A lot of people died at the Alamo, especially considering it was a fortification that wasn’t supposed to be manned at all. It was only when Col. James Bowie arrived at the Alamo to remove the guns did they realize its strategic importance. Sadly, this didn’t translate into Gen. Sam Houston providing any reinforcements. Some volunteers arrived, however, and among them were some famous names.
But it would not be enough, as the garrison was heavily outgunned and outnumbered and the Mexican Army was not taking prisoners.
William B. Travis
The original artist of the now-famous “Line in the Sand,” Travis straight-up told the defenders of the Alamo that they were all that stood between Santa Anna and the rest of Texas. After telling the Alamo’s men no reinforcements were forthcoming, he drew the line with his sword and told those who were willing to stay to step over it. All but two did so. Travis was supposedly hit in the head by a Mexican round early in the assault on the Alamo.
The legendary frontiersman and former U.S. Congressman departed the United States for Texas because of his direct opposition to many of then-President Andrew Jackson’s Indian policies. His presence at the Alamo was a good morale boost for the outnumbered Texians, but it would not be enough to prevent them from being overwhelmed. During the assault on the Alamo, Crockett and his marksmen were too far from the barracks to retreat there, and were left to their own devices as Mexican soldiers swarmed around them.
Bowie was a legend among Americans and Texians long before he started fighting for Texas independence. He had already led Texian forces on two occasions before coming to the Alamo. During the siege, Bowie was actually bedridden with fever and likely died in his bed, fighting Mexicans with his pistols.
Autry was a War of 1812 Veteran who fought the British in the Southern United States. He roamed the new country for a while, finally settling in Louisiana after quitting farming to become a lawyer. When the Texas Revolution started, he raised a contingent of men from Tennessee to march to the Alamo from Louisiana.
Bonham came to the Alamo with Jim Bowie because of his growing discontent with U.S. President Andrew Jackson’s policies. Bonham himself raised a troop of Alabama militia to join the Texian revolutionaries. It was Bonham who rode out of the Alamo to look for more men and material to support the defense of the fort. Three days after he returned, he was slaughtered with the rest of the defenders.
A Russian-born American has been captured in Syria by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces. These anti-ISIS fighters have captured thousands of defeated Islamic State militants in the country since the fall of its de facto capital of Raqqa in 2017. To them, this is just one more ISIS prisoner.
They have returned the captured American to U.S. troops in the country and now he will stand trial in the United States.
This is not the first instance of Americans who left to join the terrorist state being captured and repatriated to the United States. Two American women and four children have also been captured and returned to the U.S. since the American intervention in the fight against the Islamic State began.
Thousands of ISIS-affiliated persons have been captured in the former “caliphate.”
The SDF in Syria is a force of American-trained and supported fighters, primarily of Kurdish origin. They have captured thousands of ISIS fighters since the fall of the Islamic State’s “caliphate” and returned many to their countries of origin to face punishment. Most of those returnees come from Europe, who struggles with repatriating the fighters and even with prosecuting them. While the United States stands ready to prosecute the fighter, European countries differ on how to handle returnees.
When the U.S. first started planning for the return of captured fighters, the Trump Administration originally planned to incarcerate them at the U.S. military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Instead, Trump is sending returning ISIS-affiliated repatriates to the civilian court system. In June 2019, American-born wives and children of ISIS fighters were captured by the SDF and returned to the U.S.
The status of ISIS-born children is an emerging controversy.
Those affiliated with the Islamic State but aren’t accepted by their former country of citizenship are more likely to be held in vastly overcrowded prison camps in Syria or held in government jails. European countries are refusing the fighters because their justice systems would require gathering sufficient evidence of wartime crimes (being a member of ISIS isn’t enough to secure a conviction), and if tried, there’s a chance the ISIS fighters could walk free. The United States isn’t facing a huge influx of returning fighters but has a different standard of proof.
In the meantime, much effort is expended by all armed forces in the region in returning families of Islamic State fighters to their countries of origin, many coming from nearby Iraq or far-flung places as far as China and Uzbekistan. As the SDF finishes eliminating pockets of ISIS resistance, they are sure to find more and more survivors to send home, wherever home once was.
Right now, the fastest military helicopter in the world is the U.S. Army’s Chinook, but the Army is looking at a new family of vertical lift helicopters, and both top contenders are much faster than the Chinook. But the U.S. isn’t the only major power looking for new helicopters, and Russia claims that its offering will be the fastest in the world.
Sikorsky’s X2 demonstrator flew for years, allowing company engineers to gain important experience now used on the SB-1 Defiant, a prototype for the Army, pictured above.
Whoever wins will be well positioned to sell their hardware to allied militaries, including those countries that fall into both countries’ spheres of influence, like India or the Philippines.
America’s top contenders are the SB-1 Defiant from Sikorsky and the V-280 Valor. The SB-1 Defiant is part of a fairly new breed; the compound helicopter, which features a pusher propeller at the back of the bird instead of a normal tail rotor. The V-280 Valor, while impressive and capable of extreme speed (about 70 percent faster than a Chinook), is actually a tiltrotor, so we’re going to largely ignore it for the rest of this discussion.
So, on the U.S. side, that leaves the SB-1 Defiant and its projected speed of 287 mph, about 50 percent faster than the Chinook. To achieve this high rate, the Defiant will send up to 90 percent of its engine power to that pusher propeller at the back of the aircraft. Most helicopters generate forward movement by tilting their main rotor blades, requiring a lot of fuel and power for relatively little forward flight power. The Defiant would give buyers a huge advantage in speed and range.
But Russia, through the state-owned Rostec company, wants in on the action, too, but their program is nowhere near as far along as Sikorsky. They announced in February, 2018, that they would be creating an experimental helicopter that is supposed to debut in and conduct its first flight in 2019.
They have not released a name or design, but there are some recent hints as to how they might create a helicopter that could fly over 200 mph, enough to beat the Chinook.
