Here's how a little girl who lost her Marine dad taught the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff the full cost of war - We Are The Mighty
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Here’s how a little girl who lost her Marine dad taught the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff the full cost of war

Here’s how a little girl who lost her Marine dad taught the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff the full cost of war
General Dempsey talking to the troops in Iraq. (Photo: CBS News)


Like most general officers commissioned right after the Vietnam War ended, Gen. Martin Dempsey’s firsthand experience of dealing with combat losses came relatively late in his career. During the summer of 2003, then-Major General Dempsey was commanding “Task Force Iron” in Iraq when the post-invasion lull ended and the insurgency began going after American troops.

“We started taking casualties,” Gen. Dempsey recounted. “And during the morning briefing, after we talked about the high-level mission items and what we called ‘significant incidents,’ we’d flash up the names of the fallen and have a moment of silence.

“The names were up there on the screen and then, whoosh, they were gone,” he said. “After about two or three weeks of the same thing, I became really uncomfortable with that. One minute it was there and real, and then the next minute it was somebody else’s problem.”

Gen. Dempsey attended a number of the memorial services held at the forward operating bases downrange for those killed in action.

“They were both heart wrenching and inspirational,” the general said about the services. “To see the love that these soldiers had for each other made me take my responsibilities that much more seriously.”

But as he greeted the battle buddies of the fallen, Gen. Dempsey wasn’t sure what to say to them that would help at those moments. “I had nothing,” he said. “I mean, I’d say, ‘hang in there’ or ‘we’re really sorry about what happened’ . . . I felt so superficial.”

Then it hit him one morning after he was just waking up in his quarters in Baghdad. “A phrase was echoing in my head,” he remembered. “Make it matter.”

He did two things immediately after that: First, he had laminated cards made for every soldier who had been killed to that point. The cards were carried by all the general officers in theater as a constant physical reminder of the human cost of the war. In time the number of casualties became so great that it was impractical to carry the cards at all times, so he had a mahogany box engraved with “Make it Matter” on the top and put all but three of the cards inside of it. He would constantly rotate the three he carried in his pocket with the ones in the box.

Second, from that point forward when he would address the soldiers in units that had experienced losses, he’d simply say, “Make it matter.”

“They knew exactly what I meant,” Gen. Dempsey said.

****

Five years after Gen. Dempsey’s introduction to the challenges a two-star leader faces during periods of significant combat losses, Marine Corps Major David Yaggy, a veteran of three combat deployments, was an instructor flying in the rear cockpit of a Navy T-34C trainer on a cross-country flight between Florida and South Carolina when the airplane went down in the hills of Alabama. Yaggy and his flight student at the controls in the front cockpit were both killed in the crash.

The day of that crash is burned into the memory of Maj. Yaggy’s widow, Erin. She first heard from a realtor friend that a helicopter had gone down, and she immediately went online and saw a report that, in fact, a T-34 had crashed in Alabama. Fearing the worst, she put her 18-month-old daughter Lizzy in a stroller and went for a walk, in denial and hoping to avoid any officials who might show up to tell her that her husband had been killed.

During the walk, she received a phone call from her cousin. “Where are you?” she asked.

“I’m at your house,” he replied. That was all he said.

Erin ran home pushing the stroller, in her words, “like a crazy person.” When she arrived she caught a glimpse of a uniform, and she broke down, hysterical. “That didn’t go so well,” she said.

She had a long period of vacillating between shock, anger, and sorrow. “I felt like other people wanted me to cry,” she said. “I was like, ‘I don’t want permission to cry, I just want him here.”

Here’s how a little girl who lost her Marine dad taught the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff the full cost of war
Lizzy Yaggy visiting the Arlington National Cemetery gravesite of her father. (Photo: Erin Yaggy)

The sister of the flight student killed with Erin’s husband convinced her to get involved with Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS), and she wound up making the short trip from Baltimore to Washington DC to attend her first Good Grief Camp — the organization’s signature gathering — when Lizzy was four years old.

****

General Dempsey had just taken over as Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army when his aide briefed him that he was scheduled to address the TAPS Good Grief Camp attendees gathered in a hotel ballroom across the interstate from the Pentagon. Although the general had heard of TAPS and was armed with the requisite three-by-five cards filled with talking points provided by his staff, when he got there he realized he wasn’t fully ready for what he was walking into.

“I walked into this room with 600 kids all wearing big round buttons with images of their parents, and I knew I was ill-prepared,” Gen. Dempsey said. “It was emotionally overwhelming. It’s hard enough meeting a single family that’s had a loss. It’s another thing altogether meeting 600 families.”

Gen. Dempsey started his appearance with a question-and-answer session, and after a couple of innocent ones like “do you have your own airplane?” and “do you like pizza?” a little girl dramatically shifted the mood by asking, “Is my daddy an angel?”

“I was stunned,” Gen. Dempsey recalled. “How do you answer that question?”

Here’s how a little girl who lost her Marine dad taught the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff the full cost of war
Lizzy Yaggy greets Gen. Dempsey during TAPS Good Grief Camp. (Photo: Erin Yaggy)

The general thought for a few moments before calling an audible of sorts. Fearing that he could well break down if he tried to talk he decided to attempt something else.

“I knew I could sing through emotion instead of trying to speak,” he said.

So he answered that, of course, her father was an angel — like the fathers of everyone there — and that the entire group should sing together because singing is joyful and the fact that their fathers were angels should bring them great joy.

Then he launched into the Irish classic, “The Unicorn Song,” including a lesson in the proper hand gestures required during the chorus. Soon the entire room was singing.

After his appearance, General Dempsey asked Bonnie Carroll, the founder of TAPS, if he could meet the little girl who’d asked the question and her family, so Bonnie introduced him to the Yaggys. The general was immediately struck by Lizzy’s spark, and, as Erin put it, Lizzy was drawn to the man with lots of silver stars on his Army uniform who’d raised her spirits by singing with all of the kids.

“His timing was perfect,” Erin said. “Before [General Dempsey’s singalong], Lizzy had just said, ‘I don’t want to talk about daddy being dead anymore.’ Her attitude changed after she met General Dempsey.”

****

At the following year’s Good Grief Camp, they began what blossomed into a tradition: Lizzy introduced him as the keynote speaker.

“She stood up and said, ‘this is General Dempsey.  We love him, and he loves to sing, and he makes us feel good,'” the general recalled. “And she finished with, ‘and now my friend, General Dempsey.'” With that, once again, General Dempsey had to fight back tears as he faced hundreds of military survivors.

Here’s how a little girl who lost her Marine dad taught the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff the full cost of war
Lizzy introducing Gen. Dempsey at the TAPS Gala for the first time. (Photo: Erin Yaggy)

General Dempsey and his wife Deanie stayed in touch with the Yaggys, exchanging email updates and Christmas cards. The third year Lizzy introduced the general he’d taken over as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Pentagon’s senior-most position. Before they got on stage together she gave him a little box with an angel-shaped medallion in it, saying, “You’re my guardian angel.”

The general was deeply moved and wanted to return the gesture, but all his aide had in his possession was a ballcap with the numeral “18” on the front of it, signifying the 18th CJCS. He wrote in black ink on the bill: “To Lizzy — From your chairman friend. Martin E. Dempsey.”

“It was so cute to see her wearing that hat for the rest of the night,” Deanie Dempsey said. “Here was this little girl in this long green dress with a ballcap on.”

“She wore that hat all the time after that,” Erin said. “She even took it to bed with her.”

Here’s how a little girl who lost her Marine dad taught the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff the full cost of war
Lizzy wearing her favorite hat, a gift from the 18th CJCS. (Photo: Erin Yaggy)

The entire time General Dempsey served as the chairman he only had two things on his desk in the Pentagon: The mahogany “Make it Matter” box full of the laminated cards that profiled those who were killed under his command in Iraq and the guardian angel medallion Lizzy gave him.

