In episode five of season eight of “Game of Thrones,” countless civilians were burned alive in dragon fire as the city of King’s Landing was “liberated” by Daenerys Targaryen from the tyrannical ruler Cersei Lannister.
Prior to the devastating attack, Daenerys’ advisers pleaded with her to spare civilian lives and she responded that a destructive show of force will actually be an act of “mercy” by sparing future generations from the oppression of Cersei.
Instead, Daenerys indiscriminately rained fire down upon helpless men, women, and children, even after it was clear victory was at hand. As the fleeing civilians died, they left only their charred bodies to line the streets in an ashen city.
A lot of people think the horrific genocide is a metaphor for US foreign policy, in the sense that an ostensibly benevolent and powerful leader justified the killing of thousands of innocents in the name of what she claimed was the greater good.
Many people took to social media and drew parallels between US foreign policy — and particularly the US invasion of Iraq under former President George W. Bush — and Daenerys’ unilateral attack:
Since the US launched the so-called “war on terror” following the terror attacks on September 11, 2001, over 480,000 people have been killed by direct war violence in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan — including at least 244,000 civilians, according to the Watson Institute’s Cost of War project at Brown University.
Many experts, including those behind the Costs of War project, have contended the US could’ve pursued non-military options to pursue those responsible for 9/11 and spared many lives in the process.
The US military is still present in Afghanistan and Iraq, and continues to conduct air strikes and drone strikes in many places as part of its global war on terror, among other military operations. In the fight against the Islamic State group, or ISIS, the US has killed thousands of civilians in Syria and Iraq. Recent reporting also suggests the US has killed civilians with strikes in Somalia.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
The Air Force Academy graduated 989 newly-minted Air Force officers in 2019. As part of their graduation, each cadet gets his or her own pinning-on of their new rank, often done by the new officer’s loved ones. One cadet had the oath of a new military member given by an old former airman who was flying when the Air Force was still called the Army Air Corps.
(U.S. Air Force Academy photo)
Newly-commissioned 2nd Lt. Joseph Kloc had his new rank pinned on by his mother and father in May 2019. Among the other family members who made the trek to Colorado Springs was the young man’s 101-year-old grandfather, Walter Kloc. The elder Kloc was an Air Corps bombardier officer who served in World War II. It was Maj. Walter Klock who delivered his grandson’s oath, commissioning him into the U.S. Air Force.
According to Kloc’s wife Virginia, Walter was incredibly excited to go, give the oath and then deliver some words of wisdom to his grandson.
Before delivering the oath, Walter was greeted with a standing ovation by the assembled crowd. He delivered the oath in his old uniform and then watched on as his son pinned the younger Kloc’s rank on his epaulets. The moment was an emotional one for everyone involved.
“I’m so excited for him,” 2nd Lt. Joseph Kloc’s father William Kloc told WGRZ before their trip to Colorado. “He’s fulfilling his dream and he was so excited that his grandfather, a World War II Air Force bombardier pilot, could come and commission him.”
One of the most intimidating standard-issue weapon fielded to troops is, without a doubt, the flamethrower. Yes, bullets are intimidating, but nothing shocks and terrifies the primitive side of our human brains like a wave of fire surging toward you.
In contemporary warfare, the use of flamethrowers has tapered off in favor of more accurate weapons. Contrary to popular belief, they are not outlawed by the Geneva Convention — they just can’t be used anywhere near civilians. The most notable modern example of a flamethrower being used against another person was in 2014, when it was used as an execution tool by North Korea against its Deputy Minister of Public Safety.
The flamethrower, as we know it, was first created by Germany in 1901 and was known as the flammenwerfer. The flamethrower would find immense popularity among troops in the trenches of WWI, the all-out war of WWII, and the forests and jungles of the Korean and Vietnam Wars.
However, the ancestor of what we call the “flamethrower” today got its start early in history with the Byzantine Empire. In 672, Crusader navies would spew a napalm-like substance, called “Greek Fire,” on their enemies. The actual composition of Greek Fire was a closely guarded secret that is now lost to time, but scholars generally agree that pine resin was used to make it sticky.
As technology evolved, Greek Fire was then launched out through a hand siphon that a troop could carry into battle. This was called a “cheirosiphon.” Crusaders would station a hand siphon atop a ladder or wall and spray the Greek Fire down, raining chaos onto their enemy.
