Five years ago, a phone rang in the 28th Bomb Wing vice commander’s office and made history.
Less than 72 hours later, on March 27, 2011, more than 1,100 maintenance personnel launched four B-1B Lancer bombers from the Ellsworth Air Force Base flightline in blizzard conditions to support Operation Odyssey Dawn. It was the first time the aircraft had ever launched from a continental U.S. location in support of combat operations.
Two B-1s and their eight-person crew would continue on and strike targets in Libya; however, the mission required communication and personnel working round-the-clock to be executed.
“I was about halfway through the planning process (of a training sortie), and rumors were making their way around about base leadership convening at the command post,” said Maj. Matthew, a weapons system officer for the operation’s lead B-1. “At about 1 p.m., I was called to the command post with a pilot in my squadron. We were both qualified mission commanders, which clued me in that whatever was going on was likely a real-world event.”
Matthew and many aviators within the 34th and 37th bomb squadrons, as well as maintenance and munitions personnel, were briefed that preparations were underway to organize a strike mission more than 6,000 miles away in Libya.
In less than 20 hours, the conventional munitions element built approximately 145 munitions, enough to load seven B-1s. On the aviation side of the base, aircrews were preparing for takeoff.
“We had the pre-brief, and flew a practice profile in the simulator as well to make sure everyone on the crew had the opportunity to practice the bomb runs,” said Maj. Christopher, co-pilot for the operation’s lead B-1. “The biggest thing going through my mind was trying to absorb every bit of information so that we didn’t mess it up.”
This specific weapons build was the first time many had ever built bombs that would leave a CONUS location to bomb targets.
“Seeing these guys doing their job for real, I was proud of them. I couldn’t have asked for a better crew at the time,” said Master Sgt. Matthew, the 28th Munitions Squadron munitions control section chief.
Maintenance personnel and aircrew were executing their duties in the worst imaginable weather. It was roughly 35 degrees outside with heavy fog and pilots on the runway could only see ahead one hash-mark.
Maj. Brian, a weapons system officer for the operation’s lead B-1, confessed to slipping multiple times on his way to transportation vehicles, while Maj. Matthew added the most memorable part of the mission was takeoff.
Brian said it was an honor to be selected as one of the crew members, and that he felt it was his duty to reward the faith previous commanders put in him by executing the mission to a weapons officer level.
B-1s arrived in the Libya area of operations 12 hours after takeoff and the crews checked in with command and control. Many aspects had changed between pre-brief and check-in, but the crews divvied up targets and went in for their first strike.
“The mission was the deepest strike made into Libya during OOD, which kept us in hostile airspace for over an hour and a half,” Maj. Matthew said. “(Previous missile strikes) alerted the enemy to our presence, and we immediately saw anti-aircraft artillery fire coming from the ground. It was the first time any of us had seen AAA.”
Poorly aimed artillery fire didn’t concern the aviators, who hit their marks and recovered at a forward operating location. Twenty-four hours later, the second launch began. Nearly 100 targets were hit during the two days.
At only 72 hours, the mission marked a significant milestone, not only for Ellsworth AFB, but also for the B-1 fleet as a whole.
Maj. Matthew added the mission solidified the B-1 and its aircrew members’ role as a flexible, rapidly-deployable strategic asset. Brian agreed that it showed the skill, dedication and professionalism of the 28th Maintenance Group.
“The fact they were able to generate five green jets, build 145 munitions, all while in the middle of a snow storm on only two days’ notice still amazes me to this day,” Brian said. “We train every day to do precisely that, but the maintainers and weapons troops can’t simulate extreme weather and harsh temperatures. They were the MVPs of Odyssey Dawn in my opinion.”
Master Sgt. Matthew, who led the munitions crew, added the lessons learned from the operation are always an example he brings up when training his fellow munitions Airmen.
“It’s hard to overstate how important the ground support teams were to our success,” Maj. Matthew said. “Without all of the support agencies, from maintenance to airfield operations, transportation, etc., we wouldn’t have been nearly as successful.”
According to mission planners, the B-1 was the only aircraft that could meet the demands of the mission, such as the timeframe and the number of weapons required to hit that many targets.
“Executing the strike proved the aircraft is capable of holding any target in the world at risk, at any time,” said Maj. Donavon, commander of the operation’s lead B-1.
Editor’s note: Last names were removed due to security concerns.
Dog people have had their day in the sun with the celebrations of the brave service of military working dogs across the web, including this site. But what about cat people? Where are the stories for them?
No need to take your frustrations out on the scratching post. Here are the tales of 7 felines who have proved their mettle under fire:
1. “Acoustic Kitty”
Acoustic Kitty is not the name of the cat itself, but the name of a $20 million CIA project intended to spy on the Kremlin and Soviet Embassies. A microphone was implanted into the ear canal of a cat, with a small radio transmitter implanted at the base of its skull. The first cat was thought to have been immediately hit by a taxi. CIA researchers concluded there were too many issues involved in training the cats and the project was discontinued.
2. Mourka, Stalingrad War Cat
Not just present at the most pivotal battle of World War II’s Eastern Front, Mourka was an active participant. Nicknamed the Battlecat of Stalingrad, Mourka belonged to the Soviet 124th Rifle Brigade. He delivered messages about German positions form Soviet scouts and carried propaganda leaflets to German troops.
3. Félicette the Space Cat
Felicette, sometimes mistakenly referred to as Felix, was featured on French postage stamps.
In October 1963, the year after the U.S. put John Glenn into orbit around the Earth, the French medical research center CERMA launched a black and white female cat 97 miles from Earth’s surface, not quite reaching orbit. Félicette was the only cat ever in space and flew for fifteen total minutes before returning to Earth alive via capsule.
4. Mrs. Chippy, Polar Cat
Mrs. Chippy was a tabby who met an unfortunate end during Sir Ernest Shackleton’s Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition. The expedition endeavored to be the first overland crossing of Antarctica. Carpenter Harry McNish’s cat earned the respect of the crew after they watched in amazement as the cat walked the ship’s inch-wide rails, even in the roughest ocean days. When the ship was destroyed, Shackleton ordered the cat and all the ships dog’s shot. McNish never forgave Shackleton and told him so. Even though McNish built the boats that would return the crew home, Shackleton would deny McNish the medals awarded every other crewman because of his insubordination. A bronze statue of the cat was placed on McNish’s grave in 2004.
