The challenge coin game is a military tradition with murky roots. The game is played where one service member at a bar challenges another to present their challenge coin. If the challenged doesn’t have their coin, they have to buy the challenger a drink. If the challenged service member has their coin, they get a round on the challenger.
Few people play the game anymore, but unit coin designs say a lot about a command. Here are some of the best challenge coin designs we’ve seen.
1. U.S. Army diver coin
It’s cut into a cool shape and has many of the Army’s diver badges on it. It both identifies the holder and calls them to go after even higher certifications as a diver.
2. The Mickey Mouse challenge coin
The military has a long history with co-opting copyrighted materials for its unit coins, murals, and posters. While most units go for something violent or that caters to an adult crowd, the Naval Air Warfare Center in Orlando made one that reminded everyone just how easy it is to get to Walt Disney World from the center. It’s a 40-minute drive.
3. Trample the weak
Most units, especially in the Army and Marine Corps, go aggressive. But this Airborne infantry coin went the extra mile to remind everyone that the infantry has one job and Chosen Company, 173rd Airborne Brigade plans on being good at it.
4. Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy
The most senior enlisted man in the Navy has to represent, and this coin from Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy Rick West lets everyone know where the coin came from. The cut of the coin is very impressive as well, with a gold chain trailing down the anchor.
5. South Park
The South Park coin is a popular design. Everyone just changes the location and calls it a day. It gets laughs and lets the holder brag about their former duty stations.
6. Friday the 13th
For Navy chief petty officers, one of the major ceremonies is being accepted into the chief petty officer mess hall. The men given this coin were accepted on Friday the 13th and were rewarded with an awesome coin.
Eugene Sledge and several classmates intentionally flunked out of their studies in order to enlist during World War II. Sledge chose the Marine Corps infantry and was trained as a 60mm mortarman before being assigned as a replacement in the 5th Marine Regiment. Pvt. Sledge joined K Company, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines after the Battle of Cape Gloucester in preparation for the assault on Peleliu. Sledge and the rest of the 1st Marine Division attacked Peleliu on September 15, 1944.
The fight for the island was supposed to be short but dragged on for more than two months before the island was secure. It was during the fighting on Peleliu that Sledge began keeping a journal of his experiences tucked in the pages of his bible. The fight for the island had so decimated his division that they would not be fit for action again for over six months.
The 1st Marine Division next saw action during the bloody battle for Okinawa. After 82 intense days of combat, the island was secured and the Marines began preparing for their next mission, the invasion of Japan. Fortunately, the atomic bombs forced a Japanese capitulation and Sledge and the 5th Marines instead were sent to Beijing for occupation duty. Sledge was discharged from the Marine Corps in February of 1946 at the rank of corporal.
Despite being out of the war, the experiences he had continued to plague him. He felt out of place back in Alabama, being around people who had not experienced the war. As he stated in an interview with PBS, “As I strolled the streets of Mobile, civilian life seemed so strange. People rushed around in a hurry about seemingly insignificant things. Few seemed to realise how blessed they were to be free and untouched by the horrors of war. To them, a veteran was a veteran – all were the same, whether one man had survived the deadliest combat or another had pounded a typewriter while in uniform.”
While at the Registrar a clerk reviewing his military transcripts asked him if “the Marine Corps taught you anything useful?” To which he replied “Lady, there was a killing war. The Marine Corps taught me how to kill Japs and try to survive. Now, if that don’t fit into any academic course, I’m sorry. But some of us had to do the killing — and most of my buddies got killed or wounded.”
Along with his difficulties with civilians, Eugene Sledge also found himself a changed man. Prior to the war, he had been an avid hunter but when he came back, he found the experience too much to bear. During one particular hunt, Sledge’s father found him weeping after having to kill a wounded dove, saying he could no longer bear to witness any suffering. The conversation was an important one. His father suggested he could substitute bird watching for hunting. This would be a turning point in Sledge’s transition and help guide his career.
