With sequestration and troop drawdowns forcing the military to record low levels of readiness, the requirements for joining the U.S. armed forces have become more stringent, and the pool of eligible recruits has become smaller. Out of the 34 million 17-24 year olds in the U.S. only 1 percent are both eligible and inclined to pursue military service, according to the Defense Department.
Here are the nine most common reasons civilians are disqualified from service:
The ground-based version of the AIM-120 Sparrow air-to-air missile just got a major upgrade as Raytheon announced that it has successfully tested a new engine and enhanced fire distribution center that gives the system a much longer range and higher maximum altitude, according to a company press release.
Used by militaries around the world, the system is designed to bring down helicopters, jets, and even cruise missiles. Basically, it’s an oozlefinch with an “If it flies, it dies” mentality.
The National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile System uses the AIM-120 air-to-air missile, also known as the Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile, but fires it from tubes parked on the ground. The new version of the missile borrows the engine from the Navy’s Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile.
This new engine, combined with better flight control, allows the AMRAAM-Extended Range to engage targets at a 50 percent longer range and 70 percent higher altitude than it used to be capable of. The exact range of AMRAAM-ER has not been released, but the Evolved Sea Sparrow can engage targets at over 30 miles away when fired from a ship.
Already popular in NATO, the NASAMS is designed for low and medium-altitude air defense. Norway was the first adopter and helped develop it under the name “Norwegian Advanced Surface to Air Missile System,” and the system is deployed by U.S. forces and five other countries.
The U.S. uses NASAMS to defend Washington D.C. from aerial attack and typically deploys Patriots, Stingers, and other air defense assets elsewhere in the world.
One of the more surprising animals that humans have managed to militarize are dolphins.
In 1960, the US Navy first began its studies on dolphins. At first, the studies were limited to testing how dolphins were so hydrodynamic, with efforts on applying the findings toward improving torpedo performance.
However, by 1967 the US Navy Marine Mammal Program evolved into a major project. The program, which is still going, began training dolphins for mine-hunting and force-protection missions.
In the case of mine hunting, dolphins were trained to locate underwater mines and release buoys over their location, allowing the Navy to safely clear the weapons.
During the Iraq War in 2003, such dolphin-led operations led to the clearance of over 100 mines in the port of Umm Qasr. Additionally, dolphins have been trained to guard harbors against enemy divers. When a diver approached, the dolphin was trained to bump a buoy device onto the person’s back, which would drag them to the surface.
“These animals are released almost daily untethered into the open ocean, and since the program began, only a few animals have not returned,” according to the Navy.
The US is not alone in its militarization of dolphins. Russia also has its own militarized dolphin divisions, which it seized from Ukraine during the annexation of Crimea in 2014. The dolphin division was first created by the Soviet Union.
And in the beginning of March Russia announced that it was looking to buy five more dolphins for the unit — two females and three males.
After Russia’s seizure of the dolphins in March 2014, RIA Novosti wrote that the “dolphins are trained to patrol open water and attack or attach buoys to items of military interest, such as mines on the sea floor or combat scuba divers trained to slip past enemy security perimeters, known as frogmen.”
The SDF is comprised of mostly Kurdish fighters and Syrian militia groups and is the primary partner for the U.S. effort against ISIS. This new offensive has taken them within 40 miles of the ISIS stronghold. U.S. and coalition aircraft are supporting the effort with airstrikes in and around Raqqa.
SDF’s strongest component, the Kurdish YPG (People’s Protection Units), will not advance on the capital city itself. The Kurdish leadership believes Raqqa should be captured by Arab militias. Thirty thousand SDF troops moved to retake vast areas northwest of the city, but the assault on Raqqa will have to wait until the Arab militias have the strength.
BBC Middle East Correspondent Quentin Sommerville reports ISIS fighters are literally digging in for Raqqa’s defense. Earthworks and defensive structures are going up around the area. There are even rumors of an extensive network of tunnels.
Fox News reported a state of emergency was declared by ISIS in Raqqa. The city’s defenders number anywhere from three to five thousand fighters. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov says Russian forces are ready to coordinate with the SDF and the U.S. coalition to provide any support necessary to capture the ISIS capital.
