Visitors to The Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., can see a collection of veteran portraits on display through Nov. 15, 2019.
The collection is Portraits of Courage: A Commander in Chief’s Tribute to America’s Warriors, painted by another veteran, President George W. Bush.
The collection highlights 98 men and women out of the approximately five million post-9/11 veterans. The exhibit showcases 66 full-color oil portraits and a four-panel mural painted by the former president, himself an Air Force veteran.
Upon entering the display, visitors see a two-minute video by the 43rd president. Bush talks about the positive assets of veterans, why he continues to serve veterans, the courage involved in talking about post-traumatic stress and his painting history.
President Bush painting.
(Photo courtesy of the Bush Center)
Alongside the video is a quote from the president on why he painted these veterans.
“I painted these men and women as a way to honor their service to the country and to show my respect for their sacrifice and courage.”
Nearly all the warriors featured participated in one of the two wounded warrior sporting events hosted by the George W. Bush Presidential Center. The W100K is a 100-kilometer mountain bike ride on the president’s ranch near Crawford, Texas. The Warrior Open is a competitive golf tournament in Dallas.
The portraits are on loan from the Ambassador and Mrs. George L. Argyros Collection of Presidential Art at the George W. Bush Presidential Center, a non-profit organization whose Military Service Initiative is focused on helping post-9/11 veterans and their families.
Portraits of Courage at The Kennedy Center.
For more information
The paintings are on display until Nov. 15, 2019, at The Kennedy Center. More information is at https://www.kennedy-center.org/calendar/event/ZURRA. The exhibit then moves to the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas, Dec. 21 through Jan. 20, 2020.
U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Natasha Lindblom looks over citzenship study test.
Many people dream of becoming a U.S. citizen. The process is notoriously arduous and taxing, but the most nerve-wracking part for many is taking the U.S. citizenship test. It’s so difficult, in fact, that according to NBCNews, only 36% of American citizens could pass the test. That’s like around the same percentage of students at Arizona State that could pass an STD test. Yikes.
Some of the foundational, basic, questions are reportedly missed by as much as 60% of the population. For instance, only 39% of American test takers know how many justices serve on the supreme court. If you’re thinking, “Uhhh… I dunno, like 50…Or 12?” You’re probably in good company. You’re also wrong. It’s nine. That’s a freebie—follow along, and then plug your answers into the key at the bottom to see how well you fare.
If you get at least six correct you pass. No peeking!
How many members are in the House of Representatives?
A.) 435 B.) 350 C.) 503 D.) 69
Who is in charge of the executive branch?
A.) The President B.) Secretary of Defense C.) Speaker of the House D.) Majority Whip
What piece of land did the United States purchase from France in 1803?
A.) Alaska Purchase B.) Gadsden Purchase C.) Louisiana Purchase D.) Hawaii
How many U.S. senators are there?
A.) 50 B.) 100 C.) 200 D.) 400
Stolen by Nicolas Cage in 2004… and 2007?
When was the constitution written?
A.) 1692 B.) 1802 C.) 1776 D.) 1787
How many amendments does the constitution have?
A.) 27 B.) 25 C.) 20 D.) 14
Who was the President during World War I?
A.) Calvin Cooldige B.) Woodrow Wilson C.) Franklin D. Roosevelt D.) Harry Truman
Under the constitution, which of these powers does not belong to the federal government?
A.) Print money B.) Declare war C.) Ratify amendments to the Constitution D.) Make treaties with foreign powers
U.S. senate floor.
We elect a U.S. senator for how many years?
A.) Six years B.) Four years C.) Eight years D.) Two years
The Federalist Papers supported the passage of the U.S. constitution. Which of these men was not one of the authors?
A.) Alexander Hamilton B.) John Adams C.) James Madison D.) John Jay
Spc. Jorge Vilicana takes general Army test
(Capt. David Gasperson)
If you got at least 6/10 right—congrats you passed the U.S. citizenship test! If you didn’t—you can always just lie in comments section and say you did!
The US Navy has reportedly launched 59 cruise missiles at airfields controlled by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in response to a chemical attack that killed at least 80 people in the northwestern part of the country on Monday.
Tomahawk missiles were launched from two Navy warships stationed in the Mediterranean according to CNN, and NBC News.
No casualties have yet been reported but officials tell NBC News that no people were targeted.
Missiles hit runways and military infrastructure used by Syrian and Russian forces, who the US blames for using chemical weapons in the attack on Monday.
Several prominent GOP Senators and Representatives urged strikes on Syria after evidence of chemical attacks surfaced. The strike, while not targeting troops themselves, carried a high risk of killing Syrian and Russian servicemen in collateral damage.
The transferability option under the Post-9/11 GI Bill allows service members to transfer all or some unused benefits to their spouse or dependent children. The request to transfer unused GI Bill benefits to eligible dependents must be completed while serving as an active member of the Armed Forces. The Department of Defense determines whether or not you can transfer benefits to your family. Once the DoD approves benefits for transfer, the new beneficiaries apply for them at Veterans Affairs.
