Humans are superstitious. We tend to come up with all kinds of ways to justify certain things we don’t fully understand. That same quality definitely has a home in military service. While some of these may seem ridiculous at first glance, there’s usually some kind of explanation underneath.
The Navy is easily the most superstitious of the branches — since their origins are tied to a history of life at sea, both military-related and otherwise, where imaginations ran wild after spending many months adrift. But, as a whole, the military has a wide array of superstitions that, when you take a closer look, are actually pretty creepy.
You don’t want one of these bad boys to drift right over a cliff.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Daniel Yarnall)
Don’t carry a white lighter… Ever.
This is a superstition held by a huge number of people, mostly because of the notorious “27 Club” — a club made up of famous musicians and artists (like Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain, and others) that died at the age of 27 while carrying, you guessed it, a white lighter.
In the military, however, this superstition was given legs by a bad experience with an Amphibious Assault Vehicle. Rumor has it, the vehicle lost its brakes and went off a 100-foot cliff while one Marine carried a white lighter and another had a damn horseshoe. That horseshoe might have been good luck, but the lighter’s bad mojo was enough to disrupt the balance.
King Neptune doesn’t want to hear your sh*t.
(U.S. Navy photo by Photographer’s Mate Airman Andrew Betting)
Neptune doesn’t like whistling
It’s a long-held belief in many cultures that whistling, especially at night, is an invitation to the spirits. There’s a home for this superstition in maritime tradition, too. Instead of spirits, however, the idea is that whistling will summon bad weather as it angers the King of the Sea.
So, if you find yourself on ship and you get the urge to whistle — don’t. Neptune seriously hates it.
When you hear the enemy eating apricots.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo)
A Stars Stripes article from 1968 explains a story surrounding Marines at Cua Viet who continuously found themselves under attack by enemy artillery barrages. What they started to notice, however, was that these barrages would start almost immediately after a Marine ate a can of apricots from their C-Rations.
Coincidence? You be the judge.
Maybe the “grandma’s couch” pattern wasn’t the best camouflage idea.
This superstition comes from the U.S. Army. If you look closely, you’ll see a pretty distinct key-shaped blotch within modern camouflage patterns. In what may be coincidence, several soldier took bullets right in the keys. It could just be that — coincidence — or it could be a deeper, like a spiritual omen.
Just don’t do it. Please.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Pfc. Nello Miele.)
Saying the “R” word
You know the word. “Rain.”
Marines, soldiers, and anyone who has a job in the military that requires going outside believe that using the term will change the weather from anything to pouring rain. Infantry Marines will tell you that a bright and sunny day changes almost instantly when someone utters this word.
What’s worse is that it won’t stop until you head back to the barracks.
This article is not meant to disparage Beretta’s products. The 500-plus-year-old company has supplied arms to every major European war since 1650, and the results are just what a weapons manufacturer intends their products to do. When it came to replacing the legendary M1911 as the U.S. military’s trusty sidearm, no one expected the Italian company to carry the day, but cost was the final factor for the Air Force. From there, it spread to all the branches.
The Army was not pleased.
The M1911 was a workhorse.
From 1911 to 1986, the Colt M1911 was the pistol weapon of choice for the U.S. military. These days, most military personnel don’t require or train on a pistol, but in the days of the 1911, most absolutely did. The American-built weapon was a trusted, durable weapon for decades and many, many wars – and still hasn’t been entirely replaced. But ultimately, the 1911 was replaced because of capacity.
World War III was supposed to be fought in the forests and fields of Europe, where American and NATO troops would face an onslaught of Soviet men who may be fighting in human wave attacks. Planners wanted to give Western fighting men as many rounds as possible to fight their way out, so it seemed natural that decreasing the size of a round while increasing capacity allowed the average G.I. Joe to carry and load more bullets. The M9 would allow for twice as many rounds per load.
The Italian-owned company Beretta submitted its Model 92S handgun to the U.S. Air Force-led Joint Services Small Arms Program in 1978. The Air Force was tasked with finding a sidearm that was suitable for all branches of the military. Beretta went up against other heavyweights of the firearms industry, including Heckler Koch, Colt, and Smith Wesson, to name a few. To everyone’s surprise, the Air Force declared Beretta, the clear winner.
It was not a welcome surprise for the Army. The Army declared the Air Force tests invalid due to what they called testing discrepancies. So they conducted the trials again under Army supervision. While all this hoopla over the test results was happening, the U.S. Navy purchased the Beretta with features demanded by the JSSAP.
