Uniforms: PTs and headphones

Army hipsters
Army hipsters

An awkward conversation with the Division CSM. Fort Bragg. 2004.

CSM: “SGT G, are paratroopers allowed to wear headphones while wearing PTs?”

SGT Gomez: “No, it’s a safety hazard. They can’t hear traffic around them.”

CSM: “And what about in the gym?”

SGT Gomez: “Uh, well, I guess it’s not a problem, then.”

CSM: “WRONG! Why would it be okay for paratroopers to wear headphones in the gym if they can’t wear them outdoors?”

SGT Gomez: Said like a young buck E5 who thinks he knows what the hell he’s talking about, “Well, Division Pamphlet 600-2 doesn’t say anything about wearing headphones with PTs, Sergeant Major..”

CSM:”Could you wear ear muffs with PTs?

SGT Gomez: “Well, no.”

CSM: “Exactly. SGT G, IT’S NOT A PART OF THE UNIFORM! Just because the Division PAM doesn’t explicitly say you can’t wear headphones with PTs doesn’t mean it is authorized.”

I had this very awkward conversation with the 82d Airborne Division’s CSM (job requirement – be the scariest NCO in the Army). This was at a time when iPods were just starting to gain popularity and you were starting to see them more and more in gyms. Eventually soldiers started to wear them in the gym while lifting weights or doing cardio, and it became this CSM’s personal crusade to put an end to it.

“It’s not a part of the uniform.” Simple enough, and that line stuck with me ever since. I’ve repeated it to others as they were unrolling their headphones, ready to get their swoll on, only to have the wind taken out of their sails by an annoying (but necessary) on-the-spot correction.

Before going further, I want to make clear that I hate working out without music. I’ve had an iPod since the original was released in 2001 and have been building various workout playlists ever since. It’s a sad, sad day when I forget my headphones or iPod and have to workout and actually hear myself and the sounds around me. Gross. But, I won’t wear them in uniform because of that conversation with the CSM. I would LOVE IT if I could wear headphones with the IPFU.


I could never bring myself to do it. The “standard” is in my blood. Since being back in the Army, I’ve noticed that soldiers don’t seem to have a problem wearing headphones with the uniform anymore. I’ve seen it at Fort Benning and I’ve seen it at Fort Hood and I have never seen anyone corrected for it.

In fairness to “things I hated about being a joe” and specifically having to follow someone’s instructions because of some hidden, mysterious regulation, I’ve done the research here to see what Army regulations actually say about it.

Well, AR 670-1 (Uniform Wear and Appearance) does not say anything specifically about headphones with the uniform. Guidance beyond what is prescribed is essentially left up to “the commander” (whoever that is) and he or she should strive to ensure soldiers in that command present a “conservative military appearance.” And most commanders delegate uniform policy to their senior enlisted advisor, the CSM (or 1SG).

Digging a little further, I found this memorandum “Uniform and Appearance Policy” dated June 29, 2012 and signed by the III Corps Commander (relevant to Fort Hood) that states, categorically, that:

Headphones are authorized for wear with the IPFU or civilian attire while conducting physical training inside and installation fitness center. However, headphones must be removed prior to departing the physical fitness center.

Holy smokes! I can use headphones at an installation gym while wearing the IPFU! Well, at least at Fort Hood.

My world just imploded.

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Things I hated about being a joe


I’m trying to remember the things that pissed me off as an enlisted soldier, so that I can do my best to remedy them as an officer. If you have something that you hated (or hate), leave it in the comments and I’ll add it to the list.

1. Not knowing where we were going, what we were doing, or how long we were expected to do it for.

2. Needless disrespect.

3. Not being able to wear snivel gear because someone in the chain of command didn’t think it was masculine to do so.

4. Waiting on “the word.”

5. Random PT that followed no principles of fitness.

6. Leadership needlessly withholding information.

7. Standing in formation without reason or holding multiple formations a day, needlessly. (h/t @SkipNgoGolfin and @perryjefferies)

8. “Regressive accountability” (thanks, Jay). As in, if a soldier messes up, he/she should be treated the same regardless of rank. Likewise, awards should be given based on service, not rank. (h/t @kwilliams101)

9. Treating people’s family issues as if having a family and military service were mutually exclusive. (h/t @J_Huntress)

10. The use of whimsical punishment for acts the violator couldn’t possibly have known to avoid. (h/t Jay)

11. Pulling rank to win an argument. (h/t Jay)

12. Politics as a litmus test for military values/competence. (h/t Jay).

13. Leaders hiding behind mysterious “regulations” that cannot be cited, displayed, or proven. (h/t @perryjefferies)

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Book Review: The Short-Timers

We are approaching the ten year anniversary of the start of the Iraq War. I am participating in a project called the Iraq War Reading Pledge. The pledge is to read a memoir about the war by someone who was there, a soldier, a journalist, an Iraqi citizen, between February 1st and March 20th.