Sledge threw himself into his studies at Alabama Polytechnic Institute (now Auburn University), as the studying seemed to help with the flashbacks. In science, he found a subject that would keep him sane and complimented his new passion for observing nature. He completed his bachelor’s degree in only three years, graduating in 1949 with a degree in Biology. He returned to Alabama Polytechnic in 1953 as a graduate student and research assistant before earning his Master’s in Biology in 1955.
Despite his rigorous study keeping many of the bad memories at bay, the war was still with him. At the urging of his wife, he returned to the journal he kept during the war and began work on his memoirs. Then from 1956 to 1960 Sledge attended the University of Florida where he received his Ph.D. in Biology. Dr. Sledge returned to Alabama and became a professor of Biology at the University of Montevallo in 1962.
Dr. Sledge continued to teach at the university until his retirement in 1990. During that time, he also continued to work on his own memoirs. His first book, With the Old Breed: at Peleliu and Okinawa, was published in 1981. Unlike most autobiographical war memoirs, Sledge’s book was written very academically and included cited sources. There is no shortage of authenticity to it, as he describes in gory detail, his experiences from the war. Combined with his academic pursuits, the writing of his book allowed Sledge to finally put the war behind him.
Eugene Sledge died in 2001 but his memory lives on. In 2002, his second book, China Marine: an Infantryman’s Life after WWII, was published. Then in 2007, it was announced that “With the Old Breed” was being used as source material for the HBO miniseries “The Pacific.” “With the Old Breed” is also on the Commandant’s Reading List.
The Travis Mills Foundation is renovating a massive and historical spa in Central Maine to serve as a retreat for veterans and their families.
The Maine Chance Lodge Retreat was originally built by cosmetics mogul Elizabeth Arden and served distinguished guests like former First Lady Mamie Eisenhower, Judy Garland, and Ava Gardner, according to The Travis Mills Foundation. Soon, it will serve veterans.
The Travis Mills Foundation is a nonprofit founded by Retired Army Staff Sgt. Travis Mills who began inspiring other wounded veterans while he was being treated at Walter Reed Army Medical Center after an IED strike amputated all four of his limbs. He and his foundation have continued to help wounded veterans ever since.
Christine Toriello, executive director of the Travis Mills Foundation, told the newspaper Central Maine that when renovations are complete, the resort will have smart home features like voice controls and automated systems to make it simple for disabled veterans to use during their stay.
Mills told the Kennebec Journal that one of the goals of founding the retreat is to help wounded veterans get outdoors. He told Central Maine Cable TV that recreational sports are an important activity he does with his own family, and he hopes that the retreat can give that experience to other veterans. In addition to the main house, the property includes 17 acres of Maine wilderness and horse stables.
Renovation plans call for a crafts room and areas for massage therapy, boating, and other water and adaptive sports, Toriello said. Once it is running at full capacity, the retreat is expected to host 30-45 people per week.
Just before America’s official involvement in World War II, Fido was born. It took a while for Fido to be ready to serve, though. Only 4,000 were fielded – down from a planned 10,000 — largely because Fido was so effective.
For Fido, though, the mission was a one-way trip.
Now, you dog lovers out there, don’t go flying off the handle. Fido wasn’t some poor canine conscripted for use in war to be blown to bits while killing the enemy. No, this “Fido” — as the sailors who used it against enemy subs took to calling it — was purely machine. A torpedo, to be exact.
Okay, technically Fido’s designation was as the Mk 24 Mine, but this torpedo was unique in that it could sniff out enemy submarines.
According to UBoat.net, Fido’s “nose” consisted of four hydrophones placed at equidistant points around the body of the Mk 13 aerial torpedo. These gave the torpedo steering directions as they detected the skulking submarine and guided the torpedo to a direct impact on the hull. That’s when a 100-pound high-explosive warhead would do its job. The result should be a sunken enemy submarine.
Fido could go at a speed of 12 knots and its batteries would last for 15 minutes. It could be dropped from up to 300 feet high by planes going as fast as 120 knots. Submarines could increase their speed to try to outrun it, but their batteries would run out very quickly, forcing them to the surface, where they’d be sitting ducks to American guns. If they didn’t go fast, the torpedo would catch them.
