This week marked the 18th anniversary of the September 11th attacks and the beginning of the longest war in American history. Chances are, you’ve probably had the same conversation with your comrades, coworkers, friends, or whomever about where you were when you heard about the attacks.
Now that it’s been 18 years, that means that if you’re still in the military, you could now have that same conversation with a young private/airman/seaman and be greeted with the response of, “Oh, I wasn’t even born yet!”
Man — now I feel old when I tell people I was skipping some middle school class to play Pokemon on my Gameboy in the bathroom and came back to everyone watching the news. I can honestly say that I’ve never skipped class since that day.
Don’t worry. I get it. You’re now probably thinking about how old you are because you were doing something much more mature than I was seven years before I could enlist. Just wait for a few weeks when kids who were just sent off to Basic/Boot Camp on their 18th birthday graduate. There’s going to be some serious dog and pony shows for them and I bet it’ll be all over the news. Then you’ll really feel old!
Anyways, now that I’ve given you some existential dread about your own aging — here are some memes!
At only two times in American history have father-son pairs both earned Medals of Honor. One pair was based in the Civil War and then World War II combat, and the other pair in the Spanish-American War and World War I combat. All four would make their last names famous for generations to come.
Arthur MacArthur earned his fame rushing the Confederate defenses on Missionary Ridge.
(Images: Public domain; Graphic: WATM)
Arthur MacArthur receives the medal for actions in 1863
First Lt. Arthur MacArthur was only 18 and an adjutant in the 24th Wisconsin Infantry when the regiment was arrayed against stiff defenses on Missionary Ridge in Tennessee near the border with Georgia. The Confederates had used this position to harass and attack Union forces for some time, and it was the last great barrier to the invasion of Georgia.
But the Confederate forces had a line of rifle pits at the base of ridge and trenches and other defenses at the top. The Union attack was ordered against the ridge, and confused orders led to a successful melee in the pits, but then a sporadic and faltering attack up toward the trenches.
Gen. Douglas MacArthur returns to the Philippines in World War II.
Douglas MacArthur defends the Philippines until all is lost
Arthur would retire as a lieutenant general, but one of his sons would eclipse him in valor awards and rank. Douglas MacArthur was already a full general, and the recipient of seven Silver Stars and three Distinguished Service Crosses when Japan invaded the Philippines in December 1941.
It was quickly apparent that Japan would have the upper hand, but Douglas was at least as tenacious as his father. He had his men establish defensive line after defensive line, conducting a controlled withdrawal that soaked the ground in blood for every inch they gave up. Eventually, he was forced to pull back to the Bataan Peninsula, allowing his men to defend themselves in more mountainous terrain, but also cutting off further escape and giving up the cities.
Col. Theodore Roosevelt as the commander of the Rough Riders.
Teddy Roosevelt leads the Rough Riders up San Juan Hill
Assistant Secretary of the Navy Theodore Roosevelt campaigned hard for war with Spain, and when the U.S. declared that war in April 1898, he wasn’t about to leave the fighting to everyone else. But, he knew the war might be short and that he was not yet ready to command a regiment. So he agitated for the creation of the 1st U.S. Volunteer Cavalry Regiment, but he used his connections to be the second-ranking officer, not the commander.
He got his wish and was brought into the Volunteer Army as a lieutenant colonel and sent to Cuba, but only 8 of the 12 companies were able to get space on the ships, and none of their horses were brought over. Still, they performed well and, on July 1, 1898, were sent against the defenses on San Juan Hill at Santiago de Cuba. By this point, Roosevelt had been promoted to commander.
At left, Maj. Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., he would later serve in World War II as a brigadier general and earn the Medal of Honor.
(Library of Congress)
His son, Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., would never attain the presidency like his father did, but he would fight in World Wars I and II. He earned the Distinguished Service Cross and two Silver Stars in World War I, and then came back into service in World War II as an almost 60-year-old man. But still, he earned another two Silver Stars in combat in North Africa near one of his own sons (who also earned a Silver Star, there).
In the preparations for D-Day, he pushed repeatedly for permission to go ashore with the first wave, but his division commander kept denying it on the basis of the brigadier’s rank and age. So, Roosevelt, Jr., wrote to his distant cousin, then-President Franklin Roosevelt. Before the reply came back, the division commander finally relented and gave Roosevelt, Jr., permission, certain he would never see him again.
The 4th Infantry Division, like nearly everyone else that day, landed out of position, but they were lucky to have their deputy commanding general there to take charge. Roosevelt, Jr., personally led infantry waves into position under fire multiple times while walking with a cane. His re-making of the division landing plan was credited with keeping Omaha Beach open, and the commanding general gave his compliments when he landed with a later wave.
