Why this iconic torture device isn't as 'fictional' as people think - We Are The Mighty
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Why this iconic torture device isn’t as ‘fictional’ as people think

When it comes to medieval torture devices, there’s always one particularly nasty tool that instantly comes to mind: the iron maiden. It’s brutal. It’s essentially a metal coffin with spikes on the inside. Once the door closes, the person trapped inside will have the spikes pressed into their flesh — in key positions, of course, to prolong the suffering.

By many, it’s been written off as a myth. They claim that any existing iron maiden devices are simply recreations, and that the originals were never really used. But what makes this device particularly peculiar is that it may have started out as a myth — a device so cruel that it found a place in local ghost stories — but eventually became a reality.


Why this iconic torture device isn’t as ‘fictional’ as people think

The Athenians had the “Brazen Bull” which was a hallowed metal bull that you’d stuff victims in before setting it on fire. The Greeks also didn’t f*ck around.

The first recorded use of a spiked contraption to crush enemies to death (yeah, historians record these sorts of things) was in Sparta, around 200 BC. Under the demand of the bloodthirsty tyrant, Nabis, the Spartans constructed a statue in the likeness of his wife, only the statue had what were essentially bear traps for arms. It was also said to have spikes on the inside of the hand, so nobody could escape her grasp. Sounds like he had a pretty high opinion of his betrothed, right?

Nabis could open the deadly device and toss into it anyone he pleased. He’d do this to either make political gains, punish anyone who didn’t pay his exorbitant taxes, or, simply, to alleviate his boredom. Given his preferred hobbies, it’s easy to see why his rule didn’t last long. He was the last free leader of Sparta — he quickly lost the support of his people and a war with Rome.

Why this iconic torture device isn’t as ‘fictional’ as people think

The iron maiden may not have been used back then, but it was cool enough to inspire a metal band in 1975 London.

Throughout the following ages, various torture techniques sprang up alongside new reasons to torture people — but they weren’t elaborate, wife-shaped, metal coffins filled with spikes. There are no historical records of an iron maiden being used as a torture device throughout the medieval ages. Now, that’s not to say that it wasn’t used — it just wasn’t written about.

The first written record of an iron maiden surfaced in the 18th century, when historian Johann Philipp Siebenkees wrote about a particularly cruel 1515 execution. Siebenkees’ works, however, were never seen as credible and, ultimately, it was treated as a hoax. But his work inspired his morbid, industrious readers. Many people created iron maidens after his so-called “historical accounts.”

The most famous of these more-modern maidens was the Nuremberg Virgin — a wooden iron maiden with the head of the Virgin Mary on it. Stories say it was used to “cleanse the pagans,” but it was actually made in 1800s Nuremberg — 300 years after Martin Luther’s Protestant Reformation and long after the era of paganism.

But this didn’t stop one of modern history’s most vicious despots from creating one for himself. Uday Hussein, the sociopathic, murderous son of the Iraqi dictator, Saddam Hussein, was said to have had his very own modern recreation of a functioning iron maiden in his compound.

When U.S. troops raided the compound, they found that the device was very much used. By the time it was discovered, many of its spikes had been worn down, the surrounding floors were stained with blood, and it was no secret that Uday had any Iraqi athlete that didn’t perform to his expectations tortured or executed. Now we know how.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Finally – this is the Army’s new parental leave policy

The Army has doubled the amount of parental leave available to fathers and other secondary caregivers of newborn infants with a policy that also provides more leave flexibility for mothers.

Secretary of the Army Mark T. Esper signed a directive Jan. 23, 2019, that increases parental leave from 10 to 21 days for soldiers who are designated secondary caregivers of infants. The new policy makes the Army’s parental leave comparable to that of other services and in compliance with the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act.


Mothers will now be granted six weeks of convalescent leave directly after giving birth and can be granted another six weeks of leave as primary caregiver to bond with their infant anytime up to a year after birth.

“We want soldiers and their families to take full advantage of this benefit,” said retired Col. Larry Lock, chief of Compensation and Entitlements, Army G-1. He said parental leave is a readiness issue that ensures mothers have the time they need to get back in shape while it also takes care of families.

Why this iconic torture device isn’t as ‘fictional’ as people think

A soldier shares a high-five with his daughter.

The new policy is retroactive to Dec. 23, 2016 — the date the NDAA legislation was signed for fiscal year 2017.

In other words, soldiers who took only 10 days of paternal leave over the past couple of years can apply to take an additional 11 days of “uncredited” leave as a secondary caregiver.

An alternative would be to reinstate 11 days of annual leave if that time was spent with their infant.

Eligible soldiers need to complete a Department of the Army Form 4187 and submit it to their commanders for consideration regarding the retroactive parental leave.

Fathers can also be designated as primary caregivers and granted six weeks or 42 days of parental leave, according to the new policy. However, only one parent can be designated as primary caregiver, Lock pointed out.

If a mother needs to return to work and cannot take the six weeks of leave to care for an infant, then the father could be designated as primary caregiver, he said. However, if the mother has already taken 12 weeks of maternal leave, that option is not available.

Why this iconic torture device isn’t as ‘fictional’ as people think

Sgt. 1st Class Michael Lewis, a motor sergeant assigned to the 232nd Engineer Company, 94th Engineer Battalion, plays with his daughter.

(Photo by U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Heather A. Denby)

Until now, mothers could receive up to 12 weeks of maternity leave, which had to be taken immediately following childbirth. Now, only the six weeks of convalescent leave needs to be taken following discharge from the hospital. The second six weeks of primary caregiver leave can be taken anytime up to a year from giving birth, but must be taken in one block.

In the case of retroactive primary caregiver leave, it can be taken up to 18 months from a birth.

This provides soldiers more flexibility, Lock said.

The new directive applies to soldiers on active duty, including those performing Active Guard and Reserve duty as AGRs or full-time National Guard duty for a period in excess of 12 months.

Summing up the new policy, Lock said the Military Parental Leave Program, or MPLP, now offers three separate types of parental leave: maternity convalescent leave, primary caregiver leave, and secondary caregiver leave.

Mothers who decide to be secondary caregivers are eligible for the convalescent leave and the 21 days for a total of up to nine weeks.

Parents who adopt are also eligible for the primary or secondary caregiver leave.

The new policy is explained in Army Directive 2019-05, which is in effect until an updated Army Regulation 600-8-10 is issued.

This article originally appeared on the United States Army Follow @USArmy on Twitter.

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A negative oil price? What in the world is happening?

The global economy has taken yet another unprecedented hit after coronavirus lockdowns around the world triggered a historic plunge in U.S. crude oil prices on April 20.

