There's a new battle brewing in the Atlantic - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY CULTURE

There’s a new battle brewing in the Atlantic

The National Defense Strategy issued by the Defense Department in 2018 declared a new era of great power competition with “revisionist powers” — namely, China and Russia.

A new period of tension and competition with Russia has been evident in Europe since 2014, when Moscow seized Crimea from Ukraine.

In the years since, NATO has sought to improve its position in Europe, while Russia has displayed new naval capabilities in the waters around the continent.


In an email interview, Magnus Nordenman, a NATO expert and author of “The New Battle for the Atlantic: Emerging Competition with Russia in the Far North” who was previously director of the Transatlantic Security Initiative at the Atlantic Council, explained what this new era of competition in the Atlantic looks like, what each side brings to it, and how the conditions continue to change.

Christopher Woody: As mentioned in the title of your book, there have been several battles for the Atlantic, namely during World War I and II and the Cold War. How does the present situation resemble those battles and how does it differ?

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Coast guardsmen aboard the US Coast Guard cutter Spencer watch the explosion of a depth charge, blasting a German submarine attempting to break into the center of a large US convoy in the Atlantic, April 17, 1943.

(Public domain)

Magnus Nordenman: During each great conflict in Europe during the 20th century the Atlantic has served as the crucial bridge that allowed the flow of war-winning supplies and reinforcements from America to Europe.

If a conflict between Russia and NATO erupted in the coming years, the Atlantic would serve that role again.

But it would not be a re-run of previous battles for the Atlantic. Changes in technology, a new-style Russian navy, and the context of global great-power competition would all help shape a future battle for the Atlantic.

Woody: Russia has made an effort to rebuild its navy in recent years. What capabilities does that force, its submarines in particular, have now that it didn’t have in the years after the end of the Cold War?

Nordenman: Unlike during Cold War days, the Russian navy is going for quality rather than quantity. And given that it has relatively limited resources it must focus its investments where they can make the biggest difference, and that is with its submarine force.

Russia has also focused on giving its navy a long-range strike capability with Kalibr missiles, which have been used to great effect in Syria. The use of long-range strike missiles from submarines was nearly an exclusive US domain until relatively recently.

Russia fires six Kalibr missiles at IS targets in Syria’s Hama

www.youtube.com

All this suggests that Russia would not try to halt shipping coming across the Atlantic from the US but would instead seek to attack command-and-control centers and ports and airfields in Northern Europe to disrupt US efforts to come to the aid of its European allies.

Woody: On the Center for a New American Security podcast in August, you mentioned that when it comes to dealing with Russia, you think there’s less an “Arctic problem” and more of a “Kola Peninsula problem.” Can you elaborate on the difference between the two and what that distinction means for NATO?

Nordenman: Arctic security is a growing theme, but I think it often confuses the debate rather than enlightens it.

The North American, European, and Russian Arctics are three very different places in terms of politics, accessibility, operating environment, and international relations. To place it all under the rubric “Arctic security” is not always helpful.

In the case of NATO and its mission to provide deterrence on behalf of its member states it comes down to the Kola Peninsula, where Russia’s northern fleet is based.

Woody: The Arctic remains a challenging region for navies to operate in, but climate change is altering the environment there. What changes do you expect naval forces to have to make in order to keep operating there effectively?

Nordenman: NATO member navies need to get familiar again with operating in the broader North Atlantic.

The last two decades have seen those navies primarily operate in places such as the Mediterranean, the [Persian] Gulf, and Indian Ocean. Those are very different domains in comparison to the Atlantic. And while the far North Atlantic is warming, it is not a hospitable place. It still remains very remote.

In terms of climate change, there are, for example, indications that warmer waters are changing the patterns of sound propagation in the far North Atlantic, which means that they must be measured and catalogued anew in order to conduct effective anti-submarine warfare.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

How the military will be used in the COVID-19 response

Politicians: Let’s use the military to fight the coronavirus!

Military: uhhhh ok.


Many of us who served have participated in humanitarian missions around the world and at home. Whether it was big disasters at home like Hurricane Katrina, unrest like the Los Angeles riots of 1992 or the massive tsunami in 2004 to volcanic eruptions, earthquakes and famines in vast corners of the world, the United States military is usually there to provide assistance or security.

With the COVID-19 outbreak paralyzing most of the country and reports that it could possibly get really ugly, politicians have been throwing out many plans to help Americans, prevent the spread of the virus, and how to act if the worst-case scenario happens.

This past Sunday, during the Democratic primary debate, former Vice President Joe Biden threw out his plan to utilize the military to fight the outbreak.

“I would call out the military now,” Biden said. “They have the ability to provide this surge that hospitals need. They have the capacity to build 500 hospital beds and tents that are completely safe and secure. It’s a national emergency, and I would call out the military. We’re at war with the virus.”

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His lone debate opponent (fellow veteran Tulsi Gabbard, anyone?) Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders echoed Biden’s call and said he would mobilize and deploy National Guard Units to combat the outbreak. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has started a plan to use the New York National Guard to create or build upon facilities so up to 9,000 more hospital beds could be ready if needed.

This talk brings up the images we have seen in the movies. When a monster attacks, a terrorist plot happens or a cataclysmic disaster happens, the military comes in, sets up shop and gets to kicking ass.

We have even seen in movies like Outbreak and Contagion where the military is either on the forefront or very involved in epidemic operations.

For all that talk and imagery we have, the Pentagon is a bit more restrained on how exactly the military will be involved.

“The Department of Defense is ready, willing and able to support civilian authorities to the greatest extent possible at the direction of the president,” Pentagon spokesperson Jonathan Hoffman said, “We just want to make sure that the conversation that we have is informed by the facts of what is possible and what is not and what those trade-offs are.”

The big issue is beds and field hospitals. The military can set up big tents to accommodate many potential patients. These tents can go anywhere from a couple of dozen to housing hundreds. The issue though, is if the military is prepared to handle coronavirus patients. The military trains and is prepared to handle trauma and casualties from war and natural disasters. Outbreaks, on the other hand, might not be the military’s strong suit. Do they have the medical personnel and support staff to handle the potential of thousands of infected patients?

The Navy has two hospital ships, but are limited in size, geography (they can only be close to the seaboards obviously) and are configured to deal with mass trauma and not infectious diseases. Being in an open sickbay might not be the best place for a large group of people that need to be treated in isolation.

National Guard units would be the units that would be used to help with any outbreak containment and treatment efforts. Active duty would be prohibited (as many of us know) by the Posse Comitatus Act. Right now, there are less than 1,000 Guardsmen mobilized (mostly in New York). If the virus spreads, there will be more mobilized, but the trade-off will have to be weighed. Many Guardsmen also work as police, firefighters and first responders, and that would be a huge loss to the town they are leaving.

While there are no plans yet to use the National Guard for law enforcement purposes, we keep hearing about curfews, lockdowns, shelter in place and Marshall Law (sorry Rubio) means that the military might have to consider they will be utilized as an auxiliary police force.

[rebelmouse-proxy-image https://media.rbl.ms/image?u=%2F-%2Fmedia%2FImages%2FMHS%2FPhotos%2FComfort-arrives-home.ashx&ho=https%3A%2F%2Fhealth.mil&s=808&h=5904208c8d3d01a66b4c82173af133a8490968cfafa9c428efb9b843f62b646f&size=980x&c=605198589 crop_info=”%7B%22image%22%3A%20%22https%3A//media.rbl.ms/image%3Fu%3D%252F-%252Fmedia%252FImages%252FMHS%252FPhotos%252FComfort-arrives-home.ashx%26ho%3Dhttps%253A%252F%252Fhealth.mil%26s%3D808%26h%3D5904208c8d3d01a66b4c82173af133a8490968cfafa9c428efb9b843f62b646f%26size%3D980x%26c%3D605198589%22%7D” expand=1]

With all that’s been said, we do have to factor in two things. The first is that the military might not even be needed. This might all blow over or civilians might be able to take care of the outbreak without the need for much or any military assistance.

