Both battles and wars are characterized by curious tipping points. It’s weird. Such stuff seems to take on a spirit of its own. Through the lens of history, it all looks so clear. At the time it must have been absolutely terrifying.
Military history is rife with such stuff. In 405 BC the Spartans and the Athenians faced off in a naval conflict that was epic for its era. The resulting Battle of Aegospotami during the Peloponnesian War determined the trajectory of Western civilization.
The Athenians and Spartans were fairly evenly matched. The fight could have gone either way. However, The Spartans under Lysander took advantage of some poorly-timed leadership mistakes and ultimately either seized or sank 170 of the 180 available Athenian Men-o-War. Lysander subsequently decreed the death penalty against anyone caught taking grain to Athens.
Faced with the prospect of starvation, the Athenians capitulated in 404 BC. Had Athens been victorious, then Greek democracy would likely have been the driving force behind the development of modern civilization. As it was the Romans filled that void, so here we are. That’s no doubt an oversimplification, but it is nonetheless thought-provoking.
The Battle of Gettysburg was precipitated by Confederate forces searching for shoes. The subsequent fight for Little Round Top came down to the desperate actions of a few desperate men. While the war dragged on as wars are wont to do, the Confederacy never really regained the initiative after that seminal moment.
Similarly, the Battle of Midway represented the turning point in the Pacific War. The Japanese were a most formidable power in that particular pond. Their surprise attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, represented a watershed moment in the annals of modern warfare. It seemed the Imperial Japanese Naval (IJN) was unstoppable. Then AF grew short on water.
Unbeknownst to the Japanese, American codebreakers were reading their mail. The IJN had been using the term AF to describe the objective for their next major conquest. The American leadership was not certain what AF might be. Captain Wilfred Holmes suggested they send a message in the clear that Midway’s water purification facility was on the fritz. 24 hours later the Japanese transmitted that “AF was short on water,” and the Americans knew they were coming.
It cost the attacking American Task Force 34 of 41 deployed torpedo bombers and most of their crews, but the Zero fighters all dropped down to the deck where the hunting was good. At the same time, Commander Wade McClusky’s SBD Dauntless dive bombers rolled hot from altitude and sent three of the four Japanese fleet carriers to the bottom. The remaining flattop Hiryu joined them soon thereafter. Though the war ground on for three more years, the Japanese were doomed after Midway.
Similarly, the war in Ukraine seems to have had a turning point. As I type these words the Russians and Ukrainians are busy slugging it out in the east. Though everybody seems to be an expert, nobody really has any idea how it will turn out. However, Russia’s best hope for success evaporated at the Antonov Airport on February 25, 2022. This was D+1 after the initial invasion. That was the day Vladimir Putin quite likely lost his Special Military Operation.
Bear with me here. It’s tough to get the details straight on a war before the historians have moved in as an army of literary occupation to dissect everything about it. If I miss a bit in the ongoing fog please forgive me. I used the most reliable sources I could find.
Putin expected the world in general and Ukraine in particular to just roll over and die. In the leadup to their Special Military Operation, the Russians hallucinated up their standard load of steaming crap to justify their efforts. Political maneuverings, a few pitifully staged propaganda videos that looked like they were produced by teenagers, and some epic lies about the Nazi leanings of Ukrainian leadership served to fuel these fever dreams. The fact that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is Jewish and had lost relatives in the Holocaust was an inconvenient spot of reality in the otherwise schizophrenic Russian narrative.
The original Russian war plan, such as it was, envisioned a rapid decapitation strike led by Russian Spetsnaz and VDV airborne forces to eliminate the Ukrainian leadership and pave the way for their replacement by Russian stooges. Alas, the American intelligence apparatus is the most well-financed and capable in human history. The CIA uncovered the Russians’ intentions and communicated them to the Ukrainians in plenty of time for them to prepare. Regardless, it was still a very iffy thing.
Antonov Airport is situated a mere 10 km outside the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv. Seizure of this strategic objective would allow Russian airborne forces to establish an air bridge and subsequent lodgment from which to neutralize the government and take the city. Taking Kyiv was the key to taking Ukraine. Taking the Antonov Airport was the key to taking Kyiv. Everything turned on this.
