“Going to the war zones and visiting the troops . . . and being able to pat them on the back and support them . . . has been a great joy, a great personal reward because you can see that you’re providing a service for somebody who’s providing a service for us, and it’s lifting them us in some way,” Gary Sinise says. “I make my living as an actor and all of this is simply something I do with the resources . . . and time that I have.”
Sinise started working with working with wounded warriors primarily as a function of his portrayal of Lt. Dan in the movie “Forrest Gump,” a vet who lost both legs during the Vietnam War. “That movie came out in ’92,” Sinise explains. “Then we had September 11, that terrible event, and we started responding to that in Iraq and Afghanistan — deploying to those places — and our people started getting hurt. And we had this whole new generation of Lt. Dans coming back from those wars. I wanted to very much get behind them and support them in some way.”
That desire wound up manifesting itself in myriad ways including the Gary Sinise Foundation and the Lt. Dan Band, which got its name from the fact all the troops were calling Sinise “Lt. Dan” when he’d visit them in theater.
Sinise pushes back on the idea that he’s living out some sort of rock n’ roll fantasy at midlife by playing bass guitar in a touring rock band, pointing out that he was a rocker in high school, which is, ironically, the thing that got him into acting. “I was standing in a hallway with the band members and we were looking kind of raggedy, sort of grubby band guys, you know. And the drama teacher walked by, and she told us to audition for ‘West Side Story’ because we looked like gang members. Two of us ended up going, and I got in the play.”
The Sinise family has military heritage, most notably that of his uncle Jack who was a navigator aboard a B-17 in World War II. Sinise arranged for Jack to have a ride in a vintage B-17 almost 70 years after his final war sortie in 1945, and the event was made into a short documentary that premiered at the GI Film Festival a few years ago.
Watch Gary Sinese talk to actor and Navy veteran Jamie Kaler about his support of wounded vets and the Lt. Dan Band:
Don’t miss Gary Sinise and the Lt. Dan Band as they kick off the 10th annual GI Film Festival in Washington DC on May 21. Check out more information and get your tickets here.
Since the September 11 terrorist attacks and the launching of the War on Terror, the US has drastically expanded the role of special operators within the military.
Among the operators playing an oversized role, SEAL Team 6 — made particularly famous for the Osama bin Laden raid — has played critical roles in operations ranging from Afghanistan to Iraq to Somalia.
However, this outsized role within the US war machine has contributed to fatigue and serious traumatic injuries within the SEAL Team 6, an in depth report on the role of the SEAL Team 6 by The New York Times finds.
“Your body is trashed,” a recently retired SEAL Team 6 operator told the Times. “Your brain is trashed.”
On the whole, special operators have “been involved in tens of thousands of missions and operations in multiple geographic theaters [since September 11], and consistently uphold the highest standards required of the U.S. Armed Forces,” US Special Operations Command told the Times.
One former operator told the Times that SEAL Team 6 served as “utility infielders with guns.”
The focus on special operations teams and drone strikes is part and parcel of President Obama’s light footprint strategy of counter-terrorism which believes in having US allies, backed and trained by Special Operations Command, playing the key role in security operations.
“They have become sort of a 1-800 number anytime somebody wants something done,” former Senator Bob Kerrey, a Nebraska Democrat and a member of the SEALs during the Vietnam War, told the Times.
Furthermore, America’s elite warriors are not ones to complain.
“SEALs are a lot like N.F.L. guys: They never want to say ‘I am taking myself out of the lineup,'” Dr. John Hart, the director of the Center for BrainHealth at the University of Texas, which has treated SEALs, told the Times.
“If they send guys back in who already have the effects of a concussion, they are constantly adding a dose of a hit to an existing brain condition. The brain needs sufficient time to heal.”
SEAL Team 6 has suffered more causalities since September 11 than in the rest of its history, the Times notes.
When it comes to the economics of adult entertainment, things are pretty similar to its Silver Screen counterpart. There’s a lot of money spent behind the scenes to make the films. Locations, production crews, and other associated costs can really make a dent in even the most well-prepared budget.
“It’s a process,” says adult actress Mercedes Carrera in an interview with We Are The Mighty. “And sometimes it’s not as fun as people think it is.”
Time is money. There’s no room for errors, no time for first-timers to start in the mainstream adult film world. And not just anyone can get their foot in the door.
So when Carrera tweeted to her fan base about the idea of casting average-joe veterans to co-star in her upcoming project, the response blew her away.
“I just threw a tweet out like two days ago,” Carrera recalls during a February 2017 interview. “It said ‘contact me, I’m gonna do this whole vet only thing. It’s gonna be its own site.’ ”
Carrera’s tweet was part of her plan to launch a new adult entertainment website that is veteran focused — including using vets as actors.
While some may question whether the star’s use of veteran “free talent” is taking advantage of former service members — even using words like “exploitation” — she insists that is both an oversimplification and simply untrue.
