civil War formations were the pinnacle of strategy at the time, allowing commanders to bring maximum force to bear at a crucial moment as long as they could think far ahead of their enemy.
Infantry in the Civil War typically marched in lines or columns, quite similar to their forebears in the Revolutionary War and War of 1812. This technique is sometimes ridiculed since it gives the enemy a long warning that attackers are headed for them. But these massed formations usually worked better for attackers than small groups, like those we use today.
Typically, unless there was particularly valuable terrain or cover nearby, troops that marched in small groups against an enemy were destroyed by the enemy’s concentrated fire.
So, instead, troops marched in large blocks that would be recognizable to George Washington or Andrew Jackson. But warfare and the necessary tactics had changed a lot in the decades between those men leading armies and the Civil War.
“Let’s get into a straight line and walk slowly forward to attack.” A good idea, surprisingly.
(Thure de Thulstrup, Library of Congress)
The biggest surprise for Washington or Jackson would come when an attacking force drew within 400 yards of their target. That was when defenders would raise their rifles and deliver their first volley at the attacking force, 300 yards further than was typical for earlier soldiers.
Remember the old saying from the Battle of Bunker Hill, “Don’t fire until you see the whites of their eyes”? That’s a bad adage for the Civil War thanks to the increase in rifled weapons.
Rifling dated back to before 1500, but rifled weapons feature a spiraling groove down the barrel that increases accuracy but greatly increased load time. Most commanders and procurement officers went with cheaper, smoothbore muskets that could be fired much more quickly.
Minie balls feature a small cavity on the bottom that would fill with hot gasses and expand when fired. This allowed the rounds to be small enough to be quickly loaded but then become large enough to grip the barrels of rifles.
(Mike Cumpston, public domain)
But improvements in manufacturing and metallurgy had made it much easier and cheaper to produce quality rifles and, probably even more important, French inventor Claude-Étienne Minié figured out how to create quality ammunition for rifled weapons that could be quickly loaded.
The Minié ball was slightly smaller than the barrel it would be loaded into, allowing it to easily slide down the barrel without getting caught on the grooves. But it had a small opening in its base, not unlike the small opening on the bottoms of most cans and bottles you see today. When the weapon was fired, the hot gasses would push into that little cavity and expand the bottom of the round, making it grip the grooves and spin as it left the barrel.
So, suddenly, infantrymen could fire rifled weapons just as fast as smoothbores while still enjoying the massive improvements in accuracy and range. For troops in defensive positions, this meant that they could launch multiple volleys while attackers were marching up. If there were walls, fences, or ditches in the way, like during Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg, each obstacle gave a chance for defenders to launch an additional volley.
Reenactors during a rifle firing demonstration.
(National Parks Service)
The only way an attacker could survive these volleys is if they arrived with a large enough force to absorb multiple volleys until they closed the gap, then attacked with the survivors of the charge. When possible, there was a way for attackers to turn the power balance back in their favor: flanking.
Formations in combat were typically quite wide and could not change their overall direction of fire quickly or easily. If a formation was able to hit its enemy from the side, the flanking force could bring all of its guns to bear while the soldiers who had been flanked could respond with just a few shooters on the edge of the formation.
The best way out of this was a well-organized retreat or, rarely, an advance past the flanking force. Attempting to stand and fight was nearly always a recipe for disaster.
You don’t want to end up in bayonet range, but you want to be ready if you do.
(Kurz and Allison, Library of Congress)
But of course, with skilled infantrymen firing about 2-4 shots per minute, it was still quite common for competing forces to fire their weapons while in short ranges and then have to defend or attack with no time to load another round. Then, it was time for rifle and bayonet combatives.
The butt of the rifle was a great club, and the bayonet at the front was a slashing and stabbing weapon. If attackers and defenders closed into bayonet range, men would swarm one another and attempt to fight in small teams that would slash their way through enemies.
But there was one technology, deployed in limited numbers during the Civil War, that changed all of this. Repeating rifles could fire anywhere from six to 15 rounds without reloading, allowing them to hit rates of fire of 15 or more per minute. Like rifled muskets, they were typically accurate to 400 yards or more.
When employed, this allowed the men with repeating rifles to inflict severe losses on their enemy even when outnumbered. In some cases, a force with repeating rifles could even ward off a flanking attack since each rifleman at the edge of the formation could fire as fast as 10 musket-wielders.
Some military traditions make sense to nearly everyone — little things that show mutual respect, like leaders serving food to their subordinates on holidays or NCOs electing to eat after their guys. Other traditions are odd at first blush, like messing with the new guy or passing through an archway after graduating a class or achieving a higher rank, but civilians can generally understand where they come from.
But then there are the ones that require a lot of explaining to your civilian family members. Every time, these story begins with a, “well, you see. It kinda goes back to…” and more often than not, the explanation just makes them tilt their head in confusion.
At one point, the following traditions may have meant something to one person or a group, but today, the original meaning is buried beneath decades of military bearing and tradition. We mostly just do them because, well, if it ain’t broke — and no one’s getting UCMJ’d for it — why bother stopping?
