This is how US troops came to be called 'GIs' - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY CULTURE

This is how US troops came to be called ‘GIs’

Anyone who loves the U.S. military and the troops who fight in it is familiar with their nickname. Over the years, American troops have earned many – Johnny Reb, Billy Yank, Dogface, Grunt, Jarhead, Doughboy – you get the point. There is one all-encompassing nickname used all over the country, applicable to any branch, and used by troops and civilians alike: G.I.


This is how US troops came to be called ‘GIs’

Kinda like that, except real.

When we see the word “GI” many of us probably think of the phrase “Government Issue” or “General Issue” used back in the days of World War II. And that thought is both true and not entirely the whole story. While many of the items produced and used by the government were considered General Issue, including the men who were drafted and enlisted to fight, that’s not what the original “GI” really meant.

Going back to World War I, many of the items made for and used by the government of the United States for military purposes were stamped “GI” – but not because it was Government Issue. It was government issue, but that’s not the reason for stamping it. That’s like stamping your jeans with “Purchased at Wal-Mart.”

This is how US troops came to be called ‘GIs’

We know you got that stuff at Target anyway.

When troops originally saw GI slapped on some piece of government property, they were likely mopping the floors or doing some other kind of cleaning work, because GI, meant “galvanized iron,” and more often than not was found on buckets used by the U.S. military. Since the one thing all U.S. troops get experience with is cleaning, the term spread to include all things U.S. military, including the people themselves. By World War II, U.S. troops were affectionately known as G.I.s all around the country.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Questions surround crash of special operations helicopter in Iraq

Late Tuesday, Aug. 21, 2018, U.S. military officials identified the Army helicopter pilot who died on Aug. 20, 2018, as a result of wounds received in a crash in Iraq on Aug. 19, 2018 during an undisclosed operation. Official news releases report three additional wounded U.S. personnel have been evacuated to treatment facilities.

Chief Warrant Officer 3 Taylor J. Galvin, 34, from Spokane, Washington, died Aug. 20, in Baghdad as a result of injuries sustained when his helicopter crashed in Sinjar, Ninevah Province, according to a Department of Defense news release.


CW3 Galvin was assigned to Delta Company, 1st Battalion, 160th SOAR (Special Operations Aviation Regiment) as an MH-60M Blackhawk helicopter pilot. He was flying in support of Operation Inherent Resolve. Galvin was originally from Phoenix, Arizona. He was 34 years old. Galvin was a combat veteran special operations pilot with nine deployments including two during Iraqi Freedom, three in Operation Enduring Freedom and four more during Operation Inherent Resolve. He was the recipient of the U.S. Army Air Medal (C device) and Air Medal (30LC) for heroism or meritorious achievement while flying in addition to numerous other awards.

This is how US troops came to be called ‘GIs’

Chief Warrant Officer 3 Taylor J. Galvin.

In an August 20, 2018 article on Newsweek.com about the fatal crash, journalist James LaPorta reported that, “It is unclear why the MH-60 Blackhawk went down, but U.S. military sources with knowledge of the crash said the helicopter was returning to base after conducting a partnered small-scale raid on Islamic State militants in an undisclosed region as part of ongoing counterterrorism operations.” LaPorta went on to write, “Ten U.S. military personnel were onboard the aircraft being flown by U.S. Army pilots from the elite 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, known as the Night Stalkers.”

The region near Sinjar (Shingal), Iraq where the crash occurred had been active in supporting cross-border anti-ISIS operations into neighboring Syria for more than a month until U.S. troops were withdrawn from the area in the middle of July 2018 according to a report by Wladimir van Wilgenburg published in the regional Kurdistan 24 online news source. This is also the region where Iraqi Air Force F-16s have conducted their first airstrikes against insurgents during cross-border strikes into Syria.

The crash was reported to have occurred at approximately 10:00 PM local time (2200 hrs, GMT+3). Sunset in the region on Aug. 19, 2018, the date of the accident, occurred at 6:40 PM local time. Weather in the area was hot, 101 degrees Fahrenheit, with light winds and clear skies. Pentagon spokesman Colonel Robert Manning told reporters that the crash was not caused by enemy fire.

This is how US troops came to be called ‘GIs’

(US Army photo)

Reports about the aircraft and the personnel on board may contradict official assertions that the U.S. role in the region is predominantly in an advisory capacity. The 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, the “Night Stalkers”, is a highly-specialized combat aviation unit headquartered at Ft. Campbell, Kentucky that supports elite U.S. and coalition combat units like Army Special Forces, Naval Special Warfare (SEALs) and other special operations units.

This latest crash brings the total of serious U.S. military aircraft accidents this year to at least 14.

The 160th SOAR, the “Night Stalkers”, are most famous for the raid to capture Osama bin Laden, Operation Neptune’s Spear, on May 1, 2011. During that raid, the unit flew a classified, low-observable variant of the Blackhawk helicopter that has since been popularly referred to in speculation as the “MH-X Stealth Black Hawk” or “Silent Hawk”. Images of part of the secret helicopter were seen around the world when one of them crashed inside Bin Laden’s compound during the raid, leaving the tail section visible. Books and media accounts suggest only two of the aircraft were ever produced.

In 2015, a MH-60M Black Hawk crashed on the deck of a U.S. Navy ship near Okinawa, Japan, injuring seven; more recently, in August 2017, a 160th SOAR’s MH-60 crashed off Yemen killing one soldier.

