In the 1960s, California highway planners were figuring out how to bypass Route 66 with a new alignment of Interstate 40. Their problem was a mountain range in the Bristols. Their solution was nuclear bombs.
Named Operation Carryall, California planned to use 22 nuclear devices to level the mountain range. The Atomic Energy Commission’s 1963 report to Congress detailed the plan. 11 miles north of the community of Amboy, a tourist destination along Route 66, a blast path would be laid through the Bristols. Engineers proposed boring 22 holes to bury the nukes along 10,940 feet of mountainside. Each hole would be 36 inches wide, 343 to 783 feet deep, and lined with corrugated metal.
The yields of the individual nukes ranged from 20 to 200 kilotons of TNT with a combined yield of 1,730 kilotons. Fat Man, the nuclear bomb dropped on Nagasaki, had a yield of 21 kilotons. Little Boy, the bomb dropped on Hiroshima, had a yield of 15 kilotons. Carryall called for an additional 100-kiloton device be detonated nearby. This explosion would create a drainage basin and prevent flash floods from the Orange Blossom Wash. At least the engineers were concerned with flooding. The planned blast would displace an estimated 68 million tons of earth. It would create a canyon with a maximum depth of about 350 feet through which two rail lines and eight lanes of traffic could be built.
Carryall and its nuclear detonations was scheduled for 1966 with the construction of I-40 beginning the following year. One might think that the resulting blast, nuclear fallout, and inevitable radioactive dust storm would have sunk the project quickly. Rather, Carryall was scrubbed due to the inability to run two test blasts before the main project could begin.
In the end, California highway officials grew impatient with the delays in the nuclear plan. Instead, the new highway was built through the Mojave Desert by traditional, non-nuclear, means. By 1973, I-40 linked Barstow and Needles. Thanks to the failure of Carryall, the desert remains radiation free.
Boeing just announced that the U.S. Navy awarded the company a more than $12 million contract for “non-recurring design and development engineering for an engineering change proposal” to transition the Blue Angels from Hornets to Super Hornets. This prospect is exciting for aviation aficionados and air show fans nationwide — not to mention the Blue Angels pilots themselves — so how soon will the change happen?
To find out WATM spoke with Navy Capt. David Kindley, the Naval Air System Command’s program manager for both Hornets and Super Hornets. Not only is Kindley the man in charge of supporting the Navy’s Hornet and Super Hornet fleets with engineering updates and maintenance improvements, during his Navy flying career he amassed almost 3,400 flight hours in both the old and new versions of the airplane.
Kindley started the conversation by making it clear that the contract “is by no means the transition taking place. We don’t have a specific date. It could take years.”
However, he explained that the genesis of the current effort was a desire from Radm. Del Bull, the Chief of Naval Air Training (the Blue Angels’ parent command), to “move the transition to the left,” as Kindley put it.
“There’s a perception in the fleet that NAVAIR moves too slowly,” Kindley said. “We see this as an opportunity to show we can go faster.”
The first challenge for the program office and relevant fleet commands is to identify 11 Super Hornets (including a couple of two-seat F/A-18Fs) that can be turned into Blue Angel assets. (The Blue Angels only take 7 airplanes — not including “Fat Albert,” the C-130 they use to ferry parts and support personnel — on the road with them, but they have 11 in their possession.) Boeing isn’t manufacturing new Super Hornets specifically for the demonstration team, so the Navy will have to “rob Peter to pay Paul,” as the old saying goes, to make it happen.
“Super Hornets are a precious commodity,” Kindley said. “This transition is competing with the fact that the fleet is desperate for them.”
Kindley explained that the early version of the Super Hornet didn’t incorporate the advanced mission software used by fleet squadrons, and therefore those jets are only good for training new pilots on basic handling and not the full warfighting capability of the airplane. That makes them good candidates for use by the Blue Angels who don’t need drop bombs and shoot missiles while they’re flying their air show routine.
Kindley isn’t concerned about the basics of transitioning a squadron from “legacy” Hornets to Super Hornets. “We do this all the time,” he said. “This isn’t hard.”
But he allows that the Blue Angels aren’t just another Navy squadron, and he sums up their specific challenges to NAVAIR as “springs, smoke, and paint.”
“Springs” refers to the mechanical device that Blue Angels jets have attached to the control stick that creates 7 pounds of forward pressure, which allows pilots more positive control and allows them to fly smoother. However, there’s an air conditioning duct in the Super Hornet cockpit that doesn’t exist in the regular Hornet right where the spring should attach, so the engineers have to figure out a workaround.
During the show, Blue Angels jets do something other fleet jets don’t do under normal circumstances: They trail smoke. That dramatic effect is created when special chemicals mix with the air behind the plane. Creating that effect is the “smoke” part of Kindley’s concerns.
The real estate required to make smoke is realized by taking the gun out of the nose and replacing it with a tank. After conducting the initial engineering investigation, NAVAIR engineers discovered two things: The subcontractor’s production line for making the tanks is shut down, and it doesn’t matter anyway because the old tank won’t correctly fit into the Super Hornet’s nose, so they have to have new ones made.
And then there’s the paint. “Painting an airplane isn’t hard,” Kindley said. “But un-painting an airplane can be really hard.”