The Antonov Airport was also known as the Hostomel Airport. It was home to the world’s only An-225 Mriya cargo plane, the largest such aircraft on the planet. The CIA had provided details of the Russian war plans and the part that Antonov Airport played in them to the Ukrainians the month before. When the Russians attacked, the Ukrainians were ready and responded with overwhelming force.
The Russians led with a massive air assault consisting of either 20 or 34 (depending upon what you read) heavily-loaded Mi-8 Hip helicopters escorted by Ka-52 gunships. Current intel indicates that the troops involved were drawn from the 11th and 31st Guards Air Assault Brigades. As the Russian airborne task force came in low over the Dnieper River, Ukrainian defenders opened up with machine guns and MANPADS (Man-Portable Air Defense Systems). An indeterminate number of Mi-8s were hit, several of which crashed into the river. At least one Ka-52 was brought down as well. In a surreal take on modern war, this engagement was streamed in real-time. You can watch it on YouTube. It is indeed captivating.
The concept of the operation had these heliborne troops seizing the airport for a follow-on force in eighteen Ilyushin Il-76 fixed-wing transports. However, before they could secure the airfield the Russians were attacked by a mixed force of Ukrainian National Guard troops, Ukrainian special operators, and some seriously tooled-up heavily-armed Ukrainian private citizens. Several Russian Su-25 ground attack aircraft flew in support, while the Ukrainians answered with at least two Su-24s and a MiG-29.
The resulting damage to the runway left the airfield unable to support the Il-76s, so they turned back. Along the way, at least one or potentially two of these massive heavily-laden aircraft were shot down. One of these lumbering cargo planes was purportedly downed by a Ukrainian Su-27 fighter, though this has not been independently verified. As a former paratrooper myself I’d sooner not dwell too long on what that looked like up close. Depending upon its configuration the Il-76 will accommodate between 125 and 140 combat troops. That would have been a mess.
After a vicious fight, the Russian paratroopers were pushed off of the airfield and into the surrounding woods. One of the defending Ukrainian units was the Georgian Legion. The Legion’s commander, Mamuka Mamulashvili, later claimed that his men had expended all of their ammunition during the battle. In response, Mamulashvili commandeered a car and proceeded to run down retreating Russians with it. Their 4th Rapid Reaction Brigade later posted images on their Facebook page of some of their members proudly holding a Ukrainian flag liberally perforated with bullet holes.
The Flow of War
A lot of stuff happened fairly quickly after that. Russian armor pushed south from Belarus, while airborne and air assault forces struggled mightily to gain a toehold. The Russian Ministry of Defence claimed the operation involved more than 200 combat helicopters, but these guys are bad to lie about stuff. While the Russians did indeed ultimately gain control of the airfield and surrounding areas, it was not before the Ukrainians had thoroughly cratered the runway.
No matter how you slice it, the Battle of Antonov Airport was a bloodbath for all involved and an unqualified disaster for the Russians. By all accounts, the initial assault wave was essentially obliterated. The Ukrainians fought back with BM-21 Grad multiple launch rocket systems, Mi-24 attack helicopters, and copious tube artillery. By 27 February, two days into the invasion, intercepted Russian radio transmissions revealed requests for evacuation. The Hostomel debacle is what eventually spawned that infamous 40-mile armored column that stalled heading toward Kyiv. These troops did eventually make it to the airport, but they were so depleted by then as to be unable to move effectively on the Ukrainian capital.
Within a month Russian forces were gone from the area. The Russians announced that they had just been kidding when they spent their finest combat formations on a failed effort to take Kyiv and that they had really only cared about the Donbas all along. In their haste to depart the Hostomel area, the Russians destroyed or abandoned large quantities of equipment. When the Ukrainians regained the airport they found the remains of seven tanks, twenty-three BMP’s, three APC’s, one anti-aircraft system, three helicopters, two field artillery guns, and sixty-seven trucks, jeeps, and sundry military vehicles.
Only time will tell the ultimate outcome of this ghastly fight. If the West stays the course, the Ukrainians keep being awesome, and Putin doesn’t completely lose his mind and toss a nuke in the mix then the Ukrainians have a real shot at winning this thing. Sadly, there remains a lot of blood and heartache standing between now and such a favorable outcome. I just hope humanity learns something from all this. At some point, we really should evolve to the point where one psychotic dictator’s hubris is insufficient to initiate and sustain war between nations.
