How an American billionaire found an epic warship on the ocean floor - We Are The Mighty
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How an American billionaire found an epic warship on the ocean floor

In April of last year — for the third time in two months — Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen has discovered a major American warship lost during World War II. The Brooklyn-class light cruiser USS Helena (CL 50) was discovered nearly 75 years after she was sunk during the Battle of the Kula Gulf. According to the announcement, USS Helena lies just over 2,800 feet below the surface of the ocean near the island of Vella Lavella.


How an American billionaire found an epic warship on the ocean floor

USS Helena (CL 50) firing her main guns during the Battle of Kula Gulf. The flashes proved to be an excellent aimpoint for Japanese torpedoes.

(U.S. Navy photo)

In 1943, Helena, her sister ships (USS Honolulu (CL 48) and USS St. Louis (CL 49)), and four destroyers attempted to intercept ten Japanese destroyers. The Americans quickly eliminated one of the Japanese vessels, but Helena‘s guns didn’t have flashless powder, making her a perfect target in the night sky for Type 93 Long Land torpedoes.

How an American billionaire found an epic warship on the ocean floor

Francis X. McInerney on board the Baltimore-class heavy cruiser USS Helena (CA 75) in 1949. McInerney received the Legion of Merit for the rescue of 165 crewmen from the light cruiser USS Helena that had been sunk in 1943.

(U.S. Navy photo)

Three torpedoes hit the Helena and she quickly sank. Meanwhile, the Americans fatally crippled a second Japanese destroyer and damaged two more. The story doesn’t end there.

Most of the Helena‘s crew managed to escape the sinking vessel. Unlike the commander of the USS Juneau (the wreckage of which was discovered by Paul Allen just a month before finding Helena), Captain Gilbert C. Hoover insisted on rescuing any and all surviving crew. Under the command of Captain Francis X. McInerney, the destroyers USS Nicholas (DD 449) and USS Radford (DD 446) turned around to rescue survivors. In the midst of the rescue efforts, two Japanese destroyers came back. McInerney turned to fight, telling the Helena survivors, “Hang on! We’ll be back for you!”

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It would take 11 days, but McInerney would eventually fulfill that promise. Eventually, over 700 survivors from the cruiser would be rescued. For his actions, McInerney he received the Navy Cross, the Silver Star, and the Legion of Merit. The Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigate USS McInerney (FFG 8) was named in his honor.

See video of once-lost USS Helena below!

MIGHTY TRENDING

Video shows Iran launching missiles on US forces in Iraq

Iranian state TV has aired a clip that it says shows the moment its military launched ballistic missiles toward US bases in Iraq on Wednesday, in apparent retaliation for the US drone strike that killed top military commander Qassem Soleimani last week.

The US Department of Defense confirmed the missile strike, saying it was “clear” that the missiles were launched from Iran and targeted two military bases at Al-Assad and Irbil that host US and Iraq troops. No injuries have been reported.

Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps has also claimed responsibility for the attack.


The video, aired on Islamic Republic of Iran News Network (IRINN) at 1:40 p.m. local time, showed footage of multiple missiles being launched from their bases amid bright orange fire and smoke into the dark sky.

Watch it here:

An Iranian flag can be seen in the top left corner of the state-TV report — an apparent show of national unity after days of showing a black strip to mourn Soleimani’s death, according to BBC Monitoring journalist Kian Sharifi.

Hours after the missile strike President Donald Trump tweeted that “all is well,” while Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javid Zarif tweeted that the strikes were “proportionate measures of self-defense” against the US’ “cowardly armed attack” against Soleimani.

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

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MIGHTY MONEY

This scam is the number one financial fraud facing Americans

When young service members graduate from basic training or earn their commission, the biggest threat to their financial security isn’t that brand new muscle car for $0 down and a 15 percent interest rate. In fact, the biggest threat is one that targets service members across all ranks and Americans from all walks of life.

In 2019, Americans lost $1.9 billion to phishing and fraud. That year, the Federal Trade Commission received 647,000 complaints about imposter scams which topped $667 million in total losses, making them the number one type of fraud reported to the FTC Consumer Sentinel Network.


How an American billionaire found an epic warship on the ocean floor

*You may be asked to verify confidential information if you call your bank, but rarely the other way around (American Bankers Association)

Imposter fraud most commonly takes the form of a criminal posing as a financial institution in order to scam information from a consumer in order to access their accounts. Every day, thousands of Americans receive calls, texts, and emails from these scammers pretending to be a bank. Depending on how much information the scammers have been able to find about the consumer, they may even pose as the consumer’s actual bank. In order to gain access to your accounts, the scammers need to ascertain certain information from you. Luckily, this information is standardized across the financial industry as information that banks do not ask for.

The other most common types of fraud scams are romance and employment scams. Romance scams will have a scammer posing as a romantic interest online who eventually asks to be sent a sum of money. Employment scams can be more complex and range in form from paid job applications to startup business ventures requiring immediate payment. These types of scams have also become more common due to the fact that many people are now working from home.

How an American billionaire found an epic warship on the ocean floor

The easiest way to protect yourself from fraud scams is to recognize the signs. If you receive a call, text, or email that you believe to be fraudulent, contact your financial institution immediately. “If you even have an inkling that something doesn’t seem right, just call,” said Stacey Nash, USAA’s SVP of Fraud. “We can address the fraud before it becomes a problem.” USAA is a leader in the financial industry at detecting and combating fraud. As a digital institution, the bank has been forced to stay ahead of fraud threats in order to protect its members. “When we are alerted to fraud, USAA engages law enforcement with as much information as possible,” Nash said. “We’re committed to upholding justice.”

USAA’s 24/7 fraud prevention teams flag unusual activity and reach out to members to ensure that there is no possibility of fraud. In cases where a member is buying into a scam, USAA representatives will educate the member on the signs and dangers of fraud to help prevent them from becoming a victim.

Seventy nine percent of adults surveyed in 2019 say they were targeted by fraud over the phone. In total, it is estimated that nearly 50 percent of adults have been the target of an imposter scam at some point in their life. Aside from recognizing the signs of fraud yourself, the best way to combat the threat is to share the information. Among military ranks, it is of the utmost importance for leaders to educate their subordinates on how to protect themselves from scams like these. Though junior service members are not exclusively targeted, they can be a more vulnerable population. “Be vigilant,” Nash said. “At the end of the day, if it sounds too good to be true, it usually is.”


MIGHTY TRENDING

Russia absolutely hates these American weapons in Europe

The U.S. Navy’s Aegis Combat System is primarily a defensive weapon (Aegis was first used in English as a synonym to “shield”), but it can also be used to attack enemy land and sea targets. Many American allies have sought to have Aegis installed on their ships or land installations, a trend that Russia hates and often protests.


How an American billionaire found an epic warship on the ocean floor

The Aegis Ashore Missile Defense Test Complex fires during a flight test in December 2018.

(Missile Defense Agency Mark Wright)

Aegis is a bit of a legend in the military community, especially air defense. The core of the system is an extremely capable radar that can operate through a months or even years-long cruise at sea if properly maintained. This, of course, allows the operators to track threats from ballistic missiles to navy vessels to surfaced submarines. But, when properly wedded to missiles, the Aegis gets the ability to attack these targets on land, at sea, or in the air.

For America’s allies around the world, this can be a godsend. Japan has to constantly worry about the possibility of a Korean nuclear missile attack. So, a package deal for highly capable radar and compatible missiles is highly desirable. But when Japan bought two of them for use ashore, Russia lodged protests.

Russia is a regional power. While it doesn’t have the might or clout of the Soviet Union, it did inherit a lot of the Soviet treaties and nearly all of the Soviet nuclear weapons when that nation collapsed. And so it doesn’t want to see its own missiles made obsolete in the unlikely chance of war with Japan, especially when it can lodge protests under treaties like the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty.

But when it comes to Europe, Russia is even more sensitive. The Soviet Union used to hold sway over all of Eastern Europe, but American diplomatic expansion after the Soviet collapse has allowed the U.S. to find friends in places like Ukraine, Poland, Estonia, and more that border Russia or its enclave at Kaliningrad.