SDF forces celebrated a string of victories against ISIS in recent months, including liberating a number of villages and 4,000 square miles of territory under ISIS control, capturing militants, and cutting off ISIS supply lines into neighboring Iraq. Raqqa fell to ISIS in 2013, the first Syrian provincial capital to fall to forces in open rebellion against the Asad regime in Damascus.
When a person joins the military, they make a commitment to their country, service, and their brothers- and sisters-in-arms. Some, however, go beyond expectations and, determined that the lives of others are more important than their own, decide to go full beast-mode.
Prior to enlisting in the United States Marine Corps in 1941, Albert Ireland served in the Royal Canadian Air Force.
After earning numerous purple hearts during World War II, Ireland was recalled to active service for the Korean War. He was unable to go back to combat service, however, due to having earned more than two purple hearts.
He then decided to go to Washington D.C. and talk to General Clifton B. Cates, the Commandant of the Marine Corps at the time, to try and convince him to let him go anyway. The commandant bought him a plane ticket to San Francisco, en route to Korea.
In 1953, Ireland received an honorable discharge after being wounded in the leg, hand, neck, and face. Overall, he earned 9 purple hearts on top of two bronze stars, along with campaign and service medals with eight bronze stars.
Marines typically won’t take, “no,” for an answer. (Image via Zero Foxtrot Instagram)
4. Duane Edgar Dewey
In 1951, Duane joined the Marines on an indefinite enlistment (the duration of the war plus an additional 6 months). He was a machine gun squad leader with Company E, 2nd battalion, 5th Marine regiment in Korea when he was wounded by a grenade that fell into his position.
While being treated by a corpsman, another enemy grenade landed near him. Quickly, he tossed the corpsman away before jumping on the grenade. When it exploded, Dewey was lifted off the ground, suffering shrapnel wounds all over the lower part of his body. He survived.
Dewey went on to be the first person awarded the Medal of Honor by President Dwight D. Eisenhower for his actions.
Duane Edgar Dewey is still alive today. (Image via Zero Foxtrot Instagram)
3. Staff Sergeant Nicky Daniel Bacon
During the Vietnam War, Nicky Daniel Bacon took command when his platoon leader was wounded. He then led his men to destroy enemy emplacements. But, when another platoon lost their leader, he took on command yet again.
During that attack alone, Staff Sergeant Bacon was personally credited with killing 4 enemy soldiers and an antitank gun.
2. Havildar Lachhiman Gurung
As a rifleman with the 8th Gurkha Rifles as part of the British Indian Army during World War II, Havildar Gurung was serving in Burma when over 200 Japanese soldiers attacked his position.
After returning two grenades, Gurung caught a third one, which exploded. It cost him his hand and an eye and inflicted serious damage to the rest of his arm, his torso, and his right leg. Despite this, he continued to fight for 4 hours with just one arm, ending 31 Japanese soldiers before reinforcements arrived.
At age 27, Havildar Gurung stood at 4’11” and was 100% certified badass. (Image via Zero Foxtrot Instagram)
During World War II, Susan Travers, an Englishwoman, trained as a nurse before becoming an ambulance driver for the French Red Cross. While serving in Northern Africa with the French Foreign Legion, her unit was attacked by Rommel’s Afrika Corps, but she refused to be evacuated with all the other female personnel. She led 2,500 troops to safety, breaking through enemy lines and driving through machine gun fire and even over a landmine.
After the war, Travers applied to become an official member of the French Foreign Legion without specifying her sex. Her application was approved by an officer who admired her and she became the first ever female to officially serve as part of the French Foreign Legion.
She would go on to serve in Vietnam during the First Indochina War and, in 2000, published her autobiography, Tomorrow to Be Brave.
Calling in air support just got faster, easier, and more precise. DARPA’s new Kinetic Integrated Low-cost Software Integrated Tactical Combat Handheld system, otherwise known as KILSWITCH, enables troops to call in air strikes from an off-the-shelf Android tablet. The system could also be used with small UAVs to provide ground troops with greater situational awareness of friendly forces and enemy locations. KILSWITCH is part of the Persistent Close Air Support program, designed to bring fires on target within six minutes of an observer requesting them.
The US Coast Guard rescued a Navy pilot whose jet crashed in the Atlantic Ocean off the Florida Keys.