The second factor is that our military is really good at being adaptable. Time and time again, the United States military gets served a sh*t sandwich, and they adapt and overcome those situations. If the coronavirus spread does require a massive response from the military to help civilians, I think the men and women in uniform will do everything they can to make sure they can help as many of us as possible.

MIGHTY CULTURE

You thought 2020 was a dumpster fire? 10 memes to kick off 2021

For months we had been telling ourselves that reaching a new calendar year would mean a new start. A fresh take on the status quo, a supposed stop to the madness. Yet only a few days in *shocker alert* that was proved to not be true. The fantasy was fun while it lasted, but reality proved itself to be very much existent this past week. 

Take a look at some of our favorite memes displaying our crushed dreams and the world’s collective thoughts through these hilariously accurate visuals. 

  1. We doing this over again? 
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Perhaps. Though it’s too soon to tell. 

  1. The replacement is here!
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Not sure we like the new guy any better. 

  1. This important question
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World collectively holds breath. 

  1. This would be funny if it wasn’t happening to us
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For real though

  1. When logic wins
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Point for Dwight Schrute on this one. 

  1. How long until the next year?
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*Sighs. Counts months in head*

  1. Time to call the credit card company and stop them at the source
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“Unsubscribe; mark as spam”

  1. Something we can all relate to:
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But like Alex, our crazy isn’t done. 

  1. If this isn’t the truth
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Time to be original, 2021.

  1. Finally, this thought that we’ve all had for a week straight.
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What’s your point? 

Thankfully, the Internet has provided us with the amazingness that are memes so we can laugh about even the tough thoughts. As the tough blows keep coming, we can head to this happy place and giggle with the best jokes brought to life. 

Here’s hoping that January gets better. Cheers!

Humor

6 memes that immortalize the now-grounded ‘sky dick’ aircrew

Whenever a branch of the armed forces makes it into the news, a sense of dread washes over the troops. Most times, it’s not good news. Maybe a brother or sister in arms fell, or the leadership is accused of misconduct, or, perhaps worst, those we serve with did something devastating.


Not this time. This time, the Navy made international news by drawing a giant penis in the sky over Okanogan, Washington.

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Giant penis? Nah, dude, it’s an Arby’s hat

On one hand, yes, it is understandable that the U.S. Navy would need to react after civilians got the wrong impression of the men and women who protect them.

“The actions of this aircrew are wholly unacceptable and antithetical to Navy core values” said a statement issued on Nov. 17 by NAS Whidbey Island. “We have grounded the aircrew and are conducting a thorough investigation and we will hold those responsible accountable for their actions.”

On the other hand, these patriots took part in a time-honored military tradition of marking the area under the protection of troops. It is a symbol that can be found on tables, port-a-johns, and many walls. It’s as if Batman himself was there to tell the good people of Okanogan that, “It’s okay. The Navy is here. You’re safe.”

If you think about it, the aircrew was just doing their heroic duty.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uuc0I4ju2lY

‘Murica! (YouTube, Lunar Temptation)

But yeah. It’s a huge penis. A giant penis made out of the contrail of a E/A-18 Growler.

The aircrew may never fly again (we hope that’s not true, given pilot shortages), but their deeds will never be forgotten. The aircrew and pilots have not been identified, but if they did, the world owes them a beer. These memes are for you, you glorious bastards.

6. Bob Ross would have approved. He was in the military after all.

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(Image via Decelerate your Life)

5. It’s a show of force. It’s America saying we’re going to f*ck them up.

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(Image via Pop smoke)

4. You’ve never been forgotten, sweet prince.

 

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(Image via Twitter)

3. No one can ever outdo this dick joke. This aircrew won.

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(Image via Pop smoke)

2. Basically, deployments are really about doing operator sh*t and drawing penises everywhere.

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(Image via Facebook)

1. It’s because he was inverted?

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(Image via Weapons of Meme Destruction)

MIGHTY MOVIES

8 even more incredible facts about ‘Rambo’

When We Are The Mighty sat down with Sylvester Stallone, Sly revealed some truly astonishing things about one of action movie history’s most beloved characters: John Rambo. Most of us blacked out when Stallone revealed that Rambo didn’t originally join the Army but came to in time to learn a few great things that make the character much deeper than we ever imagined.

That was just info from Stallone. It turns out there’s much more, so we dove a little deeper.


Read: Amazing behind the scenes facts about Rambo – from Stallone himself

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Rambo is almost a god in Papua New Guinea

Somehow, the character of John Rambo has entered the folklore of the Kamula people on the island nation of Papua New Guinea, despite limited access to film and television. The Rambo of folklore is said to be a gunrunner who fought in the 10-year civil war in nearby Bougainville, and will come back to defend Papua New Guinea in case of World War III. In Kamula culture, along with other tribes, Rambo is said to symbolize peak masculinity.

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Rambo’s trademark knife wasn’t supposed to exist

In the book First Blood, on which the movie and character John Rambo is based, Rambo never had a survival knife of any kind, let alone a giant one to use to bring down the entire police force of Hope, Wash. Stallone added the knife for effect, hoping to make the weapon a character all on its own.

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Rambo wasn’t a killer – originally.

John Rambo never actually kills anyone in First Blood. There is only one death in the entire movie, and that happened as an accident when an overzealous cop falls from a helicopter while shooting at Rambo. In subsequent movies, that all changes of course. Rambo’s body count is 76 in First Blood: Part II, and 132 in Rambo III. In Rambo, he appears to kill the entire Burmese Army with one .50-cal.

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Stallone hated the first cut of First Blood.

The first time Stallone saw the edit for First Blood, he hated it. It was three and a half hours long, and Rambo’s dialogue was terrible. At first, Stallone wanted to buy the film so he could burn it. Instead of that, he re-cut the film to 93 minutes with most of his dialogue removed, which is what you see when you watch it today.

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Without ‘Rambo’ there would be no ‘Predator’

When Rocky Balboa took on Ivan Drago in Rocky IV, no one in Hollywood was quite sure who Rocky’s next opponent could possibly be. The joke was made that Rocky would have to fight some kind of Alien in Rocky V. After a while, Screenwriters Jim and John Thomas began to take the idea seriously and wrote a Rocky-Rambo Hybrid movie that we call Predator.

In Rocky V, Rocky fought a former student named Tommy Gunn. In the street. Outside a bar. In case you were wondering.

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John Rambo was almost played by John Travolta

Imagine how different action movie lore would be today if Sylvester Stallone hadn’t been in the writing and casting process. John Travolta was considered for the role of the former Green Beret and one-man wrecking crew before Stallone stepped in and nixed the idea.

Travolta also almost became Forrest Gump and Pete “Maverick” Mitchell of Top Gun fame.

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Arthur John Rambo of Lincoln County, Mont. gave his life to save his fellow soldiers in Tay Ninh, Vietnam.

There actually is a John Rambo on “The Wall.”