And for the past few years, an American and European agreement has seen Aegis systems deployed on land in places like Romania and Poland with more sites to come. But Aegis Ashore has one huge difference from the Aegis systems at sea: what missiles its launchers can house and fire.

While Aegis ships at sea can be equipped with everything from Tomahawk Land-Attack Missiles to the entire family of Navy Standard Missiles, Aegis Ashore was initially equipped with just the ballistic defense missile known as Standard Missile-3. But some American leaders have floated the idea of adding the missiles SM-2 and SM-6, missiles capable of killing enemy cruise missiles, jets, and helicopters.

How an American billionaire found an epic warship on the ocean floor

Aegis Ashore Site in Poland under construction in August 2019.

(U.S. Navy Lt. Amy Forsythe)

For Russia, this creates obvious problems. While it has sought to fight in the so-called “grey zone” just short of open warfare in the last few years, it has previously invaded neighbors like Georgia and would like the option of doing so again. A network of missiles that could shred its jets would make the situation worse.

But Russia’s diplomatic protests against Aegis are all aimed at the Tomahawk missile, a potential treaty-violating weapon that would truly terrify Russia if deployed near its borders in large numbers. Aegis at sea can control these missiles and rain them down on America’s enemies like it did against Syria.

When America fired Tomahawks in the recent Syria strikes, Russia declined to engage the missiles or American bombers with its own air defenses, possibly because it isn’t certain it can actually take down the Tomahawks in significant numbers. Though, again, Aegis Ashore is specifically configured to be incapable of firing Tomahawks.

Russia is so against Aegis Ashore installations that it deployed strategic bombers to Crimea earlier this year to threaten the installations and NATO.

But as long as Aegis systems are going in across the world, Russia is going to be protesting. The Tomahawk problem is just the part they can protest against. It’s likely that the real problem for Russia is its missile threat being negated and its bombers and fighters threatened.

But, you know, sucks to be you, Russia. Get on our level.

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What a Korean peace could mean for the nature preserve at the DMZ

The 2.5-mile wide, 148-mile long stretch of land that separates South Korea from North Korea is undoubtedly the most fortified border in the world. Landmines dot the land and each side is ready to destroy the other at a moment’s notice.

The land between them, however, has been untouched by humans for roughly sixty years and, as a result, hosts a unique composition of flora and fauna. With recent peace talks between North and South Korea, this could all be in danger.


Without human intervention, aside from the occasional landmine going off, animals have thrived in the area. Over 91 endangered species have called this unique biome home. You can find everything there from wild cats to Siberian tigers, black bears to red-crowned cranes. This is partly because the DMZ runs across a wide ranges of habitats, which includes mountains, marshes, swamps, and prairies.

How an American billionaire found an epic warship on the ocean floor
Where else will you find these majestic snow kittens?
(Screengrab via YouTube)

It was first proposed back in 1966 that, after the war ended, it should be turned into a national park. Even in 2005, media mogul Ted Turner visited the region and said, “The DMZ needs to be designated as a World Heritage Site and as a World Peace Park site because we’ve got to preserve it from development.”

The most recent attempts by South Korea to turn the area into an official UNESCO recognized biosphere started in 2011. The North has blocked any and all attempts at the UN because it would “violate their Armistice Agreement.” If the war came to an official end, then the armistice would be kept. Meaning, the world heritage site could be built.

How an American billionaire found an epic warship on the ocean floor
Once the mines have been cleared, obviously…
(South Korean Ministry of Culture)

It’s not uncommon for places with several endangered species to become a UNESCO heritage site. Manas Wildlife Sanctuary in the Indian Himalayas is classified as one with 22 endangered species. The “soon-to-be-former” DMZ would logically become one, but this isn’t exactly good news for the animals that are currently there.

How an American billionaire found an epic warship on the ocean floor
It’s the ultimate paradox for hippies to ponder over. Continuing war? Or saving the animals.
(Photo by Johannes Barre)

When the two nations put an end to the war, trade and travel would, presumably, resume, thus segmenting the animals that live there. This happens when interstates and other human interventions are built and separate animals from their natural habitats. This is similar to why Los Angeles has a thriving mountain lion population.

Unless careful precautions are taken to allow animals to freely move across the heritage site while still giving the Korean people access, all the wonders of the DMZ wildlife would be erased quickly.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Medal of Honor presented to family of fallen airman

On what would have been their 26th wedding anniversary, Tech. Sgt. John Chapman’s widow, Valerie Nessel, accepted his Medal of Honor from President Donald Trump during a ceremony at the White House Aug. 22, 2018.

“We are gathered together this afternoon to pay tribute to a fallen warrior, a great warrior…and to award him with our nation’s highest and most revered military honor,” Trump said.

Fighting in the early morning hours through brisk air and deep snow, Chapman sacrificed his own life to preserve the lives of his teammates during the Battle of Takur Ghar, Afghanistan, on March 4, 2002.


“[John] would want to recognize the other men who lost their lives,” Valerie said in a previous interview. “Even though he did something he was awarded the Medal of Honor for, he would not want the other guys to be forgotten – they were part of the team together. I think he would say his Medal of Honor was not just for him, but for all of the guys who were lost.”

Chapman was originally awarded the Air Force Cross for his actions; however, following a review of the Air Force Cross and Silver Star recipients directed by then-Secretary of Defense Ash Carter, Deborah James, then-Secretary of the Air Force, recommended Chapman’s Air Force Cross be upgraded to the Medal of Honor.

“John was always selfless – it didn’t just emerge at Taku Ghar – he had always been selfless and highly competent, and thank God for all those qualities,” retired Air Force Col. Ken Rodriguez, Chapman’s commander at the time of the battle, said in a previous interview. “He could have hunkered down in the bunker and waited for the (Quick Reaction Force) and (Combat Search and Rescue) team to come in, but he assessed the situation and selflessly gave his life for them.”

How an American billionaire found an epic warship on the ocean floor

Valerie Nessel, the spouse of Tech. Sgt. John Chapman, holds up the Medal of Honor after receiving it from President Donald J. Trump during a ceremony at the White House in Washington, D.C., Aug. 22, 2018.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Rusty Frank)

Chapman enlisted in the Air Force Sept. 27, 1985, as an information systems operator, but felt called to be part of Air Force special operations. In 1989, he cross-trained to become an Air Force combat controller.

According to friends and family, Chapman had a tendency to make the difficult look effortless and consistently sought new challenges. Dating back to his high school days, he made the varsity soccer squad as a freshman. In his high school yearbook, Chapman quoted these words: “Give of yourself before taking of someone else.”

Chapman looked for a new challenge, which he found in combat control. This special operations training is more than two years long and amongst the most rigorous in the U.S. military; only about one in 10 Airmen who start the program graduate. From months of intense training to multiple joint schools – including military SCUBA, Army static-line and freefall, air traffic control, and combat control schools – Chapman is remembered as someone who could overcome any adversity.

How an American billionaire found an epic warship on the ocean floor

Attendees observe as President Donald J. Trump presents the Medal of Honor to Valerie Nessel, the spouse of U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. John Chapman, during a ceremony at the White House.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Wayne A. Clark)

“One remembers two types of students – the sharp ones and the really dull ones – and Chapman was in the sharp category,” said Ron Childress, a former Combat Control School instructor. “During one of his first days at Combat Control School, I noticed a slight smirk on his face like [the training] was too simple for him…and it was.”

Following Combat Control School, Chapman served with the 1721st Combat Control Squadron at Pope Air Force Base, North Carolina, where he met Valerie in 1992. They had two daughters, who were the center of Chapman’s world even when he was away from home – which was common in special operations.

“He would come home from a long trip and immediately have on his father hat – feeding, bathing, reading and getting his girls ready for bed,” said Chief Master Sgt. Michael West, who served with Chapman through Combat Control School, a three-year tour in Okinawa, Japan, and at Pope AFB. “They were his life and he was proud of them. To the Air Force he was a great hero…what I saw was a great father.”