Ever since Hostess kinda went under, the tradition changed to use red helmets instead — which is definitely cleaner.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Katrine M Brisbin)
10. Paratroopers and cherry pies
When you finish going through Army Airborne School, your head will be spinning, filled with all of the information you’ll need to not shatter every bone in your body when you make a landing. You’ll have to master the art of hooking up your static line and perform countless parachute landing falls before you’re even able to get the chance to actually jump out of a perfectly good airplane.
Finally, the moment of truth arrives — you finally get to jump with your unit in the 82nd. Your superiors will recommend that you fill your cargo pockets with Hostess Cherry Pies first. They’ll often say it’s for some reason like, “in case you get hungry when you land” or whatever. Who are you to argue?
When your big moment finally comes and you take in the sights while falling gracefully, you’ll hopefully have your PLFs burnt into the back of your mind as second nature. Everything will happen so fast that you’ll forget those cherry pies in your pants. When you land, you’ll squish all those pies and leave a nice red stain on your uniform.
There are great call signs out there, you just need to be lucky enough to snag one.
9. Actual callsigns
In pop culture, callsigns are the coolest things ever. You’ll often see some badass names, like Iceman, Maverick, or Snake used in TV and movies. They’re always just made up because they sound cool and the storytellers don’t really know how the military works.
In reality, callsigns are usually unit designations followed by a number to signify who they are in said unit. So, for example, the commander of the Alpha company “Black Sheep” would be known as “Black Sheep 6,” and the first sergeant of the same unit is “Black Sheep 7.”
If you’re looking for unique callsigns, those are in the aviation world, and they’re typically less cool and more nonsensical. For example, if you eat a Pop-Tart one time in front of another pilot, your callsign is now forever “Pop-Tart.” Good going, Pop-Tart. That’s your callsign until the end of time.
You (and everyone else in the unit) will have to drink whatever you put in. Or do what most people do and hide in the bathroom until this bit is over.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Don Peek)
8. The grog bowl
At civilian parties, if there’s a punch bowl, it’ll be centrally placed and it may or may not have some kind of alcohol in it. Whenever the military throws a unit ball, that punch bowl will most certainly have alcohol in it… plus a whole slew of other random things that would make anyone throw up.
Most of the leadership of the unit gets a chance to add one ingredient to the grog bowl (which is a toilet bowl) and offer some kind of nonsense to explain why their chosen ingredient has some kind of significance to the unit.
You can expect classic grog bowl ingredients, like hot sauce, because of the deserts the unit deploys to, ground coffee, because of the long hours the troops works, a cup of salt, because of the sweat that troops give to the cause, and a dirty sock because… reasons?
7. Blood wings and blood stripes
When civilians get promoted or graduate some school, the accomplishment is usually met with a party or a card that’s signed by everyone in the office. That sounds pleasant. Troops, on the other hand, almost always lose a bit of blood over it.
Blood wings and blood stripes are, essentially, the same thing. You get the wings from a school and the stripes from a promotion. Then, everyone takes turn punching it in. It’s technically considered hazing, but the troop receiving the blood wings/stripes usually agrees to it. There (typically) isn’t any malice or hate involved in the ceremony and troops usually walk away with a bit more pride in whoever bled for their new badge/rank.
“A Mickey Mouse Challenge Coin? Really?”
6. Challenge coin “duels”
There’s nothing really odd about challenge coins in general. It’s basically the same thing as collecting trading cards as a kid, but instead of aiming for a holographic Charizard, you’re aiming for the coolest-looking coin with the most badass backstory.
Usually, officers will keep the coolest coins on their desk in their office to casually gloat about and enlisted troops keep them in some drawer at home, but sh*t gets real when troops take their coins to the bars. The ensuing game basically goes like this:
Troops unsheathe their coolest coin. If you don’t have your coin on you, you buy the drinks. If everyone has a coin, whoever has the “least valuable coin” buys the drinks. Since the “value” is determined by backstory and design — both of which are subjective — this game almost always ends in a shouting match over who has to pick up the tab.
Every airman thinks they can grow a mustache like Col. Robin Olds. The only reason his mustache is so majestic is because he literally gave zero f*cks about the rules. Rules all airmen have to follow.
(U.S. Air Force)
5. ‘Stache contests
In case you haven’t nailed down the common thread between all of these traditions, the military is engaged in a perpetual pissing contest. Troops are in constant contest to see who can do literally anything better than the next guy; to see who is the most macho of the troops. It should come as no surprise that one of the most macho things out there, facial hair, gets quantified into some sort of challenge.
The problem with this is that the military doesn’t allow most versions of facial hair — that is, with the exception of a very thin mustache. A word of warning: The first two weeks of a mustache-off makes every contestant look pathetic.
Mustache contests usually begin at the start of the deployment (presumably, when troops’ wives have less of a say in the matter) and, after a certain point, someone is declared a winner. Yet, the Air Force has unanimously decided to make March their official contest month. Whichever airman grows the best mustache by the end of March wins a high five or whatever.
4. The West Point pillow battle royale
At some point during the first years of the most intense academy for the U.S. Army’s future officers, students are offered a unique way of handling the stresses of simultaneously earning a college education while enduring four years of constant military training. These future warriors, trained in all things warfare with the intention of becoming the Army’s next generation of great leaders, settle things the exact same way as children at slumber parties — with a pillow fight.
