15 veterans taking the comedy world by storm - We Are The Mighty
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15 veterans taking the comedy world by storm

Comedy greats Johnny Carson, Bill Cosby, Drew Carey, and  Rob Riggle all started their working lives in the military, and all of them have credited their service for giving them unique perspectives that shaped their routines or approaches to roles they played. And now a new generation of veterans are finding success in comedy.


Here are 15 veterans currently making names for themselves on stages and elsewhere around the country:

1. Julia Lillis

Julia is a Naval Academy graduate who has had great success as a stand up comedian and writer.  She has appeared on E! and MTV and is a recurring guest on the Dennis Miller show. Julia has also done multiple tours entertaining the troops overseas.

2. James Connolly

James is a veteran of Desert Storm and Harvard graduate. He has appeared on VH1, HBO, Comedy Central, and is one of the most played comedians on Sirius XM. In addition, he has done multiple tours entertaining the troops and holds an annual “Cocktails and Camouflage” comedy show that raises money for veterans organizations.

3. Jose Sarduy

Jose is currently an aviator in the Air Force reserves. He’s made a big impact with comedy festivals, has toured overseas with the GI’s of Comedy, and currently co-hosts NUVOtv’s “Stand up and Deliver.”

4. Thom Tran

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aCgJGAvRSg4

An Iraq War veteran and Purple Heart recipient, Thom launched a successful comedy career after leaving the Army. He founded the GI’s of Comedy, raising money for veteran organizations, and has toured throughout the U.S. He is currently producing a new series called “Comedy Stir Fry.”

5. Jon Stites

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LXIMVuTQDPM

Jon is a veteran of the Army infantry and founder of Operation Comedy, recruiting some of the biggest comedians in the industry to give free shows to veterans at signature venues like the Improv in Hollywood.

6. Justin Wood

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z6ZH7LpUAcA

An Army veteran turned stand up comic, Justin has performed at major venues throughout Los Angeles, toured with the GI’s of Comedy, and founded “Comics that Care” recruiting comedians to perform for homeless veterans. He recently made a viral satire video of him committing “stolen valor” (posted above).

7. Benari Poulten

Benari is currently a Master Sergeant in the Army Reserve and a veteran of both the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. As a comic he has toured with the GI’s of Comedy and was hired this year as a writer on “The Nightly Show” with Larry Wilmore.

8. Shawn Halpin

After serving in the Marine Corps infantry, Halpin has had success as a comedian opening for Pauley Shore, Tom Green, and as a regular at The World Famous Comedy Store in Hollywood. He has entertained the troops performing with Operation Comedy, GI’s of Comedy, and Comics on Duty.

9. PJ Walsh

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yCdn-64XHkc

After serving in the Navy, Walsh has shared the stage with many comedy greats including Bill Engvall and Larry the Cable Guy. He has performed for troops in several countries including Iraq and Afghanistan and is committed to raising funds for veteran organizations.

10. Jody Fuller

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lU4TRSeyWtk

Fuller currently serves as a Major in the U.S. Army Reserve with three tours overseas. His performance highlights include a opening gig in front of comedy great Jeff Foxworthy.

11. Will C

Will C served in the Marine Corps, Army, and the Air Force. He has had great success as a comedian touring across the country and has appeared in numerous television roles. He founded The Veterans of Comedy, a group that tours nationally to entertain active duty military and veterans.

12. Tom Irwin

A U.S. Army veteran, Tom’s success as a comedian includes an invitation to perform at The White House. He has done multiple tours overseas entertaining troops and created a “25 Days in Iraq” show about his tour in Iraq.

13. Erik Knowles

Knowles is a Marine Corps veteran turned stand up who was a finalist at the California Comedy Festival and The World Series of Comedy in Las Vegas. He has worked with Sarah Silverman, Zach Galifianakis and also tours with The Veterans of Comedy.

14. Katie Robinson

Katie is a veteran of both Iraq and Afghanistan campaigns where she worked as a chem-bio-radiation officer. Known as “Comedy Katie” she is a regular at The World Famous Comedy Store in Hollywood and won critical acclaim at MiniFest: Los Angeles.

15. Ibo Brewer

A Marine and Iraq war veteran, Brewer is a Los Angeles based comedian and regular at various major comedy clubs.

BONUS:

Check out the amazing documentary Comedy Warriors (2013) which follows wounded warriors who aspire to become comedians and are mentored by A-list comics including Zach Galifianakis and Lewis Black.

NOW: The 13 funniest military memes of the week

OR: The 8 most famous US military recruiting posters of World War II

MIGHTY TRENDING

ISIS is staging attacks to send a message: We’re back

An ISIS attack on an Iraqi oil field checkpoint that killed at least two members of the Iraqi security forces sends a clear message: ISIS sees itself making a comeback, and it wants the world to know.

Earlier this week, ISIS attacked security forces at a check point near Allas oilfield, in Iraq’s Salahuddin province — a site that was one of the terror group’s main sources of income during the territorial caliphate.

“The important thing to note here is that ISIS attacked a checkpoint near the oil field,” said Brandon Wallace, a counterterrorism researcher at the Institute for the Study of War, who said it’s an indication that ISIS is going after symbolic or economically vital targets likely to be guarded by security forces.


The group is also trying to disrupt the social fabric in Iraq by going after village leaders, Wallace told Insider.

15 veterans taking the comedy world by storm

Iraqi army soldiers.

(Public domain)

“If you take out the right guy in a village in one area, that can have much longer-lasting impact on the stability of the community,” he said, creating an environment in which ISIS is actually a viable alternative.

The group seeks to do the same across the porous border in Syria.

Over the past month, ISIS has made or attempted attacks in Raqqa, the former capital of its caliphate. Raqqa was liberated by the SDF and coalition forces in 2017, but ISIS could be attempting to destabilize the area, according to The International Crisis Group.

“The group is thought to have more sophisticated clandestine networks in al-Raqqa and al-Hasaka provinces, where it perpetrates relatively complex and ambitious attacks,” according to a report titled, “Averting an ISIS Resurgence in Iraq and Syria.” Alleged attacks in Raqqa city, the report says, indicate that Raqqa’s security situation is declining, which could be further precipitated by the Turkish incursion.

15 veterans taking the comedy world by storm

Destroyed neighborhood in Raqqa, August 2017.

(Public domain)

“The ISIS attacks in Raqqa, you could think of them destabilizing the security forces in that area because ISIS is intending to destabilize Raqqa,” Wallace told Insider. “A stable Raqqa is a political alternative to ISIS” — something the group seeks to eliminate. Vehement protests against regime troops, now making their way into the area around Deir Ezzor and other former SDF-held areas, could also open up potential for ISIS recruitment, according to Jason Zhou, the Hertog War Studies Fellow at the Institute for the Study of War.

But while ISIS attacks may be growing in sophistication, “the operational environment has changed,” Wallace told Insider. Less sectarian fighting in Iraq and a stronger security environment there — not to mention the visceral memories of people living under the caliphate — would make it harder for the group to resurge.

