Master Sgt. Raul “Roy” P. Benavidez was a young special forces linguist and medic when, in 1965, he stepped on a mine in Vietnam and was evacuated to the United States. He was told he’d never walk again. But, wanting to return to Vietnam, he began a nightly ritual of attempting to relearn how to walk despite explicit orders from his doctors.
A year later, his doctor was standing in Benavidez’s hospital room with medical discharge papers. The doctor made a deal with Benavidez that he’d tear up the discharge if Benavidez walked out of the room. Benavidez did one better by walking out of the ward.
Amazingly, this was not the most insane or heroic part of Benavidez’s life. That’s because, after returning to Vietnam, Benavidez volunteered to assist with the emergency extraction of a 12-man special forces team under extreme fire on May 2, 1968. He rode into battle on the fourth helicopter to attempt extraction, the first three having been driven back by withering small arms and anti-aircraft fire. The fourth bird also decided it couldn’t land, but allowed Benavidez to drop out of the helicopter 75 meters from the team.
Benavidez ran the 75 meters and was wounded three times in the process, including once in the head and once in the face. Despite his wounds, he began repositioning the wounded team members so they could lay down fire while also marking the location for aircraft to attempt extraction. When the bird arrived, he ran alongside, providing cover fire, as the helicopter picked up the wounded. Right as the helicopter and Benavidez reached the dead team leader, Benavidez was hit by small arms fire and grenade shrapnel while the pilot was mortally wounded and crashed the aircraft.
Benavidez again recovered the wounded and placed them in a defensive perimeter. He began circuits of the perimeter, distributing ammunition and water. As the enemy increased its pressure on the team, he began calling in airstrikes.
Another aircraft arrived to attempt extraction and Benavidez — despite his own serious injuries — ferried the dead and wounded to the waiting helicopter until he was clubbed from behind by an enemy soldier. He engaged in hand-to-hand combat with the soldier and killed him, but sustained bayonet wounds. While ferrying the last of the wounded to the bird, he engaged two additional enemy soldiers, killing them and protecting the helicopter.
Then, just to prove being wounded 37 times in six hours of combat ain’t no thang, he did a final sweep of the perimeter to ensure no wounded men or classified material was left on the battlefield.
Finally, Benavidez allowed himself to be pulled from the fight. Upon arriving back at the base, he was declared dead by two doctors. As the second one was zipping up the body bag, Benavidez proved he was alive by spitting in the doctor’s face, much like he had been spitting in the face of death for the previous six hours.
It would be nearly 13 more years before Benavidez was awarded the Medal of Honor, primarily because it was thought that there were no surviving witnesses to testify to his actions. After a team member who did survive, Brian O’Conner, heard Benavidez was still alive and that a witness testimony would allow him to be awarded the nation’s highest military honor, O’Conner provided a 10-page report to satisfy the requirement.
On February 24, 1981, President Ronald Reagan presented the Medal Of Honor. Before reading the citation, he told the crowd, “If the story of his heroism were a movie script, you would not believe it.”
The reading of the citation and Benavidez’s story, in his own words, is available in the video below.
Anyone about to deploy to a war zone needs to prepare for a number of things. Combat is fraught with danger and a scenario can go to sh*t at a moment’s notice. You genuinely don’t know what lurks around any corner while out on patrol.
Unfortunately, combat is just one of the many problems that service members face when deployed. Thankfully, the following aren’t quite as dangerous as a firefight.
Receiving mail can be the life or death of a deployed troop. Not every package comes in perfect condition and, sometimes, what you get from back home can be upsetting.
No one wants to get a Dear John letter.
2. Language barriers
Typically, the countries we go to war with and work alongside don’t speak the best English. This creates conflict because American service members like to say curse words — and some of the foul language we use figuratively on a daily basis, they take literally. Take the term “motherf*cker,” for instance. When our Afghan counterparts hear those words, they think we’re referring to actually nailing their mothers.
As you can imagine, that message isn’t well received.
3. Local food
When someone invites you to eat with them, it’s only polite that you do so. If you’re in a foreign country and you someone extends this gracious offer, you’d better accept.
However, good luck digesting all the spices and foreign methods of food prep.
4. Cultural misunderstandings
Americans have a unique way of living and so does the rest of the world. Some of the cultures we work with don’t want us looking at, or even talking to their women, no matter how benign the intent — and we have to respect that.
Despite the best intentions, there have been some cases in which various nations’ troops don’t comply with social rules. That’s when unnecessary conflict pops up.
Allied troops get all kinds of vaccines to prevent local illnesses that may lurk. However, we don’t vaccinate for every type of viral infections and insect bite. No one wants to get sick while they’re back home, let alone while they’re deployed to a war zone.
If you were among the millions of Americans that tuned into the Super Bowl last night, you probably saw the powerful, patriotic ad in the lead up to kick off. Featuring Marine and Medal of Honor recipient Kyle Carpenter, the NFL spot is a video set to Johnny Cash’s spoken word song, “Ragged Old Flag.”
Tracing the flag’s (and America’s) journey through major wars and events, the video also shows images of protest and anger with several shots of the flag being burned before going back to images of the military, first responders and ordinary, everyday Americans.
The video spot struck a nerve immediately with some saying it was a dig at Colin Kaepernick.
Cash released the song as part of his 47th album in 1974, at a time during great turmoil in the USA, much like today. The U.S. was winding down its involvement in Vietnam and was dealing with the Watergate scandal with President Richard Nixon just resigning the office. The song was penned to be an optimistic song for Americans dealing with such tumultuous times.
