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Call it 'Ma Deuce' or 50-cal, the Browning M-2 machine gun is one bad mother of a weapon


The Browning M-2 heavy machine gun has served U.S. soldiers since the 1930s. (Department of Defense photo.)

It's one of the longest-serving weapons in the U.S. arsenal, packing a punch that few forget whether they are firing the weapon or on the receiving end of its tremendous firepower.

The Browning M-2 .50-caliber heavy machine gun casts a long shadow over U.S. military history – and it holds a special place in the hearts of many soldiers.

Nicknamed "Ma Deuce" by World War II G.I.s, some who have fired the weapon consider it the mother of all machine guns.

"Witnessing the down-range effects of the .50-caliber bullet is an eye-opening experience," writes Gordon Rottman, author of Browning .50-Caliber Machine Guns.  "There are few who can say they were wounded by a .50-cal. Those hit seldom say much more."

First conceived during World War I, the Browning M-2 has been in production since 1933. Since then, it's made history in the hands of some extraordinary fighting men.

A wounded Audie Murphy, one of America's most decorated soldiers, fired one atop a burning tank destroyer and held off six Panzer tanks and 250 German soldiers for more than hour during a battle in Eastern France, an act of bravery that won him the Medal of Honor.

The long-range firepower of the Ma Deuce combined with its single-shot ability convinced legendary Marine Corps sniper Carlos Hathcock that he had an unusual but effective weapon. In 1967, Hathcock mounted a 10-power scope on an M-2, which he later aimed at a Viet Cong guerilla that he killed 2,500 yards away – a nearly one-and-a-half mile shot that remained the world record for longest sniper kill until 2002.

In 2003, U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Paul Ray Smith climbed on top an armored vehicle and fired the 50-cal at more than 100 enemy soldiers that pinned down his platoon, saving the lives of his men. Killed during the fire fight, Smith received the Medal of Honor posthumously, the first awarded in Operation Iraqi Freedom.

The technological terrors of World War I with its use of armor and airplanes convinced American Expeditionary Force commander Gen. John Pershing that the Army needed a heavy machine gun if it was going to keep pace with world militaries. Both the French and British possessed large-caliber machine guns like the Hotchkiss, but during World War I the U.S. inventory of machine guns only fired rifle-sized calibers.

Eventually, American weapons genius John Browning experimented with his existing M1917 .30-caliber machine gun design to develop a heavy machine gun that fired the .50-caliber round. By 1921, the Army adopted an experimental, water-cooled .50-caliber machine gun based on the Browning design that was the "father" of the Ma Deuce.

After Browning's death, other weapons designers corrected flaws in the M1921 such as its lightweight barrel.  During the 1930s, the Colt Co. took over production of the weapon – but it was still essentially Browning's original design and it gained the familiar designation of Browning M-2.

The classic configuration of the Ma Deuce is a belt-fed, air-cooled, recoil-operated machine gun. Its size alone makes it look formidable: It is nearly six-feet long and weighs 84 pounds without its tripod, 128 pounds when tripod mounted.

It fires up to 550 rounds per minute, but it can be set to fire single shots. Because of the weapon's design, the ammo belt can be fed from either the right or left after a few adjustments to the gun.

What's more, the 50-cal has the potential to let the gunner "reach out and touch someone." The weapon's effective range is 6,000 feet, but its maximum range is four miles.

Both the Army and the Navy loved the M-2 and by World War II it was everywhere: Mounted on tanks as a coaxial gun, placed in aircraft to shoot down enemy fighters, mounted on a tripod so GIs and Marines could lay down suppressive and covering fire, and placed on board naval vessels as an anti-aircraft gun.

There was even a holy terror nicknamed "the Kraut Mower," the M-45 Quadmount. Originally designed as an anti-aircraft weapon, it was four Ma Deuces in an armored housing mounted on a halftrack.

But as the war progressed, innovative soldiers discovered it was a hellishly effective anti-personnel weapon.  For example, if a machine-gun nest or a sniper pinned down Allied troops and the M-45 was nearby, they would have it open fire on the German position.

The barrage of .50-caliber rounds would simply mow down the building or tree and its German threat – hence, the weapon's nickname.

The Browning M-2 has its weaknesses. If the gun's barrel overheats a new barrel needs to be installed on the weapon. The gun will malfunction violently if a barrel change is not performed exactly right, and the task was often a finicky and time-consuming job.

M-2 malfunctions caused by improperly performed barrel changes injured dozens of soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan before the Pentagon approved adoption of a "quick change" kit in 2012 that allows a barrel replacement without manually resetting the weapon, according to a Department of Defense report for Congress.

Its weight and tendency to vibrate the gunner's body can make it awkward to use. But it is a powerful weapon that can dominate any tactical situation.

And that's why the 'Ma Deuce' will be on battlefields for years to come.

