After serving in Iraq, Army veteran Casey Tylek created a Tumblr blog that helps veterans during the transition to civilian life.
Tylek said he was inspired to begin the page, called justWarthings, after feeling disconnected from his peers at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst because of his military experience.
“At the beginning of every semester it was always the same thing,” Tylek told We Are The Mighty. “Kids would ask if I was in ROTC or was a veteran, and [about] what I did and where I was. Without fail, a student who [had] just met me would ask with wide eyes and a big smile if I killed anyone. I didn’t know how to respond.”
In his view, most students — having seen popular movies and video games like “Black Hawk Down” and “Call of Duty” — expected to hear a yes from Tylek, who served in Baghdad with the 101st Airborne Division in 2009.
“They view our soldiers [as] robotic killing machines who are untouchable in combat,” Tylek said. “And they want that to be you so they can ask all the gory details and raise you to hero status in their minds.”
justWarthings is modeled after the viral internet page justgirlythings, another Tumblr blog that uses stock photos and overlayed text to communicate themes that are supposedly universal to teenage girls. After his own experience in combat, Tylek realized how unrealistic civilian views of warfare can be, and he decided his blog could provide a wake-up call.
“I hope people see what war really is — a massive waste of life and resources — a messy, scary, horrific thing,” Tylek said. “And yet, I hope they see a little about why we do it, the bond that we have with our fellow soldiers is a lot of times closer than the bond that we have with our own families.”
Tylek also told WATM that he created the blog in memory of his best friend, Spc. Joe Kenny, who died while serving in Mosul.
Check out more of the powerful collection of images from justWarthings:
Britain’s Special Air Service is full of elite special operators who know how to get the job done. In World War II, one of their tasks was breaking the back of the Luftwaffe in North Africa, and they did so in spectacular fashion.
The top-tier warriors of the SAS bolted a bunch of weapons, sometimes as many as 10 Vickers machine guns with a .50-cal. kicker, to Willy Jeeps and then conducted lightning raids through German airfields, hitting grounded planes with incendiary rounds.
Yeah, yeah, yeah… Enemy artillery and bayonet duels and concentrated machine gun fire are all terrifying and all, but those are to be expected, and most people can develop fears of those things after watching a few movies about Vietnam. But actual service members have a lot of fears that aren’t exactly intuitive.
These are the little things that make their lives crappy, and usually for dumb reasons.
Believe it or not, getting smaller, more efficient, and easier-to-handle batteries is actually a big deal for soldiers. We know it sounds boring.
(USARDEC Tom Faulkner)
Changing batteries can be the end
It’s one of those things that’s hard to explain to civilians, or really even to explain to troops that have never relied on radios in the field. For all of you, here’s the footnotes version: SINCGARS is a radio system in wide use with the U.S. military that relies on a bunch of information that has to be uploaded from another device. But if you take too long to change batteries in combat, it will drop all that information and it will need to be re-uploaded.
Re-uploaded from a device you probably don’t have in the field. This can make a low battery embarrassing in exercises, but terrifying in combat. You’re essentially faced with, “Hey, if you screw up this battery swap, you will spend the rest of this battle cut off from the comms network, incapable of receiving timely orders and warnings or calling for help. Good luck.”
Radio operators have to practice this skill like the world’s highest-stakes game of Operation.
Aw, crap, did someone leave the tent poles off of packing list v9.3?
(U.S. Army National Guard Staff Sgt. Gregory Camacho)
Is this version of the packing list really the final one?
No matter how many times you check whether something is on the final packing list, it’s virtually guaranteed that you’re going to end up in the field at some point and be asked for a piece of equipment only to find it missing. That’s because you had packing list v7.2 but the final one was v8.3, but your platoon went with v6.4 because the company XO said you have special needs.
If you’ve been around a while, you know the real essentials to bring, so whatever you don’t have will probably result in a slap on the wrist and won’t affect the mission. But new soldiers are always sweating that something they didn’t know to bring will be essential. Forgot your protractor, huh? Well, you’re now nearly useless for land nav. Good work.