“I’m not going to be making money off of vets,” Carrera says. “The numbers just don’t work out for me in that. I still have to pay for some locations, I have to pay my production staff. This project will be a sub-site from my website, but I already know that no one is gonna buy 80 percent of these scenes.”
The tweet was picked up by one website and her inbox was soon flooded with a thousand emails. To say she’s a big deal among veterans is an understatement, in her eyes. She gets messages and emails all the time from servicemen and women, just to tell her that her work helped get them through a deployment, despite General Order Number One, which prohibits work like hers in the CENTCOM theater.
“It’s probably two thousand by now,” she adds. She gets three new emails every minute. And answering them has become a sort-of full-time job, one she says she truly enjoys.
Her outreach to the veteran community is nothing new. In 2016, she took Army Sgt. Anthony Berg to the Adult Video News Awards, one of her industry’s biggest nights.
To her, wasn’t a publicity stunt, she still keeps in touch with Berg and his wife, and both attended the awards with her.
The reasons for her devotion to vets is simple, she says. Carrera is a military brat — her father served in Vietnam and he, like many other returning Vietnam veterans, did not get the homecoming Iraq and Afghanistan veterans receive today.
People actually spit and hurled things at him as left the airport, she said.
“It was a different time, and he was getting out as the war was very unpopular,” Carrera recalls. “And he was coming back to Los Angeles at the time so you can imagine the social climate.”
Aside from her family connection to veterans, Carrera says she genuinely loves them and connects with the community. She has a lot of respect and admiration for a community who cares more about their friends than themselves, and that includes the vets who respond to her her contests.
“They take care of each other,” she says. “This happened when I took a date to AVN last year, too. These guys are, instead of submitting themselves, they’re submitting their buddies.”
Veterans interested in her veteran movie project will have to provide their own time and travel and pay for industry-standard disease screening. The adult film industry is one with inherent health risks and is regulated by state government.
“When I perform, I always pay my own travel expenses and for my own tests,” she said. “We all [in the adult industry] pay for our own tests all the time. That’s the nature of the industry.”
Carrera hasn’t always been an adult video actress. She began her career as an aerospace engineer. Though she still loves to “build sh*t,” Carrera recalls her move to the adult industry as a natural one for her.
While there are a few veterans who have transitioned from the military to the adult industry, there aren’t many. And though some may want to join the ranks of her world, Carrera can tell you that breaking in isn’t easy.
“The failure rates for new men are 80-90 percent,” she says. “Producers don’t even want to audition new guys. It’s too much of a risk to the production cost. For those veterans who do want a break in the industry, I’m offering them a chance to see if they can do it.
She doesn’t see veterans as victims she can take advantage of, she just wants to give aspiring veterans the opportunity they may not have had otherwise.
In Mercedes Carrera’s mind, we all give back to our veterans in our own way. This project will be her way.
“I’m at a point in my career in the where my recommendations carry weight and I’ve earned that by earning my stripe in the industry,” she says. “Veterans have reached out to me for years asking me how to get started, and now I have the chance to help them.”
PHILADELPHIA, Pa. — If the 13 years of running Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America has taken an emotional and physical toll on founder and CEO Paul Rieckhoff, he doesn’t show it. Watching him in action at the Democratic National Convention this week in Philadelphia is a study in determination and attention to detail. No bypassing staffer is too junior to be engaged, and no veterans issue is too trivial to be addressed.
“If you had asked me 13 years ago that if this far in the future it would still be this hard, I would have said you were full of it,” Rieckhoff says. “Everything is still too hard, from getting candidates to say the right thing to reforming the VA.”
He’s also concerned that philanthropic organizations haven’t responded to a national health problem that he compares to the AIDS crisis of the 1980s.
“This is like going to the convention in 1982 and people are kind of peripherally talking about AIDS when their friends are dying,” he says. “So if we accept that 20 vets are dying a day as a base point, we’re going to walk out of these conventions and the Rockefeller Foundation, the Gates Foundation, and these other billionaire philanthropic leaders are not going to be focused on veterans issues.”
Rieckhoff spreads the blame for the lack of progress on veterans’ issues — heath care and beyond — across several camps, starting with the commander-in-chief.
“President Obama has failed to provide the country a national strategy, and as a response, you’ve gotten fragmentation,” he says. And, by his reckoning, that fragmentation has taken myriad forms, including divisions among the veteran community itself.
“Too often VSO are having tribal fights when we really should recognize that we’re all really in deep shit because our demographics are our destiny and our demographics are bad,” Rieckhoff warns.
He goes on to explain that the veteran community is about to experience a “tectonic shift” numbers-wise because the World War II generation is all but gone and the Vietnam War generation is dying fast.
“We’re going to go from 12 percent in the population to, at some point, under five percent,” he explains.
In the face of this reality, Rieckhoff says that veteran service organizations and, more broadly, veterans themselves need to unify.
“My big takeaway in the wake of these two conventions is we have to find ways to be united and focused and we have to find ways to multiply our impact,” he says. “If veterans alone are carrying water for veterans’ issues we will lose. We’re just too small. There aren’t enough of us.”