But Rostec found another way to potentially increase the available power and longevity of engines. UEC says their new granular nickel alloy, VV725, represents a shift in materials science. Currently, most aircraft use 0.04 percent carbon or less because lots of carbon in the alloy makes it strong, but brittle.
A Ka-52, a derivative of the Ka-50 attack helicopter, flies at Torzhok Air Base in Russia. The helicopter has stacked rotor blades like the Sikorsky SB-1 Defiant, but no pusher propeller like the one that makes the Sikorsky Raider so fast.
(Airliners.net, Alex Beltyukov, CC BY-SA 3.0)
And, with the ability to increase engine strength while also reducing weight, they might have a chance at reaching 250 mph or faster. The Ka-50 has a maximum speed in level flight of 196 mph, and it has a similar main rotor blade to the SB-1 Defiant but no pusher propeller. Add the propeller with the upgraded engine, and that thing might outrun the Chinook.
But the SB-1 Defiant is scheduled to fly within weeks or months and could be adopted in the 2030s. Typically, it takes around 15 years from first flight to an aircraft entering service, military helicopters included. Russia’s Ka-50 first flew in 1982 but didn’t reach combat units until 1995. But the design of the Ka-50 began in early 1977. So, 18 years from original design work to the finished product.
That means that Russia’s offering will likely reach the market well after the SB-1 Defiant, so it needs to be able to outrun the Defiant — not the Chinook — to take the crown as the world’s fastest military helicopter. The Defiant is expected to hit 287 mph, largely thanks to Sikorsky’s more than 10 years of experience with the X2 Demonstrator, a push propeller aircraft that first flew in 2008.
A Russian Mil Mi-35M, the country’s fastest military helicopter.
(Anna Zvereva, CC BY-SA 2.0)
An important note is that the Mi-35M was originally created by the company Mil, the firm which made nearly all Soviet-era Russian helicopters. Not all of that company’s expertise survived its acquisition by Rostec.
So, it’s not impossible. Russia has built great helicopters in the past. But Russia is suffering from serious funding problems. And their most recent weapons acquisition programs were unimpressive. The much-hyped Su-57 created buyer’s remorse in India, and that country bailed on buying the jet, mostly because it was underpowered.
And Russia’s premier new tank, the T-14 Armata, might or might not be as capable as advertised, but Russia won’t buy it right now because they can’t afford it.
So, a new, revolutionary helicopter will be a big stretch, but not impossible. And with the high speed of the Ka-50, it’s easy to imagine Russia ripping off the SB-1 Defiant’s push propeller, provided they can keep their airframe stable with all that extra propulsion from the rear. The final outcome in the race will likely be apparent by the end of 2019 or 2020, but neither helicopter will be fielded by a military until 2030, if ever. So, you know, stay tuned.
When you open a history book, you’re usually confronted with the faces and stories of white men of the past. And while we’re not here to diminish the accomplishments of those men, it’s also high time we shine a brighter light on the women who fought tirelessly in their shadows. Their bravery paved the way for the Michelle Obamas and Elizabeth Warrens of our present-day—an era in which female voices are finally being heard through movements like #MeToo and #TimesUp.
March is Women’s History Month, so we’ve curated a list of insightful reads about the powerful ladies who came before us. From tales about “witches” to those of female war correspondents, these books tell the stories of women who changed history and thus shaped the future.
1. Daughters of the Inquisition
(Seven Springs Press)
By Christina Crawford
After years of suffering, the author of Mommie Dearest rose above past traumas by connecting with—and harnessing—an inner fortitude. But what exactly are the origins of this strength, and what was its legacy? This is the question that forms the soul of Crawford’s latest book, Daughters of the Inquisition, which examines the colorful history and indefatigable spirit of womanhood. From the Goddess-worshipping Neolithic period to the violent misogyny of the 12th century, Crawford peels back 10,000 years to reveal the roles, battles, and unique powers of the female kind.
2. The Gentle Tamers
(Open Road Media)
By Dee Brown
Our perception of the Old West is clouded by gun-slinging cowboys, saloon brawls, and John Wayne, but its history is far richer—and far more female—than we’ve been told. In The Gentle Tamers, the author of Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee wipes the dust from our eyes, revealing the forgotten but indelible marks left by the female adventurers and pioneers of the region.
3. The Women Who Wrote the War
By Nancy Caldwell Sorel
Take a trip back to the Second World War, and discover the astonishing tales of its courageous female correspondents. One-hundred writers are covered in The Women Who Wrote the War, and author Nancy Caldwell Sorel draws multi-dimensional portraits of familiar faces—reporter Martha Gellhorn, for example—but never overlooks the accomplishments of more under-the-radar heroines. It’s a comprehensive and inspiring chronicle of the fiercely independent ladies who were soldiers armed with mighty pens.
Female trailblazers like Eleanor Roosevelt and Susan B. Anthony were “women who lived in committed relationships with other women”—and, according to Lillian Faderman, were likely lesbians. In her book, Faderman argues that it was these women who, bolstered by the unique power of their sexual orientation, were able to instigate the social and feminist movements of the past two centuries. Featuring the recovered, eye-opening correspondence of Faderman’s subjects, To Believe in Women is an unmissable tribute to the lesbians who changed America.
5. The Peabody Sisters
By Megan Marshall
While we’re all familiar with the Brontë brood, there’s another trio of sisters worth your attention: the Peabodys. Elizabeth, the eldest, matriculated in the same social circles as Henry Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson, and ultimately sparked the Transcendentalist movement of the 19th century. Mary, next in line, was a notable writer and the wife of Horace Mann, a major player in U.S. educational reform. Meanwhile the youngest, Sophia, found fame as a painter and a husband in author Nathaniel Hawthorne. Each Peabody woman comes alive in Megan Marshall’s Pulitzer Prize finalist, which is at once a three-part biography as well as an overall study of a remarkable sisterhood.
