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The latest news from Robert Johnson on Business Insider

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    USS Barry 5-Inch Gun

    When I hauled myself aboard the Arleigh Burke class guided missile destroyer the other day, one of the first things I was shown was the ship's 5-inch, 127mm gun.

    "This is how the Barry pays its bills," the ensign showing me around said.

    What she meant was that even though the Barry carries an array of missiles including Tomahawks, SM-2s, and SM-3s, among others — the 5-inch is the weapon of choice when engaging any surface, air, or shore targets.

    Loaded with an assortment of devastating rounds, the gun can pound out its 20-projectile magazine in about a minute while maintaining pinpoint accuracy via its computerized targeting.

    The crew of the USS Barry allowed me to poke around into all aspects of what makes the 5-inch weapon tick, from deep in the ship's magazine, to the firing room, to on deck when the weapon was fired.

    All that happens to make this gun so devastating may surprise you.

    The 5-Inch Light Weight Gun Mount is the Navy's main anti-surface gun

    The 5-inch is more economical than a guided missile and extremely accurate to about 15 miles away

    In a time of conflict the order to fire the gun comes from here — the bridge of the USS Barry — but getting the weapon to fire and making sure it hits the target requires cooperation from people all over the ship

    See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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    Apollo 11

    After all the danger, glory, and fame it's easy to forget that at the end of the day astronauts are federal employees subject to the same General Schedule (GS) pay scale as everyone from typists to CIA agents.

    Unfortunately, a federal salary wasn't enough for Apollo 11 astronauts to purchase life insurance.

    When Neil Armstrong and the rest of the crew of Apollo 11 piled atop that huge rocket packed full of fuel in 1969 they were under no illusions that it may have been the last thing they ever did. Unfortunately, neither was anyone who might have insured their lives, and helped provide security for the astronauts' families in case they didn't come home.

    Back then astronaut captains made about $17,000 a year, NPR reports and a life insurance policy for Neil Armstrong would have run about $50,000 a year, or more than $300,000 in 2012 dollars.

    What the trio did to provide for their families has become somewhat of a low-flying legend, mentioned here on the website, UK Insurance.

    It happened like this:

    Because some guys from the prior Apollo missions had gotten colds and mild bouts of queasiness on their trips, NASA had implemented a quarantine procedure before liftoffs.

    So about a month before they were set to go to the moon, Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins, and Buzz Aldrin were locked into a Plexiglas room together and got busy providing for their families the only way they could — they signed hundreds of autographs.

    In what would become a common practice, the guys signed their names on envelopes emblazoned with various space-related images. The 'covers' would, of course, become intensely valuable should the trio perish on the mission. They're now often referred to as " Apollo Insurance Covers."

    And to ensure the covers would hold maximum value, the crew put stamps on them, and sent them in a package to a friend, who dumped them all in the mail so they would be postmarked July 16, 1969 — the day of the mission's success — or its failure.

    Fortunately, the trip went off without a hitch and all three men went on to live long, healthy lives and all remained alive until Neil Armstrong's death a few days ago.

    The covers are still around, and not too hard to find. In 2011, Collectors Weekly pegged their average value at around $5,000.

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    SEAL Mark Owen

    Not an "easy day" for the makeup department.

    The author of the new book on the Obama bin Laden raid, Matt Bissonnette, appeared on 60 Minutes recently to talk about the event and discuss his book, set to be released Sept. 4 (a week ahead of its originally planned debut on 9/11). In front of cameras, the former SEAL was wearing a facial alteration, which is understandable since the photos published of him date back to 2001.

    Bissonnette, or "Mark Owen," (the pseudonym he was somewhat pretentiously referred to throughout the program) told 60 Minutes that "If these crazies on either side of the aisle want to make it political, shame on them. This is a book about September 11 and it needs to rest on September 11 — not to be brought into the political arena because it has nothing to do with politics."

    Bissonnette can thank a largely partisan effort on behalf of the OpSec Education Fund for bringing his book into political limelight. The fund recently released an ad admonishing Obama for creating a "culture of leaks."

