There are more rumors and myths floating around about the Central Intelligence Agency then there are actual facts. “The Agency” or “The Company” is charged with preempting threats and furthering national security objectives by collecting and analyzing intelligence and conducting covert action while simultaneously safeguarding our nation’s secrets. It’s a broad mission, and a lot of trust has been granted to them by the American people to carry it out.
But it takes a special kind of person to thrive in the CIA.
Who, or what, are they looking for? And do those who served at the tip of the spear while in the military have a competitive advantage? If so, is a U.S. Navy SEAL better than a U.S. Army Ranger? Or does a Green Beret’s experience hold more weight when competing for one of the few spots available as a gray man?
The CIA doesn’t publicly answer any of those questions, instead opting to keep their ideal candidate’s qualifications vague. So we reached out to a few veterans of the Agency to see if they noticed any trends.
Hafer while deployed to Africa.
(Photo courtesy of Evan Hafer)
Evan Hafer, former CIA contractor
Evan Hafer is in the coffee business these days, but he started out as a U.S. Army Special Forces NCO (noncommissioned officer) before transitioning to contracting for the CIA. He’s deployed dozens of times around the world on their behalf, and he even assessed and trained those who were trying out for the Agency’s elite high-threat, low-visibility security force toward the end of his career.
“It all depends on what kind of officer you’re looking for,” Hafer said. “When you look at paramilitary operations, they have a wide variety of objectives. A good portion is working by, through, and with foreign nationals while conducting covert action. For a long time, Special Forces did a lot of covert action, so they made for the best agents in that respect.”
Hafer while deployed to Afghanistan.
(Photo courtesy of Evan Hafer)
Hafer went on to explain that there are different types of jobs at the Agency that require different skill sets. “Typically a good Ranger NCO will make a great guy for on-the-ground, high-threat, low-visibility security work. And Marines across the spectrum are pretty good at a lot of different things.”
Hafer made sure to note the difference between conducting direct action (DA) in the military’s special operations units and gathering intelligence for the CIA. “If you like blowing doors down, intel will bore the fuck out of you,” Hafer said. “It’s a lot of writing, and regardless of background, guys who enjoy DA might not like the intel job.”
“If you’re a hammer and every problem is a nail, then you won’t like being the pen.”
(Photo courtesy of Bob Baer)
Bob Baer, former CIA case officer
You may recognize Bob Baer from his work hosting investigative shows on the History Channel or delivering commentary on CNN, but before that he spent 21 years as a CIA case officer. He deployed around the world, speaks eight languages, and even won the CIA’s career intelligence medal.
“It’s almost always Special Forces,” Baer said about the ideal background for working operations in the CIA. “These guys are out in places training locals. I found the SF guys, especially the ones who have experience working in strange places, to be most effective.”
(Photo courtesy of Bob Baer)
He even went so far as to say that elite Tier 1 operators (that many would assume to be perfect for the job) often don’t work out. “For them, it’s so low-speed — there’s not as much excitement as they’re used to. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Delta or SEAL Team Six guy make the adjustment.”
Baer echoed Hafer’s sentiment toward the U.S. Marines, saying, “It seemed the Marines did a good job adjusting.” And admitted that he usually preferred a military background over a straight academic: “All in all, people who were in the military were best because they learned about dealing with government BS, while the least equipped were always the academics.”
Robyn, like Baer, was a case officer for the CIA and spent years running sources around the world — to include active combat zones. She asked that we not use her last name but was happy to offer her thoughts on not just the ideal military resume, but also what it actually takes to be a successful case officer regardless of background.
“At the end of the day, you’re selling a lemon. You’re convincing someone to commit espionage and provide intel against their country in exchange for whatever is valuable to them,” Robyn explained. “You have to convince them that you care, that their life matters — whether it does or not.”
“So the guys that do well are the guys that understand the human factor,” she continued. “They have to understand what makes someone tick and pretend to be concerned. People are not going to put their lives at risk for someone who doesn’t care. You have to care.”
Robyn recalled a former state trooper who she worked with that did well, noting that a law enforcement background laid a solid foundation for talking to people who can be difficult to extract information from, such as witnesses and victims.
“The militant guys don’t do well,” Robyn said, noting that there’s a difference between being militant and being from the military, and that it takes a unique person to operate in the gray for months or even years at a time. “They’ve gotta operate without mental, emotional, or personal boundaries. There’s no commander’s intent, and the mission isn’t always clear. A renaissance man will do better than the fire-breather, even if they both come from Special Forces. We need the guys who can jump between philosophy and tactics while maneuvering in all different environments.”
The one thing that Hafer, Baer, and Robyn all agreed on is that no single bullet point on a resume qualifies someone for the difficult work of the CIA. They all emphasized that it takes a special person, and the best people at the Agency often have certain intangibles that you either have or you don’t. It seems it takes much more than a trident or a tab to make it into the nation’s most elite intelligence agency — and that’s a good thing.
Trojan Footprint: Embedded with Special Forces in Europe
Ever notice how some envelopes arrive to your deployed friends with the stamp upside down? Probably not, but oftentimes you’ll see it. Sometimes they’re also tilted at an angle. This is not an accident, it’s an antiquated but still-living little language in the placement of a stamp.
There’s no better way to tell someone in jail you love them.
An upside-down stamp means “I love you.” The stamp posted slightly off-kilter means “I miss you.” There’s a lot more crammed into the placement of one little square on a slightly larger square. It’s an old-timey easter egg, a way to make the letter more than a piece of paper, to personalize it and make even the envelope ones own, transmitting a little emotion along with their ancient text message.
The coded messages are more than a century old now, having their origins in the Victorian Era and have somehow survived the advent of modern texting, email, and other forms of communication that don’t require stamps.
Of course, there are variations to the language.
“Another military wife told me that her grandmother used to flip her stamps when writing her husband, who was deployed overseas,” Janie Bielefeldt, an ex-marine living in Jacksonville, N.C. told the New York Times. “It’s just something you hear about on the base.”
In those days, young lovers couldn’t exactly be as open with their emotions as we have come to be. The idea of sending nudes or a dick pic might actually cause someone to get hanged or burned at the stake back then. Of course, not so these days, where an entire subculture grew up around sending racy photos. For U.S. military members and their families, however, the practice of writing letters is alive and well, and with it is the language of stamps.
The US Army recently announced that it is developing the first drones that can spot and target vehicles and people using artificial intelligence (AI). This is a big step forward. Whereas current military drones are still controlled by people, this new technology will decide who to kill with almost no human involvement.
Once complete, these drones will represent the ultimate militarisation of AI and trigger vast legal and ethical implications for wider society. There is a chance that warfare will move from fighting to extermination, losing any semblance of humanity in the process. At the same time, it could widen the sphere of warfare so that the companies, engineers and scientists building AI become valid military targets.
Existing lethal military drones like the MQ-9 Reaper are carefully controlled and piloted via satellite. If a pilot drops a bomb or fires a missile, a human sensor operator actively guides it onto the chosen target using a laser.