The Army went ahead with a third trial anyway, set for 1984. In this trial, Beretta submitted an improved Model 92 up against SIG Sauer’s P226 model, both vying to be the U.S. military’s M9. While both performed admirably, Beretta’s lower overall cost won it the day, and the Army declared the Italian-made pistol its new sidearm of choice.
Since being declared the M9, there have been more than 600,000 Berettas ordered by the U.S. military. American arms manufacturers were incredulous, leveling any number of charges against Beretta, including accusing the Italian company of having access to SIG Sauer’s initial bid to the Pentagon.
The M9 was a workhorse in its own right.
But the Beretta did not last as long as the M1911 did in the U.S. arsenal. After 30 years (no small feat), SIG Sauer finally usurped the Italian gunmaker to become the U.S. sidearm maker for the U.S. Armed Forces Modular Handgun System, finally issued in 2018 with its P320 model.
Back in the late 1970s and early 80s, the Coast Guard thought they had a better way to search for people lost in the ocean. They tested using pigeons affixed to the underside of helicopters.
Yes, like the pigeons in the park. And, yes, it did work. The birds performed about twice as well as their human counterparts at spotting “appropriate targets” on their first pass over an area.
The pigeons involved in Project Sea Hunt, as the effort was known, were first sent to “basic training.” For obvious reasons, about the only thing pigeon basic shared with human basic was the name.
Pigeons were placed in training chambers with “peck keys” that released food when pressed. Once the pigeons got the hang of the keys, their training boxes would be faced toward Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii, where a buoy with a radio-operated orange plate floated. Trainers would expose the orange plate and then reward the pigeon when it hit the keys, but wouldn’t feed the pigeons if the plate wasn’t exposed.
Over time, the target would be moved further away from the pigeons to train them to look further out to sea.
Once the pigeons passed basic training, the top graduates would proceed to advanced training where the pigeons were actually placed in chambers mounted beneath a helicopter and had to find orange, yellow, and red objects in the ocean. Each bird covered a 120-degree window, so a pod with three pigeons could see in 360 degrees.
In testing on the helicopter, the pigeons spotted targets on the first pass 90% of the time. The human crewmembers were capable of finding the target on the first pass only 38% of the time. In a later test, when the humans knew they were trying to catch up to the pigeons, the humans scored a 50.
In passes where both humans and the pigeons spotted the target, the pigeon spotted it first 84% of the time. The pigeons were proving to be amazing day-time searchers.
There were a few drawbacks to the use of pigeons. First, the weight of the pigeons had to be carefully maintained. Pigeons at 80% of their “free food” weight were generally hungry enough to search the ocean for hours without losing focus. Dropping below that weight threatened the pigeons’ health but going above it would reduce their effectiveness.
And there was one tragedy in the program. A flight was sent to hunt for a missing boat and the helicopter stayed out too long. It ran out of fuel and conducted a forced landing at sea. The crew escaped with no injuries but they couldn’t get the pigeons out in time.
A second batch of pigeons was sent through training to both replace the lost pigeons and to increase the number of pigeons available for missions.
Overall, Project Sea Hunt was so successful that a 1981 audit of the program recommended that the pigeons serve at a Coast Guard air station on proper missions and that new pods be developed so that the birds could fly on newer helicopters. Federal budget cuts resulted in the program being shuttered instead.
Advances in technology have made the pigeons less necessary. Planes designed to hunt subs using magnets are much better at finding plane debris than pigeons ever were, and improved homing beacons for rafts and wrecks make the job of scanning miles of ocean less necessary.
Still, there’s a niche that pigeons could still fill better than almost any gadgets, that of looking for orange rafts and flotation devices in the open ocean.
(More photos and background on the program are available at the Coast Guard’s web page for Project Sea Hunt.)
Louisiana’s famous Cajun Navy, the volunteer civilian group that with its small boats helped rescue victims of Hurricane Harvey, wants to assist Florida after Hurricane Irma.
Rob Gaudet, one of the volunteer network’s organizers, spoke Sept 7. to Florida Sen. Marco Rubio to find out how the grassroots group might be of most help.
“They’re ready to go,” Rubio told the Miami Herald.
Irma is not expected to dump as much rain as Harvey, but forecasters worry about storm surge up to 10 feet in the state’s southern peninsula.