You can follow the pledge here. Good luck!


Like all my book reviews, this isn’t really a book review. It’s more of a reaction.

After finishing Love My Rifle More Than You, I wanted to take a short break from war books. They can be draining. Unfortunately, I came across this blog post (by way of The Fighting Leprechaun) that argues Stanley Kubrick messed up the movie Full Metal Jacket (one of my favorites) by not sticking to some of the original plotlines in the novel it is based on, The Short-Timers. Mistakenly, I always thought that FMJ was based on Michael Herr’s Dispatches – it turns out that was Apocalypse Now.

As you can see, it all gets pretty confusing.

As a big fan of FMJ, I set out to read The Short-Timers and it totally sucked me in. Lots of the dialogue in FMJ is lifted right off the pages of The Short-Timers, and it was interesting to read the book with the images I already had of Joker, Cowboy, GySgt Gernheim, and Animal Mother in my head. In some cases this made the dialogue jump out at me, since I could hear Joker imitating John Wayne in a way I wouldn’t be able to if I was just reading the novel for the first time. But it also handicapped me in other ways. I loved Animal Mother in FMJ as a necessary evil. The guy you need in your squad, despite wanting to admit it. The “you need me on that wall” guy. In The Short-Timers, Animal Mother is hardly likable at all. He’s still a bad-ass, but he is a war criminal and a menace.

I’ve read a number of Vietnam books recently, and a lot of them were good. This book, however, really made me hate war. It was graphic and probably hyperbolic (it is a semi-autobiographical novel, after all). I found myself uncomfortable and disgusted reading it, but not able to stop.

Figuring that I was going to write a reaction blog to the book, I started to highlight a couple of passages that stuck out to me, because they were either similar to modern experiences or the opposite.

This is Cowboy talking to Joker about how the war is fucked up and why he can’t risk any more marines to try to take out a sniper that has already killed some of the squad. The whole dialogue is interesting, plus there’s the feeling of betrayal for not being able to hoist the American flag, something that was experienced in GWOT as well.

 Cowboy spits, his face a sweaty stone. “After the NVA pulled out, the lifers sent in the Arvin Black Panthers to take the Forbidden City. Shit. Nothing left but rearguard squads. We stomped the NVA and they stomped us and the lifers send in the Arvins, like the goddamn Arvins did it. Mr. Shortround said it was their country, said we was only helping out, said it would boost the morale of the Vietnamese people. Well, fuck the Vietnamese people. The horrible hogs in hard, hungry Hotel Company ran up an America flag. Like an Iwo Jima. But some poge officers ordered them to take it down. The snuffies had to run up the stinking Vietnamese flag, which is yellow, which is the right color for these chickenshit people. We’re getting slaughtered in this city. And we can’t even run up a fucking flag. I just can’t hack this shit, bro. My job is to get my people back to the World in one piece.” Cowboy coughs, spits, wipes his nose with the back of his hand. “Under fire, these are the best human beings in the world. All they need is for somebody to throw hand grenades at them for the rest of their lives… These guys depend on me. I can’t send my people out to get that sniper, Joker. I might lose the whole squad.”

Clearing roads for mines/IEDs. Not a new thing.

 I was writing a feature article about how the grunts at the Rock pile on Route Nine had to sweep the road for mines every morning before any traffic could use the road.

Probably one of my favorite lines from the book. This line is a part of a long stream of consciousness explanation of how Joker sees himself as part of the machine, his place in the war.

In the darkness I am one with Khe Sahn – a living cell of this place – this erupted pimple of sandbags and barbed wire on a bleak plateau surrounded by the end of the world.

