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.
The U.S. Army Research Laboratory is experimenting with a hybrid, unmanned, aerial vehicle that transforms in flight and gives soldiers an advantage on the battlefield of the future.
Weighing in at just over half a pound, this UAV tilts its rotors to go from hovering like a helicopter to speeding along like a sleek airplane. The design has many efficiencies, but also provides many challenges to its creator, Dr. Steve Nogar, a post-doctoral researcher with the lab’s Vehicle Technology Directorate.
“In an aircraft, weight is everything,” Nogar said. “There are a lot of vehicles out there where designers take a quad-rotor and staple it to a fixed-wing aircraft. It may have extra propellers and actuators and it’s not very efficient. You have a lot of wasted weight.”
For testing, Nogar has temporarily attached a large paper half-circle to the prototype to slow it down. The final design will be less than 10 inches in length.
“The tilt-rotor design is kind of like the V-22 Osprey, where the motors tilt themselves,” Nogar said.
The Osprey is a multi-mission, tilt-rotor military aircraft designed for both vertical takeoff and landing. The V-22 is more than 57 feet in length. Shrinking that capability to less than one foot has been a challenge due to the complex physics that govern the vehicle’s movement and the associated control methods, Nogar said.
With this hybrid UAV, transforming from hovering to horizontal flight offers speed, agility, and mission flexibility.
“Looking forward, we want to look at perching or landing on something in the environment,” Nogar said. “That means we have to be able to sense the environment.”
Imagine a future drone that knows how to land itself to conserve power while gathering situational awareness. The UAV will need to be able to detect walls, avoid obstacles, and rapidly understand its environment.
“If you’re going to land on something, you need to know very quickly how fast that’s coming up to you as you come in to land,” he said. “We will need to enable the UAV to sense and perceive its environment using visual techniques, such as machine learning.”
The next step is continuing to experiment, refine, and experiment more.
“These vehicles will better integrate with soldiers,” he said. “Soldiers are going to have to be able to interact with these vehicles all the time and they’re going to have to work as a team to achieve their objectives.”
That objective may be finding out what’s over the next hill or scouting out enemy forces.
“We cannot put a lot of sensors on this vehicle,” Nogar said. “It’s basically what we can do with just one camera. It takes a lot more work to do the control and study the dynamics of this vehicle, but we will definitely benefit from the effort once it’s finished.”
In the gym at VA Southern Nevada Healthcare System, Joe Curran encourages R.J. Garcia with the intensity of a football coach. “C’mon, you’ve got this!” Curran barks as Garcia struggles to finish his last rep on the leg press machine. Garcia pushes through gritted teeth as he lowers the weight, balancing it between his good leg and his prosthetic. “There you go!” says Curran.
The two Army veterans are members of the Ass Kickers, an amputee exercise and support group that meets every Friday.
“They took on the name because they are known for making a lot of noise,” says Jessica Blackwell, a VA kinesiotherapist who founded the group in 2017 as a way for amputee veterans to stay active and meet others in the same situation. “They’re a great group of guys, but we mean business. They’ve come to work hard, and that’s how they got the name.”
Kinesiotherapy is therapeutic exercise to help rehabilitate people with functional limitations, including amputations.
“Joe is our ringleader,” Blackwell says. “He’s our loudest one, but he takes care of the other guys, making sure that they have the resources they need. He’s actually helping himself in the process.”
Veteran R.J. Garcia and kinesiotherapist Jessica Blackwell at the gym.
Pushing veterans “out of respect”
Curran relishes his role. “What I do is put a little fire under their butts. These guys in wheelchairs, they won’t get out unless I start pushing them. And I only do it to motivate them, out of respect.”
The motivation works, says Blackwell. “I’ve really seen a great turnaround with my guys since we started this group. Their health, their psyche, their mood—I’ve seen a lot of improvements.”
One reason Curran is so successful is that he literally walks the walk. After he lost both legs to complications he attributes to Agent Orange exposure, VA specialists helped him get going again. “First they taught me how to walk on one foot with a walker, how to hobble along. Now I can just walk with a cane. I try to stay out of the chair as much as possible.”
