Camp Bonifas in Panmunjom, South Korea is named for Captain Arthur Bonifas who was killed by North Korean soldiers in 1976 during the infamous Axe Murder Incident. Sitting next to the Demilitarized Zone, the buffer area between North and South Korea, the base serves as a frontline outpost against any possible North Korean incursion. In addition to the heavy security and first-response troops, Camp Bonifas also hosts what has been called the “World’s Most Dangerous Golf Course.”
The one-hole, 192-yard par-3 is made of artificial turf and sits less than 500 yards from the DMZ. Forget playing through roughs and trying to read greens. A duff here could send your ball into a literal minefield. There’s also an abandoned bunker and a ginseng field to make playing through that much more difficult. The tee box sits 50 yards above the fairway which was built on top of an old machine-gun position. Strong winds from the North Korean side of the DMZ also make shots here difficult.
ESPN reporter Shelley Smith visited Camp Bonifas during the 1988 Seoul Olympics and again in 2012. “It’s about the same,” she said of the golf course during her second visit. Although the idea of a golf course so close to the DMZ seems silly, it is a much-needed distraction for the American and Korean soldiers stationed there. Strategically, a base like Camp Bonifas is not expected to hold out against an all-out invasion by North Korea. Spending some time on the green is a welcome distraction from this grim reality.
Because of the nature of the base, soldiers are not allowed to bring family members when they are assigned to Camp Bonifas. However, the base is a popular tourist destination. As many as 1,000 visitors come through the base daily (pre-COVID). Troops posted at Bonifas have to memorize a 13-page history of the Korean War in order to give tours and answer questions. The base even has a gift shop stocked with DMZ-themed knick knacks.
Famous visitors to Camp Bonifas include professional athletes Andrew Luck, Randy Johnson, and Paula Creamer. “It’s so humbling because the way I look at them, I feel like I have the most respect,” Creamer said of the troops stationed at Bonifas when she visited and played a round. “I don’t know how they do it being so far away from their families and keeping your country safe and fighting for us. Their faces light up when you talk about sport in general but being a female golfer coming in there and being able to hit chip shots or balls on the range and play the toughest par-3 in the world, that’s pretty cool.”
The relaxation provided by a round of golf sits in stark contrast to the ever-present North Korean threat that sits across the DMZ. For the soldiers there, this is the reality of their duty. Shooting on the green with a club can quickly turn into shooting on the green with a rifle at Camp Bonifas.
Four Swedish air force pilots received U.S. Air Medals during a ceremony in Stockholm Nov. 28, 2018, recognizing their actions that took place over 31 years ago. Until 2017 the details of their mission remained classified.
During the 1980s, the height of the Cold War was still being felt. The U.S. was flying regular SR-71 aircraft reconnaissance missions in international waters over the Baltic Sea known as “Baltic Express” missions. But on June 29, 1987, during one of those missions, an SR-71 piloted by retired Lt. Cols. Duane Noll and Tom Veltri, experienced an inflight emergency.
Experiencing engine failure in one of their engines, they piloted the aircraft down to approximately 25,000 feet over Swedish airspace where they were intercepted by two different pairs of Swedish air force Viggens.
“We were performing an ordinary peace time operation exercise,” recalled retired Maj. Roger Moller, Swedish air force Viggen pilot. “Our fighter controller then asked me are you able to make an interception and identification of a certain interest. I thought immediately it must be an SR-71, otherwise he would have mentioned it. But at that time I didn’t know it was the Blackbird.”
U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. John Williams, Mobilization Assistant to the commander, U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Africa, salutes the Swedish pilots who are being awarded the U.S. Air Medal in Stockholm, Nov. 28, 2018.
U.S. Air Force Photo by Senior Airman Kelly O’Connor
According to the Air Medal citation, once the Swedish pilots intercepted the SR-71, they assessed the emergency situation and decided to render support to the aircraft by defending it from any potential third-party aircraft that might have tried to threaten it. The pilots then accompanied the aircraft beyond the territorial boundaries and ensured that it was safely recovered.
“I can’t say enough about these gentlemen,” said Veltri, who was at the ceremony. “I am so amazingly grateful for what they did, but also for the opportunity to recognize them in the fashion we are doing. What these guys did is truly monumental.”
Noll, who was not able to be at the ceremony, recorded a message which was played to those in attendance.
“Your obvious skills and judgement were definitely demonstrated on that faithful day many years ago. I want to thank you for your actions on that day,” said Noll. “We will never know what would or could have happened, but because of you, there was no international incident. The U.S. Air Force did not lose an irreplaceable aircraft, and two crew members’ lives were saved. Lt. Col. Veltri and I can’t thank you sufficiently for what you prevented. Thank you for being highly skilled and dedicated patriotic fellow aviators.”
U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. John Williams, U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces Africa mobilization assistant to the commander, presented the Air Medals to Swedish air force Col. Lars-Eric Blad, Maj. Roger Moller, Maj. Krister Sjoberg and Lt. Bo Ignell.
“That day in 1987 showed us that we can always count on our Swedish partners in times of great peril,” said Williams. “Even when there was both political risk and great physical risk in the form of actual danger, there was no hesitation on your part to preserve the pilots on that day.”
The presentation of Air Medals to the Swedish pilots represented the gratitude from the U.S. and the continued longstanding partnership with Sweden.
The United States is considering sending more lethal weaponry to Kyiv to build up its naval and air defenses, Washington’s special envoy for Ukraine said, as concerns mount that Russia may be stepping up operations in coastal waters.
In an interview with RFE/RL on Sept. 13, 2018, Kurt Volker blamed Russia for fueling the conflict. He also said that Washington and Moscow still have serious differences over a possible United Nations peacekeeping force that could be deployed to help bring an end to the fighting in the eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions.
Volker said he thought that Russian President Vladimir Putin was unwilling to negotiate much of anything related to the conflict at least until after Ukraine’s presidential elections in March 2019, or with “[Ukrainian President Petro] Poroshenko still in power.”
Volker said he has made several overtures to his Russian counterpart, Vladislav Surkov, since their last meeting in Dubai in January 2018, but he has received no response.
In January 2018, Surkov showed interest in the idea of a phased deployment of peacekeepers, Volker said. Since then, however, the Russians “have backed away and have some objections.”
Another meeting is possible, he said, but “right now, there is nothing scheduled.
“Since fighting broke out between government forces and Russia-backed fighters in April 2014, more than 10,000 people have died and more than 1 million have fled their homes.
Russia has repeatedly denied financing and equipping the separatist forces in Donetsk and Luhansk despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, insisting that the fighting was a civil, internal conflict.
In recent months, Russia has stepped up naval operations in the shared Sea of Azov, where, Volker said, “Ukrainians have virtually no naval capability or limited capability, so [the Russians] feel they can assert dominance there.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Ukraine’s lack of robust naval and air-defense capabilities is a weakness Volker said Washington looks set on addressing.
“I think that’s going to be the focus as we develop the next steps in our defense cooperation,” he added.
International negotiators have twice reached a framework for a cease-fire and a road map for peace, known as the Minsk peace accords. Both have failed to hold.
That is due in large part to the fact that Russia continues to flood the territory with fighters and arms, Volker said.
In August 2018, monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe documented — using drone footage — convoys of military trucks crossing to and from Ukraine and Russia on a dirt road under the cover of darkness. Early September 2018, the monitors said another convoy had been spotted in the area.
Russia has not responded to accusations that it was behind the convoys.
Volker also criticized Kyiv, which he said was not doing enough to reach out to Ukrainians living in separatist-held territories. He said Poroshenko’s government has also failed to develop a reintegration plan for when the conflict does end.
Preliminary ideas, he said, “[do not] enjoy strong political backing and there is little emphasis that this should be a priority for the Ukrainian government to figure out how it can reach its own citizens and be as proactive as possible in trying to make their lives better.”
“It’s a shame because those people [living in separatist-held areas] have gone through a lot. It causes them to be very sour on the government in Kyiv,” he added.
He highlighted the cases of elderly people, “people with the least mobility,” and said Kyiv should work with the Red Cross to help get government pensions to those people.
Changing U.S. Policy?
Volker’s appointment, in July 2017, came amid concern that U.S. President Donald Trump was looking to soften Washington’s position on the Ukraine conflict, and Russia’s role in it.
However, the Trump administration has all but continued U.S. backing for Ukraine, a policy set in place by his predecessor, Barack Obama, after Russia’s annexation of Crimea in March 2014.
President Donald J. Trump and President Petro Poroshenko of Ukraine at the United Nations General Assembly.
(Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)
Washington has provided hundreds of millions of dollars in military equipment and training to the Ukrainian armed forces, and sanctions imposed for the annexation and for fueling the conflict remain in place.
More notably, the Trump administration in early 2018 sent Ukraine 210 advanced antitank missiles known as Javelins, a move Obama had resisted for fear of antagonizing Moscow.
“It’s true that we haven’t achieved anything on the ground and we haven’t gotten Russia to really resolve the conflict,” Volker said. “So we have to keep that under advisement.
“On the other hand, what we’ve done over the last year has been very important,” he said.
“We’ve created a policy framework for the United States; we’ve coordinated that with our allies, specifically France and Germany; we’ve given clear support for Ukraine and restoring its sovereignty and territorial integrity; we’ve clarified Russia’s responsibility here,” he said.
In August 2018, Trump suggested in an interview that he would consider lifting Ukraine-related sanctions against Russia “if they do something that would be good for us.”
Asked about Trump’s commitment to Ukraine, Volker said that everything the United States has done for Kyiv “has been done with the president’s approval, so there’s no policy gap.”
“The way I read what the president is doing, [he] is trying to keep a door open for Putin to be able to climb down, negotiate some kind of agreement, see if we can reduce the risk of conflict, see if we can actually create peace in Ukraine,” he said.
“At the same time, the policy has been to continue to layer on additional steps of pushback on Russia and support for Ukraine as a way to induce Russia to negotiate,” he said.
Featured image: Kurt Volker, the special representative of the U.S. State Department for Ukraine.