****

When it came time for the general to retire, the Pentagon’s protocol apparatus sprang into action — after all, a Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff change of command is like the Super Bowl of military ceremonies. As the officials were coordinating all the moving parts, including the details surrounding President Obama’s attendance, they were surprised to learn who the outgoing chairman wanted to introduce him. They pushed back, but the general was insistent.

The day arrived and at the appropriate moment in the event, a little girl on the dais confidently strode by the dignitaries and political appointees and the President of the United States and stood on the box positioned behind the podium just for her.

And without any hesitation, Lizzy Yaggy delivered her remarks to the thousands in attendance, and finished with, “Please welcome my friend, General Dempsey . . .”

Here’s how a little girl who lost her Marine dad taught the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff the full cost of war
Lizzy hugging now-retired Gen. Dempsey at this year’s TAPS Good Grief Camp in DC. (Photo: TAPS.org)

MIGHTY HISTORY

US troops in Australia got lucky thanks to rationing

While no one was keeping good track of exactly how often troops got laid in World War II, historians studying tensions between U.S. and Australian soldiers in northern Australia have noted that rationing, combined with differences in pay and uniform design, gave at least the impression that U.S. soldiers were getting a leg up in romance down under.


Here’s how a little girl who lost her Marine dad taught the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff the full cost of war

Men of USS Northampton and USS Salt Lake City were welcomed when their ships visited Brisbane.

(Australian War Memorial)

First, let us say that there’s no appearance that anyone was doing this on purpose so Americans could bring adorable wallababies back home after the war. But a series of decisions and facts combined to make a perfect storm.

Number one: U.S. troops were sent to help defend Australia from Japanese incursions, necessarily putting them in proximity with Australian civilians, including the female ones they were most likely to pursue romantically.

Number two: U.S. troops were paid much better than their Australian counterparts with privates collecting about three times as much if they flew Ol’ Glory instead of whatever Australia calls their flag.

Number three: U.S. troops had access to Post Exchanges that sold items, like pantyhose, at low prices that weren’t available at any price to an Australian soldier (unless the Aussie bought it from an American). And, U.S. rationing of alcohol and other consumables was generally done on a unit-per-time scheme, such as two drinks per day, while Australian troops could consume a set amount at a very specific time, like X number of drinks during this specific hour.

Here’s how a little girl who lost her Marine dad taught the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff the full cost of war
U.S. military police outside the Central Hotel, Brisbane.

All of this combined meant that an Australian soldier who wanted to woo a woman could invite her out to a date, but had to be careful about costs. They could invite her to drinks, but the couple could only drink for a very limited period at a specific place. And he could give her a gift, but typically just items that were available in the Australian civilian market.

An American soldier, on the other hand, could spend more money, could get more alcohol in a more flexible way, and could purchase gifts made of silk or nylon that would otherwise be nearly impossible for the woman to procure.

Believe it or not, historians think this might have been the cause of some of the tensions between U.S. and Australian troops in World War II. If you’ve never heard about those tensions, whoa boy. This’ll be fun.

Here’s how a little girl who lost her Marine dad taught the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff the full cost of war

U.S. troops disembark at New Britain in December 1943 where they worked with Australian troops.

(Harold George Dick, Australian Government)

U.S. and Australian troops had such a fraught relationship that the military dedicated multimedia efforts to trying to keep them tied together, putting out comics, pamphlets, and other short materials to try to bridge the gap between them. Slang translation guides were released, and U.S. troops were told how key Australia was to Allied victory.

Japan, meanwhile, knew about some of the tensions and released propaganda with an opposite message: U.S. troops are there to steal your women and destroy your culture. Kick them out or risk the unmaking of your society.

On at least one occasion, this tension erupted into violence. The “Battle of Brisbane” was a riot in that Australian city that raged for two days between U.S. troops and Australian troops and civilians. A number of the Australian complaints during the riot are listed above, including the presence of the American PX mentioned above.

Here’s how a little girl who lost her Marine dad taught the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff the full cost of war

U.S. and Australian troops celebrate 100 years of “Mateship” in 2018.

(U.S. Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Dominique A. Pineiro)

One person died, and at least 18 were seriously wounded. Rioters in some places beat U.S. soldiers to the point of hospitalization, and U.S. military police fired weapons at a crowd at one point, injuring eight and killing one. We won’t go through the whole thing here (Blake Stilwell already did a good job of it last year), but it’s a good example of the tensions between the forces overflowing.

But of course, Australian and American soldiers were able to get along when it counted, especially when they were deployed too far forward to fight over women. U.S. and Australian troops fought near each other during landings in North Africa and Sicily as well as in Europe. The bulk of Australian service was in the Pacific, and U.S. fought hand-in-hand with Australia against Japan at the Solomons, Borneo, and other areas.

And now, Australian soldiers have the same access to nylons that the U.S. does, so it’s probably not an issue anymore.

MIGHTY TRENDING

David Goldfein is the leader the military needs right now

Another Memorial Day has come and gone and, along with it, comes another report from the family of a service member who was killed in action about encountering a man in civilian clothes at Arlington National Cemetery. Calling himself Dave, the man talked to a Gold Star spouse for a bit, then moved on.

The wife of the fallen service member had no idea she was talking to Gen. David Goldfein, the 21st Chief of Staff of the Air Force.

She only found out because her friend noticed the coin that “Dave” left on the headstone of her husband — the coin of his office. She posted the story on social media some time later, which was confirmed by the popular Air Force Facebook page Air Force amn/nco/snco.

Here’s how a little girl who lost her Marine dad taught the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff the full cost of war

That’s the kind of person General Goldfein is. This isn’t an isolated incident. On Memorial Day 2017, an airman at Arlington spotted a man in his dress blues walking among the graves at Section 60 — the resting place for those who fell in Iraq or Afghanistan — putting his hand on each for a moment of reflection.


When he reached a sobbing widow, he embraced her and talked to her for a while. It was General Goldfein. The post also appeared on Air Force amn/nco/snco.

Here’s how a little girl who lost her Marine dad taught the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff the full cost of war
I guess he tried to go more incognito in 2018 by wearing civvies, but was still recognized.
(Facebook photo by Cody Stollings)

Cody Stollings, the airman who recognized Gen. Goldfein, introduced himself and talked to the general for a bit. It turns out General Goldfein keeps the names of every airman who is killed under his command in a book. Each year, he visits them at Arlington to pay his respects.

For many Americans, the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Niger, and Somalia have become a fact of life. When news about OIF, OEF, OAE, or OIR hits, no one really listens anymore. The acronyms change, but everything else stays the same. This is the cost of endless war. Andrew Bacevich, a historian and retired colonel whose son died in Iraq, said it best,

“A collective indifference to war has become an emblem of contemporary America.”

Bacevich has also noted that those who aren’t serving in the U.S. military are encouraged to support the troops, but no one ever “stipulates how this civic function is to be performed.”

Those in charge of prosecuting the wars, however, should find it relatively easy to support the troops — by reaching their objective and bringing those troops home. But the Chiefs of Staff don’t hold that kind of command authority. They’re in an advisory position for the National Security Council.

Here’s how a little girl who lost her Marine dad taught the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff the full cost of war
In case we forgot who is on that council.

In a time where the War in Afghanistan seems like it will never end and new hot spots seem to pop up all the time, it’s good to know the Air Force has someone at the top who’s seen and fought in war and knows that the people who die fighting them are more than numbers on a PowerPoint slide.

It’s nice to know that someone at the top really gives a shit.

Articles

The 8 best mobile device military games

Mobile gaming is awesome, and all the rage. Here are 8 great military ones:


1. Modern Combat 5: Blackout

Here’s how a little girl who lost her Marine dad taught the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff the full cost of war
screenshot via Youtube/GoCaliberGaming

Good graphics and an awesome storyline for mobile combine with player vs. player modes to make MC5: Blackout a gem. Be warned though, the game gives an even larger than normal advantage to those players who use in-app purchases to get better equipment.

Available on iOS and Android.