Cash, an opponent of the war and believer in social justice, had actually met Richard Nixon a couple of years before and performed several songs for him, including an anti-Vietnam War song, “What is Truth” and “The Ballad of Ira Hayes,” a heartbreaking song about one of the Flag Raisers of Iwo Jima and his life as a Pima Indian.
Cash himself would open his concerts with the song and preface it with the following:
“I thank God for all the freedom we have in this country, I cherish them and treasure them – even the right to burn the flag. We also got the right to bear arms and if you burn my flag – I’ll shoot you.”
“Ragged Old Flag” was a hit upon its release with his fans who embraced the message that one can have criticisms of this country but should still respect those people and images that symbolize it. It is a message that resonates with many to this day.
The moving lyrics of the song:
I walked through a county courthouse square On a park bench an old man was sitting there I said, your old courthouse is kinda run down He said, naw, it’ll do for our little town I said, your old flagpole has leaned a little bit And that’s a ragged old flag you got hanging on it.
He said, have a seat, and I sat down Is this the first time you’ve been to our little town? I said, I think it is He said, I don’t like to brag But we’re kinda proud of that ragged old flag
You see, we got a little hole in that flag there when Washington took it across the Delaware And it got powder-burned the night Francis Scott Key Sat watching it writing say can you see And it got a bad rip in New Orleans With Packingham and Jackson tuggin’ at its seams.
And it almost fell at the Alamo
Beside the texas flag, but she waved on though She got cut with a sword at Chancellorsville And she got cut again at Shiloh Hill There was Robert E. Lee, Beauregard, and Bragg And the south wind blew hard on that ragged old flag
On Flanders field in World War one She got a big hole from a Bertha gun She turned blood red in World War Two She hung limp and low a time or two She was in Korea and Vietnam She went where she was sent by Uncle Sam
She waved from our ships upon the Briny foam And now they’ve about quit waving her back here at home In her own good land here she’s been abused She’s been burned, dishonored, denied, and refused
And the government for which she stands
Is scandalized throughout the land And she’s getting threadbare and wearing thin But she’s in good shape for the shape she’s in ‘Cause she’s been through the fire before And I believe she can take a whole lot more
So we raise her up every morning We take her down every night We don’t let her touch the ground and we fold her up right On second thought, I do like to brag ‘Cause I’m mighty proud of that ragged old flag
Russia announced today that they are pulling most of their forces out of Syria because Russian air and missile strikes there over the last six months have allowed the Syrian government to push back rebels in many key areas.
“I hope that today’s decision will be a good signal for all parties to the conflict,” Putin said on state television. “I hope that this will considerably increase the level of trust between all parties of the Syrian settlement and will contribute to a peaceful resolution of the Syrian issue.”
Russia will keep forces at its new air force base in Latakia, Syria. The base was carved out of Bassel Al-Assad International Airport in 2015 and has been the central hub for Russian air operations in Syria. Russian forces will also remain at the Cold War-era naval base in Tartus, Syria.
The Syrian government was teetering on the edge of collapse before the Russians intervened, but now it has forces surrounding the rebel stronghold of Aleppo. In February, government forces took sections of the city before their supply lines were cut by ISIS attacks.
Putin’s announcement that Russian forces were withdrawing came the same day that peace talks resumed in Geneva, Switzerland. Earlier talks had resulted in a shaky ceasefire but the Syrian government was accused multiple times of breaking the terms of the deal. The timing has led to speculation that Putin’s announcement was timed to place pressure on President Bashir Al-Assad to seek a peace deal.
Any deal would not directly affect operations against ISIS as the terror group is not party to the negotiations. But, a truce between government forces and moderate rebels would allow both groups to focus more resources and manpower against ISIS.
The Archer didn’t look much different than future self-propelled artillery vehicles (Photo credit: Public Domain)
At first sight, the Valentine Archer isn’t a terribly odd looking vehicle. The fighting compartment and gun appear to be at the rear with the barrel extending over the front deck; but they’re not. In fact, the fighting compartment is at the front of the vehicle and the gun faces backwards over the engine deck in the rear. This odd-looking vehicle was the Vickers-Armstrongs solution to the problem of mounting the heavy, but effective, 17-pounder anti-tank gun in a fighting vehicle; this is the Archer.
Early in the war, Britain quickly learned that the majority of the guns mounted on its armored vehicles were inferior to the firepower that their German counterparts brought to bear. In early 1943, prototypes of the new Ordnance Quick-Firing 17-pounder anti-tank guns were sent to North Africa in response to the appearance of heavy German Tiger tanks. The gun proved to be effective against German armor; the problem was that it was heavy and had to be towed around the battlefield. Britain’s new problem became mounting the 17-pounder on a mobile fighting vehicle.
A QF 17-pounder in Tunisia (Photo from the Imperial War Museum)
Although projects were in development to mount the gun on a turreted tank (which led to the Challenger and Sherman Firefly tanks), the British Army needed to develop a vehicle that could carry the gun as quickly as possible. Vickers-Armstrongs was given the challenge and elected to use the outdated Valentine tank as the base of this new vehicle; its official designation being Self Propelled 17pdr, Valentine, Mk I, Archer. The Valentine’s engine was upgraded to a GMC 6-71 6-cylinder diesel with a higher power output of 192 bhp in order to carry the heavy gun without sacrificing mobility. Still the gun could not be mounted in a turret and was instead mounted in a low, open-top armored fighting compartment. As previously stated, this was at the front of the vehicle with the gun facing backwards.