In the East, China invented their own version in 919, during a time known as the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms period. The Pen Huo Qi worked nearly identically to the Crusaders’ flamethower, but it was more elaborate and was made to resemble metal dragons breathing fire.
Outside of the Crusaders, Vikings may have also created their own version of Greek Fire in 1041 (albeit with a different name) after they laid siege on Constantinople. The Saga of Yngvar the Traveler tells the story of a man (Ingvar) as he learns the art of flame-throwing — because apparently regular vikings weren’t terrifying enough.
When guns and gunpowder became the dominant weapon on the battlefield, the comparatively short range of flamethrowers made it less appealing — but it wasn’t ever forgotten. Threats of using Greek Fire even persisted through the American Civil War.
The Army has a new non-lethal weapon to help soldiers in Afghanistan “irritate and deter” potential adversaries with pepper-filled balls, Army Times reports.
The non-lethal launcher, known as the Variable Kinetic System (VKS), is made by PepperBall Technologies. It fires projectiles much like paintballs containing a hot pepper solution.
“We are truly honored the US Army has selected PepperBall’s VKS to use as its non-lethal protection in its mission to defending the United States,” Ron Johnson, CEO of United Tactical Systems, which owns PepperBall, said in a statement.
“Our VKS platform was the only non-lethal source that was capable of complying to the US Army’s standards,” Johnson added.
The projectiles have a range of around 50 yards and leave a “debilitating cloud,” impacting the eyes, nose and respiratory system. The irritant, which is 5% pelargonic acid vanillylamide (PAVA) and a synthetic version of pepper spray, is released when the projectile makes contact.
The weapon is built like a paintball gun and can carry up to 180 rounds when it’s in “hopper mode” and 10 or 15 rounds when it’s in “magazine mode.”
The Army awarded a $650,000 contract for the weapons, which reportedly have the same controls and ergonomics of the M4/M16 weapons system, which many soldiers already carry. In other words, it will not be tough for most soldiers to transition into using these non-lethal launchers.
In total, the Army reportedly purchased 267 of the weapons, which are currently being used in training.
Weapons like this can help soldiers in high-intensity, urban settings and especially during crowd control situations.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
We love our military officers. Let’s put that out there right now before the light, verbal hazing commences.
Once an officer is fresh out of training, we call them a ‘boot,’ which is military for being a brand new guy or gal in the service. Depending on what branch or unit you’re in, the timeline for being a boot can last a year — or until you complete a combat deployment.
In any case, the training officer candidates undergo can be quite difficult, but it can be even harder to earn the respect of the men and women who will serve under them. Earning a college degree and getting commissioned is easy compared to earning the respect of your entire unit through service.
Earning respect starts with choosing your words and how you carry yourself carefully. Here are a few words boot officers should not say for a long, long time — if ever.
Since President Donald Trump assumed office, there has been an intense focus on North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. But eight other countries, including the US, have stockpiled nuclear weapons for decades.
A few years after the US dropped atomic bombs on Japan during World War II — the only time nuclear weapons have been used in combat — Russia began developing its own nuclear capabilities. The United Kingdom, France, and China followed soon thereafter.
By the 1960s, it was becoming apparent that a future in which dozens of countries build and test nuclear weapons would not be safe for the world. This led to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty of 1968, which was designed to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and nuclear technology. A handful of countries, including Israel and North Korea, have not signed on to the agreement.
The treaty has been largely successful. But the potential use of nuclear weapons between hostile nations continues to threaten international peace.
Here’s how many nuclear weapons exist and which countries have them, according to a report from the Federation of American Scientists:
9. North Korea: 60
For years, the US tried to negotiate with North Korea to curb its nuclear weapons program. The Agreed Framework, signed in 1994 under President Bill Clinton, ultimately failed. North Korea was cheating.
In 2003, Pyongyang officially withdrew from the NPT. Three years later, the country conducted its first nuclear test. North Korea has since continued building weapons, despite efforts by Presidents George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and now Donald Trump to slow its progress.
Today, North Korea most likely has up to 60 nuclear weapons, though that number is an estimate.
8. Israel: 80
Israel’s government will neither officially confirm nor deny it has nuclear weapons. But it’s an open secret that the Middle Eastern country has been building nuclear weapons for decades.
In 1986, Mordechai Vanunu, a former nuclear technician and whistle-blower, revealed the existence of Israel’s program.
Western allies, like the US and the UK, have supported Israel’s policy of keeping its program “secret.”
