The Air Force has been holding out on us. Over 50 years ago they developed a functional robot that stood over 26 feet high, could carry 2,000 pound loads, and punched right through concrete walls.
So why, 50 years later, does warfare not look like this?
Besides the obvious answer (the Air Force hates fun), it’s because the “Beetle” was designed for just a few missions, all of which were eliminated before it was completed.
The 85-ton robot was ordered by the Air Force to provide a maintenance capability for their nuclear-powered bombers. The Beetle would have been used to change out nuclear materials, payloads, and irradiated parts on the bombers in situations where a normal mechanic or ordnance worker would be irradiated.
The test report also notes the high level of maintenance required to keep the robot working, something a 1962 Popular Mechanics article also highlighted. The system was prone to leaks and short circuits, among other issues.
After testing, the Air Force allowed the Beetle and one of its support vehicles to be transferred to the Atomic Energy Commission and NASA to aid with a nuclear rocket program. But, that program was also canceled as scientists found better ways of creating chemical propellants for rockets and missiles.
Before seven of the Navy’s carrier-variant F-35 Joint Strike Fighters embarked aboard the carrier USS George Washington for a third and final round of developmental testing, they completed a required ashore training period, practicing landings at Choctaw Naval Outlying Field near Pensacola, Florida.
The landings went well — maybe a little too well.
“They were landing in the same spot on the runway every time, tearing up where the hook touches down,” Vice Adm. Mike Shoemaker, head of Naval Air Forces, told an audience at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C., on Thursday. “So we quickly realized, we needed to either fix the runway or adjust, put some variants in the system. So that’s how precise this new system is.”
The new system in question is called Delta Flight Path, a built-in F-35C technology that controls glide slope and minimizes the number of variables pilots must monitor as they complete arrested carrier landings. A parallel system known as MAGIC CARPET, short for Maritime Augmented Guidance with Integrated Controls for Carrier Approach and Recovery Precision Enabling Technologies, is being developed for use with the Navy’s F/A-18 E/F Super Hornets and EA-18G Growlers. Together, these systems may allow carriers to operate with fewer tankers, leaving more room for other aircraft, Shoemaker said.
Military.com reported on the implications of this new landing technology from the carrier George Washington earlier this week, as the first operational pilot-instructors with Strike Fighter Squadron 101, out of Oceana, Virginia, began daytime carrier qualifications on the aircraft. On Thursday, Shoemaker had an update on the ongoing carrier tests.
Of about 100 F-35C arrested landings were completed on the carrier, he said, 80 percent engaged the No. 3 wire, meaning the aircraft had touched down at the ideal spot. As of Monday, there had been zero so-called bolters, when the aircraft misses an arresting wire and must circle the carrier for another attempt.
“I think that’s going to give us the ability to look at the way we work up and expand the number of sorties. I think it will change the way we operate around the ship … in terms of the number of tankers you have to have up, daytime and nighttime,” he said. “I think that will give us a lot of flexibility in the air wing in the way we use those strike fighters.”
Tankers, or in-air refueling aircraft, must be ready when aircraft make arrested landings in case they run low on fuel during landing attempts. Fewer bolters, therefore, means a reduced tanker requirement.
“Right now, we configure maybe six to eight tankers aboard the ship,” Shoemaker said. “I don’t think we need … that many. That will give us flexibility on our strike fighter numbers, increase the Growler numbers, which I know we’re going to do, and probably E-2D [Advanced Hawkeye carrier-launched radar aircraft] as well.”
The F-35C’s last developmental testing phase is set to wrap up Aug. 23. MAGIC CARPET is expected to be introduced to the fleet in 2019, officials have said.
The US Marine Corps wants to add another title in front of some of its officers’ ranks: Doctor.
The service is establishing two pilot programs to offer qualified majors through lieutenant colonels with a doctorate-level education on the Corps’ dime, as long as they agree to stay in the service for an additional six years.
The program’s goal is to develop a “cohort of strategic thinkers and technical leaders capable of applying substantive knowledge, directing original research, and leveraging relationships with industry and elements of national security … to achieve the innovative thinking desired by the Marine Corps,” according to the announcement August 3.
“Uniformed doctorates provide the Marine Corps deployable, highly-skilled manpower in support of senior leader decision-making as well as helping generate national, defense, and service strategies in an increasingly complex world.”