2. Call of Duty: Strike Team

Here’s how a little girl who lost her Marine dad taught the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff the full cost of war
screenshot via Youtube/Wickedshrapnel

Call of Duty: Strike Team allows the player to control a fire team of special operators as they seek out those responsible for a surprise attack on the U.S. in 2020. In both first and third-person mode, it features great graphics and gameplay, but the settings all start to look the same after a few missions.

Available on iOS and Android.

3. Battle Supremacy

Here’s how a little girl who lost her Marine dad taught the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff the full cost of war
screenshot via Youtube/AppSpy

Battle Supremacy focuses on tank warfare from World War II. It’s graphics are great for a mobile game and features player vs. player combat. Players can use cover and concealment and the maps are large enough to allow for some real strategy.

The player can also use planes or rocket-ships in a couple of instances.

Available on: iOS

4. Arma Tactics

Here’s how a little girl who lost her Marine dad taught the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff the full cost of war
screenshot via Youtube/stratjacked

A turn-based strategy game that centers around a four-man Special Forces team, Arma Tactics drops the player into modern combat. The game features a campaign mode as well as randomized levels so there’s always something new to play.

Available on iOS and Android.

5. Sky Gamblers: Cold War

Here’s how a little girl who lost her Marine dad taught the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff the full cost of war
screenshot via Youtube/Infinite Flight

Pitting MiGs against Harriers is always fun. Sky Gamblers: Cold War allows players to control one of 17 different planes in high-speed combat against other players or computer opponents.

Available on: iOS

A World War II version is available on iOS and Android.

6. SAS: Zombie Assault 4

Here’s how a little girl who lost her Marine dad taught the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff the full cost of war
screenshot via Youtube/pistol star

It’s all in the title. Drop in as a single SAS operative or join a squad of four elite soldiers battling the undead. SAS: Zombie Assault 4 is a topdown shooter that keeps it simple, gratuitously violent, and fun.

Available on iOS and Android.

7. Star Wars: Commander

Here’s how a little girl who lost her Marine dad taught the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff the full cost of war
screenshot via Youtube/TheGameHuntah

Build a base and marshall forces in this strategy game set in the Star Wars universe. You can choose which side to fight for and raise armies of storm troopers or Rebel soldiers along with a selection of vehicles and spaceships.

Available on iOS and Android.

8. Frontline Commando

Here’s how a little girl who lost her Marine dad taught the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff the full cost of war
screenshot via Youtube/Pure Gameplay Videos

Frontline Commando is an older game that pits the player as a sole survivor of an attack against the entire army of the dictator who killed his team. This third-person shooter has lots of weapons and power-ups to try and the storyline can keep you entertained for hours. Unfortunately, there’s no multiplayer.

Available on iOS and Android.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This unlucky general was forced to surrender to Washington and Napoleon

British Gen. Charles O’Hara was, by most reports, a dedicated and brave officer. He began his military career at the age of 12 as an ensign and then fought in the Seven Years War, attacked through a raging river while under fire in the Revolutionary War, and continued leading his men forward after being struck in both the chest and thigh during a battle with Nathaniel Greene.


Here’s how a little girl who lost her Marine dad taught the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff the full cost of war

British Gen. Charles O’Hara had a distinguished career punctuated by multiple surrenders and some time in jail.

Which made things sort of awkward when it came time for him to surrender British forces to groups of ragtag revolutionaries.

Twice.

While the surrender at Yorktown is generally referred to as Gen. Charles Cornwallis surrendering to Gen. George Washington, Cornwallis actually claimed illness, preventing him from conducting the surrender personally. Instead, he sent O’Hara, a brigadier general at this point, in his stead.

Here’s how a little girl who lost her Marine dad taught the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff the full cost of war

It’s titled ‘The Surrender of Lord Cornwallis at Yorktown,’ but then-Brig. Gen. Charles O’Hara actually conducted this surrender.

O’Hara initially tried to surrender to a French general who promptly pointed out that he wasn’t in command. O’Hara would have to give his sword to that guy over there, Gen. George Washington, a farmer and colonial who had been deemed too country for a British officer commission.

So, O’Hara presented Cornwallis’s sword to Washington. Accounts differ at this point as to exactly what happened.

In most accounts, Washington did not even let O’Hara reach him, directing the man instead to present the sword to Maj. Gen. Benjamin Lincoln, who had been forced to surrender in May, 1780, in Charleston.

Whatever the case, O’Hara got out of it alright. He was promoted to major general as he began his trip back to Britain, so it appeared that he wasn’t blamed for the failure in the colonies and his reputation as a rising star remained intact. As a major general, he was later named military governor of Gibraltar.

But then he got promoted to lieutenant general and was appointed military governor of Toulon — and that was a huge problem.

Here’s how a little girl who lost her Marine dad taught the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff the full cost of war

The British and Spanish arrival at Toulon was nearly unopposed, but still a little chaotic.

See, Toulon was an important French city, housing nearly half of the French fleet, but the French Republic wasn’t super popular there. Many of the (rich) people who lived there wanted a return to royal rule, and so they allowed an Anglo-Spanish fleet to take the city nearly unopposed and everyone’s old friend, O’Hara, was soon named the governor.

The French Republic, unsurprisingly, wanted neither a return of the monarchy nor to give up such an most important city and port.

O’Hara still could have come out of this well. He was a brave warrior with plenty of troops, artillery, and a massive fleet at his back. He held the city. He was a hero once again. He could’ve been on easy street for the rest of his career. General. Governor. Pimp.

But there was one problem across the trenches from him: a young artillery officer named Napoleon.

Here’s how a little girl who lost her Marine dad taught the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff the full cost of war

Napoleon was young, relatively inexperienced, but still skilled as all hell.

Napoleon was not yet famous, but this battle would lay the major groundwork. The French siege at Toulon initially floundered, despite Napoleon offering very sound artillery advice and strategies. Two commanders were relieved before a third arrived, heard a couple ideas from Napoleon, and said, “well, get on with your bad self, then.”

Napoleon took command of additional forces and gave the suggestions that would form the major plans. The battle started to shift with the French taking many of the outlying forts and redoubts.

O’Hara, always bold, saw too many French guns in redoubts around his city and decided to personally lead an attack against them.

On Nov. 28, 1793, he and 3,000 men marched out of the city under the cover of artillery fire at 4 a.m. and were able to surprise the French positions at Hauteur des Arenes near Toulon. The French Republicans retreated quickly and messily. O’Hara, instead of focusing on spiking the guns, reducing the position, and returning to the city, decided to give chase.

Here’s how a little girl who lost her Marine dad taught the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff the full cost of war

But Napoleon was always watching… waiting…

O’Hara was fighting his way toward the French division commander when Napoleon and a few other officers charged into his flank with hundreds of men. O’Hara’s force broke and began a hasty retreat back to the city, struggling to stay ahead of Napoleon.

Unfortunately for O’Hara, always one to lead from the front, he had no chance of getting back around the French and was forced to surrender. He was taken prisoner and sent to Paris for confinement.

The British general spent two years in a French prison before returning to England. He would survive seven more years, long enough to see Washington serve as America’s first president and Napoleon become the First Consul of the French Consulate.

Probably sour grapes for the general who fought ably against both of them, but not quite well enough to defeat either.

Articles

Missile defense test reportedly fails after sailor presses wrong button

A missile defense test went awry last month after a Navy sailor accidentally pressed the wrong button, an investigation into the matter revealed.


The Missile Defense Agency conducted a test of the SM-3 Block IIA missile interceptor in late June. A medium-range ballistic missile was launched from the Pacific Missile Range Facility in Kauai, Hawaii, the MDA explained in a statement at the time. The Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer USS John Paul Jones detected and tracked the missile using the on-board radars and launched an SM-3 Block IIA interceptor, which ultimately failed to intercept the target.

An MDA investigation into the failure revealed that a sailor pressed the wrong button, causing the missile to self-destruct. The MDA reported that there were no problems with either the SM-3 Block IIA interceptor or the Navy’s Aegis combat system, according to Defense News.