The option to transfer is open to any member of the armed forces active duty or Selected Reserve, officer or enlisted who is eligible for the Post-9/11 GI Bill and meets the following criteria:
Has at least six years of service in the armed forces (active duty and/or Selected Reserve) on the date of approval and agrees to serve four additional years in the armed forces from the date of election.
(U.S. Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Jorge Intriago)
Has at least 10 years of service in the armed forces (active duty and/or Selected Reserve) on the date of approval, is precluded by either standard policy (by service branch or DoD) or statute from committing to four additional years and agrees to serve for the maximum amount of time allowed by such policy or statute.
Transfer requests are submitted and approved while the member is in the armed forces.
Effective July 12, 2019, eligibility to transfer benefits will be limited to service members with at least 6 years but not more than 16 years of active duty or selected reserve service. So service members with more than 16 years of service should transfer benefits before July 12, 2019.
Considered one of the most important battles in U.S. Marine Corps history, the story of Belleau Wood continues to have a significant impact on military culture today. On the evening of June 1, 1918, the German Army breached the western front and came within just 45 miles of Paris.
The Marines weren’t going to let them go any further. They positioned themselves and were ready to strike once the orders were passed down. The ensuing battle would last for weeks and was the first large-scale battle fought by American soldiers in World War I. U.S. forces suffered over 9,000 casualties — just over 1,800 killed. The German body count is still unknown — but it was high.
Historians have gone on at length about many of the incredible details of the famous battle, but several aspects have gone largely undiscussed — until now.
Capt. Lloyd Williams, USMC
As the Marines were arriving, the French were retreating
On June 2, 1918, the Marines arrived on the scene under the command of Capt. Lloyd Williams only to see French troops in retreat from the German enemy. The French told the Marines to turn around and head back to from where they came.
Capt. Lloyd Williams replied,
“Retreat? Hell, we just got here.”
The Marines finally got their orders
On June 6, 1918, Allied powers launched their attack on the Germans who were busying preparing to do the same. Marines maneuvered up Hill 142 to prevent a flanking attack on their French allies.
Although 1st Battalion, 5th Marines were heavily outnumbered, that didn’t stop them from bravely dashing toward the enemy across open wheat field.
American Marines are depicted fighting German soldiers in the Battle of Belleau Wood, 1918.
The Marines saw the enemy before they were spotted
As Capt. George Wallace Hamilton and the 49th Company were getting into position, he noticed that they were surrounded by German machine guns — he had caught them off guard. He and his men stormed the guns with bayonets fixed and secured the guns for friendly forces.
Hamilton was awarded two Distinguished Service Crosses and a Navy Cross for his bad*ssery.
Twelve on one
After enduring the first round of attacks, the Germans rallied and attempted a counterattack on Hill 142. As 12 German soldiers began their advance, they were met by Gunnery Sgt. Ernest Janson, who wasn’t fond of their idea. He alone prevented the dozen Germans from going any further by killing two of them with his bayonet. The others quickly fled.
For his actions, Janson became the first U.S Marine to earn the Medal of Honor during the war.
After 6 attacks, the Germans finally threw in the towel.
During the multi-week campaign, the Marines suffered heavy losses, but dealt out ass-kickings in kind. Like much of World War I, the Battle of Belleau Wood was slow-moving and brutal, but the Americans finally claimed victory after attacking six separate times.
On Jun. 26, 1918, the Germans decided the battle was unwinnable and retreated from the blood-soaked arena.
Check out the Marines video below to watch the footage from an immensely important time in military history.
Technology wasn’t actually the method by which the military tried to create an army of super soldiers. It wasn’t a special armor or a Captain America-like serum either. No, like most harebrained schemes of the Cold War, the military tried to create a kind of “warrior monk soldier” with paranormal abilities that would take on the defense of the United States when technology could not.
The Army and the CIA, it turns out, could spend money on anything.
The Marines got the Warrior Monk anyway.
The First Earth Battalion was more than just a bunch of men staring at goats. The idea was derived from the human potential movement, a counterculture phenomenon of the 1960s which believed humans were not using their full mental and physical capacity in their lives and could thus be and do more when properly trained or motivated. After the end of the Vietnam War, the Army was ready to review how it fought wars and try an approach less focused on filling body bags.
When the Army sent word that it was seeking new ways of fighting and training its soldiers, it was bombarded with suggestions that seemed bogus but had some merit, like sleep learning and mental rehearsal. It was also offered some of the less down-to-earth ideas in American culture. It attempted to create an Army focused on unleashing the human potential locked within the bodies of its soldiers, unused.
Admit right now that unleashing an army of Tony Robbinses would be terrifying for the enemy.
So the U.S. military was divided over how to proceed. One side wanted to invest in developing weapons, technology, armor, and ways to train its soldiers. You know, Army stuff. The other side wanted to train soldiers to master extra-sensory perception, leaving their body at will to fight on the astral plane, levitation, psychic healing techniques, and the ability to walk through walls – they were asking for a “super soldier.”