I find myself fascinated more and more with Vietnam not because it seems familiar – which it does at times – but how completely foreign the experience seems from my own. It’s something I’ll need to write about later.

After finishing The Short-Timers, I came across a couple of related and interesting articles. Gustav Hasford, the author of the novel, died in 1993. Someone runs a blog in his honor that runs pieces by or about him from time to time. The lead was this one, titled VIETNAM MEANS NEVER HAVING TO SAY YOU’RE SORRY. It’s a railing against Hollywood and especially the depiction of Vietnam veterans a lĂĄ Rambo. It’s fantastic.

Then, while searching for the etymology of the phrase “Is that you John Wayne? Is this me?” which was used in both the movie and the book, I came across this scholarly article about myth and myth making in America from WWII through Vietnam. It’s really fascinating. John Wayne was the hero that simultaneously made war palpable to the Vietnam generation but was rejected when the reality of war – and homecoming – became apparent.

Who is the John Wayne of our generation?

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Soldier’s Medal for suicide intervention?


I was thinking about medals the other day, probably because of the new medal for drone pilots or bloggers or whatever. Somehow I started thinking about whether one could be awarded the Soldier’s Medal for suicide intervention.

Obviously, the Army has a suicide problem. Last year, as many as 349 soldiers may have committed suicide – more than were killed fighting in Afghanistan. The Army has tried, tried again, and keeps trying to find ways to fight this, but nothing seems to be working.

At the ground level, there is command emphasis on the problem, usually in the form of a mention during a weekend safety brief or as part of quarterly training requirements (PowerPoint presentations on suicide). Most soldiers can rattle off the signs of someone who may be suicidal, and many even know what to do if they notice those signs. I think the missing point is actually getting soldiers to take the next step and take action, to intervene somehow, either by notifying the commander or simply trying to talk to the person.

What about awarding the Soldier’s Medal for suicide intervention?

From AR 600-8-22:

The Soldier’s Medal is awarded to any person of the Armed Forces of the United States or of a friendly foreign nation who, while serving in any capacity with the Army of the United States, including reserve component Soldiers not serving in a duty status, as defined in 10 USC 101(d), at the time of the heroic act, who distinguished himself or herself by heroism not involving actual conflict with an enemy. The same degree of heroism is required as that of the award of the Distinguished Flying Cross. The performance must have involved personal hazard or danger and the voluntary risk of life under conditions not involving conflict with an armed enemy. Awards will not be made solely on the basis of having saved a life.

While the regulation clearly states that a person’s life does not need to be saved in order to receive the medal, in practice, that seems to be the case. Pulling someone out of a car wreck or running into a burning building to rescue someone, those sorts of things. A number of Soldier’s Medals were awarded for actions in response to the 9/11 attacks. I remember a soldier in my unit who pulled someone out of a car wreck just off of Fort Bragg. When we found out about it the next day at formation, we all instantly said “Boom, Soldier’s Medal.”

While a suicide intervention most likely won’t put a soldier at personal risk, it does result in saving a soldier’s life.

I did some Googling to see if the Soldier’s Medal has been awarded for a suicide intervention, and I was able to find one incidence of it, although the intervention was of a dramatic nature (the soldier jumped into a river to save a woman who was trying to drown herself after she drove her car into the water). This soldier obviously put his own life at risk.

A little more searching and I found this story about a basic training soldier who received an Army Achievement Medal (AAM) for intervening in a suicide. Again, this was an intervention of last resort. It was the middle of the night, and the soldier walked in on the suicidal soldier who was in the bathroom about to hang himself. While good to see a soldier being awarded a medal for this, the AAM is pretty much the lowest medal someone can be awarded in the Army. And this was another incidence of an intervention of last resort.

What about awarding someone for getting ahead of the problem, for noticing signs, and brining attention to a troubled soldier?

With suicide being such a massive problem in the Army, and the Soldier’s Medal being the well-known award for saving someone’s life (despite the regulation), would a successful suicide intervention not merit this award?

I understand the argument against awarding the Soldier’s Medal for non-life threatening suicide intervention. One, the regulation doesn’t warrant it. Two, it might “devalue” the medal. Three, soldiers shouldn’t need an incentive to intervene to save another soldier’s life. And four, how do you “know” that an early intervention actually resulted in saving the person’s life?

