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The Most Important Beards in U.S. Military History

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The military community has seen various comebacks through history, and they can resist all it wants but not beards. Today, the U.S. Special Operations Forces had popularized beards to that point that almost every operator is bearded during deployment, but still, for the regular soldiers, it is forbidden.

The Official Journal of the Human Behavior and Evolution Society even conducted a study to explore how individuals with (or without) facial hair are seen by others. Women rated men with facial hair as more attractive and appearing healthier than those who were clean-shaven — and now male service members want major change.

Today’s male soldiers, however, are just going to have to rely on the uniform to gain an edge over civilians — since the appearance of the gas mask, the beard has been strictly regulated by the military. There are certain exceptions, however, such as a new regulation that will allow service members to wear a beard for religious reasons or operations where a beard could help service members blend in better with the local population (for example in Afghanistan).

The Navy does not allow mustaches alone but does allow full-set beards. Mustaches but not beards are permitted in the Army and Air Force. However, members of the Commando and Special Forces regiments are allowed to wear beards if based outside their home camps.

But until the U.S. military embraces the beard, it’ll remain a rare sight on our warriors. All the more reason to admire the best military beards in history so far.

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These Are the 5 Worst U.S. Generals Ever

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The early days of the 2003 Iraq War were bound to be a graveyard for military and political reputations, given the misperceptions and misjudgments behind America’s ill-fated adventure in regime change and nation-building. But Franks, who commanded the invasion, made a bad situation worse.

It would be nice if all American generals were great. How might Vietnam or Iraq have turned out if a George Washington, a Ulysses Grant or a George Patton had been in command?

Alas, call it the laws of probability or just cosmic karma, but every nation produces bad generals as well as good ones—and America is no exception.

What is a bad general? Defining that is like defining a bad meal. Some would say that failure on the battlefield warrants censure. Others would say that it is not victory, but success in fulfilling a mission that counts.

But for whatever reason, some American commanders have lost the battle for history. Here are five of America’s worst generals:

Horatio Gates

Great generals have great talents, and usually egos and ambitions to match. Yet backstabbing your commander-in-chief in the middle of a war is taking ambition a little too far. A former British officer, Gates rose to fame as Continental Army commander during the momentous American defeat of a British army at Saratoga in 1777.

Many historians credit Benedict Arnold and others with being the real victors of Saratoga. Gates thought otherwise, and fancied himself a better commander than George Washington. It’s not the first time that someone thought he was smarter than his boss. But Gates could have doomed the American Revolution.

During the darkest days of the rebellion, when Washington’s army had been kicked out of New York and King George’s star seemed ascendant, the “Conway cabal” of disgruntled officers and politicians unsuccessfully schemed to out Washington and appoint Gates.

How well that would have worked can be seen when Gates was sent to command American troops in the South. His poor tactical decisions resulted in his army being routed by a smaller force of Redcoats and Loyalists at the Battle of Camden in South Carolina in 1780.

Washington also suffered his share of defeats. But his persistence and inspiration kept the Continental Army in the field through the worst of times, which is why his face is on the one-dollar bill. If Gates had been in command, we might be paying for our groceries with shillings and pence.

George McClellan

The American Civil War was a factory for producing bad generals such as Braxton Bragg and Ambrose Burnside.

But the worst of all was McClellan, the so-called “Young Napoleon” from whom Lincoln and the Union expected great things. McClellan was a superb organizer, a West Point-trained engineer who did much to build the Union army almost from scratch.

But he was overly cautious by nature. Despite Lincoln’s pleas for aggressive action, his Army of the Potomac moved hesitantly, its commander McClellan convinced himself that the Southern armies vastly outnumbered him when logic should have told him that it was the North that enjoyed an abundance of resources.