As goofy as this sounds, things got serious. Yes. “got” — very much in the past tense, as this tradition was unceremoniously banned in 2015 in response to numerous injuries. Most cadets donned full kevlars and vests and beat the hell out of each other with pillows. More than thirty plebes that year were sent to the hospital for serious injuries, despite the strict no-hard-objects-in-the-pillows rule.
Thankfully, they had PT belts on or this could have gotten even more out of hand.
Don’t think you can just bring a spare cap that won’t be blown up. The troops will find it and make sure it’s also blown to smithereens.
(U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Christopher M. Gaylord)
3. Blasting up the lieutenant’s patrol cap
In the technical terms, a “blasting cap” is a small, sensitive primary explosive device used to detonate a larger, more powerful and less-sensitive secondary explosive. Soldiers in the artillery world take this term literally whenever they welcome a new platoon leader.
When the platoon first goes out for a live-fire exercise with a brand new lieutenant, they’ll take the officer’s patrol cap (either willingly or otherwise) and tape it to the end of the barrel or backplate of a rocket pod. Then, the first round goes off; it’ll take the cap with it. The officer is then expected to retrieve the nearly-burnt-to-a-crisp cap so they can remain in uniform after the ceremony is done.
No one really knows when or where this began, but every artillery officer since then has had to buy a new cap the following day.
The real question is, if they’re both military, do neither of them get spanked — or both?
(U.S. Air Force photo by Samuel King Jr.)
2. The sword butt tap at weddings
Most of the traditions on this list are kept within the realm of the military and don’t often affect civilians directly — with the major exception of military weddings. They are one of the most beautiful ways to introduce a new civilian spouse into our world. The troop’s comrades will attend wearing full dress uniforms, each carrying a sword to signify the protection they’ll offer the new spouse, as he or she is now kin.
The new comrades will serve as either groomsmen or bridesmaids and post guard outside of the chapel, or wherever the ceremony is held, and form a beautiful archway with their swords under which the married couple will walk.
Then, whoever is at the very end of the archway on the civilian spouse’s side will give a loving spank with their sword. Not a hard one, mind you, just a nice gentle way of letting them know that they’re now a part of the grander military family.
Every weird little detail of the “Crossing the Line” ceremony has been replicated as far back as anyone can remember. It can’t be THAT weird if your sailor granddad was also doing it, right?
1. The Court of Neptune
Whenever a Navy vessel crosses a certain point on the globe, all sailors who’ve never done so get to be initiated into an unofficial fraternity of sailors who’ve been there before. The most famous example of these ceremonies is the moment a vessel crosses the Equator at any point in the world.
Officially, it’s called the “Crossing the Line” ceremony, but sailors know it as “the Court of Neptune.” The uninitiated (known as “slimy polliwogs”) must bow before King Neptune (as portrayed by the ship’s captain) and entertain his queen, Davy Jones, the Royal Baby, and his dignitaries (portrayed by other high ranking members of the crew) with a talent show.
Regardless of how the young sailors perform, they’re found guilty of being polliwogs and must answer for their crimes. They’re “punished” by eating an extremely spicy or disgusting breakfast and are forced kiss the Royal Baby’s greasy belly. Only then can they have their slimy polliwoginess washed in seawater to finally become trusty shellbacks.
Follow any of that? Neither did any of us other slimy polliwogs…
It’s more than a Grunt Style t-shirt, those awful Oakleys, or an American flag ball cap — you know, the one with the IR patch on the front? People don’t need to hear you ask if there’s a veteran’s discount or relate everything back to how your old unit did things.
People can tell you were in the military — just by looking at you.
8. The way you stand.
Some call it “command presence” while others call it “closed body language.” No matter what you call it, you stand there with your arms crossed, feet planted beneath your shoulders, and shoulders slightly hunched – you’re in a power stance: a military power stance. How better to show someone you’re frosty, collected, and listening to them than looking like you’re leaning on a pole without actually doing it.
You may have started the conversation with his hands on his hips, thumbs through belt loops.
“Your party called ahead. What now, POG?”
7. You are always 15 minutes early to everything.
People will figure out that if you aren’t 15 minutes early, you consider yourself late. Especially since you’ll call them to let them know… meanwhile, they haven’t even left their house yet.
For civilians, this works out because you’ll always be at a restaurant to put the group on the waiting list for a table. They will use this to their full advantage.
When you find out Yogurtland has froyo in Sea Salt Caramel.
6. You move fast.
It doesn’t matter if you actually have to be anywhere at a certain time, you move with a sense of urgency, a sense of purpose. You know that Pinkberry will still be there no matter when you arrive, but you still approach the cinnamon churro froyo like T-1000 chasing John Connor.
5. Your haircut.
This is a dead giveaway. Why would anyone on Earth willingly subject their head to the high and tight (or worse, the flattop) unless they were forced to keep it that way at some point? I’m pretty sure the coiffure equivalent of Stockholm Syndrome takes hold in TAPS class.
Like standing at parade rest for pizza.
