During World War II, sitting in aircraft hangars at Birmingham, England, were millions of undelivered pieces of mail and packages. Those U.S. service members in Europe took notice that no mail was being delivered and Army officials reported that a lack of reliable mail was hurting morale. It was predicted that it would take six months to clear the backlog in England, but who was up for the task?
In November 1944, African-American women — 824 enlisted and thirty-one officers — were recruited from the Women’s Army Corps, the Army Service Forces, and the Army Air Forces to form the 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion, or the “Six Triple Eight.” The first and only all-female African-American battalion to be deployed overseas during World War II was organized into a Headquarters Company, for administrative and service support, and four postal directory companies — A, B, C, and D — commanded by either a captain or a first lieutenant. The battalion would be commanded by Maj. Charity Edna Adams Earley, the first African American woman to achieve the rank of lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army.
Retired Master Sgt. Elizabeth Helm-Frazier touches the bust made in the likeness of battalion commander Lt. Col. Charity Adams on the monument honoring the all-female, all-African-American 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion Nov. 29, 2018 in the Buffalo Soldier Commemorative Area, Fort Leavenworth, Kan. Helm-Frazier, of Md., said she knows how important mail is to service members, and she joined the project team to help get the monument funded so that future generations will know that women in uniform also helped guarantee freedom.
(Prudence Siebert, Fort Leavenworth Lamp)
Upon arriving in Birmingham after their initial training at Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia, the 6888th’s mission seemed simple: clear the backlog of mail bags that filled hangars from floor to ceiling. However, many of the letters and packages were addressed simply to “Junior,” “Buster,” or to soldiers who shared common names such as “Robert Smith.” Also, the hangars themselves were poorly lit, unheated, and cold and damp, with rats making their homes in packages of stale cookies and cakes. The women wore long underwear and extra layers of clothing underneath their uniforms in order to stay warm. The lighting was poor due to the windows being blacked out to prevent light from escaping and alerting enemy aircraft of their location during nighttime air raids. The late Staff Sgt. Millie L. Dunn Veasey stated that there were buzz bombs that came down. “You could see them, and then you didn’t know where they were going to land,” she said. “You had to go get into a shelter. Just drop everything, and just run.”
Members of the 6888th sorting mail.
(The National Archives)
With World War II raging on, the soldiers of the 6888th were given six months to sort and deliver the mail — they did it in three months. The women divided into three eight-hour shifts and worked seven days a week to sort and redirect an average of sixty-five thousand pieces of mail per day, totaling nearly seven million pieces in Birmingham alone. The mail clerks used special locator cards that contained soldiers’ names, unit numbers, and serial numbers to help ensure proper delivery; they also had the duty of returning mail addressed to those service members who had died. The women developed the motto “No mail, low morale,” as they were providing the support of linking service members with their loved ones back home.
Following their three months in Birmingham, the members of the 6888th were deployed to Rouen, France, to clear two to three years of backed up mail. And again, the women completed the task in just three months. While deployed to Paris, they faced new challenges: the theft of packages and items from packages to supply the populace.
French civilians and soldiers from the 6888th sort mail in the spring of 1945.
(U.S. Army Womens Museum)
The battalion was transferred home and disbanded at Fort Dix, New Jersey, in 1946. There was no ceremony, no parades, no public appreciation, and no official recognition for all their accomplishments.
Though there have been exhibits and educational programs about the 6888th, public events honoring the women of the battalion have been few. One of the most prominent events was a ceremony by the Women in Military Service for America Memorial at Arlington National Ceremony. Veterans received certificates, letters of appreciation from the secretary of the Army and the Army chief of staff, lapel pins, and decals. The most recent event to honor the 6888th was the Nov. 30, 2018 dedication of a monument located at the Buffalo Soldier Commemorative Area on Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. Five surviving members of the battalion attended: Pvt. Maybelle Rutland Tanner Campbell, Pfc. Elizabeth Barker Johnson, Cpl. Lena Derriecott Bell King, Pvt. Anna Mae Wilson Robertson, and Pfc. Deloris Ruddock.
Veterans who served during World War II with the 6888th, (left to right) Pvt. Anna Mae Wilson Robertson, Pfc. Elizabeth Barker Johnson, Pfc. Deloris Ruddock, Pvt. Maybelle Rutland Tanner Campbell, and Cpl. Lena Derriecott Bell King gather around the monument honoring the battalion Nov. 29, 2018 the day before a ceremony dedicating the monument at the Buffalo Soldier Commemorative Area, Fort Leavenworth, Kan. The women, all in their nineties, are five of seven known surviving members.
(Prudence Siebert, Fort Leavenworth Lamp)
Carlton Philpot, Buffalo Soldier Monument Committee chair and project director, said that the goal of this monument is to “make it unique enough that no one will have to look for it when they come into the park.” With the names of five hundred battalion members and a 25-inch bronze bust of its leader, Lt. Col. Charity Adams Earley, the monument is truly unique. It joins monuments dedicated to Gen. Colin Powell, 2nd Lt. Henry Flipper, the 555th Parachute Infantry Division, the Buffalo Soldier, and others in the Circle of Firsts and the Walkway of Units at the Buffalo Soldier Commemorative Area. As Earley’s son, Stanley, said, “My mother was always enormously proud of the Six Triple Eight. This monument is a statement of the responsibility, determination, and honor, and it is a gift from the recent past addressed to the future.”
Kansas Sen. Jerry Moran said, “When we unveil this monument, what we are really saying is this: Thank you for your service. We respect you and we love you.”
Concern is rising in Japan that the Chinese military may be training for a future mission in the disputed Senkaku Islands, where Beijing has been dispatching coast guard ships at increasing frequency in recent years.
Quoting the Pentagon’s 2017 survey of the Chinese military, Japanese newspaper Sankei Shimbun reported June 8 the People’s Liberation Army could be training for a raid of outlying areas, including the Japan-administered Senkaku Islands, also claimed by China and Taiwan.
In a section on China’s amphibious capabilities, the report from the U.S. Department of Defense states the “PLA Army focuses its amphibious efforts on a Taiwan invasion while the PLA Navy Marine Corps focuses on small island seizures in the South China Sea, with a potential emerging mission in the Senkakus.”
The Japanese military also may be concerned that, according to the report, China’s PLA Navy Marine Corps brigades conducted “battalion-level amphibious training at their respective training areas in Guangdong,” or the Southern Theater.
“The training focused on swimming amphibious armored vehicles from sea to shore, small boat assault and deployment of special forces by helicopter,” the report states.
In May, Taiwan’s Central News Agency reported China’s Navy Marine Corps is in the process of building a 100,000-strong military unit.
The Pentagon report states China has used “coercive tactics, such as the use of law enforcement vessels and its maritime militia, to enforce maritime claims.”
Article 5 of the U.S.-Japan Mutual Security Treaty applies to the Senkakus, and the United States is obligated to defend the islands if they come under attack.
In May, four Chinese coast guard ships entered Japanese territorial waters near Okinawa and the Senkaku Islands and in 2016, more than 100 Chinese ships trespassed into Japan’s territorial waters, the second-largest annual number of Chinese ships entering disputed areas since Japan announced the nationalization of the Senkakus in September 2012.
In one wing, there are 435. On the other, there are 100. Luckily, this isn’t referring to a severe weight imbalance detrimental to an aircraft’s flight. These are the number of appointed individuals responsible for making the nation’s laws on Capitol Hill and the people who some Air Force legislative liaisons and fellows engage with to ensure continued legislative support for national security.
The legislative liaison and fellowship programs are designed to provide service members opportunities to improve understanding and knowledge of the functions and operations of the legislative branch and how it impacts the military.
According to Title 5, U.S. Code Section 7102 and Title 10, U.S. Code Section 1034, United States Air Force personnel have the legal right to petition and furnish information to or communicate with Congress.
“It is our responsibility to truly understand the intersection of politics and policy as members of an apolitical organization,” said Maj. Gen. Steven L. Basham, former director for Secretary of the Air Force legislative liaison, who is now the deputy commander of U.S. Air Forces Europe and Africa Command. “We are not only the Air Force liaison to Congress, but we are also liaisons for Congress to the rest of the Air Force.”
Lt. Col. Joe Wall, deputy chief of the Senate Air Force Liaison Office, salutes a staff vehicle to welcome Gen. David Goldfein, U.S. Air Force chief of staff, before a posture hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee at Dirksen Senate Office Building in Washington, D.C., April 4, 2019.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Marianique Santos)
Basham says that individuals selected to become legislative liaisons are intuitive, broad and flexible thinkers. Despite donning a suit or business attire during their time on the Hill, aspiring liaisons or fellows are required to have exceptional professional bearing and appearance, exceptional organizational skills, performance and knowledge of current events in national security affairs and international relations are also desired.