This article originally appeared on The Aviationist. Follow @theaviationist on Twitter.

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6 CONUS installations that feel like a vacation

Seeing the world is just one of the many reasons for joining the military. But what if dreamy vacation living was possible within the continental borders? Taking advantage of what is possible within a day’s drive is one way to save thousands on airfare and explore more of what our country has to offer.


Strategize your next PCS choice with these staycation worthy locations. From the beaches to the mountains, and east to west, settling into ‘home’ at any one of these installations is easy to do.

Mountain Home AFB, Idaho (Air Force)

This is how US troops came to be called ‘GIs’

Nestled at the foot of the Sawtooth Range, and within a half day’s drive to both Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Park, Mountain Home AFB is an outdoor enthusiast’s dream. There’s world-class skiing at Sun Valley in the winter with plenty of roadside accessible hot springs along the way. Idaho isn’t on your radar because she’s everyone’s best-kept secret.

NAS Whidbey Island, Washington (Navy)

This is how US troops came to be called ‘GIs’

Craggy coastlines, tide pools teeming with sea life, and million-dollar views are how to describe this installation just over an hour north of Seattle. The barrier islands of the Puget Sound are home to seductively slow island life, away from traffic, and a ferry away from Olympic National Park or the San Juan Islands. Watch both whales and submarines surface from one of the dozens of state parks by the fire and on the beach.

Fort Carson, Colorado (Army)

This is how US troops came to be called ‘GIs’

Located just outside the Garden of the Gods, this Army Installation is another ruggedly beautiful spot to call home. The state exudes adventure in all terrain types, like sand dunes, snow-capped peaks and breathtaking arch formations. Colorado experiences all four seasons, providing a little something for every preference. Your PT test is sure to stay on point during the winter season with infamous ski resorts like Breckenridge and Telluride to choose from.

Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia (Air Force and Army)

This is how US troops came to be called ‘GIs’

What we love about JBLE is the easy accessibility to all the major east coast metropolitan cities. Washington D.C., Baltimore, Philadelphia and New York City are all a connected train ride away. National history, monuments and bustling nightlife make life on this coastline more than noteworthy. In addition to city life, Virginia is home to Shenandoah National Park and fall foliage, which draws crowds year-round. Tapping into history or the political pulse of the country are all possible here.

MCAS Beaufort, South Carolina (Marines)

This is how US troops came to be called ‘GIs’

Life in the low country is slow and sweet. The tidewater region is situated between Charleston, South Carolina and Savannah, Georgia, two historic southern towns rich with seafood and charm. A subtropical climate provides beach access year-round, with plenty of sunshine to boost any mood. Another point to love is the affordability of the region compared to other, more high-cost stations, putting more vacation dollars into your pocket.

Sector Key West, Florida (Coast Guard)

This is how US troops came to be called ‘GIs’

The southernmost point in the continental U.S. is as beautiful as you can imagine. Dolphins, coral reefs and sailboats are all at your doorstep, which is likely oceanfront. Lesser known, yet completely noteworthy interests like the Hemingway Home and Dry Tortugas National Park are also found here. Key West also boasts several shipwrecks to explore in turquoise waters, making a dive certification a card you need in your wallet.

It’s all about location, and there’s plenty to choose from during your military career. Europe and Hawaii are not the only prime spots to be had, and this list is proof. Experiencing life in varied climates and states provides a perspective unlike any other when the time comes to settle down after service.

MIGHTY TRENDING

North Korean troops fired 40 rounds at the defector in the DMZ

Four North Korean soldiers fired about 40 rounds at a comrade fleeing into South Korea and hit him five times in the first shooting at the jointly controlled area of the heavily fortified border in more than 30 years, the South’s military said Nov. 14.


South Korean soldiers did not fire their weapons, but the Nov. 13 incident occurred at a time of high animosity over North Korea’s nuclear program. The North has expressed intense anger over past high-profile defections.

The soldier is being treated at a South Korean hospital after a five-hour operation for the gunshot wounds he suffered during his escape across the Joint Security Area. His personal details and motive for defection are unknown and his exact medical condition is unclear.

South Korea’s military said he suffered injuries in his internal organs but wasn’t in a life-threatening condition. But the Ajou University Medical Center near Seoul said the soldier was relying on a breathing machine after the surgery removed the bullets. Lee Guk-jong, a doctor who leads Ajou’s medical team for the soldier, described his patient’s condition as “very dangerous” and said the next 10 days might determine whether he recovers.

This is how US troops came to be called ‘GIs’
A South Korean soldier stands guard within the Joint Security Area of the DMZ. Army Photo by Edward N. Johnson.

On Nov. 13, he first drove a military jeep but left the vehicle when one of its wheels fell into a ditch. He then fled across the JSA, with fellow soldiers chasing and firing at him, South Korea’s military said, citing unspecified surveillance systems installed in the area.

Suh Wook, chief director of operations for the South’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, told lawmakers that North Korea fired a total of about 40 rounds in a shooting that his office suggested started while the soldier was in the jeep.

Related: The 9 most-ridiculous North Korean propaganda claims

The solider was found beneath a pile of leaves on the southern side of the JSA and South Korean troops crawled there to recover him. A U.N. Command helicopter later transported him to the Ajou medical center, according to South Korean officials.