The Cajun Navy drove boats into Houston to pick up people stuck in the massive floods — turning into the so-called Texas Navy — but is now back in Louisiana, tracking Irma as it makes its way to Florida.
“There’s already boaters on their way and there already,” Gaudet told the Herald.
Gaudet, a software engineer, founded the Cajun Relief Foundation after boaters came together last year to rescue victims of a no-name flood in his hometown of Baton Rouge. During Harvey, the organization used social media to handle requests for assistance, alleviating crushed emergency responders.
“There’s a team of dispatchers that dispatch the Cajun Navy, that work from their homes or they work from coffee shops, literally taking request off of social media,” Gaudet said, noting dispatchers can be — and are — anywhere in the country. “We use mobile technology that the boaters carry along with them, and so we dispatch them to perform rescues.”
Rubio’s suggestion: that Gaudet’s volunteers, with their shallow-water boats, consider navigating narrow canals in South and Central Florida to reach victims if Irma’s storm surge leaves wide areas unreachable by car or deeper-water vessels.
“Biscayne Bay is like a basin,” said Rubio, a recreational boater himself. “It’s like a bowl of water that’s going to get potentially pushed inward.”
Chinese media on Thursday indicated ongoing work on a new long range air-to-air missile that seems tailor-made to give the US Air Force problems when operating in the Pacific.
As Business Insider has previously covered, tensions between the US and China have been steadily ratcheting up over the last few years, and they have spiked since Donald Trump took office after breaking with decades of tradition and taking a call from Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen.
Photographs posted on IHS Jane’s and on Chinese media show China’s J-11B and J-16 fighters carrying an as-of-yet unnamed missile that Air force researcher Fu Qianshao told Chinese state-run media has a range of almost 250 miles — much further than current Chinese or even US capabilities.
“The successful development of this potential new missile would be a major breakthrough,” Reuters reports Fu as telling a Chinese state-run newspaper.
According to Fu, the missile would enable the People’s Liberation Army Air Force to “send a super-maneuverable fighter jet with very long-range missiles to destroy those high-value targets, which are the ‘eyes’ of enemy jets.”
The US’s airborne early warning and control planes (AWACS), basically giant flying radars, are the “eyes” Fu refers to. These planes can detect enemy movements and give targeting data to US fighter jets and bombers. Without them, the US Air Force faces a steep disadvantage.
This echoes analysis provided to Business Insider by Australia Strategic Policy Institute‘s senior analyst Dr. Malcolm Davis, who told Business Insider that “the Chinese are recognizing they can attack critical airborne support systems like AWACS and refueling planes so they can’t do their job … If you can force the tankers back, then the F-35s and other platforms aren’t sufficient because they can’t reach their target.”
The new Chinese missile could grant the PLA Air Force the ability to cripple the US’s airborne support infrastructure, and figures into a larger anti-access area denial (A2AD) strategy the Chinese have been developing for years now.
According to Davis, the US’s advantage over adversaries like China has faded over the last few years. “The calculus is changing because our adversaries are getting better,” Davis said of China’s emerging capabilities.
Davis said that adversaries like China and Russia are “starting to acquire information edge capabilities that [the US] has enjoyed since 1991 … The other side had 20 years to think about counters to the Joint Strike Fighter (the F-35). Given the delays, by the time [the F-35] reaches full operation capability, how advanced are the Chinese and Russian systems going to be to counter it?”
As a possible solution, Davis recommended pairing fleets of unmanned vehicles with the F-35 to give the US a quantitative advantage as Chinese advances, like the new missile and plane, erode the US’s qualitative edge.
“We don’t have time to be leisurely about the fifth generation aircraft,” said Davis. “The other side is not going to stand still.”
Spc. Mohamed Sullaiman joined the U.S. Army from Freetown, Sierra Leone, in 2015. He cites that he was, “inspired as an old man,” but Sullaiman chose to serve not just for himself, he also knew it could give his family a better life.
“I am here working for my family,” said Sullaiman, who deployed to Afghanistan with the Rock Battalion in early spring 2018 to fight for the country he now calls his own.
Three years ago, Sullaiman graduated from basic training with more than just a rank, he earned the right to become a U.S. citizen. Since then, he has excelled as a soldier and a leader.
“Spc. Sullaiman is a fit, inspired, disciplined train and truly inspirational soldier,” said 1st Lt. Gerald Prater, Sullaiman’s platoon leader, “He is an outstanding contributor to the organization.”