The Guardian reported that in 2009, when a reporter asked US President Barack Obama whether he knew of any country in the Middle East with nuclear weapons, “he dodged the trapdoor by saying only that he did not wish to ‘speculate.'”
7. India: 130
To put it mildly, India has a hostile relationship with its neighbor Pakistan. That tension is compounded by the fact that both countries possess nuclear weapons. For nearly two decades, however, the two nations have avoided any escalating nuclear conflict.
In 2003, India, which is not a party to the NPT, declared a no-use-first policy, meaning it vowed to never use nuclear weapons in combat unless first attacked by another country with nuclear weapons. China maintains a similar policy.
India first began developing nuclear weapons in an attempt to counter Chinese aggression in the 1960s. It has since tested multiple nuclear devices, which caused the US to impose, then later lift, various sanctions.
6. Pakistan: 140
Contrary to India’s no-first-use policy, Pakistan has not ruled out first-attack use of nuclear weapons.
The 1971 Indo-Pakistani War and the threat of India’s burgeoning nuclear weapons capabilities prompted Pakistan to start a nuclear program of its own.
In 2014, Pakistan began developing tactical nuclear weapons, which are smaller warheads built for use on battlefields rather than against cities or infrastructure. These weapons are small enough to launch from warships or submarines, which makes them easier to use on short notice than traditional nuclear weapons.
Pakistan is also reportedly nearing completion of its nuclear triad, which would give the country the ability to launch nuclear missiles from the land, air, and sea.
5. United Kingdom: 215
Like all other nuclearized countries, the UK argues that it needs nuclear weapons largely for defense purposes.
Its nuclear weapons deterrent is called Trident and consists of four Vanguard-class submarines that can carry up to 16 Trident II D5 ballistic missiles, each armed with up to eight nuclear warheads, The Telegraph reported.
From 2010 to 2015, the UK cut the number of its operational warheads by 40, to 120. It continues to work on nuclear reduction while maintaining its advocacy for minimum nuclear force — just the right amount of force to inflict devastation and achieve combat goals.
4. China: 270
Lieutenant General Ding Laihang. Photo from South China Morning Post.
China’s first nuclear weapons test took place in 1964. Like India, Beijing maintains a no-use-first nuclear policy, but some in the international community are skeptical of its intentions.
Beijing keeps its nuclear weapons count secret, so it’s impossible to determine exactly how many the country has. While the East Asian superpower is a member of the NPT, its increasingly ambitious military ventures have been a cause of concern for some countries.
Next year, for example, China plans to unveil its next-generation intercontinental ballistic missile, which will be able to strike anywhere in the world and carry up to 10 nuclear warheads. In 2016, similar long-range nuclear missiles capable of striking Guam, a US territory, were revealed, sending shockwaves through the American defense establishment.
3. France: 300
France began developing nuclear weapons during the Cold War, when President Charles de Gaulle believed it needed defense capabilities independent of the US and NATO. De Gaulle feared that neither would come to France’s defense in the event of an attack by the Soviet Union or some other enemy.
While France possesses the third-largest nuclear weapons stockpile in the world, it claims it has no chemical or biological warfare weapons. It is a member of the NPT.
In 2008, French President Nicolas Sarkozy reaffirmed that the country’s nuclear weapons were not “targeted at anybody.” Rather, they were part of a “life-insurance policy.” Sarkozy also announced a nuclear weapons reduction, cutting its stockpile to “half the maximum number of warheads [France] had during the Cold War.
2. United States: 6,800
The US ushered in the nuclear era under President Franklin Roosevelt in 1942 when the military launched the Manhattan Project, which led to the world’s first nuclear bomb detonation.
During World War II, the US forever changed the way the world would look at nuclear technology after dropping bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan, instantly killing tens of thousands of civilians.
The US is a member of the NPT but has refused to sign on to a no-first-use policy.
Earlier this year, former Vice President Joe Biden doubled down on major investments to boost America’s nuclear capabilities.
“So long as other countries possess nuclear weapons that could be used against us, we too must maintain a safe, secure, and effective nuclear arsenal to deter attacks against ourselves and our allies,” Biden said. “That is why … we increased funding to maintain our arsenal and modernize our nuclear infrastructure.”
Quartz reported that the US would spend approximately $400 billion over a 10-year period to maintain and modernize its arsenal. Another purpose of this investment is to keep pace with Russia’s growing arsenal.