That’s not to say that he doesn’t think veterans have individual impact potential; in fact, Rieckhoff is quick to point out that vets are in a unique position nationwide right now.
“If you’re a veteran and you walk into a Starbucks or a classroom and announce your status you’re going to get 2 minutes of ‘rock star’ respect where people will listen to you for a little while before they jump into their corners for Bernie or Trump or whoever,” he says. “But you have that opening that opportunity to try and be a leader and bring people together. That’s what veterans need to be doing right now. We can bring the temperature down. We can do it through credibility and patriotism and through our example.”
At the same time, Rieckhoff warns vets against being used as props.
“As a community, we have to be really wary about being used. If they want to throw you up on stage with someone, make sure that you’re getting out of it what you need because they’re going to get what they need,” he says. “It’s kind of like when you join the military, right? Uncle Sam’s going to get what he needs out of you. Make sure you get what you need out of Uncle Sam.”
The discussion pivots to the political sphere, and Rieckhoff is at once unflinching and bipartisan in his take on what’s in play for the military community.
“The conventions have been fascinating to watch,” he says. “I think what’s happened in the last four years is both parties realize that veterans make good populism. Last week you had Joni Ernst and a wall of veterans, this week you’ll have Seth Moulton and a wall of veterans. They know – Trump especially – that there is a huge populist undertone to everything veterans.”
But Rieckhoff fears the community may be squandering its time in the spotlight.
“We have lacked a real sharp edge of activism,” he says. “If this was 1968, vet protestors would be in the convention.”
He introduces a broader theme, saying, “It’s a very complicated psycho-social situation we’re in where our community has been asked to sacrifice over and over again, but the public has reasoned that those in the military are self-selected as people who are willing to sacrifice over and over again. You can send us on 12 tours and we’re not going to make that much of a stink.
“The bigger issue is the lack of precedent for the lack of involvement in our country in a time of war. There’s no precedent in American history for this much war with this small group of people for this long.”
That societal reality has yielded some things of concern, not the least of which, according to Rieckhoff, is the fact that there are very few veterans in positions of real power.
“None of the candidates in either party is a veteran,” he points out. “Neither chairman of the VA on either the House or Senate side was a veteran. Jeff Miller and Bernie Sanders can’t run around talking about how wonderful they were when they presided over the largest VA scandal in American history.
“Bernie Sanders used the scandal to pass the omnibus and Jeff Miller is running around with Trump, using his time on HVAC for that. That’s politics, I get that. But At the end of the day veterans are still screwed.”
Rieckhoff likens the situation to “asking a plumber to fix your television.”
He uses what’s going on at the VA as an example, saying, “Bob McDonald is an army of one right now. He’s getting his legs cut out from under him by the Republican congress and Democratic leadership won’t touch him, so he’s almost out of time. He’s a good man who’s tried, but likely he’ll be out. The probability is we’ll get a new VA secretary who’ll get nominated in February or March, confirmed in March or April, and maybe he gets to work in June. So, six months into 2017, we’ll have the vision of a new VA secretary.”
Rieckhoff wants veteran leaders “who are still on the sidelines” to engage.
“There should be a coordinated and independent effort to recognize that these are trying times politically and we need to have a new call for these folks to serve,” he says. “You had the ‘Fighting Dems” in ’06 and I told Rahm Emanuel that ‘you have a political jump ball here,’ and he didn’t see it.
“The Fighting Dems wasn’t started by the party; it was started by that crew – Patrick Murphy and Tammy Duckworth and Joe Sestak. That was the first iteration. Four years later the Republicans had their own round, but there was never really a coordinated campaign by either party to recruit veterans. There was a coordinated campaign to push out veterans and to celebrate veterans, but there’s not actually a farm team.”
Rieckhoff goes further, actually recommending a ticket that a large percentage of veterans would support right out of the gate.
“If [former NYC mayor] Mike Bloomberg and [retired Admiral and former CJCS] Mike Mullen started their own party tomorrow, a third of our membership would go with them . . . probably a third of the country would go with them,” he opines.
Rieckhoff sums the landscape up as “crazier,” and, again, he believes that presents a unique opportunity for the military/veteran community.
“We’re some of the only people who can go to both conventions and understand both sides,” he says. “That’s the powerful position for us whether it’s gun control, immigration, Islamophobia, gay rights, marijuana, or whatever. We can be a unique bridge builder between both sides. The Black Lives Matter and Blue Lives Matter movements are great examples. The veterans community is on both sides of those.”
For all of the impact potential veterans might have, Rieckhoff is also mindful of negative stereotypes that exist among the civilian populations, something he blames in large part to “media laziness.”
“The only description the media had of the Dallas shooter was that he was African-American, and he was a veteran,” he points out. “Why? Because they have to file a story quickly and those were the only two things they could verify. That accelerated media cycle perpetuates lazy reporting. And when you have a vet who fits the stereotype they run with it.”