Curran’s grit is contagious. The group has expanded from two veterans at the start to more than 25. Besides their Friday gym session, they often meet for bowling, golf and other events.
Joe Curran lights a fire under his fellow Veterans.
A sense of community
“Before this was created, our guys didn’t really have a reason to put their leg on and go outside,” says Blackwell. “They told me that they would stay at home and sit in their wheelchairs. This has really given them motivation and a sense of community.”
“I’ve got a theory,” Curran adds. “The average American veteran in a wheelchair is 200 pounds overweight. They’re homebound and often depressed. They’ll live longer if I can get them out of that chair. So that’s my plan: get the veteran off his butt and move!”
This article originally appeared on VAntage Point. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.
The infamous Molotov Cocktail got its start in the Spanish Civil War from 1936 to 1939 when Soviet-backed forces with a large number of tanks were met by forces wielding glass jars with blankets or drapes wrapped around the lid and set on fire.
The rebels took the weapon formerly used in Spain and perfected it. Some earlier versions used fuel that was too thin, causing it to burn out too quickly, so the Finns added thickening agents like tar. And the Finns preferred to use a bottle with some air inside instead of the completely full jars that were common in Spain. The air gap in the bottles made them more likely to break.
The Cocktails are thrown against the tanks. Today, throwers either need to hit the intake or the fuel storage of the tank in order to really threaten it. During World War II, the treads of many tanks were propelled via rubber wheels which could be targeted and the crew was susceptible to cocktails thrown against the air intake for their cabin.
And of course, a tank with the hatches open becomes a rolling oven if someone gets a cocktail inside.
When Woodrow Wilson ran for re-election as President of the United States in 1916, he was running against Supreme Court Justice Charles Evans Hughes. He didn’t expect to win but he won by a narrow margin. His campaign slogan “He kept us out of war” resonated with the isolationist views of many Americans at the time.
But if Warren Harding, then just a two-year senator from Ohio would have run like he wanted to, history might have been entirely different. The reason: his young mistress was a supporter of the German Empire.
Warren G. Harding is one of history’s less-often remembered presidents. His administration was wracked by scandal, his direction was unclear, and even he saw the office as a more ceremonial one. In the past, he was largely remembered for dying of a heart attack in the middle of his second term.
He was one of the most ironically quotable presidents, however, once confiding, “I am not fit for this office and should never have been here.”
In recent years, however, his personal life has been of much more interest to historians, chiefly his 15-year long affair with Carrie Fulton Phillips – a woman nearly 20 years younger than he.
As a senator, Harding was not a supporter of entering World War I, largely due to being both a Republican and an isolationist. Harding’s young mistress had her own opinions. Phillips took many overseas trips to Berlin in the years before World War I. Harding wrote love letters to her each and every time she went abroad.
When he was elected to the senate in 1914, the war was still new and Wilson pledged to keep the United States neutral. Then in 1915, a German submarine sank the liner Lusitania in 1915 with 128 Americans aboard.
Phillips still wanted her lover to support Germany in its foreign affairs. She was so staunchly supportive of Germany that the U.S. government began to monitor her. As German provocations continued, however, Harding, like many Americans, began to turn against the German Empire. Differing political views began to cause a rift in their relationship.
In running for the presidency against Democrat James Cox, he appealed to war weary Americans with the promise of a “return to normalcy,” the isolationist policies that dominated the pre-war years. He also vowed to keep the United States out of the League of Nations and help the economy through the post-war bust.
But had he run against Wilson in 1916, there is a good chance he might have won, as he was a charismatic and popular politician at the time. His mistress wanted him to stay in the senate and vote in favor of German interests, threatening to expose their relationship if he did not. Harding eventually ran in 1920.
Their relationship ran its course long before he was in the White House. By 1917, the wedge between them had driven them apart. In April of that year, the United States declared war on Germany and Harding had begun to see a new lover, an Ohioan living in New York City, Nan Britton. He continued seeing both Phillips and Britton until he ran for president in 1920.