Fido was used on anything from a TBF Avenger to the PBY Catalina. It took a little less than a year and a half for Fido to make it from the drawing board to its first enemy kill. Fido claimed 33 Axis submarines in the Atlantic (32 German, one Japanese), and four more in the Pacific (all Japanese).
Fido was, in one sense, the progenitor of today’s advanced air-dropped anti-submarine torpedoes, the Mk 46, the Mk 50 Barracuda, and the Mk 54 MAKO. Such is the legacy of a torpedo that sniffed out Axis subs.
The festival was supposed to be a luxury getaway weekend full of music with concerts in a remote Bahamas setting, full of five-star dining and whatever else the absurdly rich do. What happened when the private jets dropped off their passengers was less festival, more “Lord of the Flies.”
Here are a few ways the military would have prepared these people to get along before Piggy did and civilization went with him.
1. You know better than to volunteer to spend days on an abandoned beach.
Those dome tents look pretty comfy, reflecting the light like that. A lot nicer than the military’s waterproof tarp tent that sleeps 12 and keeps in all the body odor and humid air you could possibly want.
2. Those pigs are food.
Sure, they’re adorable. And probably protected. But when the chow hall is only handing out cheese sandwiches and lettuce, there’s bound to be a negligent discharge sooner or later.
3. You know food could always be a lot worse.
America’s super-rich are probably not used to having to rough it for a long weekend. Why would they be? If I could afford a $2,000 concert ticket, I would probably be a wifi-enabled cyborg. So it’s not really a surprise that the biggest food complaint appeared to be the fact that their “five-star dining” turned out to be a cheese sandwich.
It looks pretty rough, sure, but have you ever been to a tent city midnight meal? Midrats aboard a carrier?
Sure, airmen get meat, but can you name that meat? No? enjoy your cheese sandwich.
4. You know which leaders to trust but more importantly, which to avoid.
While Ja Rule should have been a red flag to most of us, doing some basic research would have revealed that Fyre Festival co-founder Billy McFarland appears unable to open a McDonald’s franchise, let alone a multi-million dollar music festival on a deserted island. These buyers were begging for death.
5. The lawsuit pretty much describes life in the Marine Corps infantry.
The line “dangerously under-equipped and posed a serious danger to anyone in attendance” is used in $100 million class-action lawsuit against the Festival.
Except the Marines are still successful and usually have a plan to get back home.
6. You’re used to leadership passing the blame for failures.
Poor objectives? Terrible leadership? Lack of clear goals? Welcome to the suck. Again: Ja Rule as the unit leader should have been a red flag – but you’re on that island no matter what, so embrace it. No one is going to willing own up to it. And even if they do, the communication will be clear as mud.
“I truly apologize as this is not my fault… but i’m taking responsibility” pretty much says everything you need to know.
A female lance corporal has requested a lateral move into an infantry “military occupational specialty,” the first to do so of more than 200 enlisted female Marines who have successfully completed training for combat jobs, according to a report by Marine Corps Times.
The female Marine’s name hasn’t been released, however. “Since this recent request is still being processed, that’s all the information we can offer at the moment,” Marine Corps spokesman Capt. Philip Kulczewski told the Times.
“These requests take time, and to help put things in perspective, lateral-move processes involve counseling, reviewing physical readiness, completing resident Professional Military Education, individual performance, competiveness in MOS and ultimately needs of the Marine Corps,” Kulczewski said in an email to Marine Corps Times. “This process ensures the Marine Corps will adhere to its standards and will continue its emphasis on combat readiness.”
Meanwhile the Corps is deploying a Mobile Training Team in May to explain to units how the service’s gender integration plan is going to be executed. “This isn’t sensitivity training,” Kulczewski said.
All of this comes on the heels of edicts laid down by Secretary of Defense Ash Carter and Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus regarding eliminating whatever barriers remain to females serving throughout the military, regardless of warfare specialty.
Earlier this week while speaking at Camp Pendleton in California Mabus addressed concerns that standards will be lowered to accommodate females, but as he did he seemed to hedge his bet by saying that change could be a function of “circumstances in the world.”