4. You stand at parade rest for bizarre reasons.
Ever catch yourself staring out into the distance, perhaps over a lake at sunset, only to have an older guy tell you to “stop standing at parade rest for the goddamned lake, boot.” It’s a sign of respect for those above you and, after spending so long as an E-3, just a comfortable position to put yourself in.
Stand like you’re wearing a cavalry hat while meeting a foreign head of state.
3. Your ramrod-straight posture.
You stand tall. We all do. That’s not going to stop just because we stopped wearing a uniform.
It’s like they drilled it into you or something.
2. You walk with coordinated arm swings.
Have you ever noticed yourself walking down the street with your right arm perfectly in sync with your left leg and vice versa? That’s not an accident. You had all those military marches and facing movements drilled into you. They’re going to hang around for a while.
1. You eat so fast, people wonder if you ever taste food.
Appetizers, dinners, desserts — all gone in the blink of an eye. Wouldn’t it be great if you could slow down and enjoy the flavors of life? Well, you can’t. This is because you’re probably worried that, if you do, your stripper ex-wife will take that, too.
In the pre-dawn darkness of December 11, 1917, thirteen American soldiers died together at the same moment, hanged in a mass execution on gallows that were immediately torn back down to lumber so other soldiers wouldn’t see them. If you serve in the military today, your life is better because of that morning, and because of the debate that followed. Samuel Ansell left the Army nearly a hundred years ago, and he might save your life one day.
The men who died on December 11 were black privates and NCOs, infantrymen who served together under white officers in the segregated 24th Infantry Regiment. Earlier that year, in the spring of 1917, they had been sent to Texas to guard army facilities as the United States went to war in Europe. Posted outside Houston, the men of the 24th collided with Jim Crow laws and the social customs that went with them. By mid-August, arguments were nearly turning into fights, and a white laborer on Camp Logan stabbed a black civilian to death in the payroll line.
On August 23, two Houston police officers saw a group of black teenagers shooting craps on a city street, and tried to arrest them for illegal gambling. The teenagers ran, and the police chased them, bursting into homes in an African-American neighborhood. A black woman named Sara Travers complained, and a pair of white policemen dragged her outside, half-dressed, to arrest her. Watching white police rough up a black woman, a soldier from the 3/24 in the city on a pass stepped forward and told them to stop. They beat him and took him to jail. Soon after, an NCO from the 2/24 approached the officers and demanded an explanation for the beating and the arrest. At that point, Officer Lee Sparks pulled his revolver out and began to beat Cpl. Charlies Baltimore over the head with it – then fired at his back as he ran away, before catching up to him and hauling him away to jail, too.
It was the moment when the arguments ended and the fighting began. Back at Camp Logan, a group of about 100 soldiers stormed an ammunition tent, loaded rifles, and went into town to find the police officers who had beaten and shot at their fellow infantrymen. They found them. At the end of a running gun battle, nineteen people were dead: Fifteen of them white, including police officers, and four black soldiers.
The courts-martial that followed were a joke, mass trials meant to placate infuriated Texas politicians. Sixty-three men were tried before the first of three courts, with single witnesses casually implicating dozens of defendants and men being convicted on the strength of testimony that had flatly misidentified them in court. For their defense, they were represented by an infantry officer with no legal training. On November 29, returning guilty verdicts by the box lot, the court sentenced 13 defendants to death. Facing local pressure, the convening authority, Maj. Gen. John Rickman, approved the verdicts and scheduled the executions – on his own authority, without seeking approval from the Army or the War Department.
The 13 men were simultaneously hanged on December 11 at 7:17 a.m. local time — one minute before sunrise — in the presence of U.S. Army officers and one local official, County Sheriff John Tobin.
It was the event that kicked off the debate about military justice during World War I: American soldiers were being killed by their own army without any kind of legal review or approval by national authorities.
Incredibly, the War Department issued a general order forbidding local commanders to put soldiers to death before the Judge Advocate General and the president had a chance to review their convictions – an obvious expectation that was only imposed for the first time in the second decade of the 20th century. Imagine serving in an army that could put you in front of the firing squad or put a noose around your neck a few days after a shoddy trial, with no one checking to make sure you hadn’t just been railroaded. That was a possible feature of military experience for the first century and a half of our history.
The War Department order was just in time. While the court-martial in Texas was delivering its sentences, drumhead courts-martial at the front in France were sentencing four other privates to death. Jeff Cook and Forest Sebastian had fallen asleep on guard duty on the front line, slumped forward against the trenches, while Olon Ledoyen and Stanley Fishback refused an order to drill. All four had even less of a trial than the soldiers of the 24th Infantry. Ledoyen and Fishback were represented in their defense by an infantry lieutenant who was pulled from the line for the job. Shrugging, he told them both to just plead guilty and hope for the best. All four trials took somewhere in the neighborhood of a few minutes, with little to no testimony, argument, or deliberation.
This is where our contemporary military justice system was born. In Washington, the Army had two top legal officers. The Judge Advocate General, Maj. Gen. Enoch Crowder, was temporarily assigned to other wartime duties, so Brig. Gen. Samuel Ansell was the acting JAG; both thought of themselves as the Army’s top legal officer. The two men had completely different reactions to the trials in Texas and France, and a totally different view of the way courts-martial were supposed to work. Their argument – the “Ansell-Crowder dispute” – kicked off a full century of debate.