When author Robert B. Baer asked his boss at the CIA for the definition of assassination his boss replied, “It’s a bullet with a man’s name on it.” Baer wasn’t sure what that meant so he started to research the topic beyond what he already had experienced around it in his role at the CIA. The end of that process became his insightful and provocative new book, The Perfect Kill, in which he outlines 21 laws for assassins. Here are 11 of them:
Law #1: THE BASTARD HAS TO DESERVE IT
“The victim must be a dire threat to your existence, in effect giving you license to murder him. The act can never be about revenge, personal grievance, ownership, or status.”
Law #2: MAKE IT COUNT
“Power is the usurpation of power, and assassination its ultimate usurpation. The act is designed to alter the calculus of power in your favor. If it won’t, don’t do it.”
Law #5: ALWAYS HAVE A BACKUP FOR EVERYTHING
“Count on the most important pieces of a plan failing at exactly the wrong moment. Double up on everything — two set of eyes, two squeezes of the trigger, double-prime charges, two traitors in the enemy’s camp.”
Law # 7: RENT THE GUN, BUY THE BULLET
“Just as there are animals that let other animals do their killing for them — vultures and hyenas — employ a trusted proxy when one’s available.”
Law #8: VET YOUR PROXIES IN BLOOD
“Assassination is the most sophisticated and delicate form of warfare, only to be entrusted to the battle-hardened and those who’ve already made your enemy bleed.”
Law #9: DON’T SHOOT EVERYONE IN THE ROOM
“Exercise violence with vigilant precision and care. Grievances are incarnated in a man rather than in a tribe, nation, or civilization. Blindly and stupidly lashing out is the quickest way to forfeit power.”
Law #15: DON’T MISS
“It’s better not to try rather than to try and miss. A failed attempt gives the victim an aura of invincibility, augmenting his power while diminishing yours. Like any business, reputation is everything.”
Law #16: IF YOU CAN’T CONTROL THE KILL, CONTROL THE AFTERMATH
“A good, thorough cleanup is what really scares the shit out of people.”
Law #17: HE WHO LAUGHS LAST SHOOTS FIRST
“You’re the enemy within, which mean there’s never a moment they’re not trying to hunt you down to exterminate you. Hit before it’s too late.”
Law # 19: ALWAYS HAVE AN ENCORE IN YOUR POCKET
“Power is the ability to hurt something over and over again. One-offs get you nothing or less than nothing.”
Law #21: GET TO IT QUICKLY
“Don’t wait until the enemy is too deeply ensconced in power or too inured to violence before acting. He’ll easily shrug off the act and then come after you with a meat cleaver.”
For the rest of Robert B. Baer’s 21 laws for assassins, buy his amazing book here.
Technology wasn’t actually the method by which the military tried to create an army of super soldiers. It wasn’t a special armor or a Captain America-like serum either. No, like most harebrained schemes of the Cold War, the military tried to create a kind of “warrior monk soldier” with paranormal abilities that would take on the defense of the United States when technology could not.
The Army and the CIA, it turns out, could spend money on anything.
The Marines got the Warrior Monk anyway.
The First Earth Battalion was more than just a bunch of men staring at goats. The idea was derived from the human potential movement, a counterculture phenomenon of the 1960s which believed humans were not using their full mental and physical capacity in their lives and could thus be and do more when properly trained or motivated. After the end of the Vietnam War, the Army was ready to review how it fought wars and try an approach less focused on filling body bags.
When the Army sent word that it was seeking new ways of fighting and training its soldiers, it was bombarded with suggestions that seemed bogus but had some merit, like sleep learning and mental rehearsal. It was also offered some of the less down-to-earth ideas in American culture. It attempted to create an Army focused on unleashing the human potential locked within the bodies of its soldiers, unused.
Admit right now that unleashing an army of Tony Robbinses would be terrifying for the enemy.
So the U.S. military was divided over how to proceed. One side wanted to invest in developing weapons, technology, armor, and ways to train its soldiers. You know, Army stuff. The other side wanted to train soldiers to master extra-sensory perception, leaving their body at will to fight on the astral plane, levitation, psychic healing techniques, and the ability to walk through walls – they were asking for a “super soldier.”
Forget that there was no scientific evidence that this stuff actually worked. Or that the Army didn’t really ask if there was concrete evidence. And forget that the Army had no real plans to integrate these super soldiers into its order of battle against the Soviet Union when and if they did work. All they cared about were reports that the Soviets were seeking the same technology and powers, and the Americans wanted it too.
In Marvel Comics, the Soviet superhero is the “Red Guardian” and I really need him to fight the First Earth Battalion now, thanks.