There’s a 20 percent chance this heartwarming moment will be broken up when a junior airman gets his junk stuck in the wall of a local bar because he thought it was a glory hole.
(U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Peter Thompson)
This is a good weekend. Someone is definitely going to ruin it.
Even when you’re relaxing on the weekends or holidays, there’s always a serious risk that everything is about to go sideways with one phone call. Someone gets too drunk and fights a cop? You’re getting recalled into formation. Too many cigarette butts outside the barracks? Come on in. Someone isn’t answering their phone because they’re worried about all the recall formations? Guess what company is being called back in?
Seriously, this whole deal is like the monster from It Follows, except you can’t even delay it with sex.
This is a photo of an airborne operation briefing that we swapped in because, legally, we can’t risk showing you pictures as boring as SAEDA briefings when some of you might be operating heavy machinery.
(U.S. Army Spc. Henry Villarama)
Surprise formation? Crap, here’s a new training requirement.
The worst nightmare comes when you’re just minding your own business, carving phallic symbols into old equipment behind the company headquarters. That’s when you’ll get the mass text that you have to report to the chapel/base theater.
And if you’re not due for training on the Sexual Harassment Assault Response Program, Suicide Awareness, Subversion and Espionage Directed Against the US Army, Anti-Terrorism Level 1, or Citibank Annual Training for Cardholders, then you probably have a new annual training requirement you have to show up for (By the way, every one of those is real.)
Good luck in Magnetic North Pole Drift Awareness Training. Be sure to sign the attendance roster.
Yay, getting to stand around in squares in a different country! So exciting!
(U.S. Army Spc. Gage Hull)
Any acronym that ends in X probably sucks (Cs aren’t great either)
CSTX, MRX, CPX, they all suck. ENDEX is cool. But if you get called into SIFOREXs or NATEXs, forget about it. There goes weeks or even months of your life. SINKEXs will monopolize your time, but at least there’s usually a nice, big explosion you get to see.
Oh, quick translations — those are Combat Support Training Exercise, Mission Readiness Exercise, End of Exercise, Silent Force Exercise, National Terrorism Exercise, and Sink Exercise. Basically, if you hear an acronym with an X in it that you’ve never heard before, there’s a good chance you’re going to spend a few weeks in the field practicing something you know how to do.
This message was brought to you by the letter ‘C.’ ‘C’ is just glad that you hate it a little less next to ‘X,’ because ‘C’ usually gets the blame thanks to things like JRTC, NTC, and JMRC (the Joint Readiness Training Center, National Training Center, and Joint Multinational Readiness Center, respectfully).
Essentially that means the Army now has an office with the authority to fast track technologies through the hulking, bloated, wasteful defense acquisition system that tried and failed three times to pick out something as simple as a new handgun.
Even vital systems can take 10 years to reach the field, which has greatly hamstrung the Army and made their tactics stale, predictable, and therefore vulnerable.
“Russia goes into the Ukraine and Russia goes into Syria [and] we realize that they’ve been watching us and learning from us and adapting. So we see some areas where we want to have a more pronounced ‘overmatch,”‘ Army Secretary Eric Fanning told Bloomberg News in an interview.
Fanning told Bloomberg’s Anthony Capaccio that the office would focus on “improvements to cyber operations, electronic warfare, survivability and GPS-enabled positioning, navigation and timing.”
As Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Work said of the US armed forces in 2015, “our greatest advantage is the vibrant technological community in the United States, and the vibrant technological communities in our defense industrial base.”
“There’s no denying we have a troubled acquisition past,” Fanning told Bloomberg. “We are bringing all elements of the Army together,” he said of the Rapid Capabilities Office.
“We’re serious about keeping our edge, so we need to make changes in how we get soldiers the technology they need,” Fanning said in a US Army release. “The Army Rapid Capabilities Office is a major step forward, allowing us to prioritize cross-domain, integrated capabilities in order to confront emerging threats and advance America’s military dominance.”