Rieckhoff exhales and contemplates the requirement to constantly attend to the pubic’s perception of vets, and that reminds him of the accomplishments of the community and, specifically, the legacy of IAVA.
“When IAVA started in 2004 the veterans landscape was a desert,” he remembers. “Now it’s a metropolis. We are very proud of the fact that a lot of people who come through the IAVA team have gone on to do really cool stuff.”
A quick review of the current roles of IAVA alums bears this out. Vet leaders like Abdul Henderson (now on the Congressional Black Caucus), Bill Rausch (now at Got Your 6), Tom Taratino (Twitter), Matt Miller (Trump campaign), and Todd Bowers (Uber) all spent time on the IAVA staff.
“We built IAVA to be a launching pad,” Rieckhoff says. “I’d rather have Tom Taratino at Twitter changing the culture than have him at the House VA Committee talking to a bunch of other veterans for the ninetieth time.”
But in spite of the challenges, Rieckhoff is bullish on the future of the veteran community.
“In 10 years, disproportionally CEOs are going to be veterans, candidates are going to be veterans, entrepreneurs are going to be veterans,” he says. “And that’s going to be exciting to watch.”
Three Marines will stand trial on charges of hazing and mistreating recruits at Parris Island, South Carolina, and a fourth may also face charges, Marine officials announced Tuesday.
Staff Sgts. Matthew Bacchus and Jose Lucena-Martinez and Sgt. Riley Gress face charges of violation of a lawful general order and false official statement. Bacchus and Gress were also charged with cruelty and maltreatment. They all will receive special courts-martial, an intermediate-level trial for those facing sentences of 12 months’ confinement or less.
Another staff sergeant, who has not been named, faces an Article 32 investigative hearing for alleged false official statement, cruelty and maltreatment, and failure to obey a lawful order. The result of that hearing will determine whether he will face charges. The news was first reported Tuesday by Marine Corps Times.
The charges for the three Marines are the result of a year-long probe revealing a pattern of hazing and abuse at 3rd Recruit Training Battalion that ultimately was found to have contributed to the March suicide death of 20-year-old recruit Raheel Siddiqui.
Marine Corps Training and Education Command spokesman Capt. Joshua Pena said in a release Tuesday that the charges and allegations against the four Marines were not associated with Siddiqui’s death, however. This may indicate that more charges have yet to be finalized; in all, 20 Marine drill instructors and officers with oversight of 3rd Recruit Training Battalion were identified for possible legal and administrative action in light of the hazing.
Service records for the three Marines being charged show they were all experienced and decorated troops.
Bacchus, a fixed-wing aircraft mechanic by trade, had previously deployed to Afghanistan and had earned a Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal and three Good Conduct Medals.
Lucena-Martinez, a food service specialist, had deployed with the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit and participated in the relief effort for the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. He had also received a Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal and three Good Conduct Medals.
Gress, a motor vehicle operator, deployed twice to Afghanistan in 2013 and 2014, and also had been awarded a NAM and two Good Conduct Medals, according to his records.
“From the beginning, we have taken these allegations of misconduct very seriously,” Maj. Gen. James W. Lukeman, commanding general of Training and Education Command, said in a statement.
“As proceedings move forward, we will continue to maintain the integrity of the legal process while remaining transparent,” Lukeman added. “The Marine Corps Recruit Depots Parris Island and San Diego transform the best of our nation’s young men and women into U.S. Marines. The safety of our recruits and the integrity of the Marine Corps recruit training program remain our priority.”
To date, no hearings or arraignments for the Marines have been scheduled, officials said.
Sgt. 1st Class Earl Plumlee, a Green Beret in the U.S. Army’s 1st Special Forces Group, was presented the Silver Star for actions in Afghanistan in 2013. California Congressman Duncan Hunter, a Marine Corps veteran of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, doesn’t think the Silver Star is enough for Plumlee and is appealing to Army Secretary Eric Fanning to review the award.
According to the Washington Post, Rep. Hunter believes McHugh downgraded Sgt. 1st Class Plumlee’s Medal of Honor because the Special Forces NCO faced a criminal investigation for illegally selling a rifle scope online.
Plumlee was nominated for the Medal of Honor for heroism in repelling a Taliban ambush. The nomination was downgraded to the Silver Star by then-interim SECARMY John McHugh with a recommendation from the Senior Army Decorations Board. The Silver Star is two levels below the Medal of Honor, which an Inspector General report deemed appropriate.
In August 2013, a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device (VBIED) touched off a complex Taliban attack on Forward Operating Base (FOB) Ghazni. The FOB is home to the Ghazni Provincial Reconstruction Team and a fortified NATO base housing about 1,400 people.
The VBIED blew a hole in the perimeter wall. Insurgents dressed as Afghan National Army soldiers poured into the breach. Unfortunately for them, the other side of the wall contained the 1st Special Forces Group, including one Sgt. 1st Class Earl Plumlee.