To settle the matter, the Army researched a report on all things parapsychology, from remote viewing to psychokinesis. This comprehensive study took two years and was released at a whopping 425,000 pages by the National Research Council. Their findings? Spoiler Alert: the evidence in favor of nearly all of these techniques and powers were “scientifically unsupported.”
What they did find to work were things like mental rehearsals before physically performing a task. Still, the 0,000 allocated toward the potential research in 1981 was never spent and was still unspent seven years later.
Soviet propaganda poster which reads, “Our triumph in space is the hymn to Soviet country!”
In the decades since the fall of the Soviet Union, many Americans have taken to assuming that victory for the United States was assured. From our vantage point in the 21st century, we now know that the Soviet Union was, in many ways, a quagmire of oppression and economic infeasibility — but in the early days of mankind’s effort to reach the stars, it was the Soviets, not the Americans, who seemed destined for the top spot.
On October 4, 1957, it was the Soviet Union that first successfully placed a manmade object in orbit around the earth, with Sputnik. Less than a month later, the Soviets would capture another victory: Launching a stray dog named Laika into orbit. While the dog would die as it circled our planet, Laika’s mission seemed to prove (at least to some extent) that space travel was possible for living creatures. On September 14, 1959, the Soviet space probe Luna II would be the first manmade object to land on the moon, but the Soviet’s greatest victory was yet to come.
Soviet Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin (WikiMedia Commons)
When the Soviets were winning the Space Race
On April 12, 1961, the Soviet Union once again affirmed to the world that they were the global leader in space technology, launching cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin into orbit where he remained for 108 minutes before reentering the earth’s atmosphere.
To the Americans, these early victories in the Space Race were about far more than international prestige. Each victory for the Soviets not only represented a greater lead in securing “the ultimate high ground” for the Soviet military, they also served as proof of the validity of the Soviet Communist economic and political model — making the Soviet space program as much an ideological threat as it was a military one.
Despite assuming an underdog status in the early days of the Space Race, however, the U.S. leveraged its post-World War II industrial and economic might to begin closing the gap created by these early Soviet victories, launching their own satellite less than four months after Sputnik. America’s first astronaut in space, Alan Shepard, would follow behind the Soviet Gagarin by less than a month.
Buzz Aldrin on the moon (NASA)
America’s come-from-behind victory
By 1969, America’s technological prowess, coupled with a massive influx of spending, would secure victory for both the U.S. and, in the minds of many, its capitalist economic model. On July 20, 1969, two former fighter pilots, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, triumphantly landed on the moon.
Just like that, the Soviets went from leading the way in orbital space to lagging behind, and in the midst of an ongoing nuclear arms race, the Soviets saw this shift as a significant threat. Furthering their concern were reports of the American Manned Orbital Laboratory (MOL) program, which was intended as an early space station from which crews could conduct orbital surveillance, or even mount operations against Soviet orbital bodies.
In response to the MOL program, the Soviets poured funding into Almaz, which was an early space station design of their own. Hidden behind a public-facing civilian space station effort, the program called for a number of military-specific space stations in orbit around the earth, each capable of conducting its own high-altitude reconnaissance. Although the Americans canceled their MOL program in 1969, the Soviet effort continued, reaching even further beyond America’s canceled program with plans to equip these space stations with the world’s first ever cannon in space.
The Soviet Space Cannon: R-23M Kartech
The Soviets were not mistaken when they considered America’s MOL program a threat. In fact, within the corridors of the Pentagon, a number of plans and strategies were being explored that would enable the Americans to spy on, capture, or otherwise destroy Soviet satellites.
It was with this in mind that the Soviet Union decided they’d need to equip their space stations for more than just taking pictures of the earth below. Instead, they wanted to be sure their orbital habitats could fight whatever the Americans threw their way.
Line drawing of the Russian Almaz space station (NASA)
The decision was made to base this new secret space cannon on the 23-millimeter gun utilized by their supersonic bomber, the Tupolev Tu-22 Blinder. For its new purpose as the world’s first true space cannon, the Soviet government looked to the Moscow-based KB Tochmash design bureau responsible for a number of successful aviation weapons platforms.
Soviet Tu-22PD tail turret equipped with a R-23M (WikiMedia Commons)
Engineer Aleksandr Nudelman and his team at KB Tochmash changed the design of the cannon to utilize smaller 14.5-millimeter rounds that could engage targets at distances of up to two miles with a blistering rate of fire of somewhere between 950 and 5,000 rounds per minute (depending on the source you read). According to reports made public after the fall of the Soviet Union, the cannon successfully punctured a metal gas can from over a mile away during ground testing.