6. Once Upon a Pedestal
(Open Road Media)
By Emily Hahn
If you don’t know the name “Emily Hahn,” it’s high-time you do. As a young woman, Hahn briefly left the arts to pursue an education in engineering. After becoming her university program’s first female graduate, Hahn traveled America disguised as a man, established herself as a writer, hiked across Central Africa, and taught English in Shanghai. Once Upon a Pedestal is Hahn’s account of these extraordinary adventures which, though not widely known, informed her novels and reshaped our perception of Asia and Africa.
7. Witches, Midwives, and Nurses
(The Feminist Press at CUNY)
By Barbara Ehrenreich
Originally published in 1973, this feminist classic examines the complex relationship between women and the medicine. Of particular focus is the infamous persecution of “witches”—or, rather, the demonization of women healers—by male doctors wanting to maintain absolute control over the field. Thus, Ehrenreich’s book not only provides a fascinating history of female oppression in the medical community, but also sheds light on how these practices continue to effect the modern-day healthcare system.
When and Where I Enter explores black women’s contribution to the creation and evolution of present-day America—and boy, is it a large one. From activist Ida B. Wells to civil rights leader Fannie Lou Hamer, these women instigated major social and political reform by bucking against the racism and sexism of their time. Giddings’ discussion of “white feminism” also feels especially prevalent today.
9. The Amazons: Lives and Legends of Warrior Women Across the Ancient World
(Princeton University Press)
By Adrienne Mayor
Amazons have recently come into mainstream consciousness thanks to the blockbuster film, Wonder Woman — but did the likes of Hippolyta and Antiope exist outside of Greek mythology? Adrienne Mayor’s book offers a resounding “yes.” Through an analysis of archaeological findings, cultural traditions, and ancient myths, Mayor highlights how real-life warrior women from Egypt, India, and more inspired your favorite Amazonian war and love stories.
10. The Woman’s Hour
(Penguin Publishing Group)
By Elaine Weiss
It’s 1920, and all of America is waiting to see if women will finally be granted the right to vote—a decision that lies in the hands of swing-state Tennessee. But the country is divided: The suffragettes stand on one side while their enemy is a smattering of big-wig politicians and fearful moralists. Elaine Weiss studies this landmark moment in The Woman’s Hour, following a diverse group of women as they fight for their freedom and change the course of American history.
Germany lacked many of the natural resources necessary to make war in the 20th Century and knew that it had to rack up victories and seize materiel early in World War II to be successful, and that’s why it was so great for its forces when France made its first offensive of World War II — exactly according to German plans.
So, France prepared for a mostly defensive war against Germany, constructing the Maginot Line and securing an alliance with Belgium for mutual defense. In Germany, meanwhile, there were years of heartache followed by a surge in support of leaders who claimed that World War I was lost by politicians, not soldiers. Once Hitler became chancellor, and other pro-war groups made headway, Germany began re-arming as well.
The seeds of World War II had germinated, and everyone tried to get their ducks in a row for the coming fight.
There was one gap between the Belgian lines and the Maginot Line: The Ardennes Forest, a thick, heavily forested and hilly area that was thought too thick and treacherous for most tanks.
Germany’s plan, meanwhile, was predicated upon the French one. Germany knew that the Maginot Line was nearly impenetrable and attacks against it would be suicidal. They also knew that Belgium, a historically neutral country with a young king, was a relatively weak ally. But, best of all for Germany, they knew that their tanks could get through the Ardennes, but it would be slow and challenging.
On France’s Ardennes assumption: It wasn’t quite as crazy as it sounds. Tanks had only been around for about 20 years during the final ramp up to World War II, and most World War I tanks had been useless on steep slopes, truly uneven terrain, and even thick mud.
The idea that tanks could make it across the muddy, uneven ground in the thick forest and hit French positions might have seemed insane.
But America’s Christie tanks were much more mobile than their predecessors, and the company that manufactured them sold designs and patents to Russian firms after the U.S. Army declined to order them. The Russian tanks had served opposite German forces in the Spanish Civil War in 1936. It was clear that engineers could come up with rough terrain designs, and Germany had even got some good looks at successful designs just in time for World War II. Britain tried to warn France of the dangers in the Ardennes gap, but France barely listened.
And so Germany set a trap. First, German forces began breaking tenets of the Treaty of Versailles, including invading and occupying the Sudetenland, an area of Czechoslovakia populated primarily by ethnic Germans. France and England, not yet ready for war, signed the Munich Pact that allowed Germany to hold the Sudetenland if they just promised super hard not to invade anyone else.
Belgium’s King Leopold II, worried that his treaties with France and Britain were worthless, re-declared Belgium’s neutrality and re-organized the military for purely defensive purposes.
For France, this was a huge problem. Now, instead of holding joint drills with Belgium and having permission to stage troops in Belgian territory for co-defense, France could only deploy into Belgium after Germany invaded. That would set off a race between France and Germany to take strategic territory quickly if war broke out.
And France was so preoccupied with this race that, when Germany invaded the Low Countries in May, 1940, France sprinted 39 divisions across Belgium. Meanwhile, Germany parked an army group near the Maginot Line to keep France from pulling troops from there.
This meant the Ardennes was guarded only by trees, and Hitler was jubilant. His tanks were tied up in traffic jams throughout the forest, a few good tank battalions or some skilled bombers could’ve stopped the push through the Ardennes cold. Instead, German armored forces were unopposed as France focused its attention north.
The entire Army Group A, with seven armored divisions and another 37 of other types, spilled into Belgium and France well to the rear of where France expected to face any opposition. While French forces fought valiantly across Belgium, they were preoccupied with the massive force that maneuvered its way to Paris.
France had fallen into Germany’s trap, marching their forces into the Belgian plains while Germany’s jaws closed around Paris. On May 14, 1940, just weeks after Germany invaded, French forces withdrew from Paris to save the city from the fighting. French forces began attacking their own oil and weapon stockpiles to limit what Germany would take in victory.