NEWS
Rosie Perper

Russia wants America's spot on the Human Rights Council

Russia wants a spot on the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) following the US's withdrawal on June 19, 2018.

Russia quickly swooped in on the empty seat and put forward its candidacy for a three-year term starting in 2021.

"The UNHRC operates on the basis of the principles of impartiality, objectivity, non-selectivity, constructive dialogue and cooperation. It is a UN body that, like the entire UN system, is called upon to serve all Member States, not just one country or group of countries," Russia's UN mission said in a statement. "Unfortunately, our colleagues in Washington do not understand this or do not recognize it."

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This Microsoft training fast tracks veterans into sweet tech careers

Solaire Brown (formerly Sanderson) was a happy, gung-ho Marine sergeant deployed in Afghanistan when she realized her military career was about to change. She was tasked with finding the right fit for her post-military life – and she knew she wanted to be prepared.

Injuries sustained during mine-resistant vehicle training had led to surgeries and functional recovery and it became clear Brown would no longer be able to operate at the level she expected of herself as a Marine.

Like many of the 200,000 service members exiting the military each year, Brown knew her military training could make her a valuable asset as an employee, but she was unsure of how her skills might specifically translate to employment in the civilian world.

Enter Microsoft Software & Systems Academy (MSSA), a program Microsoft started in 2013 to provide transitioning service members and veterans with critical career skills required for today's growing technology industry.

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Dave Smith

This video of a drone with a flamethrower will haunt your dreams

Watch the video in the tweet below. Are you experiencing both amazement and fear? You're not alone.

This video has been making the rounds on Twitter recently, but it was actually filmed a little over a year ago. According to Gizmodo, an electric-power maintenance company in Xiangyang, China, had been using these flame-throwing drones to burn off garbage and debris from electrical wires.

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This band hires vets — especially when they go on tour

As veterans re-enter the civilian workforce, many struggle to make the transition. This is why opportunities (ahem — touring with famous heavy metal bands) for employment are so important. Five Finger Death Punch has made it a mission to offer such opportunities.

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How you can use your military skills in survival games

Military leaders loves to take their troops into the backwoods for a quick impromptu land navigation class. Even when troops should be gearing up for combat in desert environments, they still teach them how to survive in forests. There is a lot of cross-over things to consider, regardless of where you're at — like seeking shelter, finding water and food, how to create warmth, and survive the elements.

While it's great to have these skills in your hip pocket, it can also make you way too intense when you go camping with your civilian friends. They will, however, make you just the right amount of intense when you play a survival game.

All the fun of surviving in a zombie-infested hellscape without actually having to survive in a zombie-infested hellscape!(DayZ by Bohemia Interactive)

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Veterans
Debbie Aragon

This veteran found his lifeline at the end of a leash

After battling night terrors and the pain and anxiety of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder for decades, an Air Force veteran found his lifeline at the end of a dog leash.

Ryan Kaono, a support agreement manager in the Air Force Installation and Mission Support Center, vividly remembers a few years ago when he would regularly find himself in the depths of fear and despair; reliving troubling images from deployments as a security forces military working dog handler and later as a logistics specialist.

Kaono's wife, Alessa, said she felt helpless, with no idea how to help him.

"You see a look in their eyes that they're suffering but you don't know what you can do to help them. It's a terrible feeling watching someone suffer through PTSD," she said.

Those memories seemed so hopeless at times that Kaono attempted to end his life.

After taking numerous prescription drugs in 2010 in a bid to permanently end his pain, Kaono finally reached out for help and started receiving the support and understanding he needed.

Ryan Kaono, a support agreement manager with the Air Force Installation and Mission Support Center, takes his service dog Romeo for a walk around the building.(U.S. Air Force photo by Armando Perez)

"I had previously attempted (suicide) but this time I actually sought treatment," Kaono said.

After being hospitalized for his suicide attempt, the veteran began a treatment program at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs hospital in Los Angeles.

"When I was first diagnosed, group therapy didn't work for me," the Hawaii-native said, "so I actually left the group and started volunteering at a (German Shepherd) rescue in California."

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Dogs had always played a part in Kaono's life from when, as a toddler, his family's old English sheepdog, Winston, picked him up by the diaper to deliver a wandering Ryan back to his front yard.

"I realized (while volunteering at the rescue) that the interaction with the dogs really made me feel better," he said.

Not content to just help himself, Kaono worked with the VA hospital to help other veterans interact with the rescue dogs and promoted animal therapy.

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5 boring details a Space Force private will get stuck on

The Space Force is presumed to be exactly like our current military. Over-the-top recruitment videos will only lead to utter disappointment, just like any other branch. "You'll get to see the world," the recruiter will promise, but we all know you'll probably just be seeing it from a desk back on Earth. Even in many years when the need for space infantrymen comes up, it'll still be filled with all the same BS that happens down here.