“I will never lower standards,” Mabus said. “Let me repeat that: Standards will not be lowered for any group. Standards may be changed as circumstances in the world change, but they’ll be changed for everybody.”
After a rather unexceptional outing in cop-and-robbers shenanigans, the Battlefield franchise is returning to its military warfare roots by exploring a setting that may as well be uncharted territory in the modern shooter genre.
The ‘Battlefield 1’ reveal trailer confirms existing rumors of a WWI setting, while clearly seeking to dispel concerns that the entrenched stalemates of the Great War are a poor choice for Battlefield’s signature fast-paced, vehicle-centric gameplay. After all, who wants to spend the majority of a multiplayer match ducking machine gun fire and waiting to die of trench foot?
Instead, the trailer presents a visceral montage of bi-plane dogfights, lumbering tanks, and shovel-to-shovel melee combat, accompanied by the thrumming bass of The White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army.”
Afghanistan. Distant, foreboding, little understood.
Known as the “Graveyard of Empires” the carcasses of countless soviet war machines rust away in mute testimony to the futility of that savage war. The more I read about Afghanistan the less I seemed to know. Watching the news was even more confusing and it appeared America had entered this same graveyard and that we were now fighting elusive ghosts otherwise known as the Taliban.
I remember watching the newscasts in the 1990’s of the Taliban as they rose like a cancer throughout the country, oppressing women, killing those who opposed them and imposing their radical version of Islam on all. Nothing made a deeper impression on me than the public destruction of the massive Banyam Buddhas and the wholesale “cleansing” of Afghanistan’s precious ancient history. Then came 9/11.
In 2010, then our 9th year of the war, I was still struggling with understanding why we were there, who we were fighting and maybe most importantly who were we helping? I got it in my mind that I wanted to make a sort of “combat travel film” that didn’t just following brave men in combat but one that also helped to explain more about the land and the people. Digital technology now makes every soldier a potential documentarian and it was under these auspices that I started to look for a story. It didn’t take long and it would change my life.
Enter Team Cobra
A Sergeant friend of mine told me about a group of all-volunteers from the Oregon National Guard who, in 2008, wanted to deploy to Afghanistan to “impart change” by helping the local population and training the Afghan National Army. They would return a year later as one of the most decorated units in Oregon National Guard history. While I didn’t at the time know the particulars, I knew I had to tell their story.
Of the 17 men that deployed, I interviewed 6 of them. I had between 2 and 4 hours of initial interview footage from each man. With each interview their stories started to intertwine and after the interview process my real work began. I listened to these stories on my headphones over and over again. Their journey to Afghanistan was over, but mine was just beginning. I watched countless video clips and looked at thousands of photos, each one representing a puzzle piece. Weeks turned to months. The sound of the newspaper being delivered in our driveway served as a reminder that I might have missed another night’s sleep. I was learning about Afghanistan, about the diversity of the people, about courage, about honor and about loss.
Watch Gary Mortensen’s ‘Shepherds of Helmand’ on The Mighty TV here.
Earlier that year I had lost my mom to a long and protracted battle with cancer. My father followed a few weeks afterwards. In my own sorrow I consumed myself with telling the story of Team Cobra. They too knew loss. One of their leaders, Bruno DeSolenni had died in an IED attack and the impact on these men would be profound and everlasting.
Each night as I worked on the film I felt closer to these guys, even though they had only met me months earlier for a few hours. But that didn’t matter, I felt a huge responsibility to tell their story in a way that would honor them. I was nervous to show the final cut to them because I wanted to tell the story right. They were gracious and thankful and said to my relief that it was faithful.
When the film finally debuted almost a year later everyone of the soldiers were there for the premiere. They stood on the stage after the screening and answered questions. It was after this that I really got to know them, not just as soldiers but as people.