The Battle of Takur Ghar

In conjunction with Operation Anaconda in March 2002, small reconnaissance teams were tasked to establish observation posts in strategic locations in Afghanistan, and when able, direct U.S. airpower to destroy enemy targets. The mountain of Takur Ghar was an ideal spot for such an observation post, with excellent visibility to key locations.

For Chapman and his joint special operations teammates, the mission on the night of March 3 was to establish a reconnaissance position on Takur Ghar and report al-Qaida movement in the Sahi-Kowt area.

“This was a very high profile, no-fail job, and we picked John,” said retired Air Force Col. Ken Rodriguez, Chapman’s commander at the time. “In a very high-caliber career field, with the highest quality of men – even then – John stood out as our guy.”

During the initial insertion onto Afghanistan’s Takur Ghar mountaintop on March 4, the MH-47 Chinook helicopter carrying Chapman and the joint special operations reconnaissance team was ambushed. A rocket-propelled grenade struck the helicopter and bullets ripped through the fuselage. The blast ripped through the left side of the Chinook, throwing Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Neil Roberts off the ramp of the helicopter onto the enemy-infested mountaintop below.

The severely damaged aircraft was unable to return for Roberts, and performed a controlled crash landing a few miles from the mountaintop. Thus began the chain of events that led to unparalleled acts of valor by numerous joint special operations forces, the deaths of seven
U.S. servicemen and now, 16 years later, the posthumous award of the Medal of Honor to Chapman.

Alone, against the elements and separated from his team with enemy personnel closing in, Roberts was in desperate need of support. The remaining joint special operations team members, fully aware of his precarious situation, immediately began planning a daring rescue attempt that included returning to the top of Takur Ghar where they had just taken heavy enemy fire.

How an American billionaire found an epic warship on the ocean floor

Valerie Nessel, the spouse of U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. John Chapman, holds up the Medal of Honor after receiving it from President Donald J. Trump during a ceremony at the White House in Washington, D.C., Aug. 22, 2018.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Rusty Frank)

As the team returned to Roberts’ last-known position, now on a second MH-47, the entrenched enemy forces immediately engaged the approaching helicopter with heavy fire.

The helicopter, although heavily damaged, was able to successfully offload the remaining special operations team members and return to base. Chapman, upon exiting the helicopter, immediately charged uphill through the snow toward enemy positions while under heavy fire from three directions.

Once on the ground, the team assessed the situation and moved quickly to the high ground. The most prominent cover and concealment on the hilltop were a large rock and tree. As they approached the tree, Chapman received fire from two enemy personnel in a fortified position. He returned fire, charged the enemy position and took out the enemy combatants within.

Almost immediately, the team encountered machine gun fire from another fortified enemy position only 12 meters away. Chapman deliberately moved into the open to engage the new enemy position. As he engaged the enemy, he was struck by a burst of gunfire and became critically injured.

Chapman regained his faculties and continued to fight despite his severe wounds. He sustained a violent engagement with multiple enemy fighters for over an hour before paying the ultimate sacrifice. Due to his remarkably heroic actions, Chapman is credited with saving the lives of his teammates.

This article originally appeared on the United States Air Force. Follow @usairforce on Twitter.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Why McChrystal threw out a Robert E. Lee painting after 40 years

When Gen. Stanley McChrystal began working on his memoir after retiring as a four-star general in 2010, he realized that his perception of himself as a leader was different from reality. In the past eight years, he’s had time to reflect on his career and the notion of leadership itself.

During that long career, McChrystal led America and its allies in the Afghanistan War before retiring as a four-star general in 2010. He revolutionized the Joint Special Operations Command. And he’s best known for taking out the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq.

He’s now the managing partner of the leadership-consulting firm the McChrystal Group, and he’s the lead author of “Leaders: Myth and Reality.”


In an interview for Business Insider’s podcast “This Is Success,” he breaks down what he learned from key points in his life, including how recently revisiting the legacy of the Confederate general Robert E. Lee helped him realize it was time to redefine leadership.

Listen to the full episode here:

Subscribe to “This is Success” on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, or your favorite podcast app. Check out previous episodes with:

Transcript edited for clarity.

Stanley McChrystal: By the time we finished this book, we really arrived at this conclusion that leadership isn’t what we think it is, and it never has been. It’s much more complex. It’s not two-dimensional. And for me, one of the representative incidents is my relationship with Robert E. Lee. I grew up, figuratively speaking, with Robert E. Lee.

Rich Feloni: You grew up in Virginia.

McChrystal: I grew up in Northern Virginia, not far from his boyhood home, and I went to Washington-Lee High School. And when I turned 17, I went to West Point, as Robert E. Lee had done, and when you go to West Point, you don’t escape Robert E. Lee. I lived in Lee Barracks. There were paintings of Robert E. Lee. And while every other leader at West Point is famous, he’s special.

And then when I got older and I was retired and I had this picture that my wife had given me 40 years before. My wife had paid for it when I was a second lieutenant, and I hung it proudly at every set of quarters we ever had, because for me it represented “This is what I believe in.” When someone came into my quarters, they’d see, “Oh, Robert E. Lee. Those are the values that he believes in.” And I was proud of that.

Then, after Charlottesville, in late spring of 2017, my wife, Annie — we’d been married 40 years at the time — she goes, “I think you ought to get rid of that picture.” And my first response was, “You gave it to me, honey. I could never get rid of that?” And she says, “No.” And I said, “Well, why?” And she says, “I think it’s communicating something you don’t think it is.” And I said, “What do you mean? He was a general officer. He just did his thing. He was a military guy, not a politician or something.” She said, “You may think that, but people in our home may not think that, and they may think you’re trying to communicate something deeper, white supremacy and all those things. So one morning, I took it down and literally threw it away. And it was a pretty emotional moment for me.

And then as we started writing this book, and we had already begun the initial work, I realized I couldn’t write a book about leadership unless I wrote about Robert E. Lee. And I knew that was dangerous, because Robert E. Lee had become a controversial character. There’s a part of American society that is just passionate in his defense, part of it that is passionate against him, and everybody’s going to weigh in. But you know, I’d grown up with Robert E. Lee, both as a person in my mind, but also as an ideal. And just recently, I walked down, just to walk the distance between his childhood home and the slave-trading house in Alexandria, Virginia, which was the second-busiest slave-trading house in the United States. And this is where northern African-Americans were bought. Some freed men were captured, but others were bought from farms that weren’t profitable and shipped to the deep South, where cotton was so profitable. And so it was right in front of him. It was 10 blocks from his home. You don’t hide from the fact that this very ugly thing is a reality. And he spent the next four years defending it. And so there’s this contradiction. Here’s a guy who in some ways, is so admirable. His soldiers loved him

Feloni: From a military perspective.

How an American billionaire found an epic warship on the ocean floor

When McChrystal attended West Point in the ’70s, Confederate general Robert E. Lee had transcended his connection to the Confederate cause, and had become a symbol of military discipline and honor.

(The Library of Congress)


McChrystal: Exactly.

Feloni: Yeah, but it would have to be removing from the context of basically a traitor to his country, ignoring that and kind of replacing it with a myth.

McChrystal: That’s right, and I couldn’t.

Feloni: And were you not aware of that link that people could make when you had that painting in your quarters?

McChrystal: Here’s the point. On one level, yes I was. On another level, what I did was I just said, “Yeah, but.” And I think a lot of people, with Robert E. Lee, go, “Yeah, but.” And the real point of the book is, everybody is a complex person like that. Every memory of every leader that we profiled and everyone we could think, may not have that clear a contradiction, but they all have them. And we as followers, we as observers, we have to make a decision on how we look at those, how we process that, because if we’re looking for the perfect person, woman or man, we can wait forever. They’re not coming.

The ‘Great Man Theory’ of leadership is a myth

Feloni: Yeah. Well, when you’re looking at that and kind of leading into your thesis here, what is the way that we define leaders and leadership, and what is wrong with that, and what were you looking to correct?