Four operators, Chief Warrant Officer 3 Mark Colbert, Sgt. 1st Class Andrew Busic, then-Staff Sgt. Earl Plumlee, and Sgt. 1st Class Nate Abkemeier drove a truck to blast site as fast as possible. Once there, all dismounted from the truck and started returning fire.
While the others moved for cover, Plumlee walked right into Taliban attack. He hit one insurgent in the chest with a round from his sidearm and the man exploded – the fighters were all rigged with suicide vests.
The fighters had the men surrounded. Busic recalls Plumlee killed four or five insurgents then moved back to Busic’s position to clear the rest. They searched the surrounding area for anything or anyone that might be part of the attack.
Plumlee even pulled a severely wounded soldier out of harm’s way, conducted proper first-aid, and directed an Army civilian and soldier to get the wounded to a surgical center.
Four Afghan civilians, three police officers, 10 Taliban fighters, and one soldier, Staff Sgt. Michael Ollis, were killed in the attack. Ten Polish soldiers were also wounded. It could have been a lot worse. One Special Forces officer told the Army that Plumlee and the other special operators who rolled up on the attackers saved the base that day.
“It’s no exaggeration when I say they saved FOB Ghazni,” the Special Forces officer said. “If they would have arrived 10 seconds later than they did, the insurgents would have been in the more densely populated part of FOB Ghazni.”
Rep. Hunter requested that the Defense Department explain how it came to the conclusion to downgrade the award, to justify the Secretary of the Army’s authority to downgrade the award, and to determine if Plumlee’s criminal investigation was the reason for the downgrade. An Inspector General report on Hunter’s requests was obtained by Military Times.
“The review process… found that the nominee’s valorous actions did not meet the MOH criteria outlined in Army Regulation (AR) 600-8-22, “Military Awards,” dated June 24, 2013. By majority vote, the SADB recommended the SS.”
One member of the Senior Army Decorations Board told the IG that Plumlee was doing his job as an NCO and the standard to receive the Medal of Honor should be higher for someone of that rank.
“… a senior NCO, versus a private who would be seized by the moment and take extremely valorous and courageous action; there’s a difference between those two. One’s a leader. One’s a Soldier. And so when I looked at the circumstances and, although the battle was ferocious and unfortunately a couple members were killed, I just thought that it wasn’t a sufficient level for the Medal of Honor based off of the individual and the circumstances and that, I just felt there was an expectation of a leader who did a phenomenal job, that there was something more that [the nominee] needed to have done in order to, in my mind, to make a recommendation for a Medal of Honor.”
The board member specifically mentioned to the IG that even though Plumlee took out almost half of the attacking insurgents, that fact wasn’t in the eyewitness statements supporting Plumlee’s Medal of Honor award.
Plumlee was nominated for the Medal of Honor three months after the battle. His nomination was even approved both the JSOC commander and by Marine Corps General Joseph F. Dunford, the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan at the time. Dunford wrote that Plumlee’s actions “clearly meet the standard” for the Medal of Honor.
For now, Plumlee’s Silver Star award will stand. At their own Silver Star ceremony, Busic and Colbert told Stars and Stripesit wasn’t about the recognition anyway.
“We don’t do our job for awards or accolades,” he said. “We just do it to serve.”
The oldest living veteran in the United States is asking for America’s help.
Army veteran Richard Overton is now in need of 24-hour home care that the Department of Veterans Affairs doesn’t provide. So his family started a GoFundMe campaign late last month to cover the cost of in-home care, which is being provided by Senior Helpers.
“Though my cousin is still sharp as a tack at 110-years-old, it’s been getting harder and harder for him to care for himself,” Volma Overton said in a statement. “It eases my mind to know he will have 24/7 care while living in the home he built for himself over 70 years ago.”
“He drives and walks without a cane. During a television interview in March, he told a reporter that he doesn’t take medicine, smokes cigars every day and takes whiskey in his morning coffee,” The Houston Chronicle wrote. “The key to living to his age, he said, is simply ‘staying out of trouble.'”
“I may drink a little in the evening too with some soda water, but that’s it,” Overton told Fox News. “Whiskey’s a good medicine. It keeps your muscles tender.”
In addition to his somewhat unorthodox habits, Overton said he stayed busy throughout the day by trimming trees and helping with horses, while noting that he never watches television, according to Fox.
Born May 11, 1906, he is believed to be the oldest living veteran in the US. He served in the South Pacific during World War II before selling furniture in Austin after discharge, and later worked in the state Treasurer’s Office.
As the campaign page notes, Overton has earned a number of accolades since he first hit the headlines. He met with President Obama in 2013, and in the years since, has appeared as the guest of honor at sporting events and been featured as “America’s Oldest Cigar Smoker” in Cigar Aficionado magazine.
Unexploded ordnance, often called “UXO,” has long been a problem after wars. In World War II, the Allies dropped almost 1.6 million tons of bombs on Germany – the equivalent of 6.4 million 500-pound bombs. Every major city was hit.
The problem is that not all the bombs exploded — not surprising when so many were dropped. These have been hanging around – and even now, 72 years after V-E Day, some of them still turn up.