Men and material the Union could provide its armies. But there was something that not even the factories of New York and Chicago could produce, and that was time. As Lincoln well knew, the only way the Union could lose the war was if the North eventually grew tired and agreed to allow the South to secede. Haste risked casualties and defeats at the hands of a formidable opponent like Robert E. Lee and his Army of Northern Virginia. The alternative was to split the United States asunder.

Ulysses S. Grant, who replaced McClellan, understood this. He gritted his teeth and wore down the Confederacy with incessant attacks until the South could take no more. McClellan was a proto-Douglas MacArthur who bad-mouthed his president and commander-in-chief. Grant left politics to the politicians and did what had to be done.

Had Lincoln retained McClellan in command of the Union armies, many former Americans might still be whistling “Dixie.”

Lloyd Fredendall

When the Germans shattered his troops and his reputation at Kasserine Pass in Tunisia in early 1943Fredendall was only a major general and a corps commander. If there was a saving grace for America, it was that he wasn’t commanding an army.

Not that Fredendall didn’t have real issues that would have tried any commander. Woefully inexperienced U.S. soldiers found themselves against Erwin Rommel’s Afrika Korps veterans. The Americans lacked sufficient troops, supplies and air cover (when was the last time an American general had to fight a battle while being pounded by enemy bombers?)

Yet Fredendall’s solution was to order an Army engineer company to build a giant bunker a hundred miles from the front lines. He also issued orders to his troops in a personal code that no one else understood, such as this gem of command clarity:

Move your command, i. e., the walking boys, pop guns, Baker’s outfit and the outfit which is the reverse of Baker’s outfit and the big fellows to M, which is due north of where you are now, as soon as possible. Have your boss report to the French gentleman whose name begins with J at a place which begins with D which is five grid squares to the left of M.

The Kasserine disaster had repercussions. It was a humiliating baptism of fire for the U.S. Army in Europe, and more important, caused British commanders to dismiss their Yank allies as amateur soldiers for the rest of the war.

Douglas MacArthur

Listing MacArthur as one of America’s worst generals will be controversial. But then MacArthur thrived on controversy like bread thrives on yeast.

He was indeed a capable warrior, as shown by the South Pacific campaign and the Inchon landing in Korea. But he also displayed remarkably bad judgment, as when he was commander in the Philippines in 1941. Informed that the Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbor and were certain to attack the Philippines next, MacArthur failed to disperse his aircraft—the only force that could disrupt the Japanese offensive in the absence of the American fleet—and to attack Japanese airfields before the enemy wiped out his air force.

But his crowning achievement was bad generalship in Korea. Yes, the landing at Inchon unhinged the initial North Korean offensive. But the rash advance into North Korea was a blunder of strategic proportions. Advancing in dispersed columns across the northern half of the peninsula was an invitation to be destroyed piecemeal. Advancing to the North Korean border with China also was a red flag for Mao-Tse Tung, who feared that American troops on his border were a prelude to U.S. invasion.

Perhaps Mao would have intervened anyway. But MacArthur’s strategy certainly helped unleash 300,000 Chinese “volunteers” who inflicted significant casualties on United Nations forces. Instead of holding a natural defense line around Pyongyang, which would have given the United Nations control of most of the peninsula, the UN troops retreated all the way back into South Korea in a humiliating reverse for U.S. power after the crushing victory of World War II.

Finally, there was MacArthur’s insubordination. He called for bombing China, as if liberating Korea was worth risking 550 million Chinese and possibly war with Russia as well. Whatever its military wisdom or lack thereof, it was a decision that should not have been made by generals under the American political system. When he made public his disagreements with President Truman, Truman rightfully fired him.

Tommy Franks:

The early days of the 2003 Iraq War were bound to be a graveyard for military and political reputations, given the misperceptions and misjudgments behind America’s ill-fated adventure in regime change and nation-building. But Franks, who commanded the invasion, made a bad situation worse.

Critics say that Franks and senior officials, such as Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, concocted an invasion plan that used too few troops. It wouldn’t take a large force to slice through the ramshackle Iraqi army and topple Saddam Hussein, but securing a country the size of Iraq required a larger force.

