The wreckage of the USS Conestoga, a Navy tug that also served as a minesweeper and fleet tender in World War I, has been found off the coast of California 95 years after the ship was lost with all hands. It was found 2,000 miles from where it was presumed lost.
Conestoga was laid down in 1903 in Maryland and launched in Nov. 1904 as a civilian tug. In 1917, the Navy purchased and commissioned the ship for minesweeping duties.
During the war Conestoga served on the East Coast, transporting supplies and guns, escorting convoys to the Caribbean, and taking part in patrols. She carried a 3-inch deck gun to use against enemy ships.
After the war she continued to serve in the Atlantic until she received orders to American Samoa. Unfortunately, the ship would never make it there.
Conestoga underwent alterations and a refit in 1920 in preparation for the long trip to American Samoa, then headed for Mare Island, arriving Feb. 17, 1921 after a stop in San Diego. At Mare Island Conestoga received final repairs and supplies and headed for Pearl Harbor on Mar. 25, the final scheduled stop en route to American Samoa.
This was the last time the ship was seen afloat. It was scheduled to arrive Apr. 5 at Pearl Harbor and was erroneously reported to have arrived Apr. 6. On Apr. 26, it was clear that something had happened to the ship and the Navy launched a search.
After the Navy gave up Conestoga as lost, a mystery hung over the fate of the ship for nearly 95 years. But an Aug. 2009 coastal survey by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration spotted a wrecked ship near Southeast Farallon Island. The Farallon Islands form an island chain 30 miles from the San Francisco Coast.
In Sep. 2014, a remotely operated vehicle was used to photograph the site and an Oct. 2015 survey collected more information. Some details of the wreck, including the lack of a 3-inch gun on the deck, made researchers think it wasn’t the Conestoga. When a researcher went through the footage carefully, he spotted the mount for the weapon and a hole where it probably fell through the deck.
The USS Conestoga‘s 3-inch, 50-caliber deck gun. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph
The mount, combined with distinct features of the engines and boilers, finally allowed the Navy to say with certainty that they had found their lost ship, 2,000 miles from the original search area.
The ship’s wreckage and the remains of the 56 sailors lost when it sank are now protected by the Sunken Military Craft Act. Officials have said they have no plans to recover the wreckage or otherwise disturb it.
Over the course of fighting America’s most recent wars, troops faced the threat of improvised explosive devices, or IEDs on a daily basis. More than a decade later, the U.S. Army is building a new crash test dummy to better understand the physical risks these crude but deadly weapons pose to soldiers downrange.
In addition to registering the location of impacts and stress during tests, the new design will be coupled with an extensive database to help predict how likely an individual is to suffer a serious injury. The ground combat branch has dubbed the program the Warrior Injury Assessment Manikin, or WIAMan. As anyone in the military probably already knows, “WIA” is also the acronym for “wounded in action.”
The Army hopes that the new device will help provide more information on just what happens when a bomb goes off underneath a vehicle. “There is a wide range of test conditions and environment parameters” and “no two sets of system responses are the same,” engineers and scientists working on WIAMan explained in a briefing in June.
The individuals from the Army’s Research, Development and Engineering Command and the Army Research Laboratory sat down with defense contractors to talk about the state of the program. The service wants to start looking for a company to make WIAMan dummies by the end of 2017.
By that point, IEDs were a well-known threat. In Iraq and Afghanistan, huge bombs routinely ripped through unarmored Humvees and better-protected vehicles. The Pentagon had responded by rushing mine-resistant trucks, bomb detectors and jammers and other gear to troops in the field. Though this equipment saved lives, it did not eliminate serious injuries.
During Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom, explosives had accounted for more than three quarters of all military injuries, according to a study Dr. Narayan Yoganandan, Chairman of Biomedical Engineering in the Department of Neurosurgery and Professor of Biomedical Engineering at Marquette University, led and published in Clinical Biomechanics in 2013. Explosions underneath vehicles specifically were likely to cause severe damage to the pelvis, spinal column, legs and feet, Andrew Merkle, a principal professional staff member at Johns Hopkins’ Applied Physics Laboratory, and his colleagues explained in another 2013 piece.
At that time, Army researchers had to rely on modified auto industry manikin, called Hybrid III. The manufacturer, Humanetics, only intended the original dummy for testing head on collisions in commercial cars. On top of that, the design reflected an outdated 1970s body shape.
Instruments in this surrogate person only show damage and strain in broad areas and joints. To help engineers and scientists log potential injuries, the Army’s version only has five so-called “biofidelity response corridors,” or BRCs.
By comparison, WIAMan will have more than 800 BRCs. This means that instead of simply sensing impact on a section of chest or foot as a whole, the manikin would report dangerous forces on particular ribs or the soles or heel specifically.
The prototype dummy was structured around a 50th percentile male soldier. After the Pentagon removed the last restrictions preventing women serving in combat roles in December 2015, the full production run will have to include female body shapes.
Combined with an extensive and growing knowledge-base of injury data, WIAMan should not only be able to highlight possibly dangers but predict them, too. This means that when the Army considers a new tank or truck in the future, researchers might be able to gauge the likelihood of the drivers and occupants suffering specific injuries if they run over a roadside bomb.