“We bring phenomenal people into this program,” Basham said. “As a matter of fact, we want individuals who are experts in their career field who have the ability to look across the entire United States Air Force. When we’re working with Congress or a staff member, they don’t see a bomber pilot or a logistician; they see us as a United States Air Force officer or civilian who is an expert across all fields.”
According to Brig. Gen. Trent H. Edwards, budget operations and personnel director for the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Financial Management and Comptroller, the opportunity to serve as a legislative liaison and then as a legislative fellow to a member of congress provided him valuable experience in understanding how the government and democracy work. His time working at the Hill “left an indelible impression” in his mind.
Maj. Michael Gutierrez, Senate Air Force Liaison Office action officer, and Col. Caroline Miller, chief of the Senate Air Force Liaison Office, corresponds with legislators in preparation for a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing at the Russell Senate Office Building in Washington, D.C., April 3, 2019.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Marianique Santos)
“As a squadron, group and wing commander, I frequently relied on my understanding of the legislative process to help inform my bosses and teammates on how they could positively affect their mission through the right congressional engagement at the right time,” he said. “I also left the experience with a keen understanding of the importance of relationships, communication and collaboration. Those lessons serve me well today, and I share them with younger officers every chance I get.”
Airmen working on the Hill come from diverse career backgrounds. Historically, the liaison and fellowship programs were only open to officers but have opened to senior noncommissioned officers and civilians in recent years. Typical responsibilities of fellows include assisting with the drafting of legislation, floor debate preparation, planning and analysis of public policy and serving as congressional liaisons to constituents and industry. Fellows are required to come back to serve as legislative liaisons later on in their careers and into positions where they can utilize their acquired knowledge of the legislative process.
Maj. Christopher D. Ryan, Senate Air Force Liaison Office action officer, discuss Air Force inforamation with Dan S. Dunham, military legislative assistant to U.S. Senator Deb Fischer from Nebraska, at the Russell Senate Office Building in Washington, D.C., April 3, 2019.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Marianique Santos)
Col. Caroline Miller, chief of the Senate Legislative Liaison Office,said the first step to being a legislative liaison is making sure that the liaison understands the chief of staff and the secretary of the Air Force’s vision and priorities. As members of the Senate legislative liaisons, she and her team work primarily with the Senate Armed Services Committee and its members, as well as any members of the Senate who have Air Force equity. Along with preparing senior leaders for hearings or meetings with legislators, they provide members of Congress and their staff information that helps in their understanding of current Air Force operations and programs.
“I wish I knew what I know now from a legislative perspective when I was a wing commander because I didn’t understand the power of the congressional body back then,” she said. “Every installation has challenges. Every installation has aging infrastructure. Every installation has lots of different things that they’re working through, and I did not engage with my local congressional district as much as I would have if I had I been up here and understood that (our representatives) really do want to help.”
Dan S. Dunham, a military legislative assistant who works for U.S. Sen. Deb Fischer of Nebraska, said the legislative liaisons are who they “turn to first” whenever they have Air Force-related questions – may it be on budgets, programs or operations.
Gen. David Goldfein, U.S. Air Force chief of staff, deliver his opening statements during a posture hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee at Dirksen Senate Office Building in Washington, D.C., April 4, 2019.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Marianique Santos)
“Air Force and Congress can be a tall order – both sides have different chains of command and different constituencies to which they are answerable,” he said. “That can significantly increase the risk of miscommunication. The legislative liaison fills a critical role in bridging that gap and they are frequently the ones we rely on to be the primary facilitator for getting answers and information for our bosses.”
Along with having constant interaction with the highest echelons of Air Force leadership and the key decision makers, due to the sensitive nature of information exchange at this level, legislative liaisons must be capable of thinking on their feet and making informed decisions.
“We bring individuals in who sometimes have to make the call when talking with the staff on what information they should provide,” Basham said. “I think the level of trust they have for their senior leaders having their back when they make that call is invaluable.”
This article originally appeared on Airman Magazine. Follow @AirmanMagazine on Twitter.
The violence of the final weeks of World War II on Europe’s Eastern Front was matched only by its chaos, as exhausted and outmanned German forces withered under attacks from well-equipped and highly motivated Soviet troops.
The front line became more fluid, with Soviet forces quickly enveloping Nazi units that then made shambolic retreats and launched desperate breakout attempts.
At times, Soviet forces arrived at vacated German positions so quickly that the Russians found opportunities to taunt their reeling enemies.
The Soviet race to Berlin began on April 15 from positions east of the city, and by the morning of April 21, 1945, staff officers at the German army and armed forces joint headquarters at Zossen, south of Berlin, were girding themselves for capture after Hitler denied a request for them to relocate away from the Soviet advance.
But Soviet tanks ran out of gas south of the headquarters, and the delay allowed Hitler’s staff to reconsider, ordering the headquarters to move to Potsdam, southwest of Berlin. The officers at Zossen got the order just in time.
“Late that afternoon, Soviet soldiers entered the concealed camp at Zossen with caution and amazement,” historian Antony Beevor writes in his 2002 book, “The Fall of Berlin 1945.”
Just four German defenders were left. Three surrendered immediately. The fourth was too drunk to do anything.
“It was not the mass of papers blowing about inside the low, zigzag-painted concrete buildings which surprised [the Soviets], but the resident caretaker’s guided tour,” according to Beevor. The tour, he writes, took the Soviet troops down among the two headquarters’ maze of bunkers, filled with generators, maps, and telephones.
“Its chief wonder was the telephone exchange, which had linked the two supreme headquarters with Wehrmacht units,” Beevor writes.
“A telephone suddenly rang. One of the Russian soldiers answered it. The caller was evidently a senior German officer asking what was happening,” Beevor writes. “‘Ivan is here,’ the soldier replied in Russian, and told him to go to hell.”
Soviets troops found other ways to taunt the Germans using their own phone lines.
A few days later, as Russian armies advanced to the outskirts of Berlin, the senior officers in the Fuhrer bunker, which didn’t have proper signaling equipment, were increasingly in the dark about troop movements. In order to supply Hitler with up-to-date information, they had to turn to Berlin’s residents.
(U.S. Signal Corps photo)
“They rang civilian apartments around the periphery of the city whose numbers they found in the Berlin directory,” Beevor writes.
“If the inhabitants answered, they asked if they had seen any sign of advancing troops. And if a Russian voice replied, usually with a string of exuberant swearwords, then the conclusion was self-evident.”
In the final days of April 1945, Berliners started calling their city the “Reich’s funeral pyre,” and Soviet troops were calling them to rub their looming victory in to their nearly vanquished enemy.
“Red Army soldiers decided to use the telephone network, but for amusement rather than information,” Beevor writes.
“While searching apartments, they would often stop to ring numbers in Berlin at random. Whenever a German voice answered, they would announce their presence in unmistakable Russian tones.”
The calls “surprised the Berliners immensely,” wrote a Soviet political officer.
Amid those taunts, the battle for Berlin and the fighting that preceded it left widespread destruction and death.
Soviet forces lost about 70,000 troops in the fight for the city. Many of their deaths were caused by the haste of the Soviet operation, which was driven by commanders’ desire to impress and please Stalin and by Stalin’s own desire to seize Nazi nuclear research.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Even the most innocuous data posted to a social media feed can be married up with other publicly available information to provide online criminals the tools they need to exploit members of the military or general public, an Army special agent said.
Special Agent Deric Palmer, program manager for the Digital Personal Protection Program, part of the Major Cybercrime Unit at the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command, explained how those who aren’t careful or aren’t paying attention can unwittingly provide scammers and other online criminals all the information they need to exploit them.
Social media accounts, Palmer said, serve as fertile ground for digging up the kinds of information that can be used to impersonate someone, steal identities or break into other online accounts, such as banking or insurance.
A Facebook page, for example, might contain current and past physical addresses where a person has lived, phone numbers, email addresses, names of pets, significant events such as birthdays and anniversaries, hobbies and other interests. Just browsing a Facebook page, Palmer said, he can figure out your favorite music, books, TV shows, political and religious leanings.
All that, he said, serves as “an attack vector” that an unscrupulous person can use to communicate with users further and gain their trust. Additional communications can bring out even more details that might later be used to break into online accounts or exploit users in other ways. Some social media users, Palmer added, even volunteer critical information that could be used to access their online financial accounts that they’d never divulge if they were asked by a stranger.