Ultimately, the crew has the final ethical, legal and operational responsibility for killing designated human targets. As one Reaper operator states: “I am very much of the mindset that I would allow an insurgent, however important a target, to get away rather than take a risky shot that might kill civilians.”
And this actually points to one possible military and ethical argument by Ronald Arkin, in support of autonomous killing drones. Perhaps if these drones drop the bombs, psychological problems among crew members can be avoided. The weakness in this argument is that you don’t have to be responsible for killing to be traumatised by it. Intelligence specialists and other military personnel regularly analyse graphic footage from drone strikes. Research shows that it is possible to suffer psychological harm by frequently viewing images of extreme violence.
An MQ-9 Reaper.
(US Air Force photo)
When I interviewed over 100 Reaper crew members for an upcoming book, every person I spoke to who conducted lethal drone strikes believed that, ultimately, it should be a human who pulls the final trigger. Take out the human and you also take out the humanity of the decision to kill.
The prospect of totally autonomous drones would radically alter the complex processes and decisions behind military killings. But legal and ethical responsibility does not somehow just disappear if you remove human oversight. Instead, responsibility will increasingly fall on other people, including artificial intelligence scientists.
The legal implications of these developments are already becoming evident. Under current international humanitarian law, “dual-use” facilities — those which develop products for both civilian and military application — can be attacked in the right circumstances. For example, in the 1999 Kosovo War, the Pancevo oil refinery was attacked because it could fuel Yugoslav tanks as well as fuel civilian cars.
With an autonomous drone weapon system, certain lines of computer code would almost certainly be classed as dual-use. Companies like Google, its employees or its systems, could become liable to attack from an enemy state. For example, if Google’s Project Maven image recognition AI software is incorporated into an American military autonomous drone, Google could find itself implicated in the drone “killing” business, as might every other civilian contributor to such lethal autonomous systems.
Ethically, there are even darker issues still. The whole point of the self-learning algorithms — programs that independently learn from whatever data they can collect — that the technology uses is that they become better at whatever task they are given. If a lethal autonomous drone is to get better at its job through self-learning, someone will need to decide on an acceptable stage of development — how much it still has to learn — at which it can be deployed. In militarised machine learning, that means political, military and industry leaders will have to specify how many civilian deaths will count as acceptable as the technology is refined.
Recent experiences of autonomous AI in society should serve as a warning. Uber andTesla’s fatal experiments with self-driving cars suggest it is pretty much guaranteed that there will be unintended autonomous drone deaths as computer bugs are ironed out.
If machines are left to decide who dies, especially on a grand scale, then what we are witnessing is extermination. Any government or military that unleashed such forces would violate whatever values it claimed to be defending. In comparison, a drone pilot wrestling with a “kill or no kill” decision becomes the last vestige of humanity in the often inhuman business of war.
This article was amended to clarify that Uber and Tesla have both undertaken fatal experiments with self-driving cars, rather than Uber experimenting with a Tesla car as originally stated.
Claims piled up at the VA Regional Office in Winston-Salem, N.C.
A $16 billion effort to give veterans lifetime electronic health records that meshed with the Pentagon’s has been marked by repeated delays and oversight failures that could have put patients at risk, according to reports from the VA Inspector General.
The IG reports released Monday detailed confusion in the overall implementation of the plan and failures to train staff and put in place adequate equipment for the pilot program, such as new laptops.
The first IG report, titled “Deficiencies in Infrastructure Readiness for Deploying VA’s New Electronic Health Record [EHR] System,” looked at how the Department of Veterans Affairs went about implementing the initial billion, 10-year contract with Cerner Corp. of Kansas.
The VA now estimates that the contract, awarded in May 2018 by then-Acting VA Secretary Robert Wilkie without competitive bidding, will now cost at least another billion for management and equipment.
The second report focused on delays and failures in the pilot program, even after it was scaled back from three test sites to one at the Mann-Grandstaff VA Medical Center (VAMC) in Spokane, Washington.
One of the main findings of the second report was that patient safety at the Spokane facility could have been put at risk due to poor preparation for the planned switchover to the Cerner system in the pilot program.
The IG’s report found that the VA and the Spokane leadership failed to hire and train adequate staff to handle the transition, and overlooked the impact on how the hospital would continue to function while the inevitable kinks in the system were worked out.
“For example, online prescription refills, the most popular form for refilling prescriptions at the facility, was identified as a capability that would be absent when going live,” the IG’s report said of the pilot program at the Mann-Grandstaff VAMC. “The OIG determined that the multiple work-arounds needed to address the removal of an online prescription refill process presents a patient safety risk.”
In addition, the IG found that the VA’s expanded program to allow veterans to choose community care — made policy by the Mission Act of 2018 — had suffered as the Spokane facility focused on the switchover to EHR.
“The OIG identified that facility leaders addressed recent in-house access to care challenges within primary care, but a significant backlog of 21,155 care in the community consults remained as of January 9, 2020,” the report said.
Outrage on the Hill
In May 2019, VA Secretary Robert Wilkie identified the transition to EHR as one of his top priorities, noting its potential “to change the way our veterans are treated, but also change the way we do business, to make the delivery of our services more efficient, make it more timely.”
In that same month, then-acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan took a beating during a hearing of the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee when he projected a possible four-year delay in implementing the transition.
“I don’t ever recall being as outraged about an issue than I am about the electronic health record program,” Rep. Kay Granger, R-Texas, told Shanahan.
“For 10 years we’ve heard the same assurances” that the electronic health records problem will be solved, Rep. Hal Rogers, R-Kentucky, said. “It’s incredible that we can’t get this fixed.”
Veterans were suffering “because of bureaucratic crap,” he added.
Over the years, previous attempts to mesh the EHR systems of the VA and DoD have either failed or been abandoned, most recently in 2013 when then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and then-VA Secretary Eric Shinseki dropped an integration plan after a four-year effort and about id=”listicle-2645875913″ billion spent.
The goal of the new effort to integrate the records was to overcome the track record of failure by the VA and the DoD to meet a congressional mandate to bring their separate medical records systems in line with one another, ensuring a seamless transition for service members to civilian life.
In its overview of the VA’s latest attempt, the IG report noted that “there are tremendous costs and challenges associated with this effort.”
Under the current plan the VA’s legacy information system — Veterans Information Systems and Technology Architecture (VistA) — would be replaced by Cerner’s commercial off-the-shelf solution called “Millennium.”
The plan was to have VA’s Millenium mesh with DoD’s electronic health record system — Military Health System (MHS) GENESIS — which at its core also consists of Cerner’s Millennium, the IG report said.
The ultimate connection of VA and DoD’s electronic health records “will result in a comprehensive, lifetime health record for service members,” the report said, improving health outcomes by giving providers more complete information.
However, the indefinite hold put on the pilot program in Spokane underlines the huge challenges ahead in implementing the transition as the nation seeks to recover from the coronavirus pandemic, the IG said.
The report found widespread failure in VA’s preparations to start up the new system in Spokane.