Arthur John Rambo was an artilleryman with the 11th Armored Cavalry in Vietnam. He was mortally wounded by multiple hits from rocket-propelled grenades on Nov. 26, 1969. As he and his fellow artillerymen came under heavy mortar fire, a nearby self-propelled howitzer took an RPG hit and caught fire. Rambo cleared his fellow soldiers out of the way and attempted to drive the vehicle, still burning, away from the area where it wouldn’t be a threat. He did so successfully, but the vehicle took two more RPGs. The last, killing Rambo in action. Arthur John Rambo was posthumously awarded the Silver Star.

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“Nothing is over!” Damn right.

Rambo commits suicide. In the book.

… and in the original cut of the movie. Remember when Sylvester Stallone re-edited the entire movie? Rambo killing himself didn’t make the final cut, even though that’s what happens in the book. Instead, Stallone asked a few Vietnam vets what troubles they face, and Stallone wrote a speech at the end of the movie to let the world know.

That original movie sounds awful. Thank god for Sylvester Stallone.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How Najaf became the Marines’ forgotten battle in Iraq

In the Battle of Fallujah, Marines swept in to take the city away from insurgent forces, only to have politicians pull them out — and send them right back in months later. The first and second Battles of Fallujah have entered Marine Corps lore, alongside Iwo Jima and Chapultepec.


But what many don’t know is what happened at the Battle of Najaf, which played out before the 2nd Battle of Fallujah kicked off.

An Najaf is another sacred city in Iraq. It has approximately seven square miles of cemeteries — as above, so below. Under the cemeteries are miles of catacombs, haunting places where enemy fighters could be hiding, concealed in the dark.

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A U.S. soldier performs a security patrol outside An Najaf cemetery where Anti-Iraqi Forces have recently launched attacks at Multi-National Forces. The patrol’s focus was on finding weapons caches, Improvised Explosive Devises (I.E.D.s), and Anti-Iraqi Forces that might be hiding in tombs or catacombs within the cemetery. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt Ashley Brokop)

A major player in the battle was the insurgent leader, Muqtada al-Sadr, a Shia cleric who brought disgruntled Iraqis together under the idea of an Islamic democracy. To enforce that idea, he created a military wing, Jaysh al-Mahdi, also known as the Mahdi Army. He suddenly turned on the coalition, demanding an immediate withdraw of all coalition forces from Iraq.

Though the mayor of An Najaf brokered a ceasefire between the coalition and the Mahdi Army in June 2004, this only lasted until the end of August. In July of that year, the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit took over operational command from Task Force Dragon. That’s when the fighting in the city started to escalate.

In August, the Mahdi Army attacked the 1st Battalion 4th Marines, starting a significant battle of the new Iraq War. The next days were long and drawn out, characterized by house-to-house fighting, open-street engagements, and fighting across open farm fields. For eight days, the battle raged through the city.

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A U.S. Marine Corps M1 Abrams Main Battle Tank (MBT), 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), Special Operations Capable (SOC), in convoy along the streets of An Najaf, An Najaf Province, Iraq, on Aug. 12, 2004, during a raid of the Muqtada Militia strong points in the area. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Daniel J. Fosco)

Much like what happened in Fallujah a few months earlier, Marines and soldiers were taking the fight to insurgents. American troops were surprised by incoming small arms fire and indirect fire. Though the enemy forces were not well trained, there was a lot of them, which compensated for their lack of real infantry tactics.

At one point, the battle swept over the city’s huge cemetery, which was the stage for some of the most intense fighting of the entire Iraq War. Surrounded by the resting dead, Marines fought against extreme numbers and both sides suffered heavy casualties. Fighting on the surface was so brutal that soldiers and Marines were also forced to fight in the catacombs below.

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U.S. troops at final limit of advance during a morning of clearing operations.

Fallujah was the biggest urban battle since Hue City and An Najaf saw the first tunnel fighting since Vietnam.

The end of the battle brought with it a final tally of dead and wounded. Twelve Americans were killed in action and 94 were wounded. Iraqi soldiers also saw significant losses. The numbers for the Mahdi Army, however, are far greater, with 1,500 killed in action and an unknown number wounded, estimated to be in the thousands.

The battle removed Al-Sadr and most of those loyal to him from the city. Marines began to secure their area of operations and returned to rebuilding Najaf and the surrounding region. However, some of the Mahdi Army’s militiamen stayed in the city, challenging the 1st battalion, 4th Marines at every opportunity.

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Marines patrol the streets of Najaf in 2004.

Instead of their normal black militia uniforms, they now wore street clothing. This allowed them to blend into the local populace. Coalition troops could no longer differentiate between friend or foe when the streets turned to a battlefield.

Marines and soldiers at the Battle of Najaf should be proud of the accomplishment of securing the city. As time passes, they remain hopeful that Americans will know about the heroes that came out of the battle and the ones who fell there — that we never let this battle be lost to history.

It will be remembered, just as much as The Battles of Fallujah.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How the Army tried to explore ancient Mars with a psychic

In 1984, the Army was studying all sorts of paranormal phenomena, from men trying to walk through walls and move objects with their mind to killing goats from 100 feet away. One of the lesser-known experiments was in “astral projection” with soldiers trying to move their consciousness to a different time and space. And the most exotic locale they tried to reach was a million years ago on Mars.


On May 22, 1984, the Army gave one of their psychic soldiers, like the ones depicted in The Men Who Stare at Goats, an envelope. They told this test subject to focus his mind on “the information in the envelope.” Then they told him to focus on specific coordinates and report what he saw.

They didn’t let him read the information in the envelope. So he didn’t know he was being asked to focus on the planet Mars in the year 1 million B.C.

His reports get pretty weird, pretty fast though. At the first set of coordinates, the subject claims to see a pyramid and the “after effect of a major geologic problem.” When told to go back to a time before the geologic event, he starts describing an entire ancient civilization.

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(NASA)

I just keep seeing very large people. They appear thin and tall, but they’re very large. Ah…wearing some kind of strange clothes.

These thin and tall people lived in a series of structures built in the walls of massive canyons.

…it’s like a rabbit warren, corners of rooms, they’re really huge, I don’t, feel like I’m standing in one it’s just really huge. Perception is that the ceiling is very high, walls very wide.

The best part is how the guide responds to this. Remember, he’s hearing a “psychic” describe what ancient Mars was like. And when he hears that the rooms are large and laid out like a rabbit warren, he responds, “Yes that would be correct.”

Yeah, the dude asking psychics to describe an ancient Martian civilization was pretty sure what the rooms should look like.

The subject goes on to describe aqueducts, pyramid-shaped storm shelters, and more.

And in the storm shelters, the test subject actually spoke with these massive Martians. It turns out, their society was dying, and massive storms were destroying the planet. The Martians that the subject was speaking to were waiting for it all to collapse. But they had sent a group to populate somewhere new.

It’s like I’m getting all kinds of overwhelming input of the….corruption of their environment. It’s failing very rapidly, and this group went somewhere, like a long way to find another place to live.

No one says that this party of ancient Martians were the first humans. But we all get it, right?

According to a Slate article, retired Army Chief Warrant Officer Joseph McMoneagle claims to have been the test subject. He believes that the experiments were real and that he was really seeing the surface of an ancient planet. But he also says that such exotic requests were rare. He also said that he didn’t like studying Mars or UFOs or anything similar because “there’s no real way to validate the information.”

The Army’s remote-viewing program supposedly shut down in the 1990s because it “failed to produce the concrete, specific information valued in intelligence gathering.”

MIGHTY TACTICAL

This is the OG of tactical clothing and gear manufacturing

‘Tis the season for the giving of gifts. ‘Tis also the season of FOMUG (Fear Of Messed Up Gifting). We get it. It’s hard out there for an elf. Team WATM would like to offer you some guidance.