The North’s official media haven’t reported the case as of Nov. 14. They have previously accused South Korea of kidnapping or enticing North Koreans to defect. About 30,000 North Koreans have fled to South Korea, mostly via China, since the end of the 1950-53 Korean War.

This is how US troops came to be called ‘GIs’
Sgt. Dong In Sop, a North Korean defector was interviewed by two members of the United Nations Command Military Armistice Commission (UNCMAC), and the Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission at UNCMAC headquarters on the Yongsan Army Garrison on September 16, 1999. The interview was moderated by Maj. Gen. Peter Sutter (Swiss member) and Maj. Gen Kurt Blixt (Swedish member). Sgt. Dong In Sop defected to South Korea on September 14, 1999. During the interview Sgt. Dong In Sop expressed a strong desire to remain in South Korea. (U.S Army photo by Spc. Sharon E. Grey)

The JSA is jointly overseen by the American-led U.N. Command and by North Korea, with South Korean and North Korean border guards facing each other only meters (feet) apart. It is located inside the 4-kilometer-wide (2 1/2-mile-wide) Demilitarized Zone, which forms the de facto border between the Koreas since the Korean War. While both sides of the DMZ are guarded by barbed wire fences, mines and tank traps, the JSA includes the truce village of Panmunjom which provides the site for rare talks and draws curious tourists.

Monday’s incident was the first shooting at the Joint Security Area since North Korean and U.N. Command soldiers traded gunfire when a Soviet citizen defected by sprinting to the South Korean sector of the JSA in 1984. A North Korean soldier defected there in 1998 and another in 2007 but neither of those events involved gunfire between the rivals, according to South Korea’s military.

The 1984 exchange of gunfire happened after North Korean soldiers crossed the border and fired, according to the U.N. Command. In Monday’s incident, it wasn’t known if the North continued firing after the defector was officially in the southern part of the Joint Security Area. The U.N. Command said Tuesday that an investigation into the incident was underway.

The Joint Security Area was the site of some bloodshed during the Cold War but there hasn’t been major violence there in recent years. In 1976, North Korean soldiers axed two American army officers to death and the United States responded by flying nuclear-capable B-52 bombers toward the DMZ in an attempt to intimidate the North.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Lack of cyber talent remains a national security threat

The massive shortage of cyber professionals is a national security threat, according to the Department of Homeland Security.

Cyber personnel from the private and public sectors are America’s frontline of defense because critical infrastructure sectors, including water, healthcare, and elections, rely on a resilient cyber infrastructure, explained Rob Karas, associate director for Cyber Defense Education and Training from the DHS’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency.


“America’s cybersecurity workforce is a strategic asset that protects the American people, the homeland, and the American way of life,” he said.

However, there is not enough talent in the field, both in the U.S. and around the world.

“Estimates place the global cybersecurity workforce shortage at approximately three million people worldwide, with roughly 500,000 job openings in the United States,” Karas said. “This global shortage means American organizations, whether in the private sector or in the federal, state, local, tribal, or territorial governments, compete with employers all over the world as well as with each other to find cybersecurity talent. … CISA sees the cybersecurity workforce shortage as a national security issue.”

Army Lt. Col. Julianna M. Rodriguez is a cyber warfare officer at Fort Gordon, Georgia. She is the offensive cyberspace operations division chief in the Army Cyber Command’s Technical Warfare Section.

Though she did not take a direct path to her current position, her preparation and adaptability enabled her to take advantage of opportunities for the evolving cyber field.

In high school, Rodriguez took advanced classes, focusing on math and science up to AP Calculus BC and AP Physics. After graduating, she attended the United States Military Academy, majoring in Electrical Engineering with a focus on Computer Systems Architecture.

In addition to earning a master’s in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science through Columbia Engineering, she earned two technical certifications: Mirantis OpenStack Certification Professional Level and SaltStack Certified Engineer, and is preparing for the Army Cyber Developer Exam.

For Rodriguez, changing career fields was a process of discovering where she could best serve.

“I started in Air Defense Artillery because [in 2003] it was one of the few combat arms branches in which women officers could lead,” she said.

Rodriguez served in ADA units as a battalion intelligence officer and headquarters battery commander, eventually attending the MI Officer Advanced Course. She also deployed with the 82nd Airborne Division to Afghanistan and taught at the USMA before transferring into the cyber branch.

When advising others interested in cyber, Rodriguez gives feedback based on her experience.

“Our citizens can best serve when they use their innate skills and interests for our national good [and] improve daily in learning and practicing related skills. For those who have an interest in computing, information technology, and network communications, committing to engage that interest in service to our nation can meaningfully impact our nation’s security,” she said.

However, she cautioned how the field is not a good fit for those who like routine and clearly defined work. She also described the Army’s cyber branch as highly competitive, so if an individual wants to join, she recommends:

  • Learn programming languages C, Python, R, or JavaScript (Not markup languages like HTML)
  • Obtain technical certifications like OSCP, OSCE, CISA, and CCNP
  • Do networking or security projects
  • Stay current on technology advances and policy impacts

Rodriguez adds specific backgrounds make a good fit for the field, including those with strong computer and IT skills.

“Soldiers from a variety of other branches and MOSes, including signal, aviation, and field artillery,” she said.