What he means is as Boeing strips a Super Hornet to bare metal, corrosion could be discovered. That sort of discovery demands that the contractor reach back out to NAVAIR with a “request for engineering investigation.” That potential makes it hard to scope a contract because there’s no way to know exactly how much corrosion an airplane might have until the paint comes off. And, of even greater concern to Kindley, it’s tough to predict how much time the entire process of repainting 11 jets might take.
And when it gets down to the nitty-gritty of transitioning the Blue Angels to new jets, time will matter a lot. The team’s show season ends each year in early November. The pilots, maintainers, and other support personnel have a few weeks off over the holidays, and then they start training for the next season the follow February, operating out of NAF El Centro in California’s Imperial Valley about an hour east of San Diego. That means whatever refresher training pilots and maintainers need has to occur before the show routine training starts — basically, the time between Thanksgiving and Valentines Day.
While the justification for all of this effort is that Super Hornets are easier to maintain and cheaper to fly than legacy Hornets, anyone who’s flown both types, like Kindley, knows that the Super Hornet has a lot more thrust available. That performance improvement alone should make for a more dynamic Blue Angels show in the future with faster climbs and tighter high-G turns.
But before they push the current show’s envelope, Blue Angels pilots wanted to see how the Super Hornet performed doing the current routine. Last year the team’s commanding officer, Capt. Tom Frosch, and the opposing solo pilot, Marine Capt. Jeff Kuss (who was killed in a mishap while launching on a practice sortie out of Nashville two months ago), successfully flew their parts of the routine using a Super Hornet simulator.
“The Super Hornet was designed to fly inverted for twice as long as the legacy Hornet can,” Kindley explained. “There was only one move — “the double Farvel” — that we were concerned about, but we found we won’t have to modify the airplane at all.”
Kindley would also like to see the crowd-pleasing “high alpha pass,” where the lead and opposing solo planes fly down the show line at very slow speed while cocked up at an extreme angle, flown even slower and more cocked up.
“The Super Hornet flies slower better than any airplane I’ve ever seen,” Kindley said. The legacy Hornet flies with about 60 knots of forward airspeed at 25 alpha (the angle between the line of the fuselage and the direction of the airplane’s travel); the Super Hornet can fly even slower at 60 alpha. But, Kindley warns, the engines on a Super Hornet are spread farther apart than a legacy Hornet and so flying in a maximum alpha regime close to the ground could cause a controllability problem if a Super Hornet pilot loses an engine.
Kindley also described the legacy Hornet’s flight control response as “crisper,” meaning the airplane took fewer control inputs to get exactly where the pilot wanted it — obviously an important detail considering how close together the Blue Angels fly in the diamond formation — but he said that would be a training issue for the team and not something that required NAVAIR engineers to rewrite the Super Hornet’s flight control laws.
Overall, Kindley characterized the Blue Angels approach to modifying the show with Super Hornets as “walk before you run.”
“I don’t speak for them, but I imagine they’d start by flying the current routine and then, once they got comfortable, seeing how the show could be adjusted to accommodate the Super Hornet’s performance,” he said.
When asked by WATM what the current Blue Angels pilots thought about the potential for Super Hornets, Lt. Joe Hontz, the team’s public affairs officer, said in an email, “We know there are discussions about the possibility of an upgrade down the road. Until a decision is made, we will continue to fly a safe demonstration on the reliable F/A-18 Hornet, which has been a strong platform for the team since 1986.”
The Air Force will likely have high-speed, long-range and deadly hypersonic weapons by the 2020s, providing kinetic energy destructive power able to travel thousands of miles toward enemy targets at five-times the speed of sound.
“Air speed makes them much more survivable and hard to shoot down. If you can put enough fuel in them that gets them a good long range. You are going roughly a mile a second so if you put in 1,000 seconds of fuel you can go 1,000 miles – so that gives you lots of standoff capability,” Air Force Chief Scientist Greg Zacharias told Scout Warrior in an interview.
While much progress has been made by Air Force and Pentagon scientists thus far, much work needs to be done before hypersonic air vehicles and weapons are technologically ready to be operational in combat circumstances.
“Right now we are focusing on technology maturation so all the bits and pieces, guidance, navigation control, material science, munitions, heat transfer and all that stuff,” Zacharias added.
Zacharias explained that, based upon the current trajectory, the Air Force will likely have some initial hypersonic weapons ready by sometime in the 2020s. A bit further away in the 2030s, the service could have a hypersonic drone or ISR (intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance) vehicle.
“I don’t yet know if this is envisioned to be survivable or returnable. It may be one way,” Zacharias explained.
A super high-speed drone or ISR platform would better enable air vehicles to rapidly enter and exit enemy territory and send back relevant imagery without being detected by enemy radar or shot down.
By the 2040s, however, the Air Force could very well have a hypersonic “strike” ISR platform able to both conduct surveillance and delivery weapons, he added.
A weapon traveling at hypersonic speeds, naturally, would better enable offensive missile strikes to destroy targets such and enemy ships, buildings, air defenses and even drones and fixed-wing or rotary aircraft depending upon the guidance technology available.
A key component of this is the fact that weapons traveling at hypersonic speeds would present serious complications for targets hoping to defend against them – they would have only seconds with which to respond or defend against an approaching or incoming attack.
Hypersonic weapons will quite likely be engineered as “kinetic energy” strike weapons, meaning they will not use explosives but rather rely upon sheer speed and the force of impact to destroy targets.