And in Hanover, Germany, on May 7, 2017, three of those UXOs were found by construction crews, according to the BBC.
With so many people affected, the city decided to throw a big UXO party. Numerous events were set up, including screenings of films for kids, sporting events, and museum tours. There were also efforts made to provide food and other essential supplies to the evacuees while the Allied bombs were secured.
There’s no doubt about it, UXO can still kill, even after decades under ground. The BBC reported that in 2010, three German EOD techs were killed while trying to defuse a World War II leftover. In 2012, a construction worker was killed when his equipment hit an old bomb. Old World War II ordnance has sometimes been discovered during training exercises, notably in the Baltic Sea.
In the United States, most of the UXO is from the Civil War. In the wake of Hurricane Matthew, a number of cannonball left over from that conflict were unearthed.
On May 27, 1941, the German battleship Bismarck was sunk by the Royal Navy after a three-day chase.
Three days earlier, Germany destroyed the HMS Hood, the pride of the Royal Navy, was sunk, the British threw everything they had into finding the Bismarck and avenging their battlecruiser.
The Bismarck’s efforts to escape to German-occupied France had been hindered by damage from the battle on May 24. A shell fired by the Prince of Wales made part of her fuel supply unusable and a torpedo from an attack by aircraft from the carrier HMS Illustrious further crippled the ship.
In the late afternoon on the 27th, the Bismarck was finally destroyed by a torpedo from a Swordfish launched from the carrier HMS Ark Royal. After a night of being harried by British destroyers, the Bismarck was steaming in circles when two British battleships and two heavy cruisers caught up with her.
After an hour of firing, the Bismarck was out of action. The Dorsetshire was ordered to finish the Bismarck off with torpedoes — although German survivors claimed they scuttled their ship. Only 118 German sailors survived the sinking of the Bismarck. While one would die of his injuries, the rest would remain prisoners of war.
The last time Forrest Cornelius, 51, shopped in a base exchange was 1989 when he completed his six-year stint in the Marine Corps. He recalls saving 10 to 15 percent on department store goods and that shoppers paid no sales tax.
Last month, Cornelius began to enjoy those advantages again as one of 12,000 or so “beta test” participants for veterans’ online exchange shopping, which will be open for millions of honorably discharged veterans on Veterans Day Nov. 11.
All veterans are being encouraged to take the same first step that Cornelius did by confirming veteran eligibility status at: https://www.vetverify.org. It might be a multi-step process if the Defense Manpower Data Center lacks information to verify that a veteran served and received an honorable discharge.
Cornelius said his email invitation was timely. He had lost his sunglasses and the replacement pair of Ray-Bans, priced at a local retail outlet near his Texas home, would cost $180. In using AAFES online to comparison shop, he found a special sale, $20 off any pair of sunglasses costing $100 or more.
“So I got that discount,” he said, “Plus it was 10 to 15 percent cheaper than retail, plus tax free, plus free shipping. I wound paying about $120 total, saving me quite a bit.”
His wife then used his benefit, shopping for undergarments that a major retailer had on sale but were out of stock in sizes and colors she wanted. AAFES had them, and she saved money too, he said. Soon they were buying sportswear for their son. Every item was shipped in a timely manner, he said, and arrived three days later.
“It was great. It was super easy. And the vetverify.org process took five minutes. I entered my full name, the last four of my Social (Security number) and it said ‘You’ve been verified.'”
By early July, 90,000 veterans had attempted to register to exchange shop online starting Nov. 11. Twelve percent of them got invitations to shop immediately. AAFES was monitoring shopping patterns to ensure its online portal and distribution system are ready for waves of new shoppers this fall, said Ana Middleton, president and chief merchandising officer for AAFES.
“My worst fear,” said Middleton, “is a tsunami on November 11th if everybody decides, ‘Hey, I’m going to check this out’ and they sign on that day” and also at the same moment.
AAFES is building website capacity to allow for 30,000 simultaneous shoppers at any given time. A lot of shoppers “would have to be signing on at that exact same millisecond to stress it out. So yes, I feel that we are sized appropriately.”
Of “beta” veterans shopping, surveys showed their top reason was the tax break. But a surprisingly close second reason, Middleton said, was an appreciation that exchanges support military quality-of-life and base support programs.
Exchange use profits to pay staff salaries, fund store operations, and ensure adequate website capacity, but even more profits are distributed to on-base Morale, Welfare, and Recreational activities, including child development centers, fitness centers, outdoor recreation, and overseas, on-base school lunches.
“Everything is just turned back to our customers,” Middleton said, and “not paying anything to any shareholders,” as retail stores must.
Besides discounts and tax breaks, AAFES online promises a price match.
“If we are not the lowest price — say you found a vacuum cleaner below our price at Wal-Mart — you can challenge our price and we will match it,” she said.
Shoppers will find prices particularly attractive on certain items like premium running shoes and children’s clothing. Profit margins on electronics are narrow everywhere, so exchange prices “are close to comparable,” Middleton said.