Imagine signing up to be starved, sleep deprived and trying to fight for survival during a 19-day combat leadership course in the mosquito-, rattlesnake- and wild boar-infested hilly terrain north of San Antonio with 28 other Airmen.
This was the scenario for 29 Airmen who took part in the Ranger Assessment Course at Camp Bullis, Texas, Oct. 29 – Nov. 16. Upon successful completion of RAC, the Airmen would have a chance to enroll in the coveted, yet even more grueling, Army Ranger Course.
Airmen from different career fields challenge themselves in the Ranger Assessment course which is a combat leadership course which can lead to attending Army Ranger School. The 29 Airmen who began the course came from six major commands and represented security forces, tactical air control party, airfield management and battlefield Airmen specialties.
One of the 12 instructors, Tech. Sgt. Gavin Saiz from the 435th Security Forces Squadron at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, said RAC is a combat leadership course emphasizing doctrine that uses a host of tactical and technical procedures to instruct the students, who have to learn and apply a firehose of information in a short period.
Qualified Airmen from any career field can attend the course, which is held twice a year. Efforts are underway to see if the course can be expanded to four times a year in order to conduct them in U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces Africa and Pacific Air Forces. If the applicant is physically and mentally qualified, they can enroll in the course, but not everyone makes it to the finish line. The course has a 66-percent fail rate.
Since 1955 when the Army began accepting Airmen into its school, nearly 300 Airmen have earned the Ranger tab. The Army Ranger Course is one of the Army’s toughest leadership courses, with a concentration on small-unit tactics and combat leadership. The course seeks to develop proficiency in leading squad and platoon dismounted operations in an around-the-clock, all-climates and terrain atmosphere. RAC is based on the first two weeks of the Army Ranger Course.
The RAC instructors provide this stress-oriented battle school for airmen to develop better leadership and command tools under the mental, emotional and physical strain. They push the students to improve their resiliency and coping mechanisms.
Capt. Nicholas Cunningham, 741st Missile Security Forces Squadron, Malmstrom AFB, Montana, was one of five students selected for the Ranger Training Assessment Course (RTAC) which is a dynamic two-week spin up to acclimate Army and sometimes joint or partner service members to the rigors of Ranger School. If he successfully completes that course, he may be referred to Army Ranger School. “The course taught us tons of lessons about working as a team, pushing past mental limits and mostly leadership,” he said. “Where we as Ranger students at first were acting as individuals, we had to shift toward operating together as a single unit. The more we acted by ourselves, the worse we did as a team. To meet the objective, whether it was packing our clothes within a certain amount of time or assaulting an enemy force, required every Ranger to do their part of the task and then some.”
After the first week of classroom and hands-on training, Sloat said they select students for various leadership positions for the missions and then challenge them to plan, prepare and conduct missions, whether it is a recon or ambush mission. They plan backwards based on a higher headquarters Operation Order.
On the last day of missions, ten tired, hungry and cold Airmen made it to the finish line, having tested their mettle to the extremes. The 29 Airmen who began the course came from six major commands and represented security forces, tactical air control party, airfield management and battlefield Airmen specialties.
The first female to finish the course, 2nd Lt. Chelsey Hibsch from Yokota Air Base, Japan, has also been selected for RTAC. She said she saw more individuals fail as a follower because they didn’t want to go out of their way to help their partners succeed. “Those who were good followers tended to have others follow them with more enthusiasm because they had each other’s backs,” she said. “You learn how you react when everything is against you. Some individuals pressed on and others froze.”
The Air Force Security Forces Center, one of the Air Force Installation and Mission Support Center’s subordinate units, hosted the course. The instructors, all having been through the course and graduated Army Ranger School, put the students through the mind-numbing days and nights. The instructors provide this stress-oriented battle school for Airmen to develop better leadership and command tools under the mental, emotional and physical strain and improve their resiliency and coping mechanisms.
Below are the names of those who successfully met the challenge in the 19-01 Ranger Assessment Course and will be recommended to attend the Army Ranger Course: Staff Sgt. Paul Cdebaca/TACP/3 Air Support Operations Squadron, Joint Base Elmendorf – Richardson, Alaska Staff Sgt. Mark Bunkley/TACP/350 SWTS – Joint Base San Antonio – Lackland, Texas Senior Airman Troy Hicks/TACP/ 7 Air Support Operations Squadron– Ft. Bliss, Texas Senior Airman Aaron Lee/SF/9 Security Forces Squadron, Beale AFB, California Senior Airman Zachary Scott/SF/802 Security Forces Squadron, JBSA – Lackland, Texas
A second group of Airmen recommended for RTAC along with Cunningham and Hibsch: Senior Airman Sage Featherstone/TACP/7 Air Support Operations Squadron, Ft. Bliss, Texas Senior Airman Austin Flores/SF/75 Security Forces Squadron, Hill AFB, Utah Staff Sgt. Brayden Morrow/SF/341 Security Support Squadron, Malmstrom AFB, Montana
It’s no secret the military trains the way they fight — which is pretty hardcore. Marines and sailors train in the terrible heat and rough terrain of the Mojave Desert to prepare them to face the enemy in the harsh conditions of Afghanistan.
During their pre-deployment workup, troops pretend to get hurt so that nearby medics can practice rendering proper treatment. This training only goes so far, though, as the semi-stressful situations can’t compare to the real vigors of war.
So, to get young medical professionals ready for bloody working conditions overseas, some of the troops are sent to a live-tissue training course stateside where they must keep wounded pigs or goats alive for hours — or fail the course.
These animals are chosen specifically due to their tissue similarities to humans.
Before heading down to the live-tissue training grounds, young troops go through three days’ worth of brutal training missions throughout Camp Pendleton. These missions consist of hunting down mock “high-value targets,” several hours of intense physical training, and miles of foot patrols with little to no sleep. Then, troops board a bus that takes them to an undisclosed location — the live-tissue training grounds.