A front view of the Archer (Photo from The Tank Museum)
The mounting of the 17-pounder in the Archer allowed for 11 degrees of traverse and elevation from -7.5 to +15 degrees. If the gunner required more lateral traverse, the driver would have to physically turn the vehicle. As a result, the driver would remain at his station (facing the opposite direction of the action) at all times. Aside from this, it would be difficult for the driver to get in and out quickly because of the tight confines of the fighting compartment. The gun took up a lot of space and recoiled in the direction of the driver’s head. That said, he was never in any danger of being struck thanks to the hydraulic recoil system that kept the gun well-clear of his head when it recoiled.
An overhead view of the cramped fighting compartment (Photo from The Tank Museum)
Although its odd layout was the product of necessity, it actually made the Archer an effective ambush weapon. An Archer could set up in a concealed position, fire at a target, and then quickly drive off in the opposite direction without having to turn around since it was already facing backwards. It had a top speed of 20 mph and was very adept at cross-country driving and climbing slopes.
Commonwealth military doctrine labeled the Archer as a self-propelled anti-tank gun rather than a tank or even a tank destroyer. As such, it was operated by the Royal Artillery rather than the Royal Armored Corps. The soldiers of the Royal Artillery eventually complained about the lack of overhead cover in the fighting compartment which led to the development of an optional armored roof. However, this addition saw very little, if any, use.
An Archer with the armored roof installed
By the end of the war, a total of 655 Archers had been produced. After the war, the Archer saw service in Germany with the British Armored Corps in the British Army of the Rhine. 200 Archers were also supplied to the Egyptian Army with another 36 going to the Jordanian Arab Legion and National Guard.
An abandoned Egyptian Archer during the Sinai War, 1956 (Photo from the United States Army Heritage and Education Center)
The competition allowed Marines stationed in Japan to test and enhance their shooting abilities.
“The concept of every Marine a rifleman goes back to our basics,” said Sgt. Christian Lee Burdette, an ordinance maintenance chief with Marine Corps Installations Pacific. “We learn basic infantry skills before we learn our military occupational specialty. Every Marine in general has the capabilities to engage any threat with a weapon. With this training, it provides that confidence for a Marine to engage effectively.”
The first day of the competition included a brief morning class to brush the competitors up on their marksmanship knowledge followed by competitors zeroing their rifles. Zeroing is the process of calibrating the rifle combat optic, so the weapon is accurate to where the shooter is aiming. The shooters’ zero is essential, as a faulty zero can disrupt a shooters’ ability to hit their target.
The following week allowed the shooters to practice the various courses of fire. To complete certain courses, the shooters were forced to shoot with their off-hand and eye.
U.S. Marines competing in the Far East Marksmanship Competition engage targets at Range 18 on Camp Hansen, Okinawa, Japan Dec. 13, 2018.
(Photo by Pfc. Brennan Beauton)
“It puts you into unknown situations, instead of just shooting on a flat range and known distances,” said Sgt. Shane Holum, an emergency service crew chief with MCIPAC. “You have multiple targets and you are shooting and moving. You have to work through problems and malfunctions.”
The final week was for score. All of the shooters’ shots were marked and recorded. Marines were able to compete as an individual, a team, or both. Each shooter had to complete the standard Marine Corps rifle and pistol qualification course along with other courses. The additional courses required shooters to fire and maneuver obstacles, and switch weapons while engaging targets at different distances.
Sixteen teams competed on Dec. 13, 2018, in a rifle and pistol competition. To enter and compete as a team, each team must include four shooters. A team must have an officer and a first time shooter. The first time shooter must be at least a noncommissioned officer.
A U.S. Marine shooter and spotters assess the target in the Team Pistol Match finals at Range 1 on Camp Hansen, Okinawa, Japan Dec. 13, 2018.
(Photo by Pfc. Brennan Beauton)
“Any command that is stationed on Okinawa or mainland Japan can come out to the competition,” said Staff Sgt. Stephen Ferguson, an instructor and competitor for the Marine Corps Shooting Team. “You can bring as large as a team as you want, or bring a single shooter. Either way, you can come out and compete.”
The Marine Corps Base Camp Butler’s team won the team rifle competition. The Communication Strategy and Operations Company on Camp Hansen won the team pistol competition, the same day the unit became officially activated. On Dec. 14, 2018, the MCB rifle team was presented with the Calvin A. Lloyd Memorial Trophy, and the CommStrat pistol team was presented with the Shively Trophy.
“Annual qualification is once a year,” said Sgt. Cameron Patrick, an instructor and competitor for the Marine Corps Shooting Team. “Shooting is a very perishable skill so we want you to not just do the qualification, but to try and get out and practice on your own time. Actually refine your skills by yourself. Don’t wait for that one year to come around.”
The top 10 percent of shooters are invited to participate in the United States Marine Corps Marksmanship Championship Competition in Quantico, Virginia, in April 2019. From there they will be evaluated to see if the individual has the qualities of becoming a member of the Marine Corps Shooting Team, according to Patrick.
The Far East Competition is held annually on Okinawa. Marines that want to participate are encouraged to sign up early as slots fill up quickly.