In 1919, Nan Britton gave birth to a daughter, much later proven to be Harding’s daughter (through a DNA test). Phillips threatened to expose all of Harding’s affairs, but he offered her a deal: $5,000 every year as long as he was in office, along with the perks of his patronage. She accepted.
During the 1920 campaign season, the Republican Party picked up the tab to send Phillips and family on a long trip to Japan to prevent her from accidentally revealing Harding’s indiscretions. With her out of the way, he sailed to victory and took the White House.
U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis is in Afghanistan on an unannounced visit to take stock of the war and the prospects of drawing some elements of the Taliban into peace talks with the Afghan government.
The March 13, 2018, visit, which was not announced in advance due to security concerns, comes as the United States is putting new resources into the more than 16-year-old war.
Before landing in the Afghan capital, Mattis told reporters that the United States was picking up signs of interest from groups of Taliban fighters in exploring the possibility of talks to end the violence, adding that the signs date back several months.
“There is interest that we’ve picked up from the Taliban side,” Mattis said. “We’ve had some groups of Taliban — small groups — who have either started to come over or expressed an interest in talking.”
As part of its new regional strategy announced in August 2017, Washington has stepped up assistance to the Afghan military in a bid to break the stalemate and force the militants to the negotiating table.
During a meeting with Mattis, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said the new strategy allowed Kabul to extend its peace offer to the Taliban without doing so from a position of weakness.
“It has been a game changer because it has forced every actor to re-examine their assumptions,” Ghani said.
Ghani offers incentives
On Feb. 28, 2018, Ghani offered to allow the Taliban to establish itself as a political party and said he would work to remove sanctions on the militant group, among other incentives, if it joined the government in peace negotiations.
In return, the militants would have to recognize the Kabul government and respect the rule of law.
But the Taliban has so far ruled out direct talks with the Western-backed government, which they say is illegitimate.
The group has insisted it would only negotiate with the United States, which it calls a “foreign occupying force.” The Taliban also says that NATO forces must withdraw before negotiations can begin.
Asked whether the United States would be willing to directly talk with the Taliban, Mattis reiterated the U.S. position that the talks should be led by Kabul.
“We want the Afghans to lead and provide the substance to the reconciliation effort,” he said.
The Afghan government and the Taliban held peace talks in 2015, but they broke down almost immediately.
As part of its new strategy for Afghanistan, the United States has boosted the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan by at least 3,500, to a total of more than 14,000, and stepped up air strikes in the country.
Mattis told reporters that the goal is to convince the Taliban militants that they cannot win, which would hopefully push them toward reconciliation.
“We do look toward a victory in Afghanistan,” he said. “Not a military victory — the victory will be a political reconciliation.”
Taliban fighters control large parts of the country, and thousands of Afghan soldiers and civilians are being killed every year.
In a report published late on March 12, 2018, the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said that more than 30,000 people have been displaced since the beginning of the year due to continued conflict in Afghanistan.
To test just how easy it is for cops to get high-tech military equipment, a government agency asked for more than $1.2 million in weapons by pretending to be a fake law enforcement agency — and got it, according to a report published last week.
The Government Accountability Office, the agency tasked with overseeing government abuse, made up a fictitious agency website and address to ask the Department of Defense for more than a million dollars in military equipment.
They received the equipment, which included night-vision goggles, M-16A2 rifles, and pipe bomb equipment, from a military warehouse in less than a week.
“They never did any verification, like visit our ‘location,’ and most of it was by email,” Zina Merritt, director of the GAO’s defense capabilities and management team, told The Marshall Project. “It was like getting stuff off of eBay.”
After receiving the weapons, the GAO recommended more tightly regulating transfer of military equipment and conducting a risk assessment test in order to prevent real-life fraud.
The DoD agreed to better monitor transfer of equipment by physically visiting the location of the agency and conducting a fraud assessment in 2018, according to the report.
But Jim Pasco, executive director of the Fraternal Order of Police, told the Marshall Project that cases of possible fraud should not be used as a knock against the program.