Trump has echoed Obama’s calls for a revamping of the US arsenal.
“I want modernization and total rehabilitation,” the president said. After calling for an increase in the US stockpile on the campaign trail, he said in October 2017 that would be “totally unnecessary.”
1. Russia: 7,000
The former Soviet Union began work on its nuclear weapons program in the 1940s after hearing reports of the US Manhattan Project.
After the Soviet-US arms race during the Cold War, nuclear weapons stored in former Soviet states were returned to Russia, where many were dismantled. But Russia still maintained a vast stockpile of weapons.
Today, Russia appears to be investing in nuclear weapons modernization — much like the US — and growing its arsenal. Last year, President Barack Obama criticized such efforts as impediments to global nuclear disarmament.
“Because of the vision that he’s been pursuing of emphasizing military might,” Obama said, referring to Russian President Vladimir Putin, “we have not seen the type of progress that I would have hoped for with Russia.”
In October, Putin said he wanted to help reduce the world’s nuclear arsenal and “will be striving to achieve that,” but he added that Russia would continue to develop its program so long as other countries continue doing so.
While Russia has the most nuclear weapons of any country, that doesn’t necessarily mean they are the most powerful.
“Russia built nuclear weapons that are incremental improvements,” or weapons that would need updating every decade or so, Jeffrey Lewis, the founding publisher of Arms Control Wonk, told Business Insider.
On the other hand, Lewis said: “US nukes are like Ferraris: beautiful, intricate, and designed for high performance. Experts have said the plutonium pits will last for 100s of years.” Indeed, the US’s stocks of Minuteman III ICBMS, despite their age, are “exquisite machinery, incredible things.”
“Russia’s nuclear weapons are newer, true, but they reflect the design philosophy that says ‘No reason to make it super fancy because we’ll just rebuild it in 10 years,'” Lewis added.
Osama bin Laden’s undated letter to the American people is one of 113 documents declassified by the Director of National Intelligence on Tuesday.
The letter, seized in the May 2, 2011, raid on bin Laden’s Abbottabad hideout, begins: “To the American people, peace be upon those who follow the righteous track.”
The document is part of a second batch translated and released by U.S. intelligence agencies.
The first set of papers was declassified in May 2015.
In the four-page letter, bin Laden writes:
The way for change and freeing yourselves from the pressure of lobbyists is not through the Republican or the Democratic parties, but through undertaking a great revolution for freedom … It does not only include improvement of your economic situation and ensure your security, but more importantly, helps him in making a rational decision to save humanity from the harmful [greenhouse] gases that threaten its destiny.
Marine Corps System Command today gave defense industry representatives a glimpse of the service’s new equipment wish list that includes lighter, more flexible body armor, more comfortable individual equipment and rifle barrels with built-in suppressors.
Col. Michael Manning, who oversees weapons and equipment programs for MCSC, told industry that Marine equipment is still not integrated as much as it could be.
It used to be that the Marine Corps selected weapons, accessories and equipment and just expected Marines to carry it, Manning told an audience at Modern Day Marine 2017.
“We said ‘you know what, if it adds 10 more pounds, so be it. Get over it,'” Manning said. “It’s time for all of you to help me stop getting over it. Ounces equal pounds, pounds equal pain.
“When you can throw it on top of an already 70- ton tank, then that is one thing. When you throw it on top of a 200 pound marine, it’s completely another.”
The U.S. Military has come a long way in the development of individual body armor in the past 20 years, Manning said.
“We have come a long way in the past five years, when it comes to technologies that can defeat multiple rounds,” he said.
But ceramic rifle plates have not changed that much, Manning said.
“We have dropped ounces off of everything we carry, but we haven’t dropped weight on ceramic plates,” Manning said. “There are other technologies out there. Maybe we don’t have to defeat threat whatever multiple times. Maybe it’s only a one or two hit in this caliber.”
Ceramic plates are also too rigid, Manning said.
“Our current plates — you can’t shape them; you can’t mold them to the individual Marine and we all know that,” Manning said. “Let’s get to the next step. Let’s figure out how to mold them.”
The Marine Corps also wants better knee and elbow pads, Manning said.
“The issue is not that we don’t have them out there; the issue is Marines won’t wear it if it’s not comfortable or it falls off or it’s a pain to get over top of everything they are already wearing,” Manning said.
“They fall off, they slide around, so we tear ourselves apart.”
Marines are also working on a Squad Common Optic.