“The lack of important upgrades jeopardizes VA’s ability to properly deploy the new electronic health record system and increases risks of delays to the overall schedule,” the report said. “Until modifications are complete, many aspects of the physical infrastructure existing in the telecommunications rooms [such as cabling] and data center do not meet national industry standards or VA’s internal requirements.”
The VA’s response essentially concurred with the findings and recommendations of the IG’s overview and the separate report on the pilot program in Spokane.
In his response, Dr. Richard Stone, executive in charge of the Veterans Health Administration, said that the VA was working to correct the problems with infrastructure and staffing noted by the IG.
“I appreciate the concerns regarding mitigation strategies and capabilities of the new electronic health records [EHR] system,” Stone said.
He said that as the target date was approaching for the launch of the pilot program in Spokane, “Secretary Wilkie received feedback from clinical and technical staff.”
“He decided to postpone the Go-Live so that the system can provide the greatest functionality at Go-Live and VHA staff are confident in providing care with the new system with the least mitigation strategies,” Stone said.
In 1980, Walter Banks Beacham enlisted in the United States Navy. He was excited for the signing bonus of $4,000, a cool $12,000 when adjusted for inflation in 2018. In 1984, Mark Richard Gerardi joined the U.S. Army Reserve. In 1986, Cedrick L. Houston joined the Navy. The next year, Chris Villanueva joined the Army. Zachary Pitt joined the Navy in 1989. And, finally, in 1992, George Perez joined the Army.
The trouble was that these were all the same person.
Beacham assumed the identities of six different individuals he came across through his life in coastal California. The Oakland native even somehow managed to enlist as himself, social security number and all, twice. The Los Angeles Times reported that Beacham was able to do this because he looked like he could be any of a number of ethnicities and he was able to procure fake drivers’ licenses, social security cards, and other identifying paperwork to support his claims.
Keep in mind, this was during the height of the Cold War and military recruiters have quotas to make. They relied a lot on personal integrity to make sure they put good — and real — people into the U.S. military. And there was a time when young Walter Beacham really did want to serve his country, but he failed to adapt to military life when it counted, and the rest is history.
*Note: Beacham is not in any of the photos below. I used photos that give an idea of how much time passes.
1. Walter Banks Beacham
The first time he enlisted, Beacham was drawn in by the guaranteed signing bonus and he really wanted to defend his country. When the recruiter came to his home, he saw Beacham and a few of his friends sitting, smoking, and drinking. He was able to recruit them all.
But the Navy wasn’t really for him. After six weeks and a few AWOL incidents at boot camp near San Diego, he was done.
“I put away my uniform, I got my money, I took a cab out of the front gate and then a Greyhound to L.A.,” he told the Los Angeles Times.
What graduating from Army basic training looked like in 1980.
2. Walter Banks Beacham, Jr.
Maybe it wasn’t the military that was the problem — maybe he just wasn’t cut out for the Navy. Six months after leaving the Navy, he was on a bus, headed for Army basic training. This time, he simply threw a “Jr.” on the end of his name. When the Army asked if he’d ever served before, he said no, and that was that.
For about six months.
The Army eventually realized his Social Security Number matched that used during his previous, Navy life and he was promptly discharged from the U.S. Army.
What graduating from the Navy’s boot camp looked like in 1980.
3. Walter Banks Beacham
When he got back to his native Oakland, it was only three months before he decided to give the life of a sailor another chance. He dreamed of foreign lands and exotic ports and was ready to forego the sign-on bonus (if necessary). He again used his real name and was shipped back to San Diego. He made it through five weeks this time.
“I would have made it through but, five weeks into it, they found drugs in my urine and one of the company commanders was still there from the time before and he saw my name on a list,” Beacham said. “I went AWOL.”
A U.S. Army Korean DMZ patrol in 1984.
4. Mark Richard Gerardi
In 1984, he joined the Army again, this time using an alias of his high-school friend. Beacham borrowed his friend’s diploma and birth certificate and was off to Fort Dix, New Jersey, for basic training — which he completed.
He was sent back to California, attached to a unit in San Francisco, and eventually sent over to Korea for three weeks. It was all for naught when he got a girl pregnant and then left her. She threatened to turn him in to the Army. Beacham tried to play it cool, but eventually bolted. He never heard from them again.
“I guess they just cut you loose after awhile. I don’t know,” Beacham told the Los Angeles Times.
Navy boot camp graduates in San Diego, 1986.
5. Cedrick L. Houston
In 1986, Beacham used the name of someone he met in Hollywood who was trying to be a dancer. He told the aspiring dancer he would get him work if he could use his identification papers… to join the Navy.
He actually finished Navy basic training this time around and was sent to learn to be a submariner on the East Coast of the United States. Of course, it didn’t last. He used a racial slur during the course of his duties and the Navy ended up booting him out for it.
“I was selling doughnuts on the base there until classes started and I called this sailor a silly-ass cracker,” Beacham said. “And they put me out of the Navy for that.”
6. Chris Villanueva
Back in California in 1987 and using the name Walter Banks Beacham again, he went down to Glendale, outside of Los Angeles, to join the Army as a truck driver, which is where he got his new name, Chris Villanueva. The real Villanueva was an unemployed truck driver Beacham ran into in the Valley one day. The born-again Villanueva (Beacham) was sent to basic training at Fort Sill, Okla. and was sent to Germany right after.
He survived another boot camp only to come under suspicion for some cocaine found in soldier’s duffel bags while in Germany. He was afraid he would get arrested for it, so he went AWOL again and headed for home.
7. Zachary Pitt
Beacham doesn’t even remember the real Zachary Pitt, but the new Zachary Pitt made it through Navy training in San Diego in 1989 and was inducted into the Navy as a Mess Management Specialist — better known as “a cook.” When his ship was set to leave for Japan, Zachary Pitt just walked out and disappeared.
“I met him in the Bay Area. I don’t even remember if he was white or Mexican,” Beacham said of the real Zachary Pitt.
Army basic training graduates in 1992.
8. George Perez
In his last enlistment in 1992, he left before he even received his signing bonus. Now George Perez, Beacham completed Army basic training at Fort Bliss in Texas and was back at Fort Sill for AIT, where he became an artillery unit’s forward observer. This time, he just couldn’t do it.
“Something happened,” he recalled later. “I couldn’t stick around. Time was choking up on me. I was in trouble for staying out late, and I was afraid I’d be busted right then.”
Eventually, he was caught by civilian police officers and turned over to the U.S. military, who court-martialed him on multiple counts of wrongful enlistment, AWOL charges, and desertion. At age 34, he pled guilty to all of them. The old U.S. military would have executed this guy. Luckily for Beacham, there was no war on and he spent just under eight months in an Army prison and was released with a dishonorable discharge.
UN inspectors are examining more than 2,500 AK-47 rifles and other guns seized by the crew of a U.S. destroyer off the coast of Yemen to determine whether the weapons originated in Iran or Somalia.