Like many post-9/11 veterans. Amanda Burrill is all about physical fitness. She’s very conscious of what food she eats, she makes sure to get enough sleep, and she’s very, very active. She has to be — this is how she beats TBI every day of her life. Now, the Navy officer who nearly had to relearn how to walk is set to run — for her fellow veterans, that is.
As a young Navy officer on a deployment, Burrill slipped in a sewage leak and lost consciousness. Soon after, she began to have memory problems. When she went to get it checked out, she was diagnosed with Traumatic Brain Injury. But that didn’t deter her — she spent a total of eight years in the Navy. After leaving the service, she became an advocate for veterans suffering from TBI, but first, she became an amazing example for them to follow.
She spent two years in surgeries, rehabs, and therapies. She spent a great deal of time studying as well, attending Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism and becoming a trained chef at the famed Le Cordon Bleu. She even studied wine in Paris. Next, she started running. She runs marathons and Iron Man triathlons on top of competing in fitness competitions. Now, she’s a writer and on-air talent for the Travel Channel and uses that fame to advocate for anyone who is suffering from TBI.
But she’s not finished running. She’s just running for her fellow veterans now.
In September, 2018, Amanda Burrill will run in the Relay for Heroes, benefiting the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund. Endurance athletes from all over the world will converge on New York City’s Intrepid Sea, Air Space Museum to follow a route along the banks of New York City’s Hudson River. The goal isn’t 26.2 miles or any number of miles — the goal is to run as many miles as possible during the 12-hour race.
If you’re there, you just might see Amanda Buriill, the Navy rescue swimmer who climbed Denali after her TBI diagnosis, running for the first time since 2015.
“We summited Denali unguided!” Burrill told WATM. “I’m an avid, record-breaking mountaineer; not despite my injuries but because of them. The mountaineering interest started while I was in brain injury rehab, as I needed a fun hobby to replace my first and true love: running.”
After her injury, Burrill’s balance and gait were poor and it affected her running ability. Doing marathons and Ironman races with busted form “messed her up,” as she says. She now has a metal shank foot, full of screws, that’s been opened lengthwise five times.
“Mountaineering is more about suffering well than having stable feet,” she says.”I WILL OUT-SUFFER ANYONE. Knowing that in my heart is pretty damn awesome.”
She is running to highlight female veterans, TBI awareness, and resiliency. From firsthand experience, she believes female vets are underserved when it comes to TBI treatment and believes self-advocacy is an essential element in furthering the cause of women getting the help they need — even if that just means receiving a diagnosis.
“I hope to raise awareness — and money — and bond with my teammates in a show of Lady Vet solidarity,” she says.
The Relay for Heroes will start on Saturday, Sept. 8, 2018, in New York City. The starting line can be found at West 46th Street 12th Avenue, New York, NY 10036. You can run as an individual or in 4-6 person teams. For more information or to register, visit the Relay for Heroes website. If you’re unable to run or support a runner, you can still donate to Burrill’s Relay for Heroes team here.
Recently, Starbucks, the Schultz Family Foundation and JP Morgan convened in Washington, D.C., to explore impactful ways to empower veterans. This meeting at its core was centered on finding a solution to corporate philanthropy – how can organizations work to produce social change in a chosen area, while still ensuring a return on investment? Across sectors, collective impact has emerged as the answer.
As it relates to the world of nonprofits, collective impact is a framework by which organizations can accomplish more through partnerships with others with shared values, than they can by going alone. Ten years ago this month, I deployed to Baghdad, Iraq, and in the military, I learned the phrase “one team, one fight,” which perfectly summarizes this concept. Pair this idea of cooperation, not competition, with the generous financial backing of corporate donors, and you have the foundation for real change.
Here is a real world example: To raise awareness for breast cancer research and domestic violence, the Avon Foundation gives grants to nonprofits to strengthen the work they do on the ground. Corporate partnerships are a key component of amplifying the work of nonprofits, but for companies looking to invest in social change, how do you find the right home for your dollars? For those looking to empower veterans and military families, the Got Your 6 campaign has perfected the solution.
Over the last three years, Macy’s has raised $6.7 million dollars for the national veteran campaign Got Your 6 through its annual American Icons campaign. These funds have gone to national programs and events as well as to Got Your 6’s coalition of nonprofit partners in the form of grants, in efforts to advance the veteran empowerment movement.
By vetting each nonprofit partner within its larger coalition, Got Your 6 ensures that corporate funding will go to organizations creating real change in communities across America. From the great work of Macy’s through American Icons, and the generosity of the American people, Got Your 6 was able to give 35 grants over three years to nonprofit partners such as The 6th Branch, a veteran-run nonprofit that utilizes the leadership and operational skills of military veterans to accomplish community service initiatives. Last year, Got Your 6 granted The 6th Branch $93,000, supporting a year’s worth of service to transform abandoned lots in Baltimore into urban farms and safe spaces for youth recreation. Last month, members from team Got Your 6 participated in an urban greening event with The 6th Branch at the Oliver Community Farm in Baltimore; a veteran-created community resource designed to provide fresh produce in response to a lack of healthy food options in the area.
From my time as a cadet at West Point to the 17 months I spent in Baghdad during the height of the surge, I’ve seen first-hand the power of collective impact and how critical it is to success, regardless of the mission. To continue supporting a resurgence of community in America, Macy’s is again working with Got Your 6 on this year’s iteration of American Icons. Veterans will directly benefit the more people know about this: Americans can shop at Macy’s for Got Your 6 Weekend on Friday, May 13 through Sunday, May 15 to donate $3 at the register or online at Macys.com to receive a special savings pass, with 100% of all donations going directly to Got Your 6 and its coalition of nonprofit partners.