And capturing more data from the dummy itself means engineers won’t have to try and cram secondary cameras or sensors inside armored vehicle compartments or truck cabs to gather additional significant information. These spaces are cramped to begin with and these sensitive systems are often damaged in testing.
A “blast test of a surrogate vehicle structure … provided realism,” another one of the June presentations noted. “However, it is costly, not repeatable and occupant response cannot be fully observed.”
Unfortunately, WIAMan alone won’t be able to fill all of the Army’s research gaps by itself. The manikin will not be able to test for a slew of effects beyond an underbody blast.
In its prototype form, the soldier stand-in cannot determine whether troops might be at risk from shrapnel or burns. In Iraq and Afghanistan, IEDs often set off fuel or ammunition in vehicles leading to serious burns.
In 2006, the Marine Corps notably banned leathernecks from wearing synthetic clothing, including popular Under Armour undershirts, because of their low melting points. The Corps found evidence that the garments could fuse to skin with horrific results in a fire.
More importantly, WIAMan will not be able to help gather badly needed information about the potential for traumatic brain injuries, commonly called TBIs. Concussions and other TBIs have been increasingly linked to long-term brain damage and increased risk of serious health conditions.
Since 2000, the Pentagon has diagnosed more than 340,000 active service members with various kinds of TBIs, according to statistics compiled by the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center. Medical professionals classified 5,000 of these cases as “penetrating,” instances where an actual object pierces the skull and physically hits the brain.
By far, the majority of the instances are “mild,” a synonym for concussions. However, research shows that people who suffer from multiple instances of these injuries suffer far from mild consequences.
While scientists are still studying the exact relationship between concussions and other health issues, there is significant correlation between the injuries and a condition known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy. Also seen in boxers and other professional athletes, this is a form of dementia characterized by declining memory, cognition and motor control and itself linked to depression, suicidal behavior, and aggressive outbursts.
American troops have already spent some 15 years in a state or near constant combat operations. Given the rise of new terrorist groups like Islamic State, the Pentagon’s high operational tempo seems unlikely to change in the near future.
In the meantime, soldiers and other service members will likely continue to suffer TBIs and other injuries from IEDs. Though not perfect, WIAMan will give scientists and engineers critical information to help protect our men and women in uniform.
President Donald Trump’s senior advisers said they have proposed sending additional troops to Afghanistan to weaken the Taliban in an effort to bring about negotiations.
In order to send the reinforcements, Trump must approve the recommendation by his senior military and foreign policy advisers aimed at breaking a military deadlock in the war that began in 2001, U.S. officials told The New York Times. The proposed additional troops would work together with a greater number of Afghan forces and operate more closely to the front lines.
The new strategy, which is supported by top Cabinet officials, would give the Pentagon the authority to set troop numbers in Afghanistan and to carry out airstrikes against Taliban militants.
U.S. officials told The Washington Post the new plan expands the U.S. military role in Afghanistan to stem an increasingly confident and resurgent Taliban to force it back to the negotiating table with the Afghan government.
The recommendation was created after a review of the 15-year war — America’s longest — conducted by the Department of Defense, the Department of State, U.S. intelligence agencies and other government agencies.
In Afghanistan, there are 13,000 international troops — 8,400 from the United States — assisting the Afghan security forces, mainly in training and advising roles, but U.S. troops also carry out counter-terrorism operations.
The proposed plan would send an additional 3,000 to 5,000 U.S. troops, including hundreds of Special Operations forces. The U.S. government would request NATO nations to send thousands of troops. The final number of how many U.S. troops would be sent depends on how many troops NATO allies are willing to send.
Trump is expected to make a decision before the May 25 NATO summit in Brussels.
The Taliban frequently launches attacks, generally targeting Afghan troops, international troops and government officials. In April, the Taliban launched an attack in which it killed more than 140 soldiers stationed at Camp Shaheen, which serves as a headquarters of the Afghan National Army.
President Donald Trump has tentatively decided to withdraw the estimated 2,000 U.S. troops in Syria once the last remnants of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria have been eliminated, the White House said April 4, 2018.
The White House statement gave no timeline for a pullout that has been opposed by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, but said, “We will continue to consult with our allies and friends regarding future plans.”
“The military mission to eradicate ISIS in Syria is coming to a rapid end, with ISIS being almost completely destroyed,” the statement said, adding the U.S.-led coalition remains “committed to eliminating the small ISIS presence in Syria that our forces have not already eradicated.”
However, once the mission to destroy ISIS is completed, the U.S. can focus on withdrawal, the statement said.
In the absence of the U.S. military, “We expect countries in the region and beyond, plus the United Nations, to work toward peace and ensure that ISIS never re-emerges,” it continued.
The White House issued the statement after Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats said on April 4, 2018, that Trump had reached a decision on whether to order Mattis to begin planning for withdrawal.
At a breakfast with defense reporters, Coats did not say what the decision was, but said it was reached after “all hands on deck” discussions between Trump and his national security team April 3, 2018, at the White House.
(Photo by Gage Skidmore)
Mattis, who has argued that the U.S. military needs to remain to provide security for recovery efforts, and the return of refugees, attended the discussions on the potential withdrawal, Pentagon officials said.