U.S. authorities said they invited the UN inspectors on board on Oct. 25, 2018, to determine whether the weapons provide proof that Iran is smuggling arms to allied Shi’ite Huthi rebels that are battling the Yemeni government in a four-year civil war. Iran has denied providing weapons to the Huthis.
The United States — in debates at the United Nations — has repeatedly charged Iran with illegally smuggling weapons to the Huthis, in violation of UN resolutions against arming the Huthis.
Yet U.S. forces patrolling the waters around Yemen have managed to seize only a handful of weapons caches like the one seized by the USS Jason Dunham in late August 2018.
“It’s one big traffic corridor,” Vice Admiral Scott Stearney, commander of the U.S. 5th Fleet, told reporters on board the vessel on Oct. 25, 2018, speaking of the Gulf of Aden and other waterways around Yemen.
Stearney declined to say if he thought Iran was responsible for the weapons seized by the Dunham’s crew, but he said the UN inspectors were experts on illicit weapons from Iran, Yemen, and Somalia.
The guided-missile destroyer USS Jason Dunham.
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Deven B. King)
The U.S. destroyer’s crew while on patrol in the region in August 2018 noticed large bags being transferred from a dhow about 70 miles off the coast of Yemen into a smaller skiff. A dhow is a traditional ship that commonly sails the waters of the Persian Gulf region.
The Navy ship intercepted the skiff and, after talking to the crew on board, determined they were smuggling weapons.
The rifles, in bundles of four or five, were wrapped in plastic, then wrapped in styrofoam and hidden in green burlap bags, according to Navy Commander John Hamilton, commander of the Dunham.
A small number of reporters on board the ship were allowed to see the assault rifles, which were heavily rusted after nearly two months at sea. The weapons had been unpacked and piled up, and were ready to be inspected by the UN team.
Hamilton said the crew on the dhow told them they were carrying flour and wheat, but he said none of the foodstuffs were found on board.
Navy Captain Adan Cruz, commodore of U.S. Naval Forces Central Command, said the weapons could have been shipped from Somalia rather than Iran. The UN inspectors, he said, will determine the guns’ origin and “see first-hand the weapons flowing into the region.”
UN Ambassador Nikki Haley, in calling for a crackdown on Iran at the UN, has repeatedly accused Iran of supplying the Huthis. in 2017, she displayed the remnants of missiles that the Huthi rebels fired at Saudi Arabia, which is backing the Yemeni government in the civil war, saying they provided “undeniable evidence” that Iran was illegally supplying weapons to its Yemeni allies.
VA is teaming up with the Elizabeth Dole Foundation (EDF) and the American Red Cross Military Veteran Caregiver Network (MVCN) to provide one-year, free, premium LinkedIn subscriptions to Veteran caregivers. Donated by LinkedIn, the free premium subscriptions help Veteran caregivers get noticed by recruiters, build out a network, stay in the know on new jobs that fit their skills, and apply for new opportunities.
In addition, LinkedIn offers a free year of unlimited access to over 15,000 business, creative and technology courses. The courses are all taught by industry experts through the LinkedIn Learning platform. Veterans may also request a free one-year premium subscription here: www.linkedin.com/military.
Caregivers support one of VA’s key priorities
VA values its long-standing relationships with the Elizabeth Dole Foundation and the American Red Cross. Together, we work to strengthen and bridge the gaps in services and resources in the community for caregivers.
The Elizabeth Dole Foundation will soon share this offering with their military and Veteran caregiver community. Over the coming weeks, the Dole Foundation will be sharing this with the Foundation’s Hidden Heroes Caregiver Community, an online platform that connects thousands of military caregivers to a network of peer support and other resources.
The American Red Cross MVCN welcomes Veteran caregivers to join their Employment and Workplace Support Group if they are interested.
Specifically for the Veteran community, LinkedIn has created two learning paths.
Transition from Military to Civilian Employment: This learning path will help youis designed to navigate your job searches, helping you while building youra professional identity, assists in preopreparing prepare for interviews, negotiatinge salariesy, and even get promotionsed once you’ve after been hired.
Transition from Military to Student Life: Covering everything from ACT/SAT/GRE test prep to essay writing, study skills, time management tips, and how to land an internship, this learning path propels Veteransshould set you on a course to success – graduation and beyond.
To make the most of LinkedIn, use these resources:
LinkedIn for Veterans: This course provides a “LinkedIn 101” tutorial for everything from selecting and uploading the right picture to searching and applying for jobs.
Finding Your Purpose After Active Duty: This course is all about the intangibles of transition – understanding the Veteran’syour value to civilian employers, dealing with the uncertainty of transition, and wrestling with some of the challenges inherent in this process.
“LinkedIn is exited to support the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) who has teamed up with the Elizabeth Dole Foundation and the American Red Cross Military Veteran Caregiver Network to offer Premium to family members of wounded veterans. These parents, spouses, and children of returning service members often disrupt their career paths to take on the important role of a caregiver.” Sarah Roberts, Head of Military and Veterans Programs, LinkedIn.
The Elizabeth Dole Foundation is excited to share this new, free offering with their military and Veteran caregiver community. Over the coming weeks, the Dole Foundation will be sharing this with the Foundation’s Hidden Heroes Caregiver Community, an online platform that connects thousands of military caregivers to a network of peer support and other resources. This offering is also available to military and Veteran caregivers who request to join Hidden Heroes in the coming weeks!
“We’re very excited to team up with LinkedIn and the VA on this very exciting offering,” said Steve Schwab, CEO of the Elizabeth Dole Foundation. “Finding flexible employment has always been a challenge for the military caregivers we serve, and in the midst of COVID-19, this continues to be a top need for caregivers. We are excited to make this offering available to our community and continue to find ways we can creatively support military families during this difficult time.”
The American Red Cross MVCN welcomes Veteran caregivers of all eras to join their custom, secure, caregiver– only Network. The MVCN is delighted to host Sarah Roberts, Head of Military and Veteran Programs at LinkedIn to demonstrate how LinkedIn can support caregiver employment. Caregivers interested in a free Premium LinkedIn Subscription are encouraged to join the Employment and Workplace Support group where the ongoing issues of caregiver employment are shared.
Fort Bragg is sending thousands of additional soldiers to Afghanistan to bolster US forces in the nation’s longest war.
Approximately 2,200 82nd Airborne Division paratroopers began quietly deploying this month, part of a long-discussed troop surge that involves more than 3,000 US service members on top of the more than 10,000 already serving in Afghanistan.
The local soldiers — part of the 1st Brigade Combat Team — were alerted to the mission earlier this month and quickly deployed. Once in Afghanistan, they will be reunited with their brigade leadership and about 1,500 soldiers from the brigade who deployed to Afghanistan earlier this year.
Those soldiers are spread throughout the country, from Bagram Airfield and Kabul to Kandahar and Helmand provinces.
They also have a variety of missions, tasked with training, advising, and assisting Afghan partners and providing security for other US forces in the country.
The commanding general of the 82nd Airborne Division, Maj. Gen. Erik Kurilla, said the latest deployments are an example of how the division’s paratroopers remain ready for whatever the nation asks.