In my attempt to make a film about Afghanistan, I ended up making a film about America. It’s seems so easy to accept the popular indictment that we have lost it as a country. But I would submit that all around us are exceptional people. I am proud to say I know six of them. They are simply some of the finest people I have ever met and I know that if I was ever in need I could call any of them and they would be there for me. Not because I’m special, it’s because that’s just what they do. They went to Afghanistan to help, some of have gone back, one didn’t come back and some of them are there today.
I am honored to call Jerry Glesmann, Paul Dyer, Marking Browning, Dave Hagen, Dominic Oto and Steve Cooper my friends. They helped me more than they will every know.
Gary Mortensen is an award-winning documentary film director, President of Stoller Family Estate (a premiere Oregon winery), and is active in helping to preserve and share the stories of our veterans. See more at www.veteranslegacies.com.
Having fast hands and quick feet are just a few of the skill sets boxers need to possess to survive in the ring.
This month, sports fans are eagerly anticipating the much-talked-about Mayweather versus McGregor fight, so check out our list of men who went from serving their country, to “duking-it-out” in the ring.
During the early 1940s, Louis reportedly joined the Army after fighting in a Navy charity bout and was assigned to a segregated cavalry. He served proudly for the next fours years and earned himself the Legion of Merit medal for exceptionally meritorious conduct.
Fighting under the name “Kid Blackie” and “The Manassa Mauler,” Dempsey began his professional boxing career in 1914. During WWII, Dempsey joined the New York State National Guard before serving in the Coast Guard where he retired in 1953 reaching the rank of commander.
3. Ken Norton Sr.
Norton joined the Marine Corps in 1963 where he began to develop his boxing skills. Shortly after his discharge in 1967, Norton turned pro and started fighting elite boxers like Muhammed Ali. He retired in the early ’80s with the outstanding winning record of 42-7.
4. Rocky Marciano
Marciano was drafted into the Army in 1943 and discovered his boxing talent while stationed at Fort Lewis, Washington. In 1946, he dominated an amateur armed forces boxing tournament taking first place. After a brief hiatus to pursue a baseball career, Marciano eventually returned to boxing where he began racking up knock outs.
Spinks joined the Marine Corps in 1973, giving him an opportunity to develop his boxing skills. Spinks fought in the 1976 Olympic games in Montreal and squared off with the legendary Muhammed Ali who he beat after fighting for 15 brutal rounds.
Spinks retired from the sport of boxing in the mid-’90s with the record of 26-17.
Nicknamed “Semper Fi,” Herring began his boxing training in the early 2000s before enlisting in the Marine Corps where he served two tours in Iraq. During his time in the Marines, Herring found himself on the All Marine Corps boxing team and competing on the national stage.
The Congressional Medal of Honor Society announced that Medal of Honor recipient Wilburn K. Ross died on May 9, 2017. According to a press release, Ross, who was working in a shipyard before he was drafted, was 94 years old and is survived by six children.
According to his Medal of Honor citation, Ross’s company — assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 30th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Infantry Division — had taken heavy casualties in combat with elite German troops near St. Jacques, France, on Oct. 30, 1944 – losing over 60 percent of the troops. Ross then set his machine gun 10 yards ahead of the other Americans and used it to hold off German forces for eight attacks – receiving less and less help as the other troops ran out of ammunition.
Ross, too, was running low. After the eighth attack, Ross was also out of ammunition. As American troops prepared for a last stand, salvation came in the form of a resupply of ammunition. Ross was able to use that ammunition to defeat the ninth and final German attack.
A profile of Ross on a VA loan site adds some more background. Ross was a dead shot, practicing a trick shot that involved using a .22 rifle to light a match. He later described how he had selected his position beforehand. He also related that he had no idea that a dead soldier he’d been shooting over wasn’t dead at all – it was an Army lieutenant who was alive, and who reported Ross’s actions.
Ross would be presented the Medal of Honor on April 14, 1945. During his service in World War II and in the Korean War, he’d be wounded four times. He served in the Army until 1964, when he retired as a Master Sergeant. Afterwards, he settled down in DuPont, Washington, where he raised his kids. A park in that town was named in his honor, and includes a monument that displays his Medal of Honor citation on a plaque.