Here’s how a little girl who lost her Marine dad taught the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff the full cost of war
A Standard Missile-3. Photo courtesy of US Navy.

A tactical datalink controller mistakenly identified the incoming ballistic missile as friendly, causing the missile to unexpectedly self-destruct mid-flight, according to sources familiar with the recent missile intercept test.

The test in late June was the fourth flight test of the SM-3 Block IIA interceptor, which is being developed by Raytheon and is a joint missile defense project between the US and Japan. The new interceptor was developed to counter the rising ballistic missile threat from North Korea.

North Korea has tested a batch of new short-, medium-, intermediate-, and long-range missiles this year, increasing the threat to its neighbors and extending the danger to targets in the US.

Here’s how a little girl who lost her Marine dad taught the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff the full cost of war
US Pacific Command has deployed the first elements of the THAAD to South Korea. Photo courtesy of DoD.

The failed test was preceded by a successful test in May of the ground-based, mid-course defense system, which defends the US against intercontinental ballistic missiles. An interceptor launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California eliminated a mock long-range missile fired from the Reagan Test Site on Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands in the Pacific. Earlier this month, the US successfully tested the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system against an intermediate-range ballistic missile, with a THAAD unit in Alaska eliminating a target missile launched from an Air Force Cargo plane to the north of Hawaii.

The failure of the SM-3 Block IIA, which was tested successfully in February, initially represented a setback. That the cause of the failure was likely human error may come as a relief for those involved in the weapon’s development.

MIGHTY HISTORY

That time the Navy used a carrier to transport an Army brigade

When you think about the nuclear-powered aircraft carriers that the United States Navy operates, it’s natural to immediately think of them launching fighters to carry out strikes against the enemy. Over the years, history has proven that carriers are very good at that. However, instead of orchestrating combat in the sky, one Nimitz-class carrier ended up carrying American troops into battle.


Here’s how a little girl who lost her Marine dad taught the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff the full cost of war
USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69) with USS George Washington (CVN 73). (US Navy photo)

Now, the use of American carriers to carry troops isn’t entirely outlandish. At the end of World War II, some carriers, including USS Enterprise (CV 6), took part in Operation Magic Carpet, the returning of GIs en masse from overseas. It’s easy to see why – a carrier transports up to 5,000 sailors and Marines, only about 3,200 of which are crew. The remaining 1,800 are in the air wing. If you were to eliminate some of that air wing, you’d quickly create capacity for other personnel.

Here’s how a little girl who lost her Marine dad taught the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff the full cost of war
The aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69) conducts a replenishment-at-sea with Military Sealift Command dry cargo and ammunition ship USNS William McLean (T-AKE 12) in the Atlantic Ocean March 29, 2016. (US Navy photo)

In 1994, the United States was preparing to invade Haiti to remove a military junta that had taken power in 1991. The plan involved getting special operations and light infantry troops into Haiti. The problem was, there weren’t many good bases on the island of Hispaniola, of which Haiti accounts for half. The other half of the island, owned by the Dominican Republic, didn’t have much in the way of usable bases, either – after all, P-51 Mustangs were still that country’s front-line fighter at the time.

Here’s how a little girl who lost her Marine dad taught the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff the full cost of war
Numerous Army AH-1T Cobra gunships and UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters are parked on the flight deck of USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69), which carried a brigade of the 10th Mountain Division to Haiti in 1994. (US Navy photo)

That left the U.S. with one option: a floating base. Meanwhile, the Nimitz-class nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69) was preparing for a deployment. These ships can usually haul up to 90 aircraft. It didn’t take long for someone to get the idea to load elements of the 10th Mountain Division, along with special ops unit, like Delta Force and the Nightstalkers, onto the carrier.

Here’s how a little girl who lost her Marine dad taught the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff the full cost of war
Soldiers of the 10th Mountain Division, Ft Drum, N.Y., dressed in full combat gear, line up to board UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters at Port-au-Prince airport Port-au-Prince, Haiti to take them to Bowlen Airfield during Restore Democracy on 22 Sept 94. (US Army photo)

The Eisenhower sailed from Norfolk, hauling 56 helicopters and 2,000 troops. Army UH-60 Blackhawks and other choppers were very quickly parked on the ship’s flight deck. The good news was that this arrangement never had to be tested in combat – a delegation that included retired general Colin Powell and Jimmy Carter convinced the Haitian regime to vacate peacefully. The 10th Mountain Division entered without a fight via helicopters launched from the carrier’s deck.

Even without facing combat, the Eisenhower had proven that carriers can be very versatile instruments of national policy.

MIGHTY TRENDING

China’s powerful new weapons could be sending a message

China ran report after report on Chinese military developments, leading some observers to suspect that the country is trying to send a message to its rivals and citizens at a time of heightened tensions with the US.

China is “on the verge of fielding some of the most modern weapon systems in the world,” a new US defense intelligence assessment said in mid-January 2019. The Chinese media seems determined to let the world, especially the US, know it’s developing powerful new weapons.

The Chinese military is reportedly working on everything from railguns and knife guns to “carrier killer” anti-ship missiles. Here are seven of the weapons China’s been showing off.


Here’s how a little girl who lost her Marine dad taught the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff the full cost of war

A record firing of an electromagnetic railgun, or EMRG, at the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Dahlgren, Virginia.

(US Navy photo)

1. Electromagnetic railgun

Photos of an old tank-landing ship carrying a railgun prototype surfaced online in 2018, and Chinese state media said January 2019 that Chinese warships will “soon” be equipped with naval railguns capable of hitting targets at great distances.

“Chinese warships will ‘soon’ be equipped with world-leading electromagnetic railguns, as breakthroughs have been made,” China’s Global Times reported, citing state broadcaster China Central Television (CCTV). Chinese media said “China’s naval electromagnetic weapon and equipment have surpassed other countries and become a world leader.”

While it appears that China is making progress, railguns are militarily useless compared with existing alternatives, experts have told Business Insider.

“This is a part of China’s strategic communication plan to show that it is a rising power with next-generation military capabilities,” Bryan Clark, a naval-affairs expert, said.

China has suggested that the technology could be used to develop electromagnetic catapults for China’s future aircraft carriers.

Here’s how a little girl who lost her Marine dad taught the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff the full cost of war

China’s “Mother of All Bombs.”

(Youtube screenshot)

2. China’s version of the ‘Mother of All Bombs’

China North Industries Group Corporation Limited, a major Chinese defense-industry corporation, has, according to Chinese media, developed a massive conventional weapon for China’s bombers known as the “Chinese version of the ‘Mother of All Bombs.'”

The weapon is China’s largest nonnuclear bomb, the Global Times said, citing the state-run Xinhua News Agency.

Although China is using the same nickname for its bomb, the Chinese weapon is smaller and lighter than its American counterpart, a 21,600-pound bomb that the US dropped on Islamic State targets in Afghanistan in 2017.

The weapon would likely be carried by the Chinese Xi’an H-6K bombers. The American version is so large that it has to be carried by a C-130.

Here’s how a little girl who lost her Marine dad taught the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff the full cost of war

DF-26 ballistic missile.

(Youtube screenshot)

3. ‘Carrier-killer’ missiles

The DF-26 ballistic missile is not a new weapon, but China recently released, for the first time, video footage of a recent exercise involving the weapon, which is reportedly able to carry conventional and nuclear warheads for strikes against land and sea targets.

The DF-26 is commonly referred to as a “carrier killer.” The video revealed certain features suggesting the missile is a capable anti-ship weapon with the ability to take out a US aircraft carrier. These missiles are also known as “Guam-killer” missiles because they are believed to be capable of ranging US military installations in the Pacific.

Analysts said China released the video of its DF-26 ballistic missiles to send a message to the US.

The exercise sent “a clear message to the US about China’s growing missile capability, and that it can hold at risk US strategic assets, such as carriers and bases,” Adam Ni, a researcher at Macquarie University in Sydney, told the South China Morning Post.