McChrystal: I wrote my memoirs starting in 2010, and I thought that it would be fairly straightforward, because I was there, so I knew what happened. And I’d be the star of the show. The spotlight would be on me. And yet, when we went to do … I had a young person helping me that was brilliant. We went to do the research. We did a whole bunch of interviews, and we went to things that I had been very much a part of and given credit for. We found that I would make a decision and issue some order and there would be an outcome. And I thought, “OK, my order produced that outcome.” And in reality, we found that there’s a myriad of actions that other people are doing, or factors impinging on it, that actually affected the outcome much more than I did.

Feloni: So you didn’t realize this until you were writing your memoirs?

McChrystal: No, I mean, you get to this point in life because you sort of believe the Great Man Theory. You sort of believe that the leader is central to everything. And then when I get this, it’s very humbling, and I realize, leaders matter, just not like we think they do. And as we put in the book, it’s also the way we study leadership. We study biographies, which puts the person at the center. And so the spotlight tends to stay on them, and everything else tends to be a bit in shadows. You very rarely see a statue of a team. You see a few, but usually there’s a person on the pedestal. But in reality, a team, and sometimes a very large team, made it happen or didn’t make it happen. And yet, it’s hard to explain that.

Feloni: In this book, you picked a very interesting collection of profiles, and you even included the al-Qaeda leader that you defeated in Iraq, Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi. So what can you learn about leadership from studying someone that you morally oppose, even on an extreme example. This was your enemy. What do you gain from studying that?

McChrystal: Well, we didn’t just oppose him — we killed him.

Feloni: Yeah.

How an American billionaire found an epic warship on the ocean floor

As the head of Joint Special Operations Command, McChrystal hunted down and assassinated al-Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. McChrystal got inside Zarqawi’s head during the hunt.

McChrystal: I stood over his body right after we killed him. So for about two and a half years, we fought a bitter fight against this guy. And Abu Musab al-Zarqawi had come from a tough town in Jordan, very little education, got involved in crime and things like that in his youth. But then what happened was he realized that if he showed self-discipline to exhibit the conviction of his Islamic beliefs, if he did that overtly, if he became a zealot other people were attracted to him. He was living up to what he said and was demanding that they do. Later, when he became the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, he led the same way; he wore all black, looked like a terrorist leader. He actually killed himself — he was the person who held the knife when they beheaded Nicholas Berg. A gruesome thing to do, but what he’s showing people is our cause is so important, I’m willing to do something that we all know is horrific. And so he would lead around the battlefield courageously. And so what he did was he was able to bring forth people to follow his very extreme part of Islam, when most of them really didn’t. The Iraqi Sunni population were not naturally adherents to al-Qaeda, but he was able to produce such a sense of leadership and zealous beliefs that they followed. He became the godfather of ISIS.

Feloni: Yeah, and so by looking at this was, are you saying that to benefit your own leadership you had to get in the mind of him and understand that?

McChrystal: Well, the first thing you have to do is understand him. Your first desire is to demonize him, but the reality is, I had to respect him. He led very effectively, very, and if you really get down and put the lens another way, he believed and he fought for what he believed in. And who’s to say we were right and he was wrong?

Feloni: And that was something that you were thinking when you were in Iraq?

McChrystal: Not initially. Initially, you just say, “We’re just gonna get this guy.” And then after a while you watch him lead and you realize not only is he a worthy opponent — he’s making me better — but you’re also going after someone who truly believes. Who do you want to hang out with, who do you want to go to dinner with? You want somebody who believes what they’re doing. Now, his techniques I didn’t agree with. In many ways he was a psychopath. But I know a lot of people for whom I have less respect than I do for Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

Feloni: Interesting. When you were having the collection of people in this book, what were you looking for? Because in some ways you were saying that taking a look at profiles of individuals is the opposite of what you wanted to do. Because if you elevate someone above the context that they’re in, it’s counterproductive, but you’re proving that through elevating people so how do you navigate that?

McChrystal: Yeah, that’s an absolutely great point, and we actually didn’t realize that at the beginning of the book. We started writing and we said, “Hey, we are almost running in absolutely opposite directions of what we’re proposing.” You can write a theoretical book on leadership, and there will be a small community of people who read it. We learn through stories, all of us do, and we learn through stories of people. We picked these 13 diverse people and we had these six genres, we had founders, we had geniuses, we had power brokers, we had Coco Chanel, we had Boss Tweed, we have Martin Luther, we have Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., we have Harriet Tubman. We wanted something that would be universal, give us a wide look at different kinds of leaders and context. We wanted diversity in sex, we wanted diversity in nationality, we have a Chinese admiral from the 15th century. And so we thought that if you could bring it wide like that you can draw the universal lessons out, that we couldn’t do if we just took politicians or soldiers or something.

Lessons from success and failure in war

Feloni: Yeah, now I want to talk about these lessons with the lens of your career as well. You became known for the approach that you took to join Special Operations Command, re-imaging the approach to Special Operations, particularly in Iraq, which led to the death of Zarqawi. And so when you had such transformations at JSOC, what was that like coming into a role where you had to adapt on the fly but every change, every risk that you took had lives in the balance?

McChrystal: Well, it was frightening, but it was very, very important. I had grown up essentially in joint Special Operations Command and the Rangers and then on the staff. I was very familiar with this very elite counterterrorist force. And this force was, you’ve seen it in movies, bearded guys with big knuckles and fancy weapons and these surly arrogant attitudes and that’s pretty accurate but the hearts of lions. But we very insular, we were designed to do counter-hijacking, hostage rescue, precise raids, and so we were almost in an insular part of the military and no one else interacted much with us. We would be directed to do certain missions and we loved that because we didn’t have to be affected by the big military bureaucracy. And then in Iraq what happened is, starting in 2003, really after the invasion, we ran into a problem that was bigger and more complex than we’d ever faced before, and that was al-Qaeda in Iraq. And we found that very narrow insulated way of operating before, tribal way, it didn’t work because you had to have this synergy of a real team and at first we almost were in denial because we’re so good at what we do.

We said, “Well, we’ll just do what we do and everybody else will figure everything else out.” But that wasn’t going to work. Really starting in early 2004 we came to a collective understanding that we were losing, and we were likely to lose if we didn’t change. Now we had no idea how to change, there wasn’t a road map, I wasn’t the visionary leader to provide that. And so what we said was, “Well, we will do anything but this. Now we’ll change.” And because I didn’t have this vision or clear blueprint to put in front of the organization, I essentially put it out to the team. I said, “We’re going to start changing to whatever works, so what we do that works we’ll do more of, what we do that doesn’t work we’ll stop.” And that freed the organization to constantly adapt. We’re able to modify, adapt ourselves and constantly change without the limitations of a doctrine that says, “You can’t do that.”

How an American billionaire found an epic warship on the ocean floor

U.S. Army General Stanley McChrystal in his official portrait as head of ISAF.

Our doctrine became, “If it’s stupid and it works, it ain’t stupid and we’ll push it.” And as it came it started to change the way we thought about leadership. When I took over I was approving every mission because I’m the commander and I found there’s no way you can be fast enough, so my role changed. I went from being the micro-manager, the centralized director, to being a commander who creates this ecosystem in which this group of really talented people figure it out. And my goal was to keep the ecosystem going, grow it with new participants and keep everyone supported and inspired.

Feloni: When you’re saying that when you had to take big risks with these changes, that there was a level of fear involved. Were you mitigating that fear by learning to trust the people that you were working with?

McChrystal: Yeah, and you have to — sometimes you can’t completely mitigate it. In an organization like JSOC, when you take casualties it’s deeply emotional because it’s not like new privates coming in, you get a new private. It takes about a decade to build an operator, everybody’s the godparent of other operator’s kids, you know. And so when you lose people, you lose people who’ve been around a long time, it took a long time, so it’s very emotional. T.E. Lawrence talked about the ripples in a pond.

Feloni: That’s “Lawrence of Arabia.”