To Crowder, the purpose of a court-martial was discipline and good military order, and the results of a trial could only merit objections from army lawyers if blatant unfairness screamed from the record of the proceedings. Commanders needed near-absolute latitude to deliver the punishments inflicted by courts, and the JAG office had little to no reason to interfere. If the army’s lawyers objected to the death sentences in France, Crowder warned, Pershing would believe that his authority had been undermined in a critical matter involving his command.
But to Ansell, courts-martial had to be courts. They needed standards of evidence and reasonable rules about due process, and the outcome of a military trial could become illegitimate when courts broke rules. The acting JAG and the circle of reformers around him tore into the records of the courts-martial in France – finding, for example, that Cook and Sebastian had gone four days with almost no sleep at all, but their courts-martial had taken no notice of those extenuating circumstances in delivering death sentences. “These cases were not well tried,” Ansell wrote.
President Woodrow Wilson agreed with Ansell and pardoned all four men. Sebastian died in combat soon afterward, fighting with courage, and Wilson told War Department officials that he was glad to have given a soldier a chance to redeem himself.
Then the war ended, and the argument got serious. Ansell presented a long report to Congress, detailing a series of proposals for changes in the Articles of War, the pre-UCMJ law that governed the army. He especially wanted to see the law adopt some form of mandatory post-conviction legal review, creating an appellate authority that had the direct power to overturn bad convictions. But Crowder eased him out of the office, arranging a job for Ansell at a law firm before telling him that he was done in the army. As Congress prepared to vote on Ansell’s proposed reforms, Crowder – back at his regular duties as the army JAG – gave his congressional allies a set of more modest changes. In an amendment to the pending legislation, they swapped out Ansell’s reforms for Crowder’s, and the law passed.
Even as Crowder won, though, Ansell had forced a more serious set of reforms on the army than his adversaries had wanted to see. Among the changes to the laws governing the army in 1920, Congress created boards of review for the first time. A retired JAG officer, Lawrence J. Morris, calls those boards “the first step toward a formal appellate process.” Another change required courts-martial to reach unanimous agreement to impose the death penalty, where the previous Articles of War had only required a two-thirds majority vote to put a soldier to death.
Ansell began the long effort to make courts-martial into true courts, giving soldiers some degree of due process protection. And he planted the seeds for all of the debates that have followed. After World War II, when Congress and the newly created Department of Defense decided to pursue the more serious reforms that led to the creation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, the person who led the effort was a law school professor, Edmund Morgan – who had spent World War I in uniform, working for Ansell in the office of the Judge Advocate General.
Injustice led to justice. Your legal rights before the military justice system today – including your right to a trial that isn’t tainted by unlawful command influence, your right to be represented by a lawyer, and your right to appeal serious convictions to real military appellate courts – were born in a field outside Houston in 1917. Arguing over the death of soldiers, Samuel Ansell and the generation of army lawyers who served alongside him began to make military justice a far better system for everyone who followed. They were patriots who served their country with honor and left it a better place.
Chris Bray is the author of “Court-Martial: How Military Justice Has Shaped America from the Revolution to 9/11 and Beyond,” published last month by W.W. Norton.
The Army is pursuing a new variant of the Stryker wheeled armored fighting vehicle, the Stryker Initial Maneuver Short-Range Air-Defense system, or Stryker IM-SHORAD. As the name implies, this vehicle will specialize in knocking nearby airborne targets out of the sky — but it’s not exclusively a threat to drones, helicopters, and tactical jets. Tanks and armored vehicles will need to watch their step, too.
According to reports, this vehicle is going to pack a lot of firepower options. At the heart of the Stryker IM-SHORAD is the Reconfigurable Integrated-weapons Platform from Moog — a versatile turret that can be configured to support a wide range of weapons options.
The loadout that the Army has selected will feature a 30mm M230 chain gun (similar to that on the AH-64 Apache), a M240 7.62mm machine gun, four FIM-92 Stinger surface-to-air missiles, and a pair of AGM-114 Hellfire missiles. What this means, in short, is that just about any main battle tank or armored vehicle can be killed by Stryker IM-SHORAD.
This configuration of the Reconfigurable Integrated Weapons platform packs a M230 chain gun, a M240 machine gun, and the BGM-71 TOW.
The Army is reportedly planning on buying four battalions’ worth of these vehicles — a grand total of 144 — by 2022. That distills down to 36 vehicles per battalion — yeah, that number seems a little low to us, too. The fact of the matter is, in a potential fight with a peer competitor (like Russia or China), the Army will need some sort of air defense alongside maneuver units on the ground. This would not be the first vehicle the Army has tested with both anti-air and anti-tank capability. The Air Defense Anti-Tank System, or ADATS, was developed but never purchased by the Army.
The ADATS system was tested by the Army in the 1980s.
This may not be the only setup the Army goes with for the short-range air-defense mission. The Army is looking to adopt new, innovative weapons systems (these could range from electronic warfare to lasers weaponry) by as early as 2023.