Stock markets across the world were reeling in volatility after some traders who had bought U.S. oil futures contracts were actually paying others to take the deliveries off their hands.


That left the U.S.-produced oil with a listed price of for the first time in history.

The price of both Brent Crude and Russian-produced Urals oil also declined markedly after the negative oil prices seen in the United States.

Here are answers to some of the main questions caused by the historic crash of U.S. oil prices.

Why this iconic torture device isn’t as ‘fictional’ as people think

What is the cause of the historic fall of global oil prices?

The coronavirus pandemic has wreaked havoc on the global demand for oil, creating a supply glut and filling oil-storage facilities around the world to near capacity.

Due to the basic market forces of supply and demand, traders now have difficulty finding buyers willing to purchase futures contracts for crude oil deliveries in May or June.

That has sent the price of oil futures contracts spiraling downwards.

The benchmark price for North Sea Brent Crude on April 21 fell by nearly per barrel overnight for June deliveries, selling at an 18-year low of just per barrel.

That is a fall of more than 60 percent from January’s peak this year.

Brent Crude is easier and cheaper to transport than its U.S. counterpart because Brent Crude is extracted directly from the North Sea.

The West Texas Intermediary (WTI) price, the U.S. benchmark for light crude, fell well into negative territory for the first time in history on April 20 — with May futures selling as low as minus per barrel.

The WTI price recovered slightly on April 21 but was negative mainly before trading at about id=”listicle-2645815893″ per barrel in late afternoon trading.

In a nutshell, there is an enormous global surplus in oil supplies with little demand for it, and oil companies are running out of places to store it.

Thus, some traders on April 20 essentially began paying buyers to take extra oil off their hands.

What is an oil futures contract?

An oil futures contract is a legal agreement by traders to buy or sell oil for a set price at a specified date in the future.

Those who enter a futures contract are obliged to carry out the deal at the specified price and date.

That means traders are essentially making a bet on what the price of oil will be in the future.

They hope to profit from the difference between the price specified in their futures contract and the actual price of oil on the date that the futures contract comes due.

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How can the price of oil be negative?

“This has never happened before, not even close,” says Tim Bray, a portfolio manager at GuideStone Capital Management in Dallas, Texas. “We’ve never seen a negative price on a futures contract for oil.”

The WTI’s negative price suggests it is traders who’d bought May oil futures who are offering to pay somebody else to deal with the oil due to be delivered next month.

Why this iconic torture device isn’t as ‘fictional’ as people think

But many analysts describe the negative oil price as technical, saying it is related to the way futures contracts are written.

They note that most buyers are purchasing oil for delivery in June, not May.

Energy strategist Ryan Fitzmaurice of the Dutch-based Rabobank says negative oil prices are “more technical in nature and related to the futures contract expiration.”

“We could see isolated incidents where oil companies pay people to take their oil away as storage and pipeline capacity become scarce but that is unlikely on a sustained basis,” Fitzmaurice says.

Why hasn’t Moscow’s deal with Saudi Arabia to cut oil production protected the Russian economy from falling oil prices?

The impact of coronavirus restrictions on global oil prices has been devastating for Russia’s petrostate economy — which depends upon revenues from oil and natural-gas exports.

The price of Russia’s Urals variant of oil is determined by the global price index for Brent Crude.

Generally, Urals oil costs a few dollars less per barrel than Brent Crude.

Tumbling WTI and Brent Crude benchmarks mean dramatic declines for the price of Russian oil as well.

Meanwhile, many traders fear that an April 12 OPEC+ oil-production agreement between Russia and Saudi Arabia does not go far enough to compensate for the historic fall in global demand.

That deal calls for 23 oil-producing countries, including Russia and Saudi Arabia, to reduce their total output by 9.7 million barrels per day for May and June, cutting about 10 percent of the global supply.

What knock-on effects do falling oil prices have on Russia’s economy?

The oil markets have shown a cautious response of traders to the OPEC+ deal.

Now Russia’s stock market indices and the value of the Russian ruble also are falling.

Of course, oil shares have been the biggest losers on Russia’s stock market indices.

In early trading on April 21, the RTS Index lost 4.3 percent of its value while the MOEX Index was down by 1.8 percent.

On foreign-currency exchanges, Russia’s ruble early on April 21 had fallen about 2 percent from its value just 24 hours earlier. It fell even further later in the day.

“Taking into account the mood in the oil market, the risks for the Russian currency temporarily point towards further weakening,” Nordea analyst Grigory Zhirnov says.

This article originally appeared on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Follow @RFERL on Twitter.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Female Marine combat photographer paves the way

Erin Kirk-Cuomo dreamed of being a combat photographer. She interviewed with multiple companies and publications within the civilian world, but none of them were willing to hire a female photographer for that position.


So, she decided to join the military.

Why this iconic torture device isn’t as ‘fictional’ as people think

She chose to go into the United States Marine Corps. When she opened the doors to the Armed Forces recruitment office in 2004, she was ready to raise her right hand and do just that. But Kirk-Cuomo was told she couldn’t be a combat photographer, because she was female.

At that point, females were not allowed to serve in combat positions. But Kirk-Cuomo knew that the job she wanted wasn’t considered an active combat position, even though she’d be in the thick of things. She knew the recruiter was wrong and told him so. Kirk-Cuomo then demanded that he call a supervisor, which he begrudgingly did. That recruiter later came back and apologized for telling her she couldn’t be a combat photographer. He then asked if she could pass a physical fitness test.

The Marine Corps has the longest boot camp out of all of the armed forces and arguably the toughest to graduate from. In 2004 when she wanted to join, only 6% of enlisted Marines were female. Kirk-Cuomo did part of the physical fitness test right then and there in front of that recruiter.

Why this iconic torture device isn’t as ‘fictional’ as people think

She shipped out to boot camp on Parris Island two weeks later.

Kirk-Cuomo made it through the still gender-segregated 13 weeks to become a Marine. She vividly remembers that if the female or male platoons came anywhere near each other, the drill instructors would make the males do an about face, away from the females. She recalls a time that the drill instructor yelled at the male recruits, “Don’t you look at those dirty females!”

This wouldn’t be the last time she’d hear those words.

Despite the hardships, she graduated boot camp as a high shooter. Kirk-Cuomo had the highest rifle score, beating out all of the other platoons that graduated boot camp with her. She left for combat training following boot camp and then went on to school to learn how to be a combat photographer. She left as the number one distinguished honor graduate.

Kirk-Cuomo was now a part of combat camera, or COMCAM. “There really weren’t a whole lot of us [females] at the time. Most of the women that were in COMCAM were lithographers or graphics people,” she said.

