American troops tried to find Viet Cong tunnels using witching rods - We Are The Mighty
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American troops tried to find Viet Cong tunnels using witching rods

For more than five centuries, farmers, treasure hunters, and others have applied a pseudoscientific practice known as “dowsing” to find water, caves, graves and more.


During the Vietnam War, American troops tried using the method to divine the location of Viet Cong tunnel networks.

It didn’t work.

Continually frustrated by the underground networks, the Pentagon made locating and destroying the subterranean passages a main goal in 1967. A year later, defense contractor HRB Singer told the Office of Naval Research that dowsing might hold the answer.

“Undoubtedly, any system that offers some promise of improving the odds above pure chance of discovering and locating the enemy is worth a try — if nothing else is available,” the scientists explained in a 1968 report. The U.S. Army and Navy had both so far failed to build a machine that could reliably detect the tunnels.

In spite of repeated studies failing to prove any scientific basis for dowsing, the practice has endured to the present day. HRB Singer was optimistic that dowsing could help in South Vietnam.

Debates have raged about whether dowsing works since the practice first evolved in Germany in the 15th century. In 1518, Christian theologian Martin Luther decried the practice as occultic — and an affront to God.

A common understanding surrounding dowsing is that certain people can either innately sense small shifts in Earth’s magnetic fields that indicate open underground areas such as caverns. These individuals can train others to feel these changes. Others have linked the diving to psychic abilities or other factors.

Dowsers may use a Y- or L-shaped wood or metal pole —typically called a “divining rod” or “witching rod” — to help in their search. However, some practitioners don’t use any special tools.

American troops tried to find Viet Cong tunnels using witching rods
U.S. Army troops investigate a Viet Cong tunnel. | U.S. Army photo

Despite widespread skepticism, HRB Singer was quick point out dowsing’s clear military applications — if it worked. In South Vietnam, Communist rebels routinely ambushed American troops from camouflaged spider holes and bunkers linked to extensive underground networks.

“The evidence suggests that this network of underground installations which has been under construction for more than 20 years is an even better base for communist guerrilla … than was Castro’s Sierra Maestra range in Cuba,” HRB Singer’s Richard Bossart wrote in the report.

The Pentagon was trying pretty much anything it could think of to close these tunnels. In 1963, the Army tried using anti-tank rockets to blast into the underground pathways.

Three years later, the ground combat branch started working on a handheld device that could accurately measure differences in magnetic fields to find the Viet Cong hideaways. Dogs were another option.

In 1967, the Air Force looking into trying liquids that would change colors if surface temperature was markedly colder from that underground. This could indicate a large heat source such as a mass of people or a cooking fire.

None of these projects were working out. Between 1966 and 1971, the Army spent more than $500,000 on the portable magnetometer — nearly $3 million in 2016 dollars — and only got a dozen prototype devices to South Vietnam for tests.

With few options, American troops had already turned to dowsing in the field before HRB Singer started their research. Around the same time HRB Singer started their research, the U.S. Marine Corps went so far as to “train” a small group to dowse for tunnels.

The Marine Corps Development and Educational Command put the leathernecks through a four-hour course in the practice. In March 1968, Associated Press reporters spotted the troops near their base at Khe Sanh using bent brass rods to find their subterranean foes.

American troops tried to find Viet Cong tunnels using witching rods
U.S. Army specialist Marvin Miller drops a smoke grenade into a tunnel. | U.S. Army photo

Bossart and his colleagues hadn’t been able to figure out if the Marines’ had any luck with their witching rods. But it wasn’t enough to dissuade him from moving forward with his own investigations.

“The fact that detecting and locating tunnels is so critical that the niceties of scientific rigor can be de-emphasized, if necessary,” the HRB Singer researcher noted. In his opinion, the fact that American forces were doing it already made objections “somewhat academic.”

After reviewing the available literature, the HRB Singer team — including a number of employees who were amateur spelunkers — kicked off its own experiment. Having already used dowsing in their hobby, these individuals were happy to explore the phenomenon.

The company’s experts worked together with locals and students in and around Pennsylvania State University. The test subjects found a underground cavern in one case and a septic tank in another.

“These experiments are by no means meant to indicate proof of dowsing,” Bossart was quick to acknowledge in his conclusions. “They are in general uncontrolled and subject to reasonable doubt.”

Still, Bossart felt the results showed the potential of dowsing and the need for more and better studies. The key was trying to conclusively prove whether the practice was a science, an art or pure luck.

In the end, neither HRB Singer nor the Marine Corps could prove a scientific underpinning for dowsing. In 1971, with the Vietnam War steadily winding down, the Marines canned their program.

With its continued popularity in certain regions of the United States, the practice continues to pop up in military circles. In 1988, Air Force lieutenant colonel Dolan McKelvy made the case for dowsing among other types of “psychic warfare” as part of an Air War College research project.