5. “Unsinkable Sam”
A veteran of the German battleship Bismarck, the HMS Cossack, and the HMS Ark Royal,a cat named Oscar survived three sinking ships during World War II. After his sea service ended, he served the governor of Gibraltar before moving to Northern Ireland after the war. He died in Belfast in 1955.
6. Simon, Hero of Nanjing
The ship’s cat on the HMS Amethyst, Simon was brought on board by a 17-year-old sailor in Hong Kong. The cat proved adept at catching rats (and leaving them as gifts for his fellow sailors). As Amethyst steamed up the Yangtze River to support British citizens during the Nanjing Incident, Simon was wounded when Chinese Communists opened up on the ship. Simon recovered and returned to duty, having earned the Dickin Medal for Animal Gallantry and the rating of “Able Seacat.” He died in 1949.
7. Faith, the cat with the stiff upper lip
Another British cat who served in World War II, Faith was the church cat at the Church of St. Augustine and St. Faith’s in London’s Watling Street during the Blitz in WWII. In September 1940, the church was hit by the Luftwaffe and completely destroyed. Faith protected her kitten, Panda, in the church basement and was found by rescuers the next day. The story of the cat who saved her kitten in the basement became a well-known symbol for the “Keep Calm and Carry On” attitude on Londoners during the Blitz.
The U.S. military has a history of finding effective ways around serious tactical and strategic problems. Here are five times they found themselves outgunned, outnumbered, or outmaneuvered but managed to pull off a victory anyway.
1. Col. Lewis “Chesty” Puller and the troops at Chosin Reservoir
When Marine legend Col. Lewis “Chesty” Puller found himself hopelessly surrounded and outnumbered at the Chosin Reservoir in Korea, he had few options and worst prospects. But instead of surrendering to the 7 Chinese divisions surrounding him, he ordered his men to advance south.
Though the only weapon they had capable of killing the heavy Japanese ships was their limited torpedo supply, the destroyers and destroyer escorts of the Navy task force charged at the Japanese force in an attempt to let the U.S. carrier escorts escape.
Over the next two hours, the limited American ships and Naval aircraft attacked the Japanese force so viciously that Japanese Adm. Takeo Kurita believed he’d run into the entire U.S. Third Fleet. Kurita retreated. Three of his cruisers were sunk and a fourth crippled while the U.S. lost four ships but protected the troops landing on Leyte Island.
3. The Battle of the Bulge
The Allied advance across eastern Europe was nearly stopped at the Battle of the Bulge when three German armies managed to launch a surprise attack against four American divisions strung across a 124-mile front.
One of the key positions in the battle was Bastogne, Belgium where 22,000 Americans — mostly paratroopers with the 101st Airborne Division — were holding off a massive force of 54,000 Germans backed by heavy artillery. The Germans suggested an American surrender after two days of fighting.
The American general responded simply, “NUTS!” and the American force held out for another five days, giving time for armored units from the Third Army to reach them. Rather than withdraw to rest, the paratroopers then began retaking Allied positions lost in the previous weeks.
4. John Paul Jones and his sinking flagship capture his enemy’s ship
The father of the American Navy was watching his flagship, the Bonhomme Richard, sink beneath him after attacking the HMS Serapis on Sep. 23, 1779 at the Battle of Flamborough Head.
5. Maj. Gen. Benedict Arnold commands an ad hoc navy to save his army
In Jun. 1776, elements of the Continental Army retreated to Fort Tinconderoga and Fort Crown Pont in New York. Knowing that a larger and more capable British army and navy was trying to finish the war before Winter fell, Maj. Gen. Benedict Arnold had to find a way to stall.
Despite losing nearly all of his ships and Fort Crown Point, Arnold successfully evacuated his men to Ticonderoga and delayed the British long enough that they couldn’t attack the fort before winter settled in. The British were ordered into winter quarters and the Continental Army prepared for 1777 — the year they would gain the advantage in the war at the Battle of Saratoga.
On April 26, Kristin Beck hopes to realize a dream of Quixotic proportions. The decorated former Navy SEAL and trans-woman aims to unseat entrenched Democratic incumbent Steny Hoyer in the primary for Maryland’s 5th Congressional District in a long-shot bid for a seat in the House.
But on April 21, five days before the vote, she was working to balance press interviews and campaign efforts with the more prosaic tasks of keeping up the farm she lives on with her wife in southern Maryland — including planning for the delivery of four tons of fertilizer the next day.
Beck, 50, began to live openly as a woman around 2013 after retiring from the Navy in 2011 as a senior chief petty officer. Then called Christopher, Beck earned a Bronze Star with valor device and a Purple Heart over the course of 13 deployments and spent time as a member of Naval Special Warfare Development Group, better known as SEAL Team Six.
Since the publication of a ghostwritten memoir in 2013 and a CNN mini-documentary that followed, Beck has achieved public acclaim as a transgender SEAL, even spending time living out of an RV as she traveled between speaking engagements. This run for Congress, however, is not a bid for more publicity, she said, but an effort to speak for others.
“I’m looking at the political machine and I see it leaving me behind,” she said. “If you’re a little bit different, not that Crackerjack box American, we get left out. I fought to defend every person. I fought for justice for all Americans.”
Rather than being daunted by the prospect of challenging Hoyer, the House minority whip who has held his seat since 1981, Beck said she felt compelled to run because of Hoyer’s very insider status.
On her campaign web site, which Beck runs with the aid of campaign manager Mike Phillips, a Marine veteran, she outlines her stance on no fewer than 71 issues ranging from ending the marriage tax penalty to reforming the Affordable Care Act, of which she is highly critical.
Beck said her campaign is most persuasive with those in her district under the age of 30 and her most effective outreach efforts are on social media, adding that her official Facebook page gets upward of 70,000 hits per week.