A large part of his motivation to be a standout soldier is the hope to one day bring his whole family to the United States. While Sullaiman has served on active duty for the last three years, his wife and two children still live in Freetown. His wife is raising their two children since Sullaiman joined the Army in 2015.
Sullaiman hopes the opportunities available to Americans will open new doors for his wife and children — opportunities to escape poverty and tribal rivalry and exchange them for security and freedom.
Spc. Mohamed Sullaiman, an infantryman, from 1st Battalion, 38th Infantry Regiment, 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division returns from conducting combat operations in Kabul Province, Afghanistan.
(U.S. Army courtesy photo by 1st. Stryker Brigade Combat Team)
Having been away from his family for three years, most recently in Afghanistan, Sullaiman understands the importance of constant communication, “I try hard to talk to them every night so they know that everything is okay. That I’m alright.” He also contacts the State Department regularly to keep in step with the process for his family’s permanent resident visa.
Sullaiman has kept his spirits high despite the separation, “I have a special prayer every night at midnight for an hour to ask help from Allah to guide me in the right way. He’s helping me not lose faith. It’s just a matter of time. I’m still going to keep praying until it finally happens.”
A devout Muslim, Sullaiman fasted during Ramadan despite patrolling daily in the July heat. “It wasn’t really easy. There were a lot of challenges but I overcame them.”
His determination is evident whether he’s serving overseas or in the United States. While it’s easy to save money for his family while deployed, Sullaiman, who turned 36 in June 2018, lives in the barracks and stays within his paycheck so he can send money to his family every month. He doesn’t own a car and visits his family once a year, “Depending on how much money I save,” he says.
Sullaiman exudes optimism, and plans on taking three weeks off after deployment to visit his family. His goal, with full support from his leadership, is to return with his family after his much deserved leave. When asked about what it will be like when his family joins him in the United States, “I’ll be one of the happiest men. I will say thanks to Allah for everything.”
Sullaiman continues to work alongside his chain of command to bring his family to the United States.
40 years hand in hand, Jean King, caregiver, and John ‘Jack’ King, Army Vietnam Veteran, have a special bond that is so much more than what is portrayed in romantic movies.
The duo has lived the American dream. Service to country, five healthy children and a successful medical career. Their retirement was brighter than ever.
Then unexpected news for Jack came of a non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma Stage 4 diagnosis.
Jean parted from her medical career to support and care for her husband as his caregiver. In her words, “It was absolutely worth it.”
Not only did their whole lives change in seconds, but she had to take on a new role. It was then that she discovered all of what VA has to offer – not only for Veterans but for caregivers just like her.
Now an organized expert, she gives credit to VA
Starting from zero, or as she says, “A gerbil running in a wheel ending up back in the same place,” to an organized expert, Jean gives all credit to VA. From a blank slate to a book filled with all medications, daily care, meal plans, etc. Everything you need to know about Jack King is in a binder from Step 1 to Step 100.
The now caregiver expert says, “The biggest lesson I learned from the Caregivers Support team is to keep everything meticulous. They taught me how to make plans. I have everything written down. Before, I had nothing.”
The VA Caregiver Support Program goes even further than teaching crucial organization skills. The wellbeing of caregivers is critical to the program. Support, whether it is a call to vent or a text for a quick health question, Jean King has what she calls “angels on earth.”
“One of the best caregivers in the business.”
One of the angels is Tiffany Pundai, VA Caregiver Support Program social worker. She proudly says, “It was truly refreshing and such a pleasure to work with one of the best caregivers in the business, Jean King. She has a heart of gold and deserves all the help and support.
“Her stress level was high and her confidence low, but after working together she was able to build a foundation of skills important for Jack’s recovery. I am grateful to be a part of their care and inspired by their level of dedication and optimism. I am truly humbled to work with such amazing people.”
Every caregiver receives customized support. For Jean, at her Orlando VA Medical Center, she has a strong connection with Pundai. She is not just a resource – she is her outlet.
With tears in her eyes, Jean says, “To find the support that I have found, knowing I am able to talk to someone who knows where I am – mentally, physically, everything – I can’t tell you how much I love everybody that I have interacted with. It is so good to know people understand me.
“Tiffany has made it all about Jack and me. Even now, with the telehealth. It is amazing. It has been so helpful. I text her and in seconds, she calls me. There are certain people that need to come into your life. Thank you is not enough for her.”
“I don’t know what we would have done without VA.”