The Marine Corps “did not discredit dowsing, but merely pointed out it is a special skill his marines hadn’t mastered,” according to Dolan. “It probably requires more than a four-hour short course for use operationally.”

In 1990, Lewis Carl, a “professional dowser,” tried again to get the Army interested in dowsing. Carl claimed the practice could help solve water problems for American troops rushing to the Persian Gulf following Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait.

Four years later, David Gaisford conducted his own experiments into the procedure as a student at the Air Force Institute of Technology. In reviewing the historical record, he noted that the Marines had concluded there was no “scientific basis” for the practice.

The ground combat branch wasn’t interested in Carl’s offer. And just like those before him, Gaisford couldn’t find any solid evidence and called for more research.

Today, civilian scientists and engineers and their military counterparts generally rely on advanced magnetometers, radars and lasers to see enemy tunnels and other threats beneath the surface. So far, no one has been able to convince the Pentagon to add witching rods to soldiers’ packs.

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Lithuania adds armored vehicles to inventory as Russian threat looms

American troops tried to find Viet Cong tunnels using witching rods
(Photo: ARTEC)


Lithuania is boosting its military by purchasing 88 “Boxer” infantry fighting vehicles (IFV) from Germany. The purchase comes amid increasing concern about Russian intentions towards Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia.

The Boxer is an eight-wheeled vehicle with a three-man crew that can hold eight infantrymen. The version procured by Lithuania will include Israeli gear, notably the Samson Mk II turret, which has a 30mm autocannon and Spike-LR anti-tank missiles. The Spike-LR is a fire-and-forget anti-tank missile that has a range of roughly 2.5 miles, and can defeat most main battle tanks. The Boxers will join about 200 M113 armored personnel carriers currently serving in the Lithuanian Land Forces.

The Boxer is in service with the Dutch and German armies, with the Dutch using it to replace M577 command vehicles and  YPR-765 infantry fighting vehicles in support roles. The  Germans are using the Boxer to replace the M113 and the Fuchs armored car. The two countries have purchased or plan to purchase over 700 Boxers, and the total may well increase.

The purchase of 88 vehicles seems small, but the Lithuanian Land Forces consist of a single full-strength mechanized infantry brigade with a “motorized infantry” brigade currently forming. This force does not have any heavy armor, and is also very short on artillery, featuring a grand total of 54 M101 105mm howitzers and 42 M113 120mm mortar carriers. Lithuania has purchased 21 PzH 2000 self-propelled howitzers and a few dozen 120mm mortars that can be carried by infantry. Lithuania has a couple hundred FGM-148 Javelin fire-and-forget anti-tank missiles with a range of just over 1.5 miles, joining older 90mm towed recoilless rifles and Carl Gustav shoulder-fired recoilless rifles.

Despite the modernization program, when facing a formation like the newly-reformed 1st Guards Tank Army, the Lithuanian Land Forces will be facing some very long odds, particularly when they are dependent on a four-plane detachment in Lithuania proper for air cover (the Baltic Air Policing program also has a four-plane detachment in Estonia). The Lithuanian Air Force has one L-39 trainer/light attack plane in service.

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These two veterans made one of the most iconic moments in music history

When Johnny Cash took the stage at California’s San Quentin State Prison on Feb. 24, 1969, one of the songs he would record there was destined to become one of Cash’s most iconic songs, as well as one of his biggest hits: “A Boy Named Sue.” It held the top spot on the country charts for five straight weeks and it was his biggest hit, climbing to the second slot on the Billboard 100 chart.


“The Man in Black” was a veteran of the United States Air Force, a morse code operator who spent much of his career spying on the Soviet Union. In fact, Cash was the first person in the West to learn that Stalin died in 1953. As a matter of fact, his distinctive facial scar was the result of good ol’ military medicine.

Related: Why Johnny Cash was the first Westerner to learn Stalin was dead

American troops tried to find Viet Cong tunnels using witching rods
Silverstein with Cash onstage years later.

“A Boy Named Sue” is the story of a boy who was abandoned by his dad at a young age — after giving the boy a female name. Sue finds his dad at a bar years later and gets into a pretty nasty brawl with the old man. That’s when his dad reveals he named the boy Sue so as to make Sue tough even when his dad wasn’t around to raise him.

The song about a boy trying to kill his father probably resonated with Cash’s audience that day.

The author of the song was also a veteran. Shel Silverstein, beloved around the world for his poetry, humor, and illustrations, was drafted by the U.S. Army to fight in Korea — but by the time he arrived the war was over. He was assigned to Stars and Stripes in the Pacific, part of the new peacetime Army. And thus a legendary military writer was born to the veteran community.