But continued chaos in Syria — demonstrated by Syria envoy James Jeffrey’s admission on Oct. 23, 2019, that more than 100 ISIS prisoners had escaped since the Turkish incursion and that the US has no idea where they are — will inevitably affect Iraq, too.

One thing is for certain, Wallace told Insider.

“ISIS absolutely intends to rule terrain again.”

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

U.S. officially withdraws from Open Skies Treaty; Moscow says ‘All options are open to us’

The United States formally withdrew on November 22 from the Open Skies Treaty, an 18-year-old arms control and verification agreement that Washington repeatedly accused Moscow of violating.

The withdrawal is the latest blow to the system of international arms control that U.S. President Donald Trump has repeatedly scorned, complaining that Washington was being either deceived or unfairly restrained in its military capabilities.

The U.S. State Department confirmed the move, noting six months had expired since notice of the pending exit had been issued and saying “the U.S. withdrawal took effect on November 22, 2020, and the United States is no longer a State Party to the Treaty on Open Skies.”

The National Security Council confirmed the withdrawal and added that “Russia flagrantly violated [the treaty] for years.”

It quoted national-security adviser Robert O’Brien as saying the move was part of an effort to “put America first by withdrawing us from outdated treaties and agreements that have benefited our adversaries at the expense of our national security.”

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on May 21 announced the U.S. intention to withdraw and gave the six-month notification to Open Skies’ 34 other members, as required under the treaty’s rules.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry condemned the U.S. decision.

“Washington has made its move. Neither European security nor the security of the United States and its allies themselves have benefited from it. Now many in the West are wondering what Russia’s reaction will be. The answer is simple. We have repeatedly emphasized that all options are open to us,” the ministry said in a statement on November 22.

Signed in 1992, the treaty, which entered into force in 2002, allows its 34 members to conduct short-notice, unarmed observation and surveillance flights over one another’s territories, to collect data on military forces and activities. More than 1,500 flights have taken place under the agreement.

The treaty’s proponents say the flights help build confidence by showing that, for example, adversaries are not secretly deploying forces or preparing to launch attacks.

But its critics, particularly among U.S. Republicans, have asserted the treaty has been violated repeatedly, first and foremost by Moscow.

In his May statement, Pompeo charged that Russian violations included restrictions on flights near breakaway regions over Georgia, along Russia’s southern borders, and limits on the lengths of flights over the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad.

“Russia has consistently acted as if it were free to turn its obligations off and on at will,” he said.

Arms control experts have said while some of the U.S. complaints have merit, others are misleading. And U.S. military and intelligence agencies will lose an important source of data by not being party to the treaty, they said, and NATO allies support the agreement.

“While Russia has violated the treaty, the United States has reciprocated. NATO allies support the treaty — which focuses first and foremost on enhancing European security — and wish the United States to remain a party,” Steven Pifer, a former U.S. ambassador and arms control expert, said in commentary published last week.

The Trump administration has targeted several international treaties over the past four years, most notably the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, a key Cold War agreement between the United States and the Soviet Union.

After years of complaining that Russia had secretly designed, then deployed, a treaty-violating missile, Washington withdrew in 2019 and the treaty collapsed.

Another more consequential treaty, the New START agreement, is also set to expire in February 2021, and U.S. and Russian officials have been struggling to find a way to keep it intact.

But Trump administration officials want to expand the treaty to include China. And they have also sent mixed signals about new conditions for extending New START, something Moscow has rejected.

Adding to the uncertainty is Trump’s expected departure from the White House on January 21, 2021, when Democrat Joe Biden is scheduled to be inaugurated and take office.

Biden has signaled support for extending New START and preserving other treaties.

“Instead of tearing up treaties that make us and our allies more secure, President Trump…should remain in the Open Skies Treaty and work with allies to confront and resolve problems regarding Russia’s compliance,” Biden said in a statement in May.

This article originally appeared on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Follow @RFERL on Twitter.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

China’s top stealth fighter might have gotten a range boost

China’s most advanced stealth fighter is ready for aerial refueling operations, giving it the ability to pursue targets at greater distances, according to Chinese state media.

The “fifth-generation” Chengdu J-20 stealth fighter entered military service in 2017 and was incorporated into Chinese combat units in February 2018. This aircraft, the pride of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Air Force, put on quite a show at Airshow China 2018 in Zhuhai, where it showed off its payload of missiles for the first time publicly while rocking a new paint job.


China Central Television (CCTV), a state-run broadcaster, revealed recently that the aircraft has been equipped with a retractable refueling probe, which is embedded on the right side of the cockpit. The refueling probe was embedded to help the fighter maintain stealth, something with which the J-20 has struggled. A consistently-exposed probe extending from the fuselage would make the J-20 much more visible to enemy radar systems.

Four of the six onboard missiles are stored internally in a missile bay, a design feature intended to make the J-20 more stealthy, Chinese military experts told China’s Global Times.

15 veterans taking the comedy world by storm

The two Chengdu J-20s making their first public appearance.

Although the exact range of the Chinese stealth fighter, nicknamed the “Powerful Dragon,” is unknown, the aircraft has a suspected combat radius of roughly 1,100 kilometers, making it suitable for long-range strikes and intercepts. With aerial refueling capabilities, the J-20 can extend its reach, giving China the ability to better patrol the disputed waterways where it desires to exercise authority.

The J-20 could be refueled by a Chinese HU-6 aerial tanker.

The J-20’s chief designer says the world has yet to see the best that the aircraft has to offer, stressing that certain capabilities were unable to be presented at the recent airshow.

Chinese experts argue that the J-20 as a combat platform superior to the American F-22 Raptor and the F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter, two elite fighters which have both been tested in combat. The J-20 has only taken part in combat training exercises. Furthermore, while the J-20 was expected to receive a new engine, the technology remains unreliable, the South China Morning Post recently reported.

The J-20 continues to rely on either Russian imports or inferior Chinese engines, which have, according to some observers, prevented China from achieving the kind of all-aspect stealth of which a true fifth-generation fighter should be capable. The J-20 has decent front-end stealth, but it is noticeably less stealthy at different angles.

The J-20 was rushed into production, but as China works some of the kinks out, it could potentially lead to the development of a much more lethal and effective aircraft.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

Articles

This fundraiser for the widow of a soldier who died in a suicide bombing attack is going viral

When a Taliban murder-suicide bomber killed two American troops with the 82nd Airborne Division, it particularly hit hard for one family. According to an Army Times report, the solider, Specialist Chris Harris, 25, of Jackson Springs, North Carolina, left behind a wife, Britt, who was expecting their first child.


The Defense Department reported that the August 2 attack that killed Spc. Harris also killed Sgt. Sgt. Jonathon Hunter, 23, of Columbus, Indiana ,and wounded four other troops. Both Harris and Hunter were with the 2nd Battalion, 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment based at Fort Bragg.