“It suggests only that the US military is one of the world’s largest bureaucracies and as such is going to have some lapses in material control,” he said.
GAO’s investigation into the transfer of military equipment came after public outrage over the equipment carried by Ferguson police during protests over the fatal shooting of Michael Brown in 2014, according to TMP.
One minute you set your rifle down against a tree to go take a leak, the next minute you realize it’s nowhere to be found. Your rifle — the one thing you cannot lose during this training exercise — is missing. Here is what goes through your head in that moment:
Oh my God. Oh God. Oh no. I’m doomed. My life is over.
Well, maybe my platoon sergeant won’t notice.
If I just pray enough, it will appear and everything will be just fine.
Jones over there isn’t paying attention. Maybe I can steal his.
Crap, that won’t work. My rifle is serialized, so they are going to know it’s a different number.
Ok that’s it. I’ll fake an injury and tell the Lt. I fell down and my rifle was lost in a swamp.
No that’s not going to work. There are no swamps anywhere. Oh my God. Oh God. I’m doomed. My life is over.
Just days after President Donald Trump mocked North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s “nuclear button” and flaunted the size and efficacy of his own nuclear fleet, the two countries have made strides toward peace.
With little more than a month before the start of South Korea’s Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, North Korea has reopened communications with Seoul and expressed interest in mending relations.
In the same New Year’s Day address in which Kim touted his willingness to engage in nuclear war, he “earnestly” wished for South Korea’s games to succeed and said it was a “good opportunity to show unity of the people.”
The U.S. and South Korea have also announced they will pause their military exercises not just through the end of the games in late February but reportedly all the way through the Paralympics, set to end in mid-March.
As a result, the U.S., South Korea, and North Korea may have just scheduled an unprecedented 2 1/2 months of markedly lowered tensions.
North Korea hates the U.S. and South Korea’s military exercises, which regularly feature huge numbers of troops and advanced weapons systems. Lately, the drills and development of new weapons systems have increasingly focused on taking out Kim.
North Korea often intentionally times missile launches to coincide with the drills.
North Korea, China, and Russia all support the “freeze for freeze” path to negotiations, wherein the U.S. and South Korea suspend the military drills in exchange for North Korea halting missile and nuclear tests.
The U.S. has always rejected this strategy on the grounds that North Korea’s missile tests are illegal and the military drills are not. But the Winter Olympics have opened a window of opportunity for diplomacy.
But is it a trap?
North Korea has made overtures of peace to South Korea before. In fact, Andrea Berger, a senior researcher at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, pointed out on Twitter that Pyongyang had a history of extending olive branches after periods of tension.
“2017 painted the extremely worrying security backdrop that everyone is desperate to move away from,” Berger wrote. “The DPRK will test each South Korean administration, pushing to see how far doors will open.”
“But, it is worth remembering that most January windows of opportunity for North-South progress get smashed fairly quickly,” Berger wrote — North Korea’s peace overtures normally occur in January.
Even as North Korea prepares for its highest-level talks with South Korea in years, reports have surfaced that it’s planning to test a missile or at least a rocket engine.
Additionally, a lull in activity may tempt South Korea to side with China, Russia, and ultimately Pyongyang, rejecting the U.S.’s calls for total denuclearization and holding out for talks until strict preconditions have been met.
But for now, the U.S. and South Korea are set to go months without provoking North Korea with military exercises. It will be up to North Korea, which has backed out of peace talks before, to demonstrate its commitment to de-escalation.
Frank Levingston, the oldest living World War II veteran, died on May 3 in Bossier Parish, Louisiana. He was 110 years old, which also made him the oldest living man in the United States.
According to his wikipedia page, he was born on November 13, 1905 in North Carolina, one of seven children. Levingston enlisted in the US Army in 1942. He served as private during the war in the Allied invasion of Italy which lasted from September 1943 to January 1944. After receiving an honorable discharge in 1945, he became a union worked specializing in cement finishing. He never married.
On August 16, 2015, he became the oldest recognized living military veteran in the United States, following the death of Emma Didlake.