American troops tried to find Viet Cong tunnels using witching rods
Bobby Bare Sr. (left) and Shel Silverstein (right)

Now read: This famous author started his career drawing timeless cartoons as a drafted US troop

It was Silverstein who penned Cash’s now-famous song about the boy with a girl’s name, although Cash put his own twist on it. During the original San Quentin recording, Cash added the line, “I’m the son of a bitch that named you Sue!” In Silverstein’s original writing, there were no curse words used. Even so, the “son of a bitch” line was censored out of the album.

Cash was doing what was known as a “guitar pull” back then — where writers take turns singing each other’s songs. In fact, Silverstein recorded his own version of the song on his own 1969 album. Johnny Cash’s band at San Quentin didn’t even know it very well and did their best to improvise.

Silverstein notably worked with another fellow vet and country music superstar, Kris Kristofferson, on a few songs that were performed by country legends Chet Atkins and Loretta Lynn.
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This is why going mudding in a World War I era tank is a bad idea

The front line of WWI was a dangerous place. From bullets to bombs to poison gas, the death that could be dealt on the battlefield came from many directions.


Mother nature included.

Excessive rains made mobility difficult as troops were forced to navigate through the mud-choked battlefields, making resupply and transport nearly impossible. With both sides bogged down, tanks were thought to enable a breakthrough, but they too soon succumbed to the clutches of mud.

Known as “Mark 1,” the first tank was constructed with 105hp Daimler engine and carried two Hotchkiss six-pound (57mm) guns. The crew consisted four gunners and three drivers, and the tank maneuvered on caterpillar tracks with separate gearboxes.

Soldiers had to endure intense heat in the crew compartment, extreme noise and would sometimes be trapped for days if the tank got stuck.

After multiple design failures, the British considered canceling their tank program, but supporters kept them in the Empire’s arsenal.

Related: Why WWII soldiers nicknamed the Sherman tank ‘death trap’

New tactics breathed new life into the lumbering beasts, focusing them into mass attacks that took advantage of proper terrain.

Check out the History Channel‘s video below to see how these first tanks made an impact on the battlefields of the War To End All Wars.

(History Channel, YouTube) 
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Aircraft dominate the Navy’s unfunded List. But still no new ships

New aircraft make up half the Navy’s $5.3 billion unfunded requirements list of items that didn’t fit in the 2018 budget request. But while the wishlist includes several upgrades to existing vessels, as well as new landing craft and barges, it doesn’t ask for any new warships.


Instead of ships, the unfunded requirements list prioritizes aircraft: $739 million for 10 F/A-18E/F Super Hornet fighters takes first place, followed by $1 billion for six P-8A Poseidon reconnaissance planes, and $540 million for four F-35C Joint Strike Fighters. The fourth and fifth items are for upgrades to the Navy’s long-neglected infrastructure of shore facilities, reflecting military leadership’s desire to patch major holes in readiness.

American troops tried to find Viet Cong tunnels using witching rods
US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Nicolas C. Lopez

Overall:

  • about $3.4 billion of the request, or 63 percent, goes for weapons procurements. (The way the items are listed means this sum includes a small amount of RD funding as well). Of that, the lion’s share, $2.7 million, goes to buy new aircraft: the F-18s, P-8As, and F-35Cs, plus four cargo variants of the V-22 Osprey.
  • $1.3 billion, 24 percent, goes for facilities, counting both readiness funding (from the Operations Maintenance account) and Military Construction. $480 million, 9 percent, goes for other readiness needs, $330 million of it for aviation: logistics, spare parts, and general support.
  • $101 million, 2 percent, goes to research, development, testing, evaluation. (That’s not including small RDTE sums wrapped up in weapons upgrades we counted as procurement).
  • Just $90 million, 2 percent, goes to military personnel, filling holes in short-handed units rather than growing the force.

If you break the list up by priority ranking, you see some striking patterns. Almost all the procurement requests, $3.1 billion, are in the top 12 items, with the best odds of passing. What little RD money there is almost all comes in the top half of the list (items #1-24). Personnel requests, however, are clustered in the middle, with middling odds of being funded. Facilities is split: 53 percent of the request are in the top 12, 38 percent in the bottom 12, very little in the middle. Non-facilities readiness requests are almost entirely in the bottom half.

American troops tried to find Viet Cong tunnels using witching rods
U.S Navy photo by Personnel Specialist 1st Class Anthony Petry

Specifically, when you discount lower-priority requests, procurement’s share jumps even higher, to 75 percent; facilities drops to 18 percent; other readiness to four percent; RD stays at 2 percent; and personnel falls to one percent of the request.

Yet despite all that emphasis on procurement, there are still no new ships. Congress will want to change that.

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The M45 ‘Meat Chopper’ butchered the Axis and a bunch of commies

In World War II, the United States had outstanding fighters like the P-51 Mustang and the P-47 Thunderbolt. Allies tossed in excellent aircraft as well, like the Spitfire.


But while the Allies won the air-to-air battle against the Axis, it doesn’t mean that the ground troops could forego ground-based air defense.