15 veterans taking the comedy world by storm
Specialist Chris Harris and his wife Britt in happier times. (GoFundMe.com)

An online fund-raiser was launched on Aug. 3 on the crowd-funding site GoFundMe.com to help Britt keep a handle on bills and other expenses. As of 9:53 AM Eastern time on Aug. 4, the online fundraiser for Mrs. Harris had raised $35,570 from 782 donors.

The online fundraiser is not the only fundraiser on the way for Britt and her unborn child. According to the VA website, Serviceman’s Group Life Insurance offers a $400,000 death benefit for a monthly premium of $29.00.

15 veterans taking the comedy world by storm
Waves of paratroopers fill the skies during a combat exercise. (U.S. Army)

The pentagon also offers a death gratuity benefit of $100,000. Military.com notes that numerous other benefits are available for the surviving family members of a serviceman (or woman) killed in action, including continued eligibility for Tricare, Basic Housing Allowance, and the Dependency and Indemnity Compensation.

While those benefits will kick in, words from the GoFundMe page still apply: “During this time, money should be the absolute least important thing on [Britt’s] mind. If you feel it in your heart to donate to this cause, it would be kindly appreciated.”

 

Articles

This Medal of Honor recipient was a convicted deserter

15 veterans taking the comedy world by storm
Photo: US Army Al Chang


Future colonel and Medal of Honor recipient Lewis Lee Millett joined the U.S. Army in the summer of 1938 but was really bummed when he learned the U.S. hadn’t gotten around to fighting the Germans yet.

So in 1941 he deserted and ran to Canada — a country with an army almost two years into its Nazi-killing campaign.

Millett went through basic training with the Canadians and learned their methods of bayonet fighting (That will be important later). He was shipped to London and manned an anti-aircraft gun during the London Blitz, but he switched back over to the U.S. Army when America entered the war.

After shipping to Africa, he saved a group of soldiers by jumping into a burning, ammunition-filled halftrack and driving it away from an Allied position. The Army awarded him the Silver Star. Millett followed this up by exposing himself to a German plane strafing Allied troops and shooting it down with machine guns mounted on another halftrack.

Unfortunately for then-Sgt. Millett, this was when the paperwork for his desertion found him. His unit was ordered three times to court-martial him before they actually did it. The commander hit Millett with a $52 fine, then made him a second lieutenant only a few weeks later with a battlefield commission.

He continued to serve after the war ended and was a captain in the Korean War where he earned both a Medal of Honor and a Distinguished Service Cross, each for a daring bayonet charge.

15 veterans taking the comedy world by storm
Photo: Youtube

On Feb. 4, 1951, a platoon leader in Millett’s unit, Company E, 2nd Battalion, 27th Infantry Regiment, 25th Infantry Division, was injured during a bayonet charge up a hill. Millett led a rescue effort to get the man while under fire, saving the young lieutenant. Millett was later awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his actions.

Three days later, Millett was leading a company attack when the 1st Platoon was pinned down by machine gun and anti-tank fire. Millett ordered 3rd Platoon forward and led it and 1st Platoon up the hill with fixed bayonets. His Medal of Honor citation describes what happens next.

In the fierce charge Captain Millett bayoneted two enemy soldiers and boldly continued on, throwing grenades, clubbing and bayoneting the enemy, while urging his men forward by shouting encouragement. Despite vicious opposing fire, the whirlwind hand-to-hand assault carried to the crest of the hill. His dauntless leadership and personal courage so inspired his men that they stormed into the hostile position and used their bayonets with such lethal effect that the enemy fled in wild disorder. During this fierce onslaught Captain Millett was wounded by grenade fragments but refused evacuation until the objective was taken and firmly secured.

Millett stayed in the Army but was sent home to receive his Medal of Honor. He had never attended an Army school as an officer, so the military sent him to the Infantry Officer Advanced Course and then Ranger School at Fort Benning.

He went on to serve in Vietnam where he once volunteered to be a hostage. Fighters who had been drafted by the Viet Cong wanted to leave the war but were afraid to attend negotiations because they could be ambushed and arrested. Millett volunteered himself as collateral and the Vietnamese fighters negotiated their surrender safely.

Col. Millett left the Army in 1973 because he believed the military had simply quit in Vietnam. He continued to work with veterans until his death in 2009 in a veteran’s hospital.

MIGHTY TRENDING

5 rifles that almost replaced the M4/M16…and one that did

With the Army’s Next Generation Squad Weapon Project, the days of the M4 Carbine and M249 SAW may be numbered. The prototypes from General Dynamics Ordnance and Tactical Systems Inc., Textron Systems, and Sig Sauer are vying to replace both 5.56mm weapon systems in infantry and close-combat units. All three NGSW candidates utilize a 6.8mm round, though their designs and mechanics vary greatly. While the NGSW Project is a departure from the M4/M16 family, it is certainly not the first time that the Army or military in general has attempted to find a new rifle.

15 veterans taking the comedy world by storm
The prototypes for the Army’s Next Generation Squad Weapon (U.S. Army)
15 veterans taking the comedy world by storm
The SPIW on display at the Aberdeen Proving Ground Museum (Public Domain)

 

1. Special Purpose Individual Weapon

The Special Purpose Individual Weapon was an Army program that began in 1951 to develop a flechette-firing rifle. I know what you’re thinking: the M16 wasn’t even adopted until 1964. So how can the SPIW have been a potential replacement for the M16?

Well, Project SALVO was the Army’s first attempt to create the SPIW with the intent of arming soldiers with a weapon that fired small projectiles in large volumes at a high rate of fire, hence its name. Though flechette rounds were tested, the conclusion of Project SALVO was to adopt the Armalite AR-15 as the M16 rifle. However, research and development of the SPIW continued with Project NIBLICK. Now trying to replace the newly adopted M16, the Project NIBLICK also aimed to develop a grenade launcher to complement the flechette-firing rifle. AAI, Springfield Armory, Winchester Arms, and Harrington Richardson all submitted their own unique entries for the SPIW. T

hough none of the submissions were deemed to be effective combat weapons, the grenade launcher from the AAI design was further developed and was eventually as the M203 40mm grenade launcher.

15 veterans taking the comedy world by storm
Top to bottom: AAI, HK, Steyr, and Colt ACR prototypes (Public Domain)

 

2. Advanced Combat Rifle

Started in 1986, the Advanced Combat Rifle program aimed to replace the M16 with a more accurate rifle. AAI, Colt, HK, Steyr, Ares Inc., and McDonnell Douglas Helicopter Systems all received development contracts, but only the first four companies advanced to the weapon testing phase. The AAI entry utilized a flechette round which, despite the addition of a sound suppressor, created a louder muzzle blast than the M16.

The HK entry was the innovative caseless ammunition G11 which many people will remember from the video game Call of Duty: Black Ops. Steyr submitted a flechette-firing bullpup design that bore a superficial resemblance to the AUG. Colt’s ACR prototype was the most conventional, as it was a highly modified version of the existing M16 design with the addition of a new sight, a hydraulic buffer, and a collapsing buttstock. The Colt ACR also utilized an experimental “duplex round”, a single cartridge with two small bullets in it, to increase the rifle’s volume of fire. However, the “duplex rounds” resulted in decreased accuracy at long range, defeating the purpose of the ACR. In the end, none of the ACR prototypes met or even approached the 100% improvement over the M16 that the program aimed for.