The withdrawal of U.S. forces after the defeat of ISIS would leave the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces to an uncertain fate.
With the backing of U.S. airpower and artillery, the mostly Kurdish SDF has driven ISIS from most of its strongholds in Syria, and in 2017, claimed the so-called ISIS capital of Raqqa after a lengthy siege.
However, the dominant force in the SDF is the People’s Protection Units, or YPG, a Kurdish militia that Turkey has labeled a terrorist group.
In January 2018, Turkish forces, and their Free Syrian Army proxies began “Operation Olive Branch” to drive the YPG from border areas. The Turkish offensive is now focused on the crossroads town of Manbij, where the U.S. maintains a military presence in support of the local Manbij Military Council.
At the end of March 2018, Special Operations Master Sgt. Jonathan Dunbar, 36, of Texas, and British Sgt. Matt Tonroe, 33, were killed by an improvised explosive device in Manbij while reportedly on a mission to capture or kill an ISIS operative.
On April 4, 2018, as the White House pondered withdrawal, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani were meeting in Ankara to coordinate their next steps in Syria’s seven-year-old civil war.
In a joint statement, the three presidents said they would oppose efforts to undermine the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whose ouster had once been a key goal of U.S. policy.
(Photo from Moscow Kremlin)
The three presidents said they are against “separatist agendas aimed at undermining the sovereignty, and territorial integrity of Syria,” a possible reference to U.S. opposition to Assad.
At the end of March 2018, Trump said he had lost patience with the costs to the U.S. in blood and treasure of involvement in the Middle East and wanted to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria “very soon.”
At a joint White House news conference on April 4, 2018, with the leaders of the Baltic states, Trump said, “I want to get out” of Syria.
“I want to bring our troops back home. I want to start rebuilding our nation,” he said. “It’s time. We were very successful against ISIS; we will be successful against anybody militarily. But sometimes it is time to come back home. And we are thinking about that very seriously.”
However, Trump appeared to leave open the possibility that U.S. troops would remain in Syria if others picked up the costs of their presence.
“We’ll be making a decision very quickly, in coordination with others in the area as to what we’ll do,” he said. “Saudi Arabia is very interested in our decision, and I said, ‘Well you know, you want us to stay, maybe you’re gonna have to pay.’ “
At the same time that Trump was speaking at the White House, Army Gen. Joseph Votel, commander of U.S. Central Command, was arguing for a continued U.S. military presence in Syria to defeat ISIS and provide security for recovery efforts.
“The hard part is in front of us,” Votel said at a U.S. Institute of Peace Forum at which representatives of the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development spoke of their ongoing efforts to stabilize areas liberated from ISIS.
Votel said U.S. troops in Syria had the mission of “consolidating our gains, getting people back into their homes, [and] addressing the long-term issues of reconstruction and other things that will have to be done. Of course, there is a military role in this, certainly in the stabilization phase.”
MARINE CORPS BASE QUANTICO, Va. — Marine lieutenants at The Basic School were the first to complete a new test that could eventually change the way officers are assigned to military occupational specialties.
The Marine Corps is no longer using a World War II-era General Classification Test new officers have been taking for decades. In its place is an aptitude test millions of civilians take every year during the hiring process for major corporations.
About 300 students at TBS were the first to take the Criteria Cognitive Aptitude Test, or CCAT, here this week. Data collected over the next several years could change how lieutenants are screened for special billets and placed into their career fields.
Before the test, the officers were told they were the first in line to help improve the Marine Corps’ MOS assignment process.
“The purpose of this test is to determine indicators of success within a MOS as it pertains to mental indicators,” a slide describing the test stated. “This test will likely aid in shaping the future of MOS assignments, assignment to career level education, and screening for special billets.”
The test includes 50 questions — a mix of verbal, math, logic and spatial-reasoning problems. Officers are asked to answer as many as possible in the allotted 15-minute test window.
The older test typically took officers more than two hours to complete. Since the schoolhouse has a packed curriculum, 2nd Lt. Issachar Beechner was relieved this one took a fraction of the time.
“You don’t get a lot of new things in the Marine Corps, so it’s good to be part of something new,” he told Military.com after completing it.
Beechner and 2nd Lt. Kelly Owen didn’t complete all 50 questions in the 15 minutes. Beecher got through 28 and Owen through 39.
That’s common when it comes to the CCAT, said Capt. Oludare Adeniji, an operations research analyst here at Quantico who helped lead the search for a replacement to the decades-old General Classification Test.
“That’s a part of how we get reliable scores,” Adeniji said.
A big flaw with the old test, he added, was that it was no longer providing the Marine Corps with useful data. Officers across the board were receiving high marks, but men and white officers tended to perform better than women and those in minority groups. That raised questions about possible biases on the outdated test.
“When we did a study this past summer, we saw that officers that are assessing over the last 10 years or so were all skewed to one side of that test,” Adeniji said. “What we’re trying to do with the CCAT is re-center it and have a proper distribution of scores.”
With the new test, the Marine Corps will not only collect about 10,000 officers’ scores, but will gather information on how those Marines perform in their career fields. Once they have about five years’ worth of data, they’ll examine possible connections between the test scores and MOS performance.