Forget that there was no scientific evidence that this stuff actually worked. Or that the Army didn’t really ask if there was concrete evidence. And forget that the Army had no real plans to integrate these super soldiers into its order of battle against the Soviet Union when and if they did work. All they cared about were reports that the Soviets were seeking the same technology and powers, and the Americans wanted it too.
In Marvel Comics, the Soviet superhero is the “Red Guardian” and I really need him to fight the First Earth Battalion now, thanks.
To settle the matter, the Army researched a report on all things parapsychology, from remote viewing to psychokinesis. This comprehensive study took two years and was released at a whopping 425,000 pages by the National Research Council. Their findings? Spoiler Alert: the evidence in favor of nearly all of these techniques and powers were “scientifically unsupported.”
What they did find to work were things like mental rehearsals before physically performing a task. Still, the 0,000 allocated toward the potential research in 1981 was never spent and was still unspent seven years later.
Bravery is a thing you see every day in the military. In all branches, in moments great and small, it’s an expression of the fundamental courage it takes to put your life on the line for love of country and to serve those you swore to protect.
Former Navy SEAL David Meadows proved exemplary in this capacity, serving 11 years in some of the harshest theaters of war throughout the Middle East.
But unlike many of his fellow Oscar Mike alumni, Meadows chose, upon reentry, to translate his habituated bravery into a civilian arena that would, honestly, make most servicemen and women want to crawl out of their natural born skins…
Yeah, he became an actor.
And we can tell you from experience that there are few professions that require a more constant personal brokerage with public shame, mortal embarrassment, insecurity, and rejection — in short, all of the types of feelings that normal people avoid like their lives depend on it.
Being the Special Ops-trained bad ass that he is, though, Meadows surveyed this new theater of war and then dove in head first. Acting for a living takes guts.
“I think that if there is a magic left in the world…it’s really for a person to be affected, to be changed — by one human being actually affecting somebody else on a really human, natural, soulful level. Does that make sense? And performing artists have that power. And I thought…that’s absolutely amazing. And I want to be a part of that.”
To get a taste of the kind of courage an actor has to muster every day, Oscar Mike host Ryan Curtis visited Meadows at his acting studio in Los Angeles and submitted himself to a battery of drills that actors employ to help them behave truthfully under imaginary circumstances.
Each exercise is designed to increase physical sensitivity, dial up emotional availability, and to inure actors to the fear of ridicule that can shut them down at crucial moments. Like all high-stakes training, it’s effective — but it ain’t pretty.
Today’s lesson is clear: in a successful civilian life, emotional bravery matters. But you don’t have to take our word for it, you can just watch as Curtis cracks under the pressure and and begs to postpone the big payoff in the video embedded at the top.
The bomb North Korea tested earlier this month was a hydrogen bomb, according to the US military.
North Korea conducted its sixth nuclear test on Sept. 3, detonating a suspected staged thermonuclear device. In the aftermath, Pyongyang claimed it had successfully tested a hydrogen bomb for its new Hwasong-14 intercontinental ballistic missile, which can strike parts, if not most, of the continental US.
The seismic data indicates the bomb was significantly larger than anything the North has tested before. The blast was so powerful that it literally moved mountains.
Where as the bomb tested last September had an explosive yield of roughly 15 kilotons, the most recent test had an explosive yield potentially in excess of 300 kilotons.
“The size of the weapon shows that there clearly was a secondary explosion,” Air Force Gen. John Hyten, head of US Strategic Command, said Sept. 14 afternoon before being pulled away to deal with the latest North Korean missile test, according to Defense News.
“I saw the event, I saw the indications that came from that event,” he told reporters. “I saw the size, I saw the reports. and therefore, to me, I am assuming it was a hydrogen bomb.”
“The change from the original atomic bomb to the hydrogen bomb for the United States changed our entire deterrent relationship with the Soviet Union,” Hyten explained. “It changes the entire relationship because of the sheer destruction and damage you can use, you can create with a weapon that size.”
“That has the capability to destroy a city,” he stated.
US Air Force weapons developers are working with industry to pursue early prototypes of a new air-launched, nuclear-armed cruise missile able to pinpoint targets with possible attacks from much farther ranges than bombers can typically attack.
Service engineers and weapons architects are now working with industry partners on early concepts, configurations, and prototypes for the weapon, which is slated to be operational by the late 2020s.
Many senior Pentagon and Air Force officials believe the emerging nuclear-armed Long Range Stand-Off weapon will enable strike forces to attack deep within enemy territory and help overcome high-tech challenges posed by emerging adversary air defenses.
The Air Force awarded two 0 million LRSO deals in 2017 to both Raytheon and Lockheed Martin as a key step toward selecting one vendor for the next phase of the weapon’s development. Due to fast growing emerging threats, the Air Force now envisions an operational LRSO by the end of the 2020s, as opposed to prior thoughts they it may not be ready until the 2030s.
While many details of the weapons progress are not available naturally for security reasons, Air Force officials tell Warrior Maven that plans to move into the Engineering and Manufacturing Development phase are on track for 2022.
A cruise missile armed with nuclear weapons could, among many things, potentially hold targets at risk which might be inaccessible to even stealth bombers in some instances.