For tactical dads and tacticool dudes (and dudettes):

~ Military grade apparel and gear by the company that pretty much invented the game ~

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(Photo via GovX. They sell gear to vets at a discount…just saying.)

As 2017 comes to a close, we at WATM HQ are sitting around sipping ‘nog and musing on bromance. (Make sure you’re reading that right: we’re pronouncing it “bro-mance.“) We’re musing on bromance, brotherhood, and big birthdays.

In 2017, Propper celebrated a big one, it’s 50th year of operation and 50 years of being best bros with the U.S. Armed Forces.

That is no small thing.

You know who else turned 50 in 2017?  Vin Diesel. He’s no small thing either, but considering that he rang in his Golden Man-niversary mired in beef with the Rock (who is enormous), we’d say Propper is probably the more deserving of your respect.

You know the Rock would never call Propper a candy-ass. Afterall, he spends a good deal of his time wearing the kind of apparel they perfected.

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Props to @amen_walker for scoping the Hollywood wardrobe malfunction.

Over the last 50 years, Propper has become one of the military’s main uniform and tactical gear suppliers. Their bromance with the Department of Defence began in 1967 when Propper’s founder, William S. Propper, received an order from the DLA for Dixie Cups.

Y’know, these:

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Navy standard uniform? If only…

Since then, they’ve manufactured more than 120 million garments for all branches of the armed force (and more than 30 million personnel have worn their gear). Check out the stats:

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Propper also outfits numerous law enforcement agencies and emergency rescue crews all over the country. In 2012, they added tactical footwear to their repertoire. In 2014, as the Rock was appearing as the title character in Hercules and Vin was voicing Groot in Guardians of the Galaxy, Propper got big into body armor. In typical fashion, they left their mark on the standard technology.

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Propper values its brotherhood with the military. They are passionate about the servicemembers they outfit. It’s a passion that hasn’t wavered in 50 years. They put incredible thought into all of their gear. We at WATM HQ are huge fans of who they are and what they do. We like them so much, we make high production value internet odes to their products:

Our firm resolution for 2018 is to dupe the Rock into starring in the next video we make about Propper. Or failing that, Vin Diesel. Or better yet, both.

That’s assuming they can remember that beefin’ ain’t the Propper way for brothers to behave.

(Seriously, please don’t beef, guys. It’s weird when Daddy and Daddy fight.)

The 2017 We Are The Mighty Holiday Gift Guide is sponsored by Propper, a tactical apparel and gear company dedicated to equipping those who commit their lives to serving others. All views are our own.

Speaking of Propper, they’re giving away twelve tactical packs filled with gear from our Holiday Gift Guide. Click this link to enter.

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MIGHTY FIT

Urban Outfitters is now selling the famous PT belt

Troops everywhere know PT belts are the height of military fashion. At one point, they were second only to the BCG. But then the military did away with those and knocked everyone’s favorite reflective plastic belt to the top of the list of uniform items that are both beautiful and utilitarian.

It’s hard to be this cool both inside and outside a gym, but somehow military members worldwide do it every day.


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Which is why troops and their supporters appreciate the important fashion industry nod given recently by Urban Outfitters. Now, you don’t need access to the exchange’s Clothing and Sales shop or the PX to participate in this important military fashion movement.

Instead, you can just hit up their site and shell out plus shipping.

Forget defending freedom. America should be thanking the troops for THIS.

“Reflective training belt from Rothco perfect for night-time visibility,” the site says of the accessory. “Complete with slide adjustment buckle + side release buckle closure.”

Honestly, though, Urban Outfitters isn’t doing this item the justice it deserves. They only show it being used as a belt for pants. But what of its place on a ruck?

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U.S. Soldiers adjust a rucksack during the Third Annual Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force Paul Airey Memorial Ruck/March/Run, on Ramstein Air Base, Germany, June 1, 2018.

( (U.S. Air Force photo by Elizabeth Baker)

What of its use as a cross-body reflective sash?

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Sgt. Jason Guge of Billings, Mont., a Black Hawk helicopter mechanic, wears several physical training belts in a hanger at Contingency Operating Base Adder, Iraq in 2009.

(U.S. Army photo)

Or for your dog? Or for your kid?

You’re welcome, America.

This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.

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How Afghanistan’s version of Delta Force goes after the worst of the worst

“No One Kills Terrorists as Fast as We Do”

Sheik Abdul Hasib is a stout Pakistani who chose to fight under the flag of ISIS in eastern Afghanistan. The area he chose as his redoubt is the border with Pakistan, not too far from where Osama bin Laden and the Arab-speaking jihadis chose to build caves and fight the Soviets in the ’80s. Now seeking to tax poppy growers in the Nangahar province and establish ISIS Khurahsan, the long-haired Pakistani Orakzai tribal fighters have been streaming over four mountain passes from the Khyber and Orakzai regions in Parchinar since 2015. Since then, they’ve terrorized the locals, beheading children and elders alike, and launched a number of violent attacks in Afghanistan.


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The Afghan anti-terrorist force began in Kabul and expanded to other major urban areas. Unlike the military, they’re trained by the world’s most elite counter-terrorism units to work in intense scenarios in which hundreds of civilians may be at risk. Photo from Recoilweb.com

GROWING THREAT

ISIS established a foothold in the Pakistan tribal areas in mid-2014 with the fracturing of the “little T” Taliban that was made up of former Pakistan-based Taliban fighters. Leaderless, they flowed northward into Afghanistan in 2015 when around 70 ISIS trainers travelled from Syria to school them in tactics, public relations, and ambushes. Led by Abdul Rauf Khadem, a former bin Laden confidant, ISIS began paying three times the Afghan government salary, and twice that of the Taliban. They launched their new sub brand, ISIS-Khurasan, with brutal videos of hapless villagers being blown up and other filmed executions. Islamic religion tradition insists that horse-mounted jihadis carrying the Black Flags of Khurasan will signal the retaking of the Holy Land and the end of Christianity. Not surprisingly, ISIS PR cameramen filmed chubby Pakistanis jogging and jerking along on Afghan nags carrying black flags in their videos.

The cash and the PR campaign worked. In September 2015, the UN estimated ISIS penetrated 25 out of the 34 provinces.

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The Crisis Response Unit is legendary in Afghanistan. They’re never seen in public and stay on their base until a crisis occurs, and then they deploy in minutes directly into a hostage situation. Photo from Recoilweb.com

MOAB

When I met with Resolute Support commander General “Mick” Nicholson in December, he made it clear that although the NATO side of the war was treading water, the counter-terrorism fight wasn’t hindered by a lack of funding or increasing intensity. While the USA waited patiently for the election to end, General Nicholson made his move.

On April 13, 2017, the sky lit up above Achin and the ground shook through eastern Afghanistan as US special operations forces dropped a 12,000-pound MOAB munition that detonated above the exact area ISIS selected as their headquarters.

Nicholson’s air strike had maximum effect. The USA turned the ISIS fighter’s concealment and isolation into their damnation. About 90 fighters were killed instantly by the pressure wave and collapsing buildings.

Although the rank and file of ISIS K were decimated, the work of actually finishing the job was left to US ground operators and Afghans. Ten days later, at 10:30 p.m., 50 US Army Rangers and 40 Afghan commandos went in on the location of Sheik Hasib, gunning him down about a mile away from where the bomb went off in Mohmand Valley. As in all special operation ground missions, drones, AC 130s, F16s, and Apaches provided constant top cover and ISR support. Down below, air controllers coordinated the troops moving forward, calling out targets and hostiles for Afghan commandos. ISIS in the east was snuffed out like a candle.