Because of the critical need for cyber talent, the Army created the Cyber Direct Commissioning Program. It is actively recruiting “software engineers, data scientists, DevOps engineers, hardware and radio frequency engineers, vulnerability researchers, and other computer-based professionals,” Rodriguez said. “I encourage anyone who has a deep interest in technology, a penchant for learning and change, and a commitment to our nation’s security to pursue a career in cyber with our military.”

For those interested in CISA cybersecurity education programs, check out:

FedVTE (Federal Virtual Training Environment): Free online cybersecurity training

CyberCorps® Scholarship for Service: DHS/CISA scholarship for bachelors, masters, and graduate cybersecurity degree programs in return for service in federal, state, local or tribal governments upon graduation

President’s Cup Cyber Competition: Competition for federal and Department of Defense cyber workforce to promote and recognize top cyber talent in government service

National Centers of Academic Excellence: 190+ academic institutions that DHS/CISA and the National Security Agency have designated for cybersecurity-related degrees

Cybersecurity Education Training Assistance Program: Cybersecurity curricula and education tools for K-12 teachers

This article originally appeared on Military Families Magazine. Follow @MilFamiliesMag on Twitter.

Articles

Meet the first woman to lead a Marine Corps tank platoon

Second Lt. Lillian Polatchek made history on Wednesday when she became the first female graduate of the Army’s Armor Basic Officer Leaders Course, and the first woman to lead a Marine tank platoon.


Polatchek graduated from the Army-led Basic Armor Officer Leaders Course at Fort Benning, Georgia, at the top of her class of 67 Marines and soldiers.

She will soon report to Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, where she will serve as a tank officer with the 2nd Tank Battalion.

Also read: The Marine Corps just spent $6 million on a war tool invented in the barracks

Despite being a trailblazer, she downplayed her accomplishment in a video posted by the Marine Corps.

“Ultimately, I am sort of just looking at it as another Marine graduating from this course.”

The 19-week course at Fort Benning is required for service members to become armor officers. Polatchek’s class had only five Marines in it, but they all graduated in the top 20% of their class, including three in the top five, according to a Marine Corps press statement.

“The small group of Marines in the class worked really well together and that reflects in the class rankings,” Polatchek said.  “So it shows the success of all of our training up to this point and then how we worked well together as a group thanks to our instructors here.”

This is how US troops came to be called ‘GIs’
Polatchek presents an instructor with a graduation gift during the Army’s Armor Basic Officer Leaders Course at Fort Benning. U.S. Marine Corps U.S. Marine Corps

“I think she’s an inspiration for other female Marine who’ve been looking at the corps and considering joining a ground combat military occupational specialty,” Capt. Joshua Pena, a spokesman for Marine Training and Education Command, told Business Insider in a phone interview. “She’s an example, and we’re very proud of her.”

She is the third female Marine officer to complete training for a front-line combat position. The military opened all combat jobs to women in April 2016.

Two female Marines finished artillery officer training in May 2016. Both are currently serving with the 11th Marines at Camp Pendelton in California, Pena said. Two more female Marine officer will start the Marine’s Infantry Officer Course this month to try to become the first women to serve as infantry officers.

More than 30 female Marine officers have previously washed out from the course.

Polatchek is a native of New York, and attended Connecticut College before being commissioned in November 2015. She reported to the Marine Corps Detachment at Fort Benning after graduating from The Basic School at Marine Corp Base Quantico, Virginia.

“A tank platoon has 16 Marines, and that small leadership-size really gives you, as a platoon commander, the ability to directly work with the Marines you’re leading,” Polatchek said. “I’m excited to take everything we’ve learned here and to get a chance to go out to the fleet and apply it.”

MIGHTY TRENDING

Another woman is trying to make history as the Corps’ first female commando

A Marine who last year became the first woman to reach the end of Phase One in MARSOC’s assessment and selection course is planning to return for a second attempt early next year.


The woman, then a corporal, reached the conclusion of the 19-day course in August 2016, but did not have the minimum academic and physical training scores to move on to the secretive second phase.

She is planning to reattempt Phase One in January, Maj. Nicholas Mannweiler, a spokesman for Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command, told Military.com.

The command declined to identify her to protect her privacy.

To date, two women have attempted to join the elite ranks of MARSOC Raiders as critical skills operators since the previously closed jobs opened to women in early 2016. Both women, the corporal and a staff sergeant, came from administrative backgrounds.

This is how US troops came to be called ‘GIs’

Both women began assessment and selection, or AS, in early August 2016. The staff sergeant left the course a day in after failing to meet the minimum time requirement on a ruck march.

Officials said at the time that 31 men also washed out in the first week of the demanding special operations course.

All Marines who attempt the first phase of AS are given multiple opportunities to pass, Mannweiler said.

Demands of the course are physical and mental. Marines are required to complete a 12-mile march carrying a pack weighing more than 45 pounds within three hours, to swim 300 meters wearing their camouflage uniforms, and to pass classroom exercises during the 19-day phase.

This is how US troops came to be called ‘GIs’
MARSOC Raiders conduct swim training. Photo: US Marine Corps Sgt. Donovan Lee

For Phase 2, the requirements and trials that MARSOC candidates face remain a closely guarded secret.

The three-week phase “is a mentally and physically challenging evaluation that enables MARSOC to identify Marines that have attributes compatible with special operations missions and the MARSOC way of life,” according to official informational materials.

Once Marines begin Phase 2, Mannweiler said, they do not have the chance to re-attempt it.