“The instructors worked us hard all day and night,” one former hospital Corpsman recalls. “We all were completely exhausted before the lab even started.”
Once at the training ground, the troops gear up in full battle rattle, place their highly anesthetized agricultural animal on an Army litter, and carry it up a steep hill where the training begins. After dropping the animal off at the first station, medics seek cover until signaled to retrieved their severely wounded patient.
Once the troops retrieve their patient, the docs make lifesaving interventions.
Three or four battle-themed stations and several massive wounds later, the troops enter a large metal container and load their “patient” on board as if it were a medical evacuation helicopter. After being locked in for several minutes, the container’s door opens to a mock-hospital, where the troops continue to care for their patient.
If the animal dies throughout this process, the student fails.
Compared to a computer simulator, the “pig lab,” as many refer to it, puts actual life into the student’s hands, forcing them to think on their toes to keep their patient alive.
Although humans control the stimulator, this lab comes with an extreme level of unpredictability and is considered “great training.”
“It was the best damn training I’ve ever received,” the former hospital Corpsman remembers. “I felt much more confident to take care of one of my Marines if they got hurt.”
Although considered to be “great training,” PETA, or the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, has voiced, on many occasions, that they are entirely against using agricultural animals for military training.
As American forces became embroiled in the conflict in Vietnam it was quickly apparent to commanders that they were fighting a war for which they were not prepared.
The guerrilla warfare and hit-and-run tactics of the Viet Cong were difficult to counter, especially for conventional forces. Luckily, our allies, the British, had already developed a tactic that they had used to great effect in Malaya.
Facing a communist insurgency of their own, but with limited resources, the British had developed specialized teams to track the enemy through the jungle and destroy them. This tactic was so effective the British would employ it against insurgencies all across the empire.
Knowing the French tactics had been insufficient, and not wanting to meet the same fate, Gen. Westmoreland sent observers to the British Jungle Warfare School in Malaya to see if the tactics could be adopted by American forces.
Impressed by what they saw the Americans made a deal for the British to train fourteen teams, to be known as Combat Tracker Teams, at the British Jungle Warfare School. Due to British neutrality, the soldiers to be trained traveled on official government passports and used only British gear while in training so as to maintain secrecy and low-visibility.
The basic organization of the Combat Tracker Teams consisted of two to four sections of five-men. The section was composed of a team leader, a visual tracker, a cover man, a radio operator, and a dog handler with a well-trained Labrador retriever. Not typical for combat operations the Labs were highly-effective in Vietnam. They were effective trackers, quiet in the field, and, most importantly, due to their even-temperament could more easily change handlers – a prized-quality for an army rotating men out of country, but often heart-breaking for their handlers.
The teams were in for intense training once they arrived in Malaya. For the dog handlers training was three months long, for everyone else it was two months. The cadre consisted of British and New Zealand SAS as well as Gurkhas, who usually played the enemy to add to the realism. Wash out rates were high.
The initial address to the trainees was often quite shocking to them. They were told the problem with the American army was that it was more focused on rank than knowledge. And that by the time they were done, they would feel more at home in the jungle than the North Vietnamese themselves.
After surviving the grueling training, the first teams returned to Vietnam in 1967 to be assigned to combat units. The team assigned to the 101st Airborne Division was told they must go through the division’s finishing school before they would be allowed in the field. Part-way through the first day it became obvious to the cadre that the trackers knew more than they could possibly teach them and they were passed through the course on the spot.
According to their group’s website, once in country, the Combat Tracker Teams were to “reestablish contact with the ‘elusive enemy’; reconnaissance of an area for possible enemy activities; and locate lost or missing friendly personnel.”
Once the troops hit the ground, they knew why their trainers had pushed them so hard – keeping up with a dog in the jungle while staying absolutely silent, as well as being alert and constantly ready for action is very hard work.
But that work paid off for the Americans. It was common to hear from the grunts about how the enemy could just “melt back into the jungle.” And that was where the trackers came in. Pushing out well ahead of the line infantry units no detail was too small for either the visual tracker or the working dog to pick up.
John Dupla, a combat tracker with the 1st Cavalry Division, said “we were taught to develop a sixth sense, utilizing methods Native American scouts used, such as looking for broken twigs and turned over leaves and rocks.”
Depending on the conditions and situation either the visual tracker or the dog handler and his lab would lead the team. Always right behind him was the cover man. Since the point person’s attention was focused on searching for trails and clues the cover man became his lookout, providing protection.
Although the unit’s mission was often not to directly engage the enemy, sometimes it was unavoidable. As one combat tracker related “if you got into something, you shot your way out.” Ideally, the trackers would locate the enemy and call the infantry behind them into the fight.
However, as the Viet Cong became aware of the effectiveness of the trackers they sought ways to counter them. Retreating groups would often send a contingent off in a different direction to draw the trackers away from the main force and into an ambush. One Combat Tracker Team lost their visual tracker and cover man to enemy snipers in this manner.
Despite their effectiveness many American commanders simply did not understand how to properly employ the trackers. Their small size and the secrecy of their training meant few in the infantry understood how they operated. They were sometimes thought of as scouts and to simply walk point for a larger formation.
The program was disbanded in 1971 as American drew down forces in Vietnam. The trackers were broken up and folded into their parent infantry units. Veiled in secrecy and lacking the notoriety of Special Forces the legacy of the Combat Tracker Teams quietly faded away.
There is no doubt though that the Combat Tracker Teams were effective, saved lives, and made life much harder for the enemy.
There are a lot of articles that talk about the “largest naval battle,” but they don’t always agree on what battle that is. The Battle of Leyte Gulf, with nearly 200,000 participants and 285 ships, comes up often, but that isn’t the largest number of participants or ships that have clashed at a single point in history. So what’s really the largest naval battle?