Pundai is one of hundreds who prove that no caregiver is alone, thanks to the VA Caregiver Support Program. The program goes beyond local borders and serves caregivers nationwide. Caregivers can give a ring to the Caregiver Support Hotline at 855.260.3274 or join the monthly live calls. There is support. All you have to do is ask.
Jean King adds, “We are just so grateful for VA. Without them, I don’t know what we would have done. You plan your life and it does not always go as planned. It is so nice to know we have this. You can, too.”
There are a lot of good reasons humans have gone to war in the past few centuries, believe it or not. Halting or preventing genocides, declaring independence to give oppressed people a homeland, and of course, defending ones homeland from an invader would all be good reasons to take up arms against another country.
These wars were none of those things, and are presented in no particular order.
It is, admittedly, a nice bucket.
The War of the Oaken Bucket
While the War of the Oaken Bucket sounds more like a college gameday rivalry, it was really a 1325 war between two Italian states, Bologna and Modena, that killed 2,000 people. It was really a proxy war between supporters of the Holy Roman Empire and the Papacy and before I get too far into the details here, what you really need to know is that it was started because some Modenese soldiers took the bucket from Bologna’s town well.
Even dumber is lopsided victory the Modenese won in defending that bucket. At the Battle of Zappolino, some 32,000 Bolognese marched on 7,000 Modenese – and were chased from the battlefield.
Surprisingly unrelated to the ongoing debate over Canadian bacon being real bacon.
The Pig War
This is a war that could have devolved into a much larger conflict, which makes it even stupider than it sounds. On San Juan Island, between the mainland United States and Canada’s Vancouver Island, was shared by both American settlers and British employees of the Hudson Bay Company. While the island was “shared” in practice, both countries had a claim to the northwestern island and it created a lot of tensions in the region. Those tensions boiled over in June 1859 when an American farmer shot a British boar for tearing up his potato crop. Arguments ensued and the farmer was almost arrested by the British.
The U.S. Army got wind of the situation and sent Capt. George Pickett (later of Pickett’s Charge fame) with a company of soldiers, who promptly declared the island American property. Of course the British responded by sending in its trump card, the Royal Navy. For weeks, it appeared the standoff would spark a greater war between the two powers, but cooler heads prevailed and the sides took joint custody of the island.
War of the Stray Dog
Another war that is exactly what it sounds like, except this one really did cause a number of deaths, as well as a 1925 fight that saw 20,000 Greeks meet 10,000 Bulgarians on the battlefield. The catalyst was a dog that had gotten away from a Greek soldier. The soldier chased after the dog, even though it ran across the Greek border with Bulgaria. Bulgarian border guards, seeing a Greek soldier running through their territory, of course shot him.
The Greeks then began an invasion of Bulgaria, occupying border towns and preparing to shell and take the city off Petrich before the League of Nations intervened, negotiating a cease fire.
It is time you know EO, the Army’s Equal Opportunity program. With service members hailing from every state, the Army proudly represents the diverse makeup that is America. The EO program was born out of a need to help create better and more equal opportunities as well as representation since the 1970s..
Today, the program offers two main pathways for soldiers to file reports. The program is considered to be a commander’s program as ultimately, the responsibility to cultivate a positive culture within the unit falls on them. Reporting, consequences, and outcomes ultimately depend on the severity of the offense, findings of the investigation, and decisions made by command.
According to Army Regulation 690-12, the focus of the EO Program is, “…to prohibit discrimination in employment because of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, reprisal, disability, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, status as a parent, or other impermissible bases, and to promote the full realization of EO through a continuing diversity and inclusion program.” Equality, fairness, and justice are the flagship standards of the program with the goal that no soldier should be treated unjustly based on their race, color, creed, sexual orientation, and gender.
The EO program offers two different forms to report a complaint- formal and informal. Both processes strive to resolve the issue in a better than satisfactory manner no matter which route a soldier decides to file. As the names allude to, the degree of the complaint can be handled in an informal (less severe) or formal (more severe) manner. Ultimately, the decision of which type of complaint to file is up to the soldier filing the complaint.
This compliant process requires no paperwork and can generally, be categorized as the process for “minor” infractions which can be quickly resolved through immediate action at the company level. The company Equal Opportunity Leader (EOL) or Equal Opportunity Advisor (EOA), soldiers holding the certification from the Army’s Equal Opportunity course, will investigate the complaint to the fullest degree. This process would typically include- receiving the complaint from both parties (the accuser and the accused) as well as following up with any parties who may have been witness to the act(s) to provide insight.