The U.S. had one weapon that they used for that role — especially front-line grunts. It was the M2 machine gun, known as “Ma Deuce.” One could do some serious damage, firing up to 635 rounds per minute according to the FN website.

Now imagine what four of these could do to troops — or anything short of an armored vehicle or bunker, come to think of it.

American troops tried to find Viet Cong tunnels using witching rods
The M45 Quadmount, with four M2 heavy machine guns, on a half-track. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

In World War II, the United States deployed the M45 Quadmount, with four M2s, each of which were fed by a 200-round drum of ammo. As an anti-aircraft weapon, it was fierce against prop-driven planes like the Me-109, the FW-190, and the Ju-87.

However, grunts often don’t see what a weapon was designed to do. They quickly can come up with “off-label” uses for weapons they are issued, and the M45 Quadmount — initially designed to kill Axis planes — soon was used on Axis ground targets.

The system soon got nicknames like “Meat Chopper.” The M45 mount was used on trailers, but also on the M16 half-track, where it was called the MGMC for “Multiple Gun Motor Carriage” — in essence, a self-propelled anti-aircraft gun. One version was even tested on the chassis of the M3 light tank — but that version didn’t go into production.

American troops tried to find Viet Cong tunnels using witching rods
M16 MGMC. (Photo by US Army Signal Corps)

The M45 “Meat Chopper” didn’t leave when World War II ended. In fact, it managed to stick around for the Korean War and the Vietnam War — in both cases serving as a very deadly infantry-support platform.

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Four exotic weapons that will make you rethink ancient warfare

When most think of ancient warfare, nothing more sophisticated than spears, bows, and maybe catapults come to mind. But like in modern warfare, few things breed ingenuity more than the need to outgun the enemy. Here are some of the more elaborate examples:


1. Claw of Archimedes

American troops tried to find Viet Cong tunnels using witching rods

Archimedes, the famed Greek mathematician and inventor, developed a variety of weapons to aid in the defense of his home city of Syracuse, Sicily. This included improved versions of conventional artillery like catapults and ballistas, but he also designed more exotic devices to defend Syracuse’s seawall from attacking Roman ships during the Second Punic War.

Though the exact design of the Claw of Archimedes is not known, it is believed to have been a large crane fitted with a gigantic grappling hook. As Roman ships approached the wall, it would be deployed over them, snagging them with the hook, and then lifting the ship at least partially out of the water. When released, the ship would capsize or at least be dropped violently back into the water, damaging the vessel and throwing crewmen overboard.

The Roman historian Livy contended that the Roman fleet suffered terrible casualties from this device. A team working for the Discovery Channel recreated the device using technology that would have been available at the time and used it to capsize a replica of a Roman galley, proving that the device could have been effective.

2. Heat Ray

American troops tried to find Viet Cong tunnels using witching rods

Another of Archimedes inventions–far more controversial and shrouded in mystery–is a form of heat ray designed to set enemy ships on fire. A strategically placed series of mirrors would focus the sun’s rays onto a single point on an enemy ship and ignite it, like a magnifying glass used to ignite paper. Most Roman ships of the era were coated with pitch as a sealant, which would only make the target more flammable.

Though some ancient historians record that such a weapon was used during the 212 B.C. siege of Syracuse, attempted recreations conducted by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and others concluded that the weapon was almost ridiculously impractical. It was completely dependent on the position of the sun and a utter lack of cloud cover, and could only function on a completely stationary target due to the time required for it to achieve ignition.

Even if it succeeded, at best it could create small, easily extinguishable fires. Regular flaming arrows and catapult ammunition would have far more range and effectiveness, not to mention being easier to deploy.The only practical function such a weapon would have is to use its rays to temporarily blind the crews and marines of the attacking ships. Despite its shortcomings, the novel concept of using light as a lethal weapon presages modern laser technology that is still under development to this day.

3. Biological Warfare

American troops tried to find Viet Cong tunnels using witching rods

After a series of disputes, the Mongolian Golden Horde laid siege to the Genoese trading city of Caffa in 1346, in what is in the modern day Crimea. The bubonic plague had already started to ravage Crimea, and it rapidly spread to the besieging Mongolian forces, killing thousands.

According to the memoirs of the Italian Gabriele de’ Mussi, the Mongolian Khan Janibeg had ordered the bodies of his soldiers killed by the plague hurled over Caffa’s walls. De’ Mussi wrote: “Soon the rotting corpses tainted the air and poisoned the water supply, and the stench was so overwhelming that hardly one in several thousand was in a position to flee the remains of the Tartar army. Moreover one infected man could carry the poison to others, and infect people and places with the disease by look alone. No one knew, or could discover, a means of defense.”