To date, no other women have identified themselves as candidates for AS, Mannweiler said, although recruiters continue to publicize the opportunity.

“We go out and send recruiting teams to all the bases,” he said. “It’s gender agnostic — here are the requirements we’re looking for, here’s the fitness program.”

This is how US troops came to be called ‘GIs’
A U.S. Marine with Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command (MARSOC) crawls under an obstacle with a MARSOC canine during the MARSOC Multi-Purpose canine subject matter expert exchange conference on Camp Pendleton, Calif., Feb. 4, 2016. MARSOC specializes in direct action, special reconnaissance and foreign internal defense and has also been directed to conduct counter-terrorism and information operations. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Tyler S. Dietrich, MCIWEST-MCB CamPen Combat Camera/Released)

Few women in any service have attempted to enter the elite and demanding field of special operations since previously closed jobs became available.

As of August, there were two women in the training pipeline to become Air Force Tactical Control Party (TAC-P) specialists; none have entered the field to date.

Earlier this year, Military.com broke the news that the Navy had its first female candidates for SEAL officer and Special Warfare Combatant-Craft Crewman, or SWCC. But the SEAL candidate for dropped out of the training pipeline in August.

The Army is slightly further ahead in integrating women into special operations. The first female soldier passed qualifications to enter the 75th Ranger Regiment early this year.

MIGHTY TRENDING

The Coast Guard wants heavy firepower on their new icebreakers

The Coast Guard is getting very serious about fielding highly capable icebreakers — and not just for getting through the frozen oceans in the Arctic and Antarctic regions. They’re also looking to prepare these vessels for a fight. A report by the Washington Times revealed that the Coast Guard wants their next six icebreakers to pack some serious firepower, able to send cruise missiles at a hostile target on land or sea.


Contrary to what some might think, heavily armed icebreakers are not a new phenomenon. In fact, a number of countries are currently operating powerful, combat-ready icebreakers.

This is how US troops came to be called ‘GIs’
HDMS Knud Rasmussen outside Akureyri Harbour in Iceland. (Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Adaahh)

The Danish Knud Rasmussen-class icebreakers, for instance, are armed with a 76mm gun, two twin 324mm torpedo tubes for the MU-90 Impact, and a Mk 56 vertical launch system for the RIM-162 Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile. Norway’s lone Svalbard-class icebreaker is equipped with a single 57mm gun, similar to those used on the Freedom- and Independence-class littoral combat ships. Russia, of course, is arming its icebreakers as well. The Ivan Susanin-class icebreakers, in service since the 1970s, are armed with a twin 76.2mm gun and two 30mm Gatling guns.

This is how US troops came to be called ‘GIs’
A Russian Federal Border Guard Ivan Susanin-class icebreaker. (Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer Jonathan R. Cilley)

Even Canada’s getting in on the action. Their planned Harry Dewolf-class icebreakers are to be equipped with a 25mm Bushmaster chain gun and two M2 .50-caliber heavy machine guns.

The current icebreaker classes in the United States Coast Guard, the Healy and the Polar Star, are each equipped with a pair of M2 .50-caliber heavy machine guns.

“We’ve been able to find offsets to drive the cost down … [and] reserve the space weight and power necessary to fully weaponize these and make these a capable platform offensively in the event this world changes in the next five, 10, even 15 years from now,” Adm. Paul Zukunft, the Commandant of the Coast Guard, said during an address at a symposium hosted by the Surface Navy Association.

Sure, there’s no combat to be done in the Arctic today, but as always, having weapons ready is often the best way to prevent a fight. With so many armed adversaries, we think putting more guns on new icebreakers is a great move.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How this World War I doughboy was killed the day the war ended

The horrors of war are probably only fully appreciated by those who have served their countries in battles on land, at sea, or in the air. Nearly every history buff has watched Saving Private Ryan or read Unbroken, from which we glean a taste of what it might be like to kill or be killed for a cause–or to simply survive.

It’s all too easy to forget about the pure hell and random misfortunes that men and women are subjected to so that the rest of us can live free and safe. Sometimes, historical accounts from people who have experienced the burden of combat help us understand the sacrifices those soldiers and others have made. I am in possession of photocopies from a journal written by one of my wife’s relatives, a soldier who served at the end of World War I. He died in France on Armistice Day — November 11, 1918. He may well have been the last American killed in the Great War.


Private Joseph Sommers was born in Springfield, Illinois. After boot camp at Camp Logan in Houston, Texas, he was sent to fight for America and her allies on the front lines in France during the summer of 1918. What you are about to read are excerpts from Private Sommers’s journal: The soldier was my wife’s great-great uncle. Most of the spelling and grammar is presented as written, though some capitalization and periods have been added to improve readability. The images described within the 5000-word manuscript and the emotions they elicit might leave an indelible impression upon your mind, heart, and soul–they are deeply affecting.

While you read the following, try to place yourself in the French countryside walking along battle-scarred roads on a journey situated somewhere between beautiful and truly horrific. Become the imaginary comrade of Private Joseph Sommers, Company C, 124th Machine Gun Battalion, 23rd Division. A young soldier who made the ultimate sacrifice, so that others might live free.

This is how US troops came to be called ‘GIs’
Pages from the journal of Private Joseph Sommers.

Left Camp Logan 5/4/18. Sunday. We always leave on Sunday.