As a result, senior Air Force leaders continue to argue that engineering a new, modern Long-Range Standoff weapons with nuclear capability may be one of a very few assets, weapons or platforms able to penetrate emerging high-tech air defenses. Such an ability is, as a result, deemed crucial to nuclear deterrence and the commensurate need to prevent major-power warfare.
United States Tomahawk cruise missile.
“The United States has never had long-range nuclear cruise missiles on stealthy bombers,” Hans Kristensen, Director of the Nuclear Information Project, Federation of American Scientists, told Warrior Maven.
Therefore, in the event of major nuclear attack on the US, a stand-off air-launched nuclear cruise missile may be among the few weapons able to retaliate and, as a result, function as an essential deterrent against a first-strike nuclear attack.
“There may be defenses that are just too hard. They can be so redundant that penetrating bombers becomes a challenge. But with standoff (enabled by long-range LRSO), I can make holes and gaps to allow a penetrating bomber to get in,” Lt. Gen. Stephen Wilson, former Commander of Air Force Global Strike Command, (and Current Vice Chief of Staff of the Air Force) told the Mitchell Institute in 2014.
At the same time, some experts are raising concerns as to whether a nuclear-armed cruise missile could blur crucial distinctions between conventional and nuclear attacks; therefore, potentially increasing risk and lowering the threshold to nuclear warfare.
“We have never been in a nuclear war where escalation is about to happen and early-warning systems are poised to look for signs of surprise nuclear strikes. In such a scenario, a decision by a military power to launch a conventional attack — but the adversary expects and mistakenly interprets it as a nuclear attack — could contribute to an overreaction that escalates the crisis,” Kristensen said.
Potential for misinterpretation and unintended escalation is, Kristensen said, potentially compounded by the existence of several long-range conventional cruise missiles, such as the Tomahawk and JASSM-ER. Also, in future years, more conventional cruise missiles and hypersonic weapons are likely to emerge as well, creating the prospect for further confusion among potential adversaries, he explained.
“Stealthy bombers equipped with numerous stealthy LRSOs would — in the eye of an adversary — be the perfect surprise attack weapon,” Kristensen said.
However, senior Air Force and Pentagon weapons developers, many of whom are strong advocates for the LRSO, believe the weapon will have the opposite impact of increasing prospects for peace — by adding new layers of deterrence.
B-2 Spirit Stealth Bomber.
“LRSO will limit escalations through all stages of potential conflict,” Robert Scher, former Sec. of Defense for Strategy, Plans and Capabilities, told Congress in 2015, according to a report from the Federation of American Scientists.
In fact, this kind of thinking is analogous to what is written in the current administration’s Nuclear Posture Review which, among other things, calls for several new low-yield nuclear weapons options to increase deterrence amid fast-emerging threats. While discussing these new weapons options, which include a lower-yield submarine-launched nuclear weapon, Defense Secretary James Mattis told Congress the additional attack possibilities might help bring Russia back to the negotiating table regarding its violations of the INF Treaty.
The LRSO will be developed to replace the aging AGM-86B Air Launched Cruise Missile or ALCM, currently able to fire from a B-52. The AGM-86B has far exceeded its intended life-span, having emerged in the early 1980s with a 10-year design life, Air Force statements said.
Unlike the ALCM which fires from the B-52, the LRSO will be configured to fire from B-2 and B-21 bombers as well, service officials said; both the ALCM and LRSO are designed to fire both conventional and nuclear weapons.
While Air Force officials say that the current ALCM remains safe, secure, and effective, it is facing sustainment and operational challenges against evolving threats, service officials also acknowledge.
The rapid evolution of better networked, longer-range, digital air-defenses using much faster computer processing power will continue to make even stealth attack platforms more vulnerable; current and emerging air defenses, such as Russian-built S-300s and S-400s are able to be cued by lower-frequency “surveillance radar” — which can simply detect that an enemy aircraft is in the vicinity — and higher-frequency “engagement radar” capability. This technology enables air defenses to detect targets at much farther ranges on a much larger number of frequencies including UHF, L-band and X-band.
Russian officials and press reports have repeatedly claimed its air-defenses can detect and target many stealth aircraft, however some US observers believe Russia often exaggerates its military capabilities. Nonetheless, many US developers of weapons and stealth platforms take Russian-built air defenses very seriously. Many maintain the existence of these systems has greatly impact US weapons development strategy.
Accordingly, some analysts have made the point that there may be some potential targets which, due to the aforementioned superbly high-tech air defenses, platforms such as a B-2 stealth bomber, might be challenged to attack without detection.
However, Air Force leaders say the emerging new B-21 Raider stealth bomber advances stealth technology to yet another level, such that it will be able to hold any target at risk, anywhere in the world, at any time.
This article originally appeared on Warrior Maven. Follow @warriormaven1 on Twitter.
United States Special Forces have been deployed on several fronts around the Syrian city of al-Raqqa, supporting the offensive of the Kurdish militias and other allied factions laying siege to the city, according to a British war monitor.