15 veterans taking the comedy world by storm
A soldier with the XM29 Block 3 prototype (U.S. Army)

 

3. Objective Individual Combat Weapon/XM29

In the aftermath of the ACR program, the Army started the Objective Individual Combat Weapon program. The central idea of the OICW program was to develop an infantry rifle that allowed the user to engage targets behind hard cover with the use of airburst munitions. This idea was refined to combine the airburst, low-velocity cannon with an assault rifle.

The kinetic rounds of the rifle could engage a target directly and, if the target retreated behind cover, the airburst munition could be employed instead. By the early 2000s, contract winner Heckler Koch had resigned the XM29, which featured a 20mm High Explosive Air Bursting launcher and a short-barrel 5.56x45mm NATO rifle. However, the 20mm HEAB was found to be inadequately lethal and the short barrel of the rifle did not generate enough muzzle velocity to be as effective as a standard infantry rifle. The XM29 was also too large and heavy to be carried by a rifleman on the frontlines. The XM29 was shelved in 2004.

15 veterans taking the comedy world by storm
Army Chief of Staff, General Peter J. Shoomaker, and Sergeant Major of the Army Kenneth O. Preston fire the compact variant of the XM8 at Fort Benning, August 2004 (U.S. Army)

 

4. XM8

Designed by Heckler Koch, the XM8 was an offshoot of the shelved XM29. The grenade launcher part of the project went on to be developed into the XM25 Counter Defilade Target Engagement System. The XM8 was a configurable weapon system that allowed the user to set it up as an infantry rifle, a short-barreled personal defense weapon, and even a bipod-equipped support weapon.

The XM8 also featured an integrated sight and IR laser aiming module/illuminator. Over 200 developmental prototypes were delivered to the military. However, testing yielded numerous complaints including the short battery life of the integrated sight and IR module, ergonomic issues, heavy weight, and a hand guard that would melt after firing too many rounds. Following this first phase of testing, the military requested funding for a large field test, which Congress denied. The project was put on hold in April 2005 and formally canceled on October 31 later that year.

15 veterans taking the comedy world by storm
Soldiers fire the HK HK416 (U.S. Army)

 

5. Individual Carbine

The Individual Carbine competition began in 2010 and sought to replace the M4 carbine in the US Army. The Army solicited manufacturers to submit rifles that provided accurate and reliable firepower, could be fired semi or fully-automatic, possessed integrated Picatinny rails, and was fully ambidextrous. Though the competition did not specify a caliber, any submissions not chambered in 5.56x45mm NATO or 7.62x54mm NATO had to be supplied with ammunition by the manufacturer.

Submissions for the competition included Robinson Armament Co.’s XCR, LWRC’s M6A4, Remington’s ACR (not to be confused with the ACR program), FN Herstal’s FN SCAR, Colt’s CM901, Beretta’s ARX-160, Adcor Defense’s A-556, and HK’s HK416, among others. Over the course of testing, some companies backed out after the Army announced that the winner would have to turn over technical data rights to the Army; others dropped out for financial reasons. By Phase II testing, only FN, HK, Remington, Adcor Defense, Beretta, and Colt remained in the running.

Though Phase II was completed, Phase III was halted in 2013 by questions regarding the program’s cost and necessity. With M4A1 carbines set to be purchased through 2018, the Army began to rethink carbine acquisition. On June 13, 2013, the Individual Carbine competition was formally cancelled on the grounds that none of the submissions met the minimum scores to continue to the next phase of the evaluation.

15 veterans taking the comedy world by storm
A Marine armed with an M27 IAR covers his team in Afghanistan (U.S. Marine Corps)

 

6. M27 Infantry Assault Rifle

The Marines pride themselves on their ingenuity. Their ability to improvise, adapt, and overcome us part of what makes them such a lethal fighting force. The Corps demonstrated this ability with their acquisition and fielding of the M27 Infantry Assault Rifle. In 2006, the Marine Corps issued contracts to manufacturers to replace the M249 Squad Automatic Weapon with a more mobile Infantry Assault Rifle. Submissions included IAR variants of the FN SCAR and HK416 as well as the Colt IAR6940. In 2009, the HK416 won the competition and began a five-month final testing period before it was formally designated as the M27 IAR in the summer of 2010.

In May 2011, General James Amos ordered the replacement of the M249 SAW by the M27 IAR and limited fielding began. Though the 30round magazine-fed M27 could not provide the sustained suppressive fire that the belt-fed M249 SAW could, the M27’s increased accuracy and reliability offset the rate of fire. In early 2017, Commandant of the Marine Corps General Robert Neller announced that he wanted to equip every 0311 Marine rifleman with the M27 IAR. To meet this demand, the Corps issued a request for 11,000 M27 IARs from HK. Chris Woodburn, deputy of the Maneuver Branch, Fires and Maneuver Integration at Marine Corps Combat Development Command, said, “The new order will replace all M4s in every infantry squad with an M27, except for the squad leader.”

The change would also include Marine infantry training battalions. The deal was finalized in 2018, with the Marines purchasing just over 14,000 M27 IARs. In 2019, the Marine Corps reported that the last of the M27s would be delivered and issued to every infantryman from platoon commander and below by mid-2021. While the M27 will replace the M4 as the standard-issue rifle for the Marine Corps infantry, non-infantry Marines will continue to field the M4 for the foreseeable future. Still, it could be argued that the Marine Corps succeeded in replacing the M4 in a short period of time where the Army failed over a period of decades of programs and competitions. If anything, the NGSW goal of replacing the M4 and M249 with a single weapon system appears to have been lifted from the Marine Corps acquisition and fielding of the M27 IAR.

Only time will tell if the Army will succeed in replacing the M4 through the NGSW Project, or if it be the latest in a long line of failed attempts.

Articles

The 7 scariest weapons Russia is developing right now

While Russia’s military is struggling in many ways, the Kremlin is working hard to fix it. With a new ballistic missiles, new submarines launching from shipyards, and the world’s newest tank, Russia looks to be modernizing as fast as it can. If the modernization program survives Russia’s economic woes, here are seven new weapon systems that will likely be completed.


1. New nuclear submarines

15 veterans taking the comedy world by storm
A current-generation Russian diesel submarine. Photo: Wikimedia Commons/ Russian International News Agency (RIA Novosti)

In addition to building more of their brand new, fourth-generation submarines, Russia is already planning a fifth-generation sub. Details on the fifth-generation are slowly being fleshed out, but Russia wants the subs to network with each other and underwater drones, use onboard robotics for certain tasks, and feature a new nuclear reactor.