It has been theorized that Italian ships fleeing the city helped spread the bubonic plague to Europe and start the Black Death, which may have killed more than a quarter of the continent’s population. Considering how many other sources there were for the plague, however, the siege at Caffa may have only played a small role in the ghastly pandemic.

4. Flamethrowers

American troops tried to find Viet Cong tunnels using witching rods

Various flaming liquids and incendiary weapons are known to have been in use since antiquity, but it was the Byzantine Empire that created what could be considered an ancient precursor to napalm, though its exact composition has been lost. The substance known as naptha, or Greek fire, was typically used in clay pots thrown by hand or catapult to ignite enemy ships, siege engines, and troops, but it also was used in some the first flamethrowers.

When used on ships, large brass tubes mounted on the prow were filled with naptha, and large blacksmith’s bellows were rapidly pumped to spray the flaming liquid onto enemy ships. Naptha reputedly could only be extinguished with sand, and water would only spread it about and make the fire worse.

Small hand units, called cheiroseiphon, were scaled down versions of the ones used by ships. They were typically used to ignite enemy siege towers, but some ancient Byzantine strategists recommended its use on the battlefield to terrify enemy formations. It may have only been used to spray the liquid before a secondary fire source ignited it, but contemporary Byzantine illuminations show it being used to directly shoot fire.

 

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The last US troops left Vietnam 43 years ago today

In January 1973, the United States agreed to end direct combat operations in Vietnam. Under the provisions of the Paris Peace Accords, the fighting between North and South Vietnam was also temporarily halted. Though the accords were never ratified by the Senate, on March 29, 1973 the last U.S. troops left Vietnam, ending more than twenty years of military assistance and eight years of direct combat support from the U.S. military. With only a handful of Marines left to guard the embassy in Saigon, the North Vietnamese government in Hanoi released the last 67 of its admitted prisoners of war.


American troops tried to find Viet Cong tunnels using witching rods
Newly freed prisoners of war celebrate as their C-141A aircraft lifts off from Hanoi, North Vietnam, on Feb. 12, 1973, during Operation Homecoming. The mission included 54 C-141 flights between Feb. 12 and April 4, 1973, returning 591 POWs to American soil. (U.S. Air Force photo)

During World War II Ho Chi Minh fought alongside the American OSS against the Japanese. After the war, Ho declared an independent Vietnam but soon realized the West would restore French rule in what was then known as Indochina. With the help of Communist governments in China and the Soviet Union, Ho led an eight-year insurgency against the French, and the country was split in two in 1954.

The United States began to support South Vietnam as early as 1954. President Eisenhower pledged his unwavering support for the regime of Southern dictator Ngo Dinh Diem. The Diem regime arrested, tortured, and/or killed upwards of 100,000 people whom he suspected supported the Northern Communists. Diem would be killed in a coup in 1963.

American troops tried to find Viet Cong tunnels using witching rods
Marines with Company G, 2d Battalion, 7th Marines, direct a concentration of fire at the enemy during Operation Allen Brook, 8 May 1968. (U.S. Marine Corps Photo).

In the 1960’s North Vietnamese guerrillas, known as the Viet Cong (VC), began attacking villages and government institutions in the South. By 1965, the U.S. began to send over men and materiel in large numbers, escalating the conflict to a major war. By 1969, the peak of U.S. military involvement, more than half a million U.S. troops were involved in the war. The war included the largest aerial bombing campaigns in history. President Richard Nixon, who was elected on a platform of ending the war, oversaw a brief expansion. Before it ended, the air war expanded, and the conflict migrated into neighboring Cambodia and Laos (attempts to block Northern supply routes along the Ho Chi Minh Trail).

American troops tried to find Viet Cong tunnels using witching rods
US Marines during Operation Dewey Canyon, A Shau Valley, Vietnam (Photo by Staff Sgt. Bob Jordan)

The U.S. left South Vietnam in 1973, but the fighting between North and South continued. The year 1974 would be the most costly one for the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) in terms of combat losses. In 1975, Northern Communist forces captured the southern capital of Saigon and the country was unified as the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. Saigon was renamed Ho Chi Minh City. The last Americans were airlifted out on April 30, 1975.

American troops tried to find Viet Cong tunnels using witching rods
A member of the CIA helps evacuees up a ladder onto an Air America helicopter on the roof of 22 Gia Long Street April 29, 1975, shortly before Saigon fell to advancing North Vietnamese troops.

More than three million people were killed in the Vietnam War, including 1.5 million civilians and 58,000 Americans. Ho Chi Minh would not survive the end of the war, dying in 1969. President Lyndon B. Johnson, who oversaw much of the escalation, would not live to see U.S. troops withdraw. He died in January 1973.

 

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Marines to replace packs that snap in cold weather

The Marine Corps will begin fielding a reinforced pack frame for their standard rucksacks as early as 2018 following reports of the current issue FILBE frames becoming brittle and snapping in cold weather.