Addendum–What follows is my opinion alone. Perhaps it will spark some spirited discussion in the comments. I wrote this article some time last year. A lot has happened since then.
Supporting Ukraine with weapons is the one solitary thing Joe Biden’s administration has done that I agree with. This seems to me like a once-in-a-century opportunity to drive a stake through the heart of our perennial nemesis without shedding American blood in the process. I came of age during the Cold War in a world dirty with megalomaniacal dictators like Putin. This insanity has gone on for 78 years.
The weapons we are sending Ukraine are, in large part, drawn from our old stocks. Much of that stuff is already bought and paid for. When Biden announces another zillion dollars’ worth of equipment heading to Ukraine, that’s often money we spent a long time ago. We built that gear to fight the Russians in the first place, not to just sit in the desert and rot.
The Ukrainians are willing and enthusiastic to do the fighting and dying, but they must have the tools. Yes, they have their warts. Yes, they have a legacy of corruption, but so do we. How much Chinese money do you figure passed through the Biden family in the past decade? If nothing else the Ukrainians are striving mightily to stamp out corruption now because they know failure to do so will stop the flow of weapons.
I’m admittedly biased because I know people who are serving over there. They are patriots who are fighting desperately for their freedom just as we would were we invaded by a rampaging conquering army. If the last 20 years have taught us anything it is that Putin will never, ever stop until somebody stops him.
I know Putin feels hemmed in by NATO, but he is a cold-hearted monster. Of course the former Soviet satellite states want to align with the EU and be free. So would we.
The Ukrainians, against all odds and expectations, are humiliating the Russians on the battlefield. No, I don’t want to see American troops committed to battle in Europe. However, if we do go to war then American boots on the ground will be standing alongside those of soldiers from every country in the free world.
There’s admittedly a lot riding on this, and the Internet is forever. I might indeed have to eat these words. However, screw what the media says about the broken state of the American dream. America stands for freedom. We always have, and this is a righteous fight against the dark forces of tyranny and oppression.
We spent tens of thousands of irreplaceable lives pushing back against this darkness in Korea and Vietnam. Putin made a massive mistake, arguably the biggest since Hitler invaded Russia in 1941, and now he is paying for it. Just like World Wars 1 and 2, we didn’t start this. But we have the means of finishing it once and for all. Now that we have somebody else who wants to do the fighting it seems insane not to support them in every way we can. Just my $.02.
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Your comments on what is happening in Ukraine shows me you are stupid or just another shill of the war mongering neo-con party both Demonrat and Republowhore.
You are correct
Regardless of the “pros and cons”, history will record one thing for sure… While we (US) spent $BILLIONS to secure another nations borders, we suffered the largest “peacetime” invasion of unknowns from around the world, AND the largest loss of young people (fentanyl) since WWII.
Our war is not in the Butchered Lands. Our war is right here. 6 million military age invaders are on our soil right now. What do you think is going to happen when they realize the streets arnt paved with gold and the jobs dont materialize? And dont give me shit about not being patriotic because I dont want to send American kids to die for nothing- I fought in three conflicts so kiss my ass.
Let me begin by saying that I don’t believe this war would have ever happened if Donald Trump had been re-elected. It’s hard to believe anything we see & hear on the media anymore, but I’ve “heard” more than once that all Putin wanted was an assurance that Ukraine wouldn’t join NATO. The fact that Ukraine had (again, supposedly) at least one, and maybe two American run biological weapons labs operating in Ukraine didn’t sit well with him, either. I’m sure we wouldn’t appreciate Russia having a similar lab operating in Mexico or Canada. A few other troubling issues about this mess are (1) there appears to be no movement on anyone’s part toward peace talks and (2) this war is bringing Russian and Chinese leaders together and that’s really a bad thing. If they ever really join forces, we’re seriously screwed. Biden has already drained millions of gallons from our emergency oil reserves & I’ve heard he’s sent so many weapons systems to Ukraine we’re actually running short now ourselves and the reality of the situation is, we have a president running this show that lost touch with reality many years ago and doesn’t know what day of the week it is half the time. And let’s not lose sight of the fact that big time Democrat donors in the defense industry are also getting richer by the day, as they do in all wars. So, in short, this thing is getting scarier by the day & there are certainly many more reasons for finding an end than prolonging it. I don’t know if Zelensky is as corrupt as we keep hearing he is, but I just heard he bought his parents an 8-million-dollar home in Switzerland or some other peaceful neighboring country. Maybe we’ll get more on that subject as time goes on. I do believe we need accountability for all these billions in cash he’s being sent and so far, we’ve seen none. Bottom line is, I think we’d all better hope this thing gets concluded soon, one way or the other because none of us want to see WW 3 or missiles flying over our houses. Another great article, Mr. Dabbs! We all owe you thanks in many ways!
you are correct!