    Federal authorities and the military have already said that if Bissonnette revealed any classified information, then he could face charges. Anonymous sources have assured me personally though that the book has been properly vetted by members in the Special Operations community, if not necessarily by official government agencies.

    The retired SEAL's account of the raid also differs from that of the official government account of what happened, casting the validity of the original story into doubt.

    The video is below, following an interminable 30 second dely:

    Now: See how The Afghanistan War is like being stuck in an elevator >

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    Submarine USS Jimmy Carter

    US nuclear submarines used to be broken down into two types: attack subs, mostly USS Los Angeles class, and ballistic missile submarines largely USS Ohio class called "Boomers".

    With the end of the Cold War that changed, and now the US fleet is becoming populated with Seawolf and Virginia Class subs.

    Both vessels are among the most technologically advanced creations ever built, crammed with cutting edge electronics and crew accommodations; all within a 300-foot-long tube, filled with 100 sailors, and submerged beneath the sea for several months at a time.

    Nuclear submarines are an innovation that changed warfare, and here we look at two the newest vessel types in the US fleet. 

    The USS Seawolf, the first of its class, was launched in 1995 and designed to replace the Los Angeles class of nuclear attack subs

    The USS Connecticut, second in the Seawolf class, is 353 feet long and weighs 9,137 tons fully loaded

    The USS Connecticut has made numerous journeys to the arctic circle and allows for unique access to the expansive ice fields

    See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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    osama bin laden

    When Osama bin Laden was killed last year, the White House made very clear it wasn't an assassination.

    At the time it was reported that the al Qaeda leader had a loaded AK-47 rifle at his bedside, maybe even in hand, when SEAL Team 6 crested the third floor of the Abbottabad compound and killed the world's most wanted man.

    According to Matt Bissonnette., a Team 6 member who was in the room and published the book No Easy Day — bin Laden actually had two weapons — and neither of them was within reach, or loaded.

    I read the book yesterday and Bissonnette says that as bin Laden's body was dragged out of the bedroom where he was killed, and after bin Laden's youngest wife received medical attention for a calf wound, Bissonnette rifled through the third floor where bin Laden lived.

    The floor is divided into two sides, with small office spaces along the length of the wall and it was in one of these alcoves, on a shelf above a door, that Bissonnette ran his hand across an AK-47 rifle and a Russian Makarov pistol in a holster.

    Bissonnette writes:

    [bin Laden] hadn't even prepared a defense. He had no intention of fighting. He asked his followers for decades to wear suicide vests or fly planes into buildings, but didn't even pick up his weapon. In all of my deployments, we routinely saw this phenomenon. The higher up the food chain the targeted individual was, the bigger a pussy he was. The leaders were less willing to fight. It is always the young and impressionable who strap on explosives and blow themselves up.

    Bin Laden knew we were coming when he heard the helicopter. I had more respect for Ahmed al-Kuwaiti in the guesthouse because he at least tried to defend himself and his family. Bin Laden had more time to prepare than the others, and yet he still didn't do anything. Did he believe his own message? Was he willing to fight the war he asked for? I don't think so. Otherwise, he would at least have gotten his gun and stood up for what he believed. There is no honor in sending people to die for something you won't even fight for yourself.

    We'll be putting up a series of posts on the more interesting parts of the book throughout the day.

    Now: Check out the portions of No Easy Day everyone was talking about when it was released 

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    Night Vision

    Former SEAL Team 6 operative Matt Bissonnette's book on the Bin Laden raid, No Easy Day, came out Tuesday and we've read the whole thing.

    The 300-page book contains few major revelations, but it is an engaging read full of details we hadn't heard before.

    Before anyone was certain who he was — bin Laden was called "The Pacer" in drone footage

    “They call him the Pacer because he walks for hours. They keep seeing the Pacer there,” Tom said, as he pointed to a courtyard on the east side of the compound. “According to what the intel folks are saying, he walks out in the garden area to exercise from time to time. They think the Pacer is UBL.”

    From No Easy Day by 'Mark Owen'.

    Bissonnette first learned of the possible bin Laden raid from a landscape guy he shared with his boss

    “I did his yard the other day,” the mulch guy said between loads. “There is something big going on, and he’s been up in D.C.”