Here’s how a little girl who lost her Marine dad taught the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff the full cost of war

Chinese soldier with a “corner-shot pistol.”

(CCTV/Youtube Screenshot)

4. Super-soldiers armed with guns that shoot around corners

Chinese state media said January 2019 that the Chinese military is arming its special forces with “sci-fi” weapons — “futuristic individual combat weapons like grenade-launching assault rifles, corner shot pistols and knife guns.”

Citing a Beijing military expert, the Global Times said China was developing “super” soldiers who will be able to take on 10 enemy combatants at one time.

CCTV said these weapons highlight the People’s Liberation Army’s modernization, according to Chinese state media. The Chinese military is undergoing a massive overhaul with the goal of creating a world-class fighting force.

Here’s how a little girl who lost her Marine dad taught the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff the full cost of war

Stealth drone “Sky Hawk.”

(CCTV Screenshot)

5. Stealth drones

CCTV aired a video showcasing China’s stealth drone “Sky Hawk” taking flight for the first time in January 2019.

The drone, which made an appearance at Airshow China 2018 in Zhuhai in November 2018, was shown taking off and landing at an undisclosed location, the Global Times reported. Experts suggested that the unmanned aircraft could be launched from China’s future aircraft carriers.

Another Chinese stealth drone in the works, according to Chinese media, includes the CH-7, which was also on display at the event in Zhuhai.

Chinese military experts said the US maintains an edge in this area, having developed the X-47B carrier-based drone, but both China and Russia are both rushing to develop stealth drones for future missions.

Here’s how a little girl who lost her Marine dad taught the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff the full cost of war

J-20 stealth fighter.

6. Upgraded stealth fighter

China is considering the development of a twin-seat variant of the J-20 stealth fighter, which would be a first for fifth-generation aircraft, the Global Times reported January 2019, citing CCTV.

Chinese media said the aircraft would be capable of tactical bombing missions or electronic warfare, not just air superiority.

Having aircraft variations “that other countries do not possess will greatly expand the Chinese military’s capability in an asymmetric warfare,” the Global Times said, citing Chinese analysts.

China has also, according to Chinese media, been looking at the possibility of creating a twin-seat variant of the carrier-based J-15s to expand the combat capability of the fighters, which are considered problematic and are expected to eventually be replaced.

In a related report, China’s Global Times said the advanced J-16 strike fighters now possess “near stealth capability” thanks to a new paint job. Detection may be more of a challenge, but it is unlikely the aircraft could be considered stealthy.

Here’s how a little girl who lost her Marine dad taught the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff the full cost of war

A DF-5B missile is displayed in a military parade.

7. Underground bunkers and intercontinental-ballistic-missile strikes

Chinese troops have reportedly been conducting simulated intercontinental-ballistic-missile (ICBM) strike exercises from underground bunkers, the Global Times reported January 2019, citing CCTV.

The nuclear-attack exercises, which are aimed at simulated enemies, are designed to improve China’s counterattack (second-strike) capability in the event a war breaks out, Chinese media explained. The strategic bunkers where the drills were staged are referred to as China’s “underground Great Wall” by Qian Qihu, the man who designed them.

The drill was “about signaling China’s modernizing nuclear deterrence. It is about telling the Americans and others that China has a credible second-strike capability and that it is determined to use it if it comes under nuclear attack,” Ni told the South China Morning Post, adding that he believes it is “in part a message from Beijing to the US about the ultimate perils of escalation.”

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

MIGHTY CULTURE

A woman is about to become a Green Beret and the military will be stronger for it

This week, historic news filtered out of North Carolina saying that a female National Guardsman will be the first woman to pass the Special Forces Qualification Course (Q-Course) and will earn the title of Green Beret. While the enlisted soldier has not passed the course yet, officials say that at this point barring a medical injury, she is practically guaranteed to graduate.


This morning, the New York Times reported that in 1980, a woman named Kate Wilder did indeed graduate the course but was told the day before graduation she was not allowed to graduate with her class, because of her gender. Ms. Wilder fought back and six months later was finally given the certificate stating she had earned the right to wear the Green Beret, but Wilder had already left the Fifth Special Forces Group and eventually transitioned to the Reserves.

Here’s how a little girl who lost her Marine dad taught the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff the full cost of war

Prior to now, only a few women have passed the Special Forces Assessment and Selection Course but none of them passed the year long Q-Course. The soldier is going to be an 18C or Engineer Sergeant.

According to the Army, the Special Forces Engineer Sergeant is a construction and demolitions specialist. As a builder, the engineer sergeant can create bridges, buildings and field fortifications. As a demolitions specialist, the engineer sergeant can carry out demolition raids against enemy targets, such as bridges, railroads, fuel depots and critical components of infrastructure.

The New York Times also reported a second female soldier is working through a longer Q-Course (the course length will depend on the prospective Green Berets MOS) as a 18D or Medical Sergeant.

This is no small feat. As we all know, making it into the Special Forces required many attributes including superior physical fitness, an ability to handle traversing rugged terrain, weapons proficiency and strong mental aptitude to solve problems on the fly. Green Berets deploy and execute nine doctrinal missions: unconventional warfare, foreign internal defense, direct action, counter-insurgency, special reconnaissance, counter-terrorism, information operations, counterproliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and security force assistance. Also, passing the Q-Course is one thing. The constant tempo of deployments and training while keeping up with high physical fitness standards and training can take a toll on even the most seasoned Green Berets.

There is no doubt the newly minted Green Beret will have tough challenges in her career in the Special Forces. And there will probably be resistance from a few people that struggle to accept that a woman made it through such an arduous course. (The course has been modified due to feedback from active Green Berets so it could be more compatible with deployments and retention but the standards are still the same.)

However, the potential benefits to having women as part of the Special Forces community are too great to ignore.

Retired Lt. Gen. Steve Blum, a 42-year Army veteran who spent 16 years with the Green Berets said, “I applaud and celebrate the fact because half of the world that we have to deal with when we’re out there, half of the people we have to help, are women. The days of men fighting men without the presence of women is long gone.”

When it comes to unconventional warfare, it’s safe to say pretty much every engagement we are involved with nowadays is unconventional. The role of women has expanded dramatically during the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan and women have been decorated for bravery on the battlefield.

In recent years, we have seen ISIS be thoroughly beaten when engaged by Kurdish forces comprised of women. Having a female advisor in those units would allow better access, more trust, and better control when it comes to directing forces to defeat our enemy.

Here’s how a little girl who lost her Marine dad taught the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff the full cost of war

The same can be said for counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism. The Green Berets were some of the first troops to go into Vietnam as advisors to the South Vietnamese who were fighting a counter-insurgency campaign against the Viet Cong. The Viet Cong and many other insurgent troops have used local females as fighters, transporters and for intelligence gathering. Having a female Green beret engage local women could potentially make counter insurgency easier.

When it comes to reconnaissance, we all know there are places that are harder to get close to because men would stick out like a sore thumb. Certain places in the Middle East and elsewhere have places where men can’t get into and having a highly trained female would be a great way to circumvent that potential issue.

William Denn, an Army Captain who served multiple combat tours said in an interview with the Washington Post that, “Most Iraqi men were reticent to speak with us for fear of retribution from al-Qaeda. Iraqi women, often fed up with the violence in their neighborhoods, could be persuaded to provide information, but first we had to bridge the gender gap, build rapport and earn their trust, all of which took valuable time.” Denn went on to write that “including women in front-line units would be more than an exercise in social equality; it would be a valuable enhancement of military effectiveness and national security.”

While we won’t know her identity anytime soon, it will be awesome to see the path she trailblazes for other women who seek to serve in the Special Forces and how it can help us earn victories in the toughest environments.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

How the Air Force helps fight American wildfires

Staff Sgt. Timothy Dawson was trying to get some rest before work the next day. The phone rang twice before he answered it. His neighbor, who lives just above his apartment complex on the hill, told him the fire was really close and they were evacuating.