One of Dr. Dabbs’s rare opinion pieces I’m on board with–letting the incredibly courageous Ukrainians take on the monster while the rest of us supply the goods, and incidentally submit them all to a real-life-war-games testing in the bargain. Let’s just hope they don’t run out of men!
He is correct.
Got to be living in Lala land to write this.
Putin has made no secret that he wants the old Soviet Union reestablished. Besides Ukraine, this would need to include the Baltic states, parts of Poland, parts of Romania and all of Moldova (which he just withdrew recognition of).
Putin & Russia have already gone to war to secure Russian’s borders; 1991 -1993 Georgian Civil War, 1991-1992 South Ossetian War, 1992-1993 War in Abkhazia, 1992 Transnistria War, 1992 East Prigorodny Conflict, 1992-1997 Tajikistani Civil War, 1994-1996 1st Chechen,1999 War in Dagestan1999-2009 in the 2nd Chechen War, 2008 in the Georgian War, 2009-2017 North Caucasus insurgency, 2014 annexation of Crimea and supported for rebels in Ukraine’s Donetsk & Luhansk (both annexed into Russian). Plus the conflicts in Armenia.
As you can see, it’s been a busy time for Putin and Russia, either taking back territory directly or installing “Puppet” rulers aligned with Moscow. Most people in the West have zero knowledge of these conflicts, as we are busy with our “Bread and Circuses”.
Putin believes, rightfully so, that this is Russian’s last chance to get control, over the 14 invasion points that lead to Mother Russia. This strategy of “To protect Russia, you must expanded it’s borders”, was first uttered by Catherine the Great in the 1850’s. The only time in history that Russia controlled all 14 invasion routes was after WW2, until the end of the Cold War. Putin had to start the conquest of Ukraine now, as they are frankly running out of military age men, not counting the 500,000 to 1 Million young men who fled the country after the start of the war.
We either give the Ukrainian’s the tools to kill the Russian army now or face a direct conflict with Russia later this century, which will likely go nuclear as the NATO to Russia kill ratio will be 1,000 to 1 and Nukes will be Russia’s only option to survive. The “Good News” is most of Russia’s missiles probably don’t works at all, as we have seen the level of corruption in the military effect conventional equipment they actually use, therefore how much money was stolen from maintenance of nukes that will never expect to be used??? I doubt 10% of their nuclear missile systems even can launch. Still a big problem though, not as bad as it should be.
Biden needs to ship Ukraine ATACMS Missiles for their HIMARS systems which would allow the Ukrainians to sink most of the Russian Navy in port, destroy airfields in Crimea, cut the railway lines, destroy fuel and supply depots in Southern Russia, after Russia commits a new batch of troops to the war, basically starving them out. Ukraine and the USA have no need to act with restraint, as Russia is certainly not holding back in this war.
In fact, if the USA was serious, they would allow Ukraine to recruit private military contractors, composed of pilots and ground personnel to operate F-16’s F-15 Strike Eagles and even A-10’s for the Ukrainian Airforce, rather than finding them older MIG-29’s that use iPads to integrate modern Western Missiles.
We must assure that Russia loses and loses badly. They need to lose and least 500,000 men in this conflict, until they are combat ineffective and we are less then a third of the way there today. Likely this war will last for at least 5 years or more at it’s current velocity. Russia has already lost more men than in their 10 year Afghan War, which contributed to the fall of the Soviet state.
That KA-52 looks like the illegitimate love child of a YAK-9 and an MI-24.
Wondering when Biden will be brought up on terrorism charges for bombing civilian infrastructure (Nordstream) of an ally?
The Ukrainian trolls are out in force today. I’m sure they will have a reason why we need to push the world into a nuclear war over the crap hole of Europe.