    From No Easy Day by 'Mark Owen'.

    Officials decided the operation would have Native American themed code words

    Finally they designated several “pro” words for the operation. Pro words are one-word messages that relay information in an efficient manner. This kept radio traffic to a minimum and made passing information more reliable. On this mission, we chose pro-words with a Native American theme.

    "UBL is Geronimo," Jay said.”

    From No Easy Day by 'Mark Owen'.

    See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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    Washington D.C. foreign policy think tank the Center For Strategic & International Studies took a long hard look at what it really means to thwart Iran's nuclear ambitions, what it would take, and what it could lead to in a report released yesterday.

    The speculation that Israel can go it alone against Tehran remains, but the specifics of what's required by a US attack to put the nuclear program in the dust is outlined in detail. At least 16 F-18s, and 10 B-2 bombers carrying 30,000 pound Massive Ordnance Penetrator bombs, would initially be required by US forces.

    Iran's retaliation would be another story entirely with a massive incoming missile salvo directed about the entire region. When that happens a full Ballistic Missile War could ensue with untold US space, air, sea, and land elements coming into play.

    Some illustrations of the possible outcomes are below.




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    CIWS Phalanx

    Like so much of America, the Navy’s Arleigh Burke destroyers are at retirement age but still facing another couple decades of hard work and making do.

    The responsibility for doubling the life expectancy of these saltwater steel ships from 20 to 40 years, while achieving every mission, falls to many people. But in the end — it falls to the crew.

    See the photos >

    When I got the call to join the USS Barry for a ride off the Atlantic seaboard last week, I expected to meet a staff burdened by duty and unhappy with how the country is dumping money into new technology on trouble-ridden ships.

    Instead I met a crew of sailors who worked 12 to 16 hour days without complaint.

    I've never seen a group of people work so hard to make the most of what they had. The Barry seemed to belong to them and come what may, they would not fail her.

    I'm an Army veteran, not a sailor, but I'll be damned if by the time we pulled back into port, I didn't have a lot more respect for the Navy.

    The Navy picked me up at 5:00 a.m. from a Norfolk motel and delivered us to a water taxi bound for the USS Barry by 7:00

    After an hour of heaving seas and whipping saltwater spray, the Barry came into sight idling off the Virginia seaboard

    It was here that some visiting physicists and I realized how we'd be getting aboard

    See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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    To achieve its goal of blasting through 60 feet of concrete with a bomb exploding at 200 feet underground, Boeing's Massive Ordnance Penetrator (MOP) team just won a prestigious prize.

    The group's recognition with the William J. Perry award was delivered by the Precision Strike Association to honor "one of the Secretary of Defense's number one weapons programs."

    At over 20 feet in length and weighing 30,000 pounds, the MOP is a precision guided bomb whose first successful test in 2007 led to an Air Force order for eight more worth $28 million in April 2011.

    One of the requirements of Boeing and Lockheed Martin's next generation bomber is to accommodate the MOP as the B-52 does now.

    Massive bombs like the MOP are part of the U.S.'s initiative to decrease dependence on nuclear weapons as a deterrent.

    B-52 MOP Drop


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    A large tornado touched down in Brooklyn and Queens this afternoon, causing damage throughout the two NYC boroughs. Residents posted several images and video, some of which we tracked down and included below the following NY Daily News excerpt: 

    A black funnel cloud accompanied by howling winds screamed into south Brooklyn and Queens at around 11 a.m., with reports of the potent storm hitting the ground on the Rockaway Peninsula and Carnarsie.

    “I saw a big gray cloud coming and ran to my basement with my son,” said Diane Tye, 36, an office manager from Breezy Point who scooped up her son Dylan, 2, and ran to her house when she saw the funnel cloud approach. The unusual storm ripped siding from homes and threw patio furniture high into the sky in Tye’s quiet beach neighborhood. Then the twister passed in just a few minutes, leaving broken windows and trees in its wake. 

    The National Weather Service confirmed it was a tornado just after 1:00 p.m. Saturday. Photos and video below.