“They have great kinetic energy to get through hardened targets. You could trade off smaller munitions loads for higher kinetic energy. It is really basically the speed and the range. Mach 5 is five times the speed of sound,” he explained.
The speed of sound can vary, depending upon the altitude; at the ground level it is roughly 1,100 feet per second. Accordingly, if a weapon is engineered with 2,000 seconds worth of fuel – it can travel up to 2,000 miles to a target.
“If you can get control at a low level and hold onto Mach 5, you can do pretty long ranges,” Zacharias said.
Although potential defensive uses for hypersonic weapons, interceptors or vehicles are by no means beyond the realm of consideration, the principle effort at the moment is to engineer offensive weapons able to quickly destroy enemy targets at great distances.
Some hypersonic vehicles could be developed with what Zacharias called “boost glide” technology, meaning they fire up into the sky above the earth’s atmosphere and then utilize the speed of decent to strike targets as a re-entry vehicle.
For instance, Zacharias cited the 1950s-era experimental boost-glide vehicle called the X-15 which aimed to fire 67-miles up into the sky before returning to earth.
China’s Hypersonic Weapons Tests
Zacharias did respond to recent news about China’s claimed test of a hypersonic weapon, a development which caused concern among Pentagon leaders and threat analysts.
While some Pentagon officials have said the Chinese have made progress with effort to develop hypersonic weapons, Zacharias emphasized that much of the details regarding this effort were classified and therefore not publically available.
Nevertheless, should China possess long-range, high-speed hypersonic weapons – it could dramatically impact circumstances known in Pentagon circles and anti-access/area denial.
This phenomenon, referred to at A2/AD, involves instances wherein potential adversaries use long-range sensors and precision weaponry to deny the U.S. any ability to operate in the vicinity of some strategically significant areas such as closer to an enemy coastline. Hypersonic weapons could hold slower-moving Navy aircraft carriers at much greater risk, for example.
An April 27th report in the Washington Free Beach citing Pentagon officials stating that China successfully tested a new high-speed maneuvering warhead just last week.
“The test of the developmental DF-ZF hypersonic glide vehicle was monitored after launch Friday atop a ballistic missile fired from the Wuzhai missile launch center in central China, said officials familiar with reports of the test,” the report from the Washington Free Beacon said. “The maneuvering glider, traveling at several thousand miles per hour, was tracked by satellites as it flew west along the edge of the atmosphere to an impact area in the western part of the country.”
Scientists with the Air Force Research Laboratory and the Pentagon’s research arm are working to build a new hypersonic air vehicle that can travel at speeds up to Mach 5 while carrying guidance systems and other materials.
Air Force senior officials have said the service wants to build upon the successful hypersonic flight test of the X-51 Waverider 60,000 feet above the Pacific Ocean in May of 2013.
The Air Force and DARPA, the Pentagon’s research entity, plan to have a new and improved hypersonic air vehicle by 2023.
The X-51 was really a proof of concept test designed to demonstrate that a scram jet engine could launch off an aircraft and go hypersonic.
The scramjet was able to go more than Mach 5 until it ran out of fuel. It was a very successful test of an airborne hypersonic weapons system, Air Force officials said.
The successful test was particularly welcome news for Air Force developers because the X-51 Waverider had previously had some failed tests.
The 2013 test flight, which wound up being the longest air-breathing hypersonic flight ever, wrapped up a $300 million technology demonstration program beginning in 2004, Air Force officials said.
A B-52H Stratofortress carried the X-51A on its wing before it was released at 50,000 feet and accelerated up to Mach 4.8 in 26 seconds. As the scramjet climbed to 60,000 feet it accelerated to Mach 5.1.
The X-51 was also able to send back data before crashing into the ocean — the kind of information now being used by scientists to engineer a more complete hypersonic vehicle.
“After exhausting its 240-second fuel supply, the vehicle continued to send back telemetry data until it splashed down into the ocean and was destroyed as designed,” according to an Air Force statement. “At impact, 370 seconds of data were collected from the experiment.”
This Air Force the next-generation effort is not merely aimed at creating another scramjet but rather engineering a much more comprehensive hypersonic air vehicle, service scientists have explained.
Hypersonic flight requires technology designed to enable materials that can operate at the very high temperatures created by hypersonic speeds. They need guidance systems able to function at those speeds as well, Air Force officials have said.
The new air vehicle effort will progress alongside an Air Force hypersonic weapons program. While today’s cruise missiles travel at speeds up to 600 miles per hour, hypersonic weapons will be able to reach speeds of Mach 5 to Mach 10, Air Force officials said.
The new air vehicle could be used to transport sensors, equipment or weaponry in the future, depending on how the technology develops.
Also, Pentagon officials have said that hypersonic aircraft are expected to be much less expensive than traditional turbine engines because they require fewer parts.
For example, senior Air Force officials have said that hypersonic flight could speed up a five- hour flight from New York to Los Angeles to about 30 minutes. That being said, the speed of acceleration required for hypersonic flight may preclude or at least challenge the scientific possibility of humans being able to travel at that speed – a question that has yet to be fully determined.
The leadership at Glock Inc. says that the US Army’s decision to select Sig Sauer to make its new Modular Handgun System was driven by cost savings, not performance. The gun maker is also challenging the Army to complete the testing, which the service cut short, to see which gun performs better.