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These 5 Reasons Prove Nothing Can Stop the U.S. Army

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These were once the stuff of science fiction. But the fact that the U.S. Army has a program called Optionally Manned Fighting Vehicle attests to the rise of the machine. The Army already has a robot test vehicle: an armed, remote-controlled M113 armored personnel carrier, and is vigorously pursuing autonomous trucks that can haul supplies without a driver.

The U.S. Army already fields an impressive array of weapons. But as the U.S. Army prepares itself for potential conflicts against high-tech Russian and Chinese armies, the Army is working on a slew of new systems ranging from tanks to missiles.

The result will be the gradual disappearance of the familiar weapons born during the Cold War — the Abrams tanks and Apache helicopters — that symbolize America’s arsenal. In their place will be a new generation of weapons.

Here are five that we will likely see in the coming years:

1. Next-Generation Combat Vehicle:

Since the 1980s, the backbone of the Army’s armor force has been the M-1 Abrams tank and M-2 Bradley infantry fighting vehicle. Both designs have been upgraded and modernized over the years — the latest M1A2 has far better sensors and electronics than a 1980s M1 — but these are essentially 40-year-old designs meant to stop a Soviet tank assault across the Fulda Gap. The counterinsurgency “small wars” of the past two decades has made armor secondary to infantry boots on the ground, but as the U.S. refocuses on the prospect of mechanized “big war” against Russia and China, there is a new love for tanks.

The Army’s Next-Generation Combat Vehicle program aims to create a 21st Century armor fleet, including a new main battle tank, infantry fighting vehicle, self-propelled gun and even robot tanks. The defense industry is pitching several designs, such as BAE’s Swedish-designed CV90 infantry carrier. But whatever vehicles are chosen will reflect the enormous changes in technology over the past four decades: active protection systems to stop anti-tank missiles, tactical networks, and even drones as an integral part of the vehicle’s systems. And for really futuristic design, take a look at DARPA’s Ground X-Vehicle Technologies program, and the conceptual art of a tank that looks like a dune buggy.

2. Maneuver-Short-Range Air Defense (MSHORAD):

Snuggled under the protection of the U.S. Air Force, and facing low-tech opponents like the Taliban, the Army’s tactical air defenses have lapsed since the Cold War. But with the proliferation of drones, and the threat of high-tech Russian and Chinese aircraft and helicopters, the skies aren’t looking so friendly for the ground-pounders. For now, the Army is opting for a stopgap solution that mounts Stinger anti-aircraft missiles on a Stryker light armored vehicle. But the Army plans to mount directed energy weapons — lasers — on the Stryker, which can engage targets more quickly than missiles, and don’t run out of ammunition (except for electricity).

3. Robot tanks:

These were once the stuff of science fiction. But the fact that the U.S. Army has a program called Optionally Manned Fighting Vehicle attests to the rise of the machine. The Army already has a robot test vehicle: an armed, remote-controlled M113 armored personnel carrier, and is vigorously pursuing autonomous trucks that can haul supplies without a driver.

4. Future Vertical Lift:

Just as Cold War-era M1 tanks are being replaced, so are the Apache and Blackhawk helicopters that comprised Army aviation. The Future Vertical Lift program aims to develop a family of new helicopters, including an attack/reconnaissance machine.

5. Long-range artillery and hypersonic missiles:

Accustomed to plentiful air support from the Air Force, the Army’s artillery has lagged behind that of Russia, which is fielding several new howitzers. But instead of big guns that can shoot out to 20 miles like the M109A6 Paladin155-millimeter self-propelled howitzer, the Army is talking of cannon that can hurl a shell a thousand miles. Whatever the exact range will be, it’s likely the Army will be deploying artillery that can reach hundreds of miles, which vastly extends the lethal zone in which enemy troops must operate.

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