US troops are deployed to the north, east, and west of al-Raqqa, considered the capital of the caliphate of the Islamic State, and includes US special ops units, US Marines artillery (155mm/M-777’s), and US Apache helicopter gunships supporting the advance of the Syrian Democratic Forces, the Kurdish-led armed alliance that launched an offensive to retake the city, according to the UK’s Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
The US-led coalition’s aircraft are also providing the Kurdish fighters with intensive air support.
Currently, there are clashes between the SDF and the US Special Forces on one side against IS, on the other, at the former base of Division 17, North of al-Raqqa; also on the outskirts of the Haraqala area and around the neighborhood of al-Jazra in the West.
SOHR said the SDF controls 70 percent of the al-Meshlab area, on the eastern side of al-Raqqa, where progress is being hampered by IS snipers and mines, although the Kurdish militia stated on Wednesday it completely controlled the area.
There are no civilians left in this district since they were evacuated days ago by the radical fighters, who have dug trenches and tunnels to defend the area, the NGO said.
For their part, the SDF reported in their Telegram account that they have managed to break into the neighborhood of al-Jazra in the western part of al-Raqqa.
On June 5th, this force launched an offensive on the city.
This offensive comes on the third anniversary of the proclamation of its caliphate on June 29, 2014, by IS in Syria and Iraq.
Currently, there are some 500 US troops deployed in Syria.
Back in 1987, the world was a very different place. While the Soviet Union was on a crash course with destiny, the power the nation wielded–backed by a massive nuclear arsenal–had left it in a decades-long staring match with the United States.
Mutually Assured Destruction, a doctrine of military strategy that left the two nuclear powers in a stalemate President Ronald Reagan described as a “suicide pact,” had left the world in an uneasy state of both peace and war simultaneously. And nowhere was this dichotomy more present than in the homes of residents of East and West Germany. The nation had been divided since the end of World War II, with NATO’s Western powers in West Germany, and a Soviet puppet-state called the German Democratic Republic in the east.
East German students sit atop the Berlin Wall at the Brandenburg Gate in front of border guards in 1989 (University of Minnesota Institute of Advanced Studies)
By 1987, the wheels that would ultimately tear down the Berlin Wall dividing East and West Germany physically and ideological were already turning, and a young man named Mathias Rust was keen on playing his part in history. Like many young adults, Rust was increasingly politically minded. Unlike most 18-year-olds, he also had a pilot’s license and access to a Cessna 172 airplane that had been modified by removing the rear seats for added fuel capacity.
In October of 1986, Rust had watched the Reykjavík summit between U.S President Ronald Reagan and Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev. As that summit ended in a stalemate, Rust felt the overwhelming urge to find a way to make a difference.
“I thought every human on this planet is responsible for some progress and I was looking for an opportunity to take my share in it,” he would go on to tell the BBC.
Rust soon began forming a plan. President Theodore Roosevelt once famously said, “Do what you can, where you are, with what you have,” and while it’s unlikely that Rust was aware of the axiom, his actions embodied the premise. He took stock of the skills he had, the resources he had available, and the situation to begin forming an idea. He’d take his little Cessna directly into the heart of the Soviet Union in a political spectacle he hoped would inspire others.
“I was thinking I could use the aircraft to build an imaginary bridge between West and East to show that a lot of people in Europe wanted to improve relations between our worlds,” Rust said.
Rust’s rented Cessna 172 (WikiMedia Commons)
By May 13, 1987, Rust was ready to put his plan into action, but he still harbored understandable doubts. Today, Russia is renown for their advanced air defense systems, and the same was true of their Soviet predecessors. The USSR maintained the most elaborate and largest air defense system anywhere on the globe and they had demonstrated a propensity for using it against civilian aircraft. Only about five years earlier, the Soviets had shot down a South Korean airliner that had strayed into their airspace, killing all 269 passengers on board.
Rust told his parents he was leaving on a tour of Northern Europe that would help him accumulate more hours toward his professional pilot’s license, and for the first few days, that’e exactly what he did. After a few days of traveling, he stayed in Helsinki, Finland for a few days and pondered what he was about to do. He wanted to make a big public statement, but he wasn’t keen on dying in the process.
“Of course I was afraid to lose my life. I was weighing if it is really responsible, reasonable, to take this kind of risk. At the end I came to the conclusion, ‘I have to risk it.'”
He filed a flight plan that would have taken him to Stockholm and took off just like he would on any other day. As Rust recalls, he still wasn’t really sure he would go through with it until well after he was already airborne.
“I made the final decision about half an hour after departure. I just changed the direction to 170 degrees and I was heading straight down to Moscow.”
Rust’s flight path (WikiMedia Commons)
It wasn’t long before Soviet air defenses were alerted to his presence. They were tracking him on radar, and within an hour of diverting from his flight plan, fighters had been scrambled to intercept his little Cessna. He was flying low–only about 1,000 feet off the ground or 2,500 feet above sea level, and donned his crash helmet.
“The whole time I was just sitting in the aircraft, focusing on the dials,” said Rust. “It felt like I wasn’t really doing it.”