Two weeks have passed since the Government Accountability Office released the findings behind its decision to deny Glock Inc.’s protest of the Army’s MHS decision.
Now Josh Dorsey, vice president of Glock Inc., said that Glock maintains that the Army’s selection of Sig Sauer was based on “incomplete testing” and that Sig Sauer’s bid was $102 million lower than Glock’s.
“This is not about Glock. This is not about Sig. And it’s not about the US Army,” Dorsey, a retired Marine, told Military.com. “It’s about those that are on the ground, in harm’s way.”
It comes down to “the importance of a pistol, which doesn’t sound like much unless you realize, if you pull a pistol in combat, you are in deep s***.”
Dorsey maintains that the Army selected Sig Sauer as the winner of the MHS competition without conducting the “heavy endurance testing” that is common in military and federal small arms competitions.
Military.com reached out to both the Army and Sig Sauer for comment on this story, but the service did not respond by press time.
The Army awarded Sig Sauer a contract worth up to $580 million January 19. Sig Sauer beat out Glock Inc., FN America, and Beretta USA, maker of the current M9 9mm service pistol, in the competition for the Modular Handgun System program.
The 10-year agreement calls for Sig to supply the Army with full-size XM17 and compact XM18 versions of its 9mm pistol to replace the M9s and compact M11s in the inventory.
The service launched its long-awaited XM17 MHS competition in late August 2015 to replace its Cold War-era M9 9mm pistol. The decision formally ended the Beretta’s 30-year hold on the Army’s sidearm market.
From January to September 2016, the Army conducted what Dorsey calls initial, phase one testing and not “product verification testing described in the solicitation” which is the only way to determine which of the MHS entries meets the Army’s requirements for safety, reliability and accuracy, according to Glock’s legal argument to the GAO.
On August 29, 2016, the Army “established a competitive range consisting of the Glock 9mm one-gun proposal and the Sig Sauer 9mm two-gun proposal, according to the GAO’s findings.
Dorsey argues that the GAO’s description of “competitive range” means the both Glock’s and Sig Sauer’s submissions “are in fact pretty much the same.”
But the GAO describes Sig Sauer 320 as having lower reliability than Glock 19 on page 11, footnote 13 of its findings.
“Under the factor 1 reliability evaluation, Sig Sauer’s full-sized handgun had a higher stoppage rate than Glock’s handgun, and there may have been other problems with the weapon’s accuracy,” GAO states.
To Dorsey, that “says it all.”
“When you have stuff in the GAO report that says their stoppage rate is higher than ours — that’s a problem,” Dorsey said.
Sig Sauer’s $169.5 million bid outperformed Glock’s $272.2 million bid, according to GAO, which made the Sig Sauer proposal the “best value to the government.” The Army’s initial announcement of the contract award to Sig Sauer described the deal as being worth up to $580 million, but the reason for the discrepancy is not clear.
“So one of the least important factors as they said in the RFP would be the price; that is what became the most important factor,” Dorsey said.
“So let’s think about that for a minute … you are going to go forward making that decision now without completing the test on the two candidate systems that are in the competitive range? Does that make sense if it’s your son or daughter sitting in that foxhole somewhere?”
Glock also argued that the Army’s testing only went up to 12,500 rounds when the “service life of the selected pistol is specified to be 25,000 rounds,” according to Glock’s legal argument to GAO.
“We are not asking for them to overturn Sig,” Dorsey said. “All we ask is for them to continue to test, so that the Army can be ensured that it has the best material solution for its soldiers. Make it fair, make it full and open; transparent and let’s see where the chips fall.”
“Fundamentally, Glock is going to continue to do what we always do. It is never over for us. It’s always on those that go into harm’s way and as long as they are in harm’s way, we will continue to knock on doors and offer the best material solution to the handgun requirement because in my heart, I believe we do have the best material solution.”
Camp Century, a top-secret, subterranean, experimental missile base established in Greenland during the Cold War, may be exposed in the coming years due to accelerating climate change.
The camp was originally built in 1959, and the U.S. told the Danish government — who administered Greenland at the time — that the experimental base would be constructed to test the feasibility of a nuclear-powered base built under the ice. America also removed ice core samples to collect atmospheric and climate data from throughout the planet’s history.
Powered, remarkably, by the world’s first mobile nuclear generator and known as “the city under the ice”, the camp’s three-kilometre network of tunnels, eight metres beneath the ice, housed laboratories, a shop, a hospital, a cinema, a chapel and accommodation for as many as 200 soldiers.
The project was eventually scrapped because the ice in the area was moving at a faster than anticipated rate, potentially causing tunnels to collapse and railroads to break and twist.
Advances in missile design and new diplomatic agreements made the project largely moot. Weapons based in places like Turkey gave the U.S. the ability to threaten the Soviet Union directly with nuclear attack.
Camp Century received more snowfall nearly every year than was able to melt off in the warm months. That would have caused the radioactive waste from the reactor as well as the poisons in pools of septic and industrial discharge relatively safe to bury. As long as the contaminants remain frozen under meters of ice, there would be no threat to anyone or the ecosystem.
When you think of the Gulfstream, you probably think of a jet that’s used by A-list celebrities and corporate CEOs – all of whom are living the high life.
Well, that is true. In fact, the Pentagon has a fleet of Gulfstream 550s dubbed the “C-37B” for the VIP transport role, including for President Trump (who owns a 757 of his own).