The pilot will likely be competitive, since only four officers will ultimately be picked; two will be required to pursue a doctorate in strategic affairs, while two others will be required to attend a doctoral program with a technical focus.
Applicants will be required to already have a masters degree, or currently be pursuing one if they are applying for the technical doctorate.
The Corps wants officers to get technical degrees in operations research, modeling virtual environments and simulation (MOVES), information sciences, or computer science, the announcement says. Strategy degrees should be geared toward national security, military history, public policy, political science, government, or some other related field.
Applications are being accepted until the end of August 2017.
The Army is reinstating a program to provide its personnel a temporary pay bump for deployments longer than nine months.
Sgt. Maj. of the Army Michael Grinston announced the change over the weekend, calling the move a way to ease the burden on personnel as the Army continues to work on ways to “create more predictable deployment cycles.”
Some 180,000 Army active-duty, National Guard, and reserve personnel remain mobilized or forward-deployed, according to Army officials. Known as “hardship duty pay-tempo,” the new benefit will dole out up to $495 a month for personnel whose deployments have been extended past nine months.
Grinston, who was sworn in as the 16th sergeant major of the Army in August 2019, announced the change over the weekend on both Twitter and Instagram, reflecting an ongoing effort by the Army’s most senior enlisted member to improve morale and leadership by reaching out to troops over social media platforms.
As part of his outreach effort, Grinston held a Thanksgiving town hall meeting with a cross-section of personnel from the Army’s Air Defense Artillery branch to discuss issues related to the Army’s operational tempo. Deployment length was one of the hot topics.
“One of the major problems was deployments regularly being extended past the original 9 months,” Grinston tweeted on Sunday, describing the outcome of the Thanksgiving meeting.
While the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq now require a fraction of the manpower they once did, Army personnel are still deployed to those theaters as well as in myriad other locations worldwide — not only to fight terrorism, but to deter America’s near-peer adversaries of China and Russia in ways reminiscent of the Cold War.
In addition to additional counterterrorism operations in Africa and Syria, Army troops also frequently rotate in and around Eastern Europe in training exercises and deployments to deter Russian aggression. Army personnel are also in Ukraine, continuing a training mission that dates back to 2015 — one year after Russia invaded. That worldwide presence puts on a strain on Army personnel and their families, especially with the added burden of the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to law, service branch secretaries can authorize supplemental hardship duty pay when a mobilization or deployment “requires the member to perform duties in an operational environment for periods that exceed rotation norms.”
“This doesn’t give you time back with your family, but I hope this shows that Army leaders are LISTENING, and your service makes a difference,” Grinston tweeted on Sunday, adding: “I told you People First meant aligning time and money to help Soldiers. We have to get this right. More details coming soon.”
The military has very talented photographers in the ranks, and they constantly attempt to capture what life as a service member is like during training and at war. Here are the best military photos of the week:
A C-130 Hercules from the 36th Airlift Squadron conducts a night flight mission over Yokota Air Base, Japan, May 11, 2016. The C-130 provides tactical airlift worldwide. Its flexible design allows it to operate in an austere environment.
Airmen transport simulated patients to a MC-130J Commando II at Eglin Range, Fla., May 4, 2016, during exercise Emerald Warrior 16. Emerald Warrior is a U.S. Special Operations Command-sponsored mission rehearsal exercise during which joint special operations forces train to respond to real and emerging worldwide threats.
Staff Sgt. Henderson Anthony, a 51st Civil Engineer Squadron structural craftsman, stands in a cloud of decontamination powder while his mission oriented protective posture gear is decontaminated during exercise Beverly Herd 16-01 at Osan Air Base, South Korea, May 11, 2016. Dozens of civil engineer Airmen participated in the training scenario covering wartime survival skills.
A U.S. Army Reserve military police Soldier, assigned to 11th Military Police Brigade, 200th Military Police Command, fires an M249 squad automatic weapon during night fire qualification at Fort Hunter-Liggett, California, May 4, 2016.
Individual Soldier readiness is the foundation ofArmy readiness. The Army maximizes the deployability of its units by ensuring Soldiers are trained and ready to operate in a variety of environments.
Soldiers assigned to 1-2 SBCT, 7th Infantry Division, position a M777 towed 155 mm howitzer during Decisive Action Rotation 16-06 at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, Calif., May 5, 2016.