We’ve heard them all a thousand times. Your roommate heard from a guy in another unit who swears up and down that when his cousin went through basic training, his roommate had been doing funny stuff with ether. Did his friend’s cousin really see the Etherbunny? It’s probably just one more military urban legend that just won’t die – along with these other myths that have been hanging around since Elvis was in the Army.
Be more skeptical, troops.
Fred Rogers, Slayer of Bodies. Supposedly.
Your favorite old TV star was in Vietnam.
What is it about Vietnam that makes us want our favorite TV personalities from yesteryear to not only have served there, but to also be the badass, stonefaced kind of killer that would make Colonel Kurtz proud? According to military myth, Fred Rogers, of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood fame was either a Navy SEAL in Vietnam or a Marine Scout Sniper. Jerry Mathers, who played the title role on Leave It To Beaver, allegedly fought and died there.
Neither of those things happened but someone, somewhere is splicing Forrest Gump Vietnam footage into the latest Tom Hanks film about Mr. Rogers.
Rich people aren’t allowed in the military.
“They” used to always say that a winning lottery ticket was also a one-way ticket to civilian life. And people who were millionaires weren’t allowed in the service at all. While it may seem likely that a high-net worth individual would be less likely to need his or her military career and be less prone to discipline, the opposite has often proven to be true — just look at Jimmy Stewart, Pat Tillman, and other wealthy individuals who preferred to serve. And while winning the lottery doesn’t mean you have to leave the military, winning millions will give the branches pause and you could leave if you want to. Every branch has provisions for separations when parting ways is in the military’s best interest – the way it happened to Seaman John Burdette in 2014.
“Just making sure you reported for duty.”
Only sons are exempt from the draft.
Sorry, Private Ryan, but if World War III breaks out, there’s still a good chance you’re getting called up for the invasion of China. This is an old rumor that is based in some sort of fact. The truth is that sole surviving sons are exempt from the military draft. This is because of a couple of Private Ryan-like moments. The Sullivan Brothers, five real brothers, were killed when the USS Juneau was sunk by a Japanese torpedo in World War II. The story of Fritz Niland, whose three brothers were killed within days of each other, is the basis for Saving Private Ryan.
So if you’re the only child, I’d still register for Selective Service. If you have a few brothers, you should all hope to register.
“But aim for their backpacks.”
The .50-cal is illegal – but here’s how to get around it.
The story goes that the Geneva Convention outlaws the use of a .50-caliber machine gun in combat, so American infantrymen are trained for “off-label uses.” The legend says that you just can’t use the weapon against people but equipment is still fair game, so the Corps/Army teaches grunts to say they were firing at belt buckles or vehicles or anything else that might be near. Another variation of this legend is that the .50-cal round can still kill people if it flies close to their bodies, so that’s the goal. Neither are true.
What weapons are actually banned by international agreements are chemical weapons, certain incendiary weapons, and cluster munitions, to name a few. The United States keeps stockpiles of all of these. Even if the M2 were illegal, do you think the U.S. would give it up, let alone train troops to use it wrong?
According to lore, one of these airmen is supposed to eat the bullet hidden in this flagpole.
The base flagpole is carrying some specific stuff.
According to lore, the ball at the top of the base flagpole – known as a “truck” – has very specific items in it, with very specific instructions. It is said the truck either contains a razor, a match, and a bullet or those three items plus a grain of rice and a penny. These are all to be used in case the base is overrun by the enemy.
So there are a few things wrong with this premise. The first is that a U.S. base built in the 1950s-1980s is going to be overrun. The second is that all that fits inside a truck. The third is that any American troops fighting for control of their base are going to stop, fight their way back to the flag, and go through these instructions:
After taking down the flag, troops first have to get the truck from the tops of the pole. Then, the razor will be used to strip the flag, the match will be used to give the flag a flag’s retirement, and the bullet is said to be used for either an accelerant for burning the flag or for the troop to use on him or her self. Bonus: the rice is for strength and the penny is supposed to blind the enemy. Does this sound stupid? Because it is. This sounds like gung-ho BS that someone with a fifth-grader’s imagination came up with.
Not for oral use. Seriously.
Medics used to kick your mouth shut if you were killed in combat.
Old-timey dogtags (like the ones from World War II, pictured above) had notches on them, which of course led troops to speculate about the purpose of the notch on the tags. Like most things that came to mind for those old troops, the situation got real dark, real fast. The legend says if a soldier was killed in combat, the medic was supposed to use that notch to align the tag using the teeth in the deceased’s mouth, then kick the dead man’s mouth shut with Charlie Brown-level effort so the tag would be embedded and the dead would be identified.
That idea would have led to a lot more head trauma on World War II KIA, wouldn’t it? One would have to imagine a better way to maintain identifiers than defiling a corpse. The notch’s real purpose was much more mundane. They were used to keep the dog tag aligned on the embossing machine used to imprint the tags.
In 1966, the Marines in Vietnam found themselves with an unusual opportunity – to turn the tables on the enemy.
This came by way of Viet Cong and North Vietnamese defectors who were willing to be retrained to work and fight with American combat units. In exchange, they would receive better treatment and pay than they had at the hands of the communists.
This program dubbed “Chieu Hoi” (translated as “open arms”) offered defecting Viet Cong and North Vietnamese amnesty, healthcare, money, and employment assistance. After barely surviving under communist oppression, many were more than willing to give it up.
Kit Carson scouts were recruited from Vietcong defectors for their knowledge of the terrain and the local population. (Photo from AirborneOCS.com)
These incentives were enough to convince thousands of Viet Cong to desert and join the Americans. Due to their inherent knowledge of the terrain and the locals, the Marines called them Kit Carson scouts after the famous American frontiersman.
To the Vietnamese they were Hoi Chanh – or “one who has returned.”
To prepare for missions with American forces, communist defectors first had to pass training to become Kit Carson scouts.
For the 3rd Marine Division, an early proponent of the Kit Carson program, this training took place at Quang Tri City. Sergeant Maj. Tran Van Tranh, a communist infiltrator who defected when he saw the good life in South Vietnam, led the school there.
At the school he lectured on mines, booby-traps, snipers, and ambushes. And how to detect and disarm each one.
In 1967, after seeing the effectiveness of the program with the Marines, U.S. commander Gen. William Westmoreland ordered all divisions to recruit and train at least 100 scouts each.
Other schools with other divisions soon followed. In the U.S. Army’s 9th Infantry Division the Hoi Chanhs became known as Tiger Scouts.
Despite their training and experience many Kit Carson Scouts lacked English language skills. This was overcome in the Marine Corps by training young Marines in the Vietnamese language prior to arriving in country. These Marines were then assigned as “handlers” to the scouts assigned to their unit.
The Kit Carson Scouts were able to perform numerous tasks that made them priceless to the American fighting men. They were able to talk to the local Vietnamese in their native language and could identify Viet Cong guerrillas in the villages.
Through their training and experience they became adept at spotting booby traps – often having laid some themselves – saving countless Americans from death and dismemberment.
Due to the nature of their work and being out in front of American forces the Kit Carson scouts often found themselves engaged in combat as well. Relying on their guerrilla instincts and proper military training from the Americans, they excelled.
Many were recommended for awards for their bravery.
The scouts proved their value early on. In a short period of time in late 1966 the few Kit Carson Scouts assigned to the Marines were credited with nearly 50 enemy kills and the detection of nearly 20 mines, booby-traps, or tunnels.
Another scout led Marines through unfamiliar territory, at night, allowing them to surprise and capture a 15-man contingent of Viet Cong.
In another instance, a scout on patrol with Recon Marines fought savagely when the unit was ambushed. His suppressive fire in the face of overwhelming odds drove the enemy back. He then located a suitable landing zone for extraction and single-handedly carried two wounded Marines there. It was only after he fell, exhausted, while working to clear the landing zone that the Marines realized he had been shot three times but had never stopped.
The usefulness of the Kit Carson Scouts did not stop on the battlefield though.
They were equally as valuable in civil affairs and psychological operations due to their understanding of the local population and the enemy. Most importantly, they could help recruit more Viet Cong to rally to the government’s cause.
In total, over 83,000 Viet Cong were convinced to defect to South Vietnam, though only a small number would become Kit Carson Scouts.
In a paper detailing his experiences as the Officer in Charge of Kit Carson Scouts for the 3rd Marine Division Capt. William Cowan explained “the methods of effective Scout employment are restricted only by the imagination…success varies proportionally with the unit’s attitude and methods of employment.”
He gives the example of a Kit Carson Scout, Nguyen Thuong, who worked with 2nd Battalion 9th Marines. This particular scout could do it all.
In one instance Thuong discovered a well-concealed trap but because of his experience he suspected an enemy observation post in the area. His keen instinct was correct and the Marines were able to sweep through and destroy it.
In a later mission, Thuong braved enemy mortars to determine their firing position and called out the coordinates, in English, to the Marines who were able to call for fire and silence the position.
Thuong also made broadcasts for the Marines psychological operations efforts and acted as a clandestine agent in the villages around the Cam Lo artillery base. His intelligence gathering was far superior to anything the Marines could hope to accomplish on their own.
The service of men like Thuong proved invaluable to the overall war effort. By wars end over 200 Kit Carson Scouts had been killed in action out of less than 3,000 who served with the Americans.
During the Cold War, an Army Special Forces unit was tasked with sabotaging Soviet infrastructure and crippling an invasion force to buy NATO time should war break out. The mission was so secret that the entire thing was almost forgotten — until a few veterans of the unit stepped forward.
We spoke to two of these veterans to find out what it was like serving as clandestine soldiers in an occupied city on what was likely a suicide mission if the seemingly-imminent war ever started
U.S. and Soviet forces standoff across Checkpoint Charlie in 1961, one of the many Cold War flare-ups that occurred in occupied Berlin after World War II.
Master Sgt. Robert Charest is a veteran of Detachment A who has started the push for recording the unit’s history. Chief Warrant Officer 4 James Stejskal is the man who literally wrote the book on Detachment A.