Analyzing that data is part of a Marine Corps-wide emphasis on talent management, Adeniji said.
“When you place an officer in a job that [they are] successful at and they feel that they’re good at it, it’s a retention tool,” he added. “They perform better, and the Marines are better off for it because they’ve been aligned in accordance with their capabilities.
“We’re trying to better understand the officer that comes through the door here and what they’re already good at so we can … say, ‘Hey, you show indicators that you’d be good within these MOSs.'”
Last year, the CCAT was given about 3 million times by civilian employers, Adeniji said. The Marine Corps looked at about a dozen different tests before selecting this one. The review to replace the General Classification Test took about four years.
Maj. Craig Thomas, a spokesman for Manpower and Reserve Affairs, said that TBS won’t change how it assigns officers to their MOSs for at least five years. Students at TBS can request a copy of their test results, but their scores won’t bar them from serving in specific fields.
Adeniji agreed. “The test is not directive,” he said. “… We’re not screening people out [of any MOSs]. We’re informing decision making.”
Owen joined the Marine Corps on a law contract, but she hopes to switch into the infantry. Beechner hopes to become a fixed-wing pilot and fly the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter or a KC-130 tanker.
Both compared the CCAT to other cognitive placement tests they took in college. Beechner said the test was like the multiple-choice Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery new recruits and officer candidates take before joining the Marine Corps.
The officers completed the web-based test on their own computers. It doesn’t require any studying or prep work since it’s meant to assess their general knowledge.
Owen said she’s glad to see the Marine Corps looking at ways to improve officers’ career placement.
“If you can place somebody in an MOS that will allow them to enjoy their career more, they’re more likely to stay,” she said.
For the terrorist group whose name translates to “Western Education is Forbidden,” Aisha Bakari Gombi’s name means getting schooled on the battlegrounds of sub-Saharan Africa.
“Boko Haram know me and fear me,” says Gombi.
Gombi’s title is now “Queen Hunter” for her prowess in fighting terrorist cells in the country. According to the Guardian’s Rosie Collyer, she commands men who communicate using sign language, animal sounds, and birdsong.
Her home as a youth is a town called Gombi, near Nigeria’s Sambisa Forest, which is now rife with Boko Haram extremists. This is a short drive from where 200 girls were kidnapped in 2014.
Gombi has been a member of the local hunter’s club since she was in her youth, taught to hunt by her grandfather.
“We could free them if the military would give us better weapons,” she told the Guardian as she eyed a double-barreled shotgun on her lap.
In the same forest where she once hunted antelope for food, she now hunts Boko Haram fighters for vengeance. Many other women in the village have since joined the hunt for terrorist fighters, many to avenge missing loved ones abducted by the group.
Many other women in the village have since joined the hunt for terrorist fighters, many to avenge missing loved ones abducted by the group. There are now 228 hunters in Gombi’s village who have been recruited by the government to help fight terrorists.
Aisha Bakari Gombi vows never to stop fighting Boko Haram until her village is free from their threat. The only thing holding her back is the resources required to go on the offensive.
“I’m waiting for a call authorizing me to go back to rescue those women and children from Daggu, but I don’t know if they will give us more arms,” she says.
The U.S. wields the world’s biggest, most powerful Navy, but recent developments in China and Russia’s missile inventory severely threaten the surface fleet with superior range and often velocity.
But the U.S. Navy and Lockheed Martin have a variety of solutions in the works to tip the scales in the United State’s favor by going hard on offense.
For years, the Navy has focused on a concept called “distributed lethality,” which calls for arming even the Navy’s smallest ships with powerful weapons that can hit targets hundreds of miles out.
Yet Russian and Chinese ships and missile forces already field long-range precision missiles that can hit U.S. ships before the forces are even close.
Additionally, both Russia and China are working on hypersonic weapons that could travel more than five times as fast as the speed of sound. These weapons would fly faster than current U.S. ships could hope to defend against.
Lockheed Martin’s Chris Mang, vice president of tactical missiles and combat maneuver systems, told reporters at its Arlington, Virginia, office that “defense is good,” but “offense is better.
“People don’t shoot back when they go away,” he said.
Mang said that promising new missiles like the Long Range Anti-Ship Missile for ships and planes could hit the field by 2020, which would bolster the Navy’s strategy of “see first, understand first, shoot first.”
The LRASM boasts a range of well over 200 nautical miles, a payload of 1,000 pounds, and the ability to strike at nearly the speed of sound.
An anti-ship missile LRASM in front of a F/A-18 E/F Super Hornet. (U.S. Navy)
It also has a huge advantage that neither Russia nor China have come close to cracking: naval aviation. Lockheed Martin officials said U.S. Navy F-18s and long-range B-1B bombers could carry the LRASM as early as next year.
While the U.S. has been surpassed in missile technology in some areas, the Navy still has a considerable edge in radar technology and command-and-control that can provide intelligence to ship captains faster than its adversaries.
As for the hypersonic weapons meant to redefine naval warfare, Mang said they’re still a long way out. (The U.S. Air Force and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency are working on their own versions, though.)
An artist’s concept of an X-51A hypersonic aircraft during flight. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
“How far do they go?” Mang said of the hypervelocity weapons. “They tend to be fuel-consumption-heavy and thermally limited, so they go really fast for a very short distance. If you can shoot them before they get in range of you, that is a tactic.”