As weaponeers, budgeteers, and lawmakers wage their annual death match over the defense budget, here’s some input from the margins of Fight Club. And yes, I know the first and second rules of Fight Club. But no one obeys them inside the Beltway, and they yield to the seventh and eighth rules anyway.
It’s tough to winnow the U.S. Navy’s priorities list down to five weapon systems. However, I applied a secret method to come up with the definitive, incontrovertible list of the Top 5 Weapons the U.S. Navy Needs Now. The list employs such metrics as a system’s national-level importance, its capacity to multiply the fleet’s offensive and defensive fighting power, and its ability to exploit enduring enemy weaknesses at manageable cost to the United States. This is science, remember. Don’t be a science denier!!!
One caveat: exotic weaponry like lasers and railguns is conspicuously absent from this list. These prospective game-changers will doubtless qualify—once they stop hovering along the frontiers of science fiction and start fulfilling their promise at fleet air and missile defense. It feels a wee bit premature to jump on that bandwagon—the potential of ray guns and other golly-gee armaments notwithstanding. Now, onward. In reverse order:
5. Offensive minelayers. We make much of the U.S. Navy’s vulnerability to sea mines, but rivals are acutely vulnerable as well. As mine-warfare expert Scott Truver aptly notes, mine countermeasures is an orphan in want of a champion. Offensive mine warfare is an orphan of an orphan. That’s a shame, as the option of closing straits, harbors, and other narrow seas at low cost could come in handy in a hostofcontingencies. Manifold airborne, surface, and subsurface platforms can lay mines. Mine warfare should find its champion soonest—and provide that champion with the implements to make life tough for prospective foes.
4. Long-range combat aircraft. We may exaggerate the range problem, whereby shore-based aircraft can smite aircraft-carrier strike groups long before these groups close within reach of enemy shores. No one assumed carrier task forces would pound away at the Japanese home islands during World War II while remaining safely out of harm’s way. U.S. forces had to fight their way into the theater, wresting control of sea and sky from Japan before exploiting that control to strike at the island empire.
Still, long range opens up new tactical and operational vistas for American commanders while attenuating the effectiveness of enemy counterbattery fire. Maximum effective firing range isn’t the same as maximum firing range. Weapons typically start to lose accuracy at extreme range. The capacity to operate around the outer limits of, say, Chinese anti-access weaponry would buttress deterrence in peacetime and combat power in wartime—a net bonus for U.S. commanders.
Long range also lets airmen turn geography to advantage. If U.S. Navy and Marine warbirds can operate from temporary “lilypad” airfields erected on islands around the Asian periphery, they can convert these islands into unsinkable—though also immobile—aircraft carriers. Let’s harness maritime geography for operational gain.
3. More attack submarines. This one may seem like a cop-out, but the undersea fleet desperately needs more attack boats. Joseph Stalin isn’t one of my go-to sources of strategic wisdom, but he was correct to note that quantity boasts a quality all its own. A simple differential equation tells the tale: Cold War-era Los Angeles-class subs are being retired faster than new-build Virginia-class boats replace them. As a result the submarine fleet may dwindle to as few as 41 boats in the coming years. That may sound like a lot, but under the prevailing maintenance and training cycle, it means commanders can count on something like 28 boats at any time…to police the entire globe and face down aggression.
That’s a serious shortfall. Like mine countermeasures, antisubmarine warfare is an enduring weakness of potential antagonists like China’s navy. By all means let’s build more Virginias. Or, let’s go back to the U.S. Navy’s conventional submarining past. Japan’s navy operates a fleet of diesel boats acclaimed the world’s finest. They’re eminently suitable for patrol grounds in crucial theaters like, well, Asia. To add numbers of hulls, why not buy some of these relatively inexpensive craft and use them to constitute a permanent, forward-deployed allied squadron alongside Japanese boats. Let’s buy American—and Japanese.