That neighbor was 1st Lt. Mike Constable, a pilot with the 146th Airlift Wing, Channel Islands Air National Guard Station, California. Dawson said he could see Constable and his roommates packing things into their cars.


The Thomas Fire started on Dec. 4, 2017, in Santa Paula, near Thomas Aquinas College. Driven by Santa Ana winds gusting up to 70 mph, the flames screamed across the hillsides toward Ojai and Ventura. Numerous fires leapfrogged across Ventura and Los Angeles Counties the following day.

Here’s how a little girl who lost her Marine dad taught the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff the full cost of war

Chino Valley firefighters watch the oncoming flames of the Thomas Fire from the yard of a home in Montecito, California, Dec. 12, 2017. C-130Js of the 146th Airlift Wing at Channel Islands Air National Guard Base in Port Hueneme, carried the Modular Airborne Fire Fighting System and dropped fire suppression chemicals onto the fire’s path to slow its advance in support of firefighters on the ground.

(Photo by J.M. Eddins JR.)

“I looked out my window, and could see the sky above the ridge by my home was glowing really orange and red already. My wife and I decided at that point to just grab what we could get and go somewhere safe,” Dawson said.

Dawson’s three-level, 52-unit apartment complex burned to the ground a few hours later.

Ironically, Dawson is a C-130J Hercules crew chief for the 146th AW, one of five wings in the Air Force equipped with the module airborne firefighting system, or MAFFS. This system is loaded onto C-130s and is designed to fight the very thing that took his home, wildfires.

The 146th AW was activated Dec. 5 to fight what became the largest California wildfire by size in the state’s recorded history, covering 281,893 acres. The Thomas Fire is now 100 percent contained.

Here’s how a little girl who lost her Marine dad taught the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff the full cost of war

“We got the word and everybody sprung into action. Our maintenance folk got the airplane ready for us, our aerial port guys went and got the MAFFS units pulled out and loadmasters got the airplanes ready. It was really a well-oiled machine on that day. We got things done really quickly,” said Senior Master Sgt. Phil Poulsen, a loadmaster with the 146th AW.

Most of the airmen stationed at Channel Islands ANGS are from Ventura County or the surrounding area. Approximately 50 people from the 146th AW evacuated their homes during the fire and five airmen lost their homes.

Here’s how a little girl who lost her Marine dad taught the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff the full cost of war

Residents of a 52-unit apartment complex search for belongings, Dec. 13, 2017, after the Thomas Fire roared through their neighborhood. Staff Sgt. Timothy Dawson, a C-130J Hercules aircraft maintenance technician with the 146th Airlift Wing, was also a resident of the apartment complex.

(Photo by Master SGT. Brian Ferguson)

“I can see the smoke from my house and we know people who live there,” Poulson said. “My daughter went to day care up there and I think I flew over that house. I think it’s gone. So it really hits close to home when you are this close to home.”

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, or CAL FIRE, requested MAFFS aircraft and personnel support through the state’s governor and the Adjutant General of the state’s National Guard. Once activated, CAL FIRE incident commanders assigned to the Thomas Fire, and based at the Ventura Fairgrounds, generate the launch orders for the MAFFS. The aircraft sit ready at Tanker Base Operations, a few miles south of the fairgrounds at Channel Islands Air National Guard Station.

Once requested, the C-130s would join the fight at a designated altitude in the protected flight area, typically 1,500 feet above ground. An aerial supervisor, or air attack, would fly at about 2,000 feet, directing and controlling the aircraft. Lead planes, at 1,000 feet, guide the tankers to their drop points, approximately 150 feet above the ground.”

Once we enter the fire traffic area, we join on the lead plane. He’ll typically give us a show me [puff of smoke] which shows us where he’s intending us to drop,” said Lt. Col. Scott Pemberton, a C-130J pilot with the 146th AW. “We try to be very precise with that because you know it’s a high value asset and you get one shot at it.”

The mission requires the crews to fly the C-130s very close to the fires.

“You’re taking the fight directly to the ground,” Pemberton said. “We are 150 feet above the ground at 120 knots, at the edge of the airplane’s envelope. You’re demanding a lot of yourself and your fellow crewmembers. So that’s why you are typically very highly trained and are very prepared to do this mission.”

The MAFFS can hold 3,000 gallons of retardant, which is released from a nozzle placed in the left rear troop door of the aircraft. It takes approximately 15 minutes to load retardant into the MAFFS, another 15 minutes to reach the Thomas Fire, 10 more to join the lead plane and drop and then another 15 minutes to return to base. With 10 hours of daylight and two planes, the 146th AW drops an average of 60,000 gallons of retardant each day.

Here’s how a little girl who lost her Marine dad taught the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff the full cost of war

Lt. Col. Scott Pemberton, a C-130J pilot with the 146th Airlift Wing, has been with the 146th for 30 years and has lived in the Ventura/Santa Barbara, California community for about 48. He has been flying the modular airborne fire fighting system for approximately 20 years. The 146th was activated Dec.5, 2017, to support CAL FIRE with wildfire suppression efforts within the state.

(Photo by Master SGT. Brian Ferguson)

“Many times if you are close to a fire line and you’re doing direct attack you’ll see the guys standing down there,” Pemberton said. “On the second, third or fourth drop you’ll come by and you will see that you have gotten close enough to where they are a different color. But I’ve also seen the whites of their eyes where they’re diving behind their bulldozer because you’re that close, and they know that the retardant is coming.”

Still, the dangers of this mission are not lost on Pemberton.

On July 1, 2012, MAFFS 7, which belonged to the North Carolina Air National Guard’s 145th Airlift Wing based at the Charlotte-Douglas International Airport, crashed while fighting the White Draw Fire in South Dakota’s Black Hills. Four of the six crewmembers aboard died.

“There was a thunderstorm approaching from the north and as they were waiting for the lead to coordinate and get his bearings… The thunderstorm moved closer and closer,” Pemberton said. “They made a first run and I think they got off half of their retardant.”

As they made their second run, they had a wind shear event and a microburst took away their lift and forced them to fly straight ahead into the terrain.

Here’s how a little girl who lost her Marine dad taught the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff the full cost of war

Senior Master Sgt. Phil Poulsen, 146th Airlift Wing loadmaster, checks the level of retardant in the module airborne firefighting system as redardant is loaded, Dec. 9, 2017. The 146th AW is one of five wings in the Air Force equipped with MAFFS. This system is loaded onto C-130s and is designed to fight wildfires.

(Photo by Master SGT. Brian Ferguson)

“As a result of that incident we completely changed our training. We incorporated a lot of the wind shear escape maneuvers, and we built new seats for the loadmasters in the back and made crashworthy seats for those crewmembers,” Pemberton said.

This training and the 146th AW’s capabilities benefit everyone involved in the wildfire fighting community, too.

The 146th AW plays a big role in extinguishing fires, said Tenner Renz a dozer swamper with the Kern County Fire Department, but it’s something he sees on almost every fire. Whether a 100-acre or a 250,000-acre fire, the guard shows up.

“Some of these guys are crazy. I mean dipping down into some of these canyons, flying through smoke, buzzing treetops,” Renz said. “They have a talent that most people don’t have.”

Having the MAFFS capability means the 146th AW can be federally activated to support firefighting operations around the United States by the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho. An Air Force liaison group, led on a rotating basis by one of the five MAFFS unit commanders, staffs the center.

Here’s how a little girl who lost her Marine dad taught the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff the full cost of war

A C-130J Hercules from the 146th Airlift Wing, California Air National Guard, sprays fire retardant ahead of the leading edge of the Thomas Fire, Dec. 13, 2017. The 146th was activated to support CAL FIRE with wildfire suppression efforts within the state. The C-130s from Channel Islands Air National Guard Station are capable of spraying fire retardant from a modular airborne firefighting systems loaded in the cargo bay.

(Photo by Master SGT. Brian Ferguson)

This wide-ranging operational experience and capability gives CAL FIRE an extra capability when things are at their worst.