The Navy continues to improve and spread its Aegis missile-defense capabilities so the long-range missiles Russia and China have can be knocked out and the short-range hypersonic missiles they’re developing can be out-ranged.
Though adversaries out-range the U.S. Navy on paper, the U.S. military has and will never be defeated by figures on paper.
Instead, the U.S. and Lockheed Martin seem to be pushing forward with proven technologies that would bolster the United State’s ability to protect its shores.
Veterans seldom live a life of regrets. We live well and we’ve made Uncle Sam proud. One of the few things that makes us wish we could do things differently, however, is a lack of photos from while we were still in.
This can happen for a variety of reasons. Maybe operations security prevented us from taking that awesome photo to use as our profile pic on Facebook. Or maybe we just didn’t have a camera handy to show our family exactly how we lived. Maybe we just didn’t like taking photos, but now we want the proof to back up our humble-brags.
Whatever the reason, those of us who are out still hold dear the handful of photos we took. If you’re still in, don’t make the same mistakes. Snap a few photos of these moments — if permitted, of course.
It’d be in poor form to laugh at a photo of some random troop during their most cringe-worthy “tacticool” moment… So, instead, I’ll upload my own for the world to mock. Enjoy a picture of my first day in-country.
(Photo of yours truly)
The boot AF photo
You don’t want to be pinned as the most boot guy in the unit because you borrowed two of your buddies’ M240-Bs just to take a picture of you rocking one in each arm. Everyone in the unit will call you a dumb*ss boot, but that same photo’s going to turn a lot of heads from civilians who don’t know any better.
The more outrageous the better. Who knows? Maybe the photo will help back up your “no sh*t, there I was” story that is 100%, totally not embellished.
Back in the day, this was comfy!
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Heidi Agostini)
Relaxing in the living conditions photo
Those who haven’t served will never really understand what you mean when you say that, for a while there, the only pillow you had to rest your head on at night was a pile of rocks under the Humvee. Nor can they really grasp that the only place you could handle your business was in porta-john/sauna for the duration of your deployment.
These photos will definitely come in handy when you’re trying to shoot down your civilian coworker that brags about how “hard” it was when they went camping for the weekend.
If your chain of command has an issue with it, just be sneaky.
(U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Connor Mendez)
Depending on your unit, taking photos while you’re outside the wire is either a slap on the wrist or a UCMJ-worthy offense. If you’re smart about it, however, you can still manage to grab a photo of you doing what you tell everyone you did.
Because you run the risk of getting NJPed over a single photo, it’s not recommended that you take it when you’re in the heat of things. That’s stupid — get back to the fight. But a quick photo of you while you’re patrolling through a bazaar shouldn’t be too much of an issue.
Especially when it you can point out the accompanying challenge coin that goes with the event.
(Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Jason A. Boyd)
You don’t need a photo of that random award ceremony where you almost passed out because you forgot that locking your knees was a bad thing, but you might want to look back on a photo of you being promoted or receiving an award. Those are proud moments you can hang on your wall years.
Even if it’s a minor award or your promotion from E-1 private to E-2 private, it’s worth remembering.
“That little ol’ sticks and stones? It means I wasn’t a POG.”
(U.S. Army photo by Spc. Paris Maxey)
Dress uniform photos
You can tell a lot about a troop’s career just by looking at their ribbon rack. If you know what each ribbon means or how they’re typically earned, you know everything about that person. There’s no better way to showcase your entire military career in one moment than the final moment you don your dress uniform.
The ribbons and medals themselves might not mean a whole lot, but the stories behind them do.
If you look extra careful, you can see me in the right-of-center.
(U.S. Army photo)
No one wants to get the squad together and take an obviously staged photo, but that picture will end up being, by far, the most valuable.
The sad reality is that some day, not everyone in the unit will be around to share stories. Having that one photo of you all together, happy, will mean the world to you later on.
If you’re still in and you’ve taken a few of these or if you’re out and you have a couple good ones, tell us! We’d love to see them.
When Ann Mills-Griffiths sent out her regular National League of POW/MIA Families newsletter in September 2018, she included an announcement that Navy Cmdr. James B. Mills, missing in Vietnam since 1966, had been recovered, his remains positively identified by the Pentagon.
She did not mention that he was her own brother.
“DPAA [Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency] announced on 8/24/18 that CDR James B. Mills, USNR, CA, was accounted for on 8/20/18,” Mills-Griffiths’ simple announcement read.
The newsletter said that the accounting for Mills and another MIA from Vietnam, Air Force Col. Richard A. Kibbey, “brings the number still missing from the Vietnam War down to 1,594.”
So why did Mills-Griffiths withhold that the latest identification was that of Jimmy, her older brother by just 11 months?
“It would’ve been wildly inappropriate,” she told Military.com in an interview.
In her role as head of a POW/MIA advocacy group, “I’ve never mentioned my brother’s case in any official capacity,” she said.
Fighting for all families
Given her position, in which she works closely with the government on recoveries and policy, Mills-Griffiths said she didn’t like to draw special attention to her brother’s case.
“The other part is we never expected to get my brother accounted for — ever,” she said.