Some online memes, he noted, pose as games that get users to volunteer information that, coupled with other easily obtainable information, can be used to exploit them. A quick search online reveals a simple graphic meme that purportedly allows users to choose “your new cat name” and then post the results, along with the meme itself, on their own social media feed.
For the “cat name” meme, users would use the last digit of their phone number as a selector for any of nine name prefixes, their zodiac sign to choose from a list of 12 middle names, and their favorite color to choose from a list of eight potential last names.
A user might end up with “Count Sassy Pants” as a silly name for their cat. When they post that on their social media feed, along with the meme image itself, would-be criminals will know their phone number ends in 8, they were born in either August or September, and that their favorite color is yellow. Coupled with data already on their social media feed, and with data that can be obtained from data brokers, the information makes it easier to exploit users, Palmer explained.
Image memes such as this one ask users to construct and share on their social media feeds new, “fun” information that is constructed from their personal information.
Military personnel also are candidates to be impersonated online — malicious users might opt to use imagery of real-world service members available online to exploit other users. The U.S. military is one of the most trusted institutions in the nation, and online criminals, Palmer said, take advantage of that.
“The U.S. military is viewed as a prestigious club … It’s an indicator of prestige,” Palmer said. “It’s instant respect. If I can pretend to be a U.S. general, unwitting people will respect me immediately.”
With that respect, he said, a criminal can exploit other users while pretending to be a member of the U.S. military. Palmer’s advice to service members: don’t post your picture in uniform with the name tape visible. “It immediately makes you a target,” the special agent said.
Palmer offered some tips to avoid being scammed:
Immediate red flag! Be suspicious if you are asked for money or a wire transfer to pay for a purported service member’s transportation, medical bills, communication fees or marriage-processing charges.
Be suspicious if the person with whom you are corresponding wants you to mail anything to a foreign country.
Be aware that military members at any duty location or in a combat zone have access to mail, cyber cafes, Skype and other means of communicating with their families, and they have access to medical and dental treatment.
The military will ensure that family members are notified should a service member is injured.
Insist on a “proof of life.” The scammers will not video chat with you, because they know you will catch them in their lie.
Trust your instincts! If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.
The special agent also provided eight points for better security online, and to make users less likely to be victimized by online criminals:
Permanently close old, unused accounts.
Enable two-factor authentication on any platform that allows it.
Use strong passwords, and use different passwords for every account.
On social media, accept friend requests selectively.
Configure the strongest privacy settings for each social media account.
Think before you post.
Limit use of third-part applications on social media applications, read the license agreement, and be sure exactly what those applications want to be able to access.
Change answers to security questions, and use false answers so that online criminals can’t use information they gather online to gain access to your accounts.
Making friends has never been a challenge for me. Among my siblings, they call me the “outgoing one who always ends up with a new friend.” So why should now — after transitioning back to civilian life — be any different?
Well, it’s been 13 months since my husband retired and we relocated back to our hometown. I am still struggling to make connections. Most of my previous friends have moved away, but that’s not the main issue. It’s finding people who share commonalities and a similar lifestyle.
The military community gave me that!
There’s a pattern to moving to a new duty station. First you sulk a bit because of the friends you left behind. Next you get your goods and do your best to make your new living space feel like home. Then you find out about the surrounding areas and activities nearby. Finally, you find someone awesome who you can join up with to explore those activities. You find your person(s).
Now I’m back home. But I have NO pattern to follow.
Returning home does have many other benefits. Home means Florida sunshine, frequent gatherings with our extended family, reuniting with homegrown friendships, and putting down new roots. It means settling…finally!
But something is definitely missing, and it’s a sense of belonging.
Being a military spouse put us in the trenches together. Basically saying, “My husband is working and I’m lonely. Be my friend!” Now my conversations are more like,
“Babe, I have NO FRIENDS! Everybody is busy and has their regularly scheduled programs to attend. I miss my military home girls,” (Insert sad face and whiny voice).
I want fuzzy socks and belly laughs! Don’t we all deserve that?
For some people, having a j-o-b fixes the need to belong. For others, they are lucky enough to find friends who are in a similar phase of life. And some people are introverts who ache at the thought of having to put themselves out there…again.
No matter what I’ve done so far, no one has hit the sweet friendship spot! I’ve chatted with neighbors, joined a church, gone on lunch dates, collaborated with other women in my field of expertise, but NADA!
One thing I WILL NOT do, is force a friendship. If it clicks, then go with it. If not, it was nice to meet you, bye.
I have decided to take my time and focus on my family while making our new life cozy. My husband and I work together on establishing our business, and I’m adjusting and getting better at being me, minus the constant life interruption that comes with uprooting over and over again.
So, yea…I’ve flipped it to see the glowing opportunity while knowing that I will find my person one day. OR, one of my military persons will retire to my hometown (HAPPY DANCE).
This article originally appeared on Military Spouse. Follow @MilSpouseMag on Twitter.
It’s a new world for military movies, a world where realism is just as important as the story. While movies like Heartbreak Ridge, The Hurt Locker, and Three Kings are memorable and entertaining, they just aren’t grounded in reality. That’s a big problem for a lot of veterans. It’s difficult to be immersed in a story set in your world when everything you see is slightly off in some way.
But the filmmakers behind Tango Down want to do more than produce a film that gets it right; they want to be able to produce other veteran films — with as many veterans working the films as possible. That vision just starts with Tango Down.
That’s where Andrew Dorsett and Rick Swift come in. They are Marine Corps veterans who decided to start writing after leaving the service.
Dorsett was in Marine Corps aviation between 1998 and 2010. After he got out, he became pretty sick of the corporate world and decided to start writing.
“Veterans are the most critical audience you can have,” says Swift. “One chevron out of place and you’ve lost them. And so many feel like Hollywood just doesn’t get it.”
Swift has loved movies his entire life and became a writer as soon as he got out of the Corps (he also writes a review blog called Film Grouch). He soon started working with actress Julia Ling (Chuck, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip) on the web series Tactical Girl. Now Ling, Swift, and Dorsett are collaborating on their short film, Tango Down.
“It’s very important to work with veterans when creating stories like this one, because they have the real experience,” says Micah Haughey, a producer on the film.
Where Tactical Girl was a funny, tongue-in-cheek series, Tango Down is a serious film, with a serious subject. It’s a film by veterans, for veterans. Still, don’t assume that’s what Tango Down is about. The team is serious about their work with the veteran community, but Tango Down isn’t about PTSD.
“There will be some levity in it,” says Swift. “It’s geared towards the veteran community, so there’s going to be some inside jokes that only veterans will get with insider things that only veterans will understand.”
The film is about the bonds formed through military service. It’s a film with action – but not so much an action film – that shows how real veterans might overcome significant challenges using the morals and integrity instilled in them through military service. From Afghanistan to the U.S., the film follows the paths of two friends after they leave the military.
If that sounds vague, you’re right. The filmmakers are careful not to give too much away.
“It’s going to be controversial,” says Dorsett. “It’s not about the broken veteran and that’s an important part. But it’s a very positive message. No politics, no criticism of policy. It’s a character study. We aren’t taking ourselves too seriously. We laugh, we crack jokes, but we know when to be serious.”
There are number of veteran-produced movies that made or are currently making the rounds on social media. Most famously was the film Range 15, an entirely crowdfunded effort by a group of prominent veterans to make “the best military movie ever.” Marine Corps veteran Dale Dye is pushing project designed to be as historically accurate as possible. And they all want to include as many veterans as possible.
So does the team making Tango Down. But Dorsett, Swift, and Ling aren’t just trying to make a movie, they’re trying to build a community of veterans who come together to make movies. In their view, a lot of veterans are adrift right now, seeking a voice. They want to show the world that vets have talent and don’t want to be viewed as a faceless mass.
Tango Down wants them to come and rejoin a unit with a mission – the first of hopefully many opportunities, including feature-length films.
“For all of the veterans working on Tango Down, there’s a genuine mission behind it to connect veterans, to create a community where veterans actually can connect with each other,” says Ling. “At the same time, we hope civilians can watch it and say ‘Wow, I appreciate the military a little bit more after watching this film.'”
To learn more about Tango Down or to see how you can be part of the community, visit their website. To help fund the film and the community, donate here.
While getting divorced in modern times in most nations isn’t exactly a walk in the park, options at least do exist in much of the world, even in cases where one spouse would rather stay together. But this is a relatively modern phenomenon. Classically, getting divorced was almost impossible. So much so that at one point about the only way a woman could manage to get a legal divorce from her husband was to prove in court he couldn’t finish the deed in bed by, if necessary, even attempting to have sex with him with court representatives standing by to observe.