    Brooklyn tornado

    Brooklyn tornado

    Here's another shot by RadioFreeBronx via Twitter:

    Brooklyn tornado

    Now: Step aboard the guided missile destroyer USS Barry >

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    Russel Yale Macomber

    On August 29 Venezuelan authorities arrested the captain of a U.S.-flagged cargo ship and have since been holding the 14 other Americans on suspicions of arms or drug trafficking, Paulo Prada of Reuters reports. 

    The ship, "Ocean Atlas," docked in Maracaibo in western Venezuela and unloaded a cargo of equipment before it was boarded by Venezuelan police and Interpol, who reportedly received a tip that the vessel carried illegal drugs.

    Crewman Russell Macomber, who has been posting updates to his Facebook account while under detention, told Reuters that authorities found no drugs on the vessel but did find three rifles on board.

    The weapons, kept under key in a locker, are common on commercial ships on the high seas as possible defense against pirates or other threats.

    In the meantime, Macomber keeps posting to his Facebook page using his smartphone, noting early Friday: "Only I could manage to get detained in Venezuela during the last weekend of Key West BrewFest. Dohhhhhhhh!!!!"

    By Friday evening he had posted several pictures of the steaks he's grilling for the detained crew Friday night. In the comments under the photos the crewman's wife posted the comment: "Be sure to eat all your veggies. I'm not too worried if you are still able to grill."

    Macomber replies: "That's my pretty momma!!! Bossing me even when I am in a hostage situation :)"

    venezuela crew

    At 11 p.m. Easter time Macomber's final post of the day said: "Going to bed. No jokes tonight, just heartfelt thanks for all you wonderful people out there who care about me and my fellow sailors. God Bless you. Good night. Screw it! Two nuns walk into a bar......"

    There has been no response yet from the White House, but some people on Macomb's Facebook page are writing the President at

    Forbes notes that the 12-year old ship is a heavy-lift, multipurpose cargo vessel built with a length of 394 feet and often moves cargoes under contract with the U.S. government or for projects financed by the U.S. Export-Import Bank. The ship is owned by Intermarine, a private company  headquartered in New Orleans, La.

    In 2004 Ocean Atlas became the first U.S. vessel to dock in Libya in 20 years when it was loaded in its entirety with equipment from Libya’s nuclear and other WMD programs arsenal, according to

    Update 09/09: The Ocean Atlas has been released.

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    B-2 stealth bomber

    A report by the Center For Strategic And International Studies released Thursday points out that there can be no effective strike on Iran's nuclear facilities without over half the US B-2 fleet making the long flight to Tehran.

    With 19 B-2s scattered about only a handful of US bases from Missouri to Ohio, the trip to the Mid-East won't be made without a constant supply of mid-air refueling.

    This is how that elaborate and technical process would occur.

    Think of the plane that enables the military to respond anywhere in the world on short notice. It’s not a fighter jet — it's the tanker

    Source: Lexington Institute

    The KC-10 Extender, just one tanker aircraft used for aerial refueling, can carry 356,000 pounds of fuel — jets don't have to land to gas up

    Aerial refueling tankers and their crew are the quiet enablers of air power

    See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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    We don't post a whole lot of videos in their entirety as they're rarely as good as a series of stills lined up with titles and descriptions, but this one is an exception.

    Filmed over 12 months by fighter crews themselves with a Sony Handycam, the piece highlights what it's like to fly in the cockpit of one of the best air-to-air fighter planes ever built, during all kinds of maneuvers. 

    The video uploaded to LiveLeak runs to over nine minutes and is well worth it, but be ready to adjust the soundtrack volume.

    Now: See why we were blown away aboard the Navy destroyer USS Barry >

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    In one configuration or another, the B-1 bomber has been around for decades and this picture from Dave Cenciotti's The Aviationsist shows its not going away anytime soon.

    We recently reported the B-1 was undergoing reconfigurations and upgrades, its B-1R variation, and one of The Aviationist's readers caught this B-1 (fuselage) on the way from Portland to the Boeing flight line in Seattle.

    From The Aviationist:

    The following impressive picture was taken by Russell Hill in the night between Friday  Sept. 7 and Saturday, when a B-1 bomber fuselage owned by Boeing was being trucked from Portland International Airport to Boeing Field, in Seattle ... it’s scheduled to reach Boeing Field by 6.30 a.m. on Sunday.