But if all you see is a cushy transport for execs, you’re missing the potential of the Gulfstream, company officials say.
In fact, the plane could do a whole lot more than fly high-rollers in comfort. The company is using the G550 as a platform for multiple missions, including for missile range instrumentation, a multi-mission version, and even for command and control. Some of these variants were being shown off by Gulfstream at a display at the 2017 SeaAirSpace Expo in National Harbor, Maryland.
The G550 has a lot going for it. It has long range, over 6,750 nautical miles, or about 12 hours of endurance. It is also reliable – the Gulfstream website notes its 99.9 percent mission-ready rate means that this plane misses one flight every five years.
This bird could very well become a larger part of the DOD inventory – proving that airframes can do much more than you might think they can at first glance.
But as YouTuber “Bloke on the Range” shows in the video below, it’s actually very unlikely that the enemy would gain any real advantage from the M1 Garand’s sound.
And many veterans of World War II interviewed after the wars said they actually preferred to have the sound as a useful reminder to reload.
To get a grip on the controversy, imagine being a young G.I. in combat in World War II. You’re moving up on a suspected Japanese position with a fully loaded M1 Garand. You catch a bit of movement and realize the small mounds on the ground in front of you are actually enemy helmets poking up from a trench.
You drop into a good firing position and start throwing rounds down range. With seven shots, you kill one and wound another. Your eighth shot reinforces the man’s headache, but it also causes the ping, telling the attentive third Japanese soldier that you’re completely out of ammo.
The theory states that that’s when the third soldier jumps up and kills you. But there are a couple issues with the theory.
First, in the chaos of combat, it would be uncommon for an enemy to hear the clip ejecting over the sound of the fight. Second, soldiers typically fight as a group, so the G.I. in the hypothetical should actually have five to nine other soldiers with him, and it’s unlikely that more than one or two of them would be out of ammo at the same time.
Third, as the Bloke demonstrates, it doesn’t take long for the shooter to reload, putting them back in the fight and ready to kill any enemy soldiers running to take advantage of the ammo gap.
ArmamentResearch.com found a 1952 Technical Memorandum where researchers asked veterans who carried the rifle what they thought of the ping. Out of 315 responders, 85 thought that the ping was helpful to the enemy, but a whopping 187 thought it was more useful to the shooter by acting as a useful signal to reload.
An article by a Chief Warrant Officer 5 Charles D. Petrie after he reportedly spoke to German veterans of D-Day who found the idea of attacking after a ping laughable. They reported that, in most engagements, they couldn’t hear the ping at all, and the rest of the time they were too aware of the rest of the American squad to try to take advantage of it.
On an especially cold winter afternoon in 2016, in the dark depths of the Syrian war, Yazen was quietly playing in Al-Bab, Syria, when a bomb ripped through his family home.
More than 80% of his tiny body caught flame and melted, including his lungs, propelling the child into a coma, from which he did not awake for six months. Yazen lost his ability to speak and requires a machine to help with his breathing.
But it was the traumatic plane ride from Istanbul to Los Angeles several years ago that gave Yazen and his mother, Kawthar — a schoolteacher from the Syrian city of Homs — their first glimpse into the generosity of America’s front-line medical workers.
The breathing machine voltage was not compatible with the aircraft. Thus, very quickly, Yazen’s tracheotomy filled up with fluid and he could not breathe. The airline staff made an emergency announcement appealing to any doctors on board. An American anesthesiologist came forward, and a Jordanian nurse volunteered to translate to the petrified mother. The doctor requested that the deeply distraught Kawthar move to a different part of the plane so she could not see the horrors that soon unfolded.
The doctor put a tube in Yazen’s trach hole and sucked all the saliva himself and spat it out continuously so that the boy’s airway would not be blocked. He did this for the entire 13-hour flight, as the passengers prayed and cheered for the child in his fragile fight for life.
“The way we were supported, immediately I knew that we were in the right place,” Kawthar said softly. “People are kind to us when we walk in the streets. Nobody stares at my son like he is different.”
Like many Syrian war survivors, Kawthar requested that only her first name be published due to security concerns.
As Yazen was immediately whisked away to a hospital upon landing, the heroic doctor remained anonymous. Social media posts by the Burnt Children Relief Foundation (BCRF), which brought Yazen and many others to the US for emergency surgery, have fallen on deaf ears.
Yet this doctor remains akin to an angel. He saved Yazen’s life. Dozens of surgeries later, the 10-year-old boy — doll-like with his delicate features and wide ebony eyes — is full of light and wisdom. Without a voice, he makes a heart shape when asked about his experience so far in the US.
Then there is Hamama, who came to the US for a second lease on life in 2016.
The first thing you jarringly notice is her face — roasted raw, unrecognizable. A gaping hole where her nose used to be; prosthetic eyes that cannot weep when emotions engulf her. But what you remember most is the softness of her hands — a glimpse of the innocent girl that existed before a bomb descended on her family’s home in the Homs countryside around five years ago.
In an instant, Hamama’s entire family, her memories, her eyesight, and her face were gone. But since coming to the US several years ago, the former shell of a human being has learned to put back together the pieces of a broken existence — one shard at a time.