Look, not everyone can be a hardcore, red-blooded meat eater. Someone has to man the phones at the big bases and that’s just the job for you. You’re a vital part of the American war machine, and you should be proud of yourself.
But there are some things you’re doing that open you up to a bit of ridicule. Sure, not everyone is going to be a combat arms bubba, embracing the suck and praying they’ll get stomped on by the Army just one more time today. But some of us POGs are taking our personal comfort a little too far and failing to to properly embrace the Army lifestyle.
Here are seven signs that you’re not only a POG but a super POG:
1. You’re more likely to bring your “luggage” than a duffel bag and rucksack
There are some semi-famous photos of this phenomenon that show support soldiers laughing in frustration as they try to roll wheeled bags across the crushed gravel and thick mud of Kandahar and other major bases.
This is a uniquely POG problem, as any infantryman — and most support soldiers worth their salt — know that they’re going to be on unforgiving terrain and that they’ll need their hands free to use their weapon while carrying weight at some point. Both of those factors make rolling bags a ridiculous choice.
2. You actually enjoy collecting command coins
Seriously, what is it about these cheap pieces of unit “swag” that makes them so coveted. I mean, sure, back when those coins could get you free drinks, it made some sense. But now? It’s the military version of crappy tourist trinkets.
Anyone who wants to remember the unit instead of their squad mates was clearly doing the whole “deployment” thing wrong. And challenge coins don’t help you remember your squad; selfies while drunk in the barracks or photos of the whole platoon making stupid faces while pointing their weapons in the air do.
3. You don’t understand why everyone makes such a big deal about MREs (just go to TGI Fridays if you’re tired of them!)
More than once I’ve heard POGs say that MREs aren’t that bad and you can always go to the DFAC or Green Beans or, according to one POG on Kandahar Air Field, down to TGI Friday’s when you’re tired of MREs. And I’m going to need those people to check their POG privilege.
Look, not every base can get an American restaurant. Not every base has a DFAC. A few bases couldn’t even get regular mermite deliveries. Those soldiers, unfortunately, were restricted to MREs and their big brother, UGRs (Unitized Group Rations), both of which have limited, repetitive menus and are not great for one meal, let alone meals for a year.
So please, send care packages.
4. You think of jet engines as those things that interrupt your sleep
I know, it’s super annoying when you’re settling into a warm bed on one of the airfields and, just as you drift off, an ear-splitting roar announces that a jet is taking off, filling your belly with adrenaline and guaranteeing that you’ll be awake another hour.
But please remember that those jets are headed to help troops in contact who won’t be getting any sleep until their enemies retreat or are rooted out. A fast, low flyover by a loud jet sometimes gets the job done, and a JDAM strike usually does.
So let the jets fly and invest in a white noise machine. The multiple 120-volt outlets in your room aren’t just for show.
5. You’ve broken in more office chairs than combat boots
Pretty obvious. POGs spend hours per day in office chairs, protecting their boots from any serious work, while infantryman are more likely to be laying out equipment in the motor pool, marching, or conducting field problems, all of which get their boots covered in grease and mud while wearing out the soles and seams.
6. You still handle your rifle like it’s a dead fish or a live snake
While most troops work with their weapons a few times a year and combat arms soldiers are likely to carry it at least a few times a month on some kind of an exercise, true super POGs MIGHT see their M4 or M16 once a year. And many of them are too lazy to even name it. (I miss you, Rachel.)
Because of this, they still treat their weapon as some sort of foreign object, holding it at arms length like it’s a smelly fish that could get them dirty or a live snake that could bite them. Seriously, go cuddle up to the thing and get used to it. It’ll only kill the things you point it at, and only if you learn to actually use it.
7. You’re offended by the word “POG”
Yes, it’s rude for the mean old infantry to call you names, but come on. All military service is important, and it’s perfectly honorable to be a POG (seriously, I wrote a column all about that), but the infantry is usually calling you a POG to tease you or to pat themselves on the back.