I have been leading teams my entire life, in and out of the Army, and I couldn’t be more proud of Got Your 6 as we lead the veteran empowerment movement, leveraging a “one team, one fight” approach. Companies looking to support social change should seriously consider the collective impact mindset. As exemplified by Macy’s and Got Your 6, measurable impact can occur when all parties work together.
Havildar Bhanbhagta Gurung was a rifleman in the Indian Army when, in 1945, he rushed past his pinned-down platoon under sniper, machine gun, and rifle fire to take the fight to the Japanese on his own, cutting down five enemy positions and capturing a hill which he then defended against counterattack.
Gurkha infantry marches through the streets of Japan after the war.
Initially, he did well in the position, but was charged with neglect of duty and demoted after his section held the wrong hill during an operation. Bhanbhagta Gurung maintained for his entire life that he had occupied the hill he was ordered to take, and it’s thought that his platoon leader had relayed the orders wrong but let Bhanbhagta Gurung take the rap.
Gurkha soldiers train in Malaya in 1941.
(British Army photo by Lt. Palmer)
Bhanbhagta Gurung was sent to another company in disgrace, but he would prove his heroism within months. In March, 1945, he was sent with the 25th Indian Division to the Burma coast with orders to proceed to the Irawaddy River through the An Pass.
Gurkha artillerymen fire in Tunisia during World War II.
(British Army photo by Capt. Keating)
The Gurkhas were making their way up when enemy mortar and machine gun fire pinned them down. Grenades rained down and inflicted additional casualties. As the men looked for a way out of their predicament, a Japanese sniper in a nearby tree began picking them off.
Meanwhile, the men suffered friendly fire from their own artillery because of the odd ballistics required by firing up the hills. The big guns stopped firing, leaving the infantry without support.
Bhanbhagta Gurung decided to take care of one problem at a time. Unable to get a good shot at the sniper from his prone position, he stood up with machine gun fire flying past him and mortars and grenades exploding everywhere. He aimed his rifle into the tree and ended the unit’s sniper problem.
Gurkha forces practice using explosives to expel enemy soldiers from trenches.
The section moved forward again, but only made it 20 yards before the withering fire resumed. Bhanbhagta Gurung decided that he wasn’t getting pinned down again and rushed forward on his own while under the accurate machine gun fire of a nearby bunker.
He hit the first enemy foxhole and tossed in two grenades, killing both defenders, before he rushed to the next position and cleared it with his bayonet.
The rest of his section was still taking fire from two foxholes, so Bhanbhagta Gurung went to them, again turning to grenades and bayonet to clear them. By this point, he was right at the machine gun bunker that had been trying to kill him and his section for the entire assault.
A British infantryman places his Bren light machine gun into operation in 1944.
(British Army photo by Sgt. Laing)
He rushed up, still under fire, and climbed onto the roof of the bunker. Completely out of grenades and low on ammo, he grabbed two smoke grenades and tossed them through the bunker’s slit. The smoke was created by white phosphorous and the defenders rushed out, nearly blinded by it.
Bhanbhagta Gurung grabbed his traditional kukri knife and used it to kill the Japanese troops. Still, a machine gunner remained inside, raining fire on the platoon — so Bhanbhagta Gurung crawled in. He found that there wasn’t enough room to swing his knife and instead used a rock to end the gunner’s life. The hill now belonged to the Gurkhas.
Some of the Japanese defenders that had fled next organized a counterattack. Bhanbhagta Gurung organized a defense, including placing a Gurkha machine gunner in the captured bunker. The Gurkhas fended off the Japanese attack and held the hill.
The Gurkhas had suffered heavy losses — approximately half the company had been killed or wounded. But the casualty rate would likely have been much higher if not for Bhanbhagta Gurung. In fcat, they may have failed to take the hill at all. Bhanbhagta Gurung was put in for the Victoria Cross and later received it.
He was also promoted, eventually regaining the rank of corporal. When the war ended later that year, he decided to get out of the military and care for family at home. He was later given a ceremonial promotion to sergeant in honor of his service and was awarded the Medal of the Order of the Star of Nepal by the King of Nepal.
The family he raised included three sons who joined the Gurkha rifles and later retired from the military. He died in March 2008 in Gorkha, a region of Nepal.
In 2015, re-enactors recreated his stunning success during a celebration marking 200 years of Gurkha service in the British military. The video is embedded above.
Not too long ago at Thule Air Base, Greenland located in the Arctic, a change of command ceremony was taking place.
Outgoing 821st Air Base Group US Air Force Commander — Col. Mafwa Kuvibidila — passed the flag to her successor Col. Timothy J. Bos.
In her outgoing speech, Kuvibidila thanked everyone in the audience for supporting her during her command. This included members of the US Army Corps of Engineers, New York District.
These ceremonies happen every few years, but what’s been consistent at the base is the Army Corps’ presence. For over half a century, the Army Corps has performed construction for the base. Presently, it’s consolidating the base by 40% to save energy, tax-payer money and to sustain its readiness.
Kuvibidila, who managed the base for the past year, understands the importance of consolidation.
She said, “For Thule it’s a matter of looking at the best way to use the infrastructure currently on base, and what is needed to support it to maximize resources.”