2. Hypersonic missiles

15 veterans taking the comedy world by storm
A model of the BrahMos II, Russian-Indian hypersonic missile under joint development. Photo: Youtube.com

Russia’s hypersonic missile program has been plagued by failed tests, but it still has potential. The Yu-71 would be able to fly unpredictable patterns to its targets at speeds of 7,000 miles per hour, piercing air defenses. While the U.S. also has a hypersonic program, the U.S. missiles are designed for conventional warheads while Russia’s call for nuclear capabilities.

Russia is also jointly-developing the BrahMos II hypersonic cruise missile with India.

3. A stealthy, heavy-lift strategic bomber

15 veterans taking the comedy world by storm
Russia’s new bomber will borrow technology from its new fighter, the Sukhoi T-50. Photo: Wikipedia/Alex Beltyukov

The PAK-DA is expected to be subsonic with a range of 7,500 miles and capable of carrying a payload of about 30 tons. It’s a huge step down from Russia’s original plans for a hypersonic bomber, but it may be stealthy enough to get cruise missiles into range against carriers and other targets.

4. An “off switch” for enemy communications and weapons guidance

An electronic warfare system in development supposedly allows Russia to shut off any approaching threats, everything from NATO ships to missiles to future hypersonic weapons. If successfully launched on planes and ships, it could also be used to shut down enemy defenses during a Russian attack.

5. New air defense missiles

15 veterans taking the comedy world by storm
Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Aleksey Toritsyn

While the S-300 is in the news right now, the S-500 would be two generations beyond it. The S-500 is expected to be capable of engaging five to ten ballistic missiles at once and even hitting low-orbit satellites. It will be able to move between engagements, avoiding counter attacks.

6. Lasers

15 veterans taking the comedy world by storm
The USS Ponce’s laser weapon. Photo: YouTube

Russia claims its laser program is on the same level as the U.S., but the system is fully classified. If accurate, it would mean that Russia’s lasers are capable or nearly capable of taking out enemy vehicles, drones, and boats, all weapons systems America relies on.

7. Aircraft carriers

15 veterans taking the comedy world by storm
The current Russian carrier, the Admiral Kuznetsov. Photo: Mil.ru

Russia’s carrier prospects are dicey, but if the ship makes it to the sea it will be much better than their current carrier. Roughly the same size as a U.S. Nimitz carrier, it would have 4 launching positions and an air wing of 80-90 aircraft.

NOW: A Russian company is selling shipping containers packed with cruise missiles

MIGHTY TRENDING

This soldier found out she was pregnant only after she had a baby in Afghanistan

In the summer of 2012, young Benjamin was born to Pvt. Ashley Shelton in the middle of FOB Shindand, Afghanistan. The story was first broken by Stars and Stripes in October 2012, but details surrounding the birth weren’t released until WTHR 13 Investigates got into contact with the mother recently.


Pvt. Ashley Shelton was assigned to the 12th Combat Aviation Brigade out of Ansbach, Germany and deployed in the spring. Normally, Army regulations bar pregnant soldiers and those who recently gave birth from deploying. However, due to her pregnancy tests being disregarded as “false-positives,” she was still sent with her unit.

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Pvt. Shelton’s unit in Afghanistan. (Image via WTHR 13 Investigates)

Related: 5 struggles those who wore BCGs will remember

She continued her regular Army duties, even those that would normally be unfit for an expected mother such as physical training and combat duties. There were no normal signs of pregnancy, such as weight gain or a baby bump. Morning sickness or and cramping was mostly written off with a dismissive, “Well, it’s Afghanistan…”

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Baby Benjamin shortly after birth. (Image via WTHR 13 Investigates)

Then, on Aug. 12, she went to the aid station for cramps. The doctor told her to drink fluids and prescribed her bed rest. On her way back, her water broke and she blacked out. Her child, Benjamin, was born. The U.S. Army has yet to clarify what exactly went wrong, but they conducted internal investigations. Army representatives told WTHR 13 Investigates that they can not talk about personal health issues due to federal health privacy laws.

Years later, Benjamin exhibits some congenital birth defects, which may be a result of mishandled pregnancy. His medical records show a small knot in his lower left leg, described as a club foot, and a lower speech level than normal. Ashley Shelton has been struggling the last years with getting attention for her son’s and her own medical conditions.

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Benjamin Shelton (Image via WTHR 13 Investigates)

That hasn’t stopped the fun-loving kid from running around the playground, though. There’s no telling if the kid ends up being a superhero, but that’s a backstory that tops Marvel and DC characters. Even if the kid doesn’t become a superhero, if he serves in the Army like his mother, you can bet that he’ll have a one-up card on everyone. “Where were you born? Some POG civilian hospital not in the middle of combat? That’s cute.”

MIGHTY CULTURE

US Army soldier leads the way after historic accomplishment

U.S. Army Reserve Lt. Col. Lisa Jaster was 37 years old when she attended Ranger School. While the average age of attendees in the course ranges in the early 20s, that didn’t deter her, and in October of 2015 she graduated from the course.

She was the first woman in the U.S. Army Reserve to do so.

Four years later, her advice to others is simple.

“You have to be ‘all-in,'” said Jaster. “Be willing to give everything you have for the school and maintain your integrity. The first week is published therefore you know what to expect and how to succeed. Once you’ve passed the physical entrance exam (RAP week), you will need to have the mental toughness to push through conditions that could beat a lesser person down.”


“Do not let ‘quit’ in,” she continued. “That means once you allow quitting into your mind as an option, it will move in, live there, steal your motivation, and eventually defeat you from within.”

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Maj. Lisa Jaster in late 2015, after her graduation from Ranger School that previous October.

(Courtesy of Lt. Col. Lisa Jaster)

The all-in attitude that Jaster says is the key to success for Ranger school has also been tantamount to accomplishments in other aspects of her life. As a citizen soldier, she demonstrates that one can serve their country while continuing to have a civilian career.

In the past three years, Jaster has been a senior project engineer with Shell Oil Co. before becoming the director of civil engineering for MS Engineering. She also has become a professional speaker with Leading Authorities, holding engagements across the country.

In the Army Reserve, she has been a battalion executive officer, an engineering team lead supporting the Iraqi Security Forces during Operation Inherent Resolve, and is now the brigade executive officer for the 420th Engineer Brigade, 416th Theater Engineer Command.

Throughout all of her experiences, her definition of leadership and what is expected of leaders has one constant: be consistent in your words and actions, and set the example for others to follow. This definition has served her well in both her military and civilian life.

“Everyone needs to be led as an individual, and each individual brings something to the fight as long as they are vested in the end state,” said Jaster. “A leader is someone who inspires those around them to be better versions of themselves.

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U.S. Army Reserve Lt. Col. Lisa Jaster, executive officer, 420th Engineer Brigade, poses with her family after promotion from Maj. to Lt. Col. Jaster graduated from Ranger School in 2015, the first female officer in the Reserve to do so.

(Photo by Capt. Daniel Johnson)

“Traditionally,” she continued. “I have said that consistency is the most important aspect of leadership to ensure subordinates can perform in the absence of guidance,” After Ranger School, I have created the three Cs – Consistency, Communication and Competence. There are a lot of other aspects to being an effective leader, but these are necessary starting blocks.”