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(Photo from Recoilweb.com)

The top leadership and 35 members of ISIS were finally removed because they had crossed the line. They had carried out a devastating March 2017 attack on a 400-bed military hospital in Kabul in which ISIS personnel disguised as medical staff killed scores of people. Enough was enough.

Although MOAB was a global headline grabber and there’s every indication that America is getting back into the fight, much of the dirty work of killing terrorists face to face has been left to the Afghans. It’s for this reason that I visited a little-known counter-terrorism unit high above the hills of Kabul.

CRU 222

It’s Friday, the day off in Afghanistan, but Lieutenant Colonel Abdul Raqib Mubariz, the head of Afghanistan’s elite’s counter-terrorism team, has invited me over. He’s clean-shaven, tall, and eager to meet me. He runs the Afghan Crisis Response Unit 222, or CRU 222 for short. He’s unapologetic about his team. His and his men’s job is to kill terrorists in Kabul. Fast.

It’s a brutally simple idea taught to them originally by the SAS and carried forward in their training by American, and now Norwegian, commandos. When suicide bombers try to take hostages en masse, the unit’s mission is to get in and kill them without restraint. In their brutal experience, the faster they kill terrorists the lower the casualties.

Their spotless base sits on the old site of Camp Gibson, overlooking the outskirts of Kabul.

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Kabul is the fifth fastest growing city in the world. Under the Taliban in 2001 the population was barely 1.5 million; today almost 4 million people call Kabul home. Photo from Recoilweb.com

Mubariz walks me around the camp and explains the unit has three groups, one active, one in training, and one in reserve. On operations they have a 60-man protection unit and three operations groups. They work 15 days on and 15 days off, and they’re set up to respond to a crisis quickly; their goal is to be out the door within five minutes of a call.

He expresses pride that his men can “assess a situation, form a plan, and have all the belligerents dead within minutes. Instead of the hours it used to take, now we can be ready in three minutes.”

To underline the seriousness and intensity of their task, he estimates that last year 97 of his 7,000-person, nationwide staff were killed. The high-casualty rate doesn’t faze his enthusiasm for the task.

The training for the anti-terrorist squad lasts four months with a dropout rate of 10 to 15 percent of the class. “We get better training than the commandos, but we work together,” Raqib tells me, talking about another Afghan special mission unit that operates in the rural areas of the country. “We recruit from all over the country.”

I want to understand how this unit ended the March 2017 hospital attack, the most brutal terrorist act after the recent bomb attack at Camp Shahin. He offers to have his men perform a demonstration.

The men roll up to a practice building in armored Humvees, dismount, and take a knee; they lay out a protective circle and deploy snipers. They set up a command and control center, gather intel, and agree on an entry plan. Then, the teams deploy and breach, clearing each room until they reach the top.

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(Photo from Recoilweb.com)

The men are fast, aggressive, and their actions appear well rehearsed. But this is an empty building with a journalist sticking a camera in their faces, not a burning building with martyrs killing their way to a 72-virgin afterlife.

The 222 benefits from the knowledge passed on by foreign military advisors. Norwegians from the Marinejegerkommandoen were also on hand supervising and offering training guidance. The Norwegians declined to be officially interviewed, but 222’s opinion of them is effusive. “We love it when they taught us how to shoot off the back of motorcycles in the dark,” one commando laughs.

To understand 222’s tactical response to the Kabul hospital attack, I met with the officer (unnamed at his request) that led the hospital attack.

THE RESPONSE

The soft-spoken colonel describes the siege. “It was Wednesday, March 8, 8:45 in the morning. The first car bomb went off at 9 a.m. at the rear of the hospital. By 9:45 a.m. we were stuck in all kinds of traffic. We travel in armored Humvees, five men to a vehicle. We had to hit cars to get out them out the way. We were waved around to a different entrance from the normal entrance when the second car bomb went off.”

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The remnants of a vehicle bomb during the March 8, 2017, ISIS attack on the Sardar Daud Khan Military Hospital in Kabul. (Photo from Recoilweb.com)

The eight-story pink Sardar Mohammad Daud Khan Hospital is in the Wazir Akbar Khan District of Kabul and is the largest military hospital in Afghanistan. Named after the last prime minister before the Soviets landed, the staff provides medical care to members of the Afghan military and their families. There are also two floors filled with wounded Taliban fighters along with a VIP wing; in addition, there are soldiers housed here who are wounded so seriously they can’t be sent home.

“It was complicated when we arrived on scene because we had more than 1,000 doctors, patients, and visitors.” The colonel says there were 400 beds in an eight-floor building and an unknown number of terrorists wearing suicide vests with grenades, knives, and rifles inside. “I was just thinking how we can protect civilians before we can kill the terrorists.”

The men ISIS sent to cause mayhem weren’t just suicide bombers, but fourth-generation suicide fighters called inghimasis, or “those who plunge” into battle. The four attackers were let into the hospital by an employee, the colonel tells us. They put on white lab coats and began to shoot indiscriminately, using knives to kill bedridden victims to conserve ammunition.

“Once the Afghan Army commandos arrived, I stopped everyone and explained how we can work together. We have British SAS tactics; the Afghan Special Forces uses American [tactics]. We have different training and tactics, and we could kill each other.”

The units deconflicted by leap-frogging each other as they cleared the buildings seven floors, floor by floor.

“We are clearing each room, but ultimately we run to the shooting,” says the colonel. “The problem was most of the victims were being stabbed with knives and [the attackers] were dressed in lab coats like many of the hostages. On the second floor we killed the third man; we shot him, and he blew up. Again we ran to the shooting. In various rooms, there were people hiding. The gunman had killed one or two people in each room.”

The responders killed another shooter on the fourth floor as he was hiding behind a bed. “We found another terrorist on the fifth floor. We shot him, and he blew up.”

Like many Afghans, and out of respect for the dead, he won’t describe the specifics of the dozens of victims. Most of the people had been killed with knives. Later I find out from one of the men who was there that a pregnant women, the wife of a military officer, screamed, “You can’t kill me!” He looks down and describes the brutality, “They cut out her child and then killed her.”

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(Photo from Recoilweb.com)

Finally, there were 65 hostages on the top floor being held by the last gunman.

“I had heard shooting from the rooftop, and I requested an air drop,” says the Colonel. “The Mi-17 will carry 15 troops and can land on the roof where people were fleeing. Some were on the window ledges outside. [Our] snipers were using the windows, but there weren’t clear shots in the confusion. There is a green house on the top floor, and we went up and found the hostages.”

“We were using CS grenades and wearing gas masks,” he says. “It’s hard to see through the mask when you’re running and the smoke. So I aimed for his center of his vest and he exploded, killing some of the hostages.” When I ask him why he didn’t take a head a shot he looks up and just gives me a pained look.

“I think we were done by 14:00. We then had to coordinate the removal of the dead and wounded, and order ambulances since all the staff had fled.”

At the end, over 60 people were dead and roughly as many were wounded.

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The attackers were trained in Pakistan and were reportedly told to kill as many people as possible before detonating their suicide vests. (Photo from Recoilweb.com)

UNDERSTANDING THE ENEMY

Colonel Mir Ebaidullah Mirzada from Kapisa province explains how ISIS recruits and trains for these attacks. “I was in military school in high school, then I joined CID police. I spent 31 years in the intelligence service,” he says. His job now is to make sense of these attacks and understand the enemy. That enemy, he says, is increasingly more foreign.

