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11 Things You Might Not Know About the U.S. Army

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If trends hold steady, 79,000 people will walk into recruiting stations around the country this year and join the U.S. Army. They will take jobs ranging from infantry to accounting, and fight battles everywhere from Afghanistan to cyberspace. Here are 11 things you might not know about the Army.

1. A majority of presidents wore the uniform.

Twenty-four presidents served in the Army, to include the various state militias, which supported the Army during the American Revolution and the Civil War. (Excluding the militias, you lose Captain Abraham Lincoln and Brigadier General Chester A. Arthur, among others, on your Fantasy Army team). Of them, 23 were officers, with Private James Buchanan earning distinction as the only enlisted man to ever be elected president. Teddy Roosevelt is the only president to have been awarded the Medal of Honor, albeit posthumously. (Notably, Roosevelt even volunteered for service in World War I—ten years after having served as president.) There’s even some overlap in service: That guy holding the flag in that painting of Washington Crossing the Delaware? James Monroe. William McKinley’s commander in the 23rd Ohio Infantry? Rutherford B. Hayes.

If all of the presidents came back as zombies and put on a uniform, George Washington would be the highest-ranking member of the armed forces, having been posthumously promoted to General of the Armies of the United States in 1976. His second-in-command would be General of the Army Dwight D. Eisenhower. (Trivia: Ike was born David Dwight Eisenhower.)

2. Why are they called Rangers?

Rangers are the Army’s elite light infantry soldiers. In the 18th century, they were formed to wage frontier warfare. They were “grim-faced men” who “went forth to search out the Indian enemy.” They engaged in reconnaissance, acted as scouts, and “ranged” between fixed fortifications. During the American Revolution, Ranger Francis Marion (“the Swamp Fox”) pioneered modern guerrilla warfare.

The Ranger motto is “Rangers lead the way!” This came from an exchange between General Norman Cota and Major Max Schneider on Omaha Beach during the Normandy Invasion.

“What outfit is this?” asked Cota.
“5th Rangers, sir,” said Schneider.
“Well, goddammit,” said Cota, “If you're Rangers, lead the way!”

3. George Washington chose the colors of the present Army dress uniform.

In 1778, the Continental Congress charged General Washington with deciding on a service uniform for the Continental Army. In October 1779, he directed soldiers to wear “blue coats with differing facings for the various state troops, artillery, artillery artificers and light dragoons.” Over then next two hundred years, the Army tried various colors—whites, tans, and greens—but in 2010, again began issuing uniforms according to Washington’s color design.

4. Cavalry charges in the 21st century?

In October 2001, ODA 595 of 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne) linked up with CIA operatives and the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan. The best way to move across the brutal terrain, they discovered, was on horseback. As one Special Forces operator wrote to higher headquarters, “I am advising a man on how best to employ light infantry and horse cavalry in the attack against the (Russian manufactured) Taliban T-55 Tanks, armored personnel carriers, BTR’s, mortars, (D-30) artillery, ZSU (23-2) anti-aircraft guns and machine guns (Dshk and PKM). A tactic which I think became outdated with the invention of the machine gun. I can’t recall the US fighting like this since the Gatling gun destroyed Pancho Villa’s charges in the Mexican Civil War in the early 1900‘s... We have done this every day since we hit the ground.”

By the time the city of Mazar-e Sharif fell, the A-Team’s horses were deafened from gunfire and explosions, and had no issues with operators firing assault rifles from their backs.

5. The Army is older than the United States.

The Battles of Lexington and Concord were fought by militias. (The men were famously called to arms by Paul Revere, who did not shout “The British are coming!” because most residents of Massachusetts considered themselves British.) Once it became clear that a serious war was at hand, the Second Continental Congress authorized a Continental Army with a unified command structure, to be led by Major General George Washington. The measure passed on June 14, 1775, and is still celebrated as the Army’s birthday.