Think about it. There will still be NCOs and officers who will still need to bide their time until closeout formation. The only difference will be that it'll take place 254 miles above the Earth's surface. And how will latrines work? Who will clean them?!

You know the answer.

1. Literally cleaning the ship absolutely spotlessly

Remember those novelty "space pens" that you can find at souvenir shops? The joke on the back is that America spent a butt load of cash trying to get a pen that could write upside-down and with zero-G's but those crafty Russians just used a pencil. Hate to burst that bubble but no one uses pencils in space for a very specific reason.

Any bit of dust or flakes caused by just regular everyday things, like pencil shavings, could mess with electrical systems while it's floating around in space.

That's just from man-made stuff... then you have to worry about the stardust

(NASA)

2. Vacuuming all that stardust

Of course no one down here can see it, but space is actually pretty filthy. There's plenty of dust on the outside the atmosphere from when the universe was formed and we can't go around with an unclean space ship. Most of it is microscopic but NASA astronauts regularly have to clean the dust or else it gets everywhere.

Any spacewalk done will suck in plenty of that minuscule specs of dust whenever the bay-doors open. When the astronaut comes back into the oxygen-filled area, the dust will follow. And some poor space private will have to vacuum all that up.

You can't honestly expect lieutenants to clean up after themselves when there are privates available, now can you?

3. Police calling space debris

All of this is just to clean up the inside of ship — there's also the outside. Satellites and other man-made debris deteriorate eventually and even a 1cm paint flake could zoom low orbit faster than a bullet. Those flakes can rupture panels and cause all sorts of hell on the ship.

This problem is magnified with even larger pieces of debris, like a baseball sized scrap of metal hitting anything at 4.76 miles per second. To prevent Newton's Second Law (force is equal to the mass times acceleration) from obliterating everyone on board, it's up to the space privates to handle it.

I want this globe spotless or no one is being released.

(NASA)

4. Container organizing... but in zero G's

At first, it seems like this would be so much easier in space. You wouldn't have to lift heavy things because it's near weightless now. And astronauts are notorious about taking only what they need into space. But that's the silver-lining. Trying to tie things down and organizing things to take up as little space as possible is the real problem.

A space private's Tetris skills will be checked as there isn't any room for open space.

Good luck finding that ONE serial number for the change of command layout.

(NASA)

5. Repairing the exterior of the ship

There is a diminishing return on enjoyment. The first time you go on a space walk, it'll be beyond your wildest expectations. Your 1,348th time going on a space walk to scrub the stardust off the window because the Colonel is coming won't be as great.

Even more high-stress would be making repairs on the spaceship. Any minor mistake and either you die alone or everyone gets sucked into the vacuum of space.

Imagine losing a wrench and sending it soaring into Earth's atmosphere.

(NASA)

GEAR & TECH
Christopher Woody

The Air Force is finally getting its long-delayed new tanker

The Air Force and Boeing have reached agreement on delivery of the long delayed KC-46 Pegasus tanker, with the two sides expecting the first aircraft to arrive in October 2018, according to Bloomberg.

Boeing's original deadline to deliver 18 planes and additional materials was August 2017, but the $44 billion program has been hit by numerous delays and setbacks, and the Air Force said this spring it expected Boeing to miss its deadline to deliver the planes by October 2018, with the first KC-46 not arriving until the end of 2018 and all 18 planes by spring 2019.

The delivery of the first KC-46 by October 2018 is two months earlier than the Air Force anticipated. Matthew Donovan, the Air Force undersecretary, told Bloomberg the timeline was "aggressive but achievable." Under the new schedule, the other 17 planes will arrive by April 2019.

The Air Force plans to buy 179 of the KC-46. Once it begins receiving them, the service will start phasing out its older KC-10 tankers. It will hold on to 300 of its KC-135 tankers, which average 55 years old. That would expand the tanker fleet to 479 KC-135s and KC-46s from the current 455 KC-135s and KC-10s.

A KC-46 Pegasus refuels an A-10 Thunderbolt, July 15, 2016.(Boeing photo by John D. Parker)

Under their contract, Boeing is responsible for costs beyond the Air Force's $4.82 billion commitment. But delays in delivery could mean the Air Force will have to keep 19 KC-135s in service through 2023 at a cost of up to $10 million a plane annually.

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The most serious problem facing the tanker has been the risk of its refueling boom scraping the surface of planes receiving fuel, which can damage stealth aircraft and potentially ground the tanker.

Other issues include the operation of the remote vision system, which is used to guide the boom; problems with the unexpected disconnection of its centerline drogue system, which is used to refuel aircraft; and concerns about the plane's high-frequency radio, which uses the skin of the plane to broadcast. The latter two issues were downgraded to category-two deficiencies early 2018.

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