And while none of her platforms deals directly with the military, Beck has perspectives on many aspects of defense policy and has been closely watching efforts to open ground combat jobs to female troops. In her thinking on this issue, the tension between her former self as a no-nonsense Navy SEAL and her present efforts to promote openness and opportunity are most visible.
Beck said she absolutely stands by earlier statements that she would like to play a role in training the first female sailors to attempt the newly opened Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL (BUD/S) courses. But she would do so, she said, only if Defense Department brass maintained their commitment to keeping the same tough physical standards, regardless of political pressure or how well women fare in the course.
“When I was in the SEAL teams, there were women I had working for me, doing UAV and intelligence work. They weren’t SEALS, but they were direct support to SEALs, doing hardcore work,” Beck said, adding that she believed there were women who were capable of completing SEAL training and thriving in the field.
But, she said, she fears that high attrition rates for women in BUD/S — which she sees as inevitable — will cause lawmakers to put pressure on the military to relax standards or gender-norm them and push more women through.
“We know that women can’t do pull-ups as well as men. If you’re going to have them gender-norm out pull-ups, what are you going to have them do?” Beck said. “The capability and the readiness of the military is so dependent on our physical abilities and how we apply our physical abilities. If you’re going up a ladder on a ship going 20 knots on eight-foot seas, pull-ups are an indication of how well you can do that.”
Of the roughly 1,000 men who attempt BUD/S each year, about 400 make it through, Beck said.
Assuming a much smaller number of female applicants who want to be SEALs and are physically qualified, Beck estimates between two and eight women will make it each year.
But for those who do make it through, Beck said the cultural challenge of entering an all-male career field might not be as daunting as some believe.
“The professionalism and the mission outweighs so many other things,” she said. “I don’t care if you can bench-press 500 pounds, I need you to bench-press 200 pounds, but do it 40 times … that’s professionalism.”
Beck, who served in the Pentagon before retiring, said she still receives invitations to speak with military brass, most recently briefing the chief of naval operations’ strategic studies group earlier this year.
On transgender troops, she advocates better education and a case-specific approach that considers the needs of the service member and the requirements of the military. She advocates, for example, that troops who opt to start living as a different gender be sent to a new duty station for a fresh start, limiting unnecessary confusion. Those who opt to undergo the lengthy process of medical transition, she suggested, might be temporarily assigned to work in a military hospital, where they could remain on duty and keep easy access to therapy and procedures.
“The biggest advice I gave them is, ‘This is going to happen and you can have a knee-jerk reaction or you can be ready for it,’ ” she said.
Beck’s battles with post-traumatic stress disorder have been documented, and she said the greatest need for other veterans with PTSD is a network of local centers that provide a safe community and companionship, outside of an impersonal institution. Veterans, she said, could meet, see movies together, share a drink, or even do physical labor on a farm like hers.
“It will be a mentoring program, a downtown store front, with a coffee pot, a place for vets to go,” she said. “A totally non-traditional program. By vets, for vets.”
For Beck herself, she sees stability, even if her congressional bid fails. She’s working on a feature film and another book now, she said, though she declined to further describe those projects.
And after decades of deployments and upheaval, she has found some permanence.
“I live here on the farm,” she said. “Win or lose, I’m here on the farm anyway.”
Marine Corps Gen. James “Mad Dog” Mattis is known for his aggressive tactics and his even more aggressive quotes.
While he embraced counter-insurgency tactics with the rest of the military, his quotes put a decidedly lethal spin on “low-intensity combat.” Check out these 15 great Mattis quotes — but be warned… they’ll make you want to charge into hordes of America’s enemies with nothing but a Ka-Bar:
11. “There are hunters and there are victims. By your discipline, cunning, obedience and alertness, you will decide if you are a hunter or a victim.” (Told to troops at Al Asad, Iraq)
12. “No war is over until the enemy says it’s over. We may think it over, we may declare it over, but in fact, the enemy gets a vote.”
13. “There is nothing better than getting shot at and missed. It’s really great.”
14. “You cannot allow any of your people to avoid the brutal facts. If they start living in a dream world, it’s going to be bad.”
15. “You go into Afghanistan, you got guys who slap women around for five years because they didn’t wear a veil. You know, guys like that ain’t got no manhood left anyway. So it’s a hell of a lot of fun to shoot them. Actually it’s quite fun to fight them, you know. It’s a hell of a hoot. It’s fun to shoot some people. I’ll be right up there with you. I like brawling.” (Said during a panel discussion in San Diego, via CNN)
A recently-released investigation by the Department of Justice reveals that a company using prison labor to make life-saving equipment for the Pentagon sold more than 125,000 defective helmets to the services, some that even failed to stop bullets in ballistic tests.
The Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General said a public-private venture between the government-run Federal Prison Industries and the civilian company ArmorSource LLC produced Advanced Combat Helmets and Lightweight Marine Corps Helmets that were “not manufactured in accordance with contract specifications.”
“The investigations found that the ACH and LMCH had numerous defects, including serious ballistic failures, blisters and improper mounting hole placement and dimensions, as well as helmets being repressed,” the report said. “Helmets were manufactured with degraded or unauthorized ballistic materials, used expired paint and unauthorized manufacturing methods.”
The Justice report said ArmorSource failed to properly oversee the production of the helmets by federal prisoners and was forced to pay $3 million in restitution, while the Federal Prison Industries facility that manufactured the helmets beginning in 2008 was closed and the staff transferred.
In all, the report says 126,052 helmets were recalled costing the government over $19 million.
The Federal Prison Industries is a government-owned corporation formed in 1934 to give job opportunities and income to federal inmates. The products made by FPI are sold only to the U.S. government and it does not compete with private companies.
From 2006 through 2009, Ohio-based ArmorSource produced the helmets for the Department of Defense. ArmorSource was paid more than $30 million, then subcontracted production of the ACH and the LMCH to FPI in 2008.
The ACH is a personal protective equipment system designed to provide ballistic and impact protection U.S. troops. It’s also designed to mount existing night vision, communication, and nuclear, biological, and chemical defense equipment.