The specific mission of Detachment A changed over the years, but the overarching goal was always preparing to counter and stall a Soviet invasion.
“If the Soviets decided to come across Checkpoint Charlie, we would just try to slow them down so that the rest of the folks, they’d get out of Berlin and all that stuff,” said Charest while describing the mission.
This meant that Charest, Stejskal, and others assigned to the unit — which had about 90 people in it for most of its existence — had to know what infrastructure to hit and how best to reach it. They also had to maintain all of the materials and weapons needed to complete their mission.
Berlin was criss-crossed by a network of trains, like this train for travelers on the U-Bahn. Another railway ran around the outside of the city carrying heavy freight, and Detachment A members were prepared to blow up train engines on the railway in case of war.
Some of the targets were obvious, like the railroad that ran around divided Berlin.
“Around Berlin, there was a railway network, basically called the Berliner Ring,” said Stejskal. “It was that railway network that would carry the majority of the Russian forces from east to west. So, you got the guys that are on the ground already and then you got all these troops that are going to be coming from Poland and the Czech Republic and then you’re heading for the Fulda Gap.”
Shutting down the railroad would slow the Soviet advance, but the teams that made up Detachment A needed a way to do it without getting caught. The more stuff they could break before getting captured and killed, the better chance NATO forces would have in building a defensive line and eventually launching a counter attack.
So, they rigged up pieces of coal, filled with explosives. Were these ever loaded into a train, the engineer would eventually blow up his own engine, blocking the rail line with a shattered train until authorities could clean up the mess, drastically slowing reinforcements.
Other targets included factories and other centers of manufacturing, transportation, and command and control.
To supply these missions, Detachment A relied on a series of spy-like gadgets and hidden caches of conventional weapons buried deep all over West Berlin. But the targets were in East Berlin, and Detachment A had to plan on how to strike across the city and, later in the war, across the Berlin Wall, to hit targets.
Special Forces sergeant Robert Charest while assigned to operation in Berlin, clearly rocking a different grooming standard than most soldiers in the Cold War.
(Photo courtesy of Bob Charest)
This required missions deep into Soviet-held Berlin. While Detachment A members usually enjoyed relaxed grooming standards and wore civilian clothes, spying across the wall was done in uniform surprisingly often.
“You put on a uniform, shaved your hair, got in the military vehicles, went through Checkpoint Charlie, and you had access to East Berlin,” Charest said, “Alexanderplatz and stuff like this. You drove around and that was your cover story. The Russians would do the same thing in West Berlin. They had their little system. That was how we conducted surveillance of our targets.”
The men had a huge advantage when spying on the East, though. Thanks to the 1950 Lodge Act, foreign nationals could obtain U.S. citizenship after a five-year stint in the military. This allowed Detachment A to recruit people from the neighborhoods and areas where their targets were without rousing suspicions. These recruits and leaders proved invaluable.
Soviet workers build the Berlin Wall, breaking up the city and reducing Detachment A’s ability to surveil its targets.
(U.S. National Archives)
“Our commander was great,” said Stejskal. “Our commander was Czech Officer who had served in the Resistance during World War II. Our Sergeant Major was a German who had served in the German Army, sort of, at the end of World War II. Just, nothing like you could imagine.”
“… several of the guys that reconned these targets were the actual Lodge Act people that lived in Berlin and had come from Berlin,” said Charest. “They knew where these targets were and the intel, G2 and above, knew what targets would be best to slow the Soviets down if they decided to come across.”
Detachment A practiced crossing the wall, swimming through deep canals with SCUBA gear, or making their way through sewer and water pipes under the city. One recon of the sewer pipes even got a senior officer in trouble.
Allied troops in West Berlin were deep behind Soviet lines. When the Soviets attempted to cut off re-supply to those troops, America launched the massive “Berlin Airlift” to keep them alive. The airlift was a success, but it drove home for many just how vulnerable West Berlin was.
(U.S. Air Force)
“He, along with somebody else, went into the sewer system to check the situation out for crossing points, okay,” Charest said. “Well, little did he know that the CIA had these things monitored with all kinds of stuff. They triggered the alarms.”
While the plans were well laid, they still relied on brave men willing to take on huge risks to make the mission a success. After all, West Berlin was still deep inside East Germany.
“It’s a strange feeling,” said Stejskal. “We were 110 miles behind the East German border, about 12,000 allied troops inside West Berlin surrounded by close to a million Russian and Warsaw Pact soldiers. Oddly enough, I think most of us were very energized to be where we were.”
And the men had a good idea of how dangerous that situation was.
Soviet forces prepare to leave Hungary. If the Cold War had gone hot, Detachment A members, like the rest of the allied troops in Berlin, would have been outnumbered and outgunned over 100 miles from friendly forces.
(RIA Novosti Archive, CC-BY-SA 3.0)
“Well, it was basically a suicide mission,” Charest said. “If we got in and hit anything and then we had to face escape and evasion, all right? You were on your own. There was nothing set up, formally, for escape and evasion, yet. You were on your own. That’s why you spoke the language, that’s why you were familiar with the countryside. You knew, essentially, you had to get to the coast or wherever NATO withdrew to and stuff like this. But, you had nothing formal, you were on your own.”
“I think we would’ve been hard-pressed to survive more than 72 hours, but you never can tell,” Stejskal said. “How did the OSS agents feel when they parachuted France or into Yugoslavia during World War II? Same kind of feeling. You’re anticipating that you’re going in to a very bad situation, but you got the best tools, the best cover, and everything else.”
Luckily, Detachment A never had to slow a Soviet invasion, despite flare-ups, like the tank standoff at Checkpoint Charlie. Instead, they spent their time training and conducting surveillance, preparing to save American forces in a war that never came and quietly saving American lives while building the framework and doctrine for units that followed them, like SEAL Team 6 and Delta Force.
Master Sergeant George Hand US Army (ret) was a member of the 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta, The Delta Force. He is a now a master photographer, cartoonist and storyteller.
Our assault team leader, Daddy-Mac, who would also accept Mac-Daddy as his call sign, had come to frown over the team’s overall performance during our pre-alert cycle weapons shake-out at Ft. Bragg’s Range 44, the most all-encompassing free-firing-est range on post.
We just didn’t take the shake out for what it was really worth. There was an opportunity there to train up and improve on skill sets… not just spray bullets down range to check the function of the gun. Really, that IS what the shake-out was about, but D-Mac saw it as an opportunity wasted; he was correct of course.
Shake-out meant we brought everything we had in our team room weapons vault and rocked the bejesus out of the Casbah for a day and night free-fire episode to make sure every aspect of our weapons were on point. Soldiers headed home for the evening would pull over and line the road shoulders to gaze at the spectacle; one they had never witnessed.
We focused our attention on crew-served machine guns, AT-4 anti-tank rockets, and the Carl Gustav 84mm recoilless rifle (also an anti-tank weapon). Since our team weapons were already loaded for alert, we grabbed extra machine guns from the Unit arms room.
M-240 7.62 x 51mm (short barrel) crew-served machine gun.
We the men of Daddy-Mac’s assault team drove to the range to set up and wait for Mac-Daddy to arrive with the ammunition he brought from the Unit’s magazine. A potential easy day of zero coordination at the Unit ranges turned into one of modest coordination due to us not being allowed to fire automatic weapons on our Ranges.
On our compound our ranges were always open, so we never had to call up Range Control to request permission to open fire; we just coordinated for space internally and started shooting. To shoot machine guns and rockets meant we had to schedule a time and place to train from Range Control, then report when we started and stopped our training.
That restriction never actually stopped us from grabbing a few Ak-47s on an occasional day off from the usual grind to just blindly pump full-auto magazine after magazine of hate into a dirt berm. This was typically coupled with a thunderous “GET SOME” to compliment the cloud of erupting dirt plumes.
7.62 x 39mm AK-47, AK: Автома́т Кала́шникова, Avtomát Kaláshnikova — (“Kaláshnikov’s Automatic Rifle) 47 is the year that Kaláshnikov invented it.
There were times when we pumped a little too much hate into the berms, and Range Control would literally hear the automatic fire, or some loser would hear it and rat on us to Control. That typically lead to a report of admonition to filter down to team level whereby Daddy-Mac would quiz with an arched brow:
“Were any of you potato-head pipe-hitters rock-n-rollin’ on the ranges last week?”
“Gosh, Mac-Daddy… no Sir; none of us were doing that. That’s just awful; why, there ought to be an investigation and men severely punished!”
AT4 Anti-tank rocket.
“Lose the bullcrap. If you find out or you think you know who did it tell them to nix the Tom-Foolery.” Sure, message delivered in his Dad-Mac style; message gratefully received by us all. The fact was, Mac-Daddy always had our six, and by Lucifer we all had his too.
Daddy Mac pulled up in a cargo truck, and we started to pull and stack crates of ordnance. As shirts came off, we the almighty men of Mac-Daddy’s assault team became painfully aware that there was far, far more ammunition than we could ever expend ourselves:
“Lord Jesus, Daddy-Mac… just what time are you expecting the Chinese hoards to attack? Aha…”
Mac-Daddy returned regard with just a heavenward arch of brow: “Right now, so let’s get started!”
Author (left) and Daddy-Mac joking as they prep for range fire.
In all, there were 17,000 rounds of 7.62 x 51mm for the machine gun, 25 AT-4 Anti-Tank rockets, and 50 rounds for the recoilless rifle. Every single report of either of those rockets was a guaranteed bell ring for the gunner. My head hurt just looking at it all.
“Daddy-Mac… we can’t shoot all these rockets, not by regulation we can’t; we’ll tear our pericardiums with all that concussion… we won’t be fit for duty with shredded heart sacks,” I whined.
“Guys, today is a good day to get good,” he began with a sinister grin that was developing across his face, “and that’s what we are going to do; we’re going to get good on all these weapons. Lock and load; I’ll open the range,” and Mac-D fenced with Range Control to open his range.