Kirk-Cuomo reported to her new duty station shortly thereafter – Camp Pendleton, located in San Diego, Calif. A couple of years later, she began deploying. From 2006-2008 she was deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, where she was the only female in her unit. She was also the only combat photographer for the Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF).

Kirk-Cuomo shared that being in the field was a dream come true. She credited a male warrant officer for going against the norm. In a time where leadership was hesitant to send female combat photographers anywhere dangerous, he sent her everywhere she wanted to go. It’s because of his inclusiveness and belief in her abilities that she was able to go right into the thick of things just like her male counterparts. He never saw her as “just” a woman; he saw her as a competent Marine.

Why this iconic torture device isn’t as ‘fictional’ as people think

When asked if serving as a combat photographer was everything she’d hoped for, Kirk-Cuomo smiled sadly. “I wasn’t prepared to stand up for myself as much as I should have,” she said. She recalled her experiences of continuous harassment and even a sexual assault. She feels strongly that the Marine Corp created a toxic environment by first segregating the sexes in boot camp and creating an environment that made females feel as though they were “less than.”

The Marine Corps just graduated its first co-ed company in March of 2019. If Congress has anything to say about, it will be mandatory due to the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act, which has a provision requiring them to integrate both boot camp locations. The west coast location has never trained female recruits.

“I am horrified that I didn’t stand up for myself just to fit in and get by. We older female Marines really do carry a sense of guilt with that. How much worse did we make it for the generations that came after us because we didn’t stand up and say something?” she asked.

Kirk-Cuomo gives credit for being able to openly share her experiences with the new generation of female Marines that have refused to accept that behavior. “I am just in awe of them – seeing what they’ve done and what they continue to do,” said Kirk-Cuomo. She feels confident in the new wave of female Marines making positive changes.

When she left her last deployment, she became a photographer at Marine Corps Headquarters, assigned to the Commandant. She left the Marines in 2010 and went on to become a photographer for the Secretary of Defense.

After President Obama was elected, she remembers there being a level of high tension among male Marines and heavy discussion about whether Obama would repeal the rule that prohibited females from serving in combat positions. He did.

Why this iconic torture device isn’t as ‘fictional’ as people think

Kirk-Cuomo was able to photograph the moment the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff signed the repeal. “I remember standing in the briefing room, photographing this momentous thing,” she shared. “I was taking these pictures and just sobbing behind the camera.”

These days Kirk-Cuomo is an active advocate for female Marines and one of their loudest cheerleaders and supporters. When asked if she regrets joining, she didn’t hesitate to say no. But when asked if she would advise females to pick the Marine Corps over other branches of service to enlist in – she immediately said not yet, they still have a lot of work to do.

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Mattis may see himself as the president’s ‘babysitter’

Defense Secretary James Mattis reportedly views himself as President Donald Trump’s “babysitter,” and his efforts to restrain the bombastic leader apparently created tensions with former White House national security adviser H.R. McMaster.

McMaster sought to provide Trump with an array of military options against North Korea, but the defense secretary allegedly refused to put all the options on the table in front of Trump, McMaster aides told The New Yorker. Meanwhile, the president reportedly did not pick up on Mattis’s alleged attempts at stonewalling, and McMaster declined to expose his colleague.


One senior National Security Council official told The New Yorker that Mattis felt like he had to play “babysitter” to Trump.

What’s more, McMaster’s aides claimed the widespread reports that he was specifically pushing for a so-called “bloody nose” strike against North Korea were false. A bloody nose strike would involve an attack against North Korea strong enough to intimidate and embarrass Kim Jong Un’s regime, but not serious enough to spark a full-blown conflict. Many experts have warned such a strike could have catastrophic consequences and would not go as smoothly as its proponents believe.

Why this iconic torture device isn’t as ‘fictional’ as people think
H.R. McMaster
(U.S. Navy photo by Chief Mass Communication Specialist James E. Foehl)

There is limited intelligence on the location of North Korea’s military assets — including its nuclear weapons. Moreover, in November 2017, the Joint Chiefs of Staff determined that a ground invasion would be necessary to fully dismantle North Korea’s nuclear program. In short, a bloody nose strike would risk allowing North Korea to retaliate against the US or its allies with any number of military options, not excluding its nuclear arsenal.

The Trump administration’s discussions surrounding military options against North Korea largely came as the rogue state conducted a series of long-range missile tests in 2017. These tests — part of Pyongyang’s larger goal of developing a nuclear weapon capable of reaching the mainland US — resulted in harsh economic sanctions being leveled against the reclusive nation and led to a war of words between Trump and Kim.

But North Korea’s relationship with the US appears to be shifting in 2018 as Trump and Kim are set to hold a historic meeting about denuclearization. On April 20, 2018, North Korea announced it would cease its long-range missile and nuclear tests and close its primary nuclear testing site. Trump celebrated this development on Twitter, describing it as a sign of “progress being made for all!”

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

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Britain’s top-tier operators open their ranks to women

Britain has announced that women can now apply to join the ranks of the Special Air Service and Special Boat Service, their top-tier special operations units, as part of a phased opening of close-combat jobs to women that has been underway since 2016.


Why this iconic torture device isn’t as ‘fictional’ as people think

A British 22nd Special Air Service member speaks with an F-18D during a simulated Hellfire missile launch during training in 2001.

(U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Rick Bloom)

This will bring the British military in line with other military forces around the world, including the U.S., where more jobs have been opened to women over the past few years.

But, as with other top-tier military units in the west, it’s unclear when the first female candidate will complete training. In the U.S., only a handful of women have made it through Ranger School, and none have been accepted into the Navy SEALs, Army Special Forces, and similar units.

Currently, the British forces have had about three dozen women accepted into armored roles. Now, they can apply to join the Royal Marines and infantry, which opens the door to the SAS and SBS in the future.

Today I attended a land power demonstration on Salisbury Plain, which involved some of the first women to join the Royal Armoured Corps. I am very proud of the work our military does and opening all combat roles to women will ensure we recruit the right person for the right role.pic.twitter.com/pguaeViRcR

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There was a short-lived experiment around the turn of the millennium to see how some of the female support staff for the SAS would fare in actual training, but they appear to have ended it without any persons completing all the events — but it’s worth noting that the experiments were never designed to actually recruit female persons into the SAS, only to see how they would perform in some of the events.

Now, however, the goal is to get women into the training funnel and into the combat forces.

Why this iconic torture device isn’t as ‘fictional’ as people think

Members of the British Special Air Service in the African desert in World War II.