“This past week, the remainder of our 1st Brigade Combat Team departed Fort Bragg to join their fellow Devil Brigade paratroopers already engaged in Operation Freedom’s Sentinel in Afghanistan,” Kurilla said. “We were directed to provide additional forces in Afghanistan and, as always, we stand prepared to provide combat power on short notice while continually maintaining readiness for other contingencies should those emerge. We are the 82nd Airborne Division; this is who we are and the business we are in.”
The 82nd Airborne Division is part of the nation’s Global Response Force — which is tasked with deploying anywhere in the world on short notice. The division’s paratroopers also are often in high-demand by combatant commanders around the world.
The 82nd Airborne Division’s 2nd Brigade Combat Team returned from Iraq, Kuwait and Syria this week, following a nine-month deployment in support of the fight against the Islamic State.
The 1st Brigade Combat Team, in addition to the paratroopers in Afghanistan, also has several hundred soldiers in Kosovo, deployed as part of a peacekeeping mission.
The 3rd Brigade Combat Team, which has soldiers training at the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk, Louisiana, is serving on the Global Response Force.
And the 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade has had soldiers deployed to South Korea and the Horn of Africa in the past year.
This month, the division also deployed several hundred paratroopers — most from the 82nd Airborne Division Sustainment Brigade — to Florida where they are part of Hurricane Irma relief efforts.
Kurilla said the division focuses on sustainable readiness to ensure its paratroopers are able to deploy rapidly when the nation calls.
That means working to avoid the peaks and valleys of readiness from past training models. Those models — fueled by regular deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan — would see units train up to reach peak readiness just before a deployment only to have that readiness plummet once the unit returned and soldiers began to leave for other units while newer troops replaced them.
“We can’t afford those kinds of cliffs and valleys in today’s uncertain environment,” Kurilla said. “Instead, we maintain a model whereby our paratroopers maintain a continuously high level of readiness.”
That means that even when a unit is deployed, paratroopers will rotate in and out of theater to attend professional development schools, transfer to new units, or even retire. New paratroopers are brought into the organization through rear detachment units, rapidly trained, and then sent into theater to join their fellow paratroopers.
Commanding general of the 82nd Airborne Division, Maj. Gen. Erik Kurilla. Photo by Staff Sgt. Jerry Griffis, 1st Inf. Div. Public Affairs.
“This model allows units to sustain readiness while deployed, and to return from deployment ready to immediately move on to the next mission as required,” Kurilla said.
The general said his paratroopers are ready to deploy anywhere in the world in as little as 18 hours, no matter the threat or mission.
“But, more than just that, we are prepared to have multiple elements from the division deployed all while continuing to maintain readiness and preserving combat power for the long haul,” he said. “In an era of near-persistent conflict, this is what sustainable readiness must look like.”
“In an environment in which persistent, unpredictable threats loom, it is important to maintain this readiness model that allows us to counter those threats as they emerge,” Kurilla added.
While the latest deployments to Afghanistan came with short notice, they were not completely unexpected.
The 1st Brigade Combat Team, like most of the 82nd Airborne Division, has repeatedly deployed to the country, with the most recent tours in 2012 and 2014.
And when 1st Brigade soldiers deployed in June, Col. Tobin Magsig told the paratroopers remaining at Fort Bragg to be prepared. He said those not set to deploy would stand ready in case they were needed.
In addition to the 82nd Airborne Division paratroopers, Army officials in Alaska announced that an additional 1,000 soldiers there would also be deploying to Afghanistan.
Those soldiers are part of the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division. Originally, 1,200 paratroopers from the brigade were slated to deploy to Afghanistan, but the pending troop increase in Afghanistan increased that number to about 2,100 soldiers.
The 1st Brigade soldiers have deployed in small groups over more than a week.
On Sept. 13, nearly 150 paratroopers waited to deploy from a building at Pope Field. They said they had been eagerly awaiting the call that would send them to join their brigade in Afghanistan.
“Absolutely,” said 1st Lt. Mason Bell when asked if the soldiers were ready. “We’ve been waiting for the word since June.”
Bell and other soldiers from the 1st Battalion, 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment had said their goodbyes to families and friends earlier in the day. Now, with a huge American flag as a backdrop, they waited the last several hours before leaving for Afghanistan.
For the past several months, the soldiers had received several tentative dates for deployments. But nothing was ever final.
Then, last month, President Trump made a national address recommitting the United States to the 16-year-old war in Afghanistan.
“That’s when we kind of knew it would go down,” said 2nd Lt. Alexander Rodino.
The soldiers had about a week’s notice that they would deploy. They spent that time preparing themselves and their families for what is expected to be a six- or seven-month deployment.
Some, like Staff Sgt. Adam Watkins, will be returning to Afghanistan for the first time in years. Watkins last deployed to the country seven years ago. He said he’s eager to see what has changed in that time.
He said finally knowing that the unit is leaving was a relief to his family, who had dealt with a constant “will they or won’t they” for the past several months.
“We are finally here,” Watkins said. “That part is over.”
Bell said families were understanding of the mission.
“It’s mixed emotions,” he said. “They’re proud of us. But they’re worried, too.”
The soldiers expect to hit the ground running, they said.
“We train all the time,” Rodino said. “Very few of us get to go do what we train to do.”
“We’re excited,” added Bell. “We’re getting to join the others in our brigade. And we’re serving our country.”
“This is actually how we would get SEALs off the ship submerged,” Senior Chief Mark Eichenlaub told Business Insider.
“So you would stick a platoon of SEALs in here, 14 guys … you fill this chamber with water until you match the outer sea pressure. Once the pressure in and outside the ship match, the hatch will lift off open, and they can swim out of a fully filled chamber into open ocean.”
Once the chamber is filled with water, matching the pressure inside and out, “there’s an internal locking mechanism that would open” the top hatch where SEALs swim out, Senior Chief Darryl Wood told Business Insider.
The SEALs can then swim to retrieve what is known as a special-forces operations box, which would be filled with weapons and needed gear, from the tower.
In addition to getting SEALs off the ship, lockout trunks can be used for the entire crew to escape in case the submarine is downed.
This video gives a close-up look at the lockout trunk:
Erwin Rommel entered France in 1940 in command of a panzer division, moving around the Maginot Line with the bulk of German attackers and slamming into the French defenses from behind. He would go on to lead troops in North Africa as Hitler’s favored general.
But the bloom was off the rose in 1944 when Hitler made Rommel kill himself.
Field Marshal Erwin Rommel and senior officers in France.
(German Bundesarchiv Bild)
The Desert Fox made his legend in France, and then fought in the African desert in 1941. His troops there loved him, and he fought tooth and nail to hold the oil fields and ports in that part of the world. With limited numbers and supplies, he bloodied the nose of British forces and their French and American allies over and over again.
The British tried to kidnap him. They tried to kill him. But mostly, they tried to beat him. And, eventually, with the crushing weight of American armor at their back, they did.