The current frame has been fielded since 2011, but issues with its durability began surfacing in 2013 from the Marine School of Infantry – West. Further incidents with the frame breaking arose during airborne operations and mountain warfare training and exercises in Norway during the winter of 2015 and 2016.

The new frame is identical in form and how it attaches to the pack and the Marine, but is constructed using stronger materials.

The frame has already been tested by Marine Recon units during a variety of exercises, and will undergo further trials in sub-freezing weather where it will be checked for signs of stress and cracking after heavy use.

American troops tried to find Viet Cong tunnels using witching rods
USMC photo by Lance Cpl. Danny Gonzalez.

“The reinforced frame is being tested in both constant cold temperature environments, as well as changing temperature environments,” Infantry Combat Equipment engineer Mackie Jordan said in a press release.

“Future testing may include hot-to-cold/cold-to-hot testing to simulate rapid temperature changes during jump operations.”

The Marines have been beefing up their presence and training in Norway, where many of the worst cold-weather breakage issues occurred.

Modern plastic composite pack frames are designed to help distribute the weight of the pack more evenly and take stress off the shoulders. Infantry on foot can easily be forced to carry equipment well in excess of 100 pounds over long distances and severe conditions, making efficient and durable packs vital.

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How cutters are sinking the Coast Guard — and what to do about it

The Coast Guard has been on patrol since 1790, and it has often had to do a lot with very little in the way of assets. Now, some of the assets it does have may be relatively useless.


According to a veteran Coast Guard officer who published his concerns in Proceedings magazine, a number of the major cutters (those over 210 feet in length) are “ill-equipped—and often ill-suited—to handle the challenges and dangers in their areas of operation.” Furthermore, one 210-foot cutter was in dry dock for six months, with two more months at the pier when it should have deployed, due to “unplanned maintenance.”

Drills for the crew are focused more on damage control than maritime law enforcement.

American troops tried to find Viet Cong tunnels using witching rods
U.S. Coast Guard National Security Cutter Bertholf. (Photo from U.S. Coast Guard)

“By continuing its over reliance on the cutter—specifically, large cutters measuring 210 feet and longer—the Coast Guard has fallen behind and become a stagnant force in the maritime domain,” write Lt. David Allan Adams, Jr. “This is, of course, not because of a lack of effort by the hardworking Coasties stationed on cutters, but rather because the white hull fleet is well over 50 years old and ill-equipped—and often ill-suited—to handle the challenges and dangers in their areas of operation.”

Even the newest Coast Guard cutters, the Legend-class National Security Cutters that are replacing the Hamilton-class high-endurance cutters, have had issues, with a 2016 report from McClatchy news service noting that the new ships suffered four cracked cylinder heads a year.

“Junior officers stationed on cutters can testify to the poor material condition of the cutters and the disillusionment cutter life can instill,” Adams wrote. “The life of a JO is not about conducting law enforcement or conning the cutter — as promised at recruitment — but more about routing and correcting memorandums, being held accountable should an inspection go poorly, and striving to perform in the arena in which the JOs’ future is truly held: the underway wardroom.”

The problem has been widespread. A 2014 NJ.com report noted that 34 cutters and 37 patrol boats were unable to deploy for a combined total of 1,654 days. The Coast Guard has also been very short on icebreakers, with one of its most capable vessels in that mission stuck at the pier.

The Coast Guard, of course, has a substantial job, with a mission to secure America’s maritime borders, which run six times the length of the U.S.-Mexico border, and it does so with two-thirds of the personnel of United States Customs and Border Protection.

American troops tried to find Viet Cong tunnels using witching rods
The Coast Guard icebreakers USCGC Polar Sea (WAGB 10) and USCGC Polar Star (WAGB 11) during a resupply mission to McMurdo Research Station. (USCG photo)

The Coast Guard is planning to build 25 Offshore Patrol Cutters to replace the aging medium endurance cutters, a deal expected to cost $10.5 billion, roughly $420 million per vessel. By comparison, a Freedom-class littoral combat ship sets taxpayers back $362 million.

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This Syrian cosmonaut went from general to rebel to refugee

American troops tried to find Viet Cong tunnels using witching rods
The Syrian spaceman who became a refugee from Guardian News Media Ltd.


As a colonel in the Syrian Air Force, Muhammed Faris joined a Soviet mission to the space station Mir in 1987. He was the first (and only) Syrian in space. The Soviets awarded Faris its Order of Lenin and Hero of the Soviet Union medals upon his return. After going back home to Syria, the cosmonaut rejoined Syria’s Air Force under dictator Hafiz al-Asad, father of current dictator, Bashar al-Asad.

Eventually, Faris became a general, but when the uprisings in Syria started, he and his wife joined the opposition protests in Damascus. As the regime got more brutal, he decided to flee to Turkey the next year.