Arrived in Hoboken, NY. 5/16/18. Sailed on SS Mount Vernon ship, formerly the pride of the Kaiser. Ship very crowded. Mess was bad. 132nd Infantry Wolves hogged the boat.

Arrived in Brest, France on 5/24/18 and debarked.

5/26/18 Harbor filled with transports. A beautiful site coming into the harbor. Hills studded with guns. Airplanes and dirigibles guard harbor from subs. Very hot, overcoats on.

Oisemont 5/29/18. Arrived at our present camp. We are expected to be called to the front most any time. Anti-aircraft guns fired at airplanes. White puffs of shrapnel. Elusive planes. The rumble of guns very plainly heard, never ceasing, 25 miles back of the line. Bombing of towns close by continues nightly. I expect ours to be bombed most any time.

6/18/18 Going to machine gun school today for 12 days. Boche [German] planes, 10 in one bunch, 11 another bunch. Antiaircraft guns firing, very few hits made. We are now attached to the British Army. A visit to the lines on the night of July 3. We approached within 3 miles of the front line. Shells began to burst and I wished at the moment that our helmets was large as umbrellas. It is surprising how small you can make yourself when shells are bursting all around you. Ammunition dump struck by airplane bomb near Amiens. The whole heavens lighted with red flare, a wonderful thing.

7/7/18 An observation balloon high in the air, a cigar shaped affair with elephant ears, sways with the wind. It is held in position by a big cable which is attached to a motor car weighing 6 tons. The cable winds around a drum, and the balloon is either brought down or rises in the sky. The observer cuts loose his parachute, it drops. It fails to open like an umbrella. He is finished.

7/20/18 A doctor was found at the operating table standing over a patient in the act of operating on him when the gas struck both and they died. The graveyard at Biere was shelled so much by the Germans that the caskets and bodies and tombstones were scattered all over. There are quite a few soldiers graves here, from all regiments.

7/29/18 Our home in the woods was visited by Fritz’s [German] planes. He dropped about 12 bombs, luckily no one was hit. I would rather dodge 100 shells then hear one bomb whistle through the air.

8/7/18 Arrived at our positions at 12:45 A.M. On our way to this place we met some trucks and ambulances loaded with wounded and gassed, also many wounded walking to the first aid station.

8/7/18, 4:30 A.M. The British opened a terrible barrage. The sound was deafening. The shells were bursting through the air with such speed as to liken the sound of Niagara Falls. Previous to that time Fritz had been sending over gas shells by the hundreds, Mustard Gas which is one of the worst gases Jerry [Germans] uses. We had to wear our gas mask for over two hours.

9/18/18 The trees split as under their naked trunks against the skyline. Nature itself seems to be dead. In that dreary space not a living thing moves, save an occasional bird. “Dead Man’s Hill” is close by. The bones, skulls of men still thickly cover the ground. The rats are tame enough in our dugout to eat out of your hand. They sit and wink at you.

9/24/18 Turned in all our surplus stuff in the A.M. We are now traveling light. The Stunt is near being pulled off and by the looks of things it is going to be a big one. The Germans dropped some Gas and High Explosives pretty close today. We are bringing up ammunition in great quantities. We are waiting for zero hour.

9/26/18, 2:15 A.M. Gen. Jack Pershing and our Captain bid us God Speed and good luck. Up and among them soon. We opened our barrage which lasted for one hour starting at 5:30 AM. We hopped over the top amid the hell of machine gun bullets and ducking big shells. We saw plenty of dead lying on the battlefield which had been a battlefield for four different battles.

This is how US troops came to be called ‘GIs’
Sommers’s obituary

9/27/18 We advanced three and half miles yesterday. The Germans left in a hurry. The water was still in the stoves that they were making coffee. Water was still hot. The Meuse River is about 800 yards in front of us.

10/2/18 Great artillery this A.M. on both sides. It was a little stronger than the usual morning song. Heard tonight that Bulgaria and Austria had surrendered.

10/5/18 Still in the line. Artillery still hammering away and also some machine gun firing.

10/9/18 Orders to move forward. Fired a machine gun barrage and orders came to remove guns and seek shelter in a deep dugout. Still waiting for orders to go forward.

10/10/18 Still in reverse. Got mail from Sister. Beautiful day, sun shining. The sky was full of airplanes, never saw so many. The sky was full of them just like birds. Have been in the line, for five weeks now. Still looking every day for relief.

This entry on October 10, 1918 was Private Sommers’s last. He died on November 11, Armistice Day, during an attack near Bougainville, France. While the armistice took effect at 11 a.m. on November 11, family lore has it that Sommers was actually killed later that day. I’ve thought about trying to help prove he was in fact the last American killed in the Great War. I struggle with whether that matters.

All photos courtesy of Ken Cruickshank

This article originally appeared on Explore The Archive. Follow @explore_archive on Twitter.

MIGHTY CULTURE

‘The Off-Islander’ sees a Vietnam vet turned private investigator looking for a missing man in 1982 New England

Growing up, my stepdad kept a series of paperback books high up on the shelf. They were novels by an author named John MacDonald with distinctive color-based titles like The Green Ripper and The Scarlet Ruse. They featured a unique sort of private investigator named Travis McGee. When I was old enough to reach them, they became my entry point into the mystery genre.