Colonists did not like the idea of a standing army. Consequently, the Continental Army remained relatively small early on, with short enlistments so as to prevent “tyranny.” This led to an experience problem—by the time soldiers really got the hang of fighting a war, their contract was up. Likewise, the Army depended heavily on state militias, which were rife with discipline problems. With the ratification of the Declaration of Independence, it became clear, as John Adams wrote, that the United States needed “a regular Army, and the most masterly Discipline, because I know, that without these We cannot reasonably hope to be a powerful, a prosperous, or a free People.” Soon thereafter, enlistments were extended to three years and the Continental Army underwent a series of expansions and radical reforms.

6. Washington never asked to command the Continental Army, but...

There is no evidence of George Washington ever lobbying to be commander of the Continental Army. Just the opposite—every account of Washington suggests a reluctance to take the job, and general feelings of inadequacy to the task. That said: Washington showed up to the Second Continental Congress conspicuously wearing his military uniform. When it came time to select a commander-in-chief for the new Continental Army, he was decided to be the best man for the job.

There are good reasons for this. Politically, Washington brought Virginia into the mix. Militarily, he was the most experienced native-born officer on the continent. He’d previously fought in the French and Indian War. He later served as commander-in-chief of the Virginia Regiment—the first active duty military regiment in the colonies. (Here he saw up close the tactics of the British army, would come in handy later.)

7. Army astronauts are a thing.

Soldiers who jump from airplanes wear Airborne wings. Those who rappel from helicopters wear Air Assault wings. Those who fly into space wear Astronaut wings. Colonel Douglas Wheelock wears all three. He logged 178 days in space after serving as the first active duty soldier to command the International Space Station. (In 2011, he deployed to Afghanistan, and has flown thirty-eight aerial combat missions.)

There are a series of badges and decorations for those soldiers who explore the final frontier. These include the Master Army Astronaut Badge, the Master Space Operations Badge, the NASA Space Flight Medal, the NASA Distinguished Service Medal, and the Congressional Space Medal of Honor.

8. Special Forces are everywhere doing everything.

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According to the Special Forces Command Public Affairs Office, in the last decade U.S. Army Special Forces soldiers have deployed to 135 of the 195 recognized countries in the world. Their nine principal tasks are unconventional warfare, foreign internal defense, direct action, counter-insurgency, special reconnaissance, counter terrorism, information operations, counter proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and security force assistance.

9. Rhode Island > Army > Montana

As of 2014, there were approximately 490,000 active duty soldiers, 205,000 reserve soldiers, and 354,200 soldiers in the National Guard for a total of 1,049,200 members of the U.S. Army. For comparison, that’s about the size of the total population of Swaziland (give or take 50,000 people), so they should think twice before annoying the United States.

10. Their equipment can be measured in Autobots.

The biggest helicopter in present use by the U.S. Army is the Boeing CH-47 Chinook, which has space enough for 33 combat-equipped soldiers or up to 50 troops. The dual-bladed rotary wing aircraft can slingload 26,000 lbs. from its main hook; its two smaller hooks can carry around 17,000 lbs. each.

The biggest (well, pretty much only) tank used by the Army is the M1 Abrams tank. If you wanted to buy one, you’d need somewhere around $9 million and would have to make the check out to General Dynamics. You could even use jet fuel to keep it rolling.

The biggest truck in the Army is the Heavy Equipment Transporter, or HET. Its tractor is 30 feet long; its trailer is up to 48 ft. long. If someone climbed in your HET cab and said, “Step on it!” you could probably get it up to around 40 miles per hour. The vehicle weighs 90,000 pounds, which is just about the combined weight of the Earth equivalents of all five Dinobots.

11. It was the last service to adopt an official song.

It took 181 years for the Army to settle on a song. In the 1940s, it even held a contest in hopes of finding the right music. “The Army’s Always There” by musician Sam H. Stept came close—it was even played at Ike’s inauguration—but in the end some feared that it sounded too much like a popular song called “I’ve Got a Lovely Bunch of Coconuts.” In the end, an old artillery tune called the “Caisson Song” was matched with new lyrics, and the result was “The Army Goes Rolling Along.” On Veterans Day in 1956, the Army at last made official the words and music that every soldier sings today.