Every attempt will be made to ensure that the soldier making the report is satisfied with the outcome and that the accused soldier receives just and fair punishment. The EOL will both ask and suggest a fair and swift course of action to ensure the issue is resolved and will not happen again.
If the accused soldier continues the behavior which prompted the informal complaint or the soldier making the report feels the incident is serious enough to warrant an investigation with documentation, this may begin the process of filing a formal complaint.
Master Sgt. Kenneethia Kennard, 455th Air Expeditionary Wing equal opportunity director, briefs Master Sgt. Eric Stuhan, 438 AEW first sergeant, and Master Sgt. Christine David-Wood, 504th Expeditionary Air Support Operations Group, first sergeant, during a site visit to Kabul, Afghanistan. U.S. Army photo
As the name implies, a formal complaint is not able to be handled at the lowest level and may involve Military Police, JAG, command leadership and other agencies ensuring the safety and wellbeing of soldiers.
While an informal complaint is handled verbally, a formal complaint must be documented and involves interviews of all Soldiers involved in the incident. A formal complaint must also follow a strict timeline. Soldiers have 60 days from the date of the incident to file a complaint and all soldiers involved in the reporting and decision-making process are also held to strict timelines that vary from as short as 3 days to as long as 45. Attempts made to file a formal complaint after 60 days will only be pursued if authorized by the commander. Investigations will result in either a founded or unfounded outcome which will then prompt further action.
The responsibility to protect the integrity of the force ultimately rests on each individual soldier. While issues of discrimination still exist, the organization continues to make strides to promote and encourage diversity and to empower leaders to combat inequality which has no place within the military.
Members of the military who have long been barred by law from collecting damages from the federal government for injuries off the battlefield will finally be able to do so after Congress stepped in to amend the law.
The legislation represents progress for injured service members – but still limits who among them may press for damages.
Up until the end of World War II, the U.S. government enjoyed “sovereign immunity,” a vestige of British rule when “the king could do no wrong” and the government could not be sued.
But in 1946, faced with the prospect of World War II veterans returning from the front only to be hit and killed in an accident on base, Congress enacted the Federal Tort Claims Act. Congress felt that it was only fair to allow people to recover damages for personal injury from the government when the government was negligent or irresponsible about caring for people’s safety.
There were exceptions. Certainly Congress could not allow a soldier – or his family – to sue the government if, due to the orders of a superior officer, he were wounded or killed in battle. So the Federal Tort Claims Act prohibited suits by soldiers or sailors injured due to wartime combatant activities.
But later rulings limited servicemembers’ rights even more, in ways not suggested by the language of the act.
The first of these was a case filed by the surviving family members of a soldier. Lt. Rudolph Feres was a decorated World War II veteran who had parachuted into Normandy on D-Day. He survived that battle and others through the end of the war only to return to the U.S. and die in a barracks fire caused, according to his wife, by the explosion of a boiler known to be faulty.
Feres’ widow also claimed that no fire guard had been posted on the fateful night. Joined to the case were two soldiers who claimed malpractice by army surgeons.
The court decided that the existing benefits scheme for military deaths and injuries was ample and denied the claims. To the further chagrin of the Feres family, the controversial ruling took on the name the “Feres Doctrine.”
Cases sustaining Feres expressed the concern that allowing civilian courts to intervene in cases of this type would interfere with military discipline. Thus, the court declared that soldiers could not sue the government for damages for negligently caused injuries “incident to service,” even if they did not involve combat.
All of these rulings meant that anyone who had the misfortune of getting hurt while on active duty, even if it wasn’t in combat, could never sue for damages – while if the same person had gotten hurt on the job as a civilian, they would have had that right.
This disfavored treatment for servicemen was underscored in the aftermath of the space shuttle Challenger explosion, during which families of civilian crew members were able to file lawsuits against the government, but the family of the pilot who was a Navy captain on active duty could not.
The Feres Doctrine were therefore seen by many as unfair. Others, like the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, criticized Feres because of its departure from the plain language of the Federal Tort Claims Act, which limits the exclusion to wartime “combatant activities.” Still others believe that Feres fails to hold the military accountable for the kind of mistakes for which others are required to pay damages.
The Feres Doctrine nevertheless has continued to hold sway, with the Supreme Court refusing to reconsider the doctrine as recently as May 2019. Justice Clarence Thomas, in a dissent from the court’s denial of certiorari in that case, Daniel v. United States, paraphrased Justice Scalia in stating that “Feres was wrongly decided and heartily deserves the widespread, almost universal criticism it has received.”