2. Modern anti-ship cruise missiles. Our navy suffers from a severe deficit of cruise-missile firepower. Cruise missiles of the anti-ship variety, I mean. The navy ditched an anti-ship variant of the Tomahawk cruise missile two decades ago, going all-in on land attack, while the elderly Harpoon missile finds itself outranged by virtually every serious foe out there. That means missile-armed enemy ships, subs, and planes can lob missiles at U.S. naval task forces long before American units can reply. U.S. forces will have to close to missile range under fire, in all likelihood taking losses as they do. That’s a perilous position for any fleet—and one that demands to be remedied.
Surface-fleet chieftains are saying the right things. They’ve started talking about “distributed lethality,” meaning arming as many ships as possible—not just cruisers and destroyers but amphibious transports, and even logistics vessels—for defensive and offensive purposes. A fine aspiration—provided we have something to arm surface vessels, subs, aircraft and even bodies of Marines ashore with. Distributed lethality is a worthy concept. Whether it’s a neo-Tomahawk anti-ship missile, a newfangled long-range anti-ship missile, or something else, fielding a new “bird”—and thus righting the range imbalance—must top fleet designers’ tactical to-do list.
1. Replacement ballistic-missile subs. Which leaves top honors on this list to a replacement for navy’s aging Ohio-class nuclear-powered ballistic-missile submarines (SSBNs). Nuclear deterrence is a matter of national survival, and the undersea component of the U.S. “second-strike” capability remains its most survivable—and thus credible—component. SSBNs are strategic assets of utmost importance.
Small wonder top navy leaders have designated the replacement “boomer” now on the drawing board the nation’s foremost shipbuilding priority. They have warned, moreover, that all other procurements may have to yield to submarine construction unless Congress funds the new SSBNs through a special account outside the normal shipbuilding budget. Yet anchoring the nuclear deterrent is that critical. That makes the Ohio successor #1 on my—and probably anyone’s—list of U.S. Navy acquisitions.
“One of the soldiers of the Islamic State attacked a number of crusaders on a street in New York City,” said an article in the group’s al-Naba weekly newspaper, according to the SITE Intelligence Group.
Sayfullo Saipov, 29, an immigrant from Uzbekistan, has been charged with terrorism in connection with the Oct. 31 attack in which he allegedly used a rented pickup truck to mow down bicyclists and pedestrians on a mile-long stretch of bike path near where the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center once stood.
Police said Saipov appeared to have followed very closely instructions IS has disseminated online on how to stage such truck attacks.
IS’s embrace of Saipov came after US President Donald Trump repeatedly called for a death sentence for Saipov on Nov. 2, At the same time, Trump appeared to rule out a sending him to the US military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in a series of tweets on Twitter.
NYC terrorist was happy as he asked to hang ISIS flag in his hospital room. He killed 8 people, badly injured 12. SHOULD GET DEATH PENALTY!
Prosecutors in presenting their case against Saipov highlighted evidence that he sympathized with IS. Prosecutors have not said he acted alone, but New York’s governor and other authorities have said they believe it was a “lone wolf” attack inspired by IS.
Court documents said the Uzbek immigrant had kept thousands of IS propaganda photos and videos on his cell phone, some showing gruesome executions of IS prisoners.
Questioned in his hospital bed, Saipov said he had been inspired by IS videos that he watched on his cellphone, and began plotting an attack about a year ago, FBI agent Amber Tyree said in court papers.
In the past few years, IS online posts have exhorted followers to use vehicles, knives, or other readily available means of killing people in their home countries.
England, France, Sweden, Spain, and Germany are among the countries which have all seen similar deadly vehicle attacks since mid-2016, often by suspects that police said were followers of IS.
Acquaintances of Saipov have told RFE/RL that he appeared to be radicalized only after leaving Uzbekistan and moving to the United States in 2010.