Lt. Russ Chilcoat said in a news release the pilot ejected and was rescued in early August with no apparent injuries. The crash happened some 20 miles (32 kilometers) southeast of Key West. The pilot, whose name wasn’t released, was the only person on board.
A US Navy Northrop F-5N Tiger II assigned to Fighter Squadron Composite 111 “Sun Downers” launches from Boca Chica Field of Naval Air Station Key West, Florida. (US Navy photo)
Chilcoat says parts of the F-5N were recovered but the rest is under about 3,000 feet (900 meters) of water. He says the Navy has no immediate plans to recover the aircraft.
The pilot is attached to Fighter Composite Squadron 111, the “Sun Downers,” based at Naval Air Station Key West. Officials say the jet was conducting training operations and the cause of the crash wasn’t immediately known.
Today’s most sophisticated aircraft are the things of science fiction.
In a few years, drones that can fit in the palm of a person’s hand and 117-foot-wingspan planes that can launch satellites will both be a reality.
At the same time, drone and advanced-fighter technologies will spread beyond the US and Europe, and countries including China, Russia, and Iran may have highly advanced aerial capabilities.
Here’s our look at the most game-changing aircraft of the past few years — and the next few to come.
F-35 Lightning II
The F-35 may cost as much as $1.5 trillionover its lifetime. But it’s also supposed to be the most fearsome military aircraft ever built, a plane that can dogfight, provide close air support, and carry out bombing runs, all with stealth capabilities, advanced maneuverability, and the ability to take off and land on aircraft carriers.
It hasn’t quite worked out that way so far, and problems with everything from the plane’s software system to its engines has both delayed its deployment and made its costs spiral upward. And it isn’t nearly as effective at close air support as existing platforms such as the A-10.
The predecessor to Lockheed Martin’s F-35 Lightning II is the single-seat, twin-engine F-22 Raptor, currently the world’s most advanced combat-ready jet.
The US is the sole operator of the F-22 thanks to a federal law that prohibits the jet from being exported. Lockheed Martin built 195 of the planes before the last one was delivered to the US Air Force in May 2012.
Russia’s Su-50, also known under the prototype name of the T-50 PAK-FA, is the Kremlin’s fifth-generation fighter and its response to the F-35.
Though still at the prototype stage, Moscow thinks the Su-50 will ultimately be able tooutperform the F-35 on key metrics such as speed and maneuverability. The stealth capabilities of the Su-50, however, are believed to be below those of both the F-22 and F-35.
The Kremlin plans to introduce the Su-50 into service by 2016. Once the plane is combat-ready, it will serve as a base model for the construction of further variants intended for export. India is already codesigning an Su-50 variant with Russia, and Iran and South Korea are possible candidates to buy future models of the plane.
The Chengdu J-20 is China’s second fifth-generation fighter in development and a potential game-changer in East Asia.
The J-20 bears striking resemblance to the F-35 because of Chinese reverse-engineering and extensive theft of F-35 data. Once completed, the J-20 is assumed to have stealth capability along with the range needed to reach targets within Japan, the Philippines, and Vietnam from mainland China.
As of January, Beijing had developed six functional prototypes of the aircraft, with new prototypes being released at an increasingly quick pace. The final iteration of the aircraft is expected to be released and combat-ready sometime around 2018.
The Eurofighter Typhoon is a twin-engine multirole fighter that was originally developed to be the primary combat aircraft of Europe and NATO.
The Typhoon is Europe’s largest military program and was founded by four core nations: Germany, Spain, Italy, and the UK.
In 2011 the Eurofighter was deployed to its first combat mission, to enforce a no-fly zone over Libya during the NATO bombing campaign in the country. There are 402 Eurofighter jets designed for the Austrian, Italian, German, Spanish, UK, Omani, and Saudi Air Forces.
The Eurofighter has been called Europe’s version of America’s most expensive weapons system, the F-35 Lightning II.
MH-X Silent Hawk
The military’s secret MH-X Silent Hawk program was publicly disclosed only after one of the helicopters crashed during the SEAL raid that killed Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, Pakistan, on May 1, 2011.
It is unclear when the US Army Operations Security’s top-secret helicopter program began and how many of these stealthy aircraft are in service.
While the Silent Hawk appears to be a highly modified version of the widely known UH-60 Black Hawk, there are no unclassified details about this secret helicopter.