And why shouldn’t they? Yes, all service counts, but the burdens of service aren’t shared evenly. While the combat arms guys are likely to sleep in the dirt many nights and are almost assured that they’ll have to engage in combat at some point, the troops who network satellites will rarely experience a day without air conditioning.
Is it too much to let the grunts lob a cheap insult every once in a while?
For decades, the U.S. military and its private-sector partners have been working toward a technology straight out of science fiction: robotic suits.
And it’s no surprise. Exoskeletons could add to soldiers’ natural strength, letting troops lift seemingly impossible loads and dart across the battlefield at incredible speed.
Currently, the military is exploring creating an Iron Man-like specialized suit through the Tactical Assault Light Operator Suit (TALOS) program. The suit would provide soldiers with enhanced mobility and protection, and it would most likely run on top of an exoskeleton base.
Today’s exoskeletons vary in utility, but they can allow soldiers to carry 17 times more weight than normal and march with significantly less strain on the body. With an XOS 2 suit, for example, a solider can carry 400 pounds but feel the weight of only 23.5.
Although robotic exoskeleton suits have been in development for over 50 years, things really started picking up speed in the 1990s, leading to more and more interest from the U.S military. Now, it’s a clear priority.
As former Air Force Chief of Staff General John Jumper said: “We must give the individual soldier the same capabilities of stealth and standoff that fighter planes have. We must look at the soldier as the system.”
Early 1960s: The Man Amplifier
Throughout the early 1960s, Neil Mizen developed the early stages of the Man Amplifier at Cornell University’s Aeronautical Lab. The suit was intended to have powered gears at the joints to provide additional support and strength.
Although it was hoped that the Amplifier would have military and scientific uses, Mizen could not master the system’s powered gear system, and the suit was never completed. Even so, his research went on to inspire future exoskeleton projects.
1965: The Hardiman Suit
One of the first powered iterations of exoskeletons was General Electric’s 1965 Hardiman Suit, which was co-developed with the U.S. military. The suit built upon the research done for the Man Amplifier.
The Hardiman was intended to lift 1,500 pounds; however, the suit never managed to act as a fully unified machine, and controlling it proved impossible.
Instead, research was focused on one arm of the suit. The arm managed to lift 750 pounds, but it weighed three quarters of a ton alone. The suit was deemed impractical, and the project was eventually abandoned.
1997: The Hybrid Assistive Limb (HAL)
In 1997, the Japanese research firm Cyberdyne started the earliest prototype of the Hybrid Assistive Limb (HAL). The South Korean and U.S. militaries offered to fund the program, but the company wanted to avoid military applications for its technology.
The first prototypes of HAL were created at Tsukuba University with the aim of assisting the disabled and elderly with their daily tasks. The original HAL systems were attached to computers, and the batteries alone weighed 49 pounds.
The HAL 5
In 2013, the fifth-generation HAL prototype, HAL 5, received a global safety certificate for worldwide medical use. It was the first powered exoskeleton to receive this certification.
The HAL 5 is a full-body exoskeleton that weighs a total of 22 pounds. The system functions by sensing bio-signals on the surface of the skin, causing the exoskeleton to mirror the user’s movement. The suit can function for about an hour and a half on a full charge. The suit was used by relief workers during efforts to clean up the partial meltdown of Japan’s Fukushima nuclear power plant, because the suit could allow workers to wear more protective gear and work longer shifts without tiring as quickly.
The Berkeley Lower Extremity Exoskeleton (BLEEX)
The Berkeley Lower Extremity Exoskeleton (BLEEX) entered development in 2000 with a $50 million grant from DARPA. The prototype allowed wearers to carry upward of 200 pounds while feeling no additional weight. The exoskeleton was even capable of traversing rough terrain for extended periods of time.
The BLEEX has been designed so that the legs can be easily removed from the back if the device loses power — thus transforming it back into a standard backpack.
Springtail Exoskeleton Flying Vehicle
In 2001, Trek Aerospace ran its first test of the now-defunct Springtail Exoskeleton Flying Vehicle. The Springtail was considered for military development and even allowed for vertical flight. But ultimately, the project was deemed impractical and never took off.