One of the bros grabbed an AT-4 and plopped in a firing pit behind cover and started to administratively prepare it for fire.
“Nope, nope, nope… not like that.” Mac-Daddy interrupted, “That is no longer how we employ AT. Sling that rocket and stand back 50 meters from the pit. At my signal you’ll, sprint to the pit and take cover. Once you start your sprint, I’ll call out your target. You need to have your distance figured out during the sprint. Once under cover, prep your rocket then pop up and fire. If you take longer than five seconds on your pop up… you fail whether you get a hit or not.”
Now I was pumped. This was realistic training, yes it was!
84mm Carl Gustav Recoilless rifle.
I did field a reservation about this training scenario: range conduct was very rigid and confining. Weapons were only to be loaded strictly on the firing line under strictly-controlled guidelines. Sprinting with loaded ordnance from a distance behind the firing line was absolutely out of bounds!
“Daddy-Mac, Range Control would crap a cinder block if they saw this,” warned a pipe-hitter.”
“Well Range Control ain’t here are they, so there’ll be no masonry crapping… now on your mark, get set, GO!”
So it went, and the competition was red-hot with second after second being shaved off of best times. Expended AT-4 tubes were strewn about making the firing line look the blast side of Mt. St. Helen. The machine gun rattled away thousands of rounds of jacketed lead further heating the already blazing-hot North Cackalacky summer day.
“Good Christ… you could glaze ceramics out here…” lamented a gunner.
Mac-Daddy: “What you meant to say was, RELOAD!” The gun spat and the rockets belched on.
A Range Control truck hockey-slid at our firing line and a cantankerous man scowled from his window:
Firing the 84mm Carl Gustav Recoilless rifle.
“Cease fire, cease fire!! …you’re destroying my range!”
The machine gun had been digging deeper and deeper V-shaped ruts into the known-distance berms, and some of the armor target subjects were just… simply… gone.
Mac Daddy closed the distance to the truck’s window and:
“How about you get off my range, tough guy! You can’t put me on check fire; I own this range! What you need to do is, first of all, get the f*ck off MY range, and second, you need to get some more armor out here and fill in those ruts in the berms before I come out here next. Fire at will, boys!!” And the machine gun rumbled, and the rockets red glared.
“You probably should send this one to depot,” I suggested as I turned in the machine gun to the armorer that night, “she’s seen better days.”
The moral of the story is: when Daddy-Mac tells you to jump, you request how high and crouch, because Mac-Daddy is going to make you jump.
As for what we took away from Mac-Daddy’s lesson, there was palpable embarrassment how we pissed away a live-fire opportunity on an admin shake-out, and we never treated it the same way. Every belt of machine gunfire, every rocket salvo was preceded by a physically taxing event that mimicked an engagement under the stress of combat. How could we have been so obtuse? We didn’t know, but it wasn’t going to happen again.
How does one start a revolution? It begins with a group of like-minded individuals who are bold enough to carry out an action against a superior entity, ultimately to change control of power. In the days of the American Revolution, these individuals were known as the Sons of Liberty, and their supporters — patriots like Sarah Bradlee Fulton, among others — predicated their success on secret preparation. How could they lead a rebellion against England’s powerful King George III and inspire townspeople to join their cause?
It didn’t happen overnight, but a series of events emboldened them to launch into action with an idea that was formed behind closed doors. It became known as the Boston Tea Party and is one of the most impactful political protests in history.
1773: Working men disguised as Mohawks throw chests of tea into the harbour in protest against direct taxation by the British.
(Original Artist: Robert Reid. Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images.)
In the 1760s, the colonists living in Boston, Massachusetts, felt that the British were taking advantage of them. Benjamin Franklin, one of the Founding Fathers who later penned America’s first political cartoon under the namesake “Join, or Die,” saw firsthand the strength and influence of a unified people. He shared these observations about his displeasure with the British through the written word, including poetry:
We have an old mother that peevish is grown,
She snubs us like children that scarce walk alone;
She forgets we’re grown up and have sense of our own,
Which nobody can deny, which nobody can deny.
Meanwhile, Boston’s economy thrived; they had successful taverns, the richest shipyard on the waterfront, 3,000 wooden and brick homes, and some 500 shops. The population of 16,000 were hardworking and young — half of them were teenagers. The majority in Boston were educated enough to read the ever-popular Boston Gazette newspaper and follow updates on how the British bullied and used them as pawns to fund their wartime debts (from the French and Indian Wars).
In 1765, Parliament, England’s governing body of the colonies, imposed the Stamp Act, which taxed Americans for anything made from paper after it arrived in colonial shipping ports. The Quartering Act followed, which demanded that citizens open their businesses and homes to British soldiers for housing and food. Two years later, the Townshend Act added paint, glass, lead, and tea to the list of taxable goods.
Join, or Die. by Benjamin Franklin (1754), a political cartoon commentary on the disunity of the North American British colonies, was later used to encourage the former colonies to unite against British rule.
(Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.)
The American colonists were naturally angry, and tensions were consolidated to an upheaval in anarchy. By this time, the secret society of rebels known as the Sons of Liberty had formed. Frontman Samuel Adams — among other members such as John Adams, John Hancock, and Paul Revere — held public gatherings at Faneuil Hall to gain notoriety. In secret, the future Founding Fathers also held private meetings at the Green Dragon Tavern or the “House of the Revolution,” previously located on Union Street in Boston’s North End. Samuel Adams’ individual actions had the British publicly cast him as “the most dangerous man in Massachusetts.”
Their freedoms were being infringed upon, writes Kathleen Krull in her book “What Was The Boston Tea Party?” They protested in small boycotts and skirmishes against loyalist businesses (those who sided with the British), which made the headlines in the next day’s newspaper — but, most importantly, it caught the attention of the royal tyrants. Adams encouraged other patriots who believed in their cause to act in defiance. They used intimidation, vandalism, and even defamation of tax collectors through a shameful punishment called tarring and feathering.
On Feb. 22, 1770, one of these strong-armed attempts turned violent when British customs officer, Ebenezer Richardson, fired his musket upon a group in his backyard, killing 11-year-old Christopher Seider. A month later, on March 5, 1770, Private Hugh White, a British soldier, used his bayonet against a patriot at the Custom House on King Street.
White escalated the verbal altercation to a physical one, and the angry mob countered with a volley of snowballs, rocks, and ice. Bells rang signalling a disturbance, and loyalists and patriots entered the street to see the commotion. As the riot ensued, the British fired their muskets, killing five colonists in what is today known as the Boston Massacre.
The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Picture Collection, The New York Public Library. “Boston Massacre” The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1870.
After these two incidents of bloodshed, the final straw was the imposition of the Tea Act, which was passed in May 1773. The Sons of Liberty had illegally smuggled tea from Holland because anything associated with the British infuriated them. Parliament countered with the enforcement of the British East India Company, the only tea that could be purchased. The once-adored tea from India and China, all 18 million pounds of it, had been outcasted by the colonists. So a group of American women began to make their own.
Women also played important if lesser-known roles in the events leading up to the Boston Tea Party. Similar to the Sons of Liberty, a group comprised of approximately 300 women was referred to as the Daughters of Liberty, and they had significant influence. Sarah Bradlee Fulton was an important figure who became known as the “Mother of the Boston Tea Party”; she later became one of the first women to come under the orders of George Washington as a spy during the American Revolution.
Fulton’s role in the Boston Tea Party wasn’t the infamous actions of dumping tea into Boston Harbor — it was more subtle, though equally important. Fulton is credited with suggesting that the patriots wear disguises during their great tea-dumping campaign to ensure that they couldn’t be recognized from a distance and would remain incognito when they ditched their outfits after the event.
Colonists also spread propaganda about British tea in the newspapers, instead valuing “Liberty Tea” made by American women in homemade batches. “Let us abjure the poisonous baneful plant and its odious infusion,” wrote one colonist. “Poisonous and odious, I mean, not on account of the physical qualities but on account of the political diseases and death that are connected with every particle of it.”
The Green Dragon Tavern, the meeting place where the Sons of Liberty planned the Boston Tea Party.
The Liberty Tea used the red root bush herb found growing on riverbanks. Red sumac berries and homegrown leaves were used to make Indian Lemonade Tea. Other recipes meticulously crafted delicious Raspberry Leaf Tea. It was declared “as good as any other tea, and much more wholesome in the end.”
While the Daughters of Liberty generally voiced their dissatisfaction with the British in quieter ways, they occasionally had to get a little rowdy. One such incident involved a merchant who was hoarding coffee, which was later dubbed the “Coffee Party.” Abigail Adams wrote about it to her husband, John, on July 31, 1777.
“There has been much rout and noise in the town for several weeks. Some stores had been opened by a number of people and the coffee and sugar carried into the market and dealt out by pounds. It was rumoured that an eminent, wealthy, stingy merchant (who is a bachelor) had a hogshead of coffee in his store which he refused to sell to the committee under 6 shillings per pound. A number of females some say a hundred, some say more assembled with a cart and trucks, marched down to the warehouse and demanded the keys, which he refused to deliver, upon which one of them seized him by his neck and tossed him into the cart. Upon his finding no quarter he delivered the keys, when they tipped up the cart and discharged him, then opened the warehouse, hoisted out the coffee themselves, put it into the trucks and drove off. It was reported that he had a spanking among them, but this I believe was not true. A large concourse of men stood amazed silent spectators of the whole transaction.”
But what happened in Boston Harbor four years prior was a pivotal moment in the fight for American independence.
On Dec. 16, 1773, an assembly was called at the Old South Meeting House, the largest building in colonial Boston. This is where John Hancock made a passionate demand: “Let every man do what is right in his own eyes!” The historic meeting amassed an estimated 5,000 to 7,000 colonists unified together against tyranny. The Boston Tea Party was put into motion to resist British oppression and to rally against taxation without proper representation.
The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Picture Collection, The New York Public Library. “Destruction of the tea” The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1881.