The big issue is that it’s hard to define what, exactly, is the proper metric for determining the size of a battle. While land engagements are nearly always measured by the number of troops involved, naval battles can be measured by the number of ships, the size of the ships, the number of sailors, total number of vehicles and vessels, or even the size of the battlefield.
Here are three naval battles with a decent claim to “history’s largest.” One by troops involved, one by ship tonnage and area that was fought over, and one by most ships that fought.
A French map of the movements involved in the Battle of the Red Cliffs.
(Sémhur, CC BY-SA 4.0)
Battle of the Red Cliffs—850,000 troops clashed on river and land
If it sounds like the allied force would get railroaded, realize that they were the ones with better ships and they had hometown advantage. They sailed their ships through the rivers, likely the Han and Yangtze, set them on fire, and managed to crash them into Cao Cao’s fleet. Cao Cao’s men on the river and in camp burned.
A Japanese destroyer withdraws from the Battle of Leyte Gulf while under attack from U.S. bombers.
(Naval History and Heritage Command)
Battle of Leyte Gulf—285 ships clash over 100,000 square miles
The Battle of Leyte Gulf is what usually pops up as the top Google search for history’s largest, and it’s easy to see why. The fighting took place over 100,000 square miles of ocean, one of the largest battleships in history sunk, and 285 naval vessels and 1,800 aircraft took part. Of the ships, 24 were aircraft carriers.
It was also a key battle strategically, allowing the U.S. to re-take the Philippines and further tipping the balance of power in the Pacific in World War II in favor of the U.S. and its allies.
One odd note about Leyte Gulf, though, is that it’s often accepted as its own battle, it’s actually a term that encompasses four smaller battles, the battles of Sibuyan Sea, Surigao Strait, Cape Engano, and the Battle off Samar.
Painting depicts the Battle of Salamis where outnumbered Greek ships annihilated a Persian fleet.
(Wilhelm von Kaulbach, public domain)
Battle of Salamis—over 1,000 ships
At the Battle of Salamis in 480 BC during the Greco-Persian Wars, the Persian fleet of 800 galleys had penned 370 Greek triremes into the small Saronic Gulf. The Greek commander managed to draw the Persian fleet into the gulf, and the more agile Greek ships rammed their way through the Persian vessels.
The Persians lost 300 ships and only sank 40 Greek ones, forcing them to abandon planned offensives on land.
(Note that there are conflicting reports as to just how many ships took part in the battle with estimates ranging up to 1,207 Persian ships and 371 Greeks, but even on the lower end, the Battle of Salamis was the largest by number of ships engaged.)
If you had a battle in mind that didn’t make the list, that doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily out of the running. The Battle of Yamen saw over 1,000 ships clash and allowed the Mongol Yuan Dynasty to overtake the Song Dynasty. At the Battle of the Philippine Sea, 902 American aircraft fought 750 Japanese planes. The Battle of Jutland, the only major battleship clash of World War I, makes many people’s lists as well.
Editors Disclaimer: This is a HUMOR piece…we understand that the subject matter in this piece is a bit taboo and not for everyone. If you are uncomfortable with it, we won’t be offended at all if you choose not to read. We laughed, we may have even blushed just a little…and we imagine many of you will do the same. As with all of the pieces in our ‘Confessions Series‘ the author is anonymous.
I was going to start this by saying ‘let’s talk about the elephant in the room,‘ but frankly I don’t understand that statement. At all. There has never been an elephant in any room I’ve been in and if there was, I’m confident that I would take an epic selfie with it, post it on Facebook, SnapChat it to my friends and do everything BESIDES avoid acknowledging its existence.
So, I’m going to preface with this instead:
Sex. Yup, I said it. Sexual intercourse. We’ve all done it. We are all married so let’s not pretend that any of us are innocent little virgins who don’t get our freak on occasionally. (I say occasionally because I don’t know about you, but no matter how often I do the dirty, my husband insists I never do… So I’m trying to be an equal opportunity writer, oooor something like that.)
As a self-admitted sexually active adult, military life is precisely the opposite foundation for a stable sex life. (Unless you and your spouse are swingers, in which case I’m not judging… I just prefer not to know about it, ok?)
That being said, I’m just going to openly, honestly (half sarcastically because god knows someone is going to get bent out of shape over something I am writing here) make a brief outline of my own, personal sexual deprivation from our last 12 months of deployment. Thank goodness for anonymous confessions, right?
Enjoy. And relax. We are all friends here. Anonymous friends behind a screen. We can laugh. It is humor. See that nice disclaimer at the top?
I think I will send my husband sexy pictures. I will stand in the mirror, strike a cute pose, pout my lips and send them to his email, making his knees weak.
I still send my husband sexy pictures… but I decided to prepare with fake nails, a spray tan, a wax and some sexy lingerie. By this time he has half forgotten what I look like, so I am certain he will be like ‘dang! She really IS naturally hot’.
I caved. I bought my first ‘assistant’. Sometimes a girl just needs more than, well, not having an adult marital aid.
I have started purchasing batteries more frequently.
I am forced to add batteries to the budget to keep myself from spending our car payment on BOB; my Battery Operated Boyfriend.
My friend’s husbands are better looking than I previously remember. Oh come on… looking doesn’t kill anyone. Stop judging me for saying it. You thought it, too. Also… remember that disclaimer?
Ok, forget their husbands, my friends have started looking HOT! Why haven’t I noticed this before? Am I gay? Have I not been naked with a hairy chest in so long that my body is rejecting the idea? Will I be straight again when he gets home? OMG. Who is going to get the couch in our divorce?
Crisis averted. He came home for RNR. I’m definitely still straight…
Maybe I’m bisexual…
BOB is boring me. We might need a break…
I’m going to redecorate the house… not to keep myself busy, but because doesn’t REAR-D send service members to help assemble furniture if your spouse is deployed? (Breathe deep… remember those bold words from my editor: This is a HUMOR piece!)