At age 77, Mills-Griffiths said she had no plans to retire from her position at the League, where she currently serves as chairman, just because her brother has been found.
Ann Mills-Griffiths, CEO and Chairman of the Board of Directors for the National League of POW/MIA Families.
She acknowledges that she has been combative, and at times controversial, in pressing various administrations and defense secretaries over the years for a full accounting on the missing.
She has also become a lightning rod for other advocacy groups and what she calls the “nut fringe.”
She has been outspoken in accusing some groups of raising false hopes among the families that their loved ones would come back alive, if only the so-described appeasers and bureaucrats in government would get out of the way.
Mills-Griffiths once had a staff of seven. She now has just one staffer, but she dismissed any suggestion of stepping down as head of the League.
“Why would I do that just because of my brother? I have to keep [DPAA] on the right track,” she said. “I’m still trying to make sure DPAA is informed and going in the right direction.”
Her longevity with the issue has proven invaluable to the government in getting more cooperation from Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos, according to DPAA officials.
Despite Mills-Griffiths’ reticence to give her brother special attention in her official role, he still got a hero’s welcome back home. At California’s Bakersfield High School, where Mills lettered in three sports for the “Drillers” and was active in student government before graduating in 1958, a welcome home event in his honor featured current students.
They paraded on California Avenue in front of the school, sang the national anthem, waved flags and chanted “Once a Driller, Always a Driller,” Bakersfield.com reported.
“This is a very teachable moment, and the kids are embracing it big time,” said history instructor Ken Hooper.
“If he was part of my family, I would want to welcome him home,” senior Kareli Medina said. “He’s a Driller. We are his family.”
“That was amazing,” Mills-Griffiths said of the rally at the school where her late father, E.C. Mills, was once vice principal. “It was really something that they took that up and had that nice patriotic demonstration. Nicely done, guys.”
A “miracle” discovery
For 52 years, the rib bone of an American had been at the bottom of the South China Sea in shallow waters off the North Vietnamese coastal village of Quynh Phuong.
The rib had been there since Sept. 21, 1966, when a Navy F-4B Phantom from Fighter Squadron 21, flying off the carrier Coral Sea on an armed reconnaissance mission to North Vietnam, disappeared from radar without a “Mayday” or contact with other aircraft. The reasons for the disappearance are still unknown.
A U.S. Navy McDonnell F-4B-21-MC Phantom II (BuNo 152218) of Fighter Squadron VF-21 “Free Lancers” flying in Vietnam.
From 1993-2003, Defense Department teams conducted a total of 15 investigations in a fruitless effort to determine what had happened to the aircraft and where it went down.
Everything changed in 2006, when a fisherman from the village snagged something in his net. He pulled up what turned out to be part of a cockpit canopy.
Joint field activities by DPAA’s forensics and scuba teams resumed, including five underwater investigations, the agency said in a release. More parts of the aircraft were pulled up.
In 2011, the Air Force Life Science Equipment Laboratory, now part of DPAA, concluded that the aircraft was the one flown by pilot Capt. James Bauder, then 35, of La Canada, California, and his radar intercept officer, Mills — who would have been 78 on Aug. 31.
In 2017, the recovery teams found bone material. And in June 2018, DPAA determined through DNA analysis that the remains were those of Capt. Bauder.
The teams had found not a trace of Mills’ remains. Mills-Griffiths said the family had long ago accepted that Mills’ remains would never be found, but were grateful that the F-4B had been located and Bauder’s family had been notified.
“None of us ever had any of what folks would call ‘false hopes,'” she said. “What are the chances? It’s not like we knew he was on the ground, it’s not like anybody last saw him alive … Our chances of ever knowing anything specific were not high and we knew that all along.”
Mills-Griffiths said she learned earlier this year that divers were about to go down on the site again.
“If you don’t get it, that’s still the last time I want you to go there,” Mills-Griffiths said she told DPAA.
In June 2018, another DPAA excavation turned up new remains.
“It turned out to be a rib bone, and they were able to get a cut and take a DNA match quickly,” Mills-Griffiths said. “It was a virtual miracle.”
New headstone at Arlington
Cmdr. James Mills, a graduate of the University of California, Berkeley, joined the Navy through the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps. His eyesight wasn’t good enough to become a pilot under the standards of the time, and so he became a backseat Radar Intercept Officer on Phantoms, Mills-Griffiths said.
He was a lieutenant junior grade when his plane went missing on his second tour off Vietnam.
Navy Cmdr. James B. Mills.
He flew off the carrier Midway on his first tour. He did not have a spouse or children.
Mills-Griffiths said her brother had volunteered to return “so that other radar officers who had wives and kids wouldn’t have to go back.”
“He was not an optimist” about the war, as were so many others who served at the time, she said. “He believed in what he was doing, even though he didn’t believe in the way the war was being run.”
Mills-Griffiths said she can’t remember how many times she’s been to Vietnam and the region.
“I stopped counting at 32,” she said.
In that time, the Vietnamese officials she first knew as junior officers and diplomats have come into leadership positions, she said.
Her brother already has a place at Arlington National Cemetery. The headstone over an empty grave for James B. Mills simply reads “In Memory.”