In 1950, speaking for the Supreme Court in the Feres case, Justice Robert Jackson admitted, “If we misinterpret the Act, at least Congress possesses a ready remedy.” That “ready remedy” finally came almost seventy years later, due to the persistence of a soldier suffering from terminal cancer.
Green Beret goes to Congress
Sergeant First Class Richard Stayskal is a former Green Beret and wounded Iraq veteran whose military health providers missed a 3-centimeter mass in one of his lungs on a CT scan.
After military physicians repeatedly attributed his health problems to asthma or pneumonia, Sgt. Stayskal learned from a civilian pulmonologist that he actually had stage 4 lung cancer. Sgt. Stayskal continues to receive treatment for his cancer, although he says it is deemed incurable.
But Sgt. Stayskal was barred by Feres from pursuing a malpractice case in court.
So Stayskal enlisted the support of California Congresswoman Jackie Speier, a Democrat, who introduced a bill to allow current and former service personnel to bring medical malpractice claims against government health providers.
A compromise version of the bill was incorporated into the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2020. Adding the bill into a “must-pass” piece of defense legislation assured its passage. It was passed by both houses of Congress with overwhelming bipartisan support. President Trump signed the measure into law on Dec. 20, 2019.
Cup only half-full
The new law does not cover everyone. A lawsuit like the original Feres case, by the survivors of someone who perished in a barracks fire, would still not be allowed. That’s because the legislation only allows claims by those who allege to have been victims of medical malpractice by military health care providers.
And claims cannot be brought in federal court, as is normally the case under the Federal Tort Claims Act. Rather, they must be pursued through a Defense Department administrative procedure under regulations that the Department of Defense is required to draft.
Research suggests that most claimants don’t care whether their cases are decided through a court, an administrative procedure or even mediation. Rather, they care about having a respectful hearing in which a third party has carefully considered their views, concerns and evidence.
Those who worked to pass this legislation will likely scrutinize the Defense Department’s regulations and procedures to see whether such a forum has been provided.
Opium production in Afghanistan dropped by 29 percent in 2017, the United Nations anti-drug agency reported, a decrease attributed mainly to a severe drought.
The United Nations Office for Drugs and Crime (UNODC) said in its annual reportreleased Nov. 19, 2018, that the drop — from 9,000 tons to 6,400 tons — coincided with a decrease in the amount of land area being used for cultivating the crop.
The Afghanistan Opium Survey, which is jointly compiled by the UN agency and the Afghan Ministry of Counternarcotics, said a total of 263,000 hectares of land was used for opium cultivation, representing a decline of 20 percent compared to 2017.
“Despite the decreases, the overall area under opium-poppy cultivation is the second-highest ever recorded. This is a clear challenge to security and safety for the region and beyond,” said UNODC Executive Director Yury Fedotov.
Afghan National Police officers, along with U.S. Special Operations Soldiers, discovered 600 pounds of opium May 7, 2009, during a cordon and search operation of a known Taliban safe house, collection center and trauma center in Babaji Village, in Afghanistan’s Helmand province.
(Photo by Cpl. Sean K. Harp)
The report said the farm-gate prices of dry opium — which fell for the second consecutive year to an average of per kilogram, the lowest level since 2004 — may have contributed to less cultivation of opium poppy.
Eradication of opium poppy has also dropped by 46 percent in 2018 to 406 hectares, compared to 750 hectares last year.
Ten of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces are considered poppy free, unchanged from 2017.
But North Korea does not sell, export, or use such nuclear devices on anyone because if they did, the consequences would be phenomenal.
“North Korea sells all kinds of weapons” to African countries, Cuba, and its Asian neighbors, according to Omar Lamrani, a senior military analyst at Stratfor, a geopolitical consulting firm.
“The most dangerous aspects of that trade has been with Syria and Iran in terms of missiles and nuclear reactors they helped the Syrians build before the Israelis knocked that out with an airstrike,” said Lamrani. “The most frightening is the potential sale of nuclear warheads.”
With some of the harshest sanctions on earth imposed on North Korea, it’s easy to imagine the nation attempting to raise money through illegal arms sales to the US’s enemies, which could even include non-state actors, like al Qaeda or ISIS.