The cannon was to be mounted in a fixed position on the underbelly of the Soviet Almaz space stations, forcing operators to move the entire 20-ton station to orient the barrel toward a target. The weapon system was first affixed to a modified Soyuz space capsule, which was then dubbed the “Salyut” space station, and launched in 1971. By the time the Salyut was in orbit, however, interest in these manned reconnaissance platforms was already beginning to wane inside the Kremlin, as unmanned reconnaissance satellites seemed more practical.
The only cannon ever fired in space
While American intelligence agencies were well aware of the Soviet plan to field military space stations, it was still extremely difficult to know exactly what was going on in the expanse of space above our heads. Under cover of extreme secrecy, the Soviet Union successfully completed a test firing of the R-23M on Jan. 24, 1975 in orbit above the earth. There was no crew onboard at the time, and the exact results of the test remain classified to this day. Uncomfirmed reports indicate that the weapon fired between one and three bursts, with a total of 20 shells expended. In order to offset the recoil of the fired rounds, the space station engaged its thrusters, but it stands to reason that the test may have been a failure.
Screen capture of the R-23M space cannon taken from Zvezda TV, per the Russian Ministry of Defence
In fact, any footage of the test firing of the weapon was lost when the Salyut 3 platform was de-orbited just hours later, burning up upon reentry into the earth’s atmosphere. When the Soviet Union designed an upgraded Almaz space station for future launches, they did away with cannons in favor of interceptor missiles — though the program was canceled before any such weapons would reach orbit.
America is full of some amazing, patriotic people who have gone to great lengths to serve their country. That said, there’s a countless number of people who didn’t serve who enjoy dressing the part for their personal entertainment.
And, frankly, there’s nothing wrong with that — as long as they don’t claim to be a veteran.
1. They use military terminology because they think it’s cool
“Let’s go Oscar Mike back to the COP before 1300 to get some chow and hit the head.”
Translation: Let’s go home before 1 o’clock to get some food and use the restroom. Oscar Mike means, “leaving.” COP stands for “Combat Outpost.”
Why can’t these people just talk normally? We know, it’s a damn shame.
2. They wear military-print everything
It’s no secret that camo print is a go-to style for many civilians. Sure, we get that. But it’s another thing when people wear camo day-in and day-out. Even if they never served, they want to look like they have.
3. They wear overpriced Spec Ops gear
Airsoft and paintball are pretty fun. Sometimes, however, the players buy over-the-top, faux-spec ops gear to immerse themselves in the military mindset.
4. They wear their “serious faces” in group photos at the range
It’s hard to fully understand the struggle of grabbing a sushi lunch just an hour before charging the tree house guarded by the blue team. Make sure to take a photo to show how tough you are.
5. They bring up excuses as to why they didn’t serve — unprovoked
Not everyone was meant to join the military. Hell, even some people who join the military weren’t meant to be a part of the team. However, civilians frequently volunteer reasons as to why they didn’t join — often without prompt.
6. They think they’re an operator for conducting airsoft and paintball missions
Veterans across the globe reenact historic battles to preserve the memories of the men that served. However, if you civilians dressing up like a SEAL team and recreating the Osama bin Laden raid, that’s the ultimate red flag of the veteran wannabe.
To oust a dictator as terrible as Liberia’s Charles Taylor, some warlords committed even more heinous crimes. Taylor is now serving a 50-year sentence in the UK after being convicted of 11 war crimes in the Hague in 2013.
Joshua Milton Blahyi went by a different name when he controlled the streets of Liberia’s capital of Monrovia during its 14-year civil war. Going into urban combat wearing nothing but sneakers and a crazed look, he earned the title “General Butt Naked.”
Warlords in the streets of Liberia from 1989-2003 were given names based in popular culture. It spawned such nicknames as “General Bin Laden” and “General Rambo.”
While “General Butt Naked” may sound laughable as a nom de guerre, the warlord’s methods were anything but funny. Of the 250,000-some Liberians killed in the conflict, Blahyi estimates he is responsible for at least 20,000.
The crimes he freely admits to don’t stop there. He recruited children to act as his street enforcers, teaching them that killings and mutilations were all part of a game. And so they would also fight naked in the streets of Monrovia. Blahyi himself was a teenager when the conflict broke out.
Anecdotal evidence of the atrocities committed by “General Butt Naked” is numerous and graphic.
When Taylor was finally ousted in 2003, the man once known as “General Butt Naked” began a new life as a pastor. These days, when he isn’t preaching, he visits the families of his victims and begs for forgiveness — complete forgiveness. He doesn’t want lip service; he wants the biblical forgiveness that comes from the victim’s heart.
Those victims don’t want any part of it. Only 19 of the 76 families he has visited heard him out. The remainder goes about as well as one might expect.