DPAA officials said that Mills’ name also is listed on the National Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.
“A rosette will be placed next to his name to indicate he has been accounted for,” DPAA said.
Mills-Griffiths said a ceremony for the burial of her brother’s remains will be held at Arlington on June 24 2019. The headstone will be replaced with a traditional one listing his name, rank, date of birth and date of death on Sept. 21, 1966.
National POW/MIA Recognition Day will be observed on Friday, Sept. 21, 2018.
This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.
The United States and Russia have agreed on a time and place for nuclear arms negotiations this month and invited China, President Donald Trump’s arms negotiator says.
“Today agreed with the Russian Deputy Foreign Minister [Sergei] Ryabkov on time and place for nuclear arms negotiations in June,” U.S. Special Envoy for Arms Control Marshall Billingslea wrote on Twitter on June 8.
“China also invited. Will China show and negotiate in good faith?” he added, without providing further details.
There were no immediate comments from Russian officials.
Earlier, Bloomberg quoted an unidentified U.S. State Department official as saying that Ryabkov and Billingslea would meet in Vienna on June 22.
The official didn’t rule out that the United States may be willing to extend the New Start nuclear-weapons treaty, if Russia “commits to three-way arms control with China and helps to bring a resistant Beijing to the table,” according to Bloomberg.
New START, the last major arms control treaty between the United States and Russia, is scheduled to expire in February 2021.
The accord caps the number of nuclear warheads and so-called delivery systems held by the two countries.
While Moscow has pushed for a five-year extension, Washington has balked, saying it wants the deal to be broadened to include China.
China, whose nuclear arsenal is a fraction of the size of Moscow’s and Washington’s, has said it was not interested in participating in such talks.
The Trump administration has pulled out of major international treaties, prompting warnings of an increased possibility of an arms race or accidental military confrontations.
Last month, Washington gave notice on withdrawing from the 35-nation Open Skies accord, which allows unarmed surveillance flights over member countries, due to what U.S. officials said were Russia’s violations.
The United States also cited Russian violations when it exited from of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty with Russia.
Moscow has denied the U.S. accusations and said the United States was seeking to undermine international security.
The F-15 is an amazing aircraft that was designed to go head-to-head with the Soviet’s MiG-25 and was the top dog for years, most notably during Desert Storm where American and Saudi Eagles took it to the Iraqis in a big way.
The F-15 has endured because its design was years ahead of its time, and a great data point behind that fact is the time Israeli pilot Zivi Nedivi landed his jet with only one wing. Nedivi had one of his wings sheared off in a midair collision with an A-4 Skyhawk during a training event. Nedivi’s Eagle went into a rapid roll by the crash and he told his navigator to prepare the eject.
Nedivi turned on his afterburners in an attempt to stabilize the jet. The move worked. After his aircraft stabilized, he decided to attempt to land at a base 10 miles away. Because of the fuel coming from the damaged fuselage, neither he nor his wingman knew that the F-15 was missing a wing.
Hear the rest of this amazing story from Nedivi himself in this video:
In the pre-dawn darkness of December 11, 1917, thirteen American soldiers died together at the same moment, hanged in a mass execution on gallows that were immediately torn back down to lumber so other soldiers wouldn’t see them. If you serve in the military today, your life is better because of that morning, and because of the debate that followed. Samuel Ansell left the Army nearly a hundred years ago, and he might save your life one day.
The men who died on December 11 were black privates and NCOs, infantrymen who served together under white officers in the segregated 24th Infantry Regiment. Earlier that year, in the spring of 1917, they had been sent to Texas to guard army facilities as the United States went to war in Europe. Posted outside Houston, the men of the 24th collided with Jim Crow laws and the social customs that went with them. By mid-August, arguments were nearly turning into fights, and a white laborer on Camp Logan stabbed a black civilian to death in the payroll line.
On August 23, two Houston police officers saw a group of black teenagers shooting craps on a city street, and tried to arrest them for illegal gambling. The teenagers ran, and the police chased them, bursting into homes in an African-American neighborhood. A black woman named Sara Travers complained, and a pair of white policemen dragged her outside, half-dressed, to arrest her. Watching white police rough up a black woman, a soldier from the 3/24 in the city on a pass stepped forward and told them to stop. They beat him and took him to jail. Soon after, an NCO from the 2/24 approached the officers and demanded an explanation for the beating and the arrest. At that point, Officer Lee Sparks pulled his revolver out and began to beat Cpl. Charlies Baltimore over the head with it – then fired at his back as he ran away, before catching up to him and hauling him away to jail, too.
It was the moment when the arguments ended and the fighting began. Back at Camp Logan, a group of about 100 soldiers stormed an ammunition tent, loaded rifles, and went into town to find the police officers who had beaten and shot at their fellow infantrymen. They found them. At the end of a running gun battle, nineteen people were dead: Fifteen of them white, including police officers, and four black soldiers.
The courts-martial that followed were a joke, mass trials meant to placate infuriated Texas politicians. Sixty-three men were tried before the first of three courts, with single witnesses casually implicating dozens of defendants and men being convicted on the strength of testimony that had flatly misidentified them in court. For their defense, they were represented by an infantry officer with no legal training. On November 29, returning guilty verdicts by the box lot, the court sentenced 13 defendants to death. Facing local pressure, the convening authority, Maj. Gen. John Rickman, approved the verdicts and scheduled the executions – on his own authority, without seeking approval from the Army or the War Department.