The history of the CRU also coincides with violent attacks launched from Pakistan.

“There was a series of attacks in Kabul in 2005. At that time there was no special unit. They sent police, members of the Afghan National Directorate of Security and the Army, and there were a lot of civilian casualties. It was then they decided to create the CRU. National Security Advisor Hanif Atmar established a division of special police when he was interior minister.”

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The work of CRU 222 is not without sacrifice. In 2016, 97 members of the Afghan national anti-terrorism group were killed. (Photo from Recoilweb.com)

The first unit was 222. They started with 100 members; now they have around 7,000. Ebedullah was one of the originals. “We started with Hungarian and Bulgarian AKs, Russian PiKas (PKM), and Iranian RPGs. We swapped to Russian AKs [after] seven years with a gift of 20,000 AKs, and now, thanks to the US Embassy, we’re using M4s.

The men of the 222 still have to tape their flashlights to the barrel and make do with Chinese knockoff gear. They favor the bright green laundry bag camo pattern sprayed on their gear. It used to take three hours for the unit to jock up, and now it takes them less than five minutes to get out of their compound. Still, a Colonel gets by on $600 a month, and some of the men aren’t fully kitted. But they don’t complain. He pulls out the dossier on the attack on the hospital attack.

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More than 70 percent of Kabul’s population lives in illegal settlements like these hillside homes built without permits or proper sanitation. These migrants include thousands of former jihadis returning from Pakistan. (Photo from Recoilweb.com)

“The attackers were from Pakistan, two from Tajikistan, and two were Afghan. The people know that Pakistan is behind this.” He takes pains to read the next sentence carefully.

“They trained for four months by Major Ahmad from ISI Punjab, in Mansehra near the military base at Rawalpindi. This information comes from the ‘other side,'” he noted with a smile. Manserhra is only 13 miles north of where bin Laden was found and killed in Abbottabad.

Recruiting is done from the madrasas, free religious schools sponsored by Sunni donors from the Gulf area.

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(Photo from Recoilweb.com)

Mirzada lays out the training process. “They pass three steps to come. The first step is for ISI people who operated under the guise of being scholars who train young people. They identify those who respond to extreme ideology.”

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Despite the steady stream of violent attacks, the people of Kabul go on with their daily lives. In 16 years the country has experienced dramatic growth and education. (Photo from Recoilweb.com)

“In the madrasa they’re separated, and when they say, ‘I want to be a martyr,’ they’re ready. Then the preparation work stops. They blindfold them and take them to a military base. There they’re trained about three months on weapons, explosives, and what destiny awaits them in paradise. Before the plan [takes] place they set up companies to provide fake IDs, transportation, and lodging. They transport them to Kabul without weapons.”

Typically, he says, they’re between 14 and 25 years old, mostly from poor families. Their family gets paid 400,000 Pakistani rupees, just under $4,000 US, after they’ve reached the end of their path to martyrdom.

“The handlers train them again to get used to the area where they speak Pashto,” Mirzada says. “There are also people who know Farsi. Once they learn the area, then they ship in the weapons. There are also people who are responsible to make the film. Even when they rush and fight, they’re always filming. Before they attack they film a speech and they get injections to make them brave.”

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The elite reputation of CRU 222 attracts hundreds of young Afghan recruits; 15 percent will drop out during training. (Photo from Recoilweb.com)

One witness in the media insists he heard one of the men talking to “Mullah Sahib,” which sounds like Mullah Hasib, the head of the ISIS cell in Nangahar. The man gunned down after the MOAB was dropped by US forces. Mirzada closes the file.

When and if another hostage situation occurs, CRU 222 sits waiting for the call, stopwatch at the ready.

popular

Why China’s carrier-based fighter looks like a dud

China’s first indigenous aircraft carriers are currently undergoing sea trials and are getting a good amount of international buzz. There is one crucial thing to remember about these large, powerful vessels, however. Their primary weapon, for both offensive and defensive operations, is the aircraft they carry on board. Building the carriers is just half of the answer to the question of naval dominance.

And while things might be going well at sea, according to a report by the South China Morning Post, the Chinese are having a problem — or, more accurately, a lot of problems — in the sky, specifically with the Shenyang J-15 Flanker. This aircraft isn’t quite original, it’s a copy of the Su-33, a plane that Russia is currently phasing out in favor of a modified MiG-29.


So far, there have been four crashes involving the J-15. At least two pilots have been killed trying to save planes that have suffered serious mechanical failures in flight. A third pilot was badly injured, taking over a year to recover.

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The J-15 is a Chinese copy of the Su-33 Flanker.

(Photo by Dimitri Tarakhov)

So, what’s China to do? Currently, there are plans to replace the J-15 with a version of the J-31, a Chinese fifth-generation fighter that’s currently in development. The J-31 made its first flight in 2012. The US struggled to get a true fifth-generation fighter in the air — there was more than a decade-long gap between the F-35’s first flight and introduction to service. While there’s no guarantee than the Chinese will run into the same delays the US, it does look as though they’re at risk of fielding aircraft carriers well before their primary armaments are ready.

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A model of the J-15.

(Photo by Nacht Eule)

Communist China currently has one carrier, the Liaoning, a Russian Kuznetsov-class aircraft carrier (and we know the track record of the Kuznetsov), in service. A refined copy of that carrier, known as the Type 001A, is China’s first home-built carrier. Meanwhile, the Chinese are also developing two new carrier classes, the Type 002 and Type 003. The former is said to be a conventionally-powered design in the 85,000-ton range while the latter is reported to be a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier.

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The Chinese are turning to the J-31 to replace the J-15.

(Photo by wc)

Of course, the effectiveness of these carriers will depend on whether the Chinese Communists can get workable planes. Otherwise, the carriers will be practically useless.

In October of 1944, a shortage of planes led Japan to use their carriers as decoys at Leyte Gulf. Unless the Chinese get to manufacturing solid aircraft for their carriers, they might find themselves in the same boat.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How the legendary Memphis Belle was brought back to life

Through the cockpit windscreen, Capt. Robert Morgan saw flashes of light from the wings and engine cowling of a German Focke-Wulf Fw 190 at his 12 o’clock and closing at an incredible rate. Each wink of light from the fighter’s wing root meant another 20mm cannon shell was heading directly at his B-17F Flying Fortress at over 2,300 feet per second.

Having no room to dive in the crowded formation of B-17 bombers of the 91st Bomb Group, he pitched up. The Luftwaffe fighter’s shells impacted the tail of the aircraft instead of coming straight through the windscreen.


Over the intercom Morgan heard his tail gunner, Sgt. John Quinlan, yelling that the aircraft’s tail was shot to pieces and what was left was in flames.

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(U.S. Army Air Forces photo)

It was January 23, 1943. Morgan and his nine crewmen aboard the “Memphis Belle” had just fought their way through a swarm of Luftwaffe fighters, dropped their bombs on a Nazi submarine base in the coastal city of Lorient in occupied France and were fighting to survive the return trip to the Eighth Air Force base in Bassingbourn, England. Morgan began calculating if the crew should bail out and become prisoners of war before the tail tore completely off the bomber trapping the crew in a death spiral culminating in a fiery crash.

A moment later, Quinlan reported that the fire in the tail had gone out. The “Memphis Belle” and its crew would survive the mission; the crew’s eighth and the bomber’s ninth.

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(U.S. Army Air Forces photo)

They would have to survive 17 more missions to complete the required 25 to rotate home. All would be flown during a period of World War II when the Luftwaffe was at the height of its destructive powers.