McChrystal: That’s right, “Lawrence of Arabia.” He talked about when you lost one of the better ones, it was like ripples because it went out into their families and whatnot. Every casualty was much more costly and therefore you had to try to minimize them. And so as we went into this risk period there was a lot of uncertainty and I couldn’t, I don’t have the wisdom or courage or any of that to bear all that together, so we had a team and we supported each other.

Feloni: Distribute that.

McChrystal: Yeah, exactly.

Feloni: Yeah, and in terms of looking at something continuing after you leave, so you led the US-led coalition in the war in Afghanistan. That was eight years ago when you left; the war is still going. How does that look to you, because, for example, I could speak to a CEO who left a company and they can comment and be, like, “Oh, here’s what worked and what didn’t.” But as we were talking about, the stakes are just so much different in war. How do you process that?

McChrystal: You can process it in a lot of ways. You could take a strict business sense you could say, “Well, it hasn’t succeeded thus far, so it’s a bad investment.” And then I can also look and see that as of 2001 when we entered Afghanistan there were no females in school under the Taliban. There weren’t that many young males in school and now we’ve had almost 17 years of young ladies going to school, young men and so we’ve got a different young generation in Afghanistan. And 4.4 million Afghans voted this week and it wasn’t a presidential election. Is the glass half full, is it half empty, is there a hole in it? The answer is yes to all of those. There’s deep corruption, there’s huge problems inside the country, but in many ways I think that rather than say, “OK, it’s a failure,” I’d say it’s a complex problem, one of which you work on over a long period. I know I would not subscribe now to thousands of American troops or unlimited amounts of money, but I wouldn’t recommend walking away. I think our partnership with the Afghan people and the signal we send to other countries in the region is important. And if we think about the world as a completely connected place now, not just by information technology but culturally, I think the ability to have relationships, to demonstrate our willingness to be a part of things is more important than ever. It was critical really right after the Second World War, we gave both Asia through Japan and Europe enough cohesion to grow back. It doesn’t feel as easy or as good in Afghanistan but I would tell you, I look at the world through that lens is how I come at it.

Feloni: In “Leaders,” your memoir, it’s giving you a chance to be introspective of your own career. And on the nature of leaving the military when it came in this much publicized, there was a Rolling Stone article that reporter Michael Hastings portrayed you as a renegade general and that ended up leaving your position. How do you process that now, looking back at your role since it’s been eight years?

McChrystal: Yeah, I mean, there are a lot of ways that maybe I could or should. The first thing is it happened, and I didn’t think that the article was truly reflective of my team. It was about me and my team and the runaway general and that is obviously not a good title. And so on the one hand I thought that that wasn’t fair; on the other hand I’m responsible and we have this negative article about a senior general shows up on the president of the United States’ desk. And it’s my job not to put articles like that on the president’s desk, so I offered my resignation. President Obama accepted it, and I don’t have any problem with it because I’m responsible whether I did something wrong or not. I’m responsible, and as I told the president that day, “I’m happy to stay in command or resign, whatever is best for the mission.”

Now that’s phase one, and I feel very good about that decision. I’m not happy it happened, but I feel good about that. Then you have a moment when you have a failure like that in your life and you get to make a decision. You’re either going to relitigate that for the rest of your life and I could be a retired bitter general, I could be whatever, the CEO got fired or whatever or not. And my wife helped me through this more than anything, because as I tell people, “She lives like she drives, without using the rear-view mirror.” And so we made the decision, she helped me. “We’re going to focus completely on the future.” We made the decision, she helped me. “We’re going to focus completely on the future. There is no point in being bitter because nobody cares but you.” So I decided to look forward, I decided to think about, “What can I do now?” Now, that’s easier said than done. Every day there’s some hurt.

Feloni: Even now?

McChrystal: Occasionally. Not every day, but occasionally something will come up. Last week, Rolling Stone queried if I wanted to do another interview. The answer was no.

Feloni: That seems like … yeah.

McChrystal: Yeah. I kind of went, “Really?” But the reality is, it always kind of comes back up, and you have to remake that decision on a constant basis. But it gets easier over time because you start to see how healthy that is. I would argue that every one or your listeners is going to fail. They’re going to fail in a marriage, they’re going to fail in a business, they’re going to fail at something for which they are responsible. And they’ve got to make the decision, “OK, what’s the rest of your life going to be like?” Because you can’t change what’s already happened. The only thing you can change is what happens in the future. So I tell people, “For God’s sakes, don’t screw up the rest of your life because of something that happened there.” And if you make the right decision, to lean forward, I’ve been extraordinarily satisfied and happy with that.

How an American billionaire found an epic warship on the ocean floor

McChrystal in Afghanistan.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Francisco V. Govea II)

Feloni: And if you were to write a biographical profile for yourself in “Leaders,” what would the theme of your leadership style be, and what would be the reality versus the myth of it?

McChrystal: It would be evolution. One of the things we see in some of these leaders is they didn’t evolve. Walt Disney was this extraordinary animator, and with a small team he was exceptional. When the team got big, he didn’t adapt well, and his brother basically had to run it, and he focused on projects. Mine was a journey … I was a very different leader as a lieutenant colonel than I was as a company commander captain. I was very centralized when I was young. I started to loosen up, by the time I was a general officer I was, I think, completely different. I was much more decentralized. So I think the theme of a profile of me would be the evolution of that.

Now, the myth is the opposite; the myth is the counterterrorist leader who killed Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. I went out, wrestled him to the ground, buried to the waist, and that’s total B.S. At times do I like the myth because people go, “Wow, look at him!”? Yeah, it’s kind of cool, you never want to go, “No, that’s not true.” But it’s not true. The reality is that I built a team. Ultimately I’m more proud of enabling the team that I would be of wrestling to his death. But it still feels kind of cool when people say that. [laughs]

Feloni: So it’s the evolution of you as someone who is a very centralized commander to decentralizing.

McChrystal: Yeah, and thinking about it entirely differently.

Applying these lessons to the workplace

Feloni: And we’ve been talking about leadership on a grand scale, but you’re also the head of the McChrystal Group, which works with businesses on leadership development. So after having worked with a bunch of different industries, often on much smaller scales, what would you say are some of the most common mistakes a new leader makes?

McChrystal: I think often a new leader comes in and wants to prove themselves, because they’ve been hired, typically they’ve been given a role and a fair amount of money, and so they think they’ve got to prove themselves. There’s a reticence to say, “I don’t know.” There’s a reticence to look at the team and say “What should we do?” and to have the team do it. Because you’re worried about your own credibility. I think leaders actually, if they’re willing to, I’m not saying take a subordinate role, they’re responsible, but take a much more inclusive role, a much more role in which you ask people to help lead, actually works much better. Some of the best I’ve ever seen that have particularly been in jobs awhile have reached that, and it’s magic to see.

Feloni: And on the flip side of that, should people who are followers, should they see leadership in a new light, maybe their relationship to their boss, their boss’ boss?

McChrystal: Yeah, think about it — how many times have we sat back and you’ve got either a new leader or your leader in the auditorium, in the room, and they’re saying, “OK, here’s what we’re going to do,” and you’re sitting back kind of the smart-ass, going, “This is stupid, that won’t work, boom, boom, boom.” Rear up on your hind legs and bark, and maybe we’ll think about doing it. Leaders have a role, but the followers have a huge role, huge responsibility. Huge responsibility in doing their part, but also shaping the leader. You see the leader making a mistake and you don’t say something to them? You fail in your job. And then when you see them fail and you get smug and you go, “Yeah, I thought that she was never that good, he was never that good,” shame on you. Because you own part of that, and in reality when it’s firing time they had to fire all of you.

Feloni: So not only should we not put figures of the past on pedestals. We shouldn’t do that with our own bosses.

McChrystal: Absolutely, and bosses shouldn’t put themselves on pedestals either. There are a few who keep wanting to step up there, and then … I think it’s much better for the leader to stay away from the pedestal.

Feloni: And at this point, how do you personally define success?