The Navy’s X-47B is a strike-fighter-size unmanned aircraft with the potential to change aerial warfare.
Northrop Grumman’s drone is capable of aerial refueling, 360-degree rolls, and offensive weapons deployment. It carried out the first autonomous aerial refueling in aviation history and has taken off from and landed on an aircraft carrier.
It cruises at half the speed of sound and has a wingspan of 62 feet — as well as a range of at least 2,400 miles, more than twice that of the Reaper drone.
The Stratolaunch will be one of the most astounding planes ever built.
Now in its development stage, the plane will serve as a midair launch platform capable of carrying satellites into orbit. The aircraft, whose 117-foot wingspan will be the largest of any plane ever built, will fly to an altitude of 30,000 feet and then angle upward before blasting its payload into space.
The plane would be a relatively cheap and reusable launch vehicle for satellites and would revolutionize how hardware and possibly even human beings can access orbital space. It could fly as early as 2016.
Here’s a video of how it’ll all work:
The Air Force’s secretive space drone returned from a two-year mission in October. It wasn’t clear exactly what the X-37B was doing up there, but it wasrelaunched on May 20 for another extended stint in orbit.
With the X-37B, the Air Force has a reusable satellite that it can control and call back to earth. The ability to re-equip an orbital platform for specific mission types gives the US military unprecedented flexibility in how it can use outer space — and its long periods in orbit and reusability are impressive engineering feats.
These tiny Darpa-developed surveillance drones could become future military staples. Small enough to evade enemy detection or fire, the Nano Hummingbird can fit in the palm of your hand and relay images and intelligence from the air.
Most surveillance drones, such as the RQ-4 Global Hawk, are large aircraft that fly at altitudes of 60,000 feet. Aircraft such as the Nano Hummingbird, which is light, stealthy, and easy to launch, could be a routine part of a future combat soldier’s arsenal.
Watch it in action here:
Iran has been under sanctions and a Western arms embargo for much of the past 30 years, something that has denied Tehran the chance to obtain high-quality European or American arms. That’s about to change, with the signing of a nuclear agreement that will lift all international arms import limitations within the next decade.
Iran’s drones aren’t game changers because of their high quality but because of what they represent: Even countries chafing under international pressure can develop their own drone technology with enough patience and technological expertise. The Fotros and Ababil-3 suggest that an era of widespread drone proliferation is just around the corner.
President Donald Trump said he plans to increase the number of US troops in Afghanistan in a speech August 21 and continue the longest-running war in American history.
Currently, there are about 9,800 US troops stationed in Afghanistan and more than 26,000 contractors.
The Pentagon defines a defense contractor as “any individual, firm, corporation, partnership, or other legal non-federal entity that enters into a contract directly with the DOD to furnish services, supplies, or construction.”
US defense contractors versus US troops deployed to Afghanistan in last decade. Image by Skye Gould via Business Insider.
This also includes intelligence analysis, translation and interpretation, as well as private-security contractors — who began taking over roles once held by uniformed soldiers after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.
The defense industry has also made incredible profits since 2001, including nearly $100 billion in Afghanistan since 2007.
The graphic above compares the number of US troops and defense contractors in Afghanistan over the last decade.
Mattis referenced Henry Kissinger in his statement, quoting the former secretary of state as saying: we are “faced with two problems: first, how to reduce regional chaos; second, how to create a coherent world order based on agreed-upon principles that are necessary for the operation of the entire system.”
Mattis noted that Kissinger’s generation learned they must prevent “hostile states” from achieving dominance.
“And they understood that while there is no way to guarantee peace, the surest way to prevent war is to be prepared to win one,” said Mattis.
In order to achieve that goal, Mattis said President Donald Trump has requested a $639.1 billion “topline” for the fiscal year 2018 budget, $64.6 billion of which will go towards Overseas Contingency Operations.
The budget request is $52 billion over the cap placed by the National Defense Budget Control Act, passed and signed into law by President Barack Obama in 2011.
The Fiscal Year 2018 budget has five priorities: “restoring and improving warfighter readiness, increasing capacity and lethality, reforming how the Department does business, keeping faith with Service members and their families, and supporting Overseas Contingency Operations.”