Against all odds, the “Memphis Belle” crew flew those missions, their last to once again bomb the U-boat pens at Lorient on May 17, 1943, before returning safely to England for the final time. Bottles of Champagne were uncorked and radio operator Tech. Sgt. Robert J. Hanson collapsed onto the flightline and kissed the ground.

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(U.S. Army Air Forces photo)

For the “Belle” itself, it was only mission 24 and the plane had to fly once more with an alternate crew on May 19.

The B-17 and its crew would be the first to return alive and intact to the U.S. They were welcomed as heroes and immediately embarked on a 2 ½-month, nationwide morale tour to sell war bonds. The tour was also to encourage bomber crews in training that they too could make it home. It made celebrities of both the “Belle” and its crew.

Ironically, the two and a half months of press conferences, parties and glad-handing officers and politicians was about the same amount of time during the “Belle’s” combat tour that 80 percent of the 91st Bomb Group’s B-17s and their crews were lost to German fighters and anti-aircraft fire.

“Eighty percent losses means you had breakfast with 10 men and dinner with only two of those 10,” Morgan said in an interview after the war. During the totality of the air war over Europe more than 30,000 U.S. Airmen aboard heavy bombers, like the B-17, would be killed.

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(U.S. Air Force photo)

Seventy-five years to the day after that 25th mission, the Museum of the U.S. Air Force will honor the bravery of those bomber crews, some of the first Americans to take the fight to the Nazis in WWII, when they unveil for public display the largely restored B-17F, Serial No. 41-24485, “Memphis Belle” as part of a three-day celebration, May 17-19, 2018.

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Download the Museum Brochure Here

According to the museum curator in charge of the “Memphis Belle” exhibit, Jeff Duford, the weekend will include more than 160 WWII re-enactors showcasing their memorabilia, WWII-era music and vehicles, static displays of other B-17s, flyovers of WWII-era aircraft and presentations of rare archival film footage. The “Memphis Belle” will be the centerpiece of an exhibit documenting the strategic bombing campaign over Europe.

“The ‘Memphis Belle’ is an icon that represents all the heavy bomber crewmen who served and sacrificed in Europe in World War II,” Duford said, “In many ways the ‘Memphis Belle’ is the icon for the United States Air Force.

“You look at the U.S. Marines, they have this wonderful icon of the flag being raised over Mount Suribachi on Iwo Jima and everyone recognizes that. It symbolizes service and sacrifice and tenacity and teamwork. Well, the Air Force has that symbol too, and it’s this airplane. It demonstrates teamwork. The crews had to work together. The planes in formation had to work together. The formations had to work together with the fighter escorts.”

The service and sacrifice of the young men still leaves Duford awestruck even after working on the “Belle” project for a decade.

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(U.S. Army photo)

“How does one climb inside of this aircraft knowing that they are probably not going to come home? And they don’t do that one time; two times; three times; 10 times – they have to do it 25 times,” said Duford. “Once they got inside the airplane, they had no place to run. There were no foxholes to be dug. The skin on those airplanes is so thin that a bullet or flak fragment would go through it like a tin can because that’s essentially what it was.

“The odds were that every 18 missions, a heavy bomber was going to be shot down. So when you think the crew had to finish 25 missions to go home, statistically it was nearly impossible. It was one-in-four odds that a heavy bomber recruit would finish their 25 missions. Those other three crew members would’ve been shot down and captured, killed or wounded so badly they couldn’t finish their tour.”

The fact the “Memphis Belle” crew survived their tour was of great value to the U.S. Army Air Forces in maintaining support for the daylight strategic bombing campaign over Europe, which was still, in fact, an experiment.

“Back then, there was no book on high altitude strategic bombing. The generals didn’t know any more than we did. They had to figure bombing strategy as we went along,” said Morgan in a book he would write after the war, “The Man Who Flew the Memphis Belle”.

The B-17 was named the “Flying Fortress”, because it was bristling with .50 caliber machine guns covering every angle of attack by German fighters, save one. The theory was that all that defensive firepower would be amplified by heavy bombers flying in tight formations, called “boxes”, enabling them to protect each other from attacking fighters.

While the German Messerschmitt and Focke-Wulf fighters sometimes paid a price for attacking the formations, they soon developed tactics that exploited a design weakness in B-17Fs, like the “Memphis Belle”.

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German Luftwaffe models used in fighter pilot training show the fields of fire covered by the machine guns of the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress.
(U.S. Army Air Forces photo)

While twin .50 caliber machine guns in top and belly turrets and the tail and single .50 cal. gunners protected the bomber, the 12 o’clock position was covered by a lone .30 caliber machine gun – no match for the German fighters. Because the bomber formations had to fly straight and level to initiate their bombing run, the Luftwaffe fighter pilots began attacking the formations head on. The ensuing carnage was ghastly.

“The secret to the B-17 was the capability of flying in tight formations, so tight that the wings were often almost touching,” wrote Morgan. “We were able to put out an amazing amount of firepower… but, I also positively feel that was a bit of divine intervention for our crew.”

While the addition of Allied fighter escorts helped fend off some German attackers, the fact that the B-17s had to fly at 25,000 feet or lower to maintain any semblance of accuracy on target put them in the range of the deadly German 88mm anti-aircraft gun. No amount of machine guns or friendly fighters could counter the dense flak approaching targets while flying straight and level.

Bomber crews had to just grit their teeth and pray.

“They felt like they were a great crew. They were tightly knit, confident and dedicated to what they were doing,” said Duford. “However, being in those formations, flying straight and level with enemy anti-aircraft and fighter aircraft, there certainly was a little bit of luck for them too.”

Luck, both good and bad, was also a factor in the “Belle” crew, despite not being the first crew to complete 25 missions, being the one to return to the U.S. for a bond and morale tour.

The “Belle’s” selection for the morale tour was the result of a film project about the strategic bombing campaign that was the brainchild of USAAF Gen. Hap Arnold and a Hollywood director, William Wyler, who had volunteered to serve his country in the best way he knew how.

It was hoped that a film documenting a bomber crew as they successfully completed a combat tour would calm new recruits, who were hearing stories of the carnage overseas, and assuage the doubts of the public, press and politicians that strategic bombing was a failure.

Wyler, an immigrant who was born in the Alsace region of modern-day France when it was part of the German Empire prior to World War I and who would go on to win three Best Director Academy Awards, including one for “Ben-Hur”, was commissioned as a major and headed to England with a film crew to document the fight in skies over Europe.

Wyler and his cameraman flew with B-17 combat crews and began filming missions of a B-17F of the 401st Bomb Squadron of the 91st Bomb Group named “Invasion II”. His staff also began interviewing and making publicity photographs of the crewmembers, as they drew closer to completing 25 missions.

However, on April 17, 1943, the reality of war spoiled the Hollywood ending during their 23rd mission to Bremen, Germany. Invasion II crashed after being hit by flak over Borhmen, Germany, setting the cockpit and wing on fire. The crew managed to bail out, but all became prisoners of war.

Wyler regrouped and found a plane and crew with the 324th Bomb Squadron that was also close to completing their combat tour. The “Memphis Belle”, named for Morgan’s girlfriend, Margaret Polk of Memphis, Tennessee, and its crew took center stage.

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The crew of the 358th Bomb Squadron Boeing B-17F ‘Hell’s Angels’ completed its 25th mission on May 13, 1943.
(U.S. Army Air Forces photo)

While the crew of “Hell’s Angels” completed their tour on May 13, 1943, four days before the “Belle”, there was no film of that plane and crew. Consequently, it was the “Belle” and its crew that would fly mission 26 back to the U.S. and receive a hero’s welcome.