When FPI produced 23,000 LMCHs from its facility in Texas, the first 3,000 shipped in 2008 were found to be defective. Eventually, the Army’s Office of Inspector General found FPI-produced ACHs were also defective.
The Army’s IG investigations found “endemic manufacturing problems” at FPI. The facility in Beaumont, Texas, was not making the helmets according to specifications and both helmet types were full of defects, including:
Finished ACH helmet shells were pried apart and scrap Kevlar and Kevlar dust was added to the ear sections, and the helmet shells repressed
Helmets were repressed to remove blisters and bubbles in violation of contract specifications
LMCH and ACH had edging and paint adhesion failures, respectively
FPI did not obtain approval from the DOD before it changed the manufacturing process
LMCH Certificates of Conformance were prepared by inmates at the direction of FPI staff and signed by FPI staff months after the LMCH helmets were delivered falsely certifying that the helmets were manufactured according to contract specifications and had the requisite material traceability
LMCH helmet serial numbers were switched or altered
The helmets were sold to DoD anyway, and FPI used pre-selected helmets for inspection, against the DoD specification that random items be inspected. ArmorSource did not provide oversight of the helmets’ construction and did not ensure proper inspection of the product, the report says.
A surprise inspection of the Beaumont, Texas-based FPI facility found the inmates using a variety of improvised tools to build the helmets. This put the lives of those overseeing their work (as well as fellow inmates) at significant risk, the report says.
The Justice Department claims no casualties are known to have occurred because of the defective helmets.
Between 2006 and 2010, some 30,000 single mothers had deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan during the Global War on Terror. Meanwhile, the number of homeless female veterans doubled in the same time period.
There are now an estimated 55,000 homeless women veterans in America, and they’re the fastest growing homeless population in America.
When Lysa Heslov first heard about how easily female veterans can fall into poverty and homelessness she had no idea just how widespread the problem was. She was at lunch with a friend who told her about the Ms. Veteran America Pageant, which provides housing for female veterans and their children – and why it’s so important.
“I was embarrassed. I was embarrassed as an American, I was embarrassed as a woman,” Heslov told We Are The Mighty. “I couldn’t believe that this was happening. I couldn’t believe that women were coming back and being treated this way. I’ve gone up to many service men in my life, and said, ‘Thank you for your service.’ I hadn’t gone up to one woman my entire life.”
There are many factors that go into a veteran falling into homelessness; a lack of affordable housing, sudden or insufficient income, PTSD, substance abuse, lack of familial and social support networks — the list goes on and on. Suffice to say, it could happen to anyone.
Heslov is a director, producer, philanthropist who founded a non-profit for disadvantaged youth with her husband. She helped a New Orleans family recover from Hurricane Katrina. She decided she would put her skills to work to raise awareness for female veterans at risk of homelessness. In 2015, she filmed the new documentary film “Served Like a Girl.”
“Served Like a Girl” follows five female veterans from the Army, Air Force, Navy, and Marines from around the U.S. as they prepare to compete in the Ms. Veteran America competition.
The women face more than a transition from military to civilian life. As they ready themselves to earn the crown, they describe how they deal with divorce, PTSD, serious illnesses, and sexual trauma they experienced while in the military.
Heslov immediate set out to learn everything she could about the issue. She watched CNN’s “Heroes” documentary on Jas Boothe, the founder of Final Salute, Inc. — the main beneficiary of Ms. Veteran America. Booth is a 16-year Army veteran of both OIF and OEF, a cancer survivor, and author who was once fell into homelessness herself after a series of tragic events.
Her brush with the void inspired her to ensure every female veteran would never be left without somewhere to turn.
“We offer wrap-around services,” Boothe told CNN. “Anything they could possibly need to help get themselves back in a state of independence. We give all the tools that you need, but your success in this program is up to you.”
Final Salute, Inc. also offers interest-free loans, child care, job placement, and more.
“There’s nothing wrong with serving like a girl,” Boothe said, introducing the film at the 2016 Fort Meyer VETRACON event. “Men killed Bin Laden. A woman found him.”
“Directing this was terrifying and exciting and became so much more than I ever thought it could be,” Heslov says. “The women featured in it became more than just subjects in my documentary, they have become my family. I can say I’ve never cried so many tears and I’ve never laughed as hard. My life will never be the same and my hope is, through sharing this film, theirs won’t have to be either.”
“Served Like a Girl” is a descriptive, informative film that thoroughly covers the possible pitfalls and unique challenges for women vets who transition from the military. The women featured in the film are real women veterans, facing real struggles that could undo not only their hopes of winning the competition, but affect the rest of their lives.
The film also features a new song “Dancing Through the Wreckage,” composed by Linda Perry, Grammy-nominated lead of the band 4 Non Blondes, and sung by the legendary Pat Benatar.
“Served Like a Girl” is in theaters in Los Angeles and New York. It will open in other areas soon.
To learn more about the Ms. Veteran America Competition or donate to fight female veteran homelessness, visit their website.
Check out these awesome facts you probably didn’t know about our beloved holiday.
1. Moment of remembrance at 3 pm
On Dec. 28th, 2000, President Bill Clinton signed the National Moment of Remembrance Act, which asks all Americans to pause on Memorial Day at 3:00 pm local time for a full minute to honor and remember all those who perished protecting our rights and freedoms.
2. Wearing red poppies
You may have noticed people wearing red poppy flowers pinned to their clothing on Memorial Day. This idea was influenced by the sight of poppies growing in a battle-scarred field in WWI which prompted the popular poem “In Flanders Fields” written by former Canadian Col. John McCrae.
The American Legion adopted the tradition of wearing the red poppy flowers along with many allied countries to commemorate troops killed in battle.
3. Flag raising procedures
Americans love to proudly display their flags and let them wave high and free. On Memorial Day, there’s a special protocol to properly raise and exhibit the ensign. Here it is.
When the flag is raised at first light, it’s to be hoisted to the top of the pole, then respectfully lowered to the half-staff position until 12:00 pm when it is re-raised to the top of the pole for the remainder of the day. Details matter.