Perhaps not coincidentally around the same time these impotence trials were going on throughout parts of Europe, a rather different means of divorcing one’s spouse popped up in Britain — putting a halter around your wife, leading her like an animal to a local market, loudly extolling her virtues as you would a farm animal, including occasionally listing her weight, and then opening up bidding for anyone who wanted to buy her. On top of this, it wasn’t uncommon for children to be thrown in as a package deal…
While you might think surely something like this must have only occurred in the extremely distant past, this is actually a practice that continued into the early 20th century. So how did this all start and why was it seen as an perfectly legal way for a couple to divorce?
Well, it turns out that nobody is exactly sure how the practice of auctioning a wife got started. There is a mention of it going back all the way to at least 1302 where an individual deeded his wife to another man, but the next known instances didn’t start popping up until the late 17th century, with one of the earliest occurring in 1692 when one John Whitehouse sold his wife to a “Mr. Bracegirdle”.
However, noteworthy here was that four years later, when a man by the name of George Fuller sold his wife to Thomas Heath Maultster, Thomas was nonetheless later fined and ordered to perform a penance for living with his purchased wife. This was despite that all parties involved were in agreement over the sale, seemingly indicating this practice was not yet widely accepted at this point as it would come to be.
On that note, the rise in popularity of this method of divorce came about after the passage of the Marriage Act of 1753 which, among other things, required a clergyman to perform a marriage to make it legally binding. Before that, while that certainly was a common option, in Britain two people could also just agree that they were married and then they were, without registering that fact officially. Thus, without an official registration anywhere, it was also easier to more or less undo the act and hitch up with someone else without officials being any the wiser if neither the husband nor wife complained about the separation to authorities.
As a fun brief aside, the fact that members of the clergy and other officials at this point were often unaware of things like the current marital status of two people is more or less how the whole “If anyone can show just cause why this couple cannot lawfully be joined together in matrimony, let them speak now or forever hold their peace,” thing started. Not at this point a meaningless part of the marriage ceremony, at the time the minister was really asking if anyone knew, for instance, if one or both of the couple he was marrying might already be married or there might be any other legal reason why he shouldn’t marry the couple.
In any event, after the passage of the Marriage Act of 1753 and up to about the mid-19th century, selling your wife at auction seems to have become more and more popular among commoners particularly, who otherwise had no practical means of legally separating. The funny thing about all this is, however, that it wasn’t actually a legal way to get a divorce. But as the commoners seemed to have widely believed it was, clergy and government officials for a time mostly turned a blind eye to the whole thing, with some exceptions.
Illustrating both sides of this, in 1818 an Ashbourne, Derby magistrate sent the police out to break up a wife auction. This was documented by one Rene Martin Pillett who witnessed the event and subsequently wrote about it in his book, Views of England. In it, he states:
In regard to the sale at Ashburn, I will remark that the magistrate, being informed that it would take place, wished to prevent it. Constables were dispatched to drive off the seller, purchaser, and the woman for sale, when they should make their appearance in the market place to perform the ceremony, but the populace covered the constables with mud, and dispersed them with stones. I was acquainted with the magistrate, and I desired to obtain some information in regard to the opposition he had endeavored to make to the performance of the ceremony, and the right which he assumed at that conjuncture. I could obtain no other than this: “Although the real object of my sending the constables, was to prevent the scandalous sale, the apparent motive was that of keeping the peace, which people coming to the market in a sort of tumult, would have a tendency to disturb. As to the act of selling itself, I do not think I have a right to prevent it, or even to oppose any obstacle to it, because it rests upon a custom preserved by the people, of which perhaps it would be dangerous to deprive them by any law for that purpose.”
Pillett goes on, “I shall not undertake to determine. I shall only observe that this infamous custom has been kept up without interruption, that it is continually practised; that if any county magistrates, being informed of a proposed sale, have tried to interrupt it, by sending constables, or other officers to the place of sale, the populace have always dispersed them, and maintained what they consider their right, in the same manner as I have seen it done at Ashburn.”
That said, the press, in general, seemed to have almost universally condemned the practice from the way they talked about it. For example, as noted in a July of 1797 edition of The Times: “On Friday a butcher exposed his wife to Sale in Smithfield Market, near the Ram Inn, with a halter about her neck, and one about her waist, which tied her to a railing, when a hog-driver was the happy purchaser, who gave the husband three guineas and a crown for his departed rib. Pity it is, there is no stop put to such depraved conduct in the lower order of people.”
Nevertheless, particularly in an age when marriage was often more about practical matters than actually putting together two people for the purposes of being happy with one another, there were a lot of unhappy couples around and if both people agreed they’d be better off splitting, a means was needed to do so. The British commoners, having almost no other feasible way to do this, simply got inventive about it.
This might all have you wondering what rationale was used to justify this exact method of divorcing and why people just didn’t split and forget about what authorities thought. As to the latter question, people did do that in droves, but there was legal risk to it to all involved.
You see, at this point a wife was in a lot of ways more or less considered property of her husband. As noted by judge Sir William Blackstonein in 1753, “the very being… of the woman, is suspended during the marriage, or at least is consolidated and incorporated into that of her husband…”
In turn, the husband was also expected to do his part to take care of his wife no matter what and was responsible for any debts she incurred, etc. Just as importantly, while a man having a mistress wasn’t really that uncommon, should a wife find her own action on the side, perhaps with someone she actually liked, this was by societal standards of the day completely unacceptable. This didn’t stop women from doing this, of course, even occasionally leaving their husbands completely and living with a new man. But this also opened up a problem for the new man in that he had, in effect, just stolen another man’s property.
Thus, the dual problem existed that the husband still was legally obligated to be responsible for any debts his wife incurred and to maintain her. He could also be prosecuted for neglecting his duty there, whether his wife had shacked up with another man or not. As for the new suitor, he could at any point also be subjected to criminal proceedings, including potentially having to pay a large fine to the husband for, in essence, stealing his property, as well as potential jail time and the like.
Thus, the commoners of England decided leading a wife as if she was cattle to the market and auctioning her off was a legal way to get around these problems. After all, if the wife was more or less property, why couldn’t a husband sell her and his obligations to her in the same way he sold a pig at market?
While you might think no woman would ever agree to this, in most of the several hundred documented cases, the wife seemingly went along happily with the whole thing. You see, according to the tradition, while the wife technically had no choice about being auctioned off in this way, she did have the right to refuse to be sold should the winning bidder not be to her liking, at which point the auction seems to have continued until a suitable buyer was found. For example, in one case in Manchester in 1824, it was reported that, “after several biddings she [the wife] was knocked down for 5s; but not liking the purchaser, she was put up again for 3s and a quart of ale.”
Further, there are a few known instances of the wife buying herself, such as in 1822 in Plymouth where a woman paid £3 for herself, though in this instance apparently she had a man she’d been having an affair with that was supposed to purchase her, but he didn’t show up… Ouch…
On that note, it turns out in most of the documented instances, the buyer was also usually chosen long before the actual auction took place, generally the woman’s lover or otherwise the man she wanted to be with more than her former husband. And, as she had the right to refuse to be sold, there was little point in anyone else bidding. In fact, accounts exist of the after party sometimes seeing the husband who sold the wife taking the new couple out for drinks to celebrate.
Owing to many involved in such divorces being poor and the suitor often being chosen before hand, the price was usually quite low, generally under 5 shillings, even in some reported cases a mere penny — just a symbolic sum to make the whole thing seem more official. For example, as reported in February 18, 1814,
A postillion, named Samuel Wallis, led his wife to the market place, having tied a halter around her neck, and fastened her to the posts which are used for that purpose for cattle. She was then offered by him at public auction. Another postillion, according to a previous agreement between them, presented himself, and bought the wife thus exposed for sale, for a gallon of beer and a shilling, in presence of a large number of spectators. The seller had been married six months to this woman, who is only nineteen years old.
Not always cheap, however, sometimes honor had to be served when the more affluent were involved. For example, in July of 1815 a whopping 50 guineas and a horse (one of the highest prices we could personally find any wife went for), was paid for a wife in Smithfield. In her case, she was not brought to market via a halter either, like the less affluent, instead arriving by coach. It was then reported that after the transaction was complete, “the lady, with her new lord and master, mounted a handsome curricle which was in waiting for them, and drove off, seemingly nothing loath to go.”