While embracing Saipov as an adherent of its extreme brand of Islam, IS provided no evidence that the group was directly responsible for the New York attack. Its claims of responsibility for previous mass killings have not always been borne out by evidence.
Intelligence officials have said that as IS has rapidly lost territory it once controlled in Iraq and Syria this year, it has put more effort into trying to inspire and sponsor attacks overseas.
“The grace of Allah, the operation instilled fear in crusader America, prompting them to increase security measures and intensify actions against immigrants to America,” IS said in the al-Naba article, according to SITE.
U.S. intelligence agencies are evaluating the respective Russian and Chinese capabilities to survive a nuclear war, as well as those of the United States.
Congress has directed the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and U.S. Strategic Command, through the National Defense Authorization Act of the Fiscal Year 2017, to report on Russian and Chinese “leadership survivability, command and control, and continuity of government programs and activities” in the event of a nuclear strike.
The directive was pushed forward by Rep. Michael Turner (R-Ohio).
The U.S. “must understand how China and Russia intend to fight a war and how their leadership will command and control a potential conflict. This knowledge is pivotal to our ability to deter the threat,” Turner told Bloomberg.
Russia and China “have invested considerable effort and resources into understanding how we fight, including how to interfere with our leadership’s communication capabilities,” he added.
“We must not ignore gaps in our understanding of key adversary capabilities,” he concluded.
The intelligence review is required to identify “which facilities various senior political and military leaders of each respective country are expected to operate out of during crisis and wartime,” “location and description of above-ground and underground facilities important to the political and military leadership survivability,” and “key officials and organizations of each respective country involved in managing and operating such facilities, programs, and activities.”
“Our experts are drafting an appropriate response,” Navy Captain Brook DeWalt, a spokesman for U.S. Strategic Command, told Bloomberg.
“We need to strengthen the military potential of strategic nuclear forces, especially with missile complexes that can reliably penetrate any existing and prospective missile defense systems,” Russian President Vladimir Putin said in December. He said that Russian forces should be able to “neutralize any military threat.”
China should “build more strategic nuclear arms and accelerate the deployment of the DF-41 intercontinental ballistic missile,” China’s nationalist Global Times said in December.
Last week, Chinese reports indicated that China had deployed its nuclear-capable DF-41s in response to President Donald Trump’s “provocative remarks.”
The request predates Trump’s election; however, it appears consistent with his intentions for enhancing the power of the U.S. military.
“The United States must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes,” Trump tweeted in late December.
Trump instructed Secretary of Defense General James Mattis to “initiate a new Nuclear Posture Review to ensure that the United States nuclear deterrent is modern, robust, flexible, resilient, ready, and appropriately tailored to deter 21st-century threats and reassure our allies” Friday.
At the same time, Trump hopes that he can reshape relations with both China and Russia.
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The screams of a fellow soldier trapped inside his armored vehicle pierced through the radio.
Apparently surrounded by the enemy with no more ammunition, the soldier cried for help saying his crew had all been killed.
But with his radio keyed open and no one able to talk back to him, then-Spc. 4 Dave Garrod and others in Bravo Troop, 3rd Squadron, 4th Cavalry Regiment, could only listen to the desperate pleas.
“It was a knee knocker,” Garrod recalled as his 25th Infantry Division unit raced down to Tan Son Nhut Air Base, which was under siege by enemy forces. “I had no idea what we were driving into.”
On Jan. 30, 1968, the Vietnam War escalated as enemy forces launched surprise attacks during the country’s New Year holiday.
Then-Spc. 5 Dwight Birdwell, middle, seen on top of a tank during the Vietnam War. Birdwell and other Soldiers with the 25th Infantry Division’s 3rd Squadron, 4th Cavalry Regiment helped defend Tan Son Nhut Air Base in a Tet Offensive attack Jan. 31, 1968.
About 85,000 Viet Cong and North Vietnamese army fighters rushed across the border to attack over 100 cities and towns in southern Vietnam in an attempt to break a stalemate in the war.