“It was a choice,” he told the Daily Sabah, a Turkish newspaper. “Instead of living there as a ‘hero’ while my people were suffering, I preferred to live in tough conditions in exile with my honor.” Today he lives in Istanbul with his wife and children.

Despite receiving the highest awards the Soviet Union could give, Faris openly criticized the Russian intervention in his home country. He wants Western leaders to recognize that the only way to end the violence and stem the flow of refugees is to oust Asad.

“I tell Europe if you don’t want refugees, then you should help us get rid of this regime,” he told The Associated Press.

Russia and Syria have a long history of cooperation, extending way back to the founding of modern Syria after World War II. Russia supported Syrian independence from France. Since then, the Russians have provided the various Syrian regimes with aid and military assistance. This aid continued throughout the Cold War and through the elder Asad’s regime.

The Russian intervention in the Syrian Civil War has reportedly killed more civilians than ISIS fighters, while refugees continue to pour out of Syria. So far, Syria has 7.6 million people displaced internally with untold millions fleeing to other countries.

“My dream is to sit in my country with my garden and see children play outside without the fear of bombs,” Faris told The Guardian. “We will see it, I know we will see it.”
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Trump picks controversial general for National Security Advisor post

President-elect Donald Trump named three members of his national-security team Nov. 18, including his pick for Attorney General, CIA director and National Security Advisor.


American troops tried to find Viet Cong tunnels using witching rods
Army Lt. Gen. Mike Flynn previously led the Defense Intelligence Agency. He retired after political backlash from his harsh criticism of the Obama administration’s war on terrorism. (Photo from Defense Department)

According to multiple media reports, retired Army Lt. Gen. Mike Flynn was selected to be Trump’s National Security Advisor, while Alabama Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions was chosen for the Attorney General slot.

Kansas Rep. Mike Pompeo was asked to serve as director of the Central Intelligence Agency.

American troops tried to find Viet Cong tunnels using witching rods
Kansas Rep. Mike Pompeo was picked to head the Central Intelligence Agency. (Official congressional portrait)

Flynn, who had been a strong supporter of Trump on the campaign train and was a former director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, served in a number of posts during his Army career. He took part in Operations Urgent Fury and Restore Democracy, then served tours in Iraq and Afghanistan prior to taking charge of the DIA.

Flynn’s service decorations include the Defense Superior Service Medal with two oak leaf clusters, the Defense Meritorious Service Medal, the Bronze Star with three oak leaf clusters, the Meritorious Service medal with five oak leaf clusters, and the Army Commendation Medal with five oak leaf clusters.

Flynn’s tenure as DIA director was marked by controversy, leading him to retire in August 2014.

Representative Pompeo was first elected to Congress in 2010 and was re-elected to his fourth term in 2016. Prior to entering Congress, Pompeo served for five years in the United States Army, reaching the rank of captain, then went to Harvard Law School before founding an aerospace firm and becoming president of an oilfield equipment company.

Pompeo has been an advocate of a hard line with the Islamic Republic of Iran. Pompeo has served on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and the House Select Committee on Benghazi.

Senator Sessions is in his fourth term, having first been elected in 1996. Prior to his election, he served as a United States Attorney for 12 years.

During his service as a U.S. Attorney, his 1986 nomination as a federal judge was derailed. Sessions later ran for Attorney General of Alabama serving two years before winning his seat in the U.S. Senate.

While best known for his tough positions on illegal immigration and border security, Sessions was the sponsor of the HEROES Act of 2005, which boosted the death gratuity benefit to $100,000, and upped Serviceman’s Group Life Insurance coverage to $400,000. The legislation became law later that year.

Sessions served on the Senate Committee on Armed Services, the Senate Committee on the Judiciary, the Senate Committee on the Budget, and the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. Sessions also served in the Army Reserve from 1973-1977, reaching the rank of captain.

Both Flynn and Sessions had been reportedly under consideration to serve as Secretary of Defense in a Trump administration. Had Flynn been nominated for that post, he would have needed a special exemption from rules mandating civilian leadership of the Pentagon.

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This Southern preacher rose to the rank of general in the Confederate Army

A total of four clergymen-turned-soldiers rose to the rank of general during the American Civil War. Three of these four holy men would fight for the Confederacy. The “gallant preacher soldier” of the Confederate Army of Tennessee proved to be the ablest military commander of the bunch, and arguably lived the most remarkable life.


Mark Perrin Lowrey was born in 1828 and grew up in Tennessee, one of 11 children. His father passed away at an early age, leaving the Lowrey family “with little means.” The widowed Mrs. Lowrey relocated the family to Mississippi in 1845. Mark embarked on an endless hunt to pull his family out of poverty beginning in his adolescent years, dirtying his hands to make a dime at the expense of his education.