(British Army Film Photographic Unit Capt. Keating)

The British SBS was founded in 1940 and the SAS in 1941. Both were created to lead elite commando raids against targets in World War II, primarily German forces but the occasional attack on Italian forces did take place.

In one now-famous series of attacks, the SAS mounted up to 10 large machine guns per Jeep and then drove a column of jeeps in lightning raids against German airfields, destroying dozens of aircraft per raid and tipping the air balance over Africa back in favor of the Allies.

The SBS, meanwhile, launched a daring but ultimately unsuccessful attempt to kidnap Rommel from his desert headquarters.

Both services saw personnel cuts after the war but were eventually re-built over the decades after the war to face new threats. Both services have seen extensive service in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, but the British government rarely comments on their activities.

They often work with top-tier U.S. units like Delta Force and SEAL Team 6, but the details of these engagements are rarely released into the public sphere.

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Why the unrest in Nicaragua is more important than you’d think

News about the civil unrest in Nicaragua has been under-reported in recent days as one of the last true Marxist-Leninist dictators is at the center of the killings of student protesters and journalists. And it could spark another Central American civil war.


The leader and chairman of Nicaragua’s ruling Sandinista Party, Daniel Ortega, announced a tax increase on Apr. 18. Along with the tax increase, pension benefits are to be greatly reduced. What started as a peaceful demonstration against these changes turned deadly when authorities and pro-Sandinista groups used live ammunition on the protesting crowds.

Ortega first rose to power as a Communist revolutionary in 1978. His Soviet backing and strong anti-American views grabbed the attention of the Reagan Administration in 1985 which lead to America backing the Contras, an anti-communist counter-revolutionary group. After the details of the Iran-Contra Affair were made public, however, the U.S. backed out of the region — but the Nicaraguan Revolution had already claimed 30,000 lives.

When the Soviet Union collapsed, so, too, did Ortega’s control over Nicaragua. Still, he vowed that he would lead from the shadows. He ran for president in every election that followed. Herty Lewites, the more popular candidate in the 2006 election, was threatened, told that he “could end up hanged” if he continued to run. Lewites died of a sudden heart attack shortly before the election. Ortega became president again when he won with 36% of the vote that year.

Why this iconic torture device isn’t as ‘fictional’ as people think
A totally legitimate election…
(Courtesy Photo)

He then abolished Nicaragua’s presidential term limits to remain in power indefinitely.

However, since Ortega became president, Nicaragua has actually been relatively stable. The U.S. Embassy in Nicaragua even lists the country as the safest in Central America for U.S. tourists.

Ortega seemed to have changed his stripes and had relabeled himself as a Democratic Socialist who was very eco-friendly (despite highly advocating a new canal to rival the Panama Canal that would devastate the countryside). He claimed that he was embracing his Catholic faith (despite ignoring Pope Francis’ recent denouncements against the violence in Nicaragua). He also claimed to be anti-Capitalist and insisted that was there for the people (despite being the country’s fourth richest person and slowly making a fairly obvious power grab).

The current death toll of protesters and journalists at the time of this writing is 63. Protesters who have been arrested allege the use of torture and report having their heads shaven and being left barefoot in the outskirts of Managua. There are calls for the United Nations Human Rights Office to investigate human rights abuses.

The country is dependent on outside trade and tourism and the people are still reeling from the effects of the last civil war almost 50 years ago, so nobody wants a violent answer to this problem. Currently, the tumult is contained within Managua, but there’s no denying that Nicaragua is at a turning point. Either Ortega will be removed from power peacefully or this will spark a bloody revolution. It’s a situation that echoes the economic unrest and political dissatisfaction that characterized the Arab Spring of 2011.

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A carpet layer beat the entire SAS in the Great Australian Camel Race

In 1988, a wealthy Australian decided to celebrate Australia’s bicentennial by holding a 2,000-mile plus camel race through the Australian Outback. Endurance racers from around the world trained for more than a year to finish the charity race and win a $40,000 prize.

It might be the most stereotypically Australian story ever told. The world’s longest animal endurance race won by carpet fitter Gordon O’Connell, and the race wasn’t even close. O’Connell was having a beer at a pub when he learned he’d won.

The Great Australian Camel Race was a six-leg journey that began at Uluru, also known as Ayres Rock, one of the most sacred sites of Australia’s Aboriginal people and end at Queensland’s Gold Coast. Competitors were timed on how long it took to complete each leg over the course of three months. 

The 69 entrants brought with them teams made up of extra camels, support staff, and follow cars, just like any other high-endurance race. Teams came from elements of the Australian Army, the Australian Special Air Service Regiment, and even a handful of Americans. All brought their teams and special gear to survive the grueling race. 

camel race
Camel races like this one were surprisingly strenuous. Just not for carpet layers, apparently.

Then there was Gordon O’Connell. O’Connell was more than a carpet fitter. He was a man who knew how to train Australia’s farm animal population and often worked in local farms training horses. He even trained his own Camel, named Carla, for the effort. 

Australia is full of feral dromedary camels, herds of them descended from camels imported from the Middle East to Afghanistan to build Australia in its early days. Carla was well-suited for the journey, so even though O’Connell began every day in the rear of the group, it wouldn’t be long before he would trot past his competitors, clad in cutoff jean shorts and flip-flops.

He and Carla were so fast, in fact, that racers thought he was injured or lost, when in reality he’d already have finished that leg of the journey. They would be flying planes searching for his remains, but in reality, he was at the finish line. He finished more than a full day ahead of his nearest competitors, the Australian special forces.

“I was stopping off at the pub and I still won the fourth leg. I had won the first three legs and was taking it easy as I was already 32 hours ahead of the SASR,” O’Connell said. “I had no idea whatsoever that I’d won it and I didn’t try. And that’s the truth.”

O’Connell had a small team following him, but nothing like what the other competitors had. His win wasn’t totally without hardship, despite his trip to the pub at the end of the race. He was hospitalized with kidney failure from a bacterial infection during the second leg of the race.

O’Connell was a product of his environment. He knew how to survive in the harsh environment. Most importantly, he knew animals and he trained his own just for the race. By the time he retired, he was raising camels of his own.  Camel races are still a thing, but it’s not quite as intense as it used to be.

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Was Mr. Rogers a deadly sniper in Vietnam?

Beloved children’s show icon Fred Rogers, who passed away in 2003, has long been the subject of an unusual urban myth – that before his days of red cardigans and puppeteering, he was a decorated battlefield veteran. The fact of the matter is that despite receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom from George W. Bush, Rogers never served in the armed forces. How, then, to explain this popular but mystifying narrative?