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    Facial wounds can be the most devastating injury sustained by any US servicemember and it seems the federal government understands this as well, because in 2008 it created the Armed Forces Institute of Regenerative Medicine (AFIRM).

    Marilyn Marchione at the Associated Press reports that AFIRM then poured $300 million in grants to top US hospitals that would use the money to advance cutting-edge plastic surgery.

    Marchione mentions several astonishing breakthroughs, but this ear grown from a patient's own cells is something doctors have been working for 20 years to achieve. The Director of Tissue Engineering at Massachusetts General Hospital, Cathryn Sundback, thinks her team has finally done it.

    From the AP:

    Using a computer model of a patient’s remaining ear, scientists craft a titanium framework covered in collagen, the stuff that gives skin elasticity and strength.

    They take a snip of cartilage from inside the nose or between the ribs and seed the scaffold with these cells. This is incubated for about two weeks in a lab dish to grow more cartilage. When it’s ready to implant, a skin graft is taken from the patient to cover the cartilage and the ear is stitched into place.

    Below are some AP pictures of the process.




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    House of the Bulgarian Communist Party

    This immense home of the Bulgarian Communist Party had been open for only eight years before being abandoned in 1989 after the fall of the Iron Curtain.

    The Bulgarian government promptly moved on and left the colossal monument to the fallen regime crumbling in the face of time.

    Many in the new government want the building restored, but at a cost of nearly $20 million there is little chance that effort will come to pass, regardless of the tourists it may draw.

    The BSP Socialist Party was given the building and despite securing the entrances, urban explorer Darmon Richter was able to get inside and offered us these pictures from his site The Bohemian Blog.

    Richter titled the following slides himself to take BI Military & Defense readers on a personal tour of what he saw.

    The House-Monument of the Bulgarian Communist Party sits on the peak of Mount Buzludzha, visible even from the main road that passes the south side of the mountains 20km away

    On reaching the peak, I came across the stone courtyard where the party faithful would have gathered for rallies. The decaying husks on either side had once been striking effigies of flames, flanking the approach to the monument.

    Emblazoned around the entrance I saw the remains of rousing socialist messages - appealing to the oppressed workers to rise up, and claim the country that was theirs by right of birth

    See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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    Despite the fact the F-22 Raptor has been grounded, never seen combat in seven years, caused multiple health problems including one death, and is outperformed by cheaper foreign jets in dogfights — Mitt Romney thinks the US needs more of them.

    Michael Hoffman at DoD Buzz reports Romney wants more of the beleaguered fighters as part of his plan to reverse defense cuts planned by the Obama administration.

    The GOP candidate went on to tell a Virginia Beach television station, he wouldn't include the military in spending cuts at all:

    “Rather than completing nine ships per year, I’d move that up to 15. I’d also add F-22s to our Air Force fleet. And I’d add about 100,000 active duty personnel to our military team,” Romney said. “I think the idea of shrinking our military to try and get closer to balancing our budget is the wrong place to look.”

    Because of the massive problems faced by the F-22, production was halted by former Defense Secretary Robert Gates in 2009. Reopening production would cost almost $1 billion alone:

    From DoD Buzz:

    If Romney wins and follows through on his plan to buy more F-22s, it would cost at least $900 million to reopen the F-22 production line ... In 2010, Japan discussed buying 40 F-22s from Lockheed Martin, builder of the F-22. Lockheed officials then told Japanese leaders it would cost $900 million to re-open the production line. Thompson said the cost would surely increase when considering two years have passed and the production line was still “semi-warm.”

    The F-22 is the Air Force's newest fighter and the only "fifth-generation" fighter in the world. Fifth-generation planes are able to evade detection, even when armed, possess high-performance air frames, and cutting edge avionics capable of integrating with other battlefield networks.

    The cost of each F-22, after reopening production, is about $143 million.

    Now: See what happened to Jeff Haney in his fatal F-22 crash >

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    Iran Missile

    The dialogue surrounding Iran's nuclear program is sometimes tough to decipher.