Thule Air Base in Greenland.
(US Army Corps of Engineers)
Thule, Air Base Mission
Thule pronounced “Two Lee” is Latin for northernmost part of the inhabitable world. Thule Air Base is located in the northwestern corner of Greenland, in a coastal valley 700 miles north of the Arctic Circle and 950 miles south of the North Pole.
The base is the United States’ northern most military installation that has the responsibility of monitoring the skies for missiles in defense of the United States and its allies.
For over half a century, the base has been home to active-duty Air Force members who live and work in this remote Arctic environment to perform National security.
Throughout this time, the Army Corps under extreme weather conditions and less daylight hours, has helped the base fulfill its mission by constructing many structures including several dormitories, an aircraft runway and surrounding apron and taxiways, and a medical facility.
Now the Army Corps is helping once again, by consolidating and modernizing the base’s infrastructure.
In the early 1950s, the base’s main mission was to be an aircraft refueling stop. It was home to 10,000 personnel, US military troops, as well as a support staff comprised of Danish and Greenlandic national people.
During the Cold War Era, the base’s mission changed and it is now home to less personnel that are mainly performing early missile warnings and space surveillance for the United States.
The base has many buildings spread out over the entire base. Many of these buildings are still in use, but have become severely weatherworn and energy and fuel is being wasted to heat them. They are also a distance from the base’s central power plant that requires maintaining long pipes to transport heat to them.
Many of these old buildings are being demolished and new buildings are being constructed closer together to make them easier to reach and to save energy.
A contingency dorm that will provide living quarters for the over-flow of visitors at Thule Air Base, June 2019.
(US Army Corps of Engineers/JoAnne Castagna)
The US Military has been on a mission to save energy and costs. Because of this, the U.S. Air Force tapped into the expertise of the Army Corps to consolidate the base. “This includes demolishing old facilities and constructing new ones that will be situated or consolidated more centrally near the hub of the base where the airfield, hangars, dining facility, hospital and runway are located,” said Stella Marco, project manager, New York District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
The Army Corps is performing this work in partnership with two Army Corps agencies that have expertise in performing construction in an Arctic environment — the Cold Regions Research Engineering Lab and the US Army Corps of Engineers Engineer Research Development Center.
Kuvibidila recalls the consolidation work that she witnessed during her command. “There were multiple projects being worked on during my time at Thule from a new dorm, to finalizing new consolidated facilities for vehicle maintenance and supplies, along with various power projects,” she said.
The main structures that are being constructed are dormitories for non-commissioned officers who are on temporary duty and contingency lodging for the overflow of visitors, scientists, re-fueling operation crews, contractors, maintenance operations specialists and temporary duty personnel.
Recently, the Army Corps completed the construction of three, multi-story high rise dormitories for non-commissioned officers. Currently, construction is ongoing on the upgrade and renovation of two additional dormitories and 636 existing dorm rooms.
Marco said that the older dorms were the “gang-latrine” types, where a person staying at Thule would be assigned an individual room that contained the amenities of a bed, television, desk and a closet, however, all showers and toilet areas were located down a hall, in one area, that would require the guest to walk down through a public hallway to use.
She said the new dorms were constructed more into suites or modular units and are more conducive to privacy and to providing proper rest, relaxation and personal well-being.
A module consists of two or four individual bedrooms that lead into a centralized living area along with a partially shared bathroom. Modules provide some degree of privacy for the officers. Additionally, each floor has a common kitchen and dining area for residents to gather in.
Also contingency lodging is also being renovated to provide living quarters for the over-flow of visitors.
This involves renovating some of the existing old fashioned, trailer-like living quarters named “flat-tops” currently occupied by Danish and Greenlandic support staff and contractors that work on the installation.
In addition to new living quarters being constructed and renovated, the aircraft runway was just reconstructed and repaved in asphalt as were the surrounding aprons and taxiways.
“The runway is the lifeline to Thule Air Base since the waterways are only passable by sealift from July to mid-September,” said Marco.
“By using lessons learned of Arctic construction, the latest knowledge of constructing in permanently frozen ground called permafrost, along with the latest construction and paving practices, has allowed the Army Corps to build the best new runway possible,” said Marco.
Thule Air Base from the top of a nearby mountain, June 2019.
(US Army Corps of Engineers/JoAnne Castagna)
Working on the runway was challenging due to the extreme weather conditions.
Paving the 10,000 foot long runway was performed in three phases — one each year — because the construction season was limited from June through mid-September. Half the runway was paved one year and the other half was paved a second year.
“Since only half the runway was available each year for pilots to use, they had to be able to land and stop their aircraft on 4,000 feet of paved area. During this time, mainly C-130 Aircraft were used because of its ability to stop in such a short span,” said Marco.
Another challenge was to lay the asphalt during the warmest temperatures possible. Asphalt cannot be paved in cold temperature because it will not adhere properly and will fail. To read more about constructing in the Arctic, please see the sidebar “Construction Challenges in the Arctic.”
Other facilities constructed to consolidate the base include a consolidated base supply and civil engineering facility to house the maintenance shops, including sheet metal, painting and carpentry, and a new vehicle maintenance equipment storage facility.
These new and renovated buildings are going to be heated with an upgraded heating system.
Thule’s central power plant provides the base’s electricity and heating. Over the last few years, the Army Corps has provided the plant new energy-efficient exhaust gas heat recovery boilers and engines.