Weeks of intense fighting ensued causing heavy losses on both sides.
Before they could repel many of the attacks, thousands of U.S. and South Vietnamese troops would die. Tens of thousands of enemy fighters were also killed.
While not largely deemed a victory for the enemy forces, which suffered a greater toll, the attacks did trigger many in America to rethink U.S. involvement in the protracted war.
Tan Son Nhut
One of the enemy’s main targets was Tan Son Nhut, a key airbase near Saigon where the Military Assistance Command Vietnam and the South Vietnamese air force were headquartered.
After reports of Viet Cong fighters attempting to invade the airbase on Jan. 31, 1968, soldiers with 3rd Squadron’s Charlie Troop responded to the call.
As they drove toward the airbase in the early morning hours, then-Spc. 5 Dwight Birdwell remembers seeing no civilians along the highway — typically a bad omen.
Photos of Dwight Birdwell before he deployed to Vietnam.
Birdwell had seen attacks before during his tour, he said, but they were mainly mines or other small arms weapons fired by a hidden enemy. This day would be different.
When they arrived just outside the airbase, his unit’s column of tanks and armored personnel carriers suddenly stopped.
As if on cue, thousands of tracer rounds began to pepper the vehicles in front of his tank from both sides of the highway. Enemy fighters then jumped onto the vehicles, shooting inside of them.
“All hell broke loose,” Birdwell recalled.
A bullet then struck Birdwell’s tank commander right through the head and he collapsed inside the tank. Birdwell pulled him out, he said, and passed him over the side for medical treatment, which kept him alive.
Birdwell took command of the tank. By that time, all the vehicles ahead of him had been wiped out or were unable to return gunfire. Enemy fighters also set some ablaze after they failed to drive off with them.
“There was a lot of confusion and pandemonium,” he said.
His tank fired its 90 mm cannon toward the enemy while he shot off rounds from the .50-caliber machine gun to hold the enemy back.
Birdwell’s unit was stuck in the middle of an enemy invasion as hundreds of fighters had already crossed the highway and penetrated the airbase to his left. On his right side, even more fighters — some just 50 feet away — prepared to join the assault.
“They were getting close,” he recalled. “I could see their faces quite well.”
Around the same time he ran out of ammunition, a U.S. helicopter was hit and made an emergency landing behind his tank.
Spc. 4 Dave Garrod, left, poses for a photo with Spc. 5 Ed McKenna and Spc. 4 Joe Carlton during their tour in the Vietnam War.
“I thought that this is unreal,” Birdwell said. “Somebody is filming a movie.”
He jumped down from the tank and ran toward the helicopter. Once there, he grabbed one of the helicopter’s M-60 machine guns the door gunners had been using and returned to his position.
After a few minutes of firing rounds at the enemy, something hit the machine gun — likely an enemy bullet. The impact, he said, sprayed shrapnel up into his face and chest.
With the M-60 now destroyed, Birdwell said he took cover in a nearby ditch. He and a few soldiers then grabbed some M-16 rifles and grenades and moved to a closer position behind a large tree.
There, they exchanged gunfire and tossed grenades over the road until the enemy started to fire a machine gun at them.
As the barrage of bullets cut into the tree, it sounded like a chainsaw chewing it down.
“We were in a very desperate situation,” he said.
Around that time, Garrod’s Bravo Troop began to roll into the area.
Soldiers in a different platoon within Charlie Troop also arrived to suppress the attack from inside the base.
“After pulling on line we started laying down fire,” Garrod recalled, “and trying to keep it as low as possible so as not to fire on Charlie Troop on the road.”
Garrod and other soldiers were then pulled away to help wounded crewmen near a textile factory from which the enemy had been commanding its attack.
Once there, he ran over to a tank that had been hit by a rocket-propelled grenade. Inside, he could see the tank’s loader who could not move due to his legs being seriously wounded.
“Being a small, skinny guy, I jumped down in the hatch and without thinking put him on my shoulders and stuck him up through the hatch,” he said.