That evening, disguised as American Indians, “Adams’ Mohawks” marched toward Griffin’s Wharf carrying axes and tomahawks, wearing feathers on their caps and warpaint on their faces. The only opposition between the liberators and 342 chests of tea was a British officer who had drawn his sword. He was no match for them and simply stepped aside as he was heavily outnumbered. The men split into three groups and boarded the three ships: the Dartmouth, the Eleanor, and the Beaver. They ordered the crew below deck, then used ropes and pulleys to hoist 90- to 400-pound chests of tea up from the cargo area, onto the deck, and into the harbor.
A large crowd gathered on the shoreline and cheered on their patriots as they emptied the tea into the shallow harbor. With low tide, the harbor’s height was only two feet, therefore the “Indians” had to stomp the piles of overflowing tea leaves to get them to sink. Some of the raiding force tried to sneak tea into their pockets — one was even brave enough to use a rowboat to collect his stash, but these canoes were overturned. After they emptied all of the crates, enough to fill 18.5 million teacups, the “Indians” ducked into safe houses, through the help of the Daughters of Liberty, and were home by 10 that night.
John Andrews, an observer, later wrote, “They say the actors were Indians… Whether they were or not to a transient observer they appear’d as such, being cloth’d in blankets with the heads muffled and copper color’d countenances, each being arm’d with a hatchet or ax, and pair pistols, nor was their dialect different from what I conceive these [sic] geniusses to speak, as their jargon was unintelligible to all but themselves.”
To this day, due to a pledge of secrecy, it remains unclear of who was directly involved in the historic action of dumping tea into Boston Harbor. But the event — known now as the Boston Tea Party — has become one of the most iconic events of the American Revolution, igniting a revolt against British rule and the beginning of a new unified nation.
Buy a Bag, Give a Bag: Our first donated bags arrive to deployed troops in Iraq
Encephalitis lethargica is a disease that seems to belong in a horror movie, complete with brain damage that causes victims to sleep for years or to hack away at their own bodies — and it all started in Europe during World War I.
It was first described by World War I pilot and noble, Constantin von Economo, who switched to a career in medicine at the request of his parents after family members died in the war. As a physician, he served both civilians and the Central Powers, and his historical significance comes from being the first to describe a neurological disorder that popped up during the war.
His first patients reported constant exhaustion despite constantly sleeping, leading some people to call it the “sleeping disease” or “sleepy sickness.” This wasn’t exactly correct, though, as many patients never truly slept. They remained aware of their surroundings even when seemingly in deep sleep. As the disease progressed, patients also began exhibiting symptoms like abnormal eye movement, delirium, headache, or paralysis.
The paralysis and other symptoms were sometimes limited to one side of the body, giving off the surreal result that one side of the face and body became sluggish and tired while the other side remained relatively alert and functional.
From here, patients’ symptoms would progress in a couple directions. 5 million people were afflicted with the disease from 1917 to 1928. Approximately a third died, a third survived, and the final third were trapped in endless sleep. But the scary part for survivors was that symptoms could return years later — or they could suffer from Parkinson’s brought on by the disease.
Dr. Oliver Sacks, a physician famous for his work with encephalitis lethargica patients who slept for decades before awaking for a short period.
(Luigi Novi, CC BY 3.0)
And that endless sleep thing wasn’t a euphemism or anything. Some patients went to sleep for decades, only coming out of their near-endless rest when given an anti-Parkinson’s medication in 1969 through an effort led by Dr. Oliver Sacks. Unfortunately, Sack’s treatment with L-DOPA only provided a temporary relief of their symptoms. All patients eventually regressed back to permanent sleep or a catatonic state.
Oddly enough, those afflicted with long-term catatonia did get one benefit: They aged much more slowly than people awake.
People attacked members of their own family, authority figures, or random passersby, often with little visible emotion afterwards.
Encepheilitis lethargica could strike people of any age, and it often caused long-term Parkinson’s in the months or years after a patient had seemingly recovered from the condition.
(British Medical Journal 1925, Gullan)
Obviously, for troops in the war and returning veterans, the idea that exhaustion could be a sign of their imminent demise was terrifying, and the fact that their families could be afflicted by this mysterious disease was terrifying, but another outbreak pushed the sleepy sickness to the back of most people’s minds.
The Spanish flu pandemic broke out in 1918 and eventually killed between 20 and 50 million victims of the roughly 500 million people affected.
Today, we still don’t know the cause of encephelitis lethargica, but new cases fortunately fell off a cliff in 1926 and continued to dwindle in the 1930s. Now, new cases are extremely rare, but the exact symptoms of encephelitis lethargica were so varied that it’s hard to even be sure that new cases are from the same cause.
The title page of Constantin von Economo’s 1931 description of encephalitis lethargica.
(Wellcome Images, CC BY 4.0)
There does appear to be an auto-immune element to the disease with nearly all sufferers showing damage to the brain stem consistent with it coming under attack from the body’s immune system. This, combined with the disease’s first appearance around the same time as the flu pandemic, has led to speculation that it comes from the body’s overreaction to a virus. But that’s still not certain.
Analysis of other influenza and viral outbreaks, both before World War I and after, show some connection between viral outbreaks and the onset of encephelitis lethargica.
It’s still possible that the world could see a sudden resurgence of encephelitis lethargica, especially if there’s a new influenza outbreak, but our luck has held for over 70 years — fingers crossed.
Hanson at the GI Film Festival San Diego. Photo credit BH.
Brian Hanson has lived a few lives and succeeded in some of the harder endeavors known to man: earning a Ranger tab and making a movie. He grew up in Southern California, worked in Hollywood for awhile and then felt called to serve in the U.S. Army. He left Hollywood and became a Ranger serving on multiple deployments to Afghanistan. Upon returning from his service he fulfilled his dream by writing, directing and producing his first film, The Black String, starring Frankie Muniz.
WATM: Can you share about your family and your life growing up?
I was born in Detroit then my parents moved to San Diego. They were tired of the snow and wanted a new lifestyle on the West Coast. My father has always been a huge TV, film and history buff. I grew up in Escondido which is a suburb of San Diego. I had a sister that unfortunately was killed in a car accident when she was sixteen so that was a life changing moment in our lives. It was a paradigm shifter. My parents worked hard, and my youth was in many ways the normal SoCal life — riding bikes with friends, enjoying summers and playing sports. I had a real fascination toward movies and telling stories. It was always in me. I played football and baseball in high school. I also did student government. We did a field trip when I was a senior in high school to see a talk show at Paramount Studios to see The Kathy Lee Gifford Show. Seeing the stage, PAs and cameramen showed me that showbiz was a real industry and that I could do it. Even though I did (short) films with my friends it made me aware that I could direct myself toward the industry. It is a real thing.
I graduated that summer and my sister died, so all bets were off on going into the industry at that time. I did one year at San Diego State and then decided to travel abroad with a friend. We worked as bartenders and lived in the United Kingdom. It is what 18 year olds should do— go see the world. I started reading Syd Field books and Robert Rodriguez books like Rebel Without a Crew, watching El Mariachi, Swingers, Reservoir Dogs, Clerks, Blair Witch, The Following…I was really into the big studio movies (Saving Private Ryan, Back to the Future, The Matrix) and the independents. It was like you can do this, get a camcorder and you can do it. I knew I wanted to join the military, but not at that moment in my life so I came back from Europe and transferred up to Cal State Northridge. I graduated and got my proper film school bachelor’s degree. I knew I wanted to be a Writer/Director. My parents were very supportive of my endeavor in making it in Hollywood and telling stories.
Once US Forces entered Iraq in 2003, I had read voraciously about 9/11 and the invasion of Afghanistan. I knew I was going to join the military at some point, but when? I would be pouring drinks for young, good looking Hollywood people at a bar making hundreds of dollars a night where over their shoulder would be a TV on reporting the Battle of Fallujah. I started to not feel right about that, and I wanted to be an honest storyteller. I would like to be a storyteller that speaks truthfully and authentically and didn’t want to be the person that imitates. I didn’t want to be an imitator of Goodfellas or Full Metal Jacket. I knew I needed that life experience to be an authentic storyteller. I did a TV Pilot with some friends that we raised money for, and Brandon Routh was in it. This was right before he was cast as Superman in Superman Returns. Brandon and I bartended together at that time. He was a great guy to work with. I was also bartending at the Playboy mansion during the end of the glory days for Hefner and the Mansion. It’s tough to just walk away from all of that and you are making decent money in Hollywood. You are just one step or script away from “it” happening.
After not much happened with the TV Pilot I started to realize that Hollywood and LA are still going to be here. I wrestled a year or two of how to leave it behind after I had started a life. As I approached 30, I looked in the mirror and decided to join the Army because if I waited longer, the military wouldn’t let me join – I’d be too old. I would have regretted to my dying day if I did not serve. There were no questions in life. I knew joining as an older guy would be different when compared to most recruits. But I wanted to volunteer my time and some of the years of my life to serve my country, but I had to step up and go do it. I gotta do this and gotta do it now. I knew my goal was to come back to LA with this accomplishment and service to my country being complete.
Hanson at Fort Benning. Photo credit BH.
WATM: What made you want to become a Ranger and what was your experience like?
I didn’t know all the details when I enlisted as an 11Bravo (infantry), but I knew that Rangers and Green Berets were the high-speed special-operations units. One day in Basic Training at Fort Benning, the Ranger recruiters came out to ask for volunteers and my Drill Sergeant SFC Metcalfe looked at me and said, “Hanson, you better f’n volunteer.” So, I volunteered on the spot and a few months later I was reporting to Ranger Assessment Selection Program. Unfortunately, SFC Metcalfe was killed in action a year later when he deployed to Afghanistan with the 173rd. I thank SFC Metcalfe for pushing me to go Ranger.