Soldiers, assigned to 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division, row an inflatable boat across Mott Lake to recover and administer first aid to a simulated casualty on Fort Bragg, N.C., May 4, 2016.
Army support to civil authorities is a total force effort to save lives, prevent human suffering and mitigate property damage.
GULF OF ADEN (May 11, 2016) Boatswain’s Mate 3rd Class Bryan Duncan salutes an MH-60S Sea Hawk helicopter, assigned to the “Wild Cards” of Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 23, on the flight deck of guided-missile destroyer USS Gonzalez (DDG 66). Gonzalez is currently operating with the Boxer Amphibious Ready Group in support of maritime security operations and theater security cooperation efforts in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations.
SAN DIEGO (May 11, 2016) The Military Sealift Command hospital ship USNS Mercy (T-AH 19) passes underneath the Coronado Bridge as it departs Naval Base San Diego May 11 in support of Pacific Partnership 2016. Pacific Partnership is in its 11th iteration and is the largest annual multilateral humanitarian assistance and disaster relief preparedness mission conducted in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region.
GULF OF ADEN (May 9, 2016) A landing craft, air cushion, assigned to Assault Craft Unit (ACU) 5, transits toward the well deck of amphibious assault ship USS Boxer (LHD 4). Boxer is the flagship for the Boxer Amphibious Ready Group and, with the embarked 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit, is deployed in support of maritime security operations and theater security cooperation efforts in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations.
U.S. Navy Corpsmen board an MV-22B Osprey to practice treating patients while the aircraft conducts evasive maneuvers to simulate the stresses of evacuating from a hot landing zone during a casualty evacuation drill taking place as part of the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit’s MEU exercise aboard Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif., May 9, 2016. MEUEX is one of the six training evolutions a MEU must go through to be ready for its final exercise, Certification Exercise, which will certify the MEU for its upcoming deployment to the Pacific and Central Commands’ areas of operation. The corpsmen are with Shock Trauma Platoon, Combat Logistic Battalion 11, 11th MEU. The Osprey and crew are with Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 163 (Reinforced), 11th MEU.
Marines with Regional Command (Southwest) (RC(SW)) exit a CH-46 Sea Knight helicopter aboard Kandahar Airfield (KAF), Afghanistan, Oct. 27, 2014. The Marines transitioned to KAF following the end of RC(SW) operations in Helmand province.
Marines assigned to Martial Arts Instructor Course Class 3-16, School of Infantry West (SOI-W) Detatchment Hawaii, run through the obstacle course at the Boondockers training area during the culminating event of their three week course to become Marine Corps Martial Arts Instructors aboard Marine Corps Base (MCB) Hawaii, April 21st, 2016. The mission of Marine Corps Base Hawaii is to provide facilities, programs and services in direct support of units, individuals and families in order to enhance and sustain combat readiness for all operating forces and tenant organizations aboard MCB Hawaii.
U.S. Coast Guard members practice shooting a 50 caliber machine gun at night during a deployment aboard Coast Guard Cutter Stratton. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Chief Petty Officer Bryan Goff. Photo taken December 27, 2015.
U.S. Coast Guard members practice shooting the M240 machine gun during a deployment aboard Coast Guard Cutter Stratton. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Chief Petty Officer Bryan Goff. Photo taken December 29, 2015.
Developed by Lockheed Martin and most famously used for search and research by the U.S. Coast Guard, the Sikorsky S-92 is one of the most versatile and dependable helicopters on the market and can fly through the toughest storms to complete its mission.
With its multi-mission capability, the S-92 is needed all over the world. But transporting the 15,000-pound, four-bladed, twin-engine aircraft can be extremely tricky and very dangerous.
Squeezing the durable aircraft into the narrow cargo bay of a transport plane would prove catastrophic if not handled correctly, as the helicopter’s wingspan stretches to an impressive 56 ft. So it takes a group of well-trained mechanics to properly dismantle the helo’s rotors.
Each pin that connects the rotors must be carefully loosened by hand and the instructions followed to a “T.”
As each rotor is ready for release, the team members must slide out each blade with surgical precision keeping the structures intact.
After the rotors are wrapped and stored for shipping, the greatest task is yet to be accomplished — loading the Sikorsky S-92 into the plane’s cargo bay.