McChrystal: It’s the team I’m part of. I’ve got this company that’s now 100 people, it’s grown, and I’m not critical to the business, except my name’s on the door. I show up occasionally, and they’re very nice to me and whatnot, but the reality is the work gets done by the team, and I take the greatest pride in the world when I sit in one of our meetings and I’m not saying much, and it’s happening. They’re just doing things, they’re pulling, they’re saying we’re going to go in this direction, and nobody looks to me to say, “Can we go in that direction or should we?” And they’re not being discourteous. They know that that’s not the best thing to do. If they turn to me or somebody else to let the old gray beard do it, it’s too slow. It’s often not the right answer. So I am really happiest when I see that, and it gives you great pride.

Feloni: So success to you, would it be having a non-integral role among your team?

McChrystal: No — I want to be integral to it, I want to feel like a part of it, but I don’t want to feel like the critical cog. I don’t want to feel like the keystone to the arch. I want the company, the organization, to be confident in themselves. If I got hit by a car, they’d say, “We’re going to miss Stan, but guess what? In his honor, we’re going to move forward and we are going to do X, X, X.” That’s when I really feel best about things. Or they don’t even tell me about things they’re doing, and suddenly we’re doing very well on a project and I hear about it, and I go, “Wow, that’s good — when did we do that?” They say so and so, I say, “Well, why didn’t I know?” They say, “Well, you didn’t need to know. It’s not important.” And they’re right.

Feloni: Is there a piece of advice that you would give to someone who wants to have a career like yours? It doesn’t necessarily have to be military — it could be a sense of leadership.

McChrystal: When I think about the two things that I hope leaders have, first is empathy. Understanding that if you’re sitting on the other side of the table you have a different perspective, and they might be right. So just being able to put yourself in their shoes. Doesn’t mean you agree with them, doesn’t mean you approve, but being able to see it is really important. And then the second part is self-discipline. Because most of us know what we ought to do as leaders. We know what we shouldn’t do. It’s having the self-discipline to do those things, because you’re leading all the time. You’re leading by example all the time — it’s a good example or a bad example. It’s not just the leadership in your job; it’s an extraordinary responsibility. I had a battalion commander whose battalion I joined, and he had just left when I got there. But all the lieutenants are wearing their T-shirts backwards. And I’m going, “All right, what’s going on here? Did they get up after drinking all night or something?” And the battalion commander had done that because it showed less skin when you’re out there in the field and the enemy couldn’t see the white skin and shoot you. I didn’t think that was that smart an idea, but the fact that just because he wore his T-shirts backwards, his whole cohort of young lieutenants was doing it.

Feloni: He didn’t tell them to.

McChrystal: I don’t think he told them to. I got there right after he’d left, so it was kind of like this clinical thing. I got there ‘ “Why have they got their T-shirts backwards?” And this guy had done that. Just the power you find that if you are charismatic and whatnot, anything you do, how you treat people, how you think about things, the little things, you’ll start to see it mimicked by people through your organization, and there’s great power in that. And you’ve got to be careful with it.

Feloni: Thank you, general.

McChrystal: It’s been my honor. Thank you.

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

MIGHTY SURVIVAL

President Trump announces Operation America Strong: Flyovers by the Thunderbirds and Blue Angels across the USA

Look! Up in the sky!

In the next few weeks, residents of various cities around the country will get to see a pretty awesome sight. The United States Navy’s Blue Angels and the United States Air Force’s Thunderbirds will be carrying out flyovers over selected cities.


Operation America Strong was announced Wednesday by President Donald Trump during his daily press briefings on the coronavirus outbreak. The purpose is to honor the health care workers that have been working tirelessly around the clock at great risk to their own health during the coronavirus outbreak that has closed down much of the country, as well as unite Americans around the world.

Trump said, “I’m excited to announce that in the coming weeks, the Air Force Thunderbirds – are incredible – and the Navy’s Blue Angels, equally incredible, will be performing air shows over America’s major cities. What we’re doing is we’re paying tribute to our front-line health care workers confronting COVID. And it’s really a signal to all Americans to remain vigilant during the outbreak. This is a tribute to them, to our warriors. Because they are equal warriors to those incredible pilots and all of the fighters that we have for the more traditional fights that we win and we win.”

The Thunderbirds have already been flying in honor of health care workers at various locations over the state of Colorado and at the United States Air Force Academy Commencement. Some cities will see one unit or the other, while select cities will get to see a joint flyover.

[instagram https://www.instagram.com/p/B_QQE3LhEuW/?utm_source=ig_embed expand=1]AirshowStuff on Instagram: “Another awesome view of this afternoon’s combined flyby. #Repost @kalibellemk • • • • • • Pensacola Beach, Florida ??????Always proud.…”

www.instagram.com

The event was an idea of several senior level military officers who think this will be a great way to show the unified resolve of the country.

Even though the news was just announced, several questions have already arisen over if the intended purpose is necessary and if it could cause any issues as most cities are under lock down. Flyovers are expensive endeavors and can cost up to ,000 an hour. However, Pentagon officials have said that these flyovers have already been accounted for in the yearly budget (safe to say, numerous canceled shows have helped)

As for crowds, the Pentagon has stated that these will not be airshows and aim to have flyovers be over areas where crowds can not congregate, although that might be harder to do in reality than on paper.

While set dates have not been announced, a DOD memo did state the cities which have been initially selected to see a flyover.

U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds

San Antonio, TX

Oklahoma City, OK

Phoenix, AZ

San Diego, CA

Los Angeles, CA

San Francisco, CA

Portland, OR

Seattle, WA

How an American billionaire found an epic warship on the ocean floor

U.S. Navy Blue Angels

Miami, FL

Tampa, FL

Tallahassee, FL

Jacksonville, FL

Norfolk, VA

Virginia Beach, VA

Joint Flyover of Both Teams

Washington, DC

Baltimore, MD

New York, NY

Newark, NJ

Trenton, NJ

Philadelphia, PA

Atlanta, GA

Dallas, TX

Houston, TX

Austin, TX

As dates are set, we will update this list. ‘Merica strong!

MIGHTY TRENDING

Reports say President will withdraw all forces from Syria

Reporting from CNN and The Wall Street Journal indicates that President Donald J. Trump has ordered a rapid withdrawal of U.S. forces from Syria, and U.S. officials are already giving notice to international partners while preparing the logistics of the move.


The reporting came at the same time that the president took to Twitter to say, “We have defeated ISIS in Syria, my only reason for being there during the Trump Presidency.

Press Secretary Sarah Sanders released a statement:

Five years ago, ISIS was a very powerful and dangerous force in the Middle East, and now the United States has defeated the territorial caliphate. These victories over ISIS in Syria do not signal the end of the Global Coalition or its campaign. We have started returning United States troops home as we transition to the next phase of this campaign. The United States and our allies stand ready to re-engage at all levels to defend American interests whenever necessary, and we will continue to work together to deny radical Islamist terrorists territory, funding, support, and any means of infiltrating our borders.”

U.S. troops have been in Syria for years, mostly operating next to rebel forces and Kurdish units working to tear apart ISIS’s claimed caliphate and then kill what fighters they could find. At the same time, U.S-backed fighters still frequently clashed with pro-government forces.

To a certain degree, this had created a proxy conflict as the U.S. backed rebel units and the conflict and Russia and Iran backed government forces. All sides could agree that ISIS had to be destroyed, but the U.S. had a very different idea from Iran and Russia of what the post-ISIS region should look like.

At one point in February, 2018, Russian mercenaries working for a Kremlin-linked businessman even directly attacked a base filled with U.S. special operators despite repeated warnings that they would be attacked. An estimated 100 mercenaries were killed and hundreds more wounded. No U.S. casualties were reported.

Under President Barack Obama, there were indicators that the U.S. would help shape the peace, ensuring that Iran didn’t gain a strong foothold in the country and potentially limiting Russia’s control after the war. Syria is very important to Russia as it has historically provided one of the only politically secure allies that Russia has had in the region.

Russia’s largest air base and naval base in the Middle East were in Syria even before the conflict in that country broke out, and Russia sent additional forces there as it attempted to keep Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in power despite accusations of human rights abuses and clear evidence that the regime used chemical weapons against its own people.