At least one former soldier will attest to the work of Blahyi’s NGO, “Journeys Against Violence.” Luke Barren told Reuters that he earned his job as a mason because of Blahyi’s effort. Other say Blahyi’s whole enterprise is a farce combined with a cash grab.
The former warlord walks free where Taylor is imprisoned because of jurisdictional rules in The Hague. The court can only prosecute war crimes committed after its founding in 2002. There was never a special tribunal for prosecuting war crimes in Liberia, as there was from Rwanda, Cambodia, and the former Yugoslavia.
During the Cold War, the American nuclear deterrent strategy required coming up with ways to guarantee the survival of nuclear weapons if the Soviets managed a surprise first strike. The surviving devices would then be used to destroy Soviet civilization.
Keeping U.S. nukes out of Soviet crosshairs required a lot of imagination. The Americans had to keep the nukes deeply buried or constantly on the move. Then they had to make sure the surviving devices could be used effectively.
One such scheme was outfitting a full-size Minuteman III Inter-continental Ballistic Missile to fit in the back of a U.S. Air Force C-5 Galaxy aircraft, dumping the nuke out the back and triggering the ICBM’s full ignition sequence.
Minuteman III ICBMs carry multiple warheads bound for separate targets. This makes the Minuteman III the ideal missile for the mobile nuclear weapon strategy. At 60 feet long and 78,000 pounds, the missile is easily carried by the gargantuan aircraft.
The C-5 Galaxy’s maximum payload is an amazing 285,000 pounds and the aircraft itself is just under 248 feet long. With an operational range of 5,250 nautical miles, the C-5 can fly from Dover Air Force Base to the Middle East without having to refuel.
Launching a fully functional ICBM out the back of an aircraft inflight might sound crazy, but the Air Force first tested this concept successfully in 1974.
What started as wishful thinking by a bunch of vets hoping to one day become space shuttle door gunners is starting to take shape as the next steps in establishing a Space Force are underway.
Secretary of Defense James Mattis and Vice President Mike Pence held a conference at the Pentagon on Aug 9 to discuss the latest plans and updates on the creation of the United States Space Force. To clear some of the fog surrounding it, it’s not about sending armed troops into space nor is it an over-the-top plan to fight aliens.
There is a real and current strategic advantage in using space to aid with Earthly conflicts through satellites operations and missile defense — both of which would fall under the purview of the new Space Force.
Vice President Mike Pence has championed our current space commands within the Air Force and the Navy.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Dennis Hoffman)
Secretary Mattis opened up the briefing and announced that the Pentagon will release its latest space report to Congress, reinforcing the specifics on how they will move forward. He then welcomed Vice President Pence to take the podium.
Vice President Pence reiterated both the desire to push mankind back into space exploration and to utilize space for the rapid advancement of technology. He likened the establishment of the Space Force to that of the Air Force when it was first created.
“In 1939, at the start of the second World War, the U.S. Army Air Corps was still a fledgling organization… By 1945, the American military had nearly 30 times the number of planes and 85 times the number of pilots and support crews compared to just six years earlier and our allies emerged victorious from WWII because of the strength of our armed forces and because our armed forces adapted to meet the emerging threats of the day,” said Vice President Mike Pence.
Once you realize just how many U.S. satellites are in space, how little protection they have, and just how dependent our society is on their safety… you’ll stop thinking of the Space Force as a joke branch.
(Air Force illustration)
Our current military does, in fact, have a space command and has had one for decades. Expanding the space command into a full branch would give the tens of thousands of troops and civilian contractors currently working on the space mission far greater spending to continue and expand upon the responsibilities of the domain.
Founding the Space Force will firmly establish America’s leadership in space. In President Trump’s own words,
“It is not enough to merely have an American presence in space. We must have American dominance in space. And so we will.”
One of the first technologies announced was the fielding of a new generation of jam-resistant GPS and communication satellites. This also comes along with a new missile defense satellite that is “smaller, tougher, and more maneuverable than ever before.”
The need for dominance over space is growing by the day. China launched a missile that tracked and destroyed a test satellite in 2007. Russia has been designing an airborne laser that is said to disrupt satellites and claim to be creating missiles that could be launched mid-flight to destroy satellites. Both have claimed to have ability to move their satellites closer to our own — which could pose an unprecedented new danger.
Many more details about the new branch’s establishment will come soon as we move forward towards its eventual creation with a possible date set for 2020.
TripAdvisor is a great place to get travel tips from fellow adventurers. It can tell you what cafes are best in Paris or which museums are best in Germany. And, it can apparently tell you which bases are best in Afghanistan.