U.S. Army Major General Joseph Martin spoke via video conference from the Iraqi capital of Baghdad on April 19, 2017, confirming that Daesh (Islamic State) terrorists launched a chemical attack against Iraqi forces in Mosul four days earlier.
The U.S. military has confirmed that the Takfiri Daesh terrorist group launched a chemical offensive against advancing Iraqi forces in the flashpoint city of Mosul over the weekend.
Iraqi security sources reported on April 15 that Daesh terrorists had fired missiles loaded with chlorine at the then-freshly-liberated neighborhood of al-Abar in west Mosul, causing respiratory problems for at least seven troops.
Major General Martin, the commanding general of the so-called Combined Joint Forces Land Component Command–Operation Inherent Resolve, said via videoconference from the Iraqi capital of Baghdad that the chemical attack had been launched but had caused no fatalities.
“The Iraqi security forces…were in vicinity of one of the strikes,” Martin told reporters, adding, “They were taken back for the appropriate level of medical care… Nobody’s been [fatally] impacted. Nobody’s died.”
Martin, however, said that the agent used in the attack had not been identified “at this time.”
“We have sent it back for testing but we’re still waiting for the outcomes,” he said.
According to Iraq’s Federal Police, Daesh also hit two other districts of western Mosul, namely Urouba and Bab al-Jadid, with chemical attacks on April 15.
While everyone knows about Pearl Harbor, what most don’t remember was that Japan tried hard throughout World War II to hit the U.S. mainland.
Tokyo ended up using very old technology – hot air balloons – to deliver bombs to the United States.
The genesis of this attack was the Doolittle Raid of 1942. The attack had caused the Japanese military to lose face, so they resolved to strike back. After several bomber projects failed, Tokyo turned to what they called the fūsen bakudan, or “fire bomb.” Manufactured primarily by teenage girl laborers, over 9,000 of these balloons were sent America’s way, according to WarHistoryOnline.com, with the goal of creating forest fires to draw American resources away from the front.
In what may be the first intercontinental weapon in military history – the fūsen bakudan, or fire balloon. Japan produced 9,3000 of them. (Youtube Screenshot)
First launched in November 1944, the balloon bombs reached as far east as Detroit, Michigan. These 30-foot balloons used the jet stream to reach America. American and Canadian fighter pilots saw some of them, and shot down about 20. Many others were seen to come down, and at least seven were recovered by the U.S. Army.
The United States covered up knowledge of the ICBM precursor — mostly fool Japan into thinking the balloons weren’t making it to the mainland. Speculation centered around the internment camps and submarines, but geologists traced the sand in the sandbags to Japan.
Only one of the bombs caused any fatalities. On May 5, 1945, a minster, Archie Mitchell, and his wife took five Sunday School students on an outing to the forest. Mrs. Mitchell and the students then found the balloon while Rev. Mitchell was still at the car. The bomb detonated while the students were trying to drag it out, and Mrs. Mitchell and all five students were either killed or later died of their wounds.
An Army investigation determined the balloon bomb had been in the area for weeks before it blew.
The tragedy surrounding that outing was the only balloon attack that was publicized by the military. As a result, Japan cancelled the program. America’s media blackout had worked. Only 300 of the balloon bombs were seen in the United States, according to a 1995 Salt Lake Tribune article. One bomb was found in Canada in 2014, and detonated by EOD personnel.
Check out this National Geographic video for more details of Japan’s WW2 ICBMs.
“This allows the aircraft to identify a threat and actively prosecute that threat through avoidance, deception or jamming techniques,” Mike Gibbons, Vice President of the Boeing F-15 program, told Scout Warrior in an interview a few months ago.
These updated EW capabilities replace the Tactical Electronic Warfare Suite, which has been used since the 1980s, not long after the F-15 first deployed. The service plans to operate the fleet until the mid-2040’s, so an overhaul of the Eagle’s electronic systems helps maintain U.S. air supremacy, the contract announcement said.
Boeing won the initial contract for the EPAWSS project last year and hired BAE Systems as the primary subcontractor.
Overall, the US Air Force is vigorously upgrading the 1980s-era F-15 fighter by giving new weapons and sensors in the hope of maintaining air-to-air superiority over the Chinese J-10 equivalent.