The Springtail was unique in that it would allow soldiers to fly and hover, effectively taking the role of a personal vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) vehicle. The Springtail had a maximum speed of 113 miles per hour and could fly for 184 miles and carry a payload of 358 pounds.
Also in 2001, U.S. Army Rangers veteran Monty K. Reed set up North Seattle Robotics Group. The group opened the They Shall Walk non-profit, dedicated to developing LIFESUIT exoskeletons for the disabled.
Reed had a parachute accident while in the military in 1986 that left him with permanent back injuries. During his recovery, Reed became fascinated with the exoskeletons in Robert Heinlein’s novel “Starship Troopers.” The LIFESUIT is in a late stage of development, and it has entered widespread medical trials.
In 2000, Sarcos, an engineering and robotics firm in Utah, began designing the XOS Exoskeleton after receiving a grant from DARPA. DARPA accepted Sarcos’ exoskeleton design in 2006, and production of prototypes began that year.
The XOS had to stay connected to a power source to maintain movement. But the suit performed remarkably within this limitation: The XOS allowed users to lift significantly more weight than they could previously. Its actual-to-perceived-weight ratio was 6:1, meaning that a 180-pound load would feel like only 30 pounds.
A lighter, more efficient XOS
In 2007, the defense giant Raytheon purchased Sarcos. In 2010, Raytheon-Sarcos released the XOS 2. The XOS 2 featured a host of improvements over the XOS.
The XOS 2 suit allows users to lift heavy objects at an actual-to-perceived-weight ratio of 17:1. The suit also required 50% less energy than the XOS, while also weighing 10% less than its predecessor.
The XOS 2 is also touted as being more precise, faster, and more portable than the XOS. The military is considering using the XOS 2 in its TALOS project.
The Human Universal Load Carrier
The Human Universal Load Carrier (HULC) began development in 2000 with Berkeley Bionics, which later changed its name to Ekso Bionics. The HULC was a third-generation exoskeleton system, and it incorporated features from two previous Ekso Bionics prototypes.
The HULC was proved to augment the strength of its wearers, allowing them to lift 200 pounds without impediment. The HULC also lowered the wearer’s metabolic cost, meaning soldiers could march with a load while having a decreased oxygen consumption and heart rate.
The HULC’s Military Applications
In 2009, Ekso Bionics licensed the HULC to Lockheed Martin for research into possible military applications. Lockheed continued its development of the HULC along the same lines as Ekso Bionics, but it increased the functionality of the suit to match the military’s needs.
HULC is multi-terrain operational, supports front and back payloads, and has enough power to last for an eight-hour march before having to be recharged. HULC allows a user to perform deep squats or crawl while wearing it, and it supports upper-body lifting as well. HULC is one of the exoskeletons currently being examined by the military for possible use in its TALOS Iron Man suit.
The X1 Mina — NASA’s Exoskeleton
NASA announced that it was creating an exoskeleton as part of a partnership with the Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition. The X1 Mina Exoskeleton will have dual functionality. In space and low-gravity environments, the joints of the suit will be stiffer, providing the astronauts with exercise to combat muscle atrophy.
NASA also envisions that the X1 can be used by paraplegics and others with disabilities to provide support while walking. In this case, the X1’s joints can be loosened, providing support to the wearer without being physically taxing.
The Warrior Web Program — DARPA’s Exoskeleton Of The Future
DARPA began its Warrior Web program, aimed at creating a soft and lightweight under-suit that protects wearers’ joints and helps increase the amount of weight a soldier can easily carry while using less than 100 watts of power. One of the most promising designs has come from the firm Boston Dynamics.
The Warrior Web program has produced small exoskeleton-like clothing designs that are meant to be worn under normal uniforms. The overall goal of the program is to increase the endurance of soldiers by lessening the strain on their muscles.
Over the past 50 years, exoskeletons have gone from an unproven and even slightly fanciful technology to systems with medical and aerospace applications. They are becoming lighter, more energy-efficient, and more flexible — meaning that it is probably just a matter of time before the U.S. develops a practical military version.