4. The origin of the holiday
Originally called “Decoration Day” by Gen. John A. Logan of the Grand Army of the Republic, in 1868, the day was intended to honor the estimated 620,000 people who died fighting in the Civil war and was celebrated on May 30th.
But it wasn’t until 1971 that Congress shifted the holiday to the last Monday of May to ensure a three-day weekend and renamed it to what we all know today.
At least five separate cities claim to be the birthplace of “Decoration Day,” including Macon and Columbus, Georgia. Of course, there’s no real written record or D.N.A test to prove who is truly the mom and dad.
California, you are not the father… or mother. (Source: Wikipedia Commons)
The most interesting parallel is between the French Foreign Legion and the Night’s Watch. Granted, most of the similarities come from Legionnaires of the past. As of 2010, applicants could apply under their real name or a “declared identity” which was an assumed name.
1. It doesn’t matter who you were before you joined.
It doesn’t matter where you were from, who your family was, what “nobility” you held. You were welcome.
Long before the first bombs fell on Baghdad Jan. 16, 1991, the man who would be in charge of one of the most effective air campaigns in history was hearing whispers from another war.
Then-Lt. Gen. Charles A. Horner, who, as a young captain, flew Wild Weasel missions attacking radar sites during two tours in the Vietnam War, was determined to avoid the same strategic mistakes in the Persian Gulf that plagued the U.S. military in Southeast Asia. Fortunately, his boss – Army Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf – and other military leaders executing Operation Desert Storm had Vietnam, and the hard lessons learned there, in their memories, as well.
An oil storage tank at a refinery that was attacked by coalition aircraft during Operation Desert Storm continues to burn days after the air strike. The refinery is located approximately seven miles west of the Kuwaiti border.
Twenty-five years later, Horner, now a retired four-star general residing in northwest Florida, looks back on the Air Force that struck Saddam Hussein’s forces in Kuwait and Iraq during Desert Storm as perhaps the best-trained force to date. Five days after Iraq invaded Kuwait Aug. 2, 1990, a U.S.-led coalition of about 30 nations placed more than 900,000 troops in the Arabian Peninsula in what became known as Operation Desert Shield, the campaign to prevent Iraqi incursions into Saudi Arabia, and build up forces to expel Iraqi forces from Kuwait should diplomacy fail to secure a peaceful solution. When the United Nations Security Council for Iraq’s withdrawal from Kuwait came and went the following January, Desert Storm kicked off with an air campaign that would become the largest employment of U.S. airpower since the war in Vietnam.
“When I think back on the past 25 years after Desert Storm, I see the immense impact that particular war had on how we planned to fight in the future and the kind of equipment we would need,” Horner said. “But most of all, I think about the spirit and attitude of our young warriors who were going to be faced with the next battle.
“I’m so proud of the way we performed in Desert Storm because of the leadership we had from Schwarzkopf and (Gen. Wilbur L. “Bill” Creech, former Tactical Air Command commander), and the way we had equipment that worked. We had all of the advantages the world had not seen before Desert Storm.”
A framed photo on a bookshelf, of then Colonel, and now retired Gen. Charles A. Horner and his wife Mary Jo, in front of his F-15 at Luke AFB, where he was wing commander in March of 1981. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Andrew Lee)
One of Horner’s first priorities, while planning the air strategy as Schwarzkopf’s joint force air component commander, was to avoid making what he considered the main mistake from Vietnam. He didn’t want bombing target selection to come from the president or defense secretary. As the architect of the air campaign against Iraq, Horner wanted targeting decisions to be made by commanders directly involved in the area of operations. “Washington was not the place to plan a war,” he had said. “If people there wanted to fight, let them come to the theater (of combat).
“That is the lesson of Vietnam,” Horner said in “Airpower Advantage: Planning the Gulf War Campaign 1989-1991,” a book by Diane Putney for the Air Force History and Museums Program. “Remember our great president (Lyndon B. Johnson) saying, ‘They don’t bomb a shit house in North Vietnam if I don’t approve it.’
“Well, I was the guy bombing the shit houses, and I was never going to let that happen if I ever got in charge because it is not right. If you want to know whether war is going to be successful or not, just ask where the targets are being picked. If they say, ‘We picked them in Washington,’ get out of the country. Go to Canada until the war is over because it is a loser.”
The day Horner, then the commander of 9th Air Force and U.S. Central Command Air Forces at Shaw Air Force Base, South Carolina, received the call that eventually launched Desert Storm, he was flying his F-16 Fighting Falcon on an air-to-air training mission near the North Carolina coast with two F-15 Eagles from Langley AFB, Virginia.
He’d expected the call from Schwarzkopf since the invasion of Kuwait. But once the call came from the Federal Aviation Administration to notify him to return to Shaw AFB, he instantly knew what it meant. He and his staff had to prepare the air portion of a CENTCOM briefing for President George H.W. Bush at Camp David, Maryland, the next morning.
After the invasion of Kuwait, the coalition’s first priority was protecting Saudi Arabia. Horner developed friendships with the Saudis earlier in his career during Operation Earnest Will in 1987-88 and other exercises and remained in Saudi Arabia after he and Schwarzkopf went there a few days after the invasion of Kuwait. The coalition organized for Desert Shield and Storm gave the U.S. military an opportunity to work closely with each other, as well as with forces from other nations, as they would later do during Operations Iraqi and Enduring Freedom.
A massive prepositioning of equipment, supplies, munitions and fuels around the Persian Gulf, begun by the Joint Rapid Deployment Force in the 1980s, expedited preparations to conduct military operations in the area of responsibility, Horner said.
“When our aircraft landed in the Gulf airfields, they were met with spares, fuel, munitions, living facilities and all the other things they would need to survive and fight,” he wrote in “Desert Storm: A View From the Front.” “This material had been stored on ships anchored in theater and in leased warehouses throughout the AOR.”