“In the last 10 years we have done a lot of technology improvements, but what we haven’t done is merge all of those improvements into singular optics,” Manning said.
“So now we have infantry squads that are carrying multiple optics. We need to merge thermal, we need to merge I-squared, we need to merge all those technologies together” without adding extra weight.
The current technology for individual weapon suppressors also needs improving, Manning said, explaining that Marines need built-in suppressors.
“Get rid of the suppressor on the end of the barrel … so now when we have a 14.5 inch barrel or a 16 inch barrel, you just added four or five inches and I am right back to 20 inches,” Manning said.
“There are a couple out there now that integrate with the weapons themselves, that is really where we want to go.”
On June 29, 2019, Luis Alvarez, retired NYPD detective and proud military veteran, passed away from advanced-stage colorectal cancer as a result of his work at Ground Zero in New York following the 9/11 attacks. Just days before, he had testified in Congress alongside Daily Show host Jon Stewart in support of reauthorizing the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund. He was 53 years old.
His speech in Congress came after sixty-eight rounds of chemotherapy — and just before he was about to begin his sixty-ninth.
“I have been to many places in this world and done many things, but I can tell you that I did not want to be anywhere else but Ground Zero when I was there. We were part of showing the world that we would never back down from terrorism and that we would all work together. No races, no colors, no politics,” he said.
9/11 first responder Luis Alvarez gives emotional testimony
His family shared an official statement on his passing: “It is with peace and comfort, that the Alvarez family announce that Luis (Lou) Alvarez, our warrior, has gone home to our Good Lord in heaven today. Please remember his words, ‘Please take care of yourselves and each other.’ We told him at the end that he had won this battle by the many lives he had touched by sharing his three year battle. He was at peace with that, surrounded by family. Thank you for giving us this time we have had with him, it was a blessing!”
Thousands of 9/11 first responders were exposed to dangerous carcinogens in the dust and gases at Ground Zero, putting them at risk of multiple myeloma and other cancers. The Victim Compensation Fund (VCF) was created to “provide compensation for any individual (or a personal representative of a deceased individual) who suffered physical harm or was killed as a result of the terrorist-related aircraft crashes of Sept. 11, 2001 or the debris removal efforts that took place in the immediate aftermath of those crashes.
The original VCF operated from 2001-2004, then was extended in 2010 and again in 2015, allowing individuals to submit their claims until Dec. 18, 2020. On Feb. 15, 2019, it was determined that the funding would be insufficient to pay all the pending and projected claims, which is what brought Alvarez before Congress.
According to NBC New York, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has agreed to call a Senate vote on a bill that would ensure the VCF never runs out of money.
Fighter aces—those pilots responsible for taking down at least five other aircrafts—are almost as old as aviation itself. Since World War I, young men have been willing to risk death to earn glory and become “knights of the air” or the “cavalry of the clouds”. There have been thousands of pilots who achieved ace status, and many who have racked up far more than five downings. None, however, have ever managed the singular feat of becoming a fighter ace on both sides in the same war.
That is, none except one…
Pierre Le Gloan was from Brittany, born in the Breton town of Kergrist-Moelou on June 1, 1913. He joined the French Armee de l’Air in 1931 as soon as he was old enough to enlist. Before his death in 1943, he achieved ace status in both the French Air Force and under the collaborationist Vichy regime after the fall of France in 1940. With 18 kills to his name and France’s fourth-highest-scoring ace of World War II, he remains the only pilot in history to become an ace on both sides of the same conflict.
When war came he was flying a Morane-Saulnier MS.406. On November 23, 1939 he claimed his first kill, a Dornier DO.17 reconnaissance aircraft. Another DO.17 fell to his guns on March 2, 1940.
All pilots in Le Gloan’s squadron were then re-equipped with the newer and better Dewoitine D.520. Le Gloan lost no time in taking full advantage of the use of a better fighter. During the Battle of France in the summer of 1940 he had a hot streak. In June he shot down four German and Italian bombers: two Heinkel 111 planes and two Fiat BR.20 bombers.
It didn’t end there. The highlight of Le Gloan’s career was to come on June 15. His squadron met a squadron of Italian CR.42 fighters. Attacking with enthusiasm, he shot down no less than three of them. Encountering another CR.42 and a BR.20 on his way back to base, Le Gloan attacked and shot down both of them.