Exchange services aren’t sure how many veterans ultimately will shop online. AAFES will be pleased if 1 to 2 million do so, Middleton said, though “we probably don’t need that many” to declare the effort a success.
In its business plan, as leading advocate for opening exchanges online to veterans, AAFES estimated that its annual sales would climb by $185 million to $525 million and earnings would increase by $18 million to $72 million, easing budget pressure on the Army and Air Force, which have had to divert more and more appropriated dollars to family support programs as on-base store sales have been hit by force drawdowns and store closures overseas.
Veterans with only Reserve or National Guard experience have asked if they too will be viewed as “veterans” for online shopping. That remains unclear. Last December, Congress did bestow honorary “veteran” status on Reserve and National Guard retirees who completed careers of drill time but had not completed an active-duty period under Title 10 to meet the legal definition of “veteran” and receive a DD-214 “Certificate of Release or Discharge from Active Duty.”
Reserve retirees 60 and older do have exchange shopping privileges. But what about Reserve and Guard veterans who didn’t retire or didn’t receive a DD-214? Here’s what AAFES could tell The Lawton Constitution:
“The litmus test for access to the veterans online shopping benefit resides with each veteran’s electronic records. All honorably discharged veterans, according to official government sources such as the Defense Manpower Data Center, are considered authorized to shop military exchanges online via the veterans online shopping benefit. Veterans can confirm their eligibility by visiting VetVerify.org.”
Veterans who do shop online, Middleton said, will find products “competitively priced. Are we across the board lower than everybody? No.”
Beta shoppers so far have focused, as expected, on “male-dominated” categories such as electronics, running shoes, and sports apparel. Baby care, children’s clothing, and cosmetics, however, also are selling briskly.
“The reality is (married couples) share in the purchase-making decisions,” Middleton said. “It’s like if I had a Costco card, and my husband didn’t — would he still want to make buying decisions with me if I came home and said, ‘Hey there’s a great price on a TV?’ Probably. But this benefit is afforded to the (veteran) military member … If your spouse is using your password we have no way of knowing.”
Merchandise selection is wider online than in base stores. The only goods veterans are barred from purchasing are military uniform items.
Exchanges are delighted to be offering the new benefit, Middleton said, particularly to so many veterans who didn’t get to enjoy it more while serving.
“The sad reality is so many of these kids went to basic (training) and then to war, so their recollection of who we are is a Coke and bag of chips in a war zone. Do they have an understanding of the breadth of products we sell?”
When the US Air Force took delivery of its four E-4B Nightwatch ‘doomsday’ jets, they made sure the small fleet was capable of surviving a nuclear holocaust, its occupants safe and sound within its protective cocoons as they carried out their mission of directing the US military in the aftermath of the end of the world.
As it turns out, the Nightwatch may be able to survive a nuclear blast in the air, but the forces of nature are a different matter altogether.
On June 16, a pair of E-4Bs, currently known as “Advanced Airborne Command Posts,” found themselves sitting in the path of a tornado while parked at Offutt AFB in Nebraska. Though both aircraft were pulled into hangars, their tailplanes still sat somewhat exposed and suffered the wrath of the tornado, taking enough damage to keep them grounded and inoperable.
A number of RC-135 reconnaissance aircraft, also parked at Offutt at the time, were affected by the storm but were quickly repaired and returned to service.
The extent of the damage is unclear, though it’s probable that these two aircraft will be out of service for the time being as the Air Force and Boeing both evaluate and determine a course of action to repair them. The two remaining Nightwatches were away from Offutt at the time — one undergoing an overhaul, while the other is currently operational.
The tailplane of the Nightwatch does house one of its mission systems — a 5-mile long antenna which can be spooled out the rear of the aircraft while in-flight. This antenna allows the battle staff aboard the E-4B to communicate with the US Navy’s ballistic missile submarines while they’re underway. It’s definitely likely that this part of the aircraft, known as the Trailing Wire Antenna, sustained some damage during the storm.
The E-4B, formerly known as the National Airborne Operations Center, entered service with the Air Force in the 1970s, replacing older EC-135J “Looking Glass” aircraft, as “doomsday planes” — command posts that allow members of the US National Command Authority to stay in touch with the military during a catastrophic event. Each Nightwatch is equipped with an advanced communications suite that facilitates this, allowing it to virtually contact anything connected to a phone line in the entire world.
Today, Nightawtch serves as the Secretary of Defense’s official transport, ferrying him across the world on state-sponsored trips to foster good relationships with American military partners. Because of its communications abilities, the E-4B allows the SECDEF to remain constantly up-to-date on US military activity no matter where he is, even while flying.
The Air Force recently tendered a $73 million contract to support the E-4B’s expansive communications systems over the next seven years, though it’s possible that the service could potentially consider retiring all Nightwatch jets in the coming years in favor replacing them with newer aircraft with lower operating costs. The current hourly operating figure for a single E-4B is estimated to be at least $159,529 per hour.