Well before the crisis in the Gulf began, the military had trained for an eventual showdown with Iraq. A month before the invasion, a CENTCOM war game used a scenario of a “Country Orange” attacking Kuwait and Saudi Arabia from the north. When Schwarzkopf, who died in 2012, accepted command of CENTCOM in November 1989, he told his military leaders that since a war with Russia wasn’t likely to happen, “we have to find a new enemy or go out of business,” Horner said.
At the time Iraq invaded Kuwait, it fielded the world’s fifth-largest army at a million soldiers; larger than the U.S. Army and Marine Corps combined, according to a Los Angeles Times article on Aug. 13, 1990. The weaknesses coalition military planners hoped to exploit included an incompetent senior staff chosen for their devotion to Hussein rather than their military prowess, and only about one-third of its soldiers were experienced combat troops, according to U.S. officials quoted in the article.
After its eight-year war with Iran, Iraq owed a huge debt to Kuwait and many other Arab nations, which funded Iraq’s purchase of high-tech weapons, according to an American Patriot Friends Network article published in 2004. Kuwait’s oil made it one of the richest countries in the world and cash-strapped Iraq wanted it.
Pilot gazes out into the wild blue yonder.
“When General Schwarzkopf took command of (CENTCOM), he said we have to plan for an Iraqi invasion of Kuwait and Saudi Arabia because Iraq came out of the Iran-Iraq War very powerful militarily,” Horner said. “So, of course, they were sitting right next to the Fort Knox in the Middle East. So when it happened, I wasn’t surprised. We’d anticipated it was going to happen, but the speed with which we had to react was surprising.”
A United Nations Security Council deadline for Iraq’s withdrawal from Kuwait passed on Jan. 15, 1991, with no action from Iraq, so at 2 a.m. Jan. 17 (Baghdad time), coalition forces began a five-week bombardment of Iraqi command and control targets, beginning with eight Army AH-64 Apache helicopters led by two Air Force MH-53 Pave Hawks that destroyed radar sites near the Iraq-Saudi Arabia border, according to Putney. About an hour later, 10 Air Force F-117 Nighthawk stealth bombers, protected by three EF-111 Aardvarks, and Navy BGM-109 Tomahawk cruise missiles struck targets in Baghdad. The initial attacks allowed the coalition to gain control of the air for its fighter aircraft.
At the cessation of hostilities, coalition forces had destroyed 3,700 of Iraq’s 4,280 tanks and 2,400 of its 2,870 armored vehicles. The bomb tonnage dropped by U.S. planes per day equaled the average tonnage dropped on Germany and Japan during the entirety of World War II, according to the “White Paper – Air Force Performance in Desert Storm, Department of the Air Force,” published in April 1991.”
“The things that guided our strategy was to be unrelenting and to bring such a powerful force, so quickly and so thoroughly on the enemy, that they would be forced to leave Kuwait,” Horner said. “It was not going to be piecemeal. It was not going to be to play Mr. Nice Guy. It was going to be as vicious as possible, and that drove the strategy. The second part of our strategy was to get control of the air first and foremost, which we did not do in Vietnam.”
Civilian and military officials pose for a group photograph prior to discussing U.S. military intervention in the Persian Gulf during Operation Desert Shield. Dignitaries include, from left: P. D. Wolfowitz, under sec. of defense for policy; Gen. C. Powell, chrm., Joint Chiefs of Staff; R. Cheney, sec. of defense; Gen. N. Schwarzkopf, cmdr-in-chief, USCENTCOM; Lt. Gen. C. Waller, dep. chief of staff, USCENTCOM; and Maj. Gen. R. Johnston. Back row: Lt. Gen. C. Horner, cmdr., 9th AF, TAC; Lt. Gen. J. Yeosock, cmdr., 3rd Army; Vice-Adm. S. Arthur, cmdr., Seventh Flt. and Col. Johnson.
The result was a prolonged air campaign that set up a short but decisive ground campaign. As the air war kicked off the first night of Desert Storm, Horner watched from the tactical air control center in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, as coalition aircraft flew north. At first, he wasn’t completely confident about how successful the attack would be or the cost it would take in aircraft and personnel.
However, Horner knew it was going well when he saw CNN’s live feed from Baghdad disappear. As CNN’s television satellite transmission equipment was not allowed entry into the highly controlled, secretive, authoritarian state, they had to transmit through antennas atop the ATT building in downtown Baghdad. It was the same building that housed Iraq’s air defense operations and from which communications emanated from Iraq’s air command control system. It was the target of one of the first bombs dropped from U.S. planes. When CNN reporter Peter Arnett went off the air at the precise moment the strike was scheduled, cheers went through the air operations center, Horner said. If CNN was off the air, so was Iraq’s air defense system.
“So as the sun came up the next morning and all of our airplanes were coming home except one, we became aware that this was going to go a lot better than even the best critics thought it might,” Horner said.
By Feb. 23, the air campaign was mostly complete and coalition ground forces swiftly drove the Republican Guard from Kuwait and advanced into Iraq, forcing a ceasefire within 100 hours. Desert Storm was won at a much lower cost than even in the most optimistic prognostications, with 148 Americans killed in action and another 145 non-battle deaths. The Defense Intelligence Agency numbered the Iraqi casualties at about 100,000, although later the figure was disputed to be more in the 20,000 to 40,000 range.
Horner said bombing campaign proved most productive attacking Republican Guard and armor units because Hussein depended on them to retain power. The attacks to gain control of the air, coupled with medium-altitude operations, air-to-air excellence and defense suppression attacks were also effective, he said.
“When the ground war started, I expected rapid gains given the fact that we had reduced the Iraqi ground units to a level of ‘not combat ready,’ using our Army’s definition,” Horner said. “What surprised most of us was the surrender rate. That was beyond our expectations. Once I became certain, early in the war, that our losses were manageable, I knew the ground war would go well, but I underestimated how well.”
Horner, who co-wrote his account of the air war with the late Tom Clancy in “Every Man a Tiger,” gives much of the credit for the training of the force he led during Desert Storm to Creech and Marine Corps Gen. George B. Crist, Schwarzkopf’s predecessor as CENTCOM commander-in-chief, who both placed great importance on making training as close to real world as possible. They led the push for more realistic exercises, an emphasis on aircraft maintenance, bomb scores, and the right tactics, which all came together during Desert Storm.