Only time will tell if these futuristic weapon options make the Stryker IM-SHORADs look like a primitive solution.
Stairs workouts are among the quickest, most accessible, and straightforward ways to get in shape, fast. No, you don’t need a gym’s stair climber to do them. Find some stairs, run, jump, and step up them, come down, and repeat — that’s all it takes to burn a ton of calories, and, if you keep it up, lose weight. It’s an effective workout for a number of reasons: For one, it’s a heart rate exercise that’s equivalent to a sprint-style running session. Second, stair work adds up. Research has shown that taking just 200 steps a day, five days a week for 8 weeks, can improve cardio fitness by almost 20 percent. An added bonus: it’s a leg day workout that puts a minimal impact on your joints.
The biggest downside to stair workouts is that they get, well, boring. The workout below aims to solve this. It features 10 moves to shake it up and is intended to be a 20-minute sweat session. The faster you do each sequence, the higher your heart rate and the more calories you will burn. But it’s more important to practice good form than it is to be fast: Keeping your back straight, shoulders back, and knees over toes as you climb will build strength in the right muscles so you’ll be stronger the next time you tackle a stairs routine.
1. Step ups
Stand at the base of the staircase. Raise your right leg and place your right foot one the second step (skipping the first step). Push off the floor with your left foot and shift your weight onto your right as you step up. Swing your left leg in front of you, bending your left knee, while swinging your right arm forward for counter balance. Step back down to start position. Perform 10 step-ups with your right leg, then switch sides. Do 3 sets total.
Stand at the base of the staircase. Bend your knees and swing arms behind you, then swing them forward as spring off the ground and propel yourself onto the second step. Land on both feet. Jump back down using both feet. Do 10 jumps x 2 sets.
3. Fast feet
Starting at the base of the staircase, sprint to the top as fast as you can, moving your feet rapidly like a football drill. Do the equivalent of 5 flights of stairs. That means if you only have a single flight to work with, you’ll sprint to the top, sprint back down, and repeat 5 times.
4. Triceps dips
Sit on the second step, knees bent, keeping feet on the floor below the stairs. Place hands at either side of your hips on the edge of the second step, palms facing forward. (Note: If you are tall, sit on the third step instead.) Slide your hips forward until your butt is off the step, using your arms to support your weight. Bend and straighten your arms, feeling the burn in your triceps. Do 10 reps, 3 sets.
5. Incline lunges
Stand at the base of the staircase. Work your way to the top taking three steps at a time. Pause in the lunge position between each step, allowing maximum load on your front quad with every step. Do the equivalent of 5 flights of stairs, jogging back down to the start and repeating if you only have one flight to work with.
Stand perpendicular to the staircase, right hip closest to the stairs. Bend right knee and step up onto the first step, bringing your left leg with you. Quickly step up onto the second step. Work your way to the top using your right side to propel you. At the top of the flight, work your way back down using your right side to lead you again. At the bottom, reverse and jog sideways up the stairs using your left side to lead the way. Jog back down left-side first. That’s one set. Repeat 3 times.
7. Incline clapping push-ups
Stand at the base of the staircase. Place hands on the third step, arms straight. Keeping your back straight and in line with your legs, bend elbows and lower chest to the stairs. Hold for a second, then explosively push off the stairs and clap your hands together before landing in the extended push up position. Do 10 reps, 3 sets.
8. Backwards jog
Stand with your back to the base of the staircase. Using caution, walk up the stairs backward, engaging your glutes and hamstrings with every step. Note: This moves requires a bit of balance and coordination (more than you might think!). Use the side wall for support with one hand if needed. For those more advanced, try this exercise at a slow-jog pace. Complete the equivalent of 5 flights of stairs.
Stand at the base of the staircase. Shift weight onto your right leg, lifting left foot off the floor. Bend right knee, swing arms behind you, then swing them forward as you push off the floor and jump onto the first step with the right leg. Hop back down, keeping left foot off the floor. Complete 10 jumps on right side, then switch legs. (Note: Use side wall for balance as needed.) Do 2 sets total.
10. Decline push-ups
Squat facing away from the stairs and the base of the staircase. Place your hands on the floor in front of you and shift your weight forward so your arms arm supporting your body. Keeping hands on the floor, walk your feet backwards up the stairs behind you until they are on a step that allows you to create a straight line from your extended arms to your toes (probably the third step). Keeping your back and legs straight, bend your elbows and do a push up. Note: Decline push ups are hard and it’s normal that you can’t go as deep as you would on a flat surface.) Do 10 reps, 2 sets.
This article originally appeared on Fatherly. Follow @FatherlyHQ on Twitter.
Captain Wild Bill Wichrowski of the Cape Caution. Photo courtesy of Discovery.
Capt. Wild Bill Wichrowski’s year started tragically.
A Navy veteran, Wichrowski is one of the captains on “Deadliest Catch,” a Discovery Channel series about Alaska’s crab industry. He was close friends with two of the five men who died when the Scandies Rose, a 130-foot crab boat, went down in icy, turbulent conditions in the Gulf of Alaska on New Year’s Eve. Two crew members survived.