Above the heavy financial burdens of flying these converted Boeing 747s, the small fleet is getting harder to support due to its age. The Air Force projects that by 2039, all E-4Bs will have maxed out their lifetime flying hours, necessitating a follow-on aircraft to carry out the same mission on behalf of the Air Force and NCA.
In May, the Air Force announced it would spearhead a joint program with the Navy to seek a replacement for the E-4B and the Navy’s E-6 Mercury. The E-6 is a continuation of the Looking Glass program, and shares a similar role with the Nightwatch fleet, though its mission is more popularly known as TACAMO, short for “Take Charge And Move Out.”
This project will see the Air Force and Navy unite their airborne command post assets under a fleet of identical nuclear-proof aircraft with next-generation communication and sensor systems. There’s no word just yet on whether or not America’s upcoming fleet of doomsday aircraft will be tornado-proof as well, however.
On June 10, 1940, Italian Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini brought Italy into World War II aligning with Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Germany.
Benito Amilcare Andrea Mussolini founded and led the National Fascist Party, a one-party dictatorship that ruled his totalitarian state with secret police and foreign conquests.
Hitler wanted Mussolini to mobilize as early as 1939 but Italy wasn’t entirely ready for a full-on European war – they didn’t have the materials and the Allies were considering conceding recent Italian conquests in Africa in exchange for Italy’s neutrality.
But by 1940, hopes for Italy’s neutrality were shattered. Il Duce decided to carve up Europe with Hitler. Mussolini held off a declaration of war for as long as possible, but after the German’s Wehrmacht’s swift advance into France, Italy had to commit or quit.
Four days later, Nazi stormtroopers marched through Paris. And after a total of six weeks of fighting, all of the Netherlands, Belgium, and France fell to the German war machine.
Italy’s campaign was cut short after defeats in East and North Africa, and Mussolini was ousted and arrested in 1943 after an Allied invasion of Sicily began in July of that year. The Allied success led to the collapse of the Fascist regime. On Sept. 8, 1943, Italy signed the Armistice of Cassibile, ending its war with the Allies, though the country would remain a battlefield for the rest of the war.
On Sept. 12, 1943, German paratroopers and Waffen-SS commandos rescued Mussolini from captivity during the Gran Sasso raid. Hitler placed the former dictator in charge of a puppet regime in northern Italy, causing a civil war. In April 1945, as the Axis Powers faced defeat, Mussolini attempted to flee to Switzerland but was captured by Italian communist partisans and executed by firing squad on April 28, 1945.
His body was hung upside down in the town of Milan.
Featured Image: Italian battleships in the Mediterranean Sea during World War II.
The US Navy today faces a devastating missile gap between its two biggest rivals, Russia and China, but a new upgrade could quite literally blow the two competitors out of the water.
The US Navy’s destroyers and cruisers field advanced missile defenses and far-reaching land-attack cruise missiles, but the Harpoon, the current anti-ship missile first fielded in 1977, has been thoroughly out-ranged by more advanced Chinese and Russian systems.
China’s YJ-18 and YJ-12 each can fly over 240 miles just meters above the surface of the ocean. When the YJ-18 gets close to the target, it jolts into supersonic speed, at about Mach 3. When the YJ-12, also supersonic, approaches a target, it executes a corkscrew turn to evade close-in ship defenses.
Russia’s anti-ship Club missiles can reach 186 miles and boosts into supersonic speeds when nearing a target.
The US Navy’s Harpoon missile is subsonic and travels just 77 miles. Simply put, these missiles would chew up a US carrier strike group, with destroyers and cruisers protecting an aircraft carrier. Launching F/A-18s off a carrier could out-range and beat back a Russian or Chinese attack, but the missile gap remains palpable and a threat to the US Navy’s highest-value assets.
Recognizing this serious shortfall, the US Navy will sign a deal with Raytheon to upgrade the Block IV Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles aboard destroyers and cruisers to hit moving targets at sea, US Naval Institute News reports.
“This is potentially a game-changing capability for not a lot of cost. It’s a 1,000-mile anti-ship cruise missile,” Bob Work, the deputy secretary of defense, said after a successful test of the upgraded TLAM in 2015, USNI News reported at the time. “It can be used by practically our entire surface and submarine fleet.”
With missiles out-ranging China and Russia’s fleets many times over, the US could engage with targets and hold them at risk far beyond the horizon. Similarly, this could help break down anti-access and area-denial zones established by Russia in the Baltics and the Black Sea, and China in the South China Sea.
While China and Russia have the US beat on offensive range, don’t expect their ship-based missile defenses to hold a candle to the US’s Aegis system in the face of a Tomahawk attack.
But also don’t expect the upgrade to change the balance of power soon.
“We’re signing the contract now, there will be a couple of year development effort to determine the configuration of the seeker to go into the missile and a couple of years to take it out and test it to accurately know what the performance is so the fleet will have confidence in the system,” Capt. Mark Johnson of Naval Air Systems Command told USNI News.
USNI News estimates the game-changing missiles could be in service by the early 2020s.