Travis McGee was a departure from the hardboiled detective stories of an earlier era. The classic noir private investigator was a world-weary gumshoe navigating dark streets and negotiating femme fatales, corrupt cops, and mobsters to close the case. Mcgee was different. Travis was a bon vivant and knight-errant, a handsome man who saw life as something to be enjoyed rather than endured as he cut a swath through both Florida’s prettiest women and its most colorful villains to close cases. Think 1980’s Magnum PI set in Fort Lauderdale and you get the picture.


All of this is my way of saying I was feeling a little bit of that MacDonald vibe when I read Peter Colt’s debut novel, The Off-Islander.

For sure, Colt’s Andy Roark is a different character than MacDonald’s McGee. Andy is a good bit rougher than McGee due to his military and cop background and as he describes himself, ‘doesn’t always conform to rules and regulations’. But Roark, much like McGee has a sensitive core with an appreciation for books and music, good food and drink, and a preference for educated women who appreciate art. He even partakes of marijuana though he rather stick to beer and bourbon.

The plot of the novel isn’t a complex one. It is a missing person case, which sees Andy travel through Boston and Nantucket Island looking for someone who obviously does not want to be found. Like most mystery novels, there are some complications as Andy works the case. Only some of those complications are resolved by the end of the novel but the loose strings do not otherwise affect the resolution of this procedural.

That is not to say I did not enjoy this novel. I enjoyed it very much. The plot is dripping with New England atmospherics. Where McGee’s novels were all Florida sun, Colt sets his story in the bleak windswept bogs and shores of Massachusetts. Andy’s investigation takes him from the gray environs of Boston to charming Cape Cod store fronts besieged by whipping rain and wind. It is the perfect setting for hard-edged people with secrets they’re willing to kill to keep. The book is also informed by Peter Colt’s real life experience as a veteran, police officer, and former resident of Nantucket Island. This lends the text an added layer of authenticity and intimacy in his description of the setting and Roark’s detective deductions.

In addition, notable in this book was Andy’s military past. Though McGee was also a veteran, MacDonald left McGee’s service ambiguous and it never really played much of a role in how portrayed his character. Colt on the other hand keeps coming back to Andy’s service in Vietnam in just about every chapter of the book. Roark is still clearly dealing with his unresolved feelings towards his service and in a melancholic touch, it seems to be the shadow that ruins his relationships with the women in his life. The title of the book, ‘The Off-Islander’ is not just descriptive of Andy’s alienation from the closed community of Nantucket Island – it also speaks to his personal post-war isolation from polite civil society.

Ultimately, this is a good debut novel which launches what I help to be a great series of adventures featuring an appealing private investigator. It was an easy afternoon and evening read set in the part of the country which I reside and love. I enjoyed my time sleuthing with Andy. I ended the novel hoping to see him get a Vietnam-free night of sleep, a good stiff drink, and a healthy relationship with a good woman in the second book.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The insane victory that inspired the Confederate army’s only medal

The Confederate Army had better things to do than decide how it would award medals to its fighting men. In that era, Americans weren’t really into medals and ribbons, as it was considered a very European military tradition. The Civil War changed all that. The brutality of the war, combined with the feats of heroics performed by those who fought it inspired the need for such awards.

That being said, the Confederacy had its heroes as well, but aside from a Confederate Congressional “Roll of Honor,” nothing much was ever done in terms of awards and decorations – until the Second Battle of Sabine Pass.


This is how US troops came to be called ‘GIs’

Sabine Pass is a small outlet from Lake Sabine that pours into the Gulf of Mexico, bordering both Texas and Louisiana. During the Civil War, it was a lightly defended Western outpost, far from the central fighting of the war. As a result, the shoddy earthwork fortifications at the pass had mostly old smoothbore cannon to defend it, eight guns in total. But then the French installed a pro-French Emperor in Mexico, opening the possibility for Confederate supplies to reach Mexico by rail, then onto Europe under French-flagged ships, completely circumventing the Union blockade and providing the South with crucial money, arms, and supplies.

The Union sent 5,000 troops, 18 transports, and four armed gunboats to capture the pass and cut the South off from French Mexico. Defending the fort were the Jeff Davis Guards, named for the Confederate President, 47 Irish immigrants from bigger cities in Texas, and well-trained and drilled artillerymen. This was the largest amphibious assault ever taken by the United States until this point so you’d think the Union would have come prepared. You’d be wrong. So wrong.

This is how US troops came to be called ‘GIs’

Only the lightest of the Union ships could enter the river, due to the shallow nature of the entryway. Four steamers and 150 Union sharpshooters were to cross the sandbars then take out the fort and its guns so the rest of the Union force could take the town and then move on to Houston. That never happened. Instead, accurate cannon fire from the fort hit one of the steamers in her boiler, disabling another and grounding the USS Arizona. The two ships surrendered, and the rest of the invasion force ended up running back to New Orleans.

In all, the battle last 45 minutes. The Davis Guards fired 137 rounds from their eight guns, dwarfing the Union’s rate of fire and ensuring those guns couldn’t be used for weeks after the battle. The handful of Confederates then went to capture the Union troops on the disabled ships, taking 315 Union troops prisoner. The Union forces suffered a further 19 killed and nine wounded at the cost of zero casualties to the Confederates. It was the most lopsided victory of the war.

This is how US troops came to be called ‘GIs’

Richard Dowling, commander of the Davis Guards, wearing his medal.