With this new equipment, the Army Corps is creating a new steam distribution system that will provide heat to most of the base.
These new engines create substantial surplus heat. This excess heat is going to be turned into steam that will be piped — by new pipes — to other buildings on the base. When the steam reaches the other buildings, it will be converted into hot water to be used for heat.
All of this consolidation work is needed to maintain readiness on the base. Kuvibidila said it is more important than ever before to improve base readiness. She said, “The current primary focus of the base is to support space, science, and allied operations and being able to continue that support will be critical.”
A window view from one of the dormitories at Thule Air Force Base, June 2019. Mount Dundas is in the distance.
(US Army Corps of Engineers/JoAnne Castagna)
Side Bar: Construction challenges in the Arctic
Arctic construction can be challenging due to severe weather and limited daylight, which requires the use of unique building materials, techniques and fast-paced construction.
Most of northern Greenland is covered with permafrost, which is permanently frozen ground — ranging from 6 feet to 1,600 feet in depth.
This requires structures to be constructed with a special elevated Arctic foundation. If buildings are not constructed off of the ground, the heat from inside the building can melt the permafrost, making the ground unstable and causing buildings to sink.
Buildings are elevated 3 feet from the ground with the use of spread footings that go down about 10 feet deep and concrete columns that come up and support the floor system above the ground.
Construction takes place during the summer and autumn months when the temperature is a “balmy” 40 degrees Fahrenheit. In the winter, temperatures can be as low as minus 30 degrees Fahrenheit.
It is also during the summer and autumn months that there is sufficient daylight.
Because of Thule’s proximity to the North Pole, the region has 24 hours of sunlight from May through August and 24 hours of darkness from November through February.
The less cold temperatures make it possible to break up the iced shipping lanes. This allows cargo ships into port supplied with fuel and construction materials.
Building materials include concrete foundations, insulated steel and metal walls, roof panels and prefabricated parts so that the workers can perform construction rapidly.
When the winter season begins, workers begin interior construction. This work includes constructing mechanical, electrical, plumbing and fire protection systems that are designed to withstand extreme frigid sub-zero temperatures.
IWA International is a company based out of Miami, FL that specializes in importing unique tactical gear from all around the world. We recently got a chance to play with a couple of their latest releases — civilian-legal flashbang grenades.
Actual flashbangs produced for military and law enforcement use are classified as destructive devices by the ATF and are not available on the commercial market. They typically consist of an explosive charge and fuse mechanism inside a steel or aluminum grenade body. We have seen simulators and training aids available for unrestricted purchase that use shotgun blanks or even CO2 cartridges to create the bang, popular for use in airsoft and paintball matches.
But the IWA bangs are a little different. They consist of a small charge inside a cardboard tube. The design actually reminds us of some of the first-generation concussion grenades that used a similar cardboard or paper body. The IWA grenades are classified as pyrotechnics and are governed by the same restrictions that apply to fireworks. Because of this, shipping is limited to ground-transport only which means only those in the Lower 48 will be able to purchase them, state and local laws notwithstanding.
There are currently three models available from IWA – the M11 multi-burst, the M12 Distraction Device, and the M13 Thermobaric Canister. The M11 gives off a single loud bang followed by two smaller bangs. The M12 is a single charge, and the M13 Thermobaric produces a single loud bang and a “mild overpressure” as described by the folks at IWA. Fortunately, they sent us a couple of each for testing. All three models sport OD green cardboard bodies and pull-ring fuses with a safety spoon that flies free when the safety ring is pulled. Each grenade is individually labeled and, though the bodies look identical, the labels are large and clearly marked so you know what you’re getting when you pull the pin. They are roughly the same size as an actual flashbang and seem to fit in most nylon pouches made for the real deal.
There are, of course, some differences between the IWA products and the real thing. The biggest difference is sound output. The products made by DefTec and ALS produce about 175 decibels on detonation. The IWA grenades are rated for 125 decibels. The other major difference is time delay. Tactical-grade flashbangs usually have a 1.5-second delay, while the IWA versions are currently advertised at 2.5 seconds. They tell us they are working on an improved fuse that will bring the delay down to 2 seconds or less.
The folks we spoke to at IWA say that these are meant primarily for training and simulation purposes. Not to mention the obvious f*ck-yeah-factor of getting to toss grenades for whatever special occasion you can come up with. The lower sound output makes them a more akin to a sophisticated M80 than a tool for post-apocalyptic home defense, but we don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. Who needs a reason to set off explosives? All three versions of the IWA flashbang are available for .99 each, with bulk pricing available.
The photos here will have to hold you over for now but stay tuned to RecoilWeb and RecoilTV for video of our tests of these unique products. In the meantime, check out iwainternationalinc.com and pick up one or two for yourself.
This article originally appeared on Recoilweb. Follow @RecoilMag on Twitter.
“When you have a 60 meter rope, and you have to climb 120 meters…you are forced to climb to the end of your rope. From there, your team is hanging at the middle of the mountain deciding if you keep going up or back down.”
Soldiers training at the Chilean Mountain Warfare School quickly learn why it is one of the most respected climbing and survival schools anywhere. The rock climbing requires soldiers to make their own routes up cliff faces, day and night, and secure their own anchors with their climbing partners. For many of the soldiers, it is the toughest course they will ever complete.