Perhaps the most famous case of someone among the wealthy purchasing an eventual wife from another involved Henry Brydges, the Duke of Chandos. It is not clear how much he paid nor when exactly the transaction took place, but while traveling to London sometime in the 1730s, the Duke stopped at an Inn called the Pelican in Newbury. It was later reported in an August of 1870 edition of Notes and Queries,
After dinner there was a stir and a bustle in the Inn Yard. The explanation came that “A man is going to sell his wife and they are leading her up the yard with a halter round her neck”. “We will go and see the sale,” said the Duke. On entering the yard, however, he was so smitten with the woman’s beauty and the patient way she waited to be set free from her ill‑conditioned husband, the Inn’s ostler, that he bought her himself.
He did not, however, initially take her as his wife, as his own wife was still alive at the time. However, he did have the woman, former chambermaid Anne Wells, educated and took her as his mistress. When both his own wife and Anne’s former husband died within a few years of each other not long after, he married Anne himself in 1744. Their marriage was apparently a happy one until her own death in 1759. An 1832 edition of the The Gentleman’s Magazine concludes the story:
On her death-bed, she had her whole household assembled, told them her history, and drew from it a touching moral of reliance on Providence; as from the most wretched situation, she had been suddenly raised to one of the greatest prosperity…
Not always a completely happy ordeal, however, there are known cases where the sale followed a husband finding out his wife was cheating on him, and then the man she was having an affair with simply offering to buy her to avoid the whole thing becoming extremely unpleasant for all involved or needing to involve the courts.
It has been suggested this may be why elements of the spectacle were rather humiliating to the women. Perhaps early on when the tradition was being set some husbands who had wives that had been cheating on them or otherwise just making their lives miserable took the opportunity to get a last jab at her before parting ways.
Not always just humiliating via being treated as an animal in front of the whole town, sometimes verbal insults were added. For example, consider the case of Joseph Tomson. It was reported his little sales pitch for her was as follows:
Gentlemen, I have to offer to your notice my wife, Mary Anne Thomson, otherwise Williams, whom I mean to sell to the highest and fairest bidder. Gentlemen it is her wish as well as mine to part for ever. She has been to me only a born serpent. I took her for my comfort, and the good of my home; but she became my tormentor, a domestic curse, a night invasion, and a fairly devil. Gentlemen, I speak truth from my heart when I say may God deliver us from troublesome wives and frolicsome women! Avoid them as you would a mad dog, a roaring lion, a loaded pistol, cholera morbus, Mount Etna or any other pestilential thing in nature. Now I have shewn you the dark side of my wife, and told you her faults and failings, I will introduce the bright and sunny side of her, and explain her qualifications and goodness. She can read novels and milk cows; she can laugh and weep with the same ease that you could take a glass of ale when thirsty. Indeed gentlemen she reminds me of what the poet says of women in general: “Heaven gave to women the peculiar grace, To laugh, to weep, to cheat the human race.” She can make butter and scold the maid; she can sing Moore’s melodies, and plait her frills and caps; she cannot make rum, gin, or whisky, but she is a good judge of the quality from long experience in tasting them. I therefore offer her with all her perfections and imperfections, for the sum of fifty shillings.
Not exactly an effective sales pitch, nobody bid for about an hour, which perhaps was further humiliating motivation for such a pitch. Whatever the case, he then dropped the price and eventually got 20 shillings and a dog from one Henry Mears. Apparently Mears and his new wife parted in, to quote, “perfect good temper” as did Thomson.
All this said, while many known accounts seem to be of people where both the husband and wife were in agreement about the separation and use of the auction as the method of divorce, this wasn’t always the case on both sides. For instance, we have the 1830 case in Wenlock Market where it was reported that the woman’s husband “turned shy, and tried to get out of the business, but Mattie mad’ un stick to it. ‘Er flipt her apern in ‘er gude man’s face, and said, ‘Let be yer rogue. I wull be sold. I wants a change’.” She was subsequently sold for 2 shillings and 2d.
In another case, one drunk individual in 1766 in Southwark decided to sell his wife, only to regret the decision later and when his wife wouldn’t come back to him, he killed himself… In a bit more of a happy ending type story, in 1790 a man from Ninfield was at an inn when he decided to sell his wife for a half a pint of gin. However, he would later regret the loss, so paid some undisclosed price to reacquire her, an arrangement she would have had to agree to for it to be completed.
On the other side, there do seem to be some cases where the woman was seemingly auctioned against her will. However, for whatever it’s worth, again, in these cases by tradition she did always have the option to refuse a sale, though of course not exactly a great option in some cases if it meant going back to a husband who was eager to be rid of her. Nonetheless, this may in part explain why there are so few known accounts of women not seeming to be happy about the whole thing. While it might be going to an uncertain future if a man hadn’t already been prearranged, at least it was going to someone who actually wanted her, and willing to outbid other bachelor’s around town (in these cases being a legitimate auction).
Going back to the legality of it all, at least in the minds of the general public, it would seem people considered it important that the whole thing needed to be extremely public, sometimes even announcing it in a local paper and/or having a town crier employed to walk through town announcing the auction and later sale. This made sure everyone around knew that the husband in question was no longer responsible for his wife, nor her debts or other obligations, and announced that the husband had also agreed to dissolve any former rights he had to his wife, ensuring, again at least in the minds of the general public, that the new suitor could not be criminal prosecuted for taking the wife of another man.
For further legal protection, at least in their minds, some would even go so far as to have a contract drawn up, such as this one from Oct. 24, 1766:
It is this day agreed on between John Parsons, of the parish of Midsummer Norton, in the county of Somerset, clothworker, and John Tooker, of the same place, gentleman, that the said John Parsons, for and in consideration of the sum of six pounds and six shillings in hand paid to the said John Parsons, doth sell, assign, and set over unto the said John Tooker, Ann Parsons, wife of the said John Parsons; with all right, property, claim, services, and demands whatsoever, that he, the said John Parsons, shall have in or to the said Ann Parsons, for and during the term of the natural life of her, the said Ann Parsons. In witness whereof I, the said John Parsons, have set my hand the day and year first above written. JOHN PARSONS. ‘Witness: WILLIAM CHIVERS.’
While none of this was legally binding in the slightest, for whatever it’s worth, there is at least one case where a representative of the state, a Poor Law Commissioner, actually forced a sale of a wife. In this case, they forced one Henry Cook to sell his wife and child to avoid the Effingham workhouse having to also take in his family. The woman was ultimately sold for a shilling. The parish did, at the least, pay for a wedding dinner after the fact… So only 99.9% heartless in kicking a man while he was down.
In any event, there were also known court cases where the courts upheld such a divorce, though seemingly always jury trials. For example, in 1784 a husband tried to claim his former wife as his own again, only to have a jury side with the new couple, despite that there was literally no law on the books that supported this position.
On the flipside there were many more cases where the courts went the other way, such as the case of an 1835 woman who was auctioned off by her husband and sold for fifteen pounds, with the amount of the transaction indicating this person was likely reasonably well off. However, upon the death of her former husband, she went ahead and claimed a portion of his estate as his wife. The courts agreed, despite the objections of his family who pointed out the previous auction and that she had taken up a new husband.
Now, as you can imagine, literally leading your wife by a halter around her neck, waist, or arm to market and putting her up on an auction block, even if seemingly generally a mutually desired thing, from the outside looking in seemed incredibly uncivilized and brutish. As such, foreign entities, particularly in France, frequently mocked their hated neighbors in England for this practice.
From this, and the general distaste for the whole thing among the more affluent even in Britain, the practice of auctioning wives off began to be something the authorities did start to crack down on starting around the mid-19th century. As noted by a Justice of the Peace in 1869, “publicly selling or buying a wife is clearly an indictable offence … And many prosecutions against husbands for selling, and others for buying, have recently been sustained, and imprisonment for six months inflicted…”
In another example, in 1844 a man who had auctioned off his former wife was being tried for getting married again as he was, in the eyes of the state, still considered to be married to his original wife. The seemingly extremely sympathetic judge, Sir William Henry Maule, admonished him for this fact, while also very clearly outlining why many of the less affluent were forced to use this method for divorce, even in cases where the wife had left and taken up with another man:
I will tell you what you ought to have done; … You ought to have instructed your attorney to bring an action against the seducer of your wife for criminal conversation. That would have cost you about a hundred pounds. When you had obtained judgment for (though not necessarily actually recovered) substantial damages against him, you should have instructed your proctor to sue in the Ecclesiastical courts for a divorce a mensa et thoro. That would have cost you two hundred or three hundred pounds more. When you had obtained a divorce a mensa et thoro, you should have appeared by counsel before the House of Lords in order to obtain a private Act of Parliament for a divorce a vinculo matrimonii which would have rendered you free and legally competent to marry the person whom you have taken on yourself to marry with no such sanction. The Bill might possibly have been opposed in all its stages in both Houses of Parliament, and together you would have had to spend about a thousand or twelve hundred pounds. You will probably tell me that you have never had a thousand farthings of your own in the world; but, prisoner, that makes no difference. Sitting here as an English Judge, it is my duty to tell you that this is not a country in which there is one law for the rich and one for the poor. You will be imprisoned for one day. Since you have been in custody since the commencement of the Assizes you are free to leave.