Readiness has been a major priority for the armed forces. Military leaders have warned that each of their respective services are suffering from readiness shortfalls, mostly due to a lack of funding. The Army is low on manpower, the Navy is struggling to maintain ships and aircraft, the Marine Corps is undermanned, under-trained and poorly equipped, and the Air Force is small and aging, the vice Joint Chiefs of Staff warned the committee in February.
Mattis noted that sustained warfare abroad has contributed to the readiness problem. Combined with a lack of funding, the forces have been stretched to their limits.
“I am keenly aware members of this committee understand the responsibility each of us has to ensuring our military is ready to fight today and in the future,” said Mattis’s statement. “I need your help to inform your fellow members of Congress about the reality facing our military — and the need for Congress as a whole to pass a budget on time.”
Content created by The Daily Caller News Foundation is available without charge to any eligible news publisher that can provide a large audience. For licensing opportunities of our original content, please contact email@example.com.
Being the new guy in a squad is just something every soldier has to go through. They work hard, prove themselves, and earn a little respect and rank as fast as they can. Until they do, junior soldiers put up with these 6 problems.
1. Crappy roommates
All enlisted soldiers start off with a random roommate in the barracks, but they get more say on roommates the longer they’re in the unit. If they get tight with the barracks noncommissioned officer, they may even have their own room.
The new guy to a unit has cultivated no relationships, and so can’t influence anyone. They are going to be roomed with whichever member of the squad is most disliked by the barracks NCO. This member is usually dirty, undisciplined, and annoying. Also, since the roommate is senior to the new guy, he can order the new guy around. Have fun in your new home, boot!
2. Literally everyone is in charge of them
There’s an Army saying, “If there are two privates on a hill, one of them is in charge.” It’s meant to illustrate that soldiers are never without leadership, but it also means that even the young soldiers in the squad can give the younger guy a legal order. And what about the youngest guy?
Well, he’s in charge of nothing and every squad member is in charge of him. If he screws up, he’s hearing about it from everyone in the squad.
3. No respect
Taking orders from everyone is bad enough, but the junior soldier doesn’t get any respect even though they do all the work. It makes sense. The squad has endured combat together. They’ve cleared buildings, fought for ground, and buried friends as a unit. Then this new guy comes along and wants to be part of the group? Nope. Gotta earn your camaraderie, noob.
4. Most dangerous positions and assignments
The junior-most members will get plenty of chances to prove themselves, since they’re often in the most dangerous positions. For the infantry, he’s likely to be the first one in the door on a clearing mission, and he’s more likely to be assigned as gunner in a vehicle on a movement.
For the POGs, the junior squad member is the one most likely to get tasked out on a mission. Commander needs someone to pull a guard shift at the gate? It’s not like Pvt. Snuffy has anything going on. Gunny wants a volunteer for convoy security? Pfc. Schmuckatelli better grab his gear.
5. They’re the canaries in the coal mine
The most dangerous time to be the junior member is when there is a chemical or biological attack. The military dons protective gear when it’s hit with biological or chemical agents, and troops don’t take the gear off until their best detection kits say the threat is gone. But, the kits can’t detect everything and someone has to take the first unprotected breath.
And that’s where the junior soldier comes in. The unit takes away their weapon and has them unmask for a short period. If they don’t show signs of trouble, the rest of the unit unmasks. If the soldier does start reacting to a chemical compound, the unit keeps their masks on and sends the junior guy to a hospital. Get well soon!
6. Long hours and low pay
No one in the military is getting rich, and just about everyone works long hours. But, the junior guys usually work the same hours for even less pay than everyone else. A new E-2 in the military makes $1734 a month. They work an eight-hour day plus do an hour of mandatory physical training every morning. So, not counting any assignments, overnight guard duty, or additional physical training, an E-2 makes about $8.67 an hour before taxes.
They may get great benefits and education incentives, but the paychecks can be depressing.
The American experience in Vietnam was a long and painful one for the nation. For those against the war, it appeared to be a meat grinder for draftees, unfairly targeting the poor, the uneducated, and minorities. For those in favor of the war and those who served in the military at the time, the American public and media were (and still are) misled about what happened during the war and so feel betrayed by many at home (Jane Fonda is the enduring symbol of the cultural schism).