Updated for 2015.

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13 Fascinating Facts About Nina Simone
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Nina Simone, who would’ve celebrated her 85th birthday today, was known for using her musical platform to speak out. “I think women play a major part in opening the doors for better understanding around the world,” the “Strange Fruit” songstress once said. Though she chose to keep her personal life shrouded in secrecy, these facts grant VIP access into a life well-lived and the music that still lives on.

1. NINA SIMONE WAS HER STAGE NAME.

The singer was born as Eunice Waymon on February 21, 1933. But by age 21, the North Carolina native was going by a different name at her nightly Atlantic City gig: Nina Simone. She hoped that adopting a different name would keep her mother from finding out about her performances. “Nina” was her boyfriend’s nickname for her at the time. “Simone” was inspired by Simone Signoret, an actress that the singer admired.

2. SHE HAD HUMBLE BEGINNINGS.


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There's a reason that much of the singer's music had gospel-like sounds. Simone—the daughter of a Methodist minister and a handyman—was raised in the church and started playing the piano by ear at age 3. She got her start in her hometown of Tryon, North Carolina, where she played gospel hymns and classical music at Old St. Luke’s CME, the church where her mother ministered. After Simone died on April 21, 2003, she was memorialized at the same sanctuary.

3. SHE WAS BOOK SMART...

Simone, who graduated valedictorian of her high school class, studied at the prestigious Julliard School of Music for a brief period of time before applying to Philadelphia’s Curtis Institute of Music. Unfortunately, Simone was denied admission. For years, she maintained that her race was the reason behind the rejection. But a Curtis faculty member, Vladimir Sokoloff, has gone on record to say that her skin color wasn’t a factor. “It had nothing to do with her…background,” he said in 1992. But Simone ended up getting the last laugh: Two days before her death, the school awarded her an honorary degree.

4. ... WITH DEGREES TO PROVE IT.

Simone—who preferred to be called “doctor Nina Simone”—was also awarded two other honorary degrees, from the University of Massachusetts Amherst and Malcolm X College.

5. HER CAREER WAS ROOTED IN ACTIVISM.

A photo of Nina Simone circa 1969

Gerrit de Bruin

At the age of 12, Simone refused to play at a church revival because her parents had to sit at the back of the hall. From then on, Simone used her art to take a stand. Many of her songs in the '60s, including “Mississippi Goddamn,” “Why (The King of Love Is Dead),” and “Young, Gifted and Black,” addressed the rampant racial injustices of that era.

Unfortunately, her activism wasn't always welcome. Her popularity diminished; venues didn’t invite her to perform, and radio stations didn’t play her songs. But she pressed on—even after the Civil Rights Movement. In 1997, Simone told Interview Magazine that she addressed her songs to the third world. In her own words: “I’m a real rebel with a cause.”

6. ONE OF HER MOST FAMOUS SONGS WAS BANNED.

Mississippi Goddam,” her 1964 anthem, only took her 20 minutes to an hour to write, according to legend—but it made an impact that still stands the test of time. When she wrote it, Simone had been fed up with the country’s racial unrest. Medger Evers, a Mississippi-born civil rights activist, was assassinated in his home state in 1963. That same year, the Ku Klux Klan bombed a Birmingham Baptist church and as a result, four young black girls were killed. Simone took to her notebook and piano to express her sentiments.

“Alabama's gotten me so upset/Tennessee made me lose my rest/And everybody knows about Mississippi Goddam,” she sang.

Some say that the song was banned in Southern radio stations because “goddam” was in the title. But others argue that the subject matter is what caused the stations to return the records cracked in half.

7. SHE NEVER HAD A NUMBER ONE HIT.

Nina Simone released over 40 albums during her decades-spanning career including studio albums, live versions, and compilations, and scored 15 Grammy nominations. But her highest-charting (and her first) hit, “I Loves You, Porgy,” peaked at #2 on the U.S. R&B charts in 1959. Still, her music would go on to influence legendary singers like Roberta Flack and Aretha Franklin.