For the first argument, I agree. The regulation as written and understood doesn’t allow for the Soldier’s Medal to be awarded for this. However, I think given the gravity of the current situation, an exception might be warranted either through a rewriting of the regulation or a generous reading of the current regulation. An interesting experiment would be to put someone in for a Soldier’s Medal who intervened in a suicide and see what gets kicked back.

For the second argument, I’m not so sure. This isn’t the Medal of Honor. The Soldier’s Medal is the highest award given for a non-combat act. What can be more heroic than saving another soldier’s life?

For the third argument, I agree that a soldier shouldn’t need an incentive to save another soldier’s life. However, that is the reality we face. There is such a stigma that exists in the military regarding issues of mental health and suicide that maybe awarding an important medal for an intervention is actually what we need right now to start chipping away at a toxic culture that treats suicide as simple weakness.

For the fourth argument, I guess you can never really know if an early intervention really saved someone’s life. But geez – this is splitting hairs! Accept some freaking risk!

And yes, I understand that maybe another medal may be more appropriate. AAM? Please. An ARCOM? Eh. If you want to have impact, the Soldier’s Medal is the way to go.

Soldiers will do incredible things to earn a piece of cloth or a badge. If the Army really wants to change the culture surrounding suicide, incentivizing intervention might be one way to do it.

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Bye Bye Benning


It’s wild to think I’ve been at Fort Benning for over a year, just to get back into the Army. But that’s the case.


30th AG Reception Battalion: Looking like a football hooligan because all I had to wear for four days was a pair of black swishy pants and a black windbreaker, both with white piping. A Drill Sergeant with tattoos that ran up his neck called me some pretty nasty names for it.

OCS: Ascots. The OCS alma mater. Singing. Lots of classes. An ever-present fear that you’d get in trouble for something and dropped from the course and kicked out of the Army, no commission for you, and a one-way ticket to needs of the Army. Getting sucked into the stupid hierarchy of “you’re better than me because you have a blue ascot and she’s better than you because she has a white ascot.” Branching day. Coffee privileges.

IBOLC: Heavy rucks. Experience tailored by the cadre, not the course. A terrible feeling that you were being graded on something you haven’t been taught. An aviator who taught his class wearing flight gear, helmet and all.

Basic Combatives Course: Sore elbows and knees and waiting to get punched in the face. Getting tazed.

Stryker Leader Course: Morose. PMCS. Lay out all of the B.I.I.

Ranger School: A tragedy in three acts, but you’re the character that gets killed in the first.

Time spent at HHC: Trying to steal diamonds from an angry, sleeping dragon.

I really enjoyed my time at Fort Benning. I met great people and have a ton of new friends. The post is beautiful and Columbus isn’t that bad either. Atlanta and Savannah aren’t that far away and they provide nice outings if you just have to get away.

The entire experience has been a positive one, warts and all. I’m looking forward to the next step, to see how things have changed (or haven’t) in the ‘real’ Army.

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Grunt lingo: “There it is” (Vietnam)

There it is.
There it is.  (pic from the blog “We’re Just Sayin”)

Over the past few months, I’ve read a number of books about Vietnam. I’m currently reading The Short-Timers which is the book that Full Metal Jacket is based off of (along with Michael Herr’s Dispatches). I’ve come across the phrase “there it is” numerous times and for the most part just glossed over it. Eventually, I realized that it was part of the lingo, but a phrase that has completely fallen out of favor. I’ve never heard any service member or veteran say the phrase. So I started Googling and this is what I came up with.

From Urban Dictionary:

English phrase, the literal meaning of which is obvious.In American English, the phrase is commonly associated with American servicemen in Vietnam, and to a lesser extent, with American veterans of the Vietnam War. The particular usage of American servicemen varied wildly. While the phrase could be used literally, it was often used in a figurative, and decidedly fatalistic, sense. The meaning was usually something along the lines of, “I cannot put into words what I mean, but this situation/scene/event/dead body/etc contains all the truth necessary to understand precisely what I mean, if you can only see it through the right eyes. I don’t know how to express that truth or I do know the right words but it would be too painful for me to actually express them.”

The phrase was the most common example of “grunt lingo” and was repeated ad nauseum.

There it is, they’d say, over and over, as if the repetition itself were an act of poise, a balance between crazy and almost crazy, knowing without going. There it is, which meant be cool, let it ride, because oh yeah, man, you can’t change what can’t be changed, there it is, there it absolutely and positively and fucking well is.