Jane Fonda (via Dutch National Archives)
The facts not in dispute by either side are just as harrowing: Over 20 years, more than 58,000 Americans were killed in Vietnam and more than 150,000 wounded, not to mention the emotional toll the war took on American culture. The war ended the Presidency of Lyndon Johnson and left a lasting impression on Richard Nixon’s. It was the backbone to the most tumultuous period in American history since before the Civil War one century prior.
The other facts are not so clear. We are at the fifty year mark for the start of the war, so soon more and more government documents from the period will be declassified. We will learn a great deal about this time in American history. Right now, however, the misinformation, cover-ups, and confusion about Vietnam still pervade our national consciousness. Right now, we can only look back at the war and take stock of what we know was real and what was B.S. from day one.
1. The U.S. first got involved in Vietnam in 1954
Sort of. The official line is the United States sent only supplies and advisors before 1965. Looking back before the fall of French Indochina, Vietnam’s colonial name, the end of World War II saw a briefly independent Democratic Republic of Vietnam under President Ho Chi Minh. Minh even gave a nod to the visiting American OSS agents by paraphrasing the Declaration of Independence in his own Independence speech: “All men are created equal. The Creator has given us certain inviolable rights, the right to life, the right to be free, and the right to achieve happiness.”
Almost as soon as Minh realized the Western allies were going to restore French rule, Chinese advisors and Soviet equipment began to flow to North Vietnamese guerillas. After the Vietnamese Gen. Võ Nguyên Giáp handed the French their asses at Dien Bien Phu, the French left and Vietnam would be split in two. In 1954, an insurgency sprang up, but was quelled by the government of the new South Vietnam, led by Ngô Dình Diem. Unfortunately Diem was as dictatorial as Ho Chi Minh and as Catholic as the Spanish Inquisition.
2. U.S. and South Vietnamese Presidents were shot in 1963, and this would be significant
They were also both Catholic, but that’s where the similarities end. This also may be the death of coherent containment strategy in the country. Diem was shot in an armored personnel carrier on November 2, 1963. At the time, there were 16,000 U.S. advisors in Vietnam. President Kennedy was said to be shocked at the news. Then-Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara said he “had never seen the President more upset.” Both men knew the U.S. government was responsible “to some degree.”
The Pentagon Papers leak explicitly stated the U.S. clandestinely maintained contact with Diem over-throwers and the U.S. government gave the generals in Vietnam the green light to start planning a coup. Twenty days later, Kennedy would himself be shot in the back of a vehicle.
3. Kennedy wanted to get the U.S. military out of Vietnam but couldn’t figure out how
President Kennedy was a fervent believer in the policy of containment and believed in the Domino Theory, but not so much as to wage unending war with the Communists in Vietnam. During his Presidency, he and McNamara actively pursued a way to leave Vietnam, while still maintaining their commitment to a free South through financial support and training. Kennedy wanted all U.S. personnel out by the end of 1965.
Many people refute this theory using a quote Kennedy gave Walter Cronkite: “These people who say we ought to withdraw from Vietnam are totally wrong, because if we withdrew from Vietnam, the communists would control… all of Southeast Asia… then India, Burma would be next.” The only problem with this quote is while Kennedy was in office, there was no open warfare in Vietnam and U.S. involvement was limited. Their strategy was to bring the North to heel using strategic bombing and limited ground attacks. Recordings between Kennedy and McNamara were since released to attest to their efforts in getting out of Vietnam.
4. The Gulf of Tonkin Incident only sort of happened.
The Gulf of Tonkin Incident is the catalyst for the escalation of American action in Vietnam. It refers to two incidents in August 1964. On August 2, the destroyer USS Maddox was shelled by NVA torpedo boats. The Maddoxresponded by firing over 280 rounds in return. There was no official response from the Johnson Administration.
The pressure mounted however, with members of the military, both in and out of uniform, implying Johnson was a coward. On August 4th the second incident was said to have happened, but Secretary McNamara admitted in Errol Morris’ 2003 documentary The Fog of War the second attack never occurred. The Pentagon Papers even implied the Maddox fired first in an effort to keep the Communists a certain distance away.
The resulting Gulf of Tonkin resolution passed by the U.S. Congress allowed Johnson to deploy conventional (ground) U.S. troops and operate in a state of open but undeclared war against North Vietnam.