Under the guidance of US-based, all-volunteer advocacy group the Burnt Children Relief Foundation, or BCRF — with the support of the US State Department to maneuver the visa complexities — more than a dozen Syrian children have had the opportunity to come to the US for lifesaving surgical care. Some live in Texas where they are treated at Shriners Children’s Hospital in Galveston, and others reside on the outskirts of Los Angeles. Each child is a window into a world of front-line medical workers and a kind of generosity that they never knew was possible.
BCRF was formed in 2014 as the war in Syria escalated to unfathomable levels. Hospitals became the target of the bombing campaign led by the Bashar al-Assad regime and his Russian counterparts. According to the nongovernmental organization Physicians for Human Rights, there have been at least 595 attacks on more than 350 separate medical facilities. Some 930 medical personnel have also been confirmed killed in the brutality. And the bloodletting continues inside the once beautiful country — the so-called “Cradle of Civilization.”
This March marked 10 years since pro-democracy protests filled the streets of the southern Syrian city of Daraa. Those initially peaceful demonstrations, and their demands for democratic reforms, rapidly led to a harsh and violent crackdown by the regime. Outside agendas also swarmed into the theater of war, igniting one of the modern world’s worst humanitarian crises: a dire situation further exacerbated by the international community’s inability, or unwillingness, to act.
The past decade has been characterized by cruelty, death, destruction, displacement, and poverty. Chemical weapons have crushed medical facilities and civilians. Sexual violence, torture, and war crimes have permeated almost every inch of the wracked land.
But as so often with wars, it is civilians — especially children — who are most tragically caught in the crossfire. Indeed, terrible burns have become analogous with Syria’s conflict as bombs indiscriminately target schools and homes.
According to the UN, the war has either killed or wounded hundreds of thousands of Syrian children. UNICEF reported that the number of children showing manifestations of psychosocial anguish doubled last year as they continue to endure the shock and horror of combat, and living amid tangled buildings and the tattered tents they now call home.
For most Syrians, who were merely trying to get by and feed their families when adversity struck, there is a painful sense that they will never see justice or accountability for what was done to them. International tribunals are notoriously arduous, bloated bureaucracies that seldom prosecute. Yet coming to America for critical surgery marks a small victory against the tyrants that tore their lives apart.
Manal, now 14 and undergoing a multitude of surgeries in California, views herself as one of the lucky ones.
“I didn’t feel anything until I woke up,” she recalled. “And then everyone told me I was burned.”
But if given a choice to turn back the clock and not be caught in the hail of bombings that ravaged her homeland, Manal said she wouldn’t do it.
“I’ve learned a lot. It is making me more brave and made me feel other people’s pain, a feeling only people in this situation would know. I feel their pain and I want to help them,” she said politely, her body stoic and erect. “This has made me more determined to achieve my goals in life. I want to be the voice for other people. I want to be a doctor to help the society.”
But it is when she starts to reflect on the calamity that is Syria that Manal’s resilient face gives way to a plethora of deep-rooted angst. She weeps for the children left behind who can’t get the help she has enjoyed; the burned stumps where her hands used to be scoop up tissues as the weeps turn to guttural sobs.
“There are so many children like me,” Manal continued, grief catching in her throat. “And no one is helping them; please help them because they deserve a better life.”
Her mother, Nisreen, cries for what this war has become.
“I used to want to stay in my country,” she whispers between silent whimpers, her body trembling. “But I don’t want to be there anymore. I am so happy to be here. No one could help us in Syria. But whatever I can say now about my country, it means nothing. It is a drop. The situation is a disaster and no one can help with that.”
While unfathomable numbers of children have been horribly seared in Syria, BCRF can only accommodate the most relentless burn cases. And of the severe, the file is large — more than 1,650 linger on the list. Not a single day passes in which BCRF chairwoman Susan Baaj isn’t flooded with new cases, desperate pleas, and requests.
“I used to watch all the videos and images of the bombs falling and hospitals decimated,” recalled Baaj, a Syrian American businesswoman and philanthropist in Southern California. “I just started to feel helpless, and I am a results person. I need to see results, and I wanted to see something happening here.”
And Musa, whose charred face is wrapped in a plastic shield and his skin sheathed in a suit and gloves, appears far too tiny for his 8 years. He speaks in a tempered staccato, the elastic moment of silence in between sentences punctured by the haunting sound of this small child’s heavy breathing.
“I like America better,” he said. “There are more toys here.”
Musa was just 4 when he was hit from the skies in the Syrian city of Raqqa; his skin cooked in such a way that doctors have since questioned if the bomb was laced with some form of phosphorus or a similar chemical. Musa’s baby sister was immediately killed. According to Musa’s mother, Sabrine, the boy’s injuries were a result of an old diesel heater exploding as the bomb landed.
“The situation for children in Syria is very dire,” Sabrine said, her eyes darting to the heavens as she speaks. “We’re all just very tired of this.”
Still, Musa wants to go home someday. He wants to go back to school, which was reverted to online learning at the outset of the global pandemic more than a year ago. And he already knows what he wants to be when he grows up.
“A policeman,” Musa enthused, a smile contorting his flushed face.
Similarly, Anwar — who is also 8 — wants to be a police officer. He highlights that he met some men in blue in Texas. Anwar, who hails from the once ISIS-ridden parcel of De-Azor, was just 3 when his body was blistered into oblivion. He has no memories of Syria or the beloved siblings he left behind in the throes of conflict.
“I am a burn victim,” he uttered when asked what he wants to share about himself. “And thank you to the American people.”