I was stationed at Fort Benning with 3rd Ranger Battalion where it is a high-speed training cycle. You train for six months and then deploy for about 3 to 4 months. There is always a Ranger Battalion deployed. Just operating at that tempo, at all times, is exciting and inspiring to see your NCOs, squad leaders and platoon sergeants are on their sixth or tenth deployment. It was very inspiring to see their commitment to the unit at the cost of their family and personal time. When you are a single young, enlisted person it is very inspiring to see that level of motivation. Rangers hold themselves up to the highest standard of leading the way. You are always being tested. It is uncomfortable and you never have a chance to relax. It is a great way to stay sharp. It is a tough head space to always be in. You are always being watched. The young (new) guys compete like professional athletes to deploy, like trying to make the starting roster. Once you deploy you want to be on that mission every time. I deployed to FOB Salerno in Afghanistan on the border real close to Pakistan. My second deployment was at Camp Leatherneck/Camp Bastion and then my last deployment I was at FOB Shank aka “Rocket City”. That place was hit like all day with nonstop rockets. It’s funny how used to it you get.
The Taliban used a lot of ingenious guerrilla tactics like setting ice on the mortars to eventually melt and then go off at some point during the day. Apaches would launch to try and find the culprits however they were not there. We ran the night shift out there for High Value Targets (HVT) where we went on night raids. To see how targets were acquired and track and intel was gathering where the strike force commander was the CO. From top to bottom the whole thing was a collection of assets. We worked with the Air Force, Navy, Marines, big Army, DIA and had civilians running the drones. It is amazing to see people come together for these task forces where all of these people work together on the fly. Being 30 and seeing this strike force run by young soldiers/civilians is amazing because in Hollywood most 23-year olds close to me are up and coming bartenders/actors/writers/directors. In Afghanistan we had 23-year-old Forward Observers bringing in Chinook helicopters into dangerous LZs to pick us up for a night raid. 24-year-old squad leaders are ensuring that everyone is accounted for and that no one is left behind on the side of a mountain in Afghanistan. It is amazing to see what young people can do where they have been trained at such a high level and have high expectations. They achieve and are motivated. I think Hollywood is an amazing place where things get done, but I think a lot of it is a 10-year delay. It is a bit of an arrested development sometimes.
In a training incident I was a towed jumper. We were doing our yearly training for airfield seizures which is an entire battalion operation to seize an airfield. I was the last guy to jump out of a C-17 at night with a full combat load and got hung up on the plane which made me a towed jumper. I was hanging outside of a C-17 at 1000 to 1500 feet circling Fort Benning banging against the side of the plane and fully conscious. Thinking that I might die at any moment and this is not a normal thing to happen to people. My static line wrapped around my weapons case where when you are jumping your weapons case is attached to your thigh and your harness. Somehow there was too much slack in the static line to where it wrapped around the weapons case so it wouldn’t release me. The static line stays clipped inside the plane and it is supposed to pull the back of the pack tray. You jump and it pulls it out, but it got wrapped around and it pulled me.
I was okay with a tight body position and covered my reserve chute, so it didn’t release. I was out there for six minutes. I thought they were going to cut me loose to where all I have left is my reserve chute to land on some trees at night next to the Chattahoochee River. Then I started looking at my boots flying through the air and thought this is what parasailing must be like. Then I thought, did they forget about me and is the C-17 going to try to land? Do they not know I am out here, and I am going to do some high-speed combat roll on a tarmac as the C-17 lands? You are trained to keep a tight body position out there, so they know you are not unconscious. I kept slamming against the side of the C-17 behind a gigantic turbine engine. I hit the plane and stayed there where I started to get dragged across the skin of the plane. I felt hands underneath my arms and they pulled me in. Everybody was so glad to see I was alive and in one piece. I was just relieved as I was out there so long, I went beyond any initial shock, concern to just cut me loose guys so I can land on a tree with my reserve shoot.
They pulled me in and did a great job making sure I was okay. I had to retell the story for weeks to a lot of soldiers, especially Sgt Majors at the DFAC wanted to hear the story of a towed jumper. It was a very bizarre story because no one wants to be a towed jumper. It is a total nightmare scenario short of both chutes failing. It all ended well and twelve stitches in my chin was it. After all of that my 1stSgt checked on me and made sure I was alright. He then told me, “Get ready you are jumping tomorrow.” We had another jump the next day. The 3rd Ranger Battalion was like you are jumping tomorrow to get over any fear of jumping again. Just get out there and do it. I jumped not 24 hours later and believe me I was concerned. I said, “There is no way that can happen twice.” I got out the door and was fine. There is not a lot of pity or sympathy it is like get back up and do it again unless you are truly hurt, alright get up and do it as there is no time to think about. That is something I take with me to this day.
All of the pre-jump training you do these repetitive and boring things you already know, and I did one of those things without even thinking about it. It dawned on me why I do this training every single time. When that one time does happen, you are ready and have gone over the worst-case scenario. You will be that much quicker to save your own life or someone else. It seems so mundane and so repetitive and a waste of time until you need it. That repetitive action like weapons malfunctions….but when you need that instantaneous second nature habit it is the most important thing you could have known at that point.
Hanson at Camp Leatherneck. Photo credit BH.
Hanson on his last mission at FOB Shank. Photo credit BH.
Paratroopers jumping from C-17 Globemasters.
View of Camp Salerno. Photo credit wikipedia.com.
WATM: What are you most proud of from your service in the Army?
I am proud I stepped up to the challenge of 75th Ranger Regiment (thank you SFC Metcalfe) and made the team. Severing with my Ranger buddies was like the saying goes: “I was no hero, but I walked amongst a few.” I did my part and I know guys that are still out there doing it. I know squad leaders that are now getting their own platoons. Some guys have gone into elite units like Delta Force and the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment. I still think about them often and stay in touch. I want to make them proud because of the work they are still doing…I try to keep pushing myself in a way that would do right by the effort they are putting on…I am proud to have been on a team with those guys and seen what leadership means…and at such a young age and for so many people. I am proud to have seen it and been associated with that level of person.
Frankie and Paige Muniz, Kayli, Chelsea and Brian at Dances with Films. Photo credit BH.
WATM: What values have you carried over from the Army into Hollywood?
One thing that you see among some twenty something bartenders or Hollywood newbies that is unacceptable in the Ranger Regiment and also unacceptable in the Army are excuses. It is the same on production, there are no excuses. There are just no excuses. I don’t want to hear it other than a solution. Maybe an, “I’m sorry,” and that is it where I don’t even want to hear an excuse. Unless there is something disastrous you need to untangle. No excuses, just solutions. The high-level professional types of productions have that mentality where I really appreciate it. I do see the correlation between military units and productions. You have one mission where everyone comes together to accomplish it.
Also, you see this in the military and it is a career everything, keep moving forward just like a twenty-mile ruck march. You worry about the next step, then the next phone pole, then the next quarter mile where they will all add up. You can be overwhelmed by all of it if you look at it all at once where if you do it one step at a time you see that you can do it. Those are two crucial lessons I learned in the Army.
Hanson, Frankie and crew at Dances With Films. Photo credit BH.
WATM: What was one of the toughest lessons to learn coming from the service to Hollywood?
Even though I had worked in Hollywood before leaving, I came back a veteran, and still had to learn that there is a system in Hollywood. The system is not as rigid perhaps as the military. It isn’t just this artistic endeavor where you get to be a genius and be Quentin Tarantino or you are Steven Spielberg because you say you are. There is a hierarchy and there is a smart way to navigate. There is a way to get oriented and to a very real map of how this town works and have very realistic expectations. I think that veterans and others think of their prior accomplishments, whether a lawyer or a company commander of an infantry company, where you are not going to be a 1st AD. That is a ten-year path that is very regimented. The biggest challenge is understanding what the path to success is and how to realistically pursue those things. Know that they all take time and embrace that.
***Since leaving the Army I have learned so much by working as a Production Assistant on HBO’s Barry, Silicon Valley, Room 104 and worked as Assistant to Matthew Rhys on Perry Mason. Being on set and working for top level professionals has been an incredible learning experience and given me insight to become a better filmmaker on my own projects. I also greatly appreciate the film/tv mentorships, education and opportunities I was given through Veterans in Media Entertainment (VME), USVAA and WGF. It has been very important to find mentors and work for professionals.
Hanson with members of the cast and production staff at the Austin Film Festival. Photo credit BH.
WATM: What was it like writing, producing and directing your own feature film, The Black String?
The story was percolating for a long time before making the film such as Donnie Darko, Repulsion, Jacobs Ladder, which does a great job of blending horror and military, and Rosemary’s Baby. It was conceived with my bartending buddy Andy Warrener before I joined the Army. We wanted to explore in that story what it is like to be on that edge where you are experiencing something and no one else believes. It is you against the world. How do you convince someone of something that crazy of a witch conspiracy or a coven of witches? Or some really wild, evil cabal? The moment you say those words you already sound like you are having mental problems. Doctors will definitely not be going to believe.
The challenge we wanted was for a character to have to convince his family, his friends and his doctors of something that is inconceivable where no one in the real world is going to believe that. We put that in a genre we enjoyed which was horror. Now we thought maybe we would make that movie, but I joined the Army and Andy got married and moved to Florida. The wild thing is that you never know what you write today may be a movie in five or ten years. I lived a whole crazy life in between thinking of the story while tending bar with my buddy and then going into the Army. The difference in the time gap was about seven years. I could not have guessed that would have happened, especially with Frankie Muniz.
The creative part I was very comfortable with in the directing and writing having made many short films. I got an MFA from Mt. Saint Mary’s University with the GI Bill, which is a beautiful thing, loves the GI Bill. I owe so much to the GI Bill. So, I got very comfortable with the directing portion where you get very creative to bring this vision and feeling and this emotion you have to life in a very technical way. It is running the business, the producing part of things, to where you are starting a business, you are an entrepreneur. My producing partner Richard Handley, he is a Navy veteran and was an officer and Physician’s Assistant, he runs a contracting business with the DoD. We ran a business together where many purely creative types don’t understand what that level of dedication and commitment is.