Wyler’s film, “Memphis Belle: A Story of a Flying Fortress”, would be released and distributed by Paramount Pictures the following year.

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(National Museum of the U.S. Air Force photo)

It was a film that came with a high price tag. One of Wyler’s cinematographers, 1st Lt. Harold J. Tannenbaum, a veteran of World War I, was killed in action during the filming when the bomber he was in was shot down over France on April 16, 1943.

Until the end of the war, the “Belle” was used as a training aircraft, but instead of being torn apart for scrap like most of the other 12,700 B-17s built during the war, the city of Memphis, Tennessee, put the aircraft on display for nearly 50 years.

The historic aircraft came to the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force in October 2005, when work began on a careful, multi-year conservation and restoration effort including corrosion treatment and the full outfitting of missing equipment.

Casey Simmons arrived shortly after the “Memphis Belle” as a restoration specialist for the museum.

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(Photo by J.M. Eddins Jr.)

From the beginning, it was apparent that priority one in the restoration was getting it right. His first assignment was to fabricate a glycol heater that was missing from inside the left wing. No visitor to the museum would ever see it.

“I know it’s there and that’s cool because it’s going to get all the parts that it needs to be a complete aircraft,” said Simmons. “When you don’t have the part you try and find a part from another airplane or you go to the blueprints and make the part completely from scratch.”

While the museum has other B-17s in its collection, the “Memphis Belle” requires a whole other level of patience and dedication.

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(Photo by J.M. Eddins Jr.)

“Other restoration projects are typically a general model of a certain aircraft. So it represents a lot of them. This one is a specific aircraft, so you have to get it right; exactly to the rivet,” said Simmons.

The museum specialist did not try to restore the “Belle” to how it rolled off the Boeing line, but utilized films, photos and records from its time in combat to bring the B-17F back to fighting trim, scars and all.

“There are certain damage spots on the “Memphis Belle” that were fixed over time, so we have to make sure that those show up on the aircraft the way they were,” said Simmons. “If they put five rivets in an area as opposed to the standard four that are supposed to be there, we have to get that correct… When you go through video footage, old film footage, or photographs, and you do find a little glimpse of what you’re looking for, that’s a big moment. We have to get it right for those bomber crews.”

The bravery of those bomber crews continued after all the whoopla back home died down. Even Morgan was eager to get back in the fight.

While on a morale tour stop in Wichita, Kansas, Morgan caught a glimpse of the future of strategic bombing, the still secret B-29 Superfortress. He volunteered immediately to train on the new bomber and earned command of his own squadron of B-29s that deployed to Saipan in the Pacific Theater.

On November 24, 1944, his 869th Squadron of the 497th Bomb Group was the first, other than Doolittle’s Raiders in 1942, to bomb Tokyo. He would go on to complete another 24 combat missions in the B-29 before the end of WWII. He retired from the U.S. Air Force Reserve in 1965 as a colonel.

While the restoration and display of the “Memphis Belle” will ensure the story of the dedication, bravery and airmanship of its 10 crewmembers that returned home safely in 1943 honors all the Airmen that fought in WWII, Duford is particularly enthusiastic that the exhibit will allow Museum of U.S. Air Force visitors to learn the story of the little known 11th crewmember of the “Memphis Belle”.

As much as any Airman, he embodied the spirit and sense of duty shared by all the heavy bomber crews.

“It’s the story of one of the waist gunners, Emerson Scott Miller,” said Duford. “You don’t see him in any of the war bond photos and you don’t see his name listed as one of the ‘Memphis Belle’ crew members. He came overseas as a technician repairing the autopilot systems on B-17s. He was safe. He didn’t have to fly the missions but he decided he wanted to do more and volunteered to fly in combat. He joined the ‘Memphis Belle’ crew after they had flown about nine or 10 of their missions. So he had flown 16 of his missions when the rest of the ‘Memphis Belle’ crew completed their 25th.

“Capt. Robert Morgan really wanted Scott Miller to come back on the war bond tour, but Miller hadn’t finished his 25th mission, so he had to stay. While the ‘Belle’ crew was celebrated and famous and there were parties for them, Scott Miller was still flying in combat.”

Fittingly, Miller finished his 25th mission aboard another B-17 on July 4, 1943, but for him, there were no parades, no press conferences, no meeting movie stars and no special duties.

“We got in touch with Scott Miller’s family,” said Duford. “They donated a trunk full of artifacts, and so Scott Miller has a place in the exhibit and his story will be told… He could have just simply done his duty repairing those autopilot systems and gone home safe. But he put his life on the line and then was forgotten. Now he’s going to be remembered now and for generations to come.”

This article originally appeared on Airman Magazine. Follow @AirmanMagazine on Twitter.

MIGHTY CULTURE

This is how “RED Friday” became a thing and why it still matters today

It’s a tiny act that means much more than people seem to realize. On Fridays, civilians back home wear an article of red clothing — a shirt, a tie, anything — as a reminder to all to Remember Everyone Deployed. These Fridays became known as R.E.D. Friday.

Today, you’ll see this tradition honored by most AAFES workers, military family members, and supporters of the troops, but it actually got its start about a dozen years ago. Let’s talk about how this patriotic way of showing your support for the troops that are in harm’s way got started and why it’s an important movement.


There’s a new battle brewing in the Atlantic

For once, we’re lucky that forwards from grandma don’t get filtered directly into spam…

There are actually two competing origin stories of this unofficial trend. The first says it all began in 2005 with a specific email that recipients were supposed to forward to others.

That email had a very polite snippet in it for a good cause:

If every one of our members shares this with other acquaintances, fellow workers, friends, and neighbors, I guarantee that it will not be long before the USA will be covered in RED — and make our troops know there are many people thinking of their well-being. You will feel better all day Friday when you wear RED!

Now, there’s no telling if this chain email tactic is really what got people wearing red on Fridays, but if it was, it has to be one of the only times that people actually read one of those chain emails.

There’s a new battle brewing in the Atlantic

The tradition may not entirely be an American concept, but the sentiment is the same. Our brothers to the North still have troops in harm’s way, too.

(Air Force photo by Justin Connaher)

In March, 2006, another more-tangible movement began in Canada that implored subscribers to wear red to support the troops who are deployed. Now, there’s no telling if this movement got its start from the previously-mentioned email chain, but they do credit it as being an “American initiative.”

Military spouses Lisa Miller and Karen Boier organized an event and rallied many of their fellow Canadians to show up wearing red. While the “RED” is the color that fits the acronym, it also happens to work perfectly with the Canadian flag.

These events gathered steam and grew continuously until, eventually, its reach extended all the way up to the Canadian Prime Minister, Stephen Harper. On Sept 23rd, 2006, Harper led a rally of thousands in a show of solidarity for the Canadian soldiers deployed to Afghanistan as part of the Global War on Terrorism.

RED Fridays seem to wax and wane in terms of popularity among civilians, but the core of the movement is important: to Remember Everyone Deployed. The Global War on Terrorism is now officially older than troops eligible to enlist and serve in that same war — it’s important to remember that we’ve still got men and women out there fighting for us.

It’s not hard to show your support for the troops: Simply pick something red from your wardrobe and be ready to wear it on Friday, volunteer your time organizing care packages for troops who still need essential items, or write a deployed troop. I know from personal experience that every letter I received was a boost to morale that I happily honored with a reply. Simple gestures go a long way.

Remember everyone deployed.

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