Baaj also views BCRF’s visa policies as an important model, especially during a time of large-scale debates over immigration, refugee numbers, and Americans’ needs.
Contrary to most other resettlement programs, the foundation permits only one family member — which must be a woman — to travel with the burned child. The US government does not grant them permanent residency, only a visa for the needed treatment period — which usually ranges from six months to two years. After the visa expires, the child must be repatriated with their surviving family abroad, most often to Turkey or Syria.
Yet for the mothers who accompany their children for treatment, the journey still comes at a high personal cost — leaving behind their loved ones and the rest of their children for months, sometimes years.
In the case of Anwar’s mother, Khatoon, she has seven other children with whom she has had to part for an unknown period. But she vividly remembers the morning her baby boy was burned. She remembers leaving the house on a frosty morning to attend a funeral, only to return to find the house a mere pile of smoldering ruins.
Her husband had already rushed the injured Anwar to the Turkish border, and for three months she wandered the war-wracked streets until they were reunited.
“He used to cry a lot, and he wasn’t able to look at himself in the mirror. Sometimes he still gets sad, but he never complains,” Khatoon said, her eyes wet. “I miss my other children, but I had to come here for Anwar. I would tell any parent in this situation, don’t give up on your children.”
The mothers leaned in, quietly confessing that culturally there is still a lot of stigma surrounding severely wounded children in their homeland. Sometimes they are deemed too costly for struggling families, and abandoned. Then there is the fear of ostracizing due to their appearances — which many of them shared when coming to the US. But they experienced the exact opposite.
“I thought it was going to be weird and scary. At first, I was scared with everyone looking at me,” noted Ayesha, who just turned 9 and was scorched when she was just 4 in Idlib. “But I learned here, never judge a book by a cover. Be kind and don’t judge.”
Ayesha’s memories of Syria are fractured. She relives a feeling of constant exhaustion, of feeling unsafe, and then those moments before the injury. Her thoughts shift to the aftermath, the vision of displaced persons flooding over Turkey’s border and back into Syria, even while the conflict peaked.
“Never give up,” she added while scrolling through her toddler photographs — evidence of the life “before.”
“Even when you think hope is lost, it is going to be back in you.”
So a couple of California teenagers have taken it upon themselves to tell these stories before they’re lost.
Rishi Sharma of Agoura Hills, California, has set up the website Heroes of the Second World War. At the time of writing this article, he has interviewed, recorded, and published 360 interviews.
On his website, Rishi states “These men are my biggest heroes and my closest friends. I am just trying to get a better understanding of what they had to go through in order for me and so many others to be here today and to get a better appreciation for how good I have it.”
After just over 14 months, he has traveled all over the country and sits down with each WWII veteran for the interview. He sends the Library of Congress’ Veterans History Project some of the videos. With the veteran’s permission, he posts videos on Heroes of the Second World War’s Facebook page.
He doesn’t profit off the project, nor will he ever. He has a GoFundMe page that he uses to pay for the expenses of travel, maintaining the non-profit, and production costs. Currently, he is just shy of his initial goal.
Meanwhile in North Texas, Andy Fancher has launched a YouTube series to also share the stories of veterans.
In his video series “Andy Fancher Presents,” Andy has published many videos highlighting the life of the veteran. He goes in detail about their service, life after the military, and the impact of battle.
His series doesn’t focus specifically on World War II, but he does get into the mindset of the people he interviews. The stories get emotional. He told NBC5 Dallas-Fort Worth, “I realized that I didn’t have much of a strong stomach. I’ve teared up a lot behind the camera.”
A female Marine officer was dropped from the Marine Corps’ Infantry Officer Course when she failed to complete a ruck march for the second time. The unidentified Marine was the 30th woman to attempt the course. Two male officers dropped out during the same ruck march.
While this is the 30th female Marine to drop out of training, she will be the first to be allowed to re-attempt the course. Only officers seeking an infantry MOS are allowed to restart the course. Previous female candidates were destined for non-infantry jobs and so were not allowed to repeat.
Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus maintains that the standards will not be dropped so that women can make it through the course.
“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.”
Former NBA bad boy Dennis Rodman said Tuesday that he is “just trying to open a door” by going to North Korea in his first visit since President Donald Trump took office.
Rodman, who has made several trips to the country, sported a black T-shirt advertising a marijuana cybercurrency as he headed toward immigration at Beijing airport, from where he is expected to fly to Pyongyang, the North Korean capital.
Asked if he had spoken to Trump about his trip, he said, “Well, I’m pretty sure he’s pretty much happy with the fact that I’m over here trying to accomplish something that we both need.”
Rodman has received the red-carpet treatment on four past trips since 2013, but has been roundly criticized for visiting during a time of high tensions between the U.S. and North Korea over its weapons programs.
His entourage included Joseph Terwilliger, a professor who has accompanied Rodman on previous trips to North Korea.
Rodman said the issue of several Americans currently detained by North Korea is “not my purpose right now.”
In Tokyo, a visiting senior U.S. official said Rodman’s trip is as a private citizen.
“We are aware of his visit. We wish him well, but we have issued travel warnings to Americans suggested they not travel to North Korea for their own safety,” U.S. Undersecretary of State Thomas Shannon told reporters after discussing the North Korean missile threat and other issues with Japanese counterparts.