Born near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Fred Rogers was raised by a mother who volunteered at a hospital and a father who presided over the McFeely Brick Company in Latrobe. In his childhood, Rogers was a shy introvert, overweight, and prone to asthma attacks. Luckily, life improved for him in high school. As he told NPR’s Terry Gross, “I made a couple friends who found out that the core of me was okay. And one of them was…the head of the football team.” He went on to serve as student council president and editor-in-chief of the school yearbook, as well as National Honor Society member.

Rogers’ early adulthood was occupied with college at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, where he graduated magna cum laude in 1962. Rather than becoming a pastor, his mission as an ordained minister would be to minister families through television. As he later told CNN, “I went into television because I hated it so, and I thought there’s some way of using this fabulous instrument to nurture those who would watch and listen.” 

fred rogers
Mr. Rogers in Chicago, 1994 (Derek Wolfgram, Wikipedia)

After a brief TV stint at NBC in New York City, Rogers returned to Pittsburgh to work at public television station WQED, where he developed the children’s show The Children’s Corner, which was the seed from which Mister Rogers Neighborhood would grow ten years later (airing in 1968), running for nearly 900 episodes.

To better understand why the public would assign such a well-scrubbed paragon of decency as Mr. Rogers with a blood-soaked war record, History.com spoke with Assistant Professor Trevor J. Blank, who teaches communication at SUNY Potsdam. According to Blank, “Urban legends sometimes distort the positive to create a sense of intrigue,” and, ““Mr. Rogers, by all accounts, seems like a very mild-mannered, Puritan-esque character…Him having a very macho back story or being a ruthless killer is kind of titillating; it runs counter to what you’re presented as true in your day-to-day experience.”

One lesser-known chapter in Fred Rogers’ story is his visit to Moscow in 1987 during the height of the Cold War. The goal was to teach Russian children compassion and kindness, but in a broader sense it was an effort to build a bridge between warring nations. An East-West crossover was filmed, with Rogers appearing on Goodnight Kiddies and Russian star Tatyana Vedeneyeva guesting on Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. Blake Stillwell, a contributor here at We Are the Mighty and Military.com, writes, “Through a translator, Rogers is introduced to the Soviet show’s host, Tatyana Vedeneyeva, as well as her friends Khryusha the piglet and Styopa the rabbit. The exchange is nothing short of heartwarming.”

Fred Rogers’ work in children’s television can be defined as something of a humanitarian effort. Some of these qualities owe to Rogers’ mother Nancy Rogers, who always engaged with him as an adult, never talking down to him. In Maxwell King’s book The Good Neighbor: The Life and Work of Fred Rogers, he writes “She loved to talk. And she loved to talk with Fred,” writes King. But “never to Fred; always with Fred.” His religion extended to the programming he diligently crafted for so many years, but he never put too fine a point on it in the episodes. He once said “You don’t need to speak overtly about religion in order to get a message across.”

Navy Times writes: “Rogers attuned children and their developmental journeys to the most significant attributes of what it means to be a human: love, compassion and kindness for others. In many ways, this is also what he meant by being a good neighbor.” 

The man and his message are in many ways antithetical to the battlefield experience, making the urban myth of his time as a warrior all the more confounding. But while he was no legend on the battlefield, he was definitely still a hero.

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How an illegal immigrant was drafted and earned the Medal of Honor

These days, it’s a common political debate. “Dreamers,” illegal immigrants who were brought to the United States as infant children and grew up with full lives and roots in the U.S., are sometimes completely unaware they were undocumented until later in life. Back in the days of the Second World War, we didn’t call them “Dreamers,” but the phenomenon was the same: People like Silvestre Herrera didn’t know they were in the United States illegally until they received a draft notice from the Army.

But finding out he wasn’t technically a citizen wasn’t going to stop Herrera from serving the country that gave him so much.


Herrera was born in Chihuahua, Mexico to loving parents in 1917, but they succumbed to the worldwide Spanish Influenza epidemic that killed millions around the globe the very next year. When he was around one year old, his uncle brought him to the United States and raised him as a farmhand in Texas. Silvestre Herrera grew up believing his uncle was his father and that he was born in El Paso, Texas.

Even when he married an American, had American children, and moved to Arizona, Herrera believed he was living a typical Mexican-American life in the Southwest. It wasn’t until he got his draft notice for the Texas National Guard in 1944 did he find out the truth about his entire life.

“Son, you don’t have to go,” his uncle told him soberly. “They can’t draft you.” The reason for this is because the U.S. Army can’t draft a Mexican citizen. But Herrera wasn’t about to avoid serving in the military and was enthusiastic about giving back to the United States.

“I didn’t want anybody to die in my place,” he later said. “My adopted country had been so nice to me.”

Latinos fighting in American wars is nothing new, even by World War II standards. People of Hispanic descent have fought in every American conflict from the Revolution to the War in Afghanistan. Mexicans raised in the U.S. was also a common occurrence by 1944. People of Mexican descent in the U.S. were twice as likely to have been born and raised in the States than not. Those who served were fiercely dedicated to their adoptive homes and Silvestre Herrera was going to be one of those.

“I am a Mexican-American and we have a tradition,” He once said. “We’re supposed to be men, not sissies.”

The 27-year-old Herrera eventually ended up in the 142nd Infantry Regiment and found himself in the Alsace region of France in March, 1945. Though the war in Europe would be over in a few short months, the fighting on the Western front was as fierce as ever. The 142nd was a critical part of Operation Undertone, a 75-kilometer front designed to push the Nazi back across the Rhine and secure bridgeheads to cross the river.

Herrera’s platoon was just five miles from their objective at the occupied city of Haguenau when they took coordinated machine gun fire – one from a nearby wood and another across a minefield. As the rest of the men in the platoon took cover, Herrera charged one machine gun nest, firing his M1 Garand rifle from the hip and chucking two grenades into the nest. Eight enemy soldiers surrendered to Herrera in that action.

Why this iconic torture device isn’t as ‘fictional’ as people think
Reenactors recreating the 142nd 36th Infantry Division’s push into Germany in 1945 during the 2018 Camp Mabry Open House in Austin, Texas. (U.S. Army photo by Master Sergeant Michael Leslie)

 

His platoon still found itself pinned down by another machine gun nest, this time protected by a minefield. Knowing full well the grass in front of him was a minefield, Herrera grabbed a two by four, pushing it along in front of him as he crawled across the minefield. Frustrated with his slow progress toward the nest, he tossed it away, stood up, and dashed for the gun emplacement. As he approached, he stepped on two mines, one on each foot. The resulting explosions blew off both of his feet.