Later that day, the intensity of the battle hit home for Garrod as he rested in the shade of his vehicle.
Dave Garrod, fifth from right, poses for a photo in front of a Vietnam War memorial near where the Tan Son Nhut Air Base attack occurred on Jan. 31, 1968.
He lifted his canteen up to take a drink when an awful smell overcame him.
“When I looked down on my flak jacket, there was a hunk of flesh from that loader,” he recalled. “It’s something that’s etched into your mind forever.”
Almost 20 soldiers from the squadron were killed and many more wounded as they defended the airbase that day. About two dozen South Vietnamese troops were also killed along with hundreds of enemy fighters.
Garrod earned an Army Commendation Medal with valor device for his actions and a Purple Heart in another mission a few days later. Birdwell earned a Silver Star and a Purple Heart.
The squadron was also awarded the Presidential Unit Citation.
Thirty years later, Garrod and other veterans traveled back to the site on the anniversary of the offensive as a way to find closure for what they saw that day.
They also visited a statue in a nearby park that honors those who were lost or suffered as a result of the battle.
Because of the devastation the war had caused, Garrod expected to see animosity on the faces of the Vietnamese people.
“Instead we found gracious, friendly people,” he said. “Even the veterans from the north whom we met … greeted us with hugs. It was very surprising. They had definitely moved on.”
Marine Corps boot camp is a slice of hell that turns civilians into modern-day Marines.
With constant physical training, screaming drill instructors, and so much close-order drill recruits eventually have dreams about it, spending 12 weeks at boot camp in Parris Island, South Carolina or San Diego, California can be difficult for most young people.
Having stepped off a bus and onto the yellow footprints at Parris Island on Sep. 3, 2002, one of those young people was me. While in hindsight, boot camp really wasn’t that bad, I thought then that it was the worst thing ever. While writing this post, I thought I would speak in general terms, but since my mother kept all my correspondence home, I figured I would go straight to the source: my original — and now-hilarious-to-read — letters back home.
Drill instructors are the worst.
Having a crazy person with veins popping out of their neck scream in your face and run around a barracks throwing stuff can be quite a shock to someone who was a civilian a week prior. Although I later learned to greatly respect my DI’s, I didn’t really like them at the beginning, as my first letter home showed.
“Our DI’s are complete motherf—king a–holes. There’s no other way to describe them,” I wrote, before including a great example: “Today they sprayed shaving cream and toothpaste ALL OVER the head and we had to clean it up. Yesterday, threw out all of our gear, had to change the racks, and sh– was flying.”
Sounds about right.
My recruiter totally lied to me.
It’s a running joke in the Marine Corps (and the greater military, really) that your recruiter probably lied to you. Maybe they didn’t lie to you per se, but they were selective with what they told you. One of my favorites was that “if I didn’t like my job as infantry, I could change it in two years.” That’s one of those not-totally-a-lie-but-far-fetched-truths.
In my initial letter, I took issue with my recruiters for telling me that drill instructors don’t ever get physical. Most of the time they won’t touch you, but that’s not exactly all the time.
“Oh, by the way, recruiters are lying bastards. They [the drill instructors] scream, swear a lot, and choke/push on a daily basis,” I wrote. (It was day three and I was of course exaggerating).
Mail takes forever to get there.
Getting mail at boot camp is a wonderful respite from the daily grind at boot camp, but letters are notoriously slow to arrive. In my letters home, I complained about mail being slow often, since I’d ask questions in my letters then get a response of answers and more questions from home, well after I was through that specific event in the training cycle.
“Sometimes I write more letters than everyone back home and I have way less time to do it,” I wrote in one letter.
The other recruits were terrible.
I’m sure they said the same thing about me. Put 60-80 people from completely different backgrounds and various regions of the United States and you’re probably going to have tension. Add drill instructors into the mix constantly stressing you out and it’s guaranteed.