5. The U.S. didn’t lose the war on the ground
But we didn’t win every battle, either. The North Vietnamese Army (NVA) can’t be faulted for lack of dedication, patriotism, or leadership. NVA Gen. Võ Nguyên Giáp orchestrated successive defeats of the Japanese and the French. Even Death had a hard time finishing off Giáp – he lived to 102. It also can’t be faulted for a lack of organization. The NVA was a professional fighting force, organized under Soviet guidance. The VC were forced to use inferior equipment because the Chinese would swipe the good weapons and replace them with cheap Chinese knockoffs.
Outmanned and outgunned, the NVA was beaten by U.S. troops in nearly every major battle. The myth of the U.S. never losing a single battle inexplicably persists (unless you were stationed at Fire Support Base Ripcord, outnumbered 10-to-1 for 23 days in 1970). Not as improbable, no U.S. unit ever surrendered in Vietnam.
Despite initial victories, the infamous Tet Offensive was a major defeat for the Communists. It resulted in the death of some 45,000 NVA troops and the decimation of Viet Cong elements in South Vietnam. The Tet Offensive succeeded on only one front: the media (more on that later). Saigon fell on April 30, 1975, two years after the Paris Peace Accords and after the American military left Vietnam. The last American troops departed in their entirety on March 29, 1973.
6. The M-16 sucked so hard, U.S. troops preferred the AK-47
Gen. William Westmoreland, Commander of U.S. Forces in Vietnam, replaced the M-14 rifle with the new M-16 as the standard issue infantry rifle in the middle of 1966. There was no fanfare. The first generation of the M-16 rifle was an awful mess with a tendency to experience a “failure to extract” jam in the middle of a firefight. They sucked so hard, the Army was hammered by Congress in 1967 for delivering such a terrible rifle system and then failing to properly train troops to use it.
So what to do? Pick up the enemy’s weapon. We already talked about why the AK-47 is so widely used. It’s better than dying for lack of shooting back. In Vietnam, an underground market developed among troops who didn’t trust their M-16. “Q: Why are you carrying that rifle, Gunny?” “A: Because it works.”
7. The Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) — aka South Vietnam — wasn’t all bad
The ARVN troops get mixed reviews from the Americans who fought with them. Most judge ARVN units on their leadership, which was definitely mixed. In the end, the South Vietnamese ran out of fuel, ammunition and other supplies because of a lack of support from the U.S. Congress in 1975, while the North Vietnamese were very well supplied by China and the Soviet Union.
8. The North Vietnamese Air Force was actually a pretty worthy adversary
Vietnam-era pilot and Hanoi Hilton POW was once asked on a Reddit AMA how good the NVAF fighter pilots were. His response: “The got me, didn’t they?” This is anecdotal evidence, but more exists. The Navy’s Top Gun strike fighter tactics school was founded to respond to the loss rate of 1 aircraft for every thousand sorties during Operation Rolling Thunder, a lot considering the combined 1.8 million sorties flown over Vietnam.
At war’s end, the top ace in North Vietnam had nine kills, compared to the U.S.’ top ace, who had six. The U.S. could only boast three aces (ace status requires at least five air-to-air kills), while the NVAF boasted 17.
9. It wasn’t only the U.S. and South Vietnam
Australia and New Zealand also fought in Vietnam, but the largest contingent of anti-Communist forces came from South Korea. Korean President Syngman Rhee wanted to send troops to help the Vietnamese as early as 1954. More than 300,000 Korean troops would fight in Vietnam, inflicting more than 41,000 casualties, while massacring almost 5,000 Vietnamese civilians.
10. The draft didn’t unfairly target the working class or minorities
The demographics of troops deployed to Vietnam were close to a reflection of the demographics of the U.S. at the time. 88.4% of troops deployed to Vietnam were Caucasian, 10.6% were African-American and 1% were of other races. The 1970 census estimated the African-American population of the U.S. at 11%.