To this day I have had probably had equal amounts of discussions about corporate taxes, LLCs, investor shares and running a business as I have about storyboarding shots. When you are doing an independent film like this, truly a passion project, you are building a team that is not a whole lot different…then opening a small company. You and your business partner are shouldering the burden if not for months, but for years. You have to love it and I do where it has been a great journey to where we had such great crew members and other producers that have helped us along the way. It is a multiple year endeavor when you do something like that in the independent world. You really are from the very beginning of raising money all the way to negotiating with distributors and foreign distributors and how you cut checks to your investors. It’s a true business education and kind of feels like I got this mini MBA education.
That was unexpected but the directing part was just amazing. Working with such talented people and friends that I had before joining the Army…we really were able to bring a lot of relationships such as Ravi Patel I bartended with as well. Cullen Douglas and Ravi and I did a TV pilot in like 2008. It was amazing to be able to reach back to my pre-Army friends that are so talented and my post Army, new team of filmmaking friends and bring everybody together. We called on so many favors. We had such great support from Mt. Saint Mary’s, VME and Vega Baby. We called in every favor where it is such a positive experience. When we landed in Frankie Muniz where he is a champ.
He brought his “A game” even for the tiny movie it was. He loved the character and the chance to do something different. He gave everything to our tiny project as he would have to our multi-million-dollar project. He treated us with respect, and he treated the script with respect. He came to set daily with a big folder of his personal notes. He was meticulous like a pro and his level of preparation and how he kept track of everything and what he brought was just amazing. He took that movie and made it really something different than perhaps something we thought. Frankie made it his Breaking Bad character. Like his Malcolm in the Middle dad, Bryan Cranston did on Breaking Bad. He was still kind of that funny person but had a much darker take on it. It is a dark twist on that guy you already know. Frankie imbued the role in the film with his Malcolm in the Middle persona, but whoa that is the dark side of it. What happened? Like Breaking Bad, what went wrong? To work with a pro, I learned.
To be able to work with actors like Ravi, Frankie, Cullen, Oded and Chelsea where they are people that do this for a living to be able to work with people like that and be creative partners with them for my first feature was inspiring. To see how a team can really work with everybody really contributing some high-level creativity. Everyone on the team had so much to add. You have to shepherd the project to where everyone stays on track, but still allow personal creative contributions from cast members. A director is like a manager of a company. You have to work with the talent, resources and the money of your company. You still have to get to the goal, but you can’t be resistant to some things that are great new ideas.
Poster for The Black String. Photo credit IMDB.com.
Screen capture of The Black String. Photo credit BH.
Rich and Mari Handley with Yani and Brian. Photo credit BH.
Screen capture of The Black String. Photo credit BH.
Hanson and Handley on stage at the GI Film Festival. Photo credit BH.
WATM: What leadership lessons in life and from the Army have helped you most in your career?
“No excuses” and intense preparation for a project. It is preparing like you are the best and spending hours a day preparing. Don’t assume, always do pre-combat inspections. It is having everything truly ready to go. Because once you arrive on set and once you arrive at that location it needs to be ready and needs to be operational. If not you, need to have a back-up plan. Research and having contingency plans. Checking your equipment and your team. It can be seen as micromanaging, but it doesn’t have to be that bad. In the military everybody checks their troops. It’s just how it is to make sure your guys and your buddies are ready to go. I think that can be transferred to the civilian world and film production.
Frankie Muniz and Richard Handley in The Black String. Photo credit IMDB.com.
More of Muniz in The Black String. Photo credit BH.
Screen capture of The Black String. Photo credit BH.
Screen capture of The Black String. Photo credit BH.
WATM: As a service, how do we get more veteran stories told in the Hollywood arena?
We need support from great organizations to promote veteran voices and veteran creators. Such organizations as We Are The Mighty, Veterans in Media and Entertainment (VME), of which I volunteer heavily with, the USVAA, United States Veteran Artistic Alliance, and the WGA Writer’s Guild Foundation do support veterans. We need the support from industry professionals and organizations. They are out there, and they are growing. I think that with the people in the position in power right now, the producers and executives that can green light things, I do think they do a really good job where there is always a presence of the military and law enforcement. There are always more and different perspectives. To keep in mind and do the rote, stereotypical type of story lines. There are a lot of really nuanced, interesting and unexpected perspectives that veterans can bring to the time-honored tradition of military inspired entertainment. The producers, executives and showrunners should be open to finding those unexpected angles to veteran stories.
Hanson with Steve Fiorina and Handley at the GI Film Festival. Photo credit BH.
WATM: What would you like to do next in your career?
I plan on directing my second film in 2021. My first one was the horror genre where my next one is likely going to be a thriller with a military character. I always want to do things that are thought provoking. I definitely want to challenge viewers and explore philosophies. …Christopher Nolan makes great entertainment and with challenging ideas and philosophies. He is an independent filmmaker making giant movies, which is something to strive for. Since I have completed my first film…I have been working to get on great television shows as a writer. There are so many stories to tell and I joined the Army and lived this life to help tell authentic stories. I would love to be in day in and day out be in a room with other story tellers creating an amazing show. Creating stories with a team. I will continue directing but would love to be in that writer’s room doing innovative television.
Brian Matthew Rhys on “Perry Mason”. Photo credit BH.
WATM: What are you most proud of in life and your career?
I am most proud of serving in the 75th Ranger Regiment. In a sense in my career I may never do anything as meaningful as that even if I make ten more movies or even if nominated for an Academy Award. I don’t think that I’ll ever be prouder than spending those days with my Ranger buddies in Afghanistan or sweating in Fort Benning. I am also proud of making that first movie and everyone that contributed to that colossal effort from nothing. Rich Handley and I being these recent film graduates decided to make a movie where we built that coalition from the ground up. It is an effort we are very proud of and what we did and everybody that was able to help us achieve that.
On the back end we got distribution through Grindstone and Lionsgate to where we had to find everything from scratch. The studio didn’t fund this. Movie making is a risky endeavor and long commitment over many years. The movie has been out now over a year and we are still making producer phone calls and receiving emails four years later. When you divide the money, you might make on the back end of an indie film and divide the hours by what you put in it, there might not be much money so that passion that drives you to keep working. There is a bond between people that have that level of passion to work 15-hour days. You are not really thinking about the paycheck where you are there to get the job done because you believe it is similar to the military mindset.
My wife Yani Navas-Hanson is from Venezuelan; she left the country and I met her in Atlanta when I was at Fort Benning and she was studying at Georgia Tech. She was the accountant by trade and then was our accountant on the movie. She left her country, learned English here in the US and transitioned from corporate accounting to entertainment accounting and from taking on the challenges of an independent film. What someone like her can accomplish if they are driven and keep pushing forward and to be able to accomplish that in a few years is amazing. People do have to surround themselves with the right people. If you are in a relationship with someone who is not supportive with this career path or your family is not supportive, then you might have a tough time during the ups and downs. Family and friend support is crucial. I have fantastic and supportive friends and family.
Brian and Yani at Sitges Film Festival. Photo credit BH.
There are also examples of Chinese military systems looking suspiciously like US systems — the F-22 and the MQ-9 Reaper drone among them. Other elements of those Chinese systems — the software, technology, and manpower used to operate them — aren’t on par with the US military yet.
Esper told attendees that he had cautioned European allies against allowing Chinese companies to build 5G cyber networks in their countries, warning that to do so would risk sensitive national security information.
“Every Chinese company has the potential to be an accomplice in Beijing’s state-sponsored campaign to steal technology,” he said, highlighting China’s integration of civil and military technology, an area in which Beijing surpasses the US.
“China has systematically sought to acquire US technology both through traditional espionage means, as well as through legal investments in companies,” Daniel Kliman, director of the the Asia-Pacific Security Program at the Center for a New American Security, told Insider.
“The United States very much still retains a military technological edge, but it’s clear that edge is eroding,” Kliman said.
Read on to see how China’s carbon copies stack up to US weapons systems.
Chinese air force J-20 stealth fighters.
The PLA’s J-20 looks extremely similar to the US Air Force’s F-22 Raptor.
Su Bin, a Chinese national and aerospace entrepreneur, pleaded guilty to cyber espionage in 2016. He and coconspirators spied on US plans for the C-17 Globemaster, the F-35, and the F-22.
But while the J-20 looks like the F-22, it’s not quite in the same league.
Michael Kofman, a senior research analyst at the CNA think tank, told Insider last year that he suspected “the J-20 probably has great avionics and software but, as always, has terrible engine design. In fact, Chinese low-observation aircraft designs like J-31 are flying on older Russian Klimov engines because the Chinese can’t make an engine.”
Kofman also expressed doubt about the J-20’s stealth capability.
“It’s got so many surfaces, and a lot of them look pretty reflective from the sides too. I’m pretty skeptical of the stealth on that aircraft,” he said.
A Chinese Shenyang J-31.
The Chinese Shenyang J-31 is strikingly similar to the US F-35.
The Shenyang J-31 is still under development but will likely replace the J-15 fighter, at least on aircraft carriers. The J-15 has been plagued with issues, including multiple fatal crashes and problems with its engine, the South China Morning Post reported last year.
The J-31 is the People’s Liberation Army’s second stealth aircraft and was first seen in 2014. There is widespread speculation that the J-31 is based on Lockheed Martin’s F-35 plans, although China has denied those claims.
The J-31 is lighter and has a shorter range than the F-35 but may beat it with maximum speed of Mach 1.8 to the F-35’s Mach 1.6, Popular Science reported in 2017.
The question of how well these aircraft actually match up to their US competitors remains, and, Kliman said, appearances are only part of the equation.
“Sometimes superficially the designs do look similar — it could be, in part, from some of the attempts China’s made to acquire good technology, but I would just caution that at the end of the day, it’s hard to know how similar it is or not,” he told Insider.
An MQ-Reaper over Creech Air Force Base in Nevada, June 25, 2015.
The Caihong-class unmanned aerial vehicle, including the CH-4 and CH-5, look unmistakably like US MQ-9 Reaper drones.
While there’s no concrete evidence that the Chinese design is the result of espionage or theft, the visual similarities are unmistakable — nose-mounted cameras on the CH-4B, as well as locations for external munitions are just like those on the Reaper, Popular Mechanics reported in 2016, calling the two aircraft “identical.”