A close-up view of M-117 750-pound bombs loaded onto the pylon of a B-52G Stratofortress aircraft prior to a bombing mission against Iraqi forces during Operation Desert Storm.
Another lesson from Crist that played into Horner’s strategy was to force decisions down to the lowest level and hold those people responsible. Horner saw the benefits of that policy during a meeting with a munitions technical sergeant. Horner was visiting the bomb dock where munitions were built and saw the NCO sitting on a dust-covered wooden crate, and he asked him how things were going and if he was running into any problems.
“He said, ‘Well, those dumb guys in Riyadh, (Saudi Arabia), meaning me, told me one day to load 2,000-pound bombs on each F-16,” Horner said, smiling. “Those dummies didn’t know that I didn’t have any 2,000-pound bombs, so I went ahead and put four 1,000-pound bombs on each of the airplanes, and the mission flew. If he had not been empowered, all he had to do was say I don’t have two 2,000-pound bombs, and we would have never gotten those two planes off. It was empowerment that made the difference, and that was one of the secrets we saw in Desert Storm.”
F-16A, F-15C and F-15E flying during Desert Storm. (U.S. Air Force photo)
Iraq’s air force was almost non-existent during Desert Storm. Hussein hoped to wait out the coalition bombardment, which he didn’t expect would last more than four or five days. As a result, gaining control of the air almost immediately allowed the coalition forces to interdict supply lines and degrade command and control links, according to a GlobalSecurity.org article. Air supremacy also drastically destroyed the will of the Iraqi army; they surrendered in droves when the ground war began 38 days later.
Aside from the superior training that was on display during Desert Shield and Storm, Horner believes another legacy of the first war in the Gulf was the technological advances it put on display for the Air Force.
Retired Air Force Gen. Charles Horner had a major role in the air power strategy of the Gulf War of 1990-1991. Horner commanded U.S. and Allied airpower during Operation Desert Shield and Operation Desert Storm. He had previously served as a combat pilot flying F-105s in Vietnam where he was awarded a Silver Star. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Andrew Lee)
“I think the American public and the world were amazed at the technology that was exposed by Desert Storm,” he said. “The stealth of the F-117 and its ability to go anywhere in heavily defended areas of the world and carry out its mission with absolute precision, the training of our air-to-air combat people and the ability to defeat a very sophisticated surface-to-air missile threat all came into play, and they weren’t appreciated because of our experiences in previous wars such as Vietnam. It served us very well and created an illusion that we were more successful than we really were. But I’ll accept that.”
Officials with U.S. Pacific Command concluded the two Chinese J-10 jets that intercepted an Air Force RC-135 spy plane during a routine patrol over the East China Sea were flying unsafely and improperly, but not being intentionally provocative.
In a statement released Wednesday by the command, officials said the Defense Department planned to address the problem with Chinese authorities using appropriate diplomatic and military channels.
The intercept, officials said, was unsafe because one of the Chinese jets approached the American aircraft at an excessive rate of speed.
“Initial assessment is that this seems to be a case of improper airmanship, as no other provocative or unsafe maneuvers occurred,” they said in a news release.
A spokesman for the command, Cmdr. David Benham, told Military.com that the speed with which the J-10 had closed on the RC-135 had not been determined.
“We’re still reviewing the details of the incident,” he said. “Generally speaking, when assessing the intercept, we evaluate factors such as distance, closure, weather, maneuvering and visibility.”
The release cited the chief of Pacific Command, Navy Adm. Harry Harris, who emphasized that unsafe intercepts by Chinese aircraft were a rare occurrence, and that most recent U.S.-Chinese maritime interactions “had been conducted safely and professionally.”
But this intercept maneuver comes less than a month after a May 19 incident in which two Chinese J-11 aircraft conducted an unsafe intercept of an American EP-3 reconnaissance plane over the South China Sea. In that incident, the Chinese planes came within 50 feet of the American aircraft, according to media reports.
This most recent incident comes as U.S. and Chinese officials exchange stern words over the contested South China Sea.
Defense Secretary Ash Carter said last week at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore that China risked building a “Great Wall of self-isolation” if it continued to alienate neighbors with aggressive sovereignty claims and militarization activities in the region.
China fired back on Monday, when Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hua Chunying
accused “certain countries” of conducting a “negative publicity campaign” regarding Chinese activity in the South China Sea.
“By sensationalizing the so-called tensions in the South China Sea, and driving wedges between countries in the region, they are trying to justify their political and military involvement in the South China Sea issue,” Hua said. “That is what they really want.”
It’s well known that the fearsome Soviet spy agency, the KGB, used brutal tactics to eliminate and intimidate rivals.
Legend has it that when Soviet diplomats were kidnapped by terrorists in Lebanon in the mid-1980s, KGB officers kidnapped and killed a relative of one of the perpetrators, mailing body parts to the terrorists to demonstrate why Russia’s enemies shouldn’t poke the bear.
Now-declassified CIA documents reveal the KGB had a special team created exclusively for assassinations. The KGB’s 13th Department was called the “Directorate of Special Tasks” and used “executive actions” or “liquid affairs” (read: targeted assassinations) to eliminate threats to the Soviet state.
The directorate had two special labs that most officers didn’t know about – one for creating unique weapons and explosives, the other for developing new poisons and drugs. Poisons were a favorite for these extra-judicial killings because they attracted less attention and were often confused for natural deaths.
Here are nine KGB assassination attempts that will make you want to run background checks on your friends.
1. Leon Trotsky
Trotsky was a key player in the Bolshevik takeover of Russia in 1918. When Lenin died, many believed he would take over. But it was Stalin who won the succession struggle.
Trotsky criticized the new Soviet state for suppressing democracy and was expelled from the government for his trouble. Eventually, Stalin exiled Trotsky out of the USSR.
The Mexico City suburbs became his new home, but the distance couldn’t keep him safe from the death sentence Stalin ordered. In 1940, Trotsky was done in by a Spanish Communist agent with an ice pick.