8. SHE USED HER STYLE TO MAKE A STATEMENT.

Head wraps, bold jewelry, and floor-skimming sheaths were all part of Simone’s stylish rotation. In 1967, she wore the same black crochet fishnet jumpsuit with flesh-colored lining for the entire year. Not only did it give off the illusion of her being naked, but “I wanted people to remember me looking a certain way,” she said. “It made it easier for me.”

9. SHE HAD MANY HOMES.

New York City, Liberia, Barbados, England, Belgium, France, Switzerland, and the Netherlands were all places that Simone called home. She died at her home in Southern France, and her ashes were scattered in several African countries.

10. SHE HAD A FAMOUS INNER CIRCLE.

During the late '60s, Simone and her second husband Andrew Stroud lived next to Malcolm X and his family in Mount Vernon, New York. He wasn't her only famous pal. Simone was very close with playwright Lorraine Hansberry. After Hansberry’s death, Simone penned “To Be Young, Gifted and Black” in her honor, a tribute to Hansberry's play of the same title. Simone even struck up a brief friendship with David Bowie in the mid-1970s, who called her every night for a month to offer his advice and support.

11. YOU CAN STILL VISIT SIMONE IN HER HOMETOWN.

Photo of Nina Simone
Amazing Nina Documentary Film, LLC, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

In 2010, an 8-foot sculpture of Eunice Waymon was erected in her hometown of Tryon, North Carolina. Her likeness stands tall in Nina Simone Plaza, where she’s seated and playing an eternal song on a keyboard that floats in midair. Her daughter, Lisa Simone Kelly, gave sculptor Zenos Frudakis some of Simone’s ashes to weld into the sculpture’s bronze heart. "It's not something very often done, but I thought it was part of the idea of bringing her home," Frudakis said.

12. YOU'VE PROBABLY HEARD HER MUSIC IN RECENT HITS.

Rihanna sang a few verses of Simone’s “Do What You Gotta Do” on Kanye West’s The Life of Pablo. He’s clearly a superfan: “Blood on the Leaves” and his duet with Jay Z, “New Day,” feature Simone samples as well, along with Lil’ Wayne’s “Dontgetit,” Common’s “Misunderstood” and a host of other tracks.

13. HER MUSIC IS STILL BEING PERFORMED.

Nina Revisited… A Tribute to Nina Simone was released along with the Netflix documentary in 2015. On the album, Lauryn Hill, Jazmine Sullivan, Usher, Alice Smith, and more paid tribute to the legend by performing covers of 16 of her most famous tracks.

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13 Secrets From the Guinness Archives
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Guinness has been a staple in Irish pubs for nearly 260 years. With so much history, it's no surprise that the Guinness Storehouse Archives—which are open to the public—are stuffed with intriguing artifacts that tell some pretty wild stories. Here are a few.

1. THE LEASE TO THE DUBLIN BREWERY WAS INTENDED TO LAST 9000 YEARS.

In 1759, founder Arthur Guinness signed a lease for a four-acre property at St. James’s Gate in Dublin. The lease required a down payment of £100, an annual rent of £45, and a term of 9000 years (not a typo). Such lengthy leases were relatively common back then: “At the time in Ireland, there was a lot of instability to do with land tenure,” explains Fergus Brady, Archives Manager at Guinness. Centuries earlier, the British had begun confiscating land from native Irish in an effort to build plantations, and extra-long leases were a means of avoiding this fate. As Brady explains, “You see these really long leases: 99-year or 999-year leases. It seemed to be a legal custom at the time that they used the number nine.”