“We currently have low humidity, Santa Ana winds, we haven’t had rain in a number of days and we’re in areas that haven’t burned in 50-60 years,” said Dan Sendek, MAFFS liaison officer for CAL FIRE. “You can never have enough equipment for every eventuality. What the guard brings to us is that surge capacity when we’re in a situation where we need everything we can get.”

Six days after he lost his home, Dawson was back at work.

“The routine of going about the mission and getting things done is probably better,” Dawson said. “I needed to get back and get involved in the fire mission. The show must go on. The world doesn’t stop spinning and the guard doesn’t stop flying missions.”

For Dawson, it’s also a chance to combat the fire that took his home and save some of his neighbor’s property.

Here’s how a little girl who lost her Marine dad taught the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff the full cost of war

Tanner Renz, Kern County Fire Department, looks on as a C-130J Hercules from the 146th Airlift Wing, California Air National Guard, sprays fire retardant ahead of the leading edge of the Thomas Fire, Dec. 13, 2017. The 146th was activated to support CAL FIRE with wildfire suppression efforts within the state. The C-130s from Channel Islands Air National Guard Station are capable of spraying fire retardant from a modular airborne firefighting systems loaded in the cargo bay.

Photo by Master SGT. Brian Ferguson)

Dawson and his wife were able to return to their apartment a few days after the fire destroyed it, however, they were not able to search for personal items because the fire was still smoldering.

“Every single tenant in the 52 units was able to get out ahead of the fire. When we went back for the first time it was it was pretty emotionally taxing,” he said. “There were two stories worth of apartments that collapsed into a carport. There’s nothing left that we could really find.

“To me, then and even now, it still feels a little surreal. I know it’s happening to me, but it feels like it’s happening to someone else.”

This article originally appeared on Airman Magazine. Follow @AirmanMagazine on Twitter.

Articles

8 weird ‘off-the-books’ traditions in the US military

The U.S. military is awash in regulations, laws, and official traditions. How troops march and salute, what uniform to wear to what event, or what you are supposed to say when greeting a superior are all examples of “on-the-books” behaviors expected of service members.


And then there are the “off-the-books” traditions. They are the unwritten rules: traditions that go back way before the books were printed. These activities — especially the ones involving hazing — are often frowned upon, but still continue to happen, usually without any official recognition.

Here are eight examples.

1. Fighter pilots (or members of flight crew) get hosed down after their final flight.

The “fighter pilot mafia” is definitely a thing in the Air Force and Navy, which is the nickname for the pilot sub-culture within each service. Soon after aviators get to a new unit they will go through an unofficial ceremony of receiving their callsigns, and they usually are not very flattering.

On the flip side is the final flight. Much like a football coach gets a giant cooler of Gatorade dumped over their head at the end of a game, pilots sometimes will get hosed down with water by their comrades. In some cases, they’ll be doused with champagne.

In the case of Maj. Vecchione (shown below), his peers also threw string cheese, flour, and mayonnaise on him. Personally, I would’ve thrown in some ketchup and mustard, but hell, I wasn’t there.

Here’s how a little girl who lost her Marine dad taught the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff the full cost of war

2. At a military wedding with a sword detail, the wife gets a sword-tap to her booty to “welcome her” to the family.

Nothing like a little tradition that allows some dude to tap your brand new wife on the butt. When a service member wants to go through the pageantry of having a “military wedding” — wearing their uniform at the altar and bringing along a sword detail — they can expect that at the end of it all, some random dude will be sexually harassing his wife for the sake of tradition.

It goes like this: On the way out right after the ceremony, the couple passes over an arch of swords on both sides. They go through, kiss, go through, kiss, then they get to the last one. Once they reach the final two and pass, one of the detail will lower their sword, tap the bride, and say “welcome to the Army [or Marine Corps, etc]!”

Here’s the Navy version:

3. When a Navy ship crosses the equator, sailors perform the “crossing the line” ceremony, which frankly, involves a lot of really weird stuff.

The Crossing the Line ceremony goes far back to the days of wooden ships. According to this Navy public affairs story, sailors were put through this hazing ritual designed to test whether they could endure their first time out at sea.

These days, sailors crossing the line for the first time — called Pollywogs or Wogs for short — can expect an initiation into the club of those who have done it before, referred to as Shellbacks. During the two-day event, the “Court of Neptune” inducts the Wogs into “the mysteries of the deep” with activities like having men dress up as women, drink stuff like a wonderful mix of hot sauce and aftershave, or make them crawl on their hands and knees in deference to King Neptune. I swear I’m not making any of this up.

In the modern military that is decidedly against hazing rituals, the events have toned down quite a bit. In 1972 a sailor may have expected to be kissing the “Royal Baby’s belly button,” which again, is totally a real thing.

Nowadays however, there’s much less of that sort of thing, and the Navy stresses that it’s all completely voluntary (ask any sailor, however, and they’ll probably tell you it’s “voluntary” with big air quotes).

shellback ceremony Photo: Wikimedia Commons

4. Before going on deployment, Marine infantrymen who have never deployed need to shave their heads.

Don’t ask me where this unwritten rule came from or why — other than to distinguish who the total boots in the platoon were — but Marine grunts who have never done a deployment are often told to shave their heads before they move out.

Again, this is one of those “voluntary” you-don’t-have-to-do-this-if-you-don’t-want-to kind of things, but there were 3 guys in my platoon who decided to keep their hair before deploying to Okinawa in 2003. Interestingly enough, they were put on plenty of cleanup details and other not-so-fun jobs as a result.

5. When achieving the next rank or earning parachute wings or other insignia, a service member may get “blood-pinned,” though it’s rare these days.

Soldiers who get through five successful jumps at Airborne School in the past could expect to get “blood wings,” but that practice has died down in recent years as the public has learned of it. After a superior pinned their wings on, a soldier would get their new badge slammed into their chest, which often draws blood.

This kind of thing is frowned upon — and prohibited under military regulations — but it still sometimes happens. In some cases, it’s considered a rite of passage and kind of an honor. I personally endured pinning ceremonies that I volunteered for when I picked up the ranks of lance corporal and corporal.

Volunteer or not, it’s a ritual which the brass has endured plenty of bad press over, so they tend to discipline anyone involved whenever it happens.

6. Some units have mustache-growing contests in training or on deployment to see who can achieve the most terrible-looking ‘stache.

The military regulations on facial hair offer little in the way of good looking when it comes to shaves. Most men are not allowed to grow beards (except for some special operators) and although they are allowed, mustaches are generally frowned upon. Why they are frowned upon usually comes down to how terrible they often look.

Here’s how a little girl who lost her Marine dad taught the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff the full cost of war
Photo: MCB Hawaii

Don’t expect any mustache greatness ala Rollie Fingers; troops usually have to keep the mustache neatly trimmed within the corners of their mouth. Those regulations give way to the terribleness derived from the “CAX ‘stache,” which is what Marines refer to as the weird-looking Hitler-like mustache they’ll grow out while training at 29 Palms.

These contests sometimes extend overseas, especially when junior troops are away from the watchful eyes of their senior enlisted leaders. But whenever the sergeant major is around, you might want to police that moostache.

7. First-year West Point cadets have a giant pillow fight to blow off steam after the summer is over.

Before they become the gun-toting leaders of men within the United States Army, first year cadets are beating the crap out of each with pillows in the school’s main courtyard. The annual event is organized by the students and has occurred since at least 1897, according to The New York Times.

While it’s supposed to be a light-hearted event featuring fluffy pillows filled with things that are, you know, soft, some [blue falcon] cadets have decided to turn the event bloody in recent years. One first-year cadet told The Times in September: “The goal was to have fun, and it ended up some guys just chose to hurt people.”

That quote came from a story that broke months ago after the “fun” pillow fight ended with at least 30 cadets requiring medical attention, 24 of which were concussions.

8. Naval Academy midshipmen climb a lard-covered monument for a hat.

Around the same time that first-year West Point cadets are beating each other and causing concussions, 1,000 screaming Navy midshipmen are charging toward a 21-foot monument covered in lard with a hat on top. The goal: Retrieve the first-year “plebe” hat and replace it with an upperclassmen hat, a task which signifies their transition to their next year at the Academy.