Taking down five aircraft in one day has seldom been achieved by even the highest-scoring fighter ace, and Le Gloan was justly rewarded. His five-kill streak brought him up to 11 kills, well above the five required for ace status. He was also promoted to 2nd Lieutenant to acknowledge his remarkable feat.
On June 20, his squadron was transferred to Algeria, then a French colony. With the fall of France and the installation of Marshal Petain’s Vichy puppet government, the French forces in North Africa were under Vichy command. To Le Gloan it made no difference. He’d flown, fought and killed for France. Now, he would do the same for Vichy.
His second fighting streak came in June and July of 1941. Fighting for Vichy and taking on Britain’s Royal Air Force, Le Gloan shot down five of the RAF’s Hurricane fighters, a Gloster Gladiator and another aircraft that remains unidentified. He’d taken down 11 for France and had added another seven for Vichy. At the war’s end only Jean Demozay (21 kills), Marcel Albert (23 and two probables) and Pierre Clostermann (33 kills) ranked higher among French aces. Le Gloan’s career would not, however, last much longer.
Neither would his life.
The Allies launched Operation Torch in November 1942. With Allied forces liberating North Africa and Field-Marhsal Montgomery’s famous ‘Desert Rats’ pushing westward after the victory at El Alamein, the Vichy regime’s days were numbered. So were Pierre Le Gloan’s.
Soon all former Vichy forces were siding with the Allies including Le Gloan’s fighter squadron. Reequipped in May 1943 with the American P-39 Airacobra, a new fighter might have given the newly promoted Capitaine Le Gloan another winning streak. Might have, if not for a design feature on the Airacobra that wasn’t on the Morane-Saulnier or the Dewoitine: an external fuel tank mounted under the belly meant to be jettisoned when empty or if about to enter a dogfight.
Le Gloan had never flown a fighter with a drop tank. Over the sea on a routine patrol on September 11, 1943 he began to experience mechanical problems. As the Airacobra was not the finest fighter ever built, this wasn’t unusual for pilots who had to fly them. Comparing the Airacobra to the legendary Supermarine Spitfire or P-51 Mustang was like comparing a rent-a-wreck with a Ferrari. With smoke streaming from his aircraft, Le Gloan decided to return to base and land, forgetting to jettison the drop tank. It was a fatal mistake.
Le Gloan, in severe mechanical difficulties, might have been safer bailing out than trying to land, even if he had remembered to jettison the extra tank. As it was, he attempted to land. It would have been a difficult landing at the best of times in a malfunctioning aircraft and, his mind on other things, Le Gloan forgot to drop the tank. As he touched the ground the undercarriage collapsed.
The drop tank, still full, ruptured instantly. As the Airacobra screeched along the runway, the mixture of aviation fuel and sparks caused the plane to erupt into a fireball. Pierre Le Gloan, 18-kill ace, only pilot ever to become an ace on both sides in the same war, was burned alive.
Today, his name is largely forgotten except to history buffs, aviation enthusiasts and the townsfolk of Kergrist-Moelou. Deciding to either forget or gloss over his having flown, fought, and killed in the service of Vichy, the residents of Le Gloan’s hometown named a street after him. Even so, as time passes, fewer people who use it remember either the man or his remarkable place in military history.
When we think of war heroes, what comes to mind is the vigilant soldier, coastie, airman, sailor, or Marine, dutifully keeping his/her post, always on guard. What we don’t realize is our four-legged friends – the ones we bring into war with us – can also be war heroes. In the new HBO documentary War Dog: A Soldier’s Best Friend, the voices of our canine warriors and their close relationship with their handlers is brought to the forefront.
It quickly becomes clear these dogs are not just dogs — they are trusted companions, soldiers, friends, and family to their human counterparts. The separation between animal and man is completely shattered because both souls face the same hardship, the same war. They also share the effects of those wars and the aftermath of traumatic situations.
Highlighted in the documentary are stories of three canine heroes — Layka, Mika, and Pepper — along with an intimate look into the lives of their handlers, who battle to be reunited with their canine partners after they come home from war.
Among the three stories is that of Army Ranger John Dixon and his canine partner Mika. We see the struggle that both of them experience when Dixon gets wounded in battle and then gets permanently separated from Mika. The heartbreak is real when Mika won’t even go back to work, due to the separation and traumatic events that occurred while her partner was injured.
It’s hard to watch, especially when such trauma, sadness, and real life stories are being conveyed. But these stories need to be told — not only for our human heroes but for our canine heroes who cannot speak for themselves. War Dog reveals the cost of war from a different angle while allowing an unfiltered look into the lives of our military personnel, both human and animal.