The swing, leather whip, hot wax, studded paddle, stiletto heels and handcuffs are purchased…why is this welcome home ceremony taking sooo long??? Can we PLEASE just go home?!?
Ok, but seriously, I don’t understand why the subject of being sexually deprived is so taboo between spouses. We should be able to openly admit to each other that we are quivering, shaking and utterly drenched from not getting thrown around by the sexy man/woman in uniform who vowed to rock our worlds forever.
It’s sex… It sucks going a long time without it, especially when you are married, in love and crazy about your spouse. Yes, we also worry every day. Yes, we miss them like crazy. Yes, our kids suffer. Yes, there are a ton of other, more productive, supportive things we could be talking about.
But it’s okay sometimes to laugh, to talk about something taboo… to admit that we are married adults with sexual needs. Sexual needs that sometimes leave us climbing the walls.
This article originally appeared on Military Spouse. Follow @MilSpouseMag on Twitter.
When we think of Green Berets, we think of tough, highly-trained troops that have been groomed to take on high-priority missions. Seeing as the military is home to a number of unique specializations, it’s easy to assume that when it comes to any kind of amphibious assault or landing, you’ve entered Navy or Marine Corps territory — right? Not necessarily.
The U.S. Army does some of its own diving. In fact, the U.S. Army actually operates a number of its own ships, too, for moving stuff around. In an instance of Hollywood actually getting it right, the 1986 film The Delta Force touched on one instance in which dive training proved very useful: infiltrating a target.
Chuck Norris prepares to infiltrate a terrorist base in ‘The Delta Force.’ The diving is not Hollywood BS.
The training is extremely tough — one of three candidates who attend the school will not pass the course. After another series of tests (known collectively as “Zero Week”), Special Forces diving students learn how to handle SCUBA gear and re-breathers and learn all the skills required for an amphibious insertion. Then, It all culminates in a field training exercise.
One-third of the soldiers training will wash out of the Combat Divers Qualification Course.
(U.S. Army photo by Linda L. Crippen)
Check out the video below to see an old-school video about Green Berets putting their dive training to good use.
There is no greater historical example of an unstoppable force hitting an immovable object than the Soviet invasion and occupation of Afghanistan. Afghanistan is a mountainous, landlocked, harsh country that makes it very difficult for a great power to bring the full might of that power to bear against the locals. Naval forces are out and, in some area, so is air support. The harsh climate and vast nothingness and remotely populated areas makes supply lines difficult to establish and even harder to defend. But the Soviet Union opted to try anyway, invading in force in 1979.
Under Afghan King Mohammed Zahir Shah, the country was actually developing and modernizing fairly well… until his cousin Mohammed Daoud Khan overthrew him in 1973. He established an Afghan Republic and everything went to hell — for many reasons. Five years later, the Pashtun Nationalist government was overthrown in favor of a Communist regime and Afghanistan became a Cold War battlefront.
Communism did not sit well with the people in rural areas, who weren’t used to the control (and taxes and land reforms) of a Communist central government. So, they started fighting back. Then-President Nur Mohammed Taraki asked the Soviet Union to help quell angry protests against a government that suddenly decided to execute so many of them for failing to comply with Communist reforms. That’s when Hafizullah Amin, the Communist Prime Minister, killed Taraki and seized power.
Then, Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev stepped in.
People like this.
Seeing Afghanistan descending into chaos and worried that the Islamic Revolution in Iran might spread to Afghanistan and other traditionally muslim Soviet Socialist Republics, the USSR decided to move in — and pretty much failed from day one, which was Christmas Day, 1979.
At this point, the Soviets needed to do four things: legitimize the Communist central government in Kabul, rebuild the Afghan Army, destroy resistance to the new government, and win the hearts and minds of the common people they couldn’t directly control.
“Ownership” being the operative word.
1. They could not establish the Communist government’s legitimacy
Failure was immediate, beginning with the man at the top. After just months in power, Amin was out. Literally. One of the first governmental changes the Soviets made was to kill Amin and replace him with Babrak Kamal. This turned the image of the Soviet invasion from one of an intervention to stabilize the government to one of ownership over Afghanistan.
These guys, remember?
2. They did not break the back of the resistance
While they were able to take the major cities, as well as transportation and communications centers, the Red Army quickly pushed tribal warlords into the mountainous regions, where they resolved to begin the Islamic Revolution that nobody had thought about until the Soviets invaded in the first place. Instead of conquering the country, they managed to unite Afghanistan’s disparate population against them.
There’s no Russian translation for “off the beaten path.” Apparently.
The one advantage the Red Army had over mujahideen fighters was their fleet of Hind helicopters. These allowed the Soviets to move people and equipment fast over long distances and into the high mountains. This silver lining lasted until the mid-1980s, when Stinger missiles began to appear in jihadi arsenals. With accurate anti-aircraft missiles, the mujahideen now had the ability to protect their mountainous hiding places and forced the Soviet Union to switch to a tactic of conducting nighttime raiding on enemy targets.
Soviet forces were concentrated in a mass along major highways in the country and in a series of fortified positions throughout their controlled areas. Outside of those areas, neither economy of forces nor consistent supply lines were ever established.
A map of areas controlled by insurgent groups in Afghanistan in 1985.
In places like Khost, Soviet dominance was never even established. The Red Army established a helicopter base on the outskirts of the city, but the city itself spent 11 years under siege from the Mujahideen forces, cut off from the rest of Soviet operations. When a relief column came to the base in 1987, they reset the siege as soon as the Russians left.
The Soviet Union’s previous experience with invading other countries was limited to East Germany, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia. Afghanistan and its people have little in common with the methods of fighting that work in Europe. The tactics employed by the Soviets were mostly of overwhelming firepower, including scorched-earth policies, carpet bombing, and the use of chemical weapons, none of which won them many friends among the people of the country they were trying to win over.