Fate was on Rust’s side, however, and one of the fighter pilots reported seeing what he believed was a Yak-12–a Soviet plane that looks similar to a Cessna 172. Either the pilot or his air traffic controllers decided that the plane must have been allowed to be there, because they broke off pursuit. At around the same time, Rust descended below the clouds to prevent them from icing up his wings, which also made him disappear from Soviet radar. Once he passed the clouds, he climbed back up to 2,500 feet and popped back up on their radar scopes.
Suddenly, he spotted fighters emerge from the cloud cover in front of him.
“It was coming at me very fast, and dead-on. And it went whoosh!—right over me. I remember how my heart felt, beating very fast,” he explained. “This was exactly the moment when you start to ask yourself: Is this when they shoot you down?”
Before he knew it, Soviet Mig-23 interceptors pulled up alongside him from both beneath him and his left. The single-seat, swing-wing Mig-23 was capable of speeds in excess of Mach 2.3 (more than 300 miles per hour faster than an F-35) and was positively massive compared to Rust’s little Cessna. In order to flank him, the Migs had to lower their landing gear and extend their flaps to scrub their speed enough not to scream past Rust and his single-prop 172.
“I realized because they hadn’t shot me down yet that they wanted to check on what I was doing there,” Rust said. “There was no sign, no signal from the pilot for me to follow him. Nothing.”
Rust would later learn that the pilots were indeed trying to contact him, but were using high-frequency military channels. Finally, the Migs pulled their landing gear in, dropped their flaps and screamed off into the distance again, circling rust twice in half mile loops before departing. Rust had once again made it through a brush with Soviet interceptors and was still flying straight for the Soviet capital.
A later investigation would confirm that, either the pilots assumed the Cessna was indeed a Soviet Yak-12, or their command didn’t think the situation warranted any concern. Shortly after the fighters departed, luck would once again deal in Rust’s favor. He unknowingly entered into a Soviet air force training zone where aircraft with similar radar signatures to his own were conducting various exercises. His small plane got lost in the radar chatter, which would save his neck in the following minutes.
The Soviet Yak-12 looks very similar to a Cessna 172 (WikiMedia Commons)
Protocol required that all Soviet pilots reset their transponder at frequent intervals, and any pilot that didn’t reset theirs would immediately show as hostile on radar. At 3pm, just such a switch was scheduled, but because Rust was flying among a group of student pilots, the Soviet commander overseeing radar operations assumed he was a student that had absent-mindedly forgotten to switch his transponder. He ordered the radar operator to change Rust’s radar return to “friendly,” warning that “otherwise we might shoot some of our own.”
An hour later, Rust was little more than 200 miles outside of Moscow, and subject to a new region’s radar and air defense scrutiny. Once again, radar operators spotted the small aircraft and intercept fighters were dispatched, but the cloud cover was too thick and they were unable to find the small Cessna visually. Soon thereafter, another radar operator would mark Rust’s plane as “friendly,” mistaking it for a search and rescue helicopter that had been dispatched to the region.
As Rust approached Moscow’s airspace, the report that was forwarded to the air defense in the area listed a Soviet aircraft seemingly flying with its transponder off, rather than anything about a West German teenager infiltrating hundreds of miles of heavily guarded Soviet airspace.
Rust then flew his small plane over Moscow’s infamous “Ring of Steel,” which was made up of multiple overlapping air defense systems built specifically to protect the Soviet capital from American bombers. Air defense rings surrounded Moscow at 10, 25, and 45 miles out, all capable of engaging a fleet of heavy bombers, but none the least bit interested in the tiny plane Rust piloted.
Shortly thereafter, Rust entered the airspace over the city itself–an area that had all air traffic heavily restricted, even military flights. As Rust flew over Moscow, Soviet radar operators finally realized something was terribly amiss, but it was too late. There was no time to scramble intercept fighters; Rust was already flying from building to building, trying to identify Moscow’s famous Red Square.
“At first, I thought maybe I should land inside the Kremlin wall, but then I realized that although there was plenty of space, I wasn’t sure what the KGB might do with me,” he remembers. “If I landed inside the wall, only a few people would see me, and they could just take me away and deny the whole thing. But if I landed in the square, plenty of people would see me, and the KGB couldn’t just arrest me and lie about it. So it was for my own security that I dropped that idea.”
Moscow’s Red Square
Rust spotted a 6-lane bridge that led into Red Square with sparse traffic and only a few power lines he’d need to avoid. He flew over the first set of wires, then dropped the aircraft down quickly to fly below the next set. As he nearly touched down, he spotted a car directly in his path.
“I moved to the left to pass him,” Rust said, “and as I did I looked and saw this old man with this look on his face like he could not believe what he was seeing. I just hoped he wouldn’t panic and lose control of the car and hit me.”
With his wheels on the ground, Rust rolled directly into Red Square. He had wanted to park the plane in front of Lenin’s tomb, but a fence blocked his path and he settled for coming to a stop in front of St. Basil’s Cathedral. He shut down the engine and closed his eyes, taking a deep breath as the reality of his situation slowly engulfed him. He had done the impossible.