In the end, thanks to the masses having to resort to such extreme measures as simply abandoning a spouse and never legally separating, auctioning the wife off as if she was an animal, and the aforementioned impotence trials, divorce law was eventually revamped in Britain with the passage of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1857, finally allowing at least some affordable means of divorce for commoners, particularly in cases of abandonment or adultery. This, combined with the courts cracking down on wife auctions, saw the practice more or less completely die off by the end of the 19th century, though there were a few more known cases that continued in Britain all the way up to 1926 where one Horace Clayton bought a woman he then called his wife for £10 from her previous husband.
In case anyone’s wondering, while there are only a handful of known cases of it happening, there were a few husbands sold as well, though as part of the point of the whole thing was for the husband to publicly declare he was no longer obligated to his wife and for the woman in question to agree to be wed to another man, with rights to her transferring to him, the auction of a husband didn’t really make a lot of sense from a practical standpoint. Nevertheless, it did happen. For example, consider this case reported a March 18, 1814 edition of the Statesmen:
On Saturday evening an affair of rather an extraordinary nature was brought before his Lordship the Mayor of Drogheda. One Margaret Collins presented a complaint against her husband, who had left her to live with another woman. In his defense, the husband declared that his wife was of a very violent disposition, which her conduct before the magistrate fully proved; that in her anger she had offered to sell him for two pence to her in whose keeping he then was; that she had sold and delivered him for three halfpence; that on payment of the sum, he had been led off by the purchaser; that several times, his wife, the seller, in her fits of anger had cruelly bitten him; that he still bore terrible marks of it (which he showed) although it was several months since he belonged to her. The woman who purchased, having been sent for to give her evidence, corroborated every fact, confirmed the bargain, and declared that she every day grew more and more satisfied with the acquisition; that she did not believe there was any law which could command him to separate from her, because the right of a wife to sell a husband with whom she was dissatisfied, to another woman who was willing to take up with him ought to be equal to the husband’s right, whose power of selling was acknowledged, especially when there was a mutual agreement, as in the present instance. This plea, full of good sense and justice, so exasperated the plaintiff, that, without paying any regard to his lordship, she flew at the faces of her antagonists, and would have mangled them with her teeth and nails, if they had not been separated…
It’s also worth noting that at least some English settlers to America carried on the tradition there, such as this account reported in the Boston Evening-Post on March 15, 1736:
The beginning of last Week a pretty odd and uncommon Adventure happened in this Town, between 2 Men about a certain woman, each one claiming her as his Wife, but so it was, that one of them had actually disposed of his Right in her to the other for Fifteen Shillings this Currency, who had only paid ten of it in part, and refus’d to pay the other Five, inclining rather to quit the Woman and lose his Earnest; but two Gentlemen happening to be present, who were Friends to Peace, charitably gave him half a Crown a piece, to enable him to fulfill his Agreement, which the Creditor readily took, and gave the Woman a modest Salute, wishing her well, and his Brother Sterling much Joy of his Bargain.
This article originally appeared on Today I Found Out. Follow @TodayIFoundOut on Twitter.
Just after completing the final flight of the Southern Hemisphere winter Antarctic season, the 304th Expeditionary Air Squadron was alerted there was a medical emergency at the National Science Foundation’s McMurdo Station Aug. 25, 2018.
In the face of rapidly deteriorating weather conditions, the 304th EAS was able to redirect a mission to respond to the medical evacuation and use a local Christchurch New Zealand Life Fleet medical team to save time.
“We were in alert position to leave for Guam, and when I woke up, there was a note under my door that read we were now going to do a medevac mission,” said Lt. Col. Bruce Cohn, 97th Airlift Squadron pilot.
Planners worked throughout the night to switch from a ‘go home’ mission to medevac mission in order to airlift two patients to medical facilities in Christchurch. During the flight to the Antarctic, aircrew were able to interact with the New Zealand Life Fleet medical team to orient them to the C-17 Globemaster III.
“The team was great to work with, and this was their first aeromedical evacuation mission and flight on a military aircraft,” Cohn said.
Upon landing, weather impacted the medevac mission.
“Weather was favorable for the arrival except temperatures at the time of landing were much colder than previously forecasted,” said Lt. Col. Trace Dotson, the 304th EAS commander.
The crew worked quickly in negative 65.2 Fahrenheit conditions to safely evacuate one critically ill patient and another patient needing medical care.
A Christchurch New Zealand Life Fleet medical team loads response equipment onto the C-17 Globemaster III for an emergency medevac from the National Science Foundation’s McMurdo Station.
“There was a lot of coordination with the New Zealand Life Fleet medical personnel as we usually work with Air Force Aeromedical Evacuation teams,” said Tech. Sgt. Seth Lewis, 7th Airlift Squadron loadmaster. “The increased coordination helped us perform the medevac safely. It was so cold that we weren’t able to open up the back of the aircraft, so the patients were loaded through the crew door, which is located on the front left side of the aircraft.”
With a wind-chill of negative 94 Fahrenheit, crew minimized time on the ground due to the extreme cold and returned the patients to Christchurch within 24 hours from the time we were notified of the evacuation request, Dotson said.
“This mission was outside normal operations since it was an emergency situation,” Cohn said. “The rapidness of how we changed gear to respond really showed the teamwork of all who were involved.”
The rapid, life-saving response demonstrated the flexibility and capabilities of the Joint Task Force-Support Forces Antarctica to respond quickly to emergency situations in the Antarctic. The patients were treated in New Zealand medical facilities.
“This was a complete different mission from what we typically do,” Lewis said. “It was really special to be part of something that you weren’t expecting. I was expecting to go home, but then I got to participate in a medical evacuation to help two people.”
The last dedicated medevac mission the 304th EAS supported was in 2013. The 304th is comprised of blended aircrews from the active duty 62nd Airlift Wing and the reserve 446th Airlift Wing.
The NSF manages the U.S. Antarctic Program. Operation Deep Freeze is the logistical support provided by the DoD to the U. S. Antarctic Program. This includes the coordination of strategic inter-theater airlift, tactical intra-theater airlift and airdrop, aeromedical evacuation support, search-and-rescue response, sealift, seaport access, bulk fuel supply, port cargo handling, and transportation requirements supporting the NSF.
This is a unique mission that demonstrates U.S. commitment to stability in the Pacific and research programs conducted for the betterment of all mankind.
Featured image: A C-17 Globemaster III sits on the runway at McMurdo Station in Antarctic.
When an Air Force major called J.J. completed a solo flight in the U-2 in late August 2016 — 60 years after the high-flying aircraft was introduced — he became the 1,000th pilot to do so.
J.J., whose name was withheld by the US Air Force for security reasons, earned his solo patch a few days after pilots No. 998 and No. 999. Those three pilots are in distinguished company, two fellow pilots said.
“We have a pretty small, elite team of folks. We’re between about 60 and 70 active-duty pilots at any given time,” Maj. Matt “Top” Nauman said during an Air Force event at the Intrepid Sea, Air, and Space Museum in New York City.
“We’re about 1,050 [pilots] right now. So to put that in context, there are more people with Super Bowl rings than there are people with U-2 patches,” Nauman added. “It’s a pretty small group of people that we’ve hired over the last 60 to 65 years.”
Pilots at Beale Air Force Base go through pre-flight checks on a U-2 during the 2018 Marine Corps Air Station Miramar Air Show, Sept. 29, 2018
(Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Jeffrey Schultze)
The U-2 pilot cadre has remained small in part because the Air Force has long sought applicants with extensive experience and flight time — six years and 1,200 rated hours — to fly a challenging, single-seat plane up to 13 miles above the Earth, all while snapping reconnaissance images. Pilots from all backgrounds, from fighter to trainer, can apply, as can transfers from the Navy, Marines, and Coast Guard.
The Air Force also recently introduced a program allowing student pilots to go directly to the U-2 training pipeline, though that program will only send a few fliers to the Dragon Lady.
The mission itself also keeps the ranks trim. “Part of the reason that we cut so many of the applicants is it’s a really difficult plane to fly,” said Nauman, who joined the U-2 program in 2012.
The first phase is an interview at Beale Air Force Base, California where the U-2s are based, meant to assess “self-confidence, professionalism and airmanship” on the ground and during flights in a TU-2, the U-2 training aircraft.