At the age of 19, Mark Lowrey joined the Second Mississippi Volunteer Regiment as a private with thoughts of finding laurels on the battlefield in Mexico. His service in the Mexican-American War was far from glorious and rewarding. He contracted a nasty case of measles and was bedridden for weeks. His regiment never had a chance to see active service before the war ended. At a minimum, he at least gained a “taste of military discipline and tactics” that would serve him well a decade or so later.

After the war, Lowrey found work as a brick mason. He provided room and board to a local teacher in his home, who in exchange helped to advance his meager education. He impressed and later married the daughter of a wealthy farmer in 1849 at the age of 21. Most likely under the influence of his new bride, Lowrey “yielded to the call of my church,” abandoning his dogged pursuit of wealth. He took his religious vocation a step further when he entered the Baptist ministry in 1853 and “never indulged a moment’s thought of turning from the old calling to make money.”

Pastor Lowrey was “quietly pursuing” his theological studies when the Civil War erupted in 1861. He attempted to remain neutral in the war that tore friends and families apart and fueled many to rash behavior stating, “In political questions I took no part, as I did not think it became a minister of the gospel to engage in the heated discussions that then prevailed throughout the country, and naturally led to the indulgence of immoderate feelings and passions.” The influential pastor found it nearly impossible to avoid the topic of secession since “there was no neutral ground to occupy” in his home state of Mississippi. Many parishioners of his community petitioned him to make speeches related to fighting for the independence of their state, while at the same time serving in his customary role as a spiritual guide and instructor.

Despite his neutral position on secession and his vow to non-violence, Pastor Lowrey was urged to accept a field command in the Confederate Army, owing to his Mexican War experience and social position within his community. “All felt that every man who could bear arms should rise up and stand between his home and the enemy, and he who would not do so was deemed unworthy to be called a Mississippian. Churches felt they had no use for pastors then – fighting men were in demand,” Lowrey afterward evoked. He was elected captain then colonel by a vote from a sixty-day regiment in 1861. He reluctantly hung up his clergyman’s jacket and donned the uniform of a Confederate officer. The thought of his home state being overrun by an invading army was the final shove that led him to modify his stance of neutrality explaining that, “The thought of sitting still until the enemy would overrun my home and family was more than I could bear.”

American troops tried to find Viet Cong tunnels using witching rods
General Mark Perrin Lowrey

His regiment was discharged after sixty days without seeing any fighting, and Lowrey anticipated a peaceful return to his congregation. The clamor for his service was initiated for a second time when the call for a new regiment surfaced following the Battle of Fort Donelson, and those he commanded from disbanded sixty-day regiment “begged me to go with them.” He was elected colonel of the 32nd Mississippi Infantry Regiment and led the regiment at the Battle of Perryville on October of 1862. He was wounded in the left arm but refused to leave the field. He fully recuperated eight weeks later and rejoined his regiment, fighting at the Battle of Murfreesboro. He received a promotion to brigadier general in October of 1863 after hard fighting in the Battle of Chickamauga, winning the commendation of his division commander, the fabled Patrick Cleburne.

American troops tried to find Viet Cong tunnels using witching rods

The “Christian warrior” still practiced his religious profession while in camp and encouraged the soldiers under his command to embrace Jesus as their savior. He led passionate sermons and was rumored in one instance to have baptized 50 men in two weeks in a nearby creek. He was a superb orator and natural leader of men, and also proved to be an efficient soldier who transformed into a “stern, determined, and unfaltering” commander on the battlefield. He was one of the four brigade commanders Major General Pat Cleburne praised in his division declaring that “four better officers are not in the service of the Confederacy,” and had the notoriety of being the only general of the division who was not killed or severely wounded during the war. St. Michael was certainly looking over him.

The high-water mark of Lowrey’s military career came at Ringgold Gap in 1863. There his 1,330-man brigade and the remainder of Cleburne’s division fought a rearguard action against a Union corps in a bid to save Braxton Bragg’s fleeing army in the aftermath of the Confederate defeat at the Battle of Missionary Ridge. His brigade stabilized the Confederate right wing inspired by his bold exploits. General Cleburne noted in one dispatch after the battle that “My thanks are due to General Lowrey for the coolness and skill which he exhibited in forming his line…without a doubt saved the right of this army.” His brigade afterward received official thanks from the Confederate Congress.

American troops tried to find Viet Cong tunnels using witching rods

Lowrey afterward fought in the Atlanta Campaign and at the Battles of Franklin and Nashville. He barely avoided death in Nashville from the bullet of a Union sharpshooter. The bullet killed an unassuming soldier instead of the preacher general. Disenchanted with the war, he resigned in March of 1865 and returned to his religious vocation, declaring that he would rather be remembered “as a Christian and a minister of the gospel than as a soldier.” He established the Blue Mountain Female College in 1873 and died in February of 1885 from a heart attack.

Lowrey was a rare case of a clergyman taking up a rifle to defend his flock, when necessary, against the wolves.