The Coast Guard’s 20-hour search for survivors will be featured on “Deadliest Catch” at 8 p.m. Tuesday (Eastern time).
“It’s hard to drum all this up again, really,” Wichrowski said. “You lose friends. You lose family. And the part that sticks is that any time, it could be you.”
Captain Wild Bill Wichrowski is in the wheelhouse at the helm of the Summer Bay.
The episode of the long-running reality series follows the Coast Guard’s role from the time it received a distress call until the search, which covered 1,400 square miles, was suspended.
Although Wichrowski was not in contact directly with the Coast Guard during that time, he followed the rescue mission’s progress closely.
“They’re our lifeline,” Wichrowski said. “Some of the stuff they do with the helicopters and the C-130s and the ships and the hard-bottom inflatables [boats] is truly amazing. The Coast Guard’s our last chance for survival when we’re having trouble.”
The investigation into the Scandies Rose disaster is ongoing and could last “many months,” said Scott McCann, the Coast Guard’s public affairs officer for the 17th District.
Captain Wild Bill Wichrowski stands proudly on deck of his boat.
Wichrowski’s own ties to the military began early.
His father, Charles Thomas Wichrowski, was a drill instructor at Parris Island in South Carolina during the Korean War. The youngest of three brothers, Wichrowski said he did not always appreciate his strict upbringing in Pennsylvania.
“I probably didn’t really like [my father] that much at the time, but he was training me to be a leader from Day One,” Wichrowski said. “In his eyes, there was only one place to be, and that was in charge.”
Wichrowski’s tour in the Navy happened almost by accident.
Before he wrecked his father’s new car on homecoming night, he had planned to go to school and study business administration. The cost of the repairs, along with other financial constraints in his family, prompted Wichrowski to enlist in 1975.
Armed with a love of the ocean, he headed West. He served as an electrician’s mate at naval stations in California, Idaho and Washington State.
Wichrowski enjoyed the camaraderie and travel in the military and proved to be invaluable in stressful situations. He recalled one time a typhoon in Taiwan knocked out a generator. Wichrowski ran to the other end of the tossed ship on a wall, hurdling people along the way, to work on it.
On another occasion in San Diego, Wichrowski was about to go on liberty when a transformer caught fire. He was not on duty, but he restored the power anyway, then left suddenly to meet his girlfriend before other potential issues arose.
“When I got back, the XO [executive officer] on the bridge, he had seen the whole thing,” Wichrowski said. “And I’m thinking, ‘Oh, I’m going to get my butt reamed.’ But he said he was pretty amazed about how quickly I reacted.”
Wichrowski said the bonds of boat crews are similar to those in the military. Photo courtesy of Discovery.
Wichrowski, who served for four years, said what he learned in the Navy resonates today.
“It’s the whole reason why I’m successful,” he said.
The bonds formed among boat crews are not unlike those developed in the military. That’s why the sinking of the Scandies Rose hit Wichrowski hard. He knew the boat’s captain, Gary Cobban Jr., and engineer, Art Gacanias, well, but thankfully the loss of life was not worse.
Landon Cheney, Wichrowski’s No. 2 man on the Summer Bay, used to work on the Scandies Rose and considered returning before it sank.
“I’m pretty certain that if he was on board, he wouldn’t have made it,” Wichrowski said.
As painful as the loss of the Scandies Rose remains, Wichrowski intends to watch Tuesday night.
“I hope to,” he said. “… It should never be forgotten, but it’s still tough to review over and over.”
This is a Hollywood military fail. Jake Lacy and the costume designer from 2015’s “Love the Coopers”should put out a YouTube video where a drill instructor smokes both of them for the popped collar he wears the whole time.
4. The cast of Enlisted (minus Keith David)
Look at this. Look at this. Keith David is military movie royalty (“Platoon,” hello?), so it’s little surprise that he knows how to wear an Army uniform. But if he were really the sergeant major he was supposed to be, this photo would feature him tearing new a**holes into the other four for the thousands of problems here.
5. Amber Rose
Shitty job rolling those BDU sleeves, but at least she tried to crease them. Nails probably not reg, but the only person who would really care is Kanye West.
6. Jeremy Renner
Jeremy Renner has ruined everything from “The Avengers” to Jason Bourne, and here he is ruining the Army Combat Uniform. Forget for a moment that the ACU didn’t exist when “The Hurt Locker”was supposed to be taking place (realism!), ACU sleeves are rolled approximately never and if they were, they sure as hell wouldn’t have the sea service roll. Also, unless he runs into a fight backwards, pretty sure that U.S. flag is as ass backward as that movie.
7. Samuel L. Jackson
It’s easy to make fun of “Basic.” The most prominent reason is because of Samuel L. Jackson’s standard-issue cape. A goddam cape. There is no better example of what a civilian thinks the military would wear than giving someone a cape. The worst (best?) part of “Basic” is that it implies basic training, the one place where we all learned this.
8. Shia LeBeouf
Ah yes, America’s most famous Valor Thief. The backpack is actually common among civilians, but you’d be hard pressed to find someone wearing it with ACU pants. And even harder pressed to find someone wearing that combo bloused with Desert Combat Boots.
9. Steven Seagal
Watching this salute is almost as awkward as watching Seagal run.