Jaster approaches her personal life with the same care as her professional one. A dual military couple, she and her husband, Marine Corps Lt. Col. Allan Jaster, have two children. Their support of each other and their children has been a critical factor in their accomplishments.

“Balancing the Citizen (employee, mom, wife, sister, daughter, and individual) with the soldier is very complicated,” said Jaster. “I used to try to silo both aspects of who I am but found that so much bleeds over from one job to the other that I need to be fluid with those lines.

“What that means,” continued Jaster. “Is that Army conference calls can happen during cheer practice, and I might need to review proposals for work while I am in the field with the Army. It means being open and honest with my spouse, my military boss, and my civilian supervisor about what I can handle and what might be coming up. Having a strong support team with regards to extended family, friends and hired help is critical to ensure nothing at home drops.”

Jaster does not want her Ranger School experience to define her. Since her completion of the course, she has advised to not identify soldiers and civilians by their race, sex or creed, but their skills, attributes and performance.

She created the hashtag #deletetheadjective for social media to emphasize her message, and throughout all of her speaking engagements, she has consistently stated the best teams are those with the highest level of competencies, not just a group identity. Being in the Army Reserve has allowed her to serve her country while creating awareness, and discussion, of the topic.

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U.S. Army Reserve Lt. Col. Lisa Jaster, executive officer, 420th Engineer Brigade, receives a new patrol cap from her family signifying her promotion from Maj. to Lt. Col.

(Photo by Capt. Daniel Johnson)

“Ranger school was just part of my path,” said Jaster. “It was not an end state. I have a larger public voice because of graduating from Ranger School. My true failure or success is what I decide to do with that voice. If I can live by the Ranger Creed and set an example which brings our community together for a smooth gender integration, then that is the goal I am striving for.”

Looking forward to the future, Jaster continues to strive for excellence. Whether in uniform or out, she has used her previous accomplishments to continue to fuel her drive to succeed and set the example for others to follow. Her discipline and dedication to her family, civilian profession, and military career is a standard she refuses to let falter.

“Ranger School does not make me a good or a bad officer,” said Jaster. “It does mean there are certain external expectations of me that were previously only self-imposed. This gives me an additional drive to continue to train martial arts, strength, endurance and tactics, even when time constraints make it difficult and my current job doesn’t require it.

“I am looking forward to being a battalion commander,” she continued. “After battalion command, I am not sure what the Army holds, but I plan to stay in uniform as long as I can.”

This article originally appeared on United States Army. Follow @USArmy on Twitter.

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15 astounding technologies DARPA is working on right now

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is responsible for some of the world’s most significant scientific and technological breakthroughs.


DARPA has had a hand in major inventions like GPS, the internet, and stealth aircraft. And it’s always developing new technologies — military or intelligence-related systems that could end up having a huge impact outside the battlefield as well.

We’ve looked at some of DARPA’s active projects, and found some of the more astounding systems that are currently in the works.

Bullets that can change direction in flight

Extreme Accuracy Tasked Ordnance (EXACTO) are the military’s first self-guided bullets.

EXACTO bullets are able to change their path during flight to correct for the movement of a target or any other factors that might have driven the bullet off course.

The bullets feature optical tips that can detect lasers on a target. Tiny fins on the bullets then guide the bullet towards that laser.

The Pentagon successfully conducted a live-fire test utilizing these rounds.

High-energy lasers

The High Energy Liquid Laser Area Defense System (HELLADS) program is an ambitious DARPA project aimed at neutralizing surface-to-air missile threats that aircraft may encounter.

Generally, surface-to-air missiles are faster than the plane they’re targeting, making it difficult for an aircraft to evade fire. The HELLADS program attempts to use lasers to disable incoming missiles.

DARPA is also planning on increasing the strength of the HELLADS laser in order to make it an offensive weapon capable of destroying enemy ground targets.

Flying trucks

The ARES program, a Skunk Works extension of DARPA’s Transformer program, is an attempt to develop an actual flying car.

ARES will be a dual-mode vehicle capable of both driving on the ground and achieving high-speed vertical takeoff and landing. Twin tilting fans will allow the vehicle to hover and land. The vehicle can also configure itself for high-speed flight.

DARPA hopes that the ARES will be especially resistant to IEDs — while also being able to evade aerial threats, like air-to-air missiles.

Robotic pack animals

The Legged Squad Support System (LS3) introduced by DARPA and in development by Boston Dynamics is a mobile, semi-autonomous, four-legged robot that can function as a beast of burden on the battlefield.

Boston Dynamic’s AlphaDog can currently go70% to 80% of the places that troops are capable of walking. The prototype can carry hundreds of pounds of gear, lightening the burden for soldiers. It is currently taking part in testing trials alongside Marines in Hawaii.

Self-calculating gun scopes

DARPA’s One Shot XG program aims to improve the accuracy of military snipers through a small mountable calculation system that can be placed either on a weapon’s barrel or on its spotting scope.

The One Shot system is designed to calculate a number of variables, such as crosswind conditions, the maximum effective range of the weapon, and weapon alignment, using an internal Linux-based computer. The system would then indicate an ideal aim point for the marksman.

The One Shot XG began testing in March 2013.

A system that provides almost immediate close air support

The tactic of close air-support — in which soldiers call in attack aircraft to gain advantage in the midst of a ground engagement — has remained relatively unchanged since its emergence in World War I. In conventional close air support, pilots and ground forces focus on one target at a time through voice directions and a shared map.

DARPA’s Persistent Close Air Support (PCAS) program is aimed at radically redefining the concept.

PCAS would enable ground agents to share real-time situational awareness and weapons data with aircraft crews. This would allow an aircrew to focus on multiple targets simultaneously.

The PCAS is also designed to significantly reduce the time between calling in an airstrike and an aircraft’s arrival on the battlefield.

Material that allows soldiers to climb up walls

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www.darpa.mil

Geckskin supporting 660 pounds on a glass panel

US soldiers must operate in ever condition imaginable, including environments rife with physical obstacles that require soldiers to rely on ropes, ladders, or other heavy-climbing tools.

To overcome this challenge, DARPA has initiated the Z-Man program.

Z-Man seeks to replicate the natural climbing ability of geckos and spiders. One of the main products of the Z-Man program is “Geckskin,” a synthetically produced high-grip material. In a 2012 trial, a 16-square-inch sheet of Geckskin successfully attached to a glass wall — and managed to hold a static load of 660 pounds.

Technologies that eliminate language differences

The Broad Operational Language Translation (BOLT) program is exploring ways to allow translation and linguistic analysis for both online and in-person communications.

The initial phases of the program are aimed at aiding soldiers and officials with active translation of English into a listener’s native language and vice versa. DARPA plans on eventually expanding BOLT into a tool that could allow everyone to communicate fluidly without having to learn each other’s language.

A drone that can stay airborne for years

DARPA awarded a $89 million contract to Boeing to develop the Solar Eagle unmanned drone.