While procuring the materials and manufacturing a nuclear weapon would represent an incredible technical and logistical hardships for a non-state actor, a single compact warhead could be in the range of capabilities for a non-state actor like Hezbollah, said Lamrani.
Furthermore, the US’s enemies would see a huge strategic benefit from having or demonstrating a nuclear capability, but with that benefit would come a burden.
If US intelligence caught wind of any plot to arm a terror group, it would make every possible effort to rip that weapon from the group’s hands before they could use it. News of a nuclear-armed terror group would fast-track a global response and steamroll whatever actor took on such a bold stance.
And not only would the terror group catch hell, North Korea would, too.
“North Korea understands if they do give nuclear weapons, it could backfire on them,” said Lamrani. “If a warhead explodes, through nuclear forensics and isotope analysts, you can definitely trace it back to North Korea.”
At that point, North Korea would go from being an adversarial state that developed nuclear weapons as a means of regime security to a state that has enabled and abetted nuclear terrorism or proliferation.
This would change the calculus of how the world deals with North Korea, and make a direct attack much more likely.
Right now, North Korea has achieved regime security with long-range nuclear arms. If they sold those arms to someone else, they would effectively risk it all.
It turns out a massive flood control project is an excellent way to unearth dinosaurs. At least, that’s what happened back in 1993 in Coralville, Iowa.
In 1993, Coralville, Iowa, experienced 28 days of rain. More than 17,000 cubic feet of water flowed over a spillway, wiping out the state’s yearly crop of soybeans and corn. Roads were obliterated, people’s lives were in jeopardy, and the city was literally drowning.
The Coralville Dam was built in the 1950s by the US Army Corps of Engineers to help provide flood protection for the Iowa River Valley to the south. It was named after the city, which had weirdly received its name from the ancient fossilized reefs that stud the river’s limestone.
Once the rains stopped and the citizens of the city could step outside without being swept away, the Corps returned to the site to assess the damage and explore the choices for reconstructing the dam. What they discovered shocked everyone.
The Corps discovered that the floods eroded five feet of limestone from the edge of the spillway. This created a gorge and unearthed several fossil beds, most of which were about 375 million years old. The fossils were mainly marine creatures that had once lived in the sea that used to cover Iowa. Because the Corps discovered them, all the sea creatures immediately became the property of the US Army.
That’s not to say that the Army will be opening a theme park filled with these fossils any time soon, but it’s pretty exciting to think that the Army has done its part to help advance the field of paleontology.
The survey archaeologist for the Corps, Nancy Brighton, said that the collection spans the entire paleontological record. So anything relating to animals and the natural world that existed before humans are included in that.
Because the Corps of Engineers manages more than 8 million acres of land across the United States, finds like the one in Iowa aren’t super uncommon. In fact, the Corps asl owns one of the most intact T. rex skeletons ever found. More on that later.
All thanks in part to the Flood Control Act, signed by Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1936 that decreed the need for dams, levees, and dikes all across the country. But before construction could begin on those early-iteration dams, the Corps had to complete a thorough survey. Those surveys almost always exposed ancient fossil beds.
In fact, it’s assumed that most of what American archeologists have discovered are thanks in part to the efforts of the Corps. All of the hydropower and flood control projects that started back in the 1950s certainly paved the way for new discoveries.
The greatest of all of these discoveries didn’t happen way back, though. It was just a few decades ago, in 1988, on Labor Day. That morning, Kathy Wankel, a hiker, and amateur fossil collector, was trekking through Montana’s Fort Peck Reservoir when something caught her eye.
At first, she thought it was a shoulder blade pushing up through the rocky soil. The lighting was perfect, according to Wankel, which allowed her to see the webby pattern of bone marrow, and that’s when she knew she’d discovered something big.
And by big, of course, we mean enormous. Wankel and her husband had stumbled on the remains of a T. rex thought to have roamed the Montana area some 66 million years ago. The discovery that Wankel and her husband made was one of just eight at the time. Since then, about 50 other skeletons have been discovered.
It took nearly a year to figure out who owned the land where the skeleton was found. At long last, the Corps began to dig. It took several years and a large team to unearth the 38-foot skeleton weighing in at nearly six tons. The most astonishing part? It was almost one hundred percent complete, making it the first specimen to be discovered with small lower arm bones fully intact.
Since 2017, the T. rex has called the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History home. The Corps of Engineers has agreed to a 50-year loan to ensure that all Americans have a chance to see it – when the world’s not locked down with COVID, at least.