Then of course, there’s the issue of the “recruit crud,” the nickname for the sickness that inevitably comes from being in such close proximity with all these different people.
Throughout my letters home, I complain of other recruits not yelling loud enough or running fast enough. “They don’t sound off and we are getting in trouble all the time,” I wrote. No doubt I was just echoing what the drill instructor has given us as a reason for why he was bringing us to the dreaded “pit.”
Getting “pitted” is the worst five minutes of your life.
Marine boot camp has two unique features constantly looming in the back of a recruit’s mind: the “pit” and the quarterdeck. The quarterdeck for recruits is the place at the front of the squad bay where they are taken and given “incentive training,” or I.T. — a nice term for pushups, jumping jacks, running-in-place, etc — for a few minutes if they do something wrong.
But for those times when it’s not just an individual problem — and more of a full platoon one — drill instructors take them to sand pits usually located near the barracks for platoon IT. Think of them as the giant sandboxes you played in as a kid, except this one isn’t fun. For extra fun, DI’s may play a game of “around the world,” where the platoon is run from one pit to another.
Col. Joseph Duckworth was one of the Air Force’s most skilled pilots. Although a flyer during World War II, he never saw combat behind the stick of any aircraft. Despite that lack of combat experience, he would go on to be one of the USAF’s most legendary pilots.
The reason for his fame stemmed from his technical knowledge, knowledge that allowed him to become the first person to fly into a hurricane, all the way to the eye, in a single-engine plane and live to tell about it. He did it all on a bet.
In 1941, flying in bad weather was hard. A lot of pilots died because they couldn’t actually use the instrument panel in the cockpit. This may sound insane by today’s standards, but according to Duckworth himself, even pilot trainers didn’t know the instruments.
Col. Duckworth joined the Army Air Corps in 1927 and became a civilian pilot shortly afterward. In 1940, he was recalled to active duty. He was immediately surprised and appalled at how new pilots were being trained before going off to war. It was almost suicidal.
“The first shock I received was the almost total ignorance of instrument flying throughout the Air Corps,” Duckworth said after the war. “Cadets were being given flight training as if there were no instruments and then directed to fly an aircraft across the Atlantic at night. Losses in combat were less than those sustained from ignorance of instrument flying alone.”
Duckworth, upon taking over training the Army Air Forces, implemented a system to train pilots on all instruments. Estimates say this training saved the lives of thousands of Air Force pilots worldwide and earned Duckworth the honorific title of “father of modern-day Air Force instrument flying.”
In 1943, Duckworth entered the world history books when he flew an AT-6 single-engine training aircraft into a hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico. Without permission from his superior officers on base, he took off from Bryant Field in Texas and flew right toward the eye of a category-1 hurricane.
The bet came on the morning of July 27, 1943 over coffee in the mess hall at Bryant Field. It turned out to be more of a bar bet. With a surprise hurricane on the way, the U.S. Army wanted to move its aircraft out of the storm’s path.
A visiting group of British pilots stationed at the base and taking instrument flying classes scoffed at the idea. The weather back home was often bad. Back in England, they flew in storms and their planes weathered the rains all the time. They laughed at the fragility of the American air forces in the face of the oncoming storm.
Then-Lt. Col. Duckworth took exception to their comments, so he bet the British aviators that he could take a single-engine trainer up, fly through the hurricane and come home with no issues. As the commander of Bryant Field, he knew he would be able to get a plane up, so long as no one above him knew what he was doing.
He got a navigator, Lt. Ralph O’Hair, and immediately took off toward the hurricane. As they flew through sheets of rain, Lt. O’Hair thought about what it might be like to parachute from an aircraft in the middle of a hurricane.
But Duckworth was as skilled as everyone thought, whether he could see out of the cockpit or not. Before they knew it, they were in the calm of the storm’s 10-mile-wide eye. After flying around for a while, they punched back into the storm itself and headed home.
When he came back to Bryant Field, he went right back up into the storm, taking a meteorologist with him, making history twice in the same day.