Some entities are reporting that gunfire has erupted at pro-regime checkpoints and bases in Syria as news of the U.S. withdrawal makes its way to those troops, indicating that Syrian troops and allies are celebrating the news.

The U.S. withdrawal will allow Iran, Russia, and Turkey to more heavily influence the peace process, possibly to the detriment of Kurdish forces who had hoped to secure a permanent country in lands they helped protect and liberate from ISIS-control. Kurdish forces have a long history of allying with the U.S., taking part in operations in Iraq and Syria that were closely coordinated with U.S. leaders.

The withdrawal announcement seems to have come as a surprise, even to senior leaders in the U.S. and partnered nations. Senator Lindsey Graham pushed back, saying that ISIS is not defeated and that a withdrawal would be a “huge, Obama-like mistake.”

CNN’s Manu Raju, a senior congressional correspondent, has been making the rounds at the Capitol while tweeting quotes from different leaders. Marco Rubio gave sentiments similar to Graham’s, reportedly calling the decision a great disservice to the country, making the U.S. a less reliable partner.

popular

Unrealistic war movies that still nail military life

It’s no secret that Hollywood has a knack for getting the military wrong in war movies. Whether it’s diverging from reality in movies that are “based on a true story” or it’s pretending grenades create massive fireballs when they explode, the movie industry will always favor drama and spectacular visuals over realism… and to be totally honest, I’m cool with that.

Over the years, I’ve devoted a great deal of my professional life to analyzing the way narratives take shape in the public consciousness. I’ve dug into how different nations leverage media to affect public perceptions (I even wrote a book about it). I’ve explored the ways cultural touchstones like exchanging engagement rings manifested inorganically in corporate board rooms. I’ve even pointed out the ways World War II propaganda still shapes our dietary choices. That’s a long-winded way of saying that my professional interests have long been tied to exploring the undercurrent in mass communications, and further analyzing the ways that undercurrent can shape our perspectives of the world.


With the understanding that I’ve devoted so much of my time to exploring the narrative behind messaging, you can probably imagine that I can be a real party pooper when it comes to watching war movies. Like most vets, I get frustrated when I see uniforms worn incorrectly or when dialogue between service members feels forced or clunky… but unlike many vets, I also can’t help but look past the surface level messaging to try to figure out what filmmakers are trying to say with their choices in presentation.

Film, like any art form, is really an exercise in evoking emotion. When we really love a movie, it’s almost always because we loved the way the movie made us feel as we watched it. Whether we were excited by incredible action sequences or we were enraptured by a budding romance, it’s the experience, our experience, that we actually cherish. Good filmmakers know that, so they often choose to place a larger emphasis on creating an experience than they do on recreating a realistic event. Good movies aren’t good because they’re real–in other words–they’re good because the feelings they create are.

When a movie sucks, however, it’s usually because the director fails to evoke real emotions in the viewer. Bad filmmaking can be just as realistic or unrealistic as good filmmaking. Warner Brother’s famously bad “Green Lantern” movie, as a good example, is often made fun of for its use of an entirely CGI costume on Ryan Reynolds. You might think that’s because CGI costumes are just too unrealistic to be taken seriously… until you realize that most of the costumes you see in the wildly successful Marvel movies are entirely CGI as well. The difference isn’t that one is realistic while the other isn’t–the difference is that the Marvel Cinematic Universe is better at making you care about its characters. Iron Man’s CGI suit simply becomes set-dressing for the character that you’re emotionally invested in.

Marvel isn’t the only studio to get the feeling right, even when it gets facts or realism wrong. In fact, there are a number of war movies that manage the same feat.

How an American billionaire found an epic warship on the ocean floor
(Warner Brothers)

 

Full Metal Jacket (the first half)

Marines, in particular, tend to hold the first half of Stanley Kubrick’s “Full Metal Jacket” in high esteem, and we tend to disregard the second half of the movie as an auteur opining about Vietnam (in a way that doesn’t leave the audience nearly as invested in the characters). Depending on who you ask, they’ll tell you that Marine recruit training is exactly like the movie or not like it at all–and that likely has a lot to do with individual experiences and feelings from one’s own time at the depots.

But whether you ever had to choke yourself with a drill instructor’s hand or not, most Marines feel a distinct kinship with J.T. “Joker” Davis’ platoon. It’s safe to say that most of us didn’t see a fellow recruit shoot our drill instructor in the bathroom (or head, as we call it), but that scene does capture something about recruit training that’s not easy to articulate. For many of us, Marine Recruit Training is the first place we’d ever been where violence is a commodity. We’re learning to fight, to kill, and when you begin broaching the subject in your mind, the experience can be jarring. I recall distinctly the first time I ever truly thought about taking another person’s life and what it would entail, and it was inside a squad bay just like the one you see in “Full Metal Jacket.”

How an American billionaire found an epic warship on the ocean floor
(Paramount Pictures)

 

The Hunt for Red October

If we’re grading war movies on realism, it would be tough to gloss over the fact that Sean Connery’s Marko Ramius is a Russian submarine captain that talks with a thick Scottish accent. But in terms of capturing the reality of the Cold War as a feeling, “Red October” hits the nail right on the head.

In real life, would we pull a CIA analyst out of his cubicle and drop him into the ocean to climb aboard a nuclear submarine hot on the tail of a rogue Russian captain? Probably not–but by doing so in the film, “The Hunt for Red October” effectively captured the sense of urgency, confusion, and distrust that characterized so much of the Cold War for both American and Soviet officials. Many defense initiatives in the U.S. were driven by concerns that the Soviet’s had developed a technological or strategic advantage, and in a real way, intelligent men and women like Jack Ryan devoted their entire lives to both offsetting those perceived capability gaps, and of course, to preventing nuclear war amid an international, nuclear-fueled, staring contest.

“The Hunt for Red October” may not be the most realistic exploration of Cold War tensions, but it expertly crafts the feeling that permeated the defense community throughout the conflict.

How an American billionaire found an epic warship on the ocean floor
(Universal Pictures)

 

Jarhead

I won’t lie to you, I still take great issue with certain elements of “Jarhead” — specifically its depiction of Marines as singularly driven by the desire to take lives. However, as an exploration into the emotional ride that is Marine training and service, the desire to get a confirmed kill in “Jarhead’s” second act that I find so abrasive actually perfectly captures the feelings so many service members and veterans have about not seeing combat.

The vast majority of people in the military never take that “kill shot” “Jarhead’s” Anthony Swofford (Jake Gyllenhaal) is so focused on, and to be honest, lots of service members wouldn’t want to–but therein lies the point. “Jarhead” is a war movie that tells the story of training extensively for a job that you never get to do, and then returning to a world full of other people’s expectations that you know, inside your head, you’ll never amount to.

Lots of veterans find that they don’t feel “veteran enough” after their time in uniform is up. Maybe they didn’t see combat, or they didn’t see as much combat as others. Maybe their job had them mopping floors in Japan instead of kicking in doors in Iraq, or maybe they never left the wire during their time in the sandbox. Whatever the reason, many veterans (and even active service members) carry a chip on their shoulder created by society’s expectation that we all return home like John Rambo. The truth is, every veteran is veteran enough–but “Jarhead” does an excellent job of sharing that insecurity on film.

How an American billionaire found an epic warship on the ocean floor
(Sony Pictures)

Tears of the Sun

This nearly forgotten 2003 action drama starred Bruce Willis as Lieutenant Waters, a U.S. Navy SEAL charged with leading his team into Nigeria to evacuate a U.S. citizen and medical doctor amid a bloody coup d’etat. When Waters and his SEAL team arrive, however, the doctor refuses to leave without the rest of the members of her small community who will likely be wiped out by rebel soldiers in the area.

What follows is a fairly unrealistic depiction of how military operations are carried out, complete with bloody last stand on the nation’s border in which many of the SEALs ultimately give their lives to protect the fleeing civilians. The movie is, to be honest, some pretty heavy handed American military propaganda (honestly, some of the best war movies are), but it’s precisely because of that arguably jingoistic idealism that this movie so effectively captures the feeling that drives so many of us to sign our enlistment papers.