Breaking Defense reported in 2015 that, in addition to the same domed nose and V-shaped tail, the UAVs both have 66-foot wingspans.
Drone designer Shi Wen, of the China Academy of Aerospace Aerodynamics, told China Daily three years ago that the CH-5 model “can perform whatever operations the MQ-9 Reaper can and is even better than the US vehicle when it comes to flight duration and operational efficiency.”
But again, Chinese technology and specifications likely don’t match up to US counterparts.
For starters, the Reaper can carry roughly double the munitions of the CH-5. And while the CH-5 can travel farther, with a range of about 1,200 miles, its flight ceiling is about 23,000 feet, compared to the Reaper’s nearly 50,000-foot ceiling, according to the Center for Strategic International Studies’ China Power project.
The Reaper also has a heavier maximum takeoff weight and can travel at twice the speed of the CH-5, due to persistent challenges with Chinese-made engines.
The Chinese air force’s Y-20 transport aircraft has design similarities to the US Air Force’s C-17 Globemaster III.
Su Bin pleaded guilty in 2017 to conspiring to steal technical data related to the C-17 from Boeing and the US Air Force.
That data likely was used to build the Xian Y-20, China’s large transport aircraft, nicknamed the “Chubby Girl.” As Garrett M. Graff notes in Wired, Su helped pilfer about 630,000 files related to the C-17.
Whether China used information about the C-17 to build the Y-20 is unclear — Beijing has denied stealing US technology for its weapons systems — but the similarities are apparent, from the nose to the tail stabilizer, as Kyle Mizokami points out in Popular Mechanics.
The Y-20 has a smaller empty weight and payload than the C-17, Popular Mechanics reported in 2016, but the Y-20 is the largest transport aircraft in production. The Chinese military lacked a large transport carrier prior to the development of the Y-20, making it difficult to quickly mobilize large numbers of supplies and troops to battlefields or disaster areas, Wired reported in 2012.
“Just because something looks somewhat similar doesn’t mean it has equivalent capabilities,” Kliman cautioned, particularly where human capability is concerned.
“It’s not the technology alone. It’s the quality of the pilots in a fighter airplane. It’s the quality of the systems that are feeding the aircraft information,” Kilman said.
China hasn’t fought a foreign war since the brief Sino-Vietnamese War in 1979. US service members and systems have much more battlefield experience than Chinese forces.
“The [People’s Liberation Army] has made a long-term effort to improve its human capital, including through training but also through education … but at this point, the US, our pilots, our operators get, certainly, the real-world experience,” Kilman said.
(DoD photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Chad J. McNeeley)
Where does China go from here?
If Esper and retired Navy Adm. William McRaven are to be believed, China is rapidly closing the technology and defense gap with the US, through both legal and illegal means.
Whether China is pouring money into research and development or committing outright intellectual-property theft, US officials have cause for concern about the future.
In August, Chinese national Pengyi Li was arrested on his way to Hong Kong after an undercover investigation by the Department of Homeland Security into the smuggling of components for missiles and surveillance satellites from the US to China, Tim Fernholz and Justin Rohrlich reported in Quartz.
Chinese nationals have also been found guilty of trying to smuggle accelerometers, which are necessary for guided missiles and spacecraft.
In terms of hypersonic technology, which “does seem pretty game-changing,” China is ahead of the US, said Kliman, who stressed that it’s important not to be alarmist.
“I think those statements are certainly well-intended and grounded in reality,” he said, referring to Esper and McRaven’s warnings.
Outside of military technology, Kliman said, China certainly is a leader in information technology. But when it comes to systems, allies, and people, the US still has a leg up on the competition — for now.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
On Sept. 10, 2019, US Air Force F-15 Strike Eagles and F-35 Lightning II aircraft dropped 80,000 pounds of ordnance on 37 targets on Qanus Island in Iraq’s Tigris River. Approximately 25 Islamic State (ISIS) fighters were killed in the operation, according to Sabah Al-Numaan, a spokesperson for the Iraqi Counter Terrorism Service (CTS).
Al-Numaan told Insider that US aircraft hit 37 targets, “trenches and caves,” on the island ISIS fighters were using as a stopoff on the way into Iraq from Syria. The island, which has thick vegetation, was “like a hotel for Daesh,” Lt. Gen. Abdul Wahab Al-Saadi, commander of the Iraqi CTS told Insider, using the Arabic acronym for ISIS.
Lt. Gen. Al-Saadi’s team made a sweep of the island after it was partially destroyed by US strikes. He told Insider that his team found rocket-propelled grenade launchers (RPGs), several rockets, and improvised explosive devices (IEDs). A spokesperson for Operation Inherent Resolve confirmed on Sept. 10, 2019, that a weapons cache was found on the island after the air strike.
Lt. Gen. Al-Saadi said that US drones had provided surveillance data for the secret operation, and that there were no civilians on the island.
One of the reasons the island was an ideal hideout for ISIS militants on the move was the absence of Iraqi troops nearby, Lt. Gen. Al-Saadi said. According to a Pentagon Inspector General report on Operation Inherent Resolve, the US operation in Iraq, Iraqi security forces on the whole don’t have the infrastructure to consistently counter ISIS.
Part of Qanus Island was destroyed in the airstrike, Al-Numaan, the CTS spokesperson told Insider. “The important [thing is] that Daesh lose this area and they cannot use [it].”
ISIS has ramped up its presence in Iraq and Syria since the US drew down troop presence in Syria and decreased its diplomatic presence in Iraq. Although President Donald Trump proclaimed that ISIS’s caliphate was completely defeated at a July cabinet meeting, there are still an estimated 14,000 to 18,000 ISIS fighters. Combatants in Iraq and Syria continue to carry out suicide bombings, crop burnings, and assassinations.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
What brought this to their attention was the medal count between Audie Murphy – long regarded as the most decorated U.S. soldier ever – and a little-known WWII veteran and Medal of Honor recipient named Matt Urban, whose medal count matched Murphy’s.
But no one knew that Urban had matched the well-known Murphy until 36 years after the end of WWII because Urban’s recommendation and supporting paperwork were lost in the bureaucratic shuffle.
He was also awarded the French Croix de Guerre and the Legion of Merit but never knew until his military records were reviewed to award his Medal of Honor.
And there were a lot of actions to review.
President Carter called then retired Lt. Col. Matt Urban “The Greatest Soldier in American History” as he presented the Medal of Honor to Urban in 1980. The soldier’s Medal of Honor citation alone lists “a series of actions” – at least 10 – that go above and beyond the call of duty.
The Nazis called Urban “The Ghost” because he just seemed to keep coming back to life when they killed him. The soldier’s seven Purple Hearts can attest to that.
Urban joined the Army ROTC at Cornell in 1941. It was just after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and unfortunately for the Nazis, Urban graduated in time to land in North Africa in 1942.
He was ordered to stay aboard a landing craft off the Tunisian coast, but when he heard his unit encountered stiff resistance on the beaches, he hopped in a raft and rowed to the fight. There he replaced a wounded platoon leader.
Later, at the Battle of the Kasserine Pass, Urban destroyed a German observation post, then led his company in a frontal assault on a fortified enemy position. During one German counterattack, Urban killed an enemy soldier with his trench knife, then took the man’s machine pistol and wiped out the rest of the oncoming Germans. He was wounded in his hands and arm.
In North Africa, his actions earned him two Silver Stars, a Bronze Star, and two Purple Hearts.
It was in France where Urban would distinguish himself and earn his nickname. His division landed at Normandy on D-Day, and later at the French town of Renouf he spearheaded another gallant series of events.
On June 14, 1944, two tanks and small arms began raking Urban’s men in the hedgerows, causing heavy casualties. He picked up a bazooka and led an ammo carrier closer to the tanks.
Urban then exposed himself to the heavy enemy fire as he took out both tanks. His leadership inspired his men who easily bested the rest of the German infantry.
Later that same day, Urban took a direct shot in the leg from a 37mm tank gun. He continued to direct his men to defense positions. The next day, still wounded, Urban led his troops on another attack. He was wounded again and flown back to England.
In July 1944, he learned how much the fighting in the French hedgerows devastated his unit. Urban, still in the hospital in England, ditched his bed and hitchhiked back to France. He met up with his men near St. Lo on the eve of Operation Cobra, a breakout effort to hit the German flanks and advance into Brittany.
He found his unit held down by a German strong point with two of his tanks destroyed and a third missing its commander and gunner. Urban hatched a plan to remount the tank and break through but his lieutenant and sergeant were killed in their attempts – so he mounted the tank himself.
“The Ghost” manned the machine gun as bullets whizzed by and devastated the enemy.
He was wounded twice more in August, refusing to be evacuated even after taking artillery shell fragments to the chest. He was promoted to battalion commander.
In September 1944, Urban’s path of destruction across Europe was almost at an end. His men were pinned down by enemy artillery while trying to cross the Meuse River in Belgium. Urban left the command post and went to the front, where he reorganized the men and personally led an assault on a Nazi strongpoint. Urban was shot in the neck by a machine gun during the charge across open ground. He stayed on site until the Nazis were completely routed and the Allies could cross the Meuse.
And that’s just his Medal of Honor citation.
In a 1974 interview with his hometown newspaper, the Buffalo News, he credits his survival to accepting the idea of dying in combat.
“If I had to get it,” Urban said, “it was going to be while I was doing something. I didn’t want to die in my sleep.”
The reason he never received a recommendation for the Medal of Honor was because the recommendation was just lost in the paperwork shuffle. His commander, Maj. Max Wolf filed the recommendation, but it was lost when Wolf was killed in action.
It was the enlisted men who fought with Urban who started asking about “The Ghost’s” Medal of Honor.
“The sight of him limping up the road, all smiles, raring to lead the attack once more, brought the morale of the battleweary men to its highest peak – Staff Sgt. Earl G. Evans in a 1945 letter to the War Department that was also lost.
Matt Urban died in 1995 at age 75 and is interred at Arlington National Cemetery.