Better, is this blog post I found from the blog “We’re Just Sayin.”

“There it is
.” There is what? you ask. And just where IS ‘there?’ Well no sense in trying to read too much into it. “There it is
” said with a flat tone, mildly strong emphasis building up to “is” was the one lingua franca which all GIs shared. Well, officers, not so much. But if you were under the age of 25, had been drafted, and didn’t particularly want to BE in Vietnam, “there it is” was your key to sanity. The three words which let you express your profound emotional mĂ©lange of disgust, annoyance, fear, despair, surprise, acceptance, satisfaction, and occasionally contentment. Once I arrived in Saigon in October, 1970 and began a two year interaction with the world the American GI, it was a phrase which meant so little, yet so much. You could almost say that it meant whatever you wanted it to mean, and be interpreted almost any way. It often just served as a coda in conversation. It was the comment which had the force of finality in a discussion where soldiers were otherwise unable to explain something. “There it is
” was a way of just saying, ‘yeah, that’s how it is here, and this is how we have to deal with it.’ What has always surprised me is that once back home, the phrase seemed to disappear. The context for its usage was gone. Without the very personal, very weird, perplexing, illogical elements of the war lived first hand, it seemed to no longer have a proper context.

Maybe I’m out of touch, but I can’t think of a comparable line that we have in the Army today that has the same resonance.

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The Junior Officer Reader – Love My Rifle More Than You

We are approaching the ten year anniversary of the start of the Iraq War. I am participating in a project called the Iraq War Reading Pledge. The pledge is to read a memoir about the war by someone who was there, a soldier, a journalist, an Iraqi citizen, between February 1st and March 20th.

You can follow the pledge here. Good luck!


A lot of the people who read my blog are young infantry officers. I usually find out awkwardly at some formation when a random 2LT comes up to me and says “Hey, I read your blog.” So, to the young LTs reading this. You should read Love My Rifle More Than You because you may soon have women serving with you (probably not too soon). In the field. Taking poops. This, along with Hesitation Kills offers some of the best insight you can get on what it’s like to be a female in the modern military. It sounds pretty tough.

I just finished reading Love My Rifle More Than You by Kayla Williams. I feel terrible, because this is a book I should have read a long time ago. I’ve met Kayla on several occasions and I’ve had her book for several years, but I never got to reading it. When I first decided to come up with a list of books that I think would be good for a junior officer to read, I knew her’s was one of them and it’s been on my list from the beginning. With the decision to rescind the combat exclusion policy, it seemed to be the perfect time to revisit the book.

Like a lot of soldier memoirs, this one takes place (mostly) during the opening of the Iraq War (2003-2004). Kayla writes a little bit about her life before the military, which colors her experience in the Army and in war (pissed off, rebellious youth). Kayla was a rebel growing up – not what we think of when we think of typical Army material (although for some reason the Army attracts rebels too). She signs up as an Arabic linguist before 9/11 and suddenly finds her skills more useful than I’m sure she ever bargained for. She eventually is assigned to the 101st Airborne Division and deploys to Kuwait before the invasion, and then bounces around Iraq doing missions with artillerymen and the infantry.

Pretty standard stuff in terms of the Iraq War memoir. Kayla covers a lot of time through the book and shoots through what were probably some pretty significant events to show the fuller picture. If the book has any faults, it’s that I wanted to know more about anyone of her experiences in the Army. She could have chosen anything – the animosity she felt to her female NCOs, the strange relationships she had with her peers, or the decision to wear mascara to a USO show and how that became a big deal. I’d have liked to see a lot of these smaller things unpacked and discussed in more detail. But that’s not the book Kayla wrote, so it’s a fault of me just wanting to know more.

What makes this book different from other war memoirs is it focuses much on Kayla’s experience as a female in the Army – and deployed – at a time when war and deployment was very much new for most of the Army. The beauty of the book is Kayla’s honesty about how she felt as a woman who was often objectified by her fellow soldiers, even though that can make for some uncomfortable reading. She talks about the ambivalence she felt in trying to perform to a higher standard in order to shut up her critics, who were always looking for a reason to look down on women, and the struggle in trying to resist the urge to use the greatest asset she had – the fact that she was female – as an excuse to get out of details or carrying something heavy.