Soviet ground forces in action while conducting an offensive operation against the Islamist resistance, the Mujahideen.
3. The Soviets did not win over the hearts and minds of Afghan people
A narrative quickly formed that atheist Communists and traditionally Orthodox Christian Russian invaders were on a mission against Islam. Those Afghan warlords that were pushed out of major urban centers and villages came down from the mountains as a united Islamic front, the mujahideen. With the Cold War in full swing, the United States decided to help fuel the fire by supplying the mujahideen with weapons and equipment to help their jihad against the USSR.
Fighters and money flowed into the mujahideen’s ongoing guerrilla war against the Soviet Union from all corners of the Islamic world. Between 1980 and 1985, the Red Army stomped the mujahideen in a series of battles in the Panjshir Valley against the forces of rebel leaders like Ahmad Shah Massoud. But Massoud would always live to rebuild his forces and come back at the Russian bear.
The Soviets could win as many pitched battles as they wanted, kill as many Afghan fighters as possible, but the endless tide of money and men would mean that the battles would just be fought over and over. Search-and-destroy missions were not going to pacify Afghanistan. In fact, all it did was either kill the population or turned them into refugees — a full one-third of Afghanistan’s population was killed or fled during the Soviet occupation.
“Set it up like this, it goes bang. Good work, comrade.”
4. The Afghan Army was never an effective force
The Red Army brought in allied advisors from friendly countries to train the Afghan Army in warfighting methods more appropriate than the methods they actually used. Cuban troops who were familiar with insurgency operations from places like Angola and Ethiopia trained the burgeoning Afghan government troops, but the consistent lack of actual combat experience in these tactics wasted a lot of the time they could have spent creating a veteran fighting force.
Furthermore, the inefficient communications and logistics involved with large-scale Soviet operations did little to convince the nascent Afghan troops that their training methods and lessons had any real applicability in real-world fighting. When the Russians left and the Soviet Union fell, many of these trained fighters defected to the mujahideen, leading to the fall of the Afghan Communist regime.
The Soviet Union would stay in Afghanistan until February 1989. They still supported the Communist Afghan government against the mujahideen, which continued until the USSR collapsed in on itself in 1991. In April 1992, mujahideen troops under Ahmad Shah Massoud captured Kabul. But the factional violence within the jihadists didn’t stop and another civil war began.
This time, the victors were an upstart group of hardline Islamists, known as the Taliban.
Twenty-eight years after the untimely death of T. E. Lawrence — the Englishman known the world over as “Lawrence of Arabia” — Hollywood made a movie about him.
It was, in the parlance of the day, a “doozy.”
Epic in scale and scope and concerning the extraordinary particulars of Lawrence’s role in the Arab Revolt against the Ottoman Empire leading up to World War 1, “Lawrence of Arabia” was nominated for ten Academy Awards in 1963 and took home seven including Best Picture.
Though many with first hand knowledge of the true events of Lawrence’s life were quick to criticize the film’s dramatic liberties, much of the frisson that makes it a cinematic tour de force arises from the undeniably ambiguous nature of the man himself.
T. E. Lawrence was a poet, an archeologist, a diplomat and a spy. He spoke French well enough to translate whole volumes of its literature to English. He spoke Arabic well enough to forge alliances between feuding Bedouin tribes. The question of his sexuality has been a matter of scholarly gossip for the better part of a century. Setting his extreme need for personal privacy against his talent for finding the center of world-changing events, the journalist Lowell Thomas famously commented that Lawrence “had a genius for backing into the limelight.”
But for all that’s debatable about T. E. Lawrence, many of his military superlatives are accurately recorded and verifiably real. As a British Army advisor to Arab Prince Faisal, Lawrence helped organize — and in many cases participated in — a number of the most pivotal maneuvers of the Arab Revolt. We was, to use a modern term, as deeply embedded amongst the tribes of the Arabian Peninsula as the necessity of his assignment required, perhaps more than his superiors in the British Army would deem advisable, certainly beyond what Edwardian cultural empathy could possibly conceive.
Lawrence saw the desert and went all in.
The film culminates with the Oct. 1, 1918, reclamation of Damascus, when the Arab forces, led in part by Lawrence and backed by the British Army, marched through the gates of the city in triumph. All across the Arab Peninsula, the forces of the Ottoman empire were retreating or surrendering to Prince Faisal’s nationalized Arab army.
The organized harassment campaign deployed against Ottoman railroads, depots and installations–a guerrilla approach perfected by Lawrence and his Bedouin irregulars from 1917 through 1918–had so destabilized the Ottoman position in the region that when it finally came time to take Damascus, the city surrendered without resistance. By the end of the war, the Arab Coalition had seized Palestine, Transjordan, Lebanon, southern Syria and vast swaths of the Arabian Peninsula. British General Allenby hailed Prince Faisal for his role in the victory (but was surely, in the same breath, congratulating himself for following Lieutenant Colonel Lawrence’s lead with the strong-willed Arab peoples):
I send your Highness my greetings and my most cordial congratulations upon the great achievement of your gallant troops … Thanks to our combined efforts, the Ottoman army is everywhere in full retreat.
As word of the adventures and exploits of Lawrence of Arabia spread throughout the West, the sheer romantic gall of the man, not to mention the exotic backdrop against which he won his fame, fired an insatiable public story engine that would spin over the particulars of his life forever after. The 1963 film was, among many takes on the subject matter, perhaps merely its most high-profile.
Lawrence’s own memoir of the Arab Revolt, “The Seven Pillars of Wisdom,” complicates his legacy far more than it elucidates, fueling unending debate among his biographers. As fodder for the imagination, it’s really all too perfect. His story is the stuff of legend precisely because it raises more questions than historical sleuthing can answer. But whatever the truth, the film that emerged is a juggernaut, a four hour cinematic tone poem about the ravenousness of Destiny when it’s got a man like T. E. Lawrence in its jaws.