In 2014, Rodman arranged a basketball game with other former NBA players and North Koreans and regaled leader Kim Jong Un with a rendition of “Happy Birthday.” On the same trip, he suggested that an American missionary was at fault for his own imprisonment in North Korea, remarks for which he later apologized.
A foreign ministry official who spoke to The Associated Press in Pyongyang confirmed that Rodman was expected to arrive Tuesday but could not provide details. He spoke on condition of anonymity because the ministry had not issued a formal statement.
Any visit to North Korea by a high-profile American is a political minefield, and Rodman has been criticized for failing to use his influence on leaders who are otherwise isolated diplomatically from the rest of the world.
Americans are regarded as enemies in North Korea because the two countries never signed a peace treaty to formally end the 1950-53 Korean War. Thousands of U.S. troops are based in South Korea, and the Demilitarized Zone between the North and South is one of the most heavily fortified borders in the world.
A statement issued in New York by a Rodman publicist said the former NBA player is in the rare position of being friends with the leaders of both North Korea and the United States. Rodman was a cast member on two seasons of Trump’s “Celebrity Apprentice.”
Rodman tweeted that his trip was being sponsored by Potcoin, one of a growing number of cybercurrencies used to buy and sell marijuana in state-regulated markets.
North Korea has been hailed by marijuana news outlets and British tabloids as a pothead paradise and maybe even the next Amsterdam of pot tourism. But the claim that marijuana is legal in North Korea is not true: The penal code lists it as a controlled substance in the same category as cocaine and heroin.
Americans have been sentenced to years in North Korean prisons for such seemingly minor offences as stealing a political banner and likely could not expect leniency if the country’s drug laws were violated.
A few World War II movies feature incredible scenes of troops — usually soldiers or Marines — fighting tooth and nail against an enemy until they’ve expended most of their ammo, all of their grenades, and are stuck in their final defensive position.
That’s when someone does something crazy and starts throwing mortar rounds at the oncoming onslaught. The huge bursts of shrapnel wipe out groups of the enemy forces, breaking up the attack and allowing the heroes to emerge victorious.
Skip ahead to 0:28 in this clip to see this happen:
But most mortar rounds in World War II could be thrown this way. It was just incredibly dangerous and rarely done.
While new proximity fuzes — those which detonate a specified distance from the surface — were developed during World War II, most mortar rounds carried impact fuzes that used the physical force of the mortar striking a rock or something to trigger the charge.
So weapon designers made fuzes that were very sensitive. To prevent the fuzes from exploding prematurely, designers incorporated impact fuzes with a two-step arming process. This meant a safety pin had to be removed followed by a sudden force such as the propellant exploding to fire the round from the tube.
For soldiers looking to use these mortar rounds as a grenade, they had to remove the safety pin and slam the tail of the mortar round against something solid to simulate the force of the weapon firing. After that, the round would explode from any sudden force applied to the fuze.
This method of triggering, combined with the greater explosive force of a mortar, made them way more deadly than grenades.
Most grenades work using a timer, meaning that a soldier throws it and hopes that the enemy can’t grab the weapon and throw it back before it detonates.
But a hand-thrown mortar round will usually explode as soon as it hits the ground or a solid object, making it nearly impossible to throw back.
At least two soldiers used this to their advantage in World War II. Technical Sgt. Beauford T. Anderson threw mortar rounds to drive off a Japanese attack on Okinawa, and Cpl. Charles E. Kelly used mortar ammunition during his final defense of a storehouse being overwhelmed by the Germans in Italy.
This procedure comes with high risks. A round that falls short of the intended throw will almost certainly go off, potentially killing friendly troops and the thrower, and a round that is dropped after arming could go off, killing the operators. Still, for a happy few, the risk was worth the reward.
Well, now we know why Russia is operating its carrier jets from land bases. It seems that when it tries to conduct actual air operations on the Admiral Kuznetsov carrier, the planes end up going in the drink.
According to a report by the Washington Post, the Russians lost an Su-33 “Flanker D” when an arresting cable on the Kuznetsov snapped. The pilot of the Flanker ejected and was safely recovered. The Su-33 went into the Mediterranean Sea, joining a MiG-29K that crashed last month after its own mechanical failures.
An arresting cable snapping can be very dangerous. A video of one incident on USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69) where an E-2C Hawkeye airborne early warning aircraft shows the violence of such an accident. The Hawkeye did not fall into the sea due to superb airmanship on the part of the pilots, but eight sailors on board the Nimitz-class carrier were injured.
Russia had intended to use the Kuznetsov, which was commissioned in 1991 by the Soviet Union, to demonstrate its arrival to carrier aviation. The ship can carry roughly 40 aircraft, and deployed with both the Su-33 “Flanker D” and the MiG-29K “Fulcrum” along with Ka-27 “Helix” anti-submarine and Ka-31RLD “Helix” airborne early-warning helicopters. The 55,000-ton vessel can reach speeds of up to 29 knots, and carries 12 SS-N-19 “Shipwreck” anti-ship missiles.
The Russians had hoped to use a successful combat deployment of the Kuznetsov to market its weapons. Syria has become a testing ground for weapons that Russia has deployed, notably, the SS-N-27 Sizzler, a multi-mission cruise missile. The designers of the MiG-29K had particularly been hoping to do well, as they had seen export sales dry up after the fall of the Soviet Union. However, two losses from operations on the carrier have put an apparent damper on sales.