Beforehand, upperclassmen hook up the plebes with about 200 pounds of greasy lard slapped on the sides of the Herndon Monument, making their task a bit more difficult. They need to use teamwork and dedication to climb their way to the top, which can take anywhere from minutes to over four hours (Class of 1995 has the longest time 4 hours, 5 minutes).

According to the Academy’s website, the tradition is that the first guy to make it to the top will likely rise to the rank of admiral first. That is if he or she doesn’t get themselves fired first.

Here’s how a little girl who lost her Marine dad taught the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff the full cost of war

MIGHTY HISTORY

The ‘Kilted Killer’ forced a surrender while outnumbered 23,000 to one

Tommy Macpherson was known to his enemies as the “Kilted Killer.” The Scotsman fought with the British 11 Commando during World War II, roaming the countryside with French Resistance fighters and causing so much havoc and damage that the Nazis put a 300,000 Franc bounty on his head.

No one ever collected.


Especially not any Nazis.

Imperial War Museum

For a guy with a huge bounty on his head, you’d have never known it to look at Macpherson. He dressed in the same tartan kilt he would have worn back home in Edinburgh as he did killing Nazis in Operation Jedburgh. But just getting to Europe for the operation was a slog of its own. Macpherson was captured during a raid on Erwin Rommel’s headquarters near Tobruk in 1941. He spent years making no fewer than seven escape attempts from POW camps across Italy, Germany, and occupied Poland. He was finally successful in 1943, escaping to England via Sweden. He immediately rejoined his commando unit, just in time for Operation Jedburgh.

The Jedburgh operators were going to parachute into occupied Europe and embark on a stream of sabotage and guerrilla attacks against the Nazi occupiers. Macpherson, knowing he would have to use the full force of his personality to take command of the resistance fighters, the Maquis, he chose to wear a full highland battle dress, including his Cameron tartan kilt. It worked.

Here’s how a little girl who lost her Marine dad taught the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff the full cost of war

Hell yeah it did.

(Imperial War Museum)

Macpherson and his squad immediately began cutting a path of destruction across The Netherlands, destroying bridges and killing or capturing any German troops and officers who came through that path. It was said that Macpherson and company managed to successfully conduct some kind of operation every day he was deployed in Western Europe. But his crowning achievement came in France in the days following the D-Day invasions, stopping the Das Reich Panzer Division in its tracks.

Coming from the Eastern Front, this SS Panzer division was particularly brutal. When Macpherson saw them for the first time, he saw at least 15,000 men and 200 tanks and other armored vehicles that he had to knock out of the war before they pushed the Allies back into the sea.

Here’s how a little girl who lost her Marine dad taught the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff the full cost of war
Russland, Appell der SS-Division “Das Reich”

(German War Archives)

Using plastic explosives, grenades dangling from trees, and one anti-tank mine, the British commando, and his Maquis unit managed to slow the Panzers down to a crawl. They chopped down trees at night, used hit and run attacks with their sten guns, and placed booby traps everywhere, anything they could to keep the Panzers away from the Allied landing for as long as possible. The effort worked, and it took the SS two weeks to cover what should have taken three days.

His biggest achievement came without firing a shot, however. He had to keep another Panzer division, some 23,000 men strong, from taking a vital bridge in the Loire Valley. He somehow managed a parlay with the opposing commander, meeting the command deep inside German-held territory. He told the Germans he could call on the RAF to destroy his entire column – which he couldn’t do.

“My job was to convince the general that I had a brigade, tanks and artillery waiting on the other side of the river,” Macpherson later said. “In truth, the only thing I could whistle up was Dixie, but he had no way of knowing that.”

Here’s how a little girl who lost her Marine dad taught the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff the full cost of war

Macpherson was just 23 years old negotiating the surrender of a Panzer division.

The German looked at the young man in full highland battle dress and offered his surrender on the condition they could carry sidearms until they were met by the U.S. 83rd Infantry. Macpherson agreed, almost singlehandedly knocking an entire tank division out of the war, securing the Loire Bridgehead. He survived the war and continued his service in the British military. He died in 2014.

Articles

This Disabled Veteran Describes His Scars Of War With Incredible Slam Poetry

Brian’s poem will give you perspective into how wide the civilian-military divide gap really is.


Related: Watch this Iraq War veteran’s tragic story told through the lens of a cartoon

On December 3, Brian’s mother posted a video of him reciting his poem on her Facebook wall. At the time of this writing, the video had been shared over 103,700 times. The video was intended to be shared with friends and family, but it had such a powerful effect that it was published to YouTube in order to mitigate comments to her Facebook account.

Brian delivers a powerful and sincere peek into his scars of war that were inspired by a grocery bagger’s clueless comments.

Clearly upset, he took to poetry to express his experience.

The video is very touching. Check it out:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u-CE69jv5EY

melanie fay/Youtube

We’ve transcribed Brian’s poem in case you can’t play it out loud:
The other night at the store, check out line with my wife

the bagger asked a question that cut with a knife.

He saw my beanie and tried to make conversation

asked me if I was a member by service or donation.

I looked at him and smiled, I’m used to small talk questions

said that I became a member after serving my nation.

I went to Iraq and to Stan played around did some time in the sand

and he responded with that patented, “oh thanks for your service man.”

Nothing else needed to be said, conversation through

but then he stepped back and looked at me from beanie to shoe.

He asked the question, I swear this is true

he looked at me again and asked, “well what’s wrong with you.”

Taken back by his question I quickly spout an answer, “that’s a little personal man”

then you won’t believe his candor.

“I’m sorry man I didn’t mean to offend,

just looking you over it looks like you have all your limbs”

I walked out the store angry but why?

That was a volatile observation by a dumbass guy

how could he see the blood behind these eyes.

I should have marched back in there and asked if he wanted to see all the scars.

Hey these seem to interest you

take a seat guy you’re about to need a tissue.

See my scars I don’t wear them on the surface of my skin

like most veterans the deepest scars are within.

Sound of screams of brothers dying

tears roll down from mothers crying

bullets hail and fly overhead

watch a bullet leave your best friends head.

Or the hands that I took hold

watched as the grip grew colder

maybe you want to hear about that time I had to shoot a child

or that other time I had to drag my brother’s body a quarter mile

just because I knew he’d be defiled.

See what you fail to understand is that no veteran ever comes back that whole of a man.

Whether it be limbs are gone or internal scars

we all search for answers at the bottom of glasses in the darkest of bars.

Who are you to ask what is wrong with me

are you now the wounded warrior judge and jury?

One thing I want to remind you kids, I’m not mad

as a matter of fact, your dumbass question made me glad.

My invisible injury, I wear with pride

it doesn’t matter that you don’t know my friends who died.

it doesn’t matter that when I go home you don’t see

that I could barely remember what I had to eat.

I also have brain damage you see

been through one too many explosions that shook my head

while you lay quietly at home sleeping in your bed.

And cause of blast of me flying through the air,

oh you want to see where I bounce… everywhere.

But its okay boy stand up let me brush you off

I know it’s impossible for you to understand the cost.

I see that tear, here’s that tissue

maybe next time you’ll just leave it at thank you.

But I didn’t do that, I just let it be

I couldn’t let someone’s ignorance violate me.

Instead I said no problem, don’t worry about it man

It’s something that takes time to understand.

So next time you see a vet don’t think you need to vet him

don’t look for stories of injuries like we all openly display them.

Don’t ask sh–t like, “did you kill anyone”

we share that sh–t when we want, boy don’t be dumb.

Again, I can say blame that those that ain’t been taught

but I will say, “dammit ain’t about time we stop living underneath a rock.”

I’m an American veteran been to Iraq and to Stan

yes I am disabled, no you don’t need to shake my hand.

Yes I’m slightly crazy but who wouldn’t be

just want to let you know exactly why you thank me.

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