Some hilarious person decided to add “Bagram Airfield” to TripAdvisor’s list of “Things to do in Afghanistan,” and vets have been filling it with unfiltered and often sarcastic opinions about what life on the base is like. It’s currently ranked as the “#1 of 1 things to do in Bagram, Afghanistan, Asia.” Read the 4 selected reviews below to learn why:
1. BAF4DAYZ nailed the Afghanistan experience with just the headline of his review:
2. Other reviewers gave a nod to the locals who make all visits to Bagram so memorable:
3. People gave five-stars to the communal living areas and fine dining options:
4. Other amenities, like the free gyms and the opportunities to create memories, received four stars.
For some odd reason, the beloved airfield sports a travel alert about safety and security concerns in the area. (Not sure what that’s about.) Read more reviews at the TripAdvisor webpage. Vets that have visited the facility can also leave their own two cents in the form of a new review.
When you go to the page, be sure to answer TripAdvisor’s questions about Bagram Airfield such as, “Do you find this attraction suitable for young children?”
If you love military movies, then it’s safe to say you’d recognize Max Martini. While his film career doesn’t only include military-centric roles, he’s built a reputation among the military community as both a proud supporter of service members and one of the most badass actors ever to portray them on screen.
I first remember recognizing Max Martini as a mil-actor way back during his days filming “The Unit,” a popular CBS TV series about elite special operators assigned to 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta (SFOD-D), commonly known by those of us outside their elite fraternity as Delta Force. Since then, Max has played war fighters of all sorts in fan favorite movies like Saving Private Ryan,13 Hours, Spectral, Captain Phillips, and one of my favorite sci-fi movies, Pacific Rim.
Max Martini in “Pacific Rim”
His most recent foray into the military genre was Sgt. Will Gardner. The film depicts a Marine veteran who has struggled since separating from service and is now trying to reestablish a relationship with his young son. The movie was a passion project for Max, who wrote, produced, directed, and acted in the titular role.
Importantly, however, making the movie wasn’t just about telling a powerful story about service and redemption, it was also about helping veterans in the real world. He’s pledged 30% of the film’s profits to veteran charities.
Sgt. Will Gardner
(Mona Vista Productions)
I was fortunate enough to get to sit down with Max (digitally) during this coronavirus quarantine, and ask him some questions about his career, his work on behalf of the military and veteran communities, and just what it takes to play some of the most badass characters ever put on screen.
Max has played both real and fictional special operators, and has made a name for himself among veterans for it. I asked Max what keeps him coming back to these sorts of challenging roles.
“My dad was an artist living in New York City, so I sorta grew up in the Arts. But that said, my mother was a cop. I grew up in the arts, went to art school, got my degree in fine arts and came out owing, ya know, a hundred and fifty gazillion dollars without a way to pay it off,” Max explained.
Max Martini in “Saving Private Ryan”
“I got asked to audition for a movie because I’d dabbled in acting, and then the second movie I got was Saving Private Ryan. That was transformational for me. I had just just graduated from art school and I didn’t have much of a sense of politics or appreciation for the military. Then I did this movie, and I really started to understand more about our service members, and I really loved the community because there was obviously a lot of former military involved in making that movie.”
It wasn’t just that he developed an appreciation for service through filming Saving Private Ryan, he also quickly established himself as a solid actor capable of playing military roles.
“I don’t know, it’s like Steven Spielberg gives you this stamp of approval that says, ‘okay, he makes a good soldier,’ and everybody jumps on board,” Max joked.
Of course, because Max has played a member of Delta Force before, I felt the need to speak to one of my friends that actually served in that elite unit to see what he’d be interested to learn about acting in such a role. So I gave legendary Delta Force operator George E. Hand IV a call–and he wanted to know how actors like Max go about playing military roles in a realistic way on screen.
“Well, I think it’s a combination of things. Like, for instance, when I did Captain Phillips, we had a technical advisor from the Navy but it wasn’t somebody showing you how to soldier, it was somebody showing you the functionality of the ship,” he recalled. “But the guys around me were all former [special operations] team guys and they’d be like, ‘Dude, you should say this.’ One of the guys was about to relieve the team that was on the ship that took the shot, so he was familiar with the operation.”
He went on to talk about his time specifically playing a Delta Force operator in The Unit.
“The Unit was adapted from a book that Eric Haney wrote. He was one of the original Delta guys. So Eric was a producer on the show and he put us through a lot of training, and then he was there every day to watch over us technically.”
Max Martini on “The Unit”
Max points out that his resume isn’t all that helps him win military roles. Now, he’s close friends with a number of veterans and does a lot of firearm training on his own. He might do it because it’s fun, but the technical capability he develops by shooting with special operations veterans tend to translate into his realistic handling of weapons on screen.