Clearly you have your head waaaaaay up Putin’s poop chute!
Agreed. Maybe Hillary posted it.
Excellent article! Thank you for your take on this, as well as your service and your humility.
One way or another this will end badly. As usual this is turned into a 1 hour drama on daily TV. With all the reporters turned into script readers for the establishment the results will be quite a shock when they finally appear. The Biden “Weakness through Wokeness” approach will lead to that nuclear winter we have all heard about. There will be no perspective in this until it is too late. Trump is right on this but enough liberal jerkoffs will continue to live in their bubble until it pops.
Our greatest enemy is at home
To be honest, 70% of all weaponry given to the Ukrinians is supplied by the European Union and not the US. And I’d say that 100% of the economic&financial damage caused by this war is on the shoulders of the Europeans.
Not true, the largest supplier of equipment to Ukraine are the Russian Army itself, followed by the USA which has given more money and delivered (not promised) more equipment than all of the EU/NATO members combined.
Gosh, I remember when gun owning, freedom loving Americans could be counted on to reliably oppose Soviet and then Russian expansionism.
Nowadays, thanks to the right wing misinformation machine, you see a lot of them spouting Kremlin talking points in this very comments section.
Zelensky is a Satanist? For Pete’s sake grandpa, turn off OAN!
Nice piece, Will.
You need to turn off the CNN brainwashing. The communist are running the USA now. I don’t want Americans spending money to advance the new world order agenda.
You’re the brainwashed one, Jay. By Tucker Carlson maybe? Here’s what my man Reagan had to say on the subject: “We in America have learned bitter lessons from two World Wars: It is better to be here ready to protect the peace, than to take blind shelter across the sea, rushing to respond only after freedom is lost. We’ve learned that isolationism never was and never will be an acceptable response to tyrannical governments with an expansionist intent.”
F OFF Liberal POS
I thought WWI was the war to end all wars. Just sayin’.
“Beware of foreign entanglements” George Washington as he left office…still applies today IMHO.
Reagan: We in America have learned bitter lessons from two World Wars: It is better to be here ready to protect the peace, than to take blind shelter across the sea, rushing to respond only after freedom is lost. We’ve learned that isolationism never was and never will be an acceptable response to tyrannical governments with an expansionist intent.
Putin is a bad guy but Zelensky is a Satanist. Ukraine was the most corrupt country and child trafficking capital of Europe. I would not give Z a nickel. The US toppled the elected government of Ukraine in a bloody coup and supplied weapons to shell civilians. How the heck did we think the Russians would respond?
Ummm, seriously? A satanist? I’ve heard some crackin’ idiotic statements about him, but this one takes the cake. And the corruption? Please re-read Mr. Dabbs’ arucle, if you are capable.
He posted videos of himself doing Satonic rituals online on Youtube. He is proud of it and his LGBTQ agenda.
You should get out more.
Haha, links please. Poor Jay…
I looked. Nada. Just one video debunking everything you said.
The Russians now say they are fighting all of the “Homosexual, Jewish Nazi Demons” that run Ukraine. Gotta love propaganda.
Yes, Ukraine is a pigsty of corruption, which is why you see Hilary Clinton going over there to demand some of our aide money be transferred to the Clinton foundation, etc. The democrats love sending money to countries and then demanding some of it go to their NGO’s which is how Nazi War Criminal George Soros is able to fund all his “projects” globally, with US tax dollars.
If it makes you feel better; win or lose, Russia and Ukraine are simply dying out as they don’t have enough children and young adults to keep their population where it is now. In addition 12 million Ukrainians and probably at least a million Russians have fled both countries and are just not coming back.
Watch the videos of Ukrainian fighters on YouTube and you will see that most of the men are in their 40’s to 60’s.
This is a very good and interesting article! I agree with the author that the only good thing Biden’s administration has done is support Ukraine with weapons and ammo! We need to continue doing it! Ukraine has to win this war!
This conflict is in America’s interest because if the Russian’s win even a square foot of Ukraine soil, they will continue on to their next victims. Russia will become like a “Blob”. Using their conquered resources to gain economic and military strength until they will be unstoppable, just as Hitler almost took western Europe. Don’t forget, China is also rooting for Russia in this skirmish. A strengthened Russia, is a strengthened China.