Staff Sgt. Norberto Rodriguez, of the 10th Mountain Division’s Light Fighters School, spent five months training in the Chilean Andes alongside students from across central and South America. His experiences are unique as one of a very small number of American soldiers who have successfully completed this world-renowned mountain warfare and survival course.
“When you’re with another army for five months, you learn a lot. You learn how they work. It’s not the same as deploying with another army,” said Rodriguez.
Students at the Chilean Mountain Warfare School hike up a portion of the Chilean Andes during the winter portion of the course.
(Photo by Staff Sgt. John Doe)
While he is no stranger to the cold and snow, being stationed at Fort Drum, the winter conditions while training in the Andes were very different from the weather and geography of upstate New York. Rather than only see the obstacle, Rodriguez chose to see it as a challenge and an opportunity to better himself.
“The first time I put on a pair of skis, I took two steps and fell. Now I can ski with a weapon, no poles, and a full ruck sack while skiing down a mountain.”
Mountain warfare is not new as a discipline. At the United States Army Mountain Warfare School, they train soldiers from across the Army on how to fight effectively in mountainous areas of operation.
“Mountain warfare is an important discipline because it essentially adds another major plane of maneuver–the Z axis [for vertical infiltration]”, said Capt. Nathan Fry of the U.S. Army Mountain Warfare School in Vermont.
A student of the Chilean Mountain Warfare School stands in the snow during the winter portion of the course in the Chilean Andes mountains.
(Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Kelly Simon)
Fry further established that understanding how to use terrain effectively is a major mobility enabler, especially in the vertical terrain of rugged mountains.
“To be successful in operations such as this, mountain warfare units must have soldiers who understand how to live unplugged and off-the-grid…and know how to dress for wild temperature swings, travel light enough to gain thousands of vertical feet in a single day, procure water, and avoid hazards such as rock falls or avalanches,” Fry stated.
The Chilean Mountain Warfare School uses its proximity to the Andes to its advantage when training students. Many of the students that graduate find careers in mountain rescue and specialized mountain infantry units.
As an infantryman, Rodriguez has experienced many patrols, both in training and while deployed. Whether dismounted or from a vehicle, many soldiers are often able to rely on support or resupply if it is needed during a mission. Mountain warfare units do not have readily available resupply options.
Staff Sgt. Norberto Rodriguez checks the harness on his pack mule before heading out for training at the Chilean Mountain Warfare Course.
(Photo by Staff Sgt. John Doe)
“If you finish your water, you have to know how to search for more. And if you finish your food, you have to know how to hunt for it. That’s just one of the things that you learn quick. This is mountain warfare. It’s just different. It’s its own animal,” Rodriguez said.
The five-month course challenged Rodriguez every day. Across two seasons he trained on hand-to-hand combat and is now qualified in mountain survival and ski-borne tactical operations. He learned to work with pack mules in mountainous terrain in day and night operations, and became an experienced rock and ice climber.
The harsh terrain of the Chilean Andes provides a majestic and challenging backdrop for the students of the Chilean Mountain Warfare School.
(Photo by Staff Sgt. John Doe)
“I’ve always loved the outdoors. As an infantryman, you’re doing something wrong if you don’t. But before I went to the Chilean Mountain Warfare School, I wasn’t a rock climber. I wasn’t a skier. None of those things. Those are skills they gave me,” Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez looks forward to sharing his new skills with his future soldiers, and shared that wherever the Army sends him, he knows he has faced larger obstacles before.
After a century, World War I is finally getting the treatment in American cinema it so richly deserves. While some of the best war movies were World War I movies, Paths of Glory, All Quiet on the Western Front, and Lawrence of Arabia, there were also many misses. What’s surprising is that there are relatively few WWI movies, when compared to those depicting other wars.
No longer. 1917 is a new movie based on the Great War, coming in December. And it looks like it could be the definitive WWI movie.
The film takes place during the Third Battle of Ypres, where a British contingent of 1,600 men is due to walk into a German trap. Two Tommies are given the assignment to proceed on foot to warn the unit about their orders – the ones that take them directly into an ambush. Their mission takes them across the Ypres battlefields and through the deadly trench warfare that is now synonymous with the Great War.
What’s more remarkable about 1917 is that it’s based on a true story, one told to director Sam Mendes by his own grandfather, Alfred. Alfred Mendes received the Military Medal for “acts of gallantry and devotion to duty under fire” during the war. The Military Medal was replaced by the Military Cross in the UK armed forces in 1993, and would be the fifth-highest medal awarded by the United Kingdom today.
Relentless rain, mud, and death marked the Battle of Ypres.
The elder Mendes ran through snipers, trenches, moving artillery barrages, and machine-gun fire to deliver messages for two full days during the Battle of Poelcappelle. Mendes’ grandfather was raised on the Caribbean island of Trinidad but left to join the fight against Germany, joining the British Army in 1916, at the age of 19. He saw action at the WWI Battles of Passchendaele (Ypres) and Poelcappelle. He was sent to go find survivors of a failed attack during Poelcappelle. It was a dangerous assignment, one his commander said he might not return from.
Despite encountering all of World War I’s signature death traps, he still managed to find survivors while surviving himself. He made it back to his company’s shell hole intact.
“In spite of the snipers, the machine-gunners and the shells, I arrived back at C Company’s shell hole without a scratch but with a series of hair-raising experiences that would keep my grand and great-grandchildren enthralled for nights on end,” he would later write in his autobiography.
1917 is based on Medes’ experiences on this mission. The film is set to release on Dec. 25, 2019.