“I’ve been through so many dangerous things and I’m still here. I’m thankful to the almighty God for it,” Levingston said in an interview with WTVR marking his 110th birthday. “I think I’m one of the blessed ones.”
Pamela Gobert, one of Levingston’s good friends, said in that interview: “He’s always got a kind word and he lets me know that sometimes it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish,” said Gobert. “One time we were at Memorial and a young lady asked him ‘Mr. Frank how old are you going to live?’ and he said ‘110.’” He was right.
In December of 2015, he went on an honor flight to Washington, D.C. – it was his first time to ever visit the nation’s capital and war monuments. He helped to mark Pearl Harbor Day by taking part in a wreath-laying ceremony at the World War II Monument. He was unable to meet the President but did meet representatives of his state.
Anne Way, an Army Reserve spouse, and her husband, Pete. (Military Families)
The Elizabeth Dole Foundation named its newest class of fellows who will represent caregivers at a time plagued by the coronavirus.
Thirty military and veteran caregivers representing 23 states join 225 past and present Dole Caregiver Fellows in bringing attention to the plight of 5.5 million “hidden heroes” that provide more than $14 billion in voluntary care for wounded, ill, and injured service members and veterans every year, according to a foundation press release.
“Our eighth class of Dole Caregiver Fellows is bringing a new set of unique voices to our mission, but all share similar stories of strength, resilience, and hope in caring for their wounded warriors,” said Steve Schwab, CEO of the Elizabeth Dole Foundation. “As they care for their veterans, we are grateful for their passion, wisdom, and willingness to come together and advocate for their fellow hidden heroes. They are the heart and soul of our work.”
Steve Scwab speaks at the Elizabeth Dole Foundation’s “Hidden Heroes Among Us” event in 2019. (Military Families)
Through the program, caregivers receive support, training and a platform to address the most pressing issues facing the community. They also share their stories directly with national leaders in the White House, Congress, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, and other government agencies, as well as decision makers in the business, entertainment, faith, and nonprofit sectors.
Mari Linfoot, a 2020 Dole Caregiver Fellow, is a full-time caregiver for her husband, Gary, who was paralyzed during a mechanical helicopter failure in 2008. She says there’s a whole phase of just trying to figure out how to be a caregiver.
Mari Linfoot and her husband Gary. (Military Families)
“It takes a long time. I kind of wish someone would have sat me down and said, ‘Don’t be hard on yourself because for the next year-to-three-years you’re going to be trying to figure life out, and that’s OK,'” she said. “You just want to fix everything and you just can’t fix some things.”
At the time of the accident, Mari had a successful real estate company. Due the demands for Gary’s care, she has now taken on a round-the-clock role as his caregiver.
“Gary went through a really dark emotional time. He was so good about putting a happy face on and he didn’t complain, but inside he was just dying. He started engaging in speaking at schools and businesses and it helped bring him out of it,” she said.
The pair travels for Gary’s speaking engagements where they discuss patriotism and technology that helps him get around, including an IBOT wheelchair that raises him to eye level and climbs stairs, and an exoskeleton that he used to walk their daughter down the aisle.
Regular travel challenges include rental cars or hotel rooms that are not accessible for Gary, despite multiple confirmations.
“Life is good. I can’t say life isn’t good. It’s just a lot. Everything is so much more detailed. It requires much more work and thought,” she said. “You have to count on other people doing what they’re supposed to do. You have less chance to take things into your own hands.”
In addition to speaking engagements, the couple founded the American Mobility Project to provide equipment and adaptive products after seeing a need within the civilian population. They also help connect veterans and military members with resources.
Anne Way, an Army Reserve spouse, was named to the Dole Fellowship community for her endurance and involvement.
In 2002, her husband, Pete, took shrapnel to the knee. Through multiple episodes of sepsis and flesh-eating bacteria, his knee was found to contain Middle Eastern strains causing infections. After years of complications and dozens of surgeries, Pete, a nurse practitioner, decided to amputate his leg.
“I trusted his opinion. We felt almost a relief. I was worried I was going to lose him multiple times, so I thought if we can just get rid of the leg, we can keep this from happening again,” Anne said.