He continued forward toward the enemy, running on his knees. The bleeding Mexican-American GI fell to his stomach and laid down rifle fire, keeping the attention of the Nazi machine gun as his platoon flanked the position and knocked it out. Bleeding profusely, Herrera still somehow managed to stay conscious. The Army was able to save Herrera’s knees and were eventually able to fit him with prosthetic feet.

 

Silvestra herrera
Herrera receives the Medal of Honor from President Harry S. Truman, 1945. (Wikimedia Commons)

When he was to be awarded the Medal of Honor for the heroism that cost him his feet, President Truman was unsure if the man, still bed-ridden from his wounds, would be able to be present for the award. Sure enough, when the time came, Herrera was in full uniform as he rolled his wheelchair to the President of the United States.

“He told me he would rather be awarded the Medal of Honor than be president of the United States,” Herrera told the Arizona Republic in 2005. “That made me even more proud.”

Silvestra herrera
Herrera is escorted by members of the Arizona National Guard, Nov. 11, 2007, during Phoenix’s annual Veterans Day parade. Herrera served as the parade’s grand marshal. He was the first Arizonian to receive the Medal of Honor (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Benjamin Cossel, Operation Jump Start – Arizona Public Affairs)

Just one year after receiving the U.S. military’s highest award for valor in combat, the Mexican government decided to award him Mexico’s Order of Military Merit, its highest award for valor in combat. Herrera is the only soldier ever to wear both. Most importantly, as Arizona’s first World War II Medal of Honor recipient, citizens of Arizona started a campaign to get Silvestre Herrera U.S. citizenship and even raised ,000 to help him purchase his first home.

After the war, Herrera went back to work, prosthetic limbs and all, for much of the rest of his life. According to his surviving relatives, his war injuries never kept him from doing anything physical or raising his family. He died in 2007, sixteen years after his beloved wife, Ramona.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

The female Viper pilot with bigger balls than you is blazing trails

Capt. Zoe “SiS” Kotnik is the new commander of the F-16 of the Viper Demo Team (VDT).

On Jan. 29, 2019, Gen. Mike Holmes, commander of Air Combat Command, certified the new F-16 Viper Demonstration Team pilot and commander ahead of the 2019 season, at Joint Base Langley-Eustis. The final certification by the ACC Commander follows extensive training including four certifications, off-station training flights and more than 30 practice missions.


With over 1,000 flying hours in her eight years of military service “SiS”, originally assigned to the 55th Fighter Squadron at Shaw Air Force Base, South Carolina, is the Air Force’s first female single-ship aerial demonstration pilot.

She will lead the team in about 20 locations across the world during the upcoming airshow season.

“What I’m looking forward to most is the potential to have an influence on younger generations,” said Kotnik in a public release. “I know firsthand how impactful airshows can be and what a difference it makes to young people to see just one example of what they too can do and who they can become. I hope to be a source of inspiration and motivation they can draw from to apply in their own lives.”

The F-16 VDT performs an aerobatic display whose aim is to demonstrate the unique capabilities of the F-16 Fighting Falcon, better known as “Viper” in the pilot community.

“These shows allow us to demonstrate the capabilities of the F-16 to a world-wide audience while highlighting the work of the airmen who keep the Viper flying,” said Master Sgt. Chris Schneider, F-16 VDT superintendent. “It’s not every day people get the chance to hear the sound of freedom roaring over their heads or watch a team of maintainers working together to make it happen.”

If you are interested in learning a bit more about her, here’s an interview “Sis” gave to LiveAirshowTV in fall 2018:

Meet Capt. Zoe “Sis” Kotnik – F-16 Viper Demo Team Pilot-Commander

www.youtube.com

This article originally appeared on The Aviationist. Follow @theaviationist on Twitter.

MIGHTY MOVIES

The bizarre story of how two artists independently created ‘Dennis the Menace’

We’ve talked before about the bizarre Hollywood phenomenon of Twin Films – essentially films with near identical premises inexplicably released around the same time – and all of the machinations that can lead to them existing. Today, rather than focusing on an industry wide trend, we’re going to discuss a specific example of something similar — the bizarre tale of the time two comic artists based in the UK and US respectively somehow both created “Dennis the Menace” at almost the same time, with the first editions of each published on the exact same day, despite neither one knowing anything about what the other was doing.

While it’s commonly misstated that the UK version of “Dennis the Menace,” which debuted in Beano #452, came out on March 17, 1951, in truth both “Dennis the Menace” comics hit the shelves on March 12, with the incorrect date for the British version coming from the fact that this date was on the original cover. As to why, a common practice at the time was to post-date editions to try to keep them on the shelves longer.


Beyond sharing a name, both characters own dogs that usually aid in their mischief, with American Dennis having a snowy white Airedale mix called Ruff, and British Dennis owning a “Abyssinian wire-haired tripehound” called Gnasher. Like their owners, each dog has a distinct personality, Gnasher being decidedly more violent than Ruff, with his favourite pastime being chasing and biting postman. Another similarity between the two Dennises is their penchant for causing mischief with a slingshot, which is considered to be a trademark of each character in their respective home markets.

Why this iconic torture device isn’t as ‘fictional’ as people think

Dennis the Menace and his dog Gnasher.

That said, it should be noted for those unfamiliar that the British Dennis is an intentional menace who relishes in the mayhem he causes, whereas the U.S. version tends to be over all good natured and ends up being a menace in many cases via trying to do something good, but having it all go wrong.

Nevertheless, given the similarities, it should come as no surprise that soon after each comic hit the stands on the same day in 1951, news of each other’s comics quickly reached the two creators. While initially foul play was suspected, it became clear to all parties involved that the whole thing couldn’t possibly be anything but a massive, inexplicable coincidence.

In the end, both creators agreed to continue as if the other comic didn’t exist and the only real change made to either comic was that as both comics gained in popularity, the name of the British version evolved, initially just in foreign markets, but eventually everywhere to Dennis and Gnasher.

During discussions about how each creator came up with the idea of “Dennis the Menace,” it was revealed that British Dennis was the brainchild of Beano editor, George Moonie. Moonie was inspired to create the character after hearing the lyric “I’m Dennis the Menace from Venice” while visiting a music hall. With this lyric in mind, Moonie tasked artist David Law with creating a character called, you guessed it, Dennis the Menace, saying simply that the character was a mischievous British schoolboy.