2. ARTHUR GUINNESS WAS NOT AFRAID TO DEFEND HIS PROPERTY WITH A PICKAXE.

In 1775, the Dublin Corporation—that is, the city government—demanded that Arthur Guinness pay for the spring water flowing to his brewery. When Guinness argued that he was already paying for water rights through his 9000-year rental agreement, the Dublin Corporation sent a sheriff and a committee to his brewery to cut off the water supply. Guinness was livid. He seized a pickaxe and unleashed a torrent of obscenities so colorful that the Dublin Corporation’s goons eventually retreated.

3. GUINNESS ONCE DEPLOYED FIELD AGENTS TO CATCH COUNTERFEITERS.

Guinness Apology
Guinness Archive, Diageo Ireland

In the 19th century, there was no such thing as brand consistency. Guinness did not bottle its own beer; instead, it shipped the suds in wooden casks to publicans who supplied their own bottles and applied their own personalized labels. Occasionally, these publicans sold fake or adulterated Guinness. To prevent such sales, the company sent special agents called “travellers” into the field to collect beer samples, which it tested in a laboratory. “If a publican was found to be serving adulterated or counterfeit Guinness, they had to give a public apology in their local newspaper—and even the national newspapers,” archivist Jessica Handy says.

4. FOR 21 YEARS, THE COMPANY HIRED A GUY TO TRAVEL THE WORLD AND DRINK BEER.

In 1899, Guinness hired an American ex-brewer named Arthur T. Shand to be a “Guinness World Traveller.” It was arguably the coolest job in the world. For 21 years, Shand traveled the world taste-testing beer. According to Brady, “His job was to travel the world and taste Guinness, say whether it was good or bad, who our bottlers in the market were, who our major competition was, what kind of people were drinking our product.” Shand traveled to Australia and New Zealand, to Southeast Asia and Egypt. “He was sort of a Guinness sommelier,” Brady says.

5. THE COMPANY'S HARP LOGO CAUSED TROUBLE WITH THE IRISH GOVERNMENT.

The Celtic harp—based on the 14th century “Brian Boru Harp” preserved at Trinity College—became a trademarked Guinness logo in 1876. Forty-five years later, when Ireland gained independence from England, the Irish Free State decided to use the same Celtic harp as its official state emblem. This became awkward. Guinness owned the trademark, and the Irish government was forced to search for a workaround. You can find their solution on an Irish Euro coin. Look at the coin, and you’ll notice that the harp’s straight edge faces the right; meanwhile, the harp on a glass of Guinness shows the straight edge facing left [PDF].

6. GUINNESS REPORTEDLY SAVED LIVES ON THE BATTLEFIELD.

The old slogan “Guinness is good for you” sounds like a marketing gimmick, but it was born out of a genuine belief that the beer was, in fact, a restorative tonic. The health claim dates back to 1815, when an ailing cavalry officer wounded at the Battle of Waterloo reportedly credited Guinness for his recovery. For decades, the medical community widely claimed that the dark beer possessed real health benefits—and they weren’t necessarily wrong. “There was little safe drinking water at the time,” Handy says. “But with brewing, consumers knew they were getting a safe beverage.”

7. THE COMPANY CREATED A SPECIAL RECIPE FOR CONVALESCENTS.

A label for Guinness invalid stout
Guinness Archive, Diageo Ireland

From the 1880s to the 1920s, Guinness produced a special “Nourishing Export Stout”—a.k.a. “Invalid Stout”—that contained extra sugars, alcohol, and solids and came in cute one-third pint bottles. “It was very common practice for people to buy a couple bottles and keep them as a tonic, even if it was just a glass or half a glass,” Handy says. In fact, Guinness went as far as asking general practitioners for testimonials attesting to the beer’s medical benefits. According to Brady, “Many of them wrote back and said yes, we prescribe this for various ailments.” One doctor even claimed a pint was “as nourishing as a glass of milk.”