Part of DARPA’s Vulture II program, the Solar Eagle is designed to stay in the air for a minimum of five years using solar energy. The drone will have a 400-foot wing span, equivalent to a forty-story building, and can fly at stratospheric altitudes.

The drone will have intelligence, communications, surveillance, and reconnaissance functions.

A system that gives soldiers enhanced optical awareness

The Soldier Scentric Imaging via Computational Cameras (SCENICC) began in 2011 but is still at an early point in development. The program imagines a final system comprised of optical sensors that are both soldier and drone-mounted, allowing a synthesis of information that greatly increases battlefield awareness.

The program could provide soldiers with second-by-second information relating to their missions using a completely hands-free system.

A stratospheric airship

The Integrated Sensor IS Structure (ISIS) is a joint DARPA/Air Force project of “unprecedented proportions.”

The program aims to create an autonomous, unmanned high-altitude airship capable of conducting persistent wide area surveillance, tracking, and engagement of air and ground targets for a ten-year period. The airship will be fully solar powered as well.

Naval supply payloads hidden at the bottom of the ocean

Re-supply in remote sections of the ocean is one of the key difficulties that the Navy faces.

The Upward Falling Payloads (UFP) program envisions the deployment of supply stockpiles throughout the bottom of the earth’s oceans. These supplies will be placed in capsules that can survive for years under extreme ocean floor-level pressure.

When needed, a passing ship would be able to send a signal to the supplies, causing them to rapidly rise through the water to the ship.

Helicopters that can function like planes

The VTOL X-Plane further pushes the boundaries of hybrid-wing aircraft beyond what the V-22 Osprey can already accomplish.

DARPA’s VTOL X-Plane envisions a new type of aircraft that can maintain a flight speed of 345 to 460 miles per hour, but is still capable of super-efficient hovering while carrying at least 4,800 pounds of cargo.

The X-Plane is scheduled for three phases of development between October 2013 and February 2018.

Satellites that can provide on-demand imaging

DARPA wants military personnel to be able to call upon satellites to provide up-to-date imagery for tactical pre-mission planning. Its Space Enabled Effects For Military Engagements (SeeMe) program would allow soldiers to look at updated satellite imagery on-demand.

The SeeMe program would consist of a number of satellites that travel in a set band across the earth. This satellite constellation would provide precise imagery for any location within the pre-set band within a 90-minute time frame, making the program a potentially invaluable asset for military intelligence.

The constellation satellites would fly for 60-90 days before burning up in the atmosphere, leaving behind no space debris behind.

A precise lightweight laser weapon

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DARPA

The Pentagon is constantly attempting to reduce combat risk in urban situations where less-precise conventional weapons may cause unintended collateral damage.

DARPA’s Excalibur program is aimed at allaying these fears through light-weight laser weapon. Eventually, DARPA hopes the program will produce a 100-kilowatt laser that could be used in precision strikes against ground and air targets.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Airman completes 75 miles of Tough Mudder, comes in 2nd

An Air Force officer who only began obstacle course racing in 2016, ran right straight into her 75-mile goal, placing second place in one of the toughest obstacle course races.

“I honestly never considered placing, it didn’t seem like something that was within reach for me this year,” said Capt. Erin Rost, 319th Recruiting Squadron operations flight commander.

In a “bracket breaking moment,” Rost earned 2nd place out of 231 females and ranked 18 of more than 1,206 participants in her first World’s Toughest Mudder held November 2018.


The Air Force Academy graduate entered the obstacle course race noon on Nov. 10, 2018, a frigid winter day in Fairburn, Georgia. She would repeat the grueling five-mile lap with more than 20 mud-drenched obstacles until she met her goal of 75 miles.

“On lap 11, it was still dark,” she said. “My body was literally freezing and for the first time I had tears in my eyes. In that moment, a poem that helped me endure military training and other tough times in my life showed up to help me once again.”

She would repeat Invictus by William Erest Henley in her mind throughout the pitch black, sometimes lonely, night.

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Capt. Erin Rost, 319th Recruiting Squadron operations flight commander, poses for a photo at the finish line of the World’s Toughest Mudder, Nov. 10-11, 2018.

Her experience and spirits were uplifted when she started hearing from others that she had a chance to place.

“Around 8:30 a.m., after completing lap 12 (60 miles), I found out I had a chance for third place but the fourth place woman was close behind,” said Rost. “This motivated me to run faster the next two laps.”

Her cheering fans, mother and boyfriend, encouraged her to move faster because no one knew how close the competitor behind her was. They reminded her of her goals, kept her fed and hydrated and pushed her forward.

“When I returned to the pit after completing 65 miles, I was informed that I had improved my lap time by nearly 30 minutes,” said Rost. “There was about three hours remaining and I was two laps away from my goal and based on my lap splits, I knew it was possible.”

Next, a reporter from a podcast seeking to interview her said that if she completed this final lap she would earn second place because the current second place female concluded her race earlier that morning with 14 laps.

“I realized at this point, as long as I finished this final lap before 1:30 p.m., I would get second place,” she said. “It was very surreal. It brings me back to military training when you are really challenged but overcome. When you push yourself and succeed, there is nothing like the reminder of that to renew your spirit.”

At this point in the race, she recalled she had been awake for 36 hours, racing nonstop for 25 of those hours and worried about being alone through the last obstacles. She witnessed others lose motivation during the course of the night, when temperatures dropped to 20 degrees. Obstacles started freezing and other competitors began feeling waterlogged.

Wingmen were essential in the final stretch more than ever. Some of the obstacles are designed to require teamwork. One of them required competitors to physically step on another person to reach the top of a wall, without another person there it was nearly impossible to get up the wall.

“You meet interesting people along the way,” Rost said. “It is great to be around such an encouraging and supportive community.”

Along the path she met an Army green beret and a financial analyst who takes time away from Hollywood-like celebrity engagements to run. These interactions kept the race interesting and passed the time.

She completed the race at 1:10 p.m. in second place, with 20 minutes to spare feeling like a true “bracket buster.”

#136 – Erin Rost – 2018 World’s Toughest Mudder 2nd Place Female

www.youtube.com

“While I’m super proud of how I placed, I am even more proud of getting my goal mileage because it reminds me why I love OCR so much,” Rost said. “It is not about what place you get, it is about pushing yourself to and beyond your limits. It is about doing your best each race and believing that with hard work, a good attitude and a little bit of grit, anything is possible.”

Resiliency, physical strength, mental stamina, persistence, and willpower are things serious runners all have in common, according to Rost.

“This is also specifically what my military brethren do,” she said. “We encourage others that they can do it too. If you work hard and have a good attitude, you can do anything.”

Her squadron witnesses this in her performance daily.

“Capt. Rost sets the example for everyone around her,” said Chief Master Sgt. Cory Frommer, 319th RCS superintendent. “You can’t help but to be inspired by her tenacity and winning mindset. She doesn’t know how to quit. When other members of the squadron or base community work with her, they are left no choice but to push their own boundaries just to try to keep up with her. As for the recruiting mission, her incredible performance demonstrates what the Air Force is all about, and when people see airmen like her, they are inspired to be a part of that world.”