The multi-pronged effort not only includes the current addition of electronic warfare technology but also extends to super-fast high-speed computers, infrared search and track enemy targeting systems, increased networking ability and upgraded weapons-firing capability, Air Force and Boeing officials said.
“The Air Force plans to keep the F-15 fleet in service until the mid-2040’s. Many of the F-15 systems date back to the 1970’s and must be upgraded if the aircraft is to remain operationally effective. Various upgrades will be complete as early as 2021 for the F-15C AESA (Active Electronically Scanned Array) radar and as late as 2032 for the various EW (electronic warfare) upgrades,” Air Force spokesman Maj. Rob Leese told Scout Warrior a few months ago.
The Air Force currently operates roughly 400 F-15C, D and E variants. A key impetus for the upgrade was well articulate in a Congressional report on the US and China in 2014. (US-China Economic and Security Review Commission —www.uscc.gov). Among other things, the report cited rapid Chinese technological progress and explained that the US margin of superiority has massively decreased since the 1980s.
As an example, the report said that in the 1980s, the US F-15 was vastly superior to the Chinese equivalent – the J-10. However, Chinese technical advances in recent years have considerably narrowed that gap to the point where the Chinese J-10 is now roughly comparable to the US F-15, the report explained.
Air Force and Boeing developers maintain that ongoing upgrades to the F-15 will ensure that this equivalence is not the case and that, instead, they will ensure the superiority of the F-15.
Among the upgrades is an ongoing effort to equip the F-15 with the fastest jet-computer processer in the world, called the Advanced Display Core Processor, or ADCPII.
“It is capable of processing 87 billion instructions per second of computing throughput, translating into faster and more reliable mission processing capability for an aircrew,” Boeing spokesman Randy Jackson told Scout Warrior.
High tech targeting and tracking technology is also being integrated onto the F-15, Gibbons added. This includes the addition of a passive long-range sensor called Infrared Search and Track, or IRST.
The technology is also being engineered into the Navy F-18 Super Hornet. The technology can detect the heat signature, often called infrared emissions, of enemy aircraft.
“The system can simultaneously track multiple targets and provide a highly effective air-to-air targeting capability, even when encountering advanced threats equipped with radar-jamming technology,” Navy officials said.
IRST also provides an alternate air-to-air targeting system in a high threat electronic attack environment, Navy, Air Force and industry developers said.
The F-15 is also being engineered for additional speed and range, along with weapons-firing ability. The weapons-carrying ability is being increased from 8 up to 16 weapons; this includes an ability to fire an AIM-9x or AIM-120 missile. In addition, upgrades to the aircraft include adding an increased ability to integrate or accommodate new emerging weapons systems as they become available. This is being done through both hardware and software-oriented “open standards” IP protocol and architecture.
The aircraft is also getting a “fly-by-wire” automated flight control system.
“Fly by wire means when the pilot provides the input – straight to a computer than then determines how to have the aircraft perform the way it wants – provides electrical signals for the more quickly and more safely move from point to point as opposed to using a mechanical controls stick,” Gibbons explained.
Along with these weapons upgrades and other modifications, the F-15 is also getting upgrades to the pilot’s digital helmet and some radar signature reducing, or stealthy characteristics.
However, at the same time, the F-15 is not a stealthy aircraft and is expected to be used in combat environments in what is called “less contested” environments where the Air Force already has a margin of air superiority over advanced enemy air defenses.
For this reason, the F-15 will also be increasing networked so as to better support existing 5th-generation platforms such as the F-22 and F-35, Air Force officials said.
The intent of these F-15 upgrades is to effectively perform the missions assigned to the F-15 fleet, which are to support the F-22 in providing air superiority and the F-35 in providing precision attack capabilities, Leese said.
“While these upgrades will not make these aircraft equivalent to 5th generation fighters, they will allow the F-15 to support 5th generation fighters in performing their missions, and will also allow F-15s to assume missions in more permissive environments where capabilities of 5th generation fighters are not required,” Leese added.
Gibbons added that the upgrades to the F-15 will ensure that the fighter aircraft remains superior to its Chinese equivalent.
“The F-15 as a vital platform that still has a capability that cannot be matched in terms of ability to fly high, fly fast, go very far carry a lot. It is an air dominance machine,” Gibbons explained.