Although Law was responsible for drawing Dennis from his conception until 1970 when Law fell ill, the now iconic look of Dennis was first suggested by Beano Chief Sub Ian Chisholm who is said to have sketched a rough drawing of what would come to be Dennis’ default look on the back of a cigarette packet while Chisholm and Law were at a pub in St Andrews, Scotland.

Billed as “The World’s Wildest Boy!” in his debut strip, proto British Dennis looked markedly different from his modern counterpart, with some of his more iconic features, such as his pet dog and bestest pal Gnasher or his iconic red and black striped sweater, not being introduced until later comics.

Why this iconic torture device isn’t as ‘fictional’ as people think

In the end, “Dennis the Menace” played a big part at revitalizing Beano, as noted by Beano artist Lew Stringer, “‘Dennis the Menace’ was like a thunderbolt. The Beano was flagging by 1950 and no longer radical. But there was an energy to ‘Dennis the Menace,’ it was modern and became one of the first naughty kids characters of the post-war period.”

As for American Dennis the Menace, he was the creation of Hank Ketcham. Ketcham briefly attended the University of Washington in Seattle, but had a passion for drawing from a very young age when a family friend had showed him his, to quote Ketcham, “magic pencil”, and how it could draw things like cartoon characters such as Barney Google.

Fast-forward to his freshman year of college in 1938, after seeing “The Three Little Pigs” Ketcham promptly dropped out of school and left Seattle, stating,

I had one thing on my mind: Walt Disney. I hitchhiked to Hollywood and got a job in an ad agency, changing the water for the artists for [about 9 today] a week. Which was OK because I lived at a rooming house on Magnolia – three meals a day and a bike to ride to work – for a week.
Then I got a job with Walt Lantz at Universal, assisting the animators, for . It was the tail end of the glory days of Hollywood and I loved it! I was on the back of the lot, where W.C. Fields, Bela Lugosi, Crosby, Edgar Bergen were all parading around. My neck was on a swivel! Marvelous!

As he notes there, he eventually achieved his goal, doing some work for Disney on movies like Fantasia, Bambi, and Pinocchio.

When the U.S. entered WWII, he found himself in the Navy drawing military posters for things like War Bonds and the like. By 1950, he was working as a freelance cartoonist. On a fateful day in October of that year, his toddler son, Dennis, did something that changed the family’s fate forever.

His wife, Alice, went to check on the toddler who was supposed to be napping, but instead she found Dennis’ dresser drawers removed and contents unceremoniously dumped out, his curtain rods removed and dismantled, mattress overturned and just a general mess everywhere.

Ketcham would recount in an interview with the Associated Press on the 50th anniversary of his comic that Alice remarked in an exasperated tone after witnessing the destruction, “Your son is a menace!”

This statement resonated with Ketcham who quickly devised and refined the idea of a mischievous toddler who accidentally causes wanton destruction wherever he goes. Dennis the Menace was born, and a mere five months later debuted in 16 newspapers. This is despite the fact that Ketcham himself would later state, “Oh, the drawings were terrible! Even when I started with Dennis they were just wretched! How any editor ever bought that junk…”

Why this iconic torture device isn’t as ‘fictional’ as people think

Hank Ketcham in 1953.

Nevertheless, within a year of its debut, 245 newspapers across the world had picked it up representing a readership of over 30 million people. At its peak, the number of outlets that carried “Dennis the Menace” grew to over 1,000.

Unfortunately, things did not have a happy ending for the real Dennis. Much like with Christoper Robin Milne, who A.A. Milne based his character of Christopher Robin on, Dennis came to loathe the fact that his father had created a famous character after himself. Unlike Christoper Robin, Dennis never got over it.

That said, despite his son’s accusations, Ketcham vehemently denies ever using anything from his son’s childhood as fodder for the comic other than the name, noting he almost always used a team of writers to come up with the comics’ content, stating, “Anyone in the humor business isn’t thinking clearly if he doesn’t surround himself with idea people. Otherwise, you settle for…mediocrity — or you burn yourself out.”

Whatever the case, the comic was perhaps just a side issue. You see, as her husband’s fame grew, Dennis’ mother became an alcoholic and by 1959 she filed for divorce. Around the same time, with Alice no longer capable of taking care of Dennis, he was shipped off to a boarding school. Said, Dennis, “I didn’t know what was going on except that I felt Dad wanted me out of the way.”

Very soon after, his mother died after mixing barbiturates with a lot of alcohol. As for Dennis, Ketcham didn’t end up getting him from boarding school to attend the funeral, nor did he tell him about his mother’s death until weeks later, reportedly as he didn’t know how to break it to him, so delayed as long as possible. Said Dennis of this, “Mom had always been there when I needed her. I would have dealt with losing her a lot better had I been able to attend her funeral.”

Things didn’t improve when mere weeks later, Ketcham married a new woman, then moved the family off to Switzerland where he once again placed Dennis in a boarding school, which ultimately didn’t work out. To begin with, his new wife and Dennis weren’t exactly pals. Said Ketcham, “Jo Anne was unused to children. and she and Dennis didn’t get along.”

Seeing his son struggling academically because of a learning disability, combined with being in a foreign country and issues between his new wife and Dennis, Ketcham sent Dennis off to a different boarding school back in the United States where he hoped he’d be more comfortable.

After graduating two years later than most, Dennis joined the Marines for a tour in Vietnam and subsequently suffered from severe post-traumatic stress disorder.

As for his relationship with his father, it never improved, with Ketcham even losing track of him completely at one point. As Ketcham stated when asked about his son, “He’s living in the East somewhere doing his own thing. That’s just a chapter that was a short one that closed, which unfortunately happens in some families… He checks in about twice a year. And if he needs something, I try to help him.”

Why this iconic torture device isn’t as ‘fictional’ as people think
Giphy

As you might imagine from all this, Ketcham would come to greatly regret using his son’s name for his character because of how he felt it negatively impacted him. “These things happen, but this was even worse because his name was used. He was brought in unwillingly and unknowingly, and it confused him.”

He also regretted not being there for his son. “Sometimes, young fathers scrambling to make a living, to climb the ladder, leave it to the mother to do all the parental things. But you get back what you put into a child. It’s like a piano. If you don’t give it much attention, you won’t get much out of it… I’m sure Dennis was lonely. Being an only child is tough.”

He goes on, “In my family now. I’m much more active with the kids and their schooling than I was before. I listen better. And I think I’m more patient. Maybe not. But I’d like to think so.”

As for Dennis’ side, he stated, rather than a successful, famous father, “I would rather have had a father who took me fishing and camping, who was there for me when I needed him… Dad can be like a stranger. Sometimes I think that if he died tomorrow, I wouldn’t feel anything.”