“I think that’s also a consideration when people hire me. People go, ‘we’re not going to have to do much with him to get him ready for the show.’
Max’s appreciation for service members isn’t just born out of his real life friendships with veterans. He’s also made a number of trips overseas to visit deployed service members. Max’s decision to donate 30% of the profits from Sgt. Will Gardner speaks to his passion for supporting the military, which is something he says is a responsibility American’s share.
“I feel very strongly that if somebody enlists in the military, that we as Americans share a responsibility to ensure that when they return from combat, they have red carpet healthcare treatment and every resource available to them that’s need to reintegrate properly back into civilian life.”
Max Martini’s latest movie, Sgt. Will Gardner, is now streaming on a number of platforms, but Max points out that paying to see the movie on Amazon Prime helps support not only his endeavor to make more movies in that vein, but also supports the three veteran charities he’s splitting the profits with.
When talking about the do’s and don’ts of taking on the Special Operations Assessment and Selection courses that the military has to offer, there are a ton of opinions out there, and I feel, a lot of misconceptions as well. This is particularly true when it comes to being the “Grey Man,” which is a common name people use to describe an operator who can blend seamlessly into their environment.
I’ve been asked about this countless times in emails. One of the more common questions I receive from prospective candidates is always about trying to blend in at Assessment and Selection — being the Grey Man. I spoke with someone just in the past few weeks about this very subject.
There is no shortage of people who will tell you being the Grey Man is important, some of them will be Special Operations Selection cadre members. So, respectively, I’ll disagree. Overall, unless you’re an intelligence professional trained at blending in and being invisible, I will stick with my original advice and say in the majority of instances, it isn’t a smart thing to do. I will explain why below, but first, my caveat:
Yes, there are times when you absolutely, positively need to be the guy people standing in front of you are going to look right past while giving their “attention” to someone else.
The first one is if you are in SERE School (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape). The last thing you want at SERE is to stand out in any way. Standing out to the guard force in the POW camp usually means you’re going to withstand some “corrective measures.”
Being the biggest member of the prisoners or the most senior guy in the SERE Class is not a good way to be the grey man. The SRO (Senior Ranking Officer) is always singled out for real or perceived rules infractions….you get the idea. Once you get through the Selection process and into the training pipeline, you’ll get to experience SERE up close and personal and all of your questions will be answered.
The second example of when it’s a good time to be a “grey man” is when you’re doing some kind of undercover intelligence work. Then you want to blend into your surroundings. If someone saw you walking down a busy street in an urban environment, you don’t want to raise an alarm among surveillance operatives watching for that type of operation.
This has a lot to do with demeanor, dress, mannerisms, and movement. Special Forces has a training program that teaches all of this and much more. But the course and the acronym associated with it will come after your training is complete and you move on to the operational units and get some experience under your belt.
So, we’re back to the 800-lb gorilla in the room, and the question is, “Why not be the grey man during Selection?” You will see blog posts from people, message boards, and social media posts all telling candidates “Be the grey man” or something remotely similar. I see it all the time. So why is it actually a bad idea?
As a former Selection cadre member, I’ll let you in on my perceptions: Trying to be the Grey Man just may put a huge bulls-eye on your forehead.
As I mentioned above, most people aren’t trained properly to be a grey man. And if it appears to the Selection cadre that you are trying to blend into the background, that isn’t a good thing. To the cadre members, it appears like you’re trying to “ghost” through events (as we called it during my time there). And if a guy is going to ghost during Selection, then he certainly will on a team.
Back in the day, when I had the night duty during a course, one of the other cadre members and I would wander around the candidates’ barracks at night with no berets, just being the “grey men” of the cadre. We wanted to hear the chatter of the class and see how well or not-so-well they were holding up.
These conversations would sometimes be quite telling, especially during team week. More than once, we heard candidates who passed their patrol (the criteria has since changed, thank you LTC Brian Decker) talk about coasting through the last few events to make it through the long-range movement. Bad idea.
Then there were the others, guys who passed their patrol and were volunteering to help out the next day’s guys who would be in the barrel and under the microscope. More than once we heard conversations similar to this:
“Hey bud, whatever happens, tomorrow, put me on lashings, I’m really good at that, and that’s one thing you won’t have to worry about.”
That’s the guy I want on my team. He’s not done yet, he’s looking out for his teammates. He’s going to get high marks on his peer reports.
Special Operations isn’t looking for cookie-cutter robots. We understand that everyone is different and there are certainly guys who are characters. You’ll undoubtedly have some in your class.