If you go back and look the US and NATO started this whole mess. There where agreements made that where broke. I am not supporting what Russia has done by any means. You can only poke a bear so.much. People do not read history or for that matter pay attention to it.
There were NO agreements that NATO would not expand. That is just internet fantasy. And Russia is the reason all those eastern bloc countries joined NATO. Russia is like an abusive husband. They know they need protection.
Actually, the United States was the broker, but not a party to the divorce between Russia and Ukraine after the fall of the Soviet Union. We demanded that Ukraine transfer all the Nukes on it’s territory to Russia proper. In exchange for allowing Russia to maintain a Naval base in Crimea (big mistake) and for the return of war planes (mostly large bombers), Russia agree to supply Ukraine with Natural Gas and Oil as repayment. Russia also recognized Ukraine’s independence and borders.
Yup, and the U.S. was supposed to help make sure those borders are respected. Since Russia broke their promise (surprise, surprise), supplying weapons is the least we can do.
A key point is that no one is asking Americans to fight in this war. The Ukrainians are more than willing to to fight on their own.
NATO kept threatening to bring the Ukraine into NATO. Which would put missiles right on the Russian border. Russia is paranoid, and deservedly so. So they reacted.
Remember when the Russians tried to put missiles in Cuba we reacted and almost brought on WW3.
And don’t forget how corrupt the Ukrainian government is. I’m sure Zelensky has a rather significant Cayman Islands bank account or equivalent.
And I disagree with DeSantis. I think it is in our national interest to keep part of the money we send to the Ukraine coming back to congress and the administration in the form of kickbacks.
Proof please, of Mr. Zelenskyy’s corruption. Nice that you’re sure, now show us why. Otherwise, don’t make cracks like that.
You need to read a little more history. Russia put missiles in Cuba, because we had missiles in Turkey. After the Cuban Missile Crisis, Kennedy (one of our worst presidents) agreed to withdraw our missiles from Turkey and never to invade Cuba, which was a “100% Win” for Russia.
NATO is filled with pacifist nations that don’t go to war with other nations. Most had to send troops to Afghanistan because we were attacked on Sept 11th and invoked Article 5 of the NATO treaty. This is the only time a NATO member has invoked Article 5.
Russia was invited and allowed to participate in the rules based international order and basically can’t keep to the rules and expectations. Mutual security is not something that they understand. You must assume that any agreements with Russia are worthless the day after they are signed.
Frankly, the United States supplied them with 100’s of millions of dollars in needed aide in WW2 and after the war, the Russians didn’t want to pay us back as agreed. The USA ended up settling for pennies on the dollar. In contrast, the UK finally paid off it’s total WW2 debts to the USA in 2006.
Our reward for supporting the Soviets in WW2 was watching them erect an Iron Curtain in Europe and start numerous wars in Korea, Vietnam and around the world. Plus they threatened the USA with Nuclear Annihilation for almost 60 years. America will never forgive Russia for these actions and they will never be a part of any “Club” we control. The sooner Russia dies out as a nation and people, the better for all the world.
I sympathize with the Ukes, but it isn’t worth my grandson’s life. Tell me how this is in America’s interest?
It’s not. I agree with humanitarian aid but no need to get dragged into another European conflict. Also, this is just a massive money laundering scheme.
Proof please, otherwise don’t make remarks like this.
Nobody is asking your grandson to fight. In fact, you should be down on your hands and knees thanking God for the Ukrainians that are giving up their lives so he won’t have to, and praying for their victory.
For a “historian” you sure ignore that NATO has been trying to encircle Russia ever since the USSR conceded and let not only the Warsaw Pact countries but many of its own territory to become independent. The West has failed the peacemaker test many times. Putin is actually very restrained – in contrast to other Russian leaders – which is why the Special Military Operation in Ukraine started with such small number of forces even though the Donbass war has been going for over 8 years.
” nobody really has any idea how it will turn out”?
This is not a false flag operation against Serbia for NATO to freely bombard their 1000 year old churches.
I think anyone understands by now that NATO cannot expect to win their attack on the largest and most advanced nuclear power on the planet. Anti-NATO protests in France, the UK, Italy, Bulgaria, Germany, Holland are just beginning.
Haha, this is going to age well!