Grateful Texans decided to reward the men for not only staying at their posts in the face of overwhelming odds, but for actually winning. They cast medals from Mexican silver coins, engraving “DG” on one side with a Malta Cross and the date of the battle on the other. It was hung on the uniform by a green ribbon, representing the Irish heritage of the fort’s defenders. In all, 47 were awarded to the men, with two more awarded to their officers, and one struck just for their namesake, Jefferson Davis. Davis ensured the Confederate Congress authorized the medal for wear, the only medal so authorized.

The President had his on him when he was captured after the war’s end.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

What would happen if Germany and Russia had a tank battle today

When it comes to armored warfare, Germany and Russia have been two of the foremost practitioners. They even fought the biggest tank battle of all time in 1943 at Kursk. So, what would happen if the two countries fought a tank battle today?


As was the case in World War II, it could easily be a clash between two competing philosophies. Russia has long favored quantity over quality (Stalin even remarked that quantity had a quality of its own). At Kursk, this was seen in the fact that Russia ultimately deployed over 7,000 tanks to that battle. Germany had just under 3,300.

This is how US troops came to be called ‘GIs’
T-72s roll along Red Square. (Photo: AFP)

While the T-14 Armata has generated much of the news coverage, GlobalSecurity.org notes that most of Russia’s tanks are T-80 and T-72 main battle tanks. Russia has small numbers of the T-90, but most of the tanks are not much different than the ones that did little more than bounce main gun rounds off Abrams tanks at 400 yards and lose their turrets during Desert Storm.

Germany’s best tank at present is the Leopard 2A6. This is a fine tank. Originally deployed with a 120mm main gun, Germany refitted it with a similar gun with a barrel that was 25 percent longer. It just has two problems: There are only 328 of them after major defense cuts after 2010, and Germany also refuses to use depleted uranium in its armor-piercing rounds and tank armor.

This is how US troops came to be called ‘GIs’
The prototype Leopard 2A7+. (Wikimedia Commons)

 

Germany is taking steps to design a new tank in conjunction with France. This tank, called Leopard 3, is intended to be a match for Russia’s Armata T-14. This will take time. Russia already has the Armata in prototype form, but some questions are emerging about whether or not it will make it into service.

So, which country would win a tank fight? The money has to be on the Russians, even though most of their tanks are pieces of crap that some countries have to make the best of. Russia has over 4,500 T-80s. And while the German Leopards will trash a lot of Russian tanks, there will be more behind each echelon.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Iran just shot down one of the US military’s most advanced drones

Iranian forces took out a US unmanned aerial vehicle June 19, 2019, with a surface-to-air missile, US Central Command confirmed. The drone the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) shot out of the sky happens to be one of the US military’s most advanced high-altitude unmanned aircraft.

The Iranians shot down a US Navy Broad Area Maritime Surveillance (BAMS-D) intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance aircraft, specifically a RQ-4A Global Hawk high-altitude, long-endurance (HALE) drone, which the military uses to conduct recon operations over oceans and coastal waterways, among other areas.

The US military called the incident “an unprovoked attack on a US surveillance asset in international airspace” over the Strait of Hormuz, the entrance to the Persian Gulf. The Iranians have accused the US drone of entering Iranian airspace, an allegation Central Command characterized as completely false.


The RQ-4, which informed the development of the newer MQ-4C drones, is one of the most advanced high-altitude drones being employed operationally, The War Zone said. These aircraft, Northrop Grumman aircraft that have been used extensively in the Persian Gulf, rely on a suite of high-end electronic sensors and other intelligence-gathering systems to peer into other countries.

This is how US troops came to be called ‘GIs’

MQ-4C prototype.

The aircraft, which is used by both the US Air Force and the US Navy, has a price tag higher than the US military’s new F-35 stealth fighters. A Global Hawk has a unit cost of roughly 3 million, while an F-35A Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter costs only million.

“This isn’t a throwaway drone whose loss the US will just shrug off,” Ulrike Franke, a drone expert with the European Council on Foreign Relations, said on Twitter. But it’s not just the price tag that makes the loss of this drone a big deal. The drone is designed to be harder to hit, she said, because they fly at altitudes beyond the reach of some air defense defense systems.

“The RQ-4 flies at upwards of 65,000 feet,” Tyler Rogoway, the editor of The War Zone, wrote. “So this would have been a sophisticated radar-guided surface-to-air missile that shot the aircraft down, not a shoulder-fired, heat-seeking missile.”

This is how US troops came to be called ‘GIs’

F-35A Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Samuel King Jr.)

Iran said the IRGC shot down the US drone with an upgraded Khordad missile-defense system, which can detect and track targets 95 miles away and down them at a distance of 30 miles, Breaking Defense reported. The system can target enemy aircraft flying as high as 81,000 feet, or roughly 15 miles.

The Global Hawk does not have any stealth capabilities or high-end countermeasures for penetration missions, leaving it vulnerable to any air defense systems that can hit high-altitude targets.

The latest incident comes just days after the crew of an Iranian boat fired an SA-7 surface-to-air missile at a MQ-9 Reaper drone, a roughly million drone, but missed. Wednesday’s shoot-down marks a serious escalation in tensions between the US and Iran.

“If the Iranians come after US citizens, US assets or [the] US military, we reserve the right to respond with a military action, and they need to know that,” Gen. Paul Selva, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters earlier this week.

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

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