She believes her limited experience in the OCR community coupled with her recent winning of the coveted World’s Toughest Mudder silver bib, are a good role model for those who may wonder if they could do a run like that.

“I played competitive soccer growing up and for a period of time in college before getting into bodybuilding,” said Rost. “OCRs combine a little bit of everything, as opposed to being great at just one thing such as running, lifting, grip strength, etc. You have to be good at a little bit of everything.”

What she reminds her audience is that her simple daily personal goals brought her to this point.

“I knew improving my running endurance would need to be a focus area,” said Rost. “I set mileage goals every week and started finding local half, full and ultramarathons. I also started rock climbing to improve my grip strength, participated in crossfit to improve muscular endurance and boxed as a crosstraining workout. As the race got closer, I worked up to three workouts a day.”

Her goal was to do at least one race a month while slowly increasing her monthly mileage goals. After completing her first Tough Mudder in 2016, she did four more in 2017. In 2018 she expanded her OCR experience to include two Spartan races, two half marathons, a full marathon and two ultramarathons.

“I wanted to start seriously competing in OCRs and figured if I can do one of the most difficult OCR formats in the world, than I can do anything,” said Rost.

Editor’s note: Tune in to CBS at 12:30 p.m. on Dec. 15 to watch the full coverage of the World’s Toughest Mudder Capt. Rost participated in.

This article originally appeared on the United States Air Force. Follow @usairforce on Twitter.

Articles

The Army experimented with bio weapons on conscientious objectors

Ask around Fort Detrick and you’ll probably learn more about Operation Whitecoat — an Army program that exposed human participants to infectious pathogens. But outside the base, the experiments are virtually unheard of, according to Randy Larsen, a former Air Force pilot turned documentary filmmaker.


“I found there are very few people who have ever heard of Whitecoat, which is why there’s a good reason to tell the story,” Larsen said.

Larsen himself became fascinated with the program — which recruited more than 2,300 noncombatant conscientious objectors from the Seventh-day Adventist Church — after a friend suggested it as a documentary topic.

What he anticipated would be a five- to six-month hobby project eventually turned into a 20-month film production, culminating in an eponymously named documentary on the operation and its volunteers.

Operation Whitecoat (2017) Trailer from Randall Larsen on Vimeo.

 

The film “Operation Whitecoat” made its debut in Frederick on May 30 at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, the agency that conducted the tests from 1954 to 1973. But Larsen will also hold two public screenings on June 3 at the Frederick Seventh-day Adventist Church on Jefferson Pike.

Gary Swanson and Ken Jones, two Whitecoat participants who attended the screening on May 30, said outreach to the church was especially important. Despite the huge role played by Seventh-day Adventists, knowledge of the project has faded among church members.

“It’s very little-known, I’ve found that to be true,” Swanson said. “Even in the church, it doesn’t come up very often.”

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United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases

A lasting legacy

Despite the relative obscurity of Operation Whitecoat, civilians around the country — and around the world — can thank the program for the development of several widely used vaccines. Tularemia, yellow fever, and hepatitis vaccines were all tested on participants in the project, Larsen said.

“That’s why I found it interesting to see that the yellow fever outbreak was a front-page story today,” he added at the May 30 screening, pointing out a USA Today article on the spread of the disease in Brazil. “Because the vaccine was developed here at Fort Detrick with the Whitecoat program.”

To research for his documentary, Larsen interviewed participants all across the country and dug deep into the documentation of the program.

Letters between military and church leaders indicate that the Army considered the program a viable alternative to battlefield service for church members, whose religious beliefs urge against combat.

“The general consensus is that it is just not morally responsible to bear arms,” said Swanson, who later worked in publishing for the Adventist church. “That the taking of life is not the business of a Christian.”

There is, however, strong scriptural support for serving one’s country in a peaceful capacity, he added. As a result, most church members served the U.S. either as medics or as Whitecoat volunteers once the program became an option.

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Operation Whitecoat consent letter

While both Swanson and Jones participated in the program, their experiences were slightly different. Jones, 83, served from 1954 to 1955 and then worked as a corpsman for the program until September 1958.

As one of the inaugural volunteers, he distinctly remembers walking across a catwalk at Fort Detrick — then called Camp Detrick — to the “Eight Ball,” where participants were exposed to the pathogens.

He and the other men in his group were dosed with Q fever, a relatively common bacterial disease with flu-like symptoms. None of them got sick, Jones said, but the experiment did help researchers adjust the dose for future volunteers.

“It’s like this — when you start your car, you take little steps to get there,” he explained. “You don’t take one big step and just jump in. Well, the amount they gave us, they knew we handled it OK. Now, the next three that came up, they did get sick.”

Swanson served later, and was part of an even lesser-known aspect of the program — one that benefited scientists at NASA. He reported for service in October 1969, and was part of an experiment to determine how well astronauts could function should they became sick while on a mission.

In his study, teams of five men were exposed to sandfly fever and then trained on a simulated spacecraft console. Eight hours a day, three days a week, the teams pretended to operate the consoles, even while some of them developed nausea and fevers of up to 104 degrees.

“You had to keep calibrated and you had to keep it set,” Swanson said. “When you saw it going wrong, you had to figure out how to fix it. And we were told it was part of a study underwritten by NASA to anticipate astronauts’ ability to operate sophisticated equipment if they were sick.”

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Operation Whitecoat helped improve the use of gas masks and biohazard suits

Beyond the benefit to NASA, USAMRIID still attributes the development of essential safety gear — including gas masks and biohazard suits — to Operation Whitecoat.

The program even played a small role in the Camp David Accords. In 1977, an outbreak of Rift Valley fever in Egypt killed thousands of residents and animals. The vaccine for the disease — tested by Whitecoat volunteers — was a major bargaining chip for both Egypt and Israel when leaders met with President Jimmy Carter in 1978.

“That was such a little-known piece of history that the people at USAMRIID didn’t even know about it,” Larsen said.

Ethical implications

Larsen and researchers at USAMRIID also tout the program as the harbinger of stringent standards for human testing. Operation Whitecoat set a precedent for informed consent — the policy of clearly educating human test subjects on the details and risks of research experiments — and served as a foil to other horrific experiments conducting on unknowing subjects, including the Tuskegee syphilis experiment and human radiation exposure by the Atomic Energy Commission.

“It’s a story that all Americans can be proud of,” Larsen said. “The fact is, Operation Whitecoat is one of the highest standards of ethical research out there.”

One of the most striking details of the project, he added, is that military leaders and researchers at USAMRIID exposed themselves to the pathogens before subjecting their participants. Both Jones and Swanson said that it was strong leadership that prevented real fear among the volunteers.

“I’ve thought about this many times, and I can’t give you an answer on what went through my mind as I went across that catwalk,” Jones said. “I was 21 years old. We felt like we had good leadership. We trusted what they were telling us, and we followed.”

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