99th Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron airmen prepare a U-2 pilot for a mission at Al Dhafra Air Base in the United Arab Emirates, March 13, 2019.
(US Air Force photo by Senior Airman Gracie I. Lee)
On a 2012 fact sheet about the application process, the Air Force said pilots “selected for an interview generally possess a strong flight evaluation history, strong performance evaluations, and exceed the minimum flight experience requirements.”
“When you do an interview, you actually go out to Beale for two weeks,” Nauman said. “You’ll sit down and talk with the different commanders, the directors of operations, [go] over your flight records, your performance reviews, and just kind of your overall goals. ‘So why do you want to fly the U-2? What is it that brought you here?'”
An applicant who makes it through the interviews in Week 1 moves on to Week 2, “where you actually get to fly the aircraft,” Nauman said.
“For some folks, they may have never seen a U-2 in person, and the first time they actually touch the jet is Day 1 of their interview,” Nauman added. “They’ve read about it. They’ve seen it. They’ve talked to some people they knew, but by Week 2 they actually put in you a two-seater with an instructor and you have to demonstrate the ability to land the aircraft.”
A U-2 pilot waits for maintainers and crew chiefs to finish final checks before the scheduled flight time at Beale Air Force Base, California, Oct. 26, 2017.
(US Air Force photo by Senior Airman Justin Parsons)
While the U-2 excels at high-altitude reconnaissance missions — its ceiling is above 70,000 feet — taking off and landing are more challenging in the ungainly aircraft, which has a 105-foot wingspan and only two landing gear, under the nose and the tail.
Landing requires a kind of controlled crash in which the pilot descends and slows until the plane stalls, dropping onto the runway — all done with the guidance of fellow pilots racing alongside in cars.
“It’s extremely difficult to land,” Nauman said. “You could YouTube videos of bad U-2 landings all day and see interview sorties that look a little bit sketchy. Understand we have a very wide runway and very experienced acceptance flight instructors, so it is safe despite what you might see.”
Applicants do three acceptance flight sorties, during which they perform flight maneuvers, approaches and landings, and other scenarios, including driving the chase car that assists landing U-2s. After that, a decision is made about whether the applicant will be offered an assignment.
A U-2 lands at Al Dhafra Air Base in the United Arab Emirates, Nov. 16, 2017.
(Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Colton Elliott)
If you do the flying portion of the interview but aren’t picked, “we will not interview you again,” the Air Force says. “Basically, you get one shot.”
U-2 flight training includes time in the T-38 trainer and time to get other qualifications pilots may need, before moving on to flying the actual U-2, on which trainees must complete two courses: basic and mission. Those take about three months each.
The whole training program can take nine months to a year. The 1st Reconnaissance Wing, which Maj. J.J. joined in August 2016, has eight classes of three new pilots each year.
The solo flight that made J.J. the 1,000 solo pilot was his seventh in the aircraft but his first without an instructor. That first solo was to be followed by a few more two-person outings, after which he would never again have to fly the U-2 with someone else.
US Air Force Maj. Sean Gallagher greets his ground support crew before a U-2 mission somewhere in Southwest Asia, Nov. 24, 2010.
Trainees adjusting to the technical challenges of the U-2 also have to adapt to the physical strain of operating it.
Cruising at 70,000 feet puts the plane above the Armstrong Line — the point at which the boiling point for liquids, like blood, is equal to the normal human body temperature — and requires pilots to wear a space suit that weighs about 70 pounds. Pilots also have to breathe pure oxygen before flying to rid their system of nitrogen.
The suit can be a physical and psychological stumbling block. Interviewees must sit in it for at least 45 minutes to prove their mettle before moving on.
“So you get suited up. You go out to the aircraft. It’s pretty warm on the ground, so it could be an endurance test at times,” Maj. Travis “Lefty” Patterson, a U-2 pilot, said at the event.
“If you’re delayed in take off, your core temperature is heating up pretty rapidly as you’re sitting in, effectively, a plastic bag with a fishbowl” on your head, Patterson added.
The cabin is also pressurized, Patterson said. Previous generations of U-2 pilots flew at what felt like about 29,000 feet — roughly the height of Mt. Everest. (That altitude, along with the challenges of longer and more complex missions in the 2000s, took a toll on pilots’ health.)
A U-2 pilot prepares for takeoff at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada, Dec. 12, 2018.
(US Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Bailee A. Darbasie)
In the last decade however, the Air Force has brought the U-2’s cockpit altitude down.
“We’re only sitting at about 15,000 feet — a little higher than you would on a normal airliner,” Patterson added. “We still wear that suit in the event that there’s a malfunction or we have to eject or something like that.”
The pilot is strapped into that suit and flying at that altitude for up to 10 hours or 12 hours. But with their focus on the task at hand, a pilot can forget they’re even wearing the suit, Patterson said.
Upon return, however, pilots still getting used to the Dragon Lady may feel the strain acutely.
“I think after my interview sortie, I came back and [said], ‘Wow, I feel like I just did three days of straight Crossfit,’ just because I didn’t know all the tricks of the trade,” Patterson added.
“A good U-2 pilot will land, and you won’t be able to tell from the outside, but inside it’s almost like you’re flailing around. You’re moving the yoke around. Your feet are moving the rudders. It’s kind of like a full-body workout sometimes.”
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If you take a peek at a list of pilots who were considered flying aces during WW2, you’ll notice that the top of the list is dominated by Luftwaffe pilots, some of whom scored hundreds of aerial victories during the war. While their skill and prowess in the air is undeniable, it’s arguable that the finest display in aerial combat during WW2 was achieved, mostly by luck, by an American B-24 co-pilot when he scored a single enemy kill with nothing but a handgun, at about 4,000-5,000 feet (about 1.3 km) in altitude, and without a plane. This is the story of Owen Baggett.
Born in 1920 in Texas, after finishing high school, Baggett moved to the city of Abilene to enroll in Hardin–Simmons University. While we were unable to discern what Baggett studied from the sparse amount of information available about his early life, the fact that he went to work at Johnson and Company Investment Securities in New York after graduating suggests he studied finance, business, or another similar subject.
Whatever the case, while still working at the investment firm in New York in December of 1941, Baggett volunteered for the Army Air Corps and reported for basic pilot training at the New Columbus Army Flying School.
After graduating from basic training, Baggett reported for duty in India, just a stone’s throw away from Japanese occupied Burma with the Tenth Air Force. Baggett eventually became a co-pilot for a B-24 bomber in the 7th Bomb Group based in Pandaveswar and reached the rank of 2nd Lieutenant. During his time with the 7th Bomb Group, Baggett’s duties mainly consisted of flying bombing runs into Burma and helping defend allied supply routes between India and China.
Baggett’s career was mostly uneventful, or at least as uneventful as it could be given the circumstances, for around a year until he was called upon to take part in a bombing run on March 31, 1943. The mission itself was fairly simple- Baggett and the rest of the 7th Bomb Group were to fly into Burma and destroy a small, but vital railroad bridge near the logging town of Pyinmana.
However, shortly after taking off, the (unescorted) bombers of the 7th Bomb Group were attacked by a few dozen Japanese Zero fighters. During the ensuing dogfight, the plane’s emergency oxygen tanks were hit, severely damaging the craft. Ultimately, 1st Lt. Lloyd Jensen gave the order for the crew to bailout. Baggett relayed the order to the crew using hand signals (since their intercom had also been destroyed) and leapt from the aircraft with the rest of the surviving crew.
Not long after the crew bailed out, the attacking Japanese Zeros began training their guns on the now-defenceless crewman lazily floating towards the ground.
Baggett would later recall seeing some of his crewmates being torn to pieces by gunfire (in total 5 of the 9 aboard the downed bomber were killed). As for himself, a bullet grazed his arm, but he was otherwise fine. In a desperate bid to stay that way, after being shot in the arm, Baggett played possum, hanging limp in his parachute’s harness.
According to a 1996 article published in Air Force Magazine, this is when Baggett spotted an enemy pilot lazily flying along almost vertically in mid-air to come check out whether Baggett was dead or not, including having his canopy open to get a better look at Baggett. When the near-stalling plane came within range, Baggett ceased to play dead and pulled out his M1911 from its holster, aimed it at the pilot, and squeezed the trigger four times. The plane soon stalled out and Baggett didn’t notice what happened after, thinking little of the incident, being more concerned with the other fighters taking pot shots at he and his crew.