Rommel evacuated north with his surviving forces, and he was put in command of the Atlantic Wall, the bulwark of Fortress Europe. He was brilliant in the role, predicting that the Allies would try to land somewhere other than a deepwater port, and suspecting portions of Normandy beaches in particular. He pushed his men to build defenses, and he pushed the government to send him more supplies.
Field Marshal Erwin Rommel and his staff in North Africa.
(German Bundesarchiv Bild)
But all the while, from North Africa to the Atlantic Coast, he was lamenting the clear resource advantage that America had given the Allies. He worried that the war was lost and that further fighting would just cost German blood and weaken its place at the bargaining table.
In 1943, while preparing those defenses in Normandy, he began to see signs that the anti-war movement was right, that Germany was conducting heinous acts besides just prosecuting the war. He could stomach battles, but he was unsettled when he ran into evidence of the rumored death camps, especially when was given an apartment that had, until that very morning, been the property of a Jewish family.
And so he whispered more and more about how Hitler wasn’t to be trusted, about how the war was bad for Germany, and about how the Third Reich couldn’t possibly survive what was coming. When the Allies hit the beaches in June 1944, Rommel’s pessimism became too much to bear.
Field Marshal Erwin Rommel’s command tank in World War II.
(German Bundesarchiv Bild)
And so, when an attempt to assassinate Hitler in July 1944 failed, it didn’t matter that there was no strong evidence linking him to the plot. The perpetrators had all been senior military officers, so it was easy to pin a little blame on Rommel, especially since both his chief of staff and his commanding officer were implicated and executed.
Rommel was popular, though. So, he couldn’t just be dragged out back and shot like many of the Valkyrie plotters. Instead, Third Reich officers were sent to Rommel’s home on October 14, 1944. He was there, healing from wounds sustained in a July 17 attack by a British aircraft.
‘At twelve o’clock to-day two Generals are coming to discuss my future employment,’ my father started the conversation. ‘So today will decide what is planned for me; whether a People’s Court or a new command in the East.’
Field Marshal Erwin Rommel
(German Bundesarchiv Bild)
Despite Rommel’s worries about Germany’s aggression, he believed that a Soviet conquest of Europe would be devastating for all the rest of Europe, worse than any outcome under Germany. And so he told his son that he would take a command in the Eastern Front, if it was offered.
But that was not what the officers were coming to offer him. And they were not going to put him in front of the People’s Courts either. Instead, after Rommel met with the men for a short time, he went upstairs, and Manfred Rommel, his 15-year-old son, followed him upstairs.
‘I have just had to tell your mother,’ he began slowly, ‘that I shall be dead in a quarter of an hour.’ He was calm as he continued: ‘To die by the hand of one’s own people is hard. But the house is surrounded and Hitler is charging me with high treason. ‘ “In view of my services in Africa,” ‘ he quoted sarcastically, ‘I am to have the chance of dying by poison. The two generals have brought it with them. It’s fatal in three seconds. If I accept, none of the usual steps will be taken against my family, that is against you. They will also leave my staff alone.’
And so that was the deal that Rommel accepted. His family would be made safe. His staff would be made safe. But he would have to drink a fast-acting poison. Manfred briefly pitched the idea of fighting free, but his father was certain they lacked the numbers or ammunition to be successful.
So Rommel left. He carried his field marshal’s baton to the car, shook the hands of his son and his aide, and got in the car of the two generals. They drove a few hundred yards into an open space in the woods and Rommel drank.
He was given a state funeral just four days later. Hitler would follow him into death the following May. But where Rommel committed suicide to save his family, Hitler did it to escape judgment for that and thousand of other actions.
Even after Confederate commander Robert E. Lee surrendered in Appomattox Court House, Virginia, on April 9, 1865, one Confederate army refused to acknowledge defeat and for months stubbornly fought on.
It was led not by one of the wealthy white southerners who made up much of the Confederacy’s officer class — but by a Native American chief called Stand Watie.
So how did a leader of a people facing systematic persecution come to fight for a cause founded on racism and the right to own slaves?
The story illustrates how in the Civil War, the presence of a common enemy caused unexpected alliances to be formed, including an alliance Paul Chaat Smith, a curator at the National Museum of the Native American, has characterized as a “mangy, snarling dog standing between you and a crowd-pleasing narrative.”
Watie was himself a plantation holder and slave owner, and had settled in Oklahoma after playing a central role in events that resulted in the eviction of thousands of Native Americans from their land in what is now Georgia.
He was born in 1806 in Cherokee country near what is now Rome, Georgia, and was given the Cherokee name Degataga, meaning “stand firm.”
His father — also a slave owner – was baptized, giving his son the Christian name Isaac S Uwatie. Dropping the ‘U’ and combining it with his Cherokee name, his son took the name Stand Watie.
General Stand Watie, leader of a Native American army which fought for the Confederacy in the Civil War.
(National Archives Catalogue)
In 1835, Watie was one of the Cherokee leaders to sign the treaty of New Echota handing over Cherokee ancestral territory to the federal government. In exchange they were granted land to resettle the nation west, in Indian Territory, in what is now Oklahoma.
Some refused to leave and were forcibly removed by the government. It is believed that nearly 4,000 Cherokee died attempting to make the journey to Indian Territory after 1838 in what has become known as the Trail of Tears.
Four years after the treaty, the Cherokee turned against those who had signed away their land, assassinating three of them. Watie survived.
Cherokee chief John Ross, who opposed the treaty, became an adamant enemy of Watie.
John Ross, Cherokee Chief, Protested Treaty of New Echota, 1835, and Subsequent Forcible Removal of Cherokees to the West During Winter of 1838-39.
In 1861, Georgia ceded from the Union, becoming one of the original seven states that formed the slave-owning Confederacy.
That same year, Watie raised a force of Native Americans to fight for the Confederacy as North and South went to war.
It was the federal government, responsible for robbing Cherokee of their ancestral land, which Watie — in common with many of his people — saw as his main enemy, not the Confederacy.
And shockingly, many Cherokee were themselves slave owners, with some taking their slaves with them to Indian Territory after the forced resettlements west.
He told the Smithsonian Magazine they “established their own racialized black codes, immediately reestablished slavery when they arrived in Indian territory, rebuilt their nations with slave labor, crushed slave rebellions, and enthusiastically sided with the Confederacy in the Civil War.”
Watie’s force earned a fearsome reputation, performing audacious raids behind enemies lines and attacking Native American settlements loyal to the Union.
The surrender of General Lee to General Grant at Appomattox Court House, Virginia, April 9, 1865.
Even as the majority of Cherokee repudiated the alliance with the Confederacy in 1862, Watie remained loyal. So successful was he as a military commander that in 1865 Waite was promoted to the rank of brigadier general, one of only two native Americans to achieve the rank in the conflict.
In wasn’t until June 23, 1865 — 154 years ago — that Watie surrendered to Union forces in Doaksville, Oklahoma. In doing so, he became the last Confederate general to lay down his arms in the Civil War.
His force at the time comprised Creek, Seminole, Cherokee, and Osage Indians.