“A big crowd had formed around me,” Rust recalled. “People were smiling and coming up to shake my hand or ask for autographs. There was a young Russian guy who spoke English. He asked me where I came from. I told him I came from the West and wanted to talk to Gorbachev to deliver this peace message that would [help Gorbachev] convince everybody in the West that he had a new approach.”
Rust next to his Cessna 172 in Moscow’s Red Square
He had anticipated being captured immediately by the KGB, but instead found the crowd confused and delighted by his stunning entrance. One woman gave him some bread. A young soldier chastised him for not applying for a visa, but credited him for the initiative. What Rust didn’t realize was that the KGB was already present, and agents were already worming through the crowd, confiscating cameras and notebooks people had Rust sign.
An hour later, two truck loads of Soviet soldiers arrived. They mostly ignored Rust as they aggressively pushed the crowds back and put up barriers around the teenager and his plane. Then three men arrived in a black sedan, one of whom identified himself as an interpreter. He asked Rust for his passport and if they could inspect the aircraft. Rust recalls their demeanor as mostly friendly and even casual.
The plane was then taken to the nearby Sheremetyevo International Airport where it was completely disassembled during its inspection, and despite the friendly demeanor of the Soviets, he was immediately transported to Lefortovo prison. The prison was infamous for its use by the KGB to hold political prisoners.
A modern view of the Lefortovo prison (WikiMedia Commons)
Initially, the Soviets refused to believe that Rust had accomplished his daring mission without support from NATO forces. The date he chose, May 28, was Border Guards Day in the Soviet Union, and they accused him of choosing the day intentionally to embarrass them. Then they accused him of getting the maps he’d used to reach Moscow from the American CIA… that is, until the Soviet consul in Hamburg confirmed that they could purchase the very same maps through a mail order service.
After realizing Rust was not the world’s youngest and most ostentatious CIA operative, they finally charged him illegal entry, violation of flight laws, and “malicious hooliganism.” Rust pleaded guilty to the first two charges, but refused the third, claiming he had no malicious intent. Nonetheless, he was found guilty on all counts by a panel of three judges and sentenced to four years in the same Lefortovo prison. Despite the prison’s harsh reputation, Rust was mostly well cared for, and even allowed to have his parents visit every two months.
In 1988, Rust was released from prison in a “goodwill gesture” following a treaty between Reagan and Gorbachev that would have both nations eliminate their intermediate range nuclear missiles. It was not quite such a happy ending for many Soviet officials however.
Rust’s re-assembled Cessna on display in the German Museum of Technology (WikiMedia Commons)
In a way, Rust’s flight did exactly what he’d hoped. The stunt had seriously damaged the reputation of the Soviet military and provided Gorbachev with the leverage he needed to outfox those who opposed his reforms.
Almost immediately following Rust’s landing in Red Square, the Soviet defense minister and the Soviet air defense chief were both removed from their posts for allowing such an egregious violation of Soviet airspace. Shortly thereafter, hundreds of other officers were also removed from their positions. Rust’s flight led to the single largest turnover of Soviet officers since the 1930s, according to Air Space Magazine.
Rust would never sit behind the stick of an aircraft again, but would go down in history as the only pilot to defeat the entirety of the Soviet military using a rented, single prop, trainer plane. Unfortunately, Rust’s seemingly heroic stunt has been overshadowed by the troubled man’s continued run-ins with the law. In the early 90s, he received another prison sentence for assaulting a woman that refused his romantic advances. In 2005, he was again convicted of a crime–this time for fraud. Today he describes himself an analyst for an investment bank, seemingly keen to leave his high-flying theatrics behind him.
As the Director of West Point’s Combating Terrorism Center, I have the good fortune of exposing cadets at the U.S. Military Academy to a number of experiences that shape their worldviews about terrorism and counterterrorism. Sometimes we even get a special opportunity to shape their worldviews on life in general.
One of the most rewarding and life-changing experiences for cadets and faculty is our annual Fall trip to New York City. Surprisingly, we have not always done this, but we started an annual trip in 2014 with the intent of showing cadets the efforts to counter terrorism in the greatest city on the planet, just 50 miles south of West Point.
In addition to visiting with partners such as the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force, NYPD, and the FDNY, we always spend the entire morning at the National 9/11 Museum and Memorial.
Regardless of whether it is your first time or your 100th time, it is guaranteed to be a moving experience. I learn something new every time I am there. If you have not visited it, you should make it a priority to do so. Many cadets say it is one of the most rewarding experiences of their West Point career, and almost every cadet wishes we could spend more time there.
If you do intend to visit, don’t plan on spending an hour or two. You really should carve out the whole day. No matter how many hours you spend in this sacred place, it won’t be enough.
On this last trip, I somehow spent more time in a lesser-known section of the memorial dedicated to the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. On that cold February day, there was a guy caught in an elevator shaft. Thinking it was his final hour due to the heavy smoke that came pouring in, he wrote a hand-written letter to his wife and kids. He thought he was going to die. Thankfully he survived, but his letter is in the museum for all to see, and I’m so glad it was included.
