Picture this: International diplomacy fails, and the world spirals into war. Foreign armies invade America, dealing crushing blows, and you are the only person left to defend your base. Weapons are scant, but you need to keep Old Glory from falling into enemy hands. What do you do?
It’s simple. Scale the flagpole. At the top sits a little golden sphere — the finial ball. Inside is a razorblade, a match, and a bullet. You must use the razor blade to cut the stars and stripes from the flag, the match to burn the remains, and the bullet to defend the base or shoot yourself … depending on the circumstance.
At least, that’s what the legend says. And you’ll be hard pressed to find a service member who hasn’t heard that story.
The boring truth is that the finial ball is there for pole maintenance.
“Their purpose is to ornament solid flagpoles and keep water out of hollow ones,” according to Snopes. “A number of military flagpoles were at one time topped with gold-colored eagles, but these proved impractical because flags would become hopelessly entangled on them during high winds; the switch to spheres eliminated this problem.”
Despite how logical that sounds, all kinds of rumors about the contents of the ball continue to swirl across the services.
Some say instead of a razor blade, there is a single grain of rice meant to give a soldier strength to burn the flag and take his or her own life. Others suggest there is a penny, so America will never truly be insolvent.
In truth, if you find yourself alone, overcome by foreign fighters on American soil, the odds of being able to perform this flag protection ritual are highly unlikely. And it’s probably worth noting that capturing the flag isn’t exactly how nations win wars.
Every once in a while, we run across a photo in The Times-Picayune archives that's so striking that it begs a simple question: "What in the name of Momus Alexander Morgus is going on in this New Orleans photograph?" When we do, we've decided, we're going to share it — and to attempt to answer that question.
Members of the Syrian Democratic Forces control the monitor of their drone at their advanced position, during the fighting with Islamic State's fighters in Nazlat Shahada, a district of Raqqa. (Reuters/Zohra Bensemra)
MUSCAT (Reuters) - The United States should keep arming and aiding the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) following the planned U.S. withdrawal from Syria, provided the group keeps up the pressure on Islamic State, a senior U.S. general told Reuters on Friday.
Long before Tony Stark took a load of shrapnel to the chest in a distant war zone, science fiction legend Robert Heinlein gave America the most visceral description of powered armor for the warfighter of the future. Forget the spines of extra-lethal weaponry, the heads-up display, and even the augmented strength of an Iron Man suit — the real genius, Heinlein wrote in Starship Troopers, "is that you don't have to control the suit; you just wear it, like your clothes, like skin."
"Any sort of ship you have to learn to pilot; it takes a long time, a new full set of reflexes, a different and artificial way of thinking," explains Johnny Rico. "Spaceships are for acrobats who are also mathematicians. But a suit, you just wear."
First introduced in 2013, U.S. Special Operations Command's Tactical Assault Light Operator Suit (TALOS) purported to offer this capability as America's first stab at militarized powered armor. And while SOCOM initially promised a veritable Iron Man-style tactical armor by 2018, a Navy spokesman told Task & Purpose the much-hyped exoskeleton will likely never get off the launch pad.
"The prototype itself is not currently suitable for operation in a close combat environment," SOCOM spokesman Navy Lt. Phillip Chitty told Task & Purpose, adding that JATF-TALOS has no plans for an external demonstration this year. "There is still no intent to field the TALOS Mk 5 combat suit prototype."