A wounded soldier is helped to a waiting helicopter by two of his comrades near Near Tay Ninh, South Vietnam, November 1966 (Stars Stripes)
76% of those who served did come from working-class backgrounds but this was a time when most troops had at least a high school education, compared with enlisted men of wars past, among whom only half held a high school diploma. Wealthier families could enroll in college for a draft deferement, but even so …
11. A majority of the men who fought in Vietnam weren’t drafted — they volunteered
More than three-quarters of the men who fought in Vietnam volunteered to join the military. Of the roughly 8.7 million troops who served in the military between 1965 and 1973, only 1.8 million were drafted. 2.7 million of those in the military fought in Vietnam at this time. Only 25% of that 2.7 million were drafted and only 30% of the combat deaths in the war were draftees.
12. The war was not exclusively a jungle war
At the start, the South and allied forces were fighting Viet Cong insurgents in the jungle, but as time wore on, the battles became more set piece, complete with tanks and artillery. For example in 1972, the NVA Eastertide Offensive was the largest land movement since the Chinese entered the Korean War, crossing the Yalu river. The Eastertide Offensive was a planned, coordinated three-pronged invasion of the South, consisting of 12 divisions.
13. The Vietnam War was only sort of lost in the American media
The most famous quote attributed to President Johnson (aside from “Frank, are you trying to F–k me?” and “I do not seek and will not accept the nomination of my party for another term as President”) is “If I’ve lost Walter Cronkite, I’ve lost Middle America.” Whether or not he actually said this is only important to fans of Walter Cronkite, who was then considered the most trusted man in America.
Until 1968, much of the American media was widely a mouthpiece for American policy and not one newspaper suggested disengagement from Vietnam. But things would get worse. A 1965 Gallup poll showed only 28% of Americans were against the war, 37% in 1967, 50% in 1968, 58% in 1969, In 1971, Gallup stopped asking. The 1968 Tet Offensive is what led Cronkite to see the war as “unwinnable.” Veterans of Vietnam widely attribute the success of the Tet Offensive as a success only in the media. The media they’re referring to is Walter Cronkite.
Yet, it’s not that cut and dry. A 1986 analysis of the media and Vietnam found the reporting of the Tet Offensive actually rallied American media to the Vietnam War effort. The Tet Offensive was a defining moment in public trust of the government reports on the progress of the war. Americans had no idea the VC were capable of infiltrating allied installations the way they did and many were unaware of the extent of the brutality and tactics of the war, but the Tet Offensive allowed American television cameras to record the bombing of cities and the execution of prisoners of war.
The tide of public opinion turned “for complex social and political reasons” and the media began to reflect that, according to the Los Angeles Times. “In short, the media did not lead the swing in public opinion; they followed it.”
New York Times White House correspondent Tom Wicker remarked: “We had not yet been taught to question the President.” Maybe the turn in public opinion had more to do with fatigue surrounding almost a decade of body counts and draft lotteries.
14. Richard Nixon ended the war — but invaded Cambodia first
President Nixon’s “Vietnamization” strategy involved a gradual drawdown of U.S. troops, and a bolstering of ARVN forces with modern equipment, technology, and the training to use it. It also involved plans to help garner support for the Saigon government in the provinces and strengthen the government’s political positions.
In 1970, he authorized incursions into Cambodia and massive bombings of Cambodia and Laos to keep pressure on the North while Vietnamization began. This prompted massive public protests in the United States. As U.S. troop numbers dwindled (69,000 in 1972), NVA attacks like the 1972 Eastertide Offensive showed the overall weakness of ARVN troops.
15. Vietnam Veterans are not mostly crazy, homeless, drug users
There is no difference in drug usage between Vietnam Veterans and non-Vietnam Veterans of the same age group. 97% of Vietnam vets hold honorable discharges and 85% of Vietnam Veterans made successful transitions to civilian life. The unemployment rate for Vietnam vets was only 4.8% in 1987, compared to the 6.2% rate for the rest of America.
16. The Communists do not still hold POW/MIAs
Many cite “evader signals’ on satellite imagery of Vietnam as evidence of the continued imprisonment of American prisoners of war (POW). If POWs were still held in 1973, it is very likely they are long since dead. Those hypothetical withheld POWs who did not die of old age would never be repatriated to the U.S.
More than 600 MIA suddenly found in Hanoi would be very difficult to explain. The fact is, North Vietnam had no reason to continue to hold American captives. The Americans would not return and the North violated the Paris Accords anyway.
17. Today, most Vietnamese people see the U.S. very favorably