2. Franz Josip Tito
The World War II leader of Yugoslavia would not give up his country’s hard-fought independence for anything. Tito’s refusal to align himself with the Soviet Bloc frustrated Stalin to no end. So the Soviet dictator decided to get rid of Tito — as he had done with many previous political roadblocks.
‘Stop sending people to kill me… If you don’t stop sending killers, I’ll send one to Moscow, and I won’t have to send a second.’
3. John Wayne
Film historian and author Michael Munn tells the story of John Wayne’s brush with a Soviet assassination order in his book, “John Wayne: The Man Behind the Myth.” Wayne’s anti-Communist statements didn’t sit well with Stalin, who allegedly ordered The Duke’s murder. Two Russian filmmakers, Sergei Gerasimov and Alexei Kapler, warned film legend Orson Welles about the order. Wells told Wayne, but Wayne was also warned by the FBI and stuntman Yakima Canutt, whom Wayne once credited with saving his life.
Wayne and a screenwriter friend planned to abduct the assassins, drive them to a beach, and stage a mock execution to pump them for information. The two hitmen turned and worked for the FBI while Wayne moved to a house behind a large wall.
4. Lev Rebet
Rebet was a Ukrainian nationalist writer, Nazi death camp survivor, and staunch anti-Communist. He was also the leader of the Ukrainian government for a time. In 1957, Rebet died suddenly of “natural causes” while on a trip to Munich. In 1961, a KGB agent named Bohdan Stashynsky defected to the West and revealed Rebet’s death was an assassination. The weapon he used was a gun that sprayed a cloud of cyanide gas. Stashynsky also killed Rebet’s party boss, Stepan Bandera, with the gas weapon.
5. Georgi Markov
A gray-haired man waiting for a London bus in 1978 would have attracted little attention from passers-by. In this case, that man was Georgi Markov, a Communist defector from Bulgaria who made England his new home. The man next to him dropped his umbrella, hitting Markov in the leg. It hurt, but Markov barely noticed. The man apologized and they both went on their way. Markov died four days later.
His autopsy revealed a pellet in his leg which contained .2 milligrams of ricin, a deadly poison used in chemical warfare and made famous by the show “Breaking Bad.” Vladimir Kostov, another Bulgarian defector, survived a similar fate with the pellet being stuck in his back. He told the world about the attack on Radio Free Europefour days after his brush with death.
“Georgiy Sergeyevich, I have come to you from Moscow. The Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union has ordered your assassination.”
But Khoklov didn’t kill him. Instead, the KGB agent defected to the U.S. and revealed (via press conference) the weapon he was supposed to use: a cigarette pack that was actually an electrically-operated, silenced gun that fired cyanide rounds.
7. Nikolai Khoklov
In retaliation for his defection and failed assassination of Okolovich, Khoklov’s wife was sentenced to forced resettlement in the Soviet Union and Department 13 ordered Khoklov’s own assassination. The weapon would be thallium poisoning, the first use of radiological weapons by the KGB.
Thallium is a soft metal element that was often used as a rat or ant poison but fell into disuse for its potential side effects. When Khoklov’s skin began to crack, he began to lose his hair, and bleed without clotting, he knew what was happening. German doctors irrigated him with antidotes and he survived.
8. Pope John Paul II
When Polish Cardinal Karol Józef Wojtyła was elected Pope in 1979, the Soviet Union was less than thrilled. They believed he was the single greatest threat to their power, especially in Poland. So when the Pontiff was shot and wounded on May 13, 1981, the world looked to more than his attacker, a Turkish man named Mehmet Ali Agca, for answers.
The Solidarity movement was a direct outgrowth of the Pope’s visit to Poland in 1979 and became a constant irritation in the side of the Soviet leaders. A book detailing the Mitrokhin Archive, a massive trove of Top Secret KGB documents carried over by Vasili Mitrokhin after his defection to the West, shows the KGB carried out this assassination attempt in retaliation for the Pope’s attempt to undermine Soviet regime.
9. Alexander Litvinenko
Litvinenko served with the KGB from 1986 until the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. He continued serving in Russia’s internal security service long after, working to infiltrate organized crime groups. In 1998, he accused his superiors of ordering the assassination of a Russian media mogul in a public press conference. He was arrested twice for this and personally fired by Vladimir Putin, whom the agent accused of bombing Russian apartments and murdering a Russian journalist to get elected president.
He fled to London with his family and began to write books and advise the Britain’s intelligence community on Russian activities. Allegedly a target of the KGB’s susccessor, the FSB, in 2006 he suddenly became gravely ill, growing weak and unable to walk. When he was hospitalized, specialists conducted a test for radioactive materials and discovered the element Polonium-210, a radioactive element that emits alpha radiation – only damaging to human tissue when ingested.
The UK’s Health Protection Agency discovered the Polonium poison in Litvinenko’s teacup, 200 times greater than a normally lethal dose.
War is fought in some dirty places, like the trenches of World War I, the foxholes of World War II, and the jungles of Vietnam. Many of the injuries medics treat on the battlefield don’t come from bullets or bombs — they’re from unsanitary conditions.
So check out these gross things medics have to look at and be able to treat on a day-to-day basis.
1. Ingrown toenails
Ingrown toenails are the result of poor foot care and bad grooming practices.
A well-executed toenail extraction. (Images via Giphy)
Stands for “Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus” and it’s meaner than your ordinary pimple. On the surface, it doesn’t look too frightening. But below the skin, it’s chewing you up.
See a professional before popping. (Images via Giphy)
3. Mouth ulcers
With a variety of known causes, mouth ulcers are typically related to a viral infection in the body. Pain management is required or everything that touches the sores will hurt.
I told you everything hurt a mouth sore. (Images via Giphy)
Better known as pink eye, the beginning stage isn’t so bad. But left untreated, the condition could lead to losing an eye. What’s nasty about this ailment is that it’s typically produced by poop particles floating in the air and getting in your eyes.
Anyone can get pink eye so wear your eye protection out there, people. (Images via Giphy)What gross non-battle things have you seen on deployment? Comment below.