Besides the insight on what it’s like to be “young and female in the US Army” Kayla hits some important points that reminded me of some things I had forgotten. Reading about her redployment home, and how everything seemed so trivial and insignificant, made me remember how I felt those same things in the year(s) when I first came home (as an aside, there’s no hope for me now – I’m too far down the rabbit hole of reality television and created drama to ever experience that self-righteousness again). Maybe because I’m so far down that rabbit hole, I thoroughly enjoyed reading about the drama between Kayla and her various female NCOs who were all described as prissy and seemingly incompetent when it came to leadership. This reminded me of people I knew who grew up in the Army of the 1990s who did not expect – and were not prepared – for the Army of the 2000s.

Lastly, the part that stuck out to me the most was the real pride Kayla described when she received an award, an ARCOM, from the infantry unit that she had served with for a short period of time during her deployment. It reminded me of how small things, in this case, processing some paperwork to recognize a job well done, can go on to mean the world to someone who joined the Army to do good, but is often just pushed through the grinder (put your men and women in for awards!).

Incidentally, I had the book on me the other day and a fellow infantryman asked me what it was about, to which I replied that it was “About the experiences of a female soldier in the Army.” He replied, “Yeah, I mean, but what is it about?”

As if that wasn’t enough.

Since the decision to rescind the combat exclusion policy, women in combat generally and women in the infantry specifically has been the topic du jour here at Fort Benning (home of the Infantry). Most still think that this is something that’s not going to happen, or that it shouldn’t happen. To me, it seems like the time for argument is over and the time for realization and actualization is now. As leaders, it’s now our job to understand the unique challenges and opportunities fuller integration of the military will bring.

Any leader that wants to get ahead of the game and understand some of the issues that will be faced in a more integrated military would be doing himself a favor by reading this book.

These are books that I have discovered or had recommended to me and would be good to read as a junior officer. My goal is to get through all of them before I’m no longer junior. Any suggestions?

Just Another Soldier (Jason Hartley) 10/13/11
One Bullet Away (Nathaniel Fick) 5/13/12
The Unforgiving Minute (Craig Mullaney)
The War I Always Wanted: The Illusion of Glory and the Reality of War (Brandon Friedman)
Chasing Ghosts (Paul Rieckhoff)
Kaboom: Embracing the Suck in a Savage Little War (Matt Gallagher)
Love My Rifle More Than You (Kayla Williams) 2/3/13
Hesitation Kills (Jane Blair) 6/10/12
The Blog of War (Matthew Burden)
House to House (Davide Bellavia)
Afghan Journal (Jeffrey Coulter)
Once a Marine (Nick Popaditch)
Greetings From Afghanistan-Send More Ammo (Benjamin Tupper)
The Poor Bastards Club (Paul Mehlos)
Kill Bin Laden (Dalton Fury)
Horse Soldiers (Doug Stanton)
The Long Road Home (Martha Raddatz)
Once an Eagle (Anton Myrer)
The Good Soldiers (David Finkel) 9/19/12
Black Hawk Down (Mark Bowden) 10/1/12

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Battleship Yamato


I don’t normally write about Navy stuff, but I was looking through some articles which referenced the Japanese anime ‘Space Battleship Yamato‘ which reminded me of the actual battleship the show is named after.

The Yamato and her sister ship Musahi were the biggest warships ever constructed. I first learned about the Yamato as a kid playing Koei’s P.T.O. (Pacific Theater of Operations) which is a strategy game that allows you to play as either the Allies or Axis powers during WWII in the Pacific. For an old game (it was made in 1989) it was incredibly detailed. The graphics and gameplay weren’t anything exciting, but the in-depth control and historical accuracy made the game addicting.

It was in some random sea encounter that I saw a Japanese battleship that had a slightly larger sprite. The bow was canted slightly upwards, which made it look like a katana (terrible orientalist trope, I should know better, but that’s actually what it reminded me of). It was a menacing looking ship, and it had the armor and guns to back it up.

The Yamato was never really tested during the war. She did some beach shelling at Leyte Gulf but never saw a ship-on-ship engagement. She was sunk by torpedo bombers in 1945 in the war’s final days. The other two Yamato-class ships were also sunk by either planes or a submarine.

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