10. Jessica Simpson
WATM’s Logan Nye says the collar is only authorized to be worn this way when a soldier is wearing body armor, but even then it makes you look like an a**hole. The fact that everyone in the unit is wearing it up makes the commander look like an a**hole.
Also, that hair is not authorized in uniform.
11. Channing Tatum
To the untrained (or Air Force) eye, Army uniforms always look like a random mishmash of metal and ribbon. Tatum is mostly okay but needs to decide if he’s infantry or special forces.
As the successor to the Soviet Army, the Russian Ground Forces inherited vast stocks of small arms to arm and equip a much smaller ground force. Stored in arsenals across eleven time zones were large numbers of sidearms for officers, vehicle crews, and political commissars alike. These pistols, as well as new designs, arm today’s Russian army, providing both a weapon for self-defense and a badge of authority for those wielding them.
One of the earliest Soviet Army issue handguns was the Tokarev or “TT” automatic pistol. (Note that in this context the term “automatic” refers to the loading process, not the firing process. Users of so-called “automatic” pistols must still pull the trigger for every shot fired.) Outwardly the Tokarev was utilitarian and unattractive—in other words, fitting very much into the Soviet military aesthetic. Like most Soviet weapons it was dead simple to use and reliable, though its lack of a safety required vigilance against an accidental discharge.
The Tokarev weighed 1.86 pounds loaded and took a magazine of eight M30 7.62mm pistol cartridges. Internally it borrowed elements from John Moses Browning’s pistol designs, including the 1911, using a swinging link to unlock the barrel from the slide on recoil. Most Tokarevs can even fire 7.63mm Mauser used by submachine guns and the famous “broomhandle” Mauser pistol—after all Soviet engineers had designed M30 based on the Mauser cartridge.
The Tokarev was produced by the Tul’skiy Oruzheynyi Zavod, Tula factory, which is where the “TT” nickname came from. Production in the Soviet Union ceased in 1952, but not before an estimated 1.7 million Tokarevs were manufactured. Variants were made, licensed or not, in Hungary, Poland, Yugoslavia, China and North Korea.
The next Soviet handgun also took inspiration from abroad. The Pistolet Makarova (PM) was a Soviet copy of the German Walther PP (Polizeipistole, or Police Pistol), one of many handguns issued by the German army in World War II. The Makarov, as it was informally known, was a copy of the PP/K series using fewer parts to simplify the manufacturing process. The result is a pistol that resembles a less attractive version of James Bond’s famous Walther PPK. The Makarov was adopted in December 1951, just as Tokarev was winding down.
The Makarov was both more compact and lighter than the Tokarev, with a shorter barrel. The pistol was chambered for the Soviet 9mm pistol round, a local design whose chief advantage seemed to be to prevent the Makarov from using foreign ammunition. The Soviet round is believed to have been developed from a German round, the 9mm Ultra, and is power-wise is fairly anemic by service pistol standards, somewhere between the 9mm Parabellum and the .380 ACP. Like its predecessor the Makarov carried eight rounds in the magazine.
Like all Soviet small arms, the Makarov was distributed far and wide beyond the Soviet Union, to client states and revolutionaries worldwide. Armies from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe used and still use the Makarov, and American troops have encountered the pistol in Afghanistan, Grenada, Laos, Iraq, North Vietnam and Syria. The Makarov also armed Soviet vehicle crews stationed in Eastern Europe during the Cold War, and would have rolled west with the Soviet Army and the Warsaw Pact if the war had ever turned “hot.” In 1990 the PMM, a newer version that featured a 33 percent larger magazine was introduced.
In the 1990s, Russian weapons designer Vladimir Yarygin introduced his Pistolet Yarygina or “PYa” pistol. Known as the MP-443 Grach, or “Rook” in Russian army service, PYa is a mixture of old and new designs. Like the TT, the new handgun is all steel and uses an internal mechanism reliant derived from John Browning’s Browning Hi-Power pistol. The pistol uses a modern “double action” design, which means that a single, long trigger pull will both cock the hammer and fire a round. It can also function as a single action pistol, with both hammer cocking and trigger pulling separate actions. Unlike the TT, the pistol accepts 9mm Parabellum cartridges, the standard 9mm cartridge in use worldwide.
Unlike the safety-less TT, the PYa both an external safety that locks the slide—another John Browning innovation—and a second, internal safety that prevents the firing pin from falling forward without the trigger being pulled. Like most modern “double stack” pistols, the PYa’s magazine holds eighteen rounds, more than twice as many rounds as its predecessors.
Although the PYa is more modern than previous Soviet/Russian designs, the current configuration lacks more recent features in Western pistols, including an under barrel rail for attaching lasers and flashlights, a loaded chamber indicator, and a decocker that uncocks the firing pin. First introduced into Russian Armed Forces use 2003, introduction of the PYa has been slow due to the large number of PM/PMM pistols already in use.
Russia’s service handguns are simple, rugged and reliable, made to be built—and used—in wartime. While they may lack the amenities found in many modern American pistols, such as the U.S. Army’s new M17 Modular Handgun System, an emphasis on functionality means they will get the job done under extreme conditions.