In years since, he underwent innovative surgery to help his prosthetic, for which he’s still receiving treatment.
“It wasn’t the instant fix we were hoping for, but we’re working on it.”
Anne, who lives in Georgia, retired from her teaching career and now works as a full-time caregiver.
“I’m probably not as nurturing as some wives,” she laughed. “I encourage him to get up and go.”
“The biggest thing is being that support to him and understanding his physical needs.”
To promote healthy movement, even through amputation, the Ways have started a nonprofit biking community. Vets Fight On works with the VA and Forces United to provide hand and recumbent bikes. She said not only is the exercise aspect helpful, but it allows military members to connect socially.
“I’m looking forward to bringing support and awareness to others. I didn’t look for it and that would have been extremely rewarding to have that encouragement,” she said. “Let’s focus on the positive going forward and unite.”
Ted Meyer is a Los Angeles-based artist, curator, and patient advocate who has been coloring the lives of those with traumatic injuries for 17 years with his project called “Scarred for Life: Mono-prints of Human Scars.”
“The whole idea is to tell their story by making a beautiful piece of art from their scar” Meyer said. “I do a print off their body and then I try to work in some of the details of what happened to them into the painting that I do over the print.”
Meyer is comfortable around hospitals because he was born with an enzyme deficiency that doctors believed would cut his life short. Fortunately, a treatment was found, and the breakthrough radically changed his life and artistic focus.
“I met a woman who was using a wheelchair with a broken back,” he recalled. “We had a long conversation one day and she told me I should keep doing my art because I still had a lot to say about it.”
He called the woman to do a print of her scars, and the public’s reaction to the artwork received was very different from that received by his paintings.
“People would come up to me after seeing the work and show me their scars,” Meyer said. “They take their shirt off, pull down their pants or lift up a dress, everybody wanted to tell me. That was seventeen years ago and I’ve been doing this since.”
Originally, Meyer shied away from printing veterans’ wounds. Though he comes from a family with military tradition, he didn’t feel he had the credentials to do it.
“I’m not in that world,” he said. “There’s a couple of other veteran projects and usually they have a much closer relationship to it than I do.”
That all changed a few years ago. Someone close to Meyer returned from Iraq after several tours as a helicopter pilot and killed himself.
“I thought I should approach this subject by letting people tell their stories, because he never told any of us that he was struggling,” Meyer said. “Apparently, he had some damage in his jaw from shrapnel, and they wouldn’t let him fly because the jaw was deteriorating.”
So Meyer decided to tell veteran stories, but that has created a different problem: He needs more veterans to become works of art. He was offered an exhibit at the National Museum of Health and Medicine, but he couldn’t find enough scarred vets to participate so he had to postpone the show indefinitely.
“I think it was very systemic of the fact that a very small percentage of people fight over there,” Meyer said. “It’s a different culture and these are people who have a different sense of what being patriotic and being an American and defending us is.”
One of Meyers’ subjects, Jerral Hancock, is missing an arm, is paralyzed, and burned.
“Almost his whole body is scarred from burns,” Meyer said. “He had a lot of texture, so I went in and I have his tank that he had been in sort of marching across, rolling across his scar. I try to give it a narrative, but also make it a beautiful piece of artwork.”
“It was cool seeing war and our scars put to art, and it was an interesting experience going through Ted’s art,” Hancock said. “I would recommend it to other vets because it helps show the reality of war for those who don’t understand the sacrifices made.”
Working with wounded warriors changed the way Meyer sees the veteran community. A man who spent his life with people in physical and emotional crisis gained an appreciation for a new group he’s never known and relates that experience to the world.
“They’ve given a tremendous amount and don’t feel bitter about it,” Meyers said. “There’s a moral integrity to that I find lacking most everywhere else.”
Meyer has an upcoming show for his “Scarred for Life” project at Muzeumm Gallery in Los Angeles from February 6th through March 1st. If you’re a veteran with scars and a story you’d like turned into art, contact Ted Meyer at firstname.lastname@example.org.