    Israel says Iran is stalling international talks, while Tehran hastily proceeds to assemble a nuclear weapon.

    Israeli seems to insist on military intervention to halt or delay the program.

    Iran, for its part, scoffs at the allegations saying it only wants fuel for its reactors, but refuses to accept fuel from outside countries.

    The US says Iran shut down its nuclear weapons facilities in 2003, and is currently sidestepping Israeli requests for military intervention.

    Adding to the fiery back-and-forth, George Jahn at the Associated Press reports new intelligence from the UN atomic agency says Iran is indeed moving closer to building a nuclear weapon. 

    From the AP:

    They say the intelligence shows that Iran has advanced its work on calculating the destructive power of an atomic warhead through a series of computer models that it ran sometime within the past three years. The diplomats say the information comes from Israel, the United States and at least two other Western countries and concludes that the work was done sometime within the past three years.

    The time-frame is significant because if the International Atomic Energy Agency decides that the intelligence is credible, it would strengthen its concerns that Iran has continued weapons work into the recent past—and may be continuing to do so. Because computer modeling work is normally accompanied by physical tests of the components that go into a nuclear weapons, it would also buttress IAEA fears outlined in detail in November that Tehran is advancing its weapons research on multiple fronts.

    No doubt this news will add to Israeli consternation over Obama's refusal to draw a "red line" on Iran and declare military action when Tehran goes past a certain point in its nuclear development.

    While it is theoretically possible for Israel to set back Iran's program by as much as two years, it is far from a given that a solo strike would be successful.

    We reported last week on a study by think tank CSIS that outlines a few possible outcomes of a US strike on Iran here.

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    Despite earlier reports from CBS we've heard that no Marines were killed in Benghazi during Tuesday's raid on the US consulate there.

    Marine Capt. Kendra Motz told us: "We don't have any Marine equities in the consulate in Benghazi, nor do we have any reports of Marine casualties from there at this time."

    Motz says that reporters are hearing that security was killed and "assuming" it's Marines.

    The Marine Corps Times reports that Ambassador Chris Stevens was killed along with "three members of his staff" and that the State Department has confirmed only one death.

    As usual in situations like this, details continue to unfold and get reported in bits and pieces. Stevens had been in Libya for two tours already, and was in Benghazi during the Libyan uprising serving the interests of the US and the Libyan people.

    Ambassador Stevens is only the sixth Ambassador ever killed in the line of duty. The last was Adolph Dubs stationed in Afghanistan in 1979.


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    Tuesday's assault on the U.S. consulate in Libya achieved many results.

    What it means in the coming days and weeks is that Obama may try to get the Libyan military to hunt down and detain those responsible for the attack — if that fails then the SEALs could be called in.

    In his book No Easy Day, about the raid on Osama bin Laden, former SEAL Matt Bissonnette talks about getting ready for a combat deployment, meeting at Team 6 HQ in Norfolk, Va. and getting ready to go. 

    On that day Bissonnette asked a more experienced SEAL what he should bring. The senior SEAL stopped, looked at his new teammate and said: "Dude, what do you think you need to bring for deployment? Load it ... Bring what you think you need."

    The following list is what Bissonnette said, in the book, he needed. 

    Body armor plates are able to stop up to three AK-47 rounds, but are only guaranteed to stop one

    Some SEALs go "slick," and remove their plates, depending on different scenarios.

    Factors like how far they're traveling, what kind of mission, etc., SEALs may just not wear them.

    In "No Easy Day," Bissonnette says to a buddy: "If I get shot, don't tell my mom I wasn't wearing these plates."

    Body armor plate carriers offer protection and are handy for storing all manner of necessary items

    SEALs will surely have one of these.

    Plate carriers help SEALs carry a few of the next 17 things.

    Surprisingly, plate carriers don't always carry plates.

    Helmets like this will stop shrapnel, but have also been known to deflect sniper rounds

    Their brain buckets: No matter what, every soldier wears one.

    Even the tiniest fragment, the smallest piece of high-velocity hot metal, can enter through soft tissue and puncture your brain—which may often leave fellow troops guessing as to what caused the death.

    It's an absolute essential.

    See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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