Watie led a delegation of his Cherokee faction in Washington DC in 1866 to negotiate a new treaty with US government. Their loyalty to the Confederacy meant the old treaties had been torn up.
The new treaty signed by Watie granted former slaves tribal citizenship.
After the war, Watie spent the rest of his life as a businessman and plantation owner, and collecting his people’s folk tales and legends. He died in 1871.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Throughout the 1930s pilots around the world were continually trying to push the limits of anything that had been done before in the air. While the likes of Charles Lindbergh and Amelia Earhart are more familiar names in the Western World, the Soviets had their own equivalents such as Mikhail Gromov who, in 1937 along with his two man crew, managed to break the world distance record for non-stop flight, flying 6,306 miles from Moscow to California via a rather dangerous North Pole route. Hailed as heroes upon their return, Premier Joseph Stalin decided the Soviet Union should follow this up in 1938 by having a group of women pilots attempt to set the distance record for non-stop flight for a female crew. The selected trio, who each already held one or more world records for female aviators, were Polina Osipenko, Valentina Grizodubova, and Marina Raskova.
And so it was that on Sept. 24, 1938 the three ladies took off from an airfield in Shchcyolkovo near Moscow, in a Tupolev ANT-37, which normally had a range of about 5,000 km or 3,100 miles. Their destination was Komsomolsk-on-Amur over 3600 miles away. Unfortunately for them almost immediately upon departing they encountered a number of issues including a thick layer of clouds and icing conditions which forced them to climb above said clouds, in the process losing all sight of the ground for the duration. Not long after this, their radio stopped working. Without a clear view of the ground for almost the entire flight, Raskova used the stars, a compass, and their airspeed to roughly determine their position as they flew. When the clouds finally broke, they found themselves flying over Tugur Bay in the Sea of Okhotsk, about 500 km or 300 miles directly north of their intended destination.
Low on fuel, they desperately attempted to find an alternate place to land, but the engines died first. With some form of a crash landing inevitable and a navigator no longer having anything to do, Grizodubova ordered Raskova to parachute out of the plane from about 6,500 feet with the hope that it would increase her odds of survival. Of course, decreasing her odds slightly, she chose to leave her emergency survival kit for the other two women, reportedly only taking two chocolate bars with her for rations to trek through Siberia with. When Raskova safely hit the ground, she noted the direction the plane was gliding and began hiking after it.
As for the pilot and co-pilot still aboard, they were forced to make a gear up, dead-stick landing in a frozen swamp near the upper part of the Amgun River, in the end successfully executing what is termed in pilot-speak as a “good landing”- in that all occupants survived and were able to walk away from the wreckage.
As for Raskova, she hiked for a full ten days before finally locating the downed aircraft and her comrades. Not long before she arrived, a search crew located the plane. While this was a good thing for the women, unfortunately two of the search planes collided overhead and killed all 15 aboard as the horrified pilots watched from below. A few days later, the women were picked up via boat.
When they arrived back in Moscow, their harrowing journey, which managed 3,671.44 miles in 26 hours and 29 minutes (though in truth they had flown some 6,450 km or 4,007 miles total), had indeed set the distance record for a straight line, non-stop all-woman crew. That, along with how they handled themselves in such adverse conditions saw them lauded as heroes across the Union, including quite literally being given the “Hero of the Soviet Union” award, among other honors.
Fast-forwarding about three years later in June of 1941, Germany decided to invade. During Operation Barbarossa, almost 4 million troops were thrown at the Soviet Union, and in one fell swoop the Axis managed to destroy approximately 66 airfields and about 80% of the military aircraft in the Soviet Union at the time.
German troops at the Soviet state border marker, June 22, 1941.
With an abundance of pilots and few planes, you might think this was not exactly an ideal environment for female pilots of the era to be given a job- especially not in combat- but two factors saw Stalin convinced establishing all female squadrons was something they should do. First, Raskova wouldn’t stop berating Stalin about it, noting both in the air and on the ground that forgoing using half your populace when the enemy was almost at the doorsteps of Moscow was foolish. Another factor was that among the planes still available were a large number of Polikarpov Po-2’s- an open cockpit two seat 1928 biplane made of wood and fabric, mostly meant for flight training and crop dusting.
Slow and plodding, the Polikarpov cruised along at a breakneck pace of about 68 mph (109 km/hr) and a never exceed if you don’t want your wings to fall off speed of 94 mph (151 km/hr). Combine that with a maximum climb rate of a mere 500 feet per minute (152 meters) while traveling at a speed not that much faster than Usian Bolt while ascending, and these weren’t exactly planes male pilots were itching to fly to the front in…
For reference here, the Luftwaffe were flying such planes as the Focke-Wulf Fw 190 Würger, which had an engine possessing about 25 times the horsepower as the Polikarpov, cruised along at 280 mph (450 km/hr), with maximum speeds of 426 mph (685 km/hr), and could climb in excess of 3,000 ft/min. That’s not to mention this plane came equipped with dual 13 mm MG 131 machine guns. The pilots of the Polikarpov Po-2’s, on the other hand, were given hand pistols as their air to air combat weapon… No doubt when in a dog fight, they also were instructed to make “pew pew pew” sounds to increase the effectiveness of their arsenal.
If all that wasn’t bad enough, should one get shot down or the fabric of the aircraft catch fire, which occasionally happened when tracer bullets ripped through them, as weight was at a premium, the pilots weren’t given parachutes… On top of that, the planes themselves did not come equipped with radios or any other such equipment. A map, a compass, a pistol, and their wits were what the stick and rudder Po-2 pilots brought with them on their combat missions.
A damaged and abandoned Po-2 forced to land in Ukraine, and subsequently captured by German troops, 1941.
Now, you might at this point be wondering what possible use these pilots could serve flying these planes into combat other than reducing the Soviet population by a couple hundred pilots. Well, the one marginally potent weapon the planes did come equipped with was bombs- up to six of them, weighing approximately 110 lbs each (50 kg).
Planes few wanted to fly sitting on the ground and Raskova refusing to shut up about it, Stalin ordered her to form three all female squadrons, though the 588th Bomber Regiment, who would come to use the Polikarpov Po-2’s, was the only one to remain exclusively staffed by women throughout the war.
As for the young ladies who volunteered to fly in these death traps, they ranged from about 17 years old to their early 20s. And while you might think the name they’d soon be given would be something along the lines of “Target Practice”, their incredible effectiveness and near non-stop bombardment of the Germans at the front starting on June 8, 1942 and continuing all the way to Berlin, earned them another nickname — The Night Witches.
So just how effective were they? For the approximately four years they were active, they flew close to an astounding 30,000 missions, with an average of about 250 missions each. To put this in perspective, airmen aboard a B-17 Flying Fortress in 1944 had a 1 in 4 chance of surviving to the 25 mission mark for their rotation. But in the case of the Night Witch bombers, some flew near or greater that number in under a week. One, who we’ll discuss shortly, almost managed that number of missions in a single night. Despite the incredible number of missions they flew, over the course of the war, of the 261 women that flew in the 588th, only 32 died, and a handful of those not from combat, but tuberculosis.