The 13 men were simultaneously hanged on December 11 at 7:17 a.m. local time — one minute before sunrise — in the presence of U.S. Army officers and one local official, County Sheriff John Tobin.
It was the event that kicked off the debate about military justice during World War I: American soldiers were being killed by their own army without any kind of legal review or approval by national authorities.
Incredibly, the War Department issued a general order forbidding local commanders to put soldiers to death before the Judge Advocate General and the president had a chance to review their convictions – an obvious expectation that was only imposed for the first time in the second decade of the 20th century. Imagine serving in an army that could put you in front of the firing squad or put a noose around your neck a few days after a shoddy trial, with no one checking to make sure you hadn’t just been railroaded. That was a possible feature of military experience for the first century and a half of our history.
The War Department order was just in time. While the court-martial in Texas was delivering its sentences, drumhead courts-martial at the front in France were sentencing four other privates to death. Jeff Cook and Forest Sebastian had fallen asleep on guard duty on the front line, slumped forward against the trenches, while Olon Ledoyen and Stanley Fishback refused an order to drill. All four had even less of a trial than the soldiers of the 24th Infantry. Ledoyen and Fishback were represented in their defense by an infantry lieutenant who was pulled from the line for the job. Shrugging, he told them both to just plead guilty and hope for the best. All four trials took somewhere in the neighborhood of a few minutes, with little to no testimony, argument, or deliberation.
This is where our contemporary military justice system was born. In Washington, the Army had two top legal officers. The Judge Advocate General, Maj. Gen. Enoch Crowder, was temporarily assigned to other wartime duties, so Brig. Gen. Samuel Ansell was the acting JAG; both thought of themselves as the Army’s top legal officer. The two men had completely different reactions to the trials in Texas and France, and a totally different view of the way courts-martial were supposed to work. Their argument – the “Ansell-Crowder dispute” – kicked off a full century of debate.
To Crowder, the purpose of a court-martial was discipline and good military order, and the results of a trial could only merit objections from army lawyers if blatant unfairness screamed from the record of the proceedings. Commanders needed near-absolute latitude to deliver the punishments inflicted by courts, and the JAG office had little to no reason to interfere. If the army’s lawyers objected to the death sentences in France, Crowder warned, Pershing would believe that his authority had been undermined in a critical matter involving his command.
But to Ansell, courts-martial had to be courts. They needed standards of evidence and reasonable rules about due process, and the outcome of a military trial could become illegitimate when courts broke rules. The acting JAG and the circle of reformers around him tore into the records of the courts-martial in France – finding, for example, that Cook and Sebastian had gone four days with almost no sleep at all, but their courts-martial had taken no notice of those extenuating circumstances in delivering death sentences. “These cases were not well tried,” Ansell wrote.
President Woodrow Wilson agreed with Ansell and pardoned all four men. Sebastian died in combat soon afterward, fighting with courage, and Wilson told War Department officials that he was glad to have given a soldier a chance to redeem himself.
Then the war ended, and the argument got serious. Ansell presented a long report to Congress, detailing a series of proposals for changes in the Articles of War, the pre-UCMJ law that governed the army. He especially wanted to see the law adopt some form of mandatory post-conviction legal review, creating an appellate authority that had the direct power to overturn bad convictions. But Crowder eased him out of the office, arranging a job for Ansell at a law firm before telling him that he was done in the army. As Congress prepared to vote on Ansell’s proposed reforms, Crowder – back at his regular duties as the army JAG – gave his congressional allies a set of more modest changes. In an amendment to the pending legislation, they swapped out Ansell’s reforms for Crowder’s, and the law passed.
Even as Crowder won, though, Ansell had forced a more serious set of reforms on the army than his adversaries had wanted to see. Among the changes to the laws governing the army in 1920, Congress created boards of review for the first time. A retired JAG officer, Lawrence J. Morris, calls those boards “the first step toward a formal appellate process.” Another change required courts-martial to reach unanimous agreement to impose the death penalty, where the previous Articles of War had only required a two-thirds majority vote to put a soldier to death.
Ansell began the long effort to make courts-martial into true courts, giving soldiers some degree of due process protection. And he planted the seeds for all of the debates that have followed. After World War II, when Congress and the newly created Department of Defense decided to pursue the more serious reforms that led to the creation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, the person who led the effort was a law school professor, Edmund Morgan – who had spent World War I in uniform, working for Ansell in the office of the Judge Advocate General.
Injustice led to justice. Your legal rights before the military justice system today – including your right to a trial that isn’t tainted by unlawful command influence, your right to be represented by a lawyer, and your right to appeal serious convictions to real military appellate courts – were born in a field outside Houston in 1917. Arguing over the death of soldiers, Samuel Ansell and the generation of army lawyers who served alongside him began to make military justice a far better system for everyone who followed. They were patriots who served their country with honor and left it a better place.
Chris Bray is the author of “Court-Martial: How Military Justice Has Shaped America from the Revolution to 9/11 and Beyond,” published last month by W.W. Norton.