War Dog: A Soldier’s Best Friend is directed and produced by Deborah Scranton and executive produced by Channing Tatum. You can catch it on HBO, or HBO apps HBOGo and HBONow.
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.
(Feature cartoon: Delta’s Marinus Pope is grilled for missing his intended touch down point by a significantly wide margin East by Northeast [E/NE]. His reconnaissance brothers approached me about roasting him for all eternity in the Unit Cartoon Book; an ask I joyfully accepted.)
My Special Mission Unit did a lot of parachute training, almost exclusively jumping from very high altitudes pulling out our parachutes at low altitudes, a technique called High Altitude Low Opening (HALO) drops. The technique leverages the high altitude to help cover the presence of the delivery airframe, and the low opening to keep the view of parachutes in the sky at a minimum.
To this day, I have a clinical fear of heights. That kept me away from trying out for elite units for the longest time, but after two years in a regular infantry unit, I was heading to airborne with or even without a parachute.
A modification of the HALO drop is the High Altitude High Opening (HAHO). In this scenario, paratroops exit at ~18,000 feet and pull immediately. Now the troops are under a parachute at nearly 17,000 feet!
At that altitude, a parachutist can travel a staggering lateral distance, even as far as from one end of a state to the other. (A point of humor: in addition to the HALO and HAHO capability we invented a faux elitist group of jumpers called OSNO men; Outer Space No Opening)
Under such conditions a man will descend under (parachute) canopy for an extended period of time — upwards of nearly an hour — and as you might already imagine, the higher the altitude, the greater the propensity for navigational errors.
Once I had a canopy malfunction at 17,000 feet, causing me to lose position in the group formation and drift so far away from my Drop Zone (DZ), that one of our ground support crew had to jump in a truck and race to where I hit the ground to pick me up. My impact was many (MANY) miles off target. I recall free-falling over a near-solid cloud cover and watching my shadow race across the top of the cloud bank toward me at great speed until it met me just as I penetrated the cloud top. Just me and my shadow I say, though I did not know it at the time; I had never heard of or experienced the phenomenon, and rather thought it was another jumper on a collision course toward me. I braced the bejesus out of myself for impact.
Anyhoo… I came down in a cornfield, which was odd, in that there were no cornfields in the state that my jump aircraft took off from. A fine American patriot came screaming up in a really large, really old all-metal Impala:
“I seen ya coming’ down in that-there parachute. Me, I ain’t nevah see anything like it ’round this cornah of Nebraska!”
“Nebraska?!?” Yeah, that was not a good day; that wasn’t where I started from in Colorado.
Did I mention the time I collided with a fellow jumper at night at 24,000 feet? Yeah — pretty much hated it! It was already stressful enough, as we were all breathing pure oxygen through a pilot’s face mask since there was not sufficient breathable oxygen at that extreme altitude. In the collision, my oxygen supply valve had been shocked shut, leaving me with only the rarified atmospheric gas I could suck through the seal of my mask.
Drastic circumstances call for drastic measures, and I did what any other warrior would do — I passed out. Since I was not conscious, I don’t know exactly what happened in the next 16,000 feet or so, but I estimate that I fell flat and stable. When I was low enough for breath-worthy air, I came to, only to find a brother was falling right with me some three feet away staring me in the face intently, ready to pull my reserve for me if I failed to snap back to reality. A glance at my altimeter strenuously urged me to pull my ripcord immediately.
Another thing that happened during the time I was “away” from my fall, was that it had begun to lighten up on the horizon as the sun crept in. The aurora made it able for me to see the details of the men around me and the ground below. It all looked so so so much like a cartoon… but I had my sense about me and saved my own life; oh, but that doesn’t count for a medal.
More than 1500 service members have lost limbs in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001.
For those faced with this traumatic injury, the Department of Defense medical system has adapted in the last 20 years to speed up the recovery process and improve prosthetics.
“Our patients have challenged us by wanting more,” said Col. (Dr.) Mark Mavity, Air Force Surgeon General special assistant for Invisible Wounds and Wounded Warrior Program. “One of the unfortunate truths of war is that medicine does advance based on the large numbers of our service members who become injured.”
About 1.8 million Americans are living with amputations. The psychological challenges patients battle every day can be harsh. For most people, losing a limb profoundly impacts every aspect of their life: mentally, physically and spiritually. A strong support system can be vital to recovery and returning to duty.