Most folks in the military chose to join because of a combination of personal interest and idealism. We could use a good job, some help with college, and benefits for our families–but we also want to make a difference in the world. We want to help protect not just our nation’s people, but the ideals our nation represents. “Tears of the Sun” is a story about American service members giving up their lives to do what’s right, and because of that, it strikes the patriotic chord in many of us in a way that resonates deeply, even if the movie itself isn’t a masterclass in filmmaking.

This article by Alex Hollings originally appeared on Sandboxx News. Follow Sandboxx on Facebook.

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This video shows how ‘Full Metal Jacket’ was made

Stanley Kubrick’s “Full Metal Jacket” is arguably one of the most influential military movies of all time. It’s the movie would-be troops romanticize about before enlisting in the military and it’s certainly the movie they watch to mentally prepare themselves before shipping off to boot camp to face their drill instructors.


However, as iconic as this 1987 film has become, it almost didn’t turn out that way. This 30-minute video shows how Full Metal Jacket was made and what the cast and crew did to “get it right.” There are plenty of interesting tidbits, like how relatively unknown actor Vincent D’Onofrio initially didn’t even want to do the film, and why a horrific scene between “Animal Mother” and the sniper was cut out.

Watch (profanity warning):


Feature image: Screen capture from YouTube

MIGHTY TRENDING

Why an award for military dogs is long overdue

Military working animals are just as much troops in the formation as their bipedal handlers. They go through rigorous training, like the Joes. They get weeded out through selection, like the Joes. And they even hold rank, like the Joes. Military working animals, especially the military dogs, are trained in a wide array of specializations, from drug sniffing and explosives detection to locating survivors in wreckage and providing emotional support to our wounded service members at countless hospitals.

These dogs give just as much as everyone else in the formation — yet, unlike the Joes, they didn’t have official recognition by the United States Armed Forces for their their gallant deeds. That could change with the recently proposed “Guardians of America’s Freedom Medal.”


How an American billionaire found an epic warship on the ocean floor

Fun fact: The first organization to care for military working animals was called “Our Dumb Friends League” — which is still a less agitating way to refer to an animal than when people call their Pomeranian their “fur baby.”

(Imperial War Museum)​

Currently, the Dickin Medal is given to military working dogs of all allied nations — but this is not an American award nor is it even officially from the military. It’s from the UK’s People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals. Despite that, the current Dickin Medal means a great deal to the handler because it doesn’t just mean a printed certificate and a tiny medallion for a creature that’d much rather play with a tennis ball — the medal also comes with benefits and care for the dog.

Physical proof that a military working dog is, in fact, a very good boy gives handlers the evidence they need to back up their requests for help. Handlers currently have little support from Uncle Sam when it comes to ordering new supplies, like harnesses, training aids, etc. With recognition, which, to this point, has meant the Dickin Medal exclusively, the animal is pampered with all of the dignity and respect it earned.

The Dickin Medal also allows the animal to be buried, with full military honors, at the Ilford Animal Cemetery in London. Non-decorated working animals don’t have that right, but the Department of Defense has been taking steps in the right direction. Now, military working animals are allowed to be buried next to their handler at certain national cemeteries. Additionally, the DoD decided (finally) that it was a terrible idea to just leave working dogs on the battlefield or euthanize them when their service isn’t required anymore.

How an American billionaire found an epic warship on the ocean floor

Military working dogs have proven time and time again that they’re patriots.

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Aaron S. Patterson)

The Guardians of America’s Freedom Medal would give nearly all of those same benefits — along with official recognition by the United States Government — to the animals that have bravely served their country.

This medal, which costs nothing more than a few bucks and a commander’s recommendation, will help showcase the heroism of our military working animals and give them more than just a pat on the head and an extra treat.

As of December 31st, 2013, 92 military working animals have lost their lives in support of the Global War on Terrorism. 29 of those dogs suffered gunshot wounds, and another 31 were killed by explosions. The other 32 have fallen due to illness. Another 1,350 dogs have suffered non-combat-related injuries or illnesses.

The award will probably mean little to an animal that doesn’t comprehend why everyone’s applauding, but it’s a step in the right direction — and it will give the handlers that extra push they need to get the care our military working animals deserve.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

This is what became of the Army’s futuristic M-16 replacement rifle

The US military has long explored the idea of replacing its M-16 assault rifle with something newer and deadlier. From the 1990s onward, German arms giant, Heckler & Koch, was heavily involved in helping the US Army attempt to reach that objective, creating newfangled firearms that bear considerable resemblances to the guns you’d find in futuristic, sci-fi movies and TV shows.


The XM8 was one of these rifles developed by H&K in the early 2000s as one of a number of alternatives to the M-16 and its derivative M4 carbine. Born as a scaled-down replacement for another H&K prototype — the XM29 — the XM8 entered a limited production run in 2003, concluding just two years later.

Like the M-16 and M4 platforms, the XM8 also utilized the 5.56 x 45 mm NATO round. Built as a modular weapon and based on the G-36 rifle, then in use with the German military, soldiers could adapt their XM8s while in the field to serve in a variety of roles.

How an American billionaire found an epic warship on the ocean floor
The XM8’s compact variant during testing. (Photo from US Army)

A barrel swap and changing the stock could quickly take the XM8 from its carbine variant to a smaller personal defense weapon, similar in size to an MP5 submachine gun. An XM320 (now the M320, the Army’s standard-issue grenade launcher) could be mounted to the weapon with considerable ease for added firepower.

If a platoon out in the field needed a ranged weapon, the XM8 could be retooled accordingly by simply exchanging the barrel for a longer one, adding a more powerful scope, and a collapsible bipod. Should the situation and scenario call for something with more sustained rates of fire, the XM8 could even be turned into a light machine gun with a rate of fire between 600 to 750 rounds per minute.

To top it off, the XM8 wasn’t just light and extremely versatile, it was also cheaper to produce than the M4 carbine — the rifle it was designed to supplant. Proven to be fairly reliable during “dust tests,” even when compared against the M4, the XM8 was, on the surface, the ideal replacement rifle.

How an American billionaire found an epic warship on the ocean floor
US Army generals test the XM8 system. (Photo US Army)

In fact, in the latter stages of the XM8 program, even the Marine Corps demonstrated an interest in testing and potentially buying the new rifle. Should the Department of Defense have picked it up, the gun would have been produced entirely in Georgia, in cooperation with other brand-name defense contractors.

In 2005, however, the program was shelved and quickly canceled. According to retired Army General Jack Keane, a huge proponent for replacing the M4, the XM8 program fell victim to the layers of bureaucracy that typically develop in military procurement schemes. Outside of the bureaucratic issues plaguing the new rifle, there were also technical shortcomings H&K addressed very poorly.

The weapon’s integral optical sight was partially electronic and, thus, required battery power. As it turns out, the original batteries for the weapon lost their charge too quickly and needed to be replaced. Unfortunately, the new batteries added weight to the rifle — the exact opposite of what the Army wanted.

How an American billionaire found an epic warship on the ocean floor
A PASKAL frogman (center) wielding the sharpshooter/marksman variant of the XM8 (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Battery woes were the least of the Army’s concerns. Soldiers would have to worry about burning their fingers on the XM8’s handguards, which were very susceptible to overheating and even melting. The solution there was to also replace the handguard, adding even more weight. At the same time, unit production costs began to balloon as a result of the fixes created to refine the weapon.

While the US military was decidedly against the XM8, Heckler & Koch found a new customer overseas just two years after the XM8 program was canned. Though it didn’t meet the DoD’s standards for a new service rifle, the German arms manufacturer argued that it would still be an effective weapon with its kinks worked out.

As it turns out, the Malaysian Armed Forces were very interested in buying a small number of the futuristic rifles for their special operations units, namely Pasukan Khas Laut, their naval special warfare force, also known as PASKAL. By 2010, PASKAL troopers began using the XM8 to reduce reliance on their M4A1 SOPMOD carbines, alongside other H&K products like the HK416 and the G-36.

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