Everyone knows that the Roosevelt family held a political dynasty for decades; fielding two presidents of the United States and a first lady in 50 years is a pretty impressive record, and that’s without mentioning all the other jobs like assistant secretary of the Navy (Theodore and Franklin) and Governor of the State of New York (Franklin).
But the Roosevelts actually have a strong claim to a military dynasty as well with three Medals of Honor, a Navy Cross, 11 Silver Stars, and a slew of other awards from the U.S., France, and Britain, all in 100 years.
So, you know, awkward Christmases for the cousin who went into finance.
The Roosevelt military legacy dates back to the Revolutionary War when Henry Rutgers (a descendant of Elsie Roosevelt) and Nicholas Roosevelt served on the American side. But it really got steaming in the Civil War when two of Theodore Roosevelt’s uncles served the Confederate Navy.
While the Roosevelt family was based in New York, Theodore’s father had married Martha Bulloch, a Souther belle whose family had deep ties to what would become the Confederacy. When the war broke out, two of her brothers volunteered for service.
James and Irvine Bulloch became naval officers, and both brothers were involved in launching the CSS Alabama, one of the most feared Confederate commerce raiders in the war. James, by that point assigned to secretly buying ships for the Southern Navy from English shipyards, commissioned the ship and supervised its construction.
But the Union State Department was working feverishly to get the future Confederate ships in England seized, so Irvine led a “sea trial” of the Alabama before stealing away with it to the Azores to receive its crew and weapons. Irvine would serve on the vessel for most of the war as a midshipman and is credited with firing the Alabama’s last shot before it was sunk at Cherbourg, France, in battle against the USS Kearsarge.
When the Lusitania was sunk and America finally entered World War I, Theodore Jr., a former president by that point, was turned down for service. But three of his sons were accepted into the U.S. Army and a fourth, Kermit, volunteered for service in the British army where he was accepted and rose to captain.
Kermit was sent to the Middle East where he earned a British Military Cross for bravery after capturing Turkish soldiers in the Battle for Baghdad. Archibald received two Silver Stars and a Croix de Guerre, and Theodore received the Distinguished Service Cross, two Silver Stars, the Croix de Guerre, and the Chevalier de la Legion d’Honneur, all awards for high valor. Theodore was gassed once and Archibald was crippled by shrapnel.
It was there that the men earned three Silver Stars. Quentin earned the first at the Battle of Kasserine Pass when he manned an artillery observation post under fire and used it to help hold back German Field Marshall Erwin Rommel’s attack until a Messerschmitt shot him through the back.
Theodore, a brigadier general by that point, then earned two more. His first World War II Silver Star came when he manned an observation post under attack from German dive bombers, fighter planes, and artillery. He earned his next Silver Star, his fourth overall, the next day when he led a reinforced combat team against enemy machine gun positions.
Quentin was sent to recover from his wounds but the men were reunited at D-Day when Quentin hit Omaha Beach and Theodore personally directed the 4th Infantry Divisions landings at Utah Beach, redrawing the division’s attack plans while under fire. He would later receive a Medal of Honor and recommendation for promotion to major general, but he died before he received either.
Quentin II would receive the Croix de Guerre before the war ended.
This post is reprinted with permission from NationSwell, new digital media company focused on American innovation and renewal.
Phil Ruddock had trouble adjusting when he returned home to rural Louisiana, disabled by a traumatic brain injury he received during an Air Force tour of duty during Desert Storm. He had all the classic symptoms of PTSD: “I drank all the time, I couldn’t get along with anyone, I kept checking every room in the house to make sure it was clear every time I came home, I got up and checked the locks on the doors and windows too many times to count, I was always depressed and pissed at the world, and I never slept. I drove my family so crazy that they wanted to leave,” he says with a country twang. “I still do some of those things,” he adds, “but it’s getting better.”
Sit. Stay. Lie down. They’re the words that helped him through his recovery.
Ruddock’s now assisting other veterans afflicted with post-traumatic stress disorder from Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan the same way he survived his night terrors and flashbacks — with service dogs. His nonprofit Brothers and Sisters in Arms is a boot camp of sorts based out of central Louisiana, where he’s teaching veterans to train their own service dogs, all adopted from shelters. The repetitive learning of commands works like physical therapy for disabled vets and gives them something to work towards. Once they’ve completed the program, they gain a loyal companion and a sense of accomplishment, “a pride that you can’t imagine,” Ruddock says.