Capts. Christy Wise and Ryan McGuire can attest to this. Both Wise, a C-130 pilot, and McGuire, a C-17 pilot, lost a limb and credited their support systems with helping them continuing their service and remain flying.
“In April of 2015, I was stationed at Moody Air Force Base, Georgia. I had been flying for a couple years and had just got back from a deployment,” Wise said. “I was in Florida … out on my paddle board, just behind my best friend’s house, and I was hit by a hit-and-run boat driver. My boyfriend at the time used his t-shirt and made a tourniquet to save my life.”
A couple on a fishing boat saw it all happen and transported Wise to medical care. She lost 70 percent of her blood in approximately three minutes.
Lucky to be alive, Wise said she thought about McGuire, who in 2009, while in pilot training at Laughlin AFB, Texas, lost his leg returned to flying C-17s. She remembered him because he was only a year ahead of her in pilot training.
It was Labor Day weekend when McGuire’s accident happened. He and some friends from pilot training were out tubing.
“There was no place to tie the tube into the boat, so we had the tube in the back of the boat, and I was holding the rope,” McGuire said. “The tube caught some air and flew out the back of the boat, and then the rope unraveled, cinched around my leg and pulled me out of the boat, slammed me into the side of the boat on the way out.”
McGuire said he flew over his friends’ heads and landed in the water. The rope then unraveled around his leg and caused traumatic rope-burn damage from his right knee down to his foot.
“I was able to get back into the back ledge of the boat that’s level with the water, and then the pain started setting in, I knew something was really wrong,” he said. “My pelvis had popped open, or fractured, and my hip had dislocated, so I was in an incredible amount of pain.”
After multiple attempts to save his foot and leg, doctors were forced to amputate below the knee.
“That was probably the lowest point of my life, just going through the amputation surgery, and losing my leg for something that seemed like it was so trivial, and not that big of an accident,” McGuire said.
Even at this low point, McGuire never doubted he wanted to return to flying. But for service members to return to duty after accidents such as these, they must be able to prove they can continue to function, while maintaining the safety of those they support.
McGuire’s unit and leadership backed the idea and began the process of returning him to duty.
“One of the things that I insisted on from the beginning, and all the commanders below me and above me insisted on, is if we’re going to do this, this isn’t a [publicity] stunt,” said Brig. Gen. Craig Wills, director of strategy, plans and programs for Pacific Air Forces.
Wills was the operations group commander at Laughlin AFB when the accident happened. He believes McGuire’s character, and the support he received, was the key to his recovery and return to duty.
“I think this story shows that we have great squadron commanders out there, and in my mind, the squadron commanders involved were the key to this thing,” he said. “Because they never stopped believing in [McGuire], they never stopped for one minute trying to think of a way to help this Airman succeed.”
One of the things McGuire had to prove was that he could stop the airplane with a prosthetic leg and that he could control it without any additional risk.
McGuire also appeared before a board. But even here he wasn’t alone. His squadron commanders and some classmates also flew to San Antonio to testify on his behalf.
“It was amazing for me as the group commander to just look around see all these gentlemen that were lining up to support Ryan,” Wills said.
In 2010, McGuire received word from the medical board that he was cleared to return to pilot training.
Now, several years later, Wise was in the back of an ambulance worrying about her Air Force career.
“I remember laying in the back of an ambulance thinking, ‘I can’t feel my leg, this is not good,'” Wise said. “But worst-case scenario, ‘Ryan did it, I can do it.'”
Wise’s injuries were so severe her leg had to be amputated above the knee.
But before she even left the hospital Wise said the support from her unit and other Airmen had already commenced. She even received phone calls from other amputees wanting to help.
“They would say, ‘Hey, when you’re ready to talk, I got back to flying, we’ll tell you the steps, you can do it, don’t doubt it,'” Wise said.
So, like McGuire, Wise put in the work and proved she could still fly.
“And now I’m here, I’m at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base [Arizona] back on flying status, back to my job and loving it,” she said.
McGuire’s injury may have paved the way for Wise to return to duty, but it is not what helped her regain her flying status.
“That’s when I realized how much support I really had from my unit, from the Air Force, from my family, from my friends,” she said. “I mean, half of my base showed up in the hospital room the next day in Florida. So it’s weird, because it’s such a dark chapter, but such a good chapter too.”