A Polikarpov Po-2, the aircraft type used by the regiment.
This bring us to Nadezhda Popova, who managed the record of 18 missions in a single night when she helped chase the Axis as they retreated from Poland. Popova, who started flying at aged 15, was a flight instructor by 18, and decided to join up not long after her brother, Leonid, was killed in the early stages of the conflict. She states, “I saw the German aircraft flying along our roads filled with people who were leaving their homes, firing at them with their machine guns. Seeing this gave me feelings inside that made me want to fight them.”
The Nazis would soon come to regret making an enemy of Popova, who shortly was about to go all John Wick on them for killing her brother. But before that, unfortunately for her, when she tried to enlist, she was turned away, with Popova later stating of this, “No one in the armed services wanted to give women the freedom to die.”
Nevertheless, given her credentials, when the 588th was formed when she was 19 years old, they had a place for her. She would go on to fly an incredible 852 missions during the war, despite, as she stated in an interview in 2009, “Almost every time, we had to sail through a wall of enemy fire. In winter, when you’d look out to see your target better, you got frostbite, our feet froze in our boots, but we carried on flying…. It was a miracle we didn’t lose more aircraft. Our planes were the slowest in the air force. They often came back riddled with bullets…”
On that note, after returning from one mission where she was tasked with dropping supplies to ground troops who were bottled up in Malaya Zemlya, she found 42 bullet holes in her plane, one in her helmet, and a couple in her map. It was then that she joked with her navigator, “Katya, my dear, we will live long!”
In truth, Popova, who became a squadron commander, survived the war, among other honors receiving the Hero of the Soviet Union, the Order of Lenin, and was a three time Order of the Red Banner recipient (awarded for extreme heroism and courage demonstrated in battle), twice awarded the Order of the Patriotic War 1st class… and the list goes on and on- badass. She was a badass basically.
As for her life after, she married an airmen, Semyon Kharlamov, who she met after the two had separately been shot down on Aug. 2, 1942. While she couldn’t see his face as it was covered in bandages, they hit it off as they joked around together during their trek back to safety. They got hitched almost immediately on war’s end. For work after, she continued her pre-war career as a flight instructor, ultimately living to the ripe old age of 91 years old, dying on July 8, 2013.
Going back to the squadron as a whole, given their extreme vulnerability in the air, you might at this point be wondering how these women not only almost all survived, but proved to be so incredibly effective?
Well, given their slow speed, the fact that in a dogfight they’d quickly be made into Swiss cheese by enemy planes, and the fact that they needed to deploy their paltry payloads at extremely low altitudes to actually accurately hit a target, meaning ground based crew could likewise easily turn the pilots of these craft into wreckage riders, flying missions in daylight with any regularity wasn’t really an option if one liked to keep breathing.
Thus, in an era before incredibly accurate terrain mapping and GPS systems to help avoid said terrain, these women voluntarily hopped inside their antiquated pieces of equipment and ascended to the heavens in darkness- the darker the better.
Stealth was their only way of surviving, and they used it to their advantage at every opportunity. Navigating in darkness towards their assigned enemy targets, usually hugging the ground as much as possible until getting close to their targets to avoid being spotted by enemy aircraft, once they located their targets, the women would employ a number of strategies to actually get close enough to deliver their deadly payloads. These included doing things like flying in groups and intentionally having one or two of the planes up high attract the attention and fire from those on the ground, while others would idle their engine and try to slip in closely undetected. Another strategy was to do what is generally considered in aviation 101 as a great way to die, especially in the often frigid environments these women were flying in- cut their engines completely in flight and at relatively low altitudes.
They’d then silently descend onto their targets until almost literally right over the heads of the enemy and finally drop their bombs, kick the engine back to life (hopefully) and get back to base as fast as possible to be loaded back up and sent out again and again to the front line.
Describing this, the chief of staff for the 588th, Irina Rakobolskaya, noted, “One girl managed to fly seven times to the front line and back in her plane. She would return, shaking, and they would hang new bombs, refuel her plane, and she’d go off to bomb the target again.”
Popova would state of this strategy, “We flew in sequence, one after another, and during the night, we never let them rest… the Germans made up stories. They spread the rumor that we had been injected with some unknown chemicals that enabled us to see so clearly at night…. This was nonsense, of course. What we did have were clever, educated, very talented girls…”
Effective, one German soldier would later state in an interview after the war of the Night Witches, they were “precise, merciless and came from nowhere.”
Dedicated to delivering their payloads no matter what, one former 588th member stated that occasionally the bombs would get stuck when trying to drop them just over the target. The solution was simply to have one of the two women in the plane scramble out on the wing and kick it loose, often while under heavy enemy fire- all leading author Kate Quin to note, “You women are crazy. You’re incredibly brave, but my god you’re crazy.”
A sentiment Popova would later echo in her waning years, stating, “I sometimes stare into the blackness and close my eyes. I can still imagine myself as a young girl up there in my little bomber and I ask myself, Nadia, how did you do it?”
Moving on to the nickname the Germans gave them and which they would so proudly embrace once they learned of it, it is widely speculated that this was because of the wooshing sound the planes made as they glided down through the air, like the sound a witch flying on her broomstick. However, there is no primary documentation backing this speculation up at all, despite it being almost universally repeated. And, for our part, we’re just guessing not a single German soldier ever actually had heard the wooshing sound of a witch flying on a broomstick to compare. So allow us to suggest our own alternate hypothesis- that it wasn’t so much the sound that was the inspiration, but, instead, the name “The Night Witches” was actually because these were women, flying at night, on aircraft made of wood, not unlike a witch flying on a broomstick.
Whatever the case, in the end, for their heroism, almost 1 in 10 of the women of the 588th were honored with the Hero of the Soviet Union award. For reference here, while that award was given out almost 13,000 times over the entire life of the Soviet Union, the badass ladies of the 588th accounted for approximately 1/4 of all women who ever received it.
This article originally appeared on Today I Found Out. Follow @TodayIFoundOut on Twitter.
The first African-American to earn aviator wings in the Marine Corps and the first one to receive a brigadier general star in the Corps has been honored as the namesake of the Navy’s upcoming DDG 121, an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer.
Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Frank E. Petersen, Jr. joined the Navy in 1950 and was commissioned as a Marine officer in 1952. He served in Korea and Vietnam before retiring in 1988. Before his retirement, he was the senior-most aviator in the Marine Corps and the Department of the Navy.
During his time in Korea and Vietnam, Petersen flew over 350 combat missions. He flew more than 4,000 hours during his career and was shot down over Vietnam in 1968. His awards include the Navy Distinguished Service Medal, the Distinguished Service Medal, and the Distinguished Flying Cross.
“The courage and perseverance of Lt. Gen. Petersen throughout his distinguished and ground-breaking career make him especially deserving of this honor,” Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus said. “Those who serve aboard DDG 121 will, for decades, carry on the storied legacy of this Marine Corps hero.”