When Ketcham died on June 1, 2001, Dennis didn’t show up for the funeral and a family spokesman stated they hadn’t heard from him in years and didn’t know where he was.

To finish on a much lighter note, in 1959, Ketcham was invited to visit the Soviet Union as a part of a cartoon exchange trip. Never ones to miss an opportunity, the CIA asked Ketcham if he wouldn’t mind sketching anything significant he saw while in the Soviet Union. Said Ketcham, “We were flying from Moscow to Kiev, and it was during the day and I looked out the window and I saw some shapes. I had my sketch book, and I would put them down, and the flight attendant would walk by, and I would put a big nose and some eyes and make the whole thing into a funny face. So I had a whole book of funny-face cartoons at the end that I didn’t know how to read.” Needless to say, the CIA didn’t exactly appreciate his work.

Why this iconic torture device isn’t as ‘fictional’ as people think

“Dennis the Menace” creator Hank Ketcham.

Bonus Facts:

  • Going back to British Dennis, Kurt Cobain was known to wear a jumper remarkably similar to that of the British Dennis the Menace on stage. As it turns out, the jumper was a genuine piece of official Dennis the Menace merchandise, though the singer didn’t know this. Apparently Courtney Love bought the jumper for Kurt for for £35 (about £70 or today) from a fan called Chris Black at a concert in Northern Ireland in 1992 after taking a liking to it.
  • Speaking of having to find a way to be original week after week in comics, Charles Schulz, creator of Peanuts, once sagely stated, “A cartoonist is someone who has to draw the same thing every day without repeating himself.” That’s a tall order for someone who created nearly 18,000 strips- and it wasn’t always easy. On this note, Cathy Guisewite, creator of the comic strip Cathy, revealed in an interview that Schulz once called her in something of a panic as he couldn’t think of anything to draw and was doubting whether he’d be able to come up with anything. Exasperated, she stated, “I said, ‘What are you talking about, you’re Charles Schulz!’… What he did for me that day he did for millions of people in zillions of ways. He gave everyone in the world characters who knew exactly how we felt.”
  • Bill Watterson, creator of “Calvin and Hobbes,” famously not only passed up but fought vehemently against merchandising of “Calvin and Hobbes,” costing himself many tens of millions of dollars in revenue. He stated of this that it wasn’t so much that he was against the idea of merchandising in general, just that “each product I considered seemed to violate the spirit of the strip, contradict its message, and take me away from the work I loved.” Despite this, it’s not terribly difficult to find merchandise of “Calvin and Hobbes,” but all are unauthorized copyright infringements, including the extremely common “Calvin Peeing” car stickers. Despite never having earned a dime from these, Watterson quipped in an interview with mental_floss, “I figure that, long after the strip is forgotten, those decals are my ticket to immortality.”
  • Most of the characters and names in “Winnie the Pooh” were based on creator A.A. Milne’s son’s toys and stuffed animals with the exception of Owl, Rabbit, and Gopher. Christopher Robin Milne’s toy teddy bear was named Winnie after a Canadian black bear he saw at the Zoo in London. The real life black bear was in turn named after the hometown of the person who captured the bear, Lieutenant Harry Colebourn, who was from Winnipeg, Manitoba. The bear ended up in the London Zoo after Colebourn was sent to England and then to France during WWI. When he was sent to France, he was unable to bring the bear so gave it to the London Zoo temporarily and later decided to make it a permanent donation after the bear became one of the Zoo’s top draws. The “Pooh” part of the name was supposedly after a black swan that Christopher Robin Milne saw while on holiday. A black swan named Pooh also appears in the “Winnie-the-Pooh” series.

This article originally appeared on Today I Found Out. Follow @TodayIFoundOut on Twitter.

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MIGHTY TRENDING

Tensions high as NATO and Russia drill their militaries

British, French, Italian, and German jets have simulated flight interceptions over Western Europe as part of NATO maneuvers to deter Russian planes from entering alliance airspace.

The NATO drills on Sept. 12, 2018, came at the same time that Russia was showing off its most sophisticated air-defense system as it practiced fighting off a mock attack during military maneuvers of its own, the largest it has ever conducted.

The activity comes amid persistently high tensions between Russia and the West over Moscow’s actions in Ukraine and Syria and its alleged interference in elections in the United States and European countries.


In the NATO drills, fighter pilots from alliance members simulated the interception of a Belgian military transport plane en route to Spain. Visual inspections were made by flying off the wings at speeds of 900 kilometers an hour.

NATO has some 60 jets regularly on alert to defend its airspace. A record 870 interceptions were recorded of Russian aircraft in the Baltic region in 2016.

“NATO is relevant. This is not theoretical,” Spanish Air Force Lieutenant General Ruben Garcia Servert said aboard the Belgian plane.

As he spoke, Italian Eurofighters flew close to the cockpit to simulate interceptions, later joined by British Typhoons and French Mirages.

The European members of NATO are looking to display their commitments to their defense in the face of criticism by U.S. President Donald Trump that alliance members are not contributing enough financially to the alliance.

Why this iconic torture device isn’t as ‘fictional’ as people think

President Donald Trump and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.

The Western alliance is currently negotiating an agreement that would have each member’s air force defend any other’s airspace under a “single sky” concept.

Currently, each country defends its own airspace, although other members help defend the airspace of the Baltic states, which do not have enough fighter jets of their own.

NATO is planning to hold its biggest maneuvers in 16 years when it conducts the Trident Juncture drills in Norway in October and November 2018.

The drills will feature more than 40,000 troops, including some from non-NATO members Finland and Sweden.

Meanwhile, Russia is conducting massive military exercises across its central and eastern regions, weeklong war games the Defense Ministry said would involve some 300,000 personnel — twice as many as the biggest Soviet maneuvers of the Cold War era.


Russian President Vladimir Putin inspected the drills in eastern Siberia on Sept. 13, 2018, and insisted that they were not targeted at any country.

“Russia is a peaceful nation,” Putin said at a firing range in the Chita region. “We do not and cannot have any aggressive plans,” he added.

On Sept. 12, 2018, the war games involved Russia’s newest S-400 surface-to-air defense system, which NATO considers a threat to its aircraft.

In 2017 Moscow signed a contract to sell the S-400 system to Turkey, angering NATO and particularly the United States, which threatened to suspend delivery of its F-35 stealth aircraft to Ankara.

The drills simulated a “massive missile attack” by an “unnamed enemy,” military official Sergei Tikhonov said.

The exercises, which also involve Chinese and Mongolian soldiers, will run through Sept. 17, 2018.

This article originally appeared on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Follow @RFERL on Twitter.

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