That’s why my advice is always, “be yourself.” When I was there, our cadre was made up of the most eclectic group of people that I’ve ever worked with. There was never a dull moment and every NCO, although vastly different, respected who each one of us was. And we all got along because we had the humility to understand that every person brings some unique element to the table.
If you’re a rah-rah type of guy, then be that guy. If you are a quiet, lead by example type of guy, that’s fine…be him. Don’t try to be something you’re not. Sometimes the characters of the class would lift everyone around him. All of the cadre members had those types of guys in their own classes, and they know how valuable they are to keeping up class morale, and for team-building.
My own class in the SFQC (Special Forces Qualification Course) had a tremendous NCO who we called “CPT Camouflage” during Land Nav. He would wear some outlandish get-up; PT Shorts hiked way too high, jungle boots, with a poncho pulled over his head like a cape with eye holes cut out. He’d run through the woodline offering the craziest encouragement to “lost Land Nav Students everywhere.” As dumb as it sounds, our class loved it. And after a day or so, the cadre would ask if “Captain Camouflage” had any words for the class after we’d return from the day’s or night’s navigation practice.
I recently recorded a podcast with Mike Sarraille, a Navy SEAL officer who has written a book on Special Operations leadership and how civilian companies should incorporate the lessons of Selection and Assessment into their hiring process.
Mike was a successful Marine NCO with Recon before becoming an officer. During BUDs training to become a SEAL, the other members of his class naturally gravitated toward Mike because of his experience, military bearing, and demeanor. That’s who he is. If he tried to blend into the background, the SEAL instructors would have seen right through that and he would have never passed or gone on to become the officer he was.
Of course, “be yourself” has to be tempered with a bit of common sense. Don’t be overly argumentative with the cadre… even if you know that you may be right when receiving a critique. That will have the exact opposite effect of your intentions. Don’t be a “Spotlight Ranger” either — those types never last long as they’ll get peered out quickly (failed by peer reviews). And please spare your war stories about leading an attack with the 18th Mess Kit Repair Unit in Iraq or someplace else. Nobody cares about that or is interested.
Remember you are always being evaluated and assessed. This is a time for the cadre to see if you have the core attributes that make Special Operations troops the best in the world. Selection is the time where you begin building the reputation that will follow throughout your Special Operations career. And as big as it has grown, it is still a small community. Selection is the first step in the process of showing you belong in the Regiment.
Trying to do so by blending in the background isn’t the way to do it. Be yourself, try to excel at everything, and remember, some of your fellow candidates may be better at some things than you are. That won’t change once you get to an operational unit.
”Do the best you can.” (Yes you’ll hear that again.)
On D-Day, Richard Todd was one of the paratroopers who took part in the capture of Pegasus Bridge. Todd had parachuted in after the original assault and helped reinforce the British Army’s Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry led by Maj. John Howard.
Little did Todd know at the time that he would find himself portraying that same British commander when legendary director Daryl Zanuck was making Cornelius Ryan’s book “The Longest Day” into an epic movie.
Imdb.com reports that Todd was very nearly killed on D-Day. He had been assigned to a new plane. The switch was a fortunate one since his original transport was shot down by the Nazis, killing all aboard. A 2004 article by the London Guardian reported that Todd’s D-Day involved making his way to Pegasus Bridge, reinforcing Howard’s unit, and helping to fend off German attacks on the bridge while under Howard’s command until seaborne forces linked up with the paratroopers.
Todd never discussed his actions on D-Day. However, in his memoirs, “Caught in the Act,” he would write, “There was no cessation in the Germans’ probing with patrols and counter-attacks, some led by tanks, and the regimental aid post was overrun in the early hours. The wounded being tended there were all killed where they lay. There was sporadic enemy mortar and artillery fire we could do nothing about. One shell landed in a hedge near me, killing a couple of our men.”
By 1962, Richard Todd had become a well-known actor, with his most notable role having been Wing Commander Guy Gibson in the 1954 movie, “The Dam Busters.” Todd had also starred in “D-Day, the Sixth of June” three years later as the leader of a commando group sent to take out German guns.
When he was asked to play himself in “The Longest Day,” he demurred, admitting his own role in the invasion had been a small part. The London Telegraph quoted him as saying, “I did not do anything special that would make a good sequence.” Zanuck, determined to have Todd in the film, cast him as Howard instead.
“The Longest Day” was one of Todd’s last big roles, as British cinema moved in a very different direction in the 1960s. He still found work acting, narrating the series “Wings over the World” for AE Television and appearing in several “Doctor Who” episodes, among other roles.
Todd would die on Dec. 3, 2009, after having been named a member of the Order of the British Empire in 1993. Below is the trailer for “The Longest Day.”