After safely reaching the ground, Baggett regrouped with Lt Jensen and one of the bomber’s surviving gunners. Shortly thereafter, all three were captured, at which point Baggett soon found himself being interrogated. After telling the events leading up to his capture to Major General Arimura, commander of the Southeast Asia POW camps, very oddly (as no one else in his little group was given the opportunity), Baggett was given the chance to die with honour by committing harakiri (an offer he refused).
Later, while still a POW, Baggett had a chance encounter with one Col. Harry Melton. Melton informed him that the plane that Baggett had shot at had crashed directly after stalling out near him and (supposedly) the pilot’s body had been thrown from the wreckage. When it was recovered, he appeared to have been killed, or at least seriously injured, via having been shot, at least according to Colonel Melton.
Despite the fact that the plane had crashed after his encounter with it, Baggett was still skeptical that one (or more) of his shots actually landed and figured something else must have happened to cause the crash. Nevertheless, it was speculated by his compatriots that this must have been the reason Baggett alone had been given the chance to die with honour by committing harakiri after being interrogated.
Baggett never really talked about his impressive feat after the fact, remaining skeptical that he’d scored such a lucky shot. He uneventfully served the rest of his time in the war as a POW, dropping from a hearty 180 pounds and change to just over 90 during the near two years he was kept prisoner. The camp he was in was finally liberated on September 7, 1945 by the OSS and he continued to serve in the military for several years after WW2, reaching the rank of colonel.
The full details of his lucky shot were only dug up in 1996 by John L Frisbee of Air Force Magazine. After combing the records looking to verify or disprove the tale, it turned out that while Col. Harry Melton’s assertion that the pilot in question had been found with a .45 caliber bullet wound could not be verified by any documented evidence, it was ultimately determined that Baggett must have managed to hit the pilot. You see, the plane in question appears to have stalled at approximately 4,000 to 5,000 feet (so an amazing amount of time for the pilot to have recovered from the stall had he been physically able) and, based on official mission reports by survivors, there were no Allied fighters in the vicinity to have downed the fighter and no references of anyone seeing any friendly fire at the slow moving plane before its ultimately demise. Further, even with some sort of random engine failure, the pilot should have still had some control of the plane, instead of reportedly more or less heading straight down and crashing after the stall.
U.S. President Donald Trump has said his administration was considering a request for a permanent U.S. military presence in Poland.
Trump made the comments in Washington on Sept. 18, 2018, before a meeting at the White House with Polish President Andrzej Duda.
“Poland is willing to make a very major contribution to the United States to come in and have a presence in Poland, and certainly it’s something we’ll discuss,” Trump said, adding that “we’re looking at it very seriously.”
Poland has requested the deployment several times and has offered up to billion in funding for a base. U.S. forces currently serve in Poland as part of NATO’s back-to-back rotation program.
President Donald J. Trump and President Andrzej Duda.
(Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)
Poland has said a permanent U.S. presence is needed to counter Russian military activity in the region.
Russia has objected to the proposal, saying it views NATO expansion toward the east as a threat to stability in Europe.
Featured image: President Donald J. Trump and First Lady Melania Trump with Andrzej Duda, President of the Republic of Poland, and Mrs. Kornhauser-Duda.
Defense Department officials told lawmakers Wednesday they hope to forgive about 90 percent of cases involving thousands of California National Guard members that auditors say received improper bonuses during the height of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“It is my hope that by the end of the year, we will have something between 1,000 and 2,000 cases total out of the universe of 17,000 that are subject to review,” Peter Levine, undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, told members of the House Armed Services Committee.
Levine was among Pentagon and Army National Guard officials who testified at the Dec. 7 hearing to tell lawmakers how the Pentagon plans to resolve what some are calling a betrayal of the troops by next summer and prevent similar incidents from occurring in the future.
“Compensation, whether it is a bonus for a service agreement or regular pay, is an obligation to our service members and their families that they should not have to worry about,” said Rep. Joseph Heck, a Republican from Nevada and chairman of the panel’s Military Personnel Subcommittee.
“I find it unacceptable that we would place the additional burden of years of concern about the legitimacy of a bonus payment or a student loan repayment on those who volunteer to serve,” he added.
Lawmakers have come up with a compromise as part of the National Defense Authorization Act that calls on the Pentagon to forgive the enlistment bonuses and student loan benefits unless the soldier who received the money “knew or reasonably should have known” that he or she was ineligible for it.
The Los Angeles Times/Tribune Washington Bureau reported last month that the Pentagon was demanding repayment of enlistment bonuses given to California Guard soldiers to help fill enlistment quotas for the wars. Many of the soldiers served in combat, and some returned with severe injuries.
Many of soldiers were told to repay bonuses of $15,000 or more years after they had completed their military service. Student loan repayments, which were also given out improperly to soldiers with educational loans, sometimes totaled as much as $50,000.
“Many reasons these cases are particularly troublesome,” Levine said. “Many of them are based on a technical deficiency.
“Particularly in cases like this, where we have a service member who made a commitment on the basis of a bonus and served out that commitment, so when we come in later after someone has fulfilled their commitment and then question on a technical ground why they received a bonus in the first place — that is a particular hardship,” he said.
There are two basic categories of cases, Levine said. One type involves about 1,400 cases already ordered to pay back bonuses. The second category of 16,000 cases involves soldiers who were put under suspicion or threat of recoupment of bonuses they received.
“For those cases that are in recoupment, we have the question of, ‘Are we going to dismiss the case? Are we going to forgive the debt? Are we going to repay the soldier if we decide it was improper?’ ” Levine said.
Through detailed screenings, “It’s my hope we can get from about 1,400 down to about 700 … that’s a goal; I don’t know what exact numbers we can get to.”
As for the larger category of about 16,000 cases, “We have greater discretion because we haven’t yet established the debt yet,” Levine said.
Several “rules of thumb” will be established in an attempt to:
— Screen out cases that are more than 10 years old.
— Screen out cases with a debt of $10,000 or less.
— Screen out most of the cases that involve enlisted members and lower ranking members without prior service on the basis that it’s unlikely they would be able to understand their contract fully without assistance.
“As we go through those screens from that second universe of 16,000 or so cases, I expect to reduce that by about 90 percent, so we get down to about 10 percent,” Levine said. “We will then put that universe through the kinds of substantive screens, and I hope to get that down further.
“The objective is to find that easy ones first, get rid of those, tell people ‘we are not pursuing you … we are telling you, you are off the hook; we are done with you,’ so we can focus our resources on the cases that are the most significant.”
Many lawmakers said they felt the California Guard scandal severely damaged the trust of current Guard members across the country.
“In some of these cases, there have been troops — through no fault of their own — that are suffering the consequences,” said Rep. Paul Cook, a Republican from California. “It’s our fault, and I use that word collectively on behalf of all officers that are in positions of authority. We betrayed the trust of the troops, and there is no excuse for that.”
Rep. Susan Davis, a Democrat from the state, said it’s “critically important that we do not forget service members and their families that have been deeply affected by this.”
“Once these families have encountered financial hardships, we know it can be truly difficult to recover. Even if we return their bonus, we have already upended their lives by creating unnecessary emotional stress and financial instability.”
Army Master Sgt. Toni Jaffe, the California Guard’s incentive manager, pleaded guilty in 2011 to filing false claims of $15.2 million and was sentenced to 30 months in federal prison.
But National Guard officials told lawmakers that many others were held accountable, including leaders who failed to provide proper oversight, said Maj. Gen. David S. Baldwin, adjutant general for the California National Guard.
“We punished, within the California National Guard, 61 people — including firing four general officers and two full colonels,” Baldwin said.
The Department of Justice prosecuted 44 soldiers. Of those, 26 were found guilty and convicted, Baldwin said. Another 15 cases are pending, and the remainder were either dismissed or acquitted, Baldwin said.
Lt. Gen. Timothy Kadavy, director of the Army National Guard, told lawmakers that the National Guard Bureau has taken steps to prevent this from happening again.
In 2010, the bureau conducted a review of all incentive programs across all states territories and the District of Columbia and found “no systemic fraud,” Kadavy said.
In 2012, the National Guard stood up the Guard Incentive Management System, or GIMS, which now provides “a centralized oversight program for bonus and incentive payments,” he said.
In 2016, the Army Audit Agency conducted an “external review” of GIMS and validated its effectiveness, Kadavy said. Auditors found that the system “substantially improved the controls of eligibility monitoring and payment phases of the incentive process.”
Despite the steps being taken to resolve the problem, officials admitted that they should have known about this a lot sooner.
“We have oversight on the California National Guard, the Army has oversight, the National Guard Bureau has oversight,” Levine said. “We were not aware of this until we read it in the newspaper, and that is on us; we missed this.”