8. DOCTORS REGULARLY PRESCRIBED THE BEER TO NURSING MOTHERS.

From the 1880s to the 1930s, many physicians believed Guinness was an effective galactagogue—that is, a lactation aid. The company sent bottles to hospitals as well as wax cartons of yeast (which supposedly helped skin problems and migraines). Hundreds, possibly thousands, of doctors prescribed the beer for ailments such as influenza, insomnia, and anxiety, David Hughes writes in A Bottle of Guinness Please: The Colourful History of Guinness. According to Brady, the company was sending beer to hospitals as late as the 1970s.

9. THE COMPANY ONCE DROPPED 200,000 MESSAGES-IN-A-BOTTLE INTO THE OCEAN.

A Guinness message in a bottle
The message within every bottle dropped in the Atlantic Ocean in 1959.
Guinness Archive, Diageo Ireland

In 1954, Guinness dumped 50,000 messages-in-a-bottle in the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans. In 1959, they repeated the stunt again, with 38 ships dropping 150,000 bottles in the Atlantic. The first bottle was discovered in the Azores off Portugal just three months after the initial drop [PDF]. Since then, the bottles have turned up in California, New Zealand, and South Africa. Just last year, a bottle was discovered in Nova Scotia. (If you find one, you just might be offered a trip to the Guinness Storehouse in Dublin.)

10. THE PERSONNEL FILES IN THE GUINNESS ARCHIVES CONTAIN SOME DOOZIES.

The Guinness corporate archives are open to the public. According to Handy, “Some of the stories you get in there are amazing, because you get accident reports and you get crazy stories of people bouncing on bags of hops outside the brewery." This may sound less surprising considering that, back in the day, Guinness employees were given an allowance of two pints of beer every day [PDF].

11. A GUINNESS SCIENTIST MADE A STATISTICALLY SIGNIFICANT MARK IN THE FIELD OF STATISTICS.

If you’ve taken a statistics class, you might be familiar with the Student’s t-test or the t-statistic. (It’s a method of working with a small sample size when the standard deviation is unknown.) The t-test was first described by William S. Gosset, a brewer and statistician at Guinness who was attempting to analyze a small sample of malt extract. Gosset’s discovery not only helped Guinness create a more consistent-tasting beer, it would lay the bedrock for one of the most important concepts in statistics: statistical significance.

12. GUINNESS IS SO BIG IN AFRICA, IT LAUNCHED A SUCCESSFUL FEATURE-LENGTH FILM.

Guinness began exporting beer to Africa in 1827. In the 1960s, it opened a brewery in Nigeria—followed by Cameroon and Ghana. Today, there are reportedly more Guinness drinkers in Nigeria than there are in Ireland. “In Ireland, England, and the United States, everybody thinks that Guinness is synonymous with Ireland,” Brady says. “But in Nigeria, there’s a very very low conception of that.” The beer is such a cultural staple that a fictional character who advertised the product named Michael Power—a James Bond-like, crime-fighting journalist—became the star of a feature film in 2003 called Critical Assignment, which was a box office smash. (Of course, there’s some branding built into the script. As Brady explains, “There are definitely scenes where Michael Power is enjoying a pint of Guinness.”)

13. DISPENSING BEER WITH NITROGEN WAS ORIGINALLY CONSIDERED LAUGHABLE.

In the 1950s, Guinness scientist Michael Ash was tasked with solving the “draft problem.” At the time, dispensing a draft pint of Guinness was ridiculously complicated, and the company was losing market share to draft lagers in Britain that could be easily dispensed with CO2. “The stout was too lively to be dispensed with CO2 only,” Brady says. “Ash worked on the problem for four years, working long hours day or night, and became a bit of a recluse apparently. A lot of doubters at the brewery called the project ‘daft Guinness.’” But then Ash attempted dispensing the beer with plain air. It worked. The secret ingredient, Ash discovered, was nitrogen. The air we breathe is 78 percent nitrogen. Today, a Guinness draft contains 75 percent nitrogen. Not only did the discovery make dispensing the beer easier, it created a creamy mouthfeel that’s been the signature of Irish stouts since.

Full disclosure: Guinness paid for the author to attend an International Stout Day festival in 2017, which provided the opportunity to speak to their archivists.

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