“When a soldier is deployed or on base, they feel secure because they have all the other soldiers there watching their back. But when they are out of the military, when their spouse goes to work, their kids go to school and they’re left alone, they have nobody watching their back,” Ruddock says. “It makes them very anxious, paranoid. A dog turns out to be their battle buddy and watches their back. It never leaves them, it never judges them, it never asks questions that they don’t want to answer. It gives them unconditional love,” Ruddock explains.
A program connecting veterans and rescue dogs may sound cutesy, almost saccharine, but for Ruddock, it’s serious — vital even. He asks the veterans to list Brothers and Sisters in Arms as the primary contact associated with the animal’s microchip, rather than the owner’s home phone. “The suicide rate for veterans is 22 per day,” Ruddock says, about 8,000 every year. “If that dog would show up at a shelter and they ran the microchip, chances are that veteran is not going to answer his phone.”
Ruddock started the nonprofit in November 2012 after his personal experience with an abandoned pit bull. Following a nervous breakdown, he lost his job as lead clerk at the local VA outpatient clinic. His spent his days walled alone up on his remote property, until a friend arrived with a pit bull for him to train. “She was as beat up and as messed up as I was,” he remembers of his white-faced, brown-eared dog, Mia. “She kind of rescued me.” The dog sat in the passenger seat of his truck on rides into a nearby village and eventually gave him confidence to travel farther.
Within the past couple months, Ruddock logged more than 20,000 miles in his sojourns across the Sugar State, from Slidell, a town across Lake Pontchartrain from New Orleans that butts up against Mississippi, all the way out west to Fort Polk, an Army installation near the Texas border. Last year, he certified 31 service dogs, which are specially licensed after 120 hours in public, and 15 companion dogs.
At the pound, Ruddock seeks out the calmest dogs. “We look for dogs with a good disposition. We don’t want the ones that jump and bark and get with the other dogs,” he says. He generally avoids puppies — too much added stress — and certain breeds like German shepherds that can become overprotective if they’re not socialized regularly, but otherwise he’ll take every breed from a 20-pound Jack Russell terrier to a 200-pound mastiff.
Training sessions run one hour a week for roughly eight weeks, though he’s come to expect a few absences. “A veteran may have problems one day. Some demons may come up and he may not be able to show up. It may take a little longer,” he says.
Besides the essentials — what Ruddock calls good citizenship for canines (think: table manners for children) — the service dogs learn three main commands that are unique for handlers who still carry wounds from the battlefield. The dog learns to “block,” inserting itself into the space between the owner and somebody else so that a person keeps their distance. “Cover” sends the pup to its owner’s back or side, facing away as a kind of lookout that allows a vet to relax at, say, a counter or cash register. The last is “grounded.” If the soldier faints or has a nightmare, the dog lays on top of the owner and licks his face, prompting a welcome (if wet) return to reality.
Brothers and Sisters in Arms is different from many other groups that provide service dogs. For one, Ruddock doesn’t charge for his services or the animal. His operation is funded entirely by donations; the bill from other groups can run as high as $25,000. (“These guys get out of the military, and they’re just above poverty level. They can’t afford that,” he says.) His classes are all one-on-one, making it easier for vets who can be skittish around crowds, nervous about competition and failure. And every instructor is a former soldier, because, as Ruddock says, “There’s no better therapy than a veteran talking to another veteran.”
Ruddock wants to see the program expand across Louisiana. He’s already processing five to 10 applications a week, and he’s starting to get referrals from VA psychiatrists who can’t officially recommend a service dog but still send warriors his way. “It’s not about the fame or fortune. It’s about that feeling you get when you help somebody. The warm fuzzies, the goosebumps, whatever you want to call it,” he says of his motivations. “It’s about doing what’s right.”
It’s for the men and women, his brothers and sisters, that Ruddock keeps trekking across the bayous, working with soldiers, like the young man he met last month. “You can tell he’s had it rough,” Ruddock says. “He couldn’t even stand the sound of a loud car going by. He kept moving around and shaking. He couldn’t look you in the eye. He constantly looked down, and if he did catch your eye, it was a white stare like he could see right through you.” The man expressed no emotion, until Ruddock brought out a puppy. As if he was emerging from a daze, the man started petting the dog. He smiled, and Ruddock knew another soldier was safe.