It is beautiful, jarring, inspirational, and emotional. It got me thinking about what I would write in that situation. It also made me think why we don’t articulate these kinds of thoughts to the people we love while we have the opportunity to do so (e.g. not waiting until we are in an elevator shaft filling with smoke, thinking we’re going to die).
Here it is:
To my family, from Dad
12:40PM smoking elevator 66, 2/26/93
A few thoughts if I am fated to leave you now.
I love you very much. Be good people. Do wonderful things in your life.
Barbara – I’ve always loved you, and showed you as much as I could.
Debbie – my beautiful girl, with wonderful bear hugs and kisses. Do good.
Jeff – What a terrific person, stay well, make good decisions, help people.
Doug – My boy. Discover secrets to cure lots of the world’s problems.
I’m so proud of my children – they’re each so wonderful.
I love and cherish – ideas, people, Cooper Union (Alumnus of the Year!!), my work, my family, doing the best I could. Nothing more to say.
So in the aftermath of a seemingly never-ending political season, where we still have to sit and watch negative messages that are intended to divide us, I like to focus instead on the wise words of someone forced to maximize what little time he had left on this earth. This is what is important. Whether you are black, white, or purple, straight or gay, native-born or an immigrant, everyone can relate to this letter. When you strip everything else away, we want our families to know we loved them and to inspire them to do good in the world.
After you read it, please tell the people in your life what they mean to you, and do it as if you were in an elevator shaft filling with smoke and you thought you weren’t going to make it.
One of the most affecting sights witnessed during the reunion of Confederate and Federal veterans at Gettysburg: Old soldiers of the North and South clasped hands in fraternal affection. (Library of Congress)
The American Civil War ended more than 155 years ago, but the country really isn’t all that far removed from that part of its past.
If you need proof of that beyond ongoing racial disparities and questions over the existence of monuments to Civil War leaders, you don’t have to look far. Irene Triplett, the last person to receive a Civil War pension from the Department of Veterans Affairs, died in June 2020. The grandson of John Tyler, the 10th president of the United States, died in October 2020. Unexploded ordnance from the Civil War was still killing people as late as 2008.
Also, people are rioting in the streets and tearing down statues of Civil War generals. (Photo by Wikipedia Editor Mk17b)
But Americans’ personal connection to the Civil War is slowly disappearing. A few of the direct descendants, sons and daughters, of Civil War veterans are still around because they were born when their fathers were in their 70s and 80s.
Two of the last remaining children of Civil War veterans sat down with National Geographic in time for Veterans Day 2014 to share stories told by their fathers. They were in their early 90s at the time of the interviews.
William H. Upham was a private in the 2nd Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry when the North and South first clashed at the Battle of Bull Run. His son, Fred Upham, talked about how his father was wounded in the neck and shoulder during the battle.
“He was captured at that battle and sent to Libby Prison in Richmond,” Upham said in the interview. “The thing that saved his life, I believe, is that, at that point in the war, there was a prisoner exchange. … If he would have been kept in the service, with 50,000-60,000 casualties per battle, he would never have made it to the end.”
Fred Upham died in Colorado in December 2019 at age 97.
Lewis F. Gay, a Confederate soldier from Florida, was also the beneficiary of a prisoner exchange, according to his daughter, then-92-year-old Iris Lee Gay Jordan (who still referred to the war as “The War Between the States”). The young rebel was stationed in the Florida Keys before being captured and held in Delaware.
After his release, he was sent to some of the most critical battles of the late Civil War, fighting at Chickamauga, Atlanta and more. Most of his original company had been killed.
Children of U.S. Civil War Vets Reminisce About Fathers | National Geographic
In explaining her connection to the war, Jordan discussed how her parents met. She was born when her father was 82 and her mother 41. Jordan lived in Florida until her August 2017 death.
“He said he enjoyed me more than he did his others [children], because he was so busy making a living to support them, he didn’t have the time,” she says in the video.
Upham, on the other hand, recalled the two times his father got to meet President Abraham Lincoln. The first time was through an invitation from his senator. The president and the former private talked about his time as a prisoner of the Confederacy and about his wounds.
“Lincoln had known that my father had been severely wounded, ” Upham recalled. “So he asked him to take off his tunic so he could examine the wounds in person. My father said yes … and Lincoln examined the wounds on his neck and head in detail.”
They were terrible, the 16th president told Upham’s father. Lincoln was concerned about the treatment of Union prisoners at Libby Prison, but the soldier told him they weren’t being abused or tortured.
Despite his injuries, William Upham got off relatively easy. The Civil War killed more than 650,000 troops and more than 130,000 civilians. Some estimates place the death toll at more than a million Americans. Yet Upham says his father never held any animosity toward Confederates after the war, despite his captivity and the loss of life. Lewis Gay said the same about the Union.
“If he were here, he’d say the men in North were just like he was,” Jordan said. “They were away from home and families and fighting a war, and there was no animosity on his part at all.”